Tough Questions Answered

A Christian Apologetics Blog
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  • Commentary on Joshua 1-2 (Rahab and the Spies)

    Posted By on June 29, 2015

    Joshua is the first book following the Pentateuch and it begins the series of books in the OT that are called the Historical Books (Joshua – Esther). The author of Joshua is unknown, although large portions of the book appear to have been written by a person who experienced the events recorded in the book. Early Jewish tradition indicates that Joshua himself was the primary author of the book, although some sections were likely added by later editors. If we accept Joshua as the primary author, then the book was likely completed near the end of Joshua’s life, around 1375 BC.

    The events of Joshua start where Deuteronomy ended, with the Israelites across the Jordan River from the city of Jericho. The book describes the conquest of the Promised Land by Israel, a fulfillment of the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob hundreds of years prior. The original audience of the book would have been Israelites who lived after the conquest (which lasted about 7 years). The events in the book span the years from approximately 1406 – 1375 BC (about 30 years).

    For a map of the conquest of Canaan, please go to this link.

    Verses 1-5 in chapter 1 of Joshua give incredible encouragement to Joshua and the entire nation of Israel. God tells Joshua, his appointed leader, to get the people ready to cross the Jordan River and take possession of the land that God promised to them. God again delineates the borders of the Promised Land, giving the northern, southern, eastern, and western borders.

    To Joshua specifically, God promises, “No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Although this reaffirms a promise God had already made to Joshua (Deut 31:8, 23), I’m sure Joshua needed all the assurance he could get, given the mission he was about to undertake. The words “I will be with you” repeat identical promises made by God to Isaac (Gen 26:3), Jacob (31:3), and Moses (Exod 3:12). Joshua is, therefore, to be compared to the former great servants of God.

    In verses 6-9, God tells Joshua how he will successfully take the Promised Land. Joshua must obey the Law given by God through Moses. It is only by obeying the Law that Joshua will be successful in his mission of possessing the Promised Land of Canaan. In verse 8, God tells Joshua to “meditate on it day and night.” What does this mean? David M. Howard, Jr., in Joshua: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), explains:

    The idea of meditating here is not the one commonly familiar in the late twentieth century, namely, of emptying the mind and concentrating on nothing or on self or on visualizations of various types; much of this type of meditation is indebted to Eastern mystic religions. Rather, the Old Testament concept of meditation involves two things: First, a focus upon God himself (Ps 63:6 [Hb.7]), his works (Pss 77:12 [Hb. 13]; 143:5), or his law (Josh 1:8; Ps 1:2), and second, an activity that was done aloud. This is why God told Joshua that this lawbook should not leave his mouth (as opposed to, e.g., his heart or his mind).

    In the ancient world, reading silently was mostly unknown. Almost everyone read aloud. Interestingly, modern science has shown that reading aloud aids in the memorization of a text over and above reading silently.

    Joshua tells the officials among the people to get them ready to cross the Jordan River in a few days, and then he turns his attention to the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh. Recall that Moses already gave them their land east of the Jordan River. Joshua reminds them that they must provide soldiers for the conquest of the land west of the Jordan River. Only after all the land west of the Jordan is conquered can their soldiers return home.

    In verses 16-18, all of Israel promises to obey Joshua as the rightful successor of Moses. All twelve tribes are committed to the conquest of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua.

    In chapter 2, Joshua sends two spies across the Jordan River to the city of Jericho to look over the land. The spies enter Jericho and stay in the house of a woman named Rahab. There is some scholarly dispute as to whether Rahab is an innkeeper or a prostitute. In any case, the king of Jericho hears about the two men and sends a message to Rahab to turn them over.

    Rahab hides the men on her roof and lies to the king’s messengers, telling them that the Israelites have left the city and that they can catch them on their way back across the Jordan.

    In verses 8-13, we read some of the most remarkable verses in the Bible. A pagan woman, possibly a prostitute, makes a confession of faith! Rahab acknowledges that God has given the land to the Israelites, then she recounts the stories she’s heard about God parting the Red Sea and God defeating the kings Sihon and Og. Dale Ralph Davis, in Joshua: No Falling Words (Focus on the Bible), writes about Rahab’s confession of faith thus far:

    This was the basis of her faith; she had heard about the mighty acts of God. This is the normal way of coming to faith. Biblical faith is based on at least some knowledge, data, and evidence. Even couples who ‘fall’ in love don’t come to love each other merely by sighing or groaning or oohing and ahhing; rather they talk, communicate, find out about each other—their past, their likes, their dislikes, their character, and so on. Even romance has some basis in knowledge. So is the case with faith. Faith is not just a warm, cozy feeling about God. Faith grows, if at all, out of hearing what God has done for his people.

    Rahab then clearly states that the God of Israel is sovereign over all the heavens and earth. Her response to the God of Israel is to plead for mercy for herself and her family. She knows that Jericho will fall and that her family will be trapped inside.

    Davis writes,

    Here is the evidence of faith. Genuine faith never rests content with being convinced of the reality of God but presses on to take refuge in God. Rahab not only must know the clear truth about God but also must escape the coming wrath of God. It isn’t just a matter of correct belief but of desperate need. Saving faith is always like this. It never stops with brooding over the nature or activity of God but always runs to take refuge under his wings. Amazingly, Rahab not only trembles before the terror of the Lord but also senses that there might be mercy in this fearful God.

    The spies agree to save the lives of all in her house when the city is attacked. Since her house is built into the city wall, she is to gather everyone inside and hang a scarlet cord in the window so that the Israelite army can identify her house from outside the city.

    The spies slide down a rope hung from Rahab’s window, wait 3 days for the Jericho search party to return, and then go back across the Jordan River to tell Joshua, “The LORD has surely given the whole land into our hands; all the people are melting in fear because of us.” What a difference is the report from these spies versus the spies from Numbers 13-14!

    Is God Subject to Justice?

    Posted By on June 24, 2015

    Skeptics of Christianity sometimes claim that either God is subject to an external standard of justice and morality, or else whatever God arbitrarily says or does is the standard of justice and morality. Both of these choices are a problem, however, for the Christian.

    If there is an external standard of justice, then God is not the ultimate being. There is a moral law that is greater than him. The Bible, however, rules that out.

    If God can arbitrarily decide what is right and what is wrong, then justice and morality become meaningless because even though it is wrong to kill an innocent person today, tomorrow it could become OK, if God willed it to be. This idea, however, seems ludicrous as well.

    The Christian answer to this dilemma is that God’s very nature is the Good and the Just. In other words, the moral law is built into God, and because God will always act according to his nature, the moral law will never change, and is thus not arbitrary. God is not subject to an external standard, because the standard is God himself.

    Commentary on Job 38-42 (Job Meets God)

    Posted By on June 22, 2015

    Through Job 37, Job has listened to three “friends” and Elihu speak to him about why he is suffering so badly. Job, in turn, has responded to each of them, declaring his innocence and demanding that God give him answers. Finally, in Job 38, Job gets his wish.

    Out of a violent storm God speaks to Job, but his message will not at all be what Job was hoping for. Instead of answering Job’s questions about whether God is just in his treatment of Job, God challenges Job. Eugene Peterson’s translation of verses 1-3, in The Message, captures the force of God’s challenge:

    Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you’re talking about? Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall! I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers.

    Over the next few chapters, God asks Job more than 70 questions having to do with the creation and control of the natural world, none of which Job can possibly answer. In verses 4-7, God asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” In verses 8-11, God asks Job who it was that placed boundaries around the seas and controls where they are allowed to go.

    If Job wants to question God’s dealings with human beings, then Job needs to prove that he has the knowledge and wisdom that God has. If he can’t even understand how the inanimate objects of the natural world were made or how they are controlled by God, then what chance does Job have of understanding God’s treatment of mankind?

    Roy Zuck, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, explains:

    What was the purpose of God’s rebuking response? By displaying His power and wisdom, God showed Job his ignorance and impatience. How could Job comprehend or control God’s ways with man, when he could not comprehend or control God’s government in nature? Since Job could not answer God on these matters how could he hope to debate with God? Since God has His own ways and designs in the sky and with animals, does He not also have His own purposes in His dealings with people? Though people cannot understand God’s doings, they can trust Him. Worship should stem from an appreciation of God Himself, not a comprehension of all God’s ways. Though puzzled, people should still praise.

    In chapter 42, Job, after having been questioned by God, responds. Instead of demanding more answers from God, instead of questioning God further, Job answers the only way a man can who has seen the living God face to face, with awe and repentance.

    Again, Eugene Peterson captures Job’s thoughts well in Job 42:1-6:

    I’m convinced: You can do anything and everything. Nothing and no one can upset your plans. You asked, ‘Who is this muddying the water, ignorantly confusing the issue, second-guessing my purposes?’ I admit it. I was the one. I babbled on about things far beyond me, made small talk about wonders way over my head.  You told me, ‘Listen, and let me do the talking. Let me ask the questions. You give the answers.’ I admit I once lived by rumors of you; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! I’m sorry—forgive me. I’ll never do that again, I promise! I’ll never again live on crusts of hearsay, crumbs of rumor.

    So how did God answer Job’s questions about the justice of his suffering? God showed Job Himself. There is no greater answer to any question a man could have than coming face to face with God. Once we understand who God is, our questions vanish into thin air because we realize that our doubts about God’s justice, knowledge, wisdom, and goodness are preposterous. As the Creator of everything, the sovereign ruler of the universe, can we really stand in judgment over God? No, and that is what Job finally realized.

    Why Does God Not Give Justice to the Wicked?

    Posted By on June 19, 2015

    Some wicked people do receive justice while they live. Think of Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, as recent examples. They both were forced into hiding and died violent deaths. However, Job is correct that many sinful people seem to live a perfectly comfortable life and die peacefully.

    If you are an atheist, the fact that evil people never face justice is a real problem for your worldview. Once a person dies, after all, there is no further chance for justice to be done. If you are a Christian, though, there is an afterlife and God promises that justice will be done.

    So it is only in the Christian worldview that justice is guaranteed to be done for both the wicked and the righteous. God promises that each person will face the judgment seat and their thoughts and actions will be assessed by the Almighty Himself.   Whether a person receives justice during his earthly existence is, therefore, not the end of the story.

    Commentary on Job 21

    Posted By on June 17, 2015

    In the previous 20 chapters of the book of Job, Job’s three friends have argued that Job is being punished for sins he has committed. Their theology is simple: God always and immediately punishes the wicked and always and immediately blesses the righteous.

    In chapter 20, Zophar summarizes this theology: “Surely you know how it has been from of old, ever since mankind was placed on the earth, that the mirth of the wicked is brief, the joy of the godless lasts but a moment.”

    In chapter 21, Job answers Zophar. He starts in verses 1-3 by begging his “friends” to listen to him. Job requests that they stop mocking him for a moment and pay attention to what he has to say.

    In verses 4-16, Job reminds his friends, first, of the horrible condition he is in. Then he begins to dismantle their faulty theology.  Job points out several facts about the wicked.  The wicked live to a ripe old age with their children. Their houses are secure, seemingly with no judgment from God.  The livestock of the wicked prosper, the wicked enjoy music, and the wicked even die in comfort. To top it off, they tell God to leave them alone! Contrary to Zophar’s theology, justice is not always and immediately meted out. Often the godless prosper and the godly perish.

    On to verses 17-21. To Bildad’s claim that “the lamp of the wicked is snuffed out” (18:5) in death and that calamity and disaster are ready to overtake him (18:12), Job asks how often (three times in 21:17–18) do these things really happen? Theologian Roy Zuck, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, notes, “This so-called fate allotted by God’s anger to the wicked hardly fits the facts. Sinners are seldom blown away suddenly and easily like straw or chaff.”

    In verses 22-26, Job reminds us that one man dies having lived a full and vigorous life, while another man dies having lived a life of bitterness and deprivation. Yet both men end up in the same place after they die. Zuck reminds us,

    Wealth or health are not ways by which to judge a person’s character. One may be wicked, and die either young or old; or he may be godly, and die either young or old. These facts obviously conform more to reality than did the rigid view of Job’s three prattling prosecutors.

    In verses 27-34, Job wonders how it is that his friends are unaware of these facts. Do they not speak to travelers who can tell them numerous stories about how the wicked never face justice for their crimes? No, the wicked are often carried to their grave by a massive funeral procession, and given great honor, because no one dare challenge them while they are alive. Job’s friends are fools and their theology is bogus.

    Can There Be Good Without Evil?

    Posted By on June 12, 2015

    Many people seem to think that good and evil are equal and opposite, and that good cannot exist without evil. In the Bible, God is the Good and Satan always represents evil. Are God and Satan equals?

    The book of Job answers this question once and for all. God is clearly in command and Satan cannot do anything without God’s permission. God is the Creator and Satan is the creature, so they are not in any sense equal to each other.

    God has always existed and Satan has not. Therefore, good existed before evil. Today evil exists along with good, but that is only for a limited time. The Bible promises that at the second coming of Jesus, evil will be quarantined so that all those who love God (the Good) will no longer have to live with those who reject God (and do evil). So, yes, there can be good without evil because evil is the result of finite creatures rejecting God (the Good).

    Commentary on Job 1

    Posted By on June 10, 2015

    Having finished the book of Deuteronomy, we now move to the book of Job. Although the events of Job cannot be easily dated, there is some consensus that they occurred during the period of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Or, to put a wide range of dates on the events of Job, we can say that they probably occurred between 2000 – 1000 BC. Because we are unsure of the dating, we choose to place Job in between Deuteronomy and Joshua chronologically.

    The author of Job is unknown. Christian tradition holds that Job himself was the author, but some scholars believe that Moses or Solomon were the original authors. In any case, there has never been any dispute among Jews or Christians that the book of Job is inspired by God and belongs in the canon of Scripture.

    In chapter 1, verses 1-5, we are introduced to Job. We learn several important things about him: 1) he was blameless and upright, fearing God and shunning evil, 2) he had a large family consisting of 7 sons and 3 daughters, 3) he was incredibly wealthy, 4) he was known as the greatest man in his area of the world, and 5) he frequently offered sacrifices for his children for he feared they may have sinned.

    The purpose of this first section is to communicate clearly to the reader that Job is a God-fearing man who has been richly blessed by God. It is critical to keep these facts in mind before proceeding to read the rest of the book of Job.

    In verses 6-8, we are suddenly taken to God’s throne room in heaven where angels present themselves to God. One angel, Satan, draws the attention of God. God asks Satan what he thinks of Job, a man who fears God and shuns evil.

    In verses 9-11, Satan accuses Job of only worshiping God because of all the material blessings he has received from God. Take away his blessings, Satan argues, and Job will curse God. God agrees to allow Satan to test Job, but restricts him from physically harming Job. Notice that Satan is clearly under God’s command, and there is nothing that Satan can do without God allowing it.

    The central theme of the book of Job is the question of why we should fear God. John Sailhamer explains it this way:

    What motivates the kind of godly living exemplified in the righteous man Job? Is it the possessions and security that God has given him? Or would a truly wise man continue to live a godly life, even in the face of material loss and suffering? Satan’s answer was ‘No! Take away his blessings and Job will not continue to live a godly life.’ God, however, knowing that true wisdom is its own reward, answered ‘yes’ in Job’s behalf. A truly wise man seeks to live a godly life regardless of the earthly rewards.

    Verses 13-19 describe the disasters brought upon Job by Satan. First, Job’s oxen and donkeys are carried off by Sabean marauders, and the servants watching over them are killed. Second, Job’s sheep and more servants are killed by fire from heaven. Third, another group of marauders, the Chaldeans, steal Job’s camels and kill yet more of his servants. Fourth, Job’s children are all killed when a windstorm destroys the house they are feasting in.

    It is hard to imagine what it would be like to face such loss, so how would Job respond? Would he curse God?

    Not only did Job not sin, but he fell to the ground in worship, and uttered some of the most famous lines from Scripture:

    “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.”

    To make the point crystal clear, the text then reads “In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.”

    In the remainder of the book, Job is comforted by four friends who each try to explain to him how it is that such disaster could befall him. The first three friends are all convinced that Job must have sinned before God, and that Job’s catastrophic losses are punishment for his sin. Job denies this is the case, and we, the readers, know that Job is right. We know that Job is righteous and is not being punished for wrongdoing.

    The fourth friend, Elihu, offers that God may be disciplining Job, not for something he had done, but to prevent foolish pride. Elihu advises Job to fear God and not question His justice.

    Job, in response to his friends, never curses God, but he does accuse God of being unjust toward him. He demands that God explain himself, and Job even suggests that there needs to be a third-party mediator between himself and God to decide who is in the right. God eventually does appear to Job and answer his accusations at the end of the book. That will be covered in a later lesson.

    Why Think Moses Was the Primary Author of Deuteronomy?

    Posted By on June 8, 2015

    In chapter 34 of Deuteronomy, there are textual indications that Moses did not write the book of Deuteronomy.

    First, chapter 34 records the death of Moses, but how could he record the events surrounding his own death?

    Second, verses 1 and 2 state that the Promised Land includes “Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea.” The problem here is that only Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh had been given their land up to this point. Dan, Naphtali, Ephraim, and Judah would not receive their land until many years after Moses died.

    Third, the author states in verse 10 that “since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses.” This sentence would only make sense if someone was writing this text well after Moses’s death.

    Do these texts prove that Moses did not write Deuteronomy? No, not at all. It is entirely possible that Moses wrote most of the book, but that later writers added to the end of the book. In fact, Jewish tradition holds that Joshua wrote some, if not all, of chapter 34.

    We have strong internal evidence that Moses did indeed write the majority of the book of Deuteronomy from Deut 31:9 and 31:24. These verses reveal Moses’s command to the Levites to take the law Moses wrote down and store it with the ark of the covenant. Taken in context, what parts of Deuteronomy would have been considered the law?

    Eugene Merrill, in The Book of Deuteronomy (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), describes what verse 9 and 24 would be referring to:

    The term for ‘law’ (here tôrâ) normally refers to the Mosaic writings generally, but in the context of Deuteronomy it must be limited to that book alone and, in fact, to just the covenant text of chaps. 5–26 (plus the blessings and curses of chaps. 27 and 28).

    Therefore we conclude that at least chapters 5-28 were most likely written by Moses, and quite possibly more. To think that chapter 34 proves that Moses had no hand in the composition of Deuteronomy is simply wrong.

    Commentary on Deuteronomy 31-34 (Joshua Succeeds Moses)

    Posted By on June 5, 2015

    Moses’s speeches and admonitions to the Israelites are about to come to an end. Chapter 31 begins with Moses telling them that he is 120 years old, and thus he is no longer able to lead the people. In addition, God has commanded that Moses not cross into the Promised Land because of his sin at Meribah.

    Even though Moses will not be leading Israel across the Jordan River, he encourages them about what will happen. God Himself will go ahead of the people and drive out the Canaanites so that the children of Israel can take possession of the land. Moses reminds them how God destroyed the Amorite kings Sihon and Og. He will do the same for them in Canaan, so they must be strong and courageous and never doubt God’s presence.

    In verses 7-8, Moses singles out Joshua for encouragement, as Joshua would be assuming leadership after Moses’s death. Joshua must see that the promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are fulfilled by dividing up the land that God will give them among the 12 tribes of Israel. Moses reminds Joshua that God will go before him and he need never be afraid or discouraged.

    As we move ahead to chapter 34, the final chapter of Deuteronomy and the Pentateuch, we finally come to the death of Moses. Moses climbs, alone, to the top of a high mountain, so that he can see the Promised Land from his vantage point. His eyes sweep across the expanse of the land in a counter-clockwise direction. God reminds him that this is the land he promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but that Moses could never possess himself.

    In verses 5-8, Moses dies and is buried by God in a valley in Moab (the exact location is unknown by the author of the text). Why would Moses’s body not be buried by another person? Scholars have speculated that God was preventing the Israelites from carrying Moses’s body into the Promised Land, which they surely would have done if they had known where he died. Therefore, God handled the death and burial of Moses Himself.

    Note that Moses is called, in verse 5, the “servant of the Lord,” even though his sin prevented him from entering the Promised Land. Moses was denied the inheritance of the land, but he was still God’s servant. His sin did not completely separate him from God. God may punish his children, but He does not disown them.

    In verse 9, the torch of leadership is officially passed to Joshua because Moses had duly anointed Joshua, with God’s approval, as his successor. The text indicates that the people of Israel respected the anointing of Joshua.

    Verses 10-12 provide the literary epitaph for Moses. The author of this section, probably writing decades, if not hundreds of years later, states that there never was another prophet like Moses, whom God knew “face to face.” The incredible signs and wonders surrounding the Exodus from Egypt are incomparable to the feats of any previous or subsequent prophets of Israel.

    Peter Craigie, in The Book of Deuteronomy (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), concludes:

    Thus the unique aspect of Moses’ prophetic ministry is to be found in the role he played in a unique and vitally important event in Israel’s history. That unique event, emerging from the Exodus and the forming of the covenant at Sinai, was the formation of the kingdom of God in the nascent, theocratic state of Israel, in which the Lord was King (Exod. 15:18; Deut. 33:5). The event began with the great liberation from Egypt and it was sealed by the new commitment at Sinai. Consequently, however distinguished a subsequent prophet in Israel might be, his ministry would be within the community of God’s people; the work of the prophet Moses, however, was instrumental, under God, in the formation of that community.

    How Did People in the Old Testament Please God?

    Posted By on June 3, 2015

    Moses states in verse 25 of Deuteronomy 6, “And if we are careful to obey all this law before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us, that will be our righteousness.” A casual reading of this verse might lead you to believe that all the Israelites had to do was follow the rules laid out in the Law and God would consider them to be righteous before Him. Is this interpretation correct?

    No. It is always dangerous to read any Bible verse out of context. At the beginning of chapter 6, Moses makes clear that the Israelites are to “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Jesus later affirms this as the greatest command.) Moses also repeats the command to “fear God” three times in chapter 6 alone.

    Loving and fearing God cannot only consist of following the commands in the Law. Loving and fearing God at least consist of 1) trusting God, 2) believing what God says about Himself, and 3) having faith in His promises. We already know from Gen 15:6 that Abraham believed God, and God counted his belief as righteousness. There was no Law when Abraham was alive.

    Therefore, a person who ritualistically follows the Law without loving God, without fearing God, without believing God, is not in any way pleasing God. So how should we interpret Deut 6:25? Eugene Merrill, in Deuteronomy: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), offers this summary:

    Then in strongly evangelical terms Moses equated faithful compliance with the covenant to righteousness (v. 25). The word used here is ṣĕdāqâ, the very one applied to Abraham as a result of his having believed in the Lord (Gen 15:6). Later Judaism wrongly concluded that covenant keeping was the basis for righteousness rather than an expression of faithful devotion. But true covenant keeping in the final analysis is a matter of faith, not merely of works and ritual. Thus the central feature of the covenant stipulations is their providing a vehicle by which genuine saving faith might be displayed (cf. Deut 24:13; Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; 4:1–5; Gal 3:6–7).

    God provided the Law as a means for the Israelites to enact their love for and faith in God. Without love and faith, keeping the Law counted for nothing.

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