Radical Forgiveness Frees Innocent Victims

MEME - Only God Can Judge - July 24, 2017As I listened to the woman sharing how God helped her forgive her abusers, my heart ached. Her story mirrored some details in my past, but I couldn’t pretend to understand exactly how she felt. I couldn’t duplicate the ways she processed her pain, either.

Every innocent victim’s journey toward healing is complex and unique. There are no pat answers or secret formulas to help victims work through emotions and move forward.

Each one of us needs our healing path and pace to be respected. We need support from family, from friends, and often from professionals. We need understanding and, most importantly, patience and prayer.

There are no normal timelines in a person’s road to healing.

When we arrive at that crossroad moment and are faced with the choice of forgiving or clinging to unforgiveness, we need grace . . . especially God’s life-changing grace.

While that woman shared her heartbreaking story, I realized I’d been deceiving myself for years.

I’ve moved on. I’ve gotten over it. I don’t think about it anymore.

I was wrong, so wrong.

Although I’d went on with my life, I’d never forgiven those whose actions made me an innocent victim.

Without even realizing it, I’d settled for a guarded life behind a self-imposed prison of unforgiveness and armed myself with fear, bitterness, and denial.

I had allowed unforgiveness to control me and hinder me from embracing the completeness of my freedom in Christ, making my past an anchor.

But as I continued to get closer to God, the more I loved Him, believed Him, and trusted Him, I couldn’t escape that crossroad decision.

Would I forgive as I’d been forgiven? Could I?

As I listened to the woman’s sharing about what forgiving her abusers had done for her, I wanted so badly to experience that peace.

Forgiving wasn’t about letting my offenders off the hook, but being freed from them for good.

With support from my husband and God’s limitless power and patience, I finally understood radical forgiveness was hinged on learning what forgiveness is and isn’t.

Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall Book Cover Option 4In Total Forgiveness (pp. 11-19), R.T. Kendall states forgiveness is not approving, excusing, or justifying the hurtful actions of others.

Forgiving is not pardoning the offender, because we’re not authorized to do what only God can do as the only rightfully crowned Judge.

By forgiving, we’re not denying what happened, turning a blind eye to the offense, or even forgetting how we were hurt. The Lord never asks us to minimize our hurts by not taking the offenses seriously or pretending the scars don’t exist.

When we choose radical forgiveness, we’re breaking down every wall of denial and facing the facts of what happened to us or the person we care about, so that true healing can begin.

A false belief about forgiveness is that reconciliation is mandatory. But reconciliation means both parties admit the offense and agree to restore the relationship, which is not always possible, healthy, or safe.

However, we can be blessed with restoration.

Restoration: a personal revival, the restitution of what was taken or lost, a dignified process of renewal that no one can prevent us from experiencing through the love of Christ.

God’s goodness is not tainted when bad things happen and innocent people are hurt in this fallen world.

Our compassionate Father grieves with us and remains close to the brokenhearted. He affirms nothing will remain hidden, that all people will have to give an account to Him for every action and every thought (Matthew 12:36; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

In light of all Christ has done, in light of all He promises to do, in light of His perfect love for us, we can forgive as we’ve been forgiven . . . even when it feels impossible and even when it doesn’t make sense.

Whenever I have a hard time placing offenders in God’s hands, I think about Joseph (Genesis 37-50).

His jealous brothers sold him to slavery and lied to their father about his disappearance. When Potiphar’s wife falsely accused him of attacking her, Joseph was imprisoned for years. He suffered abuse, endured betrayal, and bore the negative consequences of someone else’s actions.

We don’t know everything that happened to him during those years of enslavement and imprisonment, but we know how he responded to God.

Joseph lived in freedom and peace, despite his past or his current circumstances.

No matter what happened to him, Joseph trusted God, praised God, and obeyed God.

The Lord remained with Joseph and, at the right time, placed him in a position of power over Pharaoh’s house. When famine struck Egypt and his brothers showed up to ask for help, Joseph forgave them and everyone else who had hurt him.

Joseph knew God hadn’t wasted his journey.

Though he had every right and reason to be angry, Joseph had placed the past behind him and didn’t even bring up the past or seek revenge on those who had hurt him along the way.

Only healthy processing and peace through God’s power could have kept Joseph focused on the Lord’s purpose and allowed him to trust God to choose how justice would be served.

Radical forgiveness is impossible without God’s help.

Radical forgiveness doesn’t make sense.

Radical forgiveness has nothing to do with the offender or the offense.

By faith, we’re acknowledging that sin is sin and admitting we’re all sinners compared to our perfect and holy God, not one another.

As we place ourselves and our offenders in God’s hands, we’re accepting our freedom and declaring our trust in God’s character.

By forgiving we’re proclaiming our belief in God’s sovereign care and our confidence in God as the only rightful and completely trustworthy Judge.

We can trust God to bring all things to light, to right all wrongs, to hold all accountable in His way and in His time.

Through radical forgiveness, innocent victims break free from the bondage of the hurt that threatens to steal the joy, peace, and hope that is rightfully our inheritance as God’s beloved children.

Lord, there are some offenses and some offenders that feel impossible to forgive when we’re working with the wrong definition of forgiveness. Please help us remember Your command to release offenders into Your hands is intended as a first step toward restoring what was taken from us. Please help us trust You, as You make us more like You, so we can live the new life promised through You. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Radical Forgiveness is Loving Obedience to God

MEME - Forgiveness is letting go of the hurt - Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune Quote - July 2017“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” (Colossians 3:13, NIV)

When I started planning this series a few months ago, I’d been asking God to help me forgive a few people in my life who had not admitted their sins against me or repented.

I wanted to obey God. I wanted to forgive. Period.

So, I asked for a heart-check and began studying what God says about forgiveness.

In my B.J. (Before Jesus) days, I boasted being a master at casting blame on the people I’d hurt. If I hurt them, they must have done something to provoke me. Besides, what they did was way worse than what I did. Right?

After Jesus exposed my plank-in-eye syndrome, I saw how justifying, minimizing, and excusing my sin worsened the hurt I’d caused others and pushed me further away from them and from God.

I’ve always had a hard time letting go of the hurt when receiving surface-apologies. These poor attempts at repentance usually begin with a phrase like, “I’m sorry you feel hurt, but . . .”

It’s painful when someone claims you caused their hurtful actions. It’s like an abuser saying, “I’m sorry I hit you, but you made me do it.”

Not only is that a lie, it’s passive-aggressive manipulation.

It took me years to realize the victim mentality, common in one who has not processed or healed from past pain, often resembles an abuser’s mentality.

My heart grieved when God began to help me recognize those destructive behaviors in others close to me, and even in myself.

Learning how to embrace the art of radical forgiveness required me to learn how to process my own pain in a healthy and holy way.

I used to slip on my victim-jersey, look for hints of offenses against me, and eagerly tell the world how I’d been wronged.

I named names and shared details with whoever would listen.

I disguised my gossip as prayer requests and enjoyed when people felt sorry for me or took my side. It felt good when people admired me for being so strong or so kind after being so wronged.

But in 2005, when I first read Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, God used the following statement to convict me on how I processed my pain:

“If you must tell another person what happened‒because you can’t contain the pain‒tell only one, and choose someone who won’t repeat it.” (p. 10)

By the time I re-read Total Forgiveness in 2009, God had carried me through plenty of tough ordeals that required me to put this skill into practice.

In one situation, mutual friends informed me someone was gossiping and slandering my name.

While I wanted to come to my defense, God stilled my tongue.

Oh, how I wanted to pray for vengeance like the psalmists who stood on the retribution principle.

But God made it clear I wasn’t supposed to tell Him how to fix my offender, prove how wrong they were, or demand everyone be told the truth about what really happened.

Instead, often through sobs and a few layers of stubborn pride, I remembered how Jesus prayed for those who cheered as He was crucified.

I asked Him to help me forgive.

The Lord wants none to perish. If my desire is to be more Christ-like, I would want none to perish, too, wouldn’t I?

Surely a trustworthy King would provide healing care, perfect justice, and fight on my behalf.

He did. He does. And He’ll continue to do so.

Being committed to radical forgiveness is a lifetime process of learning . . . and failing.

With my identity more secured in Christ, I re-read Total Forgiveness in 2014 after being hurt deeply by someone close to me. I praised God that I no longer felt the immediate need to play the victim and demand justice when I’d been hurt.

He helped me process my pain through personal prayer and Bible study. I shared minimal details with a couple of prayer partners who promised not to judge, who desired reconciliation and prayed for restoration, and who weren’t afraid to tell me when I was in the wrong.

By God’s grace, that relationship is now stronger than ever! Hallelujah!

I don’t always handle situations perfectly, but I’ve finally accepted I’m not defined by my sin or controlled by the sins of others.

Being rooted in my relationship with God makes forgiving a demonstration of my confidence in His trustworthiness and loving care.

In Matthew 18:21-35, the apostle Peter asked Jesus how many times he should forgive someone who has sinned against him. Jesus’s answer is interpreted as perfect forgiveness, ongoing and complete, just like Christ has forgiven us.

Jesus shared the story of a servant begging for mercy when confronted with his insurmountable debt to the king (vv.23-26). Once forgiven, that servant went out and found another servant who owed him, demanded payment, and refused to extend the mercy he’d received from the king (vv. 27-30).

In referring to how the king responded to the unforgiving servant (vv. 31-34), Jesus said: “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.” (v. 35)

As Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune so eloquently said, “Forgiveness is not about forgetting, it’s letting go of the hurt.”

When we’re committed to living in radical forgiveness, God helps us realize our sin is no better or no worse than the sins of others.

He’ll help us trust Him to protect our reputations and heal our wounds, even when the scars run deep.

God will handle every offense and offender justly.

So, we don’t need to tell everyone how someone wounded us. We don’t need to prove we’re right and someone else is wrong. And we don’t need others to admit their transgressions before we forgive them.

When we submit to God and truly believe His grace is sufficient and His love unconditional, we can be freed by forgiveness, expecting and extending mercy . . . unlike that wicked servant.

Radical forgiveness is simply loving obedience to God.

Forgiveness is not forgetting, minimizing, justifying, or accepting sin.

Forgiveness never requires us to pretend we weren’t hurt or to allow the offender into our personal space to hurt us more.

On the contrary, forgiveness demands an honest look at the situation as we trust God to work.

It’s important to remember that we don’t always play a part in the sinfulness.

Yet, even when we truly are innocent victims, we can forgive because we trust God’s sovereign goodness and love will prevail as we’re all brought to account before His throne.

I’ll share more on how God is helping me accept this hard truth next week.

Until then, we can admit embracing radical forgiveness is hard and sometimes feels impossible.

But we can also expect God’s help.

Why?

Because forgiveness isn’t a preference or a choice.

God gives us a mandate, not an option, to forgive as we’ve been forgiven . . . because He equips His followers to be freed by submission to His authority and empowered by His Spirit to live in courageous obedience and faith.

Lord, thank You for loving us, forgiving us, and empowering us to forgive. Please help us process our hurts in ways that honor You. Help us recognize our sins and repent without excusing or blaming others for our sinful behaviors. Please prepare our hearts as we continue to dig into Your Word and discover what forgiveness is and isn’t. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall Book Cover Option 4Photo taken by and used with permission from Dr. W. A. Dixon, Sr., my amazing husband and best friend.

Meme created by X.E. Dixon.

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You can join me in reading Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, as we continue this journey toward experiencing the freedom of radical forgiveness.

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Radical Forgiveness Begins with a Prayer

MEME - Christ's love leads to Radical Forgiveness - July 7, 2017(Suggested Reading: Luke 23:32-43)

Though a friend accused me of something I didn’t do, made hurtful comments, and chose to sever our relationship, I continued praying for her and believed we’d work out our differences when she was ready to discuss the situation. When a mutual friend referred to me as this person’s ex-friend, I decided to forgive her as I began to process my shock, anger, and sorrow. Still, resentment and bitterness began to take root in my heart.

Although I knew the answer and didn’t want to hear it, I cried out to God. “What do You want me to do, Lord?”

Forgive.

But she hurt my feelings.

Forgive.

But she’s gossiping about me.

Forgive.

But she hasn’t even apologized.

Forgive.

As I wrestled with the Lord, He reminded me of the countless times He’d extended undeserved mercy toward me and led me to Luke 23:32-43.

While Jesus hung on the cross, He willingly submitted to the nails that pierced His hands and feet. As an atonement for our sins, He paid the insurmountable debt our wickedness earned.

Christ’s love paved the way for a clean slate through His unfathomable offer of radical forgiveness.

Looking on the ones who cheered for His execution‒those who mocked the King of Kings without remorse or repentance‒Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34, NIV).

The ones He asked the Father to forgive weren’t remorseful . . . at all.

Yet, R.T. Kendall states that “[asking] the Father to forgive them showed that not only had [Jesus] forgiven them and released them from their guilt, but also that He asked His Father not to punish them or take revenge on them . . .” (Total Forgiveness, p. 3).

I considered the words Jesus cried out while hanging, bruised and bloody, on the cross . . . paying the price for my sins.

Have my attitudes or actions ever hurt the Lord or others without me knowing, or worse . . . without me even caring?

Have I ever gossiped or left a friend feeling abandoned or betrayed?

Have I unintentionally spoken unkind words or deliberately wounded someone with well-crafted harsh words?

Have I cast blame or refused to take responsibility for my wrongdoings?

Have I damaged or severed a relationship when processing my bruised feelings or healing from past hurts?

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And yes.

As I imagined Christ hanging on the cross because of my countless offenses against Him and others, my complaints gave way to conviction.

I sobbed and asked for forgiveness.

The Lord didn’t need me to tell Him I’d been wronged. And I wasn’t helping or changing my situation by sinning in my anger or wallowing in my grief. So, I asked the Lord to help me release my offender into His loving and merciful hands.

No more pleas for payback.

No more daydreams of dishing out a cold bowl of revenge.

No more harboring resentment.

And no more pity-parties.

The more we pray blessings over our offenders, the more God helps us see them through His eyes of loving grace . . . and the more peace reigns in our hearts.

When we place the offense and the offender into God’s trustworthy hands, we no longer feel the need to demand apologies before forgiving.

We can choose right relationships with God and others, over insisting on being right or gloating in someone else’s remorsefulness.

We don’t have to miss out on God blessing us because we’re too busy being resentful, angry, or afraid over something we can’t change and something the offender isn’t losing sleep over.

In the situation with my ex-friend, I prayed for her to be overwhelmed with God’s love and blessed by His outpouring of kindness. We weren’t best buds when we saw each other again, but I wasn’t uncomfortable around her.

I was happy to hear how the Lord had blessed her since we’d last spoken. Not because the hurt didn’t matter or because I’d forgotten or healed completely, but because the Holy Spirit had empowered me to truly forgive her, even though she never apologized.

Choosing radical forgiveness enabled me to appreciate the time we shared as friends and freed me to trust God to empower me to love like Jesus loves.

Forgiving isn’t easy or natural to our self-centered flesh. But when we choose to forgive, the peace of God reigns and allows us to enjoy life without being derailed by tooth-decaying bites of bitterness.

There are some relationships I’m struggling with right now.

Forgiveness and reconciliation doesn’t always mean the restoration of a relationship.

Still, I’m asking God to reveal my part in the conflicts, to help me seek forgiveness for my wrongs, to forgive those who repent and seek forgiveness, and to empower me to prayerfully release all offenders to Him . . . even when they’re not remorseful.

As an imperfect human in desperate need of my Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, I’m sure I’ll need to forgive others and ask for forgiveness all the days of my life.

So, as I pray over my current relationships, I’m submitting to the Holy Spirit and digging deeper into Scripture.

Total Forgiveness by RT Kendall Book Cover Option 4I’m also rereading Total Forgiveness by R.T. Kendall, a book God used to help me understand what forgiveness is and isn’t, as well as what He says about forgiveness in the Bible.

I look forward to growing with you, praying with you, and living in the freedom and peace only possible through Spirit-empowered radical forgiveness.  

Lord, thank You for forgiving us and for empowering us to forgive. Please prepare our hearts to receive and submit to Your truth and love.

Show us our wickedness and lead us into the way everlasting (Psalm 139:23-24). Help us recognize, confess, repent, and turn away from our sins. Please help us reconcile, even if restoration of the relationship isn’t possible, as we embrace the peace and freedom of living in radical forgiveness. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Rejoicing Because God is God

MEME - Psalm 5 v 11bOn Thursday morning, I woke up praising God for blessing me with minimal instead of high-level pain. I thanked Him with grateful tears for over twenty-four headache-free hours. My body ached after a week of constant muscle spasms and nerve pain that caused debilitating headaches.

Though the painful days are an expected part of the recovery process after my recent nerve ablation in my neck and injection in my upper thoracic back, the journey often wears me out physically and emotionally.

By mid-afternoon, I praised the Lord for allowing me to enjoy a wonderful time of reading His Word and writing for His glory.

Then, I received bad news over the phone.

After sobbing prayers, God comforted me with His promise to be with me every step of the way, even if I wasn’t sure what my next step would be.

The Lord assured me He had already planned ahead for my needs and made a way for me to follow Him, if only I would be willing to place my confidence in His unchanging character and integrity.

I called my husband to let him know about what had happened and together we made a decision in the matter. As we trust the Lord to provide in ways we can’t even begin to figure out, we remain certain He’ll care for us. He always has and always will.

A few minutes after hanging up with my husband, I checked the mail and smiled when I saw a card from a friend.

Her timely, encouraging note felt like a hug from God.

I spent some extra time reading my Bible and shed a few more tears when the Holy Spirit drew me to this familiar verse:

“But let all who take refuge in You be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Spread Your protection over them, that those who love Your name may rejoice in You.” (Psalm 5:11, NIV)

Soon after, I received another call. This time, the news was great.

After a roller-coaster-day of emotions, I praised the Lord with yet another sobbing prayer.

Those tears expressed an unexplainable joy.

My pain hadn’t gone away or improved, but it hadn’t gotten worse. My bad news hadn’t changed, but God had revealed His care once again.

Even as I type this blog post, my focus isn’t on the ever-changing good or bad circumstances in my life, the uncertainty of the future, or the complex emotions the inevitable changes evoke.

When we take refuge in God, we can rest in the knowledge of who He is and who He always will be.

When we place our hope in knowing God won’t change, we can feel secure even when the world around us feels totally out of control, which it totally is.

We can be glad because our good and loving God is constant, present, dependable, trustworthy, and faithful.

We can sing for joy because He is our Protector and Provider.

We can love His name, as revealed through Scripture, because His name affirms His unchanging character.

God is Jehovah, the Existing One, the Lord who wants to be known (Genesis 2:4).

He is Elohim, Creator (Genesis 1:1).

He is El Shaddai, The Almighty (Genesis 17:1).

He is Jehovah Jireh, Provider (Genesis 22:14).

He is Jehovah Rapha, Healer (Exodus 15:26).

He is Jehovah Shalom, “The Lord Our Peace” (Judges 6:24).

He is Jehovah Rohi, Johovah Raah, “The Lord Our Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1).

He is El Roi, the God who sees (Genesis 16:13).

He is El Olam, The Eternal God, everlasting (Genesis 21:33; Psalm 90:31).

Because God is the Great I AM (Exodus 3:14), the Beginning and the End, we can call Him Adonai, our Lord and Master (Genesis 18:2).

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Lord, thank You for Your infallible truth through which You reveal Your unchanging character. Please penetrate the deepest corners of our hearts and minds with Your loving, God-breathed words.

Help us seek You and rely on You to transform our hearts and minds, as You strengthen our resolve and deepen our faith. You are our peace, our refuge, our quiet strength, even when we feel our weakest. You guide our steps and make a way where there is no way, as far as we can see. 

You will never change. You will never grow weary. You will never abandon us. You will never forget us or ignore the cries of our hearts. Thank You, Lord. Thank You for loving us in ways we don’t even see.

Hallelujah!
In Jesus’s name, Amen 

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon

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For further study on the names of God, you can visit Bible.org or the Blue Letter Bible websites.

(At the time of this posting both of these websites were active and God-honoring. Though I am doubtful this would be the case, I would appreciate readers informing me if there is any questionable content on these sites in the future.)

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God’s Loving Timetable

MEME - Psalm 130 v 5

(Suggested Reading – Psalm 130)

During a recent retreat, I sat next to my hurting friend on the cool rock bench under a canopy of redwood trees in front of a small chapel. My heart ached as she listed the trials bombarding her from all sides. Her weary smile grieved me.

Placing my hand on hers, I sighed. “I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. God is moving in and through all that’s happening. He’ll work it all out.”

Her eyes glistened. “But when? I’m running out of time here.”

“Right on time, Sister. Even when we think it’s too long or even too late, He’s going to be right on time.” I pulled her into a hug and sighed. “We won’t be able to solve any of this today, but we can pray.”

And pray we did.

As I interceded for my friend, I thought about my own struggles in the wait. We’d been praying for one another for years−waiting, waiting, and waiting.

The words that poured over my lips became pleas for mercy.

How long, Lord? How long would my friend have to suffer? How long would my pain continue? How long would we have to wait for a breakthrough?

I ended the prayer proclaiming God’s unchanging character traits. After a breathy ‘amen,’ we left the cool rock bench. We went our separate ways with a promise to continue praying, knowing we couldn’t control how long we’d have to wait.

I prayed as I strolled toward the nearby coffee house, my back injury flaring up again. I stopped to rest on a wooden bench, enjoying the beautiful surroundings.

God planned, created, and sustained every giant redwood, every fragrant blossom, every scurrying squirrel, and every person on that campus.

Surely He could handle every detail of our lives. Surely I could trust His loving timetable.

Focused on the glorious details of God’s wondrous creation, my heart-cry changed.

Use this to bring us closer to You, Lord. Use this to make us more like You. Remind us You are and always will be faithful, good, loving, and in control.

Contemplating our physical and emotional pain and interceding for hurting friends can overwhelm us if we stay focused on our smallness, our helplessness, and our weariness.

But we can experience great peace when we follow the simple prayer of the writer of Psalm 130.

We can call on God in the midst of our struggles, feeling devastated and defeated. He knows when we’re struggling and invites our honesty.

“Out of the depths I cry to You, O LORD; O LORD, hear my voice. Let Your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.” (Psalm 130:1-2)

The psalmist’s surety affirms his belief that the Lord would answer because the Lord cares.

He acknowledged God’s holiness and grace (v. 3-4). His patience and hope came through his confidence in God’s unchanging character and His inability to lie (v. 5).

Waiting on God became a spiritual act of worship and trust, as sure as the sun rising each morning (v. 6).

Though there’s no indication that the psalmist received any relief or rescue from the depths from which he cried, he proclaimed the Lord’s unfailing love and trustworthiness (v. 7). He gazed past the present moment and clung to the priceless prize of redemption from sins (v. 8).

We’ll always be waiting for something in this ever-changing life.

But when we place our hope in God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe, we can walk with confidence and embrace delays and detours with courageous faith.

Lord, thank You for Your unfailing love. Please help us trust You to show up right on time, every time. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Am I Really Ready for Greater Love?

MEME - John 15 v 13 - Photo by Lori Renner(Suggested Reading = John 15:9-17)

 As my husband and I recently celebrated our 23rd anniversary, I reflected on how my definition of love has changed over the years we’ve been married.

When I first met Alan, I measured love by hugs and kind words and deeds. I believed he loved me when he met my needs, when he gave me my way, when he made me feel happy, safe, appreciated, and important.

Then, I met Jesus.

His words touched a deep and wounded place in my heart, I had ignored for years: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.” (John 15:9, NIV)

The Father, the first Person in the Trinity, loves completely, generously, unconditionally, and eternally. Jesus, the second Person in the Trinity, loves like the Father. The Holy Spirit, the third Person in the Trinity, helps us love like Jesus, like the Father.

The concept of such love seems too vast and complex to even begin understanding, a goal too lofty for a flawed human being to attain. But Jesus claims it’s possible if we remain in His love.

Because we’ve been given the Holy Spirit, it’s possible to abide in Christ, to spend time with Him, to stay so close that our hearts are grafted to His.

This lifetime process of intimate communion with the Lord changes us a little bit at a time. We become more like the One who loves us perfectly, as He transforms our thinking and changes our hearts so that we can respond to Him, and to others, in Christ-like love.

The more I received Jesus’s limitless love for me, the more my love morphed from selfish to selfless in my relationship with God, in my marriage, and in my relationships with others.

This is an ongoing process that’s often thwarted by my sin nature, which feeds my fleshly desires to put myself first.

But Jesus asks His followers to love one another as He loves us . . . to love selflessly, willingly, sacrificially, and unconditionally (v. 12).

“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for a friend.” (v. 13)

That can feel impossible, especially when it comes to loving those who have hurt us, those who have rejected us, and those who persecute us.

When I struggle with showing “greater love,” I ask God to remind me of Christ on the cross.

When we truly consider how much Jesus loves us, so much that He gave His life for us, so much that He endured the shame of the cross, the ruthless and relentless persecution, rejection, abuse, and pain . . . it’s harder to be selfish.

Jesus reminds us we are loved sacrificially and intimately (v. 14). We are called God’s friends (v. 15). We are chosen (v. 16).

Being loved in such a way changes us . . . changes everything.

When we truly consider what Christ gave up, how He suffered physically and emotionally, especially when He willingly allowed Himself to be excruciatingly though momentarily separated from the Father when He took on our sins and took our place on the cross . . . how can we not respond with grateful praise as we rejoice in the life-changing power of greater love?

But greater love is risky.

Others may not love us back selflessly. Others may take advantage of us, hurt us, and leave us wounded by their selfishness.

They may demand their needs met. They may fight for their way. They may place personal happiness above all else.

I can’t even count the times I’ve accepted the Lord’s greater love, but still responded by demanding my needs be met, fighting for my way, placing my personal happiness above all else.

 But because of His greater love for us, God risks His heart for us every day.

20170326_172001When we first got married, my husband and I weren’t even close to ready for greater love.

We loved one another selfishly. We wrestled for the right to be first. We competed to see whose needs were going to get met more often, to see who would get their way more often, to see who would get to be happier, even at the detriment of the other person.

We wasted many years getting all we could from one another that we failed to see the value of giving all we could to one another.

Wising up, by God’s grace and in His mercy and power, we finally decided to submit to the Lord, and to one another, out of reverence for Christ, and longed to love like Jesus.

As we deepened our relationships with God and each other, He helped us to devote ourselves to greater love, to love selflessly, to give instead of demanding we get, to serve instead of scrounging for selfish gains.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, I began putting God and my husband first, serving the Lord and serving my spouse cheerfully as I gave generously.

I don’t always get it right, neither does my husband.

But God’s showing us the rewards of obedience (v. 14): fruit that lasts (v. 16).

Fruit . . . the bounty that results when we’re committed to loving like Jesus, giving like Jesus, and serving like Jesus.

God knows our joy will be complete, our peace will be unshakeable, and our faith will be secured when we love Him by obeying Him.

Jesus laid His life down for us, showing us how to enjoy greater love by laying our lives down for others.

Greater love requires sacrifice, knowing God is the only One who can truly meet our needs because people are fallible and will always fall short.

Greater love requires faith, trusting God’s way is better than our way.

Greater love leads to joy, which is so much better than happiness because it’s not contingent on ever-changing circumstances or the fickleness of feelings.

Greater love changed my marriage and continues to change my husband and me.

Greater love−that Jesus kind of love−saved me.

The commitment to greater love is costly, but the rewards are remarkable and reciprocal.

Thank You for loving us and empowering us to love You and others selflessly, Lord. Please help us place You first, abide in You always, and trust You completely. Give us the wisdom and courage to submit to Your way, surrender to Your will, and celebrate Your greater love, as we live for You−Jesus−the One who gave all for us. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

Are you really ready for greater love?

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Photo for meme taken by and used with permission from Lori Renner.

Meme Created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When He Calls Me a Sinner?

MEME - Luke 19 v 10 - Photo by Dee Reeves Bright

(Suggested Reading: Luke 19:1-10)

Seeped in sin. Sometimes oblivious. Sometimes . . . okay, most of the time, completely and intentionally rebellious.

I believed God existed, but I’d never had a personal encounter with the Person−God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit−the loving and faithful One, the mighty and merciful One, the one and only True Triune God.

I’d grown up confused by wrong-thinking that led to seeing God as a punisher, a cruel judge who delighted in pouring His wrath on people. I couldn’t imagine turning to God just to be judged, condemned, and shamed into changing my life.

How could I love God if He called me a . . . sinner?

I perched in that tree of confusion, looking at Jesus from a safe distance, never daring to get close and personal, until He whispered my name and invited me to spend time getting to know Him.

The more I study the Bible, the more I know about God’s story, the more I submit to God’s Holy Spirit, the more I spend time loving Jesus and being loved by Jesus, the more I discover the extent of God’s incredible love for me.

I enjoyed sharing a part of my journey through blog series: “Meeting Jesus Face-to-Face in the Gospel of John.”

Contrary to my past belief, Jesus didn’t expect me to come to Him cleaned up and sin-free. He accepted me, drew me closer to His heart, and wrapped me in compassion and mercy, while I was still chained by my brokenness, my fears, and my sins.

Overwhelmed by Jesus’s love for me, I fell in love with Him.

He didn’t shame my sins away or make me feel like a total loser, like I’d expected.

Jesus showered me with grace, drew me so close I could hear His heart beating, and loved me.

He loved me and held on with gentleness and compassion, until I had the strength to lean toward Him.

Eventually, I wanted nothing more than to love Him, to please Him, to praise Him, to live for Him because of His love for me.

The more I lived for Him, the more I understood Jesus’s declaration that loving Him leads to obeying Him (John 14:15-27).

Sobbing on a cold cement floor of my garage on December 14, 2001, I had my Zacchaeus Moment. But it’s during my ongoing face-to-face encounters with Jesus that He helps me love Him more, receive His love more, and turn toward Him and away from my sins more and more each day.

What’s a Zacchaeus Moment?

Scripture says Zacchaeus climbed a tree to get a glimpse of Jesus when He entered Jericho (Luke 19:1-4).

Short in stature, the chief tax collector scrambled up that tree because the crowd kept him from seeing the Lord (vv. 3-4). His status, his money, his heritage couldn’t spare him from the badge of condemnation his community placed on his chest (v. 7).

Jesus could have passed the tree without glancing at Zacchaeus. The Lord could have rebuked him in front of the entire community, listing his sins, shaming, condemning, and demanding him to change.

Instead, Jesus called Zacchaeus by name and let the whole world know He wanted to spend time with the man He knew was a sinner (v. 5).

With a sense of urgency, his tone dripping with joy, gratitude, and even surprise, Zacchaeus “welcomed” Jesus into his home “gladly” (v. 6).

When his neighbors reminded him how unworthy he was (v. 7), Zacchaeus didn’t wait for the Lord to rebuke them. He repented and offered restitution before Jesus even said a word (v. 8).

And when the Lord called him a son of Abraham (v. 9), how did Zacchaeus feel? How could he hold back the emotion after being acknowledged as a rightful member of God’s family, because of who he belonged to, because of who loved him, not what he did or didn’t do?

Jesus made it clear that Zacchaeus belonged for one reason: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (v. 10), to save those lost in their sins . . . all of us.

Why should I love God when He calls me a sinner?

Because I am a sinner.

I am compared to God, who is holy, not anyone else.

I am a sinner in desperate need of rescuing, a sinner saved by God’s grace.

Being a good person will never save me, because I can never be good enough. Only Jesus is perfect, only Jesus is good enough, only Jesus can save.

And that’s why He came, why He died on the cross, why He rose, and why He whispers our names until we turn to Him and receive all that wondrous life-transforming love He offers us.

I lived the life of Zacchaeus, fending for myself, not caring who I hurt as long as I benefited, as long as I avoided pain.

But Jesus . . . oh, but Jesus . . . Jesus called me by name.

Jesus invited me to spend time with Him. He helped me accept His love and gently cracked my armor until I gladly welcomed Him into my home, my heart, my life.

Like Zacchaeus, I’ve had to repent and even offer restitution. But I’ve learned to enjoy the freedom of complete surrender to and total dependence on Christ, and shared a part of my story in “Accepting My Wings of Freedom.”

But, the Lord helps me remember what He revealed and affirmed during my Zacchaeus moment:

The Father sent His Son to save all sinners, which means all people. When we choose to receive Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior, He blesses us with His Holy Spirit who dwells in all Christ followers.

He invites us to commune with Him through prayer and the study of His Word. He helps us to know Him and know His Word, the more we spend time with Him.

He helps us receive the fullness of His grace, as He empowers us to repent and turn away from our sins so we can live for Christ and share His life-transforming love with others . . . because we are all lost without Him.

Lord, thank You for loving us and wanting us to know You intimately. Thank You for reminding us that when we surrender our lives to You, we are sinners no longer enslaved by our sin because we are saved by Your grace and renewed by Your eternal and unconditional love. Please help us love You, live for You, and share You, every chance we get. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Dee Reeves Bright.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When Life Doesn’t Go According to My Plan?

MEME - Genesis 45 v 8(Suggested Reading: Genesis 37, 39-45)

I’ve amassed plenty of bumps and bruises as I sloshed through swamps of discouragement, regained my footing after whiplashing U-Turns, and navigated unplanned treks over rocky roads in the wilderness.

I’ve been side-lined, for what felt like forever, while learning to trust God to pick apart my well-thought-out plans and execute His perfect will, despite my complaints.

After overcompensating to nurse my original injury in 1992, I’d caused the extensive damage that led to my first surgery in 2012. I haven’t always enjoyed my current wild ride of faith toward healing or adjusted gracefully to life dealing with chronic pain.

And this definitely isn’t the first time in my life God used a delay or redirection to reveal my not-so-godly attitudes, mold my character to reflect more of His, and deepen the roots of my faith so I could blossom wherever He planted . . . or replanted me.

Change and seasons of suffering lead to love-drenched opportunities to demonstrate our trust in the Lord with our actions and attitudes, not just our words.

Shifts in our relationships, job status, living arrangements, or our physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual health can trigger a gamut of emotions, but present us with only two options: Trust God, or don’t trust God.

Of course we’ll need to accept the ongoing process of working through our ever-changing feelings, which are valid and expected. We may even need to embrace a few melt-down-moments when God’s grace is all we can depend on. But the two choices remain the same.

When we don’t trust the Lord, we’ll battle discontent, compare ourselves to others, and hoard resources and opportunities for fear of going without or having someone else receive what we think we deserve.

Fragile-Faith forces us to rely on people more than God.

It’s tempting to surround ourselves with those who don’t expect much from us, who never challenge us to grow, or who accept our neediness because they need to feel needed.

It’s easier to place our hope in man, which causes us to fall prey to insecurities, indecisiveness, and even demanding our way, often passive aggressively.

We may not like to admit it, but most of us have been there. I know I have.

But, when we choose to trust God, and ask for His help, we’ll be able to loosen the grip on our plans and encounter contentment while submitting to His purpose.

Living the abundant life Christ requires Spirit-empowered suppleness and selflessness, which goes against the grain of our sin nature.

But when we prioritize God’s purpose in our lives, the desires of our hearts transform from self-serving to selfless service.

We’ll be better prepared to embrace all the Lord has planned because our arms won’t be loaded with things He’s asked us to release.

Living in the freedom of surrender to God doesn’t lead to a pain-free journey. I’ve learned that the hard way.

Yet, bending to God’s will guarantees a peace-filled present that abounds with the fruit of the Spirit.

One of the most beautiful pictures of a surrendered life trusting God is found in Genesis.

In his immaturity, seventeen year old Joseph confidently received God’s plan for his life. Unfortunately, he made himself the star of the show and caused division in his family relationships (Genesis 37:1-11).

He suffered the consequences as sin clawed its way into the hearts of his brothers, divided the family tent with a blanket of deception, and caused his father immense grief (Genesis 37:12-36).

When faced with the temptation that comes with power, Joseph could have forced his way. Instead, he chose to trust God with loving obedience and acknowledged his sin as a direct attack on the Lord (Genesis 39:1-9).

With injustice, damaged relationships, bad breaks, and suffering trailing behind him, Joseph’s actions and attitudes reflected the Lord as the One who reigned in his life (Genesis 39:10-44:33).

As he revealed his identity to his brothers, Joseph acknowledged God’s fingerprints on every detail of his life. He rejoiced in how the Lord’s purposes prevailed for the good of all God’s people, no matter how much suffering he endured personally (Genesis 45:1-8).

God’s path for Joseph may not have been easy, but the Lord blessed him in ways he could have never dreamed possible.

His legacy of faith encourages us to welcome change and longsuffering, appreciating the shifting sands that God uses to strengthen our faith-muscles.

Though pain, suffering, grief, disappointment, discouragement, and discontent are not fun, each can become a solid stitch in the fabric of our faith that proves God’s enduring faithfulness.

Why should we love God when we’re affected by changes beyond our control, when doing the right thing leads to pain or suffering, and when life just doesn’t go as we plan?

Because every detail of God’s plan is rooted in and supported by His unconditional love.

With vision that surpasses time, the Good Shepherd provides lifelong care for His beloved sheep.

The Lord works in and through the lives of all who love Him, because His world revolves around Him . . . not us.

When we love God wholeheartedly, we’ll want nothing more than to please Him above ourselves, to see His plans prevail . . . even at the cost of our plans.

Lord, thank You for helping us remember life is so much more rewarding when we remain supple and surrendered to Your will. Please help us love and serve You and others, instead of demanding our wants served to us on a golden platter. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When the Pain Feels Endless?

MEME - Psalm 6 v. 9(Suggested Reading – Psalm 6)

I didn’t want to need a cane. I didn’t want to need medication. And I didn’t want to need help during the 2017 West Coast Christian Writers conference.

I wanted to feel strong, to be strong . . . to be content in the peace of complete healing on this side of eternity.

The whiny tone didn’t take long to bubble up: Why, Lord? How long? When will the pain end?

That pity-party mentality had me teetering on the brink of insanity and shoved me further away from serenity, so I asked God to help me submit to the now.

The only way I could experience that coveted contentment I longed for would be through complete surrender to the freedom of total dependence on and trust in God.

I wasn’t going to get better before the conference, unless the Lord decided to bless me with a miracle.

Oh, I believe He could have. I still pray for and believe God can grant me a miracle of instant healing. But I’m learning how to lean into longsuffering, not always gracefully but willingly submitted to the Holy Spirit.

So, I packed my cane, accepted I’d have to take pain medication, and planned to make time to rest during the conference. Peace, smiles, and gratitude replaced my pouting, scowls, and grumbling, allowing me to witness God working in ways I’d never be able to imagine.

The pain didn’t go away, but neither did my joy.

I met speakers, teachers, and other conference attendees with ailments. Some used walkers. My husband hobbled around on crutches, still recovering from knee surgery.

The Lord allowed me the privilege of hearing countless testimonies of how He sculpted suffering into beautiful messages of grace, messages writers could share to minister to others for His glory.

Cancer didn’t stop books from being written. Depression didn’t hinder Bible studies from being published. Gods’ faithful scribes relied on the Holy Spirit and shared the words God gave them during their wilderness journeys.

The Lord used every beautiful voice, crafted every brave story, and redeemed every broken dream.

Some spoke from a place of deliverance. Some, like me, continued to write from the trenches of the wilderness, still hurting, still hindered, but still hoping in the One who is able to do above and beyond anything we could ever begin to imagine.

I still grieve when I consider the fact that, though God is absolutely able to bless me with a miracle of His healing mercy, physical healing may not come on this side of eternity.

But as I inhale His promises and exhale pure peace, the Holy Spirit empowers me to whisper praises to the Father.

God will reveal His glorious purpose in His perfect timing.

Pain, whether physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual, is not fun. But it’s not worthless, either.

Knowing this truth helps, but it doesn’t make praising God through the hurt any easier. And it doesn’t stop me from falling apart, from grieving, pouting, or crying out in desperation when frustration, weariness, or despair set in.

But peace prevailed after I realized it’s okay to feel, to struggle, to process mixed emotions, to wail, and to admit I need God to be my strength and sustaining hope.

The psalmists affirm that God invites us to process raw feelings when we’re overwhelmed and hurting.

David pleaded for mercy and healing, admitting his agony courageously (v. 2). He despaired over the passing time, wondering when his suffering would end (v. 3).

He asked for deliverance, confident in God’s “unfailing love,” in spite of his agony (v. 4). He confessed his weariness from weeping (v. 6). He acknowledged his loneliness, grief, and feelings of being under constant attack (v. 7).

Still, David stood firm in proclaiming God not only heard but understood and accepted every one of his prayers (v. 9).

Why should I love God when the pain feels endless?

Because no matter what we’re going through or how we feel, the Lord is God. He is able, loving, sustaining, and ever-present.

We can love God through the most devastating valleys, trusting He knows suffering firsthand, knowing He suffered excruciating pain for us . . . for you . . . for me.

Jesus endured physical and mental agony, as mockers spit on Him and abused Him verbally and physically.

He suffered emotionally, after being abandoned, rejected, and betrayed by those He loved.

Christ, God in the flesh, underwent the most agonizing pain spiritually, as He willingly chose to be separated from the Father when He took on our sin, so that we could be saved through His selfless act of sacrificial love on the cross.

There is no pain we can possibly experience that can outweigh the suffering our Lord and Savior willingly endured for us . . . because of His great love for us.

David sang God’s praises with confidence, no matter how rough the road he traveled, no matter how deep the pain he tolerated: “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer.” (Psalm 6:9)

We too can expect the Lord to answer.

Whatever God’s answer to our prayers, we can trust with complete certainty that His will remains saturated in His infinitely satisfying love for us.

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Photo taken by and used with permission from Myriam Acfalle.

Meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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Why Should I Love God When He Doesn’t Seem to Care About Me?

MEME - EDITED John 11 v 40Waiting can cause doubt quicker than a wasp sting causes a welt. Whether I’m waiting for an answer or relief, faith can falter in the stillness, the silence, and even in the slow-paced progression.

It’s easy to think God doesn’t care about me when I feel like my prayers are falling on deaf ears. It’s harder to admit my dislike of waiting may be rooted deep in my selfishness and pride.

I want to know now, have it now, do this or that now, even if I’m not ready.

While God considers all of His beloved children all the time, I often succumb to the desires of my sin nature. I behave like a needy, spoiled, only-child. I insist, even if that insistence is passive aggressive, that the world revolves around me. I demand immediate attention, gratification, even rescue . . . now.

I don’t want to wait my turn or give up my spot so someone else will be blessed. I don’t want a no, so someone can receive their yes. Why can’t we all have what we want? What I’m really saying is why can’t I have what I want.

Self-first is as destructive as self-help.

Both attitudes defy God’s interdependent design for His church and hinder me from developing the selfless loving heart that best reflects my Savior’s.

These restless feelings slither into my relationships, my writing adventure, and even my attitude toward my healing journey, more often than I’d like to admit.

I know God is working in wondrous way, in and through my waiting seasons. Still, some days are tougher to endure.

Instead of waiting for His answer, I pout and start expecting His rejection. Confident faith fizzles into cowering fear of failure, even when I’m not failing. When I don’t get a quick response, I fear the worst and insist God must not care about me. What I’m really saying is poor me.

Impatience and fear, which are simply different forms of unbelief, chip away at my peace, joy, and even my hope.

If God truly wanted me to do this, He’d act fast and the road would be easy, right? Really? When has anything worthwhile come easy?

Yes. Sometimes the wait brings out the worst in me.

Sometimes that stomping-my-foot stubbornness triggers feeble attempts at praising Him that sound more like whines, “I know You can, Lord. Just do this already. If You care, why won’t You prove it?”

I laughed as I typed that last confession. Lord, help me!

Ever since I started following God, He’s proven waiting is hard but never worthless and my waiting never, never, never means He doesn’t care.

In John 11, Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus when their brother Lazarus was ill (v. 1-3). The Lord had made His disciples a promise, fully intending to keep His word (v. 4). Still, they were surprised at His extraordinary act of love. Yes. Jesus’s delay in responding to their pleas was a beautiful expression of His great love for His disciples (v. 5-7).

The Lord could have sniffed and cured Lazarus, but His precious ones would have missed out on the glorious plan that would make many others believe in Him, the plan He had set in motion since before the beginning of time.

Jesus affirmed He would remain true to His promises, even though He didn’t have to explain or defend Himself (vv. 8-11).

Whether His disciples understood His motives, actions, or lack of action (vv. 12-13), Jesus’s mission wasn’t about their comfort or meeting their immediate needs (v. 14).

Our loving Savior understands it’s hard for us to see past ourselves, so He walks with us and sometimes reclines next to us, comforting us through our suffering (vv. 14-15). But He never stops caring about us or for us.

Jesus maintains His pre-planned and perfect pace, pit-stops and all, even when we give up our peace to fret over the ticking clock and cry over His apparent lateness (v. 17).

In His absolute goodness, He accommodates for our weariness and weakness, being loving and sensitive about our feelings and our unique relational needs (vv.20-36).

Of course it’s tempting to doubt when we can’t see past our current situation (v. 37). Thankfully, Jesus patiently reminds us what He says is true (vv. 38-40). He does so many things for our benefit, affirming us even when we shouldn’t need affirming, especially when He knows our circumstances seem impossible or hopeless (vv. 41-42).

When God seems silent or apathetic, we can dive into His God-breathed words of Scripture for all the truth we need. We can reminisce on our past encounters with the Lord or ask others for testimonies to strengthen our resolve. We can consider His unchanging character in the midst of our ever-changing challenges.

Would we dare risk missing out on God’s beautiful promise to work in all things, for the good of those, all of those, who love Him, “those who have been called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28, emphasis mine)?

Why, oh why, would we settle for patching up wounds in hopes for immediate relief when our loving Father desires to give us a new life?

Why should we love God when He doesn’t seem to care about us?

Because everything we know about our Heavenly Father, everything recorded from the earthly life and ministry of Christ, everything the Holy Spirit reveals through His Holy Word proves He is motivated by the unconditional, unmatched, and unending love He’s proven to have for us.

Hallelujah!

Thank You, Lord, for loving us too much to give in to the demands or pleas that would hinder us from encountering Your almighty goodness and power. When waiting is tough, even when waiting hurts, please help us surrender to You so completely, to depend on You with confidence, so that we can share Your love with contagious peace and radiating joy. In Jesus’s name, Amen

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Photo taken by and meme created by Xochitl E. Dixon.

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