Why It’s OK To Be “Broken”

shattered reflection

Many have said that we’re all a little broken.

To some extent, that statement is true. Whether we like it or not, we have all gone through something (or several things) in our lives that left us in a very dark place for a very long time. When we finally emerged from the situation, we found that we could never be the same way again, the way we used to be before it happened.

Yes, these are the dark circumstances that scar us, the situations that Satan uses to try to destroy us. If you think you haven’t experienced a traumatic event in your life yet, you can almost count on it to happen at some point in the future. For those of us who have already survived dark circumstances, however, we know just how hard it can be to reclaim our inner peace and heal our broken hearts.

Sometimes it feels like we’ll never get better.

Emotional breakdown

No matter how much time passes after our traumatic experiences, it often feels like we’ll never reach the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. It seems to be taking forever for our hearts to heal, despite our desire to just “get over” whatever it was that happened to us. We tell ourselves that there must be something wrong with us, since there are many things to be thankful about, and yet we still can’t force ourselves to just “be happy.” Other people might tell us to stop whining, complaining, or feeling sorry for ourselves, because there are so many people in the world who might have it worse. While in some cases we might be guilty of falling into self-pity, and there are certainly always going to be other people who “have it worse” than us, that in NO way invalidates the pain that we feel in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

If your heart is feeling pain for a long period of time, then there has to be a valid reason for it, regardless of what other people say.

Fortunately for us though, our lives aren’t supposed to revolve around what other people say about us. When they fail to understand what we’re going through without making an effort to help or listen, they have no right to judge or criticize our pain. If we know the Lord as our personal Savior, He will ALWAYS understand what we feel and why we feel it. His Word promises that He is close to the brokenhearted, and that truth will never, ever change. (Psalm 34:18 ~ “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”)

Just remember: whatever pain you’re going through, God will use to make you new.

When people say that everything happens for a reason, it’s not some random chance of fate that was the result of some explosion in the vast cosmos. Even though God doesn’t like to see us in pain, He has a divine purpose for our suffering. God desires to make us stronger in Him by strengthening our faith in the midst of trials. (James 1:3-4 ~ “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.”) It’s a long, tedious process to build strength, whether in a physical or spiritual context. The end results aren’t going to happen overnight, even though we wish they could. Therefore, it is hugely unfair for us to beat ourselves up emotionally just because we’re not in a better place yet like we want to be.

Depression black and white

Healing TAKES TIME.

That’s all there is to it.

If you try to rush through it, you’ll have an exercise in futility, even with your best attempts. Don’t try to deny your pain, just accept it. It is only by acknowledging and accepting our feelings that we are able to finally move past them. That’s why it’s called a “grieving process,” not a “grieving express.”

By denying or ignoring our pain, we are only prolonging it. God seeks to help us through it if we have the courage to acknowledge our need for Him. He wants you to know that you are not alone and that it is perfectly okay to be feeling the way that you do. God isn’t going to shame you or make you feel guilty about the emotions He gave you; He wants to help you learn how to handle them. They are there for an important reason, and that reason is most likely a natural reaction to whatever traumatic event you went through.

 

However, there is a far greater important reason that you experience pain in your life.

 

Remember the Sunday school song “This Little Light of Mine?”

 

That doesn’t just apply to the context of having a godly, Christian testimony in your personal lifestyle. It also applies to the light of the Holy Spirit that you have inside you from the moment of your salvation. The light of the Holy Spirit isn’t just there for the conviction of sins; it’s also there to inspire other people with what God is doing in your life. People around you might notice that you’re going through a dark time in your life, but they’ll also be able to see that you’re still shining with the joy of the Lord in your heart because you trust God and His goodness.

They’ll look at you, and they’ll say to themselves, “Hey, that guy or girl has every right or reason to give up in life, but they’re still going strong because of God’s help! I want to have that kind of strength in my life too!”

That is what this blog, called “Do You Glow In the Dark?”, is all about – not necessarily about shining exclusively to unsaved people for their need of salvation, but shining to the unsaved AND Christian population to prove that it is possible to keep your joy in spite of dark circumstances.

(2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ~ “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.”)

It's OK To Be A Glowstick copy

So don’t look at your current condition and despair of your life, even if you do feel “stuck.” You might feel broken because of what life has thrown at you, but that does not detract from your value as a person whatsoever. You are still incredibly special, as a human being that God made with His own hands, no matter what other people (or you yourself) tell you. Your purpose in this world will prevail, regardless of your pain. I don’t want you to look in the mirror, gazing at your brokenness, and think that there is something wrong with you. YOU ARE NOT WORTHLESS just because terrible things happened to you. You never have been, nor will you ever be, worthless. God is going to use you and your story as a powerful testimony to bless other people and improve their lives. You are a beautiful creation of a loving, Almighty God, and nothing He allows to happen in your life will ever go to waste. That’s why it’s okay to be a glowstick – whatever God allows to happen in your life that breaks you will also allow you to shine for Him.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Getting Cozy In Christ

Girl with cozy sweater
Wrap yourself up in the warmth of Jesus’ love for you!

It’s officially sweater season!

During this time of year, the current popular fashion trend of wearing oversized sweaters couldn’t be more fitting. When the fall weather brings harsh winds and gusts of cold air, we need all the protection we can get so we don’t risk getting frostbite or hypothermia. Aside from the practical reasons to wear sweaters, people like me just can’t wait to unveil their fall wardrobe that’s jam-packed with sweaters, hoodies, jackets, and anything else that will keep them looking stylish and feeling warm. Sweaters are super comfortable, and they can be even more fun to wear than normal shirts because of how stretchy they usually are. Without a doubt, sweaters are my favorite part my closet! Whenever I put one on, it feels like someone is giving me a warm, loving hug throughout the entire day!

You know what else is very comforting that will keep you feeling warm everywhere you go? Jesus’ love for you.

cozy sweater

That’s right, the affectionate reassurance of Jesus’ daily presence with you is something that you can take great pleasure in every single day. No matter how cold and harsh people might be in the outside, unsaved world, Jesus’ love for you is something that is always there for you. When you wake up in the morning and see His beautiful sunrise, let it remind you of the brightness of His glory and the light of His holiness. Every time I see sunlight during any time of day, it always reminds me of God’s presence with me and of Jesus’ wonderful love for me. Although I realize the sun is not the Creator Himself, it is a strong visual symbol of His identity for me. When I’m driving by myself in the morning, and I see the soft rays of light stretching through the sky, God gently brings my attention to His constant presence with me.

Jesus’ faithful, loving presence is a soft place of solace for you, even on your hardest days.

tired sweater girl

At the end of the day, no matter how rough my time was at work or how rude people might have been to me, Jesus’ love is a soothing embrace that I can look forward to snuggling into the minute I’m alone. I try my best to please Him every day, even though I know I’m FAR from perfect, and I can feel Him smiling on me because He knows my heart was in the right place. I hope and trust that you who are reading this have shared similar experiences to mine with God also. When people mistreat you through their careless actions and unkind words, just remember Who it is that loves you unconditionally. He is the only One that you should truly care about pleasing in your life, and the thoughts and opinions of other people are actually irrelevant in comparison.

In order to feel the warmth of Jesus’ love for you every day, you must first remember to put Him on.

sad sweater girl

The only way to experience lasting comfort in your daily life is by making good use of the glorious Gift that was given to you at salvation. Just as a sweater can’t keep you warm from the cold if you never wear it or forget to put it on, you’ll have a hard time remembering Jesus’ love for you if you neglect to acknowledge Him every day. This does not mean that His love isn’t there for you if you forget about Him, it just means you won’t consciously feel it or be aware of it as much than if you had remembered Him. Why settle for feeling sad, unwanted, or unloved the whole day when you can feel joyful, accepted, and loved unconditionally because of Jesus? Jesus cares about you, and God is your Heavenly Father if you are already saved. Whether you live all by yourself, have very few friends, or simply don’t get to spend much time with the people you love, God’s presence with you is the one constant that will NEVER go away. If you’re single, you never have to be lonely because God is always there for you. If you feel like you have no one to talk to, God is always ready and willing to listen. If you wish you had pleasant company, God is the best Source of it that you could possibly turn to.

Here are some verses to help you remember the cozy comfort of Jesus’ love for you at all times:

Deuteronomy 31:6 ~ “ Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

Joshua 1:9 ~ “Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest.”

Psalm 16:8 ~ “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Psalm 25:5 ~ “Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.

Psalm 34:18 ~ “The Lord is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart; and saveth such as be of a contrite spirit.”

 

Psalm 139:7-12 ~ “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea;

Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me; even the night shall be light about me. Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.”

Isaiah 6:3 ~ “And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.

Isaiah 43:2 ~ “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.”

Jeremiah 23:23-24 ~ “Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the Lord. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the Lord.”

 

John 14:16 ~ “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

John 14:26 ~ “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”

John 16:7 ~ “Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you.

Acts 17:27-28 ~ “That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring.

Hebrews 13:5 ~ “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

 

Are you ready to face the cold, outside world with the protection of Jesus’ warm, loving presence?

Irish sweater girl

While you are busy collecting all the sweaters you can for the coming winter months, make sure you are equipped with the benefits of the most important sweater of all – the sweater of eternal salvation. Your sweaters won’t do you any good locked in the closet while you go outside, and neither will you be prepared to face the world without acknowledging God’s presence and Jesus’ love for you. God is the perfect Parent of all time, and He cares about you far more than your earthly parents ever could, so take time to appreciate Him as you’re on your way out the door each morning. Whether you’re still living with your parents like I am, or if you’re already out on your own, you will ALWAYS need God in your life. He is the only One Whom you must truly depend on for everything. Wrap yourself up in His warm love for you by praying to Him, which doesn’t have to be fancy, but just a simple, pleasant conversation with Him. When you take the time to get cozy in Christ, the cold, harsh wind of this fallen world will never shake you.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Shear Joy: Living Life As God’s Sheep

Sheep
The Lord cares dearly for His not-so-innocent lambs.

Are you sheepish?

Whether you realize it or not, you are a part of a universal flock that wanders through the many vast fields of this world. There is only one Shepherd that we all truly belong to, yet so many of us are gone astray, roaming far from the safety of God’s pastures. Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who sacrificed everything just to rescue His lost flock of sheep. His little lambs are very precious to Him, even though they are guilty of running away from home. The Bible says that “all we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) This means that every person in the world is a stubborn sheep who only wants his or her own way. Jesus gave up His life by dying on the cross for our sins, just so that we could all have the chance to be redeemed, reunited, and reconciled with Him.

Irish shepherd

If you have already made the decision to accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior, then you know Him as your loving Shepherd Who protects, cares for, and watches over you. If you have not made that decision yet, then you are still wandering far from home, lost in the wilderness of sin. Jesus is searching for you far and wide, calling out your name so He can find you and bring you to safety. You might be thinking, “Why would I want to listen to Him, when right now I can do whatever I want and go wherever I please? What’s the use of being stuck behind a boring fence? It’s so much more wild and exciting out here!” My friend, while I fully understand this type of reasoning, I must lovingly inform you that it is faulty and foolish. You may have the freedom to do whatever and go wherever you want in the wilderness of sin, but it will only be a matter of time before you find yourself in grave danger. A lost sheep might enjoy exploring a rocky mountainside alone for a while, but who will help save him once he falls off the edge of a cliff?

There is only one place of prosperity, and that is within the peace of God’s pasture.

Sheep thirsty

The sheep who have been returned home to God’s pastures are far better off than the ones who are still choosing to wander in the wilderness of sin. Although they are guided and corrected by their Good Shepherd, the rescued sheep are the real ones who know what true freedom is like. Jesus leads His redeemed lambs through lush meadows, and shows them where all the cool, refreshing springs are to quench their thirst. These places of comfort are readily available to the sheep that follow the Good Shepherd, since He knows exactly where they are, and therefore they can enjoy them with little to no effort of their own. The lost, wandering sheep are not so lucky – they have to search through treacherous landscapes just to find a minimal amount of shelter. The lost sheep do not know anything about the blessings the rescued sheep enjoy, because they do not have the Good Shepherd leading them under His protection. They are forced instead to survive from their own natural instincts, facing the perils of this world without any comfort or hope.

Let’s explore four reasons why life is so much better as one of God’s rescued sheep:

 

1. You never have to worry about getting lost with the Good Shepherd.

Sheep on a path.jpeg

While traversing the fields and plains of this life, you can rest assured that Jesus always knows exactly where He is taking you. As the Good Shepherd, He is wise and experienced about the many paths He travels, so He knows which ones are just right for leading His beloved sheep. Among the many twists and turns of the paths of life, Jesus already knows the safest route to take. Even though there are times when He takes you through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, you have nothing to fear, as long as you carefully follow His every step. The lost sheep might feel like they are free wandering out in the wilderness of sin, but in reality they have no idea where they’re going or what they’re doing, hence the reason they are called “lost.” They do not know the security of having a loving Shepherd guiding them through rough, unstable terrain. The lost sheep just keep wandering aimlessly, hoping to find the elusive happiness they’re searching for; but their efforts are all in vain as long as they keep running from the Good Shepherd.

2. The Good Shepherd takes great care of His sheep.

feeding sheep

A flock of sheep doesn’t need to worry about where or when they’ll obtain their next meal, as long as they have a responsible shepherd looking after them. Likewise, the Good Shepherd never neglects to nurture His beloved flock, always giving them the freshest grass to eat and the cleanest water to drink. The rescued sheep have a calm assurance that all of their needs will be provided for them every day by the Good Shepherd, and this gives them a sincere desire to submit to Him. The lost, wandering sheep, however, depend on themselves to find nourishment. Sure, they might find a few patches of grass and puddles of water here and there, but only after a long time searching for it. Even after finding it, the taste simply cannot compare to the food and drink the Good Shepherd provides for His rescued flock. What’s more, the lost, wandering sheep do not know the blessed privilege of having someone love them enough to give them the things they need. In their attempts to be independent and self-sufficient, they’re missing out on the greatest things life has to offer –  grace and compassion.

3. The Good Shepherd shears His sheep whenever necessary.

Sheep shearing

Sometimes, even the sheep living among the rescued flock can tend to get their wool dirty, or just so overgrown that they simply can’t see anymore. Metaphorically, this means that Christians too can still be stained by sin, or so focused on themselves and their personal circumstances that they can’t see their Savior anymore, which is where their focus should be. In a state of temporary blindness, they might even stray off the pathway that their loving Shepherd is guiding them on. As a result, they may return with some prickly thorns, sticks, or burrs stuck in their wool. However, they need not become discouraged by this, as the Good Shepherd is more than happy and willing to remove whatever objects they got stuck to them. Occasionally, their wool might become so entangled with foreign objects that the only available option is to shear them completely. When this happens, the Savior lovingly holds them with His firm but gentle hands until their transformation is finished. Afterwards, they look so clean with their freshly shorn skin! Unfortunately, the lost sheep do not have this luxury. When they fall into briars and other natural snares, they have no one to clean up their soiled wool. They have no choice but to carry it around with them until it becomes too heavy to bear anymore. The lost sheep do not know what it feels like to be relieved of the burden of wool pulled over their eyes.

4. The Good Shepherd knows every one of His sheep by name, including the “black” ones.

Mixed crowd

In God’s rescued flock, it doesn’t matter what kind of life you led before you were saved; God loves you equally just as much as He loves all the other lost sheep He saved. You are special and important to Him, so much so that He knows you by name, even though the numbers He’s rescued are countless. There is no such thing as a “black sheep” in God’s flock, where one is set apart as lesser than all the rest. No matter who you are, what you look like, or what you’ve done in the past, God loves you unconditionally. You can rejoice in knowing that nothing in this world or the next will ever change that fact. Sadly, the lost, wandering sheep are unaware of just how much they are loved. Some of them even believe that they are not worth rescuing, because the distance they’ve strayed from the Good Shepherd is so great. If only they knew that they are just as priceless and valuable to the Good Shepherd as the flock He’s already rescued! They only need to hear His kind, gentle voice calling out their name, beckoning them to return to the safety of His fold.

 

Here are some verses to help you remember why the grass is always greener within God’s pasture:

 

Psalm 23:1-6 ~ “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

John 10:1-18 ~ “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers. This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.

I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep. But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep. The hireling fleeth, because he is an hireling, and careth not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.”

Isaiah 40:11 ~ “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”

Hebrews 13:20 ~ “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant,”

Psalm 79:13 ~ “So we thy people and sheep of thy pasture will give thee thanks for ever: we will shew forth thy praise to all generations.”

Psalm 95:7 ~ “For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,

Psalm 100:3 ~ “Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

Psalm 119:176 ~ “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments.”

Ezekiel 34:31 ~ “And ye my flock, the flock of my pasture, are men, and I am your God, saith the Lord GOD.

Luke 12:32 ~ “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

No matter how far we might wander away, the Good Shepherd loves us though we often stray.

Irish sheep

We never have to worry about Jesus rejecting us just because we have a natural tendency to sin frequently. Those of us who are rescued sheep still like to occasionally run off and do our own thing, whether we admit to it or not. Fortunately for us, we are blessed to have a Good Shepherd Who loves us enough to come looking for us every time we go off the path. Since we are inherently stubborn, He may have to grab us with His hook around our neck, but this is only because He wants to keep us from danger. As ignorant sheep, we do not always know better; we like to have our way at all times. We don’t always know what’s good or best for us, but praise God that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does! He is fully aware of all our strengths and weaknesses, and is determined to help us grow in those important areas. Thankfully, God never gives up on us, even though we are notoriously strong-willed! As partakers of the blessings of God’s peaceful pasture, we should be joyful and thankful every single day that we get to live under His watchful care. We should go out of our way to share the good news with other fellow sheep who are lost, so they too can know what it’s like to follow the Good Shepherd and experience true freedom and sheer joy.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

 

The Gift That Is Always New

christmasgifts
We have one Present that we’ll never finish unwrapping, even as time is passing.

Have you ever had a favorite Christmas gift?

For those of us who celebrate Christmas every year, we look forward to the annual exchanging of gifts between our friends and families. Most people look back on a specific year when they thought their Christmas experience was particularly special. Their good memories of a specific Christmas might stand out for a variety of reasons, including time spent with loved ones, participating in family traditions, or even a vacation trip to a special place for the holidays. There is one thing, however, that many people associate with their favorite memories of a specific Christmas –

Receiving a gift they wanted with all their hearts.

Perhaps they received this gift when they were a small child, and it became a memory milestone that defined the way they view Christmas for their entire lives. Lots of people fondly remember a childhood Christmas when they got their first bike. Or maybe, for some families who could afford it, they might remember an adolescent Christmas when they got their first car. Whatever the item might have been, it probably satisfied their hearts’ desire in a way that nothing else possibly could.

However, we’ve all received some presents that we were less than thrilled about.

I’m sure that if we asked a crowd of people if they’ve ever gotten a pair of socks for Christmas, almost every hand in the room would be raised. There are some presents we’ve all gotten that we’d either just rather forget about completely, or wish we had never gotten them at all. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we don’t appreciate the thought the other person put into the gift they gave us; it’s just a disappointment that they didn’t fully understand our desires, or were unable or unwilling to meet them.

This disappointment can be lessened, however, once we remember that celebrating Christmas, and just life in general, is not really about the things we have. Why waste time being upset just because you didn’t get everything you wanted? Think about it: before you wrote down a Christmas list this year, or picked out things you liked during all the months before it, were you happily content? Be honest with yourself, now. The whole entire advertising industry is centered around creating a desire or need in the mind of the customer. Before their ads and commercials reached you, you had no idea that you wanted something. That’s exactly how their business works, to produce a constant feeling of discontent in the heart and mind of the consumer. You have the power to outsmart them by thinking independently, though.

You can choose instead to be thankful for the gifts you already have.

This year, I wasn’t quite sure about or fully interested in what I wanted for Christmas. So in the earlier days of this month leading up to Christmas, I made it a point to enjoy the things I’ve gotten from the years of past Christmases, and remembered just how much those gifts meant to me at the time. It wasn’t long before I realized that these former Christmas presents were still useful to this very day, and that I could continue to appreciate and enjoy them no matter how many years had gone by. Some of these things made me feel very nostalgic, as if I were a teenager all over again. Revisiting these items helped me to experience the joy they gave me the first time as if they were all brand new.

Instead of getting caught up in our culture’s overly commercialized version of Christmas, I chose to view it as my own, personal, second Thanksgiving. My family wasn’t planning on spending extravagant amounts of money on Christmas gifts, and in truth, I wasn’t really expecting that much either. This was fine with me, though, since I honestly felt like I have more than enough stuff as it is, and that Thanksgiving is always overlooked each year. I wanted to focus on the many blessings that I already had in my life, especially the ones that weren’t material. I learned the value of appreciating the people I know and love, and realized how special it is to make the most of all the time I get to spend with them. I can sincerely say with all my heart that I was more satisfied this Christmas with the souls of people I care about than any tangible thing that they gave to me.

If you are a Christian, you already have a Gift that never grows old, and isn’t material.

Just as I learned to derive additional joy from my gifts of Christmas past, we as Christians have access to a wonderful gift that is continuously new every day. It is an eternal gift that keeps on giving in more ways than we can imagine. It is our personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the greatest gift ever given to mankind by God Himself. Our personal relationship with Jesus Christ is not only the greatest gift that we can ever have, but it is also a gift that never loses its lustrous shine as the years pass by. The gifts we receive on earth will all eventually lose their exciting attractiveness long after we’ve torn the wrapping paper off of them. Our relationship with Jesus will always have new things to discover, as God’s mysterious ways can never be fully understood by our finite minds. Metaphorically, we’ll never finish unwrapping the gift of Jesus Christ. The joy of learning new things about Him is ours to delight in every day if we choose to spend time with Him.

Earthly things we receive will bring us temporary happiness, but our relationship with Jesus gives us lasting fulfillment. After accepting salvation, He is a Gift from Christmas past that can never fade away or be forgotten. Jesus is the reason why we celebrate Christmas, and His birth is a direct gift from God. His existence on earth as a human inspired the very first Christmas ever. Jesus wants us to keep unwrapping Him every day, so we can see all the endless blessings He has to offer. We can enjoy Him for all eternity, just as we enjoy the tangible gifts we already have from years ago. The main difference is, Jesus will still be here for us long after our material possessions are gone with the earth we live in. It is up to us to make an effort to appreciate the wonderful Gift we’ve been given. We can only enjoy our relationship with Jesus as much as we choose to. The more we spend time with Him and invest our hearts in getting to know Him better, the more fulfilled we will be in our lives. You wouldn’t leave a present for you sitting unwrapped under the tree, would you? Don’t make the same mistake by overlooking your relationship with Jesus.

 

Here are some verses to help you appreciate and enjoy this eternal, wonderful Gift:

 

Psalm 19:9-10 ~ “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.”

Psalm 27:4 ~ “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to enquire in his temple.”

Psalm 27:8 ~ “When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek.

Psalm 40:16 ~ “Let all those that seek thee rejoice and be glad in thee: let such as love thy salvation say continually, The Lord be magnified.

Psalm 119:2 ~ “Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart.”

Proverbs 8:17 ~ “I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.

1 Chronicles 16:11 ~ “Seek the Lord and his strength, seek his face continually.

2 Chronicles 22:19a ~ “Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God;

Romans 8:31-32 ~ “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?”

Deuteronomy 31:8 ~ “And the LORD, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.

Isaiah 41:10 ~ “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.”

Isaiah 55:6-7 ~ “Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Hosea 10:12 ~ “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 ~ “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.”

Matthew 7:7-8 ~ “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

Ephesians 3:20 ~ “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,”

Hebrews 13:5 ~ “Let your conversation be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.

 

The gift of Jesus’ love is something you can take with you into the New Year, and all throughout the rest of your life.

The Christmas season might be behind us, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying your gifts, especially the most important One I’ve described above. You can rejoice in knowing that your relationship with Jesus stands the test of time, and lasts throughout all eternity. Even if other gifts you received disappointed you, this is one Gift that never disappoints. Jesus will never, ever fail you. If a terrible day comes in the future when all your friends and family forsake you, He will still be there. You can count on it. Jesus is ALWAYS reliable. He NEVER changes, unlike people. Whatever people have come into or gone out of your life this year doesn’t matter as much as you think; Someone will always be there for you. Jesus will fulfill your every need, and what’s more, He’s capable of fulfilling you in a unique way that people never can. Jesus can satisfy the deepest, genuine desires of your heart. Best of all, He understands you completely and perfectly because He is GOD. No matter what you might face in the future, if you truly share a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I guarantee you that He will be right by your side, supporting you through it all. But don’t take MY word for it; GOD promises many times in His Word that He will NEVER leave you or forsake you. And that is the best reason for you to have a Happy New Year. Not only that, but a happy life also.

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Stepping Out of the Cell

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God has already given you the freedom to escape, you just need to trust Him enough to leave.

Do you live your life behind bars?

At some point in each person’s life, Satan decides to cast individuals into a prison of pain. Whether the jail cell is fashioned from sin, self doubt, or depression, Satan ensures that each captive is held in solitary confinement. Each cell is soundproof, so that the victims he holds hostage are thoroughly convinced that they are utterly alone in their suffering. The hallways in this prison are long, dark, and endless, while the only noise that passes through the silence is empty echoes of former, forgotten happiness. The air is cold and damp, making the atmosphere feel musty and uncomfortable. No matter how many times the prisoners cry out in desperation for help, Satan purposely ignores them, choosing to mock their anguish by prolonging it as much as he can. The Devil is a cruel prison warden, and he has no intention whatsoever of releasing the inhabitants held within his dungeon.

However, there is only one way to escape.

Despite the many defenses around Satan’s prison of pain, there is one Person Who is able to storm its gates without any trepidation. God alone is the only One powerful enough to bail people out of their personal torture chambers. Since Satan holds each individual hostage within the high walls of his fortress, he requires a ransom before he’ll even consider unlocking their cells. The good news is, God has already provided payment for Satan’s ransom of individual souls – that payment is the blood of His only Son, Jesus Christ. God was the Designer of the greatest master escape plan ever invented, far greater than Mission Impossible itself. It doesn’t matter if people are in need of salvation, reassurance, or hope; God is fully capable of rescuing every last soul in peril.

Yet successful escape can only be accomplished through one condition:

People must possess the will to escape.

You see, once God unlocks the door to a person’s cell, He is inviting that person to make a choice to come follow Him out. He can’t yank on his arm to make Him get up, neither can He pick him up and carry him out. The reason for this is the fact that the keys God uses to open the cell are fashioned from His grace, which can either be accepted or rejected. God gave every human being the special gift of free will, allowing man the ability to make his own decisions. You would think that the logical, reasonable thing for a person to do in this prison situation is bolt out the door as soon as he heard his cell creak open. However, sadly, there are a few reasons why he might choose to stay, trapped within painful solitary confinement:

1. Personal Pride

Yes, one of the most common reasons that people might decide to linger behind in their cell is the matter of their human ego. Whether it’s because they truly believe that they’re fine on their own, or they’re too ashamed to admit that they need help, some people tend to naturally resist God’s outstretched hand reaching for them. To ensure a successful rescue, people must prevent themselves from falling prey to Satan’s own original sin – pride. Satan would love nothing more than for his prisoners to be sincerely convinced that they don’t need God’s help at all, that they can handle their personal pain alone. Through this cleverly crafted lie, the prison bars become thicker and stronger than they ever were before. Since man is hopeless and helpless without God, trying to deny that truth makes all of his own attempts to escape from Satan’s prison become futile.

What they need to realize is, the only way to access the keys of God’s grace is through simple humility. Once people become humble enough to acknowledge that only God can save them from their pitiful condition, it is then that they can finally accept the reality of being released from Satan’s prison of pain.

2. Foreboding Fear

Another common reason that people may choose to stay behind in their cell is their fear of the unknown. This fear of the unknown can be either positive or negative – people are either afraid of being happy, or they’re afraid that their pain will only get worse. It might seem strange to say that some people are afraid of being happy; however, this claim is indeed valid, as it occurs in some people’s minds daily. This is mostly because they fear that once they dare to rediscover happiness in their lives, they will only have it taken away from them all over again sooner or later. On the opposite end, people who fear the unknown are reluctant to trust God to lead them out of their personal pain, believing that their personal circumstances may never improve. Their mindset is, “Why bother trying to leave this prison cell and be happy, when it’s unattainable anyway?”

Instead of fearing the unknown, these people must believe that the only way out of Satan’s prison of pain is by trusting God enough to take His hand. Once people fully grasp and understand the eternal truth that God is good, they can finally gain the courage to follow Him out of Satan’s dark dungeons of despair.

3. Satisfying Sorrow

Finally, the most common reason of all that people might refuse to leave their cell is that they have grown complacent in their grief. Preferring to nurse their sadness over searching for God’s joy and peace, these people lie down to sleep in their cell each night upon pillows of self-pity. As strange as it sounds, these people find comfort in their calamity, making heartbreak their new home. Instead of trying to break free from Satan’s chains of misery and woe, they openly embrace the deepening shadows of sorrow that surround them, feeding their burden of brokenness. It’s not that these people don’t want to be happy again; quite the contrary – they simply have just become too comfortable in their own sorrow, accepting it as the new norm in their lives. Their emotional eyes have adjusted so much to the darkness of their circumstances, that stepping out into the light of God’s hope is enough to almost blind them.

These people can only be freed from their cell once they accept that the light of God’s hope is far more satisfying than Satan’s shadows of sorrow. Rather than wallowing in shrouds of self-pity, it is so much better for these people to wallow in the golden goodness of God’s love for them. Only then can they truly experience a renewal of happiness in their hearts and minds.

 

Here are keys from God’s Word to encourage you to step out of your cell:

 

Isaiah 42:6-7 ~ “I the Lord have called thee in righteousness, and will hold thine hand, and will keep thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles; To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.

Luke 4:18-19 ~ “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised,  to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.”

2 Corinthians 1:8-10 ~ “For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life: But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us;”

Hebrews 2:14-15 ~ “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Psalm 91:14-15 ~ “Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name. He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him.”

Psalm 118:5 ~ “I called upon the Lord in distress: the Lord answered me, and set me in a large place.

Isaiah 61:1 ~ “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound;

Colossians 1:13-14 ~ “Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins:”

 

Your cell door has swung open – will you take the chance to step out?

Taking your freedom is a risk, and a very frightening one at that; but the only way to get past your fears is by remembering the One Who risked everything to give it to you. God Himself allowed His only Son Jesus to endure the worst pain possible during His time here on earth, all so you could have the freedom to live victoriously. Jesus’ death ensured that no one, not even Satan, could hold people hostage from Him, in spite of Satan’s best efforts to do so. No matter how many times Satan has slammed the cell door shut on you after throwing you into his prison of pain, you have been offered the chance to unlock it. The keys you need to accept from God are grace, trust, and faith. They are capable of unlocking the deepest, darkest dungeons in any person’s life, regardless of their individual circumstances. God is shining the bright rays of His goodness and love upon you, inviting you to join Him in the eternal sunshine of His joy and peace. The only thing holding you back at this point is your own free will, as the choice is entirely up to you. Will you take a risk at rediscovering happiness in your life? God is waiting earnestly for you, wanting you to experience healing in your life. Will you leave the prison of pain behind for good? Will you step out of your cell?

– Gloria D. Hopkins

Easter Is Not “The End.”

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Jesus will always be there for us on the road of life.

The Lord Jesus came back to life on the third day, but the story doesn’t end there.

When most people celebrate Easter each year, they usually tend to focus on the climax of our Savior’s sacrifice, namely His death and subsequent resurrection. However, the rest of the story sometimes gets unintentionally overlooked, the part where Jesus spends a short period of time walking on Earth in His new body. After Jesus arose from the tomb, He walked alongside His disciples on Emmaus road, and also visited some of His faithful followers inside their homes for food and fellowship.

The purpose for Him doing this was not only to provide living proof of His glorious miracle, but also to show His followers that He still cared about them and loved them very much. You see, from a human perspective, it would seem that the first thing Jesus would want to do is go back to Heaven immediately, after He had endured so much suffering here on Earth. Yet our Savior was the very Portrait of unselfishness as He went out of His way to spend time with those He loved before He ascended into the golden clouds of Heaven.

Why is this part of the Easter story so important to remember?

While it may be easy to see the latter part of the Easter story as less exciting, there are many meaningful lessons to be derived from our Lord’s final chapter on Earth. When I think about this part of the story, the first thing it reminds me of is how much Jesus loves us. He certainly didn’t have to stay behind and spend extra time with people, but He chose to because He loved them. He could have decided to leave for Heaven immediately, letting His followers believe the miracle of His resurrection by faith alone; but He wanted to show up in person before their very eyes to make their faith whole and complete.

The next thing this part of the story reminds me of is how the Lord desires to comfort us. When Jesus walked and talked with His disciples and other followers after His resurrection, He was calming their hearts from the fear they had of the Jewish leaders. Jesus knew that His followers would undoubtedly face persecution for their faith in Him, and wanted to assure them that any future attacks on their faith should not dissuade or discourage them. The disciples and other followers of Jesus would have felt absolutely helpless against the world without the loving, comforting words they received from Him.

The last thing this part of the story reminds me of is how the miracle of Easter continued to give people hope even after the Lord’s resurrection. When Jesus visited His disciples and followers, He encouraged them by telling them that the story wasn’t over yet. He let them know that another Comforter would come to them, the Holy Spirit, and that someday He would return again a second time as King of the whole Earth. Even more exciting news for His followers was the fact that after Jesus’ second coming, they would all ascend up into Heaven to live with Him for all eternity.

For Christians, the Easter story continues to go on every day in their hearts.

When I was younger, I used to be sad the day after Easter, thinking that because the official holiday was over, that meant we could no longer celebrate the Lord’s resurrection. However, now that I am older, I have realized that Christians NEVER have to stop celebrating Easter; in fact, they should be celebrating it EVERY DAY! You see, the Lord IS risen. That is a present state of being. Yes, He arose from the grave over 2,000 years ago, but He is still alive! Because He is still alive today, and sitting at God’s right hand in Heaven, Christians should ALWAYS have a cause to rejoice and be glad in their hearts! The story of Jesus’ Easter miracle is eternal, and those who know Him in their hearts will always have a reason to celebrate it, because He conquered the grave by coming back to life! What a wonderful thought it is to meditate upon! The Lord Jesus Christ provided a way for us to have eternal life through His temporary death on the cross. Because of His sacrifice, those who believe on Him can partake of His joy daily, and enter into eternity with a sense of fulfillment for their existence.

How can we continue to celebrate Easter after the official day is over?

There are many ways to continue celebrating Easter as a Christian, and not surprisingly they aren’t that different than what Christians should be doing to worship God daily. The best way to celebrate Easter every day is by offering praise and thanks to God for all that He has done for us. Specifically, we should thank Him for the amazing sacrifice of unconditional love that His Son Jesus performed on the cross for our sake. The more we show God our constant appreciation of His love for us, the more He will be inclined to show it to us more apparently each day. Also, another way to honor Easter in your heart every day is by simply remembering the events of Jesus’ loving sacrifice. The more you ponder upon the details of His journey on earth and all He endured to secure your eternal life, the more you will feel grateful to Him. Place yourself back in time over 2,000 years ago on the morning that Jesus Christ arose – imagine that you are one of His disciples, eagerly anticipating His imminent resurrection. Once you fully consider all of the circumstances surrounding the miracle of Easter, you will experience the great joy that the disciples felt when they ran to the tomb and found it empty!

What does the rest of the Easter story mean for us today?

The miracle of Easter provides eternal hope for mankind, ensuring that God is powerful enough to save us from spiritual death. After Jesus Christ ascended up into Heaven, His disciples were watching Him with their eyes lifted up to the clouds in the sky. Immediately after Jesus’ ascension, an angel appeared to them and commanded that they get busy doing the Lord’s work to further His eternal kingdom of reconciled souls. In the same way, we should also be busy today, doing our best to give the world an example of Christ’s love. While we should celebrate the miracle of Easter every day in our hearts, we should also be looking forward to eternity, and possess a sense of urgency about the countless lost souls that are at stake. When the Lord does eventually return, He should be able to find us diligent in His service, spreading the truth of the gospel and winning souls back to Him. We are not to forget about Christ’s return, but instead be eagerly awaiting Him when He decides to appear in the clouds of Heaven.

 

Here are the Lord’s own Words and promises to help us celebrate Easter every day:

 

Luke 24: 13-32 “And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.

“And he said unto them, ‘What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?’ And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, ‘Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?’ And he said unto them, ‘What things?’ And they said unto him, ‘Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:  And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him.

“‘But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, today is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.’

“Then he said unto them, ‘O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.

“And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, ‘Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?'”

John 14:1-3 ~ “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.”

John 14:16-18 ~ “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.
I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

Matthew 16:27 ~ “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.

Matthew 24:30-31 ~ “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

Matthew 28:6 ~ “He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.

Acts 1:9-11 ~ “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward Heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, ‘Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into Heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into Heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into Heaven.'”

Psalm 51:12 ~ “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation And sustain me with a willing spirit.”

 

In the meantime, while Jesus is physically in Heaven, He is always with us spiritually.

 

Just as Jesus surprised His disciples by walking with them on the Emmaus road, He is always desiring to walk with us on our journey down the road of life. Whenever we need His help, He is there to guide us and also to comfort us. His Holy Spirit lives within the hearts of those who believe on Him, so that they are never alone under any circumstances. Jesus was more than willing to teach His followers more about Him as they walked together, and He is also happy to teach us too, answering our questions about life’s tricky twists and turns. The Lord certainly has not left us comfortless, as He stated in His Word: He gave us His Holy Spirit, His Word, and the privilege of constant communication with His Father in Heaven through prayer.

Jesus is a Friend that sticks closer than a brother, and He will always be there for us no matter what, as He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. While we serve Him each day, we can look forward to His glorious return in the golden clouds of Heaven. If you do not know Him today, I sincerely encourage you to meet Him today – He is waiting for you on the top of a hill along the road of life, lovingly reaching out His hand for you to join Him so you can walk together. Will you accept His invitation of eternal fellowship by asking Him to come into your heart and save you? The Savior is waiting for you, calling you by name to come follow Him before the sun sets and eternity begins.

– Gloria D. Hopkins