Archive | October, 2010

October 23rd – Vowing to God



When I was speaking about Hannah, the mother of Samuel, I repeated what the Bible says, that she was so desperate to have a son that she prayed that if God gave her a son she would offer him back in God’s service. Well, she got her son, and she offered him to God by committing him to serve at the old Hebrew place of worship called “Shiloh”, to be educated by the priest there called Eli.
I could never understand this. Suppose Samuel grew up and didn’t want it? Wasn’t his mother a bit over the top? She couldn’t use her son as her sacrifice! Well, I had been a minister for some forty years when a lady called Marion told me about her mother and father. She said “I found out later, as I was growing up, that two years after I was born my mother had desperately wanted a son”. Her mother prayed every night the prayer of Hannah: ‘If you give me a son I will dedicate him to your service and to your church Lord’.” Now this was weird, because neither she nor her husband nor their daughter Marion ever went to any church. God’s gift of a son is hardly a bargaining ploy. “Well, eventually”, said Marion, “the baby boy, my brother, arrived and the mother had him christened and that was that”.
They lived in a back-to-back house in one of Collyhurst’s cobble streets, in one of down-town Manchester’s poorest districts. The boy grew up totally outside the church, his only interests were football and fighting (and later on girls and jazz). Even years later when his father became a Christian and a fervent church member, the boy would argue his dad under the table and then storm out in a bad temper to bond with his mates who were as crude and miserable as he was. Marion remarked that there was no way that that boy could ever become a Christian, let alone ‘a servant of God’, in answer to his mother’s vow to God, apart, that is, from some miracle or other.
I knew nothing of that mother’s vow to God until this woman called Marion told me all about that vow made way back in the early 1920’s!! Of course, by the time I heard all this, as I said, I’d been a minister of the church of Jesus for over 40 years. By the way, you’ve guessed … Marion is my sister! The woman who vowed Hannah’s vow was my mother. Today was her birthday.
Speaking of vow Hannah’s vow:
And she made a vow, saying “O Lord Almighty, if you will only look upon your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, I Samuel 1:11
Prayer:
Today, review the vows you have made before God, especially your marriage vows. Let’s see now … just what were they …?
Now read I Samuel Chapter 1.

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October 22nd – God Who Speaks



Yesterday we were thinking about spiritual deafness but the common complaint of the unbelieving world is, “It is not that we’re not spiritually deaf-It is that we don’t believe that there is anyone out there speaking”. So the question is If there is a God, how does God speak?
According to the Bible God speaks in creation, in fact he spoke it into being. ‘God said “Let there be light”‘ – Boom – Light, energy, matter, exploded into being. John’s Gospel identifies God’s creating word with Jesus, who “was in the beginning with God and without whom nothing was made that came into being”. God speaks through creation, but chiefly God speaks through Jesus Christ. In Jesus we encounter the word of God, spoken in syllables of flesh and blood. That same Jesus used to say to the crowds: “If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear”. In short, we are responsible for how we hear. In fact, in Mark Chapter 4 for example, Jesus said “Beware WHAT you hear”, for what we are prepared to listen to is a revelation of the personalities of our inmost souls. Think about it, what we listen to, what makes us laugh, cry, what interests us, to what we shut our ears, these are the headlines we placard before the world. “This is what feeds my mind and soul.” “This is what I listen for.”
But how do you know it’s God that is speaking? Good question. We should be cautious because there have been too many butchering dictators and fanatics who claim that they were acting on the voice of God in their minds. When some people say, “God told me …” and then do outlandish things, I say “But he never mentioned it to me”.
How do you know it is God speaking and not your own unconscious mind or even the Devil? For one thing, God never contradicts himself. When folk say, as they have said to me “God told us to leave our marriage partners and be happy together”, I can say with absolute confidence “Oh no he didn’t. That was your genes talking, because God does not contradict what he has said about love and faithfulness, perseverance, security for children: and who said that God said he wants you to be happy anyway? He wants you holy. He wants you obedient!”
The entire vast basket of things to be seen and heard in Jesus contain God speaking in love, love for all: he speaks of and in what is true and just and good: he speaks in loving lives, in sensitivity, in self-discipline: he speaks in conscience: he speaks in scripture (and not just selected snippets of it, mind you). He speaks supremely in the totality of Christ. No wonder the Bible calls Jesus “the Word”.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched – this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared: we have seen it … I John 1: 1-2
A Prayer:
Today, speak Lord, your servant is listening.
Now read Isaiah Chapter 48.

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October 21st – Soul Deafness



A country boy went to spend a week with his friend who lived in a busy town. Walking along a crowded street together the country boy stopped and said “Shh – I can hear a cricket”. The town boy could not hear it until after a while when he ‘tuned in’ and then he could just about hear it.
“Why did it take me so long to hear it?” he asked. The country boy said “I’m used to listening for the sounds of living things.”
“What am I used to hearing?” asked the townie. “I’ll show you” said the country lad.
“All these people can’t hear the cricket because their ears are not tuned to that sound”. Then he dropped a coin onto the pavement, and everybody turned round to see who had dropped it, and how much it was. “That’s what town folks listen for” he said, rather smugly.
All right, the story is a bit over-simplistic, I agree-but it is quite true that listening is a selective process.We hear what we choose to hear on most occasions. A cry “Will someone please help me with the washing up?” will genuinely not be heard as easily as the much more quietly spoken words “Anyone want some ice cream and hot apple pie?”. Everyone at home will hear that whisper!
If hearing is that selective, how do we listen to God? What is the wavelength of God’s voice? Well, surprisingly, it’s nothing to do with the volume of the sound on our ear drums. Our dog was quietly obedient until he saw a cat, and then he was deaf to all the shouting in the world. It’s our wills, not our ears, that turn deaf to God.
In the First Book of Samuel there is a superb story of a woman so desperate for a son that she prayed to God “If you give me a son, I will give him back to you as your servant.” Well, she had a son, and named him “God heard”, or ‘Samuel’ in Hebrew, and she was as good as her word. She gave him to the service of God from his youth at Israel’s old shrine, at Shiloh. When God spoke to young Samuel by name, he didn’t realise that it was God speaking, and went three times to Eli the priest, saying “You called me?”. The priest finally caught on, and said “Next time the voice calls you by name, say ‘Speak Lord – your servant is listening’.” He did, and he received a powerful message which was anything but sweet music to anyone’s ears. It was dynamite. But then no one said if you open your ears to God you will hear sweet nothings. In the First Book of Samuel this is how Chapter 3 ends, and Chapter 4 begins
The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.
And Samuel’s word came to all Israel. …….I Samuel 3:21 and 4:1a
Ponder that!
A Prayer:
Lord, I’ve nothing to say to the world, unless I hear it from you.
Now read Mark Chapter 4: 1-20.

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October 20th – “Pilgrim in this Barren Land”



There is a place, a spiritual place, we avoid like the plague. All Christians, all God’s children at some time or other must go there, and it is not Satan who drives us there, but God. That place is the desert! The wilderness.The dry and thirsty place which God seems to have deserted.
In the wilderness humans are compelled to come to terms with their own spiritual dryness, with what they see as ‘Life’s unfairness’, with their own spiritual barrenness and reasons for it. “Where are you God?” we cry, and the heavens are brass.For most of us who live in green pastures, and whose lives are set in pleasant places, there is the insipid danger which begins to suggest
in the words of Deuteronomy, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth and ease …” and I have forgotten God. My trust has drifted.I’ve become too settled in my proud and comfortable ease.
When this happens I am sometimes led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit in order to rediscover who I am and who God is, and that all the work of salvation is his and not one scrap of mine. I am called to receive it and live it. Yet when the landscape changes and I feel lonely, or side-tracked, rejected by the world and despised, I always complain that its unfair, unjust “What have I done to deserve this” is my most natural self-pitying cry. Instead perhaps I should be saying something like this:-
“Here I am in the desert, Lord, parched and spiritually barren; help me to trust you and obey. When others seem to dwell in spiritual excitement, in rich pastures, I do envy them. Yet it is in the wilderness that Moses found you and himself. It was in the wilderness that the children of Israel learned to receive their salvation – a forty year lesson. Elijah came from the desert and fled to it as an escape. ‘What are you doing here Elijah?’ you said, Lord. Amos and a procession of God’s great men and women trudged through the desert. John the Baptist lived in it. Paul headed for it to discover the implications of his conversion to Jesus as the true Messiah. Jesus himself was led by the spirit into the wilderness to refine and test his calling as the saviour of the world – a forty day starvation trial, a spiritual battle ground.
Lord, here in the barren wilderness I am in such exalted company. I am honoured to be included in this exclusion, for here I learn to trust you and not my feelings: here I learn to pray and not to prosper -here I learn to trust you and not me and my puny strength.”
Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years.He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8: 2-3
A Prayer:
Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me, till I want no more.
Now read Exodus Chapter 17.

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October 19th – Christian Scholarship



We have been appreciating the work of St. Luke this last couple of days. It’s time we read once again, in Luke’s own words the reason why he wrote the third gospel.
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things which have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye-witnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. Luke 1: 1-4
In the original language in which Luke wrote, it is most polished, beautifully constructed and stylish Greek one could read. Then he goes on in the next verse “In the time of Herod the King of Judea there was a priest named Zechariah …” and so his matchless story continues, not in the opening polished, academic style, but in the clear factual lines of the story teller, the reporter. This preface tells us such a lot about Luke’s aims and methods. Let’s pick out one or two:
He had researched other accounts of the story of Jesus, and wrote to deepen and broaden and improve our picture of Jesus.
He was not himself a physical eye-witness of the great Jesus-events, but he knew and went to interview those who were. He is reporting the words of the eye-witness, like a devoted detective.
He researched and recorded his material accurately. Early in this century two modern scholars, believing that Luke had got some things wrong, went to the Mediterranean world to check out his work. They selected six of Luke’s statements, in which they believed he’d got things wrong. They eventually emerged from their detective work to confess that in every instance it was their doubts which were wrong. Luke was correct.
He was an accurate and systematic historian, as he justly claimed, refusing to be conditioned by his non-Hebrew culture.
Both his volumes (the third Gospel and Acts of the Apostles) are dedicated to a certain “Theophilus”, of whom we know nothing, except that both Theophilus and Luke are non-Jewish names.He as writing for a wider world than Palestine.
He does not assume that his readers knew anything about the Old Testament, or Jewish theology and teaching. In short he wrote for gentiles, for the whole wide world, and for us.
Here is but one tiny example of Luke’s thoroughness in recording those who actually walked with Jesus on his travelling missions:
The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. Luke 8: 1c, 2-3
A Prayer:
Today, Lord, I thank you for the work of faithful Christian scholars who love you and your word.
Now read Luke Chapter 3.

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October 18th – Anonymity is the Sign of Greatness



One of the greatest statements we can make about ourselves is when we decide to act anonymously.The world hates those who seek fame by adding their own little names to great causes and mighty people.
Yesterday we were thinking about St. Luke, the author of the third gospel and the Acts of the Apostles.His contribution to the Christian faith is inestimable. The research he did, the checking of the sources of information, and his reporting of things about Jesus which not one other soul in the world ever recorded. Without Luke we would have no record of the conception and birth of John the Baptist – the way Mary learned of her role as the mother of Jesus – not a word about the shepherds who came to Bethlehem by night – no word of Jesus being presented at the Temple on the eighth day of his life for circumcision into the Jewish nation, nor of his being made a son of the Temple at Jerusalem when he was 12 years old – nor of the family tree, which Luke traced back beyond Adam to God!
Luke alone reports that mind-blowing sermon of Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth: the raising from the dead of a widow’s son at the village of Nain; the names of Jesus’ women followers (Chapter 8): the conversion of Zacchaeus of Jericho: additional dialogue between Jesus and Pilate, and in fact the presence of the crowd of women as he dragged his cross to Golgotha. Even the words of the two criminals crucified with Jesus are recorded, and memorably the whole event of the risen Jesus going with the two disciples on the seven mile walk to Emmaus. Add to this the world-shaping, majestic parables of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son (or as we should say the two lost sons), the crooked steward, the bent judge, and the persistent widow; the rich man and Lazarus; the Pharisee and the tax collector and so much else.
Where would the gospel message have been if these had not been recorded? How much poorer the world would be. Well, we owe their reporting and recording entirely to Luke, the beloved Physician, and this is probably the greatest wonder of them all. He does not publish his own name ONCE in all his writings. You and I would have written under the heading of “God speaks Exclusive Report by me”. I would have had my name at the top, because like most folks, we think that it would be wonderful to be world famous. As the song said: “Fame – I want to live for ever, I want to learn how to fly”. We would have published it as “The Luke Story”, or “God – the Inside Story” Exclusive to Luke. But not him; he tries to remain anonymous, so that nothing would detract his readers from seeing Jesus.You will read this only in Luke:
He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16: 31
TODAY is St. Luke’s Day – Let’s thank God for him.

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October 17th – Author’s Preface



Who could assess the colossal debt we all owe to devoted medical practitioners? Doctors have been at the front of the column in caring for the human race. I don’t need to press this point, it’s clearly obvious, but I am selecting one doctor in particular for whom I, and a billion others, give thanks to God for his non-medical contribution. He wrote two massive chunks of the New Testament, and thus lived up to his Greek name, which means “Light Giver”, or, like the sun, “A Shining One”.
One of his two volumes includes excerpts from his own travel diary.He was there when Paul and the gospel crossed, for the first time, into Europe. He went with Paul on his journey to Jerusalem, where Paul was arrested. He sailed with Paul on that long voyage to Rome which ended with the shipwreck off Malta. He was still with Paul when, in his own words, “so we came to Rome”: the centre of the world-wide empire, to which all roads led. Now along those military arteries the gospel of Christ would flow through all the known world.
You already know of whom I am speaking: “Luke, the beloved physician”, as Paul described him. A non-Jewish disciple of Jesus, whose aim in telling the story as he saw and researched it, was chiefly to explain to the non-Hebrew world, the history-splitting impact of Jesus of Nazareth from even before Jesus’ birth, through his life, death and resurrection, and on into the Holy Spirit’s empowering of the church to take the good news of Jesus to the centre of the Empire and to the ends of the earth.
To each of his volumes he writes a preface in polished, academic Greek, before going on to tell his story in a clear, simple style which even a child can grasp. This is Luke’s preface to his second volume, which we call “The Acts of the Apostles”, which explains what he attempted in his former book, The Gospel of Luke, and sets the scene for the world march of the gospel of Christ. In short, he tells how the good news spread from an obscure Roman province to the heart of the Empire, miraculously, in one generation.
In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.” Acts 1:1-5
Luke’s emphasis is that the only effective communicator and power house for all Christians is their baptism, their total immersion in the Holy Spirit.
A Prayer:
Before I try to go to the whole world about you, Lord Jesus, help me to go to you about the world.
Now read Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 21.

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October 16th – Walking With Grief



Most history books record past events and interpret them, but so little space is ever given to human heartbreak. The Bible’s history books are different. Amongst the ten thousand things, for example, in the Book of Samuel which are not included in Chronicles is a ghastly coup d’Ètat. The entire civil war period, when King David’s rule was for a time ousted and all but destroyed by his own son Absalom, when the uprising was eventually smashed and Absalom executed by Joab, David’s ruthless Commander in Chief, David grieved for his son so much that all the nation was made to feel the gloom. It hung like a pall over the nation. Instead of acting like a king delivered from de-thronement, danger and death, he acted like a father whose own private grief overwhelmed him.
Joab was told “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom”. And for the whole army the victory that day was turned into mourning, because on that day the troops heard it said “The king is grieving for his son”. The men stole into the city that day as men steal in who are ashamed when they flee from battle. The king covered his face and cried aloud: “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”. II Samuel 19:1-4
until Joab “cuffed” the king into the effects of his grieving. You read the whole story in II Samuel Chapter 19. Joab had a point, but was, as usual, brutal.
We are told that Queen Victoria’s grief fell upon the whole nation, and hung there like a black cloud, for decades.
Grieving is heartbreaking. Grief is PAIN. Grief is loneliness. Grief is regretting, it is a black blanket which, when it falls, covers our entire horizons.We now know that grief must be expressed. Even big men do cry – or they develop duodenal ulcers. Grief must be born – there are no short cuts. But, when you do walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you need fear no evil, for the Lord walks with you. But remember, so do other people who need you. These are wise words from the Celtic Night Prayers of the Northumbrian Community on “Walking with Grief”. Let them lead our prayers.
Do not hurry as you walk with grief, it does not help the journey. Walk slowly, pausing often: do not hurry as you walk with grief. Be not disturbed by memories that come unbidden. Swiftly forgive, and let Christ speak for you unspoken words. Unfinished conversation will be resolved in Him. Be not disturbed.Be gentle with the one who walks with grief. If it is you, be gentle with yourself. Swiftly forgive, walk slowly, pausing often. Take time, be gentle as you walk with grief.
Jesus said:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. John 14: 1-2
Deliver us Lord from wallowing in a grief we cannot shed, and condemning a grief we have never known.
Now read Lamentations Chapter 3.

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October 15th – Prayer Makes All The Difference



Every day in our land politicians, educators, leaders, the guardians of law and order, health and economy, all grapple with the question “What will heal our land?” When seeking re-election, or to be elected, the most dynamic leaders promise a prosperous, just and joyful future, while millions mutter “Tell me the old, old story”, and cynics say “One lot of sinners out, another lot of sinners in – what’s new?”
Every good scheme, every good idea or policy, crashes on the rocks of our personal human perversity. When things are going wrong, we blame each other. When things are going well we forget about each other, and only very rarely does our nation ever consider seriously the root of the matter. It’s not the others, it’s not “them”, not “they”, who need to be changed, It’s us. It’s me.
We never consider the call and promise which God made to the nation of Israel as being relevant. We looked at this Bible call to pray way back on May 12th, in which we are told not to stand before each other blaming the criminals, the godless, the atheists, the agnostics, but to see that the root of the problem is in us. God says “If my people, called by my name”, people who profess to be in a right relationship with me, will come to me prepared to be broken of their self-pity, their self-importance, their self-righteousness, and truly pray – so that they do not merely say their prayers, but pray genuinely seeking God’s face, to meet Him, not merely have a religious experience, but seek Him as a person to know, to recognise: “if my people are willing to turn from their wicked ways” – yes wicked ways: turn from the images of our idol, addicted society, our abuse of time and pleasure (Oh the hours we waste just staring at T.V.), our delight in gossip, our pontificating what ought to be done, while not being prepared to lift a finger,then God promises. Oh, let’s hear the promise again, and take it to heart:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. II Chronicles 7:14
The letter of James rebukes our prayerless-ness.
You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. James 4: 2-3
A Prayer:
Lord, teach us to pray with humility, willing to quit our sinful ways and seeking your face and your mind.
Now read Ezra Chapter 9.

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October 14th – Do We Live and Learn?



I know it doesn’t bear thinking about, although some authors have written plays about it, including of all people, Noel Coward. But what if Nazi Germany’s army had crossed the Channel in 1940, and conquered Great Britain and Ireland (Yes, Ireland was part of this map of conquest and Nazi resettlement planning.) We know what the Nazis intended for they had made detailed printed plans to deport all the males between 18 and 55 by force to be slave labour in different parts of their master race’s empire. Aryan women were to be used as breeding stock for the Nazi population machine.
Well, imagine that it had happened, and you found yourself in some ghastly European slave camp, as slave labour. It would be all you knew. You’d been there all your life. In fact, let’s imagine that you were a third or fourth generation prisoner. You would be desperate to know, especially as the Nazi empire began to crumble, who you were, why were you here, who were your forebears, what did it mean to be British, what did the old British Empire stand for, why did it fall. Among your people was a team of scholars who set down your national and family history from the year dot. Now you wouldn’t expect a detailed account of everything, that would take a library as big as the British Museum to contain. You would want the salient points, the main features, the greatness, the grandeur and the reasons why your nation fell to the enemy.
Imagine what that story would be like. Think of some of the ingredients. The loud lessons of history, the mistakes our leaders made. The way power corrupts the most well-meaning of people. Well that was the task the Chronicler under took when he (and possibly his team) produced the Books of Chronicles aided also by the Memoirs of Nehemiah and Ezra.
It’s no surprise that he never mentions the nation of Israel, only Judah. Israel was the Kingdom which split from Judah after Solomon died, with its Capitol at Samaria. It made golden calves its Gods, and thus was not considered worthy of recalling its story.Therefore the Books of Chronicles tell the story of the rebirth of the people of Judah (and Benjamin) – THE JEWS. Had they learned the lessons from their own history? If we had been deported and eventually returned to Britain, would we have learned the lessons, or just gone back to where we were before? Those early returnees needed to be told that they were making the same mistakes all over again. Haggai 1:9
You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. “Why?”, declares the Lord Almighty, “Because of my house which remains in ruin, while each of you is busy with his own house.”
A Prayer:
Lord, bring your ancient people to know their true Messiah – whose name is Jesus and give all Jesus followers a loving compassion for the Jews.
Now read Haggai Chapter 1.

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Thought 4 The Day

The easiest way to dignity is humility. (Anon)

Through the year calendar

October 2010
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Click on any previous date in the above calendar to read the relevant Through The Year post
Believe it or Not
Sometimes you just can't believe it's true!
A Word in Time
Life has a funny way of connecting us all!
Cooke's Tour of The Bible
Frank Cooke's journey through the Old and New Testaments
Take 2
Some useful life lessons
Mind Stretchers
An open mind is a healthy mind!
Bible Bloopers
Even the Bible has its funnies!