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Evangelism 101: The Power of Living a Holy Life

1409490_39519859“Preach the Gospel always and, when necessary, use words.”

Most of us have heard that famous quote by St. Francis of Assisi, but I think that very few of us actually take it to heart.  The Bible gives us several verses that back up what St. Francis was saying.  To sum it up: the most powerful evangelism comes from how you live, not what you say.

“You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.  Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” (Matthew 5: 14-16 NLT)

When we become saved, we immediately have the light of Christ inside of us.  It’s our job to shine that light so that the whole world will see.  But so often Christians hide their light under baskets.  Every person has a different name for their basket.  Some call their basket compromise.  Some call it secret sin.  Some call it popularity.  Some call it the pursuit of money.  Your basket is anything in your life that you put ahead of holy living.

But something tragic happens when we hide our lights: we lose our authenticity and credibility with unbelievers. Most of the time, if not all of the time, when unbelievers come searching for answers they have come to a point in their lives when they realize that how they are living isn’t enough.  There’s a void that needs to be filled.  They’re searching for that missing piece of the puzzle that will make them whole.

We as believers know what that missing piece is, yet how can we convey that to them if we live the same way they do.  They aren’t looking for words, they want an authentic lifestyle that shows them why we are different.  If there’s no difference, then there obviously hasn’t been a change.  This is what makes us lose our credibility with unbelievers.

We have no ground to stand on when our lives don’t reflect the love of Christ.  If our lives look just like anyone else’s, how can we possibly tell them that they need to change?  Leading someone to the Lord can’t be a “Do as I say, not as I do” kind of deal.  It needs to be authentic.  In other words, we need to be living out the change that God has brought into our lives.  Failing to do so not only diminishing the redeeming work of Christ, but also inhibits the conversion of others.

We all know how important it is to love others.  But I’m going to be bold and say that if we don’t live in a way that leads people to the Lord, then we are exhibiting the opposite of love.  Because truly loving someone means that we care what happens to their eternal soul.

If we just go along with the flow and do what we have to do to fit in, then other people can’t see what God has done in our lives.  Sure, we can sit there and throw back beers with our buddies while telling them how God has blessed you with peace in your life.  But they don’t want to hear words.  Everyone says words.  They want to see an authentic change.  Without that, there’s no proof of our salvation.

And why would anyone change their lives, change their perspectives without seeing proof that this Christianity thing actually works?  We are asking people to turn away from all their sin, to change their priorities and put God above all else.  That is a huge commitment!  And we can’t help someone make that change with some kind of Christian sales pitch.  They want to see it worked out in our lives.

Here’s a practical example.  If a friend of your tells you that they have an amazing vacuum cleaner that deep cleans the carpet and filters the air.  It’s super quiet and so easy to use.  Their house has never been cleaner and their family isn’t even showing signs of allergies in their house because the wonderful vacuum has sucked up all the dust!  The only catch is, it costs one thousand dollars.

I’m sure that you would listen politely, but when it came to the price tag, you closed off your mind.  Why?  Because although it sounded like a great machine, that’s a huge price to pay just based on the recommendation of a friend.

But let’s say that friend brought the vacuum over to your house and gave you a demonstration.  He showed you first-hand how much dirt it picked up.  When he was done you could smell the freshness in the air.  He even let you use it so that you could experience how easy it was to handle.  Thanks to that demonstration and you being able to experience how such a device could change your life, you start to consider the price as being reasonable.  Although, not everyone who has a demonstration will buy the vacuum, they will at least be able to see that it is worth the price.

If we want people to leave their old life and dedicate their lives to the Lord, we need to show them that it is worth the price.  We need to show them authentically how God has worked in our lives and the change He has made in us.  Once people see it first-hand, they will be more open to receiving the free gift of salvation.

“Just as the body is dead without breath, so also faith is dead without good works.” (James 2:26 NLT)

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I Want to be a Mighty Warrior in the Lord’s Army

1023188_36749750I was reading in 1 Chronicles (albeit, not the most exciting of book), when I came across an interesting passage that got me thinking.  It’s only a couple of verses long and mentions a name that I have only seen one other time in the book of 1 Samuel.  Here’s the passage:

“Here is the record of David’s mightiest warriors: The first was Jashobeam the Hacmonite, who was leader of the Three–the mightiest warriors among David’s men.  He once used his spear to kill three hundred enemy warriors in a single battle.” (1 Chronicles 11:11 NLT)

I don’t know why this verse stood out to me, and I haven’t done the research yet to find out why this was important enough to be included in the Bible.  But I do know what this verse got me thinking about.  I remember singing the cute little song in VBS about being in the Lord’s army.  Maybe you’ve heard it before.

I may never march in the infantry

Ride in the cavalry

Shoot the artillery

I may never fly over the enemy

But I’m in the Lord’s army

It’s one of those songs that have stuck with me throughout the years.  But growing up, I never really understood the concept of spiritual warfare.  But I have seen it in life.  It’s as real to me now as any war going on in the Middle East.  But the spiritual enemy is far more cunning and conniving that any member of the Taliban.  The Enemy silently deceives believers and works tirelessly to detour them from the path that God has laid out before them.  His mission is simple, to destroy and undermine the work of the Lord.

Knowing that we are all locked in a spiritual battle, whether we know it or not, I began to think about my role in the Army of the Lord.  I could be like the draft dodgers of the 60’s and 70’s and hope that the battle never comes to my doorstep, and if it does, maybe closing my eyes and pretending it’s not there will keep me safe.

Or I could be like a sniper, patiently waiting for the enemy to make itself known, then taking it out in a calculated attack.  But that seems a little too passive for me.  God has given me a personality that doesn’t like to wait!  So where do I fit in?  What’s my role in the Army of the Lord?

After reading 1 Chronicles 11:11, I finally figured it out.  I want to be one of God’s mightiest warriors.  Both times that I’ve seen Jashobeam’s name in the Scriptures, it was to show how powerful of a warrior he was.  But he served an earthly king.  My King is eternal.  When I accepted the free gift of salvation, I was also accepting my enlistment into God’s Army.  All Christians are members of that spiritual fighting force, but there are some who don’t pull their weight.  There are some who close their eyes to the battle and pretend that everything is fine.  There are even those who work as double agents, calling themselves Children of God yet doing the works of the Enemy.

But there are also those who have distinguished themselves as the mightiest of all of God’s warriors.  They spend all of their time working against the Enemy and making sure that the work of the Lord is accomplished.  Despite the attacks of the enemy, the continue to fight for the Lord, even in the face of persecution and ridicule.  It is among these mighty warriors that I strive to find myself.  I’m not there yet, but just as an enlisted seaman would work tirelessly to be able to join the ranks of the Navy Seals, I want to spend all of my time trying to achieve the rank of one of the mightiest warriors for the Lord.

Ignoring the fact that we are locked in a spiritual battle does nothing more than make you useless for the Lord.  We need to embrace our Almighty Leader and fight for him with more fervor than any warrior in history has fought for his king.  I am so grateful for the redeeming work that Christ has done in my life that I can think of no greater honor that to be able to fight for Him.  It’s not about fame or being the greatest in the Kingdom of God.  It’s about the passion that I have for Him and that there is no way to repay Him for what He has done for me.  But I will continue to try to repay Him by fighting for Him and living my life in such a way that those who serve the Enemy, knowingly or not, will be persuaded to follow the risen Savior, and experience the joy that comes from serving Him.  Amen.

 

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Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter

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Danger of Death!

I was told by a Christian once that there was no need for teachers to tell people what to do.  It was far more valuable for people to just sit around and discuss the Scriptures, giving their opinions on what the Bible was saying.  I can think of nothing more harmful to yourself or another person that to blindly give your opinion about what the Word of God is saying.  Here’s the deal: the Bible only says one thing.  There are many different applications you can draw from the truths of Scripture.  But there is only one truth, and that truth is not up for debate or change.

This is a growing trend in the church, although the concept has been around since the time of Christ.  People think they can read something and then they know exactly what it means.  This is not always the case.  There are things in Scriptures that require a little more study than that.  A brief perusal may not be enough to fully grasp the message that is being conveyed.  Likewise, reading the same thing over and over doesn’t necessarily help.  You need to dig deep in order to understand the Bible.

That’s the amazing thing about pastors.  That’s why God has given us pastors, to study and convey the message of the Scriptures so that it is understandable to the common person.  This doesn’t take away your responsibility to study on your own, but it does give you a place to start.  God instituted the office of the pastor and that should not be taken lightly.  Personally, I thank God on a daily basis for the pastor He has chosen to lead my church.  He unashamedly preaches the Word of God in a way that makes me think and constantly reevaluate my life.  Keeping me in check as I live a life for Christ.  Not letting me get away with justifying sin with excuses.

Saying that you don’t need a pastor or teacher to talk at you is an ignorant and boastful statement.  “Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.” (Hebrews 13:17 NLT)

Denying the fact that we are given spiritual leaders is disrespectful to them and to God who instituted their position.  “And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will guide you with knowledge and understanding.”  (Jeremiah 3:15 NLT)  He gave them to us to teach us, to guide us, to look after our spiritual well-being.  “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.”  (Ephesians 4:11 NLT)  God called pastors into their roles and that should not be taken lightly.

That being said, there is a danger with giving your opinion about the Bible.  The danger is that your opinion may be wrong.  God doesn’t care about your opinion, He cares about the truth, and what is truth has been written in the Bible for all to see.  Your opinion about it, if contradictory to the Bible, is nothing less than blaspheme.  Jesus doesn’t say He’s one of the ways or the partial truth.  He is the only way and the only truth.

The danger of your own opinion may be that you will inadvertently lead someone away from the actual truth.  “One day Jesus said to his disciples, “There will always be temptations to sin, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting! It would be better to be thrown into the sea with a millstone hung around your neck than to cause one of these little ones to fall into sin.”  (Luke 17:1-2 NLT)  Teaching the Word of God is a great responsibility and not one that should be taken lightly.  I would not want to be the person who teaches something false from the Bible and leads others away from the real truth.  “Dear brothers and sisters,not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” (James 3:1 NLT)

Don’t discount the teachings of your pastor! Don’t think that by simply reading the Word of God that you are an expert.  And don’t think for one second that sitting in a circle and discussing your opinions about what a certain passage of Scripture means is anything less than a dangerous practice that can lead others astray and condemn you to a harsh judgement.  It’s only through studying the Word that you can truly find the message that is intended for those who read it.  Your opinion doesn’t matter.  Only the truth of the Scriptures matter.  Be careful that you only speak the truth and leave opinions out of the equation.

 

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News Flash: You’re Not Jesus!

1360665_53239785One of the scariest things I hear from Christians these days is: “Well, that’s what Jesus did.”  I’ve heard that statement used to explain a myriad of different activities, but those who say it often overlook one very important detail: they aren’t Jesus.

The Bible commands us to do many things in regards to Christ.  We are told to act as Christ did (1 John 2:6).  We are told to love as He loved (John 15:12).  We are told to sacrifice for others as He died for us (Ephesians 5:2).  We are told to live in Christ (Galatians 2:20).  But I have not found any Scriptures that tell us to  do everything that Christ did.  In fact, I see some of the opposite in spelled out for us in the Bible.

Here’s a practical example.  I often hear people say that Jesus entered in to dens of sinners and dined with them, partied with them even.  I’ve heard that He would go into places that the religious elite of the day would never step foot.  So, since Jesus did it, that means that we are to go into the bars, go into the strip clubs, go into the adult bookstores and casinos and every other place that exists solely for the propagation of sin.  Since that’s what Jesus did, then we should do the same thing.  Right?

First of all, and correct me if I’m wrong, but Jesus didn’t go into brothels and bars.  He dined at the homes of people. I’ll even take one step further.  When Jesus called Matthew to be His disciple, he went to his home, where Matthew threw a banquet in His honor.  I find it hard to believe that this banquet was full of lascivious behavior as it was to bring honor to Christ.  Luke says that many of Matthew’s tax collector friends were there, but I’m they were on their best behavior.  I can’t imagine Jesus sitting through an entire banquet thrown just for Him where there was nothing but sin going on.  I believe Jesus took that opportunity to preach to those who needed to hear the Good News of the Gospel, not partake in the sin of others in order to establish report.

Luke 15:1 says that tax collectors and sinners were often drawn to hear Him speak.  Why?  Because Jesus would crack open a cold one with them and shoot the breeze?  No!  But because they were hungry for what He was teaching.  Jesus lived His life in such a radically different way that people came from all walks of life to find out what was different about Him.  People weren’t attracted to Jesus because He fit in.

But, just for argument’s sake, let’s say that I’m wrong.  Let’s say that Jesus did frequent bars and other seedy places.  Does that mean that we can do it too?  Not a chance!  There is not one verse in the Bible (and of this I am certain) that tells you to walk into temptation.  In fact, the exact opposite is taught.

“Run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts.  Instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace.  Enjoy the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.”  (2 Timothy 2:22 NLT)

Youthful lusts are not always sexual desires, but any desires of the flesh.  When you become saved, you do not suddenly lose your urge for sinful things.  Just ask any of the prominent pastors who have fallen from grace (figuratively speaking) in a very public way, getting involved with drugs, promiscuity, and any other sin you can think of.  Sin is an equal opportunity corrupter and will seek out those who are most vulnerable.  And those who think themselves impervious to the wiles of the devil, are, in truth, the most susceptible to fall when tempted.

Jesus was, is, perfect.  We are not, so we need to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23) and minds (Psalm 101:3) against the powers of the devil.

So does that mean that we shouldn’t try to reach those people for the Lord?  Of course not!  Every needs the saving power of Jesus Christ.  But we should really be more discriminating about how and when we deliver the Word.  For example: would it really be fruitful to walk into a bar and tell those who are drunk and compromised about Jesus?  There’s no way that they would be able to fully understand because their mind is compromised.  In fact, the Bible says that drinking can actually lead people to forget about God, not run towards Him (Proverbs 31:5-6).

Think back to all of the encounters that Christ had with unbelievers.  Did he ever confront a prostitute in the midst of her deplorable acts?  No.  He found them in everyday life.  They were just people living in sin, not committing it at that exact moment.  Although he intervened when the men were about to stone the prostitute, and he always called out the pharisees when they would judge others, I still haven’t found the verse that says that Jesus approached the drunk man and preached the Word to him, at which time the drunkard immediately sobered up and turned his life around.  We need to be discerning about when we witness for Christ, giving people the best chance possible to hear, and understand, the Word.

Do I think it’s a sin to go into a bar?  No, I don’t.  But I do think that it’s incredibly unwise to put yourself in a position where you could potentially be compromised.  Remember, Christ never once tried to blend in.  In fact, it was his radically differentiation that set him apart from those around him, which ended up drawing people (sinners and tax collectors) to him to find out how they could have what he was offering.  Perhaps that’s the lesson we should take away.  We need to live our lives in a way that makes those around us want to have what we have.

“You are the light of the world–like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.  No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket.  Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.”  (Matthew 5:14-16 NLT)

 

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Testimonial Follow-Up: How to Weave God into Our Everyday Lives Part 2

1182894_31430952Part of allowing God to take control of every aspect of your life is reacting to sin the way that He would.  Psalm 45:7 says that God “hates evil.” (NLT)  So what do we do when encountered by evil and sin?  How do we react when others around us are blaspheming our God and polluting the minds of our children with their words.

I know that it can be hard.  But let’s look at a practical example.  Let’s say you’re standing in line at the grocery store with your children.  There are two guys behind you, cussing and telling crass stories that everyone, including your children, can hear.  They have no shame for their sins, in fact, they seem to revel in them.  What is your reaction?  Do you just wait until you’re in the car and then privately tell your children that what they heard was wrong?

2 Kings chapter 22 tells about a king the likes of which the kingdom of Judah had never seen before.  King Josiah wanted nothing more than to please the Lord.  He raised enough money to start some serious renovations of the temple.  One day, the man in charge of overseeing the renovations found a copy of the Books of the Law and brought them to the king.  Here was the king’s reaction to hearing the Law of the Lord.

“When the king heard what was written in the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes in despair. Then he gave these orders to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam son of Shaphan, Acbor son of Micaiah, Shaphan the court secretary, and Asaiah the king’s personal adviser: Go to the Temple and speak to the Lord for me and for the people and for all Judah. Inquire about the words written in this scroll that has been found. For the Lord’s great anger is burning against us because our ancestors have not obeyed the words in this scroll. We have not been doing everything it says we must do.'”  (2 Kings 22:11-13 NLT)

King Josiah was brought to the point of despair at the knowledge that he and his kingdom was not doing everything the Lord had commanded them to do.  The rest of that chapter and all of the next go on to say that he effected a massive religious reform in Judah, the likes of which hadn’t been seen before.  He removed everything that resembled another god, anything that could be worshipped other than the one, true God.

He didn’t just repent, he tore his clothes and felt deep despair.  He felt about sin the way God feels about sin.  He was repulsed by it, deeply offended by it.  And upon realization of the sin of his country, he spent years cleansing the land of the evil they had turned to.  I believe that there are two major applications for us.  First, we need to rid our lives of things that cause us to sin.  Paul tells us to run away from temptation, (2 Timothy 2:22) not bring it into our lives and hope we are spiritual enough to overcome it.  If you find something is replacing your God-time, perhaps it’s time to get it out of your life and replace it with God.  Don’t let the false gods of today (television, computer games, work, cleanliness) take your focus off of your relationship with God.  Take the steps to remove them from your life.

Second, we need to take action against passive sins.  These are sins that are not necessarily committed by us, but by those around us.  You can’t stop people from sinning, it’s their choice to either follow God or reject Him.  But there are things we can do in response to those sins.  If we go back to our example in the grocery store, what is the proper response?  I’ll leave that up to you and your conscience.  But for me (as I have been in this position before, as I’m sure most of you have) I would turn around and politely tell them to watch their language around our children.  I wouldn’t boast that I’m a Christian, so we don’t talk that way.  But I would take a stand for the innocence of my children.

If we want God to come into our lives and completely take over, then we need to have the same attitude that He does regarding sin.  We have an amazing example in King Josiah and his reaction to the sins of his kingdom.  He didn’t just sit back and pray for the strength to resist the idols that had been erected all over Judah.  He took action and rid his life and the lives of those under him of any temptation.  He exiled and executed the priests of those false gods. (in our day, this could be as easy as unfriending those who are a bad influence in our lives) We need to follow the example of King Josiah and treat sin the way God does, with contempt.

Lord, please help me to view sin as you do.  Help me rid my life and the lives of my family members of the idols we have erected, of the false gods that consume our time and energy.  Help me to place you and keep you at the center of every part of my day.  Thank you for your faithfulness and love.  Amen.

 

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What Are You Sacrificing?

1424920_32047446I was reading in 2 Kings about the kingdom of Israel and the incredible sins that they had committed shortly before their capture by Assyria.  They would sacrifice to every idol possible, but the most tragic thing that I saw was that they actually sacrificed their children, their own sons and daughters, instead of following the Lord.

It really got me thinking.  What do we sacrifice when we avoid calling on the Lord?  I’ve heard the question phrased, ‘what do we sacrifice for the Lord?’ but I want to talk about what we sacrifice when we forget to turn to the Lord.  Any time we don’t call on the Lord, whether for help or in an attitude of gratitude, we are sacrificing something that God wants to gives us.

If we try to tackle tough situations on our own, then we are giving up the hope and peace that God promises us in Matthew chapter 11.  “Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you.  Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bare, and the burden I give you is light.”

God wants us to go to Him in times of trouble.  He wants us to trust Him with our trials, when we’re week.  For it’s in our weakness that His glory is able to shine in our lives.  (2 Corinthians 12:9)  So we need to call on Him, otherwise we are not only sacrificing hope and peace, but a chance to show God’s glory in our lives.

Conversely, if we fail to praise God during our victories in life, then we are sacrificing a joy that can not be expressed.

“Yes, the Lord has done amazing things for us.  What joy!” (Psalm 126:3 NLT)

God wants us to experience great joy in our lives, but what joy is there when we celebrate victories apart from the only One who can truly give joy.  Any victory apart from God is empty and meaningless.  It’s only through rejoicing in what He has done for us that we can experience a joy previously unknown and unexperienced.

We sacrifice more by failing to call on God than we do by trusting in Him.  The promises and gifts that God wants to bestow on us because of our faith in Him are unattainable if we turn our backs on Him when we should be calling out His name.

Dear Lord.  I pray that you will help me to remember your part in everything that happens in my life.  I want to call on your promise to give me an abundant life by praising you in good times and calling for your help in the tough times.  Help me to acknowledge you in every part of my life, and I pray that you will be glorified by the way I live.  Amen.

 

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Testimonial Follow-Up: How to Weave God into Our Everyday Lives

779640_30359765After I spoke on Sunday, several people have come forward and asked me to be more specific about how to weave God into their lives. First of all, for those who may not have been there to hear what I was speaking about. In summary, I have gone through a few rough spots in my life and I have found, through diligence in Scriptural study, that an important aspect of getting peace in your life in to weave God into every aspect of it. I used Isaiah 40:31, “For those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up with wings as eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.” The word ‘wait’ in that verse is the Hebrew word ‘qavah,’ which literally means to bind together like a rope. This does not mean to tie something up, but rather to take four or more smaller strands and weave them together into one strong rope.

This is the interesting part of that verse. Because a lot of people, like myself, have been waiting for the renewing of the strength and mounting up with wings. We were tired of growing weary and fainting on the road to wherever we were going. But, as I shared, I neglected the first part of the verse; the part where I had something to do. I realized, through God’s grace, that I needed to bring God into every aspect of my life, weave Him in. After I had begun to do that, things started changing. My lows didn’t seem so low anymore and became manageable. The scary moments in life became less terrifying when I knew that God was by my side. But the best part is the enduring peace that comes over me during good times and bad because every second of every day, God is right beside me, waiting to comfort me when I need it and overflow my cup with joy when the occasion calls for it.

So, now, down to the practical part: How do you weave God into every part of your life?

Let me just say that I have by no means arrived and I am not claiming to be the authority on this subject. All I can do is share with you what I have learned and am applying to my life, and hopefully this will be able to bless you and can apply it to your lives as well. Instead of cramming everything into one, incredibly long and drawn out post, I’ll split this up over a few days and you can pick and choose what you want to read.

The first way to weave God into your lives is to acknowledge Him in everything.

Verbalization makes it real. Take every moment possible to thank God for something, or acknowledge that He is with you. For example: if you get a coupon in the mail for a buy one get one at your favorite restaurant, don’t let your response be “Sweet! What a great day this is going to be.” (Not that anyone would speak in such a robotic and monotone way) But instead, force your first words to be, “Praise the Lord!”

By verbalizing the fact that you are praising God, it makes it real in your life. To acknowledge God’s presence in your life is to affirm that He is actually there in your own mind. It’s easy to forget about God during the hustle and bustle of life. But if you force your self to praise His name or call on it in times of trouble, you will find that He will emerge as the first thought that comes to mind when you really need Him, and when you don’t think that you do.  He is always present in our lives as believers, but if we don’t acknowledge His presence, we are doomed to forget that He is here at all.  Don’t let God slip from your mind!

Lord, I pray that we will always acknowledge your presence in our lives.  It is so comforting to know that you ‘will never leave us or abandon us.’  I call on that promise today and I pray that each person who reads this will make the conscious effort to keep you at the forefront of their minds.  Amen.

 

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