The Fitbit Challenge

No, this is not me!
Photo by Matt LeJune on Unsplash

About a month ago I finally broke down to join the other 27,999,999 Fitbit active users worldwide. I had previously resisted the need to prove to myself that I am an active healthy person.  After setting up my Fitbit, I assumed my normal routine. However, several surprises awaited me.  The first time the Fitbit “buzzed,” I’m quite sure I physically jumped. Quickly I turned off the text notifications.  However, I was later surprised by another buzz to alert me that I was falling short of the goal of 250 steps per hour. Once I became desensitized to this somewhat frequent buzz (I am often sitting at the computer or working on a project), I obediently jumped into action to make my hourly goal.  What can I say? I am an overachiever. The third surprise came at the end of each day when I realized I rarely made the 10,000-step daily goal. This was going to take some dedicated work if I wanted to get/stay fit. (At least a bit.) Strange that someone my age would actually get excited when the fireworks first went off to celebrate my 10,000-step accomplishment.  Take note, my husband was much less impressed.

No this is not me either
Yeah, this is not me either!
Photo by Quino Al on Unsplash

Then one day I was struck with this thought. What if it was possible to measure my spiritual health, i.e. a Spiritual Fitbit, so to speak? Would my behavior change if I got buzzed every hour that I fell short of nurturing my spiritual walk? And would I realize that maybe I am not as spiritually fit as I think I am? Yes, I normally have a morning quiet time, attend a weekly Bible study and go to church.  Yes, I normally pray, talk with the Lord throughout my day, and try to help others, but could I be more consistent? Thank God that He is not in the habit of waiting to buzz us when we fall short, but it is nevertheless an interesting proposition.

So, to all my fellow Fitbit users, let me put this challenge before you, particularly during this time of quarantine when we are mindful of all the changes and challenges to our present way of life. What if — each time our Fitbit buzzes, we take one minute to exercise our spiritual muscles?  The list is endless: pray for someone in need, thank God for his care, ask God for protection, call someone who is alone, recite a Scripture, sing or listen to an uplifting song, look for a revelation of God in creation, smile at the next person you see, send a text just to tell someone you love them . . . you can fill in the blanks.  [My Fitbit just buzzed to tell me I have been sitting here for the past hour writing this blog post, so I am praying for you to be receptive to this message and become part of the spiritually fit.]

Surprise! This is me after a day of hiking in Sedona, AZ

This recent stripping away of all those things upon which we have depended forces us to focus on what is really important. Now more than ever is the call for the body of believers to make sure that we are not spiritually distancing. Let’s be more than a bit fit spiritually. Who’s ready to take up the challenge?

Contributed by Nancy Vance

 

I Can See Clearly Now

Yesterday as I was working around the house, I was startled by the growl of a chainsaw.  I looked out the front window and discovered a massive pruning party across the street.  Two men with chainsaws taking down three 30-foot fir trees—first limbing them and then section by section, from the top, cutting rounds that fell with a thump to the ground.  I took a video on my phone to send to my husband then went back every few minutes to check the progress.

Photo courtesy of Erwin Voortman

They were making quick work of it, and soon all three trees were in a pile on the ground.  As I took my final check out the window, I was amazed to see that we now had a mountain view!  The pruning had opened up the sky, and not only could I see the Olympics, but the street and our yard were ten times brighter.

With COVID-19 on the loose right now, it occurred to me that this disease is bringing a kind of pruning.  Social distancing is being mandated, places of business are being shut down, many are out of work, many are sick and some are dying.  No one really knows how soon we will be able to “flatten the curve” to help contain the spread of the virus.  It’s looking dismal.

But sometimes pruning opens our view of things and lets the light in so we can see more clearly. Could it be that God is using this pruning to give us a better view of Himself and to shine the light of His presence in and through us in ways that don’t happen unless extraneous things are cut away?  Romans 8:28 says “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”  James 1:2 tells us that “the testing of our faith develops perseverance and perseverance must finish its work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

I hope that we as believers will be faith-full and not fear-full as our Heavenly Father does His pruning work in our lives—whatever that means for each one of us.  And that as we respond in faith, our light will shine into a dark world that is in desperate need of a Savior.

“God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in His holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.  But later on, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10-11).

Contributed by Branette Richards

Clearing Space

Oh, that the great waves we so fear would begin to wash away things in our lives we do not need. 

Last night I saw this cleared space of sand. Rocks and debris cleared away.

I felt God saying, “See how I can do anything with this space now that it’s cleared? That’s what suffering does--it wipes you clean. Clears away all the obstacles and fears and all the junk that gets in the way of the masterpiece I want to draw on your life. It may chip away like water at a rock or come in like a tsunami and clear it all in one big painful swoop, but it’ll be clear of false religion. Bravado. Things you put your trust in other than God. Small worries and fears. Differences. Hates. Separations. Hopes placed in things they had no business being placed In. Things you thought you needed and relied on. It will show you what’s important. What you really want. What’s worth fighting for. It’ll show you what you believe and what you can rely on.”

Contributed by Sierra Stack

Embracing Change……..

People asked me all the time, “Are you still writing?” and I look at them with the answer, “Yes, but most of it is tucked away because at least for now, it’s rather private.”

Rather private” is the way I have felt more and more. It was unusual for me to crave a small group of people on a Sunday morning over the usual large crowd, but some weeks found me in a small home church soaking up the solitude rather than my own church where I could worship extravagantly with a few hundred people.

I needed the quiet. My head knew it was okay, but my heart had a hard time catching up, because I knew I was called to something.

That call to something led me to publish a few books and begin public speaking engagements. I thrived on it and my soul came alive because I was living out my calling. Then, a major crisis hit my life, and I needed every moment to gather strength and wisdom just to get through.

That place was just as okay with God as the active places had been. Truth is, I was still active—but in other ways. Every day was spent earning money and taking care of my children. Days off were spent resting or rejuvenating.

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I learned to re-live what I had done for many years—be faithful in the moment, with no agenda other than loving God and others.

Because my children were home the day of our annual writer’s conference this year, I chose not to attend. The past year, I had taught a workshop there. Now I have resigned from their leadership team. I had no extra energy to give, and they understood. But, was I okay with the quiet season?

I had always worked hard. Pushing myself was a life-style, a habit. I wanted to feel good about what I had accomplished each day. Then I had to learn to be okay in the stillness, because God was there, too, and He didn’t call me to make noise when He knew I needed the quiet.

Oh friends. We can gather satisfaction by living out our calling, but refuse to gain rest when God is calling us to stillness.

Every few weeks, I hike mountains in silence, pondering life. Friends join me who are okay with my season, and often, people message me to share their own stories. The calling I have always had continues.

Am I as okay walking women through their tragedies from a place of tears as I was from a place of accomplishment? Truth is, people need love more than they need to see accomplishment—and they may feel safer walking a valley with you than feeling pulled to a mountain top by you.

I’m here to embrace each of my seasons, and I’m sharing them with you so courage rises in your heart to do the same. I look back on my short life and realize this one thing—all good things rise out of faithfulness in small, everyday matters.

My books have come out of embracing the urge to write. I was a mother of four small children with no office and no private space. Just a laptop (from a yard sale) and a heart saying yes to Jesus Christ. Just a few hands picking up my phone to quickly jot notes when I couldn’t immediately write but wanting to catch the thoughts tumbling around my brain as I did the mom life.

Then there was a “yes” when God let me know the writing needed to turn into a book. I took many steps of faith mixed with fear as He did His thing. It was an unfolding, not a striving. 

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There was no striving to get somewhere or do something or be someone. Just a lifestyle of loving God and doing what He created me to do well.

Did you know that often your calling shows itself in the very thing where you excel?

This new season is another one of saying yes to God. Yes, I’m still writing because that’s what writers do. No, it’s not as glamorous and there’s a whole lot of pain in a story like mine. But it’s a story I trust God will use in His own time and way.

In this quiet season, there’s still that deep knowing that I’m loved by God, and I’m one of His favorites—as are each one of you, because God can divide His love, yet give each one of us ALL HIS LOVE.

Seasons change, but His love never will. Embrace the quiet or the accomplishment because none of it matters as long as you’re embraced by CHRIST. 

~By Sara Daigle

Minimize Stuff; Maximize Christ

I shoved two more bags of “stuff” into the car with great satisfaction. Nothing is as good as clearing the house of excess.

Minimalism is at an all-time high. You get the look—crisp white walls with minimal décor and a few succulents gracing a shelf or two. Very different than the oldies look of stuff, stuff, and more stuff.

Just recently I turned old brown paneling into a crisp white wall—well, actually, a painter did. A super kind one who didn’t charge me a penny for his labor. I sold old furniture and purchased new décor. The results were remarkable.

I love minimizing.

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Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

Having less is great until we carry that over into kingdom living. In God’s kingdom, there is lavish excess, and he wants us to tap into it—daily. But it’s so easy to be frugal with our dedication to God.

Loving Jesus means abundance and passion, excess comfort in all circumstances, and care for every detail of our lives. And such a good God deserves maximum focus.

Americans often give Jesus just enough attention to “get into heaven.” But loving Jesus isn’t about getting to a place; it’s about knowing a person.

When all you want to do is get to heaven, you’ll treat Jesus Christ like one of those lovely succulents on the shelf of your home—there to grace your atmosphere with His presence and make your life beautiful. But you won’t breathe deeply of the very essence of Christ as you go about your day, and your heart won’t really vibe with the good news of being born again.

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Photo by Tuấn Kiệt Jr. on Pexels.com

Words like “born again” will sound like foreign language. Who says that, nowadays?

You’ll feel like Nicodemus when he asked Jesus, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time in his mother’s womb, and be born?” (John 3:4, ESV)

Or you’ll feel like I did today as I sat a little wearily in a large crowd, but as the pastor spoke about really knowing Jesus warmth and excitement overtook my heart.

Knowing Jesus is different than knowing how to be good. I know what it’s like to be a good girl but have no peace. That’s because Jesus isn’t interested in my goodness; He’s interested in me seeing that I need His redemption.

I remember the day I realized that no one can be good enough for God, and I had this vile sin nature within me that even my outwardly good life couldn’t answer for. I went to Jesus Christ for his free gift of mercy and the best day of my life came when I realized I had come to the end of my own resources. I found mercy only when I realized I desperately needed mercy. 

But I didn’t stop trying to be good enough for God. I had always, always, always tried to gain the approval of people by being good, and I figured God would kick me to hell if I wasn’t good all the time. My efforts exhausted my heart, and still I had little peace.

Then, Jesus showed me who he was. A beautiful, wonderful Savior who was more like a Father. An intimate Friend who was closer than a brother. A Lover who would love me unconditionally. Someone Who was always present, always available. Someone who wouldn’t rebuke me or point out my flaws unless it was met with equal mercy and forgiveness.

I fell in love with THAT PERSON, and there was nothing minimal about it.

I began to pray that God would maximize my love toward Him and all those He loves.

I want to be His hands, His feet, His heart in a world of brokenness and pain (of which I am very familiar). 

I learned to have fun and live fully. I learned to laugh even when I was crying—because the joy of the Lord was my strength, and He gave me richly all things to enjoy. I learned that the key to living a sanctified life was being deeply in love with a sanctified Savior. 

You can’t be connected to Someone without becoming like that Someone. 

This is why, when others talk of church buildings, religion, and denominations, my mind draws a blank and my heart doesn’t resonate. Religion is nothing to me, but Jesus is everything. And sometimes, like He did, I find more love and grace with non-religious people than I do with those who line the pews of a stained-glass church.

When they tell me, “I don’t know if I’m a Christian, but I do believe in God”, my heart (and sometimes my mouth) says, “Please make sure you know the person of Jesus Christ.” 

We can be minimalists with every THING, but not with every ONE. Jesus Christ is more than a sweet idea gracing our lives and making sure we get to a certain place; He’s a Person who wants to fill our lives and gift us with supernatural GRACE.

~ Contributed by Sara Daigle

Fully Seen by God

I’m willing to be nothing,” I told the Lord over and over again. And strangely enough, He’d ask me, “Are you willing to be something?”

It took me aback, but I’d say, yes. Whatever the Lord wants, but why would He ask me that?

Did you know that true humility isn’t realized just from being unseen? True humility happens when you don’t really think about whether or not you are seen, admired, or praised. You don’t focus there, and you stay real. You don’t care about that side of earthly kingdom stuff, because you are engaged in the heavenly, where all is love.

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As the Lord asked me whether I was willing for both, my life boomed with my fondest dreams, and I began to walk through unimaginable doors. One after another, my dreams came true. I wrote books, and I spoke at conferences. I had a radio interview and an offer for a potential television interview. My soul was alive because I was doing what God asked me to do.

Then a life circumstance crushed me. No matter where I was, I began to weep, needy and helpless. Godly friends rallied round me and held me up when I could not so much as put one foot in front of the other.

I entered a quiet season, one where it was God and me, alone. One where I woke up with near panic and went to sleep with a dull ache in my heart. One where, rather than being asked who I was because they had heard my name somewhere, I was asked how I was doing because they had heard about my circumstance from someone or somewhere.

Oh friends, can we accept the trial as much as the triumph? Can we embrace the quiet as much as the quest? Can we, really and truly, live for the honor of the Highest One, in whom we live and move and have our being?

I don’t really need the action—I need the Activator. When He activates, all is well. When he quiets me down, all is well. Because all is well where He is.

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True humility serves Him well more than it is served well by what He does for us. And in eternity, our focus is on Him, and Him alone. His glory will burst from our beings in eternal hallelujahs round the throne, all for Himself. 

This is why our focus here is not on our lives, but on His LIFE. Our reward is not from what we do, but from what He’s done. Will you say it with me, “Lord, I’m willing to be seen or unseen, whatever makes you FULLY SEEN.”

~ Contributed by Sara Daigle

Loved and Beloved

I see her standing there, silent and calm, in the larger Swiss airport where chocolate lines shelves in the shops and little outfits hang to remind people of Heidi running the snow covered Alps.

Quebec was elegant with its French language and wine, but Switzerland is charming and peaceful. Even in the airports, one can pick out certain cultural qualities and appreciate them. But always, I notice the women.

Some are confident, marching along in slacks and brief cases for business. Others wear the exhausted look of a traveling mother. Some are clearly retired, with an older but carefree expressions on relaxed countenances. For them, life was well lived, and now enjoyed without work or pressure.

In Quebec, I had headed to the wine bar for a glass of Chardonnay, but in Switzerland, I head to a well-covered nun to see how I might relate to her in some way.

She’s shy and immediately tries to cover her mouth with her hands as she speaks. I look past her fingers to yellow teeth and wide open gaps. She’s a dear, quiet soul who somehow has given her life to service—and I wonder, who will love her?

Our plane lands in Tanzania where women live in poverty and cultural manners are distinctly different from America. The airline worker bumps into me on numerous occasions—and she, too, wears the deadpan look of a woman whose deepest longings have long been lost.

The cook at the shack where we stop to purchase breakfast of soup and chapati is a prostitute. At night she sells her body, and in the day she sells soup out of a smelly little shop looking more like a barn. Men with no integrity line her tables, and we choose a side spot to avoid stares.

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I’m thinking back to the beautiful, smartly dressed woman in America who waited behind me in line at security. Confidence oozed from her persona, beauty emanated from her being. She’s loved, admired, beautiful, and comfortable, but what about the nun with silent longings and wide gaps between her teeth, who never feels beautiful and lives a hidden life of service to others? Is she less of a woman?

Or does God speak something of value that reaches every woman?

Opportunity varies just as much as culture. Culture varies from one continent to the next, and we can’t choose our country any more than we can choose our parents. We are born where we are, and life begins, there.

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How is it possible, then, to place greater dignity and value on one woman than another?

I’m wondering if Jesus weeps a little (or a lot) when he loves his daughter so passionately that he designs her in the womb with thought and detail, but she enters the world and never receives the slightest resemblance of love from those surrounding her.

The little African girl seated at my sister’s table with her own five kids eats quietly, gratefully. Just a few years back, she roamed her village while her mama ran off to live another life and her little brother and young uncle cared for her. She slept with them in a small mud shack and basically survived.

Today, because someone chose to love her, her eyes hold a little more light, but there is still the old-soul suffering in her young countenance as she silently chows down as much food as she’s allowed. If she wasn’t guided to stop, she’d get a tummy ache.

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Do we know that this little girl, sleeping in a mud hut with her little brother is worth as much as the little girl dancing in the studios back home, face alight with happiness and body clothed in princess attire? Do we know that the color of her skin makes no difference to her worth, and her limited opportunity does not equate limited value?

And you, sister, who’s been rejected and left behind—do you know that in Christ, you are sought after and claimed? Just as opportunity and culture cannot determine a child’s value, so your circumstance cannot determine yours.

What a culture says to you, or what a man gives (or doesn’t give) to you can in no way define your worth. Many of the women here walk about with life-less eyes. They are used by men rather than loved by one man and they ask my sister, “Your man wants only you, only one? You are so lucky!”

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If I knew Swahili, I’d make it my mission in the next two weeks to assure every single woman that her worth isn’t measured by a man, her circumstances, her house, food, clothing, or opportunities.

It’s unbelievably cool that in the eyes of God, the lady chanting loudly to sell her wares outside the compound is worth every bit as much as the lady standing behind me in the airport dressed in smart business attire. One may despise the other, but God loves both equally.

I chat quietly with the nun, wishing there was more to bridge the gap between us. I wave to the lady balancing a log atop her head while she swings her youngster onto her hips—without losing balance. I smile at people behind me in long, weary lines.

Because the people of God are called to live out the heart of God, called to love each person equally, called to value, honor, and cherish each individual life whose worth began when God decided to create that life.

The nun with crooked teeth may know, just as well as the girl dancing in the studio, that she is loved with deeper love than she could ever imagine–a love not based on humanity but on a God from whom all  existence flows.

Because we owe our existence to his handiwork, we may as well go one step further and derive our value from his heart!

Contributed by Sara Daigle

 

Forgetting what lies behind . . .

Honestly, forgetting is easier than ever when the aging process kicks in and you forget what you did yesterday.  However, if you check the recesses of your closet or the boxes in the attic or the cupboards in the garage, you’re certain to find some special long-lost or long-forgotten “treasure” which will swoosh you back to a moment that evokes pleasant (or maybe not so pleasant) memories.

Such was the scene a year ago when my husband plowed through boxes looking for who-knows-what when he discovered a childhood toy I had hung onto and carted around for 62 years.   Angel Casey’s Playhouse, a popular children’s program back in the fifties, held an art contest with the coveted grand prize being a platform hobby horse. Knowing my propensities as a five-year-old to both artwork and competition (which surprisingly has never dissipated), my mother encouraged me to enter.  She eagerly waited for me to come home from school the day my name was announced on television as the winner.

It was probably the first, and subsequently only, award I won for my art.  Was it really that terrific? Not so much. You’d be happy to know my artwork has definitely improved over the years, but it certainly represented a significant accomplishment in my young life.

Yes, a good memory indeed, but like all things we outgrow or forget, the little hobby horse was eventually dismantled and stuck in a box to make the rounds from Illinois to Texas and California before coming to its final resting place in Washington. Hoping to surprise me by assembling this long-forgotten treasure, my husband was shocked when I told him that I no longer wanted the hobby horse and had planned on getting rid of it.

“But what about our children or grandchildren?” he protested. “They would love it.”

Had he uttered that at a moment of temporary insanity?

“Today’s children have zero interest in non-mechanical, non-technical and potentially dangerous toys,” I reminded him.

“Perhaps an antique dealer would pay big bucks for this classic,” he responded.

No, not even an antique dealer was interested.

Eventually I came to the decision to dismantle my rusty-hinged “prize” and carted the remnants down to the firepit one night.  Amid continuing protests from my husband, I threw the pieces onto the burning logs.  Although a slight burst of nostalgia hit me as the flames engulfed the little guy (whose name I couldn’t even recall—or if I ever named him at all), surprisingly I had no regrets.  The brightly colored picture I had drawn, now housed in the cedar chest, and the memory of it all were enough to savor.

Paul goes on to remind us in Philippians 3:13 that after we have forgotten what lies behind, we are to reach forward to what lies ahead.  What exactly is that?  What is worth more than all those wonderful accomplishments? What can take the place of prizes and titles and awards and degrees? He tells us in verse 8—the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.  The same year I labored over that award-winning picture is the very same year I invited Jesus into my heart as Savior and Lord.  Ironic, isn’t it?  But how very special.  I have had the privilege of knowing Him for 63 years now.  Just as Paul confessed, I can’t say I’ve arrived or that I never wrestle with a desire for material possessions or personal achievement.   However, I am understanding the eternal rewards that come with knowing Christ more intimately as I study His word and serve Him in the new ministry to which He has called me.  Things that speak to His heart.  Things that bring satisfaction and joy.  Things that cannot be destroyed or consumed.

Got the urge to do some exploring through those memories hiding in your closet or attic or garage?  It’s good to know where we’ve been and what we’ve experienced, but it’s better—even heavenly—to reach forward to what’s in store.

Post by Nancy Vance

 

 

 

Blessing or Impressing?

I’m waiting in the MOPS classroom, looking up at the screen, and I see it there—my face, name as the speaker of the day, and two published books. My heart is still, quiet, as if in the eye of a storm louder and greater than any I could venture into, so I retreat.

The storm I’m in has nothing to do with public speaking, because I happen to feel almost as at home behind a microphone as I do in my kitchen. But my life—it’s a hurricane—and I’m not sure how to speak without sharing parts of it because speaking is more about sharing than about impressing.

We all connect soul to soul more than theory to theory. All of us want heart to heart more than accomplishment.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

But I’m wondering why life is so utterly finite and we’re all so human we end up with lives we never dreamed we’d live.

I was looking at my daughter’s friends a few weeks ago, and I saw brokenness on their faces long before they opened their mouths to describe their families. I’m crushed for them, for all kids who face life with a broken home.  

I stood before the group of women that day and chose the honorable way of transparency. They saw not only my message but my rawness. They heard not only my goals of parenting but the challenges  as a single mother whose husband has just chosen another way and left the kids reeling with emotions to match Hurricane Katrina.

I spoke my heart out. All of our eyes welled in tears. I walked back to my seat and sat down, wondering why on earth I’d chosen, again, to share something I could have hidden. I could have left the building that day feeling just a little better about what they thought my life was like.

I chided myself immediately. My calling hadn’t begun with hypocrisy, and it wouldn’t flourish with it, either. The death of a life didn’t have to mean the death of a calling unless my own sin came in the way.

And then, she came, this beautiful little mama wanting to open up about her life because I had opened up about mine. The next one, and the next, until I left with more friends and open hearts than I’d dared hope for.

The authentic life is the beautiful life.

The honest life is the honorable life.

The blessed life is the bare life, because God has always clothed the naked.

I’m loading my plate up with muffins and cheesecake, because you can’t speak to a group of mothers without thinking of your own children, and one of mine’s a foodie. I smash the jumbo chocolate muffin right into the half-eaten piece of pumpkin cheesecake, and I know she won’t mind.

Sisters, if your name’s on a screen, make sure those listening to you see Jesus in your eyes. Allow him to strip you of all need to impress and fill you with a desire to bless. You’ll emerge from your broken places, knowing with Paul, that there is nothing to boast of except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

~ Contributed by Sara Daigle

When Women Love Well

Sometimes Instagram is inspiring.  For instance, one post that got over 7,ooo “likes” said,

“Peace and love are popular.  Truth isn’t.  All are Jesus.” wine glass

Peace and love without truth end up being a distorted version of love–like labeling the contents of a septic tank with the name of your favorite drink and trying to convince your friend of your good intentions for her health as you hand it to her in a wine glass. No one is silly enough to judge a woman for refusing the liquid labeled sewer water–even if it’s served in a wine glass. We don’t accuse her of judging but applaud her for speaking out on what’s really inside that wine glass. Yet, if women dare speak up on things that really matter, they are instantly judged for judging.

Weird how people who say they hate judging can judge so harshly. Peace, love, and truth meshed together epitomize the character of Jesus, who spent his days healing people who needed Him, but speaking out against sin because it destroys hearts and lives.

Ladies, did you know we can love the sinner but hate the sin? Any other world view instantly removes our ability to stand against anything, including murder, pedophilia, or any other crime. Loving people like Jesus did means we love all people but we don’t love all the things they do. Regardless of what is done in the name of love, only God has the right to define love, since it wouldn’t exist at all had He not created it to begin with!

~ Contributed by Sara Daigle