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My Southern-Fried Faith

In the south, we fry anything and everything. If it walks, runs, jumps, swims, or flies we will roll it in flour or cornmeal and drop it in a skillet or Fry Daddy. In addition to the commonly known fare, I’ve also eaten fried alligator, squirrel, dove, rabbit, and crawfish.

Side note for context: I was born and raised in northern Louisiana. And yes, watching Duck Dynasty is like attending a family reunion.

FaithIn many places in the south, “fry” is the default method of cooking. Unless otherwise requested, your meat or vegetable and sometimes even your bread and dessert get baptized in boiling oil. It’s simply assumed. After all, everything is better when it’s fried.

When I was growing up, I internalized the “fry principle” and a host of other southern assumptions. For instance, tea is always iced, right hands go over hearts when a flag passes by, pick-up trucks are perfectly acceptable prom night transportation, and good people go to church.

From infancy my parents faithfully took me to Sunday School, worship service, Vacation Bible School, and Wednesday night prayer meeting. I memorized Bible verses, earned high attendance pins, and wore wire hanger angel wings covered with gold garland in the Christmas pageant.

Church service and attendance wove through the fabric of our family. The question of whether or not we would go on any given Sunday was never raised because we were a “church family.” This faithful commitment to church hindered my faith.

Please don’t misunderstand me here. The family my husband and I raised could be described as a “church family.” And I would not want it any other way. But while both might look the same on the surface, a drastic difference exists between my childhood church attendance and my adult faith.

Inside-Out Christianity

During the first half of my life, I attended church because I was what a “good Christian girl.” To me, Christianity meant saying the right things and doing what everyone expected. And that’s exactly what I did. In fact, my brother sarcastically dubbed me “Sister Mary Kathryn.” And although Mary Kathryn is indeed my given name, I’m sure my parents never meant it to be used as a synonym for Miss Goody Two-shoes.

Although I accepted Jesus as my Savior when I was eight, I experienced little to no spiritual growth. The rich relationship I wanted with Christ eluded me. Something vital was missing. Connected to church, I still felt disconnected from God. I had no real sense of God’s presence. I could see the kind of passionate, dynamic faith I longed to have in other’s lives.

But despite many weak attempts to pump up my own faith, it remained dry and flat. Even though I had been taught differently, I had internalized that faith was what you do. I missed the part about it being all about Who you know.

Relationship of Faith Over Religion

“Doing” is a human’s default setting. We like to make lists and check off the items, proving to ourselves that we have accomplished something. We can perform the outward motions of faith without actively pursuing the object of our faith.

Religion cannot satisfy. Unless our works of faith flow naturally out of a vital relationship with our Maker it is merely religious ritual. We were created for relationship, not outward trappings of religion. Faith that does not produce these kinds of works is dead and useless (James 1:20). But religious works performed from a sense of duty or habit only sap our spiritual strength, leaving our faith dry, weak, and flat.

Setting Assumptions Aside

 Over the years, I’ve learned that some southern assumptions of my childhood were accurate and some needed a bit of adjustment. For instance, while a few things are indeed glorious fried, the flavor of most food is best appreciated when it is grilled, sautéed, or baked, and a mug of hot herbal tea soothes a sore throat on a cold day. But, I still cover my heart in respect for the flag and my son took his date to the prom in his pick-up.

Although the Bible Belt culture of my north Louisiana childhood is less influential today, religiosity can still hinder true relationship with Jesus. I had to set religion aside and embrace relationship with the One who died to save me. Religion alone is as dry as yesterday’s toast. But relationship with the living Savior is exciting, satisfying, and yes, passionate.

Have you ever struggled to move past religion into a real relationship with Jesus? If so, how did that go??

This post is an excerpt from Kathy’s book “Fed Up with Flat Faith: 10 Attitudes and Actions to Pump Up Your Faith.”

 

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We Are Not “All God’s Children”

All God's ChildrenI hear it all the time: “We are all God’s children!” Sounds good, doesn’t it? That would be great! All humanity united in one family. With one Father.

Just one problem with that. That’s not what the Bible teaches.

Yes, all humans are creatures of God. We all belong to Him because He formed and fashioned us. We were made by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16). Made in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). Made for His glory (Isaiah 43:7).

And yes, God loves all people (John 3:16). He longs to be in right relationship with each and every individual (2 Peter 3:9). He desires that all people come to eternal salvation through Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:3-6). In fact, He desires this so much that while everyone was still in utter rebellion against Him, God sent His Son to die to save us (Romans 5:8). That’s how much He loves us. That’s how much He loves you.

But not all people are children of God.

The Bible makes a clear distinction between those who are “God’s children” and those who are not. Only those born by God’s Spirit through faith in Jesus are children of God (1 John 3:1-10, Galatians 3:26, John 8:34-41).

“To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” John 1:12-13, NIV

The Bible also tells us what a child of God looks like. How they will behave. Here is a short list of some of what God’s Word says.

5 Characteristics of a “child of God”

  1. They love Jesus (John 8:42).
  2. They believe that Jesus is the Savior (1 John 5:1).
  3. They love God’s children (1 John 3:10, 5:1).
  4. They are controlled by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9, 14).
  5. They obey God (1 John 2:29, 3:7-9).

Are you a child of God? You don’t have to wonder. God longs for you to receive His gift of salvation and be assured of eternity (Find out more here.) And there are so many benefits in being a child of God!

8 Benefits of being a “Child of God”

  1. God’s children have been “redeemed,” set free from sin and eternal death by Jesus’ sacrificial death (Galatians 4:4-5).
  2. God’s children are His heirs, inheriting spiritual rights and privileges and eternal life (Romans 8:17).
  3. God’s children have direct access to their Father (Galatians 4:5-7)..
  4. God’s children have a special intimacy with their Father (Galatians 4:6).
  5. God’s children will grow to become like Jesus (1 John 3:2).
  6. God’s children have peace, unity, and equal status with each other (Galatians 3:26-29).
  7. God’s children will experience a future resurrection (Romans 8:11).
  8. God’s children have the presence and confirmation of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:16).

Have you every heard the incorrect statement “We are all God’s children?” Maybe you’ve said it. Why is it important that we understand the truth?

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5 Ways God Uses Trials in a Christian’s Life

trialsDoes God care about the trials you endure in this life? Absolutely! God sees every detail of your life. He knows your every need and He cares deeply about each one.

However, as much as He cares about your physical needs and condition, He cares even more about your spiritual condition. His first desire and primary purpose is to transform His children into the image of Christ. (See Romans 8:29.) The spiritual and eternal take priority over the physical and temporary. But how does God do the work?

Let’s consider a physical analogy. If we want to strengthen our muscles we must add “stress.” When we lift a heavier load than our muscles have lifted before, a physical process begins to adapt the needed muscles to the new load. Without stress, our muscles are content with their current size and strength. Add stress, and our muscles begin to change to meet the need.

Our spiritual strength and character are similar. The difficulties of life “stress” our faith. Trials give our faith a work out like heavy loads work our muscles. As we faithfully endure, we grow spiritually stronger. Without difficulty, our faith tends to stagnate. Do you want stronger faith? You need stress.

Trials work our faith. Like using our muscles to carry heavier loads make them stronger, the trials of life give our faith a workout. God will use them to grow and develop our faith so we will be spiritually mature, not lacking anything!

Our gracious God never wastes a trial He permits to enter our lives. If we will cooperate, He will use every difficulty, heartache, and hardship for our good and His glory.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. James 1:2-4, NIV

 5 Ways God Uses Trials in Our Lives

  1. God uses them to break our independence and foster our dependence on Him.
  2. God uses them to purify our faith and develop our moral character.
  3. God uses them to test, prove, and strengthen our faith in Him.
  4. God uses them to prepare us for His purposes.
  5. God works through them to prove Himself powerful, faithful, and reliable.

God is not finished with you yet. And He is definitely not finished with me. I know more difficulties lie ahead. Honestly, I wish God had chosen to work another way. But I will choose to trust His infinite wisdom and submit to His refining process. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to waste any trial or difficulty!

In what ways has God used trials and difficulties in your life to refine your faith and character? To make you more like Jesus!?

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The American Divide: A Prayer Guide

prayer guideThere’s a great divide in America today. Misunderstanding, hate, and violence separate black, white, and blue.

This divide has grown larger in just the last couple of weeks. We’ve watched it on the news. We’ve seen it in the streets of our cities. Perhaps we’ve even taken sides.

I feel helpless. The problem is far greater than my wisdom and ability.

But I do know One who is able. He knows exactly how to foster understanding, transform hearts, and bring peace.

I feel compelled to pray. To petition the Creator to do what only He can do. Will you join me?

10 Prayer Prompt Categories

The following list of prayer prompts is not exhaustive. They are broad requests to help guide you deeper in petition before our Lord. Use them right from this page or print the PDF and put it in your Bible.

  1. Dependence – Express your grief and helplessness before God
  2. Repentance – Acknowledge any prejudice and hate you harbor. Ask God to eliminate it from your life and make your heart right.
  3. Families – Ask God to comfort and heal Pray the families of those killed, the Dallas police officers, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, and all victims of this American Divide.
  4. Communication – Ask God to open and strengthen lines of communication between all parties – between the black and white community and between the black community and law enforcement.
  5. Leaders – Ask God to raise up leaders for peace from every group. Pray for voices of calm, reason, and wisdom that will help build bridges instead of walls.
  6. Truth – Ask God to reveal truth in every altercation and situation. Pray against false witnesses. Ask God to hold the media to the highest possible standards and ethics.
  7. Justice – Ask God to guide lawyers, juries, judges, and prosecutors to act with integrity and honesty. Ask God to protect the process from politics and pressure from outside groups. Ask God to help all sides accept the result of fair legal proceedings.
  8. Protection – Ask God to protect Police Officers during duty and off. Ask Him to protect the lives of those in interactions with officers. Ask Him to keep all protests and demonstrations peaceful and productive.
  9. Stereotypes – Ask God to break down stereotypes on both sides. Ask Him to build respect and appreciation for Police Officers among the black community. Ask Him to help officers respond without prejudice in each and every encounter.
  10. Encounters – Ask God to cover every encounter on the street between police and the public. Ask Him to give police officers discernment, calm, and wisdom. Ask Him to help the public respond to police with respect. Ask God to diffuse highly explosive situations.

How have you been praying about this American Divide? Please share something specific you have prayed in the comments.

Other articles you may find helpful:

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Where is Peace?

peaceOur country is in turmoil. Peace alludes us. One group pitted against another. Hatred, violence, and fear feed an ongoing stream of tragedies.

Thursday night, snipers fired on police officers during a protest in downtown Dallas. Twelve were shot, five of them died. Two more police officers were ambushed Friday in two separate incidents in Georgia. Philando Castile killed by police in Minnesota. Alton Sterling killed by police in Baton Rouge under questionable circumstances. And these things happened just last week.

One sinful act fosters another. Grief, pain, and loss overwhelm us. We seem to be caught in a downward cycle with no escape. What is the answer? Where can we find peace?

In America today, tension and even open hostility exists between races, political parties, economic groups, and faiths. But this is nothing new. Divisions and hatred like this have existed since creation in every generation.

When Paul wrote the book of Ephesians, there was no stronger example than the hostility between Jew and Gentile. But even with them peace was possible.

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Ephesians 2:13-18, NIV

Lasting peace is not possible outside of a saving relationship with Jesus. Our sinful humanity keeps getting in the way.

Plus, peace is not simply a state of being. It is a Person. No matter how vast our differences or great our hatred, all people can find commonality and peace in Christ Jesus. When individuals are reconciled to Jesus, they are also reconciled to each other.

When we enter into a saving relationship with Jesus, His Spirit begins to transform our hearts and minds. He begins to chisel away the hatred, fear, and pride and fills us with His love, security, and selflessness. Walls break down. Relationships form.

Yes, let us both preach and practice peace. Let us reach across the aisle with hands extended. But let us also share the Gospel message of Jesus. Because without Him there will be no lasting peace.

 

 

 

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Lasting Joy DOES Depend on Your Circumstances

joyI’ve heard it said that, unlike happiness, Christian joy has nothing to do with our circumstances. Makes sense right? Jesus both assured us we would have trouble in the world (John 16:33) and promised us that no one would take away our joy (John 16:22).

Difficult circumstances and lasting joy. So surely, Christian joy has nothing to do with our circumstances. Circumstantial “happiness” and lasting joy have to be different. Right?

But wait just a second… when I looked up the meaning for the Hebrew and Greek words most often translated as “joy” they have essentially the same meaning as “happiness.” Biblical joy can be defined this way:

Joy, gladness, pleasure, happiness; the opposite of grief and sorrow; feelings that result from circumstances

 The difference in fleeting joy/happiness and the joy no one can take away is the circumstances on which we base it. If we look to our temporary, earthly circumstances for joy, it will be stolen from us time and again. But if we rely on our eternal circumstances, our joy will be firm and secure.

3 Circumstances for Lasting Joy

Although I know my list could be longer, here are three reasons for lasting joy God gives us in His Word:

  1. Salvation (1 Peter 1:5-9) – Peter beautifully shows how rejoicing in our eternal salvation far outweighs the grief of our temporary earthly trials. In the midst of our trials we are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
  2. God’s Love (Romans 8:35-39) – Paul experienced great hardships and persecutions in this life. In spite of these things he experienced the joy of Christ (Philippians 1:18). How? No matter what he suffered, nothing could separate him from the love of God.
  3. Intimate Fellowship with Christ (John 15:5-11) – On the night He was betrayed and arrested, Jesus wanted to make sure His followers knew how to find their joy in Him. As we “abide” in Christ – stay closely and vitally connected to Him in obedient relationship – our joy will “be complete.”

Are you experiencing this kind of joy? You can! Read these Scripture passages and ask God to show you how to find joy in your eternal circumstances!

What other “reasons for joy” do you see in Scripture? Let’s share them with each other today!

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Juggling Joy and Pain

joy and painLately, my life has been joyfully full. Full hands. Full heart.

Our oldest daughter had her second son in April. I had the blessing of staying with them almost three weeks to help with the baby and my 4-year-old grandson.

Our second daughter had her first child last week! Little Josiah is 8 days old today. In fact, I am with them now – days are filled with cooking, diapers, rocking, and loving.

Next month our family adds a daughter. Our son is getting married to a wonderful young woman we already love.

Full, happy times. Joyful times.

But life has also been hard recently. Death and grief. Struggle and sadness.

My father-in-law, who lived with us for the last five years, passed away at home on March 1st after weeks of severe health issues, hospital stays, and rehab.

My own parents currently face significant health struggles of their own. Life is changing dramatically for them. Hard, difficult decisions lie ahead.

The last few months have been an emotional roller coaster. Rejoicing one moment, grieving the next. Some days these feelings overlap. Cries of joy mingle with tears of pain.

Joy and pain. Loss and gain.

I’ve wondered what to do with this. How do I handle these contradictions? How do I move with this weird ebb and flow? I want to understand this from God’s point of view.

First, I recognize that everything precious and wonderful in my life comes from God. He is the generous Giver of all good gifts.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17, NIV

Second, I realize that pain is part of life. God does not promise us good times. He never said our lives would be pain free. In fact, His Word tells us we will have trouble in this world. On the night Jesus was arrested, He told His disciples – and us:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33, NIV

We live in a world broken by sin. Until Jesus returns, illness, death, and evil still impact our lives. We also suffer the consequences of our own sin. Yet even when God does not choose to remove our trials and sufferings, He promises to walk with us through them.

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:1-2, NIV

In the joyful times I thankfully acknowledge God’s good gifts and in the painful times I am more keenly aware of God’s gracious, comforting presence. My life must be a constant mingling of gratitude and grasping. Thankful for His gifts and His presence, yet ever reaching for more of Him. Leaning into His strength and grace in the joyful times and the painful times.

Gratitude and grasping. Juggling joy and pain. Hallelujah!

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Are Your Plans Out of Control?

plansWhen our oldest daughter graduated from high school, we booked a summer cruise to celebrate. The family would spend seven days in the Caribbean on a floating resort! We researched the ports and excursions. We checked the weather to pack the right clothing. We carefully picked the flight to get us to the departure city on time. Our plans were detailed and thorough.

When the day arrived, we loaded the luggage and went to the airport. But one problem after another arose. We suffered through mechanical trouble, overbooking, and weather issues. After hours of trying everything, our disappointed family reloaded the car and went home. All our careful planning could not get us on that ship. Too many things were simply out of our control.

We humans like to plan, but our control is limited. In fact, you may be frustrated or anxious right now because you feel you have no control over your life. Be encouraged and take comfort in this firm truth: our God has complete control.

Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

Proverbs 16:3, NIV

God’s people can trust Him with our lives – and our plans. In fact, we make the best plans when we first seek God’s direction. The word “commit” in Proverbs 16:3 implies a humble dependence on God for the direction of our lives. Ask for His will and follow it. God blesses the plans that please Him. Then, leave the outcome up to God. Our plans still may change, but we can trust God is in control.

In what ways can you seek God’s direction for your plans and then trust Him to carry out His perfect will?

 

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Grace or Truth? Yes

Grace or truthIn the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, an ongoing debate in the Christian community has once again taken center stage. Should Christians extend abundant grace to all or should we stand firm on the truth of God’s Word?

What is the answer? Grace or truth? The answer is a resounding “yes!”

It’s not grace or truth. It’s grace and truth. As Christians, we cannot leave either by the wayside. Jesus, “who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14), is our example.

Yes, the suffering world desperately needs the love and grace of Jesus. But it’s sin that has caused the suffering in the world. Our culture is saturated with its devastating consequences.

Grace Covers Every Sin

Sin is a cancer eating away at the fabric of our society. We see its effects everywhere. Our prisons overflow. The family is disintegrating. Sex fuels the popular culture. This cancer needs a cure before it’s too late for the patient. We need God’s grace and His truth.

A few years ago when this same issue heated up over a controversial interview with Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame, one well-known Christian author wrote that she chooses to “preach the scandalous love of Jesus in the face of any issue, demographic, or debate.” Yet, how can we share the love of Christ without sharing His greatest act of love.

“But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The Gospel isn’t the Gospel without the “Jesus died for our sins” part (1 Corinthians 15:3).

Jesus died for our sins. Without the acknowledgment of sin, there will be no recognition of a need for a Savior. And there will be no salvation. No spiritual healing.

The world needs both grace and truth, but they also won’t respond to a dogmatic diatribe of right and wrong. While we must not hesitate to share God’s truth, our conversation must always be “full of grace” (Colossians 4:6), presented with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). (For more on how Christians can interact with a lost world read “Should Christians be the Morality Police?”)

Of course, there will be times – no matter how graciously we present God’s truth – that the hearers will respond with anger and hate. The message of the Cross is foolishness to the world (1 Corinthians 1:18). For some, it is a sweet aroma of life, but to others it is the smell of death (2 Corinthians 2:14-16). But that should not keep us from sharing the Good News. And we should not water it down to make it more palatable.

The Gospel is good news because Jesus will receive any and every sinner! There is no sin too great, no background too sordid, no heart too rebellious. Jesus’ sacrificial death covers it all. The cross is able to heal all wounds.

Jesus Calls Believers to Holiness

Yet on the redeemed side of the cross, He calls us to live holy lives. Just as He lifted the woman caught in adultery and said, “Go and sin no more,” He raises us up in new lives and tells us to “live a life worthy of the calling we have received” (Ephesians 4:1). Sadly many today who proclaim Christ embrace a form of “Christianity” that looks more like our culture than like Christ. (Read more about cultural Christianity in this excellent article by Stephanie Shott.)

Yes, Jesus invites us to come to Him just as we are. But, He doesn’t want us to stay just as we are.

God calls the prideful to humility.

God calls the selfish to give.

God calls the gossip to speak only word that build up and encourage.

And calls the sexually immoral to purity.

In other words, God calls believers to holiness (Ephesians 4:24). We cannot sweep continued, unrepentant sin under a “rug of grace.” Jesus died for our sins because they were heinous enough to separate us from God. Our sins cost Jesus His life. How can we simply continue to live in them? But that’s what we do when we ignore the truth about what God calls sin.

Yes, Jesus is loving, but He is also just. Jesus is merciful, but He is also holy. We must not misrepresent Jesus to either the world or the Church.

It’s not grace or truth. It’s grace and truth. Both/and. Amen and amen.

 

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A Glorious Adventure of Faith

My guest blogger today is Gwen Smith! Gwen is an amazing musician, worship leader, woman of faith, and author of the brand new book “I Want it All!”

Gwen SmithGod has a plan for you, and it’s not an “I’m fine,” average life. You were created to be a woman of impact who is so in love with her Lord and so aware of His might that she cannot help but expect great things and move in His power and grace.

God’s plan for you is unique. No cookie cutter Christianity here. His plan may not look like the dreams you had as a little girl, but it IS a good one. Do you trust that?

God wants you to have a full, beautiful life—in Him, through Him, and for Him. Truly. The Bible tells us so. He offers us joy, but not the world’s joy (John 15:11); peace, but not the world’s peace (John 16:33); power, but not the world’s power (2 Timothy 1:7); love, but not the world’s love (John 15:12-13). I want every ounce of His joy, peace, power, and love. Don’t you? God’s plan is a good plan . . . for us, not against us . . . a plan that is filled with hope and a future. His is a plan that leads us directly to His presence in worship, and, ultimately, to a deep and intimate relationship with Him. Yes, please!

I want to live out God’s sacred plan that invites me to a glorious adventure of faith, that beckons me to perfect love, that calls and challenges me to His cross-carrying ways, that demands my everything and satisfies the longings of all I’ve ever dreamed my life can and should be.

I know many of you are going through difficult and painful challenges. Life throws curve balls that can leave us gasping for breath on any given day, at any given moment. I’m right there with you in the ditches of reality. God’s ways do not always make sense. They don’t always feel good. At times they even sting wildly, but one thing is always true: the great life He intends for us to live begins and ends with the Word. The Word made flesh: Jesus. And though we remain broken and impacted by an imperfect world, we can rise above and get through anything in the power and hope of God, for His glory.

And just like God spoke vision and life to the weary prophet Jeremiah thousands of years ago, His Word speaks vision and life to us today, and every day, reminding us of the beauty available to all in Christ. A beauty that brings Him glory.

That’s the ALL God wants us to want. All of Him.

What do you want in life? Will you be satisfied with the “all” the world offers or do you want God’s all?!

 

Gwen SmithGwen Smith is an author and volleyball enthusiast who lives in sunny North Carolina and has been married to her college honey, Brad, for 23 years. They are tired parents to three tall, competitive-sport-playing teens who keep them on their toes and on their knees. Her online friends meet at GwenSmith.net and Facebook.com/GwenSmithMusic to connect and be encouraged, and her goal is to help women think big thoughts about God and be inspired to live out the grace and truth of Jesus. Gwen’s latest book, I want it allI Want It ALL, (David C. Cook), was released on March 1, 2016 and comes complete with a study guide and questions for reflection. Gwen speaks, leads worship, and eats potato chips at women’s events everywhere, and she is a co-founder of the conference and devotional ministry Girlfriends in God.

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