On any given Sunday, if a pastor asks by a show of hands how many in the congregation consider themselves followers of Christ, most would raise their hands. But if he followed up that question with: “And how many of you know what it means to be a follower of Jesus today?” – the number of raised hands would drop considerably. Maybe even to none. Why? Because our view today of following Jesus is a far cry from what it meant in the time of Jesus. Think about it for a moment. Today, following Jesus means agreeing to a set of doctrinal facts, going to church regularly, tithing, volunteering for some service ministry, adhering to a moral code, and reading and praying as often as we can. But in the New Testament, following Jesus meant something quite different.
Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Note the components of His invitation. First, it begins with a conditional clause, if, like a classic if / then statement. “If you desire to come after Me, then these are the conditions.” Next, we have self-denial or self-subjugation to God. “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself.” And finally, we are now privy to the degree to which self-denial must take place. “If you desire to come after Me, the first condition is to deny yourself even to the point of death, and a horrific death at that.” And only then does Jesus say, “and follow Me.” First, meet the conditions, and then “follow Me.”
But What About Desire
Exactly. The entire invitation of Jesus hinges on the word, desire. If you desire, then do the following. If you don’t desire, then this message must not be for you. Which begs the questions, what is your desire regarding following Jesus? And is your desire great enough to pay the price necessary to meet His conditions? Ouch. This is where it often gets personal.
In order to fully understand all of what Jesus said when He revealed His conditions of following Him, let’s look at this invitation from all three Gospel accounts. Only then can we fully understand all the implications and the Cost of Discipleship (to quote Bonhoeffer). The following is from Matthew 16:24-25, Mark 8:34-35, and Luke 9:23-24:
Then Jesus (MK) called the people to Himself (LK) and said to them all, (MK) with His disciples also, (MT) “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross (LK) daily, (MT) and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake (MK) and the gospel’s (MT) will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul (LK) and is himself destroyed or lost? (MT) Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? (MK) For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes (LK) in His own glory, and (MT) in the glory of His Father with His angels, and then He will reward each according to his works.”
Today, we will primarily focus on the issue of desire.
What is your desire regarding Christ?
Have you counted the costs of a deeper relationship with Him?
Are you ready to pay the price? No matter what that price might be?
Are you paying any price right now for your commitment to the Lord?
Do you know if it will be much different in the future?
Are you tired of taking two steps forward and then losing ground once again because you desire something less than all of His fullness manifested in your life? If so, then keep listening.
The following is a study on our Desire to Follow Christ.
To download the slides to this message, click – HERE
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A wise man will hear and increase learning,
and a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,
to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles.
We are now ready to close out the preamble to the Proverbs, and Solomon does that in a surprising way. Proverbs 1:5 tells us one of the primary purposes of this book, and of wisdom itself, is to allow to us “hear and increase learning (or, to receive teaching, insight, instruction)” and to “attain (or, get, buy, possess, no matter the costs) wise counsel (or, wise guidance, direction, or good advice).”
But we already know that. What we don’t know is why?
Why do we need wise counsel? What’s the purpose, the pay-off, for us in real time? What’s out there that is so important we’re supposed to learn, to understand, to have insight into? What about the last part of this passage? What about the “riddles and dark sayings”? Because it seems the “wise man” and the “man of understanding” will “hear and increase learning” and “attain wise counsel” for only one reason: “to understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. 1:6).
And what does that mean?
The Climax of the Definition of Wisdom
Remember, a truly wise man is not one who has already attained wisdom, but one who’s keenly aware that he hasn’t, and is desperately striving forward to be more like Christ, or to “press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Phil. 3:12). He’s one who’s not satisfied with the spiritual status quo and is not content with his Bible College Diploma signifying he has learned all there is to know about Christ and His Word. No, the wise man longs to dig deeper, to pray harder, to speak louder, to shine brighter, and to love more intensely than he thought humanly possible.
And to this “wise man”, to the “man of understanding”, comes one of the greatest blessings of all. He, by virtue of the wisdom given him by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, will learn to “understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. 1:6). To him, the doors of the deeper truths of the things of God are opened and he is graciously invited to come and dine.
We know the meaning of proverb, but what’s an “enigma”? And what’s all this about the “words of the wise and their riddles”?
An enigma (mĕliytsah) is translated as “a person or thing that is mysterious, puzzling, or difficult to understand.” Admittedly, it’s a difficult word to translate in this Proverb. It can also mean “a riddle” or “a symbol or parable” or “a discourse requiring an interpretation” or simply as “a figurative and involved discourse” and is closely related to the phrase “riddles” or “dark sayings.” Therefore, when rendered together, it means something obscure in meaning, or some truth that is difficult to uncover and understand.
How do we know this? By looking at the meaning of “riddles” or “dark sayings.” The word translated here is hiydah and means “difficult questions, perplexing sayings, a statement with a double meaning, or dark and obscure utterances.” They seem to be speaking about truths that are not laying on the surface for everyone to see. They’re more hidden, like buried treasure, that only the diligent, or wise, will know to dig for and value when found.
And according to the Proverbs, this is the climax, the zenith, the pinnacle of wisdom. It doesn’t get any better than being able to understand the mysterious, puzzling, profoundly deep things of God that change us forever. After all, “as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” says the Lord (Isa. 55:4). And maybe, just maybe, we can catch a fleeting glimpse of just how high His thoughts are. What an incredible blessing! Tell me what compares to having the “mind of Christ”? (1 Cor. 2:16).
Ears to Hear
Jesus hinted of this when He used the cryptic phrase, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” before speaking profound truth to only those who were able to receive it— and not to everyone. These words were not FPC, or “For Public Consumption.” They were only for those who understood the implications of what the Lord was saying. We would call those the wise, those who could understand His parables, His stories with their hidden meaning, and the mysterious, deep, dark sayings of the Lord.
Let’s look at a few of these.
When talking about John the Baptist, Jesus said he was the greatest man who ever lived and the last of the Old Testament prophets (Matt. 11:11-13). And then He threw the crowd a curve. He said, “And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come” (Matt. 11:14). Note the if in His statement. Not everyone was willing to receive John as coming in the spirit of Elijah. Why? Because according to Malachi in the last two verses of the Old Testament, Elijah was to come as the forerunner of the Messiah, the Christ (Mal. 4:5-6). But John was the forerunner of Jesus. So if they received what Jesus said about John, they would have to conclude that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, the Holy One of Israel.
But not everyone was willing to do that. Therefore, the truth He uttered was not for everyone, but only for a few. For the chosen, the elect, the ones with believing hearts. Hence Jesus said, “He who has ears to hear, let him (not everyone else) hear” (Matt. 11:15).
And again, when Jesus preached arguably His most powerful and far reaching parable about the sower and the seeds, He ended it by saying, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:9). Why? Because this parable deals with true salvation and the deception of non-saving faith. It paints a vivid picture of those who are holding on to traditions or the teachings of men and are enamored with Christ for a short while, compared to what true salvation looks like. And it always involves fruit, and not mere profession (Matt. 7:15-20). It’s an utterly profound teaching that not everyone would receive, let alone understand. It’s for the few, the chosen, the elect, the ones “who have ears to hear.”
We see these cryptic, mysterious, dark sayings of Jesus when He spoke about life in the Kingdom (Matt. 13:9). He also used these words after confronting the Pharisees regarding their religious and spiritual hypocrisy (Mark 7:16). And when He told His disciples the true costs of discipleship: “So, likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33), He ended that teaching with the same puzzling words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Luke 14:35). But puzzling to whom? Obviously not those who have ears to hear. No, it’s the others, the masses, the everyone else.
And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus ends each of His seven letters to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 the same way: “He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). If there was ever a book of the Bible full of enigmas, riddles, and dark sayings, it would be the Revelation. Wouldn’t you agree?
Back to the Dark Sayings
Which brings us back to the Proverbs.
We have been given, as a great and precious gift, the privilege of being able to understand and comprehend the deeper things of God, the sometimes confusing, puzzling, and mysterious aspects of His being. He has granted us, as mere mortals, insights into the Eternal. And these great insights, the things “many prophets and righteous men desired to see, and did not see” (Matt. 13:17) have been given to each of us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who is the Sovereign One Himself. With wisdom, the very wisdom of God, we can now “understand a proverb and an enigma, the words of the wise and their riddles” (Prov. 1:6).
All we have to do is use what is now ours. As Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with the problems longer.” In other words, I do the work. I put in the time. I stay focused and committed until I find the answer. And the same can be said regarding wisdom and the child of God.
Just as long as we use what is now ours to use.
Do Not Forsake Your Inheritance
One of the most tragic stories in all of Scripture is the account of Esau trading his blessed inheritance for a bowl of stew— for one meager can of Dinty Moore stew (Gen. 25:33-34). How could he do such a thing? Same way we do. How could he have been so short-sighted, foolish, and just plain stupid? Same way we are. And we do it all the time.
Solomon has told us one of the blessings of wisdom, of knowing the Lord in an intimate, personal way, is that by virtue of God’s wisdom imparted to us, we become wise. That only makes sense. And one of the blessings of being a wise man is to be able to understand and discern the wondrous and mysterious things in the Word of God that reveal God Himself to us. And that’s our inheritance, to have the indescribable privilege of calling Him “Abba, Father” and of Him seeing us as His children, His sons, as part of His family (Rom. 8:15). But there’s more. Our blessed inheritance means we are also heirs— “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
What compares with that? And what would you trade for your inheritance?
If you say ” absolutely nothing”! Great. But our lives and our affections often tell a different story. For we do what we want to do and serve who we want to serve. Jesus put it this way, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:21). And if we treasure our life in the here-and-now and what this fallen world thinks of us or promises to give us, then our hearts have drifted far from the inheritance that’s ours and the Kingdom which is our home. Wisdom no longer is our desire and the “dark sayings” of the Lord remain dark, hidden, and concealed by a veil of our own apathy. How sad. How utterly sad and heartbreaking.
We have a promise and an inheritance. So beware lest you fall into the same trap as Esau and forfeit everything for eternity because we wanted something that tastes good right now.
The spiritual life with Christ is a marathon, not a sprint. Be committed for the long haul and strive, with all you are, to be a wise man that understands what others call “riddles, an enigma, and dark sayings.”
And be this kind of man, even if you stand alone.
The promise sounds appealing, wonderful in fact. But where do we begin? What’s the first step? It’s one thing to talk about the blessings of wisdom and then dangle them out in front of us like a carrot before a horse. But it’s quite another to provide us with a roadmap, a guide book of some sort, maybe an instruction manual to point us in the right direction. Otherwise, you leave us hanging, frustrated by seeing the goal and having no clue how to get there.
But there’s good news. For the Proverbs state the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” and then contrasts that with “but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov. 1:7). We just need to figure out exactly what the “fear of the Lord” means and we should be on our way.
After all, as Julie Andrews sang in the Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start.”
And for us, that beginning is the “fear of the Lord.”
1. When was the last time God spoke to you and revealed something He had previously kept hidden from you?
2. Do you know why He kept that part of Himself from you? Was it Him? Or was the reason something in you?
3. Do you believe it’s actually possible to have the kind of relationship with the Father that He would be pleased to share His heart with you? Does your faith stretch that far? Or, do you think that is just an unobtainable goal?
4. If you answered, yes, to the last question, what do you plan to do about it? Are you willing to put in the time and effort to have that kind of relationship with the Lord? Do you know how to begin? Do you know, right now, of anyone who God does share His heart with?
5. On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process? What was it yesterday? Are you growing in the wisdom of God? And, if not, why?
Next Step Challenge
Take your Bible and look up every time the Lord spoke the words, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear” and write them down. Then, spend some time reading them in context and see what the Lord is trying to say when He spoke those words.
Do you understand His message and the implications of what He is teaching? Do His words have any impact in your life right now? Is there something He is trying to say to you when you read His words?
Do you have ears to hear? And, if so, do you hear what He is saying to you right now?
Sometimes, life throws us a curveball. Scripture tells us to expect “trials and tribulations” (James 1:2) and even “persecutions” (2 Tim. 3:12)— but what seems to knock us down the hardest are the things we don’t see coming, just the bad stuff that happens to fallen people living in a fallen world.
All people, both good and bad, sometimes get cancer, lose their jobs, or suffer from broken relationships. No one is promised an easy road this side of heaven. Which, if you think about it, should make heaven more appealing. But often it doesn’t. Instead, we get overwhelmed and depressed by daily life.
Did you ever wonder why? And have you ever wondered why your prayer life gets overwhelmed by the problems of life when it should be the other way around? If so, this message is for you. To find out more, keep listening.
The following is a study on Prayer and Luke 18:1-8.
To download the slides for this message, click – HERE
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To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity;
To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
As we dig deeper into the Proverbs we quickly come across a few arresting verbs: know, perceive, receive, and give. And, of course, we see the corresponding nouns associated with each of these verbs. In Proverbs 1:2-4 we find:
To know wisdom and instruction,
To perceive the words of understanding,
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment, and equity
To give prudence to the simple (and to give) to the young man knowledge and discretion.
Notice, if you will, the natural progression of action. To know, then to perceive something, then to choose to personally receive and embrace what we now know and perceive, and finally to share, to give what we have now received to someone else.
But what does it mean to perceive something or someone, maybe a new truth or a deeper understanding of a known truth? And how does someone then receive that true or understanding to themselves that they have just perceived? What does that process look like? And how does that exchange actually happen? And finally, ultimately, to whom do we give what we have received? And what specifically do we give them?
The answer is found in the nouns connected with our actions, our verbs.
But let’s begin by looking at the four verbs.
From our previous studies we determined that to “know” (yada) means we are “to know something in a completed sense, to know everything and to know fully, to learn to know; it means to know by intimate experience or expression; to choose, to approve, to love, to embrace, to desire, to place one’s favor upon.” It’s a deeply personal kind of knowledge forged by one’s choice, affection, conviction and experience. And Proverbs 1:2 says we are to “know” (yada) in an intimate, personal way, both “wisdom and instruction”— wisdom being more than the raw accumulation of facts but the ability to properly apply those facts and convictions, reinforced by our choices and experiences, in order to determine what is the right and God-honoring course of action. And instruction is defined as “correction, discipline, and chastening, as a loving father disciplines his own son.”
In essence, God has provided for us in His Son both the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:30) and the steady hand of correction and discipline to make sure we know (yada) God’s Word and how to apply what we know (yada) in our everyday choices that will either bring Him glory or disrepute. Therefore, if you find yourself convicted and troubled by the words you read, rejoice!— for that’s God’s very intention. After all, the Lord only chastises those He loves as a father disciplines his own son.
My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor detest His correction; (why) for whom the LORD loves He corrects, (to what extent) just as a father the son in whom he delights (Prov. 3:11-12).
Next, we are to “the words of understanding” (Prov. 1:2). To perceive (biyn) is “to discern, to observe, to have insight into, to consider diligently.” It involves more than mere head knowledge. To perceive is to have a truth suddenly become alive and real to you. It’s like our blinders are removed or the fog clears and we can see God’s Word, the “words of understanding” clearly, and then exclaim, “Geez, it was right before my eyes all the time and I just didn’t see it. How could I have been so blind?”
And what do we now see with 20/20 vision? The “words of understanding” or literally the “words of comprehension, discernment, righteous actions with a strong moral and religious connotation.” In other words, we now see clearly the holiness of God. We comprehend our sinfulness and God’s perfection and His wonderful gift of grace. By virtue of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit we now have discernment to be able to choose what is “true, noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy” (Phil. 4:8) and not follow our lusts or waste our lives living for the things that won’t last. And we can now clearly choose to ” walk in the Spirit, and not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).
What a blessing it is to be able to perceive the things of God and then have the freedom and ability to choose to follow Him, no matter what.
But knowing, even to the point of having an “a-ha” moment when you perceive, deep down, something overwhelming and potentially life-changing, is not enough. You have to then choose to receive, or “to take in, to lay hold of, to seize, to get or fetch, to acquire by any means possible” what you now comprehend in a deeper fashion. Just knowing truth won’t cut it, you have to voluntarily choose to move from where you are to where the truth takes you. You have to open up yourself, make yourself vulnerable, humble yourself, and receive the “instruction (or, discipline, correction, chastening) of wisdom” (Prov. 1:3).
It’s like salvation. Just knowing facts about Jesus won’t bring you into eternal fellowship with Him. You must receive Him into your life on His terms, which are all or nothing. You must die, you must be crucified with Him, and He must live within you and through you (Gal. 2:20). You must follow His path, the narrow gate, and not the wide road of your own choosing (Matt. 7:13-14). He must be Lord, and not just your personal Savior that you can call on whenever you need Him to get you out of a jam (Rom. 10:9). He is not your co-pilot, He is God Almighty, Creator of all, and Sovereign in all things.
If just knowing were enough Satan would spend eternity in heaven. After all, he knows as fact what we believe on faith. He knows Jesus died and was raised from the dead. He was there, he saw, and trembled. But Satan refuses to do the one thing that comes with receiving Jesus on His terms, and that is to bow his knee in submission to Christ and declare Him as Lord (Phil. 2:9-11). And this is all part of receiving Christ on His terms.
But what do we receive when we receive the “instruction of wisdom”? Solomon begins to expand our understanding of all that comes with God’s wisdom by using the terms, “justice, judgment, and equity.”
Justice is defined as “righteousness, or what is right, just or normal” with God. It means having a “right relation to an ethical or legal standard, to be right or straight.” In essence, it’s understanding the commands and laws of God and then choosing to align our life, both internal and external, to be in obedience to the Word of God. It’s the desire, and the ability to now choose to serve Christ and not our flesh or the god of this fallen world. And this ability to live according to our new nature found in Christ is just another gift given us by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 5:17).
Remember the words of Jesus: “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Great question. Because now, through the Holy Spirit we have the ability, the freedom, and the power to choose to obey Christ. We can live, as the Proverbs promise, a life of justice, being in a “right relation” to the commands and person of Christ. All we have to do is choose what is right, choose the straight and narrow path. And it’s just that simple.
Hard? You bet. But simple, nonetheless.
Next, we choose to receive in our lives the instruction, correction, and discipline of judgment. This word denotes the “act of deciding a legal case in a court or in litigation before judges.” It deals with the “ability to make a correct judgment on human actions.”
Whoa. Hold on right there. One of the sincerely held convictions of our fallen, politically correct culture is to not judge. You don’t judge me and I won’t judge you. It’s the old “don’t ask, don’t tell” mantra” In fact, these words of Jesus, taken totally out of context, are proclaimed as absolute truth by those who reject the rest of His words as truth: “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1).
So how can a Believer receive the “instruction of judgment” and still find favor in the eyes of the world? You can’t. Get used to it and resolve yourself to a life of turmoil and tribulation and persecution if you choose to live in the center of His will. In fact, embrace the trials you’ll face. Why? Because Jesus promised great blessings to those who suffer persecution for His name sake. Remember? “Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:12).
Plus, we’re promised “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). There’s no way around it. It’s a given. Done deal. The only way to escape persecution is to not desire to live Godly in Christ, which produces it’s own set of horrific consequences. Trust me, you don’t want to go down that path.
So with wisdom comes the ability to see what is right and wrong, good and evil, true and false. The “instruction of judgment” means being able to discern genuineness from hypocrisy, good fruit from bad fruit, true prophets from false prophets, in others as well as within ourselves (Matt. 7:15-20). And, as you would imagine, this aspect of wisdom can bring with it the unintended consequences of being called judgmental, unloving, a hater, bigoted, narrow-minded, and much more. Hence, the warning from Jesus about suffering persecution for His name’s sake.
Finally, we receive in wisdom, in Christ, the “instruction of equity.” But what does equity mean? Equity is defined as “evenness, fairness, uprightness, straightness, smoothness, and points to what is just, correct, right and fair in speech or actions” (Isa. 33:15). It’s dealing with others as you would have them deal with you (Luke 6:21). It’s being fair, honest, noble, and upright in everything. In a word, it’s the overflow of a life found “in Christ”.
But what about the fourth verb? What about the command to give?
That’s a rather complex subject dealing with what we’re to give and to whom? And that’s a topic we’ll look at next time in Four Verbs, Part Two.
1. Where are you in the process of obtaining wisdom?
2. Have you passed from simply knowing (yada) to now perceiving something deeper in the Word of God?
3. Has God begun to speak to you in a personal, profound way through His Word and the Holy Spirit? Have you ever had a rhema, a word from Him meant only for you? And if so, when was that? And what did He say?
4. Do you remember when you received Jesus as Lord? What was that like? And what has your life with Him been like since that momentous day?
5. On a scale from 1 to 10, how would you rate God’s wisdom in your life right now and in your decision making process? What was it yesterday? Are you growing in the wisdom of God? Is He more real to you today than in the past? And, if not, why not?
Next Step Challenge
Since receiving the wisdom of God is tied to receiving Christ Jesus as Lord and the Holy Spirit coming as the guarantee of your future inheritance in Him (Eph. 1:3-4), write down your salvation experience. Include the time when you knew regeneration took place and your life was now hid in Him (Col. 3:3). Include also your spiritual journey since salvation.
What have you learned from your walk with Him about wisdom? Have you personally experienced the process outlined in Proverbs 1:1-4 about knowing, perceiving, and receiving? What was that like? What was the actual context in which God revealed to you His wisdom? What was the outcome of that encounter?
And if you haven’t experienced any of this with the Lord, why? Is the problem with Him? Does He show favoritism or partiality and is withholding something from you that He’s freely giving to others?
Or is the problem you? And, if so, that’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?
Believe it or not, your first thought about something is a telling indicator of your core nature. It’s your knee-jerk reaction that shows what you are made of and who you belong to— the god of this world or the One you claim as your Lord.
Ask yourself this: When you’re faced with a problem or an inconvenience, what’s your first thought?
Is it, how does this problem affect me?
Or, is it how does this problem affect my family, or others, or the ones I love?
Is your first thought about you? Or is it about the welfare of others?
Your answer may be a key indicator as to your true nature. And your true nature is the single, most important indicator as to whether or not you’re saved. Confused? Maybe a bit angry? Good. Then keep listening to find out what you need to do.
The following is a study on Colossians 2:11-15.
To download the slides for this message, click – HERE
Download this episode (right click and save)