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It’s time to remove the obstacles and LOVE back…

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I had always thought of myself as a good neighbor.

Early in our marriage, when life was fresh, fairly untainted and for the most part distraction-free, and I made pies in my spare time. Lots of pies. Oh, I wasn’t great at it at first, but I can distinctly remember feeling determined to master such a homemaking skill as a new wife, and so I rolled and formed dough over and over until I got it just right.

I’ll never forget the first time I gave one of my pies away. I walked timidly up to the door where a wife had just lost her husband; a room full of children, their father, well before this world says it’s time. Heavy grief consumed their home that day, and I didn’t have the right words to say. So I tapped gently on the door, handed over the pie, and prayed that the contents of that plate would somehow convey the depth of love and sympathy in my heart.

As time went on, my pies made their way into the hands of several others close to me – sometimes in celebration over happy things like birthdays and babies, and other times in an effort to encourage due to sickness or grief. My husband would every so often joke that all of the world’s problems couldn’t be solved with a pie, and I would jest back and say that I thought it was a pretty good place to start.

I had always thought of myself as a good neighbor, until my neighbor thought I wasn’t.

We had moved into our very first home earlier that year. That spare time that was once filled with carefree stuff like pie-making was gradually overtaken by demanding jobs, bills and increasing responsibilities. The years that we had dreamed about were upon us, yet somehow now they didn’t seem quite so dreamy as the weight of the world slowly crept in and began piling on top of us.

Enter one summer weekend, one feverish husband, and a father-in-law who graciously wanted to serve us well by mowing our overgrown lawn. Except for the grass wasn’t blown in the right direction at the property line on this one occasion, and the stakes went up.

Literally.

Green metal fence stakes, hammered angrily into the ground right in the middle of the tiny pathway that connected our neighbor’s lawn to ours. Oh, our neighbor didn’t have to say a word. The stakes communicated the message loud and clear that day all on their own: disapproval, with the intention to divide and keep our mower – and our lives – from crossing paths in the future. Nevermind the high fever or the good intentions or the well-meaning father-in-law. It seemed it was too late to explain all of that. The obstacles had already been placed.

Everything in us wanted to fight back. To explain our case. To point out his ridiculous anger and lack of compassion. To remind him that life is short and this was just grass for crying out loud.

But instead we made a choice to love.

My husband wrote a beautiful letter of apology, recognizing our neighbor’s impeccable lawn and complementing his gardening skills. He admired his work ethic and the pride that he took in his home, evidenced in the excellent care it received. Tyler’s words were filled with humility, gentleness, and a desire to make things right, whatever it took.

And I made a pie. Heh. I realize that pies don’t solve all of the world’s problems, but they’re not a bad place to start…

Our apology was welcomed with tears and embarrassment by the wife next door. Our delivery opened the door for her to share some hurts that she had been experiencing, and it opened the door for us to love like Jesus. And while the husband never did speak of the disagreement directly, soon after, the stakes came down. The obstacles were removed, and the relationship started on the path of restoration.

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Over two thousand years ago, the obstacle was our sin. Man created a division in the Garden so devastating that it separated us from God. The fruit was eaten. The sin obstacle was placed. And God made it clear: Heaven’s holiness couldn’t be tainted by our broken state. He could have punished us forever. Drawn the line in the sand. Set the stakes in place.

But instead He made a choice to love.

Oh, it meant sacrifice. It meant crossing the line and bridging the gap and taking the blame. But Jesus took on the cross with humility and grace, initiating the first step, because of obedience to the Father and because of His love for you and for me. And when we accept the gift of grace extended to us, the obstacles are removed, and He has the power to reconcile us to a right relationship with God.

Beautiful, matchless grace, all because of God’s pursuing, redeeming, everlasting love.

God’s love changes everything. It changes the critical fate of our eternity, all the way down to how we love our neighbors on the most inconvenient, unfair days. It has the power to change me and to change you, if we’ll let it.

Love is the foundation for redeeming the world back to our precious Father. But God chose normal human beings to be the ones who would make His love known. He loved us, and we are blessed and redeemed by that healing, comforting, always present love. And then, out of gratitude, we choose to be that kind of love to the world in which we are living. ~ Sally Clarkson – You Are Loved, pg. 127

We don’t have to have it all figured out, and all of the world’s problems won’t immediately disappear. But God’s love is the foundation on which we start. Life is short. Will we choose to love God and love people with all that we have, before it’s too late?

{You Are Loved}.

Now it’s time to remove the obstacles and LOVE back.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.

But the greatest of these is love.”

~ 1 Corinthians 13:13

At His feet,

*LET’S TALK: Do you struggle with accepting God’s love for you, with loving God or loving the people God has placed in your life? What obstacles stand in your way? Comment below… we’d be honored to pray for those obstacles today.

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GMG Mentoring Applications Now Open! If you have been considering leading a group through Good Morning Girls, you may be interested in Leadership Mentoring. If you are a current leader but are needing encouragement and ideas, you may find that Leadership Mentoring helps you re-focus. To find out more information about our Leadership Mentoring Program, click here.

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Sad that our {You Are Loved} study has come to an end? Don’t be! We’ll be taking a couple of weeks away from the blog, but we are excited to announce that we’ll be spending this time praying, studying and preparing incredible resources with you in mind as we plan for our upcoming ESTHER study this Fall!!! Meet us back on the blog in TWO WEEKS, when we’ll share more details with you! For now, we’d be honored if you’d save the dates:

Fall 2014 Session
Rest: July 27th-August 1st
Mentoring: August 4th-15th
Leaders Group Preparations: August 4th-15th
Enrollment: August 18th-29th

Dates: September 1st-October 24th
Study: Esther Study

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Five minutes to make a difference…

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There was mud stuck to my face. Lots of it. An attractive mixture of sweat and dirt that had somehow – smeared like war paint - found it’s way to my forehead while I was weeding my grossly neglected flower beds in ninety degree heat.

Let’s be honest, these are the days that I hope no one stops by unannounced. Heh.

There were still yard tools to clean up and hungry children to feed and I may have just spotted last night’s dishes piled high in the sink, for crying out loud.

Neighbors walked by, and I pretended not to notice while I finished up my work. There’s only so much daylight left, I justify, and responsible mamas must get on with it and feed their children sooner than later. And just like that, I let another conversation, another smile, another chance to encourage walk right past my house before my very eyes. Five minutes to make a difference, just lost.

And then the fire happened, and in less than five minutes, everything changed.

We sat straight up in bed after we heard it – the sound so stunning that even in our sleepy states, we knew it was out-of-character significant.  A violent storm was wrecking havoc in our quiet neighborhood, and the loud crack of lightning shook us to our cores. We peeked in on our kids, confirmed that all was well in each room, then with a sigh of relief stumbled back into bed, dozing off as we prayed for the storm to pass. It wasn’t until the next morning that we would learn of the devastation. Just a few houses down, our neighbors had lost everything.

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We had always been a friendly neighborhood, to be sure. It wasn’t uncommon to hear children giggling or see owners taking their dogs on evening walks. But people more often than not seemed in a hurry to get to the next thing: meaningful conversations were replaced with quick hellos and I need to be on my way. Sweaty, dirty faces looked away, waiting for a day that was more convenient; more – I don’t know – presentable. Like five minutes and a little pride was too much to spare.

But after the fire, a beautiful thing happened. After all, it’s often through hardship that love shines through and beautiful stories of unity are written.

Neighbors gathered in the street, offering their homes, shoes, and whatever cash was in their pockets. People stopped and engaged with acquaintances to brainstorm ways they could help. Donations were collected. Notes of encouragement were written. Dog walkers stopped to visit, and busy businessmen walked across the street to shake hands and introduce themselves by name. Emotions were openly shared; humanness was exposed. And dirty faces never looked more beautiful as generous hands helped sort through the rubble.

Handfuls of five minute encounters were everywhere, impacting lives in astounding ways.

One of the most meaningful of these encounters I witnessed was a neighbor carefully tending to the outdoor hanging plants that had been singed in the fire. Most would have taken one look at those flowers and deemed them beyond repair. Too damaged by the extreme heat; too insignificant to spend any time bothering to rescue. But this sweet woman saw value in something that her grieving friends held dear to them: one of the only things that retained any resemblance of the beautiful home they had worked so hard to build. So she lovingly watered those baskets day after day, believing that with enough tender loving care, they would bounce back and do more than just survive against all odds. She believed they would thrive and bloom into something beautiful once again.

With tears in my eyes, I realized that how this woman dealt with those damaged flowers is how God loves us, and in turn how we should love others. We might appear so broken, damaged, often labeled too insignificant and beyond repair by the world, but God sees our value. He came down to meet us where we are, and offers grace and hope and life back into our suffocating, dying souls. And the Living Water that He lavishly pours out on us has the power to restore us to something even more beautiful than before.

Even as He is the one who pursues us, provides for us, encourages us, comforts us, speaks love over us, so we must understand that we are to pursue others in life-giving love. Because He is the source, the beginning and definition of generous, unconditional love, and He lives within us, we must be a picture of His initiating love to all who come into our lives. ~ Sally Clarkson {You Are Loved, pg. 108}

Oh sweet sisters, there are broken people all around us. The question is, are we willing to notice them, “cross the street,” and are we willing to see beauty in the broken? What if we committed to even just five minutes TODAY to show God’s love to someone and make a difference for the Kingdom?

“And this is his command:

to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ,

and to love one another as he commanded us.”

~ 1 John 3:23

 

At His feet,

The good about not having it all together…

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I sat quietly in the waiting room with tears streaming down my face. My unstable emotions were even catching me off guard.

After all, I’m the one who’s always supposed to have it all together.

And oh, how I long to be that person. The low-maintenance one who always encourages. Who always has a smile on my face, is generous with my time, and helps ease the burdens of others. I despise neediness in myself. Call it mercy, call it middle-child-syndrome, or call it a bad case of wanting to be in control. Whatever it is, it just plain stinks when you’re not.

The week before, our like family small group had overwhelmed us with love and practical care. My husband and I sat on our living room floor and wept as our friends surrounded us and lifted our sick little boy up to our capable Father. He alone could make him well in a moment, but for His glory and our good, He had taken us on an unknown journey that had lasted years.

A crazy hereditary condition had landed us in children’s hospital waiting rooms far more often than we would have liked. As far as conditions go, we always knew that it was “fixable,” but the road would be uncomfortable. Our kids would endure test after test and difficult hospitalizations, and I’d cry hard tears with each visit as I listened to my sweet toddlers cry out, “Aaalllll done, Mama. Aaalllll done.”  It sometimes seemed unfair that so many other couples had such healthy kids, but on my unselfish days, it especially seemed unfair that our kids would get through this, while other children with more severe health issues weren’t looking at outcomes as optimistic as ours. The waves of emotions alone were honestly more than this seemingly all-together girl had signed up for.

The waiting room chairs were hard and uncomfortable, a perfect match to the state of my heart. Some stranger had wheeled my boy through those doors without me hours before, and now surgery was taking much longer than expected. For Your glory and my good, God? No, thank you. My Bible was open to the Psalms, the pages now wet; first with fear, and then with tears begging for forgiveness for my doubt in the One who holds all things together.

I was so tired of not having it all together. And now I wanted to cry out, “All done, Father. I don’t want to carry this anymore.”

But God meant it for good.

Those familiar words from Genesis kept pressing in on the walls of my hard heart with each waiting room visit through the years, reminding me that in each victory and each set-back in life, God has a greater goal than my comfort in mind. It’s actually through those vulnerable times when I don’t have it all together {which, let’s face it, is all the time} that I’ve come to understand more of who He is.

The God who forms in the womb, who sees my every thought and need, who loves me in spite of myself – He understands and has compassion for me in my weakness. He willingly walked a road that no perfect man deserved and sympathizes with my suffering – no matter how big, or how seemingly insignificant. And praise God that He loves me too much to leave me immature and lacking.

God, the Master Weaver. He stretches the yarn and intertwines the colors, the ragged twine with the velvet strings, the pains with the pleasures. Nothing escapes his reach. Every king, despot, weather pattern, and molecule are at his command. He passes the shuttle back and forth across the generations, and as he does, a design emerges. Satan weaves; God reweaves. ~ Max Lucado

 

The good about not having it all together?

My dependence is greater.

My priorities are refigured.

My will is broken.

My heart is made tender.

My compassion grows stronger.

My ministry becomes more effective.

God shines brighter… for my good, and His glory.

I’ve learned over the years that all-together people don’t exist. And I’ve also learned that even if they did, I don’t want to be one of them. In my weakness, I’ve seen more of Christ, and He is more beautiful than before. I’ve watched Him weave this grace-laced story – messy and twisted underneath - into a magnificent, intentional and clearer presentation for the world to see more of Jesus in me. I’ve learned that the world doesn’t need one more fake all-together Jesus-follower. The world just needs Jesus.

So mold me to be more like you, Father. Whatever it takes. Because nothing escapes your reach, my confidence is in You. Shine brighter, for my good, and Your glory.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses,

but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence,

so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

~ Hebrews 4:15-16

At His feet,

*Let’s talk: What struggle has God used in YOUR life to make Himself shine brighter? We adore hearing your hearts…

 

 

Modeling God’s Love for Ourselves Changes Lives…

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{Joy and Sarah, my beloved cherished friends and daughters.}

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2: 8-9

How do we model the love of God to our children? To our lost friends? To the world?

Learning to accept God’s generous love, is not just a personal issue for ourselves, but it is a crucial part of how we show God’s grace to a world of women around us who long to be loved and accepted for who they are.

Everyone we know is longing for acceptance and validation. Yet, unless we as Christian women model this to those closest to us, they will miss seeing the unconditional love of God He wants to show through our lives.

I have been blessed with two lovely daughters. Yesterday, I had conversations with both of them–Sarah by skype and Joy sitting next to me in our living room last night–sharing hearts, insecurities, failures, flaws and love and redemption. My girls are living in a culture in which bodies and looks, intelligence, clothing, personality and behavior are marketed in such a way as to promote the message that there is a certain kind of body, way of dressing, a size or weight or body type and when any one of us measures up to this false worldly standard of perfection, we will all fall short.

Now, as to looks, some are too skinny, too tall, too short, some too overweight, some have big chests, some small.

As to personality, some are charming, some are not, all personalities are flawed in some way because all are subject to this disease called sin.

Some smarter, better, and on and on the world tempts us to think we can be enough if we just try hard enough.

But all of these arbitrary standards plague women every day. Even I, as a 60 year old fight, insecurity every year as I have to stand in front of hundreds of women at conferences, with more weight than I would wish, or more wrinkles or the kinds of clothes I should wear–I am a normal women who can be caught in the grips of cultures’ temptations by seeking measure myself by some arbitrary standard that God never established.

Why in the world would even a woman like me, aging as I am supposed to, ever compare myself with the standards of a young, thin model of a woman who represents universal beauty? Because of the messages of the world being screamed in every movie, every show, every billboard, every advertisement. If it plagues even me and I am a relatively reasonable woman, and have walked with God for many years. I know it plagues my beloved daughters, and you and your daughters.

And so I have come to understand that an important part of my testimony to others, is that I am enough–just as I am. It is God’s grace every day that saves me, restores me, makes me beautiful. Not perfection or performance.

I do not want my girls to have to believe the lies of the world, I want them to grow beautiful inside because they learn to love who God has made them to be. I do not want my daughters to bear such a legacy of self-condemnation as the world would give.

They will only learn to accept their worth to the Lord if I accept my worth from the Lord.

The whole point of Christianity and redemption is that we are saved from all of our personal corruption. As women, we are beautiful because God designed us very intentionally with our personality, our skill set, our dreams and drives. He also designed us with a specific face and body and height and weight–All are beautiful when they live in the love and confidence of God’s affirmation. As to personality, they are extremely different and make different choices in life because God gave them different gifts.

It is the grace and glory of God that we find freedom and joy and the life to live apart from the condemnation and criticism of this world. Then we are able to grow in our acceptance of His love. His desire for us as women is to greatly experience the “Life” of His reality of acceptance every day, because of how much He sacrificed so that we might live.

Yet,when it comes to my daughters, I want them also to understand, that they are beautiful because both are beloved by their Jesus and by me. They are both righteous because Jesus knew they would never ever be able to be perfect or good enough on their own, and so he lived and died for them so that they would never have to feel so deeply disappointed in themselves.They will always have hope and deep acceptance when they walk with His hand in theirs leading and loving and blessing them moment by moment–if they have first seen it in me.

Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel— rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God. I Peter 4:3-3

It is the hidden person of my heart, the tenderness and humility before Jesus that makes me beautiful to Him and that will make you beautiful to Him. When your heart seeks to love Him, to please Him, to rest in His love and care for you, that is your preciousness in the sight of God.

When I model this inner heart, my daughters will understand that it is their heart–not their body, their performance or their perfection that will help them to find His love.

As their mother, I hope I will make choices that lead them in this freedom and grace. They need to see me model that I feel accepted by God’s love, that my beauty if from my heart, so that they will hear a different message from me than they see in the world. When I make peace with who I am, warts and all, I speak boldly of His ability to fill up all the cracks of my life. Then they learn how to live in the freedom of His love and acceptance.

And so, I want to give them this Jesus who saved me, and who grants me His grace every day–His grace, His unmerited favor, His power to live life, His faithfulness to direct, correct and mature them little by little and His favor and unconditional love, which will never fail them. My daughters, friends, colleagues will better understand their adequacy that comes from Jesus when they see it for real in my life.

And I want to live in such a way that they will always know that they, too, can be found acceptable and beautiful in His arena of blessing.

I want my precious daughters to live in the secure ring of our own family love, grace and acceptance and to have the freedom and grace in their hearts to know that who they are, as they are is quite enough and even lovely because of the grace of God so very reflective in and through each moment of their lives.

May He bless my precious girls, and me, and each of us to so live in this true feminine beauty of His love and acceptance that we never need dwell in the insecurity of not ever being able to be perfect or measure up to the arbitrary standards of this world. May His grace truly invigorate and fuel the moments of our lives each day and may others see what is really beautiful as we reflect His reality every day.

Let us break the mold of the world and show a new acceptance–one that comes from God’s grace, not as a result of anything we have done to deserve, but acceptance that comes as a gift from God.

Love,

sally

 

 

 

itakejoy.com

 

Previous {You Are Loved} Posts:

Week 1- He Calls Us Belovedyou-are-loved-spine copy
Monday- Let’s Get Started
Wednesday- You Are Not Alone
Friday-We Are Loved!

Week 2- Knowing God
Monday- Chapter 2: Knowing God
Wednesday- He Gives Us a Heart to Know Him
Friday-Knowing God: When Doubt Comes…

Week 3-The Rival
Monday- Chapter 3: The Rival
Tuesday- A Personal Message From the You Are Loved Contributors
Wednesday-No Condemnation…
Friday- The Great Deceiver

Week 4 – God Loves You

Monday – Chapter 4: God Loves You

Want to join our study? You still can! Purchase a book and jump on in! You can go at your own pace! You can purchase You Are Loved on Amazon here.

{Knowing God} When Doubt Comes…

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There have been a lot of them: parenting moments that I’ve felt more than unqualified for over the years. But I don’t know if my heart would have ever been prepared for the night that my boy told me he wasn’t sure if he believed in God.

According to him, he was eighty percent sure – an encouraging score when it comes to laundry completion and math tests – but definitely not the number I was looking for when it came to his faith. My mind raced through the days and years that my husband and I had lovingly pointed him towards Christ. Oh, the Bible stories he had heard… the church services he had attended. Hadn’t God heard my hundreds of pleading prayers for my children to love Him with all of their hearts, souls and strength?

Oh, this mama’s heart.

I usually find myself sitting on the edge of his bed for our nighttime routine, but this night you’d better believe that I crawled all the way in to lay right next to him and listen to his heart. Everything in me wanted to talk instead of listen; to convince him that of course he believed. But deep down I knew that he had to wrestle through his doubt and come to his own conclusion.  That my faith couldn’t be his. As I listened to my questioning ten year old, I recognized that the doubts he was facing weren’t new or unique to him. Many people throughout the Bible – and many of us – go through seasons of doubt when it comes to knowing God.

Some grow up in church, hearing Bible stories and praying mealtime prayers for as long as they can remember. Belief seems obvious, but head knowledge doesn’t always translate into heart knowledge. Some aren’t exposed to God until later in life, where people and experiences have already crept in and jaded what they’ll let their heart believe. Either way, there is often a disconnect when it comes to making a personal decision about the truth of who God really is.

Where have we gone wrong?

Here are some common “head games” that we play: roadblocks that we put up that keep God at a distance and limit the Truth of who He is from solidifying into our hearts. See if you can relate with any of these…

1. We base our knowledge of God on our emotions. If things go our way, God must be for us. If we don’t get what we want, we question if there is a God who really loves us. Our human emotions often sway with every season, joy and trial, and at best can be unstable, unpredictable and shallowly based on our limited view of God’s control over all things (Rom. 8:28). Until we are mature in the knowledge of Christ (Eph. 4:13-14), we’ll continue to be tossed by every wave that comes our way, and our knowledge of God will be skewed.

2. We base our knowledge of God on current suffering, past hurts or people who have wronged us. It’s impossible to live in this world and escape hardship (John 16:33). Because of sin, we experience everything from hurt feelings to costly wars against nations. But who we attribute that hardship to often determines what we believe about God.  There is a sad number of people in this world who have turned their backs on God because they have been hurt by sinful people (all of us – Rom. 3:23) or difficult circumstances.  The Bible warns us that it is better to take refuge in the Lord than in humans (Psalm 118:8). Though we may not always understand God’s ways, when we really know Him, we can be sure that He is for us (Rom. 8), He gives good gifts to His children (Matt. 7:11), and that He will never leave us or forsake us (Deut. 31:6).

Sometimes it is through the hard stuff, the hard years, that we truly develop our relationship with God. We learn to be broken before Him. Sometimes when we get to the place where He is all we have, we find that He is really all we need.” ~ Angela, You Are Loved, pg. 32

3. We base our knowledge of God on what we can understand. I need this reminder often: God is God and I am not. God instructs us to seek Him and know Him, but sometimes we fail to remember that we don’t want a God that we can completely understand. Since He is God, His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9) and His ways are foolishness to the world (1 Cor. 1:27-29). Just because we can’t always understand Him doesn’t mean that we should stop trusting Him or give up in our pursuit to know Him more. It just means that as believers, we won’t know everything until we get to heaven (1 John 3:2).

4. And maybe the hardest truth? We’re just plain lazy. I don’t want to admit it either, but the truth is we’re a generation that wants quick knowledge and fast results.  Instead of a hard and steady pursuit, we want immediate gratification. Knowing God takes a commitment to a relationship with God. It takes sacrifice, study and daily searching for Truth. Knowing God is not a passive activity that just “happens.” Rather, we know God more when we actively pursue Him and His Word (Jer. 29:12-13).

In an effort to really get to know God, my boy took on a challenge to read the Bible five days a week for an entire school year. He prayed for God to reveal Himself to him, journaled his thoughts, asked his dad and me lots of questions, and wrestled through some academic things on his own.  As much as a young boy could, he sought to really know who God is. As a result of his pursuit and the work of the Holy Spirit, I’m thrilled to report that his eighty percent is now a solid 100%.

But knowing God doesn’t stop there.

A passionate relationship with the Creator of the universe isn’t just about a one-time decision or simply about filling our minds with facts. Knowing God is a lifelong pursuit of the One who sent His Son to die for us, where we allow His life and death to impact us in such a way that our behaviors, our perspectives, our futures – our everythings - are forever changed because of Him.

We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding…” ~ 1 John 5:20

Friend, do you know Him today?

At His feet,

**LET’S TALK: Do you struggle with one of the “roadblocks” to knowing God mentioned above?  How has the truth of God’s Word helped you to overcome feelings of doubt when it comes to your faith?

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