Category Archives: Worship

Catching Beauty!

tetonsdawnBy Judy Villanueva

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1)

A gentle breeze blew quietly through our room gracing us with relief from the heat that had kept us up most of the night. I’m sure I had a smile on my face as I enjoyed the goodness of REM sleep only to be nudged awake at 5:00am by my husband. “I really want to watch the sun rise on the Grand Tetons and maybe see a moose and hear the Elk bugle! Let’s get up!” It was as though he cared nothing about sleep and could only imagine the wonder that awaited us. I replied groggily, “I think we are two hours away from sunrise, honey…won’t the sun come up again tomorrow?”

Dozens of tri-pods, Nikons and iphones showed up in the dark to watch and wait for light and an opportunity to catch beauty! The beholding of beauty never seems to suffice and I always find myself wanting just one more shooting star, lightning bolt or minute in the presence of majesty.

There is something about beauty that lets us touch the glory of God and the feel of it makes us want to catch it and make it our own!

It’s hard to put into words but it’s one thing to read about the glory of God and quite another to feel pulled into the middle of it by a sunrise, moose or mountain face!

I can’t tell you how many fellow “beauty catchers” stood with us in the cold predawn hours or how many pictures I took of one mountain! I didn’t want to leave and couldn’t get enough of what felt like God’s manifest presence, breathtaking and beautiful!

Is it the glory we were made for that compels us to linger before beauty and try to take it home in our pockets?

As the light finally lifted up over the horizon and ran across the water to celebrate against the mountain face, I found that I did, too! I could feel the declaration of Divine splendor and realized that there in the middle of it all was my God loving me…just waiting to be caught.

“Father, your creation is magnificent! I know when I’m trying to catch beauty I’m really trying to catch you! Thank you for making me for your glory and helping me find it. Amen.”

What about you?

How does the experience of beauty make you feel?

Do you recognize that feeling of not wanting an experience of beauty to end?

Where did you last experience the glory of God?

We were made for His glory….linger in it and let God love you there.

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Worship!

Come To Me!

dsc_0969By Judy Villanueva

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I couldn’t have been more than seven years old when I first noticed these words inscribed across the altar at church.  They seemed to jump out at me every Sunday as if teasing me to unwrap their meaning.  As a child, I imagined that coming to God and taking His “easy” yoke meant that my life would be carefree and full of laughter and love.  Indeed, it has been this but, not only this.  Life tends to pulse with both joys and sorrows and unwrapping Truth happens in layers, doesn’t it?

We plumb for its richness as we trust and agree to come, even when can’t see where we are going.

As this year comes to a close I find myself weary and particularly grateful for Jesus’ invitation to “Come”.  He knows that carrying heavy burdens weighs us down and bids us trade our wearisome loads for His yoke that is easy and light.  To be yoked is to be bound to a burden that must then be dragged around, much like oxen tied to an iron plow. But, think of it!

To be bound to Jesus is to be tethered to God!

It is to agree to submit to and learn from the One who is gentle and humble in heart.  At first glance, this passage appeals to our need of rest, but a second look reveals a layer of love that invites us to soul-shaping surrender!

The One who came… calls us to come!

Come to the One who came for you!  Come rest in His love.  Come learn from His humble heart. Come lean on Him every day and in everything! Let Him help you hold your life and unwrap the power of His Word for each day.  He knows how to carry heavy loads and can help us find rest for our weary souls.  I want to trade my yoke of worry for His yoke of peace.  I want to learn how to live well by being tethered to the One who loves me, who knows what it is to be weary and who paid a dear price for my rest.

“Jesus, thank you for reaching out to me when I was young and for helping me find my way to You. Help me to come to you today with all that burdens me and trust You. Thank you for being my place of rest. Amen.”

What about you?

Are you weary from carrying heavy burdens?  What are you dragging around?

Have you heard Jesus call you to come?  Are you in need of His rest?

Are you ready to trade your burdens for His yoke of love?

Listen for His voice that calls you to come.  God cares that you are weary and in need of rest.

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Worship

Worship!

heart wiminucheBy Judy Villanueva

Psalm 145:3-7

Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised,  and His greatness is unsearchable.  One generation shall praise Your works to another,  and shall declare Your mighty acts.  On the glorious splendor of Your majesty
, and on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.  Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, and I will tell of Your greatness.  They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness
, and will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.

I found myself standing by the window early this morning, sipping hot coffee and watching for the sun to announce the new day. Shadows slowly transformed into snow-laden pines and colors of pink, purple and blue emerged on the horizon as if being softly painted by a Master. With each minute that passed the landscape unfolded its splendor and shouted, “Glory!” I looked from east to west and felt the goodness of God reach out and offer me its blessing through glistening snow and frosted mountains that wrapped around me with a happy embrace! A mesmerized witness, I listened as creation declared, “He is worthy! He is good! Worship Him!”

Seeing God, wherever and however we do, creates worship in our hearts. It writes a song that must be sung!   Noticing Him in the world around us, in the things that we might ordinarily pass by, all become invitations to celebrate His goodness! It might be a moment of laughter, a tasty meal, or a warm hug that draws you into awareness of God’s love. It might be the feeling of gratitude that sweeps over you as you hold a child, pay for groceries…or sit by a fire eating heart-shaped brownies with a friend.

All day long we live in moments given to us, each one a grace and each one holding opportunities to see God and feel His touches of love.

On mornings where we stand at windows that display His glory it is an easy song to write, but what about the harder moments in life? What lights the flame of worship when we are hurting?

The Psalms of praise point us, with all our joys and sorrows, at the One who is high and lifted up! Their songs encourage us to worship God in joyful celebration. They ask us to look at the face of God and behold His glorious splendor, abundant goodness, and unfathomable greatness. Their proclamations of God’s faithfulness are unswerving and jubilant! They tell of His power, sing of His righteousness, and help us meditate on His wonderful works.

The fact of God’s faithfulness becomes an unfolding landscape of love that wraps around us with healing grace.

And, out of these musings our songs bubble up and join creation in singing,  “He is worthy!  He is good!  Worship Him!”

“Thank your, Lord, for beautiful mornings and gently painted skies — for heart-shaped brownies, mountain hugs and unfolding landscapes that sing of your glory. Help me to notice you in the moments of this day that offer me your love and grace. Amen.”

What about you?

What draws you into worship?

How did God reach out to you today and offer you His blessings?

Are you able to feel God’s tap on the shoulder that invites you to notice Him in your day?

Muse on the wonders of God and worship!

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Worship

 

Child of God

DSC_0259.JPGBy Judy Villanueva

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1John 3:1)

“Do not be afraid, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name, you are mine.  You are precious in my eyes, because you are honored and I love you…the mountains may depart, the hills be shaken, but my love for you will never leave you and my covenant of peace with you will never be shaken” (Is 43:1, 4; 54:10)

Piggy-back rides to bed, family dinners at 6:00, sledding down muddy hills on rainy days, and giggling when dad kissed mom — I loved being a child of Bob and Linda! Their love was a blanket of warmth that spread out over our home as they set limits, listened to our hearts and taught us how to love and be loved. Growing up, I did not appreciate the gift of “footing” that being their child gave me nor did I have the slightest idea how their covering shaped a “Yes” in me to becoming a child of God.

Have you thought about what it means to be a child of God lately?

Words can become so familiar that their meaning evaporates and we end up living with ideas rather than realities.  The phrase “child of God” is such a massive concept that it’s no wonder it’s hard to grab and drag into the middle of our lives but, don’t you want to?  I have heard it said that our beliefs shape our feelings, attitudes and outlooks, so I can imagine that believing I am the daughter of the King, the Creator and Author of Life, the all powerful, all knowing First and Last might just make me feel — kind of special!

When I awake each morning I become aware of God’s invitation to live as His child.  On the best days, I open up the Word to look at His face and listen to His voice.  It helps me return my thoughts to all that is true and it is often there, that I begin to remember who God says I am — Redeemed. Named. Precious. Honored.  Forever loved!

Dragging the reality of being God’s child into the middle of our lives changes the ways we think and feel about everything.

It’s a prayer that sets our feet on solid ground,  gives us courage to trust beyond what we see and helps us hope from underneath a blanket of Love that spreads out over every part of our lives.

“Father, thank you that you made me your child. Help me to live in the reality I am precious to you.  You are faithful!  Amen.”

What about you?

How does being a child of God impact your daily life?

How does it affect the way you think and feel about the trials you face?

What does it feel like to hear God call you precious, honored and forever loved?

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Worship

Grateful to Tears

IMG_0661By Judy Villanueva

Luke 7:36-50


When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said.

“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

“What are you grateful for this year?”  I asked my husband. We sat quietly together running back over the year in our minds, sifting for God’s good and kind provision. A flood of sweet memories swept through and lined up to be named, each one a blessing for which we are so very grateful. Relationships, health, and daily bread along with coffee in the morning and a warm bed at night —  daisies, snowflakes, rainbows, and baby kisses — colors, wind, good books and skies that show up each day uniquely dressed in splendor!  It felt good to recount  blessings and give thanks but there is something about this story that calls me to go deeper.

As I read this passage two questions come to mind.  The first is, “Am I this grateful?” and the second is, “Have I grown too use to being forgiven?”

Suddenly, this isn’t just a familiar story but an encounter where I am a witness to kisses and tears, an outpouring of oil, and a heart exploding with gratitude!

It causes me to take inventory of my own heart and consider what has fueled her acts of thanksgiving.   She has thrown down all she has to love Jesus and as I read the story again it occurs to me that she is grateful for something far beyond any gift this world has to offer.

When Jesus asks Simon who will love more, the person who has been forgiven little or the one who has been forgiven much, I am startled!  Of course!  The magnitude of the woman’s thankfulness hits me and I finally understand.  She knows she has been forgiven much and cannot stop living and giving gratitude to Jesus.  Worship spills out of her as she lavishly loves Jesus with all that she possesses.

She has been forgiven, accepted and loved!

At the cost of her dignity, she lets down her hair and pours out a year’s wage so that she can shout “Thank you!” to her King!  Enfolded in the beauty of her worship I feel my own heart humbled and hungry to wake up and feel the grace I have been given.  I, too, want to worship with kisses and tears and the best I have to offer.

“Lord, I have been forgiven, accepted and loved. Help me to touch this gift and feel its power so that I cannot help but respond by loving lavishly and freely.  Amen.”

What about you?

Are you grateful?  Are you awake to the grace that you have been given?

Have you gotten use to being forgiven?

Are you living free and forgiven?

How are you living and giving gratitude to Jesus?

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Worship

Singing!

DSC_1168By Judy Villanueva

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
 Let the sea roar, and all it contains; Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
 Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord, for He is coming… (Psalm 96:11-13)

My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You; And my soul, which You have redeemed. (Psalm 71:23)

But as for me, I shall sing of Your strength; Yes, I shall joyfully sing of Your lovingkindness in the morning, for You have been my stronghold and a refuge in the day of my distress. (Psalm 59:16)

If ever there were a tree that could sing, it would certainly be the aspen tree. When spring arrives it unfurls its leaves and, almost as if in worship, its heart-like leaves dance in the wind and quake in harmony with its piney neighbors. The sight and sound of it draw me into immediate and joyful praise! What makes your soul sing for joy? Think about it. What fills your heart and spills over into spontaneous and grateful praise? Singing flows from our depths and literally from a breath breathed deeply.

The very idea of the soul expressing itself in song…of joy emerging and being carried on a melody sounds like the sweetest kiss of grace and gratitude.

As I read these Psalms I notice that the “singer” not only determines that his soul shall sing, “My lips will shout for joy,” but also works to inspire his soul by cultivating gratitude and joy over God’s victories, strength, lovingkindness, and bountiful provision! Here, again, we arrive at a crucial issue that has everything to do with living aware and awake. If we do not notice God’s activity in our days or His lovingkindness throughout our lives…if we do not work to inspire our souls by the wonders of God around us, how we will ever be moved to song?

If hurry and worry usurp all of our attention, we may find our hands full, our minds troubled, and our souls void of joyful melodies.

How does your life sing to God? Does it? Aspens need simply be the trees that God designed them to be in order to catch the wind and quake a happy tune. Our challenge, as believers, is to be willing to be the people that God created and avail ourselves to be filled with the breath of His Spirit. We don’t need to be spruces, just ourselves…given to God, for it is not our own perfections that inspire the soul to sing but rather, awakening to the Holy that gives birth to song. We were made for singing, so wake up to God today, take a deep breath…and tell your soul to sing!

“Lord, help me to sing! From deep within my soul I want to declare your strength and faithfulness. I want to notice your hand of love in this day and tomorrow, too! Let joy and gratitude rise up on the wings of a song written just to praise Your name. Amen.”

What about you?

Are you aware of God today? Where and how?

What inspires your soul to sing?

How does your life sing to God? Does it?

Encourage your soul to sing by cultivating joy and gratitude for God’s faithfulness.

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Worship

 

 

Don’t Cry

sunwheat

By Judy Villanueva

Luke 7:11-15

Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”

Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.

Huddled close together we prayed.  A stranger to me, she came forward after Sunday service and shared her story of buried hopes and disappointed dreams.  She recounted one loss after another and described a sadness that broke my heart.  Hopelessness seemed to surround us and I could feel its crushing weight.  “No! No! No!” were the words I quietly prayed  in response and “Jesus, come save us.”  Sometimes life deals us blows that knock the wind right out of us and leave us vulnerable and tired.  Sometimes all we can do is trust that God sees us, that He cares deeply and that His voice can call us back to life!

The widow had already lost her husband and now her only son has died.  I imagine that hope and joy lie next to him lifeless, as well.  I wonder if she knew Who it was that noticed her that day—Whose heart went out to her and said, “Don’t cry.”  Do you ever feel that your life is happening way down here on earth…out of view?  Every time I read that Jesus sees one of His beloved, I am relieved, reassured, and so, so glad!  That He feels for the widow confronts my wounded notion that Jesus, being God, knows everything and has no reason to feel for us. On the contrary!

“God with us” means that He travels through our moments in “real time” and feels our life with us!

The widow watches Jesus touch her son’s coffin, “Young man, I say to you, get up!”  I’m guessing that before she can even make sense of what she has just heard, she sees her son sit up and feels him placed back in her arms!   Can you imagine?   Instead of her worst nightmare, an unbelievable joy sweeps her up and twirls her around!  He’s alive!  Her son lives!  Have you ever felt helplessly at the mercy of your circumstances?  Has disappointment ever stolen your hope?

This story reminds me that it’s all about Jesus!  It’s never about me figuring “it” out…you know, how to be alive!

But rather, it is always about a kind God who sees me in the middle of my life and cares.  It helps me to remember His true heart that says, “Don’t cry” when I am utterly devastated…and strengthens me to witness His power over death!  Watching Jesus give back this son to his mother places hope back in my arms and fills my heart with joy!

“Thank you, Jesus, that you notice my coming and going, my joys and sorrows…and feel my life with me!  Help me in my helplessness and please tell my lifeless hopes to “Get up!”  I pray for anyone reading this who may feel weary and hopeless…that they would feel Your love today and Your touch on their life.  Amen.”

What about you?

Have you ever felt helplessly at the mercy of your circumstances?

Has disappointment ever stolen your hope?

Do you have friends who will be with you in your sorrows?  Is there a prayer team waiting for you to come forward?

God sees your life and cares!  His heart goes out to you today!

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Worship

 

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Wonder

DSC_0514By Judy Villanueva

The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns,  where evening fades, 
you call forth songs of joy. (Psalm 65:8)

Covered in blankets with our faces pointed toward the sky, we watched for magic!  “Glory!” our friend’s little daughter cried out, “I saw one!”  Under a canopy of stars we laid out on the deck, shivering in the cool night air determined to witness wonder!  “Glory!” another shouted, “Glory!  Glory!  Glory!”  Shooting stars showered us with delight and time seemed to stop as we watched wide-eyed and awed by each brilliant starburst!  It was the peak of the Perseid Meteor shower and there, gathered with family and dear friends, wonder gave way to worship and before we knew it, we were singing songs of joy in the middle of the mountains!

I am so grateful for wonder.  It is different than knowing or understanding a thing….there is something about wonder that points us beyond the comprehensible to unique and magnificent possibilities!

Wonder confronts our finite natures and asks us to reach beyond our grasp and dare to imagine beauty beyond our disappointments.  It signals us to hope!

It opens up soul-space and encourages us to watch for life.  Wonder reminds us that there is a God…a good and wonderful God.

“Wonder-ing” becomes more natural as we practice noticing and tuning into its invitations to stand still and behold.  Beholding helps us to see, feel and hear God in the midst of shooting stars, rainbows, and shimmering aspen trees…to name a few favorite wonders!  To behold is to stop, move toward and then look closely with all of oneself.   It is to allow wonder to speak and teach of God’s glory…glory found all around us, every day...in sunrises and sunsets,  in wildflowers and waterfalls and, in sitting amongst friends with faces pointed upwards,  singing songs of joy for each moment spent together watching for glory!

“Heavenly Father, help me to notice your invitations to be drawn into wonder.  Life can be hard sometimes.  Help me to trust You and stay open to whatever You will next for me.  Thank you for lights in the sky, for dear friends, precious children, for beauty, wind and wonders too many to count that help me reach beyond disappointment and fear,  to hope.  Thank you for daily reminders that You are…and are good.  Amen.”

What about you?

What fills you with wonder?

Are you aware of how beholding wonder moves your heart?

How are your hopes?

Do you need a reminder that there is a God…and that He is good?

Lay down, look up and watch for His wonders.

(Thank you, Tommy Walker, for leading worship that night and helping us lift up beautiful songs of joy!)

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Worship

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Sparrows

DSC_0021By Judy Villanueva

Luke 12:6-7 

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs of your head are all counted. Do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.

That God does not forget one sparrow is a great consolation to my soul, for I am not sure there is anything more troubling than to feel forgotten.  Sold for less than one cent, sparrows were considered practically worthless and yet, Jesus testifies that not one is forgotten in God’s sight.  Do you ever feel forgotten?  I do.  To feel invisible is something that will pull the rug right out from under me, every time.  It might happen when I don’t feel heard, considered, or remembered.  It might occur after a long period of waiting in prayer for provision or relief from a trial.  Whatever the catalyst, feeling forgotten wants to suggest that we do not matter and strikes a harsh blow to our faith and perception of God.

I think that Jesus must know that all of His children have a question embedded in the deepest part of their souls.  ”Do I matter?”

Is my life of value and am I on anyone’s radar?  In this passage, Jesus addresses our need to hear and know how God feels about us with an emphasis that is unmistakable!  His words are a revelation of  God’s divine nature designed to help us to know Him better.  Jesus tells us that God’s heart is such that He keeps track of little sparrows and He even counts the number of hairs on our heads.  Yes, we matter to God!  His care for us goes far beyond knowing our names and where we live.  God’s love is intimate, personal, and particular!

When I read this morning that God does not forget even a sparrow, I felt my hope wake up!  It’s easy to feel lost in the crowd down here on planet earth…one life amongst millions over the centuries.  When trouble comes and stays for a long visit, it’s tiring and a little tempting to wonder if prayers have been overlooked or forgotten. This little verse helps me hear Jesus, all the way from the twenty-first century, reminding me that God has not forgotten me or my prayers!

It’s a whisper and a clap of thunder that arrives with an armful of hope for my heart today.

It refuels my faith and reshapes my wounded perception of the God who remembers me, who has utter, complete and perfect knowledge of my life…always!

“Lord, I feel refreshed today that You remember me, my hair, and my story.  Thank You for knowing me intimately, personally and particularly.  Heal  my false and wounded images of You and help me to trust in Your good heart.  Amen.”

How about you?

Do you ever feel forgotten by God?

How might you feel today, in your life right now, if you were convinced of God’s utter, complete and perfect knowledge of you?

Have you heard God say to your soul that you matter?

God loves you and you are on His radar.

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Worship

Amen!

DSC_1223By Judy Villanueva

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.  Praise Him all people here below.  Praise Him above ye heavenly host.  Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen. (Doxology)

Frustrated and anxious, I decided to slow down from my errands and take my pulse.  “What’s up?  Why so fitful, O my soul?”  I connected immediately to the source of my unrest and sighed.  The beauty of today was that there was no agenda and, the angst that nipped at my heels today was that…there was no agenda.  Nothing to accomplish that might give me a sense that my life has purpose.  In other words, the gift of a day off, free to play or rest or dig a hole or sleep!  Instead of soaking it up I found myself restless and longing for something to fill that place within me…you know the place…the one that is God-shaped and only quieted by His presence.

My soul knew its longing would not be satiated by worthy deeds but rather, by drawing near to God and finding my “Amen” …the one that was waiting to be sung to Him!

We say “Amen” at the end of prayers as a way of affirming whatever has been prayed.  It means “ Yes! So be it.  It is true.”  We do the same thing with our lives and daily live in affirmation of that which we believe and value most.  We spend our time, energy and money according to the treasures of our hearts and over a lifetime, we declare a holy or unholy “Amen” to whatever has captured our imaginations.  Think about it.  If someone were observing your days, and all the choices you make, what would they conclude about your values and deepest beliefs?  Is your life being lived and prayed in adoration and thanksgiving to God…or, are the cares of this world usurping your “Amens”?  The question to ponder is:

“What are you saying “Amen” to with your life?

It was 5:00pm and I decided to take a muddy walk toward some horses and cows that were feeding on the land next to ours.  As I watched my feet hunt for dry patches, I became aware of a gentle breeze that beckoned me to notice the Companion of the ages who walked alongside me.  In that moment, I felt myself exhale the angst of the day and draw in a deep breath of peace. All worry evaporated as I was roused from my stupor and awakened to the reality of God with me. What a happy “Amen” that bubbles up within us whenever we enter God’s fellowship.  There we encounter THE Amen, the Faithful One, the True Witness, the Beginning…and there, in the middle of His “Yes” to us, we find our own “Amen” spilling out of us in praise!

 “Thank you, Father, for nestling up close and helping me to feel your company today.  I confess that I live too often saying “Amen” to things that are passing away…like, the comforts of the day,  or making life all about me.  Lead me into Your presence and fill my heart with praise.  Amen!”

What about you?

What are you saying amen to with your life?

Are you aware when God is beckoning you into His presence?

When your soul is restless, how do you draw near to God?

Have you experienced God’s “Yes” over your life?

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”  (John 3:16)

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