Space-Creating Opportunities the Christmas

My wife Kristi and I were pulling down our Christmas decorations this past week, (yes, I know it’s a bit late, but our 6th grandchild was so excited to be born, she came 5 weeks early) and as we were stacking the boxes down in the garage, we noticed a number of items we have not used in years. Some are nostalgic, some were broken and in the rush of getting things out and then put away they have not been fixed are or thrown away, mostly because there is no time to sort or fix or even chuck. As different boxes were handled, we made comments, “We need some time to sort through these things…Oh I can fix this, but just can’t seem to find the opportunity…We really should see if the kids would like some of their special ornaments…OK, we have got to get rid of this, we have not used it years, maybe as we put them all away.” We seem to rarely have space to organizing the Christmas décor.

 

Not only is it difficult to find space for organizing the Christmas décor, it is equally challenging to find time to purchase gifts (what did we do before on-line shopping!!) or attending festive traditions and family gatherings or feeling fully present at church to truly soak in the deeper meanings of this season! It leads to the question, are there any space creating opportunities out there?

 

I do believe the Bible has a few space creating of opportunities we can apply this Christmas. Let’s talk about two. The first is to connect, to connect with God. Jesus was teaching some His followers who were a bit frustrated and worried with how they were going to organize life. Jesus encouraged them and us with this…

Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

To seek the kingdom of God is to seek to know and follow Jesus. When we do, life aligns as we seek to live life under Jesus’ leadership and influence. Connecting with God therefore creates space to for peace, joy, fulfillment, and love. How could you connect with God this Christmas?

 

Connecting with others is another space creating opportunity.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. 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! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

When we connect with others there is space for improved protection, greater encouragement, extending belonging, and exponential production. We are better together. Our connection with others creates space. The reality is, we were created as social beings. Yes some more social than others, but we are all meant to connect in some way to others. Sure, it is easy to feel invisible – lots of people do – but what could we each do reach out and connect with others?

 

The next space creating opportunity is to give. Yes the giving of gifts, time, money, attention, talents, and resources actually creates space. In an online article from the Chicago Tribune entitled, “Be generous: It’s a simple way to stay healthier” quotes Stephen G. Post, founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York to say, “Volunteering moves people into the present and distracts the mind from the stresses and problems of the self. ” As well Posts reports, “Many studies show that one of the best ways to deal with the hardships in life is not to just center on yourself but to take the opportunity to engage in simple acts of kindness.” Giving of our time creates space for well-being and coping with the stresses of life.

 

The article goes on to quote Dan Ariely, Professor of Behavioral Economics and Psychology at Duke University who says, “If you are a recipient of a good deed, you may have momentary happiness, but your long-term happiness is higher if you are the giver.” It is better to give than receive. Jesus put it this way…

Luke 6:38 give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

Now, there are all kinds of opportunities and ways to give during the holidays, why not try a few?

 

My Christmas decorations are going to continue to invade my attic space unless I do something about it. This year my plan is to take some space creating measures. I am also going to seek to make a greater connection with God and others and to find some more opportunity to give. What about you?

 

Church can also be a great space creating opportunity. If you do not already have a church where you attend, we would like to invite you to Cypress Church or any of our branch churches. Our website has all the information you would need www.cypresschurch.net. It would be fun to connect with you.

 

Seeking to create those space-making opportunities along with you, Mike

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Making Room this Christmas

Why is it that we are so busy and impacted this time of the year? Ok, yes there is the shopping for gifts, planning for those special holiday gatherings, decorating, office parties, neighborhood get-togethers, and the many city, community, and church special events. We can add to the mix the traditions we desire to keep and those new customs we are planning add to our celebrations. It makes for a busy time of year where it’s difficult to find room to enjoy it all and certainly does not leave much space to soak in the reason for the season. We get caught up in the whirlwind of the ‘most wonderful time of the year’ and hang on until it’s all over.

 

My wife Kristi and I were talking while driving to care for one of our grand children, after just rushing home from our jobs, wolfing down our dinner, wondering, “How did our life get so full.” We were not complaining and were excited to spend time with our little darlings, but realizing every moment of our day is filled and there is not much space to enjoy it all, let alone savor the moments we are in. We know much of this is due to our ever-expanding family. We went from three kids to six as they each married one summer. Then each couple had a child, adding three more. This three became six as this past year each couple had another child. So yes with the blessed enlargement of our family comes the joy of making room. Love has motivated us to make room and find a new balance.

 

Love is what Christmas is about. Christmas is about God’s great love for humanity, a love that sent us His Son.

John 3:16-17 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.

Jesus came to save us from a terrible condition that stops people from being what they were created to be, holds humanity back from connecting to God, and keeps us all out of heaven. Jesus came to rescue us from all this.

Isaiah 9:6 For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 

See it was love that came down to help, care, lead, guide, and deal with humanity’s sin condition (see Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23).

1 John 4:9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him.

God found room to love us. In the same way love can help us in finding room this Christmas for what matters.

1 John 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

 

This world needs good people like you to find room this Christmas to love others: to interact with your neighbors, bless a person in need, invite a friend to church, help someone on your street with a project, be extra nice to a cashier or employee you encounter, to surprise a friends/co-worker/teacher/public servant with a gift card or word of thanks, and I’m sure you can add other ways to love others to this list. These good works make a difference. They not only brighten people’s day, but creates space for the great love and joy of this time of the year.

Ephesians 2:10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

 

So let God’s great love for you help you in finding room this Christmas. You may discover the best Christmas ever!

 

Church at Christmas is a great place to soak in and be reminded of God’s great love. If you do not already have a church where you attend, we would like to invite you to Cypress Church or any of our branch churches. Each Sunday this December we are going through a Bible teaching series entitled “Finding Room This Christmas.” Our website has all the information you would need www.cypresschurch.net. We would love to share a inspiring moment with you.

 

Find room this Christmas along with you,

Mike

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Take Time to Connect

The holidays are a great time to connect and enjoy the blessing of interaction with others. Connecting with others can be a blessing, a moment where we encourage, help, affirm, give aid, compliment, praise, value, acknowledge, and provide a positive and load-lightening instance for another. Like the other day in Costco where my wife, Kristi was doing some last minute Thanksgiving shopping and a woman asked my wife a question about some children’s books. I don’t think this woman knew Kristi was a teacher, but Kristi gladly shared her thoughts. The woman then opened up to an issue she was dealing with and my wise, kind, and loving wife gave her some helpful insights. The woman was so glad she connected with Kristi and walked away blessed! I also had an experience at Costco where a woman stopped me and asked if I knew anything about turkeys (I had two in my cart for our feast). Though this encounter was not as deep as Kristi’s, the woman thanked me for the blessing.

 

We as people desire connection. Sure, introverts seek connection less than extroverts, but we all desire that sense of community and togetherness. Actually, I just read some interesting research from the Barna Group, that one in four adults spends holidays with neighbors! This ‘friendsgiving’ is an indicator we desire and search after connecting with others, and are blessed for it! King Solomon from the Bible, who happens to be known for his wisdom, said this about connecting with others…

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil, 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! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

 

We were created to connect. That’s why there are over 50 ‘one another’ verses in the Bible that encourage taking time to connect. Here are a few…

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

Romans 12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.

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

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

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

1 Peter 4:9 Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

 

Connection takes some initiative on our part. Sure we can, and should, take time to connect when someone seeks an interaction with us, but we should also initiate, like Nels!?! Nels is my almost 3 years old grandson and we were out the other day and he kept initiating connection with others. Nels was saying ‘hi’ to anyone and everyone we would walk by. But he did not just say ‘hi’ to say the word. He wanted a response, a connection. He would actually keep saying “hi…Hi…HI” until that person would respond. Most did, and for most it was not just a quick ‘hello’ and on with their day. They stopped, locked eyes and responded. Some came over and chatted for a while. Some were even surprised, and one or two looked a little shocked that someone noticed them or gave them attention, but their face lit up and they even thanked Nels for saying hi.

 

Nels was not discriminating in seeking a connection with others. Nels said hi to young, old, teen, young adult, men, and women. Ethnicity did not matter either, he just kept saying hi. Yes, a few obviously did not speak English, but to make sure he communicated, he waved and smiled big. Nels’ joy and bright eyes communicated. They would pleasantly respond with big smiles, some mimicking the way he said hi and his funny wave.

 

Oh, we get so busy, and into our list of things to do, and consumed with the stresses of life, and distracted by our own issues, we miss out on the blessings of connecting with others. The holidays are busy, but even for a moment out at the store or just saying ‘hi,’ why not take time to connect.

 

Church can also be a great place to connect with others, especially during the holidays. If you don’t already have a church where you attend, please feel invited Cypress Church or any of our branch churches. Our website has all the information you would need www.cypresschurch.net. We would love to connect with you.

 

Taking time to connect along with you,

Mike

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Be Thankful, Gratitude is Good for You!

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.               1 Thessalonians 5:18

 

We have been told that being thankful and saying ‘thank you’ is polite and kind, but gratitude is also amazingly beneficial to our whole being. In an online Forbes Magazine article entitled 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits Of Gratitude That Will Motivate You To Give Thanks Year-Round, evidence was given that gratitude is good for us. The article cited studies that reveal showing appreciation opens opportunity for future connection. It seems that we being thankful and showing gratitude make us more attractive to others to continue a conversation with or seek more interaction with. I know I have observed this in people at our local coffee shop. One woman, as she received her coffees, looked the barista in the eye, smiled and said, “Thank you.” The worker responded with a surprised but hearty, “You’re Welcome!” Others noticed the woman’s appreciation and helped her get her drinks together as another observer opened the door for her and say, “Wow, I bet your office is going love you this morning.” They exchanged a few more words as the conversation faded with the closing of the door. I even think the guy that held the door also helped get her car door. However, up came another customer, not in a thankful mood at all and barked out, “Where are my drinks.” The same barista handed them to the customer with a smile and, “Here you go!” The customer made no appreciative comment, no ‘Thank you,’ but utters an auditable disapproving ‘tah.’ What was very obvious is no one sought to help this guy pull together his drinks and as he headed for the door, people just got out of his way and basically avoided him. Being thankful connects us to others.

The Forbes article goes on to say that expressing gratitude has proven to improve heath, increase happiness, and reduce aggression. Thankful people are also proven to sleep better as spending a few minutes writing out what you are grateful put you in a more positive state that leads to deeper and longer sleep. Also, acknowledging those things you are thankful for, even in the midst of difficulty, builds emotional strength and resilience. I was just talking to my daughter who is a bit apprehensive about going back to work after her second child. Yet, in recounting all the blessings and ways God has provided help, her thankfulness is easing her anxiety.

Being thankful is truly good for us. This is why God encourages us to be grateful.

Colossians 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Colossians 4:2 Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.

And since James 1:17 of the Bible says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change,” we should be thankful to God.

Psalm 95:2-3 Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise! For the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.

Psalms 100:4 Enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! Give thanks to Him; bless His name!

Psalms 106:1 Praise the LORD! Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!

Psalms 107:1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!

So what are you thankful for? Why not take time to express your gratitude, not just the day of Thanksgiving, but start making appreciation a daily practice. Maybe even start a “Thankfulness Journal” and each night before you go to bed jot down a few expression of gratitude.

Philippians 4:6-7 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Be thankful. Gratitude is good for you!! Church is a great place to express thankfulness to God and contemplate those things in life we appreciate. If you do not already have a church you attend, we would like to invite you to Cypress Church or one of our Branch Churches. Our website can direct you: http://cypresschurch.net/. We would love to connect with you.

Oh and thank you for reading this.

Seeking to be more thankful along with you,

Mike

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Is Church a Safe Place?

How do we grapple with the recent church shooting?

I’m sure many of you were once again shocked at the evil and heinous act of yet another shooter who took out his hate and anger on a little Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Twenty-six dead, including children, the elderly, and even the pastor’s daughter, by the hand of deranged individual whose in-laws were part of the church. All shot while attending a Sunday morning church service! A church, a sacred, supposed safe haven for people to connect with God.

 

The questions flurry: Why would the gunman do such a thing? Why at the church? What is happening in our world that people would act out in this deplorable way? Why attack people who have no ties to the shooter? Why children?? Why the pastor’s daughter? The questions then go even deeper: Why would God not stop this or any evil? Where is God in this? Is church a safe place?

 

Many of these, and other questions, no one can answer and those who are close to the epicenter of this or any tragedy, no answer will satisfy their grief or relieve their suffering. Their pain and anguish will take time and love as they journey though the deep valley of their pain and affliction. God will and can help them.

Psalms 34:18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

 

The reality of life is that evil has become more overt. There are more cases of bullying in schools, at work, and in our communities. Road rage continues to escalate. Domestic violence, crime, and mass shootings are ever increasing. People’s normal governors and restrains seem to dissolve or be overpowered with their obsession to act out their anger, hate, rage and aggression. The Bible, through the words of Jesus put it this way…

John 16:33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

In life there will be anguish, burdens, trials, persecutions, suffering, hard circumstances, and troubles. This tribulation is a result of our sin-saturated world (see Romans 3:23) where evil is allowed through the free will of humanity. See, God in His high value of love must also allow people to have the freedom to choose. It would not truly be love without this freedom of choice, making life far worse than we could imagine and we would be more like robots programmed to act. To have and experience love and God’s great love, there must also be the freedom to make choices, and some people choose evil. Their evil choices have destructive effects.

 

However, we also have the freedom to choose to be loving, kind, and helpful. Jesus put it this way…

John 13:34-35 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Actually, the best way to curb and combat evil and push back the darkness is to be kind, loving, and doing good. Jesus again challenges us…

Matthew 22:37-39 And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

As well we need to be wise as we live in these difficult days.

Matthew 10:16 Behold, I (Jesus) am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as

doves.

We need to be wise and step up security, even at church. I know at our church we have, and continue to develop, security measures and surveillance. We have a security team keeping watch as we worship. If you are a church leader, please look into making your place of worship a safe environment. You can connect with your local police department for insight. I have found a few articles on line that are helpful, one older one from Christianity Today and one recent from Thomrainer.com (if you are reading this in print form please email me and I will send you the links mike@cypresschurch.net). Sure, I wish we did not have to do all this, and yes, I trust God completely. Because of my trust in God I follow His Word, the Bible, and seek to be wise and make church a safe place to enjoy God and learn of His great love.

 

So let’s combat hate, anger and aggression with being loving, kind, and helpful, spreading the good of God. Yes, be wise, stepping up security. As well, let’s pray for peace and pray for those affected by evil.

Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Also don’t let fear keep you from church. If you don’t already have a church where you attend, please feel invited Cypress Church or any of our branch churches. Our website has all the information you would need www.cypresschurch.net.

 

Seeking to push back evil with God’s love along with you,

Mike

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Take Time to Play

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,

Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute of Play and author of Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul said, “I have gathered and analyzed thousands of case studies that I call play histories. I have found that remembering what play is all about and making it part of our daily lives are probably the most important factors in being a fulfilled human being. The ability to play is critical not only to being happy, but also to sustaining social relationships and being a creative, innovative person.” In addition, an on-line article from Psychology Today entitled 5 Reasons You Need to Play More, states that play boosts creativity, helps us think outside the box, improves our health, make us present, and connects us. Play does add much to life and we should take time to play.

It is all too easy for the intensity of our day, the overwhelming list of to do’s, responsibilities, and action items to push out opportunities for enjoyment. Yet, play is important, even at work! Actually Stuart Brown has also said, “There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.” Yes, there are times we need to be serious and intense, but also times to play and dance. The Bible encourages this balance in life.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-4 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.

Honestly, this area of play is one I personally struggle with as most of my childhood was surviving the upheaval of an alcoholic family and inheriting a drive to achieve. However, I have learned much from others, especially though those little professors of life in my grandkids, and other children I meet, like the amazing kids in my wife’s kindergarten class. I was with my wife’s class just the other day and play was as important as learning to write, and even in the learning there was an element of play. Play does recharge, rejuvenate, revive, refresh, renew, and regenerate. Many times, play does not just happen, we have to purpose to play, schedule play, and make and take time to play.

The Bible affirms the importance of play.

Ecclesiastes 5:18 Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot.

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

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

So what would it take to incorporate some good, clean fun into your day? Maybe it’s lunch at a new restaurant. Maybe it’s getting outside for a short walk, starting or picking up that hobby, or connecting with that fun friend. Play could be reading a fun book, watching a favorite show or comedian. Play could be a night out, a walk on the beach, taking in a movie, enjoying your favorite snack or beverage. Yes we need to be careful we do not have fun at the expense of others or have our play be hurtful in any way, but good clean fun is out there. Why not take time to play, even today!!

Church may not be the first place thought of when ‘play’ comes mind. But church should include times of fun and play. I know our church does. If you don’t already have a church where you attend, we would like to invite you to Cypress Church or any of our branch churches. Our website has all the information you would need www.cypresschurch.net.

Seeking to take time to play along with you,

Mike

 

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The Adventure of Trust

Trust, belief, and faith are words that describe and challenge us to stretch beyond. The Bible calls this trust, faith and is describes as an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen Hebrews 11:1. We extend minor trust all the time: trust in the products we purchase, trust in the chairs we sit in, trust in the banks we use, trust in the restaurants we frequent, trust in the friends we have, trust in the God we serve and live for. Minor trust or little trust comes easy, we read about the trust experience people have by their Yelp or other reviews making our trust not so risky, but safer.

 

Now, yes there is an adventure in minor or little trust but to make great strides in life, truly reaching our potential and enjoying the great adventure of life God has for us, we are going to need to extend great trust, belief, and faith. The adventure of trust is amazing! Two executives were talking about a business venture that would not only expand the market share but also bring their worthwhile product to an even greater audience. One executive was very doubtful, fear had gripped him and he was talking of all the potential pit falls and dangers. He blurted out, “What if we fail?” The other executive answered back, “But if we succeed!?!” as he listed off all the possibilities and benefits that could come. He spoke as if he could see it and as if it had already happened. Now, they did have to make sure their venture answered possible problems, seeing them as the normal rough roads of innovation and change, yet not getting stalled or stopped by fear. The short version of this story is they went for it and business expanded and many benefited from their great product. Their adventure of trust was worth it.

It is all too easy to get stalled or stopped by fear and not take on the risky adventure of trust. What if that new friend burns us? So we don’t risk trusting in new relationships. What if we don’t get that new job or new opportunity? So we don’t risk going after something that will stretch us because we might not get it and then have to deal with the rejection. Even with faith in God, the mystery of it all seems a bit daunting. So we keep God and faith in Him at a distance, not risking the adventure of trust, faith in Him.

 

What is amazing about faith in God is that He initiates and empowers us with faith.

Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The phrase “this is not of your own doing” not only speaks of grace, but faith. God even gives us what is needed to have faith. Actually faith is responding to God prompting. Faith in God is not some mustering up of super-belief or trust. The adventure of trust with God is simply responding to His encouragement.

Proverbs 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths.

Psalms 84:12 O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!

Psalms 9:10 And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.

 

So let’s jump into the adventure of trust. Don’t let fear grip you but navigate the obstacles and enjoy the journey. Maybe even try to stretch out in your faith journey with God. There is a great adventure of trust waiting!

 

Church is obviously a perfect place to grow in faith with God, but it is also a place to be encouraged in our adventure of trust. If you don’t already have a church where you attend, we would like to invite you to Cypress Church or any of our branch churches. Our website has all the information you would need www.cypresschurch.net.

 

Seeking to enjoy this adventure of trust along with you,

 

Mike

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