How To Grow Strong In Your Faith

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In Romans 4, Paul tells us Abraham “grew strong in his faith” and urges us to walk in Abraham’s footsteps. To believe like he believed. How do we do this?

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:18-21)

Look to God’s promise not your circumstances.

In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations (18)

Abraham’s situation looked bleak. God promised him multitudes of descendants, but the only problem was he was well past child producing. “He considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old).” He also considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. Not only was Abraham almost 100 years old, but Sarah his wife was very old and she had never been able to have children her whole life. How are they going to have children? If Abraham had based his hope on his circumstances he would have given up. But In hope he believed against hope – God’s promise gave him hope in his hopeless situation. He put his hope in God’s promise, not his circumstances.

We may feel hopelessly unrighteous. We may feel like God could never forgive us for the sins we have committed, that he would never accept us. But we must not look at ourselves, just like Abraham didn’t look at himself, but like Abraham, we must believe God’s promise of grace. He counts me righteous in Christ!

Our teenager may seem hopelessly lost. Our finances may be out of control. We may lack direction for our lives. Our marriage might be frustrating or our church might be a mess.  Look to Jesus Christ! Don’t look to yourself. Look to the promise of the gospel – everyone who believes in him shall be saved. Look to his promises to draw near to those who draw near to him. Promises to hear and answer our prayers.

Give glory to God

No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (20-21)

Abraham strengthened his faith.  Here’s how: “He grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God.” Begin to give glory to God – start thanking and praising him for his every promise. Thank him for saving you and declaring you righteous in him.  He has promised to be with us when we pass through the waters and walk through fire. He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us. He has promised that nothing will be able to separate us from his love. He has promised to give us everything we truly need to glorify him. He has promised that we can do all things he requires through Christ who loves us.  Praise him for these things!

We can look to our circumstances – it may not LOOK like God is being faithful. It may not FEEL like God is with us in these waters. It may FEEL like he has abandoned or forsaken us. We may not SENSE his love. But WE MUST NOT WAVER CONCERNING THE PROMISE OF GOD! Rather, we grow strong in our faith as we GIVE GLORY TO GOD, as we are fully convinced that God is able to do what he had promised.

In Ps 43 the Psalmist says “Why are you cast down O my soul? Hope in God for I shall yet praise him.” Keep thanking God, keep praising him in faith in the midst of your hard times. Say, “Jesus thank you that you are with me. Thank you have promised that your steadfast love never ceases. Praise you that your mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.”

Growing stronger in our faith is not complicated.  Look to God’s promise and glorify him.  So what are you going to believe today – God’s word or your circumstances? God’s promises or your feelings? God’s bedrock pledge of faithfulness or your wavering emotions? Walk in the footsteps of Abraham and strengthen your faith.

Ever Full Of Sap And Green (Remembering My Dad)

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They still bear fruit in old age;
they are ever full of sap and green,
to declare that the Lord is upright;
he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

(PS 92.14-15)

It’s Easter Sunday and the whole family comes for dinner.

My 92 year-old Dad, JJ, arrives wearing pink sport coat, bolo tie, western belt buckle, hat that looks a little too small for his head with upturned brim all the way around. He’s a walking fashion statement.

As we’re eating dinner he says, “Well I have to go over to the home tonight to preach to the old folks. I’m older than most of them.”

“What are you preaching on?” we ask.

“Gonna preach on women.”

“Women? Why are you speaking on women?”

“Well, most of the folks who come out on Sunday nights are women. There’s a few men. So I thought I’d speak on women. After all, there’s going to be more women in heaven than men.”

We jump on this. “Wait a minute, Dad how do you know there’s going to be more women in heaven than men?”

“Well, you go to most churches and it’ll be mostly women there.”

As discussion ensues, I think of Dad’s idea many years ago that no one would know each other in heaven because we’d have new bodies. He thought he’d be wandering around heaven asking people, have you seen my wife, Jonalee?

After we discuss the merits of whether there will be more women in heaven than men, Dad says he’s going to be talking about godly women. And then he says that for his final example of a godly woman he’s going to talk about my mom, who died in 2001.

I think, what a blessed man I am. I was so blessed to have a godly mother.

It’s Easter. My mom is before the throne worshiping the Lamb.

My godly 92 year old dad puts on his pink sport coat and heads out to talk to the “old folks.”

One of my sons says “Grandpa sure is a servant.”

I think, I want to be like him.

Except maybe for the coat.

 

Originally posted April 25, 2011

Don’t Say ‘Goodbye’, Just Say ‘So Long’

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“Don’t say ‘goodbye’, just say ‘so long’.”

That’s what Dad’s mom, Granny, would say to us when we’d be leaving for home after a week’s vacation in Mattoon, Illinois, where my dad and mom grew up. I didn’t want to leave. Didn’t want to say goodbye. I still remember sitting in the car, getting ready to go, and Granny standing on her porch waving. “Don’t say ‘goodbye’,” she’d say, “just say, ‘so long’.” So long, Granny, see you next summer.

Last night we said ‘so long’ to my 95 year-old Dad, Julian. Although my eyes were filled with tears and my heart with sadness, I was also filled with joy. For I know I’ll see Dad again.

For the last 2 months Dad’s been back and forth between the hospital and a skilled care facility battling his last battle. He had wounds on either side of his ankle from surgery after falling on his icy driveway in December. The wounds were infected and terribly painful. He had a small heart attack in January which knocked him down further. Though his life was declining his hope in Jesus burned bright. He longed to go home to be with the Lord.

So yesterday afternoon, when he took a turn for the worse, and had to be taken to the ER, when the doctor asked if we wanted to aggressively treat him, my sisters and I, in accordance with Dad’s wishes, which he had made abundantly clear to us earlier, asked if he could return to the skilled care facility and be kept comfortable.

A few hours later, after we read some Scripture and sang a couple worship songs, as well as one of Dad’s favorites, “Cheek to Cheek” by Fred Astaire (“Heaven, I’m in heaven….), Dad simply stopped breathing and peacefully went to be with Jesus. That was about 6:50 p.m. Perfect timing for the world’s biggest St. Louis Cardinal fan. Most baseball games start at 7:00. I can see dad running out onto the field in heaven and the great crowd of witnesses cheering.

But I’m sure Dad’s not thinking about baseball. He’s too enraptured with the glorious vision of his beautiful Savior’s face. Reunited with my mom, he’s singing “Worthy is the Lamb” before the throne.

My Dad was a great dad and grandfather. But most important, he was precious to Jesus. Bought with Jesus’ blood,  his name was engraved on Jesus’ palms and written in heaven. That’s where his home is, and that’s where he longed to go. So we won’t say goodbye. We’ll just say “So long, Dad, see you soon.”

photo: Dad at work on one of his hand-painted birthday cards, which he would send to about 30 people a month.  In the last 15 years he painted 5,000 to 6,000 cards for people.

No One Ever Regrets It

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This is a post by my favoritest person ever, my wife Jen. 

I’ve been reading my way through the Psalms. This book goes on and on about God’s steadfast love and great faithfulness. In fact, I almost stop noticing those words. Life can get messy. At times, my gut tells me that God has abandoned me. To make things worse, Satan preys when I’m vulnerable, despairing, and questioning. At times, I’m not sure that these words in His book are true. I mean, I know them. I’ve known ever since I was “yay high”.

I was weighed down by the cares of the week, month, and honestly, years, when I listened to a sermon. The words of the pastor were much more eloquent, but I’ll do my best. “Not one who has followed God, has ever regretted it.” You get the gist. All my unanswered questions and messy life, and the Holy Spirit came in. These words were life to me. There’s a lot I don’t get, but God is working in ways and for purposes I can’t begin to understand.

And it’s true. Romans 8:30, “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified, he also glorified.” Glorified. Done, as if it’s already happened. I don’t know how, but I’m going to make it. This week, that was enough.

photo credit: Jonathan Kos-Read via photopin cc

A Good Lesson From A 95-Year Old Warrior

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There’s a French phrase that the American soldiers picked up from the French people in WW II. It’s a phrase of a people who had been occupied by foreign armies many times. It’s a phrase that acknowledges that stuff breaks, bad things happen, plans go astray, it’s a hard world. It’s a phrase of resignation. The phrase is “C’est la guerre” (which sounds like say-la-gare). C’est la guerre means literally, “It’s the war.” It is a way of saying we have to accept things as they are because that’s just the way life is.

My 95-year old dad, JJ, who landed on the beaches of Normandy 30 days after D-Day, spent a good amount of time in France in the War. He said when a soldier was wounded or they couldn’t get supplies, or they had to sleep in muddy trenches, they’d simply shrug their shoulders and say, “C’est la guerre.” Hey, it’s the war, what do you expect?

My Dad is in the hospital now. He fell on ice and broke his ankle in 2 places on Dec. 16 last year. At first this tough old soldier refused to let me take him to the ER, saying “It’s only a slight sprain.” When the pain became unbearable he consented to go to a clinic which showed he’d fractured his ankle. He endured intense pain for a couple days as they adjusted the levels of his blood thinner before they could operate. They inserted a steel plate and 11 screws. After week in the hospital they transferred him to a skilled care facility where he had to continue to endure much pain and physical discomfort. After a couple weeks there he was finally beginning to improve when two Sundays ago he had a small heart attack and was taken back to the hospital at 4 in the morning.

About 4 days into his second hospital stay his ankle was bleeding out through the bandages and they discovered he has MRCA, a bad infection, in the wound in his ankle. He’s also experienced severe pain in the ankle, and often winces and groans as it shoots up his leg.

Dad doesn’t complain. A few times in this ordeal he has sighed and said, “Oh boy,” and said he wished he could be transported to one of his two homes – either his earthly one or his heavenly one. But he doesn’t complain. Yesterday morning when I visited, I said, “Dad, I’m so sorry you have to go through all this suffering and misery.” He smiled slightly and shrugged his shoulders and said, “Cest’ la guerre.” The old warrior laying in his bed, connected to tubes, covered with purple bruises from his blood thinner, foot in a boot, wincing in pain. “It’s the war.”

It’s the war. Yes. This world is broken. This world has been infected by sin. Powers and principalities in heavenly places wage war against us. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” We who believe in Jesus have tasted the powers of the age to come, but still experience the pain of this age.

Yet so often we’re surprised when we suffer. Sometimes we even ask, “Why is this happening to me?” Why am I suffering? Why do things go wrong? Why don’t I have enough money? Why is my teen rebelling? Why am I mistreated at work? Why?

Cest’ la guerre.

It’s the war. We should expect things to happen, to go wrong, to not always get what we want. We should be prepared to suffer. Not in an Eyore “I-guess-I’m-just-doomed-to-suffer” way, but in a “this-is-hard-and-sad-and painful-but-I-know-God-is-working-this-for-my-good” way. It’s the war. We have powerful enemies. We walk through spiritual minefields every day. We have cravings and desires we must put to death. We have to flee temptation.

But we have a Great High Priest interceding for us. We have power of God within us, the Holy Spirit himself. We have powerful weapons – the gospel, prayer, God’s promises. And we have a great hope. Hope that will not disappoint. A hope of glory. An eternal weight of glory awaiting us. No one in heaven will say, “This wasn’t worth what I went through.” We’ll say, “All I endured that seemed so long and heavy was momentary and light compared to this glory!” We have a hope of seeing Jesus’ face and hearing him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

My dad may be close to hearing those words. I don’t know. On one hand I hope Jesus heals him, because I love him and love to be with him. On the other hand, he’s been fighting this war a long time, and it’s far better to be with Jesus.

It’s the war. It’s a fight. But it’s a good fight. Keep on fighting. Keep on looking to Jesus. Our Conqueror on his white horse isn’t far away.

*Photo- JJ Altrogge in his hospital bed

Fretting And Fearful For Our Nation? Here’s Some Good Advice…

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Do you fret over the state of this nation? Get angry about Obamacare? Get worked up watching Fox News? Are you fearful about the way things are going with our government?

If so, Psalm 37 has some good instruction for you. For all of us. Psalm 37 tells us the wicked and the righteous live in society together. The psalm says the wicked hate the righteous, plot against them, gnash their teeth at them, and draw their swords and bend their bows to bring the righteous down. The wicked pursue the abundance of the world and enrich themselves by borrowing and not paying back. They unjustly accuse the righteous. The wicked gain power and “spread out” by ruthlessness and aggression.

The righteous are tempted to fret because of the wicked, or to respond to them with anger and aggression. To fight fire with fire. But God gives the righteous instructions which we are wise to heed when tempted to anger at the unrighteous, especially when we are affected by their sin.

Here’s what God tells us to do. Instead of fuming over the government, or anxious about our company or aggressive toward our neighbor, God says:

Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! (1)

Three times in the Psalm God says, “Fret not.” Don’t be fearful. Don’t get anxious. Instead he tells us to:

Trust in the Lord and do good
Cultivate faithfulness to God
Delight yourself in the Lord
Commit your way to the Lord
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him
Refrain from anger and wrath
Turn from evil and do good
Wait for the Lord and keep his way

God says if we do these things, he’ll give us all we need. The righteous will inherit the land. The wicked will be cut off, and the meek will inherit the earth. He promises this numerous times in the Psalm.

God says if we fret and fume over the unrighteous it will only lead us into sin and evil ourselves. If we trust God and delight ourselves in him, he will give us contentment and supply all our needs.

In essence, here’s what Psalm 37 says: The wicked focus on this world and aggressively go after all they can get of it by hook or crook, and it seems like they prosper. The righteous focus on God, who satisfies them with himself. The wicked, who pursue the world, eventually not only lose the world, but their souls as well. The righteous gain God who provides enough of the world to meet their needs and eventually they inherit the new heaven and new earth which God will someday create.

So don’t fret. If watching political news programs gets you agitated, or you’re tempted to anger at your rising taxes, read Psalm 37. Keep reading it. It’s rich and comforting and will help you trust the Lord.

Who Do You Trust?

We put our trust in experts all the time.

Most of us trust our doctors – we figure he or she is an expert, so when our doctor prescribes a medication we don’t challenge them. We figure the pharmacist is an expert, so we don’t ask if we can watch them put our medication together. We just take it home and take it. I trust my bank every time I deposit my paycheck. I get a piece of paper back saying how much I deposited. I don’t ask if I can watch them put the money in the vault.

Yet how hard it is to trust the Lord at times. We can worry and fret and try to figure things out on our own. We can easily become downcast when life gets hard. We can wonder if God really hears our prayers.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
and do not lean on your own understanding. (PR 3:5)

The Christian life is a life of trusting in the Lord from beginning to end. To trust in the Lord means to believe his word and act on that belief. This is what FAITH is. Faith is trust. The bible says Everyone who believes in Jesus will be saved. This doesn’t mean we simply believe information about Jesus, that he lived and was crucified. It means we TRUST his promise to wash our sins away in his shed blood, give us eternal life and bring us to his Father. It means we believe that he is God and we trust him as God. We trust him to rule, care for and lead us. Jesus is THE ULTIMATE EXPERT. He created every molecule in the universe. He knows us inside and out. He knows exactly what we need. So we should put all our trust in him.

Faith takes action. A couple years ago I had to get a stent in my heart. So I went over to Shadyside Hospital in Pittsburgh and put my life in the hands of a surgeon I’d never met before. I didn’t simply believe he was an experienced expert who knew what he was doing. I entrusted my life to him (of course, ultimately I entrusted my life to Jesus) and took action. I drove to the hospital and laid down on the table. My trust in the doctor led me to take action. Faith leads to action – obedience to Jesus.

To trust in the Lord means to TRUST HIS WORD. In my early Christian days, we used to say, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it.” In a sense that’s true, but it’s not completely accurate. The truth is “God said it, that settles it.” God’s word is true whether I believe it or not. But my well-being depends on me believing it. So we should cultivate this conviction: “God said it, I believe it.”

And this is where we are tested from the day we’re born again till the day we close our eyes in this world and open them in heaven. The test is: “What did God say about this situation and will I believe it?” This is what Paul calls the “good fight of faith.” He said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7). He had fought all his life to keep believing God’s word and trusting the Lord in all circumstances.

do not lean on your own understanding

Here’s the BIG QUESTION: Whose understanding will you lean on, the Lord’s or your own?

Our hearts are constantly interpreting. We constantly take in all that happens to us and interpret it. For example, I walk through the church lobby and say hi to someone, who walks right past me without so much as a nod of the head. I immediately begin to interpret the situation – wow, he must be mad at me. I can’t believe he just snubbed me. He’s so unfriendly. That’s my interpretation. But the truth of the situation is he just saw his child fall down behind me and he’s hurrying to help her.

We constantly interpret life. Hard times hit us and we think “God has abandoned me” or “God doesn’t love me” or “God is giving me too much to handle.” So here’s the question: Will you believe God’s word – will you trust in the Lord with all your heart, or will you lean on your own understanding? Will you trust your interpretation of life or God’s?

The BIG QUESTION is always How does GOD understand this situation verses how do I understand this situation? What is God’s interpretation? What does God’s word say about this? God says I am in control and I will never leave you nor forsake you. I will never turn away from doing good to you. I am causing this to work for your good.

Trust the Lord today. He’s the ultimate Expert. He knows exactly what you need. And he understands your life perfectly. Lean on God’s Word and his interpretation of events, not your own.

Faith Is War

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

Faith is war.

It’s a fight. A battle. Faith is hard. It’s a fight to trust God when you can’t see him. It’s a fight to believe God is in control when all arounds us screams life has derailed. It’s a battle to thank Jesus that his steadfast love never ceases and his mercies are new every morning in the midst of pain and sadness. It’s a fight to believe Scripture rather than our eyes and circumstances. It’s a fight to forgive and resist bitterness and believe Jesus can change others’ hearts. It’s straining and wrestling to rejoice always. It’s a struggle to believe that in the end, God will work all this out for our good. To believe that Jesus will have the final word. To believe our sufferings are producing an eternal weight of glory. Faith is a fight to believe that following Jesus is better than sin.

Faith is a long fight. It requires endurance. A long uphill haul. And faith is a growing process. Our muscle of faith will grow stronger and stronger over time the more we are forced to use it. It begins as a mustard seed. It is “I believe, help my unbelief.” But it grows over time. That’s why faith is a long fight. When one battle is over, another one begins. Just when you’ve cut one enemy down with the sword of God’s Word, you have to pick up the shield of faith to quench another barrage of fiery darts of doubts and accusations. Faith is a lifetime war.

It’s a war with weapons. We must not forget about them. We must regularly take in God’s word, rehearse it, memorize it, recall it, use it, quote it, as Jesus did when he was tempted. We must shield ourselves from Satan’s lies that God is not good, God has abandoned us, God is not in control, God’s plan is not wise. We must conquer the accuser of the brothers by the blood of the Lamb and our testimony that God is sovereign, wise, faithful and loving.

Faith is a war Jesus helps us in. We’re not fighting by ourselves. We have a great High Priest, a Mighty Mediator who has written our names on his palms and his heart. We have a Good Shepherd who protects us, leads us by still waters, revives our souls. We have the Holy Spirit of God who lives in us, guides us, speaks to us, and helps us. We have moment by moment access to the throne of grace where we can receive mercy and help in time of need, which is all the time. And Jesus has provided brothers and sisters to pray for us and stand with us. We’re not alone in this war.

Faith is a “good fight.” It’s a race with a crown at the end. It’s a war that ends in eternal, infinite glory and joy. It’s a war that is worth it. Don’t give up. Don’t turn back now. Seek God for fresh grace and strength this morning. Someday you will be so glad you kept going. It won’t always be this hard. There is good around the corner. Jesus is greater than all you are going through. He has loved you with an everlasting love and his everlasting arms are underneath you. Nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Keep fighting the good fight.

So Who You Gonna Trust?

For thus said the Lord GOD, the Holy One of Israel,
“In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15)

In Isaiah’s day, Judah feared Assyria. Rather than turning to God they turned to Egypt for help and protection.

You can hardly blame them. Assyria was a real threat – they were evil, violent and hated Judah. And Egypt was there ready to help. They could call on a real nation with weapons and horses and chariots who would be right there to take on their enemies. God was – well he was invisible. He might be there, he might not. He might help, he might not. He might hear our prayers…if he is real, that is. So who do we rely on? A God who might be there or a nation who’s right there, polishing their chariots, strapping on their swords?

We may shake our heads at Judah’s foolishness, but so often we do the same thing.

Rather than trusting in God, we trust our own wits. We desperately look around us for some earthly means of relief or escape. Or we simply give in to worry. Our minds scramble from one possible solution to another – “Let’s see, if this happens, I can do that. And if this other thing happens I can take this detour. But what if it’s door #3? What will I do then?”…and on and on go our frantic thoughts.

It’s hard to trust.  It’s hard to put your life in somebody else’s hands.  Years ago some friends and I climbed a small cliff then rappelled down.  It was my first time to rappel, and my friend tied a rope around a tree and instructed me to hold the rope, lean backwards over the cliff, and launch myself into the air.  I have to admit, I was scared.  I realized at that moment that my safety was completely dependent on my friend’s ability to tie a knot.  Did I trust him?

God told Judah that trusting in Egypt wouldn’t save them. He said “Here’s how to be saved: Return to me – repent – and rest in me. It is in quieting your soul and trusting in me that you will find your strength.”

And that’s what God tells us: Repent of trusting other things. Repent of worrying and fretting. Repent of unbelief. And rest in Jesus. Come to him. Cast your cares on him because he cares for you. You don’t need much faith – Jesus can work with a mustard seed’s worth. Tell Jesus you believe, and ask him to help your unbelief.

And trust him. Pray, then tell him you trust him. Ask, then thank him that he will be faithful. Thank him for hearing your prayers. Thank him that he has assured you the prayer of the upright is powerful and effective. And wait. And pray some more. Pray on the drive to work. Pray any time an anxious thought shows its ugly face.

So who are you going to trust – Egypt or the living God?  Horses and chariots or the Commander of the hosts of heaven? Your own ability to figure it out, or the One who upholds the universe with his word?

If you have looked to other things besides Jesus for relief, return to him. In quietness and trust is your strength.

Are We Settling For Less Of God Than He Wants To Give?

In his book When God Comes To Church Ray Ortlund Jr. says:

For those of us who have been Christians for a while, it becomes easy to think that we’ve pretty much exhausted the possibilities of the Christian life. We can settle into a routine of activities at church and in our small groups and Bible studies, with little expectation of anything new. The familiar becomes the predictable, and everything from here on out will be more of the same. We dip our teaspoon into the vast ocean of the living God. Holding the teaspoon in our hand, we say, “This is God.” We pour it out into our lives, and we say, “This is the Christian experience.”

God calls us to dive into the ocean. He calls us into ever new regions of his fullness, his immensity, his all-sufficiency. There is more for us in Christ than we have yet apprehended. Let’s never think that we have him figured out or that we’ve seen all he can do.

Do you feel like you’ve pretty much seen all that God has to offer? Is your relationship with God just another part of your daily routine? Are you dipping your teaspoon into the ocean and saying, “This is God,”?

God wants to give us more of himself. He wants to take us higher up and further in to his glory. He wants to shake up our daily routine. He wants to detonate our little, tepid views of him. And all we have to do is ask.

Today let’s ask God to do more than we can think, ask, or imagine. Let’s not settle for the routine and the boring. Let’s ask for more of God.