Archive for the ‘Bible Grace’ Category

When Grace Exposes Our Sin   2 comments

Matthew 1:7 “David fathered Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.”

The story of Bathsheba and David is a royal cover-up that almost succeeded as they pulled all the strings in the shadows to hide their lust, betrayal and murder.  A successful subterfuge would have rotted out their own hearts as they ran from grace.  Grace can do amazing, unbelievable things, even with what is worst in us, but it must begin with the truth about us.  It cannot work with the fog of self-deception.  Whenever we do wrong and hide it from ourselves and others–make excuses, minimize it, compare it to worse sins in others–we trap our shame inside our hearts like a festering wound, and the pathogen slowly seeps throughout our souls and stains our relationships.  God rips off that wrapping, exposing the gore, not to repulse us with our wounds, but to heal us.

Shame is to sin what pain is to injury–an alarm to wake us to crippling harm and push us to act.  It is the blinking light God designed for our inner dashboard.  Unlike God, we tend to use shame against ourselves and one another as leverage to force (or stop) change just as someone might use physical pain (or threat of it) to coerce others.  In our society, shame is a weapon that parents use against children, preachers against congregants, and friends and spouses against one another to force compliance just as a bully might use his fists.  It is psychic assault.  I am often guilty with accusing frowns or glances that say silently, “You are an idiot!”  My message is “Be different so I can love you.”

The divergence between the use and misuse of shame lies precisely in grace.  We turn shame into coercion, weaponize it, by anchoring it to conditional acceptance.  I will show you love (sympathy, support, companionship) or withdraw love based on whether you yield to my expectations.  I may even get God on my side, so to speak, spiritually legitimize my demands by arguing that they are actually God’s demands and prove it through reason or scripture or a tangle of both.  But bad methods ruin good goals.  Though God has given us guidelines on how to live in healthy ways, he doesn’t force our hand and never uses love as leverage.  He loves us fully at all times regardless of what we do or don’t do, even at our worst… even when we are unrepentant, he loves us with all his heart.

The shame he built into our bodies is a warning light, not a threat–he tells us what bad things sin will do to us (tear us and our relationships apart), not what bad things he will do to us.  (Of course, in the Old Testament where law prevailed as a system, God seemed to be a punisher to force compliance while grace lingered in the shadows, but then Christ came to reveal the face of God in the full glory of grace.)  God always acts in grace, though grace sometimes is hard and painful rather than pleasant (like setting a broken leg).  He designed shame to wake us, not to coerce us.  When we use shame to drive us to change our behavior, it simply feeds legalism: the idea that if I try hard enough, I can live in such a way as to rise above shame.  God wants shame to drive us to despair in ourselves and turn instead to his grace.  The healthy remedy for shame is always grace, never more effort.  You cannot earn forgiveness, even with godly sorrow; you can only open yourself to it as it is freely given.

And so David and Bathsheba were caught by grace, their attention riveted by a dying newborn and their betrayal and murder called out by a prophet, exposing the shame that leads to salvation.  They were rescued from being lost in the darkness of hidden sin and becoming a tragedy rather than a story of redemption, actually the story of redemption through their son, the Redeemer Jesus, born many generations later.  No sin is too great for grace to resolve into beauty and goodness once it is brought into the light of God.  We avoid the light, thinking that when God sees our failures, he will love us less like others do, but it is our spiritual wounding that draws out his love and concern even more.  He cannot love us less because his love is completely independent of our goodness.  In a miraculous twist, he can even leverage our sin into greater intimacy and spiritual depth, and like Bathsheba, our darkness can be turned into light to show others the way out of the shadows for many generations to come.  Not only hers, but every redemption story of ours is inextricably connected to the redemption story, making us not only part of redemption, but of redemption history.  By receiving his grace, we become channels of God’s redemption for the world.


Posted July 6, 2015 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Grace Piled on Grace   7 comments

Matthew 1:7 “David fathered Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.”

The world is not halved into heroes and villains, angels and demons, righteous and sinners.  David is the truth that demolishes that lie: an adulterer with remarkable faith, a murderer specially anointed by God, a law-breaker who wrote Scripture.

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago

Since we cannot sort humanity into upper and lower, we settle for before and after: we were all filthy rags before, but some of us have gone through the conversion wash cycle, and now we’re clean.  Except David doesn’t let us off so easily since he was “a man after God’s own heart” long before his debauchery with Bathsheba and treachery against Uriah.  We are fallen creatures, all of us, always in need of more forgiving and saving grace to redeem our fresh failures.

But we don’t need David’s example to reveal the cracks in our souls over which we daily stumble.  I know my sins, it is my acceptance I doubt.  And that is the startling truth of David’s story.  The deep failings of God’s favorites astounds me.  How can God put up with such flawed followers, not to speak of using them as his champions and spokesmen.  As the inimitable Alexander Whyte once suggested, who knows but that David wrote earnest psalms during those nine months of self deception as his illegitimate son formed inside the belly of his stolen wife until the prophet of God came to strike a blow to his bunkered conscience.

How could such a man be chosen as God’s mouthpiece?  Unless the very truth meant to be shared was of the unquenchable grace that God lavishes on us all.  If God’s central message is the gospel, that every human, however flawed, is loved forever, is offered the open heart of God in spite of repeated rebellion, then what better messenger than one who so clearly illustrates this grace in his own life?  The “man after God’s own heart” was a pleasure to God not because of his goodness, but because of his childlike faith and humble resting in God’s unquenchable love–the Gospel According to David.

Posted June 8, 2015 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Surprised by Grace   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:6 and Jesse fathered David the King–

roy_rogers_and_trigger01As a schoolboy, I refused to sleep late Saturday mornings because the Roy Rogers Show came on at 7:30.  Dressed in white from his stetson to his boots, my hero galloped in on his white horse Trigger.  He stood for all that was good.  But every villain rode in on a charcoal horse with an outfit as black as his heart.  I was raised on stereotypes, and perhaps little kids need that kind of over-simplification, though I’m not so sure.  All kinds of bad come from boxing people into categories, even favorable categories.  The girl whose identity is built on her reputed good-looks is just as bound and broken as the one whose essence is shaped around her reputed bad-looks.  The jock is as vulnerable as the geek to being squeezed into expectations and assumptions that suffocate his true self.

Weighing down others with our expectations or stooping under theirs deflects the flow of grace in our lives because we can never fully predict where God is taking us and who he is shaping us to be.  Wise counsel is always a support for self-discovery, not a substitute for it.

david_in_the_bible__image_4_sjpg1913But Jesse has clear notions of his sons’ abilities and roles, so he sends his youngest, David, into the fields to shepherd and marches his big brothers off to soldier.  After all, an older, larger, stronger man is clearly more fit to fight.  Just ask Goliath.  When the prophet Samuel came to look among his sons for the next leader of Israel, Jesse did not even deign to bring his youngest in from tending the sheep.  He clearly did not qualify.  Samuel himself, the very mouthpiece of God, looked at the oldest, tallest son and thought he’d found God’s choice.  They expected the storyline: “Jesse fathered Eliab the King,” and that would have been as messed up for Eliab as for David… not to mention Israel.  His own father, who knew him from a babe, and God’s anointed spokesman both missed who David really was.

Expectations and norms can blind us to the best gifts of grace.  God’s valuations are so often different from ours.  When our assumptions determine our direction, we are quite likely to miss the way.  Even wise, godly folks have blind-spots and spiritual myopia, but if we stay open to the surprising and unexpected appearances of grace, God has freedom to bring out our internal wonder and unique capacity.  Grace is always on the loose, hawk-eyed for every chance to draw out our inimitable beauty.

Posted February 17, 2014 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Hope When Hope Is Gone   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:5 and Obed fathered Jesse

Obed is to me a sign of hope when hope has breathed its last,  CPR hope.  For some of us, like Naomi, life seems like a ragged march of crippled dreams, and we wish for it all to be over.  After Naomi and her family were driven to destitution by a famine, they fled as refugees to a foreign country where her husband and both sons died.  She returned in old age to her homeland with a widowed and childless daughter-in-law Ruth, and they survived as beggars.  Naomi was not only at the end of her own fruitless life, but with no offspring, she was at the end of her whole family’s history.  She began life full of promise–Naomi means pleasant–but all those hopes were dashed along the way, and she was tottering towards a pauper’s grave.  She told everyone to stop calling her Pleasant and instead to call her “Bitter.”  Her hope had burned out. Then hope lit up her darkness.  In the last extreme something happened, something unexpected and outrageous–a wholesale redemption.  Ruth married Boaz and gave birth to Obed.


According to Old Testament law, Obed, the son born to her daughter-in-law, was Naomi’s own grandson.  In one moment her life was transformed from penniless, meaningless, and future-less into the bloodline of the Son of God.  Her friends called Obed her “redeemer, restorer of life and sustainer of your old age” (Ruth 4:14,15).  Grace, even last minute grace, rewrites our whole history.  It does not simply counterbalance the negative, but transforms it into something great and good.  That is the meaning of redemption. Take all the zeros of our life strung together, and add this one element of grace and it changes 000000 into 1,000,000.  However empty and broken our lives seem, the message of Obed is that grace sweeps us into the grand scheme of God’s redemptive purposes.  “Why are you cast down, O my soul?  Hope thou in God.” (Ps. 42:11)


Posted September 4, 2013 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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God’s Delight in Me [God’s Love Letter]   Leave a comment

Matt. 1:5 Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth.

Ruth was the original Cinderella.  From a pagan, destitute widow she became the affluent, honored bride of Boaz and the great-grandmother of King David.  Tales of rags to riches are told in a thousand tongues, and American versions come with a moral: work hard enough and every pauper can reach the palace.  Whether Carnegie or Rockefeller, Lincoln or Edison, our heroes rise from obscurity and poverty to wealth and fame by their own sweat.  But this is not Ruth’s story.  The central message of Ruth is redemption, deliverance purely by grace.

Ruth didn’t go looking for God in the promised land, but God went to Moab looking for Ruth.  When He showed up, she embraced Him and clung to Him through ten years of childlessness, the death of her husband, and the loss of her home, and in that destitution she followed Him back to Israel.  Her faith was truly remarkable, but it was faith, not self-reliance or reward.  Faith is simply throwing the doors open for God to come in and do His thing.  And the more of God we let in, the bigger the difference He makes, though major renovations are not easy or quick or painless (ask my wife about this!).

Boaz is the “kinsman-redeemer,” a wonderful foreshadowing of the coming Messiah who would rescue the poor and broken.  Boaz was rich, powerful, and widely respected, but like his coming King, he saw a penniless migrant as wholly worthy of his heart.  She was not a charity-case for whom he had pity, a bride who would always feel inadequate and undeserving of his love, abashed by his greatness, self-deprecating and daunted, always working feverishly to avoid his disappointment.  Rather Boaz considered himself blessed and delighted to have her.  What did she bring to the marriage?  Only herself… which was the one thing Boaz wanted.  She filled his heart.

From Ruth’s line would finally come the promised Messiah, stepping across an infinite gap of greatness to be with the ones He loves.  We are the center of His thoughts, the passion of His heart.  He valued us at the price of Himself, His own life.  The bond between the most loving husband and wife, of Boaz and Ruth, is a pale image of His embrace of us, drawing us into His heart until we are one.  It is not too much to say that He has tied His eternal happiness to us… we can break his heart and make his heart sing.  But whatever we do or do not do, His love for us never weakens or wavers because it is anchored in His very nature.  We bring nothing to this relationship but ourselves, and that is what delights Him and fills His heart.





Posted June 16, 2013 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Big Shots and Bums [God’s love letter]   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:5: Boaz fathered Obed by Ruth

beggarApril 17 is the feast day of Benedict Joseph Labre who was called  “a patron saint for failures.”  He was rejected as unsuitable by all the monastic orders to which he applied, several of them suspecting him of mental illness.  He became a mendicant holy man, sleeping in corners of abandoned buildings, dressed in rags, covered in lice, living on alms, and eventually dying of malnutrition.  It took another century for him to be sainted.  This is somebody I can relate to… except for the sainthood, although considering his credentials, maybe I’d have a shot at that too!  Many more of God’s followers look like bums than Hollywood stars.  After all, it is the bitter life of the marginalized that drives them to grace.  But there are exceptions like Boaz.

Boaz was rich and powerful, with lots of land and plenty of servants.  He was also godly, generous, and humble.   He had it all.  The patron saint of bankers and CEOs, perhaps, except that he lived for the benefit of others.  On top of all that, he had royalty in his veins as great-grandfather to King David and through him the King of Kings.  It’s unusual for someone with such heavy credentials to welcome grace, for someone who has it all to realize they have nothing with which to recommend them to God.  The more you have, the more you have to lose when you’re stripped down to nothing but your bare soul.  Boaz had to admit he was no better than the likes of a dirty, tattered B. J. Labre.

low-rung-on-the-corporate-ladderUnlike caste in India or aristocracy in Europe, egalitarianism is the American way, but we have our own homegrown pecking order, and we know our place.  We defer to those with more money, status, education, looks or what have you, and on the other side we expect to be treated better than “a common bum.”  When people are smelly, unkempt, crude, or slow they get treated differently… I’m ashamed to say that I too react as though they are less deserving.  Tragically, human hierarchy destroys grace, no matter where you rank yourself.   Wonderfully, the gospel knocks off all the rungs of our social ladder.  We are all penniless.  We come to God with empty pockets.

At first glance, it seems sad that we are all bankrupt, until we realize that an empty account is the one prerequisite to receiving grace.  When we come to the end of ourselves–our efforts, our pedigrees, our abilities–the gospel finally makes sense.  If we are full of ourselves, we cannot be full of God.  For those of us who feel we are near the bottom rung, there is no sweeter sound than the tintinnabulation of grace.  I am on equal footing with Boaz, Bono, and Billy Graham.  The canonized saints have nothing on me when it comes to the love of God.  I am just as much His favorite.  The more screwed up I am, the more He loves me.  That’s amazing enough to make a pig sing the Hallelujah chorus!

Posted April 10, 2013 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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From Garbage to Glory [God’s Love Letter]   8 comments


Matthew 1:5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab.

Garbage CollectorIn America, our job defines us.  It is the first, most important identifier when we’re introduced, “Good to meet you.  So what do you do?”  Sometimes it’s even tacked on like a surname: Joe the Plumber or Bob the Accountant.  With one word we label, categorize, and define someone from the moment we meet them.  Just imagine if your meaning as a person was distilled into the name Karen the Harlot.  You are suddenly no longer a person, but a commodity, and the worst sort of commodity, associated with all that is unclean, cheap, and dark.  When someone hears “prostitute,” they do not think of giggling children, fresh-squeezed orange juice, and butterfly kisses.  Rahab was part of a cursed race of uncircumcised philistines and she was known as Rahab the Harlot.  Then God came.

In the gospels, Jesus was a trash-magnet.  The discards of society were drawn to him like the starving to a feast of love.  They found in him the acceptance and respect and embrace they never knew.  Like father, like son they say, and the God of Israel was the Father of all widows and orphans, the poor and lost.  He saw in Rahab what no one else saw, and said of her “I want her in the royal line as mother to my Son.”  The beauty in all of us  originates always with God, and it is our faith, not our goodness, that opens the door to his glory.  Those least able to “make a name for themselves” are the ones most welcoming of grace.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom heaven.”



2,000 years after her first appearance,  we find Rahab again.  Her past has not been air-brushed away–she is still “Rahab the Harlot”–because grace does not re-write our past; it transforms that twisted frame into an instrument of glory.  She is now immortalized in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith as a model for us all to follow.  God embraces a pagan prostitute simply because she opened her arms to him by faith.  God does not ask us to patch together the shredded pieces that make up our lives, but asks us to trust him with those tattered remnants.  He makes all things beautiful, all things placed in his hands.

This 3 minute video is a remarkable parable of grace

Posted December 10, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Light in the Dark [God’s Love Letters]   5 comments

Matthew 1:4 And Nahshon fathered Salmon.

The name Salmon appears only once in the Old Testament, at the end of Ruth in a four-verse genealogy.  (He appears one other time as Salma in a mirror genealogy of Chronicles). 

In the town of Bethlehem, Salmon’s son Boaz plays supporting actor in the romance play Ruth.  As a historical introduction to Ruth, the book of Judges tells of the steep moral decline in Israel, ending with a 3-day civil war in which tens of thousands of Israelis are killed.  Bethlehem was at the epicenter of this huge national crisis for it all began with one of their own daughters being brutally gang-raped and dismembered.  Without a timeline we do not know whether Salmon was a soldier in this battle, but he certainly struggled against the corruption that engulfed his country.

Salmon lived in the days of the Judges, and that book finishes ominously, “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  But springing up from this maelstrom of evil is Ruth, a book of hope, whose last verse reads: “To Boaz was born Obed, and to Obed, Jesse, and to Jesse was born David.”  That is to say, King David, forefather of the promised Messiah.  Yet Salmon had no glimpse of this hope.  He died in the night that swallowed his nation.

In spite of this, Salmon (according to Matthew’s genealogy) was in the center of the world’s great channel of redemption.  Without knowing it, he was the father from whom the Christ was to be born.  His life and history and progeny were surrounded by God’s richest outpouring of grace, the giving of His very Self to the world.  How might this realization have lit up his darkness with hope, his trials with patience, his life with purpose?   And amazingly, we are each in that very place of Salmon… in a far better place, actually.  

We are not simply in a long line of succession through whom God’s grace will eventually come, but we are today channels of God’s grace to the world.  The Messiah has come.  He is here.   If Christ is in us, then He is shining out from us to the world, despite how troubled and confused and pointless our lives may seem or how foreboding the shadows. I am his candlestick, and it is mine to burn, however feebly.  It is His to shine that light where He sees fit, and He always makes the best use of every flicker.  I am His vital partner in this bedraggled world’s salvation.

Posted November 12, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Under the Shadow [God’s Love Letter #8]   Leave a comment

Matthew 1:4 Ram fathered Amminadab and Amminadab fathered Nahshon

Wouldn’t it be great to be Billy Graham’s brother?  I’m not so sure.  How would you be introduced at parties?  Whose exploits would your children talk about around the dinner table?  In public, whose reputation would you be most concerned to protect?  CNN, Time, NBC would all contact you… with only questions about Billy.  Imagine your whole life and personhood defined by someone else.

Amminadab knew that feeling.  His name appears nine times before the gospel of Matthew, in four separate books of the Bible, and we know nothing about him.  But we know about his son Nahshon.  Even in the middle of a genealogical listing, the registrar pauses to trumpet Nahshon: “Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab was the father of Nahshon, the leader of the people of Judah.”  The only reason Amminadab’s name crops up at all is to note his relationship to Nahshon… except for his first appearance, when he is footnoted as the father-in-law of Aaron, the high priest of Israel.

We all live in someone else’s shadow that is cast by the spotlight on their better performance in cooking or speaking, patience or punctuality.  As I do life with others, it is naturally hard to feel good about myself, hard to avoid competing with Jennifer’s achievements, hard to resist comparing Jason’s friendliness to my own.  But when our culture also constantly rates us against our fellow, noting how we fall short, it becomes nearly impossible.  I can either sign up for this game where I must be a winner (in everything) to feel adequate, or I can opt out and be labeled a loser.  That is, I can constantly chase after the adequacy that is just beyond my grasp or I can give up in despair and accept my own worthlessness… or I can stumble into grace.

When you consider Amminadab, Nahshon, Aaron and Moses in the light of their descendant at the culmination of Matthew’s genealogy, they all rank shoulder to shoulder.  We all stand equally shadowed by Jesus’ glory.  But here the simile breaks down, for Jesus does not diminish us by his greatness, but transforms us by it.  We stand not in his shadow, but in his glory, and this comes not as the borrowed, vicarious glory of a famous relative, but in his fulfilling in us all he designed us to be.  Jesus being all he is makes me all I am and can be.  May we be such life-givers to one another.

Posted July 22, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace

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Being a Nobody: God’s Love Letters #7   5 comments

Matthew 1:3 Perez fathered Hezron and Hezron fathered Ram.

Hezron and Ram have no stories, no histories, no parts to play.  They are nobodies, appearing in the Old Testament simply as names in lists of genealogies.  The vast majority of Israelites who lived then are not mentioned at all.  They plowed and played; they held one another as their crops failed and laughed with delight at their grandchild’s  first words; many worshipped God faithfully and walked with him daily but are completely unknown to us, very much like Hezron and Ram.

Since the Jewish Bible is primarily about the nation of Israel, the leaders of the nation and events that directed its course are inevitably featured.  Still, it seems that God considers the “movers and shakers” as the important ones, the ones to write home about, the role-models to recommend.  Compare how much we know of David in contrast to his brother Eliab, the firstborn.  If you want to be on God’s A-list, you have to make a big impact in the world, make a name for yourself in his kingdom.  And to do that, all you need is faith.

This view of the Bible seems oddly familiar to me.  When I was growing up, the heroes were folks like Lincoln, rising from an obscure log cabin to the White House, or like Einstein, stepping out from behind a clerk’s desk to become the foremost scientist of his time.  I grew up believing that I could be anything I wanted if I had enough self-confidence and commitment to the vision.  This is the American dream, and ours is the land of opportunity where the only limitations are our faith and determination.  This take on life provides a value system, a goal, and a means to that end, and without realizing it, I bring all of this to my reading of Scripture.

I measure the strength of my faith by the greatness of my deeds—am I like David?  The completeness of my commitment will make me a Daniel.  The weight of my godliness will get my name written down next to Job’s.  I can be one of God’s role-models for my generation.  If I simply make myself wholly available to God, he will make something great of me.  But what if I give it everything I’ve got and never make it out of the log cabin or clerk’s office?  Do I lack faith, is my commitment faulty, am I unusable?  Does God find me of little value?

Perhaps something is wrong with my perspective of what God wants, what is important, and what I should value and aim for in life.  I don’t think God was less pleased with the unnamed in Israel who sincerely followed him.  But this culture runs in my blood—I invariably measure the value of my contribution, for instance, by how many folks read and find benefit from my blog.  The engine is not more valuable than the engine mount bolt… without the bolt, the engine will fall off and the airplane crash.  Every role in God’s kingdom is vital, irreplaceable.  If that’s my theology, why do I so often feel like a loser?

It seems a still deeper issue clouds my view of what really matters to God.  Does he care more about what I do or who I am?  Why do I find myself so obsessed with doing rather than becoming or relating?  Why does accomplishment determine my value–“I may be only a bolt, but I’ll be the best bolt ever made”?  How drastically would my outlook and life change if my focus were rather on who I am and how I relate to others?  How would it impact my understanding and application of Scripture?  If it is David’s faith rather than his triumphs, skills, and leadership that is to inspire us, what would that faith look like in the life of a farmer, a seamstress, or a store clerk, in Hezron and Ram and me?  Rabbi Zusya said, “In the coming world, they will not ask me, ‘Why were you not more like Moses?’ They will ask me: ‘Why were you not Zusya?’”  Considering how God filled the earth with “nobodies” instead of “somebodies,” he must value us a lot!  Or to put it differently, everyone is a very big “somebody” to someone else, even if that someone else is only God.  Did I say, “only God”?!

Posted July 8, 2012 by janathangrace in Bible Grace, Personal

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