J. Gordon Duncan

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Sample Chapter on Grace from The Gospel Carries US

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you

do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith?

This verse plunks down in the middle of the struggle in the book of Galatians.  It was a classic struggle of whether Jesus’ work is sufficient or whether a person has to add anything to it.  Paul asks this rhetorical question:  “God who gives you His Holy Spirit and works miracles among you, does He do those things because you have obeyed so much?”

The answer of course is, “By faith.”  One enters into the graces of God only by the faith that God gifts.  Every benefit from God is supplied by God and is not earned.

That word supplies in this verse is the same word in the Greek used during a first century wedding service.  It is the declaration of a groom to his bride.  It is like the groom who sees his beautiful bride and says, “I will provide for you because I love you.  Anything you need, I will supply.  You don’t have to earn it.  I just want to do it for you because I love you.”

In the language of scripture, that is exactly what Jesus does.  Jesus looks at His church the bride and says, “I love you, and I will make you beautiful.”  Because of that, no one improves on what God has done by their own efforts.  You can’t go out and try to earn His love.  All that the child of God has, He has graciously given.  It is not payment for a debt incurred by work.

As Galatians argues, these truths squash self-righteousness, and should instill patience within and among those who profess faith in Christ.  It should also give hope for any who struggle, as they know that it is God who supplies, and God who works.

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August 30, 2012 Posted by | church, gospel, mission, missional | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Family Devotion and Sermon Notes for James 1:13-15

Big Idea:  Cheer up.  You are worse off than you know, but God is more gracious than you can imagine.

James 1: 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.

  • Who does the Bible say is the tempter?
  • What warnings does the Bible give us about the tempter?
  • If God is not the tempter, how should that give us help and hope?
  • What was Jesus’ interaction with temptation (Matthew 4)?

14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.

  • What causes us to be tempted by certain things?
  • How does this verse make us more responsible for our sin?
  • Where was desire before temptation came along?

 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

  •  What is the result of sin according to these verses?
  • How was Jesus like Adam and how was Jesus different than Adam when facing sin (Romans 5)?
  • What hope do we have when facing temptation (Matthew 4, I Corinthians 10)?

What is a sin?  I can go old school for a minute and tell you that sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.  And though that is an incredibly helpful explanation of sin, its old English leads us to scratching our heads a bit.  So before we begin to define these things, let’s talk about what sin is not.  And don’t worry.  At SK, though we do talk of sin, we exalt the grace of God, but the grace of God found in Jesus Christ the good news is only good if it counters our sin problem.  So we must understand sin to fully understand Jesus.

So having said that, “What is sin?  Well sin is not a hurt, a habit, or a hang up.”  Yes sometimes we fall into sin because we are hurt.  This is awful when that happens.  Sexual abuse can, not always, but can lead to sexual promiscuity.  Abusive parents can create abusive adults.  Negligent parents can create adults who are negligent.  But sin is not just something we do because we saw others do it.  But sin is not just something we emulate.  It is that but not just that.

Sin is not bad habit.  Oh, we have sinful habits that we repeat every day, but sin in and of itself is not a bad habit.  Sin is not like biting your nails, picking your nose, or leaving your underwear on the floor.  Don’t get me wrong, we can fall into sinful patterns just like we do habits, but sin is much more than a habit.

Sin is not a hang up that we can get rid of by keeping New Year’s resolutions.  It is not an annoying something that you do every now and then.  Sin is much more pervasive than that.

So what is sin?  Sin is cosmic treason and to treat it as anything less than that is like letting a child play with a gun or to keep poison in your refrigerator.  When we sin, what our hearts are really saying is, “God, I will sit on your throne.  I will be God.  I will decide what is right and wrong.  You cannot tell me what to do, how to live, and you especially cannot tell me what I shouldn’t do.  We may not have that conscious thought each time, but that’s thing, we don’t have to.

The laws and commands of God are not a to do or a to don’t list.  They are expressions of His character.  To lie is not a small thing.  It violates the character of the God of all truth.  To gossip or to say things about a person that you would never say about them to their face is no small thing either.  It violates the character of the God who has revealed Himself and made Himself known.  To lust is no small thing.  Lust violates the sacrificial nature of Jesus and goes against the faithfulness and fidelity of the nature of God.  Any sin that we commit, whether it be a sin of the heart, a sin of speech, a sin of action or a sin of inaction, violates the law of God and thus violates His character.

When we face that truth, which James is going to make very clear this morning, we have no other option but to face this week’s Big Idea.
Big Idea:  Cheer up.  You are worse off than you know, but God is more gracious than you can imagine.

James 1: 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

For the sake of context, let me remind all of us of the context of these 3 absolutely huge and impactful verses.  James has told us that we are take great joy in trials because in the working through of trials, God produces a steadfastness in our lives that equips us for whatever God is doing.  When we struggle in those trials, we can ask God for wisdom by faith, and God will give us that wisdom.  The examples that James uses is taking great joy if God is placed us in a humble financial position because God will ultimately live us up where we will be blessed, not necessarily financially but lifted up and blessed nonetheless.  And his other example was that if we trust in our riches instead of in God, then God will humble us.  Ultimately though, God produces a steadfastness in us through these trials that give us a great hope of enjoying eternity with Him in heaven.

So as we move onto a connected, but new thought in James, we find that what he wants us to do is to realize what part we play in bringing about trials, conflicts, and difficulties in our lives.  He wants us to understand how our hearts are motivated by and given in to sin.  He also wants us to understand the character of God in all of these things.  A proper understanding of both, our hearts and God’s character, will drive us to our one hope in Jesus Christ.  Whew, weighty stuff, so let’s give it a shot.

In verse 13, James tells us we are all going to be tempted to sin.  But he wants us to understand the nature of that temptation and how it works with our hearts and where it comes from.  When you are tempted to sin, you cannot blame God for that temptation.  Why not?  If we are a church that claims that God is sovereign in all that He does, why can’t we blame Him for our temptations?  When you are tempted to look at porn or to fantasize about an attractive women or a handsome man, you don’t get to blame God for your lust.  When you are tempted to wreck your body by overeating or even starving yourself, you don’t get to blame God for your self-image issues or blame Him for what you hide in when you are stressed.  When you are tempted to act like a Polly Perfect or a Ricky Righteous to the rest world, you don’t get to blame God for your worship of other people’s opinions.

Why not?  The answer is because God Himself cannot be tempted and therefore tempts no man.  Yes, God ordains all circumstances, there is nothing beyond His direction and design, but those things are not His tempting us.  Ecclesiastes 7:14 In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

But God’s ordaining of a circumstance is not a temptation for you to sin.  James explains this when he says, 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  What the events that God ordains does is they reveal a desire in your heart.  To explain that, James uses the fishing language of a lure.  He says, Sin works this way:  some circumstance presents itself to you.  It is like a fishing lure.  A fish sees it and says, “Oh that would be good to eat.”  So what does the fish do?  It takes a bite because that thing is what it wants.  You can’t blame the eating of the worm on the hook.  The worm on the hook just shows the desire of the fish’s heart.

That is the way sin and temptations work in all of our hearts.  Some event, some word spoken, some circumstance rises, some visual comes to your eye, some smell comes to you, whatever, and once your heart interacts with those things, a desire in your heart that was already there is some nature, is revealed and aroused.   We are then tempted to sin and gratify that desire.  And quite often we give in to disobedience and sin.  God has not done this to us.  Our sinful desires were just brought to light by a particular circumstance.

For example, let’s say you struggle with gossip.  You love talking poorly about other people.  It makes you feel better about yourself and the choices you have made.  You also know, that when you are around certain people, you wind up gossiping with them.  “Oh, did you hear?  Oh, that’s so sad.”  You know the drill whether you are willing to admit or not.  So when you are around these certain people, they say certain things or ask you certain questions that just entice your heart to start talking about people.  You can’t blame them.  They just created an opportunity for your sin to take flight and take bloom.

Let’s say you struggle with lust.  Images and other people entice your heart towards sinful fantasy and mental adultery.   Whether it be a picture online, a video, or another person.  You cannot blame them for your sin of lust.  They are merely the worm on a lure.  They just brought your sinful desires to light and caused you to sin.  Jesus tells us this in Matt 15 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.”  Gang, we cannot take the nature of sin in our hearts lightly.  And James lets us know that this sin is not merely a hurt, habit, or hangup.

Verse 15 tells us “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.  Temptation reveals the desires in our heart that are sinful, and when we act on those desires they are sinful desires that lead to death.  This was the promised judgment for sin that God explain to Adam and Eve.  When God told them not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He said, Genesis 2:27 On the day you eat, you shall surely die.  And Paul reiterates that message when he says in Romans 3.23 – The wages of sin is death.

So when you are tempted and that desire in your heart is inflamed, and when you act on that desire, it gives birth to sin.  And that sin brings forth the judgment of death.  Now in hearing that you might say, “Let me get this straight.”  When I’m tempted, it is not God tempting me.  All the temptation does is shows me what sin already residing in my heart.  If I act on that desire, it gives birth to sin, and that sin gives birth to death?

I would say, “Yep, and you would say,” and you might say, “How depressing.”  But James and I would offer this to our weak hearts.  James is explaining this so that as you have faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sin, you would also have faith in Him to grow in obedience.  Not an obedience that saves you but an obedience that is evidence that you are saved.

Let me see if we can explore the nature of this a bit more from scripture so that we will understand temptation and nature correctly so then we can grow in a manner that God through James wants for us.  Buckle up for some diving into deep waters, but I trust you guys can grasp things well, and I pray God enables me to explain to all of us clearly.  So here are a couple of principles that will help us as we become more aware of temptation and seek to battle the desires in our heart so that we might obey to the glory of God.

First, James is completely right when He says God is not the tempter.  God is not, but Satan is.  We saw this first in the Garden of Eden.  Genesis 3: Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  Then we saw this again when Satan tempted Jesus in the Garden.  Matt 4.3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  And Peter when he wrote one of the very last letters in the Bible, he said 1 Peter 5.8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

Now, we know from James that we don’t get to blame Satan for our sin, but we do have a tempter and an accuser who desires to see us fall into sin and walk away from faith.  Again, the church falls into extremes.  We think every sin we commit came about because Satan himself sat on our shoulder and told us what to do or we completely ignore the fact that Peter tells us that we have an enemy that wants to destroy us.  In between that, we need to do just what Peter commands us to do:  be sober-minded which mean realize how weak we really are and be watchful.  Diligently pray that God would protect you from Satan, temptation and your weak flesh.

Second, Jesus overcame temptation where Adam did not.  This is one of our greatest hopes.  Romans 5 explains this for us in this way.  Romans 5:12 Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— 13 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. 14 Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.  15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

Give me a moment to explain this because truly is our great hope.  God makes relationships with His people in covenants which is an agreement with conditions.  And in each covenant, there is a head or one who represents all that come after Him.  So for all of humanity, Adam was our covenantal head.  He was tempted to sin by Satan and his willing choice to disobey God’s command plunged humanity into the cursed nature of sin.  Because of that, the nature of sin is given to every one of us, and therefore, the judgment of death is given to every one of us.

What was needed was a new covenantal head who would be obedient and take on that curse of death.  That’s what Jesus did.  Born without sin as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary, Jesus was our second chance.  So in Matthew 4, when Satan tempts Jesus, everything is on the line.  Your salvation, your forgivenss, your hope of overcoming sin, and your hope for overcoming temptation is on the line.  And Jesus obeys.  So Romans tells us, we all die in the sinful trespasses of Adam, but the grace of God and the free gift of salvation comes through Jesus’ obedience.

That leads us to our final thought, and  I promise to make this the last theological point and then we’ll move to application. We have hope to overcome temptation because of God’s mercy.  1 Corinthians 10: No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Without Christ, no one has any innate ability to withstand temptation because the heart that has not been made alive in Christ doesn’t want to obey God for His glory.  But the heart that has been forgiven and transformed by Jesus’ obedience in life, death, and resurrection, can withstand temptation.

The gospel works like the temptation of sin but in a redemptive way.  When you hear the sweet promises of Christ overcoming temptation of sin on your behalf, then when you are tempted to sin, your new redeemed transform heart given to you by God resonates with hope.  And the Gospel when conceived gives birth to obedience and when obedience is fully grown it gives birth to life.  You will be tempted, but God resides within your heart so that there is now hope in the midst of temptation.   No matter the depth of temptation a certain sin has for your heart, God can enable you to obey.  How? And this is crucial point for us.  Well that leads us to our takeaway application.  In fact, there are 3.

First, God provides a way of escape for you when you are tempted to sin.  The way of escape is both spiritual and practical.  Spiritually, Jesus’ obedience in the face of temptation empowers you to obey in the face of temptation, but the other thing God provides for us is a new heart that practically recognizes that we need a way of escape.  Let me give you an example.  The other day my sweet girl Landry disobeyed to the point that we needed to take something away from her.   Lately, Landry has loved to play with chipmunk toys.  She and Emma will makeup plays about the chipmunks for hours.  So Landry, with great sadness, wasn’t allowed to play with her Chipmunks for a day.  During her rest time that day, she called me into her room and asked me to take the Chipmunks out.  She said, if they stay in here, I will be tempted to play with them.

That’s it, gang.  Landry got it.  She may not have known this verse, but she got it.  God now provides a way of escape in sin.  Playing with Chipmunks when she wasn’t supposed to would have been disobeying.  God provided in Landry’s heart a desire to obey and a knowledge of her own weakness. She needed a way of escape and took it.  That’s the spiritual and the practical brought together to produce obedience in the face of temptation.

Knowing that your heart is weak and not strong enough to fight temptation is God’s gift to those you as you have faith in Jesus.  Be honest about the pull of sin.  Overestimate the power of temptation and underestimate your ability to fight it.  Doing that helps you to cry out to God and He provides a way of escape.  Sometimes, you just have to remove yourself or protect yourself so that if faced with a certain temptation, you don’t give in and sin.  That is wise and that is glorifying to God.

Second, a way of escape give the heart time to heal but they do not change the heart.  God does that.  Let me explain, let me give you a list of things that people struggle with when they are alone:  pornography, overeating, self-mutilation, depression, judgmentalism.  These and a host of other sins creep up in temptation when we are alone.  You are up late at night, and you are tempted to indulge whatever sin it is that you are given to.  You know you need a way of escape so you ask someone to keep you accountable.  You say, “Hey if you know I’m going to be up late or if you know that on Tuesday mornings I’m often alone, will you call me and just help me so that I don’t give in to temptation?”

That is awesome; you are providing an accountability and a way of escape so that you won’t fall into sin.  Your heart is protected by seeking out a way of escape, and your heart has time to heal a bit so that you aren’t constantly giving into sin.  You begin to establish new patterns of life, thought, speech, and action.  Obedience grows and the power of temptation diminishes.   However, remember only God is the one who changes your heart’s desires.  That’s why David prayed in Psalm 51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,    and renew a right spirit within me.  Don’t fool yourself into thinking, “Oh, I’ve got this thing licked,” because as soon as you do, you are going to be tempted to fall into sin so quickly, you won’t  know what happened.

And one final note on the way of escape to overcome temptation:  we have to protect our hearts from making our way of escape a new law or legalism.  Protection and your way of escape can easily be seen as legalism and be forced upon others if we are not careful.  Take alcohol for example.  Many people are tempted to take alcohol to excess.  Not only is drunkenness a huge problem, but alcoholism runs rampant.  Scripture is very clear in that alcohol in and of itself is not a sin.  Alcohol was part of the Lord’s Supper and on more than one occasion alcohol is actually recommended.  But scripture tells us in Ephesians 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit

Okay, so just like our speech and our eating, God tells us that those things are okay in and of themselves, but to talk too much, eat too much, and drink too much is a sin.  Wisely, folks who are given to drunkenness and alcoholism place things in their life to provide for themselves a way of escape.  People who struggle with this sin don’t allow alcohol in their homes.  They often don’t go to events where alcohol is provided freely.  They avoid circumstances that tempt them to drink.  This is incredibly wise.

But, the way of escape becomes legalism when those same folks say began to impose those things on other Christians, “Well, all drinking is a sin and you are sinning if you are drinking.  A person may wisely say that they just can’t have any alcohol because it is too tempting, but to impose a conviction that is not found in scripture on others is legalism – it is a law that God has not established.  So we have to be careful even as we protect ourselves from sin.

You may hear all of this and go, “Goodness, Gordon, this is a mess.  Can it be easier?”  Well, trusting Jesus by faith for overcoming is in and of itself is an easy idea, but the power of sin, even that power of sin that remains in the heart of one who has faith in Jesus, is strong.  We must constantly be weighing our hearts against the truths of scripture, and we don’t walk into a brand new sin of legalism as walk away from some other sin that we are struggling with.

God help us.  And that is exactly what we need to remind ourselves as we return to our Big Idea:  Cheer up.  You are much worse off that you ever knew, but God is more gracious than you could ever imagine.
Romans 8:12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

As you have faith in Christ, you are now not obliged to sin or live according to the flesh.  You are now called and enabled to live by the Spirit of God.  And that indwelling Spirit in your life will enable to kill that which once killed you.  You can put to death the deeds of sin in your own life.  If you have faith in Christ, you are now a child of God no longer an enemy of God.  And God has gifted you with a renewed spirit, and that spirit is not one that is a slave to sin.  It is not a spirit given to fear.  God has given each of you a new spirit that recognizes and relishes the truth that you have been adopted into the family of God, and that heart cries out Abba Father, it cries out Daddy, I love you.

The very spirit of God bears witness with your spirit to tell you, “Hey you no longer have to be a slave to your sin.”  You are now a child of God and that makes you an heir with Christ.  As He suffered and is now glorified.  And we too will suffer, sometimes from our own sinful consequences and sometimes because of this sinful world’s.  But by the grace of God, will we endure and persevere, and ultimately be glorified with Jesus.   Insane promises.

So, gang, your sin problem is much worse you ever imagined.  However, God’s grace should blow your mind.  Do not give up in your fight against sin.  Jesus has obeyed for you and empowers your obedience now.  You will suffer and you will at times disobey, but do not fear.  You have a new spirit, one that reminds you that you are now God’s child, and reminds you a glorious home in heaven awaits.

January 22, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , | 1 Comment

This Kind of Grace – SK Service Preview for 05/16/10

Following Moses’ leading of the people of God out of slavery in Egypt, they find themselves waiting at the bottom of Mount Sinai for 40 days and 40 nights while Moses is communicating with God.  In their impatience,  they offer a golden calf as a sacrifice which ultimately leads to God’s judgment on them for their sin.

Yet afterwards, God makes this promise:

Exodus 34:10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the Lord, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

The amazing thing in this short narrative is that God gathers a people to Himself, and in the shortest amount of time, they turn to their own wisdom and their own sense of what worship is.  They commit the most heinous acts of idolatry and yet God is faithful to forgive them and even use them for future ministry.  God covenants with them and promises to do marvels among them.

This is the kind of grace we are going to celebrate this week at Sovereign King Church.  If you would like to join us, we meet for worship at 10:30am.  You can find directions to our space here.

May 14, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | Leave a comment

Grace and Change

grace3Motivation for Gospel work unfortunately rises and falls for every Christian over the course of time.  Causes for such dips in enthusiasm range from unconfessed sin, blindness to pride, distance from the word, unresolved bitterness, disappointment, physical fatigue, and on and on.  Finding one’s way back to eagerness in the proclamation of Jesus Christ can appear so insurmountable that many never dare start the journey.  What remains is a platoon of mildly disinterested believers in Christ riddled with guilt and anger.

 

Every relationship for the child of God has at least two agenda points:  proclaiming the grace of Jesus and the power to change.  The call of the Great Commission is to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ to hurting and dying world, and there is grace and forgiveness which is so badly needed for the hardened, sinful heart.  The relationship between sinful humanity and God can be repaired, so new grace and hope is the call of the Gospel.

 

The response of the call of grace is faith in God and is evidenced by repentance of sin and the walking in new life.  The unstoppable, pervasive power of the Gospel changes lives so that lies, lust, and every other manner of sin become truth, fidelity, and love.  These changes are not instantaneous, meaning every sin does not instantly turn into every possible obedience, but the conviction of sin and the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome them immediately reign in the heart of the believer.

 

Because of this, every relationship of the Christian should seek to display and proclaim grace and change.

 

Here is how those things can lead to the unfortunate fall of enthusiasm for the work of Christ.  Many who seek to proclaim grace and the power of change do so enthusiastically.  They themselves have seen Christ do great work in their own lives.  So massive amounts of time and effort are invested in people’s lives (this is a good thing) with the hope that others will find the grace of Jesus and the power to overcome sin real in their lives.  But so often, people abuse grace and don’t change.  No matter the time or effort, some people never change.  Then the Christian is left disillusioned, discouraged, and might even completely pull out of their relationships with others in need.

 

But the grace of Jesus and the power of God have not failed.  One has to remember that the truest agenda is God’s.  Yet believers still becomes discouraged or even hostile towards those that refuse to change because the believer so often does not know what to do.  Here is my advice:

 

The enthusiasm for Gospel work is solely for the glory of Christ.  If people do not change, grow no less enthused for the work of the Gospel or the work of Christ in their lives.  More times than not, our discouragement is because we have an agenda apart from Christ’s and we just flat out grow impatient.  Our call is to proclaim Christ and the power of God into people’s lives.  If that proclamation and call go unheard, that is not your worry.

 

We fight off the growing cynicism and bitterness of our heart when we work faithfully for the Kingdom knowing the result, the power therein, and the work are all Christ’s.  We are called to be faithful to that in which we have been called.  We are not called to chalk up totals on a scoreboard.

 

If we can’t enthusiastically love someone with the same fervor when they don’t change as we did when we hoped they would, then our personal agendas become exposed.  Find your agenda that is apart from God’s and then repent knowing you need the same grace and power to change that everyone else does as well.

This article also appears at the Raleigh Examiner. Click the link and help me earn a penny.

November 12, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment