I Know The Plan

321742566-I-know-God-has-bigger-and-better

One of my favorite football coaches was asked a question about his leadership following the game.  He had just been beaten badly by a rival, he was navigating ongoing player discipline issues, and he looked exhausted and discouraged.  A reporter asked him, “Do you think you’ve lost the team?” and he answered, “I don’t know.” Two days later he was fired. I learned a valuable lesson from that coach I respect so much. I learned that one of the most important tools of a leader is confidence in the plan.  

As Christians we have an unfair advantage when it comes to leadership.  We’re trusting the Lord Jesus who always knows the plan (Jer. 29:11) and is faithful to establish us (2 Thes. 3:3),  so we can be confident He will complete the plan in us (Phil. 1:6, He. 12:2). But our feelings will betray us.

Elijah experienced overwhelming discouragement and burnout in 1 Kings 19.  He was being threatened and chased because God had used him mightily. The Bible says that he was so exhausted he lay down and prayed that he might die.  An angel came to encourage him to eat because the journey was too great for him. If we had asked him that day how would overcome Jezebel, I’m guessing he would have said, “I don’t know.”  If we had asked him if he would survive the difficulty, I’m guessing he would have said, “I don’t know.” If we had asked Elijah that day about his leadership ability I’m guessing he would have said, “I don’t know.”   These battles of uncertainty are exhausting and scary, and each of us has been there from time to time. Later in the chapter, Elijah’s confidence in the Lord’s plan is renewed and he goes back to work.

Paul said in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.  22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me… 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith.”  Paul knew how to answer every question and was confident in every overbearing difficulty. He knew we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them (Eph. 2:10).  

Nebraska head coach Scott Frost recently said after starting the season 0 and 5, “it would have been easier to stay where we were comfortable, but there’s not going to be a place where it’s sweeter or more fun for me than here, when we get this right.  Wherever I’m going to coach, we’re going to teach our players to play with a desire to excel with no fear of failure.  ”

Dear Christian leader, the next time you’re in a great difficulty, or you’re exhausted or discouraged, and you’re asked a question about your leadership, be careful not to say “I don’t know.”  Start with what you know. Be confident in who He’s created you to be and what He’s called you to do. Be confident that He will complete it, and your only work is to believe (John 6:29). Remain in fellowship with Christ so that you can be full of courage and not shrink back (1 John 2:28).  Communicate the confidence you have in following Christ, and demonstrate humility by inviting other wise counsel into the discussion. After sharing what you’re confident in, ask other key leaders what wisdom they can share with you, and acknowledge the “I don’t know” when it comes to the details.  And always, when you’re just really not sure, “lay down before you hurt yourself,” and allow the Lord to minister His Bread to you until you can get up in confident humility again.

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Keep Your Chin Up Tiger!

Chin Up Tiger crop

My grandpa was a man of few words.  He would often whistle while helping his neighbors fix something, or whistle while doing the dishes for Grandma after dinner.  But one phrase I remember him saying to me often was, “Keep your chin up tiger!”

Romans 5:2-5 says, “Through (Jesus) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

Does that say rejoice in sufferings… really?  Suffering produces hope?  How?

The word “rejoice” comes from a root word which literally means “neck,” or “that which holds the head upright.”  It refers to living with a God-given confidence that comes from having a proper perspective to deal successfully with a matter. To rejoice could be translated, “Keep your chin up tiger!”  Looking back, I now realize when Grandpa was telling me to keep my chin up, he was telling me to whistle and be confident in the worries and discouragements. He was telling me that I’d get through this, because God had a right perspective and a good plan for me.

The Bible says we are to rejoice or “keep our chin up” in sufferings.  Sufferings are difficult situations that create an internal pressure which makes us feel trapped with no way of escape.  The Bible says these trapped and hopeless feelings bear a good fruit in our lives.  They are actually for our good…?

The Bible says keeping the right perspective in sufferings produces three things: endurance, character, and hope.  Endurance or steadfastness is God’s enabling grace that helps us to remain under the challenges He allots in life.  Romans 14:4 says, “for the Lord is able to make (you) stand.”  James 1:2-4 says it this way, “Count it all joy… when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Endurance or steadfastness comes in trials and sufferings when we come to a place of contentment that allows us to say, “The Lord is my Good Shepherd, I have everything I need (Ps 23:1).”

Character is a genuineness that comes from being approved through testing.  Have you ever watched someone you respect respond in a difficult situation and think to yourself, “I think they can get through anything?”  These are men and women of character, who have been tested and come forth as gold (Job 23:10).  Psalm 66:10 says, “For You have tested us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined.”  Ephesians 4 says we should mature to the measure of the full stature of Christ, no longer tossed to and fro by the waves of this life.  He created you for Christ-like character!

And Hope is to anticipate and joyfully welcome what is certainly to come.  We rejoice in hope of the glory or good manifestation of God.  The Bible says His plan for us is good, and we have hope because He loves us, He has given us the Holy Spirit to comfort us, and ultimately we are promoted to eternity with Him through faith in Jesus.  The Bible says faith is the assurance of things hoped for (He 11:1).  And faith comes by hearing the word of the Lord (Ro 10:17).  If you need hope today have someone read the Bible aloud to you, or listen to an audio Bible.  There is always hope. Remember, “He is able, He is able, to accomplish what concerns you today!”  What thoughts of hope do you dwell on today?

So rejoice in sufferings, rejoice in hope, keep your chin up tiger!

Is My Heart Healthy?

Healthy Heart

Twice in my life I have struggled with chest pains and the doctors have given me an EKG.  They hook sensors up to your chest and they check your physical heart function.  While the physical health of our heart is very important, the spiritual health of our heart is even more important.

The following are notes from a message by Don Cousins that I found very valuable.   Pastor Don says, “The world says that we need to order everything in our external world, family, home, work, finances, health, etc.  the way we want it to be then we’ll know inner peace.  I don’t think I’ve spent a day in my life when everything in my external world was the way I wanted it to be.  To live in such a way to make that happen is simply exhausting!

Jesus cares more about who you are than who you appear to be. Jesus cares about our heart, our inner person, our mind, will, and emotions. The place of understanding, passion, and courage. The seat of our appetites and emotions. The Bible says life is not meant to be lived outside in, but inside out. ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.’ —Proverbs 4:23 NIV  Jesus wants to transform us, so that who we appear to be matches who we really are. Jesus wants to shape our hearts, and then we’ll be able to negotiate and handle everything that happens in our external world. Our experience of shalom peace is not dependent on our external world, but on what’s happening inside our hearts. Peace can only come from having our heart right with God through faith in Jesus and the abiding of His Spirit within us. Then we can have shalom in spite of what’s happening in our outside world.

So how do we know if our spiritual heart is healthy?  Here are 10 checkpoints for us to consider.

Personal Awareness Checks

  1. Unwholesome Talk -But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.  —Matthew 15:18 NIV  (This might be negative, complaining, critical, judgmental, demanding, perverse, profanity, life sucking language, etc.)
  2. Impure Thoughts –For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. —Matthew 15:19 NIV (This might be feelings of resentment, lust, jealousy, etc)
  3. An Angry Spirit –Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart since as members of one body you were called to peace –Colossians 3:15. 26″In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27and do not give the devil a foothold…   30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  —Ephesians 4:26-27,30-31 NIV
  4. A Complaining Attitude -Do everything without complaining and arguing, —Philippians 2:14 NLT
  5. Anxiety and Unhealthy Fear -For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. —2 Timothy 1:7 NIV   Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. —Philippians 4:6 NIV  When I exercise, my mind is able to wander.  When my mind wanders I usually find what’s really in there.  When my heart rate accelerates, I’ve learned to ask myself why?  And there’s generally a direct correlation that my increased heart rate is indication of my spiritual heart disease of anxiety.  I need to get my heart right before God.

Spiritual Awareness Checks

  1. Diminished Hunger for God’s Word -Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. -—Colossians 3:16 NIV
  2. Discouragement in Prayer -Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up (lose heart). —Luke 18:1 NIV
  3. “Lip-service” Worship (critical of others “rule breaking”, to serve/give out of obligation-“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’” -—Matthew 15:8-9 NIV
  4. Sense of Oppression -When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer —Psalm 32:3-4 NIV
  5. Missing Pasion or Misplaced Values -For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. —Jeremiah 29:11-13 NIV John Wesley said, “If you light yourself on fire, men will come to watch you burn.”  What are you on fire about?  Are you passionate about the things of God?  That’s in indicator of a healthy heart.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  —Matthew 6:21 NIV

“After going down that list, I have to admit I have a little spiritual heart disease going on.” –Don Cousins.

Jeremiah 17:9 says, “ The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”  Our hearts want to convince us we’re healthy, we’re fine.  But only with the Spirit’s daily help can we maintain a healthy heart. Is my heart healthy?  How bout yours?

To hear Pastor Don Cousins message, go to www.discoverychurch.org and look for Matthew’s Main Messages, June 17th, 2018.

I Am Free!!

I Am Free Raging Bull Six Flags

I love rollercoasters.  Raging Bull at Six Flags is one of my favorites.  Being 202 feet in the air in a side less train is incredible, and the 20 story drop into the underground tunnel at 73 miles an hour is exhilarating.

When my emotions are on a rollercoaster I don’t find it as fun.  Recently I was flying high with excitement and gratitude for how good life was that day.  And then in less than 5 minutes, after one conversation, I was in an emotional free fall into darkness of fear and insecurity, being tempted with reproach and despair.  How does that happen?  And how should we respond?

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “4For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.  5We destroy arguments, and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”  We need to grow in assessing what thoughts we should allow and what thoughts we need to get a hold of and get out of our minds!  I’m learning anytime I have thoughts of anxiety, insecurity, fear of rejection, or resentment, amongst others, it’s a thought I need to take captive.  It’s a lie.  It’s positioning itself to set up against what God would have for me.  My litmus test is the fruit of the Spirit.  If our minds are not full of the fruit of the Spirit, we should regularly ask ourselves, “What thoughts do I need to take captive?”  Then pray, “Father, I take captive thoughts of insecurity or anxiety, please empower me to be obedient to the mind of Christ for me.”

James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”  Are you willing to confess “stinkin thinkin” as your own sin?  Or do you prefer to blame someone else for the thoughts in your mind?  We can be enmeshed victims, or we can be differentiated overcomers.  When we are willing to confess our sinful thoughts and attitudes and emotions, we differentiate from people and circumstances and God can heal our emotions so we can be full of the fruit of the Spirit.  What do I need to confess? And then pray, “Father I confess thoughts of insecurity, I know these are not what you have for me.  Or “Father I confess thoughts of anxiety and fear.  Please forgive me, I know you’ll never reject me!”

Galatians 5:1 says, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”  In a military sense, we understand that someone has to stand up for liberty.  But do we understand what it takes to stand up for psychological and emotional freedom?  Ephesians 6:12-13 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.”  For many of us, our interpersonal relationships or daily circumstances seem to be at war against our emotions.  However the scriptures teach it’s not our fleshly relationships or our bodily circumstances that we at war with.  We are war with cosmic powers, or demons of darkness.  You are not at war with your spouse, kids, coworkers, finances, or that person at church.  The demonic world is full of rejection, reproach, fear, anxiety, despair, adultery, rebellion, idolatry, pride, etc. The Bible says in James 4:7, “resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”  What am I standing against?  Then pray, “Father I stand against and resist demons of dark thoughts and dark emotions in the name of Jesus.  Help me stand firm in the freedom you have provided for me.”

Matthew 18:18 says, “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.”  What needs to be bound?  Let’s cut to the chase.  The “demons of darkness” from Ephesians 6:12 need to be bound in the name of Jesus from whispering all their depravity into our minds.  Matthew 8:31 says, “And the demons said, if you cast us out, send us away into the pigs…”  You would do those around you a big favor if you didn’t stop at just taking the thoughts captive and binding it up.  If that demon of darkness is whispering to you, you can be pretty sure he and his “spiritual forces of evil” (Eph 6:12) are whispering to those around you too.  You’re not alone in temptation.  Where does this need to be cast to?  Why not bind it all up in Jesus name and cast it back to hell where it belongs?!!!  Then pray, “Heavenly Father, I bind demons of insecurity and anxiety in Jesus name and cast them to hell.  They have no place here Lord, may you fill me with your Spirit and may His fruit control my life.”

But be prepared, if you pray these kinds of cleansing prayers, it may get worse before it gets better.  Luke 11:24-26 says, 24“When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and finding none it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ 25And when it comes, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there. And the last state of that person is worse than the first.”  Jokingly, demons must be like cats because they hate the water!! I can remember times of standing against something in prayer for our church, and then having it come back seven times more violent.  But just keep standing.  Plead the blood of Jesus over yourself.  And having done all, stand firm.

If this resonates with you, please spend time in prayer.  Use the song links below and spend time in quietness asking God to help you understand what you need to stand against.  Answer the bold questions above.  And then pray the prayers in italics for yourselves, your loved ones, and your churches!

I’m Free –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CJX4NT6jMw

Child, You’re Forgiven – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vI9npdwLATc

So the next time the rollercoaster of your emotions is on a free fall to darkness, please take time to reconsider what you need to stand against.  Pull back from arguing and wrestling with people and circumstances, and stand firm for the spiritual freedom of your mind and heart.  Then you can celebrate, “I AM FREE!”

Man In The Mirror

Man In The Mirror

I’ll be honest, I get frustrated when in a drive through I think takes too long. I get frustrated when I watch the news and I think our country’s leaders aren’t leading well. I get frustrated when I watch my favorite sports teams and I think the head coach is missing something so obvious. We live in a world where we are regularly critiquing the performance of our leaders or the products we consume. So when we think we could produce better or lead better, how should we respond?
One of the number one songs In 1988, was “Man In The Mirror” by Michael Jackson. Interesting to me was learning the background vocals were sung by the Andrea Crouch Choir and the Winans. The chorus had a profound message, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways.” –“Michael Jackson.
“While there is a lot we don’t have control over, there is a little bit we do have control over, and it begins with the person in the mirror, it begins with self leadership” Andy Stanley. Tom Watson, former CEO of IBM, said, “Nothing so conclusively proves someone’s ability to lead others as what they do on a day to day basis to lead themselves.” “The primary thing any of us is in charge of is our self. If you’re sitting there frustrated with your boss because your boss isn’t leading you as well as you think your boss should be leading you, well, here’s another option, instead of being frustrated, just start leading yourself well. It didn’t hit me until about age 30 when I finally decided, ok, enough with being frustrated with whether I’m being led well or not, I’m going to pick up the mantle of leading myself well. If you do that, you can ensure that you’re always led well. –Clay Scroggins, Executive Pastor of North Point Church.
Self leadership is about growing in self awareness. Where am I at right now? What do I need to work on? And where do I need to go? The Bible says we should always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have. Let me say it another way, we should always be prepared to answer someone who asks, “How do you grow in relationship with God?” How do you spend time with God each day? How are you growing in your relationship with Him? The Bible says we should take heed of our selves and watch our spiritual practices (doctrine) closely. How are you putting safeguards in place to lead a moral life? Am I acting in ways that reflect well on the God I love?
Recently our church did a study of our congregation, and amongst the many things we learned are two concerning things. Very few said they “experience God’s work in my life.” And very few said they “prepare myself to participate in the worship service.”
Many people go to church in America as a consumer. We often expect the church to feed us and be responsible for our spiritual growth. We often pick a church based on what kind of music we like, or whether or not we connect with the pastor, and whether we feel the leaders are doing a good job. While all of these may be considerations, let’s look at biblical reasons to go to church.
Hebrews 10:25 says we go to church encourage other believers. Hebrews 13:17 says we go to submit ourselves to spiritual authority. Acts 2:42 says we go to participate in corporate Bible reading, corporate prayer, fellowship, and breaking bread together. Hebrews 13:15 says we go to offer a sacrifice of praise to God. Galatians 5:22-23 says we go to grow in the fruit of the spirit. Romans 8:13 says we go to wrestle with our flesh. 1 Corinthians 14:12 says we go to use our spiritual gifts to build up the church. 1 Corinthians 9:14 says we go to financially support those “who preach the gospel” as they “should receive their living from the gospel.”
I’ve decided I’m going to start with the man in the mirror. I’m asking God to help me be more self aware, and answer the questions, “Do I experience God in my daily life?” “Am I preparing myself for Biblical corporate worship?”

On the Road Again

On The Road Again

As we’re planning a family vacation my kids asked, “Are we going to sleep in the car?” I’m sure most of you would hope the answer is no.  But I asked them if they wanted to, and they went crazy saying, YES!!!  When I consider driving straight through the night I feel like groaning, but my kids feel like celebrating.
In his book, Ministry Mantras, J. R. Briggs shares a story about when his son was three years old and he helped plant vegetables one morning.  When his son woke up from his afternoon nap later that day his first questions was, “Are the vegetables ready yet, Daddy?”  He responded to his young son, “No buddy, that’s not how vegetables work.  It takes a long time.”  Briggs is challenging and encouraging the many of us who get impatient with God’s seemingly long and slow plan.  He says, “Much of ministry is learning to plod along faithfully, even when we aren’t seeing results.  As Eugene Peterson writes –quoting German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche –a life committed to ministry is a ‘long obedience in the same direction.’”1
Over the many years of staff devotions, there are two I will never forget.  One was a challenge from my dear friend Tom Zillman, who after reading Isaiah 6 asked this question, “If God calls you to an unfruitful ministry, will you be faithful to it?”   Well God would never do that right?  And how could it be ministry if it’s unfruitful?  And then Pastor Tom pointed out God told Isaiah to preach to those who would not listen, perceive, understand, or respond.  And when Isaiah asked God how long he would have to do this, God said until the cities are empty and the homes are desolate.
Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, is a great example of perseverance: a long obedience in the same direction.  He wrote in his early years in China, “At home, you can never know what it is to be absolutely alone, amidst thousands, everyone looking on you with curiosity, with contempt, with suspicion, or with dislike. Thus to learn what it is to be despised and rejected of men…and then to have the love of Jesus applied to your heart by the Holy Spirit…this is precious, this is worth coming for.”
As Paul Harvey would say, The Rest of Hudson Taylor’s story is.. “Taylor’s daughter died from water on the brain; the family was almost killed in the Yang Chow Riot of 1868; Maria, Taylor’s first wife, died in childbirth; his second wife died of cancer; and sickness and ill health were frequent. Yet, the China Inland Mission continued its work of reaching China’s millions for Christ. By 1895 the Mission had 641 missionaries plus 462 Chinese helpers at 260 stations. Under Hudson Taylor’s leadership, C.I.M. had supplied over half of the Protestant missionary force in China. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, 56 of these missionaries were martyred, and hundreds of Chinese Christians were killed. The missionary work did not slack, however, and the number of missionaries quadrupled in the coming decades.  Chinese Christians proved remarkably resilient under Communism. They did not die out but multiplied many-fold in one of the greatest expansions in church history.”2  Praise the Lord for Hudson Taylor’s persistence!
I’m sure on our long road trip at some point I will groan and my kids will whine and ask “are we there yet?!”  But I’m learning to “apply the love of Jesus to my heart by the Holy Spirit.”  Maybe even with a beef jerky and Diet Dew at a gas station in the middle of the night.  Then it’s on the road again!
For other articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org

1 Ministry Mantras, JR Briggs and Bob Hyatt, pp 84
2 http://www.christianity.com/church/church-history/timeline/1801-1900/hudson-taylors-heart-for-chinas-millions-11630493.html

The Rest of God

rest area
While talking about road trips with our dear friends Dick and Bev, Stephanie and Bev were laughing about how Dick and I hate to stop while traveling. “Do we have to stop here or can you hold it until the next rest area?!” Why don’t we like to stop and rest?
At our house, we often have the most conflict over bed time. “Really, I have to go to bed (like this is the first time we’ve ever done this)?!” “Can’t we stay up?!” And you can ask my dad and mom, I faught bedtime and naps everystep of the way growing up too. Why are we so resistant to rest?
Genesis 2:1 says that God “rested on the seventh day from all His work that he had done.” Does this imply that Almighty God was tired? I don’t think so.
A collegue asked me to listen to a message by Tim Keller entitled “Work and Rest.” Keller suggests physical rest won’t do anything for us if it is not accompanied with soul rest. He said, “Entering God’s rest is being completely satisfied with what’s been done and who we are in Christ.” He points out that at the end of the days during creation, “God saw that it was good.” Keller suggests we find the meaning of God’s rest in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
This was a light bulb for me! When we have time to slow down and rest, a key component is being able to take a step back and see that life is good! God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3)
Recently I have been with a family by the bedside of their deceased loved one. I have sat across the high security glass of a friend in prison. I have talked with a dear friend estranged from family members who refuse to talk with them anymore. And I have prayed with a dear friend who struggles to understand why God would ask them to work at such a difficult job. All of these situations are heavy and overwhelming, and I would not have been surprised at all if they could not see the goodness of God in their lives.
But each of these friends have told me how good God is to them! They are thankful for the work God has completed for them in Christ Jesus (forgiveness, the peace of the Holy Spirit, the hope of heaven). We can also be thankful for what God has provided for us each day. And we can be thankful for the good things God has prepared for us to do each day. The friend in prison is sharing the gospel with those they interact with there.
How bout you and me? What circumstances, disappointments, or frustrations compete to keep our souls from rest? Can we enter the rest God has for us and see that life is good right where we are?! Next time my kids tell me they’re not tired, I’m going to ask them to go lay in their beds, and think of how many things they could say, “Life is good!” That is the rest of God.

for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org