Lost that lovin’ feeling?

Ever feel like you’re further from God now than you were a few months ago? Maybe you had that deep sense of awe before God in every aspect of life…and now it is as if that moment in time was just a whisper.
As the theologians “The Righteous Brothers” penned

You’ve lost that loving feeling
Whoa that loving feeling
You’ve lost that loving feeling
Now it’s gone…gone…gone…who-oh-oh-oh-oh

Though they may not have directly been speaking to their spiritual lives, it seems an apt description of our relationship with God in different seasons. We felt close to God…then we wonder where that closeness has gone, gobbled up by life, kids, careers, hobbies, “religion,” and even by our spiritual disciplines.

Now it’s gone.

image via Tim Pirfalt, Creation Swap. Edits and quote mine.

image via Tim Pirfalt, Creation Swap. Edits and quote mine.

And the answer to getting it back isn’t found in trying harder. Because the harder you try, the further you’ll find yourself from the presence of God. A lack of feeling isn’t fixed by a mere flurry of doing. [Tweet “A lack of feeling isn’t fixed by a mere flurry of doing. “]

My friend Jamin Goggin, with Kyle Strobel, has written a book that addresses just this issue. It’s called Beloved Dust: Drawing close to God by discovering the truth about yourself. It’s really good, striking a hard-to-find balance between being rich, full, thoughtful, deep…and being accessible and helpful and readable. Many books aim at, but few find that balance.

I asked Jamin a few questions about the book, and I think you’ll find his answers helpful.

Ben: What are some of the most common ways you see people try to get closer to God? What’s so empty about those pursuits?

Jamin: In Beloved DustKyle and I explore common ways that Christians seek to grow in their relationship with God. We argue that some of them actually lead us down the wrong path. Ultimately, they are the result of very sneaky idolatries. One of these idolatries for example is “experience.” What we have found in our own journey is that it is incredibly easy to worship an experience from God rather than God himself. Often times we hit seasons in our spiritual life that feel dry. Worship feels boring, the Bible is uninteresting to us or maybe we just feel bored in prayer. We don’t like this feeling of disconnect from God and malaise in our spiritual life, so we look for solutions. We want to feel the way we used to feel in prayer or at church. This may lead us to try a new technique in prayer or maybe we will find ourselves looking for a new church that can make our spiritual life feel exciting again. Whatever it may be we are on the hunt to get back those old feeling we used to have. We want excitement. We want a “mountain top high”. We want an “aha moment”. The problem of course is that we don’t truly want God himself, but rather a felt experience. We want God for how he makes us feel. Thus, rather than going on the hunt for those old feelings or trying to generate an experience for ourselves, the call of God is to be honest with him about how we feel. Quite often God leads us into these kind of desert seasons precisely to show us our idolatry for experience. He is inviting us into a mature love, which does not love for what we get, but for who God is.

Ben: What’s something that a person could do right now to begin actually growing deeper in their relationship with God?

Jamin: What we are seeking to emphasize in Beloved Dust is that all of life is to be lived with God. We seek to dispel the notion that there are some activities that are “spiritual”, while most of our lives are lived on our own. Rather, our hope is to cast a vision of life with God that points people into communion with him in their work, their play and their home. The Christian life is about being with God who is always with you. As a result, the primary way we grow in intimacy with God is prayer. Prayer is our means of being with God at all times. Prayer is not merely another spiritual discipline, but is the very heartbeat of the Christian life. That being said, let me take a stab at actually answering your specific question. As we cultivate the habit of praying (being with God) in our everyday lives there are certain habits of heart that we can practice in prayer to grow in our relationship with God. Habits of heart are relational postures we embrace while we are praying. For example, one habit of heart is honesty. If we desire to grow in our relationship with God then we need to cultivate the practice of being honest with God; inviting him in to the truth of our heart amidst the vicissitudes of our everyday life.

Ben: There’s a tension between “doing” and “being.” Is it possible to find “being” in the “doing”? How?

Jamin: Great question. I actually prefer the language of “being with.” This denotes communion with God. Not just “being”, but “being with.” I think when we use the dichotomy of “being” vs. “doing” we often tend to be imagining very polarizing opposite ends of the spectrum. On one side is the person who is constantly self-reflecting or contemplating. While on the other side is the person who is constantly getting things done and is active for the kingdom so to speak. I think this is a false dichotomy. Jesus makes this clear as he talks about the importance of abiding in relationship with him in John 15. What is clear is that “being with” does proceed “doing for”. The heart of the gospel is not activity for God, but communion with God. However, what is also made clear in John 15 is that if we truly are abiding in Christ then we will indeed be active for the kingdom. Our “doing” so to speak is the fruit of our “being with.” As we participate in the love of Christ we share the love of Christ.

Ben: Is it possible to have a fully-realized prayer life on our own? What part does community play in our closeness with God through prayer?

Jamin: Community is unquestionably crucial in the Christian life. Often I hear the language of “context” when talking about Christian community. It is the “context” in which we grow in Christ. I think this is fine, but I think it misses the depth of what Christian community truly is. Participation in the love of God in Christ by the Spirit is not merely an individual endeavor. As those who are in Christ, the Holy Spirit now lives within us, pointing us on to Jesus and inviting us into God’s life of love from within. However, the Holy Spirit continues to pull us into God’s life of love not just from within, but from without. For he is working in and through our fellow saints. His gifts of love are being poured out uniquely through the body of Christ. You see, being “in Christ” is essentially a communal reality, for it is the church that is his “body.”

So, community is not only the right “context” for growth, it is the place of growth. It is the place which the Holy Spirit is at work.

[Tweet “‘Being ‘in Christ’ is a communal reality, for it is the Church that is his body.’ – @JaminGoggin [via @BenReed]”]

Ben: You’ve got a companion small group guide that goes along with the book. And I love it! Can you tell us what makes this small group study different than others?

Jamin: Yes, thanks for asking. I am really excited about this small group guide. I think what is most unique about is its invitation into prayer. What you will find is that there is work to be done in-between the weekly meeting session. Part of this is reading the book. However, the other part of this is a prayer exercise we call “Being With God.” We invite folks who are going through the study to spend 30 minutes each week opening their heart to the Lord in prayer regarding the specific area they are exploring in their walk with him that week. These prayer exercises include prompts inviting folks to consider reflection questions that invite them into honesty with God in prayer. It is this time of prayer each week that we then invite the groups to share as they begin their weekly meeting. The hope is that this will engender a depth of sharing and intimacy that is uncommon in the small group setting. In other words, each member of the group will take the time to share what came up for them during their individual prayer time.

Lastly, there is one more element that I am excited about in this study guide. If folks choose to they can take a 3-4 our self-guided spiritual retreat when they finish the study. The idea behind the retreat is that it provides an opportunity for folks to pause and reflect over the previous 6 weeks focusing on what God was doing in their lives, and then in turn provides space for them to discern next steps in their journey.


This really is a rich, soul-stirring work. Pick up a copy, or have everyone in your small group pick up a copy, and work through it together.

You can pick up the book HERE and the small group study kit HERE.

If you’d like, here’s a video you can share with your small group that helps them know what the study is about:

 

Planning for growth

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image credit: Creation Swap user Cody Davenport

If you’re someone that’s content to take life slowly and easily, I’d frustrate you. I never find myself “content” with the status quo.

It’s this time of year that I start dreaming about the Fall. Summer’s in full swing, and I’m looking for what’s next. Where I need to grow. What I need to change. What I need to start doing. What I need to stop doing.

What book I need to read. What podcast I need to start listening to. What coffee shop I need to visit.

As a pastor, I’m always thinking this direction as well. I’m constantly looking for what’s next, because I’m never satisfied with where we’re at. “Good enough” doesn’t whet my whistle. Nor does “okay” or “average” or “decent” or “pretty good.”

So if you want to grow spiritually, you’ll have to plan for it. Here are a few things I’m looking towards, that will help me continue to grow. Your list may be different. But it’s time, now, to start making that list out.*

The Fall season can be a great time of growth, but you’ve got to plan now.

Read

I’ve always got a book or seven in my hand. I intake vast amounts of content through books and articles. They help me stretch and grow. Here are a few that are on tap for me leading into the Fall.

Write

For me, writing helps flesh my thoughts out like nothing else. I extrovert my thoughts to make sense of them, so writing becomes an outlet for what God’s showing me. Some of that makes it on this blog. Some of that will make its way into my upcoming book on small group life. But I’ve got to write to grow.

I’m going to write 1500 words/week throughout the 3 months of Fall. Which equates to 18,000 words. It’ll be good for my heart.

Go

It’s important for me to get out of my normal environment if I’m going to grow. Conferences provide that opportunity for me this Fall, and I’m headed to Atlanta for the ReGroup conference. I’m pretty stoked to be going back again this year. It’s a time of refreshment and strategic planning for me. The team at North Point is spot on.

What’s your plan for growth this Fall?

 * For continued spiritual growth, I’m assuming the normal disciplines of the Christian life: reading Scripture, prayer, corporate worship, small group community, confession, repentance, etc. I’ll not quit these, and neither should you. This is my outside-of-the-normal ‘things’ list. I’m also assuming you know that it’s God that produces the growth. I’m just positioning myself for the maximum potential.

 

Top books for people sensing a call to ministry

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image credit: CreationSwap user Agatha Villa

Sensing a call to ministry?

Then it’s time to start getting prepped now. Nothing can substitute for doing the work of ministry. But picking up and working through a handful (or two) of good books will help you more than you could ever know.

These are some of my favorites. Some I read in seminary. Others I’ve read since I’ve been working full-time in the local church.

I hope they help you as much as they’ve helped me.

 

Ministry

Small Groups with Purpose by Steve Gladen (e-book)

Deep and Wide by Andy Stanley (e-book)

Sticky Church by Larry Osborne (e-book)

Sticky Teams by Larry Osborne (e-book)

Lectures to my Students by CH Spurgeon (e-book)

Creating Community by Andy Stanley (e-book)

UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons (e-book)

 

Leadership

21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership by John Maxwell (e-book)

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie (e-book)

Tribes: We Need you to Lead us by Seth Godin (e-book)

Good to Great by Jim Collins (e-book)

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni (e-book)

 

Theology/Spiritual Growth

The Explicit Gospel by Matt Chandler (e-book)

Knowing God by JI Packer (e-book)

Christian Beliefs: 20 Basics Every Christian Should Know by Wayne Grudem (e-book)

ESV Study Bible

The Attributes of God by AW Pink (e-book)

Desiring God by John Piper (e-book)

Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen (e-book)

Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper (e-book)

The Me I Want to Be by John Ortberg (e-book)

 

Anything you’d add?

 

How do I stop growing in my faith?

How do I stop growing in my faith?

You’ve asked this question time and time again. In varying seasons of life. Maybe you’re asking it right now.

You’re tired of growing your faith.

  • Tired of getting closer to God. 
  • Tired of God calling you to do big things. 
  • Tired of feeling like your gifts are being well-spent. 
  • Tired of pouring yourself out. 
  • Tired of feeling like you don’t know exactly what God’s going to ask you to do.
  • Tired of God using you to minister hope and grace and truth.
I mean, seriously, it’s time to quit growing. Time to get control back over your life. Time for things to calm down, and for you to get a handle on where things are going. Am I right?
If you’re with me on this, and you’re ready for your faith to grow stagnant, stinking the place up like a mosquito-infested pond in June, then try this one thing on for size. It’s easy, really. If you’re tired of your faith growing, all you have to do is

Play it safe.

  • Don’t be generous with your resources. That’s risky, and takes faith. 
  • Don’t be generous with the grace you give others. You will probably get burned.
  • Don’t join a small group. You could be asked to be vulnerable. And you could be stretched. That’s no way to live.
  • Don’t read your Bible and act on it. Just stick to reading it. Much safer.
  • Don’t invite your neighbors to church with you. Stay in your comfort zone.
  • Don’t go on a mission trip. That’s crazy talk. 
  • Don’t go serve the homeless in your city. You might get dirty.
  • Don’t tithe. Planned giving? We’re going for minimal risk here. Come on.
  • Don’t maintain close relationships with people. People are too messy and difficult.
  • Don’t build relationships with people outside of the faith. If someone doesn’t trust Jesus, give ‘em a tract and move on. If you try to stick around and love them, you’re being dangerous.
  • Don’t worship with other believers. Just quit going to church. They ask you to do things like ‘participate in worship.’ Not safe at all.
  • Don’t do anything difficult. When things get tough, run the other way. That’ll *stick it* to your faith.
Just minimize the risk in everything you do. That way you keep things safe, easy, and manageable.
And watch your faith shrivel right up.
Anybody with me?
 

13 Reasons Why Small Groups are Vital to your Spiritual Growth

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I love Sunday morning corporate worship. It energizes me to worship with other believers, and be challenged by good, solid preaching.

But corporate gatherings alone will dry me up, spiritually. I need small group life.

You do, too.

Why Small Groups are Vital to Your Spiritual Growth

1. It’s too easy to hide in a large gathering.

It’s tougher to hide in a small group. 

2. It’s too easy to be passive during a sermon.

Wallflowers don’t last long in a small group.

3. There is little to no accountability.

Follow-through is much easier in a small group.

4. We’re prone to think we matter too little.

Small groups remind us that we are loved.

5. We’re prone to think we matter too much.

Small groups remind us that others have problems, too.

6. We’re prone to think, “they need to hear this.”

Small groups challenge us to personally apply Truth.

7. We’re prone to think, “this is only for me…”

Small groups keep us from cycling into destructive self-pity and loathing.

8. When we cry, there’s nobody to ask us, “What’s going on?”

Small groups don’t let tears go unchecked.

9. No food is allowed in most worship gatherings. #Lame.

We eat well in our small group.

10. “Be quiet while the pastor is preaching!”

Small group gives you time to have deep, life-stirring conversations with people.

11. Convictions go unchecked.

When the Spirit moves in small group, you’ve got time to slow down.

12. Specific needs go un-prayed for.

Small groups pray for the specific needs of their group members.

13. There’s no time for questions.

Small groups ask hard questions and allow for discovery.

Are you in a small group? Has it helped you grow spiritually?

 

5 ways to not be like Gollum

You’ve heard of Gollum, from The Lord of the Rings, right? That weasely, sneaky, under-handed nasty thief whose sole focus in life was the Ring. He didn’t start out that way. He started out as a curious, “quiet-footed” hobbit. Check out a bit of his backstory.

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Gollum’s downward gaze shaped who he became. Instead of letting his curiosity help him explore the beauties of God, he let it drive him into the dark places. Smeagol became Gollum because he didn’t “look up.”

Curiosity is a gift from God…until you let it lead you to dark places. Instead of your curiosity looking for shadows of hope and grace scattered throughout the earth, it can lead you to search in dark corners of self-pity, self-hate and loneliness. Curiosity can lead you to your sin, your “dark places.”

When your gaze is always “downward,” you’re setting yourself up for a life where you’ll be dominated by your shame, guilt, and failures. Gollum is the prototypical person who is fully aware of their “thing,” their addiction, their “thorn in the flesh,” and who has made their life, and everyone else’s, revolve around that addiction. Gollum is so marked by his addiction that his whole existence revolves around it, and like a vortex he has sucked other people into his pain.

Time to look up.

26 Look up into the heavens.
Who created all the stars?
He brings them out like an army, one after another,
calling each by its name.
Because of his great power and incomparable strength,
not a single one is missing.
27 O Jacob, how can you say the Lord does not see your troubles?
O Israel, how can you say God ignores your rights?
28 Have you never heard?
Have you never understood?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of all the earth.
He never grows weak or weary.
No one can measure the depths of his understanding.
29 He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
30 Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
31 But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.

How do you take positive steps away from your sin, and help ensure that your addiction and recovery don’t become your identity? How do you make sure you don’t consume others in your road to health? How do you ensure you’re not dominated by your guilt, shame, and fear?

6 Ways to Not Be Like Gollum

  1. Get outside. Enjoy the beauty of God’s creation. As you do, you’ll find the dark places of your heart a bit brighter. (Isaiah 40:26)
  2. Get outside. Remind yourself that there is a God…and that it’s not you. He’s all-powerful, you’re not. He knows all things…you don’t. He created the stars. You didn’t. (Isaiah 40:26-27)
  3. Exercise. There’s something healing about working strenuous, physical activity into your routine. Growing physically weak reminds us that God’s strength is perfect. (Isaiah 40:29)
  4. Serve someone else. Gollum served, and only thought about, himself. If you want to get out of your rut, do something for someone else, in a way that your favor can’t be “returned” back to you. Make life not about you.
  5. Remind yourself of the times that God has loved you and breathed hope into your story. (Isaiah 40:27)
  6. Trust in the Lord. (Isaiah 40:31) Easier said than done, though. Which is why you can’t do this on your own. Everything else can be done, just between you and God. But trusting in the Lord is too difficult to try to do by yourself. Bring someone else into your journey, and give them the freedom to speak hard, life-giving Truth into your story. 
Ready to grow in your faith? Time to look up.
 

Accountability

If you want accountability in your life, you’ve got to take responsibility.

image by Cassandra Security

Nobody will do that for you.  Others can pour into you, teach you, model for you, and share resources with you.  But if you want accountability, you’ve got to take that responsibility on yourself.  I’ve asked people to help me with certain aspects of my spiritual life.  Sometimes it’s “worked.”  Many times, it hasn’t.  But I’ve learned some principles along the way that have helped ensure success.

8 principles in seeking spiritual accountability

1. Ask for it.

If you don’t ask, nobody will respond.  You need these deep relationships that help you with your personal spiritual growth.

2. Help define what it needs to look like.

Don’t just assume that if you ask someone, they’ll instantly know what accountability needs to look like for you.  You have to help set the paramaters.  How often?  What will you talk about?  What questions should they ask you?

3. Be vulnerable and share your story.

Otherwise, how can someone else help?  If they don’t know who you are, where you’ve been, and the weak spots in your life, they’ll have no idea how to help you grow.

4. Take a risk.

You’ll never know if the person on the other end, that you’re asking to step into that relationship with you, is 100% trustworthy.  This is  a step of faith, not a step of pre-knowledge.

5. Remember that accountability is a two-way street.

This isn’t a cure-all solution.  You’ve got to be doing the difficult task of working on yourself and your own shortcomings.  Having someone “hold you accountable” doesn’t assure you’re accountable.  You’ve got to continue to actively pursue that relationship, and be open and honest with where you are at all along the way.

6. Give the other person the room to say, “No.”

This is a big responsibility that you’re asking someone to.  Give them the freedom to say that this is not the right season for them.  Forced accountability rarely works.  Both parties have to be willing to step in and do the hard work.

7. You have to continue to drive the relationship.

Don’t expect that you can ask once, share your story, and the other person will then magically follow up with you exactly when you need it.  You’re the one asking for accountability.  You need to be the one driving this relationship.

8. Ask for grace.

Since accountability isn’t a cure-all, there’s a good chance you’ll mess up again.  In a big way.  And this is where many “accountability partners” fall apart.  If you’ve messed up, you think, “I can’t possibly be honest about this with him now.”  And he’ll think, “I guess I’ve failed at holding him accountable.”  What needs to happen is what happened in the beginning: grace.  Set out from the beginning this idea that if failure happens, grace is the knee-jerk response.

You need someone to spur you on. (Hebrews 10:24) You’re too weak on your own to fight sin, insecurities, and the battles that rage against you doing what God’s calling you to do.  You need someone who’s got your back.  You need someone who is going to encourage you on the good days and the bad.  You need a warrior who won’t give up on you, who knows where you’re headed, and is willing to walk through the dark and the light to help you get there.

So encourage each other and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Do you have someone who’s intentionally encouraging you and helping hold you accountable?

Have you seen this kind of relationship misused?  Where one (or both) parties expected too much?

 

The commitment

I have a small group that I am a part of that meets every week.  And I’m going to have to miss it soon.

I’m going out of town, and there’s no way I can make it back in time.  And that really bothers me.  Even though it’s only the 3rd time I’ve missed the group in 2 years.

Because I made a commitment to the group.

When I joined, I committed to being there every week.  The people in my group aren’t imposing any guilt on me for missing.  They’re not upset.  The group will carry on without me, no problem.  Somebody else will lead the discussion that night.  Somebody else will take up the prayer requests.  Somebody else will make sure the group keeps moving forward.  The group isn’t dependent on me.

But I’m bummed I can’t be there.

I’m missing out on

  • a dynamic discussion
  • a broken-hearted request
  • a cry for help
  • an opportunity to praise God for His goodness
  • a belly laugh
  • a good meal
  • catching up on life
  • sharing my own difficulties
  • sharing my own triumphs
  • doing life with friends
  • praying for a friend
  • being prayed over

You may not like my small group (I wrote about it HERE).  But I do.  These guys challenge, encourage, and equip me to do what God’s calling me to do.  Their influence in my life is beyond measuring.

To get the most out of your small group, you’ve got to make a significant commitment. Otherwise, a small group is just a Bible study.  A group of acquaintances.  An I-have-to-go-to-that-again? meeting.  A burden.  A time-waster.  Something that takes you away from what you really want to do.  A place of forced community.

Make the commitment to the folks in your small group.  They’ll be glad you did.

And so will you.

Have you ever made the level of commitment necessary to really invest in a small group?

Have you ever seen someone not make that commitment, and burn out quickly?

 

Spiritual procrastination

The most dangerous word for your spiritual growth is “tomorrow.”

image by Jeff Boriss

I’ll share my faith with my friend…tomorrow.

I’ll start praying more regularly…tomorrow.

I’ll start reading my Bible…tomorrow.

I know God want me to _____, so I will…tomorrow.

I’ll start treating my wife with respect…tomorrow.

I’ll become a better parent…starting tomorrow.

I’ll quit doing ______…tomorrow.

I’ll choose to forgive…tomorrow.

I’ll choose joy, not anger…tomorrow.

I’ll choose to serve…tomorrow.

I’ll take charge of my spiritual growth…tomorrow.

Stop. Saying. Tomorrow.

Today is the day.

Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.”  How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. – James 4:13-14

 

Give yourself a break

I remember the day my son started walking.

He had been pulling up and cruising for a few weeks prior, so we knew he was just about ready to start letting go and walking on his own.  My wife and I were sitting across from each other in the middle of the living room floor, and I stood Rex up in between us.  He could barely get his balance.  In fact, he was so wobbly he fell down before he even got started.  So I stood him back up.

Then it happened.

He took a small step, then started to fall forward.  Just before he reached the point of no return (where he would fall flat on his face), he stuck his other foot out in front of himself.  His momentum carried him forward, and he forgot to put his other foot out in front, so he fell face first into my wife, who, along with me, clapped and cheered for our son.  He had started to walk!

So we stood him up again, and he tried once more.  Then he fell.  And smiled.

So we stood him up again, and he tried once more.  Then he fell.  And smiled.

So we stood him up again, and he tried once more.  Then he fell.  And smiled.

Then he got tired, so we quit for the day.

Notice this: he wasn’t so hard on himself that he wouldn’t try again.

Part of the hindrance to our spiritual growth is that we’re too hard on ourselves.  We beat ourselves up over and over again, when we’ve got a Father who, while we’re still a long way off, is filled with compassion for us, and is running towards us so He can throw His arms around us and kiss us. (Luke 15:20-21)

We, like the Prodigal Son, still beat ourselves up.  We respond, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” (Luke 15:20)

To which our Father says, “Let’s celebrate!” (Luke 15:23)

I’m not saying that we should act like we’re perfect, and can do nothing wrong.  But I am saying that we should not be so paralyzed in our sin that we don’t take another step forwards, towards our Father who’s running our way.  We could live in the reality that we’re sinners who are “no longer worthy to be called your son.”  But wallowing in our guilt and shame doesn’t help us move towards God.

Maybe we should start reminding ourselves that our Father is cranking up the music, getting His dancing on, and grilling up a feast for us.  Because He loves us that much.

Do you ever find that you’re too hard on yourself?

Is it time to give yourself a break, and celebrate even a small step in the right direction?

Do you know someone who needs to be reminded of this truth?