JOY THIEVES

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Can I confess something to you this week? I am a perfectionist. Many of you may be to. No matter what the task is at hand, if it is not done perfectly, the whole world basically comes to a stop. If my bed is not made perfectly (when I do decide to make it, that is), then I MUST remake it 100 times just to make it perfect. If a paper I am writing at school does not get a grade between 95% and 100%, I feel like a failure, even though a 94% is still an A.

Can I confess something else? I am the type of person that must be the best of the best. In high school, I had this goal to graduate as a valedictorian. When I chose the post-secondary option my junior and senior year, however, I realized that would not be possible because my GPA would be affected by the college courses. So, my new goal: graduate from high school with my diploma and an Associate of Arts degree. Sure enough, I spent the last two years of my high school career working towards that goal… and achieved it. I’m that girl that must graduate with straight A’s, three degrees with a minor and a focus, and then proceed to grad school on an advanced standing scholarship. I’m the coworker that must be the best team member at work.

Without things being perfect, or without me being at the top of everything, I become easily frustrated and annoyed. I become that person you don’t want to be around (especially when I receive a bad test score). I lose my joy. And my level of happiness is based off of it.

This is my joy thief.

This is what drags me down.

This is where the enemy comes to kill, steal and destroy.

You may be the same way. Or, you may have other joy thieves. Maybe your trigger is when you come home to a messy house, or you’re running late to work and you forgot you needed to stop for gas. It’s these little (or big) things that make us tick. But they are also the things that the enemy uses to drain us of our joy.

Friends, the Lord has given us joy with our salvation. In scripture, we read that in His presence is “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16.11). We are told to “shout for joy” (Psalm 32.11). Psalm 35.9 states, “And my soul shall be joyful in the Lord; it shall rejoice in His salvation”.

Why do we let these thieves come and steal our joy?

Joy is not based on our circumstances, but on our salvation. If this is true, then we need to do a better job of guarding our joy.

For me, it might be accepting the fact that not everything has to be “perfect”. Let’s face it, the only Person who is “perfect” is Jesus Himself. It may mean taking a step back and being okay with not being on top.

What is stealing your joy? What is draining you of all your energy to the point where you no longer rejoice in your salvation? We all have our own joy thieves, it’s just recognizing them and taking the initiative to rebuild our joy and rebuke the enemy of our soul.

Pastor Aaron, in his sermon series “Habits of Happiness,” shares several joy thieves and joy builders that we can each relate to. It is important to find out what is taking our joy away and holding us back from truly living life to the full. You can check out the podcast here: http://www.painesvilleag.com/painesville-ag-messages/?enmse=1&enmse_sid=2

Church, I encourage you to ask the Lord to reveal to you how the enemy steals your joy. After He’s revealed that to you, dig deep into the Word of God and find HIS truth about the joy of your salvation.

Make it a great week!
Jenny Bushnell,
Writer, Blogger

 

What Kind of Friend are You?

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One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin,
but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
Proverbs 18:24 (NIV)

I am so thankful for friends! God has blessed my life with some pretty amazing people, and to be quite honest, I cannot imagine where I would be without my fellow sojourners! We are all on a journey, and God has been so gracious to provide kindred spirits, brothers and sisters, who travel with us.

The apostle Paul was blessed with some pretty amazing friends himself. We heard about them in the Habits of Happiness sermon this past Sunday. Timothy and Epaphroditus were personally endorsed by Paul as role models, and we can clearly see some admirable qualities in them. They cared about others and were willing and available to serve. They were trustworthy and genuine. Both were considerate of the needs of others. They were cooperative “team players”, so to speak. They took their calling and responsibilities as apostles, “sent ones”, very seriously. They had counted the cost. Both lived for something worth dying for. They did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death. (Revelation 12:11)

The character traits seen in these two friends of Paul remind me a lot of my friend who sticks closer than a brotherJesus! Timothy and Epaphroditus, like Paul… like Jesus, were poured-out servants, fully surrendered to the Gospel.

And we, too, as Christ followers, can be this kind of friend. Actually, as we live completely surrendered to the life of Jesus in and through us, we won’t be able to help but be this kind of friend. His life, in us, will be what people encounter. Countless times I have experienced Jesus through the lives of my friends!

What kind of friend are you? Are you willing to serve others like Jesus served, doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility do you consider others better than yourself? “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) Are you trustworthy and genuine? Are you living for something… Someone… worth dying for? Only as we lay down our lives for others can Christ’s life be manifested in us. Timothy and Epaphroditus were willing to lay their lives down, and Jesus did lay His life down! He shed His blood on the cross, paying the price for our sin, so that by believing in Him we receive the gift of salvation and eternal life. His death bought our life! Jesus paid it all and all to Him I owe!

Consider His words to His disciples regarding their relationship to each other.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends You are my friends if you do what I command.  I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. This is my command: Love each other.” ~Jesus in John 15:12-17

Jesus has chosen me and you! He calls us His “friend”! He invites us to abide in Him and participate in bearing fruit – fruit that will last! How exciting is that!?

What a friend we have in Jesus! All our sins and griefs to bear. And what a privilege to carry, everything to God in prayer! (Sorry… sometimes I just can’t help but to burst into song!)

Jenny Gallion,
Writer, Blogger

A Desire To Die

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A friend and I were talking Saturday night about our desire to die.

Before you start to think, “How disturbing! Perhaps you and your friend need some counseling!” Let me explain… We were talking about our desire to die to “self” every day. Pride is the root of every sin, and its death is necessary in order for us to live a life of humility like Jesus did.

It’s not coincidental, but providential, that I would be reading a gem of a little book by writer, revivalist, and  Christian pastor, Andrew Murray (1828-1917), entitled “Humility, The Journey to Holiness”, which I highly recommend. I have been challenged and encouraged at the same time.

humility

I will warn you, just as Pastor Aaron did on Sunday during the Habits of Happiness sermon, that the pathway to humility is radically counter-cultural! It’s the opposite of what many of us were taught since childhood. It may feel unnatural, because it’s a supernatural way of living. And be assured, seeker, that the Lord will offer many opportunities for you and me to exercise humility as we seek to follow the example of Jesus.

Last night as I was waiting for sleep to come, I was reflecting on my heart’s desire to have the same attitude as Christ Jesus and to be a conduit of His love to those He brings across my path, “But Lord,” I asked. “How do I die to myself?”

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The enemy of our souls would prefer that we let pride be our guide and think only of me, myself, and I. Pride is what caused Satan to be cast from Heaven. Pride is what caused Adam and Eve to be cast out of the Garden of Eden and their perfect fellowship with God, and pride is what casts me out of abiding communion with God, for He opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. (James 4:6)

God would have you and me look to the example of Jesus Christ “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:6-8) We are partakers of Christ… participants in the life of Jesus, and He is calling us to acknowledge that self has nothing good in it, except to be an empty vessel that He can fill. We must start by recognizing our spiritual poverty apart from salvation in Christ Jesus. He died to give us life eternal, but He doesn’t want us to wait until we get to Heaven to start living that life. He wants us to live lives NOW that reflect Him to a lost and broken world. We are to have the same attitude as Jesus. In order to possess that same attitude, we must learn the highest lesson a believer has to learn… that of humility… to be completely free of self and full of Christ.

Let’s look at the life of Jesus together, and see the example He set for us, the words He speaks to us, as His disciples. He is the perfect Teacher! Just as Jesus looked to the Father and only did what He saw the Father doing, we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus as the role model for our lives and cling to Him in that abiding relationship. Reflect on His invitation available to all of us. Notice the chief lesson He wishes to teach us. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

Oh Lord, we long to learn from You! Teach us to be gentle and humble in heart! Thank you that the grace to “Come” and the grace to “Abide” are from You alone!

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Matthew 5:3,5 (The Beatitudes)

Whoever is the least among you is the greatest. (Luke 9:48)

The greatest among you must be a servant. (Matthew 23:11)

For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11, Luke 18:14)

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. (John 13:14-15)

But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. (Luke 22:26)

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45)

Brethren, here is the path to the higher life. Down, lower down! This is what Jesus said to the disciples who were thinking of being great in the kingdom, and of sitting on His right hand and left. Seek not; ask not for exaltation; that’s God’s work. Look to it that you abase and humble yourselves, and take no place before God or man but that of a servant; that is your work; let that be your purpose and prayer. God is faithful. Just as water ever seeks to fill the lowest place, so the moment God finds the creature abased and empty, His glory and power flow in to exalt and to bless. He that humbleth himself – that must be our one care – shall be exalted; that is God’s care; by His mighty power and in His great love He will do it.”
~ Andrew Murray

Jesus’ teaching and the way He lived His life was truly counter-cultural, as seen by the verses above, and it’s true of Paul’s teaching, as well, but that didn’t stop Paul from instructing and demonstrating that humility before God counts as nothing if not proved in humility before others in our everyday lives.

To the Romans Paul wrote, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.” (Romans 12:10, 16)

To the Corinthians, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

To the Galatians, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians 5:13)

To the Ephesians, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2)

To the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)

To the Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:12-13)

Back to the question I was asking the Lord … “How do I do these things? How can I die to self?”  And He so faithfully answered my question as I read today and realized my inability to do any of this on my own.

“The death to self is not your work, it is God’s work. In Christ you are dead to sin; the life there is in you has gone through the process of death and resurrection; you may be sure you are indeed dead to sin. But the full manifestation of the power of this death in your disposition and conduct depends on the measure in which the Holy Spirit imparts the power of the death of Christ. And here it is that the teaching is needed: if you would enter into full fellowship with Christ in His death, and know the full deliverance from self, humble yourself. This is your one duty. Place yourself before God in your utter helplessness, in the spirit of meek and patient and trustful surrender to God. Accept every humiliation, look upon every fellow-man who tries or vexes you, as a means of grace to humble you. Use every opportunity of humbling yourself before your fellow-men as a help to abide before God. God will accept such humbling of yourself as the proof that your whole heart desires it, as the very best prayer for it, as your preparation for His mighty work of grace, when, by the mighty strengthening of His Holy Spirit, He reveals Christ in you, so that He, in His form of a servant, is truly formed in you, and dwells in your heart. It is the path of humility which leads to perfect death, the full and perfect experience that we are dead in Christ. It is in death to self that humility is perfected.” ~ Andrew Murray

Did you catch that? Dying to self is God’s work. I am so thankful that I don’t have to do the work on my own! Praise the Lord! The work has already been done… it is finished! Just as I am assured of my salvation because I recognized how lost I was in my sin and self and my utter inability to do anything about it, and called out to Jesus to save me, I can be assured that He who began that good work in me, is faithful to complete what He started!

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Now, trust me, I know that self tries to rear its ugly head from time to time, and what should we do when that happens? What should we do when pride seeks to steal the glory that only belongs to God?  I choose to be thankful that God is growing me and giving me awareness when this happens. In my weakness, He is strong! (2 Cor. 12:9-10) I can run back into His arms, confess it, repent of it, and proclaim the truth that I am dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Sin (pride) is no longer my master. (Romans 6)

I know I cannot live the Christian life in my own strength or effort, but I can walk each day in the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within me! Let us be diligent to work out the practical implications of the work God has started…  in us… in our relationships with others… in our obedience to Him!

Have a blessed week!
Jenny Gallion,
Writer, Blogger

To hear the message from this Sunday, “The Humble Path To Happiness”, click this link to listen to our podcast: The Humble Path To Happiness

Serenity Now!

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Happiness is a choice.  It’s the truth.  You’re as happy as you want to be.  You create the happiness in your life.  But creating Happy Habits can be difficult if not nurtured and practiced regularly.  Have you heard anyone say to you that to cultivate a good habit you must act as you desire for 21 continuous days?  Then the brain releases something that will enable you to act in accordance with the good habit.  Let me tell you something.  I have a hard time completing one day let alone looking ahead for 21 days.

Have any of you read the Serenity Prayer?  Let me give you a little history lesson on this powerful prayer.

The Serenity Prayer was written by an American Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.

Portrait Of Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr

Several versions of this prayer were written in the 1930s.  The earliest printed reference of the prayer was in 1936.  Various authors cited Niebuhr as the source of the prayer in 1937 and it was included in the Federal Council of Churches publication for Army chaplains and servicemen in 1944.  The prayer is more widely known after being brought to the attention of Alcoholics Anonymous in 1941.  The AA co-founder and staff liked the prayer and had passed a modified form around.

Toward the end of the prayer it says this:

Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Amen.

Is this not a statement of Happiness?  These words are steps to Habits of Happiness.

But sometimes we let things get in our way.  Things like Pain, Picky People (yes I said it), Pressure, and Problems.  The “4 P’s”.  The Bible talks about this in the book of Philippians, Chapter 1, verses 12-30.  Wow!  The very first chapter of the letter to the Philippians.  Pretty important I think.  If we look at what the Apostle Paul wrote and how he lived, we have an example of how to be happy no matter what.

So it’s necessary to create habits to be Happy.  You might want to consider these:

  • I can be happy no matter what happens in my life if I look at every problem from God’s viewpoint. No matter what is happening in your life, God is at work.
  • I can be happy no matter what happens in my life if I never let others control my attitude. There will always be critics.  And often times, we’re seeking their approval.  But remember the choice… will you listen to their voice or not?  Now you may have people in your life that truly love you and want to ensure you’re walking in the direction God has for you.  They keep you on the narrow path.  I’m talking about critics that like to hear themselves talk.  I’m not being critical, but when this happens, I believe God is opening a great opportunity to respond in love.  Sometimes though, you just have to let them go and move on.
  • I can be happy no matter what happens in my life if I always trust God to work things out. That is what the Serenity Prayer is founded on.  Trusting God to work things out.
  • I can be happy no matter what happens in my life if I stay focused on my purpose, not my problem. God has a purpose for your life that was established for you before time began.  The Apostle Paul is a great example.  His purpose was to preach the Good News to the world.  In Philippians Chapter 1, verses 21-26 it says, For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.  Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.”

The Apostle Paul sums up his purpose in verse 21.  What is our purpose?  What Habits for Happiness are we using to ensure that we can be Happy No Matter What?

Friends, living a life full of happiness is transforming in so many ways.  As you create Happy Habits you will begin to enjoy one moment at a time.  You will trust God that He will make all things right.  As you surrender your will to Him, you will be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him in the next.

God bless you and have a week of great happiness.

George Leonhardt,
Writer, Blogger

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

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Here’s a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don’t worry, be happy
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don’t worry, be happy
Don’t worry, be happy now

~Bobby McFerrin

Do you remember this catchy tune from the late 80s? I recall hearing it not long after its debut while traveling with my father, stepmother, and sisters in Naples, Florida when I was 16 years old. Life had gotten really complicated for me during that time. My parents had divorced, both remarried, and were preparing to move from the country in Northeast, Ohio to the city in Southwest, Ohio. I was a teenager struggling with all sorts of things, and I remember thinking to myself, “If only it was that easy, Bobby McFerrin!”

The new sermon series at PAG entitled, “The Habits of Happiness”, reminded me that happiness is a choice we have to make. That choice does not need to be dependent on our circumstances, because, let’s face it, circumstances often don’t go the way we expect! Life can leave us prone to wander… and to worry!

It seems that many Christians tend to separate happiness and joy, and that has always confused me. In Christian circles there is much talk about the difference between happiness and joy, but, personally, I think they go together! Happiness is a synonym for joy, and joy is defined as, “a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.” Joy is often considered a contentment or assurance, based on faith that God is in control, and we can cling to His promises. Happiness, in contrast, can be considered a superficial emotion dependent on circumstances, but this, to me, seems like a false dichotomy.

“Modern distinctions between happiness and joy are completely counterintuitive. For too long we’ve distanced the gospel from what God created us to desire—and what he desires for us—happiness.” ~Randy Alcorn

There are different types of joy and happiness. There is worldly joy and happiness, which is temporary. Jesus tells His disciples that they cannot seek happiness the way the world does. The desire to be happy cannot be your excuse to sin; rather obedience to Him brings happiness. True joy is not found in selfish ambition, excuses, or self-justification. We can chase after earthly things (relationships, careers, education, health, material things… etc.) thinking they will bring happiness, but, like Solomon, we will realize that these pursuits are “meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 1:14).

In contrast, there is joy and happiness that comes from God and our relationship with Him. I believe God is happy, and He desires for us to be happy! (Certainly there are things that make Him unhappy, but for now I’d like to focus on Him being happy!) Scripture tells us, that He is thinking of us constantly! You are ALWAYS on His mind! (Psalm 139:17-18) Not only is He thinking about YOU, but He delights in YOU and is rejoicing over YOU with singing! (Zephaniah 3:17)  He longs to have a relationship with YOU! The only thing that will truly satisfy our desire for joy and happiness in this life is an abiding relationship with our Heavenly Father through Christ Jesus.

“But to think that Almighty God, who spoke the universe into existence, continually watches over me, continually thinks about me, and continually sings over me… because He loves and delights in me? It is mind-boggling. But it’s true, and His desire is that you would know that truth with complete certainty in every corner of your heart and soul. “~ Dave Carroll

Paul knew that truth with complete certainty, and that’s why, in his letter to the Philippians, he is practicing and encouraging his audience to be joy-filled. One small detail you might find fascinating is that he’s writing to his friends from PRISON!

We’ve all been there! Maybe not literal prison, but circumstances of life that sure have felt anything but happy and far more like confinement. Can you relate? Are you feeling imprisoned by financial stress? Have you been restricted and restrained by issues that are affecting your physical body? Do you feel enslaved by sins that so easily entangle… or sentenced to life by some relational bondage, past or present? It’s in these situations that Paul is reminding us, as believers in Christ Jesus, that we can choose happiness and joy. Paul’s joy was Christ’s joy. We can be happy in God despite our circumstances, and Paul encourages his readers to start by choosing happiness in their relationships. Paul’s advice may sound easy, but it can be quite difficult to do. And, it’s impossible in our own strength. Thankfully Paul reminds us a few chapters later that, “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)

Paul starts his letter to the church in Philippi from a heart of GRATITUDE, even as he is in chains for the Gospel. (Philippians 1:3, 5) Paul was grateful for the people in his life. When I have been in those difficult seasons, I, like Paul, have learned to thank God for the people he has placed in my life to walk the journey with me! I often reminisce about my journey thus far and recall several people that God strategically placed in my life, and by doing so, changed my life! I have communicated often to them my gratitude for allowing God to use them in that way. Their obedience to speak truth into my life forever changed me! Think about someone in your own life who has been Jesus to you. Have you thanked them? Let me encourage you to do so… it is so good to remember God’s grace in our lives, and it is good to remind others of how they have been used by God to impact our lives eternally! Pick up the phone and make a call, or pick up a pen and write a note. Or simply journal to God from a heart of gratitude, thanking Him for the provision of those relationships in your life!

Paul encourages us to PRAY with joy for the people in our lives. (Philippians 1:4) Isn’t it true that we often want to change so much about others, but we don’t want to change ourselves? We’re pretty good at pointing out the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye while ignoring the huge tree sticking out of our own eye! (Matthew 7:3-5) Often when I am praying for someone, the Holy Spirit will whisper in my ear… “I’m praying that for you, Jenny.” Oh, Wow… Yes, Lord, examine our hearts when we pray! Prayer changes me!

I so appreciated the “Prayer Agenda” presented by Paul in Philippians 1:9-11. I am adopting this to pray for myself and others!

  • Pray I/they will grow in love.
  • Pray I/they will make wise choices.
  • Pray I/they will live with integrity.
  • Pray I/they will become like Jesus.

Let’s not stop there, let’s allow our prayers to change our thinking and ask the Holy Spirit to empower us to EXPECT THE BEST from the people in our lives. (Philippians 1:6-7) Let’s speak to the treasure in others, and release people from the captivity of their flesh and the lies of the enemy! Help people see their worth… their identity as sons and daughters of the King! Let’s encourage each other to trust God’s process “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” (Philippians 1:6)

With our physical eyes, we see who a person is. With our spiritual eyes, we see who that person can become! Oh Lord, help us to close our physical eyes in prayer and know that you will open our spiritual eyes to perceive what is far more real than the reality we can perceive with our senses!

“Dig for gold, not the dirt…Nobody who has a gold mine says, ‘Look at all the dirt I found!’ What I pull out of my pocket is all the gold nuggets I’ve found! Always protect people’s dignity.” ~Robby Dawkins

Lastly, let me encourage you to LOVE PEOPLE in your life like Jesus does! How does Jesus love? Completely. Unconditionally. Sacrificially. Jesus is the perfect role model for loving others well. He gave His life so that we could have a love relationship with Him, and He did so while we were still sinners. He calls us to do the same. Will you join me in asking God to cultivate this kind of love in our hearts so that we can be conduits of His love to a broken world?

Jenny Gallion,
Writer, Blogger