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Encouragement…Oxygen for the Soul

encouragement-oxygenTherefore encourage one another

and build one another up,  just as you are doing.

1 Thessalonians 5:11

 

 

Her smile was so big that it lit up her whole face!!!

When we first began to put her in the jumper she twisted around a little but wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.  As she became more familiar with it she began to twist and turn and bounce up and down.  Each time she accomplished a new feat we would clap our hands and say “Yeah, Avery!!! And she would look at us and smile that big smile with those irresistible dimples and sparkling eyes…she was so proud of herself!  And all it took was a little encouragement!

Encouraging words build up the lives around us. William Arthur Ward said, “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you.  Encourage me, and I will not forget you.”

We all face those moments, hours or even days when our hearts take a nosedive and our world looks bleak.  We live in a broken world where everything calls us toward selfishness and despair. Sin steals joy, our bodies break down, our plans falter, our dreams die, our resolves weaken, and our perspective dims.

I remember a time in my life when my world was crumbling and I felt as if no one cared…not even God!  On a trip to the mailbox I found a card with handwriting and a return address that I did not recognize.  As I opened the envelope I read these words.  “Dear Kay, I don’t know you very well or what is going on in your life right now but I felt that God wanted me to write this note of encouragement to you. I just wanted you to know that God cares about you and so do I.  Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you. Love, Jane”…a short, simple note written over twenty-five years ago that I remember to this day as a turning point in my struggles.

Encouragement may be given through one’s words or actions. Those words of encourage need not be eloquent or lengthy and actions need not be complicated…the important thing is that they are spoken or given.

Encouragement is more than a popular trend in psychology. It has a spiritual dimension as well.

The most common word for encouragement in the Bible is “parakaleo” – “para” meaning ‘beside, near, with, alongside,’ and “kaleo” meaning ‘to call or summon’. A paraclete is someone called along side of another to counsel, encourage, help and bring comfort.

Scripture commands us to encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 10:23-25; Ephesians 4:29) and there are many examples in Scripture of people who were encouragers.

  • God Himself encourages us through His Word and through prayer.
  • Moses was commanded to encourage Joshua who was about to become the leader of the Israelites. (Deuteronomy 3:27-28)
  • Paul was one of the greatest encouragers in New Testament time. Even in jail he encouraged others through his letter-writing ministry. (Colossians 2:1-2)
  • Barnabas was known as the “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36)

Encouragement from the Bible gives us the will to carry on as we get a glimpse of the bigger picture. It can save us from believing lies and help us to experience the abundant life.

So how do we go about obeying the command to encourage others?

First, we must look around us and determine who is in need of encouragement.

  • Maybe it’s a family member… a spouse, a child or grandchild. Words spoken by those who know them best and love them most are powerful.
  • Maybe it’s a member of your church family. Being a Christian is not an insurance policy against pain, hurt or discouragement. Pray for them but take it a step further and give them a sincere compliment, share a time in your faith-walk when God proved Himself faithful or give them a hug and let them know you care about them.
  • Maybe it’s a co-worker. Many of our co-workers live troubled lives at home. They smile on the outside only to hide the pain on the inside. Speak health and well-being into another life.  You may never know how desperately it is needed.
  • Or, maybe it’s a complete stranger…the waitress at the restaurant, the grocery clerk or the girl that does your nails. You may never know the impact your words will have on them but most likely they will never forget.

Once we have identified someone in need of encouragement we can consider the most effective way to offer that encouragement.

  • Pray for God to make you an encourager and show you who to encourage. Ask Him to give you a heart to build others up.
  • Be intentional…even put it on your calendar if you need to until it becomes a habit. Think ahead and encourage based on what you see and hear. It may be something simple such as clearing the tables after a meal or if the individual is a believer something as powerful as making a comment on their faithfulness or demonstration of the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in their lives.
  • Be creative. Use a variety of methods to provide encouragement…a phone call, text, visit, note, scripture or appropriate personal experience.
  • Be selfless. Don’t let fear, insecurity or time constraints inhibit your efforts to encourage others. We have a choice to be selfless or selfish in our encouragement.

Encouragement is powerful. God commanded His people to encourage one another because He knew we would need it. Jesus warned that “in this world you will have trouble” but He followed that warning with a much needed encouragement: “But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

Truth to Claim: God wants us to encourage others.

Application:  This week find one person and encourage them.  It doesn’t matter who it is. Simply find a person you know who needs encouraging and gently encourage them. Then try to build it up over time. Two next week, three the week after – whatever feels comfortable. Try eventually to get to a point where you’re encouraging at least one person each day.

Solo Deo Gloria

 

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Avery’s Babbling

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us,

              that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!        

1 John 3:1

baby-sleep-dad

The decibel level was high and the excitement level barely manageable. It was a hot, humid Texas Fourth of July.  We were enjoying a family gathering complete with grown children, grandchildren of all ages and two very blessed grandparents.  We had stuffed ourselves with hamburgers, hot dogs, baked beans and potato salad.   It was finally time for the fireworks and what fun they were…beautiful, but definitely noisy.

While most of us were having great fun, our precious little four-month old granddaughter had reached her tolerance limit. Big old crocodile tears began to run down her cheeks as she made her distress known.  Her daddy picked her up and laid her on his chest, rubbed her back, kissed her on the top of her head and soothingly said, “I know you are tired but everything is going to be alright.”

She laid there a minute then raised her head, looked at her daddy, put her little hand on his cheek and with great passion begin to tell her Dad (in her baby babble) that everything wasn’t alright.  “I am tired; I’ve been passed around like a sack of potatoes; there are people here that I don’t know; the cat hissed at me and the fireworks are too loud.”

In a moment… and after more tears…she laid her head back down on her daddy’s chest and briefly closed her eyes.  Her daddy continued to stroke her back and tell her that everything was going to be alright.

She was still for a moment then raised her head again, put her hand on her daddy’s cheek again and began to babble away…seemingly telling her dad exactly how things were and that she was  not happy.  He continued to reassure her and tell her that everything was going to be alright and she would feel better after she had some rest.

The scene was repeated three times and then finally she put her head down, closed her eyes and went sound asleep amid all the chaos…believing that like her daddy said, everything was going to be alright.

As I watched sweet little Avery, I thought, “I know exactly how she feels.”  I have often allowed myself to become so overwhelmed by the circumstances of my life that I felt I could no longer cope. I have known what it is like to have the noise of the world around me become so loud that it was frightening. I have known what it is like to be so tired that I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The solution to my problems has been the same as Avery’s…allow my father, my Abba Father, to gather me into His arms, to tell Him about my struggles, my pain, my fears, to believe Him when He says everything will be alright and then to rest.

Like Avery, we have a Father who loves us, is tender enough to hug us and strong enough to protect us and make things right.

Truth to Claim:  God is our Abba Father and it is okay to tell Him all about our struggles and then rest in Him confident that He is in control.

Application:  Learn all we can from scripture about the fatherly characteristics of our God.

Solo Deo Gloria

This Girl Is On Fire

Girl-on-fire“As the deer pants for the water brook so my soul longs after thee.”

Psalms 42:1

 I rolled over and looked at the clock…6:45 am…another day.  But, it wasn’t just any day.  It was the first day of 2016.  Would it be just another day…more of the same? Or, would it be different from the others that had preceded it?

What is it that determines the outcome of our days?

The impetus behind great art, or great music, a great sports team, a great drama, great architecture or a great sermon is passion.

  • Passion mobilizes armies.
  • Passion drives scientists to find new cures for dreaded diseases.
  • Passion equips athletes to break records and get to the Olympics.
  • Passion is what sustains us when we feel like giving up.
  • Passion energizes our lives.

Without passion in our lives, our lives are dull, drab, boring.

God wants us to live passionate lives… lives that sense the passion that He put within us.  Hear the passion in Jesus’ voice as He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your passion, all your prayer, all your intelligence, all your energy.”  (MSG, Mark 12:30)

In Colossians 3:23 Paul says “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart (passion) as unto the Lord and not as unto men.”

 If God wired us to be passionate, why do we so often live without passion and purpose?  Maybe it is because we fall prey to the passion killers of life.

  • We have allowed something precious to become familiar. We have forgotten how it was before we knew Jesus?  We have forgotten our value…the price Jesus paid to set us free?
  • We fail to count it all joy when we are experiencing life’s trials and hardships…a joy not based on circumstances but relationship.
  • We have an unclear purpose. A clear purpose creates passion as we begin to see our part in God’s plan.
  • We live in a society that values political correctness and are afraid that our passion for God will offend others.
  • We look to others for acceptance and approval instead of Jesus.
  • We have an unbalanced schedule. When we are overworked we tend to lose our passion.  We may even develop compassion fatigue and eventually just stop caring.
  • We have unconfessed sin and the guilt that comes with it. It is impossible to have passion and guilt at the same time.
  • We have an undernourished spirit…the greatest passion killer of all because it is the root of all the others. At its root passion is a spiritual issue…the heart of the matter.  Passion is not restored with money, something physical, something material or a pill…it comes from the heart.  If we don’t nourish our spirits our hearts will grow cold and hard.

We could go on but you get the idea.

So what are some steps that we can take to become passionate Christian women?

  1. We must make up our minds that we are going to regain our passion…there is power in a made up mind!
  2. We must confess that we have lost our passion. Going though religious motions can dull our spiritual senses and blind us to our own condition.  But God can open our eyes!
  3. We must take action. God will do His part to increase our passion, but He also expects us to do our part.  So what actions can we take to ignite our passion for God?
  • We must thirst for God. Instead of living for fame, fortune, recognition or rewards…live for God. Experience the intense satisfaction of a personal relationship with a holy God. (Psalm 42:1)
  • We must hunger for truth. Refuse to accept mere human opinion or feeling-based experience. But, realize that we cannot be passionate about someone we do not know…what He has done for us and how He has revealed Himself through His Word. (Acts 17:11) We must memorize important passages of scripture and apply what we learned.
  • We must follow Jesus’ example of praying constantly and consistently. We cannot imagine a man and woman growing in love without communicating, so prayer cannot be neglected without expecting one’s love for God to grow cold. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
  • We must eliminate the competition. The temptation is to love the world (those things that please our eyes, make us feel good about ourselves, and gratify our flesh).   Jesus said it is impossible to have two masters (Matthew 6:24)
  • We must live today with tomorrow in mind. As passionate Christian women we know our time is limited…that we will have no second chances. So, we should be compelled to live each day to its fullest…to follow hard on the heels of the very God in whom we live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
  • We must love others with a Godly passion. The passionate woman isn’t one who has arrived but one who knows where she is going. She demonstrates sincere concern, seeks to model unconditional love, and does all she can to point others to heaven. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
  • Lastly, as passionate women we must avoid sin so we can possess intimacy with God… know our boundaries and accept our playground. (1 Timothy 6:11)

Is this a description of the perfect Christian woman…no, but rather a passionate one. Passionate Christian women don’t have boundless amounts of energy, super-human strength, or superior spirituality. Rather, they are ordinary women who fail, fall and are tired at the end of the day. But, they have heard from God through His Word, seen the Holy Spirit work in their lives, and have experienced peace, answered prayer, and power and comfort through the Holy Spirit.

Truth to Claim:  God desires that we live lives that are passionate for Him.

Personal Application:  Make up your mind today to live a life passionate for God …may others say of you and I, “This girl is on fire!”.

Solo Deo Gloria

 

Carpe Diem – Seize The Day

“Teach us to number our days…” Psalm 90:12 NIVcarpe-diem-quotes-hd-wallpaper-4-660x330

“This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalm 118:24 NKJV

Our time is not our own.  As believers, every breath belongs to God.  When we confessed Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives and received salvation, He became Lord of our time as well.  As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be good stewards of our time.  We have 24 hours, 1440 minutes and 86,400 seconds in every day.  What are we doing with them?  Is our time wasting away?  Are we careful or frivolous with our time…letting it slip through our hands like sand in an hourglass?

Time is a precious commodity…once lost it is gone forever.  Time is unique in that it cannot be accumulated like money or stockpiled like some other resources.  In addition, we are forced to use time whether we choose to or not…but once used it is irretrievable.

Lost, yesterday, somewhere between sunrise and sunset,

two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes.

No reward offered, for they are gone forever.  (Anonymous)

 So the question becomes, “Am I using God’s gift of time wisely and purposefully?”  Regrettably God often gets our leftover minutes after we have exhausted our hearts and minds and energy on everything else?

We have become masters at wasting our time.  We live in the age of distraction with IPads, IPhones, Xboxes, TV, video games, the internet and so much more…things that can detract from our relationship with God and our growth as a Christian.  It has been said that the average American watches 4 hours of TV each day (or 28 hours/week, or 2 months of TV-watching per year).  Oh by the way, Satan is the prince of the power of the air so who do you think is feeding our hearts and minds during those four hours we are watching TV?

So, how do we maximize the moments that we have on this earth?  Ephesians 5:15-16 says “See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil”.  (KJV)

John Blanchard said, “Time should not be spent, it should be invested in the kingdom of God.”

Let’s redeem the time because…

  • It is precious…for the richest woman in the world cannot purchase a single second.
  • It has eternal consequences. (1 Timothy 4:8)
  • It is so short.
  • It cannot be recovered once it is past.
  • It is not our own. (1 Corinthians 6:19,20)

In reality our calendar should have only two days…today and that day (the day we will be with the Lord).  If we remind ourselves every day of the purpose of our time on earth we will cultivate an eternal perspective on time – one that will influence our work and all our relationships.

It has been said that life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away…the times we know that what has happened in us, around us or through us was orchestrated by our loving God.

So how do we redeem the time?  Perhaps we can start by asking some questions.

  • Am I present in the moment? Do I do one thing at a time, giving whatever is at hand my undivided attention?  We only get one chance to spend the present moment – let us invest it in something of eternal worth.
  • What am I doing that really doesn’t need doing? Eliminate the unnecessary.
  • What am I doing that could be done just as well by someone else? Learn to delegate.
  • What am I doing that wastes my time or others’ time? Have I observed that often what I put off I end up not doing anyway?
  • Am I biting off more than I can chew, time-wise? Am I trying to cram too much into one day?  Remember the importance of prioritizing.  Break down big or hard tasks into smaller, manageable tasks.
  • Am I setting deadlines for what I want to do? Or, am I drifting through life with no plans, no schedules, and no organization?

How we use our time reveals a lot about our character.  It shows where our heart is (Matthew 6:21).  Matters that are important to us and of eternal value will receive proper attention only if we first learn to use our time wisely.

We have no other time in which to live.

The past is gone;

The future has not arrived;

We shall never have any time but time present. 

(Author Unknown)

So, what will you do with your next 24 hours?  Redeem the time!  What are you waiting for?

Truth to Claim:  Our time is not our own…it belongs to God.

Application:  Consider the questions above and ask God to reveal to you how you can redeem time in your life.

Solo Deo Gloria

Things That Go Bump In The Night

                                                                “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.scared-girl-running-clipart-august145vv5  I will strengthen you and help you;I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 

                                                                   Isaiah 41:10

Well, it is the season for “things that go bump in the night”.  Whether you like Halloween or not it is difficult to avoid it.  All the stores are full of Halloween decorations and scary movies are the norm in movie theaters and on TV during the month of October.

Two of my grandsons told me they wanted to dress as zombies for Halloween…what happened to super heroes?  My 3 year old grandson on the other hand said he wanted to be a “little boy” for Halloween  – or in other words… just who he is.  I think he has the right idea!

All of the Halloween hoopla got me to thinking about what kinds of “things go bump in the night” in a spiritual sense.

Sometimes the things that “go bump in the night” are things of our own making .We make rebellious choices and then act surprised when we find ourselves in a mess…scared to death not knowing what to do or where to turn.

But we aren’t alone in our disobedience are we? – remember Adam & Eve?  They weren’t hiding under the covers but they were hiding in the garden.

“And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.  And the Lord God called Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?  And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.”            Genesis 3:8-10

Being rebellious or disobedient results in broken fellowship with God and breaking fellowship with the Lord is a scary place to be.  But, like the monster under the bed, once we face it, confess it and give it the Lord we can move from fear to victory.

Other things that often “go bump in the night” are the things that are bigger than we are…a financial crisis, a job loss, a wayward child or a health crisis…things over which we have no control.

These burdens are so heavy that we often feel that we cannot bear them. They look like a monster in the dark with fangs looming over us and as a result we feel tiny & helpless.

David was familiar with things bigger that he was – namely a giant named Goliath who sent shivers through the big strong men of the Israelite army. But, David knew the key to standing against the giant.

“David said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, who you have defied….All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’s and he will give all of you into our hands.”  1 Sam. 17:45, 47

Like David let’s remember whatever our challenge the battle is the Lord’s and He is faithful.

Or, our “bump in the night” may be things we don’t understand. In a way these are the scariest because it is hard to deal with those things we don’t know how to process or to see in a tangible way…a betrayal, a divorce, the death of a child.

We could learn from Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Luke 1.  The angel came to her and told her that she was chosen to carry the Christ-child.  Certainly Mary had reason to be afraid.  She didn’t understand what was happening – a virgin, not married, facing the possibility of becoming a social outcast?

“And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.  And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favor with God.”           Luke 1:29,30

How did Mary respond to her fear? – “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.   “May it be to me as you have said.”     Luke 1:38

When we don’t understand, we must trust who God is…loving, merciful, and full of grace.

There are always going to be “things that go bump in the night” – things that are going to frighten us and make us afraid…even as Christians.  Fear is an emotion that we have built in us as humans but we need not let fear overtake us.

Psalm 56:3 says, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”

It’s not that we have fear but what do we do with that fear that is important. We can tremble with the sheets over our head or face our fears and trust God to see us through it.

We might still feel afraid, but we can choose to claim God’s promise that He is with us. We may not be in control, but we can trust the One who is. We may not know the future, but we can know the God who does.

Truth to Claim:  God is with us when we feel afraid and we can trust Him to help us overcome our fear.

Practical Application:  When feeling fearful remember that God is with you, He is in control and He will work all things for your good.

Solo Deo Gloria

 

 

 

Cookie – Cutter Christianity

cookie-cutter

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Romans 12:2

They come in all shapes and sizes.  They may be funny or serious. They celebrate special occasions and special feelings. They are done with creativity and intricate detail.  They are awesome works of art…the cookies made by my daughter-in-law.

Cookies cutters are essential to her craft and provide the basic foundation for making multiple cookies of the same exact design.

While producing multiple cookies of the same exact design may be desirable when baking cookies, God never intended for all Christians to be the same…God doesn’t make cookie – cutter Christians!

 If God had wanted us to all look and act alike, he would have given us a set of hard and fast rules. We’d have a dress code and be programmed like robots to look and talk like we all came from the same mold.  How boring and dull that would be…and how ineffective.

There are a lot of competing voices telling us what the “Christian woman” should be or look like.  Words like “graceful” and “modest” and “prim” and “proper” seem to make up most of those definitions…but sometimes those words don’t fit us.  Sometimes we prefer sweatpants to skinny jeans.  Sometimes we are the guitar player and not the choir girl.  Sometimes we are the woman without a Facebook or Pinterest account.

And all that is OK because the reality is, God uses all kinds of women for His purpose  – Mary the teenager who was supposed to marry a carpenter, Rahab the prostitute who sheltered the spies, and a Jewish girl named Esther who saved her people.

God has gifted each of us differently and we are to use our gifts to glorify God and serve others.

Aren’t you glad that God loves variety?

Our God is a hands-on God…very individual oriented.  Before we were even born, He fashioned us. (Psalm 139:13-16) He gave us strengths and weaknesses, dreams and desires and skills that would ensure our ability to accomplish and achieve our unique purpose.  He invested time and effort and took special care to blend our physical, emotional and spiritual selves so that we are one of a kind.  We are a work of art that is not replicated…His work of art.

Because we are God’s unique creations He needs us to tell our stories – stories that can’t be explained apart from God’s grace…stories that someone else who is struggling as we have needs to hear.

Our role as a Christian woman is not supposed to look like the one of the woman next to us. We may feel that we are not smart enough, faithful enough or virtuous enough to tell our stories, but God has and will continue to use women who are imperfect…that means you and me.

The world will not be changed because we have perfect hair or the most fashionable clothes.  It will be changed as people see the reality of the gospel lived out in our lives.

It’s OK not to fit the cookie – cutter mold.  It’s OK not to be graceful or poised.  It’s OK to be scared.  It is OK to be the woman God created you to be.  It’s OK to be you.

Truth to Claim:  Each of us is a work of art created by God for a unique purpose.

Application:  Be prepared and willing to share your story of God’s grace when an opportunity presents itself.

Solo Deo Gloria

 

 

Keep Calm and Ignore the Years

Age “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,

plans to prosper you and not to harm you,

plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

 Agatha Christie wrote on one occasion that she married an archaeologist.  When asked why she replied, “Because the older I get the more he’ll appreciate me.”

From the moment we take our first breath, we begin to age.  At first we embrace it enthusiastically and it just can’t happen fast enough.  Then suddenly, or gradually, reality sets in…the years pass more quickly.  We begin to spend more time on our wardrobe, shopping for makeup, and searching for flattering hairstyles.

Our culture worships youth and beauty and we buy into the lie that our shells and our age define our value.  Fortunately, God is not impressed nor is He deceived by our physical appearance.  1 Samuel 16:7b says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.  Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.”

What if instead of defining ourselves by our looks or age we defined ourselves by the things that God values?

  • God values women who seek Him first (Matthew 6:33) God desires and created us to be in relationship with Him. No other person or thing can satisfy us like He can.
  • God values women who are faithful (Proverbs 31:30). No matter how much we love God, living the Christian life is a challenge…the infant crying in the night, relationships in conflict, finances out of control, the wayward child, and discouragement in ministry to name a few.  Our faithfulness is revealed in our daily lives as we live out our commitment to God and to others.
  • God values beauty that comes from within ( 1 Peter 3:3-4). Bodies deteriorate but our spirits are renewed day by day as we walk with God.
  • God values women who are humble (Philippians 2:3-4). We live in a culture that says, “ It’s all about me!”. This preoccupation with self is rooted in pride… the desire to lift up and exalt ourselves beyond our place as a creation of God. There are many biblical examples of pride and its consequences (Daniel 4, Nebuchadnezzar). Humility, although out of fashion, is of great value in God’s eyes.  While we should not think less of ourselves, we should think of ourselves less. (Unknown)
  • God values women who live lives of service for the Lord (1 Peter 4:11). Peter makes it clear that we are gifted by God for two purposes…to serve others and to bring glory to God. Many think that serving God has to do with ministry related activities but serving God is much more.  Serving God is a life style.  Whatever we do out of love for God is service.

Let’s stop counting the years and celebrate the reality that our age or how we look does not determine our value …God does.

Truth to Claim:  We are valuable to God.

Application:  Live lives defined by who God says we are instead of who our culture says we are.

Solo Deo Gloria