Do something about it

When I was a kid and I was discouraged about something…or as a teen and battling anxiety and depression, my Pollyanna mom repeatedly gave me the same sound advice. “Get up and do something for someone else.” While self-care is vital, wallowing in pity is detrimental.

Our nation has undergone some serious changes lately, changes that have sent many reeling into bouts of national anxiety. Others have responded with anger and threats. And others are just speechless.

It’s time to pull ourselves up out of our pit and get active for others. If you’re mad, change something. If you’re depressed, help someone else. If you’re hopeful, spread it around. Regardless of your present emotional state, do something about it.

Here are some options. Each of these organizations has opportunities to help nationally and internationally. Put feet to your faith. Go and do.

http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve

http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.8481993/k.4AE9/Services_at_YWCA_Local_Associations.htm

http://www.allowthechildren.org/projects/

http://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/international-services

http://www.salvationarmy.org/ihq/zones

https://donate.worldconcern.org/44cents-spiritfm?utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=fy17_spot_radio_44cc_spiritfm&utm_source=spiritfm#amount=44.00

http://www.bloodwater.org/about-us

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Be the change you want to see in the world.                                      ~Ghandi

To this person,

Dear person who left me this note,  img_9323

First of all, I apologize for making your afternoon challenging.

And, secondly, let’s consider a few things.

I am driving a vehicle that is unfamiliar to me. You see, my car has a few significant problems right now, so I am driving my husband’s larger vehicle. I can’t get my car fixed right now because, well, money is tight. My husband and I are both ‘public servants’ and as such, we don’t get paid immense amounts, so sometimes we have to budget our money carefully.

I’m glad your car works for you now…and I’m glad you have the mobility to get in and out of your passenger seat TWO times…once to get your pen and paper and a second time to put this note on my car.

I notice that your note was written on a receipt from McDonald’s…and that you purchased 2 Happy Meals, which probably means that you have kids. I do, too. And that’s why I was rushing into Wal-Mart today before I picked them up from school. It’s easier that way…to go quickly without kids.

You must not have had your children with you, because you took the time to climb into your car, write a note to me, climb out of your car, affix the note to my car, and then climb back into your car. Good thing your kids weren’t waiting for you.

I noticed that you wrote with a permanent marker, which probably meant that you couldn’t find a pen quickly. Yes, it’s frustrating when you just want to get a quick job done, but there is an aggravation in your way, isn’t it?

I also noticed that your grammar, spelling, and punctuation were immaculate. You must be an educated person. I hope that you pass on the importance of education and good manners to your children. I am a teacher, and I have to work with all manner of children and their parents. It always helps with parents have taught their children the value of kindness, patience, and tolerance.

Finally, I noted that you ended your missive with ‘Merry Christmas’. I’m so glad that you celebrate the birth of Jesus, the holy child who came to earth to become human and forgive human sins. I hope that this Christmas season is special to you, as you have made it special for me.

Your note was meaningful to me. It has taught me many things, not all about my dysfunctional parking. Rather, about mercy and grace and forgiveness and humanity.

I hope your car will always be parked perfectly…and if it’s not, just watch this video. It will cheer you when you need it most. Particularly the part that begins at 4:18. Merry Christmas to you, whomever you are.

Beautiful mess

Her sweet, warm, sleep-reddened cheeks were hidden behind a tangled mess of blond hair. The same twice-conditioned hair I had combed for 15 minutes last night, hoping to ward off the dreaded tangles of sleep. The morning began with that mess.

And he stumbled out his room, rubbing sleepy eyes, leaving behind a twisted pile of pee-soaked bedclothes on the floor. The same bedclothes I had just washed yesterday and replaced on his bed last night. Sigh…another mess.

The spill of coffee grounds, the puddle of milk, the jumble of who’s dropping off where and when is who picking up whom. The mess of the day continues.

As I drove to work, recalling her tangle of golden hair and my sleepy-eyed fella, I thought, It’s a beautiful mess. All of it is…living is just a series of beautiful messes.

I thought of the Israelites, heading to their promised land, coming upon the Jordan River. The mess of chaos as they traveled through the path God made in the river. The beauty of the stack of stones left behind, an alter of remembrance and praise.

The death of Lazarus, a drastic loss to his sisters. A mess of emotions and finances. But then, Jesus showed up…and Lazarus did too, leaving behind a beautiful mess of burial cloths.

The mess of a heathen giant threatening to eat the bones of the cowardly opposing forces. The beauty of his silence.

The mess of persecution heaped upon new believers by the over-zealous Saul. The beauty of his repentance.

The mess of a boat of panicked fishermen in a storm. The beauty of peaceful waves.

The mess of the ark. The beauty of the rainbow.

The mess of crucifixion. The beauty of resurrection.IMG_5339

The written account of the Bible may have ended thousands of years ago, but we continue to live the out the grace of God through our beautifully messy lives. If the Bible were being written now, my sloppy days wouldn’t make the canon to be included.

But I would love to think that my faith in the beauty through the mess would rank up there with the heroes of the faith that have gone before.

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You’re doing it right when…

When I was 16, I served as a camp counselor at a Christian camp in the mountains of Virginia. I was so excited about the opportunity to do something so cool with my summer vacation! Until, mom and dad dropped me off at camp and left. Then, reality set in and anxiety cranked up. I became a bit of a nervous wreck…and stayed that way for 9 weeks.

Throughout that time, I listened to stories from the missionaries who were staying at camp that summer, stories of God’s faithfulness and protection on the mission fields. Africa, Australia, South America…bazillions of miles away from home. Butterflies fluttered in my tummy whenever the missionaries talked about their ‘call’ because I worried God was going to call me farther away than I already was…and that 90 minute distance from my mama was far enough!

During college, I remember telling my mom that I just couldn’t wait to get married and have kids because I just felt like I had so much love in my heart that just wanted to be used. Mom promised me that if God put that there, He was going to use it…at the right time. And the worry that maybe He was going to send me and my full heart to a galaxy far, far away resurfaced.

Well, I did get married, and I did have kids, and I have shared my love with them, and God has just filled my heart with more love to give away. So I started working with my church to find more ways to share more love.

Enter Jason Stanley. He came to our church four years ago as the associate pastor. We had our first talks on the playground and in the nursery. Unbeknownst to me, these two locations were pretty much setting the stage for my ministry work with Jason.

Over the next four years, he allowed me to experiment with different activities with the kids at church, delegated jobs for me to do in children’s ministry, and supported me in writing/creating curriculum for children’s worship. I took piles of old curriculum and compiled them into reusable, two year rotations of Sunday School lessons so our church could save some money. We collaborated on ideas to minister to young families, including Parents’ Night Out events and Family Mission Nights. We solidified annual church events for kids…Advent activities, Easter Egg Hunt, Vacation Bible School. We introduced new traditions…Blessing of the Backpacks when school starts, Family Thank You Meal in November, Project Sundays each month to share God’s love with various needy populations. My heart has overflown with love and outreach and ministry and love…finally. I have found my ‘calling’ in children’s ministry.

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Sad to say, Jason has recently moved. He gave me four months notice, during which I agonized about his departure. We had worked so well together to create this well-oiled machine of children’s ministry…I didn’t want to see it fall apart. But slowly during those months of knowing he was leaving but still working with him, I realized, I was no longer afraid of ministry. I didn’t want my friend to leave, but my 20 year fear that God was going to call me to be a missionary away from my family was resolved. God wanted me to be a ‘missionary’ right where I was…in my church…because through children and family ministry, I was spreading His name and His love to so many.

You’re doing ministry right when you lead people to a deeper relationship with God. It doesn’t have to be in Africa, though some people can’t wait for their opportunity to go there. It doesn’t have to be as a full-time pastor, though God certainly needs those willing souls. When you can open the eyes of fellow believers to see God at work …and then empower them to be a part of that work...you’re doing it right. That’s what Jesus did. He lead his disciples to know God, to comprehend His love and grace, and then to go tell others about it so they could live in it as well.

My last interaction with Jason at church was during the exciting chaos of VBS. I nostalgically considered how appropriate it was that our final activity together wasn’t having good-bye coffee or best wishes dinner, but rather it was up to our elbows in ministry. Loving God and loving others via graham crackers and foam shapes.

I hate walking into the church office and seeing Jason’s office empty, but my heart is still full of love to share. My list of mission projects is endless. And God’s work still goes on.

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Well done, good and faithful servant Jason. You’re doing it right.

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Prodigals

 

prodigal son 2Through all the flannel graph retellings and VBS skits and heart-wrenching life stories of the selfish prodigal son, I envisioned God having mercy on me. Isn’t that what the story is about? Self-centered, self-serving, immature whippersnapper goes off to prove he (she) knows best. Enjoys independent, riotous living until the funds run out. Learns hard moral of own life story. Returns home with remorse and wisdom. Greeted with unconditional paternal love. Goody two-shoes brother is jealous. Happily ever after. The end.

Well, yes, that is what the story is about…but there’s more to it than that. This past Sunday, Pastor John presented insight I had never known before regarding this story: ‘prodigal’ has two meanings.

1.  recklessly extravagant

2. lavishly abundant

Both of the sons were  prodigally selfish: the younger with his desire to have what he wanted, when he wanted, and the elder child was thinking only of his loyalty to his father, not the joy of his brother’s safe return.  Both sons were prodigally immature, neither thinking of the eventual effects of their behaviors. The young whippersnapper took his money and ran to pleasure without a plan for his future, and the self-absorbed elder missed the point of his brother’s return.

The parable does not tell how long the young son was gone. He may have quickly spent his inheritance on wine, women, and song, or he may have rollicked in revelry for years. We know that it was several seasons because he had to endure a famine and survive on his own for a while after.

The son who stayed at home must have been aware of his father’s worry for the lost child. But rather rejoice upon the child’s return, the elder brother begged for his father’s attention. Luke 15, verses 28 and following recount, “Then he  became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ ”  I imagine this son blocking the father’s view of the homecoming party, waving his hands in front of his dad’s face, begging for attention. How lost this son was, too, lacking so much compassion. Lacking in joy for the revelation his brother had experienced. So prodigal in his ignorance.

Oh, but the prodigal father. The lavishly abundant father. So patient with both sons in their impatience. So wise in the midst of their ignorance. So gentle in the midst of their tumult. Oh, precious prodigal father.

I know that I screw up. Daily, I want to smack myself in the forehead or on the wrists or otherwise punish myself for my own stupidity. I react in ignorance instead of waiting for discernment. I respond to momentary circumstances instead of considering enduring outcomes. I am selfish and ungrateful for what I have, and I seek more of what I don’t really need.

But for as rotten as I am, God is prodigally good. He regulates my imbalanced selfish scale. He erases my stupidity with his hugs of grace. He welcomes me into his perfect presence with open arms rather than shunning me for my foolish humanity.

Lamentations 3, verses 22 and 23 remind me

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Prodigal Father, I beg protection from my own prodigal self. Daily. Amen.

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Kindling

It was a small piece of wood…probably 4 inches in diameter, 2 inches thick…but it was my hero this morning.

Here in central Virginia, it started snowing last night around 6 and has continued throughout the day. Our woodpile was covered with a tarp, thank goodness and husband. However, our kindling pile was buried under several inches of heavy, wet winter precipitation this morning. If you’ve ever started a fire before, you know the dire need for dry scraps of wood, especially if the logs you’re going to toss on are pretty cold and maybe a slightly damp.

I brought in a few pieces of wood and began to look for paper to ball up as fire starter, and I sent the kids to get the bag of lint from the laundry room. For the better part of an hour, we sat in front of the fireplace, huffing and puffing like a family of big, bad, wolves, praying and mumbling and wishing. I tried squeezing balls of paper between the two logs; I tried shoving lint balls in the crevice as well. More huffing and puffing. More shifting of wood. Waiting, hoping, blowing, sighing. After gently shoving the logs closer together and stirring up the old ashes a bit, I saw the tip of a piece of wood sticking out. A circular slice of an old log that had somehow survived some recent fire. I pulled it out and rejoiced quietly, hoping THIS would be the single most magical lump of dry  kindling ever.

And it was!!!! That perfect little, previously hidden chunk of wonderfulness, slipped perfectly into place between the two desperate logs worked a bit of a miracle. It made the fire successfully burn as all my efforts had been unable to accomplish. Thanks be to God!

IMG_6850As I sat there, saying silent prayers of appreciation that God showed me that ideal missing piece, I thought of perfect timing and perfect placement. Those people who have showed up at the perfect time to be catalysts of change or encouragement. Those who have been in my life, doing their thing, their true purpose hidden until the time was right.  Pastors who dust off the ancient words of truth and bring them to light, sparking change. Friends and family who stay closely distant until a need surfaces for their enlightening words of life. Neighbors who have survived their own fires, to live to light another. Strangers who act in randomly kind ways, brightening up dark moments.

Catalysts of change. Kindling of kindness. We are all that, just biding our time beneath our own old ashes. We have lived through blazing heats and unspeakable droughts. We have seen destruction around us…but we have survived. Our job is not done yet. We have not been destroyed because other still need us. To be their light, to bring them heat, to share our warmth, to beat their chill, to spark them onward.

We are lumps of wonderfulness, waiting in our own ashes, to light the fire of others.

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I Peter 1:6-9

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Romans 8: 18, 28

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

Further Inspiration:

Romans 8

James 3

 

 

 

 

Chains

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When I was a kid, I really enjoyed making paper chains at Christmas time. Maybe it was the challenge of how long it could grow when competing with school  friends. Maybe it was the monotony of rolling, stapling, rolling, stapling…a menial task with maximum benefit in the midst of holiday rush. Maybe it was the simplicity of the decoration…paper and staples could fill a lot of gaps on the tree when ornaments were scarce. Whatever the reason, I liked making paper chains.

As my Christmases have become more umm…involved over the years, I haven’t had the pleasure of sitting down with a pile of colored paper, scissors, and staples in a while. Until tonight. These post-Thanksgiving days have been uncharacteristically relaxed. The weather has been balmy and perfect for children to run their vacation energy off outside. Their ages make it easier to release them to an independent activity while I relax on the couch a bit. It has been eerily calm.

While my son was biking with friends this afternoon, I was working on cutting some paper for a church project tomorrow (first Sunday of Advent!). I had a pile of decorative FullSizeRender(1)paper spread out in front of me and some scissors, some loosey-goosey little paper scraps and a roll of tape. I asked my nearly-six year old daughter if she’d ever made a paper chain. She said she didn’t think so. As she is methodically minded like her mom, I figured she would enjoy this project. So I grabbed the stapler (I know that makes it more rewarding, more quickly) and showed her.

StarFullSizeRender(3)t with a circle of paper, stapled together. Slide a strip of paper through the circle and staple it to itself. She grasped the simple concept within a few loops and began to connect them herself, just asking that I do the stapling. ‘This is fun!’ she observed after about 8 loops. I knew she was hooked.

As I recalled the last time I made a paper chain, probably elementary school, I considered how much my life has changed. How the plans I had then didn’t exactly happen the way I expected. I had visions of a chain of life events, a certain color scheme, a certain length, but that wasn’t the order God had for my life.

Each little loop of the chain of life has a special meaning, a connection to the rest of the sequence. A preschool friend who has grown up with me, my first job FullSizeRender(5)where I overcame my shyness, my few athletic successes, the job I didn’t get, the guy who shattered my heart, the day I saw my future mate, the church who allows me space for my visions, the book that opened my eyes, the evenings of mommy failure…each momentous connection to others adds a loop to my chain.

Long before paper chains were invented, Seneca said ‘Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.’ (That wasn’t just a late ’90s Semisonic lyric…) More recently, though not much, the psalmist David recorded, ‘You have taken account of my wanderings. Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?’ Our days and weeks are full of new experiences, some we want to cherish, others have brought us tears. They begin, they end; new ones begin and become old and end. But God keeps an account of it all…he has a list of our life events, our chain of events. And through those events, he crafts colorful connections to other people, those who need us…and those we need.

We don’t know how long our chains will be, but we can appreciate the simple beauty of the fact that they exist. Each twist or turn, new or old, makes another link that forever joins us with those around us.

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Update: Mueller-ed

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In a post on March 28 entitled Mueller-ed, I wrote about our church including a mission project each year when we host an Easter egg hunt. This year we were going to be stuffing ‘Socks of Love’ with personal hygiene items to be distributed at our local soup kitchen. I wrote about the need we had for socks…and its sudden fulfillment, similar to the prayers that were answered in missionary George Mueller’s life. (Read about George Mueller here!!) At the end of the entry about getting Mueller-ed, I said I’d give an update on the sock stuffing at the egg hunt.

 We had about 60 children in attendance that Saturday, plus their parents/grandparents, probably giving us a total near 100 participants.  We stuffed 75 socks with travel size shampoos/conditioners/deodorants/toothpastes/soaps and a toothbrush. (We opted out of small bottles of mouthwash, as we discovered that the alcohol-based ones were misused for drinking purposes last time we made such distributions. ) The kids enjoyed stuffing the socks and racing to put their completed bundle in the big plastic bin we had set aside for collection.

On Easter Sunday, in Sunday school, we tied yarn on the socks and included cards of encouragement for the recipients. We repacked the Socks of Love in the collection bin and pushed them to the church office for pickup by the soup kitchen crew. All 75 Socks of Love were distributed to needy families the week after Easter Sunday, as that was spring break and more patrons were present at the food kitchen.

Though we will never know who received these gifts, we know that they were blessed. Whether the health care items helped keep families clean, prepare an individual for a job interview, or aid an adolescent in feeling more hygienically comfortable around peers, we know that the Spirit of God was with them.

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Matthew 25:34-40

34‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Project Sundays

On the first Sunday of each month, our preschoolers through second graders at church combine Sunday school classes  to work on a mission project. I jokingly call it ‘Sweatshop Sunday’ because we usually form an assembly line to get a lot accomplished in a little time. The kids love that Sunday for various reasons…the creativity, the ACTIVE-ity, the charity, the variety. The notion was an off-shoot of our VBS program last summer, wherein we didn’t do as many cutesy crafts to take home, but we focused more on whole group crafts to benefit greater causes (local pediatric ward, animal shelter, soup kitchen). We wanted to carry the message of mission on past the week-long blast of VBS, so we started Project Sunday the first week of each month. After we share a lesson from the Bible that goes with our project, we explain who we are going to help and how. We say a prayer for the people receiving our gifts, and then, we get to work!

August— Goody bags of THANKS for the teachers in our church

(Each lunch bag contained a Tea bag, H2o (water) bottle, Apple, Napkin, Kiss (chocolate), and Scripture verses to keep in their purse/desk…the contents spell out THANKS. We gave these out on the Sunday before school started, which was also our Blessing of the Backpacks Sunday.)

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September–Decorations for our church’s intergenerational prom

(The kids cut out and decorated stars that were put on the tables for the dinner/dance to which all church members were invited. It was fun to see the tables decorated with the kids own work…and it was fun to see our Sunday-serious church members cuttin’ a rug right beside the kiddos! What a bonding time!)

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October–School supply collection for the teachers at the local alternative-education school 

(Knowing that many of the students in this school do not have the money or motivation to provide their own school supplies, we partner with the teachers to keep them stocked with basics. Our church members bought the items, and our Sunday school children separated them into two piles…one for the beginning of the year, and one to restock the teachers mid-year. They also added cards of encouragement for the teachers.)

November–Fall posters for the homebound members of the church

(Using a mess-free painting idea from Pinterest (top picture), we made fall tree posters with the Bible verse ‘The grass withers, and the flowers fall, but the word of God stands forever.’ Isaiah 40:8)

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December–Advent wreaths and daily Bible readings for each child

(We had millions lots of toilet paper rolls left over from VBS crafts, so we used them, along with styrofoam plates, to make Advent wreaths. Prior to this Sunday, I cut out the 5 holes around the styrofoam plates into which the candles would be inserted throughout the  month. I stapled another plate under the top one for support. The first Sunday of December, we added green leaves and made the first candle. The kids took them home that day, with a list of Advent scripture readings. The following Sundays, we made the candles and sent them home for the children to add to their wreaths. )

(picture from Pinterest, but very similar to ours)

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January–we took a break : )

February–Bags of Love for our local battered women’s shelter

(When thinking of people that needed a showing of love in February, I thought of the women who had no one to show them love. We decorated white lunch bags and added soap, washcloth, candy, gum, and a colorful card with Bible verses about God being a refuge.)

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In March, we were eager for some signs of spring so we made our own! Using a Pinterest idea, we painted flowers for our sick or homebound friends who needed some cheer. This was a great painting activity because the kids used plastic forks and didn’t get their hands messy…well, too much. (Of course, MY daughter was the one wearing the WHITE dress that day…*Sigh*) A fun way to bring a smile to someone’s dreary day!!

 

 

 

 

I love Project Sunday, and I love that the kids love it too. We’ve been doing it for half a year, and I’m learning what works and what doesn’t. I’ll tweak some things for next year, and perhaps ditch some projects all together and find new ones. But we will continue with it because it’s teaching the kids that our relationship with God reaches beyond Sunday and beyond the church.

Share your ideas of ways your church has helped others! I’d love to hear them!

Easter quotes

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A man who was completely innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.

~Mahatma Ghandi

We are told to let our light shine, and if it does, we won’t need to tell anybody it does. Lighthouses don’t fire cannons to call attention to their shining – they just shine.
~Dwight Moody

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ came to do three things. He came to have my past forgiven, you get a purpose for living and a home in Heaven.

~Rick Warren

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.

~St. Augustine

The great gift of Easter is hope – Christian hope which makes us have that confidence in God, in his ultimate triumph, and in his goodness and love, which nothing can shake.
~Basil Hume

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.

~Pope John Paul II

Outside of the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no hope in this world. That cross and resurrection at the core of the Gospel is the only hope for humanity. Wherever you go, ask God for wisdom on how to get that Gospel in, even in the toughest situations of life.
~Ravi Zacharias

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