Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Bringing Glory to God

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"Give to the Lord the glory due to His name" (Psalm 29:2)

That phrase of one verse really spoke to me this morning when I read it. Really, the part that grabbed me is even a smaller portion: "the glory due to His name".

The circles that I operate in often talk about glorifying God. We talk about bringing glory to God in our actions and words. If we're REALLY serious, we even talk about glorifying God in our attitudes.

I once was asked by a Muslim friend to tell him my belief regarding why we exist. I told Him that we exist to bring glory to God. I meant it then and I still believe it now.

But how in the world can we possibly bring to Him the glory that He is due? The answer is that we can't; we don't have it in us. We are flawed, imperfect, inconsistent, distracted. 

So, maybe we should ask God, "What's the second best thing we could give you?"

He's not interested in our second best, so He made it possible--through His presence living through us--for us to bring Him more than what is just in us

"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Galatians 2:20, English Standard Version)

We don't bring Him more glory by more effort; we bring Him more glory by more surrender to Him.

Question: How can you shift your focus from effort to surrender?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

One Special Hammer

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"By the power of my hand and by my wisdom I did this, For I have understanding" ...  Is the axe to boast itself over the one who chops with it? Is the saw to exalt itself over the one who wields it? That would be like a club wielding those who lift it, or like a rod lifting him who is not wood. (Isaiah 10:13,15 New American Standard Version)

In the immediate context of these verses, God is talking about how He used the nation of Assyria to bring judgment on His people, Israel. The king of Assyria boasts of his great power and wisdom, not realizing that he has simply been a tool in the hands of God.

While I am pretty sure God has not used any of us to conquer nations, He has used us for His purposes, often apart from our conscious awareness. When we begin to boast of our accomplishments, neglecting to consider how God has used us or how He used others to prepare us for those opportunities, we demonstrate our ignorance at best and our ingratitude at worst.

I do a little bit of carpentry work. I'm not good at it, but I enjoy it. When I manage to drive a nail straight, my hammer doesn't get to brag about it. It is a tool in my hand. It can't drive a nail by itself, straight or crooked. It doesn't get to say, "Man, I am one special hammer! That hand is so lucky to have me."

God is never lucky to have me. He is happy to use me, but it is only by His gracious hand that anything I do is ever successful. I am humbled and blessed to be loved and used by Him for His purposes.

Question: What can you do today to see the hand of God in your activities?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Monday, January 27, 2014

What are you seeking this morning?

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You have said, Seek My face [inquire for and require My presence as your vital need]. My heart says to You, Your face (Your presence), Lord, will I seek, inquire for, and require [of necessity and on the authority of Your Word].(Psalm 27:8, Amplified Bible)

When my heart whispered, "Seek God," my whole being replied, "I'm seeking him!" Don't hide from me now! (Psalm 27:8, The Message)

Seek God ... Seek His face ... Seek his presence. Why do we need to be reminded of that?

We don't need nearly so many reminders to seek His answers; we know we are often confused by life. No one has to remind us to seek His blessings; we are abundantly aware of our perceived lack.

Could it be that our readiness to seek His solutions and His stuff are precisely the reason why we need to be reminded to seek Him?

Question: How have you learned to focus on seeking Him?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Power of "Humble"

Good morning, friends! I'm glad to be back home after a few days on the road. I spent a few days with some of my peers in a peer-learning workshop. I also stopped by and had lunch with a college student who grew up in our church. He is like another son to me.

Reflecting on this trip gives me an appreciation for the experiences God allows in our lives. 

"He leads the humble in what is right, and the humble He teaches His way." (Psalm 25:9)

"The humble man is God-surrendered, safe from despair because he knows that he is loved by Love Itself." (Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen)

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In many ways, our success in life depends on our being humbly lead-able and teachable.

Question: What will you do today to cultivate that kind of spirit in your own life?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

What serves as your life's compass?

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"For You make him to be blessed and a blessing forever; You make him exceedingly glad with the joy of Your presence." (Psalm 21:6, Amplified Bible)

The Psalmist (King David) is writing about himself in third person. If he were writing in first person, this verse might say, "You have blessed me and made me a blessing; you have made me abundantly glad with the joy of your presence."

Over 20 years ago I was working through a process of developing a personal mission statement. The full statement is more detailed, but the simple statement that I share with others is, "I exist to be a blessing." 

I also sometimes state it this way: "My life's mission is to bless, not impress."

It is amazing how this affects the way I approach most situations. It is a great reminder that I am not here to fix situations (only God can really do that), but I am here to glorify Him by being a blessing. That idea serves as my compass for navigating the circumstances of life. It points me to my true north.

Question: What serves as your life's compass?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, January 20, 2014

In Whom do you trust?

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"Many put their hope in chariots, others in horses,but we place our trust in the name of the Eternal One, our True God." (Psalm 20:7, The Voice)

I have often rested in this verse in times of crisis, distress, and confusion. I have preached it and written about in numerous times in my various writings. It's one of my "go to" verses.

At this moment, I am sitting in the waiting room of my dermatologist's office waiting for my annual checkup. I am remembering previous years when there was removal of pre-cancerous lesions in office. There was also a year when a basal cell carcinoma was discovered. That resulted in MOHS surgery and a really cool ear bandage.

(This was how I had to cover the bandage in the shower)

30 Minute Pause
I have seen the doctor and I am all clear this year! Now onto another doctor appointment and then a meeting to clarify some future direction on a church consultation.

The truth is that I need to trust in God for everything. I have some great resources and great networks, but none of those mean much if I start putting my trust in them. My "chariots" and "horses" could be education, experience, colleagues, intuition ...

It is only in the name (person, character) of the Lord that I can place complete trust.

Question: How will you focus your trust today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Pleasing God with our Words

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"May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer."  (Psalm 19:14, New International Version)

This is a bit of a follow-up from yesterday's thought when we talked about making a decision not to sin with our words.

It is a good thing to choose to avoid sinning. It is an even better thing to intentionally choose to please God. 

You see, we can strain really hard and keep those sinful and hurtful words in check while still having poisonous thoughts running though our minds. But this prayer asks God to change our MINDS and ATTITUDES, not just our WORDS. It also shifts the focus: from avoiding the bad to doing the good.

Question: How will you pray today regarding your thoughts and attitudes as well as your words?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Choose Your Words

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"I have purposed that my mouth shall not transgress." (Psalm 17:3)

There it is again: the reality that life is about decisions

"I just tell it like it is ... I call it the way I see it ... I just say what's on my mind"

Let me translate that: "I refuse to exercise good judgment when I speak (or post) ... I value my right to speak more than I value my responsibility to speak the right things."

If we were to run our words through THAT filter, I suspect we might choose different words sometimes.

Question: How will you decide today that you will not sin with your words?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

You have an inheritance

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I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” ... The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. (Psalm 16:2,5-6, English Standard Version)

Have you ever heard the stories about someone who got an unexpected inheritance from a wealthy relative they never knew they had? Have you ever secretly wondered what you would do if that unexpected inheritance showed up for you? Wouldn't that be cool!

I am reminded this morning of the priceless inheritance that has already been delivered to those of us who are Christ-followers. The Psalmist reminds us that we do not have anything good that did not come from God. In the New Testament, James said something similar: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17, New International Version)

The psalmist also reminds us that the best inheritance we receive from God is not His "stuff", but God Himself. He is our portion, our blessing, our inheritance. His presence is our wealth. We don't serve a Him for the possibility of how He might bless us; we serve Him out of love and gratitude for His love, mercy, and beauty. His "stuff" that can be touched or quantified can in no way compare to the gift of His life implanted in those who will receive Him.

Dude! I am rich!

Question: How can we avoid the temptation to try to quantify what God has given us?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your perspective on this.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Are you on the mountain or in the valley?

Note: I did not have time to upload this morning, so here is an evening cup of encouragement.  Also, due to a training event that requires me to leave early the next two mornings, I will not be posting again until Thursday, January 16.

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"O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever? How long will you look the other way How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day? How long will my enemy have the upper hand? Turn and answer me, O Lord my God! Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die. Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!” Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love. I will rejoice because you have rescued me. I wi
ll sing to the Lord because he is good to me." (Psalm 13, New Living Translation)

This is a slightly longer passage of scripture than our usual morning cup, but I was struck with a powerful truth in reading the psalm in its entirety this morning.

The writer was not in his "happy place" when he wrote. He felt abandoned, forgotten, sorrowful, overwhelmed, attacked ... you get the picture. We've all been there, haven't we? The waves of life keep crashing over us and we feel like we are about to go under for the last time.


Did you notice that word that provides the transition into the last two verses? "I trust ... I will rejoice ... I will sing ... "

Regardless of how he FELT, he CHOSE praise because he understood the constant and unchanging character of God.

If we can only trust and praise when things are going smoothly, it really is not a reflection on God, but evidence of our short memories and skewed perspective.

When my Uncle JC passed away a few years ago, I sang one of his favorite songs at the funeral. It says, "The God on the mountain is still God in the valleys.

We cannot control how we feel, but we can control how we respond.

Question: Are you on the mountain or in the valley right now?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Getting alone with God: Making His story My story

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"Jesus used many similar stories and illustrations to teach the people as much as they could understand. In fact, in his public ministry he never taught without using parables; but afterward, when he was alone with his disciples, he explained everything to them." (Mark 4:33-34, New Living Translation)

“Jesus doesn't take us aside and explain things to us all the time; He explains things to us as we are able to understand them.” (Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

Part of growing as a disciple of Jesus is spending time alone with Him so that we grow in our understanding. This is why many remain anemic in their faith. Hearing sermons, reading books or devotional literature (including mine), attending Bible studies ... All these are good practices, but the deep growth that Jesus wants to bring about in each of us only comes as we come aside with Him.

Spiritual understanding is not about retaining facts, principles, or examples. It is about internalizing those truths and being transformed by them through conversation and cooperation with Jesus.

QUESTION: What are some ways you have discovered to truly get alone for focused time with Jesus?

Help the rest of us out by leaving a comment below.  Let's encourage one another.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

When Your Obedience is Costly to Others

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"As they led Jesus away, a man named Simon, who was from Cyrene, happened to be coming in from the countryside. The soldiers seized him and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus." (Luke 23:26, New Living Translation)

Jesus was being obedient to the will of God. His obedience cost Simon something.

This time 6 years ago I was beginning one of the great struggle periods of my life. God was inviting me to leave the pastorate after 20 years (17 of them at the same church) and move into a new ministry. Four months of intense prayer and seeking God culminated in my move to Harvest Baptist Association.

One of the most intense parts of this struggle was how this decision would affect the people I love: my family, my church family, my community. The Lord had to convince me that, while my obedience would be costly to them, my disobedience would cost them more.

During that time, I read these words from Oswald Chambers:

“If we obey God, it is going to cost other people more than it costs us, and that is where the pain begins. If we are in love with our Lord, obedience does not cost us anything—it is a delight. But to those who do not love Him, our obedience does cost a great deal. If we obey God, it will mean that other people’s plans are upset. They will ridicule us as if to say, “You call this Christianity?” We could prevent the suffering, but not if we are obedient to God. We must let the cost be paid ... A lack of progress in our spiritual life results when we try to bear all the costs ourselves. And actually, we cannot. Because we are so involved in the universal purposes of God, others are immediately affected by our obedience to Him."

Check out this book on the iBooks Store:

QUESTION: Are you hesitating to move forward in an area of your life because of how it may affect others? Is it something God is leading you to do?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear how you are dealing with this issue.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Perspective for when the journey is hard

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"All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see. So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while." (1 Peter 1:3-6, New Living Translation)

Are you in the middle of a difficult time right now? Are you misunderstood? Are you being unfairly criticized? Do you even have someone who is actively working against you?

Let these verses from Peter remind you that "there is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while."

Count Nicholas von Zinzendorf (1700-1760) was a wealthy German who was widely criticized for his missionary endeavors. He wrote these words:

Jesus, lead Thou on
Till our rest is won;
And although the way be cheerless,
We will follow calm and fearless
Guide us by Thy hand
To our fatherland

If the way be drear,
If the foe be near,
Let not faithless fears o'ertake us;
Let not faith and hope forsake us;
For through many a woe
To our home we go

QUESTION: What will you do today to focus on where you are headed rather than on the struggles of the journey?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Your Little Life Matters to a Really Big God

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"When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?" (Psalm 8:3-4, English Standard Version)

Check out these two additional translations of those verses:

"When I gaze to the skies and meditate on Your creation—on the moon, stars, and all You have made, I can’t help but wonder why You care about mortals—sons and daughters of men—specks of dust floating about the cosmos." (The Voice)

"I look up at your macro- skies, dark and enormous, your handmade sky- jewelry, Moon and stars mounted in their settings. Then I look at my micro- self and wonder, Why do you bother with us? Why take a second look our way?" (The Message)

Can you join with the Psalmist in a sense of utter amazement that the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe cares about you?

I want us this morning just to sit and soak in that reality. See how big God is and how small we are. See how insignificant we often are to each other, but how incredibly significant we are to God.

Question: In light of that reality, how do you want to respond to God today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

What you choose affects how you feel

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"I will give to the Lord the thanks due to His rightness and justice, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High." (Psalm 7:17)

Which words stand out for you in that verse? Which ones affect the way you read all the others? Read the verse again slowly, emphasizing those words.

For me, the words "I will" are the ones that drive all the rest. They speak of intentionality, of conscious, deliberate choice. They speak of awareness of reality apart from flights of feeling.

"I will" says that I choose thankfulness and praise when I feel disappointed. It is not a denial of disappointment, but an acknowledgement that God is bigger than my little corner of His world.

If we were to speak all day long of the things for which God is worthy of praise and thanksgiving, we could not exhaust the list. And the amazing truth is that we are much more likely to FEEL thankful if we have deliberately chosen to BE thankful.

QUESTION: What is your "I will" today?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, January 6, 2014

God Wants to Talk WITH You

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The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer. (Psalm 6:9, English Standard Version)

My devotional reading process each morning has a certain flow. I am a part of a private Facebook Bible reading group (along with some of you) who reads a chapter a day and posts thoughts to the group page. I begin there. Then I move to the daily reading in Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost for His Highest". Then I move to my next Bible reading in "The Spiritual Formation Bible" (this one is out of print). I am reading through the Bible about a page a day and considering the devotional for contemplation on each page. Finally, I am reading from "The One Year Book of Hymns" that contains daily devotional and Scripture readings based on great hymns of the faith. (I'm sure my background as a musician and worship leader gives me that desire to connect with God in that way).

After all that is done, then I compose Dr. G's Morning Cup of Encouragement based on something from that morning's reading--whatever God has really impressed on my heart.

I share that flow to encourage you in your own devotional time with the Lord. You don't need to do it how I do it. There are many methods and many resources. This is what works for me at this time in my journey. The point is to connect with God through His word and through conversation with Him in prayer. 

As I read Psalm 6:9 this morning, I was struck with two thoughts. 

1. That is really good news! The Lord has heard my plea and He accepts my prayer. The Creator and Sustainer of the Universe gives attention to me!

2. There is a prayer that He does not accept: the one that is not offered. Can't God read our minds? Doesn't He know what we need and what we want before we even ask? Of course! But He wants us to converse and commune with Him. If I don't acknowledge my need for Him, going about my day as if it were all up to me, He will allow me to do it by myself. How much better to walk and talk with Him (sometimes out loud and sometimes not) throughout the day, constantly relying on His guidance and strength.

QUESTION: What will you do today to keep an ongoing conversation with God?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.  I'd also be interested to hear about your devotional reading flow.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

What Did God Do Wrong?

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"Listen and take note, from the farthest reaches to the nearest! Listen up heaven and earth, for the Eternal One has spoken. He is not happy with the children He raised.
Eternal One: Despite all I’ve done, My children have rebelled against Me. Oxen know their owners; even donkeys know where their master feeds them, But Israel is ignorant. My very own, they ignore Me. Truly this is a wicked nation, a people fat with wrongdoing, Like a litter of miscreants, a pack of wilding adolescents. They’ve rejected the Eternal, despised the Holy One of Israel; they’ve turned their backs on Him." (Isaiah 1:2-4, The Voice)

When reading the Bible, we must always be aware of the immediate context as well as the eternal message. The fact that the nation of Israel is mentioned in this passage (immediate context written 700 years before the birth of Christ) makes it easy for us to miss the message to all God's people for all times.

Today I want us to notice the imagery of God as a loving, faithful parent grieving over the rebelliousness of His children. 

We live in a culture that loves to make excuses for the behavior of children by blaming it on their parents. Certainly, cases of dreadful parenting abound, but this passage begs the question "If rebellious children are always the result of bad parenting, what did God do wrong?"

If the perfect parent (He is, after all, GOD) has imperfect children, who are we to believe that good parenting gets the credit and bad parenting gets the blame?

Bottom line: everyone makes choices. The best parents can do is inform and influence. So maybe we should extend some grace to some parents (including ourselves) and do more praying and less criticizing.

QUESTION for private contemplation: Who came to mind as you read this today?
QUESTION for response: How will you pray for that person today?

Leave a comment below and share how your prayer focus affects the way you respond to people.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

What Keeps You Up at Night?

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"Tonight I will sleep securely on a bed of peace because I trust You, You alone, O Eternal One, will keep me safe." (Psalm 4:8, The Voice)

Do you ever have those nights? You know the kind I am talking about, the kind where you plot, plan, strategize, go through various scenarios, and get up in the morning so tired you can't do any of the things you worked on all night.

I trust God completely. I really, really do. But when my schedule is particularly hectic, or when the stakes are really high on a particular issue, I sometimes get the idea that I should help Him out with some great planning of my own.

All that middle-of-the-night planning is usually rewarded by nothing more than daytime drowsiness and ineffectiveness on the simplest of tasks.

I should know better. I do know better. But, like a lot of other life lessons, knowing and doing are not the same. So the lesson continues. 

And God is gracious. He has never once zapped me in my bed for my lack of trust. He gently reminds me through His word (like in today's verse) that I really can "sleep securely on a bed of peace" because I trust Him.

QUESTION: What keeps you up at night? How can you release it into His hands?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Why do we hesitate in following God?

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"By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise." (Hebrews 11:8-9, English Standard Version)

Did you catch that? "He went out, not knowing where he was going."

How often do we hesitate to follow God's leadership because we don't know where this path will lead? I think Abraham figured out something that will help us. He didn't know where the path would lead, but he knew it would lead to God's presence. In Genesis 12:1, God told Abraham to go to "a land I will show you." He didn't say "a land I will tell you about."

Abraham could go out because God would go with Him. He will never send us to a place where He is not.

QUESTION: What is your biggest hesitation right now?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Here We Go!

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Happy New Year, Friends! As we enter 2014, I am reminded of the truth that not one moment of this year will take God by surprise.

Psalm 139:14-16 (New Living Translation): Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb. You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

Frances Havergal (1836-1879) wrote these words for a New Year greeting card. They were subsequently put to music by Samuel S. Wesley.

(Another Year is Dawning YouTube)

Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
In working or in waiting, another year with Thee.
Another year of progress, another year of praise,
Another year of proving Thy presence all the days.

Another year of mercies, of faithfulness and grace,
Another year of gladness in the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting, of quiet, happy rest.

Another year of service, of witness for Thy love,
Another year of training for holier work above.
Another year is dawning, dear Father, let it be
On earth, or else in Heaven, another year for Thee.

Since God knows the plans He has for us (Jeremiah 29:11) and all our moments are in His hands, let's focus on submitting to His purpose for us in 2014. I'm excited about sharing the journey with you.

QUESTION: What will you do today to prepare for God's purpose for 2014?

Leave a comment below.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.