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The Discouragement Fight.

Discouragement. Meh. The very word “discouragement” makes me… well, feel discouraged.  But truthfully, I’ve been experiencing a season where discouragement has been very real and very demanding.  Remaining hopeful or full of joy has been a challenge and surviving the chaos of this busy season has often felt debilitating.

Do I want to write about this? Tell the world about my current season of discouragement? Nope. Not at all. In fact it’s why I haven’t been able to write.  I’ve tried to write around the other stuff. The moments of clarity or verses that have been helping me remain focused but they all fell flat.  They felt fake.  Forced. & Really, just dishonest.

The truth… the honest truth, is that fighting discouragement has been very real battle. Some of it my own doing.  Some of it the world’s doing.  But it’s been a heavy season. Think globally at all that has been happening…

The hurricanes and tornadoes and wildfires

The shootings and violence and current political tension of our nation. 

The hatred and violence and evil that has been permeating my news feeds. 

& The Shootings… So. Many. Shootings.

This is heavy, heavy stuff.  Stuff I have gotten lost in but stuff that, unfortunately, also extends to my very “local” life.  Once pain and suffering were distant and somewhat disconnected from my little life in Memphis, Tennessee but now I am walking through some difficult circumstances with those I love most.

Walking through loss & disappointment. 

Walking through injustice & hate & division.

Walking through confusion & change & overwhelmingly burdensome circumstances.

Life is hard.  & Discouragement can come easy.

But I honestly believe in a better way.  A way beyond pain and hurt and violence.  A way beyond the social media smiles and perfectionism and constant comparison.  A way that is raw and honest and truthful.

And that is why I wrote these words (and actually posted them).  Words of honesty. Words of truth. Words of…. A heavy reality that any given moment can strike any of us.  Because it’s a road many of us have traveled and a road some of us didn’t expect.  See, I believe, there is power in naming our discouragements.  Discouragements with our jobs, kids, marriages, country, cities, or current set of circumstances.  But I also believe there is power in taking (small) steps forward.  Forward through the discouragement.  Forward through the pain.  Forward through the complexity of the plan you didn’t anticipated.

And that power is what I am in constant need of.  The power to move.  The power to press on.  The power, not in my own abilities or positive thinking, but in the God who sustains and enables and empowers.

These words are not for those on the mountain top.  Those embracing the high of life and basking in its glory.  Those of you, “mountain high-ers”– SOAK IT IN.  That is a blessed and sacred season of life.  No, these words are for those of you in the valley.  Those approaching or embarking or stuck in a season of D I S C O U R A G E M E N T.

On the mountain top we praise but in the valley deep we cling.

We cling to the promises of hope and joy and redemption.  We cling to those around us encouraging us on.  We cling to those ahead of us reminding our weak and tired spirits that the road to the mountain top is often filled with switchbacks and rest stops and lots and lots of fighting.

Fighting to press on.

Fighting to see the blessings.

& Fighting to not let the bad outweigh the good.

But see it’s in the fight that we become stronger.  We become bolder. We become braver. We become KINDER, more empathic people.

People who learn to ask for help.  People who learn to deeply love those in pain.  People who are doing (& have done) the work it takes to make this world truly a better place.

So yes, that’s a lot of “rah-rah you can do it.”  But you know what… sometimes we need a little of that.  Sometimes we need a little reminder that we ALL get bogged down with a wave of discouragement from time to time. For some it’s a battle.  For some it’s a journey.  & For some it’s a season.  I don’t know what it is for you but my encouragement is this… FIGHT.

Fight to remember the GOOD.

Fight WITH those who love you most (bring people into your pain).

& Fight knowing it’s not (just) your battle.

I’ve always loved Moses’ words to the people of Israel at the climax of the Exodus.  The Egyptians were nearing, the Red Sea was but an obstacle, and all looked lost.  The people were freaking out (rightfully so) & Moses turns & says these prolific words in Exodus 14:14

 “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. 14 THE LORD WILL FIGHT FOR YOU; you need only to be still.”

Amen to that incredibly life-giving truth. That it is The L O R D who will fight for us.  The L O R D who will be with us.  & The L O R D who will deliver us.

I guess our challenge is in the remembering.  Remembering we “need only to be still.”  Remembering to let go.  Remembering to trust.  & Remembering to stand firm & remain faithful when our Red Sea is brushing against our toes and the Egyptians are taunting our faith in the distance.

In that moment; that moment of pure desperation & exhaustion & discouragement…. REMEMBER you need only to be still  [THE LORD] (not circumstances, people, opportunities, or any sort of change) will fight for you.

& Let your hope and trust and peace lie in that deeply complicated and yet freeing truth. One day at a time.

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Fancy Houses.

I have a problem… I like fancy things.  I believe the term is the “finer things in life.”  At one point this used to be a compliment.  Now, it’s just a problem.

My Nonnie liked fancy things too.   Her favorite activity was to take the grandkids shopping and secretly buy them way too much stuff.  I remember my prom dress like it was yesterday.  We were visiting family in Atlanta and during the trip dedicated an entire day to finding the “perfect dress.”  We searched high and low and couldn’t land on one.  Then, out of I’m sure desperation, my aunt suggested a place that smelled nicer than anything I owned.  Shocker, I found the “one” at the overpriced prom dress shop.

Nonnie used to call it “expensive taste.”  That was code for “picky” and “materialistic.”  That was (is) me.  So, yea I admit, I like the finer things in life.  Things like kitchen renos and fiddle leaf fig trees and midcentury modern.  Now, there’s even such thing as fancy wallpaper. Surprise, surprise I want it.

Recently I spent some (much needed) time at the beach.  I devoted 6 days for studying, preparing, resting, and then preparing some more for the next few months of ministry.  One day, as I’m walking on the beach, thinking and praying about God’s plan, admiring His creation, and asking for direction and wisdom (all super spiritual things) suddenly, almost out of nowhere, I am hit with a row of freakishly beautiful beach homes.  Not kidding, I kept checking to make sure I didn’t wander on some sort of movie set or “exclusive” beach.  These homes were insane.  Some of the most elegant, immaculate, MASSIVE, homes I’ve witnessed.

& Instantly I’m derailed and caught in a cycle of…

WHO owns this? Do they live here or is this their “vacation” home? I wonder it looks like on the inside.  How can I become their friend and visit? Scratch that, how do I get the job that would allow me to afford such a house?

Yea, the complete opposite of “super spiritual.”  It was vain, superficial, and quite frankly distracting.  Then, almost as though God was shaking me back to reality, a loud wave crashed next to me and immediately forced me out of my hypnotic, vain trance.

I got lost in “stuff.”

In fanciness.  In the created and not the Creator.  In the gifts, not the gift-giver.

I’d love to say this is a one and done type thing.  But the reality is materialism temps me (us) greatly.  It sits at our front door and whispers pinterest-y ideas and “updates” and outfits and “stuff” that would offer some type of momentary satisfaction.

I’m starting to wonder if materialism has become some type of gateway drug.  A fix to make us feel more confident, more valued, more professional, more… together. Well- manicured. Clean.

We used to call this “keep up with the Jones’.”  First of all, who are the Jones’ and why do we have to keep up with THEM?  And second of all, it’s more like “keeping up with every-single- person you know/follow/meet/like/tweet/pin/post.”  That’s a lot of pressure.  A lot of keeping up and looking good and perfectly filtered selfies or random hipster posts of your new shoes/rug/coffee mug/article of clothing you are trying to promote in order to get known. Ouch.

I said it. I’ve done it.  We all do it.  We like the likes.  We like looking good.  We like the stuff.  If we didn’t, Pinterest would be out of business and there wouldn’t be millions of people running around in debt or in houses/cars/shoes they can’t afford.

It’s an epidemic. 

A trap. 

A vicious, vicious enslaving cycle that promises the *hint* of satisfaction.

The hint of meaning.  The hint of value.  The hint of making a name, our name, known. Ouch again.  & Yea, guilty again.

Somewhere along the way we became more enamored with the houses that face the ocean than the ocean itself.  We became more enamored with the things of God rather than God, himself.  We’ve take a beautiful, majestic, holy creation and turned it into raw commercialism.  Into a fix of some sort; a drug that would never be satisfied.

But let’s be honest.  We are surrounded by it.  Materialism, commercialism, none of it is going to change.  It’s a large, well-oiled machine that’s just going to keep manufacturing.  The challenge becomes to not get on the machine.  To not get lost in the sparkle and forget what gave it, it’s shine.  To not get lost in a row of beautiful things facing THE MOST beautiful thing.

Sparkle does what sparkle does.  It fades. And one day it gets replaced with something shinier and brighter and more expensive.

So the battle is in learning to be content. Learning to be thankful for what we have. Giving to those who have less. And living a life of gratitude that points not to our fancy houses or well put together selves… but to the God who created all of it.

Listen to this passage in Hebrews…

Hebrews 13:5 (NIV)

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

Does that seem odd at all to anyone? I get the “keep your lives free from the love of money” bit.  But the “because” or “reason” appears disjointed.

Shouldn’t it read something like:

“BECAUSE when you follow God you will have all you need?”

or “BECAUSE everything is God’s?”

or “BECAUSE God’s love is better than money?”

All of those seem like a logical reason. A logical “because” to follow the challenge to be content. But to challenge us to remember God “will never leave us or forsake us” seems off.  Or does it?  Maybe it’s not off but rather dead on.  Dead on in revealing the core issues we as a nation and as people deeply wrestle with.

 Think about it…

WHY are we such consumers?

WHY does money and fancy homes and Target have such a strong hold our lives, souls, comfort?

Because we are attempting to fill a piece of our eternal souls with a finite object.  An object that can be easily & quickly attained.  That has the promise of instantly making our circumstances, bodies, homes, and frustratingly difficult realities a tiny bit better.

But what if we put our contentment in God?  In what we are blessed with today and what we can help others with tomorrow.  What if instead of maxing out our credit cards or working to the bone so we can afford all that “stuff” we have… what if we took less and gave more.

What if we deeply and intimately KNEW that God would never leave us or forsake us?

It’s strikingly similar to God’s command in Psalm 46 to “Be still and KNOW that I am God.”  Only this time we need to be still and know that God is PRESENT.  That God is with us.  That God will see us through this season, challenge, day, struggle.  That God won’t leave us or abandon us or forget us.  That in fact, just the opposite, is true.  Maybe that way we wouldn’t work so hard trying to convince ourselves that God is present in our challenging day in day out lives.  Maybe then we would KNOW God is real.  And that God is PRESENT in our pain, & insecurities, & loneliness.  That we actually don’t have anything to prove to anyone (not even ourselves)…. Because God, THE GOD, is with us- through thick and thin (no matter that the Jones’ have to say).

How would deeply and intimately knowing that truth change us?  Would we then still patch these little leaky holes in our souls with more finite stuff or with the everlasting, eternal God?  Would we still avoid our painful realities or begin to allow our gapping wounds to heal?

The truth is, tearing off those Band-Aids, putting down that fix, yea it might be painful.  Who knows- It might be quick.  It might be long.  It might be difficult.  I have no clue what that process will look like for you.  But I can promise you, the healing process is a journey (so be patient with yourself) & that God (THE GOD who created the ocean and sky and birds and fancy houses) is with you every step of the way.  That’s a big promise but I can claim it.

So, keep your lives FREE  from the love of money,

Be CONTENT with what you have,

& Never forget to always remember; God will NEVER leave your side.

bible study, devotion

Boats. Waiting. & Meh.

I’m not a big “boat person.” Not sure what that really means other than, I don’t do it often and haven’t had many positive encounters with the water and small boats and/or canoes.  Bigger boats, I’m all about. Someone else drives. You sip your beverage of choice and eat some cheese dip all the while someone else is in charge of maneuvering the boat from water to shore.

I can do that. Easy.

Smaller boats that I’m in charge of maneuvering/rowing/whatever the term is, nope.

I will say, if you ever want to “test” a relationship… go canoeing together.  I was dating a guy in college and my family went on a canoeing/camping trip and he came along.  It was the worst/best thing for our relationship (aka- it ended shortly after the trip).  Pretty sure we looked like a life-sized pinball machine going from bank to bank to bank.  It took us forever to get down the river and when the waters became more turbulent… we hit a tree and flipped the canoe. The large, metal canoe flipped and slowly started sinking.  He started fending for himself.  I was left clinging on with dear life until my dad shouted at me to “LET GO OF THE BOAT.”  So I did.  & Had a moment when I was being swept down the river and was convinced I was about to die.  But then, lucky for me, I spied a wilted tree branch, grabbed it, swam to shore, and gave my dad “the look” that said “YOU almost killed me?!”  Thank God for lifejackets.

Hated every second of this experience.  & Haven’t been canoeing since.

Recently I’ve been thinking (really challenged) on the times in life when God says “wait.”  I hate those times.  Those time in between where you’ve been and where you’re going.  The times when life is just “meh.”  & You can’t place it, get out of it, or fix it.   It’s just where you are and where you’re supposed to be. Meh.

See, I’m always ready for the “GO” or “NO” answers from God.  The answers when you ask God what’s next or what you should do or where you should go… and he answers.  “Go” is easy for me.  I like doing.  Adventures.  Moving. Making things happen type stuff.  & The no answers are tough but I’m good with it because it is… well, an answer.

But the wait answer… hate it.   Why? Because it’s calling me to be, to live, to remain where I am.  In a place I don’t want to be.  In a place that is hard and trying and complicated.  In a place that hurts and is exhausting.  In a place that is just meh.

Waiting feels a lot like my boat debacle.  For me, it’s that time in between letting go of what is pulling you down and arriving safety to shore.  It’s that time of panic when you think you’re going to drown or die or made the wrong decision or whatever goes through your head when you being pushed along in white water rapids and all you have is your life vest.

So often I spend my time thinking and waiting for the answer on the other side.  The “what’s next” or “when (fill in the blank) will happen.”

& The longer and longer I live this life, the more I become painfully aware that the answer is not in the resolution but in the journey.

The journey from letting go to arriving on shore.  The journey from getting off your sinking (or comfortable) boat, jumping into the rushing waters, and making your way to shore.

Jesus had a lot of experiences with/on boats.  Times when he fell asleep in the middle of a storm.  Times when he called people out of the boat and into the water.  Times when he’s on shore calling his people to follow him.  Boats and water are all over the gospels.  And those would be the easiest verses or story to insert right here.  But that’s not what I’m going to do.

Instead I’m going to insert a story on waiting.  One placed in the Old testament, written to God’s people when they were in between what was and what is to come.  One when the people were damaged beyond (what seemed) repair and were completely broken.

Lost dreams. 

Lost plans.  

Lost hopes. 

Everything felt… lost.  And finally God’s people cry out to him.  Ask for God to heal them, forgive them, bring them to a “new” place.  A new season.  A new ANYTHING- just as long as it’s a “not where they are” place.

& Here’s God’s response to his people…

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare… For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.” 

Ouch.  The people asked for a way out.  A new season.  A new place.  A new home.  & God commands them to do just the opposite.  LIVE WHERE THEY ARE.

Live in difficult season.

Live in the place they don’t want to be.  & Not just endure it or survive it… enjoy it.  Get married, have kids, plant gardens, & to pray for the city that took away their freedom.  What an incredibly difficult calling.  A calling that required faith.  True, deep, committed faith.  But what I love about God is that he doesn’t calls his people to such an incredibly difficult challenge without give them a promise.

Here’s what he says (directly after calling them to live where they are)…

11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”  [Jeremiah 29:5-14 (ESV)]

Yes, this is that really cutesy verse painted in some pastel color probably hanging in your house (or any and every Christian store).  But the truth is, this verse is more than than a sign or cute verse to quote in difficult times.  It’s a verse filled with disappoint, pain, anger, frustration.

It’s a verse with a story.  A back story of loss and confusion and God calling his people to find CONTENTMENT where they are.

In the loss. 

In the pain. 

In the disappointment. 

In the place they didn’t want to be.

This verse reminds me to find, discover, seek contentment right where I am.  When I love my place and when I hate my place.  When I am hurting in my place.  When I am joyful in my place.  That place.  My place.  The place I am today is where God calls me (calls us) to fully live.  But he doesn’t call us to such a difficult challenge without a promise.  A promise of his goodness, his greatness, his love, and true plan.  A plan that is built upon love.  A plan we may have messed up big time but a plan that can be redeemed.  A plan that will ultimately bring about some glory and hope and love and goodness.

So the point?

Let go of your boat.  It’s going down, you’ll eventually go down, and what you’re reaching, searching, crying out for is not on the boat.  It’s in stepping into uncharted territory.  In doing what God is calling you, probably whispering to you, to do ever so quietly.  That’s when life gets good.  When things get tough and fulfilling and crazy and exciting.  All of it.

It’s in the fight to find the good that we learn to let go of all of the bad.

We learn to live in the place we are.  We learn to let go of the idols we cling so desperately to and begin finding a new vision, a new story to tell.  And in that moment of waiting.  From letting go to making your way to shore, remember this one thing: God is good.  Rushing waters tend to cloud our judgement.  But the reality is; God IS good.  And his plan is just and right and exactly what we deeply need.   My advice:  take it up with him on the other side but for now- for today; own it, live, & somehow find a way to let go of your boat and enjoy the wait.

Find contentment where you are, T O D A Y.

& Focus on the good in that day.  Not on the difficult.  Not on the “I might not make it” kind of stuff.  & Find contentment NOT in what may or may not change.  Or in what you can or cannot to do to fix it but instead on the goodness and greatness of the God you serve.

The reality is, when our time on this earth is coming to an end, the stories you will be telling will be about that ridiculously crazy time when you were floating in white water rapids and how you clung to a stick and pulled yourself on shore.  See, no one cares about the shore.  The shore is safe and easy and comfortable.  They want to hear about the rapids.  About the time you lived and served and loved your guts out when the most challenging obstacle was place before you.  & You survived.  You made it through.  You learned how to live & love & be in a place you didn’t want, ask for, or quite frankly ever think you’d be.  But you did.  God did. & because of that boat, that waiting, that meh, you became stronger and more confident and more focused on the calling God has placed on our heart.

Now, that’s a story.

My hope is that we live it well so it’s a story worth telling.

 

 

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Lent 2017// 40 days of intentional giving.

I’m not big on Lent.

Before you start questioning my Christianity and ordination… let me say I agree/honor/endorse the season of Lent and all it signifies.  I just don’t usually do the whole give up/add/take out sugars kind of thing.  And the reason is not because it’s not significant; it’s that I flat forget.  Almost every year Ash Wednesday rolls around and I realize I haven’t figured out something to “to do” and so I don’t.

I once gave up sweets.  Hated every minute if it.  But I will say, it was a good practice and I was reminded, very often, about “what Jesus did for us.”  Saying no to sweets is not an easy thing for me.

If you’re new to Lent or (like me) constantly forgetting about it, here’s an incredibly succinct definition I found from my United Methodist friends:

“Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare new converts for baptism. Today, Christians focus on their relationship with God, often choosing to give up something or to volunteer and give of themselves for others (Here’s where I found this).”

I love thinking of Lent as a time of “self examination and reflection.”   Because truthfully, that’s what I desired and opted to focus on this year.  Fortunately, I was reminded a week out and knew I needed to be intentional this year. Intentional… That’s been a big word word me this year (all 3 months of it, but really it has been).  & So, I wanted to weave “intentionality” into this Lent season.  I definitely wasn’t feeling an “anti-sweets” theme again and desired for something that would change me.  That would help me be more in tune and intentional with God, myself, and help me (deeply and spiritually) prepare me for Easter Sunday.

I landed on INTENTIONAL GIVING.

Each day I wanted to be intentional about giving something away.  I didn’t have many rules other than each day I wanted to be open to giving someone, something that God pressed on my heart.  And it didn’t have to be overly spiritual (I think we get hung up on that sometimes) and thus be limited to only bibles and “Jesus books.”  But instead, I wanted it to be about the people I encountered and what God would lay on my heart.  It could be a necklace someone complimented or it could be an encouraging email.  It could be a flower, a phone call, or a old window frame… seriously anything.  The sky is the limit.

And that’s what I’m doing this season.  Being intentional.

Yes, LENT technically started 13 days ago but so far God has been right on.  Each day I have a conversation or see something that makes me think of a person and thing I should give them.

This practice has been opening up my eyes to the little “God-moments” we have each day but far too often get distracted and forget about them.

Lent has given me the accountability to follow through when God urges me to do something.  And it’s helping me listen to God and develop a looser grip on “my stuff.”  I am seeing God put people and conversations in my path each day for the simple act of giving away.  And honestly, it’s been incredibly powerful… & exposing.

You’ll be hearing more about this as the days pass on. & Not sure I have enough “decent” things to give away but we shall see how God does this.  If you get a sock or random stale piece of candy; you’ll know what happened;)

Here’s to Lent 2017 & what God is going to speak, reveal, shape, and expose over the next 40 days.

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My vision.

John Calvin compared the Scriptures to a pair of reading glasses. He believed that the Scriptures, like a pair of reading glasses, enabled a person to see (and know) God more clearly. The Scriptures made clear what the world or our minds made blurry. It’s a brilliant metaphor.

Here’s what he says about it (and yes I had to read this about 5 times to really understand what Calvin was saying):

For as the aged, or those whose sight is defective, when any book, however fair, is set before them, though they perceive that there is something written, are scarcely able to make out two consecutive words, but, when aided by glasses, begin to read distinctly, so Scripture, gathering together the impressions of Deity, which, till then, lay confused in our minds, dissipates the darkness, and shows us the true God clearly.[2]

I discovered this metaphor in seminary. It was something that has stuck with me amid the numerous papers, books, and lectures in my years in the classroom.  Honestly, I’m not sure why.  It’s not all that profound or extraordinary.  But, honestly, maybe that’s why I like it so much.  It’s common. It’s normal.  &… I wear glasses.

Calvin’s metaphor makes sense to me because it’s something I experience every day. No glasses = not being able to see and function like a normal human being.  Not wearing my glasses means I can’t fully take in all of the life that’s happening around me. And this is the same with the Scriptures. The more I read and dive into the Scriptures, the more I see and understand God & the more clear my vision and focus are.

But here’s what this has to do with you & me & this blog…

I love the Scriptures.   And one of my passions is helping others read and understand the Bible.  I just love it.  I love how the scriptures breathe life and conviction and clarity into the deepest parts of our souls.  How it shapes and speaks truth in places where human words or understanding fall short.  My favorite time of the day is grabbing some coffee (preferably hot- if you have kids this makes sense), sitting in my favorite chair, and spending time quieting my soul and listening to God, through His Word and our time together.

And so, my idea for this blog (& if I’m lucky- one day a book) is to provide people with the tools and resources needed to read and be led by the Scriptures. No, you don’t need a pastor or random girl on social media telling you how to read the Bible in order to understand it- Martin Luther fought this fight in the Reformation. I just hope to provide some tools and resources to help you dig a little deeper into the Scriptures, in your quiet times, bible studies, or small groups.

If you’re at all like me you’ve come up against a couple of issues, (at some point) on your Christian journey, with the word “DEVOTIONAL:”

  1. They are either too dense and homework heavy (thus not relatable/realistic for my stage of life) OR

  2. They are too light and filled with a bunch of “feel good” stories and don’t teach much about THE BIBLE.

Notice the emphasis on THE BIBLE.  I’ve found a good number of studies that will give me day-by-day readings or inspirations, mostly involving life stories or experiences, but little meat with verses or Scripture itself.  I also have found a ton of commentaries I love. But these all felt a little dry and weighty for my quiet time readings. And honestly, both of these resources are amazing.  There is, no doubt, a need for them.  I, however, desperately desired a straightforward, devotional-type bible study resource that didn’t feel like a commentary or an author’s life story with some random scripture passages thrown in.

I longed for something clean, to the point, and easy to follow that helped me read and understand the Bible a little better.  And not only that but the author didn’t tell me what to think or “get” out of a particular passage.  It just prompted me to think, to pray, to listen to God say what it was He desired to say.

I’ve been working, volunteering, and leading in ministry for over 15 years now (wow that made me feel old) and these 2 issues were a piece in my earning a Masters of Divinity and later becoming ordained in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.  I believe the Christian community desperately needs educated people (women, in particular) who can provide a resource that is something in-between a cutesy feel good story and a dry commentary.

One of the lessons God keeps teaching me is- if it’s something you’re thirsty for or want… then go be or do that for others…& stop whining about it.  Honestly, I’m kind of tired of this lesson. Whining is so much easier.  And way less complicated.

Is this blog/ [re]SOURCE the solution? Probably not.

I am… well, just me. Regular ole’ Jessica Morris. I’m not a brilliant scholar or theologian who randomly bursts out into Greek or Hebrew throughout the day.  I’m also not the best, well-polished author who knows when to use “then” or “than” or “well” or “good” correctly.  I am a 100 percent ordinary woman who just so happens to be ordained and have her Masters in Divinity and loves Jesus and the bible and speaking God’s truth.  Really that’s all. Well, obviously, I also love my husband and my two little girls and coffee… a lot. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you know this to be true (sorry I’m not sorry- they are THE BEST).

So maybe this makes you excited. Maybe this confuses you. But the point is I want us to practice digging deeper. Reading and listening to the Scriptures. Stopping. Being still. Listening. And using the millions of resources we are surrounded by in order to put on our glasses and really read and spend time in the one, very tangible resource God left us with… the Bible.

& I have come up an aid, a [re]SOURCE, to help walk us through a richer, deeper quiet time or bible study.  Hope this excites you as much as it does me.

Also, if you want to receive a copy of my first [re]SOURCE, make sure you’re signed up for my NEWSLETTER! First copies go out to my email team;)

Can’t wait to introduce you to [re]SOURCE.

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Cornbread cupcakes.

You ever feel like you face the same issues over and over and over again in life?  Same issues in your relationships.  Same issues in your marriage.  Same issues with your kids.  Same issues in your job.  Same issues with God. Like life is sometimes on repeat?

I do. A lot…  A whole lot.

And far too often these same lessons/struggles/issues/fill in the blank, leave me in the same discouraged, confused place.  A place where I doubt and question.  Where I get impatient and want to jump ahead of God.  Or where I get lost in the “things will never change- life will always be this way” kind of thinking.  It’s the pits.  And I fall for it every time.

We’ve been having “food issues” at our house.  Hagen is teething (big time) and Delle is turning into a picky, “I don’t like anything new” eater.  Meal time around our house is a hit or miss game of negotiations and trickery.

The other day after a series of misses with Delle, as a last ditch effort I asked her if she wanted some cornbread from last night’s dinner.  It was a hit yesterday and I was hoping it would be one today as well.  So far she had consumed a grand total of 5 Cheetos, 1 cheese stick, and a little turkey.  & Somehow, the idea of cornbread made me feel like her lunch would be far more “well-balanced” if she had a semi-vegetable in the mix.

Shocker, she quickly replied with “no.”  Then somehow in my advanced “parenting trickery” skills kicked in &  it dawned on me to rephrase the question… “Delle, would you like one of these cornbread CUPCAKES?”   Magic word: cupcake.  Shocker, she said “yes,” ate most of the “cornbread cupcake” & I was content knowing my 3 year old had a little “nutrition” in her diet.

Here’s where this got me thinking.

Delle refused the plain cornbread.  Ate the cornbread “cupcake.”  & all along, knew it wasn’t really a cupcake.  But somehow in the rephrasing of what she THOUGHT she was eating, she learned to like (& eat) the cornbread.  Granted all of this logic is based on a 3 year old’s eating habits, but how often are we like Delle?

For me, here’s how this plays out… God calls me to wait.  I say no.  God calls me to wait some more.  I still say no.  I fight it. I whine.  I complain about why things aren’t turning out like I want them to.  God says wait.  I still say no.

And then God REFRAMES my waiting. My situation.

He reminds me of the “cupcake” so to speak.  He reminds me that I’m not ready, others aren’t ready, things aren’t ready for the next step.  That rushing ahead forgoes the lesson I need to learn today, in the moment, with these people.  And suddenly I stop. I take it in.  And I see my waiting not like I’m in some line at Starbucks that’s taking way too long but instead like it’s process, it’s a lesson.  Like it’s a GOOD thing.

I see my waiting not as something to fight against but something to lean into.  Something to embrace, to soak in, to see as GOOD not as an obstacle.

Truth: waiting/difficult lessons suck.

Reality: we all will encounter them.

The reality is a lot of us are like Delle.  We have a plan of how we want things to go.  It may not be as simple as a meal or cornbread but we have this plan.  It sits and lies in the back of our minds comparing itself against everything we do.  It tempts us.  It taunts us.  It makes us fight and whine and complain to God about where we are.

And God has to remind us, that whatever is in front of us…  It’s there for a reason.  Maybe for us, maybe for someone else.  But it’s there.  And it’s a part of our plan, whether we wanted it to be or not.  The difficult challenge is that the choice is up to us how we will embrace this plan, this “thing” that’s staring us in the face.

Will we fight it?

Will we whine?

Will we complain?

Will we curl up into a ball and stay frozen?

Will we throw it right back at God and stomp out of the room?

Or will we find the cupcake in our cornbread?  Will we see the GOOD of where we are, fight to remain focused knowing at just the right time, things will come together.  God will answer or reveal or heal or mend or whatever it is you need Him to do.  He will do it.  At just the right time.

So eat your cornbread and find the “cupcake” in it.

No that doesn’t mean it will taste like a cupcake or give you the nice little sugar rush that comes with cupcakes.  But you will be able to enjoy your cornbread a whole lot more if chose to see (& dwell) on the cupcake more than what it is you’re eating.  And maybe, just maybe, God will teach you something incredibly life changing in the process.

Who knew cornbread could have such meaningful lessons;)

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Agreeing to Disagree.

Why is this such a challenging statement?  A statement that can imply (and incite) anger, frustration, resentment, confusion.  A statement that, honestly, many of us haven’t lived all too well?  I’ve been told (and partially agree) that political sermons are a bad idea.  Political posts incite anger.  Don’t discuss controversial issues.  Don’t isolate or anger a large group of people for the sake of a rant. Yes, there is some truth in this.

A lot of truth, actually. 

But my fear is that we have forgotten how to lovingly and peacefully discuss these topics with one another.

Partially due to social media.

Partially due to the nature of the controversies.

But when did these “topics,” these “issues,” become the very things that would divide us? No longer are we divided by denomination or religion but by politics and laws and rights.  We started choosing sides and disassociating ourselves with the other side.  This is a grave misfortune.

We were created for relationships, for diversity, for differences, and for the tension the lies within these.

So yes, I disagree with mean-spirited social media rants.  With commenting on posts that incite anger, fear, or hatred.  But yes, I also disagree with silence.  Silence on the injustice that is taking place.  Silence in the conversations that need to be had.  I believe we need to DISCUSS (key word) these things with one another.  We need to be able to have, non-ranting/angry/mean spirited conversations about the difficult, challenging, and controversial things that exist in our world today.

We need to agree to disagree… agreeably.

I wish I could take credit for this phrase, but truthfully the credit goes to my boss, Rufus Smith.  But I’ve adopted it.  & Have been (trying to) live it.  I would be lying if I said this was an easy thing to live.  It’s not.  It’s incredibly challenging.  Not to mention, my job puts me in a precarious situation.  A situation where there are many people who agree and support me as a pastor.  And there are equally as many who don’t.  And over the years I’ve learn to wade this new territory.  Territory where people, on the same team, both and agree and disagree with you.  Add into the mix working in a mega church filled with all different kinds of theologies, political affiliations, and difference of opinions and it gets complicated real quick.

& So, I have guarded these discussions.  I have mostly nodded my head and remained silent about the things that matter most to me.  I have feared the tension.  The conversations.  The disagreeing.

I say all of that to say, I get it.  I get how challenging all of this is.  But I also get that this is new territory for our nation.  Territory where we are more divided than ever.  People on either side not understanding one another.  Hating one another.  Pointing fingers all the while the divide is growing.  Wider and deeper than I have witnessed thus far.

Let us speak our beliefs in love and kindness and be willing to abandon policies or laws or lines drawn for the sake of people.  Of lives.  Created in the image of God.  Because that’s where we are ALL the same.  We ALL are people.  Created equally, in the image of God.  Believer, non- believer.  Democrat.  Republican. Immigrant.  Citizen. Heterosexual.  Homosexual. Male. Female. PEOPLE…  God-created people.

Let us love one another in such a way that we are willing to step into the divide.  Have conversations.  Stand up for one another.  Speak God’s truth.  And be the PEOPLE we were called and created to be.

Will this be challenging and frustrating and painful? 100 percent.

& I dare say if this is easy for you right now, either you have an extra dose of the gift of mercy and overflowing grace or you aren’t in enough conversations with those who think differently than you.  This call (really challenge) is not to pat one another on the back. Roll our eyes from a difficult conversation and leave never having wrestled with the tension.  It’s a call to wrestle.  To honestly try to understand the other side.

To LISTEN. 

To engage. 

To leave with more questions than points you made.

The other day I bumped into a young guy from Germany.  After my sermon, he came up and ask me, “Is Christianity only about getting saved from hell?”  His honesty and frankness caught me off guard but truthfully it was refreshing.  He continued explaining to me the difference of cultures and religion between America and Germany and how so many of the Christians he has encountered here in the States have been mean spirited and judgmental of one another, of policies, of the election, and have spent more time talking about hell than love and hope and justice.

This confused him (understandably so).  But my heart broke hearing his words.  His words of judgement, anger, division, and fear.  Not words of love, hope, justice, peace. His words and experience saddened my heart and fueled this post.  NOT a post to rant BUT to challenge.

To encourage believers to unite. 

To discuss.

To love.

To dive into the Scriptures and seek to live a life like that of Jesus. 

A life where we are wrestling with the tension.  Where we are seeking to deeply love one another… & not just those who look, think, act like us.  But those who are different.  Who are hard for us.  Those who we don’t understand.   Who get under our skin…  ALL PEOPLE.

The world needs it (& is watching) now more than ever.  Will we suddenly all agree on politics or women in ministry or healthcare or whatever… not even close.

But can we begin resembling the kingdom of God with our love (and patience) for one another and those around us? I believe so.

I believe that as we begin resembling a kingdom filled with different races, genders, political parties, denominations; a kingdom filled with love, hope, justice, patience, kindness, we will be living out our mission.  A mission of equality.  Of love. Of justice.  Of truth.

I also believe the enemy has us all off track. We have become a group of people focused on what divides while skimming over what unites.

It’s time, Christians, for us to stop skimming and remember.

Remember our mission. 

Remember our purpose. 

Remember our savior.

So, lean into the hard questions, don’t shy away.  Ask them. Answer them. Discuss them.  And let all of your thoughts and conversations be seasoned with L O V E. 

Let us unite through such a season and difficult time.

& Let us be know for our great love and action, not our silence and division.

My prayer is that this may be said of the people of God.

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A solid 20.

I am (100 percent) the person you made fun of in middle school or high school or college. 

I’m the person who cared way too much about getting an A+ or having the best and greatest project or making sure their presentation is flawless.  I am (100 percent) a self-proclaimed perfectionist.

I remember when I was in seminary and a friend of mine gave me permission to not make an A.  They told me (really counseled me) through times in life when we can’t make an A on EVERYTHING… so we must embrace it, do our best, and move on.  It was extremely liberating.  And so (after heeding this much needed advice), I went home, studied my 8-month pregnant butt off for my upcoming Hebrew exam… and made an A.  It’s a serious problem.

I can’t, NOT give something 100 percent.  It’s just not in my nature.

And God knows this.  Part of me think this is why every time I have a major life change or exam in my life…I wind up pregnant.  Seminary and taking Hebrew…. pregnant.  Ordination exams and new job… pregnant.  I’m thinking I might take a little break from being pregnant.

But seriously, God had to practically break me down in order to make me realize I can’t do it all, 100 percent, perfectly… ALL. THE. TIME.

And I hate this lesson.

Because I hate disappointing people.  I hate disappointing myself.  And I hate the realization that I… Can’t. Do. It. All.

Recently, I had a conversation with a friend and she mentioned feeling overwhelmed in all areas of life.  She felt like a terrible mom, wife, daughter, and friend.  She was discouraged because she felt like she was only giving the people around her 20 percent (at best).

And something inside of me completely resonated with her.

I feel the pressure and frustration and discouragement of not being able to give those around me an A+ ALL the time.

So it got me thinking… we all will go through seasons when this is so true. Whether we are a mom or dad or friend or just flat out crazy busy.

So what do we do? How do live, push on, and change things up when 20 percent is the new 100?

I’m not big on the “Top 5 ways to…” blog posts but I’m caving in and telling you the top 5 things that have helped me in my “breaking perfectionism” journey…

 

#1. Kill the %$!! out of that 20 percent.

If that’s all you’ve got, then give it a solid 20. Seriously.  So often I spend the majority of my time discouraged by what I can’t do instead of focusing on what I can.  So for me it’s about focusing on the positive.  Remaining set on whatever “percentage” I can (realistically) give, & then choosing to give it that to the best of my ability.  Easier said than done, but hey, I’m trying.

#2. Revaluate your priorities.

Make sure 20 percent is a season NOT a lifestyle.  We all will have seasons when it’s just ridiculously busy/tough/challenging.  But when 20 percent becomes the norm… that’s when it’s time to make sure you are doing what matters most.  It’s always during these crazy busy, challenging seasons when I get to a breaking point and really step back to make sure I’m doing what I want to, feel called to, and am gifted at doing.  Reevaluation is not a bad thing.  It helps us remain focused on what’s most important and to make sure we’re moving in the right direction.

#3. Be patient through the season.

This is the hardest one for me.  But it’s so true… BE PATIENT.  Tommy is constantly reminding me, during the 20% times in life, to remember this is a season… NOT forever.  So true.  I am constantly needing to remind myself of this.  This is a moment when kids aren’t sleeping or work is in full swing or calendars are filled- this is NOT the norm.  And so pushing through these times, remaining focused on what matters, and being patient through the season makes all the difference.

#4. Find a breathing space.

Find a place, a time where you can take a deep breath and get centered.  For me it’s in a small chair in our living room where I get real with God.  I am honest and brutal and tell Him what’s going on. Oh and I have a HOT cup of coffee with me (this is KEY). Find your place that gets you right and be diligent about going there when things are at a 20.

#5. Get with your people.

Talk it out with the people who love you the most. They will tell you- it’s a season, it’s you, it’s whatever it is… but your people will know. Find those people. Get those people.  Be one of those people.  They have been my lifeline through the seasons.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ prescription cialis

Our culture is fast paced and demanding.

The busier the better.  The more challenged, the more rewarded… it’s incredibly hard to not get caught up with it all.  Sometimes it feels like it’s more work fighting against it than just caving in.

A good friend of mine recently sent me a bracelet that had the words, “you were made for this” on it.  & to be honest with you, it was exactly what I needed.  I needed a DAILY reminder that I AM made for this.

In the hustle and bustle of this crazy life, my own worst enemy is…. well, me.

I get in my head, I doubt, I question.  The exhaustion forces my guard down and almost immediately I begin questioning if I really CAN do all I am doing.

And those simple words, “you were made for this,” reminded me of a deeper calling.  A calling where I DO KNOW I am made for this and that I have the One with me who has called me and believes in me to walk alongside me in this journey.

The simple, yet profound, truth I so often forget is this… the very God who called me is the same God who sustains me.

I tend to somehow separate the two.  Like God calls me, pushes me, and then leaves me to do it all on my own.  But the truth is…God calls me, pushes me, and walks through it right next me.

But here’s the catch.  I can’t do it all.  I can’t do it on my own.  I can’t be perfect or have it all together, or give everyone 100% all the time.

I need a God bigger than myself, reminding me of my calling, my worth, my purpose to keep me focused.

What an interesting paradigm… that we both can and can’t do it at the same time.

That we CAN’T do it on our own but we CAN do all things through Christ who strengthens us.  It’s in this tension where I wrestle with balancing the joys and hardships and struggles of this (quickly fleeting) life.

But it’s also in this tension where God teaches me some of the greatest lessons of trust, faithfulness, reliance, and the true meaning of grace and mercy.

And for that, I am grateful.

 

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But First.

When I first felt called to seminary I decided this was the moment in my life where I would be adventurous and go BIG. I started looking into schools in my hometown and quickly learned that somehow being a woman disqualified you from earning a Masters in Divinity. This was tough. And I was left with literally 1 option in my city. And to be honest, it wasn’t the flashiest, most difficult school either. And theologically speaking, they came from a completely different background than me.

And so, being the overachiever, straight-A student that I am, I decided I would take this opportunity to attend a top ranked Seminary.

The catch… we would have to move.

There were great schools all over the country. And the more I looked into them, the more I desperately wanted to do something adventurous like pack up, move across the country for a few years, and immerse myself into graduate school. I was stoked.

The catch… God kept closing doors.

Tommy and I had only been married a couple of years when I came to him with the brilliant plan of quitting my full time job, packing up, moving to California, and attending graduate school.   Good thing I snagged the greatest, most supportive husband ever. Any normal husband would have thought his wife completely lost her mind and would have immediately sought counseling. Tommy, on the other hand, entertained my adventurous plan with me. We talked, dreamed, and discussed what life would look like if we did this. And, to my surprise, God shut the door on my BIG adventurous plan and revealed that I be faithful in the small, little school in town.

So, I was obedient. Kind of. I started attending the small seminary in town but dreamed of bigger and better schools. Of when I would be able to transfer and attend the school of my dreams. I dreamed of my classroom discussions and travels across the country. I had the perfect plan; I would go the small school in town for a couple of years and then transfer to my dream school. It was perfect.

Until… it never happened.

Until, a little over halfway through seminary, I knew God wanted me to remain where I was and graduate from the small, theologically diverse school in my hometown.

This remains one of my greatest regrets in life. I spend 2 and a half years dreaming of a different school, time, and season in life. I went through the motions and was never fully present where God placed me. And so, when I finally came to terms that THIS was, in fact, where God had me… I mourned the loss of the relationships, friends, lessons, and classes I never fully experienced.

I wish I could admit this was the only time in my life where I got caught up in dreaming about the hypothetical future and forgot to live in the complicated present… But it’s not.

Time and time again, I am guilty of “When-Then” living.

WHEN I go to my dream school, THEN cell spy I will really invest in my education.

WHEN life slows down, THEN I will be the wife, mom, friend I want to be.

WHEN the girls get older, THEN I will be able to enjoy this stage with them.

WHEN I get through this work week, THEN I will be able to enjoy my time with my family.

“WHEN- THEN” living is the quiet temptation that lurks in the shadows of my life’s day-in-day-out struggles.

Recently, I came across a passage in 1 Kings 17. Here, God directs the prophet Elijah during a drought, to go to a widow’s house and ask her for some bread.

Here’s what it says in 1 Kings 17:12-13:

 “As surely as the LORD your God lives,” she replied, “I don’t have any bread—only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it—and die.” Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.” For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the LORD sends rain on the land.’”  She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family.

Yep, that’s crazy. You read it right. Elijah asks the widow for some food. The widow says, I’m about to make some bread for me and my son and then we’re just going to die… Elijah, I don’t have enough for you too. Sorry, but it’s not going to happen.

Elijah doesn’t buy it and instead responds with, BUT FIRST make me some bread and then God will supply you and your son with more than enough for each day.

The widow says WHEN I get more food, THEN I’ll give you something to eat.

Elijah says nope, it doesn’t work like that with God. BUT FIRST give me all you have, and then God will supply you with all you need. It’s a reversal on our human logic. When I get more money, then I’ll give more away. When I get more time, then I’ll do what God is calling me to do.

When I…. then I …. That’s logical, right?

But here God is calling the widow to step outside of the “WHEN, THEN” and faithfully live in the “BUT FIRST.”

BUT FIRST.

Those 2 little words are pretty powerful if you stop and think about it. Those words cause me to live in the present. To trust when I’m lost and confused. To give when I’m empty. To let go when I’m clinging. To embrace when I’ve forgotten.

BUT FIRST.

I can’t help but wonder how applying these 2 little words to my daily life would impact not only my faith but also the way I embraced and lived each day.

If I stopped saying to God, “When ….. then…..”

And instead chose to say “but first.”

I’d be lying if I said my life wasn’t ridiculously busy and complicated right now. Sometimes I have days so full with joy and hope and love that I can barely hold it in. And others… well, I feel like I am doing all I can to not drown in the craziness of this season.

But what if my hope and focus wasn’t on the next “fill in the blank” that was going to make my life a little easier and instead on embracing the BUT FIRST of each day.

BUT FIRST I will be the mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend I want to be… despite the schedules, craziness, and busyness surrounding me.

BUT FIRST I will fully live in each day I have been blessed with.

BUT FIRST I will use the little time, resources, energy, love, faith, and hope I have TODAY. One day a time.

BUT FIRST.

Those are the 2 little words I’m seeking to live by today.

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Finding Brave.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about stories.  How we each have common threads or challenges throughout our journey.  & Sometimes, as it did for me, only in telling our stories or journeys can we truly see that thread.

About a month ago in of my Sermon Challenges, I encouraged people to think through a “I once was, but now I am” statement that represented their journey   This was my simple way of encouraging people to begin telling their stories. (If interested, here’s the link to the SERMON and CHALLENGE).  And the statement God led me to was, “I once was fearful, but now I am learning to be brave.”

Pretty quickly, God used this sermon/challenge to in return challenge me (this happens more often that I would prefer). Joy.

But here’s what he (very clearly) revealed… my common thread of FEAR.

Fear to take the steps God is calling me to do take.  Fear of the unknown.  Fear to fully trust in the Lord and where it is that he might leading me. Fear.  Fear has caused me plenty of anxiety, frustration, and anger.

It has allowed me to forget who I am and Whose I am.  It had made me believe my work/good deeds solely hinge on my ability to hold it all together so that I can accomplish all I am required to do.

I’ve stood still far too many time crippled by the questions of “what if,” “how,” and “are you sure God” only to be reminded time and time again that it has nothing to do with me and everything to do with the God I serve.

And I’m starting to wonder if the sooner I believe that (really believe that), the sooner I would find this BRAVE thing people keep talking about.

& Yet again, Timothy and Kathy Keller, in their book The Songs of Jesus kicked my spiritual butt in their simple prayer for courage.  Here’s their prayer:

“Lord, give such a sense of your living reality in my life that I live a more fearless life.  Fear is just thinking of myself and my abilities instead of having my mind focused on you.  Give me enough love for you to be brave. Amen (Keller & Keller, October 12). ”

Add that prayer with a side of the song, No Longer a Slave by I Am They, & you have my weekly challenge and conviction on finding brave.  Love (& hate) it when God does this.

But seriously, I love how Keller describes fear as thinking of ourselves and abilities MORE THAN our focus on Christ.  The simplicity of the statement, “Give me enough LOVE for you to be brave,” gets me.

How differently would mine, would our, lives look if we spent LESS time focused on the wind and waves and storms surrounding us and MORE on the creator of the wind and waves and storms?

How incredibly simple but yet profoundly difficult to live.

& So my challenge is this… to fix your gaze on the creator not the chaos that surrounds you. On the spirit & not your ability. On the power of God & not your lack of it.

Because the more we accept how small and significant we are, the more we can embrace God’s strength and power.

I want to leave you with the lyrics of the song No Longer a Slave by I am They and hope they challenge and inspire you as much as they did me.  And side note, if you have time I strongly encourage you listen to their song.  & yes, it will 100 percent be in a sermon one day;)

From my mother’s womb
You have chosen microsoftcouponcode.com shop me
Love has called my name
I’ve been born again
Into your family
Your blood flows through my veins

I am no longer a slave to fear// I am a child of God

I am surrounded
By the arms of the Father
I am surrounded
By songs of deliverance
We’ve been liberated
From our bondage
We’re the sons and the daughters
Let us sing our freedom

You split the sea
So I could walk right through it
My fears were drowned in perfect love
You rescued me
and I will stand and sing
I am a child of God

(Listen HERE if you’d like.)