a talk on the chief end and the way there

For those who don’t know me, my name is Shea

For those that do know me, you won’t be surprised that I would like to begin with some music…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jshPFS-1TTQ

 

How many of you found yourselves getting caught up, lost in this music?

Beautiful isn’t it?

How many of you felt that was the longest 90 seconds you have ever experienced?

If so, please see me after class… we need to have a talk 🙂

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Johann Sebastian Bach is often considered one of the most brilliant composers ever. He is among the top 3 most recognized artists in classical music, alongside Mozart and Beethoven.  Musicians love to learn and play Bach because it is often a full education in musical theory, but even mathematicians find themselves fascinated with the structures Bach used and often wonder how he came to understand math so well. Some have said that his genius has influenced Western music more profoundly than any other composer.

 

Here are some quotes I found:

“Listening to Bach is like watching energy pass from gear to gear in a complicated – but perfectly aligned and synchronized – machine. Machine turned into art. And somewhere in between – art into humanity.  ”

 

” Let your ears and mind tell you why he’s the man! His music is psychological; it gets into your head and puts you in an amazing place. I feel very relaxed, yet very powerful when I listen to Bach. ”

 

“Over 250 years after his death, the mysterious current of Bach’s genius continues to transport us to the depths of the human spirit. [His music] provides the inexhaustible impulse for a spiritual and aesthetic journey into those sublime realms where the human and the divine communicate and are sometimes united in harmony.”

 

As much as I would like to spent this time convincing you all to fall in love with the music of Johann, I have another reason for introducing him here.

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This is how Johann signed all of his works. Now you would expect that he would sign his work with JSB right? But he didn’t, he signed with SDG or Soli Deo Gloria – which is latin for “to the glory of God alone!”.

 

He said in fact – “The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” He believed himself to be only a humble servant of God, and that his incomparable genius was bestowed on him by his Creator and so he lived a life of returning all things to God.

 

Where do you suspect Johann got this idea of living – and creating such beautiful music – for the glory of God alone? It might possibly have been our vision cast theme verse – Romans 11:36 – “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things – to Him be the glory forever and ever Amen.”

 

But let’s put a pin in Bach for the moment, we will return shortly… I have another story to tell you first – it is a story about Tommy…

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Tommy had a bit of a sordid past. Confusion and Trouble both had found a way to rhyme with this name. He never did any time behind bars, but he would probably tell you it only due to dumb luck. For a long time he thought someone else – anyone else, maybe even God, was to blame for his hardship and misery. Eventually though, he considered that it might just have something to do with the way he had chosen to live.

Then… almost as if on cue, Tommy found himself hearing the Gospel for the first time. Of course it wasn’t the really the first time his ears had heard it… but his soul had always been deaf to it before now.

 

So there he was, eyes and ears fixed – and soul focused – on the words coming out of this preachers mouth…

“There are 3 places, places which are so different from each other that each qualify as a unique type of existence. What differentiates each of the 3,” the preacher explained, “is their exposure to the presence and the glory of God. ”

Tommy wasn’t sure he understood what this meant but leaned into it.

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In one of the places God’s glory is totally unleashed and in full view.  The radiance of it is so powerful it overwhelms everything, leaving no shadows anywhere. Living that close to God’s glory is like taking all of the pleasure you have ever experienced, all of the beauty you have ever seen, all of the goodness you have ever felt, and joining it all into a super-concentrate and then swimming it in all the time.”

 

There is also a place where God’s glory is completely absent – and along with it, all beauty and goodness and pleasure. This is a place of shadows on all sides because there is no light. The beings here experience none of Gods glory, and honestly… they had never been interested in experiencing it anyway. They had thought that all of the pleasure and beauty and goodness which they had experienced were for their own glory and that is basically how they arrived here.

 

It was then that Tommy realized he had spent his life thinking the exact same thing and began to question why.

It is said that hindsight is 20/20 and sometimes terrible.

It is also said that in the complete absence of God’s glory we will begin to crave it from every cell in our bodies, but when the craving goes unsatisfied, like a severe heroin withdrawal, the result is a rather unpleasant condition called the gnashing of teeth.

 

The preacher continued…

“The third place is a kind of in-between place. In this place of some light where God’s glory can still be experienced but in much smaller doses. It is here but it is hidden in plain sight. It requires a special kind of seeing in order to observe it, and a special kind of desire to want to see it. People here have a choice whether they want to pursue the experience of God’s glory, or chase after their own glory – which, the preacher explained, really isn’t all that glorious but many of us seem to have a kind of sick preference for it.

 

Again, Tommy was confronted with his own past. He saw how the preachers words about living for your own glory applied to him for as long as he could remember, and while it always felt right to him before, he was beginning to think it couldn’t possibly be the right way to live. But what could he do? Maybe the preacher will explain… he thought

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“Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who is one with the Father and almighty Creator from all eternity, also became one with us by being born into the in-between place.

He lived a perfect life.

He fully lived Soli Deo Gloria – to the Glory of God Alone.

He taught all the words that the Father had given Him and amazed everyone with his wisdom and authority.

He healed the sick and embraced the broken.

He died a vicious death on a Roman cross and His corpse was placed in the ground.

For three days, life in the in-between place seemed to return to normal but then light exploded into it.

Jesus Christ was risen!

He had defeated Death and not only for Himself, but for everyone who would look to Him and believe. The wages of His perfect life and atoning death could be put into our account through a mechanism called faith. The price we could not ever hope to pay, He has paid in full. In some miraculous way, the suffering and the apparent defeat of the Cross has been turned into the ultimate victory for God, and for those who would seek and follow Him.”

 

Well… needless to say… Tommy was changed by what he heard. The way he perceived and understood everything – himself, his relationships, the sun and moon and stars, even the significance of a single blade of grass – all had been transformed by this “Good News” about Jesus Christ.

 

He had been changed. He had been redeemed. His name had been written in the Lambs Book of Life. What do you think he did next? Well, I think he sang a song…

 

Video – Lord I’ve Been Changed

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CIhyQPixAsc

 

So Tommy has heard the Gospel, believed it and turned to God, trusting His grace and mercy. End of story right? The Gospel has done its work and now it really isn’t all that important anymore – at least until Tommy finds himself in a position of witnessing to someone else. Does this sound right to anyone?

Let’s ask Paul what he thinks…

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1 Cor 15:1-4

Now I would remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you now stand,  and by which you are being saved

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,

Rom 1:16-17

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The just shall live by faith”

 

To go back to Bach for a moment… do you think Johann heard the Gospel, responded to it in faith and then largely forgot about it?  What do you think actually inspired him, and then enabled him to work and live “Soli Deo Gloria” – to the Glory of God alone?

 

It is my desire to suggest here this morning that it is the power of Gospel of Christ that carries a Christian all the way through this life on earth, from the moment of salvation, through growth and discipleship, all the way to living to the glory of God alone.

 

Christ Himself, and the message about who He is and what He has accomplished on our behalf, is our source.  What do I mean by source?

 

Definition of Source

1 – The point at which something springs into being or from which it derives or is obtained.

2 – The point of origin, such as a spring, of a stream or river.

3 – One that causes, creates, or initiates; a maker.

4 – One, such as a person or document, that supplies information: “A reporter is only as reliable as his or her sources.”

5 – In Physics – the point or part of a system where energy or mass is added to the system.

 

Christ is our life – says Colossians 3

The one who believes in Me, Jesus said, will have streams of living water flowing from deep within him – John chapter 7

All things were made by and for Jesus – John chapter 1

Christ is our Author and Finisher – Hebrews chapter 12

The alpha and omega – the beginning and the end  Rev 1

In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God  john 1

God, after He spoke long ago through the prophets and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in his Son Jesus – Hebrews chapter 1

So Jesus certainly meets nearly every definition of source

…But is Jesus the ” the point where energy is added to the system.”?

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In John chapter 15 Jesus himself wants to suggest that He is. He tells a parable of a vine and branches – He is the vine, He says, and we are the branches. The Father is the Gardener caring for the vine and branches, and just like a crop of beautiful succulent grapes will bring any vinedresser a cause to rejoice, when we bear fruit in our lives, we are glorifying our Father.

 

How many have heard of The Westminster Catechism? A “Catechism” is a form of teaching basic bible doctrines that is written in a simple question and answer format to facilitate memorization. The Westminster Catechism is perhaps the most popular catechism and was written in England back in the 1640s

It starts with the following question:

Q. What is the chief end of humankind? (or what is the greatest purpose of humankind)

A. Humankind’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.

Notice that glorifying God is identified as something that also brings us joy. One bible teacher puts it this way – “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him” – that is, the degree to which God is glorified by our lives is largely determined by the happiness and pleasure we have in seeking after Him and living for Him.

 

It seems our culture has us chasing after happiness behind every dark corner, but is it possible that the greatest happiness is only going to be found in this simple idea of Soli Deo Gloria? Is it likely that there is no real happiness in seeking our own glory?

 

If it is true that our greatest purpose on earth is to Glorify God – and that fulfilling that purpose brings us the greatest happiness – the next obvious question is “How do we do it?” “How do we glorify God?”

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BEAR FRUIT

Let’s ask Jesus…  John 15:8

This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

 

Simple right? If we bear fruit we will glorify God and fulfill our greatest purpose in this life.

So what does it mean to bear fruit? What does that look like practically?

 

I’m willing to bet at least some of you have Galatians 5:22 memorized

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. ”

In this sense, as our own character reflects the character of Christ, we are “bearing fruit” and showing to the world what God is like. And, as I suspect Wayne will mention later, it is through the Holy Spirit’s presence and power that these fruits appear in our lives.

 

In the Sermon on the Mount as recorded by Matthew, Jesus says:

““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

 

So not only our Character, but also our Actions – our good works, are fruit that glorifies God.

 

In Mark 4 Jesus says  “Listen! Behold, a sower went out to sow seed.” then he tells the parable of the four places seed fell – along a pathway, on rocky ground, among thorns and finally into good soil.” Later Jesus explains the parable to his disciples

The sower sows the word.

And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.

And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away.

And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.

But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

 

Bearing fruit in this parable likely refers to the fruit of both character and actions, but it could also be understood to say that we bear fruit by sharing the Gospel with others, by sowing the Word of God ourselves into the world we produce a crop of fruit – thirty, sixty and even a hundred times over.

 

So bearing fruit means all of the above –

to reflect the character of God with our own character,

to act in such a way that God can be seen in our work,

and to share the gospel with others who will also reflect who God is to the world.

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ABIDE

I can hear you out there wondering… “but how do I bear fruit?” I’m glad you asked…

John 15:5 – Jesus says…

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

 

Now the word Abide means to “Remain” or to Stay Attached. Think about a grape branch that cuts itself off from the vine – what is going to happen to it? It’s going to wither up and go brittle.

Have you ever seen a Christian go brittle? It’s not a pretty sight is it…?

Well a grape branch that goes brittle will certainly never have any grapes growing from it again right? For a grape branch it is a no-brainer to stay attached to the vine, but what does it look like for us to stay attached to Jesus? You probably already have some examples floating through your minds right now.

 

Who thought about prayer being an important part of abiding with Christ?

What about time in the word? Reading, studying, memorizing? Are these ways of abiding? Indeed.

 

I actually think any of the Christian disciplines could be considered abiding in Christ – but you should also realize that many of these can be performed without actually being attached to Christ. For example, many people read the scriptures trying to satisfy a curiosity or an intellectual hunger more than a relationship with Christ.

 

There is a certain danger in observing the Christian practices as a “religion” but trying to do so apart from Christ, detached from the vine. These quickly become only brittle branches lying about the fields of Christianity, waiting to be tossed into a fire and this is precisely what Jesus says… “If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; the branches are gathered, thrown into a fire, and burned.”

 

Now if you were paying attention, you might have noticed that I just threw a circular thought out there – I said that we can stay attached in Christ through our practice of the disciplines but be careful not to practice the disciplines detached from Christ. The truth is that with any practice, it is the intent and the intensity with which you engage that produces results. If you were to practice the violin with zero intensity and no real intent to master the instrument, the only thing you are going to do is annoy the neighbors.

 

Here is a great quote about practice from Martha Graham – the famous dancer:ScreenShot010

“I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated precise set of actions, physical or intellectual, from which comes shape of achievement, a sense of one’s being, a satisfaction of spirit. One becomes, in some area, an athlete of God. Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting perfection.”

 

I love that idea – Practice is a means of inviting perfection – and to understand this as a Christian would be to understand Christ Himself as the perfection, and our practice is a means of inviting Him into our lives, of becoming like Him.

 

So if we abide Jesus says, we will bear fruit, and if we bear fruit we will glorify God.

 

OBEY

So the next obvious question becomes…

“How do I abide in Christ?”

Again, John chapter 15

“If you keep my commandment, you will abide in me”

 

So if we Obey Him, we will Abide. Do you see what is happening here? There is a bit of a chain reaction starting to form… if we obey, the natural consequence of that will be abiding and staying connected to Christ, and if we are connected to Christ we will indeed bear fruit, and if we bear fruit we will automatically glorify God and fulfill our purpose on earth with great joy.

 

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So who wants to talk about obedience? I’d be surprised to get many anxious takers – obedience seems really hard sometimes, and we seem to want to give in to what we know to be sin and disobedience so easily… who can relate? It’s not easy, and it’s getting more and more difficult because of the world we live in today – the opportunities to go sideways are all around us. Our culture is all about using the progress and technology we have developed to find more extravagant ways to please ourselves – to live to glorify ourselves alone. What would that be? “Soli MEo Gloria”

 

Romans chapter 1 seems almost prophetic… Paul says

“For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things… they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

 

This is actually a pretty good picture of sin and disobedience, exchanging the truth about God for a lie, and worshipping and serving ourselves as if we were God. Isn’t this what happened in the garden with Adam and Eve? They had the truth from God, but they exchanged it for a lie. Then they desired the authority God had over them and wanted it for themselves – to become independent from God.

 

So then, obedience would simply turn this around right? Preserving the glory and the truth of God and worshipping Him as our Creator and serving Him as our ultimate authority.

But How… the question comes again… How do I obey?

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LOVE

John 14:15 – Jesus says:

If you love me, you will keep my commandment.

 

Now this could be understood two ways… the first is with a wagging finger – If you love me… you had better keep my commandments! But this doesn’t really sound like Jesus or His gospel – does it?

The other way to understand this would be – “if you love me, a natural outpouring of the love will be obedience”

And remember… if we obey, we will abide

And if we abide we will bear fruit

And if we bear fruit we will glorify God and fulfill our greatest purpose.

 

But…

How do I love Jesus?

This one is a bit tricky… the others can all be understood as certain actions or things we have some control over – but how do we make ourselves love someone? Isn’t a forced love something that isn’t love at all? Doesn’t it seem ridiculous to fabricate a feeling of love for Jesus if it doesn’t happen naturally? Besides, it’s hard enough to love our kids and our neighbors – and we can directly interact with them, how could we possibly love someone with whom our entire relationship is based on faith?

It seems completely out of our power…

 

See… tricky right?

For this one, we need to jump to the first letter of John for an answer.

1 John 4:19

We love Him because he first loved us.

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As we experience His love for us, our love for Him will grow naturally – it doesn’t have to be fabricated or forced. You don’t need a post-it on your bathroom mirror saying “Love Jesus better today!” – but you just might need regular reminders of His love for you.

 

If you think about love as something you are giving to another, whether to Christ or to anyone for that matter – it is a very simple principle that you can only give what you have already received. If you have never received any love, you will have none of it to give to anyone. So it seems that maybe the secret to loving is to have a huge storehouse of love in stock.

 

Steve Brown has always been one of my favorite bible teachers – he likes to say that “you just can’t teach frogs to fly”. And in the same manner you just can’t teach people how to not sin. Steve tells a story about a guy who has a frog, and he’s convinced he can teach this frog how to fly. The man keeps throwing the frog up in the air or up against walls – all to the poor frog’s chagrin – and eventual demise.    The message is that even though people can be better or worse, they can never “not sin”—just like a frog can never learn to fly, no matter how much pressure is put on it.

 

What is most important for a new believer in Christ (or any believer for that matter) is not to start learning how to “not sin”, what is most important is to just receive huge amounts of the Love of God and build up their storehouse. The more they have, the more they have to give, and the more they give love to Christ the more they follow after Christ, and abide in Him, and bear fruit and ultimately glorify God and enjoy Him.

 

And how do we know that Jesus loves us? Did He write in the stars – Hey You! I Love You! ? Did He write a thousand books of poetry to stir up our broken and lonely hearts? No…

 

1 John 4: 9-10

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

 

This is the Gospel.

God loved us and sent Jesus to become one of us, to live a perfect live and die a reconciling death on behalf of any who look to Him as their source.

 

Or as the famous John 3:16 puts it…

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

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And from our experience of God’s love for us, our love for Him grows

And when we increasingly love Him, we also increasingly follow His command

And as we obey him, we abide in him

And as we abide in him, we bear fruit

And as we bear fruit, we glorify God and fulfill our greatest purpose and experience the greatest happiness

 

Do you see why we cannot just believe the gospel to “get saved” and then drop it? Our entire Christian experience of love, obedience, connectedness and fruitfulness is sourced in the gospel and we will never live Soli Deo Gloria apart from it.

In Galatians Paul talks about “falling from grace”, and we most often have interpreted that as leaving the church and becoming a pagan or an atheist or something, but I am fairly sure he was talking about something else entirely.

We need to live from heights the gospel of grace and not fall from it… We need to live from Christ who is our life, our source, and we have hope that we shall see Him and even, be like Him when He appears.

 

But we get waylaid… sidetracked. I suppose it is part of our fallen nature, but having been saved by the gospel, we later turn to the work of our own hands to “keep” us “in the faith”.

We hear a bible teacher say we must bear fruit and so we clench are fists and try harder to bear fruit.

We hear another say we need to pray and read our bibles and so commit to be more faithful to prayer and study because we would not want to fall out of favor with God.

We grit our teeth and determine to be more obedient tomorrow than we were today  because we are afraid of “falling from grace”.  And we know that Paul wasn’t lying to us when he said – if we faith to remove mountains, but have not love we have nothing.

 

When Paul spoke about falling from grace, he was not talking about becoming a pagan or an atheist, he was talking about when we seek to be justified by our own works and by trying to live the Christian life in our own power from our own merits.

 

The problem is if we attempt to enter into this chain from anywhere but the beginning, it easily becomes just another empty shadow of lawkeeping. We become our own source again, and when we are our own source, we are only seeking our own ends – our own glory and we will never live Soli Deo Gloria!

 

We must go to Christ as both the author of our faith and the completer of our faith – we turn to Him to finish the good work He started in our life. Having begun by the Spirit of God creating in us a new life, we must not seek to perfect that new life with the sin-stained efforts of the old one. The power of our entire Christian lives is the Gospel of Jesus, from the original moment of conversion all the way through to our final breath – and likely, beyond.

 

St Francis said it well…

Preach the gospel always  – and when necessary use words.

 

There is a sense in which you must always preach the gospel to yourself even – because it has a tendency to leak out of us over time. We must again and again return to our source.

Isn’t this what we are doing when we take communion? In remembrance of Christ and His cross, we take the bread and the wine into ourselves and remind ourselves that our life and sustenance is in Christ.

 

The truth is, I have been developing my understanding of all this for quite some time now… years actually…

The bible has told me to rest in Christ, and in His finished work, and then it turns around and tells me to strive and to overcome, and fight the good fight of the faith. Most of the people who are constantly pointing out so-called ‘contradictions’ in the bible always seem to miss this one because you don’t really notice it until you actually start trying to pick up your cross and follow after Christ.

 

But I have a working theory that I am trying to prove out when it comes to carrying a cross. See I think it is much more than just accepting the difficulties of life as “my cross to bear”, I think it is much much more than that. I suspect it has more to do with where we find our source, where we find our hope and strength and all of the energy it takes to fight the good fight. I haven’t got my head completely wrapped around it yet, but I feel like it is possible to always start with the gospel whenever I try to accomplish anything.

 

Are you having a difficult challenge in some relationship, perhaps with your spouse or your children? Don’t start with your own bright ideas, or your own problem solving power – start at the cross, start with the gospel.

 

Begin any and every effort you spend at work, or at church, or in your home, or anywhere – by just a brief moment of reflection. Consider the love God has demonstrated for you through His Son, allow that mighty demonstration of love to increase your own love for Christ, and thereby increase your desire to obey Him and then to abide in Him even more. Realize that by doing so, you will bear more fruit in your character and in your actions, and then rejoice in your life of glorifying God.

 

As a quiet closing prayer, I would like to offer you a few more minutes of Johann Sebastian Bach.

As you listen, I encourage you to reflect on the power the gospel has in your life – today – as a believing Christian.

Pray also that you can say along with Bach that “The aim and final end of all I will ever do should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.”

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCicM6i59_I

 

Soli Deo Gloria – Amen