By Pam Otto



I cozied up in my morning chair, grabbed my cup of Joe, and started to read one of my favorite devotionals. Some mornings I find a little nugget that I want to remember, so I jot it down in my journal. Other mornings I find myself going through the motions without sensing any specific direction, thumbing through the Bible, hoping for something to jump off the pages. But… I always stand amazed at the moments when I am deeply moved by the Words of God, when the verses that I’ve read countless times seem to jump off the page and into my heart! What a great reminder that the Word of God is living, powerful and active! (Heb. 4:12)


Today I “happened” upon two very familiar verses that convicted my spirit and allowed me to see into some stuck places in my own life. Don’t you love the way that God knows each of us so deeply, so intimately that He is able to gently lead us to a new place?


I ran across 1 Corinthians 13:5 which says, “Love keeps no record of wrongs.”  Then I read Romans 8:1 which states, “There is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”This is when I had my ‘Aha’ moment, my personal nudge from God.


I know these verses. They are familiar and I’m in full agreement. But, my heart was telling me that knowing these verses looks different than living them out. If I want to truly love the way that God loves, I need to stop keeping a record of wrong, and that includes to stop silently condemning others in my heart. I mean, I typically don’t condemn people out-loud…that would simply be mean, right?


God was revealing to me that I need to put to death the idea that I am somehow the judge of another. He wants me to start loving those challenging relationships without keeping score, without remembering past hurts, without rehashing old wounds and without any condemnation. The love that I am to freely extend to others in those sticky places comes to me through the Holy Spirit. It’s not my imperfect, selfish love that needs to grow but the perfect, life-giving love of God that needs to increase and be on display in me and through me.


My desire is to put away my childish ways of loving others, and to invite the Love of God into each and every relationship and watch how God continues to reshape and reveal His perfect love through my imperfect heart. Since God does not condemn those who belong to Him, shouldn’t I do the same?


What about you? Are you loving those difficult, prickly people in your life well? Have you ever kept records of wrongs done in the past that you pull up from time to time and let simmer in the corners of your heart? Let’s invite God into those places and begin loving others more generously with transformed hearts.

By Dawn Santos


I recently completed the Freedom study for the first time. I went into the study very open-minded though I knew exactly why I was drawn to join this small group. I wanted to hear God’s voice and I was seeking the peace of Christ.


I was hopeful that I would complete the journey and find the freedom that comes when you surrender to God’s will. Upon completion, I understood that what we had done together as a small group of women was just the beginning of a pursuit for true freedom. It was a much needed jumpstart in embracing a new way of life and in gaining a Biblical perspective of who God is.


Even though I left this much-needed fellowship with a lighter burden, the more powerful testimony I have to share is that the Freedom experience brought the Holy Spirit to life in a tangible way. I’ve always had difficulties wrapping my human mind around the Spirit of God but when the Word of God is used to explain Him, the once-perceived mysteries are unveiled quite perfectly.



2 Corinthians 3:17 says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”


If I had read this verse before going through Freedom, I probably would have gone on a spiritual mission searching for the Spirit of the Lord. Will I find it in this 7-day devotional? Can a song on the JoyFM point me in the right direction? Will this sermon guide me toward Him? It does say that freedom is where the Spirit of the Lord is. It seemed as if my answers were always outside, hidden inside some puzzle I needed to solve with logic and academic study. 


I’m so thankful to God that I read it after going through Freedom because now I see that the Spirit is within me, alive, and transforming me as I surrender to Him daily. For as long as I have acknowledged the Spirit of God that dwells within me, I have had Freedom. I just wasn’t fully acknowledging the power of the Spirit. When I heard Kristin Bonham explain the Spirit, I realized that everything I was searching for was already available to me. God helped me look within, to pray, to confess, to empty myself of myself, and stop resisting His power and peace. I am grateful for the many revelations that were brought to life for me during this short time!


The Freedom Group may be perceived as something for those who are going through very difficult strongholds, but it would benefit ANYONE who is seeking God, His Spirit, His love, and His peace. Keep this scripture in mind: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” James 5:16 NLT

By Amy Hafner

“I spend my time with God at 4:30am,” a wise pastor once said to me. “Well, morning aren’t my thing,” I replied. I went home thinking, “I want to give God my best and my best is in the evening.”   When I did study his word, or pray, or worship Him evening would be my time.


About a year later I felt empty in my relationship with God.  I wasn’t absorbing His Word, sure I was reading, but His Word wasn’t speaking to me, His Word wasn’t changing my heart. To be completely honest, time with Him was boring and I was doing it to check it off the list.


One morning, while getting ready for my day, I prayed, “Father I don’t know what I’m doing wrong, I want to know you better, I just don’t know how.” A few weeks later, in November, I went to a conference with my husband.  The theme that kept popping up for me was, if you really want to know who God is you need to know God’s word.


There was a woman speaker at the conference and she had something about her I wanted.  She could quote more scripture than anyone I had ever met. She had so much confidence, so much joy, and so much energy and I wanted it too.


I attended her breakout session and she hammered home reading the Bible and reading it in the morning. She talked about the One Year Bible Plan. I felt God convicting me. Committing to this was something I needed to do and I needed to do it in the morning.


Remember, I don’t like mornings, I didn’t want to wake up earlier.  Mornings are “ugly” for me. I needed to go back to scripture and argue this concept (in my head, I’m a pain) before surrendering.



“I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me.” Proverbs 8:17


“My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.” Psalm 5:3


David consistently cries out to God in the morning, and in Mark 1:35 Jesus goes to pray while it is still dark although he prays in the evening as well.


Fighting my flesh confession…I mean conclusion: There is no “commandment” to pray in the morning, but God always asks for our first fruits. My study notes said, “In Hebrew,  resit [tyivaer]; this concept of first fruits derives from God’s creation work. Because God created everything that exists, all of creation belongs to Him (Psalm 24:1 ). Consequently, that which is first and best belongs to him and is to be given to him.”


I almost got myself out of it; my best was definitely not morning. Then something hit me… God’s unconditional love for us. He doesn’t care what we look like in the morning, if we have messy hair, bad breath or are grumpy.


No matter what side of the bed I roll out on, if He is on my side my day is so much better.  Before the world has a chance to distract and divert me, He fills my morning with grace, forgiveness, mercy, kindness, wisdom and love.

By Debbie Altman



Have you ever felt a little hum-drum in your walk with God? Maybe you are going through the motions, but you’re not feeling much? Well first of all, our walk is certainly not about feelings only. Doing the things you know to do as a Christian… reading God’s Word, praying, and attending church are so important to do! It is like eating for the physical body…every meal may not be exciting or memorable, but if you don’t eat, you will become weak. It is the same for us spiritually. We must feed our spirit with these disciplines to stay strong.


Sometimes we need to stir the pot a little!  In 2 Timothy 1:6, Paul says, “This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you.“ Some versions say “stir up the gift” that is in you. Now we may not have had the apostle Paul lay his hands on us, but the Lord Himself has laid His hands on us!


Craig and I usually attend Van Dyke campus, as this is where he preaches from. But regularly, we try to visit our four other campuses. I LOVE visiting all our other campuses and a couple of months ago I had the privilege of visiting our Ybor City campus. Oh my goodness. I walked in expecting to do what I do…to love on and encourage our staff and volunteers there. But the Lord had something he wanted to give me.  A stirring up! A fanning of my flame!


I am always moved when I attend the Dream Center, or our Ybor campus. It is just something different and special.  But this day I was overcome. The precious sight of these beautiful people from a difficult community attending, serving, laughing, welcoming, loving, and worshipping just “fanned my flames!” It felt like I sensed the heart and hope of God for this congregation. I wept, and even went up on the stage to speak a word of encouragement over the people. Now if you know me, I avoid the platform as much as possible! God truly moved on my heart and It’s hard to express what I felt that day.



I want to encourage you to step out of your ‘normal’ and do something different! Join a small group, lead a small group, visit another campus, participate in a Serve Saturday, take a missions trip. When we see the Lord moving in environments other than our own safe routines, our view of God is expanded and we are inspired to see His bigness and how far-reaching His love is. Our faith is lifted and strengthened! We are better able to see the possibilities of His power in our own lives and those we love.


 “Join God where He is working!” – Henry Blackaby


Fan the flames! Stir up the gifts within you! He is the one who has laid His hands on you and He wants to grow you and use you!


Thank you to all of the precious and amazing people who make Grace Family Church a joy to me, and a light to our world.