Homeland: Finishing Well

HomelandFinishing Well

Each year as we approach Christmas, it is with the mindset that the new year is only days behind the unwrapping of our brown paper packages tied up with string. We pause amidst the hustle and the bustle of the season and wind down before preparing for New Year’s resolutions. We might make excuses to put off until next year what we can do today. We let the diet go, the dust bunnies settle, the visits to the gym wane. We might even give up on catching up on our daily Bible reading plan thinking we have fallen too far behind.

Today, I want us to think about the importance of finishing well. We have only 15 days left in this year. It would be easy for us to close shop, so to speak, and leave whatever is undone for a to do list in the new year, but we may miss out on the blessing of finishing well. Consider:

Better is the end of a thing than its beginning, and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit. ~Ecclesiastes 7:8

In this Homeland series, we are taking to heart the model set by the greats of the faith in Hebrews 11. The cloud of witnesses considered themselves strangers and exiles on earth; speaking in such a way that they made it clear they were seeking a homeland: Heaven. The faith heroes of Hebrews 11 set the example for us to finish well. I believe this means in life in totality and in daily circumstances in general. We do not live faithful lives without first living faithful days.

Abraham was looking forward to the city that has foundations whose designer and builder is God. (Hebrews 11:10) This forward looking approach lead Abraham to make daily decisions to follow God no matter where the yeses led him. Did he blunder and bauble along the way? Most definitely! So will you and I. However, Abraham sets an example for us in that we should faithfully serve and trust God even when His promises seem slow in fulfillment or outside the time parameters that we would have chosen.

Who has God asked you to reach out to this year? What has He asked of you that you are tempted to put off until the New Year? What yes do we need to say in the last days of 2014 so that the first days of 2015 our feet are pointed in the right direction to pursue Christ and journey to our Homeland?

…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV)

Looking to finish well,

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Homeland: Evidence of Things Unseen

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Sometimes we are called to step out in faith into uncharted territory–into places or platforms that are novel and, most likely, nerve-wracking. Often we go with faith in God’s calling. Occasionally, with great evidence of His will; while other moments come with more subtle assurance in the still, small voice of God guiding us.

The shepherds were overwhelmed with immediate, miraculous indications that they had a short journey to make and an ultimate treasure to find. The wise men followed the star without the certainty of visible angels guiding their steps. How did the wise men know to look for and follow the star? Why would they pack up and leave their home in search of a King? 

The wise men were Magi, or Magio in the Greek. This is where the English word, magic, is derived from. The Magi were men of great knowledge and study, particularly in the field of astronomy. The Magi originated in Media and later Babylonia, Persia, Arabia, and India. They were considered a priestly caste of advisers to the nobles and rulers of those lands.

According to this article from the Institute for Creation Research (ICR, see here), there is an ancient tradition that Balaam, the prophet from Mesopotamia was an early member of the Magi. Perhaps you are most familiar with Balaam as the prophet reprimanded and spared by a talking donkey. (See Numbers 22:22-30) Well, Balaam also prophesied the coming Messiah would be accompanied in this way:

 a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel. (Numbers 24:17)

Add to Balaam, the influence of Daniel, Mordecai, and Esther, to name a few, in the provinces of Babylonia and Persia and you have both Jews and Magi who took as their own, the God of the Jews, looking for a coming Messiah as foretold by His star rising in the sky.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, KJV)

The Magi set out to find the Christ-child with as much evidence as the shepherds who heard the angels singing. They studied the patterns of the stars spoken into being. Their study and understanding of astronomy pointed them to the newborn-king when, as foretold, His star arose in the heavens. The evidence of things hoped for was at last present and the Magi were prepared to recognize the evidence and obey.

How are we preparing for our homeland of Heaven this season of our lives?

In what way are we prepared to see the evidence of Jesus and His return and react in obedience as disciple-makers?

How are we prepared to defend the evidence of the Creator God in a world full of agnostic and atheistic teachings heralded as the truth of intellectually inclined individuals?

The Magi who celebrated the Messiah were acting on the evidence of their faith. Indeed, they were acting in faith with the understanding of the stars in the sky. Those same stars which God had promised Abraham that his decedents would be more numerous than. The same starry sky that continues to proclaim evidence of a Creator.

By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. (Hebrews 11:3, ESV)

The shepherds went in search of the King on the testimony of angels; the wise men on the fulfillment of prophecy. For us there is both. We must press on to live for the Homeland and point others to the King.

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Homeland: A Christmas Series

Homeland Part 1

When I was young in the mountains, I never wanted to go to the ocean, and I never wanted to go to the desert. I never wanted to go anywhere else in the world, for I was in the mountains. And that was always enough. (Cynthia Rylant, When I Was Young in the Mountains)

I have spoken to several men and women whom desire to live in a different place than where they are. Admittedly, several times in a given week or month, I am one of them. I often love the place I live and other moments I desire a grand adventure far, far away. This phenomena has prompted me to contemplate whether this is a perspective shared by historical accounts of men and women documented in the Bible. So far my search has turned up empty.

I believe the desire for novelty and adventure are good, and God-given, but I also wrestle with the reality that it can be a sign of ingratitude, discontent, and a blinding of my eyes to the mission God has given in the present, to the gifts of here and now. This Christmas God has guided my thoughts on the matter to the account of the shepherds and the wise men.

There are two groups of men that were called to worship and witness the Christ-child: the shepherds and the wise men. The shepherds traveled walking distance to witness the new born King of Kings. These men, by vocation, were homebodies often sleeping among the sheep they guarded and never going far from their flock.

And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.  (Luke 2:17-18, ESV)

Conversely, the wise men traveled up to two years to witness the Messiah. Their journey started when they saw the star rise and set out to worship him.

When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.  And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasure, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. (Matthew 2:10-11, ESV)

In considering the missions of both these two vastly different groups of men, a few similarities stand out:

  • Their mission was to find the Christ and worship Him.
  • They were given a sign to know that they had found the Messiah.
  • They obeyed their assignment.
  • Their response was worship and joy.

Whether shepherd or wise man, pauper or prince, native or foreigner, those that are in Christ Jesus are each traveling to the same homeland. They are each integral parts to the story of the world, redemption, and the promised restoration of God’s creation. We each work in our areas of influence so that it too can be said of us as the cloud of witnesses in Hebrews 11:

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. (Hebrews 11:14-16, ESV, emphasis mine)

Shepherds heeded the heralding angels and the wise men followed the star; we are all called to follow the King. Each of us as part of the story should look to our homeland and work toward that same end. Let us find something in our surroundings today to be grateful for and to recognize the hand of God in our adventures near or far.

Have you encountered any men or women in the Bible who desired a grand adventure away from the place they were living? I would love to hear your answers if so. You can leave a comment below or e-mail me at Brooke.Cooney.1@gmail.com.

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Mary Christmas: A Closer Look at the Mother of Christ

Mary Christmas

Mary.  Some exalt her to an equal status of holiness with the Christ-child she carried in her womb, and others nearly ignore her in an effort to compensate for the idolization of her.

What does the Bible say about Mary and how is this important to our celebration of Christ’s birth this year and every year?

The Bible says that Mary found favor with God. (Luke 1:28, 30)

In considering the Biblical accounts of men and women who obtained the favor of the Lord, the following stand out: Noah, David, Job, and Mary.

How does the righteous and holy standing of Mary before God compare with other Hebrew people recorded in the Old Testament?

Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God (Genesis 6:9, 7:1).  Yet, Noah’s righteousness did not mean that he did not sin because we see that just shortly after he left the ark he sinned by becoming drunk (Genesis 9:20-21, Ephesians 5:18).  David, was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and yet we can all point to the fact that David sinned in his adulteress sexual relations with Bathsheba, and then subsequently having her husband killed. Job, in Job 1:1 is characterized as a man blameless and upright, who feared God and shunned evil. Yet, Job, when he had  seen God, said, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:5-6)

Our first encounter with Mary is similar in that the angel Gabriel declares, Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.  Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God.  (Luke 1: 28, 30) Based on the accounts of Noah, David, and Job, we can conclude that finding favor with God does not equal a sinless state.  (Romans 3:23) Further,we gain hope and encouragement that finding favor with God is possible for us as it was possible for Noah, David, Job, and Mary before us.

Let us rejoice in the fact that though we are wretched sinners God characterizes us as ones who gain His favor because of our faith in the Messiah and obedience to His commands.  For Noah, David, and Job it was God’s promised Messiah to come. For Mary and for us it is in belief in the Messiah that has come.

The Bible says that Mary believed God and was His faithful servant. (Luke 1:38, 45)

 My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me- holy is his name.” – Luke 1:46-49

Mary praised God for the honor of being the chosen vessel to birth the Messiah who would fulfill prophecy and redemption for all mankind.  We can glean an attitude of humility from Mary that God would choose to use us to accomplish His divine purpose and eternal plan.

Following the shepherds’ visit and Jesus’ staying behind in the temple, the Bible says that Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19, 51) Mary, unlike us, wasn’t privy to cameras and recorders to capture all the special moments and firsts of Christ.  She had to record her beloved Savior’s face and firsts on the imprints of her heart and mind.  More than this, Mary pondered the ways and works of God.

In our hustle and bustle of the holiday season, and all of the year, we can neglect meditation on the words and works of God.  Mary sets another example of God-honoring living by thinking on Christ.

The Bible leaves Mary at the foot of the cross. (John 19:25-27) That is where we should leave Mary.  Not as an exalted figure by which we can speak to God, not as a iconic statue to be praised and worshiped, nor as a fashion accessory or good luck charm, but rather as Christ-servant and fellow sinner in need of the Savior. This is where everyone is found in relation to Christ–the foot of the cross.

In looking at Mary this Christmas, I will see her as:

  • A young woman who lived in such a way to please God that she gained His favor to be a chosen vessel for accomplishing God’s divine and eternal will.
  • One who believed God and served him faithfully.
  • One who pondered the ways of God and Christ.
  • One blessed to know Christ in infancy, life, death, and his glorified and resurrected state in heaven.

In response to the life of this godly woman I will:

  1. Like Mary, ponder God’s gift of Jesus and his way in which He accomplished Christ’s birth. See Luke 1 and 2.
  2. Put Mary in proper perspective this Christmas and praise the Creator not the created one.
  3. Walk humbly with God so at the right time God will see fit to use me…not all my life, but today and then the same tomorrow and the same tomorrow.

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Constants for this Christmas Season

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Constant: it isn’t a word we encounter frequently in our society. A firm, fixed place to stand. A steady rhythm that continues after a whirlwind of events leaves the day-to-day landscape unrecognizable from last week’s norm.

Constants are fibers of the fabric of life that remain when the course of life’s changes, challenges, and struggles leave us with the thread bare remnants. Constants make up the backbone of life…of our faith.

Change is a natural and necessary part of life. Even good changes stretch us and cause us pain.

Therein lies another lesson; without pain there is no growth. Gains—growth—cost in the short term so that the rewards may be seen in the long term.

Perhaps you are a person who welcomes change like the mice, Sniff and Scurry in Dr. Spencer Johnson’s best-selling book, Who Moved My Cheese?  Sniff and Scurry are prepared to move on and forge ahead in the face of change. Or, maybe you are more like the mice, Hem and Haw, who lament reality and play the victimized mourners of yesterday gone by?

Continue reading at iBelieve. Click here.

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The Changing of Seasons and Our Faith

 

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Autumn has always been my favorite season. The burnt oranges and reds of changing leaves paint the horizons with blazing new brushstrokes year after year as the weather turns cooler and the crunch of fallen leaves are heard underground. I welcome steady change and the faithful return of fall, skies blazing. The return for man’s work is a comfort and a constant echoed in this season.

Just mention the word fall and dozens of memories flood my mind:

A tall glass of sweet tea, the smell of fresh cut grass and the voices of football announcers on TV—these sights, sounds and smells trigger Saturday memories from my childhood autumns past. My dad worked full days in the hot Alabama sun and still managed to cut the grass just in time each Saturday. He would settle into his recliner with a large glass of sweet tea and enjoy a day full of college football. We talked about anything and then sometimes nothing at all, but it was the time we spent together that was important.

I also remember the smell and rich taste of homemade oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies my mom would bake and place in her handmade, hand-painted pumpkin cookie jar. She was called nearly every Friday to make her signature cookies, either for the football players or for some of my friends.

Read the rest of the post at iBelieve. (Click here.)

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A Letter to My Younger Self on Adoption

John 1224

I know you will remember a time in your childhood when you wondered if you were adopted. Never mind that you look like your parents and laugh at your own jokes exactly like they both do; but, just the same, you will wonder if you were adopted and never told. You will naturally gravitate towards books about orphans.

This is the planting of a seed.

Next, you will have a desire to adopt. You will make this a topic of priority with your fiancé and subsequent husband. Being the Type A planner that you are, even a few months into trying to start a family, you will again give adoption consideration and state, “If we can’t conceive on our own we will adopt.”

This is the watering of a dream.

Two kids, and a few years later, you will read Kisses from Katie and determine that if a twenty-something woman from Tennessee can adopt and foster children on her own in a foreign country, then surely you can foster one child on the way to adoption.

This is sunlight upon fertile soil.

Next you will complete the nearly 10 months of work that it takes to train and paper-approve families to foster. It will be a never ending cycle to prove your family fit to parent a child not your own. You will complain and you will wonder why on earth it will take so much to do a good deed.

This is the breaking forth of a seed out of the dark soil into the sun. 

At last, when you thought the day would never come, you will get the call to pick up your foster son. You will go expectantly with his Thomas the Train backpack and snuggle animal from Target. Then you will meet a child who your heart will forever call son. He will be blonde and beautiful and wild and covered in spaghetti sauce and you will have many long days ahead of you.

This will be the stalk rising from the ground.

For 13 months you will labor, love, and advocate on this child’s behalf. You will sing to him, Jesus Loves Me, and do all the things a mother does. You will watch every single person around you love this little boy like he was your very own son—because in many ways he forever will be your son. You will train him in the way that he should go and pray on his behalf.

This will be the wheat ripe for harvest.  

Finally, at the end of 13 months, you will say good-bye to your little boy as he is reunited with his biological family. It will be one of the hardest and perhaps the most impactful goodbyes you will ever say.

This will be the kernel falling to the ground. 

Months will pass, tears will fall, a new normal will encompass your days, and you will wonder how you ever did it all. You will wonder: can I ever do that again? The answer will not come right away–at least not the answer you think others will expect. But in all the waiting, you will say: Loving another child changed my lifemaybe the world in some small way. Then you will tell his story, your story, so that other families may open their homes to make the difference in the life of a child.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

John 12:24

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100 Little Gratitudes

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 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. – Colossians 3:15

Thank you.  Two simple words which can have a significant  impact not only on the receiver but on the giver of the words as well.  The one who is thankful is choosing to shift his focus from that which  he does not have or cannot change to what he has, is blessed with, and enjoying.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.- Phillipians 4:6

When I pause to reflect on my present and past blessings from God, the giver of all good gifts (James 1:17), my mind is more clearly focused on that which I should truly petition and request in prayer. I am more apt to see life in the proper perspective.

I was challenged several years ago to write a list of 100 things that I was thankful for.  It was truly a sweet time of reflection to think on at least 100 people, circumstances, and experiences for which I was thankful.  I hope that this simple exercise in gratitude will spur you to do likewise.

Graciousness is caught in addition to being taught.  I realize more and more that my actions speak so much louder than my words.  I want to live out a life that is authentically gracious and obedient to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, so that I am modeling a life that I want my children to pursue.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for taking time out of your full day to read this blog.

Here is my list in no particular order.

  1. for life
  2. my husband and best friend, Ron
  3. our children
  4. my parents
  5. my wonderful sister and her husband
  6. all of  my in laws
  7. my nieces and nephews
  8. our family’s collective health
  9. salvation in Jesus Christ
  10. forgiveness
  11. the ability to read
  12. access to almost any book in the world
  13. my Bible
  14. a good nights sleep
  15. our home
  16. two cars (yes, we now are a two car family once again)
  17. fresh fruit and vegetables
  18. my church
  19. friends
  20. furniture
  21. our ministry together
  22. my gym
  23. Emily’s artwork
  24. quiet time in prayer and Bible study
  25. throwing the football with Joshua
  26. toothpaste and a toothbrush
  27. water and warm showers
  28. access to good healthcare
  29. Target, Walmart, Ross, and Michael’s
  30. mercy
  31. hope
  32. a future
  33. my grandparents and extended family
  34. autumn (my favorite time of year)
  35. mentors in the faith
  36. a baby boy on the way for friends who have tried for seven years to have a baby
  37. hiking
  38. kayaking
  39. camping
  40. mail and packages from Nana…and Amazon
  41. God’s provision!
  42. education and the ability to learn
  43. soy vanilla lattes
  44. Costco
  45. time to spend with those we love
  46. freedom
  47. missions
  48. road trips
  49. Jesus’ unending pursuit of my heart
  50. Jefri and Jasmine (our Compassion children)
  51. a camera and photographs of memories
  52. a dining room table to eat at with my family and friends
  53. a bed
  54. clothes and shoes that fit
  55. writing opportunities
  56. a purpose
  57. good music
  58. vegan mayonnaise
  59. dancing
  60. chiropractic care
  61. naps
  62. holidays
  63. protein powder
  64. Auburn University and my experience there
  65. University of South Florida and all that I learned
  66. Pinterest
  67. groceries and money to pay for them
  68. a washer and dryer
  69. wifi and a computer
  70. the Grand Canyon- hiked it four times and it never gets old
  71. science
  72. Classical Conversations
  73. homeschooling
  74. organization
  75. Emily learning to read!!!
  76. electricty and indoor plumbing
  77. travel
  78. children’s books
  79. my memory
  80. thrift stores and consignment shops
  81. my weaknesses because when I am weak then He is strong
  82. Chick Fila, Chipolte, and Olive Garden
  83. second chances and lessons learned the first time
  84. that first impressions aren’t always accurate (Amen?)
  85. laughter
  86. the beach
  87. the moutains
  88. my coffee maker
  89. Christian apologetics resources
  90. funny YouTube videos
  91. my workout playlist
  92. Colorado Pinion Pine Cones (pictured above)
  93. mom’s red velvet cake
  94. Christmas movies
  95. Christmas tree farms
  96. flowers
  97. the sun and moon
  98. Easter
  99. free will
  100. love

 Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name. ~1 Chronicles 29:13

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The Spirit of Giving

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There is a joy that accompanies generosity…

A blessed intimate abiding between the redeemed and the Redeemer who never drops even meager offerings.

In the giving there is a birth which overshadows the death of temporary treasures.

Meager offerings may even be the Father’s favorite kind when we offer all we have. He loves to multiple the offerings of the humble. Consider the five loaves and the two fish. He used a young boy’s simple lunch to feed over 5,000 hungry men–besides women and children.

What if we chose not to give because we thought our offering too little or too simple to be of much use? 

What if instead of concerning ourselves with the size of our offering, we humbled ourselves to give our meagerness or our much cheerfully?

With eyes set on eternity, the cheerful giver cannot wait to drop her donation in the plate, her gift in the box, her package in the mail for she considers the smiles and prayers of thanksgiving waiting on the other side.

The cheerful giver woos man to draw near to Christ as she follows His commandments:

Feed, clothe, give, go, take care…

Knowing  that she cannot out-give the Father, for He has already given of His Son, the cheerful giver will share her abundance or her slight understanding that she is a mere steward and God is the ruler and controller of all things.

The cheerful giver has learned that it is in the opening of the hand, not in the clenching of the fist, that there is life.

May your hands be open and the gifts be plentifully given.

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A Recipe for a Thanksgiving Feast of the Heart

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Turkey, parades, football, family traditions, feasts, and the unforgettable pumpkin pie consume us this time of year.  In pausing to share our gratitude and celebrate family and friends, I would like to offer a Biblical recipe for a thanksgiving feast of the heart.  This one will not cause you to move your belt to the next notch or run to the gym, but might necessitate moving comfort zones or running hard after God’s heart in a way in which you thought only fanatical Christians, or Bible-time-believers did.  Feel free to not limit your portion sizes here, but rather feast on God’s word and the joy of unbridled obedience to the One who alone is worthy of praise.

Psalm 106 and 136

Ingredients:

1.       Heartfelt Confession:

In Psalm 106, confession for sin is made on behalf of the psalmist and of his nation and forefathers.  This Thanksgiving season can commence with repentance and confession. Notice the specific confession versus blanket requests for forgiveness.

Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.  James 5:16

2.        Powerful Prayer:

 Praise the LORD. Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever. Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the LORD or fully declare his praise? Psalm 106:1-2

Psalm 106 seems to parallel 136 in that the former showed the sin of man and the justice and mercy of God, while the later praises the eternal and enduring love of God. Both document points in Israel’s history where God led his people out of exile in Egypt and gave them victory over their enemies by miraculous signs and wonders for the glory of His Name.  In our present and past circumstances we can list the errors of our way. Regardless if our sin occurred in times of abundance, want, blessing, or trial.  During each and every season of our life, no matter our behaviors,God has been good. To be contrary to good is against God’s character.

Read these two chapters in Psalms back to back. See how God’s hand worked good in every circumstance. Consider how God has worked good in your circumstances this year.

God’s love endures forever. Let’s pray that our spiritual eyes will see his love and goodness. That our tongues in turn would praise Him for the works He has done. That our hearts would choose to trust Him even when we don’t understand His ways.

When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea. Psalm 106:7

When we neglect to remember God’s goodness we consequently neglect to praise Him and thank Him. This breeds a heart of discontentment. 

We are commanded to thank God multiple times in the Bible.  In Psalm 136 alone we are commanded four times and then given specifics as to what to thank Him for and why.  Use Psalm 136 as a prayer of thanksgiving to God and then add specifics relevant to your journey in 2014.

Directions:

1.        Combine all of the above.

2.       Enjoy!

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