A life changing Bible verse

A number of people close to me struggle with anxiety. At times, it’s severe. Furrowed brows, hammering hearts, and full-on panic attacks are common. It’s hard to watch, hard to feel helpless, especially since I’ve experienced these emotions myself.

A long time ago, especially when I was a young mother, I worried a lot too. Having small children can heighten the emotions that twist like tornados through our minds. Suddenly, everything is dangerous and anything is possible. What if we can’t feed them? What if I lose my job and our company goes under? The “what ifs” drove me nuts and drove my actions. But then God led me to a Bible verse that changed everything and put a stop to all the spinning:

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matt 6:33

Jesus knows a thing or two about worry. He often spoke to his followers about the things that tend to make humans anxious.

Matthew 4:18 tells the story of Jesus calling his first followers, the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew. He had lots to teach them and as they traveled through Galilee, great crowds followed. Matthew 4:18-7:29 is rich with instruction about the way Christians should live.

But the key for me was found in Matthew 6:33, and specifically in the word, first. Jesus tells us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. First, as defined in the Greek, means first in a series involving time, space, or set. We’re familiar with the concept of being in first place, or first in line or first in our class — it’s an order of priority.

Jesus tells us that before we worry about everything else, whether that be nourishment, clothing, or where we’ll live, we need to make God first. Easy to say, but harder to do right? It’s hard to think straight when you’re worried about being hungry or thirsty.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us without answers. After he explained the way to live, he explained the why. The answer is simple — God cares for us.

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He said, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.” Matt 6:26-32

The Gentiles he spoke about were those who didn’t believe in God. We are not to be like those who have no faith. We have a heavenly Father who knows exactly what we need, when we need it.

Put him to the test. Trust him and see what happens when he gets put into his rightful position.

Once I rearranged my priorities everything changed. He’s poured out unbelievable blessings on me and my family. But it only works if you work it!

What actions can you take to put God in first place, in every area of your life?

Illuminating the mystery of more

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Eph. 1:3).

How often do you look up and marvel at the night sky? My guess is that your answer depends on what you see when you do.

Wonders upon wonders exist in the heavens but we can see only a fraction of the stars and planets. Though people have tried, there are simply too many to count. According to astronomers at Sky and Telescope magazine, roughly 9,000 stars can be viewed with the naked eye.

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That number gets cut in half depending on atmospheric conditions, seasons and light pollution. The average New York City resident sees just seven stars, and the view in other places is vastly different. One year my family and I took a trip to the White Mountains in New Hampshire and we were stunned by the nightly display. Stars, planets, and the Milky Way were on full view. We made it a point to look up every evening.

A few years ago I taught a semester of astronomy (I’m a homeschooler) and the kids and I stargazed through our telescope every night. Viewing the stars and planets through binoculars and telescopes exponentially increases our ability to see them. Trillions of galaxies illuminate the heavens and point our attention to the One who created them.

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God has given us land and waters swarming with all kinds of creatures. In the same way a loving parent creates a healthy and happy home, he’s established the perfect environment because of his immeasurable love for us.

We are a blessed people — children of the divine creator of the universe. A God who is so big he literally fills everything. But he doesn’t stop with earthly blessings. He’s also given us access to unimaginable spiritual blessings. Scripture tells us that we have access to every kind of blessing available. They originate from an unlimited and infinite God — given to us through Jesus.

In Christ, we discover we’re made for more than we can ever imagine.

Our Heavenly Father breathes life into every living thing. He has mind-blowing things in store for us, his children, when we’re open to discovery. Like the stars in the sky, He designed each one of us uniquely for his great purposes. He’s called us to light up our world for Christ and build up his body, the Church — to illuminate the mystery of more for ourselves and for others.

And here’s the really big idea: the Church is called for more because Jesus himself is more. Look at what Paul says about Jesus in Ephesians 1:22:

“God placed all things under Jesus’ feet.” 

Only Jesus can fill everything in every way. Not our efforts, our strategies, our plans, our spouses, our children, our jobs, our church.

Only Jesus.

How does knowing that you have access to every kind of spiritual blessing expand your knowledge of and love for God?

Will you win an award or a reward?

Winter is the time for snuggling under blankets, getting cozy in front of the fire, and . . . awards. Each year, powerful tastemakers in Hollywood celebrate the previous year’s success by staging elaborate award ceremonies.

The star-studded events are glamorous – women shine in (mostly) gorgeous gowns and men are decked out in tuxedos. Average folks like you and me, can’t walk the red carpet or sit in the same room with the swanky set.

However, you can go to Vanity Fair’s After Party for the paltry sum of forty grand.

I gave up watching these shows when they got too political, but I do enjoy looking at the gowns online. The other day I listened to a guy being interviewed on the radio who’s well-known for picking Golden Globe winners.

As I did, a thought popped into my head: I will never ever receive an award like this. No one is nominating me for anything. I’m not particularly talented and I’ll never get a Lifetime Achievement award, unless they start giving them out for laundry. I won’t have a star on my dressing room door and no golden statuettes will sit on my shelves.

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But I’m ok with that because I’m a star in God’s eyes, and so are you!

As believers, we have something much more valuable – we have Jesus himself. We’re members of God’s family, the Holy Spirit dwells in us and we have eternal salvation through Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 tells us exactly how “gifted” we are: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. 

Read that again. In Christ, we have every spiritual blessing available in the heavenly realm and we have direct access to the God of the universe.

How amazing is that?

So as we trudge through the winter months – hiding those few extra pounds underneath bulky sweaters – take some time to meditate on God’s promises.

The glitz and glam splashed across our screens is temporal. God doesn’t tally up our achievements or pick winners from a select group of people. Shiny baubles and swag bags are meaningless objects in the grand scheme of life.

We are already stellar as far as He’s concerned and our reward is stored up for us in heaven.

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”; and, You reward everyone according to what they have done.” Psalm 62:11-12

 

 

Feeling worried about the year ahead?

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8

I’m watching the dawn break as I write this morning. My view, which faces the Atlantic Ocean (and is blocked by homes in front of me), is not the one I’m used to. It’s usually beautiful to watch the great ball of sun rising above oceanfront rooftops.

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But today, the sky is dim with low-hanging gray clouds and the light doesn’t bounce off the water in the canal.

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What a difference a day makes.

As I look forward to the year ahead, it’s almost impossible not to look back. 2018 was incredibly busy and filled with unexpected obstacles and life-changing milestones. The biggest challenge was moving my two daughters to different cities, and the planning and logistics required to make it happen.

I didn’t expect that my two biggest champions would leave home this year. Now, it’s just me and the boys, and it’s been a difficult adjustment to say the least.

Like many, we’ve also struggled with all sorts of grief and joy. I suspect 2019 will be filled with much of the same, but I’m not worried and you shouldn’t be either.

The world we live in is filled with chaos. Political divisiveness, global warfare and countless pundits and prognosticators suggest impending disaster. They encourage us to be quivering cowards. They want us to fret, fear and feel hopeless because they think they know best and after all . . . misery loves company.

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I implore you not to join in their reindeer games! There is only One who truly knows the future.

When we try to remove God from all forms of society, society begins to spiral. We forget that God is on His throne and elevate “leaders” and philosophers to a position of omniscience. This is nothing but a form of idolatry. It has no place in the lives of believers.

And besides, fear tactics have been around for thousands of years.

Take a look at the words of Jeremiah in the Old Testament: Do not panic; don’t be afraid when you hear the first rumor of opposing forces. For rumors will keep coming year by year. Violence will erupt in the land as the leaders fight against each other. Jeremiah 51:46

Instead, let us remember that the Lord goes before us. Jesus invites us to rest in Him: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Peter reminds us to give our concerns to Him: Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7

So let’s look forward to 2019 with anticipation and rejoicing. We serve a God who loves us, invites us into His family and goes before us in all things.

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

5 ways to deal with the trolls in your life

By Erika Rizkallah

Do you have trolls in your life?

As a kid, one of my favorite stories was the Norwegian folk tale, Three Billy Goats Gruff. Don’t be surprised if it’s unfamiliar; the fact that I recall it shows my age.

It’s about three goats — a little one, a middle sized one and a huge one — who had to cross a bridge to get to the other side of the mountain to eat. A grotesque and ferocious troll lived underneath, threatening to devour them.

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The little and middle-sized ones tricked him into waiting for the huge billy goat who crushed his bones and threw him over the bridge.

Just a terrifying tale parents liked to read right before bedtime!

We also had troll dolls. Remember those? We’d smash the neon polyester hair down and spin their squat bodies in our palms to whip up crazy hairdos.

Seems kind of lame now but that’s what we did for fun in the “good ‘ol days.”

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Trolls still exist. They usually menace behind electronic devices, but sometimes actively pursue.

I have one and she’s not the fun kind.

She’s the mother of my son’s (former) friend. Our boys were goofing around in my home and it escalated into a physical fight. Though her son started the horseplay and sucker punched my kid first, hers lost the fight and was injured.

Out of town that weekend, I heard the story from my husband, son and another witness. And the detective assigned to the case — yes, she called the police. Not getting the desired result, she’s now hell-bent on harassing me.

She’s sent nasty texts, tried to post awful comments on my blog and slandered my family in the community. So she’s trolling everywhere.

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This is the world we live in. A world filled with strangers who feel free to unleash rage and harm. Just because they can or feel entitled to.

So how do we deal with it?

Ignore them: The first troll-defeating rule is always the best. Ignore them. They’re not worth our time or energy. Really, they’re not. They’re out living dull lives, getting their jollies by trying to cause harm. Don’t let them drag you to the party. Go about your own life and be thankful you have better things to do.

For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. James 1:13-15

Rise up: Unlike mythological monsters, humans are complex. Maybe they’re hurting and trolling is their only way to feel powerful. Maybe they’re immature, attention seeking or insecure. We’ve all had our moments but we don’t have to act creaturely.

A pig that is washed goes back to her wallowing in the mud. 2 Peter 2:22

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Talk it out: No, not to the troll — that won’t do any good. Talk about it with people who really know you. There’s nothing like meeting with a close friend to reassure us that we’re not what they say we are.

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17

Go to God: Remember your creator. He’s the one who loves you most of all. He knows your heart, sees your frustration and can act in ways you’ve never even imagined. He’s the ultimate healer of the damaged. Meditate on this verse:

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:13-14

Live with joy: Jesus warned that in this world we would have trouble. It’s the unfortunate part of earthly living, but we don’t have to dwell on Negativity Island. There are wonderful things out there that deserve our attention. We can do something nice for a stranger, offer a word of encouragement to a friend in need and spend time with positive people.

Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

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Most of all, remember who you are. None of us are perfect, but we are all loved — even the trolls.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

 

 

Feel like you don’t have much to offer?

When I was growing up, one of the most popular tunes on the radio was a song called Stand By Your Man, co-written and recorded by Tammy Wynette. Though it contains only 128 words and was written in 15 minutes, it’s sparked debate and controversy for years.

No one predicted the surprising results this scant and quickly written song produced; Tammy catapulted to fame and it remains one of country music’s Top hits 50 years later.

I’ve been married to the same guy for 24 years and consider myself fortunate. He’s a business owner and we have a great life despite many ups and downs. Long ago, God told me he’d provide for me through my husband and I’ve accepted his promise gratefully.

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But it’s difficult at times, especially in this day and age when we voraciously compare ourselves to others. Though I’ve worked off and on through the years and have my own online business, I’m not “self-supporting.” When I fill out paperwork, I put “Not Applicable” under the employment section. One time at a doctor’s office, the receptionist shouted across the room, “Are you still unemployed?”

These questions make me cringe — I hate labels. I’m independent and was the main breadwinner in our family for several years before I quit work to take care of my children. In my hometown near Washington D.C., women would ask, “What do you do for a living?” When I explained I was a stay-at-home mom, they often discreetly drifted off looking for someone more interesting to talk to.

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True story.

The bulk of my work goes unseen and uncompensated. I’m not what the world considers “successful,” but I know I am. So does my family and most importantly, so does my God.

Still, sometimes I want the sacrifices I’ve made to be seen and dare I say, celebrated.

It reminds me of the Bible story known as the widow’s offering. One day, Jesus was teaching in the temple and he sat down across from where people were putting in their required offerings.

Mark 12:41-44 says: Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. 

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything — all she had to live on.” 

Sometimes women at any stage of life can feel like our offerings are meager. On low  strength and energy days, the only fuel I have is knowing that Jesus sees me. He accepts my small offerings and he loves it.

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He sees and loves you as well. No offering is too small to make a huge difference in the world and for his kingdom.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to the widow. I know God provided for her because it’s one of his promises. He’s close to the poor, the oppressed, those who feel small.

The lesson was so important that he called his disciples over to witness it. The story is told in the books of Mark and Luke; the nameless woman is still held up as an example over 2,000 years later.

That’s incredible . . . and so are you!

 

 

 

He believes we can fly

By Erika Rizkallah 

Yesterday morning during my quiet time with God, my feral cat Moo Moo, began to bark. These were strange sounds coming from a kitty who’s named for a cow and meows like a mouse.

I looked up to see him standing on his hind legs on the back of my sitting room chair. He swiped furiously at something in the corner of a casement window. He’s a weird dude, but this was unusual behavior, even for him.

My big burly guy has a teeny-tiny girly voice except when he’s “hunting” indoors  — he’s terrified of the outside.

I got up to look and noticed a bee hovering near the top of my leaky window. It was a sunny and windy day so I figured I’d do him (and me) a favor and send him on his way.

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I popped open the window to give him plenty of room to fly. Instead, he flattened his wings and clung to the glass. I waited, thinking surely it’s a better option than death by cat, but he didn’t seem to agree.

So then I grabbed a magazine and gave him a gentle push, but he clung to the magazine. I helped him further by shaking the magazine into the wind, and instead of flying, he seemed to fall.

I yelled, What’s the problem you dumb bee? You’re in your element. God gave you wings!

Just then, a small still voice spoke into my spirit, Look who’s talking. You’re in your element. I gave you gifts. I gave you wings and yet you cling and refuse to pursue the purpose I have in mind for you. 

God. Smacked.

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Can you relate? Do you feel like God’s been calling you to something more and yet you choose to bide your time, waiting in fear or apprehension?

Sometimes he uses the pressure of an enemy or a gentle wind to shake us out of complacency. Sometimes he pushes us out of the window himself.

I wanted to share my lesson with you today because I feel like someone needs to hear it.

Our Heavenly Father created us with purpose and a plan to fill this broken world with love and light. He’s the only one who truly knows what we’re capable of, and he’ll do whatever it takes to push us toward the goal.

He won’t let us fall — he believes we can fly.

 

 

 

Boating with Jesus

By Erika Rizkallah

Yesterday I had lunch with Kathy, a friend I hadn’t seen in a long time. As we settled into our seats at Panera, a woman rushed up to us.

“I saw you sitting here and I just had to pop over and say hello,” she gushed. “You’re a hard woman to get in touch with, always so busy.”

Emily introduced herself to me and apologized for interrupting our conversation. I didn’t mind. Kathy runs a successful children’s theatre program and though we both moved to town at the same time, it seems like she knows everyone.

Emily asked several questions about the program and Kathy directed her to the website to get the information she needed. Kathy said, “It’s all on my Facebook page. We just updated it.” Then the discussion turned to social media and they talked and talked.

I said, “I’m hardly ever on social media so I’ll have to check out the page too.”

“Oh, you’re lucky,” Emily said. “It’s better to stay away from it or you can get sucked in.”

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I explained that I needed to be on it more – though I don’t like to – because if I’m not, the world passes you by; people rarely reach out to me. We share so much through platforms and devices now, I’ve become disconnected. My nephew broke his arm last month and I didn’t know because I wasn’t on Facebook.

Before she left Emily said, “It’s nice to meet you.” I thought she was talking to me but it quickly became apparent she’d never met Kathy in person — she’d only “seen” her online.

Her words, “You’re lucky” made me pause. Luck has nothing to do with it, intentionality does.

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It reminds me of a passage in Mark 3. Jesus has just pissed off the Pharisees after healing a man on the Sabbath, against their religious law. He withdrew to the lake and large crowds followed him.

Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him. Mark 3:9

Though needed and followed by the masses, Jesus deliberately withdrew. He kept his distance, not allowing the crowd to press into him. We often see him withdrawing to quiet places and spending time with God in solitude. We often see him getting into a boat.

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Like Jesus, we too need to get away from the crowds for a time, even if they’re virtual. Then we come back better grounded in reality and stronger.

Is the world pressing in on you? Do you need to spend more face time with your friends and take a break from a demanding crowd?

It’s ok to give yourself permission and press the “off” button for as long as you need.

Just tell them you have a boat ready and a date with the friend who loves you the most!

 

Living with Chronic Pain – Rise and Go!

By Erika Rizkallah

“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:19

In the passages of Luke 17, Jesus spoke to his disciples about temptation, sin and forgiveness. He told them that if a brother sinned against them seven times and repented seven times, they must forgive him. This would be a hard pill for anyone to swallow — sometimes it’s hard to forgive even once.

His disciples urged him to increase their faith. He explained that if they have faith as small as a mustard seed they can command a mulberry tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea. And the tree would obey!

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Is Jesus simply using hyperbole? I think not. I think he’s trying to teach them that faith — even a small amount — is powerful and they have more authority than they realize. I think he’s also teaching them that the increase of faith is their responsibility.

It requires action. The tree will uproot and plant itself if they command it, but it won’t do it on its own.

At this time, they’re heading to Jerusalem, passing between Samaria and Galilee. Ten lepers met them as they entered a village. By law, lepers were considered unclean and outcasts from society. These men, standing at a distance, begged Jesus to have mercy and heal them.

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He called out and told them to go show themselves to the priest, a requirement for anyone healed of disease. So they left and were healed as they went along.

Think about that for a minute. Jesus didn’t actually touch the men, he told them to go and they did. I think this object lesson showed the disciples two important things:

They had the power to command and faith requires action.

Notice that all ten men left believing they’d be healed and declared clean.

However, there’s another important facet of the story. Before they got to the priest, one man came back, fell to his knees before Jesus and thanked him. Before, he stood at a distance, and after, he sat at Jesus’ feet.

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Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

The foreigner was a Samaritan — a hated enemy of the Jews.

Living with chronic pain can make us feel like lepers. Sometimes we feel like outcasts standing on the fringes of life, unwelcome and alone. Jesus doesn’t see us that way. In fact, I think he wants us to understand that even small faith is powerful.

I’m commanding my pain to plant itself somewhere else.

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We can live with anticipation of knowing that at any time, Jesus can appear and send us on the journey to healing.

So rise, start journeying and don’t forget to praise God!

 

Returning God’s grace

By Erika Rizkallah

The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas, and established it on the waters. Psalm 24:1-2

For the past couple of years my rhythm has been off. To say I’ve not been myself is an understatement.

I don’t like it one bit but I’ve had to make necessary adjustments to guard my home. I’ve been raising teenagers and they like to stay up late. So I’ve stayed up late to watch over and guide them.

Trouble often seeks us out in darkness.

Today I woke up at 4:00 a.m. (4:30 used to be my sweet spot) and I had the pleasure of watching the sun rise above the ocean. Sea birds are especially busy in the mornings. Pelicans glide inches over the water, gulls cackle and circle above and ducks fly in formation.

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As I watched the sky turn orange, saturating the world in a peachy glow I prayed, this all belongs to you God. Everything we see and take pleasure in on this earth is yours.

How blessed we are to be beneficiaries of God’s amazing grace. How blessed we are to watch him work — to daily enjoy his creation and be part of it!

I wonder if he feels the same way about me when I rise in the morning?

I think so. I think he looks at each one of us as a vessel filled with the dawn of possibility. I bet when we stretch and scratch and begin the day’s work, we’re no less beautiful than the sea birds just doing their thing.

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Let’s be filled with wonder and gratitude each morning. Let’s try to live in a manner that pleases him and returns the grace.

Good morning!

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship. Romans 12:1