Flashback Episode — Greatness in God’s Eyes: Luke 9:46-48

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If you have ever believed the disciples were somehow spiritually superior to you or I because they walked with Jesus, you probably haven’t read much of the gospel record. When reading the gospels, it doesn’t take too long to discover a point where the disciples behave in a way that shows their flaws.

Our passage for this episode focuses in on one such time, and when we look at Jesus’ response, we discover a profound idea surrounding God’s character and some things He values when looking at our lives. While our passage for this episode isn’t very long, don’t let its length deceive you from thinking it isn’t relevant. This passage might contain one of the greatest spiritual, and non-spiritual, truths in the entire Bible.

This episode’s passage is found in the gospel of Luke, chapter 9, and we will be reading it from the New International Version of the Bible. Starting in verse 46, we learn that:

46 An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47 Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48 Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”

In these three short verses, we not only see the disciples behaving like children by arguing about who would be the greatest among them, we also see Jesus step into their debate and reframe it with a concept that is quite powerful.

To set the stage for the big spiritual truth, Jesus calls a child over to Him. While we don’t know where this child even came from, or whether this child had been following Jesus from a distance, or if this was a toddler who was with his parents near Jesus, all of these details are irrelevant in the big scheme of things. Actually not knowing any details about this child is relevant to the truth Jesus is about to share.

The big idea Jesus wanted to illustrate in this passage is the contrast between where we think greatness is and where God sees greatness. While we see greatness as a stepping up and associating with people who are more important than we are, greatness in God’s eyes is the exact opposite. Greatness in God’s eyes has to do with stepping down and welcoming those who are unknown in Jesus’ name. It is when we welcome those into our lives who cannot do anything special for us that we welcome Jesus, and by welcoming Jesus into our lives in this way, we welcome God the Father, the One who sent Jesus, into our lives as well!

This is a huge spiritual truth, because in this first portion of verse 48, we discover the way to invite Jesus into our lives and hearts.

Jesus follows this truth up with a general principle that is both spiritual and non-spiritual, and while this truth doesn’t sound logical on the surface, it is actually very true. Jesus finishes verse 48 by saying: “For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” In Jesus’ statement, we are challenged with the truth that serving, helping, and welcoming the most outcast among us is where we develop greatness in God’s eyes.

While culture and society place a lot of emphasis on the people at the top being the greatest of any organization, company, or group that has a structure, the truth is that in any structure, the people who get things done are rarely high on the ladder of status. Those who serve well might be stars among their peer-group or team of employees, but they are likely still on the level of doing work rather than the alternate.

In this discussion, the alternate is the managerial group. While typical organizational charts place the managers “above” those doing the work, we would be mistaken to think that managers are more important than the workers are. A manager is only as good as the workers he or she has on their team, and this is true moving all the rest of the way up to the highest levels of management. While the top levels of management might look on the surface like they are important because they have greater responsibility and greater influence than the working group they are responsible for, the workers are still the most important part of the process.

While Jesus shares a counter-cultural truth about greatness in the last part of this verse, this truth is also very spiritual as well. When we look at this statement a little closer, we find the flaw present in the original sin and the self-focused attitude Lucifer had before being kicked out of heaven.

Jesus’ statement in this passage speaks to an eternal truth about God’s kingdom: “For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.” Lucifer pushed back at the idea of serving and stepping down being significant for gaining greatness in God’s eyes. Many Biblical scholars point to a passage in the book of Isaiah as describing Lucifer’s character and focus. In Isaiah 14, verses 12-14 we read:

How you have fallen from heaven,
    morning star, son of the dawn!
You have been cast down to the earth,
    you who once laid low the nations!
You said in your heart,
    “I will ascend to the heavens;
I will raise my throne
    above the stars of God;
I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly,
    on the utmost heights of Mount Zaphon.
I will ascend above the tops of the clouds;
    I will make myself like the Most High.”

In Lucifer’s mind, we see his desire to ascend higher than he was and to become like God. While this sounds ridiculous for us to think about, the principle in this attitude is where we will focus some time discussing. Jesus describes stepping down and serving as the path to greatness, while Lucifer is completely focused on stepping up and increasing his position in heaven.

Lucifer’s sin was pride – specifically a pride that focused on exalting himself above others. We could call this form of pride arrogance, and whether or not he displayed an outward form of arrogance when dealing with other angels, Isaiah’s prophecy and passage teach us that Lucifer’s heart was full of arrogant-pride that was counter to God’s path for greatness.

To contrast Lucifer, meet Jesus. Everything in Jesus’ life was aimed at stepping down and helping others. Jesus is God, and many Bible scholars understand that Jesus first chose to give up His divine form to become an angel (described at the angel Michael in parts of the Bible). When humanity was created, plans were made for Jesus to step down from His role in heaven and become human to teach us what God is like and to save us from sin.

When we read the gospels, we find Jesus loving and helping the lowest in society almost unquestioningly, and Jesus pushes back against the arrogant, religious elite. Jesus even stepped down so far that He took our punishment for sin when He didn’t deserve it.

Jesus models His statement the best, while culture leans towards a Lucifer-inspired model. Jesus modeled how to step down and serve the least among society the best – and Jesus has called His followers to model His life, His focus, and His character. Jesus has called each of us to step down and serve the least among us and when we do, we are seen as great in God’s eyes. When we welcome and serve others in Jesus’ name, we welcome Jesus into our lives, and God the Father with His Holy Spirit comes into our lives as well.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Seek God first in your life by serving others. As you move through life, pay attention to opportunities where you can serve others, and especially look for people who cannot repay you back for how you serve them. As God opens your eyes to opportunities where you can help others, know that when you serve and welcome others in Jesus’ name, you are serving and welcoming Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and even God the Father.

Also, as I always challenge you to do, pray and study the Bible for yourself, because in the pages of scripture, we can discover what God is like and we can grow a personal relationship with Him. While a pastor or podcaster can share what they have found that is fascinating and relevant to their own lives with you, only when you personally open the pages of scripture will you grow that personal relationship with God and learn His message for you!

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or drift away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 22: In three short verses, Jesus shares one of the biggest spiritual concepts in the entire Bible, and in what He shares, we can discover Lucifer’s error, and how Jesus modeled how God wants us to live!

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According to Your Faith: Matthew 9:27-31

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Continuing forward in the miracles of the gospels, we come to a short event and miracle where it appears as though Jesus ignored those asking Jesus for help for a period of time prior to actually healing them. Not only this, but Jesus heals them with a somewhat strange statement. This statement is worth us paying attention to because it gives us a clue into the importance of faith in our own lives.

As we read this event, let’s focus on what this event teaches us about Jesus, about God, and about the faith we are called to have. Our passage is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 9, and we will be reading from the New American Standard Bible translation. Starting in verse 27, Matthew tells us that:

27 As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” 28 When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to Him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then He touched their eyes, saying, “It shall be done to you according to your faith.” 30 And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them: “See that no one knows about this!” 31 But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land.

In these five short verses, we see a number of things that are worth paying attention to. In the opening two verses, we get the impression that Jesus was traveling between two places, and these two blind men were following behind Jesus crying out for help. If we didn’t know God’s love before this point, we might be tempted to think that Jesus, and by representation, that God too, is unloving. Why else would Jesus seem to ignore two people obviously crying out for Him to help them?

I believe the answer to this challenge is found in Jesus’ question and response to them. Verse 28 contains Jesus’ question and the blind men’s response: “Jesus said to them, ‘Do you believe that I am able to do this?’ They said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord.’

While I don’t know why it wasn’t already evident through their seeking Jesus out and following Him asking for help, Jesus asks these two men plainly if they believe that He is able to do this. In their response, which is just two words long, we see an amazing display of faith. It is easy to discount the response they give, which is simply, “Yes, Lord,” as something that is said with humility and respect to someone with authority. However, by using the word “Lord,” I see in this response that these men believe Jesus to be from God, and that the healing they desperately want to have will be from God as well.

To wrap up this healing, Matthew describes in verse 29 that Jesus then “touched their eyes, saying, ‘It shall be done to you according to your faith.’

Interestingly enough, these blind men had clearly demonstrated their faith. They persisted when it appeared as though Jesus was ignoring them, and they acknowledged their faith in Jesus and God when asked. It almost seems redundant for Jesus, who would know they had plenty of faith, to tell them they would be healed “according to [their] faith”. It should not surprise anyone reading this event to learn that these men were healed.

In this event, we see an amazing truth that the level of faith we have in God will directly determine how clearly we see God working in our lives – and it may even directly affect how God is able or not able to work in us and through us. The faith of these blind men is clearly visible both before they are healed, and it is confirmed after they have been healed. This makes Jesus’ message to them a principle and a promise we can live by: Our requests of God will be done to us according to our faith.

While we are encouraged to pray for other people, this principle focuses on our personally focused prayers. If we want healing, freedom, or a specific opportunity, we must be willing to display a visible faith before we can expect it to happen.

However, the last portion of our passage is interesting as well. After healing these men, Matthew tells us in verse 30 that “Jesus sternly warned them: ‘See that no one knows about this!” Since we are reading from the New American Standard Bible, there are two words in this command that are italicized. This means that they are not included in the original language, but have been added to smooth the reading. The literal response Jesus gives is simply, “See that no one knows”. While the context can imply that Jesus is telling these men to keep silent about this healing, it could also simply be Jesus telling these men to keep secret this extreme truth about faith.

Faith is powerful; more powerful than we realize. Faith can be placed in many things, and persistent faith is powerful enough to conquer virtually anything we face in this life. However, faith, when it is not placed in what God did for us through Jesus on the cross, is worthless in the context of eternity. These men experience healing because they had amazing, persistent faith and because they placed their faith in Jesus.

Matthew’s final statement in this event is that these men go and do the exact opposite of what it seems like Jesus asked them to do. Matthew tells us that these healed men “went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land”. If Jesus wanted them to stay silent so He wouldn’t be flooded with people needing help, we can understand His reasoning. And we can contrast this with also realizing that the formerly blind men’s enthusiasm to share what Jesus had done for them was their way of saying thank you to Jesus and to God for healing them.

But it is also possible that these men shared what Jesus had done for them without sharing that Jesus attributed their healing to their level of faith in Him. In this regard, it can be said that these men obeyed Jesus, while also enthusiastically giving thanks to God for healing them.

The big thing for us to remember in this passage and this healing is that our faith is a powerful tool that we are called to place in Jesus. Faith in many other things can be productive in this life, but only when our faith is in Jesus will we discover a future, eternal life with God in heaven.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place your faith in Him. Bring your questions, problems, challenges, and concerns to Him and trust, believe, and move forward knowing that God will take care of them. Have faith that God works with a bigger picture in mind than we can even begin to imagine, and that His goal is as many people to be saved with Him as possible.

Also, always pray and study the Bible for yourself to learn, grow, and mature towards God in your own life. While other people can give you ideas to think about, always filter what you learn, see, or discover through the pages of God’s Word to know whether it is something worthy of eternity. God’s goals is saving us for eternity, and the Bible teaches us everything we need to know to accept this gift He has offered us.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, chicken out of, or walk away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 22: When two blind men follow Jesus asking for His help, we discover an amazing truth about faith within this miraculous healing, and a truth we can apply in our own lives related to our faith in God.

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Flashback Episode — The Law and the Prophet: Matthew 17:1-13

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Part way into Jesus’ ministry, we come to an event that many skeptics probably would eliminate from the Bible if they could. This event is one of the clearest examples in Jesus’ ministry that He was from God, but interestingly enough, Jesus asked the disciples who were present to keep the event a secret until after He was raised back to life.

As we read this event together, think about what you might have done if you were there with the disciples when it happened. Our event is found in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 17, and we will be reading from the God’s Word translation. Starting in verse 1:

After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John (the brother of James) and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone.

Jesus’ appearance changed in front of them. His face became as bright as the sun and his clothes as white as light. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared to them and were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll put up three tents here—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

He was still speaking when a bright cloud overshadowed them. Then a voice came out of the cloud and said, “This is my Son, whom I love and with whom I am pleased. Listen to him!”

The disciples were terrified when they heard this and fell facedown on the ground. But Jesus touched them and said, “Get up, and don’t be afraid!” As they raised their heads, they saw no one but Jesus.

Let’s pause reading here for a moment, because what just happened is very significant when we think about it. In this event, not only does Jesus temporarily reveal His glory to the three closest disciples, we also have confirmation from God the Father and two of the most prominent Old Testament figures.

I don’t think it was an accident that Moses and Elijah were the one’s present for this event. Moses, who died and was buried on a mountain just outside the Promised Land is one of the first in history to have been physically resurrected and taken to heaven. While Enoch lived a thousand or more years before Moses, Enoch never experienced death. Moses had. When we look at Moses being included in this event, we see foreshadowing of those who will face death looking forward to the opportunity of resurrection.

Including Elijah is also significant, because in some respects, he was the most famous and Holy Spirit filled prophet in the Old Testament history. Elijah is also significant because he is the only individual in Israel’s history to have never experienced death. God took him to heaven on a fiery chariot prior to his death.

When thinking of the phrase, “law and the prophets”, we can see Moses representing the law, and Elijah representing the prophets. In this event, both of these historical figures come and validate what Jesus is doing, and what He is here to accomplish. In the same way, both the law and the prophets point forward to Jesus, His mission, and His ministry.

Looking at the timetable of history, I wonder what sort of conversations Jesus had with both these men prior to coming to earth as a baby. Both these men would have been able to spend hundreds of years with Jesus in heaven prior to this brief moment on the mountain, and we really don’t know what they shared with Jesus while on the mountain in this passage.

Which makes me wonder, what would you have done if you were on the mountain there with Jesus, Moses, Elijah, and the three disciples? Peter impulsively says the first thing that comes to his mind, which while not bad, was not all that necessary. James and John on the other hand simply don’t say anything at all. If it weren’t for them being included in the verses leading up to this event, we wouldn’t even know they were there.

I’m not sure what I would have done, but I’d like to think I would have been more like James and John, who stayed silent and observed, rather than Peter, but it would be impossible to know for sure.

Let’s continue reading and see how this event ends. Picking back up in verse 9:

On their way down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen. Wait until the Son of Man has been brought back to life.”

10 So the disciples asked him, “Why do the experts in Moses’ Teachings say that Elijah must come first?”

11 Jesus answered, “Elijah is coming and will put everything in order again. 12 Actually, I can guarantee that Elijah has already come. Yet, people treated him as they pleased because they didn’t recognize him. In the same way they’re going to make the Son of Man suffer.”

13 Then the disciples understood that he was talking about John the Baptizer.

One thing that amazes me about this trip down the mountain is that Jesus clearly gives an opening for these disciples to ask Him about the crucifixion-plus-resurrection weekend. Jesus asks these disciples to keep quiet about this event until after He was brought back to life, which would have been the perfect opening for one of the disciples to ask Him what He meant.

Instead, since Elijah is fresh on their minds, and since he was one of the unexpected guests on the mountain, the disciples ask Jesus about why the religious experts say Elijah is supposed to come first. Jesus gives a great answer, and the disciples realize that John the Baptizer fulfilled this prediction, but the disciples miss asking the big question that would have made crucifixion weekend significantly different for them.

If they had simply asked Jesus to teach them about what He meant when He referenced His death and coming back to life, I doubt the disciples would have been as sorrow-filled when Jesus actually died. Instead, the disciples would have been waiting expectantly for His resurrection. They might have even been present at the tomb to witness the angel.

However, they didn’t ask the question. For all the openings Jesus gave them to ask about His death and resurrection, the disciples didn’t ask Jesus to teach them about it until it was too late. Only after the resurrection and the confusion surrounding the weekend do the disciples actually stop and pay attention to what the scriptures actually predicted would happen. Only while Jesus is walking with disciples who don’t recognize who He is, do we see the disciples being open to learning what the scriptures predicted would happen that weekend.

In our own lives, God wants to teach us and show us amazing things, but we must be willing and open to what He wants to teach us. While Jesus is in heaven now preparing a place for each of us, we can look forward expectantly for the day He will return and bring us home to Him. We can look back in scriptures and discover who Jesus is and what He is like. We can look at Jesus’ life, love, and ministry, and discover what God the Father is like as well. And we can trust, believe, and have faith that God is doing everything He can to save us for eternity!

As we come to the end of another podcast, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Be sure to seek God first in your live and be open to letting Him teach you what He wants you to learn. Be open to being used by God in amazing ways, for His purposes, and trust that He has your best future – your eternal future – secure. While crazy things might happen while sin is present in our world today, trust, believe, and look forward to the new heaven and new earth where sin will be a distant, forgotten memory.

Also, be sure to pray and study the Bible for yourself so that you will learn and know what God and Jesus are like firsthand. While listening to pastors or podcasters can help you see the Bible in new ways, God wants to show you Himself through the pages of His word personally. Only through personal study can you grow a personal relationship with God, and a personal relationship with God is something you can start today. There’s no reason to wait until heaven to grow towards God.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or reject where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Flashback Episode: Year 4 – Episode 21: Discover how a secret meeting validates Jesus’ ministry, and how the several of the disciples miss the perfect opportunity to ask Jesus about crucifixion weekend.

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When Jesus Was Too Late: Mark 5:21-24, 35-43

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In our last episode, we focused in on the miracle where a woman pushed her way through a crowd just to touch the edge of Jesus’ garment. However, that miracle is part of a much bigger miracle, because when that miracle happened, Jesus was on His way to help a local synagogue leader.

Let’s read about what happened from Mark’s gospel, chapter 5, using the New Living Translation of the Bible. Starting in verse 21, Mark tells us that:

21 Jesus got into the boat again and went back to the other side of the lake, where a large crowd gathered around him on the shore. 22 Then a leader of the local synagogue, whose name was Jairus, arrived. When he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet, 23 pleading fervently with him. “My little daughter is dying,” he said. “Please come and lay your hands on her; heal her so she can live.”

24 Jesus went with him, and all the people followed, crowding around him.

It is at this point in the event where we find the miracle we focused on in the last episode. While Jesus was headed to help Jairus, the woman from our last episode saw an opportunity to be healed without being noticed. However, Jesus did notice and He stopped everything and everyone in order to bring this woman’s story into the spotlight.

We don’t know how long this interruption lasted, but when we come back to Jairus’ portion of this event, we discover that it may now be too late. Continuing in verse 35, Mark tells us that:

35 While he was still speaking to her, messengers arrived from the home of Jairus, the leader of the synagogue. They told him, “Your daughter is dead. There’s no use troubling the Teacher now.”

36 But Jesus overheard them and said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid. Just have faith.”

37 Then Jesus stopped the crowd and wouldn’t let anyone go with him except Peter, James, and John (the brother of James). 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw much commotion and weeping and wailing. 39 He went inside and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? The child isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

40 The crowd laughed at him. But he made them all leave, and he took the girl’s father and mother and his three disciples into the room where the girl was lying. 41 Holding her hand, he said to her, “Talitha koum,” which means “Little girl, get up!” 42 And the girl, who was twelve years old, immediately stood up and walked around! They were overwhelmed and totally amazed. 43 Jesus gave them strict orders not to tell anyone what had happened, and then he told them to give her something to eat.

In this passage and this event, several things stand out in my mind. The first one is that Jairus might not have heard or been certain if Jesus could raise someone from the dead. Prior to this, Jesus had raised a widow’s boy who was being carried out of town to be buried, but it is possible that this event had been glorified, glamorized, or simply shared so often that people weren’t fully sure what about it was truth verses exaggeration as the story spread.

We don’t know if the girl would have died before Jesus could have arrived if Jesus hadn’t stopped to draw attention onto the woman, but the implication I see when reading between the lines is that Jesus likely could have made it.

Because of this, we might end up feeling a little like Jairus did when receiving the news that his daughter was dead. At that moment, Jairus likely felt as though Jesus was too distracted to help him personally. At times in our own lives, we might feel as though God is too busy helping other people to help us personally.

However, while thinking this way is a temptation for us, nothing could be further from the truth. If we can push back from the situation where God appears to be silent, even if just for a moment or two, we might discover that if Jesus had arrived in time, both Jairus and everyone present would have missed experiencing another resurrection miracle. In a similar way, if God was always quick about answering some of our requests, we might never realize how much God wanted for us.

But this also leads us to an interesting detail present in this miracle, and some of the other ones where people are raised. In this miracle, Jesus refers to the child as sleeping, even if everyone present considers her dead. I cannot escape seeing the irony that if someone were to describe death as being like sleep in today’s culture, they would be laughed at by both major crowds of people. One crowd firmly believes that death is the end, while the other crowd things that death is a quick transition into eternal life in heaven or hell – though most people in this crowd focus on the heaven part.

It is likely for this reason that Jesus stopped the crowd from following Him after learning that the girl had died, and it is also the reason that He kicked everyone else out of the house when going in to see the girl. In the case of the crowd, there was likely enough faith and expectation to see a miracle that Jairus would not have needed to have faith personally. In contrast, those present at the house had lost all hope and their belief in the child being dead outweighed the faith in Jesus’ resurrecting ability.

In some ways, by describing death as a sleep, Jesus points us to the idea that it is simply a pause on consciousness. We can easily understand sleep as being a time of rest between two periods when we are awake and conscious, and understanding death as being simply a deeper sleep that only God can wake us up from is a peaceful way of describing death. By describing death as a sleep, Jesus aims to strengthen Jairus’ faith in the resurrection, and He aims to give us comfort in His resurrecting ability.

According to Jesus, when we face the sleep known as death, we will be resting until the time God wakes us up. In the case of Jairus’ daughter, Jesus wakes her up minutes after her last breath, and in our case, Jesus will wake us up when He returns with a shout.

As we come to the end of another podcast episode, here are the challenges I will leave you with:

Always seek God first and place your hope, faith, trust, and belief in Him. If you are fearful about death, take Jesus’ advice in this passage and think of death as a deep sleep. Jesus has fully shown that He is capable of waking people from this sleep, and because of this, we can be assured that when we have fallen into the sleep called death, that Jesus is fully capable of waking us up when the time is right.

As always, and especially since this is a very controversial topic, I challenge you to pray and study the Bible for yourself to discover what it teaches. If you want a balanced view on the subject, find two or three sources from each perspective and choose for yourself which one matches the Bible the best. As always, use the Bible as your guide, and focus on accepting the Bible for what it teaches and don’t filter the Bible through any of culture’s theories or ideas.

And as I end every set of challenges by saying in one way or another, never stop short of, back away from, chicken out of, or wander away from where God wants to lead you to in your life with Him!

Year of Miracles – Episode 21: While being distracted by another miracle, the girl Jesus was on His way to heal dies. Discover what happened and how Jesus uses this tragedy to teach us some amazing things about God.

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