'We did it'

… so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Romans 12:5

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It was a precious moment. Our plane had just touched down on the tarmac and a little girl’s voice rang out excitedly, “We did it, Daddy. We did it. We landed the plane.” All the passengers in earshot burst out laughing. She may have only been 4, but it seemed, in her mind, as if she was part of the crew, celebrating another successful landing.

How refreshing to hear a little one speak collectively in a society that elevates the individual above community. How beautiful to hear the honest excitement of a child celebrating being part of something bigger than herself, rather than the self-serving ‘it’s all about me’ behaviour we have witnessed among some Federal and State politicians in recent days and months. How wonderful to hear a small voice proclaim an eternal truth for ears that were willing to hear it.

‘We did it.’

I wonder…what would it look like if we embraced the mindset of that little girl in our approach to life? What if we saw ourselves as integrally connected to each other? What if we changed our language to focus on ‘we’ rather than me? What if we were to own the failures of society and see that we are a part of the problem? What if we saw ourselves as part of a team, honouring and valuing the small and big contributions alike as critical to the overall outcome and success? What would our homes look like? Our workplaces? Our communities? Our churches?

From the very beginning, God’s plan for the world is that we do life together; in relationship with him and connected to one another. “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him” (Genesis 2:18). “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed’ (Ecclesiastes 4:9). The New Testament has an abundance of ‘one another’ verses that speak of God’s desire for relational living – serve one another, encourage one another, spur one another on, build up one another, pray for one another, love one another, be gentle with one another, just to name a few. We are created for each other. We are designed for community. We are knit together as one body to go further, to support one another, to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn’ (Romans 12:15). That’s always been God’s intention – to be a people belonging to him and in relationship with each other. We are redeemed together. Justified together. Forgiven together. Made new together. Belong together. Every need met together. Loved by God together. Called by God together to make visible his kingdom of grace and mercy in this world.

What a beautiful gift that is. What a force we can be as we live out together who we are in Christ. Like that little girl looking excitedly into her father’s eyes, we too can see the smile and experience the loving embrace of our heavenly Father as together we arrive home safely and blurt out, “We did it, Daddy. We did it.” And all of heaven with break out with applause and laughter!

Lord Jesus, what a gift it is to be part of your body; joined with you and others eternally. Help me play my part today, serving in love, that your purposes may be fulfilled and your name glorified. Amen.

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Keeping the 'New' smell alive

But thank God!...Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.

2 Corinthians 2:14b-15a (NLT)

As I sat down in the driver’s seat and shut the door for the first time, it was unmistakeable. So intoxicating. The new car smell. The combination of leather, plastics and the solvents that are used in the production of new cars emit an aroma that it is undeniable, especially when the sun warms the interior of the car. It’s a smell that tells you that something is brand new, fresh, and clean.

It’s wonderful while it lasts but it doesn’t take long for the new, fresh, clean smell to be replaced by the odour of everyday life…sweaty kids, discarded food wrappers, footy boots or socks that have been taken off after sport, dirt and sand that falls off shoes, road grime that clings to the paintwork.

It made me think about our lives as Christians. We have the greatest gift from Jesus. In baptism, we are given a brand new life, a fresh new beginning, a clean heart. The new Christian's smell is intoxicating and exciting. It has a fragrance of new energy and purpose. A sweetness that lingers. A hope that is tangible. A freshness that you want to draw in because it makes you feel alive. It’s the aroma of heaven. But like a new car, the smell of a new Christian can dissipate quickly. The fresh aroma can be replaced by the stale odour of worry, struggle and pain. The clean decor of our hearts can become stained with the accidental spills of life. The carpet of our souls can pile up with the discarded remains of what we consume to satisfy our hunger and thirst? Sometimes, we just forget what the ‘new life’ smells like because we have been a Christian for such a long time and become accustomed to the smell.

So when the smells of the world are absorbed into our hearts that the aroma of heaven is forgotten, how do we recover the ‘new life’ smell? It’s not just a matter of spraying a “new Christian’ deodoriser like companies that have developed car-fresheners that replicate the ‘new car’ smell. That’s a manufactured smell that won’t last and will only bring fleeting delight.

Whether you realise it or not, as a Christian, you are the aroma of Christ. That’s what Paul reminds the Corinthian Church and us. The scent of heaven is evident when the Son shines in and warms up the interior of our hearts. When we spend time with Jesus, our lives begin to resemble his life and we become a ‘Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.’ When we spend time in communion with Christ his fragrance clings to us and lingers on us wherever we go. It’s a scent that is unmistakeable. It’s full of the sweetness of the Father’s love, the richness of the Father’s mercy, the freshness of the Father’s blessings anew each day.

Just a little of Christ’s aroma on you can fill a room. A small whiff of his love in you can have a widespread influence. The scent of his forgiveness released from you can make all things brand new. The fragrance of joy spilling out from you will arouse hope and draw others closer to smell for themselves the ‘new life’ in Jesus.

May the aroma of heaven, the ‘new life’ in Christ smell always emanate from your life and never fade!

Lord Jesus, may my life be a fragrant offering that releases the ‘new life’ scent, the aroma of heaven, wherever I go. Amen.

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Carrot Faith

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. Ephesians 3:16-17

Winter must have arrived. Not just because it has ticked over to June 1. Not just because the temperature has plummeted and it is getting colder in the mornings and evenings. But winter is here because every day I listen to stories and walk with people where struggle is a constant companion, where addiction plunges individuals and families into deep unknown places or sickness rains down, putting a real dampener on the mood. I see mental illness hover over lives like a dark cloud and uncertainty blow through like a cold front freezing people in their tracks and preventing them moving forward. People are weary, confused, tired, frustrated, lost and some are even afraid. Like the prophet Habakkuk, I have heard many people utter: “How long, oh LORD, will I call for help?” (Habakkuk 1:2). For it seems that God is taking too long to come through for them.

Are you in a similar place? Is it winter time for your soul at the moment? Are you wondering where God is or why he is not coming through for you?

If that’s you, then take hope from something that occurred to me the other day as I was putting some carrots into a bag at my local green grocer. What I saw was layer upon layer of beautifully formed carrots, lined up waiting to be selected. They were all a similar size, perfectly symmetrical, fat, strong, and clean. But that’s not what all carrots look like. The ones we see are those that have already been through the shop’s stringent criteria. The real reality of carrots is that they actually grow in the dark underground as they fight against the hard soil, and bend around rocks and stones in the ground. From the top, we see the leafy growth but we don’t see the struggle that goes on underneath the surface. We don’t see any of the process that shapes them. All we know is that in the darkness, in the struggle, they grow. God makes sure of that. It’s only when the carrots are pulled from the soil that we see what they have become, how they have been shaped. Some look like what we see in the green grocers. Some are long and skinny. Some are short and fat. Some are distorted and twisted. Some even have double roots as they go through the process of growing. But no matter what they look like, it’s their fragrance and the flavour they provide when tasted or added to dishes that makes them so appealing.

When it’s a dark time in your life, for whatever reason. When you are asking God, ‘why are you so silent’ or ‘where are you’, remember the carrot! In dark times, God is there. When the cold winds of uncertainty blow, God is at work, shaping and growing you even if you cannot see it or feel it. When the temperature plunges in your life, let your roots sink deep down into God’s love.

Carrot faith is willing to trust that God is there, even when we can’t see him. Carrot faith is willing to trust God in the process, even if we can’t understand what is happening. Carrot faith is willing to wait in the dark, knowing that in God there is no darkness, as 1 John declares, but that there is a lot of God in darkness. His love is present to warm us. His grace is always surrounding us. His Spirit is at work shaping us and growing us. No matter what we look like when we are pulled from the earth and washed clean, God’s promise is that the inner strength he gives, will add flavour and appeal to whatever dish in the world he places us in.

PRAYER:

Lord Jesus, give me a carrot faith that trusts what you are doing in me in the dark and uncertain times of life. Amen.

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The Odd Sock Drawer

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? Luke 15:8

It’s one of life’s mysteries. How two socks can go on the feet, come off the feet, but when the washing is done, one or more are missing partners! I had just finished folding the undies and the socks and there were eleven random, mismatched, and unpaired socks still lying on the table. What a pain. My first thought was that maybe some had gone through the previous wash. So I checked the odd sock drawer (a drawer that every household has). That found four partners. Hooray! But that still left seven socks M.I.A. I checked the washing machine and dryer, just to see if there were some strays hiding in there. I looked under beds and couches, in the bathroom and car (my kids always seem to take off socks in the car for some reason). All my searching returned only two more. But five socks still remain unaccounted for. Five individual socks were thrown in the odd sock drawer with all the other odd socks. Unless their partner can be found, they will be tossed out eventually.

As I was hanging out the next load of washing, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe the odd sock drawer is a good metaphor for what is happening in the Church today. There are a lot of odd socks that either go missing and are never found, or alternatively end up in an odd sock drawer only to be discarded after a period of time. There are also a lot of people who never quite find a Church where they fit and so vanish without a trace. Krystal experienced that. She started attending worship, became part of a small group but then disappeared off the scene. When we tracked her down and asked what had happened, she told us that it was because she felt like a misfit. She was single, unpaired, a bit of a goth, and our whole ministry was geared around families and couples. It wasn’t deliberate or intentional and the people were friendly, but Krystal felt like she didn’t belong; she was in the odd sock drawer. Then there was John. He lost his wife in a car accident. After she died, he felt out of place. Everyone loved his wife. She was a pillar of the Church and being confronted with her memory constantly meant that John gradually stopped worshipping – he was the odd sock out. Or a faithful family who were in Church one week but disappeared the next after their teenage daughter became pregnant.

Take a look at your Church. Can you see those who may feel like the odd sock out? Have you noticed the socks that have inadvertently gone missing? How diligently have you searched for that odd sock? Have you checked the odd sock drawer lately and tried to find a match for those who feel like they don’t quite fit, where their gifts/uniqueness can be appreciated and bless your community in countless ways? Are you creating a place where odd socks of all descriptions can find purpose and a place where they belong?

Thank God that he didn’t throw all us odd socks out either! Rather he sent his Son to seek us out, rescue us and give us a place where we belong forever; where our uniqueness is celebrated, where our presence brings him joy. Can we do less than that?

And maybe I might just go to the odd sock drawer and put on one of those odd socks to let every random, mismatched and unpaired person in the world know that in the body of Christ, there is always a place and a purpose for them.

PRAYER

Lord Jesus, thank you that you never give up on searching for the lost or odd socks of this world. Give me that same heart that I too, may experience great joy when a lost sock is found or an odd sock finds a place in your Kingdom. Amen.

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The Hinge

I tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father. John 14:12

The hinge. It’s just a little piece of metal. Unobtrusive. Sometimes even concealed. It doesn’t draw attention to itself. But when it doesn’t work like it is supposed to, you certainly realise how important a role it plays. A door without a hinge is a wall. A gate without a hinge is a barrier that prevents you coming or going.

I realised that the other night when I heard the scrape of my son trying to push open the gate to take out the green bin to be collected the next morning. It has been on my ‘to do’ list for a few weeks but I just hadn’t found the time to get to the hardware store and purchase the new hinge to repair the gate.

But it got me thinking. There is something else that is just as unobtrusive that you have probably passed over it today without even giving it a second thought. But without this hinge, our lives don’t have purpose. With this hinge, our lives are opened up to new possibilities that have meaning and ongoing significance every day. It’s the spiritual hinge of the ascension which we celebrate today, 40 days after Easter.

Why is this day so important? It’s simply this. When God came down and made his home among us, born as a human being in a manger, he began his ministry here on earth. He came to live as one of us, to experience what we go through, to seek and save the lost, to be the gate through which people are saved and find fullness of life. That’s why he suffered and died, That’s why he was raised on the third day – to bring people into a restored relationship with God, That’s good news. But the news gets even better. After his resurrection, he spent time with his disciples before giving them a mission, blessing them and returning to the Father. At his ascension Jesus’ ministry from heaven began; a ministry as the living, reigning Lord who continues to work in this world to transform hearts and lives and bring them into communion with the Father. The ascension is the hinge which joins the incarnation of Jesus with Jesus’ ongoing mission in the world. It’s the event which opens wide the gate and invites us to participate in and be a part of what Jesus is still doing in the world today. Jesus is alive. He is still ministering to us, praying for us. He sends his Spirit to join us to his life, to share in his purpose and work, and to continue to do even greater things, as he works in and through us to bring people under his good and gracious rule.

The ascension…it may be a simple unobtrusive day. But it is the most beautiful hinge that opens a gate of blessing and allows us to go through and be his living presence at work in the world. What a privilege we have. What a purpose we share. What a blessing we can be! All because of the ascension hinge.

And before I forget… maybe it’s time I head to the hardware store to get a new hinge for my side gate.

Ascended Lord Jesus, you reign over all things. Thank you for opening up the way and inviting me to be a part of your ongoing presence and ministry in this world. Help me join in with great enthusiasm. Amen.

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Don't Panic...Keep Going...I'm right here with you

For who is God besides the Lord?

And who is the Rock except our God?

It is God who arms me with strength

and keeps my way secure. Psalm 18:31-32

“Wait for me…guys wait for me.” We were sitting on the lawn above the beach at Horseshoe Bay. A little boy, probably four or five was peddling his legs off, trying to keep up with his siblings who had raced along the bike path and disappeared around the headland. “Wait for me…”. You could hear the panic in his voice.

Panic. It can be triggered by a passing thought, a spoken word, a recalled memory, an unexpected fright, a familiar face, a sudden realisation, an unforeseen event, a recognisable scent, a looming deadline. In an instant the heartbeat accelerates. The breath shortens. The forehead becomes clammy. The body shakes. The teeth clench. The muscles tense. The stomach churns. You lose all control over your body and emotions.

Ever experienced any of those symptoms? It’s the moment where rational thought goes out the window and common sense reason is ignored; where the imagination is at its creative best, conjuring up the most dire conclusion.

What do you do when panic sets in? Where do you turn when the unknown makes you anxious? When loss of control makes you afraid? When uncertainty is around the corner? When change unsettles?

“Wait for me…” the little boy yelled out in panic. It was then I heard another voice. “Don’t panic…Keep going…I’m right here with you.” It was the calming voice of his mother, riding just behind him. The panic, anxiety and fear made the little boy forget that his mother was riding with him. Just behind him. Watching him.

Panic, anxiety, and fear can create a form of spiritual amnesia in us too. It dulls our faith memory. It makes us forget who God is and how good God is. David forgot the goodness of the Lord when his enemies caused him to panic so he ran and hid. Elijah forgot and ran in fear when Queen Jezebel put a contract out on his life and became depressed. Jehoshaphat was alarmed and immediately panicked when he saw the advancing army and realised that he didn’t have enough troops to fight.

It’s precisely in those moments of panic, fear, anxiety or depression that we need to hear the mum’s words to her son, “Don’t panic…keep going…I’m right here with you.” For they are also God’s words to us. Remember who our God is. Remember whose child we are. That’s what I love about David’s description of who and what the Lord is to him in Psalm 18, after God delivered him from his enemies. David says the Lord is “my strength,” “my rock,” “my fortress,” “my deliverer,” “my God,” “my mountain,” “my shield,” “my salvation,” and “my stronghold.”

When panic hits, anxiety overwhelms, or fear threatens, remember there is nothing uncertain or flaky about God. He is constant, solid and always present. 'For who is God besides the Lord? And who is the Rock except our God? It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure.' When you know this God, you can just keep peddling your little legs off around the corner of the unknown, because he is with you.

TO PONDER:

In times of panic, fear, or anxiety, what image or word of God will you remember so you can go on?

PRAYER:

Lord God, when panic hits, help me keep going for your promise is you are always with me. Amen.

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God's Fingerprint

26 April 2018

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? Psalm 8:3-4

“I can see God’s fingerprints all over you.” It was a comment that was made to someone I know in recent days. God’s fingerprints…all over you. Have you stopped to think what that means.

Fingerprints – those unique little ridges that identify us and say undeniably that we were present. They are everywhere. On car windows, just after they have been cleaned! On glasses if you wear them, around light switches, on doors, mirrors, glass tables, your smartphone, computer or any other shiny surface. Whatever we touch, our fingerprints remain. Most of the time we want to get rid of those marks; wipe the surface clean and remove any evidence that someone has been there.

But what about God’s fingerprints? Can you see where he has been? When Pharaoh’s magician’s in Exodus 8:19 couldn’t replicate the gnat plague that God had brought upon Egypt, they remarked, “This is the finger of God.” In other words, it was unmistakeable that God was at work in that moment. They could see the tell-tale sign, the fingerprint that he left behind.

God is at work in this world every day. Whether we see it in his awesome creativity and the intricate design of everyone and everything in this world - the rainbow that stretches out over the sky, the opening up of a flower bud, the delicate ladybird that softly glides down to land on a leaf. Each one is a discernible mark that reveal that God has been active.

But God is not just at work in creation. The resurrection and ascension tell us that Jesus continues to be active in our lives in a very real way today. Sometimes we just need to look for the fingerprints that uniquely identify his presence. The word of encouragement that lifted your spirit and gave you the courage to go on. The wise advice that brought insight or clarity. The opening up of a way that you had deemed closed. His intervention in a situation that you thought hopeless. The overcoming of an obstacle that you considered insurmountable. The release of a burden you determined impossible. The answer to prayer that came at just the opportune time.

God’s fingerprints are all over you every day, whether you see them or not. Fingerprints of love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion and care. Fingerprints that leave you in no doubt that he has been with you, touching your heart, redeeming your life, guiding your path and caring for you in every circumstance. His fingerprints are daily reminders of his constant faithfulness to you and his abiding love for you. So take a look around and let the presence of his fingerprints on you fill you with joy.

TO PONDER:

Where do you see the fingerprints of God’s presence in your life at this present time?

PRAYER:

Almighty God, open my eyes to see where you are at work and present in my life today. Amen.

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Splashing around in God's Playground

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 100

How good is this. It’s the middIe of April, 27 degrees (81°F), there isn’t a cloud in the sky and we were walking along the Monument Hill track between Trial Bay Gaol and Little Bay in Northern NSW. Kangaroos watched us, unperturbed by our presence only 10 metres away, a huge Lace Monitor walked up the track toward us before slowly heading off into the bush. But that was nothing compared to what we were about to witness.

As we looked out over the ocean, we could see little white dots and then dark black masses, only 50-100 metres offshore. We couldn’t quite work out what it was. Then as a wave crashed, we saw black dorsal fins silhouetted against the white foam, as dolphin after dolphin rode down the waves before turning back into the surf. They looked like streaking missiles, racing vectors of energy, as four or five pods of these powerful, majestic creatures advanced toward the shore like an armada. But they hadn’t come to fight, but to play - swimming, jumping, leaping, smacking their fins against the waves. It all looked so easy, so effortless, so joyous. It was so beautiful to watch. You couldn’t help but smile.

It made me think. Where are you and I at in the journey of life? Does the Trial Bay Gaol best represent how you presently feel about your life? Are you imprisoned by your fears, addictions, depression or worries? Freedom so close, yet so elusive? Are you like us walking along, watching the dolphins; seeing them swim, leap, jump and splash around and wishing that your life could be as effortless? Joyous? Or are you like the dolphins themselves, splashing around in God’s playground of this world, celebrating the freedom and victory that Christ’s death and resurrection has won for all? Are you truly alive, rising up from the depths of sin to bask in the new life of the Son, given to you in baptism?

That life is possible It’s the joy of resurrection life. It’s a gift of God’s grace. This is God’s world. God’s playground. God made it. God made us – and it is good. In Christ, whatever has imprisoned you, now lies in ruins. God has set us free not just to watch, but to frolic, to play, to celebrate the gift of life, to splash in the waves, to enjoy his goodness with every single breath. That’s what it means to enter his presence with joy. It’s a life of worship. It’s a life of thanksgiving. It’s a life that proclaims that God is good, loving and faithful to all he has made through all generations.

May you get a glimpse of that life and freedom today as you splash around in God’s playground! By the way…as I write this, a Kookaburra sits less than a metre and a half from me on the balcony rail, just watching. Life…it doesn’t get any better than this!

TO PONDER:

What is stopping me from splashing around in God’s playground, safe and secure in his life today?

PRAYER:

Lord Jesus, let your resurrection come alive in me, that I may splash around joyfully in your gracious presence. Amen.

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In the Crosshairs of Love

And then having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, he exposed them, shattered, empty and defeated, in his final glorious triumphant act! Colossians 2:15 (J.B. Phillips)

In the crosshairs: To be the object of intense observation or scrutiny, usually as a result of some wrongdoing or unpopular opinion, etc., or to be in a position to be attacked or criticized.

For the Australian cricketers involved in the ball-tampering scandal over the past week, the crosshairs of anger, criticism, condemnation and public humiliation have been firmly locked on them as targets. Shot after shot has been fired on these three men, whose actions and now whole lives are the object of intense observation and scrutiny. They are in the crosshairs, and it has left them exposed, vulnerable, shattered and at the mercy of a hostile world, who have turned their weapons of judgment on them and placed them under a barrage of attack.

Jesus knew what it was like to be in the crosshairs; under intense observation, scrutiny and attack. From the moment he was born, he was a target. His actions were criticised by the establishment, his words were considered offensive, his very existence a threat. He was humiliated, publicly shamed, paraded before the world and hung on a cross where the derision continued until he breathed his last.

But that was his mission. Jesus came to be the target. He allowed his life and his actions to be the subject of public scrutiny and after a comprehensive and thorough investigation Pilate came before the people and said, “ I find no basis for a charge against him” (John 19:4).

He was innocent but he allowed himself to be crucified anyway. He willingly absorbed the ridicule, humiliation, public shaming and judgment of the world’s self-appointed firing squad to say to the world, “It is finished.” Why? Because from eternity, you have been in the crosshairs of his love.

Jesus knows that when our lives are under scrutiny, we are left vulnerable, exposed and shattered. In the face of a sustained volley of judgment that comes from every angle, we are humiliated and defeated. Yet he came to draw the fire away from you once and for all so that you could experience newness of life; the protection of his grace, the embrace of his love and the freedom that comes with forgiveness. When the self-righteous world was celebrating the successful downfall of this one who claimed to be the King of the Jews, Paul tells us that ‘having drawn the sting of all the powers ranged against us, he exposed them, shattered, empty and defeated, in his final glorious triumphant act!’

That’s the joy of Christ’s resurrection victory that we live in today and every day. You are in the crosshairs of his love for eternity. It’s a sustained love that will daily renew, daily restore, and daily deliver God’s promise of forgiveness and a new beginning, no matter how intense the scrutiny that your life comes under. That’s good news for me, for you, and for the Australian cricketers!

TO PONDER:

It’s very easy for us to shoot down those who have done wrong. It’s far harder to love and forgive but the resurrection of Jesus makes that possible. Who is Jesus calling you to line up in the powerful scope of his resurrection to overwhelm with love? Go do it.

PRAYER:

Lord Jesus, I deserve nothing more than judgment when my life comes under your encompassing scrutiny. But instead, you line me up in the crosshairs of your love and shower me with grace. Let me go and do likewise in response to what you have done for me. Amen.

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