Will You Leave Your Comfortable Pew?

The resurrection of Jesus changes the face of death for all His people. Death is no longer a prison, but a passage into God’s presence. Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.

“Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. “Philippians 2:6-8(NLT).

 

I can recall the day as if were just yesterday. It’s been more than 15 years when an emptiness I couldn’t explain began chipping away at my heart. I was in my late 40s. I was lost and even if I didn’t know it, God did. He wouldn’t give up on me.

On a sunny October afternoon, I prayed aloud for the very first time. My simple prayer was, “God, help me. I need some direction in my life.”

Since that day, I have been on a journey, a quest you might say, to know my Savior and Lord more deeply, to understand God’s will for my life and to use my gifts for His glory. I never dreamed He would lead me, more than 12 years ago, to begin writing my weekly column, which eventually led to speaking engagements across the state.

Trying to fully comprehend the sacrifice Christ made for mankind is mind-boggling, sometimes even for those who believe. Still more breath-taking is what happened three days after his cruel death on the cross.

For those who doubt, I wonder where or in whom they place their hope. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias says, “Outside of the cross of Jesus Christ, there is no hope in this world. That cross and resurrection at the core of the Gospel is the only hope for humanity.”

Hope and a desire to spread the Good News of His resurrection is what drove the disciples. Even facing hardships, they didn’t give up.

Christian author Erling C. Olsen once wrote, “Whoever reads the New Testament seriously, or gives thought to the impact which the apostles made upon their generation, must acknowledge that one outstanding historic event alone spurred that small band of 11 ordinary men to an amazing task of evangelization in their generation. Defying every obstacle, loss of home, persecution, even death itself, they evidenced the supreme relevance in their ministry of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

How many Christians today are willing to face the obstacles, losses, persecution and eventually death that these men embraced on their mission to make disciples for Jesus? I would hazard a guess that not many of us who live in America and sit in our comfortable pews on Sunday mornings would be willing to die for our faith.

However, Jesus has called us to leave the church building. And, just like the disciples, He asks us to drop what we’re doing to share the Easter news.

Just as Christ didn’t remain in the grave, we must give up our attachment to worldly things to take up His cross. Author Clarence W. Hall says, “The resurrection of Jesus changes the face of death for all His people. Death is no longer a prison, but a passage into God’s presence. Easter says you can put truth in a grave, but it won’t stay there.”

Are you willing to leave your comfortable pew?

Carol Round

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What’s the Best Advice?

What’s the Best Advice?

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise”—Proverbs 19:20 (NIV).

“You’ll shoot your eye out.” If you’ve ever watched the classic movie “A Christmas Story,” you might be able to relate to Ralphie who was trying to convince his parents to buy him a Red Ryder BB gun as a gift. In the 1940s, the Red Ryder was a popular boy toy.

We can all remember similar advice from our parents like “wash behind your ears,” “do unto others,” “bundle up or you’ll catch a cold,” and the list could go on. Our elders love giving advice. However, it doesn’t stop there. We are bombarded daily with advice on talk shows, like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz, to the evening news bytes, giving us health warnings. Those warnings aren’t necessarily bad either.

When was the last time you found yourself offering what you considered helpful advice to someone else but he or she did not take it that way? If you care about others and hate to see them troubled, it is hard to refrain from giving what we feel is “friendly” advice.

If you’re a parent, you’re probably also prone to giving advice, especially when you see your grown children making mistakes. I can still recall advice I received from my parents when they were still alive. I can look back at the poor choices I have made and the advice I did not heed because I thought I knew better, and I have come to the conclusion that those who are older are, for the most part, wiser. That is because they have lived what younger people are experiencing.

Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Although we live in a rapidly changing world often defined by the latest technology gadget, people have not changed. Study scripture and you will find story after story of those who did not heed the advice given by prophets in the Old Testament and the New Testament offers a wealth of admonitions and exhortations for those who would follow it. The parables of Jesus and his Sermon on the Mount offer the best advice to those as He says in Mark 4:9 have “ears to hear, let him hear.”

Much of the time, we brush off well-meant advice because, as an old saying goes, “Advice would always be more acceptable if it didn’t conflict with our plans.”

Proverbs 19:21 says, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”

Two centenarians, both female, were recently interviewed for a newspaper article. The two women were receiving a free hair-and-makeup session at a local upscale salon. At the end of the interview, the reporter asked one of the women if she had any advice to offer for living to 100. She replied, “Just leave it to God. He paves the way.”

I think she has it right. Don’t you?

Carol Round

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The Best Valentine Ever

The Best Valentine Ever

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness”  -Jeremiah 31:3 (NIV).

 

Can you recall your elementary years when you decorated a shoebox with red and pink paper hearts and lace doilies? If you’re a male, you might have decorated it with more “manly” colors to take to school on Valentine’s Day.

Whatever your choice of décor, the box represented something more than a special day to trade the cards, especially made for schoolchildren to exchange. Some of the boxed cards had cartoon themes while others included a heart-shaped sucker. Regardless of the style or theme, the cards and decorated shoe boxes were sometimes a haunting reminder of your popularity (or lack of).

The more popular classmates often received more cards or even nicer cards than those who were not as well liked. If you fit into the latter group, you might not have felt as loved or as valuable as others in your class. It was a day you might have dreaded and were relieved when it was over. It was like being the last one picked for the dodge ball team. You might have avoided meeting people’s eyes for fear they could see the pain and the loneliness.

We don’t need a reminder of our loneliness when we feel unlovely. Valentine’s Day serves as that reminder when often our expectations are unrealistic. We might think we are not worth loving, at least in the way we really want to be loved. However, I have come to realize that when we put that kind of pressure on others, we place a heavy burden on them. Why?

Because no one this side of heaven can love us the way we desire to be loved. Our heavenly Father is the only One who can love us unconditionally—that means warts and all.

One of the most beloved passages of the Bible says it best. John 3:16 says, “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.”

You see, I was one of those who dreaded Valentine’s Day when I was in elementary. Because I was creative, my box might have been one of the best decorated on the outside but the inside was another story. Oh, I received Valentine’s cards, but they were not the kind that spoke of being accepted for who I was.

That applies to each of us. Our outside may be clothed in an array of beautiful garments but our inside is another story. Without His love and peace filling up our empty box, no chocolate candy, glittery cards and flower bouquets will be enough to satisfy the hunger He has placed in each of us to have a relationship with Him.

I sat in my sunroom recently, observing the grays and browns of the winter landscape, when the flash of a cardinal’s vivid red feathers reminded me that if we pay attention, we see God’s presence everywhere. Our lives can be the same shades of winter.

We may feel alone, forgotten or abandoned. We hurt when we think no one cares. However, the good news is God is crazy about us. He’s so crazy in love with us that He sent His only Son to die for you and for me. Now, that‘s what I call true love. It’s the best Valentine ever.

Carol Round

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Getting Spiritually Fit

Why Is Confession Important?

“Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Jesus Christ.” Philippians 3:13-14

 Lose weight. Get healthy. Quit smoking. Save more money. Spend more time with family. All are worthy resolutions.

When we turn the calendar to a new year, we usually reflect on where we have been and where we want to be. We look at our failures and ask ourselves, “What do I need to change?” or “How can I make the necessary changes this year?”

A friend and I recently disagreed about failure. His views about failure have created eyes that see the world through cynical glasses. I believe failure is an opportunity for growth, but only if we examine our failures through the lens of scripture.

I told my pessimistic friend, “You don’t continue to beat a dead horse but neither do you leave him lying beside the road. Pretty soon he begins to stink.”

I’ve heard people say, “I have no regrets about my life. If I had it to do over again, I’d do it the same way.”

Not me. Although I don’t wallow in the pool of regret, I’d definitely do some things differently.

However, we can learn from our failures to become the person God has created us to be. To do that, we have to look at the past — and that requires confession. Confession is powerful. Owning up to failure is the first, painful step on the path to something better.

Changing the calendar to a new year is a good time for a spiritual checkup.

When you see a new calendar, do you see days and months of blank spaces ready to be filled in with God’s plans for your life or do you see a busy schedule that is taking you away from Him? Ask yourself the following:

  • What steps do you need to take to draw closer to God?
  • Is your life producing something of value for God?
  • Do you trust Him instead of relying on your own strength and understanding?
  • Is there something in your life that is holding you back from all that God has waiting for you?
  • Are you open to God’s leading?

There is no magic pill that transforms us — either physically or spiritually. It requires a plan and if we fail to plan, then we plan to fail — a cliché, but true.

Becoming spiritually mature is simply a matter of learning certain spiritual exercises. Just like getting physically fit requires exercise, we must become self-disciplined in our spiritual lives. To shape our character, we must take time to develop good habits.

Pastor Rick Warren, the author of the best-seller A Purpose Driven Life, says that to develop spiritual fitness, our daily habits must include time spent with God, prayer, Bible reading and obedience to what He reveals to you.

Becoming spiritually mature involves more than a quick fix. In our instant gratification society, we want it now — nuke it in the microwave for five minutes and it’s done. But growing spiritually is a gradual process.

Taking the time to grow spiritually is a lifetime endeavor. Are you willing to make the commitment? It requires patience. Knowing that God isn’t finished with us yet, we must press on toward the goal.

Carol Round

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How to Have a Christ-Centered Christmas

Keeping the spirit of Christmas alive requires us to focus intentionally on the true meaning of this wonderful season. As Henry David Thoreau said, “The way you spend Christmas is far more important than how much.”

“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 (NLT).

Making my annual trip up the attic ladder, I dug out boxes of Christmas decorations. Since my sons are grown, I don’t decorate as much as I used to do. Recently, my youngest son asked if I still had the boxes containing the homemade decorations he and his brother had made at school and at church when they were children. Of course, what mother wouldn’t hang onto those treasures from the past?

This quote from Marjorie Holmes reflects that sentiment. “It comes every year and will go on forever. And along with Christmas belong the keepsakes and the customs. Those humble, everyday things a mother clings to, and ponders, like Mary in the secret spaces of her heart.”

Ever since my son took the box of keepsakes home with him, I’ve pondered on their importance as far as holiday traditions are concerned. Gift giving is one of those traditions. Yet, if you were to ask about a favorite Christmas toy from my childhood, I can’t recall many. It’s been too long. However, I can remember the homemade clothing made with love by my mother. I also recall a Barbie dollhouse she made for my sister and me. It was less expensive than a store-bought one and, as I remember, much nicer.

With the continued pushing back of an earlier Christmas shopping season, it’s sometimes difficult to refrain from getting caught up in the commercialization of the holiday. The Reverend Billy Graham said, “The very purpose of Christ’s coming into the world was that He might offer up His life as a sacrifice for the sins of men. He came to die. This is the heart of Christmas.”

Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church offers three principles to help us have a more purposeful Christmas season. Recalling the meager circumstances of Jesus’ birth, Warren says, “Keep it simple. Simple isn’t just beautiful—it’s powerful.” To keep it simple, don’t cram your holidays full of activities. “You don’t have to make everything big and complicated,” he adds.

The second principle Warren offers consists of two words: “Be there.” What he means is we don’t have to spend all of our time and money chasing down the perfect holiday. “One of our aims at Christmastime should be showing up in the lives of those we love. Attention says, ‘I value you enough to give you my most precious asset—my time.’”

“Give gladly” is Warren’s third principle. “The essence of Christmas,” he says, “is that we simply and humbly give of ourselves.” And, as Jesus said, there’s more happiness in giving than in receiving. Warren adds, “Giving is (also) a matter of willingness, not wealth; it’s attitude, not amount.”

Keeping the spirit of Christmas alive requires us to focus intentionally on the true meaning of this wonderful season. As Henry David Thoreau said, “The way you spend Christmas is far more important than how much.”

Carol Round

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What are You Thankful for Today?

What are You Thankful for Today?What are You Thankful for Today?

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name”—Psalm 100:4 (NIV).

One of the things I like about technology is being able to stay connected with others. While I sometimes groan about our fast-paced world, I love keeping up with like-minded individuals through Facebook. On November 1, I noticed a 40-Day “thanks”-giving challenge. Each day in November, people began to post those things and people for which they are grateful. I joined the challenge and began posting daily.

During November, we celebrate a national day of thanksgiving, always the last Thursday of the month. This American holiday is a time to remember and give thanks for all of our blessings. For many, however, it’s the only day of the year they feel led to express their gratitude.

Did you know that one of humanity’s most powerful positive emotions is gratitude? Several years ago, psychologists started studying the science of giving thanks. What they discovered might surprise you. When you count your blessings, it makes you happier, even during difficult times.

Psychology professor Michael McCullough has studied people who were asked to be thankful on a regular basis. “When you stop to count your blessings, you are sort of hijacking your emotional system.”

Research by McCullough and others has revealed that giving thanks is a powerful emotion, feeding on itself. McCullough says, “Psychologists used to underestimate the strength of simple gratitude. It does make people happier. It’s an incredible feeling.”

Another psychologist, Maryann Troiana, has her clients keep a gratitude journal. By listing daily what they are thankful for, it changes their attitude and outlook on life. Agreeing, psychology professor Robert Emmons says, “It is important to focus more on the people for whom you are grateful. By concentrating on what life would be like without the good things, especially people like our spouses, you begin to realize just how grateful you are.”

Grateful people “feel more alert, alive, interested and enthusiastic,” Emmons says. “They also feel more connected to others.” Emmons, who has written two books on the science of gratitude, often studies the effects of using a gratitude journal.

In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, Paul writes, “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live.”

Thank God no matter what happens? Surely, Paul was joking. What if we lived each day in gratitude for what we do have? What if we recalled the ways He has taken care of us in the past? Instead of complaining about those things we lack, what if we began to take an inventory of our simple treasures and conveniences like family, friends, food, shelter, electricity, a vehicle, our health and more. The list is endless.

While we can be blindsided by life’s unexpected burdens and trials, we can choose to give thanks in all circumstances. Each day should be a day of thanksgiving to God and a lifestyle among God’s people. Remember that Thanksgiving is not a time of year but an attitude of the heart. I encourage you to begin the month of November by taking the 40-Day “thanks”-giving challenge.

Carol Round

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Each Season Has Its Purpose

What do you seek in this season of your life? Does it glorify God?

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven; a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…”— Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 (NIV).

Summer has given up its hold. The early days of autumn with crispness in the air appeal to the five senses more than any other season.

I remember how blessed I am when I see the trees as they begin their annual dance. The burnished gold, dusty red, muted orange and bright yellow leaves float gracefully through the air and cover the earth. While it means more yard work, I welcome it.

What child hasn’t hidden in a pile of raked leaves and then tossed them in the air just to watch them drift softly to the ground again. Yes, even yard work can be fun.

I savor the sights, the sounds, the smells and tastes associated with this season: the crackling of dry leaves underfoot; the rustling of deer, rabbits, squirrels and raccoons in the dry foliage; leaves burning when there’s no fire ban; chainsaws growling as they prepare wood for winter’s warmth.

When I think of this season, my taste buds recall early fall evenings when we roasted hot dogs and toasted marshmallows to make s’mores. The thought of a square of chocolate sandwiched between graham crackers and a gooey marshmallow increases the anticipation of my favorite part of the year.

Hiking in the woods when the leaves have left the trees bare, I find time for reflection. Quiet beckons. I re-evaluate. I put one step in front of the other and try not to look back at the past when I thought things were greener.

As I watch the scenery change from blues and greens to reds and golds, from browns and grays and back again, I am reminded of the cycles we experience in our own seasons of life. We watch a loved one die. We welcome the birth of a child or grandchild. We see our dreams shattered when someone disappoints us.

When the landscape changes colors, it is a reminder that nothing stays the same. As the seasons change, so must we. If we are to be a God-centered person, we must find the purpose in each season of our life.

To ignore the changes means we are unable to move forward to what God has planned for us. Like the leaves that drift to the ground, we are asked by our Creator to let go and trust Him as He prepares us for each season.

Associated with the transition from warm to cold weather, autumn is the season of primary harvest. Just as mature crops yield their bounty, God wants us to continue growing through a relationship with Him and mature into the person whom He created us to be.

Regardless of the season we are in, we should see each change as an opportunity to celebrate the good and have hope that we might encounter the fullness of God.

Twilight comes early these days. It is a peaceful time. It serves a purpose.

Carol Round

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How Do You Tell Someone?

“What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”—Mark 8:36 (NIV).

Have you ever had some exciting news to share with others? Maybe the news was so terrific you thought you would burst before you could tell someone. While grocery shopping recently, I bumped into a neighbor. We were discussing mundane things like the weather and our flowerbeds when I heard someone shout, “Carol, I’ve got some great news.”

My friend and I turned around to greet another neighbor. Pushing the grocery cart as fast as she could, my excited neighbor said, “My photo was accepted into ‘Country’ magazine—you know the one you helped me send in by email.”

I was excited for my friend. The photo I had helped her download and submit to the magazine was of a rabbit standing on its hindquarters eating from a low-hanging bird feeder in her backyard. It was one of those rare moments of being in the right place at the right time with a camera in hand.

If we look, we can find opportunities each day to share with those who might not have heard the most exciting news of all. Or maybe they’ve heard but they don’t believe God has a plan for their lives too. Before I came to understand God’s plan is a life-giving relationship with Him through Jesus Christ, I had no real peace.

How do you explain “the peace that passes understanding” to someone who doesn’t understand nor has accepted God’s grace? Author Joseph Cooke wrote, “Grace is nothing more nor less than the face that love wears when it meets imperfection, weakness, failure, sin.”

In a recent sermon titled “Does God have a plan for my life?” my pastor said, “We all have a basic need to know Him.”

Before I gave my heart to Jesus, I could say I knew of Him, but I didn’t know Him. Like many who don’t understand the true nature of our Creator, I thought it was about following all the rules. In his sermon, our pastor reminded us of three things:

  • You can’t earn a place in heaven by being nice.
  • You can’t earn a right relationship with God by doing good things.
  • You can’t earn a relationship with God by knowing all the answers.

Before I knew God personally, I thought I had all the answers but they weren’t the right ones. I now know it was a sign of my own insecurity. Real security comes from knowing one thing—our Creator loves us wholly. His grace, His heart leads Him not to deal with us according to our sins or to retaliate against us according to our iniquities. He is always faithful, even when we are not.

Christian theologian St. Augustine said, “Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”

Such sweet rest comes from knowing His love, kindness and favor when we trust in Him. You don’t have to earn it. Just accept it.

Now, that’s exciting news to share.

Carol Round

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My Chains are Gone

“All of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But God

treats us much better than we deserve, and because of Christ Jesus,

He freely accepts us and sets us free from our sins”

Romans 3:23-24 (CEV).

My two oldest grandchildren recently spent a Saturday night with me. I don’t know what their father fed them before he dropped them off at my house but I know it must have been loaded with caffeine or sugar.

My phone rang shortly after their father’s departure. As I tried to carry on a conversation, Cheyenne and Brennan decided to race throughout the house chasing my dog. Between their squealing and the dog’s barking, I was having a difficult time focusing on the person at the other end of the line. After several attempts at trying to quell the noise, I ended the conversation.

Immediately, I asked my grandchildren to sit down. I explained that their behavior while I was on the phone was unacceptable. My four-year-old grandson, who is usually the first one to apologize, said, “We’re sorry, Nana.”

Later, the two became rambunctious again. Because it was too hot to go outdoors, I tried to find something we could do together that didn’t involve bringing the roof down. Cheyenne wanted me to read a library book to her while Brennan chose to play with a toy car. After I finished reading to my granddaughter, she decided to color. However, the peace didn’t last long before the two were fighting and Nana had to be the referee.

At the end of my patience, I said, “If you don’t settle down, I’m going to bury you two in the backyard.” Of course, I wasn’t serious but Brennan wasn’t sure.

He said, “Nana, you wouldn’t do that, would you?”

With a grin on my face, I said, “What do you think?” My smile gave way to laughter when my grandson said, “I don’t think so.”

Through this exchange with my grandchildren, I can understand how frustrated our heavenly Father must get with us when we disobey Him. Like children, we sometimes race through life ignoring the warnings He gives us until He has to get our attention.

I recall those times when I have disregarded God’s nudges until He had to hit me over the head to get my attention. It wasn’t pleasant.

For too many years though, I carried a burden of guilt instead of asking for His forgiveness. It wasn’t until I came to accept His amazing grace that I was set free.

One of my favorite contemporary praise songs says it all:

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved. How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed. My chains are gone, I’ve been set free. My God, my Savior has ransomed me and like a flood, His mercy rains, unending love, Amazing grace.”

Carol Round

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Go Make Ripples in the Name of Jesus

Go Make Ripples in the Name of Jesus. By Carol Round | liftupyourday.com

“I am with you. I will watch over you everywhere you go”—Genesis 28:15(NIRV).

Almost 11 years ago, I took a giant leap of faith. I left a northeastern Oklahoma community where I’d lived since 1969—except for the times I’d gone away to college—to move to a larger town about 70 miles west. I left behind family and friendships formed over a 36-year period to a place where I knew very few people.

However, during the time I’ve lived in Rogers County, I’ve been blessed with a multitude of friends. Those friends have encouraged me, laughed and cried with me, prayed with and for me and stood by me during times of trouble. Even more importantly, being here has helped my faith grow. Through my church family and the people of faith God has placed in my path, my spiritual eyes have been opened to embrace what God can do in our lives when we place our trust in Him.

I like what best-selling author and minister, Norman Vincent Peale said about faith: “Faith is the most powerful of all forces operating in humanity and when you have it in depth nothing can get you down.”

However, it wasn’t always that way for me. I’d only been in Claremore about a year when I yearned to return home. Prayer and the advice of wise individuals revealed to me I was here for a reason. Soon, I came to call this place home. I had no desire to return.

About two years ago, God began working in me through a variety of ways. I knew He had plans for me to move. I just wasn’t sure where. Through reading scripture, praying daily, hearing the testimony of others and listening to my pastor’s sermons, I explored my options. Then, a very powerful dream last November affirmed I needed to return home.

While I will miss my church family and the friendships I’ve formed, I’m excited about the new adventure God has in store for me. I will continue to write this column. I am clarifying because so many people have asked.

What does God ask of us? When Jesus was asked which commandment of the Law was the greatest, He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

What God wants from His children is really quite simple: He wants us. He wants our hearts, and all of our service for Him must flow from these two commands to love.

A recent devotional I read said, “The Word of God spreads out like ripples of water.”

If you’ve ever thrown a stone into a body of water, you know what happens. A ripple occurs. I want to be a part of that ripple effect. Wherever I go, my faith will lead me to share the Good News.

My challenge to you is to “go make ripples in the name of Jesus.”

Carol Round

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