Don’t “Jump Ahead” to Easter Sunday

Screen Shot 2017-04-12 at 6.38.09 AMI am writing this on the Wednesday of what is known as Holy Week. So we are 48 hours away from Good Friday and 4 days away from Easter Sunday.

As a Christian living in America, it’s very easy to blow right past Good Friday and focus on Easter Sunday. After all, Easter is the day of the big party over grandma’s house. It’s the day you give your kids a basket of goodies. It’s the day everybody dresses up. After all, there is no such thing as “Good Friday” bonnet, is there? 🙂

So I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit to write this blog to encourage you to take Holy Week one day at a time. Tomorrow is known as “Maundy Thursday” (and just how it got that name is a topic for another blog!) which is when Jesus celebrated the Last Supper. Then you have Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and finally Easter Sunday.

So here are some things to think about to help you slow down and focus on Good Friday…

For the joy set before Jesus, He endured the cross… (Hebrews 12:2). The joy set before Him was you and me. The joy set before Him was our freedom from sin. The joy set before Him was making it possible for us to become children of God.

And the Cross was the ONLY WAY to make those things happen.

To explain why the Cross was the only way, let me take you back to a fascinating verse of events that took place the day before Jesus was going to die. The Last Supper has just taken place and Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26:39).

This is an absolutely fascinating verse! After all, Jesus was predestined to go to the Cross. Theologians like to say Jesus was born to die.

So the Cross was the culmination of God’s plan of salvation.

But less than 24 hours before the first nail was driven into Jesus’ hand, the Son asks the Father, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”

In other words, Jesus is saying: Is there any other way we can do this? Is there any other way we can accomplish what we need to accomplish? I know this has always been the plan. But can we pull an audible at the last minute? Is there any other way to defeat the devil, sin, and death?

Now don’t miss this…God is a good good Father. And a good Father would not have had His Son go to the Cross IF there was any other way to accomplish the same goal.

Therefore, Jesus HAD to go to the Cross. There was NO other option.

God the Father did not want Jesus to be crucified because He was a mean dad. And Jesus didn’t choose to be crucified because He enjoyed pain.

For the past month, we have been in a series at our church called Reconsidering the Meaning of the Cross. As Christians living in America we need to re-think what we assume about the Cross. We need to re-think things to fully grasp what the Cross accomplished and oftentimes our church background gets in the way of that. Familiarity with the Cross has led to unfamiliarity!

We need to realize that the Cross was the only way to defeat the devil and defeat sin and defeat death. And this makes sense when we begin to wake up to the fact. That we are in war zone.

We need to view the Cross as an an instrument of war and Jesus’ death as an act of war in what is known as spiritual warfare… to defeat Satan and his works, including sin and death.

So because of that… because of the Cross… may you and I not “jump ahead” to Easter Sunday. May we take Holy Week one day at a time. And here are three practical ways to do that:

  1. Between now and Easter Sunday follow a special Bible reading plan. Click HERE. It’s a blog I wrote a few years ago that contains a harmonization of all 4 gospels that contains a list of passages to read, focused on the final 24 hours of Jesus’ life from the Last Supper to the Tomb.
  2. Treat Good Friday as the unique day that it is. Don’t spend those 24 hours like you do any other day of the year. Because it’s not any other day. It’s Good Friday. So here are some suggestions: Turn off the radio when you drive to work and pray instead. Fast from food. Keep the TV off. Spend extra time in the Bible that day. Serve at a soup kitchen.
  3. Go to church on Good Friday. Hopefully this blog will re-wire your thinking so that going to church on Good Friday isn’t an obligation that you “ought” to do but something you are compelled to do. And if you live in southeastern Michigan we’d love to have you come to our service! Info is below.

***We’d love to see everyone twice this weekend at The Eastside Vineyard Church. We are having a service on Good Friday at 7:00pm and Easter Sunday at 10:30am. My sermons are titled “Good Good Friday” and “Life AFTER Death… and Life BEFORE Death.” More details about both services can be found at tevchurch.org***

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Stumbling Toward Easter

Screen Shot 2017-04-01 at 8.13.40 AMI woke up this morning and turned the calendar on our fridge to a new month (Yes, we are “old school” at the Kopp house!).

Can you believe it’s already April?

Because it’s April 1st that means we are just two weeks away from Good Friday and Easter. So here’s a question for you… how prepared are you for those two days? I’m not talking about whether or not you bought your ham yet or if you started to clean your house for the big party. I’m talking about how spiritually prepared you are.

The reason I felt compelled to write this blog is because I have been stumbling my way through Lent so far. Back when Lent began, I had grand ideas of how laser focused I was going to be on Jesus from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. But busyness and distractions have ruled the day instead.

So this past Monday I got out my journal and wrote how I wanted to do a spiritual reboot. Even though this season of Lent has been far from a spiritual mountain experience for me up to this point, I realized that I still had a few weeks left and I was going to press in instead of throw in the towel.

So here are some changes I made as well as some things that have been going right. I write these not to puff myself up but to offer them as suggestions for you to consider:

Bible – The Bible reading plan I have been trying to follow just hasn’t been working for me. So I decided to go “old school” and begin reading through the gospels, a few chapters a day. I started John on Monday and I am through chapter 16 as I write this. If you are 100% happy with how much you have been “in” your Bible, keep on doing it! But if not, try a new approach. Click HERE for two reading plans you may want to follow (It’s the green-colored link in the middle of the page that says “Download our Experiencing Lent Handout.”)

Temple – Because of our Family on Mission giving campaign at our church, I didn’t go to Planet Fitness a single time since the end of January. My monthly dues have been donations! 🙂 And yes that last sentence was a joke, but I am actually quite mad at myself about that. So I made the decision this past Monday to re-commit to treating my body like the temple of the Holy Spirit that it is (see 1 Cor. 6:19). And I am happy to report I went to the gym five mornings in a row this week. What would it look like for you to “honor your temple” between now and Easter Sunday?

“Leftovers” – Because of the demands the church has been putting on my schedule, Kellie and the kids have been getting my leftovers. And yet, Jesus says the Greatest Commandment is to “love your neighbor” (see Matthew 22:37-39) and your “neighbors” include those living inside your own home! So I went out of my way this week to reject passivity and engage with my family by playing a dozen games of chess with my oldest daughter Faith, among other things. What about you? What would rejecting passivity look like for you?

Hunger – “God make me more hungry for you!” That has been one of the cries of my heart during Lent. And one thing I have done very consistently during Lent is fast from all food one day per week, typically on Tuesdays. And every time my stomach growled, I prayed, asking God to make me as hungry for Him as I am for food. (The Experiencing Lent link I gave you a few paragraphs above has a couple pages of fasting ideas).

Sundays – If your church is like ours, there are four more opportunities to go to church as Lent winds down: this weekend, Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter. Draw a line in the sand right now that you are going to be 4 for 4 in church attendance! And when you attend, may you experience the goodness of the Father heart of God.

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are two of the most significant events in the history of the world. And yet, with our overloaded schedules, it’s easy to treat those two days as speed bumps in our hectic lives where we barely slow down as we head toward them.

And if that last paragraph has defined your experience in Lent up to this point… if you have been stumbling toward Easter like I have been doing… today is a new day!

***The Bible teaches that Jesus came to earth to defeat the devil (see 1 John 3:8), which He accomplished through His death of the Cross. But have you ever thought about why Jesus had to die an excruciating death to defeat the devil instead of just wiping Satan out of existence with a puff of His breath? My sermon is titled The Devil is in the Details. Bring your “thinking caps” and please join us on Sunday April 2nd at 10:30am as we continue our series “Reconsidering the Meaning of the Cross.”. The Eastside Vineyard Church gathers inside Shelby Jr. High (51700 Van Dyke // 2 blocks north of 23 Mile). More info at tevchurch.org***

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Was God a “Good Good Father” When It Came to the Cross?

Screen Shot 2017-03-23 at 1.27.41 AM.pngUnquestioned assumptions. We all have them. We simply assume certain things to be true and never question those beliefs.

Like the fact that the sky is blue (do you know why?). How gasoline makes a car run. Why so many things taste like chicken? 🙂

Or John 3:16.

It’s the Bible verse you see on a sign in the end zone in NFL games. And one you are bound to see during the March Madness tournament, if you haven’t already. And if you are reading this blog, I am guessing you heard it dozens of times over the years at church:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16 (NIV)

That is arguably the most famous Bible verse of them all. But have you ever thought about what the key verb is saying? What it means when it says the Father “gave” His Son?

One of my favorite worship songs is Good Good Father. It’s simple chorus is actually quite profound. You’re a good good Father… it’s who You are. And I’m loved by You… it’s who I am.

But here is a tough question: was He a good good Father by what He did in John 3:16?

When it says the Father “gave” His Son, that is talking about the Cross. It’s talking about the fact that Jesus was crucified on a day we now call Good Friday.

So here is a question. It’s a TOUGH question. And I want to ask it in strictly human terms. So put your theology on the shelf for a moment.

Would a “good good father” have his son or daughter killed?

Think about it.

If you are a parent, you know the answer to that question. And the answer is NO WAY.

If anything you’d do the opposite, right? If you are a good mom or a good dad and if someone had to die, you would give up your life for your child in a heartbeat, right? I know I’d give up my life for Faith, Evelyn, or Elizabeth if I had to. And so would Kellie.

That’s what good parents do. And we are far from perfect. So shouldn’t a perfect Father do the same?

And yet, that isn’t what John 3:16 says. It says the opposite. It says the Father “gave” His Son. Which means the Father offered His Son to be sacrificed.

Feeling any theological tension right about now? 🙂

And of course you can say, “Yes, the Father did that to Jesus, but He did it because of His love for US!” Well, that doesn’t sound very loving to Jesus, now does it?

When I chose to write this blog, I decided to raise these questions but leave them unanswered… for now. To invite you to think. To encourage you to love God with your mind. To wrestle with assumptions about the Cross you may have never questioned.

And… to invite you to our new series at The Eastside Vineyard!

This Sunday I am launching a sermon series called Reconsidering the Meaning of the Cross. Now thru Easter Sunday we are going to look at the Cross — and the Empty Tomb — in a unique way. Questioning unquestioned assumptions about some of our core beliefs. With the hope that the answers you learn will help you experience the goodness of the Father heart of God in a way you never have before.

So please join us! Everything kicks off March 26th with my sermon titled The “Wrath” of a “Good” God??? The Eastside Vineyard Church gathers at 10:30am inside Shelby Jr. High (51700 Van Dyke // 2 blocks north of 23 Mile). More info at tevchurch.org

I hope to see you Sunday! And be sure to bring your “thinking caps!”

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The Man Behind the Holiday

20170313_132214Last week during our six-day power outage, Kellie, the kids, and I were killing time at Meijer while enjoying a heated building! 🙂 While we were wandering up and down the aisles, I came across their display of stuff for St. Patrick’s Day (see picture). And it reminded me of a blog I wrote a few years back. Here is an updated version of it. Enjoy!

St. Patrick’s Day is an interesting cultural phenomenon in my opinion. Those with even an ounce of Irish blood in their body are sure to be dressed in green today. The Chicago River will be dyed green. Irish pubs will be packed to the rafters with green colored beer as the drink of choice. And it’ll be a huge bar day for the non-Irish as well.

For years I thought the previous paragraph pretty much summed up what St. Patrick’s Day was supposed to be all about. Sure, I knew it was named after some Irish guy named Patrick, but I honestly had no idea what he did to get himself a holiday on our calendars.

Then I did some research and was blown away. And that’s why I am writing this blog. To give you a snapshot of the man behind the holiday.

St. Patrick was born in the 4th century in Scotland (he died on March 17, 461… hence the reason why St. Patrick’s Day is March 17 each year).

He was born into a wealthy home and lived a life of privilege. His family’s money came from the profession of Patrick’s father — he was an officer in the Roman army.

However, when Patrick was 16-years-old, everything changed. Patrick was captured by Irish raiders who were attacking his family’s estate and he was subsequently transported to Ireland and sold into slavery.

Can you imagine that? Going from a life of privilege to a life of chains.

For the next 6 years, Patrick was a slave in Ireland.

But in his 7th year of captivity, in his memoirs Patrick described how he had a dream where a voice spoke to him — God’s voice — and told him to escape and how to do so. The details are sketchy but somehow he made it back to his homeland. Here is where the story becomes fascinating….

God was not done speaking to Patrick.

While back home safe and sound in Scotland, Patrick had another dream. He felt God told him to return to Ireland as a missionary! And Patrick said YES.

He began his religious training which led to his ordination as a priest and then a bishop. In 432 A.D. Bishop Patrick returned to the land where he was enslaved (imagine that!) to share the love of Jesus Christ with the Irish. God blessed his obedience with a fruitful ministry.

In fact, books have been written including How The Irish Saved Civilization that credit Patrick’s missionary efforts for saving Europe and Western Civilization as we know it from the Huns and other barbarian tribes.

You see, St. Patrick’s Day should be about much more than green beer and clothing. It should be a reminder to all of us that God calls us to radical obedience. It should be a reminder that “Faith” is spelled R-I-S-K. It should be a reminder of Jesus’ words: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

***St. Patrick had no doubt what his mission was. What about you? What’s your purpose in life? And how does it relate to the mission Jesus said He had, a mission He says He actually completed BEFORE He went to the Cross? My sermon is titled “The End of the Beginning.” Please come to church this Sunday March 19, 2017 at 10:30am… and stay for the party! We’ll have catered lunch, entertainment and fun for “children” of all ages including our Family On Mission campaign reveal! More info at tevchurch.org***

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Six Nights Without Electricity

20170313_203903

What our thermostat read the moment the power came back on

What steals your joy? What ruins your day? What overwhelms you? And would not having electricity in your home for six days straight be an answer to “all of the above”?

For those of you who know our story, I am not ask those questions hypothetically.

Due to epic winds that battered Michigan last week, the power went out at our house on Wednesday March 8th and it did not come back on until Monday March 13th.

Six nights without power, totaling 127 hours.

But I’m not writing this blog to complain or to remind everyone that a billion people around the world don’t have electricity to start with. I’m writing for another reason.

Because during that power outage, God taught me a lot.

To explain what I mean by that, I need to take your eyes off of March 2017 and look into eternity. Here is what Jesus said:

My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14:2-3)

That is the future for the children of God. And with this reality in mind, here is a quote from theologian Gordon Fee from his book God’s Empowering Presence:

Such future-oriented people live in the present in a way different from the rest . . . so confident of the future that they can pour themselves into the present with utter abandon, full of joy and peace, because nothing in the present can ultimately overwhelm them. 

I love that quote, although it convicted me big time. Because I don’t live like that. I want to. But I don’t. So I thought I’d invite you to be convicted as well! 🙂 So here a question for you to reflect on: To what degree do you experience life that is full of joy and peace, because nothing in the present can ultimately overwhelm you?

In other words, no matter the struggle… the diagnosis… the loss… the relational problems… the uncertainty… the unmet expectation… nothing in the present should ultimately overwhelm us because of our inheritance of Heaven.

And not only that, but we should be filled with joy and peace and live our lives with utter abandon. Once again, that is the goal and I am far from living that way 24/7.

Going back to the power outage this past week, I became convinced more than ever of the truth of this Scripture: And Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:13).

God wants us to be like little children just like my three incredible daughters Faith, Evelyn, and Elizabeth (ages 9, 8, and 6).

When the power went out, yes it disrupted their lives, yes it made things more complicated, yes it kept them from doing some of things they wanted to do that week. But here is the key: The girls were so confident in Kellie and me — that we were a good good father and mother — that they had no fear, no worry, no concern. They weren’t overwhelmed by the power outage. Not by a long shot. Instead they were full of joy and peace.

In fact, as I was talking to Evelyn (age 8) just after we lost power on Wednesday, I told her I wanted her to pray that we would get our power back on (because she is a prayer warrior even at such a young age). She replied, “I’m not sure I want to pray that dad. Because if we get our power back, then we won’t get to have a sleepover at Grandma’s!” 🙂

And sure enough, we not only had one sleepover at Grandma Linda’s we had five more sleepovers at Grandma Kopp’s. In their eyes, we should lose our power more often! 🙂

As I reflected on the power outage and how the girls handled it, I realized God wants us to have that same level of fearless faith and complete trust in Him.

Even when things don’t go right.

And in writing that I realize sometimes things go really wrong. Thankfully, they didn’t in this case. Even though our house got down to 45 degrees, it didn’t get cold enough for our pipes to freeze and burst. And when the power came back on, our furnace fired right up.

But sometimes things really do go wrong. You know that. I know that. And the reason they do isn’t because God isn’t a good good Father, but because we live in a spiritual battle, far from Eden. In Mere Christianity C. S. Lewis wrote, “Enemy occupied territory – that is what this world is.”

So when things go really bad, I cling to this verse: 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… (Romans 8:28).

Our Father in Heaven doesn’t cause the bad things that happen. But when they do, He is always at work. And good will ultimately come out of every bad thing. Because God is good.

***This coming Sunday at The Eastside Vineyard Church is going to be a special one for a number of reasons: it’s the final day of our Family on Mission series (I can’t wait to preach my sermon!)… it’s Pledge Sunday for our future building… and it’s an all-church party & celebration. We are praying that over 200 people from our “immediate” and “extended” church family COME to church at 10:30am… and then STAY for the party! Lunch is being catered. Plus, there will be fun for God’s “children” of all ages! More info at tevchurch.org***

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How a Broken Kitchen Faucet Became a Blessing

20170306_084141I am hoping the title of this blog grabbed your attention. 🙂 Because that is exactly what happened this weekend. In the midst of a disaster of a home repair project, God taught me a lesson about thankfulness that I wanted to share with you.

I’ll be the first to admit I am not a handyman. 🙂 My dad was able to do every kind of home repair project you could think of, but unfortunately those skills and abilities weren’t passed down to me.

So I shouldn’t have been surprised that a minor home repair that ought to have taken about an hour to do this past Saturday turning into a 20-hour monster project that lasted through Monday. 🙂

It was one of those plumbing projects where pretty much everything went wrong than could have went wrong: faulty shut-off valves, water spraying everywhere, a kitchen sink that the previous homeowner glued down with “Liquid Nails” for some reason, and more.

By noon on Saturday things had begun to unravel and I knew my weekend was going to be spent in the kitchen with work clothes on. I had about a one-hour long “pity party” as the project began and then I got to work.

Not just the work to fix the problem but the work of thanksgiving.

Sometimes being thankful is easy. When everything is going great in life, gratitude just kind of bubbles up in your soul.

But other times being thankful is hard work. Because you need to choose to shift your thinking and count your blessings, instead of being consumed by the negative and the things that aren’t going right. This is what the Apostle Paul meant when he said we need to “take every thought captive” (2 Cor. 10:5).

Here is one example of the hard work of thanksgiving… because of a faulty shut-off valve under our kitchen sink, I had to shut off the main water supply to our house on Saturday around noon. That meant we had no running water for the better part of that day. And boy oh boy did that disrupt our lives!

So it would have been EASY to stew about not having running water. But instead I felt a nudge from God, reminding me that 780 million people around the world don’t have access to clean running water – not for just for 10 hours on a Saturday – but for their entire lives. So I began to count my blessings. The blessings of running water and beyond…

…Like the blessing of friends. I was able to borrow some power tools from a friend who attends our church. And then later on that day he came over to help because I was way over my head. And he stayed until almost midnight on Saturday and came back the following day for several more hours. (Thanks Jeff!)

And I counted my blessings of having a kitchen sink itself. Because on Sunday morning before church, the sink project was far from finished and I needed water to prep breakfast. So I was forced to rinse off hardboiled eggs in our bathroom sink. As I did so, I began to thank God for a blessing I never counted once in my life prior to that moment: having a kitchen sink and faucet in our house. Like many things in life, that was something I just always took for granted.

So throughout the weekend I continued the hard work of thanksgiving. Because frustration and agitation were continually knocking on the door of my mind. And sometimes I let them in. And the only way I could kick those thoughts out was to be thankful. To count my blessings.

Like being healthy enough to do this project in the first place… like carrying the porcelain sink to the trash (I never would have thought it weighed so much!). And having a PT Cruiser to drive to the hardware store (3 different times!). And for money to be able to purchase the parts I needed.

I write this blog to encourage you and to encourage me to count our blessings today. It’s so easy to get caught up in the frustrating things of life. To focus on the negative stuff. To allow our joy to be stolen from us.

But the reality is you are blessed…and I am blessed. Blessed beyond belief. So take some time today to reflect today on the ways God’s has blessed you, the big ways and maybe especially the small ways that are so easy to take for granted. Like having access to clean running water. And a kitchen sink.

***A classic story in the Bible is often called the “Parable of the Prodigal Son.” But there’s a better title, a more accurate one. It should be known as the “Parable of the Prodigal Father” once you understand what “prodigal” really means! (Hint: the key is found in this verse from the story: “everything I have is yours” (v.15). Because the father in the parable didn’t just say that to his son. God the Father is saying the same thing to us! My sermon this Sunday is titled The Parable of the Prodigal… Father???” Please join us on March 12th at 10:30am (EDT) at The Eastside Vineyard Church. And be sure to “spring forward” on Saturday night so you aren’t an hour late for church! More info at tevchurch.org***

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Choosing Evelyn Over a TV at Sam’s Club

Our culture is a culture of distraction. And many times the distractions of the world keep us from loving those right around us. Let me explain…

On February 19th our daughter Evelyn turned 8-years-old! She wanted a birthday cake from Sam’s Club so while her two sisters were at Grandma Linda’s one evening, Kellie and I drove with Evelyn to go pick one out.

20170218_122515When you walk into Sam’s Club you are greeted by row after row of big screen TVs (I remember back when I was a kid how it was such a big deal when our family upgraded from a 19” to 25” TV set. That was a HUGE size back then. How things have changed!)

So ten seconds into our journey into Sam’s Club I see the TVs and thoughts flooded my mind that went something like this: Peel off from Evelyn and Kellie and check out those TVs for a bit. Then you can speed walk to the back of the store and catch up with them in a few minutes. And Evelyn will be looking through the cake book anyway, so she won’t miss you.

As quickly as I entertained those thoughts I felt a nudge from God to resist that temptation, because that’s what it was. A temptation. Not a temptation to do something horrible. But a temptation to embrace distraction.

So I made the choice to stick with two of the most important people in my life.

And then God ambushed me.

Just a few seconds after I made the decision to walk past the TVs and head back to the bakery together, Evelyn reached over and grabbed my hand. And she and I held hands all the way back to the bakery. It was a long walk to the back corner of the store and I was thankful for the long walk because my little girl wanted to hold her daddy’s hand the entire way!

When we got the bakery she let go of my hand and started going through the cake book. After much thought and deliberation, she landed on a Minion cake. 🙂

dsc03190-4But as she was looking at the various cake choices, my mind was not focused on cakes but on these thoughts: I almost missed that gift. I almost missed the opportunity to hold the hand of my little girl because I almost chose to look at a bunch of TVs that I had no intention of buying! 

I share that story to challenge you as I challenge myself. Because that was one opportunity I chose right. But there are many times every day I am sure I choose wrong. I choose to be distracted by things of the world instead of “loving my neighbor” whether my neighbor is Kellie, our daughters, other loved ones, and more.

I am guessing you are in the same boat as I am.

So may you and I ask God to speak to us in His still, small voice all day long. So that we would be tuned into it and be lead by it and not miss opportunities to show God’s love in practical ways to others. And to experience God’s love in small ways and big ways. Like the small way — which really was a big way — of holding the hand of someone you love.

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. – Galatians 5:6

***Sons and daughters of the King of the Universe. That is how the Bible describes us! The Apostle Paul wrote how we are “co-heirs with Christ” (really think about what that means for a minute!). But there is an enemy of our souls that doesn’t want us to embrace those truths. Satan – the first orphan – wants us to live like orphans instead of living as children of God. Please join us at 10:30am on March 5th for my sermon titled “Living Like Orphans in God’s House.” More info at tevchurch.org***

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