Billy Graham’s Dangerous Advice

By Michael Brown Published on March 4, 2018

In his tribute to his old friend Billy Graham, James Robison, publisher of The Stream, shared how one word of counsel from Rev. Graham changed his life. Do we dare heed this word of counsel today? Do we have the courage and confidence to take up Billy Graham’s dangerous advice?

When setting up his city-wide rallies, James had been working with one particular group of Christians to the exclusion of other groups. But Rev. Graham knew that there were solid believers in these other groups as well. He asked James, “Do you know these Christians you are telling me to avoid?”

James replied, “No I don’t,” to which Rev. Graham said, “Well I do, and I have found them to be in love with Jesus.”

This was followed by the sentence that so revolutionized James Robison’s life and ministry: “I suggest you spend time with those you’ve been taught to avoid.”

Getting Past Caricatures and Stereotypes

James acted on this counsel, and, as he explains,

This Baptist evangelist began to spend time with Pentecostals and Charismatics, and even went to some of them and asked forgiveness for the unkind way I might have addressed some of the differences we seemed to have.

The miracle? Not only were those individuals I befriended impacted by the fact I came at Billy’s suggestion, but I was impacted. Iron began to sharpen iron. Essential friction took place with the powerful aid of Holy Spirit oil.

Are we willing to act on this as well?

It doesn’t mean lowering our standards or throwing out doctrinal essentials. But it does mean getting to know people face to face.

It doesn’t mean lowering our standards. It doesn’t mean throwing out doctrinal essentials. It doesn’t mean embracing some kind of cheap, carnal ecumenism.

But it does mean getting to know people face to face. It does mean getting past caricatures and stereotypes and sound bites. It does mean having some of our presuppositions and superficial judgments challenged.

Are we willing to do that?

Getting to Know Those You Disagree With

In terms of getting to know people up close and personally, someone once said to me that it’s easier to shoot someone from a distance than to shoot them face to face when you can feel their breath — in other words, when you can feel their humanity.

In the same way, it’s a lot easier to attack and criticize and scorn and mock someone when you only know them from a distance. But when you spend quality time with them, when you share your hearts openly and candidly, when you see them interact with their families and friends, when you experience what they do and who they are firsthand, you might realize that your views were biased or bigoted or, at the least, out of balance or lacking in love. And even if you end up believing that the nature of your concerns was accurate, the spirit with which you express those concerns will probably be changed.

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It’s been said that heaven, at one and the same time, will be a great eye-opener and a great mouth-closer. You’ll be surprised to see some people there (and others not there), and some people will be surprised to see you there.

The same thing happens when you really get to know people for who they are. Some of them turn out to be very different than you thought they were, and the sword, again, cuts both ways. Some of them will be surprised to meet the real you.

Sadly, though, we’re much happier to talk past each other than to talk to each other. How does this advance the God’s work, let alone the pursuit of truth?

Finding Common Ground

Recently, I urged a Christian leader to spend a day with another Christian leader whom he has repeatedly attacked, to the point of implying that this leader was not even a brother in the Lord. I happen to know this other leader well, and he’s one of the saintliest, Scripture-based, Jesus-loving people you could ever meet. The critic’s life would be enriched by this other leader’s life and ministry. So, would he spend time with him face to face?

Not a chance, said the critic. He saw no reason to give his time to such a heretical person as this.

What a shame, and what a loss — for the critic, for those he influences, and for the Body of Christ as a whole. How do attitudes like this cultivate that unity that is so precious in the Lord’s sight?

Even outside the Church family, I have sought to build relationships with those I differ with, from LGBT activists to devoted Muslims to counter-missionary rabbis.

I still speak clearly and without compromise, but I do so with compassion.

Sometimes, spending time with these individuals only intensifies my burden and accentuates my concerns, since they live up to the negative stereotypes.

At other times, I’m struck by our shared humanity and shared values, to the point that one intersex atheist (born male but then, through a chromosomal abnormality, began to develop as female and now lives as a female) recently asked if I would send him/her the hate mail that comes my way so that he/she could try to dissuade the haters of their hatred towards me.

That’s just one reason that, whenever I write on transgender-related issues, I have this person in mind, asking, “How are my words affecting people in that community?” I still speak clearly and without compromise, but I do so with compassion.

Am I Willing to Relate?

Of course, it’s often easiest to keep our distance and snipe. We dare not blur our lines of distinction!

But if those lines of distinction cannot withstand honest, heart to heart dialogue, if they cannot withstand spending time with two lesbian moms doting over their children, if they cannot withstand sitting with a devout Muslim who explains his love for Allah and his hatred of violence, then you have to question how clear those lines are to start. Are those distinctions based simply on religious tradition or personal prejudice, or are they based on truth and grounded in love?

One may be as straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as a gun barrel spiritually. — Vance Havner

Closer to home, within the Church, am I willing to have my narrow boundaries stretched? Am I willing to see spirituality in parts of the Church that don’t dot their i’s and cross their t’s exactly the way I do? Am I willing to acknowledge that good can come out of a local congregation that broke away from my denomination? Am I willing to recognize the Spirit’s hand on someone whose style I personally find offensive, even though within the bounds of Scripture?

Following the Example of Paul

Years ago, the popular Baptist evangelist Vance Havner shared this strong word of caution: “One may be as straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as a gun barrel spiritually. In fact, it may be that in their very opposition to evil men and false teachers these Ephesian saints had left their first love” (with reference to Revelation 2:1-7).

And, he continued,

So often it turns out that fundamental and orthodox Christians become so severe in condemning false doctrine, gnashing their teeth at every sniff of heresy, that they end up without love. One may do a right thing in a wrong way. The same Paul who wrote, “… though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel … let him be accursed,” also wrote the love chapter to the Corinthians [1 Corinthians 13]. Unless we can get that combination we shall be theological Hawkshaws and doctrinal detectives, religious bloodhounds looking for heretics but with hot heads and cold hearts.

A way to avoid falling into this kind of spiritual rut is by doing what Billy Graham counseled James Robison to do: spend time with those you’ve been taught to avoid.

It just might rock your world.

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  • Arnold Kropp

    Hmm? Can you imagine getting thru those pearly gates being asked: what denomination are you? Baptists are over there. Presbyterians are over there. Methodists are there and the tongue speakers are down the road a bit. The Catholics are right there. Join your crowd of choice..

  • The Evangelical

    It seems like there are a lot of fire breathing polemics people out there attacking anybody who disagrees with them on any ancillary doctrine. I can’t wait to be called an unbeliever for not having the right end times theology!

  • Tim Pan

    What about reasoning together in love?

    • Peter L

      That sums it all up! In their recent book “Jesus Among Secular Gods”, Ravi Zacharias and Vince Vitale observe that we need to learn to ‘disagree respectfully’. In a very powerful chapter, Vince Vitale observes that Jesus definitely represented God’s disagreement with us, but also God’s love for us. The very reason Jesus came on earth is that God doesn’t agree with our sinful life! But He didn’t turn away from us, but instead He came to us to save us.

      • Tim Pan

        The Body of Christ needs to9 get back to the basics of the faith.

        3. The Pursuit of Christian Character (2 Peter 1:5-7)

        1 “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who
        have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of
        our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace be multiplied to you
        in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine
        power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness,
        through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and
        excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and
        magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers
        of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world
        by lust.

        5 Now for this very reason also, applying all
        diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral
        excellence, knowledge; 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in
        your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; 7
        and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly
        kindness, love.”

  • Patmos

    Seems to me all the scripture that talks about avoiding ungodly people is mainly about being sure you avoid becoming like them and their ungodliness. There is a significant difference between those two approaches, and truth be told even if you do avoid ungodly people that does not mean you are fully protected from becoming ungodly yourself.

    It is God’s word that protects and strengthens. So why not have that with you in the midst of your heart? To then offer that strength and wisdom to others? The call to be the light of the world is no burden, quite the contrary, it lifts burdens. Whether people choose that light is not up to you.

    • Fran

      It does say in I Corinthians 15:33 that evil company corrupts good manners.

      • Kathy

        Yes, but Patmos has a valid point. Makes sense to me.

        • Fran

          The scriptures say to not stop being around the unsaved ( see verses below) because you will come around them in the world , but it sounds like it does say something about not being around the people that call themselves Christians ( see I Corinthians 5:9-14 below) . As far as sinners go, my personal opinion is that Jesus hung out with them to get them saved ( that verse that says it’s not the well that need a physician, but the sick. I’ve come to call sinners not the righteous to repentance). If they didn’t repent, I’m not so sure Jesus would have hung out with them, while they did all their sins, unless He wanted to keep going back to present the gospel over and over, if that’s the case, then maybe so. But if they gossiped and told dirty jokes and cussed continually without repentance and had already heard the gospel, I’m not so sure Jesus would have subjected Himself to that continually if they wouldn’t repent. I don’t think Jesus continued to hang out with them while they were continually sinning and committing their sin ( like they were getting drunk, while he sat there sober or they were smoking marijuana while he watched and then he kept going back and hanging out with them while they cussed, told dirty jokes, gossiped etc.) I think He did talk with them to tell them the gospel. His highest purpose was evangelistic to get them saved. Jesus’ closest associates were the 12 disciples and He had 3 (?) that He was closest to. If Jesus did keep going back, He probably did so to present the gospel and He probably asked them not to gossip or cuss or tell dirty jokes in His presence and when they started getting drunk and smoking refer, He probably left. This is my opinion. In other words, after they heard the gospel, I don’t think Jesus hung around and socialized with them while they committed their sin, as it may have looked like He compromised with it, plus He wouldn’t want to subject Himself to the gossip, jokes, cussing etc.

          If someone wants to elaborate on the verses below, they can, for when you disfellowship a believer.

          1 Corinthians 5:9-14 King James Version (KJV)

          9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

          10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

          11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

          12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

          13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

          • Kathy

            You seem very troubled by this. The only advice I could give you (but I am no expert) is that there is no need to avoid the lost…remember, we were once there ourselves. If you are firmly grounded in the Bible and faith in Christ and who He truly is, they should not be able to influence you negatively. I wouldn’t participate in any sinful behavior with them, for sure. If you find that being with them is luring you to that, it would be best to distance yourself. If not, then your goal is to plant the seed of the Gospel. As you know, God must do the rest…their salvation is not your responsibility. What a relief THAT is, right?

          • Fran

            I never said to avoid the lost, I don’t know where you got that; if you look back at my post and the scriptures I posted, it says that you should not avoid the unsaved. As a matter of fact, the first part of my first sentence is ” scripture says to not stop being around the unsaved” , so maybe you read it wrong?

          • Kathy

            Again, you are right, Fran. This is not something I stress too much about, though it does disturb me when those that claim they are Christians are bad witnesses to their faith when they “misbehave”. This is just me..I concentrate more right now on people being deceived by their clergy or particular church doctrines and thinking they are “good to go”. To each her own, I guess. Think I will be signing out now. Wishing you many blessings from our Father, Fran.

          • Fran

            Thanks!

          • Fran

            the disfellowship verses have to do with the believer, not the unsaved.

          • Fran

            I never said to avoid the lost, just don’t sin with them and don’t put up with their gossip ( shouldn’t listen to gossip either) , cussing, dirty jokes etc. I never said to avoid the lost, so I don’t know why you wrote that. And if you were once a sinner and we all were and you had problems with heavy drinking, I wouldn’t recommend being around people drinking heavily, if it’s an old stronghold, unless you’re completely delivered and know you’ll never go back. I agree your job is to plant the seed of the gospel, but deep fellowship while they are continually sinning and you are sitting there watching, that’s not such a good idea.

          • Kathy

            You are right, you didn’t say to avoid them. I was really making a general statement and didn’t word it correctly.

          • Fran

            o.k. God bless you.

          • Kathy

            Thank you!

          • Fran

            Yes, a relief their salvation is not our responsibility, unless God plants us as an intercessor for someone and we fail to pray and fast for them as God might direct. Then we’re kind of not being our brother’s keeper.

          • Kathy

            I meant whether or not they turn to God after we have planted the seed is not something we can control. God has to open their heart to Him, we can only try to facilitate that.

  • michael

    It makes sense to understand how people think. I have read the Quran and I hung out with witches. They are pretty closed off because many of them had bad experiences with Christians.

    • Fran

      I don’t think Christians should hang out with witches; I Corinthians 15:33 ” Do not be misled, bad company corrupts good character”. NIV or
      KJV
      “Do not be deceived; evil communications corrupts good manners.”

      • Terry Lewis

        I think we have to be aware of what Paul was teaching there. It’s impossible that he was warning us to completly avoid contact with non-Christians… after all, he wouldn’t want to condemn Christ Himself for eating with publicans and sinners!

        The next verse (34) instructs the Corinthians to “Come back to their senses and stop sinning!” They had not only “hung out” with false teachers… they had adopted their philosophy and teachings.

        We are warned that we need to pay close attention to ourselves while we try to pull someone else out of error. That warning certainly applies here, but we also cannot become like the pharisees and refuse to have anything at all to do with them. Someone has to warn them. If we fail to do so, their blood is required at our hands.

        • Fran

          I never said to completely avoid contact with sinners at times; I even used the verse in Corinthians where it says that we will come in contact with sinners in the world I even used that verse in Corinthians if you look back at my posts. We cannot avoid contact with the unsaved , so I don’t know why you are addressing this to me. I said there are certain Christians , according to Corinthians, that we are not to hang out with. Jesus only hung out with sinners to evangelize them; I don’t think He kept hanging out with them while they continued in their sin and He watched. There are many warnings in Proverbs and other places about not going the way of sinners. That doesn’t mean we can’t evangelize them, but we can’t hang out with them and be their companions while they sin and we watch.

  • Gregory Peterson

    Rev. Graham’s crusades, despite being integrated, were mostly about legitimating the sense of the rightness of whiteness in his audiences.

    His BGEA is still appalling homophobic and is creating unnecessary, unjust and dangerous minority stress.

    • Patmos

      Oh please. Complete nonsense. Go troll somewhere else, or better yet stop trolling altogether.

      • Gregory Peterson

        He, BGEA and Christianity Today were/are a danger to LGBT youth. He was an awful person who left this world worse for his having lived in it.

    • Jeff Baker

      Gregory Peterson, a completely False comment.

      • Gregory Peterson

        I think not. Graham was an appalling bigot in many ways, as the Nixon Tapes and his own Christianity Today and BGEA histories show.

        He did integrate his Southern Crusades before he had to, but he was silent about Civil Rights at crucial moments, as someone has pointed out.

        White evangelicals picked up on that and thought that he was legitimating their whiteness as Godly.

        • Jeff Baker

          So says Gregory the athiest.

          • Gregory Peterson

            That’s a presumption on your part.

  • Barefoot Soul

    Fox ran a one-hour special tonight on Graham’s life. I’m sure they’ll air it again. Amazing man. Since his death, the usual suspects continue to call him a “bigot,” which is so ironic, since he always insisted that his crusades be racially integrated. He was the least bigoted man on earth.

  • Peter L

    I think some Christians hesitate to hang out with non-Christians or Christians who have different views, because they are afraid of their views being challenged. It’s easier to only communicate with those who agree with you, because you never have to put forward any evidence for what you’re saying. Strangely, there is this idea that the ‘right teaching’ is best protected by only talking to those who also have ‘the right teaching’. In reality, you rather run the risk of going astray together if you avoid confrontation, because you’ll never be corrected with anything. If, however, you’re willing to listen to other people’s understanding of scripture, you will have to answer to that. If you can’t, maybe your view isn’t as solid as you thought, or maybe you should study more to deepen your understanding. And maybe you’ll find out that other persone isn’t that much off track as you thought he was.

  • John

    I attended “EXPO 72” and heard Dr. Graham for the first time. EXPO 72 was a “congress on evangelism” where we received encouragement and training on boldly witnessing to those God placed in our daily path. Witnessing was presented as a lifestyle we should embrace. I was saddened decades later to find the EXPO 72 event written up, in a fundamental Baptist college history class text, as an evil event that launched ecumenism in the US. They were not there. I was. They got it all wrong! The above mentioned history class is spreading discord and false information in the body of Christ. Maybe our opinion of others should be grounded in love rather that so called biblical doctrine. After all–love is biblical. I Cor 13.

  • Fran

    I just had two Mormons knock at my door tonight, so “no” we shouldn’t hang out with other people who claim to be “Christian”, if they have false doctrine. That is very clear in scripture. ( 2 John 9 Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son.

    10 If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:

    11 For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.)

    These Mormon guys even said they had a “born-again” experience with Christ” because I told them to make sure they had a born-again experience with Christ and I told them they had false doctrine. So, please don’t hang out with people in false doctrine cults , like Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses etc. or you, according to scripture, will share in their evil deeds. You can warn them, but don’t receive them or wish them Godspeed and don’t hang out with them.
    The Bible says not to receive false teachers.
    I don’t think we should spend time with people we’ve been taught to avoid if they’re false teachers ( or in a cult) and God teaches us not to receive them in 2 John 9-11).

    • Kathy

      Two very pleasant young Mormon women came to my door recently and urged me to read the Book of Mormon, from which one claimed having a born again experience after reading it. Of course, I refused, but was very cordial during the brief conversation. I then asked if all of the religions, like theirs and JW’s in particular, change or add to Biblical doctrine, which one is true? You can’t all be right if you all have different doctrines that are contrary to Scripture. They were speechless and finally said “That’s a fair question”. They then decided the conversation was over and left, never to return as they said they would. I’m praying these deceived young women will realize the error of their way and come to know the real Christ.

      • Fran

        Yes, I have prayed for these two young men who came to my door also that their eyes would be opened . I did tell them you can’t add to God’s Word. I didn’t tell them this, but Revelation says not to add to or take away from God’s Word. All I said is you can’t add to God’s Word. They tried to tell me they had the truth and I said that I did. Also, I said ” I tell you this in love, not to harm you”. They asked me also if I had ever read the Book of Mormon and I said ” as a matter of fact, I have”. I only read some of it though. I had borrowed it once from a Mormon neighbor ( a long time ago) and tried to read it, but I told them I did not feel the Spirit of God ( or I might have said the Spirit of the Lord) on it. I didn’t have it long , to determine that it wasn’t from God. I told them I didn’t like it ( the Book of Mormon). They probably didn’t like that. I also told them I hoped they get delivered from the Mormon religion.

        • Kathy

          I referenced the Revelation verse as well. I wouldn’t think the Spirit of God would be on the Book of Mormon since it would not be on any added or changed doctrine at all. There are no new revelations since the book of Revelation, like so many cults have claimed.

  • Fran

    Also, in this case, Billy Graham was right about the charismatics and the Pentecostals; they are people who love Jesus who just happen to believe in the baptism of the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in other tongues. But not all Christians may be safe to deeply fellowship with , you have to pray about them and ask God, even the Pentecostals and Charismatics I would assume. If you’re talking casual non deep fellowship, you have to ask God about that also. Also, I Corinthians 15:33 says ” Do not be misled, bad company corrupts good character”. Also, does anyone want to elaborate on this passage pertaining to people who are Christians in verse 11, where it talks about any man that is called a brother?

    I Corinthians 5:9-13 9 I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:

    10 Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.

    11 But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.

    12 For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within?

    13 But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.

  • Terry Lewis

    As a (mostly) Baptist who has attended a Church of God church for several years, I know this is possible, and enriching. My beliefs have been challenged, but that only drove me to study for myself to be certain of why I held my beliefs.

    One of our biggest problems in this country today is that we’ve stopped talking to each other in favor of talking PAST each other! People on opposite sides of an issue far too quickly dismiss those on the other side as bigoted, mean, or even evil! Our politicans and media have done this for so long that our kids now think that this is good and proper.

    It’s not!

    Consider the 2nd amendment debate that was spawned by the tragic events in Parkland FL. I’m more convinced than ever that most, if not all, of the people you hear discussing this event sincerely want what is best for the country. Yet, we’re told by one side that the other doesn’t care about children dying, or that they just want to take away your rights.

    It’s much more difficult to make these accusations against someone that you know. But coming to know someone requires us to actually listen to what they’re saying. We often agree on the end goal… everyone wants our kids to be safe. We differ on the best way to achieve that goal. Calling each other names will never provide a solution.

    It’s ironic that our phones… a tool originally designed to enhance communication, is now a major source of distraction and a hinderance to communication. We need to put the phones down for a while and get to know our neighbors.

    They just might not be as bad as we think they are!

  • Royce E. Van Blaricome

    Dr. Brown, should you read this, I don’t disagree with you. At least in the spirit of what I think you’re trying to say. However, it would be helpful if you would address those Scriptures on the other side of the coin. Many of which are brought up in comments below. 1st Cor. 5 & 15, 2nd John 9 and I would add Rom. 16, Eph. 5, Titus 3, and 2nd Tim. 3. Perhaps you can devote an article to those passages and explain how one can obey them while maintaining the spirit of what you said in this article.

    On a side note, I recently had a JW couple come to my door. The wife & daughter had previously showed up at my door and in about 5min I had her so befuddles from pointing out differences in her NWT and the Bible, citing a few Scriptures off the top of my head where Jesus claims to be God, equal with the Father, having always existed and the Creator of all, that she asked if she could come back with her husband. I say “Sure!”; and asked her to call first as I wanted to be even better prepared. Of course they didn’t.

    It would take too long to detail it all but the short of it is we had a civil and pretty cordial discussion right up to the point where I think he sensed I was making valid, irrefutable points that might be impacting his wife and then he got a bit agitated and animated. He kept wanted to talk about John 17:3 and I told him I didn’t know that one off the top of my head so I went and got my Bible.

    He tried his best to get me to see that Jesus was saying there that the Father is the one and only true God and that Jesus was claiming He wasn’t. I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for that and probably did a poor job of handling it in my explaining that’s not what Jesus was saying. But in discussing this passage he said something about wanting to come back and discuss this more and I told him that was fine but he wasn’t gonna change my mind on who Jesus is and I would be better prepared to exegete the passage when he came back as well as discuss some other flaws in the JW theology.

    So he said there was no reason to come back then and that we would just have to agree to disagree “as Brothers in Christ”. To which I replied with “Will all due respect, and no offense intended at all, we are not Brothers in Christ. You have a different Jesus that the Jesus of the Bible who is God.” At which point he got visually angry and they left quickly.

    Afterwards I sat down and read all of John 17. And, wouldn’t ya know it just two verses down John 17:5 sticks out like a neon sign! So for anyone out there who has a JW come to your door and throw out the John 17:3 just point them to Verse 5!!

    I prayed and I hope you all will pray that the next time he brings up John 17:3 or hears any preaching/teaching on John 17 that Verse 5 will shock him to his core.

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