Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Prince Who Chose Drizella

I was a bit skeptical about the 2015 interpretation of Cinderella. This has got to be my favorite fairy tale, so I like to see it filmed exceptionally well. I believe the story of Cinderella is written on the hearts of every human being on the planet, which is why we relate so well to it.

In fact, neither the Grimm brothers nor Disney have the monopoly on the story. It is perhaps the oldest story every told. In my opinion, it is owned by everyone who realizes the significance of Prince Charming, a life of slavery, and the glorification of a poor individual into royalty.

I remember when I first unlocked the treasure in Cinderella, realizing that I too, was a slave girl. Listlessly lost in my sin, my efforts always failing to clean my own mess and others’. My flesh, like a wicked-step mother, tricked me into a life I was not destined for. Yet despite my circumstances, a handsome prince, my Savior Jesus Christ, swept me off my feet. Though I am an unworthy commoner, Jesus made me a royal princess. Like the doting father-in-law, my King adopted me into His kingdom, and my life is forever changed.

To my great delight, I found my heart soaring as I watched the recently released film. It was a beautiful reminder of my own story, or rather, His story. The little girl in my soul was squealing with delight when Ella twirled in her blue “cupcake” dress. My eyes filled with tears scene after scene, rejoicing over this picture of God’s love for me.

However, something inside remained unsettled about the story. Oh Ella, with your beautiful blonde locks and lovely blue dress. Your voice shining bright and your determination to be kind. In my former years, I completely identified with you. A good girl, plunked down in a poor circumstance of sin, yet ready for royalty and needing no polish or preparation.

Now I realize that was never me. The further I hike into my relationship with God, the deeper I realize the river of sin that runs within me. Watching Cinderella this week made me realize a movie about my life would be titled “Drizella.”

drizella

 

The step-sister, with her squawky voice and big feet.
Frizzy hair and arrogant attitude.
So many clothes without a single ounce of style or poise, inside or out.
Eager to please yet failing miserably with every attempt.
Boisterous, competitive, loud, jealous, insecure.
Manipulated and manipulative. Miserable company.

If I am honest with myself, apart from Christ I am nothing but an ugly substitution for a princess. I squabble with fellow church members. I strive for attention and acclamation, an embarrassing display of insecurity. My prayers lean toward “parasols and lace” requests, instead of a deeper relationship with my Father. My efforts to be accomplished fall humorously short. In my own strength, I have no ability to truly “have courage and be kind.”

I am no Cinderella, heart pure and true. I am Drizella, heart desperate to be noticed and filled with self-made accolades.

But you know what? Jesus chose me anyway.

How different the story would be if the prince turned his head and offered his hand at the last minute to Drizella, in all her pomp and ridiculousness. We might leave the theater disappointed, annoyed, and unsettled.

“She didn’t deserve him.”

“She will never live up to the role of a princess.”

“The prince is really going to make a mess of things now.”

And that is exactly what Jesus did for us! He chose the mess, the cross, to bring unkind, uncourageous, prideful, awful, ugly step-sisters like you and me into His kingdom. A relationship with Jesus then transforms us into the kind and courageous, beautiful ambassadors of His Kingdom, but that is not how He finds us. Of course, Cinderella’s story cannot fully embody the story of our Savior, because Jesus invites every ugly-step sister, not just to the ball, but into the royal family!

Whether you identify with Cinderella or Drizella, the wicked-step-mother or that one extra-in-the-background-wearing-the-green-dress-that-no-one-ever-notices, Jesus has an invitation for you!

He stands with arm extended, hand open. Though it be nailed to the cross, it still cries out, “dance with me!”

Have you accepted His proposal?

What did you think of Disney’s recreation of the classic Cinderella?

Something new is coming to this blog, and it is hidden somewhere in this post. With Easter in the air, who is up for a little egg-hunt?
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I am Made Alive

Dreary winter clinging to the month of March.

Sickness hovers over my family like the low stratus clouds overhead.

Unending desire to wear sandals, yet feet confined by well-meaning but still-restrictive socks and shoes.

Motionless shadows, missing the sunbeam’s instinct to change things up with every passing second.

Hibernation is lazy living, but requires such mental work to skirt the pit of despair.

Mopey days pass into worn-out nights, but I can’t recall actually doing anything in the last 9 hours.

Husband is traveling; loneliness tempts me to withdraw, sink in, and fade.

Broken stroller wheels and worn out legs halt my energetic-walk initiative.

Muddy streets make dirty cars. My attempt at “wearing” Spring into existence fails when a sleeve of cheery white brushes against the dust-caked vehicle.

Apathy settles in, and flows out, of my thoughts, actions, media choices, and my words.

Have I lost all sense of life, passing through each day like the stuffy hot air passes through our heater vents?

Zombie-like, I muddle through the motions. The house is clean, the laundry done, the babies fed, but my senses of adventure, hope, and laughter seem to be on vacation.

Maybe that’s what I need… a vacation?

Or perhaps what I really need is 2 pumps of delicious truth with my morning latte.

A bit of Scripture-sunshine to pierce the self-absorbed darkness of my heart.

I need the same encouragement Paul gave to the people in Ephesus: you are alive with Christ!

Screen Shot 2015-03-15 at 1.55.38 PM

 

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Eph. 2:4-5

This truth about my identity rings clear above the hum-drum noise of my circumstances. I have the choice to stop living as one dead in her sin, one decaying with passing time. Though I sometimes feel like I am falling apart, that is not who I am. No, I am not a corpse, I am alive!

God has given me a new identity. I can live as such! As one who is alive with Christ, I can embrace each day with energy not found within myself. By the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, I can breathe deep, worship, smile, and wake up with happy anticipation.

In order to do so, I think I need to fall at the feet of Jesus a little more often. His stash of strength, vitality, joy, and hope is a bottomless one. As David Crowder Band put it, “I need You to be the thing that I need… Let me feel You Shine.” (The following version is way better than the one I just plunked out on my living room piano.)

I need to recognize when I make good things, like vacations, summertime, a sense of accomplishment, and a good ole’ fashioned nap, into functional saviors. They may bring reprieve, but they do not bring life. When I find my will to live, to be truly alive, in Jesus, I can find it inexhaustibly: “I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” John 10:10

Hallelujah, I am alive, and therefore, I can really live!

For more about this truth, see my series on Zombie Christianity.

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Leviticus 21-22: Expectations for the Priests

Chapters 21-22 spell out God’s expectations for the priests, descendants of Aaron, and their duties. While I don’t normally read 2 chapters in a row, today it was appropriate since both chapters create a special section in the “Holiness code” portion of Leviticus.

What does this tell me about God:

  • God held the priests to a higher standard of being set-apart.

In other chapters, we have seen how specific (and sometimes strange to us) God’s expectations are for the people of Israel. We know that God does this, of course, because

  1. God deserves obedience without explanation.
  2. The Israelites were to reflect God to the rest of the world around them.
  3. God cares about his people’s well-being, and provides for their health needs through His laws.

For the priests, however, the expectations are set up for additional reasons:

  1. Anyone playing the role of mediator must be considered holy, inside and out (much like the expectations for the sacrifices themselves).
  2. The priests were the example to the people of Israel and thus were held to a higher standard.

For the Christian today, we can be grateful that Christ exceeded those expectations as our high priest.

How can I live in light of this:

  • I can take my role in the Royal Priesthood seriously.

 

1 Peter 2:9 is clear that all Christians now fulfill the role of the priesthood:

But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. 1 Peter 2:9

We need not adhere to the specific rules and regulations for a Levitical priest; however, the principle of living set-apart lives, as examples of God’s goodness and holiness, remains imperative for the believer today.

Other thoughts or questions:

  • I was intrigued by verses 14-16:

If anyone eats a holy offering in error, he must add a fifth to its value and give the holy offering to the priest. The priests must not profane the holy offerings the Israelites give to the Lord by letting the people eat their holy offerings and having them bear the penalty of restitution. For I am Yahweh who sets them apart.”

We can appreciate that God knows humanities perchance to live in the loophole. “Well, I’ll eat the holy offering just this once and go ahead and pay for it,” was not acceptable, and God made sure that caveat was addressed before it became a trend.

What did you learn from Leviticus 21-22 today?

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Leviticus 20: Placing greater value on Relationships

One of the main reasons I am blogging my way through my study in Leviticus is so you, dear reader, can see that IT CAN BE DONE. Reading hard books of the Bible is not only do-able, but it also beneficial! However, it can still be intimidating. Here’s a peek at how I tackled this study today:

  • 6:30am— read chapter 20 on my iPhone app while half-asleep in bed (it piques my curiosity at least).
  • 7:00am—drag myself out of bed, spend time in prayer and stretching (an old habit I have recently picked up again).
  • 7:30am— enjoy “Breakfast with Jesus.” Cinnamon Pecan cereal, banana, Study Bible, journal, commentary, and a prayer: Holy Spirit, teach me.
    • I journal through the three points (in green below) as I read, and consult the notes in my Bible and commentary as needed.
  • 8:00am— digest (physically and spiritually) as I wake up the babies.
  • 10:00am— If I get the chance, I bring my Bible and journal to the computer to write down what God taught me. Otherwise, I’ll come back to my thoughts on a day available for blog writing. (I sometimes write out 2 or 3 chapter-thoughts at a time, and schedule them for different days on the blog).

Pretty simple. I really don’t get much out of the reading if I just scroll through my Bible app. But there are days that’s all I get to, and it is still good. I think the most beneficial part to my study is prayer. It reminds me that I am not just doing a task, but I am fellowshipping with the God of the universe (as we learned in chapter 19)!

I also greatly appreciate asking the question “how can I live in light of this?” It gives me an action point to launch from.

Here’s what I learned from chapter 20:

What does this tell me about God:

  • God requires his people to be on board with His expectations.

God makes a point in this chapter to address the entire community with their responsibility to hold each other accountable. They were to execute the punishments when a person violated God’s law.

  • God places the highest value on life and relationships.

Whereas other cultures valued possessions and economic gain, God called his people to value life and relationships. Many of the sins mentioned in chapter 20 are sins committed against the family unit or against the relationship with God. Death may seem to be a harsh punishment for some of these sins, but it gives us insight into what God values most.

  • God intends for his people to be set apart from the culture, possibly to the point of looking weird.

In verses 222-26, God reiterates his call for the people to be Holy, like He is, and describes a way to do so that may have felt irrational, extreme, or ridiculous: avoiding unclean animals. Leviticus specifically states the reason for this is to appear different from the rest of the nations.

How can I live in light of this:

  • I should place greater value on relationships, with God and with people.

Most of us do not struggle with any of the sins listed in chapter 20. However, we can lean toward valuing our time, money, possessions, and gain above relationships.

There are days that I have a task burning a hole in my mind, whether it be an article to be published, a pile of laundry to be folded, or a ministry event to be planned and scheduled. I want to get it done, make it marvelous, and hopefully receive some accolade or monetary compensation for my achievement. But these days are also the days that my daughter is extra-needy, my son skips his nap, my husband carved out time to connect with me, and my dog is begging for the ball to be thrown. Which will I make time for, the immediate or the important?

Please hear me, avoiding relationships or making time for personal achievement is not what God is addressing in Leviticus 20. However, the principle struck me deeply: do I value relationships with God and others as much as God does?

  • I should hold other believers accountable.

Israel was a nation who’s King was God. This is called a theocracy. Therefore, God’s expectations applied to the whole nation. Many Americans identify in nationality with a theocracy, but we must remember our nation itself is not under the rule of God. He is sovereign yes, but the laws and politics of the USA are not designed like a theocracy. Whereas the people of Israel could hold each other accountable to God’s expectation on a national level, Americans do not have that right to punish, mistreat, or otherwise hold accountable our nation and its citizens to God’s expectations. We do, however, have the right and responsibility to hold other believers accountable to the life God has called us to as His body. In this way, we can honor Leviticus 20 within our churches (along with Galatians 6, and James 5).

  • I should be willing to be weird as I identify more and more with God.

Other thoughts or questions:

  • What/who is Molech? Answer: Molech is the national god of the ammonites. Sacrificing a child may have meant burning the child, but also could refer to giving the child up to become a cult prostitute.

How can you value relationships better in your own life?

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Leviticus 19: Following Rules or Fellowship with God?

I recently had the privilege of praying along side a young woman as she accepted Christ as her Savior. It was exhilarating to see her find peace and freedom as she realized at last that she could come to God through Jesus, just the way she is. In the weeks leading up to this moment, “B” thought she couldn’t begin a relationship with God until she knew she would never sin again. The weight of this perspective kept B from giving her life to God for some time. I loved seeing the relief wash over her face when she finally understood that a relationship with God is about Jesus taking care of our sin, not us being perfect on our own.

Many people have this idea that Christianity is a religion of rules. They quote Leviticus 19 as proof. After all, Lev. 19 restates all 10 commandments found in Exodus 20. From gleaning to tattoos, it has many do’s and do not’s to obey. However, this chapter also describes the opposite of a check-list! It expresses God’s desire for fellowship with His people in a beautiful way!

What does this tell me about God:

  • God is about relationship, not about check-lists.

This chapter begins with God beckoning the people into fellowship with Him: “Speak to the entire Israelite community…” God then invites them again to “be Holy because I, Yahweh your God, am holy.”

God then reiterates this phrase 16 times! He says over and over again: I am Yahweh, your God. In so many ways, this is personal and intimate, drawing the people to know Him, “your God.” It certainly commands respect and fear (He is God), but that does not necessarily turn these expectations into a set of rules to follow to avoid punishment.

I think the prominence of the fellowship offering also points to God’s desire for fellowship. In verses 5-8, God gives a primary place in the list for the fellowship offering, the sacrifice that gives the people the chance to commune and “share a meal” with God.

  • God set up laws and expectations to strengthen our relationship with Him.

God invites His people to be Holy, as He is holy. This invitation is so much more than a “get ‘er done” mentality. It is not “follow rules so you will be a good person.” It is also not a means to avoid punishment or to achieve an awesome life.

“Be holy as I, Yahweh your God, am holy” is a call to know God in order to be like Him.

It is also a call to be like God in order to know Him.yahweh

God set up these expectations as a way to build identity together with Him in relationship.

  • God also emphasizes our relationships with others.

Leviticus is the book at the center of the Torah. At the center of Leviticus is chapter 19. The middle verse is verse 18. In other words, the axis of God’s direction for his people, on which the rest of His law revolves around, is

 Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh.

My study Bible comments: “relationships with people are inseparable from one’s relationship with God—Holy living and love are mutually dependent. Being identified with the Lord, who is holy, necessitates mirroring His holiness.”

How can I live in light of this:

  • Focused fellowship can become a springboard for intimacy in our relationship with Jesus.

Living a set-apart list does not come naturally to me. I have to be intentional about it. Throughout each week, I try to make room in my schedule to meet with the hurting and sick, like Jesus did. I read that Jesus prioritized his quiet time with God, so I set my alarm a little earlier. I know that Jesus detests religiosity, so I strive to be gracious, generous, and humble.

All of these things are ways to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, to be set-apart. But sometimes I do them to just do them. I have to admit, this study through Leviticus has been an eye-opener, but there are still days I just can’t wait for it to be over! I spend several hours a week with teenagers in a non-church setting, with the sole purpose of trying to be a light in their dark worlds. I pray for opportunities to share my faith with them, knowing I might be the only contact they have with someone who has a relationship with Jesus. Still, there are weeks I just “check it off the list.”

I avoid bad movies, say no to over-eating, delete a sarcastic text before I send it, and try to curb my negative thoughts. Each of these things present an opportunity to commune with God, ask for His help, express my gratitude, etc. But sometimes I just pat myself on the back and keep going about my day.

I believe God wants us to use our good things, and the avoidance of the “bad things”, to know Him better. To build our sense of identity in relationship, not just our badges of “Christianity.”

Today, after reading Leviticus 19, I noticed I was talking with God more throughout each task of my day. My tasks became talking points in an ongoing conversation with my Savior. Focused fellowship can become a springboard for intimacy in our relationship with Jesus.

  • I can strive for heightened awareness of the Holy Spirit’s work in me.

Every task of Leviticus 19 does not apply to those of us living in the days of Christ. But the principal of doing what is right does apply. Christ-followers do not accomplish good by our own efforts, however. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Philippians 2 says

So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (vs. 12-13)

We get to work with the Holy Spirit on the character traits and behavior issues He is working on in us. Sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) is carried out by the Holy Spirit, but we still get to participate.

Other thoughts or questions:

  • I’ve decided not to enter the tattoo debate that Leviticus 19:28 often brings up.

How can you pursue fellowship with God through obeying the “rules”?

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Navigating a Sex-Crazed Culture (With an Old Testament Chapter as Your Guide: Leviticus 18)

This is the big one! Many people have targeted Leviticus 18 as the chapter to debate in the conversation about God and homosexuality. I encountered this conversation twice in the week leading up to reading this chapter. I find it helpful to read the chapter in its entirety (and the whole book of Leviticus, for that matter), in order to grasp the whole picture of God’s expectations for the Israelites. So before you jump into my thoughts on the subject, read here.

What does Leviticus 18 tell me about God:

  • God is not surprised by culturally accepted sinful practices.

I’ve heard people say “things are getting worse,” referring to our culture’s obsession with pushing the sexual boundaries. Interestingly, the unhealthy sexual practices were happening in other cultures long before our founding fathers set foot on American soil.

  • God sets standards for his people regardless of the cultural norms.

God was not surprised by Egypt and Canaan’s sin, and He isn’t surprised by my cultures sin either. He knew the heavy influence the Israelites were walking into, and spelled out very specific instructions on what not to do.

How can I live in light of this:

  • Live according to Romans 12:1-2

Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.

In so many ways, Romans 12:1-2 sums up what we are studying in Leviticus. I am challenged to live a life that is set-apart, looking more like Jesus than the culture around me. My body and life are not my own, rather I am part of a sacrifice (along with the rest of the believers) to God. Not in my physical death, like an animal of Leviticus sacrifices, but in the daily death to my desires.

This means I don’t read books or watch movies that promote unhealthy sexual activity, no matter how popular they are in my culture. I will admit, my curiosity runs rampant when I recognize how elevated sex is in my American culture. Regardless, God calls me to a different standard. God doesn’t require me to remove myself from my culture; still, in order to reach that standard of being set-apart, I must renew my mind in Christ daily.

  • I can also live according to Romans 12:3, in humility and kindness.

For by the grace given to me, I tell everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he should think. Instead, think sensibly, as God has distributed a measure of faith to each one. Romans 12:3

The trouble with the conversation about God’s sexual standards is how “good people” use them to elevate themselves above others. Someone engaging in sexual sin, from sex-out-of-marriage to homosexuality, is first and foremost in need of the gospel that God loves them and made a way to have a relationship with them. And you know what? The same is true for this dirty, grimy, disgusting sinner who struggles with the not-lesser sins of pride, gluttony, laziness, rudeness, sarcasm, and idolatry. I have been released from the guilt of my sin because of Jesus sacrifice, which gives me no higher place to stand than any other sinner saved by grace, now or in the future.

Other thoughts or questions:

  • Not today.

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Leviticus 17: Worship Matters to Community

From our readings so far, we see that chapters 1-16 in Leviticus focus on how to have relationship with a Holy God. God provided the sacrifices and expectations for set-apart living so the people would have access to Him in an appropriate way. With chapter 17, we are entering new territory in the Leviticus outline. Chapters 17-27 are a sort of “holiness code” for the Israelites. Now that the people have a way to connect with their creator, God also provides proper instruction for them to connect with others, in a way that honors and glorifies God.

Interestingly, God begins this section of relating to the world around them by focusing first on worship of Him. Our worship practices not only affect our relationship with God, but they also greatly affect our earthly relationships, and thus they must be addressed.

What does this tell me about God:

  • God cares about Who we worship.

Verse 7 instructs the people to no longer offer sacrifices to “goat-demons.” The people of Israel had many influences on their worship practices, having lived in Egypt for so many years, and now entering a land that also did not know the Holy God.

God is reminding His people to be wholly focused on Him, regardless of the culture and practices around them. Leviticus will go into the influence of surrounding nations further in chapter 18.

  • God cares about how we worship.

This chapter outlines various ways that the Israelites were improperly practicing the slaughter, sacrifice, and use for worship of animals. He demanded that all animals being slaughtered (presumably for food) come first to the tabernacle. God desired fellowship with His people, and this law ensured that the people would not just go about taking care of their needs without sharing with the Levites and with God through a fellowship offering. This law also ensured that no offerings would be made to other gods.

  • God cares about living things.

Verses 10-16 show the significance of blood symbolizing life. God is adamant that life is sacred, and blood represents that.

How can I live in light of this:

  • I must worship God alone.

I do not build physical alters and worship demon goats, but I certainly practice focused attention and awe for the things my culture values. Stuff like celebrities’ behavior, new tech, and whether a dress is blue or white command my attention. Whatever buzzfeed or distractify is dangling in front of my face(book) gets me hooked. I give my attention, time, and money to the “American dream” that my culture continually worships. Reading Leviticus is a pertinent reminder to worship God alone. He deserves the obvious place in my conversation, the first hour in my day, the go-to thought in my daydreams.

  • I can worship God according to His expectations.

Sometimes, I want to worship in the way I want to. I want to be alone, with music I like, on the mountainside that makes me feel so alive. But God doesn’t always call me to worship in a way that makes me feel good.

Many people claim to follow Jesus, but want nothing to do with His people.

Leviticus reminds us how much God values our fellowship with Him and with others. I can also place greater value on worshiping with God’s people in a building that might feel confined, with sinners saved by grace just like me, singing songs of truth and praise regardless of the melody.

Other thoughts or questions:

  • Singing about the “blood” has greater significance now.

The comment in my study Bible emphasizes that “this passage is foundational for understanding the New Testament references to the atoning blood of Christ,” like these verses:

They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. Romans 3:24-25

He entered the most holy place once for all, not by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow, sprinkling those who are defiled, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of the Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to serve the living God? Hebrews 9:12-14

How did Leviticus 17 impact you this week?

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6 Reasons to Prioritize Time with God in Hard Times: Why Bible study should be the last to go when you are tired, exhausted, sick, grieving, etc.

I recently took about a week of from my study in Leviticus. After spending a weekend at a retreat (which when you are caring for 7 month old twins translates from retreat to “high demand situation”), I found I was losing the battle with a lingering cold. Exhausted, I felt all I could do was care for babies, then crash on the couch or bed while they napped, getting in some R&R myself. I tried to journal and read a little of the Bible during this time, but after a few days of half-hearted devo time, I gave up. After a week of this, I noticed a dramatic change in my attitude, my thoughts, and my actions.

I am convinced my lack of spending time in prayer and reading God’s word had a profound effect on my life, and the lives of those around me. So why is it the first thing to go when my circumstances aren’t normal?

So here are 6 good reasons I found to prioritize my time with God, regardless of my circumstances:

  1. It sets the Symota for the day.
  2. When I put God’s priorities first, He provides time for everything else that is truly important.
  3. It gives me proper perspective of my circumstances.
  4. It reminds me that victory is on its way… I do not have to live as though I am defeated.
  5. “If you skip one day of spending time with God, nobody notices. If you skip 2 days, your family notices, if you skip 3 days, everybody notices.” Unknown.
  6. When I fail to spend time with God, I inevitably replace it with time feeding my flesh. I then begin to display the fruit of the flesh (rudeness, anger, cynicism) instead of the fruit of the Spirit.

How do you notice your life changes when you skip spending time with God?

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