Maximizing Your Stretch

I am not sure about you, but the stretch it takes to be consistent in exercise is not my favorite. I know it’s good for me and I exercise most every day, but much of the time, it’s difficult. I know I am better for it and it keeps me mentally sharp, as well as improving my health, helping me to be in a better mood, and quite possibly extending my life. But the push to keep running, keep lifting, keep on that elliptical machine is not all that fun, nor does the stretch to do it cease. I know when I was training for a marathon, it was a stretch not only to lace up my shoes and start pounding the pavement, but also to prep to make sure I had enough water and to carve out the time to run. Now, yes the ‘runners high’ did and does kick in after stretching out to extend beyond, but it still required the effort to get and be stretched! The truth is, the stretch is important. Sure, stretching your muscles before the exercise, but also the stretch to go beyond.

 

This stretching reality of life hits all areas of life: work, home, friends, school, and the ups and downs of life experiences. At work we are stretched with projects and tasks we are either asked to do or take on that push us beyond. At home or in our relationships with friends we are stretched ever further as we seek to love and care for others in an unselfish way. At school the stretch is every day as we expand our knowledge and learn, and budget our time to get assignments done. Life’s ups stretch us to win well and not let our accomplishments take us down the road of arrogance. Life’s difficulties and even tragedies stretch our faith and emotions as we slog through the troubles of the day. In all this the question comes, how do we stretch well? How do we maximize these stretching moments? I believe an answer is found in three actions; to look up, look in, and look out.

 

To look up is to consider the God of the Bible. Jesus has said…

Matthew 11:28   Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

Like a great coach, Jesus wants to walk with us in these stretching times not only to give us the needed rest, but also to get us back out there because we gain from these stretching trials.

James 1:2-3  2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,  3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

This steadfastness is an endurance and a building of our character. Much of character is built in times where we are stretched or in suffering through different trials of life.

Romans 5:3-5  3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

God’s deep desire for us is to be the people He created us to be and that takes good coaching through the trails and tough times of life. When we come to faith in Him, His Spirit is right there guiding us and helping us stretch well, maximizing our stretch! So look up to God and He will help you get the most out of your stretching experiences (see also James 1:5, Proverbs 3:5-6).

 

Looking in is that natural introspection and considering of what we can learn from this time of stretching. Too often, we want to get to the end of the ordeal and yet there is much to gain from the stretching time of waiting. Waiting squeezes us, allowing us to see our issues and ways to work on them. In some of my stretching moments, my impatience is revealed along with my tendency to want to be in control. I am challenged to trust God and lean on Him as I wait.

 Psalm 40:1-3 I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.

 

To look out is to see that my life is not just about me, but the others God has placed in my life. My stretching can help me be a better person as I grow and learn. As well, my stretching and what I learn from it can help others who are being stretched in a similar way.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4   3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

 

If we want to improve, be better, be the people God created us to be, we will be stretched. To maximize these times of stretching is to look up to God, trusting Him to guide, look in and be a bit introspective, and look out to help others. Let’s maximize our stretch.

 

As we are stretched, church is a great place to gain perspective and learn. If you do not regularly attend a church, we would love to invite you to attend Cypress Church or one or our branch churches. Our web site has all the information for all our campuses: www.cypresschurch.net . You would be among others who are seeking to maximize their stretch as well.

 

Seeking to gain from the stretch along with you,

 

Mike

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A Hidden Beauty in Connection and Inclusion

“We’ve been buddies for over 60 years,” was the opening comments as he began the eulogy. “Our lives were intertwined where his life was an extension of mine, and my life an extension of his, and I learned a lot from him and he learned a lot from me.” As I listened more to this wonderful, beautiful story of two unlikely fellows making a choice to be connected and include each other in their lives, it was heartwarming, encouraging, and even challenging. They were as connected as if they were born into the same family, but even more so for their connection came from a willful choice to weave into each other’s lives and be there for each other. They fixed cars together, went on family camping trips and vacations with each other. They were best of friends, yet more. Their inclusion and connection enhanced their lives.

 

The Bible has a lot to say about the value of our interactions with others.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12   9 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  10 For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  11 Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

We were never meant to go through life alone. Now sure some people have a lot connections and other have less, but it’s not the amount, it the willingness to include and be included. This is not easy in our individualistic, me-centered culture where we want people to connect and be included in our world without trying to weave together their interests and integrate their ideas, thoughts, and insights. That takes work, but there is a beauty in experiencing the enhancement of being connected. It’s seeing we can be better, and they can too, as we learn and teach each other, help and gain assistance, lead and follow, and give and receive. It is the mutual benefit of being connected and making the choice to be inclusive.

Galatians 6:2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Hebrews 10:24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Romans 12:10 Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

 

So let’s be part, or continue to be part, of the beauty of connection and inclusion. Create some margin in life for interactions with others. Include people in your life and be willing to be included in theirs. You will be better for it and enjoy a beautiful experience.

 

Church can be a place to interact with others where we can connect and include. If you do not regularly attend a church, we would like to feel welcome to attend Cypress Church or one or our branch churches. Our web site has all the information for all our campuses: www.cypresschurch.net . You might just find your next best friend!

 

Seeking that beauty of connection and inclusion along with you,

 

Mike

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Sleep Really Helps

Yes, it is true. Sleep really does help. Health care professionals say it’s important and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says, “Sleep plays a vital role in good health and well-being throughout your life. Getting enough quality sleep at the right times can help protect your mental health, physical health, quality of life, and safety.” (See this web site for more: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why). Yet it seems a lot of people don’t seem to get enough and walk around sleep deprived. I was grabbing a quick, but healthy lunch at a local restaurant, and as I was paying for my food, the cashier got a bit confused and apologized saying, “Sorry, I hardly got any sleep last night.” My wife and I were out and greeted an employee handing out samples, and in asking how she was doing, she responded emphatically, “Exhausted!” We hear it at work, at home, at school, out shopping, almost everywhere people are either expressing how tired they are or looking wearied, drained, fatigued, and simply tired.

 

Now, there are a lot of reasons people can’t seem to get the sleep they need: busy life, medical issues, some medicines can cause insomnia, emotional issues, too much caffeine or sugar, having a new baby in your home, stress, pain, eating too much, watching too much TV, and the list goes on. As well, people react differently, and what affects one person’s sleep may not affect yours. Regardless, we all need sleep, and sleep really helps.

 

Medical experts and physiologists all agree that sleep is an important reality of life and truly helps our quality of life. There is also a spiritual aspect of sleep that really helps as well. First, we were created by God with a necessity for sleep and rest.

Psalm 127:2  It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep.

It is part of God’s design that we take time every day to sleep. Our human bodies need it. But secondly, it reminds us that we are limited, finite people and not some god-type being that has no limits. I knew a man who thought he was mentally superior to most, and that sleep was for the weak. Sure, he may not have required as much sleep as some, but it greatly affected his health. See, it is God who never sleeps. He is God and His power is limitless, but we are not God.

Psalm 121:1-4 I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?  2 My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.  3 He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.  4 Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

It is a comforting reality that as we rest God watches over us.

Psalm 4:8  In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

Psalm 3:5-6  5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.  6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.

 

A third reason sleep is good for the soul is that it puts us in a place where we release control. We humans love to be in charge and in control of much of what is around us. In sleep, we let go and rest from the efforts, toils, hassles, and having to be “on” in life. This time of release is important to recalibrate us and fuel us for the next day. It puts us in that place of trust in God.

Proverbs 3:5-8   5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.  8 It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones.  

 

Jesus says He will help us find rest if we seek Him.

Matthew 11:28  Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

I know I have struggled with sleep at times, but I do know God designed sleep and that sleep really helps.

 

Though church is not designed to be a place where we catch up on sleep (though I’m sure some do), it is a great place to learn of our amazing God and that we rest, trusting in Him. If you do not regularly attend a church, we would like to invite you to Cypress Church or one or our branch churches. Our web site has all the information for all our campuses: www.cypresschurch.net . We would love for you to rest in the Lord with us.

 

Seeking to enjoy better sleep as you do as well,

 

Mike

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Let’s Have Some Fun!

“Come on Trevor we are trying to take this picture, settle down!” Trevor’s dad reached for Trevor’s shoulder and with a firm grip pulling his son to his side. Trevor did stand there but began to make funny faces and dramatic poses as grandma, who was taking the photo, laughed. Trevor’s mom chimed in, “Trevor, will you calm down?!.” The other two kids were falling in line, yet just standing there with more tired and blank stares on their face. Grandma retorted, come on everyone smile, look like you are having fun like Trevor. Trevor took that as a cue to run, or I think he was pretending to fly, around the family yelling out, “Wheeeeee!” Mom rolled her eyes. Dad looked exasperated. The other two kids went back to their blank stares. Grandma jumped in and started to chase Trevor with a big smile saying “I’m going to get you.” Dad threw up his hands. Grandma caught Trevor and with a few tickles and a whisper placed him next to his. Grandma went back to her spot and snapped the photo. She handed the camera to the dad and with a wink said, “Let’s have some fun like Trevor!”

 

Kristi (my wife) and I observed this little scene as we were out on one of our date nights. To me it was a little vignette of life and I found myself identifying with most every family member. Life at times is exasperating with the pressures of deadlines, troubles, difficulties, and responsibilities. Life can also be that eye-rolling frustration of not working out as planned. As well, life can suck the life right out of you and we can be numbed and dazed at it all. However, there is Trevor and Grandma! They both seem to find the fun in it all and enjoy the moment.

 

This whole scene reminded me of my grandfather who taught me the art of having fun, even in the midst of difficulty. More than once he came to my rescue as I faced the hardship of growing up in an alcoholic family. As my dad would set off on one of his alcoholic induced rants, my amazing grandfather would bring in some funny story, some funny dance, or some funny faces and the tense atmosphere would change to laughter and joy. I wanted to be just like my grandfather. Now it took me a bit to learn the appropriate time to bring in some fun (I got into a lot of trouble being the class clown, but that is another story), and I am continuing to learn, but fun is an important part of life.

 

God wants us to have some fun.

Ecclesiastes 2:24 There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God,

Ecclesiastes 3:12-13  12 I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live;  13 also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil – this is God’s gift to man.

.Now, timing is important.

Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4  For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

It is all too easy to never plan for fun. When was the last time you really laughed? I mean that belly, I’m going to wet my pants laughter where you start to cry. When was the last time you really had fun? Yes we are all allowed to have fun. We just need to make time for it. Now of course our fun can’t be at the expense of others or that is hurtful or damaging. We need to enjoy it as a gift from God.

1 Corinthians 10:31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

 

So have some fun!

Proverbs 17:22  A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Ecclesiastes 8:15  And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.

 

Church can be a fun place to be and learn the fun life God has for us. I know our church is a place like that and especially around Easter time.  We have a wonderful Easter week planned with special services on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Our web site has all the information for all our campuses: www.cypresschurch.net . We would love for you to join in on our fun.

 

Seeking to have some fun in life along with you,

 

Mike

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The Powerful Opportunity of Inclusion

On occasion I have the joyful opportunity to visit my wife’s kindergarten class. Each time I spend time with these amazing little people, I am both encouraged and blessed by their kindness, joy, laughter, curiosity, honesty, and the great way they seek to enjoy each other’s differences. I saw some girls playing and having fun by the tree, and another little girl was a little ways away, by herself, looking like she did not know what to do. She was a new girl and not just new to the school, but new to this country. She did not know anyone, nor did she know English. But these amazing little girls noticed her, went over to her, and reaching out their hands they invited her to be included in their fun. A smile came over her face as they all went off to play. Wow! I wish there were more people like these little girls in our world. I wish I was more like those little girls. See these kids were not looking to divide or exclude, as my amazing wife has created an inclusive classroom culture. This inclusion is the weaving together each other’s differences and finding the fun, adventure, and life lessons in our diversities. Sure she needed teach the powerful opportunity of inclusion, for exclusion and division seem to be a natural reality of human nature. She explains differences like food, culture, clothing, hair color, skin color, languages, and accents are exciting and help us to see that people are people and each other’s uniqueness enhance who we are and are to be celebrated.

 

Yet it seems that this innocence and powerful opportunity of inclusion get washed away with the strong current of our ‘me-centered’, self-obsessed climate. We tend to exclude people who are not like us, or wish to have them conform to our way of life rather than celebrating their differences and finding the joy in developing relationships and connections with all kinds of people.

 

God created us different. There are not two people exactly alike, not even identical twins. We have unique finger prints, unique teeth, unique personalities, unique upbringings, unique cultural histories, and we all think a bit differently. God made us that way.

Psalm 139:13-14  13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.  14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

None of us are a mistake; we are ‘wonderfully made.’ Made to relate and interact with each other like the unique parts of the physical body.

1 Corinthians 12:12-14   12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.  13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.  14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.

Diverse as we may be culturally or economically or any other difference, God’s desire is for us to seek the powerful opportunity of the unity of inclusion.

Galatians 3:28   28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  

It means we don’t show favoritism or see one’s culture or difference as better or worse, but just different and unique.

James 2:1  My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

Partiality is that unjust distinction of valuing or devaluing a person because they are different.

 

God’s intent is that we would tap into the power of inclusion and enjoy the rich flavors and colors of our uniqueness, learning and growing as we do. See, when I connect with my Cambodian friends, my understanding of perseverance grows as I hear their stories of surviving the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge. As I interact with my Indian friends, I gain from their kindness, drive and great food! I am inspired by my Filipino friends’ hospitality, servant’s heart, and how easily they make friends. What a great joy to be around such a wonderful variety of people. Let’s gain from the powerful opportunity of inclusion.

 

Many churches are filled with all kinds of unique people. I know our church is, and we would love for you to join us if you don’t already have a church you attend. Easter week is a great time to try church for the first time or if you have not been in a while.  We have a wonderful Easter week planned with special services on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Our web site has all the information for all our campuses: www.cypresschurch.net . We would love for you to find this powerful opportunity of inclusion with us.

 

Seeking to be more inclusive along with you,

 

Mike

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When Love Runs

One Sunday afternoon my wife and I were on our way to a park for one of our branch church’s anniversary celebrations. We parked the car and, seeing the bounce house and a gathering of people, we started heading across the grass to that part of the park. As I was scanning the crowd for familiar faces, my wife noticed one of our kids, their spouse and our grandson. So I yelled out to or grandson and he started to look around, his mom pointed him in my direction and he started running towards me, yelling, ‘Papa, Papa!’, and I instinctively went running towards him calling his name. I scooped him up and swung him around as we were hugging he asked, ‘And Mormor?’ (Mormor is Swedish for mother’s mother and what all our grandkids call my wife) and then he proceeded to tell me about all his adventures of the day so far. Now, I’m not sure what was going through his little mind that moved him to run towards me, but I know I was compelled to run because of the deep love I have for him. Like with all my grandsons their mere presence ignites love-motivated actions in me. Sure, it was not all that dignified, nor all that graceful to see a guy my age break into a run, but I had to. Love does that. Sometimes love runs.

 

It reminds me of a story Jesus told and recorded in Luke 15:11-32. The story has been given a number of titles; The Prodigal Son, The Tale of Two Sons, The Lost Sons. The story does speak of a man’s two sons, but actually is more about the father and his love-motivated run. The story goes like this…

Luke 15:11-12   11 And He (Jesus) said, “There was a man who had two sons.  12 And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.   

Now this younger son goes off and squanders his resources and comes up alone, starving, and in great need. Coming to his senses he remembers his father’s house and even how well his father’s employees are treated. This younger son devises a plan to return to his father’s house, to at least be one of his workers. As the dejected son makes his way home, his father notices and runs towards him and wraps him up in his arms.

Luke 15:20 And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.

Love does that. Love runs to restore relationships. Love sprints to reconnect. Love races to reconcile. Yet there is something that holds us back from love. It’s found in the story of the other son. See, the father, so taken by the love of the this lost son now found, accepted him back, brought him into honor, and even threw a party for him. Love does that. Love runs to forgiveness. Love sprints to mercy. Love races to compassion. But the older son was struck with envy and a pride that he should be most favored, or only favored. So he refused to accept this younger son’s return and would not enter the father’s house. So love moved the father to run out to him.

Luke 15:28  But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him,

The story ends with no resolution. We don’t know if the older son every embraced the father’s love, but we do know the love of the father moved the father to run.

 

This is a beautiful story about God and His active love towards humanity. God loves all of us and continues to run towards us and after us. He wants so much for us to connect with Him, to come into His house and enjoy life in relationship with Him. This is really what the Easter season is all about. God running towards us providing the way and opportunity for us to connect to Him through what Jesus did on the cross, then verified by Jesus’ resurrection.

 

I encourage you to consider God’s great love and explore Jesus this Easter season. Church is a great place to learn about Jesus, especially over Easter week (April 9-16). If you do not have a church you regularly attend, please feel invited to ours. We have a wonderful Easter week planned with special services on Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. Our web site has all the information for all our campuses: www.cypresschurch.net . We would love for you to experience God’s love with us.

 

Running with Love along with you,

 

Mike

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The Nervous Thrill of Letting Go

I remember as a kid gripping the pool deck in fear, yet wanting so bad to enjoy swimming. So, I would move hand over hand pulling myself around the pool ever-eyeing all those other kids, some even younger, splashing about, jumping off the diving board and stroking effortlessly across the pool. I wanted so badly to swim, but this powerful fear kept me glued to the deck. That fear would turn in to great frustration and even terror when someone would not move as I was inching my way around the poolside, so careful not to lose my grip and there having to take that lunge of faith to reach around them. I hated being so scared and wondered if I would ever be able to let go. I tried a few times in the shallow end were I could touch the bottom of the pool, but that lack of confidence kept me in arms reach of the poolside. I was pathetic, but held out hope that somehow this fear would loosen enough for me release my grip and least try. It happened one summer day, sitting disgusted with myself on the pool deck, watching everyone having so much fun. I let go of my fear slid into the pool and launched out into the deep end.

 

Fear has a way of gripping us and holding us back. Now, I am not talking about that fearful respect of the water or fire, or dangerous ventures where healthy fear keeps us from major harm. The fear I am talking about is that debilitating fear that holds us back from growth and experiencing all that God has for us in life. Because, like learning to swim most any worthwhile, life-challenging, growth creating venture takes the risk of overcoming fear. What if that relationship does not last? What if that new job turns more difficult than expected? What if the sacrifice is really difficult to learn that new talent? The list of ‘what ifs’ is endless. The clench of fear tightens and the poolside becomes more comfortable than the freedom of letting go.

 

God as a lot to say about the grip of fear…

Isaiah 41:10  fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

God’s help is available if we are willing to turn towards Him and trust Him. God is amazing and wants us to enjoy the thrill of the life He has for us, but it does take us letting go of our entitled, self-focused notions and reach for Him.

Proverbs 3:5-7   5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.  7 Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil.

This ‘fear of the Lord’ is not an afraid fear, but a reverent respect that God is awesome, amazing, and all-powerful and deserving of obedient honor. It is the letting go of devotion to other things and being dedicated to God and His way of life. This reverence of God is also letting go of debilitating fear of our world with disease, cancer, the economy, government, wars, the future, what’s going to happen with our families and trust in a loving God who really does care for us.

Zephaniah 3:17  The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by His love; He will exult over you with loud singing.

In an encounter with Jesus, a religious leader so desperate to save his little girl’s life came to Jesus, who had worked amazing miracles on others, might help is precious little girl. Jesus was on His way when work came it was too late. This man’s greatest fear was being realized. Yet Jesus said…

Mark 5:36 But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”  

You can read the full story in the Bible book of Mark 5:21-42. Belief in the Lord makes a difference.

Psalm 46:1-3 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,  3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.

 

I am not sure what fears have gripped you, but I do know that letting go and swimming in the pool of God’s way of life is amazing!

 

Once I let go of that poolside I grew into a fairly good swimmer. Joined a swim team and even qualified for the Junior Olympics. I love the water and feel at home and free no longer held back by fear. I have felt that same way in my life with God.

 

Church is one of those places where we can let go and enjoy God. If you do not already have a church you regularly attend, please feel invited to our church. Our website has information about our various campuses and online sermons: www.cypresschurch.net .

 

Seeking that nervous thrill of letting go of fear along with you,

 

Mike

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