Faith Under Fire: In the Absence of the Apostle & In the Presence of Affliction

Today’s selected reading continues in the first New Testament epistle which the apostle Paul wrote to the saints which were at Thessalonica. More specifically, today’s passage is found in the entire third chapter of the epistle. When you begin reading this particular passage of Scripture you will find the apostle again referencing his present location which if you turn to the end of the epistle you will Discover is Athens. As this particular chapter begins it does so with the apostle undoubtedly with his two compassions Timothy and Silas together with him in the city of Athens. In fact, if you read the seventeenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find that immediately after the uproar and riot which took place within the city, certain of the brethren sent Paul out of city and into a place called Berea. Upon arriving in Berea the apostle Paul did the very same thing he had done in any of the cities he had journeyed to—namely, expound from the Scriptures that Jesus is both Christ and Lord, that He must needs suffer, and be raised from death to life. What is interesting about what we read concerning the apostle Paul in Berea was that his time there was also short lived, for when the Jews of Thessalonica heard that Paul was preaching this Jesus in Berea, they followed him there and again invited opposition and affliction against him. As a direct result of this Jewish opposition to the gospel concerning Jesus Christ the apostle Paul would be forced to leave the region of Berea and journey to the city of Athens. This reality alone alerts you to the fact that the apostle Paul journeyed within and throughout the area of what is modern day Greece on his missionary journey. It was while at Athens we find the apostle Paul taking ink quill to parchment in order to encourage and instruct the saints within the city of Thessalonica.

What is so incredibly fascinating about what we read when reading the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote to these saints is what we read in the previous chapter of the epistle. If you turn and direct your attention back to the second chapter of this epistle you will find that towards the end the apostle Paul referred to and reminded them of his time within the city, and how he had to be removed from their midst. There is perhaps not a doubt in my mind that the apostle Paul felt that his time within this city was cut short and that he was taken away from these people too soon. In fact, if you read the writing of Luke in the book of Acts you will find that it was while the apostle Paul was in Athens that he sent for both Timothy and Silas to come unto him with all haste, this leaving the saints and church within the city perhaps without any leadership, guidance and instruction. When Timothy and Silas left the city to meet Paul in Athens we aren’t given any clue how long they had remained in the city after Paul was sent away. We have absolutely no indication as to how long these two saints and fellow laborers in the ministry of the gospel remained within the city in order to strengthen and establish them in their faith. What we do know is that there would come a point when the apostle Paul would send and call for them while in Athens in order that they might be found with him in the midst of the city. It would thus be that the church which was established within this city had to essentially had to survive without the leadership and presence of the apostle Paul, and now without Timothy and Silas as well. It was one thing for the apostle Paul to be removed from the city, for at least they still had Timothy and Silas to instruct them in the faith and to encourage and establish them.

I find the absence of the apostle Paul, as well as the absence of Timothy and Silas within the city of Thessalonica to be absolutely and incredibly intriguing—particularly and especially because the question that must be asked is whether or not this young church could survive without the company of these three individuals. What is so absolutely and incredibly amazing concerning the congregation of Thessalonians is what the apostle Paul writes concerning them—particularly and especially in his absence. What’s more than this is what is said of this particular congregation in the absence of not only the apostle Paul himself, but also of Timothy and Silas as well. When this particular epistle opens it does so with the apostle Paul greeting these saints together with Timothy and Silas. This must be carefully understood, for at the time of this writing Timothy and Silas were no longer present within the city. At the time of the writing of this epistle Timothy and Silas had already been summoned by the apostle Paul to come unto him in the city of Athens. I happen to find this particular reality to be quite intriguing and definitely powerfully interesting, for it brings us face to face with the question of whether or not this particular church could survive in and with the absence of the apostle Paul together with his two companions Silas and Timothy. Was it possible that this congregation could survive without these three individuals present among them—these three individuals who had come in unto them preaching the truth of the gospel concerning Jesus the Christ, and concerning His being crucified upon the cross, His being buried in the tomb, and His being raised from the dead. Furthermore, the question which we find and face when considering this particular church and congregation must needs be asked of each and every church and congregation that is present within and upon the earth this day. The more I read this first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto the saints which were at Thessalonica the more I am gripped with the reality of how this church could have survived and remained in tact—particularly and especially considering the absence of the apostle Paul, Timothy and Silas. What’s more, is that in addition to this, the circumstances in which these saints received and heard the gospel weren’t the normal situation and circumstances in which the gospel is received. In fact, when we consider the receiving of the gospel we tend to think of it in terms of comfort and security, and yet the truth for these saints was anything but this. Consider if you will the account which Luke provides his readers concerning the receiving of the gospel within this particular city:

“Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apolonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbaths days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devour Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few. But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus. And they troubled the people and the rulers of the city, when they heard these things. And when they had taken security of Jason, and of the other, they let them go. And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews” (Acts 17:1-10).

As you continue reading the seventeenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts you will find that even though the apostle Paul was sent out of and away from the city of Thessalonica because the envy of the Jews had stirred up the city like a hornet’s nest, Timothy and Silas abode there still. In fact, if you begin reading with and from the thirteenth verse of this same chapter you will find the following words: “But when the Jews of Thessalonica had knowledge that the word of God was preached of Paul at Berea, they came thither also, and stirred up the people. And then immediately the brethren sent away Paul to go as it were to the sea: but Silas and TImotheus abode their still. And they that conducted Paul brought him unto Athens: and receiving a commandment unto Silas and Timothy for to come to him with all speed, they departed” (Acts 17:13-15). It’s necessary that we recognize the course of events which took place within this particular city, for while the apostle Paul, together with Timothy and Silas were still present within the city, the Jews which believed not were moved with envy. It was this envy that provoked these Jews to action, for Luke records how they took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. Please don’t miss or lose sight of what is taking place within this particular passage of Scripture, for the entire course of events which took place within the city of Thessalonica occurred because of the envy of the Jews over the preaching of the gospel concerning Jesus Christ—and not only concerning Jesus as being both Christ and Lord, but also in His needing to suffer, His needing to be crucified, and His needing to be buried but then rising from the dead on the third day. It was the envy of the Jews which provoked them to jealousy and to rage, and as a result of this flood of emotions and thoughts that raged inside them, they gathered unto themselves a specific company of individuals in order that they might set the city on an uproar. In fact, when you read this particular passage of Scripture you will find that the envy of the Jews caused them to set all the city and incite the entire city in an uproar, as well as assaulting the house of Jason in order that they might seize the apostle Paul, together with Silas and Timothy. Luke goes on to record that when they could not find Paul, Silas and Timothy they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city in order to indict them before the masses. What’s more, is that as you continue reading this passage of Scripture you will find that in addition to them stirring up the city, and setting it on an uproar, they also troubled the people and the rulers of the city. In other words, the Jews were determined to undermine the gospel which the apostle Paul and his companions preached among them while still present within the city.

What I find to be absolutely incredible concerning what I read in the first epistle which the apostle Paul wrote unto these saints was what he wrote concerning their faith—faith in the midst of affliction, faith in the midst of opposition, faith in the midst of suffering, faith in the midst of trials, and faith in the midst of trouble. In fact, when you begin reading the first chapter of this particular epistle you will find the apostle Paul writing the following words concerning these dear saints and followers of Jesus Christ: “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father; knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God” (1 Thessalonians 1:3-5). FAITH UNDER FIRE! FAITH IN THE FURNACE OF AFFLICTION! In order for us to truly understand that which the apostle Paul is writing unto the saints concerning their conduct and behavior in spite of their presence no longer with and among them, it’s absolutely imperative that we turn our attention back to the words which Jesus spoke when He began speaking in parables. If you turn and direct your attention to the thirteenth chapter of the New Testament gospel of Matthew you will find his account of the parable which Jesus told concerning the sower and the seed. Before we delve into this particular parable as it pertains to what we read and find in this particular passage of Scripture, I feel it absolutely necessary to emphatically declare that the situation and circumstances in which men receive and hear the gospel aren’t always the comfortable and cozy circumstances we have in many of our churches present within this nation. When we think of the preaching of the gospel concerning Jesus the Christ we think that the gospel is always preached under ideal circumstances, and that it always comes without opposition and affliction. If there is one thing the seventeenth chapter of the New Testament book of Acts reveals, it’s that the gospel concerning Jesus Christ can in fact be preached in the midst of opposition and affliction. It’s important to note that the affliction and opposition didn’t immediately begin when the apostle Paul, together with Timothy and Silas entered into the city, but perhaps it was allowed to build up enough to where it infuriated the Jews which were present within that city.

When the gospel concerning Jesus the Christ was preached among the Jews within this city, it did not come without much affliction and without much suffering. Consider if you will the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the sixth verse of the first chapter of this particular epistle: “And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: so that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Consider also the words which we find and read in the opening portion of the second chapter of this very epistle: “For yourselves, brethren, know our entrance in unto your that it was not in vain: but even after that we had suffered before, and were shamefully entreated, as ye know, at Philippi, we were bold in our God to speak unto you the gospel of God with much contention. For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: but as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, and so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness: nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherished her children: so being affectionaly desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us” (1 Thessalonians 2:1-8). With these words the apostle Paul references the affliction, the struggle, and the conflict he endured and experienced within the city of Philippi—a conflict and struggle which these saints were made aware of when he had come unto them. It’s worth noting that the affliction, the struggle, the conflict, the opposition they endured and experienced in Philippi caused them to be all the more bold with the preaching of the gospel unto them. With that being said, it’s necessary that we continue reading this particular epistle, for when we continue reading with the thirteenth verse we will find the following words concerning the receiving of the gospel within the city of Thessalonica:

“For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe. For ye, brethren, became followers of the churches of God which in Judaea are in Christ Jesus: for ye also have suffered like things of your countrymen, even as they have of the Jews: who both killed the Lord Jesus, and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they please not God, and are contrary to all men: forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved, to fill up their sins always: for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost. But we, brethren, being taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored the more abundantly to see your face with great desire. Wherefore we would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again; but Satan hindered us. For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even the in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:13-20).

In the first chapter of this particular epistle we find the apostle Paul writing unto these saints how when they had received the gospel, they did so with much affliction and conflict. In the second chapter of this same epistle the apostle Paul goes on to write how just as the churches in Judaea, and just as the apostles themselves, as well as the prophets of old suffered, so also did these people suffer together with them. In the second chapter of this particular epistle the apostle reminds these saints of how they suffered similar things as did the ancient Hebrew prophets, and as did even the very apostles of Christ Jesus. The apostle Paul made it very clear when writing unto these dear saints that they had suffered much affliction and much conflict when the gospel concerning Jesus Christ was preached among them. It is based on this particular reality that I feel the need to present us with the words which our Lord spoke—not only in the parable of the sower and the seed itself, but also in the explanation of the parable as well. Consider if you will—first the words of the parable which Jesus spoke, and then the explanation of the parable which Jesus would provide to His disciples when they came unto Him privately asking Him why He spoke unto the people in parables: We will first read and consider the parable itself, which Jesus spoke unto the people which had gathered themselves unto Him to hear Him speak:

“The same day when Jesus out of the house, and say by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto Him, so that He went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow; and when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up: some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth: and when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: but other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear” (Matthew 13:1-9).

It is with these words that we find the very first of the parables which Jesus would speak unto the crowds and masses which gathered themselves together unto Him to hear Him teach and speak. As you continue reading within this same chapter you will find the disciples coming unto Jesus and asking Him why He chose to speak unto the people in parables. In response to the disciples’ question, Jesus reminded them of the words which the prophet Isaiah spoke: “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: for this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:13-15). Jesus appealed to the words of the prophet Isaiah in order that He might explain why He chose to speak unto the people in parables rather than speaking unto them plainly. Immediately following this, Jesus goes on to explain and expound the parable of the sower and the seed unto the disciples. Consider the explanation of the parable of the sower and the seed, for through understanding Jesus’ explanation of the parable you will understand the events which took place within the city of Thessalonica:

“Hear use therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side. But he that receive the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation of persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended. He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful. But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty” (Matthew 13:18-23).

Within the explanation of the parable of the sower and the seed we find Jesus speaking of the seed which fell into stony places. It is the seed which fell on stony places which represented those individuals who hear the word, and with joy receive the word which they hear. These individuals, however, have not root in themselves, and endure for a while in the faith. When tribulation or persecution arises because of the word, these individuals immediately become offended and perhaps even choose to walk away from the faith. The reason I feel it is so incredibly necessary and imperative to read and consider the parable of the sower and the seed is because I am convinced that when the inhabitants of Thessalonica heard and received the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, they heard and received it together with much affliction, with much suffering, and with much conflict and opposition. This is actually quite astounding and remarkable—particularly and especially when you consider the fact that more often than not we believe the misguided notion and belief that when the gospel is preached it must be preached in ideal circumstances and in the right environment and atmosphere. The truth of the matter is that this isn’t always the case, and there are those times when the word of God cannot be preached, nor can it be received in comfortable and convenient circumstances. Oh how deceived we allow ourselves to be when we consider—even for a moment—that the gospel must always be preached in the ideal of situations and circumstances. The saints which were at Thessalonica didn’t receive the gospel in ideal circumstances, for the apostle Paul reminded them how they received the gospel in much affliction, and in much struggle and conflict. I happen to find the words which the apostle Paul writes unto these saints to be absolutely and incredibly challenging, for they directly challenge our misguided belief and notion concerning how the gospel is both preached and received. I believe that when we read the first epistle which was written unto the saints which were at Thessalonica, and when we read the words which Luke records in the second treatise he wrote unto Theophilus, we come face to face with the fact that there are times when the gospel must needs be preached, and must needs be received in less than ideal situations and circumstances. There are times when the gospel concerning Jesus Christ cannot be received in a comfortable and convenient environment, and in all reality, there are many who attempt to shield and guard the gospel from such conflict, such affliction and such opposition. What we fail to recognize is that not only was the gospel birthed out of conflict and affliction, but also at the very heart of the gospel is the very conflict and opposition and affliction we are trying to guard and protect it from. I feel a great need to declare unto those who would read the words of this particular writing that we dare not, we cannot, we should not seek to guard and protect the gospel from conflict and affliction, but must recognize that the gospel came forth in affliction and opposition, and has at the very heart of it the conflict and opposition we are trying to guard and protect it from.

I wrote concerning this particular church and congregation whether or not it could survive without the presence of the apostle Paul within the city. What’s more, is that when you read the New Testament book of Acts you will find that not only was the apostle Paul removed from the city, but so also were Timothy and Silas when the apostle Paul sent for them while he was in Athens. The question is whether or not this church could survive and function without the presence of these three fellow labourers in the ministry of the gospel concerning Jesus who is both Christ and Lord. The answer is actually a resounding yes—particularly and especially when you consider the words the apostle Paul writes concerning them in the first chapter of this particular epistle. In the third verse of this passage of Scripture we find the apostle Paul writing how he remembered their work of faith, their labour or love, and their patience of hope in their Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of God and our Father. What’s more, is that as you continue reading this particular chapter you will find that the saints which were present within this city became ensamples to the surrounding cities and churches because of their faith in Jesus Christ and in God His Father. Moreover, in verses eight through ten the apostle Paul writes the following words concerning this particular church and congregation: “For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:8-10). When we come to the third chapter of this particular epistle we find the apostle Paul no longer being able to forbear concerning this particular congregation, for he was curious of their state in the absence of both he, as well as Timothy and Silas. In the third chapter the apostle Paul goes on to write how those in Athens though it good to be left alone in Athens, and as a result, Timothy was sent unto the saints which were at Thessalonica: “And sent TImothues, our brother, and minister of God, and our fellow labourer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you, and to comfort you concerning your faith: that no man should be moved by these afflictions: for yourselves know that we were appointed thereunto” (1 Thessalonians 3:2-3). In the fifth verse of this same chapter the apostle Paul writes the following words concerning this particular congregation: “For this cause, when I could no longer forbear, I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:5).

It is quite clear and quite obvious when reading the words which the apostle Paul wrote in the third chapter that his heart burned within him over the condition of this particular church and congregation. The apostle Paul could no longer take it any longer while in Athens concerning the state of this particular church and congregation, and therefore, he sent Timothy unto them to know their state, as well as to bring back report concerning them. In verses six through eight we find the following words: “But now when TImotheus came from you unto us and brought us good tidings of your faith and charity, and that ye have good remembrance of us always, desiring greatly to see us, as we also to see you: therefore, brethren, we were comforted over you in all our affliction and distress by your faith: for now we live, if the stand fast in the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 3:6-8). The question which was asked was whether or not this church could survive without the presence of the apostle Paul, as well as his companions, and the resounding answer to this question is actually a hearty “Yes.” When you read this particular epistle you will find that this church continued to thrive and survive—even in the absence of the apostle Paul, as well as Timothy and Silas. This is actually quite important and quite powerful to consider, for more often than not we think that we need some big name preacher, or some big name personally in order to survive and function as a church. More often than not there are many churches and congregations which trust in and rely too heavily upon ministers and pastors in order for them to survive and function, and in all reality this is not healthy. I do believe that Christ gave unto the church apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists, but I do not believe that the churches are solely dependent on such members in order to continue with spiritual health and vitality. What’s more, is that I absolutely love how this particular congregation received the word with much affliction and conflict, for I am convinced that it strengthened their faith pretty much right from the start. In an age when countless ministers will attempt to persuade you that following Christ removes and sets you apart from affliction and suffering, this particular epistle reveals the reality that there are times when the gospel is partnered together with affliction, opposition and suffering. In all reality, I would dare say that those individuals who receive and experience the gospel with much affliction and opposition have a faith that is much stronger, for almost form the beginning of their journey with the Lord they experience the very trials, troubles and affliction we seek to avoid. There is something to be said about this particular reality, for when most men and women would run away from conflict and affliction, these saints received the gospel together with these realities. We dare not miss or lose sight of this particular reality, for to do so would be to diminish the fact that more often than not it is conflict and opposition that actually enhances the power of the gospel within our lives, and the truth and reality of Christ within our lives.

The more I read and consider the reality of what we find in this third chapter—as well as in the entire epistle thus far—I can’t help but be drawn to the tremendous reality of how absolutely critical conflict and affliction are to our faith. I am reminded of the words which the apostle Peter wrote concerning not being surprised by trials and afflictions, and he almost seems to instruct his audience to expect and anticipate it. What was so incredibly lucky interesting about this particular church in Thessalonica is that pretty much from the outset they were immersed and saturated in conflict. In a world in which we live in where we are surrounded by conflict and trouble and suffering on all sides there are actually ministers who would encourage men and women that if they decide to follow Christ they will somehow avoid conflict and affliction altogether. The apostle Paul wrote unto the saints concerning their love, their faith and their hope, and he did so—not only in their absence, but also in the face of affliction. IN THE ABSENCE OF THE APOSTLE & IN THE FACE OF AFFLICTION. I absolutely love this particular congregation, for their faith was able to endure—despite the fact that the gospel was received in much affliction and conflict. We tend to gravitate toward this misguided belief that the only way our faith can stand and even endure is absent any conflict and absent any affliction, and yet we fail to recognize and understand that it is the trial of our faith that produces perseverance and endurance. I would dare say that one of the reasons we have men and women whose faith is so feeble and unable to endure is because it hasn’t been tried or tested. What we find with this particular church is that their faith was forged in the fire, as well as their faith was tested by the fire. There is something to be said about faith which immediately comes in direct contact with conflict and affliction—this is especially true given the fact that almost immediately after receiving the gospel they were without the presence of the apostle Paul, as well as even Timothy and Silas. It is absolutely imperative that we recognize and understand the reality that our faith must not only be forged in the fire, but we must also allow it to be tested in the fire. Away with preachers and ministers who attempt to preach a false gospel that following and servicing Christ will protect us from all conflict and opposition. Let us not forget that not even the life of the One who is at the center of the gospel was not without conflict, for they sought to shine Him multiple times, and eventually crucified Him outside Jerusalem on a cruel wooden tree.

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