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Archive | From the Pulpit

A March to Madness

Solon-Center-Wesleyan-webPastor Tom Holloway

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma, Cedar Springs 

(just north of 19 Mile)

 

 

As I sit writing this article (which is late), I am wearing my Michigan State sweats and State Gymnastics t-shirt. I love March Madness, especially when my Spartans are playing as well as they are this year. But I don’t like madness in my life. I’m what you might describe as a control freak. I prefer to over-achieve, and I don’t like to fail.

I really don’t like to miss deadlines, and I stress out about letting other people down. Why is this article late? The first reason is the busyness of the Easter season. Throw in an auction for En Gedi on Friday, two weddings on Saturday, and my life is crazy busy. The second is an unforeseen tragedy.

The first is a matter of planning and stress control. For pastors the Easter season is one of both tremendous joy, and tremendous stress. Easter is the highlight of the Christian calendar, and the pinnacle of the church year. Some might call it Super Bowl Sunday for the church. When you plan ahead, it’s manageable. But tragedy strikes when you least expect it, and there is really no way to prepare yourself for it.

As we prepare for Easter, we are walking with Jesus as he approaches the cross. He tries to prepare His disciples for the tragedy that is about to befall them. I like to call it a March to Madness. Something is going to happen to them and it’s going to be devastating for a while (3 days to be exact). It’s going to test their resolve at the very core of their being. Though Jesus tried to prepare them for what was to come, they really didn’t get it. How could they?

This Sunday we will be celebrating “Palm Sunday,” where Jesus comes into Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey and the people cheer and they love Him. They throw palm branches on the ground, and they shout, “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” But soon those triumphant shouts of joy will turn to jeers and calling for the authorities to release the criminal Barabbas, instead of the Son of God, Jesus. The disciples must have been dumbfounded. How could this be? Why is this happening? What is God doing? How could He let this happen?

Then Jesus does something in the garden of Gethsemane that I think is key to this whole thing. He’s praying to His Father, and asks Him, is there another way? Can you take this situation from me? Then Jesus says, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”

I’ve found that in situations that I find myself in, especially the difficult ones, that there is something bigger in play. God is always trying to teach me something bigger than myself. We cannot avoid tragedy no matter what we do. Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” You are guaranteed trouble, but I think despite these tragedies God wants to teach you something, as he did Michigan State basketball player Travis Trice, when he became ill in 2012 with a virus that no doctor could diagnose. He was sick for 8 weeks and lost 20 lbs. Travis said that while he was sick, he got a newfound outlook on life, and every day had new meaning. He saw God’s hand on his life, and his healing. In his illness there was a greater thing at work.

I believe that God wants to work in your life and my life in the same way, though we don’t always understand it. You can take comfort in 1 Corinthians 13:12, which says: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”

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Into the light – John 3:1-19

cs-united-methodistPastor Steve Lindeman

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

140 S. Main St.

Cedar Springs, MI  49319

 

In the movie Shrek, when Donkey thinks that Shrek has been mortally wounded, he says, “If you see a long tunnel, stay away from the light.” Of course, Shrek was fine, but why would he say that? Why would his friend say, “Don’t go towards the light?” Historically, light has been associated with the presence of God, and darkness with his absence. In many documented near-death experiences, people have described a bright, warm, comforting light. We see this theme of light and dark also played out in the Gospel of John. The Christ, the Word, is greeted in the opening verses of the Gospel, The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.

During this season of Lent, we often hear the story of Nicodemus—a story that is very similar to that of many Christians in our world today. It is a story of growth, and a story of hope. We first encounter Nicodemus just before we hear the classic words of John 3:16. We are told that he approaches Jesus at night. Just like many people today who are walking in darkness, Nicodemus comes to Jesus looking for guidance and direction.

The author of John tells us that Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ questions by teaching him that he must be born again—born of the Spirit. We aren’t told how Nicodemus responded, but I picture him scratching his head, not completely understanding, as he walks back into the night.

But there is hope. Nicodemus appears again later in the Gospel of John. This time he is with his fellow Pharisees as they mock the temple guard for failing to arrest Jesus. Nicodemus, in his own, still incomplete way, stood up for Jesus. He asked his colleagues to give Jesus a fair hearing and questioned the legality of their actions. I can see the signs of a growing faith here—of the Spirit within him. He is willing to speak up for Jesus, in the light of day.

Our final experience with Nicodemus is at the very end of the Gospel of John, right after the crucifixion of Jesus. Nicodemus was there, with Joseph of Arimathea, to collect and care for the body of our Savior.  This man who had first gone to Jesus in the dark, went to the cross to take the lifeless body, wrapped it with spices and linen and helped to lay him in the tomb. Those words that Jesus spoke to him must have been ringing in his ears: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” John 3:16.

Approaching the light of Christ can be a powerful theme during this season of Lent, as we journey with Jesus to the cross. How do we stand up for Jesus, even in very little ways? Do we take these actions in the light of day? The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. May we embrace the light of Christ as we prepare to celebrate his resurrection on Easter.

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Real Men – Part 3

First-Baptist-church-currenPastor Jim Howard

First Baptist Church

233 S. Main, Cedar Springs

 

“What is a real man? By the standards of today, a real man is someone who doesn’t exist except in the imaginations of those in Hollywood and the marketing industry. Today, we deal with Becoming Men of God (1 Timothy 4:6-8; 2 Peter 1:5-7). You will discover that by embracing this final step, the first two will follow.

Paul’s words to Timothy are very appropriate for what we need in our lives today. The first thing to note is that we should be men who are given to a life of instruction. “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following”  (1 Tim. 4:6, NAS). Paul says we ought to teach (“pointing out”) the Word, be “nourished” by the Word and be obedient (“follow”) to the Word. Teaching a subject demands that one know the subject. Try teaching a subject, you will find yourself studying to stay ahead of the students. The word “nourished” would be better translated “trained” which requires little explanation.

Becoming men of God also means that we should be given to a life of exercise. “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, ESV). First Paul tells us where NOT to spend our time. There is much in this world on which we waste time. Not the least of which are the fanciful tales that some people spin! I stand in absolute amazement at what people will believe today without checking the facts. We are being programmed to accept at face value what we are told. Never mind that it’s not true. There is one thing about the Word of God that you can hang your hat on, it can stand the test of scrutiny. Truth will be truth no matter what the circumstances. Truth doesn’t change!

Finally, men of God are given to a life of Godliness! “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:5-7, NKJV). This is an interesting verb here in that it reflects a command with the idea that we are to aggressively, passionately pursue the virtues listed.

Becoming a real man essentially boils down to three things: having a clean heart (a relationship with Jesus Christ); having clean hands (keeping short accounts with God); and having a clean mind (aggressively pursuing a passion for godliness). Remember Paul’s words to Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine (that which is right), for reproof (that which isn’t right), for correction (how to get right), for instruction in righteousness (how to stay right), that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV).

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Living with hope and joy

Pilgrim-BibleRev. Mike Shiery

Pilgrim Bible Church

West Pine St. • Cedar Springs

“And I heard a loud voice from Heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes;  there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4) (NKJV)

These words of promise are especially poignant to me as I write this article. Just last week, a former college classmate and friend of mine, found his world suddenly ripped in two. His wife was leaving a store near their hometown when their two-year-old son broke loose from her grasp, dashed into the parking lot and was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle. Obviously the family is devastated over this tragedy.

However, in the midst of overwhelming sorrow, what gripped my attention was how the family has responded during this difficult time. Although their hearts are broken, they have reached out to the driver of the vehicle with love and compassion. They have met with her, prayed with her, and assured her that there is no bitterness in their hearts toward her. Their words and conduct have resonated with quiet hope and certain joy, and their testimony in the midst of personal tragedy is impacting their community in a powerful way.

My friends long ago placed their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and now through tear-stained eyes of faith they rest confidently in the promise of our text. They realize that tomb that holds their son’s body is only temporary, that his spirit is with the Heavenly Father, and that this separation will come to an end! There is coming (as the old songs says) “A great, getting up morning.” Eternal reunion is assured through the victory which Christ won over death on Easter morning.

Perhaps someone reading these words is also grieving. Perhaps your world is upside down. Tragic events have shattered a tranquil existence. Let me remind you that as a Christian, through God’s grace, you can live with hope and joy.

When we say we have the hope of Heaven, we do not mean that in the way we usually use the word “hope.” Some of you right now are hoping that warm weather will arrive in a few weeks. In our beloved state of Michigan, you can hope that, but there is no certainty or guarantee it will happen that quickly.

However, when we talk of the “hope” of Heaven, we are talking from a standpoint of confidence. The Bible tells us that it is impossible for God to lie. That same Bible holds multiple promises from God that Heaven is a reality and that the separation of death for God’s children will end in an eternal reunion of joy.

Paul Helm wrote: “Though the life of Heaven is for our future, its certain occurrence imparts a confidence and joy during the present.”

C.S. Lewis said: “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.”

And maybe T.W. Hunt summed it up best when he wrote:

“In this life, pleasure ends itself. When the meal is past,  the enjoyment of taste and smell ceases. When the symphony ends, no audible harmonic vibrations remain. When the ride finishes, we ‘want to do it again.’

In eternity future, joy will be a continuum that never ceases. That joy will include within itself peace, expectation, beauty, sublimity. Our present understanding of pleasure only hints at the dimensions of enjoyment in the sheer outer joys of Heaven.” 

If you are hurting, allow me to encourage you. Joy is coming in the morning. Weeping only last for the night. And for the children of God, the best is yet to come!

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Responding to “50 Shades” 

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

There has been a lot of commotion around the release of the movie “50 Shades of Grey,” which follows the very popular book by the same title. There are a wide variety of opinions as to whether or not Christians should watch this movie or read the book, and, as you can imagine, there are Christians on both sides of the argument. But the issue we face isn’t the release of this movie; rather, the problem facing Christians is with combatting the culture of sex that we live in.

Arguing with people or bashing/petitioning the release of the movie will not solve the problem. As Christians, we can’t expect the world to have our standard of morality, because they don’t know our God who has defined our standard.  If we want to combat our culture, which seems to glorify rampant sexual immorality, we must first start with ourselves. Instead of pointing the finger at the world’s immorality problem, we need to get ours in check. Listen to these words:

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality, that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (NIV).

So, as Christians, how do we combat the culture of sex that we live in? We live pure lives! Christians need to stop looking at porn. Christians need to stop having sexually dysfunctional marriages. Christians need to stop committing adultery. Christians need to stop having sex before, outside of, and in addition to marriage. Christians need to exalt and glorify Jesus in their sex lives. Only then will we begin to combat our culture that worships sex.

So, the next time you find yourself getting into a heated conversation with someone who doesn’t have God’s standard of morality, remember this: they need to meet Jesus, not have your moral standard self-righteously imposed on them. I am not saying we should remain silent; maybe just change what’s on the channel before we turn the volume up.

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Garden of light

The Rev. David Meyers

Holy Spirit Episcopal Church

1200 Post Dr., Belmont, MI  49306

 

Here, in the darkest, coldest part of the year, our mailbox is filled with names such as Gurney, Burpee, White, and Jung. For non-gardeners, these are popular seed companies. Their catalogues come with vibrant colors, promising great harvests and bouquets that make a florist weep. Sitting indoors, retreating from the weather, these colorful publications present tempting future possibilities. While it is dark and snowy right now, it will not stay that way forever. While we huddle from the cold, the catalogues prompt us to look ahead and plan for the seemingly impossible warmth of summer. Some would say, “Look around—why even think of summer?” Others say, “The cold and dark are only temporary and cannot resist the anticipation of the coming season.”

Isn’t that also true of life? Just when it is darkest, when we shiver from a chilled spirit, when our hearts are broken, a little light peeks through, reminding us that life is not all poverty, despair, and tragedy. There is the horizon of distant hope, whose roots take hold in the darkest times and grow until they again overcome the present and bring the fullness of life. That does not mean the darkness can easily be ignored or that it will depart forever. The worst continues to compete for our attention. Coldness will return. It is a part of life. But keeping focused on that sliver of light, however small, will allow a strengthened spirit to melt the burden of concern and sorrow.

The church is half way through the season of Epiphany; the season of light and good news breaking forth upon the earth. Just when the days were darkest—literally and figuratively—God broke in. A small but indomitable light was born in the form of the Christ child. That light, appearing to a lost world, gave a reason to hope and the relief that all was not dead. The Magi from the East introduced a new idea for the whole world. Other characters in the story carried that light to distant places.  And even in our own time, Epiphany brings the light of grace, shining forth to conquer the darkness in the furthest corners of the globe. The Epiphany vision of redemption introduced the idea that God’s promise was not only for a few but, through the inextinguishable light, the whole earth would enjoy the mercies of reconciliation.

Seed catalogues are the beginning of new life. It is time to dream and imagine what our gardens will look like, having renewed energy to push through the dark. Jesus is like those seeds. He brings the inspiration of a new world. His followers place their order, get the seed of life, and plant it wherever God’s plan can be fulfilled. The purpose of every person is to carry the seed of light to the world until it becomes the redeemed and transformed garden of love.

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Past pain turned into present purpose

 

Pastor Craig Carter

North Kent Community Church

1480 Indian Lakes Rd. | Sparta, MI 49345 

“Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!’ So God granted him what he requested” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10, NKJV). 

This verse tells a story about an amazing person. There have been many sermons preached about this man called Jabez, and his prayer to the Lord. Here are a couple thoughts that I think may be helpful to you.

First, Jabez was said to be “more honorable than his brothers.” We read after this that his mother named him Jabez because she bore him in pain. The name Jabez in Hebrew literally means pain. From birth, Jabez was given a “label.” Every time his mother called him for dinner, chores or other things, he was reminded of what she thought about him. When anyone used his name, he was identified with pain. Yet, Jabez was “more honorable than his brothers.” What does this mean? It means that despite the label placed on him, Jabez refused to be defined by this label. He rose above it. He trusted God. He prayed, and he walked in forgiveness. Jabez accepted God’s word, feelings and thoughts above the opinion of others.

How about you? Have you been labeled? Have you lived a life of pain or difficulty? Has it defined who you are, or have you risen above it? The bible tells us that even “though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalms 27:10). Also, God has adopted us “by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:5-7). Through a personal relationship with Jesus, you are accepted and loved. Do not allow the labels of others or the pain of life define who you are. Know that you can, like Jabez, call out to God and he will hear your prayer and change your life.

Secondly, Jabez was known for his prayer. What he is remembered for is not some outstanding achievement, but a prayer. He did not win a great battle or erect a large building. He prayed a simple prayer and God answered it. When moving from the pain of your past to a purpose in your future, never forget that God hears your prayers. Jabez was praying that he might now be a blessing to others. He wanted his territory enlarged, so he could influence others with the same love and comfort he received from God. He wanted to be kept from evil and live a godly life, so he did not cause undue pain to others. Jabez’s prayer was never just about him. He was living in victory and wanted others to experience it, too. This is our purpose, too. God brings us through our pain, our past, and our troubles, and reminds us that they were never just about us. God wants to use you to bless others.

Are you dealing with your past, experiencing pain, or fighting labels? With Jesus Christ you can rise above it. If God is for you, who can be against you? Through God, “all things are possible.” God has a plan and purpose, and you will use your experiences to bless others.

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Life’s not fair and that’s okay

Hillcrest-Church-picPastor Kristi J. Rhodes  

Hillcrest Community Church

5994 18 Mile Rd. 

Cedar Springs, MI 49319

 

 

 

Life’s not fair. No big surprise right? When children are formed in the womb, a DNA chip appears in their brains. Not many scientists recognize it, but every parent knows it’s there. It’s called the “life should be fair” chip. Every child is born with it—without exception. Every parent has heard their children utter the same phrase, “That’s not fair!” It happens with birthday cake (his is bigger). It happens at bedtime (he gets to stay up later). And so on. And it doesn’t get better as they get older. The life should be fair chip doesn’t disintegrate naturally.

I’ve done it, too. How about the stockings at Christmas? We put the exact same things in each stocking, right down to counting the miniature candy bars trying to be fair. Was that fair? No! It was equal. What about the child that doesn’t like Mounds candy bars?

We want life to be fair. We think life should be fair. When someone else gets called into the doctor’s office first, that’s not fair. When life doesn’t provide us with the abilities, possessions, talents, or opportunities others have, we cry it’s not fair. But no one ever promised life was fair, nor should it be. Herb Shaffer says in his book, “From Where God Sits,” That’s okay! Life’s not fair—never will be, wasn’t created to be, and that’s okay! God’s in charge, we’re His kids, He loves us all the same, but He does not promise that life will be fair. In fact, Jesus promised just the opposite in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” If we insist on fairness and strive to get it on our own, we often short-circuit God’s better plan. What the enemy plans for evil, God will use for good. Don’t curse the bumps. They are what we climb on.

We need to stop complaining about our trouble. Happiness comes when we stop complaining about the troubles we have and say thanks to God for the troubles we don’t have.

Being thankful is a state of mind. Use what God has blessed you with to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Life’s not fair, and that’s okay. When we accept that truth about life, it gets much easier to handle. We will accept the difficulties we are handed as a normal part of life instead of believing something is wrong when unfairness comes. Sometimes those who don’t deserve it are going to get things we never do. But by tossing out the lie that life should be fair, we give God the opportunity to make us grow from the unfairness into better people instead of bitter people. That’s when the life should be fair chip begins to disintegrate—and we can get on with doing life the way God designed us to do it.

 

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Forgiveness is a wonderful thing

Cedar-Christian-ChurchPastor Ryan Black

Cedar Springs Christian Church

340 West Pine Street, Cedar Springs

 

 

 

Sometimes one of the hardest things to do in life is forgive. When you have felt some one has intentionally offended you or has purposely done something that negatively affects your life, this can lead us to hold grudges, bitterness and even hate against someone for what they’ve done. Some issues are easier to forgive than others. Some people are easier to forgive than others. However, according to scripture, neither the person, number of times they wronged you, nor the severity of the situation matters.  Forgiveness is a must for every Christian’s life, not only for a healthy spiritual life, but a healthy physical life as well.

This is perfectly laid out for us in Matthew 18:21-35. In this passage, one of Jesus’ disciples named Peter, asked Jesus how many times should we forgive someone who sins against us? Peter answered with the question, “up to seven times”? Jesus response is extraordinary. “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. This is telling us that no matter how many times someone does us wrong; we still need to forgive every time. Release them from their guilt.

The passage continues with Jesus speaking a parable about a king who forgives a servant’s large amount of debt because of compassion. The servant later refuses to forgive a smaller debt of another individual. The king finds out and is furious.  The debts that the king had previously forgiven now were to be paid in full. Jesus explains the point of the parable. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” In other words, if we want forgiveness from God we have to learn to forgive others regardless of what it is. Ephesians 4:32 reminds us of this same thing: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Forgiveness is needed for a healthy spiritual life. But it also plays a vital role in your physical well-being as well. The mayo clinic claims that refusing to forgive can cause anxiety, depression, loss in relationships and numerous other physical hardships.  We need to release any bitterness, grudges or hate towards someone for what they may have done to wrong us.

Forgiveness can be hard thing to do. But it’s something we need for our own soul as well as our physical bodies. It also helps release any guilt from the person that has hurt you. God loves us all so much and He wants to release us of our debts and our sins. When we release others from their debts then God is more than willing to release ours. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing!

 

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Trusting in God!

Pastor Richard Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths”  (Proverbs 3:5-6 King James translation).

This is a truth that evaded my understanding for too many years of my life. I discovered (admit), it isn’t always easy to understand God’s love and concern for each of us when we are living in the moment of those events that call us to lean on God’s promises. Proverbs 3:5-6 is so meaningful, because it reveals the truth of God’s love for us.

I hope that some of what I have learned in this Christian walk will benefit others. There are times when it takes years to even begin understanding the whys of life, and some things I am convinced that I won’t understand at all in this life. Then too, there are events in life that will still hurt even though I understand better later. An old hymn title assures us “We Will Understand it Better By and By.”  My comfort and peace is in knowing that God is always there, even when I can’t see him through my circumstances.

So why trust God with all our heart as scripture tells us? Well, I’m glad someone asked.

For one thing, God is good! His character is such that he only wills and allows what is ultimately good.

We read in scripture “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jeremiah 29:11 KJV).

One of my shortcomings is that I sometimes measure God’s goodness more on my emotions of the moment, rather than on the basis of his truth. For instance, there are times when I have thought, “God is not fair,” when in actuality, I was thinking “God is not fair to me.”

Our emotions can change like the weather, but God never changes. What I should be questioning is why I am questioning God. God is righteous (just), and quite frankly, I know that any righteousness or rightness that I may have only comes from him, so listening to his word is always my best option.

Second, God is love! His character is such that his deep love is the motivating factor and controlling influence of his heart toward us. That is why I can trust Him with all of my heart, because I know that his love can never fail.

Third, God is in control! Regardless of what it looks like to me at the moment or what I think, God is in control of everything I go through! If I didn’t believe that, I would be emotionally and spiritually a wreck. Today I can have confidence in this new year that I am always right in the center of his loving hand of mercy, protection and care.  I desire to be more trusting and closer to him every day.

There is so much more I could share of my relationship with God, the blessings along with the trials, my failures and God’s successes but I just wanted to take this opportunity to tell you how much I love the Lord and trust in him. It is my prayer that you, too, may know in your heart the peace of a relationship with our loving God of Truth.

 

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