The Curious Case of Robert Taylor

This week I was contacted by multiple people about a gentleman, Robert Taylor, who is in hospice, asking to speak with a pastor.  I don’t know Mr. Taylor so I looked at his original post to find out what I could before I reached out to speak with him. What I found surprised me, and left me intrigued by the whole situation.

The exponential reach potential of social media

As I clicked through to Mr. Taylor’s Facebook page, I was immediately struck by how widespread his post had been shared. Almost 50,000 shares and hundreds of comments revealed that his message had reached more people that he probably ever could have imagined. Hundreds, if not thousands of pastors had, like me, been tagged hoping that someone might reach out to him and pray with him. Multiple comments revealed that he had been contacted by phone and by Facebook with offers to pray.

Every year it becomes easier and easier to take for granted how incredibly connected we are. Imagine this scenario… on Tuesday evening an elderly man in hospice types a simple message, from his bed, and hits, “post”. Within hours thousands of people all over the world have received the message, responded to the message, and have attempted to make contact with him directly. Even within my relatively short lifetime, this degree of interconnectivity was once inconceivable. Though social media brings many potential dangers and pitfalls, one thing is inescapably clear…we have the opportunity to connect with more people and connect with them more quickly than at any time in human history.

Your online impact is an extension of your personal impact. Though sharing your faith online does not substitute for personal evangelism, it does provide a platform to reach hundreds or even thousands of people very quickly. Use it wisely. The things you post reflect your character.

Social media is a tool, it can be used to build or to destroy. Build up others and reach out in love when you have the chance.

The willingness of God’s people to care for a stranger

As a pastor, one of the most encouraging things I have been able to experience is to see the people of God come together in a difficult situation. In tragedy and trial I have seen my church rise up to serve, love, pray for, give to, and otherwise be present for those in need. It is a testament to the common grace of God’s goodness that people do this for each other, even without faith. But the impact of the body of Christ being the hands and feet of Christ is infinitely more valuable.

In the case of Mr. Taylor, God’s people did the most important thing they could: they went to the creator and sustainer of the universe, the one who first breathed life into humanity. Ultimately, only the peace of Jesus can supply what he is looking for, but many thousands of Christians were moved with compassion to bring Mr. Taylor to God in their prayers. Others have reached out to make that compassion tangible. Others, I’m sure, have tried to make in-person contact with him. All of this for a man none of them has ever met, and all of this within minutes or hours of hearing about his need.

The feet of the church can run swiftly with mercy. Let that always be true of us.

The heartache of being without a church home at the end of life

It’s not unusual for someone I don’t know to make contact with me asking for prayer. I have spent time in the ICU praying for an unconscious man. I have prayed over the phone with a lady so upset that I could barely understand her through her tears. I have welcomed complete strangers into my office to share their pain with me and then pray with them. I have also led many funerals for people I had never met. I try to do this whenever I am able.

When I do a funeral for a stranger, I have to learn as much as I can about them from their family. I ask about their faith, their hobbies, and their joys among other things. I try my best to craft a narrative that can trigger memories for the family to carry with them after the funeral. But at the end of the day, there is pain beyond the grief of losing a loved one. This loved one had no pastor, no spiritual advisor, no faith family to call on during one of the most consequential moments of their life…the end. If they were atheist or had some disdain for the church there would be no concern to have a pastor conduct the service.

Yet, the call I receive is for a person who realized too late that having spiritual community is important. They want a baptist pastor, an evangelical pastor, or just any pastor at all, but they don’t know one. The directionlessness, hopelessness, and helplessness are palpable. It’s an opportunity for me to love and share God’s love with a family that may not have ever experienced it. Mr. Taylor, it appears, does not have a pastor, deacon, elder, Sunday School teacher or any other church family to be present with him at this time. So he is looking for someone, anyone, who can take the time to provide some guidance, comfort, and peace as he approaches the end of his life. No one I’ve ever known who is invested in a faith family feels that kind of desperation at the end of their life.

Never underestimate the importance of fellowship and community.

The importance of understanding that all Christians are ministers and in ministry

I became a pastor later in life than most. I was 28 when I took my first church job. One of the most surprising phenomena of the transition from laity to clergy was how people reacted and related differently to me upon learning what my profession is. “What do I call you? Reverend? Pastor? Brother? Father?” Well, my name is Josh, so… “Oh, I shouldn’t have said that in front of a preacher, guess I’m going to hell now.” Yeah, whether or not you are going to hell has nothing to do with what you just said to/around me. In fact, I’ve probably said the same or worse at some point in my life. I’ve definitely thought enough things to send me to hell. That’s the awesome thing about what Jesus did. Can I tell you about Him? (See what I did there?) “My friend/dad/mom/sister/hairdresser/etc is having problems, can you go pray with them? I would, but it would mean more coming from a pastor.” I really don’t mind, but you do know there is nothing special about my prayers, right? And it may actually mean more coming from someone they know and trust instead of a stranger.

I’m afraid most Christians have a wrong understanding of priesthood. Most evangelicals would never admit it, but many treat pastors as though we are Catholic priests. They come to us from prayer, instead of a friend of fellow small group member. They ask us to visit someone in the hospital and pray for them in addition to the prayer they’ve already prayed. The thing is, if you are a believer YOU are a minister of the gospel! In 1 Peter 2:5, Peter calls his fellow believers a “holy priesthood”. Yes, my “job” in the faith is different than most. I am more visible and I have different responsibilities, but, in the end, my job is to equip the church to do the work of service (read Ephesians 4). My prayers carry no more weight than yours. Truthfully, there are many days when my faith is weak and my prayers carry profoundly LESS weight.

Never sell yourself short! YOU have been called to minister to those in need. YOU have been called to share your faith with others. YOU have been called to leverage the gifts and abilities God has given you for the sake of the gospel. If you feel inadequately equipped, I’d love to give of my time and resources to help.

Pawning that off on a pastor lessens the impact of the church and stunts your own growth.

Closing thoughts

I don’t know what will become of the last days of Mr. Taylor. Some have posted that he already passed, others say that’s not true. I don’t know the status of his salvation and I don’t really know how close he is to his family and friends. But I do know there are lessons to be learned from his life. And this brief spectacle of a man asking for prayer can have a lasting impact…if we learn those lessons.

Blessings – Josh

 

 

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Without Wax…

At Corning FBC we just finished the fourth week of a series in 1 John. As I studied last week, I came across a sermon illustration that, I believe, encapsulates much of the entire book. The overall theme of our journey through 1 John is, “Authentic Faith”. In his letter, John repeats the refrain, “If you say ‘a’, but live ‘b’, then you are a liar and the truth is not in you.” Over and over, John calls out the churches he was writing to for a lack of authenticity, which could also be seen as a lack of sincerity.

As I studied and prepared for a recent message, I can across someone commenting on the history of the word, “sincere”. Apparently, it come from a Latin phrase, sine cera, which translates to, “without wax”. Without wax? What does that even mean, and what in the world does it have to do with sincerity? Well, apparently it comes from the world of pottery.

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During the pottery process in the first century, there were often imperfections like cracks and divots that would develop. A reputable potter would break down his piece and start over, refusing to be satisfied until it was perfect. Lower end pottery, on the other hand, would retain those imperfections. That potter would place wax into the cracks and holes before it went into the oven to be glazed.

Initially, these patches would hide the imperfections, but as heat and light took their toll, the wax would shrink and/or melt, and every fault in the pottery would suddenly be highly noticeable.

So how does this apply to our lives? Are there areas of your life or faith that are damaged or faulty? Have you tried to cover them up so that others won’t notice? Maybe you are going to church to get cleaned up or try to make life better. Maybe you feign faithfulness on social media but live a life differently among your family and friends. Maybe you justify or excuse sin in your life in an attempt to convince yourself and others that you have a healthy spiritual life. Whatever you are doing to cover up fractures, be certain that the heat and pressure of the circumstances of life WILL reveal your true nature.

Instead, we should own those parts of our lives that need repair. Name them. Pray and search out God to repair them. To be sure, there will often be scars. But just like the scars in the pottery below, God can make beautiful things out of our brokenness.

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Living with scars is certainly healthier than glossing over damage with a fragile veneer that will crack, fade, and eventually fall apart. Further, God can and will redeem what has been broken. Allow Him to do so for you.

“…and provide for those who grieve in Zion– to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor.” – Isaiah 61:3

Blessings – Josh

The Resolutionary Life

Each January we are faced with the age old question, “Are you making any resolutions this year?” And each January, we are forced to come up with some noble goal, whether it be exercise, spiritual growth, reading, or some other discipline that we have somehow failed at until now, but will definitely/probably/hopefully succeed at this year. It’s no different for me. Over the years I have made resolutions, and over the years the only discipline I can seem to achieve is consistently failing at keeping resolutions. Thankfully, I am not alone. Here are a few stats on resolutions…

  • 41% of Americans make resolutions each year
  • 9% feel they are successful
  • 72% keep their resolutions through the first week of January
  • Less than half keep their resolutions past six months

I have several thoughts looking at those numbers. First, in a strange way, it’s good to see that fewer Americans are buying into making resolutions. While marking the date of a decision to improve your life is a good idea, the concept of New Year’s Resolutions has become a bit cliche, and seems to be more of a marketing strategy for gyms and diet plans than an actual attempt at helping people achieve their goals.

Second, 72% seems like a good number of people who made it through one week, until you consider the flip side; that means 28% of resolution makers couldn’t even go seven days without failing at something new. Oh my. If you made any resolutions, it is statistically probable that you have already failed by the time you are reading this!

Third, maybe there needs to be a different way to look at resolutions. Since fewer and fewer people are making them, and fewer and fewer of those making them are succeeding, I say it’s time for us to reconsider what this whole process of self-improvement should look like.

This year, a friend asked me what resolutions I was making. I responded with this, “No resolutions this year. Praying for God to work in and change me as He sees fit.” I know, I know…a little overly-spiritual and possibly inappropriately smug, but that answer came out of some reading, studying, and praying I had been doing in preparation for a New Year’s Eve sermon. I landed on the story of Saul, later called Paul, and his conversion in Acts 9.

In that story, we see a changed man. Paul turns from “breathing murderous threats” against the church to planting churches and even dying as a martyr for the faith. He didn’t make resolutions. He didn’t just decide that he was going to begin living his best life. He allowed God to change him. In Lamentations 3:22-23, Solomon says, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” God’s daily supply of mercy, implies my daily need of mercy. And that, I believe, is the key not simply to keeping a resolution, but to experiencing a transformation.

When we recognize that our efforts are not only unable to save us, but are also unable to supply the grace we need to make it through each day, we will begin to turn to Him for the grace and mercy we need. Then, and only then, will our lives begin to change, our disciplines and habits begin to improve our lives instead of destroy them, and our joy finally be full.

Like I said, if you made resolutions, chances are you’ve already broken them. This year, instead of resolving, release. Surrender to God’s grace and mercy. He offers it fresh each day.

Blessings-

Josh

Where was God?

The last several weeks have been a steady barrage of death, destruction, fear, and pain. Hurricanes brought wind and rain to the American coast and devastated the Caribbean. A gunman brought terror to Las Vegas and to our nation for reasons as yet unknown. Earthquakes have decimated entire towns in Mexico. In the middle of all of this, the question is asked, “Where was God”?

The question was asked of me in February, 2012 when a tornado ripped through the heart of Branson. I was pastor of a church just south of town and worked at Kohl’s in Branson as a second job.

The question was asked of me in the spring of 2015 when a co-worker lost her husband and was injured herself in a car wreck. The wreck happened on the way home from visiting a rental property that had been ransacked by a tenant.

Where was God? If there is a God, and he is supposed to be so good, how could this happen? It’s natural, I suppose, to ask these kinds of questions. Some of the greatest discoveries in philosophy and enlightenment find their genesis in questions such as these.  The attempt to reconcile human suffering with the concept of a benevolent, kind, and loving God can be arduous for even the strongest of believers, and no doubt more so for those who struggle with faith or don’t believe at all.

So how did I answer them? How do I answer now?

My thoughts almost invariably turn to the story of Job. If you are not familiar with Job’s story, take a few minutes and read this summary to get a sense of what happened. Also, take a moment to read the first two chapters of Job, here. There are a few points in this narrative that I believe speak directly to tragedy of all kinds, especially tragedy that affects those we see as innocent.

God brought Job to Satan’s attention

“Have you considered my servant, Job?” It is important to understand that it was not Satan’s idea to come after Job. God directed him to His servant. How does this bring me comfort? Doesn’t this make God some sadistic madman who takes pleasure in the pain of humanity? What Job was not aware of, and what we often cannot see, is that God was and is doing 10 million things beyond what is immediately seen and known.

In Job’s case, God’s plan would eventually accomplish two things. First, Job’s faithfulness was rewarded when his possessions and wealth was returned two-fold. God gave him more children, not as replacement for the children he lost, but in addition.

Second, Job’s faithfulness was rewarded with an entirely new perspective of who God is and how He relates to His people. In the closing verses Job says, “I know that You can do all things, and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted….Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know…I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear; but now my eye sees you; therefore I retract, and I repent  in dust and ashes” (Job 42:2-6).

God is always trying to teach us something. No circumstance is neutral. For the believer, our circumstances lead us to a closer relationship and a deeper knowledge of our Heavenly Father. For the unbeliever, circumstances are meant to lead to a saving knowledge of God in Jesus.

God put limits on Satan’s power

I have often sat with the family of a loved one who is facing a terminal illness, a family falling apart because of sin, or a parent grieving over a wayward child. In these times they sometimes lament the influence of Satan in the circumstances they are facing. Satan’s influence is the scourge of fallen humanity. He is the prince of darkness, the father of lies, and enjoys the freedom to steal, kill, and destroy. Yet, as I consider Job’s story, I encourage these families with this truth: Satan can only do as much as God allows him to. Satan is on a leash, and God is holding the other end. Consider Job 1:12, “The the Lord said to Satan, ‘Behold, all that he (Job) has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him.’” Also consider Job 2:6. After Satan’s first round of attacks against Job failed, Satan asks permission to attack his physical person. God tells Satan, “Behold, he is in your power, only spare his life.” Be assured, Christian, that God holds the reigns of Satan’s power. If He looses the reigns it is for a purpose. Satan is but a pawn in the hands of a omniscient, omnipotent chess-master.

God establishes His sovereignty over His creation…including us

The bulk of the rest of the book of Job is a diatribe from God, helping Job understand his place. When Job has finally come to a place where he begins to question God and His motives, God says, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you, and you instruct Me” (Job 38:2-3)! Basically, God is telling Job he doesn’t know what he’s talking about and needs to put on his big boy pants because he’s about to get an education. Then, for the next four chapters, God excoriates Job for doubting God’s power and goodness. He reminds Job that He is the creator and sustainer of all nature. The ocean waves go no further up the beach than God allows. The rain falls exactly where He commands in the exact volume He commands. 

I was once asked by a seminary professor if the concept of God being sovereign over and in charge of ALL my circumstances, good and bad, was encouraging. To some, ascribing God this much power and control is untenable. For them, God is only in charge of the good things and anything bad is outside of His control. But I see it differently. If God is not in control of ALL my circumstances, yet wants what is good for me, then there is a force that can overcome His power. That is untenable. 

So where was God?

So where was God in Houston, Key West, Puerto Rico, Las Vegas, Mexico and elsewhere? He was in the thick of it. Calling the shots and causing all things to serve His plan. Paul said essentially the same thing in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” There is no circumstance in your life that God is not directly involved in. What He doesn’t cause, He allows. He is in charge. If He allows it, there is purpose in it.

The question is, how do we respond? Do we recognize His power, love, and grace? You have an opportunity to see God’s power and surrender in faith that He is working everything for your good, culminating on the perfect life Jesus’ lived before He died to pay the punishment for your sin. You have an opportunity, if you have already experienced coming to a saving faith, to know God more, and discover new ways that He wants to use you to accomplish His plan. Whichever opportunity lies before you, take it. 

Blessings – Josh

Change Your “But” to Your “So”…

I am currently preaching a series on the Mission of the Church. It has been a great first two weeks and I am excited about how the rest of the series is going to progress! Yesterday, we talked about a concept that has been on my mind for a while. I have been unsure of what specific context God wanted me to apply it to, but it became clear as I prepared for Sunday’s (Sept 10, 2017) message. If you would like to get the entire message you can watch it here, or listen and/or download it here.

It is generally recognized that the mission of the church is found in The Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). As Jesus prepared to leave earth and ascend to heaven, these were some of His final words. He has charged us to make disciples. Sunday we looked at two aspects of discipleship we can apply to our lives. I want to briefly discuss the first go deeper on the second.

Influence

If we were to boil down discipleship to its most basic qualities we would find that, at its core, discipleship is influence. We have influence whether we would like to admit to it or not. People are watching. So, how are we using that influence?

Corning FBC is blessed to be a multi-generational church. We have regular attenders from infant to 95 years old. That is an unique blessing! But are we always taking advantage of that? In his second letter to Timothy, Paul challenges his protege to find faithful men, invest in them, then send them to invest in others (2 Timothy 2:2). This process results in a mult-generational legacy for Paul. Ultimately, that legacy continues through us as we invest in others who will invest in others. Sunday I challenged the church to identify someone younger, contact them, and get to work influencing toward the gospel and spiritual maturity.

Change

The practical result of discipleship is that people will be changed. Thankfully, most of us recognize that there are things about our lives we need to change. How often have you said to yourself, “I know I need to change…” and finished that sentence with some habit, wrong attitude, sin, etc. that you recognize needs to change? What we must ask ourselves is what what word comes next. There are two options I want to focus on…

But…

“I know I need to change, but…” It is often easy for us to recognize a need to change, but not have the guts or the discipline to make it happen. I know I need to change, but it’s going to be hard work. I know I need to change, but that’s going to affect how I spend my money, or my time, or my energy. I know I need to change, but what will people think?

There are myriad excuses we can come up with. What’s yours?

So…

“I know I need to change, so…” The difference is subtle, but profound. This is a statement of determination. This a statement of conviction. I know I need to change, so I am going to adjust my routine, or my budget, or my schedule. I know I need to change, so I will have the difficult conversations that may come with that change. I know I need to change, so I will put in however much work I have to.

Can you imagine how much you life, your relationship with God, your relationships with others, and more would change if you simply changed your “but” to your “so”? Again, most of us recognize their is at least some area of our lives that needs to change, but that is only half the battle…the easy half at that.

Now what?

I want to extend the same challenge to you that I did to my church family.

  1. Change your “but” to your “so”. Don’t just talk about it, or plan to do it. Do it.
  2. Identify someone you believe God is encouraging you to influence.
  3. Contact that person.
  4. Get to work.

I would love to hear how any of this affects your life spiritually, relationally, or otherwise. Send me and email and fill me in!

Blessings – Josh

August Giving Challenge – Pray/Give/Go

Over the last two weeks we have looked at methods of stewardship that are strictly monetary (on tithes, click here…on offerings click here or here). This week was a little different. If you missed it, you can catch video of Sunday’s service here, or listen to audio here.

When we think of stewardship, our minds often go to monetary gifts. I know mine does. But there are many different ways we can be good stewards in addition to good financial stewardship. That’s why this week I wanted us to focus on opportunities to serve people that don’t necessarily involve financial sacrifice. I invited speakers to share practical ways we can be good stewards of our time, energy and relationships.

First, Jeremy Irvin spoke on CASA, or Court Appointed Special Advocates. These volunteers invest their time and energy to ensure that foster children in our area are receiving all of the services and care they need. CASA volunteers have total access to investigate and follow-up with foster families to prevent any children from “falling through the cracks” of the DHS system. As Jeremy shares in his talk, you can receive training and support to help you fight for these kids. Jeremy can be contacted for more information at jeremy.irvin@neacasa.org

Second, Don Settles and Mike Vinson shared about the partnership we have with Hope Rising Children’s Home in Leogane, Haiti. Don shared about the multiple projects our teams have completed in the past and Mike spoke on how to get involved and support orphans and underprivileged families in Haiti, including gifts, sponsorships, trips to work, and above all, prayer. If you are interested in helping Hope Rising or our Haiti team who will travel there in October, contact Don at cgba@centurlytel.net or by phone at 870-857-6319.

All of this brings me back to James 1:27. “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.” Do you want to “do church” well? Do you want to please God through your actions? Caring for orphans and others is needs is specifically cited in Scripture. So let’s get it done!

I highly encourage you to follow one of the links above to listen to the entirety of what these speakers shared. There is SO much valuable information!! I am continuing to pray for you and for Corning FBC as we focus on stewardship and how God will use us to make a difference here in Corning and around the world!

Blessings – Josh

August Giving Challenge – Offerings

Last week we looked at the importance of the tithe in the life of the believer. If you haven’t read my post on tithing, check it out here, or watch my message here. This week we look at offerings…how they differ from tithes, the purpose of offerings in our lives, and acceptable offerings that we can give. You can watch my message on offerings here, or listen here.

As previously discussed, the tithe was established nearly five centuries before the law was written. Thus, although it was eventually codified in the rules of the law, the tithe is primarily rooted in a relationship with God. The good news is not that we have to tithe each time we receive income, but that we get to! We get to celebrate God’s provision by returning a portion of what he has given us. The tithe’s practical manifestation is a systematic, percentage based contribution to your church’s general fund.

So what, then, is the offering? Sunday we looked at two stories out of the Old Testament that capture the essence of what the offering is intended to be.

Cain and Abel in Genesis 4

Just after the fall (Genesis 3) Adam and Even begin having children. There first two are sons, Cain and Abel. You can read their story here. So why did God approve of Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? I believe there was a heart issue. Abel gave of the “firstlings” of his flock, while Cain does not seem to make such a distinction. It appears he just gave some of his crop. Abel was truly worshipping through his gift, while Cain was making an offering out of obligation. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Still today, God is looking for givers who give joyfully, out of love.

We church people have an unfortunate tendency to do our religious practice because it’s what we’re used to or because it’s what is expected. I argue that God would rather you did not do these things at all rather than do them with a wrong attitude. The psalmist says it this way, “O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, o God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:15-17). He wants your heart more that He wants your stuff.

Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22

After waiting decades to see the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son, Abraham is now asked to give that son back to God through a sacrifice. Read the story here. The second principle of an offering is sacrifice. More often than not, if God is asking you to make an offering above and beyond your tithe, there will be some sacrifice. You may have to choose not to go ahead with a purchase you were planning or delay something you enjoy having or doing. But, in the end, obedience is worth it! God promises that He will provide for our needs and not let His people go hungry…so trust Him!! He provided Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead of Isaac…He will provide for you too.

Final Thoughts

The most basic difference between tithes and offerings is this: The purpose of the tithe is primarily to support ministry, but you also get a deeper relationship with God. The purpose of the offering is to deepen your trust and reliance on God, but you also get to support ministry. Practically, the tithe is systematic, percentage based giving to your church’s general fund. Offerings are specific opportunities to obey and to bless in addition to what you are tithing.

Spiritually, your greatest offering is yourself. Paul addresses this in Romans where he says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). Give of yourself…your whole self…your time, your talents, your relationship capacity, and yes, your finances.

So ask God how you can best serve Him today. Obey Him with a joyful heart and be willing to sacrifice, if that is what He asks you to do!

Blessings – Josh