The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

It’s a shame, really, how quick we are to criticize Martha of Bethany for her busyness. Maybe it is because we feel the prick of conscience over our own crammed-full days, and the nagging sense that we are losing more important things in the rush. We can relate to her, and when Jesus tells Martha to stop fussing and come sit down with Him we feel the indictment in our own souls…know how long it has been since we have truly listened to Jesus’ words, let them sink in and take root…how hard it is for us to just enjoy His presence…how impossible it seems to find enough space and peace to hear the quiet voice of His Spirit.

But in our wry admission that we should probably learn to be more like sister Mary, we miss some important details in the story. Like the fact that Jesus’ tone of voice was probably not nearly as accusing as the one we level at ourselves. Do we really think that the Person who looked right at a woman caught in the act of adultery and refused to throw a stone at her– looked her in the face and said “…neither do I condemn you….Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11)— that this same Person would look at a woman working hard to serve a houseful of tired hungry guests and rebuke her harshly? We may not be able to hear His original tone of voice, but we do know the nature of the One speaking. We know that He loves Martha and her family. We know He will say just the right words in the right tone to reach through Martha’s frazzled state to her heart. Because that is Who He Is.

And let’s not miss the surprise and consternation of everyone in the room, at the fact that Jesus is inviting the women of the household to sit down with them as students and followers– something unheard of for a Teacher in the ancient Jewish culture. Martha was only voicing what every man there was already thinking about the impropriety of her sister, and Jesus took the opportunity to turn their cultural norms upside-down. This story is much more about Jesus valuing women and accepting them into the Kingdom as full equals to men, than it is about Him settling a domestic quarrel. He was always about the Father’s business, and still He calls us, as women, to lay down our To-Do lists and find our strength and hope in Him alone.

We can also lose sight of the fact that Martha was an admirable hostess. In a culture that valued hospitality and showing honor to guests, she was doing exactly what she had been taught to do, and doing it well. And there is every indication that she took Jesus up on His invitation to sit and learn along with the men, because it is she who verbalizes her faith in Jesus so powerfully beside the grave of her beloved brother: “I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask….I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:22, 27) When we next see her, she is still in the kitchen serving, right where she feels most comfortable, doing what she does best out of love and thankfulness to her Teacher and Lord. Knowing Jesus’ heart for people, we can be sure He took the time to praise her cooking and express His appreciation for her service. Martha has taken the time to listen and know Jesus, and now she knows herself better too. We might benefit from following her example.

We find Jesus speaking peace to our own rushed and stressed hearts in this story, letting us know that He values what we do, but He so much more values who we are and how we are growing. He calls us away from the expectations of others, and the cultural values by which we measure ourselves; He calls us into His freedom where the only standards are growing to be more like Him, and Grace covering all our shortfall. In His eyes what matters is my bearing the image of God in this world, and learning to know Him better each day. In His eyes, what matters is the way I serve Him in love, with the abilities He gave me…the way I come alongside others and help them to see Him better. These are the important things that will last forever– “the one thing worth being concerned about… that will not be taken away…” (Luke 10:42)

So He will continue to say to us, patiently, gently, as often as we need to hear it: “My dear…you are worried and upset over all these details!” (Luke 10:41) Stop trying to measure up and come and rest in My love.

**Title taken from Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message.

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Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

Colossians 3:15-17

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To hear Your voice,
To call You friend,
To know Your thoughts–
How rare how beautiful.
You’re with me here;
I feel You breathing;
You’re closer than I thought was possible.
So I’ll rest right here with You.
So I’ll rest right here with You.

Rest, Kari Jobe

Out of the Darkness and into the Light

Lately I keep circling back around to this one big question: What does it mean to live as children of light, in this dark world? And it seems like the central question all of us Christ-followers should be asking, in simple everyday ways. How does a mother shine Light on the third toddler-tantrum of the day, when she is running on not-enough sleep? How does a hurting heart step into Light, bring God’s truth to bear on those wounds and find healing and forgiveness? How does Light clear out the dark corners of my heart where selfishness and anger tend to settle in? What does a Child of Light look like in an office cubicle?…In a marriage?…In differences of perspective and opinion?

You wouldn’t expect a fisherman-turned-preacher like Peter to have very profound ideas on the subject, but it turns out that he was used to asking that question, ever since he got it profoundly wrong one terrible night. Once you let your fears swing the door wide open to betrayal and anger and lies, and the darkness almost swallows you whole, you realize how powerful those small choices can be– how quickly you can find yourself lost on the wrong path. Maybe there’s a sense in which you can’t really learn to consistently walk in the light until you have looked hard into the face of your own darkness. Peter learned the hard way too, how walking in the light might look more difficult in the moment, but it is actually the most freeing thing you will ever do. So he faced his fear and his failure and found forgiveness over breakfast on the beach with Jesus, and began teaching others what he was learning: that the closer you are to Jesus, the more everything makes sense in His Light.

So Peter can say with the authority of someone who has leaned into the subject that the way to walk as a child of the light is to focus on all that God has done for you– stand on that foundation of salvation and rejoice in it, let it make you strong. And it is more than just looking forward to a happy ending someday. It’s embracing your new identity as His child, and allowing that to rewrite your story in the present. As Peter writes to the believers under siege, “In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3)

We may be waiting for that rich inheritance to come, but Peter says our hope is alive in Jesus, and we live in Him. We are already living in eternity, in the presence of the Spirit of God, with abundant resources for each day. “By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence.” (2 Peter 1:3) This is why we can trust Him, why we do what He tells us, how we can keep on walking through the hard things and the grief that overwhelms, because the Almighty King of Heaven walks with us as a Friend and we “…are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…” (1 Peter 1:8) Every experience Peter had as one of Jesus’ disciples was a lesson learned, another mile on his faith-journey. Both the good and the bad were growing him into the person God always intended him to be: someone who could walk in the Light and lead others in knowing God. When you understand the depths of your salvation and what the Savior is doing in your life, it changes the way you handle everything, including the hard times.

What does it mean to walk as children of light? Peter would probably rephrase the question for us: How would you act if you knew you were deeply loved, known, set aside for God’s purposes? Hmm…I’m guessing you would act a lot more like Jesus did.

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In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.


(1 Peter 1:6-7)

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Thank You for the wilderness
Where I learned to thirst for Your presence
If I’d never known that place
How could I have known You are better?
Thank You for the lonely times
When I learned to live in the silence
As the other voices fade
I can hear You calling me, Jesus
And it’s worth it all just to know You more

Great Things, Elevation Worship

Three Cheers for the Tortoise

I have always thought perseverance is the boring virtue. I mean, let’s face it: love is beautiful…gentleness has a soft warm glow to it…integrity is noble and strong…even patience has a certain sense of satisfaction to it. But perseverance is just ordinary. Keeping on with the everyday of what you’ve been given, and then doing it all again tomorrow. Even when it’s hard. Even when no one notices. Even when it’s not where you want to be.  Perseverance is a slow steady progress that is easy to disparage. It’s like in Aesop’s old story about the tortoise and the hare, where the fast hare is so confident in his abilities to win that he doesn’t even take the race seriously.

And really, who wants to be like the tortoise in the story? No one wants to keep plodding along slow and steady when there are others out there flashing by, to the cheers of the crowd. (And wouldn’t we all rather have life come easily, with plenty of time to play in the meadow and take naps?) Sure, the tortoise won the race, but it wasn’t even through any skill or cleverness or strength on his part. All he had to do was keep on going. Anyone could have beaten the hare with that kind of mindset. But of course that is precisely the point. Visible skill means nothing if it makes you careless. Confidence and charm are pointless if you are going to quit running in favor of indulging yourself, before you hit the finish line. In the long run the character quality of perseverance may matter more than buckets of talent and ability, and not just in results. God says it’s actually a matter of who you are becoming on the inside.

Specifically, God says dull old perseverance is a building block of our character. When life gets tough and we find that things don’t come naturally to us, we get to choose whether to run away or to face the pain and let Him use it to grow us. The Apostle Paul drew a straight line to connect our hard times and strength of character, encouraged the young believers this way: “…we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4) It is that nitty-gritty virtue of perseverance that makes the difference. “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:5) Perseverance is the holding-on strength that takes us from the growing to the good set before us. And it comes by the Holy Spirit at work in us with His power, just like all the other virtues. I need the help, because my own determination wears out after awhile, especially when life gets difficult and complicated.

Perseverance is what makes you give grace to that person and try to communicate better, to work together, instead of walking away….even though your heart is hurting. Because healthy relationships matter.

Perseverance makes you clean up one more mess….drag yourself out of bed one more time….listen to one more story of playground drama… when what you really want is just eight solid hours of sleep, or a quiet cup of coffee on the porch. Because you know they are worth it.

Perseverance is what keeps you praying long and hard until you have God’s answer. No matter how long it takes. Because you trust His love and His power and His timing.

Perseverance pushes you to face another day of the same old thing: of errands and phone calls and workday and chores that will need to be done again tomorrow. Because these hidden acts of service laid down with love and prayer are building a home and nurturing lives that will last beyond this world.

I guess the older I get, the more I value the simple virtue of slow and steady progress. Perseverance is about focus and determination– being willing to make many small right choices over and over, because you have your eyes out ahead on a bigger goal. It’s having faith that all those smaller, more boring choices are adding up to something wonderful just because God says so. It is simple obedience in the everyday, according to Paul: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:17) Hang in there and keep on going– as old Aesop the storyteller said, “slow and steady wins the race.” And this Faith-race above all, is worth winning.

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“For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

The Best Choices in Life

Most of the women I know feel overwhelmed by all the choices in the modern world– too many options, too many expectations on them, too many voices telling them what they need in order to be successful (or beautiful, or healthy, or good). It’s ironic how paralyzed, even trapped, we can feel under the weight of so much freedom.

And oddly enough, it is the example of a couple women from thousands of years ago that shows us the way out. We first meet Mary and her sister Martha when Jesus comes to town, and like any good Middle Eastern family, their home is open to the rabbi and his disciples. But it’s the choices they make that interest us. One does what she is expected to do, what she was taught to do, to serve the guests. She is a good girl. One quietly steps out of the box at the prompting of her heart, and I wonder if she could even put a name to whatever drew her to sit at Rabbi Jesus’ feet, that day? (Is this a sudden daring for her?… Or has she been quietly pushing against custom for years, much to her sister’s dismay?)

Martha’s gift of hospitality was welcomed by tired hungry travelers, and would not even have come under question except for her own questioning. She compares herself, like we do, and finds herself both more and less than her sister (like we do). Martha is bold in her own way, to ask the Rabbi to judge between them, though she felt sure the respected Teacher would land on the side of convention.

Instead, Jesus looked at the two women as unique individuals, saw right into their hearts and pointed out how their choices were shaping them. In a move that surprised all of them, Jesus seized the teachable moment and clearly invited women to become students at His feet along with the men, welcomed them as equals and said that the dishes can wait. So can dinner, for that matter, because the housework will need to be done again tomorrow, but Jesus is here right now. And even the customs and expectations of the world around you can’t compare to the value of knowing God personally. Jesus’ answer to Martha is that women are indeed free to choose how they will spend their lives, and should be careful to choose well.

So we talk about choosing well in our own lives, and whether those choices leave us “worried and upset about many things”  or whether they invest in Forever and “will not be taken away.” (Luke 10:41-42) And it’s not a matter of whether we prefer working with our hands or sitting still, or even a matter of whether it is better to serve or to learn. What divides through all the many options we have is the question of what voices we are listening to– where we are getting our identity, what influences are shaping our lives– and whether we are learning from the Teacher Jesus and following after our Master. Any voices but His will leave us scrambled and harried inside, no matter what good things we are doing. He said to the two sisters, “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it….” (Luke 10:42) And then to all of His followers,“Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

But it is just as difficult for us as it was for Mary and Martha to step outside of what our culture calls “normal.” We get pushed by the urgency of what needs to be done right now, feel we must keep pace with the rush. And it is so natural to react to the intensity of emotion in the moment. Checking tangible, measurable tasks off our To-do lists is very satisfying. It feels good to gain others’ approval and admiration… to fit in and measure up to the standard of what “everybody is doing,” despite what our mothers told us all those years ago. Resisting all these natural currents so that we can make better choices takes courage, and focus, and a certain amount of self-discipline.

Or maybe, like in Mary’s case, it’s just a matter of becoming hungry enough that you will do whatever it takes to really Live. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

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“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4)

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“Hungry I come to You for I know You satisfy
I am empty but I know Your love does not run dry
So I wait for You… so I wait for You…
I’m falling on my knees offering all of me
Jesus, You’re all this heart is living for.”
(Hungry,Kathryn Scott)

What To Wear Today

The problem with finding my purpose in the roles I play and the work I do, is the way those things can drastically shift. Maybe gradually, as one season of time fades into another. Maybe unexpectedly, when the world you know takes a swift ugly turn. So that one day it is quite possible to wake up and feel that life has lost all meaning, and what in the world are you supposed to do with yourself in the time that stretches ahead?

Fortunately God’s Plans are so much larger than my circumstances. And there is this paradox that flies in the face of reason, that the more we seek for purpose in what life itself presents to us, the less likely we are to find it. Jesus put it rather cryptically: “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it.” (Luke 9:24) He says everything that grabs your senses and sensibilities on this earth is nowhere near big enough to fit who you really are, and isn’t going to last anyway. John boldly declared that reality, challenging the young Believers to make their lives count in ways that matter: “For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions…..And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.” (1 John 2:16-17) We can let go of these changing roles and tasks (even when they are pulled away before we are quite ready), and be reassured that our true Purpose remains. The Wise King actually landed in the same place, close to three thousand years ago, in the closing lines of his journal: “Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13)

Paul explains it this way: “we have not stopped praying for you….so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:9-10). He talks about how we should go about living that out as if he were some spiritual fashion consultant. “Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” (Colossians 3:12-14) This is an everyday Purpose that suits Christ-followers of all ages, in every season of life, regardless of situation. I can slip on these qualities in the morning when I get dressed, and wear them in the everyday moments of this day, let them guide my words and choices, whatever comes. Paul spares no pity for our anxiety over jobs, or whether we feel liked and needed. He starts with our identity and worth, and leads us on from there. “So if you’re serious about living this new resurrection life with Christ, act like it. Pursue the things over which Christ presides. Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from His perspective.” (Colossians 3:1-2)

On days when I feel aimless and  wondering what purpose I serve on this earth, I can look up and remember the overall Plan…that I am created to be God’s image-bearer, and that is the most important thing I will ever do. Jesus has even given me a living example of what that looks like. If I go into this day wearing the character qualities He gives me, to face the particular circumstances of my life, it is enough.

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“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:16-17)

Mirror, Mirror

When we begin to talk about purpose, the waters get murky rather quickly. Women start talking about children being grown and out of the house, or not having children at all; about being divorced, or whether their husband comes to church; about pleasing others, and serving the people they love; about finding a job they like better, or keeping track of everyone’s schedules at home, or the ministries they are involved in. It’s fairly clear that for us, our sense of identity and purpose springs from our relationships with others and the work that we do.

No wonder we feel pulled every which way by people’s expectations and emotions, and wear ourselves out trying to do everything we see on Pinterest and Facebook. In this comparison game, it looks like just about everyone out there is accomplishing more and living bigger and brighter than we are, doing more for their families and earning more approval because of it. Bring up the question of purpose in life, then, and right away women feel either frustrated and overwhelmed, or just downright confused.

But what if our purpose is much simpler than all of that– and much less subject to changes of circumstance? When we look back to the Beginning of everything we know, to find answers, we find God there already, exercising vast power and intellect and creative design to bring everything into existence. We even catch a glimpse of His personality in what He makes and how He goes about it… the order and complexity of His process…the harmony and cooperation between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit… and the variety and detail and beauty of the results. And with each stage of creation, God names it and tells its purpose– what He has in mind for it. It’s like a parent, attaching labels to the world for a toddler, so she can begin to understand what she is seeing and experiencing. At the climax of the story, God fashions the centerpiece for this world He has made: humanity. And once again, with the name, He speaks of purpose. “Let us make mankind in Our image, in Our likeness, so that they may rule over…all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26)

The word used for image is the same one that will be used later to speak of idols. And just as the rock and clay carved by man’s hands was meant to reflect the image of some super-powerful being, so our clay was fashioned by God’s hands to reflect His own likeness. Our first purpose was to be a mirror that reflected God’s glorious Person. The eternal souls breathed into us, and what we call personality– our intellect, creativity, free will, full range of emotion, understanding of morality, humor, love, compassion, appreciation for beauty, verbal skills– all these are only shadow reflections of an infinite incomprehensible Personality. Every human that was ever born, in all our individual differences, reflect and express different aspects of one great Creator.

This is a purpose that doesn’t end, or change, regardless of our roles or duties in life. Sin dampens it, dims and mars it– but once we are made whole and straight in Jesus Christ, we are freed to become who we were created to be, to live as a unique mirror to His likeness. We can hardly blame the Church-Planter Paul for breaking into praise and worship so often in his letters to the early believers, as he told them about what God had done through Christ, and how great His purposes for us. He taught them that the fitting response was to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4)

Figuring out how to reflect God’s image within our particular relationships and circumstances is what gets tricky, and will take a lifetime of learning from Him. So this is our faith-journey, to run the race we have been given– in this family, in this body, in this job, in this time and place, with these strengths and weaknesses, amid the consequences of our own choices and the choices of those around us. Here and now, to spend time with Him and learn Who He Is, so we can reflect His image well. This is our purpose and immense privilege on this earth.

And no one can take it away from us, not even our own failures, because He will use every last thing (good, bad, ugly, sad, or wonderful as it is) to accomplish His purpose in us.

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“I pray for you constantly, asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.  I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those He called—His holy people who are His rich and glorious inheritance.” (Ephesians 1:16-18)

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“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. . .It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.” (C.S. Lewis)

 

 

The Right Hat for a New Year

One woman can wear way too many hats sometimes. And in the week-in-week-out of life sometimes your goals can be reduced to learning how to juggle better…just finding balance…maybe squeezing out time for yourself amid the barrage of constant needs. Surely this is not what we were made for? Or could it be that this strangling urgency that drives us is a noose of our own making? And yet Jesus is whispering, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) It can leave a woman wondering about her purpose in life, and how to find space to pursue the most important things.  Maybe at some point, what we need is a complete makeover. Not just renovation, but a tearing down and refocusing on what is True. A calling to something stronger, quieter.

Deep down, I do know this– that I am more than wife/mother/daughter/sister, more than the things I can and cannot do. At the end of the day, I will still be what I was in the beginning: made by God’s hands and God’s heart, adopted into His family, and loved completely. So I take an old picture frame and make PEACE to hang on my wall, a visual reminder of what God is saying to me, these last couple months: “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) 

Often finding our true purpose isn’t something we can grow into gradually. We pursue the things we value most, and we are good at building strongholds to protect our own interests. Sometimes the chance to live new and strong only comes after peeling away layer after layer of myself, and my ideas, like a messy and painful intervention. But the pruning is all part of the process. As the author of the book of Hebrews pointed out about God’s perspective on the things of this world: not only are they temporary, but they need to be battered and broken down “so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” (Hebrews 12:27) If I want the eternal that God is building for me, then I have to be willing to let go of the things I hold onto, no matter how it grieves.

Here at the beginning of the year, there is something fresh and new stirring– a Breath in the middle of us. And women sit around a dining room table late at night over cups of tea, choosing their one word for the coming year– strong beautiful words that peel the layers of hats right off, and get beneath everything we Do, to find who we Are before the Lover of our souls. And we talk about our purpose in life, and the voices that pull us in different directions, and we are all hungry for the same thing: to know God more deeply, and understand His ways, to be able to hear His voice above the clamor, to let go of our own trying-hard and rest in His care and provision. When we start living intentionally, “seeking first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33), we are finally able to find our true purpose in life, to throw open the doors to God’s plans for us.

It’s a good way to start the year– not with goals and resolutions, but with heart-searching. Jeremiah the prophet wrote down the promises God spoke to His people: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:13) This we can count on. Because this is what He made us for.

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“I cry out to God Most High, to God who will fulfill his purpose for me.” Psalm 57:2

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“Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories of what they think You’re like,
But I’ve heard the tender whisper of love in the dead of night;
And You tell me that you’re pleased,
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a Good, Good Father–
It’s who You are, it’s who You are, it’s who You are.
And I’m loved by You–
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am.”
(Good Good Father, Anthony Brown and Pat Barrett)