Monthly Archives: April 2015

Don’t Ever Go to Sleep

book wormThere have been moments in my life when I really, really wanted to sleep. Generally these have been academic situations, although I suppose it has happened in church too. Mind you that’s not a comment on whatever preacher it might have been necessarily, for I have fallen asleep on some fine sermons in my time. But I digress, my point is that sometimes I have really wanted to go to sleep.

I’m sure I’m not the only one. Sometimes you’re just tired. Maybe it was a late night, or insomnia struck. Whatever the situation, you find yourself longing for a horizontal position and a view of the inside of your eyelids.

I bring this up because of the closing thoughts in Mark 13. Jesus has spent a long discourse on the end of days, what will happen when he returns, at the end of time, and then he closes this way…

Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. Therefore stay awake– for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning–lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake.” Mark 13:33-37 (ESV)

Note carefully what He is saying here. Whatever you do, don’t go to sleep. Never. Certainly not at 10 p.m. But also not at midnight. Not at 2 a.m., when you are crying out to close your eyes, But also not at first light.  Never…and do it again for the next day and the next.

Talk about tired. If I thought Social Psychology was a dozer, what Jesus is asking seems much harder. In his commentary on Mark, R.T. France says, “The metaphor is vivid, but apparently impractical. No one can stay awake all the time…How we can remain prepared while maintaining the ordinary responsibilities of life (yes, and its relaxations) we are left to work out for ourselves.”

But of course, France is right – it is obviously not a literal command.  It is a metaphor…about readiness. And I think I have an idea about what Jesus is getting at – He’s warning us about wasting time…about having a seriousness of purpose…about making this one and only life count.

Diane and I were at Wheaton College to hear Josh sing in the Thundertones last Thursday. After dinner with us, he was off to rehearsal and we had some time to wait for the concert. So for the first time we wandered slowly through their beautiful and huge athletic facility. And at one point she drew me over to the trophy case and a picture of a championship team from 1950’s era. Diane teased me with a line from one of my all-time favorite movies…

“Listen,” she said, “I think they’re saying something…Carpe Deum. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” And many of those fresh-faced young men are now pushing up daisies. Their race is run, and from the portals of time, they whisper to us…to run ours well.

Ah yes, for aside from the starker warning to continue to follow Him and not fall away (surely part of this injunction to stay awake), I think this is the other part of what Jesus is saying: “Only one life will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.” So labor, and serve, and toil hard with all your might at Kingdom work. And of course…

Stay awake.


For Tomorrow, Thursday, April 30: Mark 14

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Posted by on April 29, 2015 in Uncategorized


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A Sacrifice…That Costs Me Nothing?

It happened toward the end of King David’s reign that he sinned against the Lord and needed to make a sacrifice. Gad the prophet came to the repentant King and told him exactly where to do this – at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. And as David approached him, Araunah went to meet the King and pay homage to him…

And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”

David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people.” 2 Samuel 24:21 (ESV)

And Araunah said what most of us would have probably said – you’re the king, take whatever you need:

Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.”

And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” 2 Samuel 24:22-23 (ESV)

David had a sacrifice to make, and Araunah was offering to give him whatever he needed to do it, and yet, David knew in his heart that something was not right about this arrangement. After all, they don’t call it a sacrifice for nothing:

But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.”

So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel. 2 Samuel 24:24-25 (ESV)

David knew what all of us know: there is something about a sacrifice, you see, that should be…sacrificial. We know this in our hearts. The widow of Mark 12 certainly did…

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny.

And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (ESV)

The rich people put in far more than the poor widow, but the difference was that they gave a “sacrifice” that cost them…nothing. It came from their abundance. In other words, they weren’t going to miss it. In contrast, she put in everything…all she had to live on.  And her sacrifice pleased the Lord. And when you step back to consider things from God’s perspective, it all makes sense.  It’s not as if He needs our money, or our cattle or threshing floors. For the Psalmist said that He “owns the cattle on a thousand hills.” (Psalm 50:10) But the Lord would surely agree with His apostle:

Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. Philippians 4:17 (ESV)

I don’t pretend to understand it all, but as she gave so sacrificially, more than bringing blessing to others, she was able to bring blessing to herself, as Paul said, “the fruit that increases to your credit.”  But it begs the question…why? What led her to give so sacrificially? Now Jesus doesn’t address the question of motivation in this story, but Scripture leads us to a definite understanding of why someone would make such a costly sacrifice: such gracious giving is ultimately not about currying favor with God, nor even largely about increasing favor to my credit…but about love. Undoubtedly, the widow gave sacrificially because she loved deeply.

Love is, after all, what brought about the most costly sacrifice ever:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  John 3:16 (ESV)


Tomorrow, Wednesday, April 29: Mark 13


Posted by on April 28, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Two-Faced People?

Merging theater masksTrue or false? The people who worshiped Jesus by calling “Hosanna” on Palm Sunday were the same folks who shouted “Crucify” on Good Friday.

Probably false, and I don’t know if I ever said that – I hope not, but then again, I’ve said a lot of things – but either way I’ve certainly heard it said. And it didn’t quite smell right, because, after all, how would anyone really know that?

So I was glad to see this article on Five Errors to Drop From Your Easter Sermon in the recent web issue of Christianity Today. The authors write how the first statement makes for a good sermon point illustrating the fickleness of the human heart. But…they say:

“…it is not entirely clear that the ‘Hosanna!’ crowd acclaiming Jesus’ triumphal entry is the same group of people as the ‘Crucify him!’ crowd gathered before Pontius Pilate. The former seem to be mainly pilgrims from Galilee along with Jesus’s disciples, while the latter seem to be largely those from Jerusalem.”

Well, that makes sense.

So the next time I’m preaching and looking for a point on fickleness, maybe I’ll tell the congregation about David writing Psalms on a hillside and then years later writing the ruin of a man’s life from a rooftop. Or perhaps I’ll say something about Peter proclaiming his forever faithfulness to Jesus after the Last Supper and then hours later reneging with three denials before the rooster crowed.  Or maybe it will be Demas standing by Paul’s side in Colossians 3:14 and then “in love with this present world” in 2 Timothy 4:10.

There are plenty of examples, not to mention the one that stares back at me in the mirror.  So next time, I’ll plan to leave the “Hosanna”/”Crucify” crowd out of it.  Maybe they were all perfectly stable people.

Then again, somehow, I doubt it.


Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 28th: Mark 12


Posted by on April 27, 2015 in Uncategorized


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A Declaration of Dependence

Jesus not only loves the little children, He also demands that all of His followers be just like them…

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them. Mark 10:13 – 16 (ESV)

So if we must become like little children to enter the Kingdom, what does it mean to become like a little child?

Of course, little children will generally believe whatever you tell them, so many people think that to become like a little child is to simply trust. And I’m sure there is an element of that in Jesus’s word. After all, trusting is key to eternal life. But I think there is another trait of children which is even more in view.

It is the trait of dependence. Little children are nothing if not dependent.


They need someone to feed them, and they need someone to clothe them. Someone else provides their shelter. They speak because someone teaches them to speak. They need someone to teach them right from wrong. They are desperately, totally, needy.

And so are we. We are all needy, but only some of us recognize it. And that’s what Jesus is looking for – followers who recognize their dependence on Him. In fact, I think we can say that recognizing our dependence is the great trait of godliness. Consider that dependence is not only the way to become a Christian, but also the way to live the Christian life.

You become a Christian by renouncing independence, that is, renouncing dependence on your own works, and declaring that you need Jesus’s works. And you continue in the Christian life by daily declaring in prayer that you need Him. In fact, prayer is the great act of dependence.  Therefore, the Christian who spends very little time in prayer is not being child-like.  And the Christian who spends much time in prayer is honoring God who loves to be depended on.

The facts are this – we are all like little children, that is dependent. But some people act like they’re all grown up. This is a foolish plan. So today…if you are under the impression that you are “good enough” to one day be granted access into heaven, recognize that your righteous deeds are like a filthy garment (Isaiah 64:6), and act like a little child by declaring your dependence on Christ’s work at the cross for your salvation. And if you have become a Christian, then today…and all days…crawl up on your Heavenly Daddy’s lap and show Him that you need Him…by setting aside time to seek Him in prayer.


Posted by on April 24, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Cute Little Sinners?

We tend to think little thoughts about sin.  In other words, we tend to think that sin is not such a big deal, as if we were two-year-olds being disarmingly disobedient before our Heavenly Daddy. You know: “Oh, isn’t he cute the way he smiles that impish smile and walks the other way when I tell him to come here?”

But Scripture teaches us something entirely different. Consider R.C. Sproul’s word from his classic work, The Holiness of God:

“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself.”

No, sin isn’t cute, and if anything should lead us to understand sin as “cosmic treason”, Jesus’s teaching in Mark chapter 9 should get us there. In some of his starkest teaching in all the gospels, Jesus says…

Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. Mark 9:42 (ESV)

Apparently, you would be better to die a horrible death by drowning than to entice a little child to sin. But wait, what exactly would be worse than drowning, or death in general, for that matter?  The answer is clear from the next verse: Hell. The millstone warning in verse 42 makes no sense unless you interpret it with the verses that follow.

And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, Mark 9:43-47 (ESV)

Hear this: Jesus is saying that Hell is a real possibility for people, that real people go there, and that real people are in torment there even as you read this now. And, gracious Savior that He is, Jesus tells us exactly what causes people to go to Hell…sin.

These verses have been misunderstood for 2,000 years, but surely their message is more than clear.  It’s certainly not that Jesus wants us to dismember ourselves. It is rather that He wants us to…TAKE SIN SERIOUSLY. He wants us to be careful not to trifle with it…not to think of it as “2-year-old cute.”  In fact, for instance, if you have a 2 year old, don’t even think of their sin and disobedience as cute. Obviously, wisdom is needed to discern whether they know right from wrong, but once you are sure they do, their disobedience is no longer cute, any more than yours is.  It is cosmic treason, all of it.  And all of us need to consider our own sin and the sin of others as dangerous, for sin sends people to everlasting Hell every moment of every day.

We must take sin seriously, but even when we do, our hands and feet will still lead us into sin more times than we would like to admit, so what hope do we have short of dismembering ourselves? Well, of course, the Christian message is that we hope in the One Who did not cut off His hands and feet, but allowed them to be pierced through for us. On the cross of Calvary, Jesus literally took sin, and took it very seriously, so that those of us who trust in Him might never fear its horrible ramifications again.

“Man of Sorrows, what a name, for the Son of God who came, ruined sinners to reclaim…Hallelujah, What a Savior!!!”


Tomorrow, Friday, April 24: Mark 10


Posted by on April 23, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Provision is not a Problem

Jesus is in the boat.

That’s what you and I need to remember.  it’s what we too easily forget.   Jesus is in the boat.

In a sense, I’ve already written about this chapter here, but I wanted to say one more thing and make it as clear as day, which it never was for the disciples. You see, it’s really important that you and I remember who is in the boat with us.

And so it happened that one day Jesus and the twelve pushed off from shore after an argument with the Pharisees, and Jesus said to beware the leaven of the Pharisees, meaning their teaching.  But the disciples thought he meant something about bread, and they began to be worried that they only had brought one loaf with them.  So Jesus becomes a math teacher and gives them two word problems (years ago, I heard a great speaker who had some fun with the “word problem” idea. Can’t remember his name):

“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” They said to him, “Twelve.”

“And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?” And they said to him, “Seven.”

And he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

Mark 8:19-21 (ESV)

The scene is in contention for one of the most ironic in the Bible.  Jesus has just miraculously fed the multitudes and now the disciples are worried about lunch.  The lesson that the Lord is passing on to us? Provision is not a problem. He is in the boat.

Now, it is always our way to be worried about provision, so Jesus preached part of his Sermon on the Mount on this idea:

Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:31-33 (ESV)

I’m writing to myself today, as I often do.  God has so wonderfully provided for me and mine throughout life – He’s multiplied loaves so many times – and yet sometimes I still wonder and worry.  But the mathematics lesson from Mark 8 is that I should repent. Whether I have one loaf or two…Jesus is in the boat.

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Posted by on April 22, 2015 in Uncategorized


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God Looks at the Heart

It’s easy to think that outward appearance is what matters in life, but the Bible tells a different story. Take for instance, the time when the Prophet Samuel was sent to Jesse’s house to pick out a King of Israel to replace Saul. He made a snap judgment when he began looking over Jesse’s sons…

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed is before him.” 1 Samuel 16:6 (ESV)

Eliab was surely a good-looking, movie star type, and Samuel reasoned the way we all would reason: “This is the guy.” But…

…the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 (ESV)

God looks at the heart, but we look on the outward appearance. Now, this happens in different ways, from picking out a king, to judging whether or not a man is fit for heaven – either way, we naturally look at externals. The Pharisees certainly did…

And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;’” Mark 7:5-6 (ESV)

The Pharisees became consumed with certain external standards, many of which they made up for themselves. And in doing so, they left behind the commandments that God had actually given them. For instance, they set up standards for giving that actually kept people from helping poverty-stricken parents. Thus, they made a false command…which nullified the real command…and it was all about appearances.

But Jesus pointed to a better way, to the way of Yahweh, the way which Samuel learned that day when he was in Jesse’s home: a focus on the heart…

“For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7:21-23 (ESV)

Today, the great error that we make is to think that God will one day accept us based on our outward “appearance”, the works of righteousness that we have done in order to be acceptable to Him.  And believing this falsehood, on judgment day, many will plead before Jesus the supposed “beauty” of their works:

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’

But on that day, as all others, the Lord will look…at the heart:

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:22-23 (ESV)

Therefore we have but one hope.  We must ask the Lord to make, not our hands, but our hearts…clean:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)

And on that day when He gives us a new and clean heart, glory to God, we will desire to walk, not in the false ways of legalism, but in the true ways of the Spirit and the Word…

And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 (ESV)

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Posted by on April 21, 2015 in Uncategorized


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They Did Not Understand About the Loaves

BreadIt’s one of those little “throwaway” comments in Scripture that can so easily be missed, and it comes toward the end of Mark chapter 6. To set it up, we have one of Jesus’s most spectacular miracles, coming sometime between 3 and 6 a.m., when the Lord Jesus walks on the water past His disciples who are struggling in their boat against a stormy sea. They see the figure of a man walking on the contentious waves, but they don’t know it’s Him, and the word Mark uses for them, understandably, is “terrified”. In short, the 12 newly minted apostles are out of their minds…afraid.

And to this, Jesus calms their hearts with a comforting word: “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”  And then Mark offers this commentary:

And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened. Mark 6:51, 52 (ESV)

They did not understand about…the loaves? The bread? What exactly was it that they didn’t understand?

Now, at first glance this is easy. Mark is simply saying that they did not understand who Jesus was.  He’s the One who can multiply loaves and fishes.  He’s the Son of God; He’s God incarnate.  They don’t get that.  Okay…maybe…maybe that’s what Mark means. Or perhaps there is more here.

In other words, I want to know why Mark puts it the way he does. Why, for instance, doesn’t he say, “They did not understand about the paralytic”? Or, “They did not understand about the man with the withered hand”? Or, even more likely, why doesn’t Mark say, “They did not understand from the previous time He had stilled the storm”? (Mark 4:35 – 41)

But no – they don’t understand the bread.

There may be some insight to be gained in this incident from another boat trip that Mark will write about in chapter 8.  In this chapter, Mark first tells about the feeding of the 4,000 and then an argument with the Pharisees. Then Jesus and the twelve all get in the boat but with only one loaf of bread. And therefore, when Jesus begins to speak about the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod, the disciples begin to worry about how they don’t have any bread.  And Jesus says…

“Why are you discussing the fact that you have no bread?”

And then take note of the wording of Jesus’s language – it’s very similar to the comment from Mark we’ve just been discussing in chapter 6:

“Do you not yet perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you take up?…” Mark 8:17 – 19 (ESV)

They get into the boat almost immediately after the feeding of the 4,000 and they are worried about having enough bread. The word for this is obtuse. Or, I like the way that Jesus sums up the whole problem: “having eyes do you not see, and having ears do you not hear?” So, yes, in the stormy sea incident of Mark 6, it is that they don’t see who Jesus is, but it’s more than that.

It’s that they don’t see spiritual realities at all.  Therefore they don’t see God as the Answer to their every need. And they don’t see that there is more than the physical world around them. You might put this many different ways…that they don’t see the power of prayer…or the wonder of His love…or the joy of His presence…or the truth of His Word. They don’t see. They don’t see. They don’t see.

They don’t see – that of course He can walk on water. And, that if they’re running low on food when they’re in the boat with Jesus, they’re not running low on food.  For when He is there…there can be no lack.

They don’t see.

Do you?

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Posted by on April 20, 2015 in Uncategorized


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Cutting…and the Man of the Tombs

I don’t claim to understand the practice of cutting, though I know it has been going on for thousands of years…

And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately there met him out of the tombs a man with an unclean spirit. He lived among the tombs. And no one could bind him anymore, not even with a chain, for he had often been bound with shackles and chains, but he wrenched the chains apart, and he broke the shackles in pieces. No one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always crying out and cutting himself with stones.  Mark 5:2-5 (ESV)

Satan had brought incredible pain to this man, a pain that Bob Bennett aptly describes it in his beautiful, gospel-centered song, Man of the Tombs:

 Underneath this thing that I’ve become
A fading memory of flesh and blood
I curse the womb, I bless the grave
I’ve lost my heart, I cannot be saved
Like those who fear me, I’m afraid
Like those I’ve hurt, I can feel pain
Naked now before my sin
And these stones that cut against my skin
Some try to touch me, but no one can
For man of the tombs I am

From all the experts I’ve read and heard from, cutting is about “control”, though honestly I’m never quite sure what that means.  I do know that there is intense emotional pain that leads to it, and the story from Mark 5 helps us to see where this pain comes from: Satan and his servants.

Now, of course, I’m not saying that everyone who cuts is possessed like the man of the tombs, but I am saying that the lies which come from the enemy of our souls could easily result in such behavior. “You’re wicked and should be punished.” “You’re hurting inside and if you hurt yourself outside, the pain inside will go away.” (And like many of Satan’s lies, it is half-true. Cutting releases internal pain, but only for a moment.)

To all this I appreciate what Karen Swallow Prior writes

“I’m not surprised that self-punishing behaviors occur among Christians. And this is not to blame the church. For legalism—and I would argue that this is what these behaviors are at their core—comes in guises both religious and secular. The desire to control the destiny of a few moments, if not our lives, is a fact of the human condition. But it is a fact that directly opposes the gospel of grace. Indeed, our vain attempts to mete out our own justice and punishments and thus save ourselves merely reflect the universal human desire to be our own God. For those who self-harm, the gospel comes as an invitation to trust in the One who has enacted perfect and complete justice before God on our behalf, through his body, so we don’t have to punish our own.”

And a last word from Bennett’s former man of the tombs…

Underneath this thing that I once was
   Now I’m a man of flesh and blood
   I have a life beyond the grave
   I found my heart, I can now be saved
   No need to fear, I am not afraid
   This Man of sorrows took my pain
   He comes to take away our sin
   And bear its marks upon His skin
   I’m telling you this story because
   Man of the tombs I was.


For Monday, April 20th: Mark 6

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Posted by on April 17, 2015 in Uncategorized


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