The Grace of God

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Ephesians 3:19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

With the beginning of a New Year often comes moments of personal reflection. You may be considering questions such as:

  • What do I want to do different this year? 
  • How do I want to live different this year? 
  • What changes do I need to make to be healthier — physically, emotionally, and spiritually? 

The unfortunate reality is that when it comes to “New Years Resolutions” many will give it a good effort for at least a week or two. But then old habits and rhythms come back, and thoughts of “Maybe next year,” begin to surface. 

There are many reasons this pattern occurs, but one of the primary reasons is that people rely on their own willpower to experience life change. But real life change, real transformation occurs when we allow Jesus Christ to root out what’s deep beneath the surface in our lives. The fulness of life comes from recognizing His love and grace for us.

READING & PRAYERS:

     EPHESIANS 3:19, 2 CORINTHIANS 5:17, HEBREWS 4:16  (also read the commentary notes in your Study Bible of choice.)

QUESTION: What changes do you need to make in your daily schedule so that you can reflect on and experience the love and grace of God each day this week? 

REAL LIFE PRACTICE: Repeating breath prayers for a few minutes each day is one way to slow down and connect with God. Consider repeating a brief prayer for 2 minutes at the beginning and end of each devotional reading this week. Some examples include: “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” “Speak Lord, I am listening.” “You are the potter, I am the clay.” “Peace. Be still.” 

Take a Step: This week, continue to utilize the One Minute Pause app at least twice daily to begin practicing being with God and resting in His presence. The app is free, and is available on iPhone and Android devices. See pauseapp.com for details.

PRAYER: Take a few minutes to practice one of the breath prayers noted above.

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Write it Out

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Take some time today to journal and reflect on the following questions:

In what ways have you seen God at work within you this week? Within your family? Within others you may interact with? 

In what ways have you resisted God’s word within you this week? 

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Taste and See

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Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!

In yesterday’s reading we focused on the topic of personal transformation and the need for each person to prioritize his or her relationship with God. But if we prioritize our relationship with God, does that mean we can’t have any fun? Won’t that take the joy out of everything? 

According to the Scriptures, the answer to these kinds of questions is a strong “no!” Psalm 34:8 speaks of the joy we experience by prioritizing a close relationship with God. Similarly, Galatians 5 notes that the fruit of the Spirit, that is, the results of a lifestyle lived in close union with God, includes love, joy, peace, patience, kindness…and so on. 

Take some time today to consider: What is currently robbing you of experiencing a life of love? Joy? Peace? Patience? Kindness? Goodness? Faithfulness? Gentleness? Self-Control?

Hint: Your answer will never be “a close relationship with God is robbing me of experiencing real love, joy, and peace in my life.” It’s quite the opposite. Prioritize a life of union with God. 

READING & PRAYERS:

     GALATIANS 5:19-23, PSALM 34 (also read the commentary notes in your Study Bible of choice.)

QUESTION: The main priority of the Christian life is to live in union with God. What would it look like for you to live in complete and total union with Him today? 

REAL LIFE PRACTICE: As 2022 comes to a close, consider doing an in-depth evaluation of your life. What are the things that are actually robbing you of experiencing a life of love? Joy? Peace? Patience? Kindness? Goodness? Faithfulness? Gentleness? Self-Control? What steps can you take to eliminate these things from your life and begin living a life of closer union with God? 

Take a Step: Remember to continue utilizing the One Minute Pause app throughout the week. If possible, begin to explore and practice the 3, 5 or 10 minute pause to more deeply root yourself in Christ.

PRAYER: Today, take the opportunity to write out your own prayer to God.

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He Will Draw Near to You

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James 4:8 Come close to God, and he will come close to you.

How do you connect with God?

There are a number of false or unhealthy beliefs out there that advocate how to grow closer in your relationship with God. Some may say, “If you go to church, you will grow closer in your relationship with God.” Others may say, “If you join a Small Group, or Bible Study, you will grow closer in your relationship with God.” Others still may say, “If you read your Bible, you will grow.” 

The simple truth is that spending time in the Scriptures, prayer, and in community with other believers is likely to help you grow in your relationship with God. But it isn’t a guarantee. Sometimes, a good worship service or Bible Study will inspire you. But inspiration only goes so far. Transformation begins to occur when we prioritize being in the presence of God and allow Him to root out what’s deep beneath the surface in our lives. Not once a week, but daily.

Jesus came so God could be with us. Today, take time to consider how you can prioritize a lifestyle of being with Him.

READING & PRAYERS:

     JAMES 4:8, MATTHEW 1:23, PSALM 139:7 (also read the commentary notes in your Study Bible of choice.)

QUESTION: How do you connect with God? Be honest: Are you intentional in planning out your time so that connecting with God is a priority for you? 

REAL LIFE PRACTICE: Today, take a little extra time to be with God. Remember, what you do for God comes from your being with God.

Take a Step: Remember to continue utilizing the One Minute Pause app throughout the week. If possible, begin to explore and practice the 3, 5 or 10 minute pause to more deeply root yourself in Christ.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I confess that sometimes I don’t prioritize being with You because I’m still not sure exactly what that looks like. I rely too much on what others say helps them connect with God and don’t do the deep reflection to better understand how I can connect with You. Help me grow into a person who recognizes how I best connect with You. Amen.

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The Most Powerful Force in the Universe

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Luke 1:50 He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him.

The Scriptures regularly talk about the importance of fearing God, but this can lead to some level of confusion for those who follow Jesus. In a society which often defines fear as being afraid of someone or something, what exactly does it mean to fear God? Are we really supposed to be afraid of God? 

In a biblical sense, God is loving, kind, merciful, and welcoming. If you read through the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you’ll discover that people weren’t afraid to come into the presence of Jesus. Instead, people felt welcome, safe, and loved in His presence. 

At the same time, there are many accounts of people who are in complete awe of God. This makes sense. The love of God is the most powerful force in the universe. His power is beyond our imagination. Therefore, it makes complete sense that when we attempt to comprehend the majesty and might of His power we will be left in awe. And we will see that He shows mercy to all who have placed their faith in Him. 

READING & PRAYERS:

     LUKE 1:46-56 (also read the commentary notes in your Study Bible of choice.)

QUESTION: In what ways will you help others to feel welcome, safe, and loved in your presence today? 

REAL LIFE PRACTICE: Today, be intentional in thought, words, and actions to help others feel welcome, safe, like they belong, and loved as they interact with you.

Take a Step: Remember to continue utilizing the One Minute Pause app throughout the week. If possible, begin to explore and practice the 3, 5 or 10 minute pause to more deeply root yourself in Christ.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I’m so grateful that no matter what mistakes I’ve made throughout my life, You continue to reveal that I am welcome, safe, I belong, and I’m loved in Your presence. No matter what I may do or say, nothing, absolutely nothing can separate me from Your love. May this truth continue to permeate my life. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

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Make Great the Name of the Lord

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Luke 1:46-47 “Oh, how my soul praises (magnifies, glorifies) the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!”

Luke 1:46-56 is what is traditionally known as the Magnificat as this is the first word in the Latin translation of this passage. It’s Mary’s song of praise after learning that she will be the mother of the Christ. 

Mary begins her song by praising, magnifying, and/or glorifying God. In ancient Greek, the phrase literally means to “Make great” the name of the LORD. But what does it mean to make great the name of the LORD? 

Take a moment to think about how you’ve spent your time, energy, and money over the previous week. How you spend your time, energy, money will reveal what’s most important to you. 

What have you written on social media? How have you spend your time? What have you purchased? The answers may reveal a little bit about what you’re “making great” of in life. 

In what ways will you make great the name of the LORD as you spend time with family and friends this Christmas Season? 

READING & PRAYERS:

     LUKE 1:46-56 (also read the commentary notes in your Study Bible of choice.)

QUESTION: In what ways will you make great the name of the LORD as you spend time with family and friends this Christmas Season?

REAL LIFE PRACTICE: Today, take the opportunity to think of at least one way God’s love has impacted your life and then share that with at least three other people. This is one practical way you can make great the name of the LORD. 

Take a Step: This week, continue to utilize the One Minute Pause app at least twice daily to begin practicing being with God and resting in His presence. The app is free, and is available on iPhone and Android devices. See pauseapp.com for details.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, I know that if I really took the opportunity to think it through, I would come up with a list of hundreds of ways Your love has impacted my life. Continue to help me grow into a person who shares Your love with the rest of the world. May Your name be made great! Amen. 

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What Study Bible is right for me? (2023 Edition)

In case you weren’t aware, there are a lot of Study Bibles on the market. Like, a lot a lot. While the Study Bible market was pretty stagnant 30-40 years ago, an increase in scholarship and technology has made the Bible easier to read and study than ever before.

Why use a Study Bible?IMG_1219

The 66 books of the Bible were written thousands of years ago to people in cultures that are very different from the Western Culture in which we live today. As such, a good Study Bible will help you, the reader, better understand the purpose and meaning of the Biblical text.

Which Study Bible is ‘best’?

This is a ridiculously challenging question to answer. I often respond by saying, “The ‘best’ Bible is the one you’re reading.” But most people who are looking to study God’s Word are looking for more specifics. They’re looking to invest some money into a Bible that they’ll likely be reading for years and years. So which one is best… for you?

Well, every Study Bible has different features, different scholars, different goals, and in the end, each one provides a different study experience for the reader. Below is a simple breakdown of several options available today. Which one you may choose to read and study with is up to you, but I’ve done my best to offer some recommendations depending on what you think may be most beneficial for you.

Please note that the following list and information is provided in no specific order. Also note that the majority of these Study Bibles are large and heavy. As such, information on digital versions are available at the end of this post.

NLT or NIV Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition (Translation: New Living Translation or New International Version)

Who is the NLT (or NIV) Life Application Study Bible for?

The Life Application Study Bible (LASB) is the best selling Study Bible of all time, and for good reason. Personally, I would wholeheartedly recommend the The NLT (or NIV) Life Application Study Bible as somebody’s first Study Bible. Even if it’s not your first Study Bible, it’s worth having one of these on your shelf.

From a marketing perspective, the publisher notes that the LASB is the most complete Bible ever compiled. Even though this is nothing more than marketing hype, there’s a lot to love about the NLT (or NIV) LASB.

Screen Shot 2019-10-16 at 2.44.12 PM
Picture of digital edition.

All in all, the LASB is an excellent all around Study Bible that does a great job of explaining how to apply each passage by answering the question, “So what?” For example, you may read the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and ask, “So what?” But the LASB provides an in-depth commentary note, stating:

“Why were the Ten Commandments necessary for God’s new nation? At the foot of Mount Sinai, God showed his people the true function and beauty of His laws. The commandments were designed to lead Israel to a life of practical holiness. In them, people could see the nature of God and his plan for how they should live. The commands and guidelines were intended to direct the community to meet the needs of each individual in a loving and responsible manner. By Jesus’ time, however, most people had come to look at the law the wrong way. They saw it as a means to prosperity in both this world and the next. And they thought that obeying every law was the way to earn God’s protection from foreign invasion and natural disaster. They failed to see that keeping the law should be the means to fulfill God’s ultimate law of love.”

Ten Commandments
Picture of print edition showing chart on the Ten Commandments vs. quotes from Jesus. Some bleed through of the thin pages is noticeable, but not a distraction while reading.

Even though the very first Life Application Study Bible was released 30 years ago, a tremendously updated Third Edition was released in October 2019. This new edition has 30-40% new material compared to the previous editions. While it may not be as colorful as the NIV Zondervan Study Bible mentioned below, it contains wonderful commentary, profiles on about 150 people throughout the Bible, and hundreds of charts and maps.

Here is a link to more of my thoughts on the most recent release of the NLT Life Application Study Bible.

And for those who may be interested, here is a sampler that offers additional insights into the NLT LASB. You can also click here to see some videos and additional graphics from this release.

NIV Zondervan Study Bible (Translation: New International Version)

Who is the NIV Zondervan Study Bible for?

Released in 2015, the NIVZSB is an excellent all around Study Bible that brings additional insight and clarity to the text. I would place it as another excellent option for somebody’s first Study Bible. The commentary notes are a little lengthier than the NLT NIVZSB6Study Bible, and as such it’s quite heavy. Nevertheless, it’s also gorgeous, with a colored font to make headings and commentary notes easier to find, as well as charts and images that really pop.

A few years ago I did a personal study of the Psalms, and the NIVZSB became my go-to resource when looking for a brief summary of the purpose or meaning of each Psalm. All in all, it’s another excellent Study Bible.

If you want to have a closer look, here’s a sampler that offers additional insights into the NIVZSB.

NLT Study Bible (Translation: New Living Translation)

screen-shot-2018-05-28-at-7-54-14-pm.pngWho is the NLT Study Bible for? The NLT Study Bible is generally a perfect fit for somebody’s first Study Bible. The translation is easy to read and understand, the commentary notes are written in a way that bring clarity to the text, and the book introductions help bring some clarity to who wrote each book and it’s purpose. For those who want to take the extra step of studying some key Greek/Hebrew words, there’s a way to do that as well. The NLT Study Bible may not be the most colorful one available today, but it’s often the one I recommend to most people seeking their first Study Bible.

If you want to have a closer look here’s a sampler that offers additional insights into the NLT Study Bible.

ESV Study Bible (Translation: English Standard Version)

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 7.57.05 PMWho is the ESV Study Bible for?

Personally, I would only recommend the ESV Study Bible to a college graduate and/or somebody who wants to go deeper into the biblical text than the NLTSB or NIVZSB will go. Honestly, that’s pretty high praise for the ESVSB, because the NLTSB and NIVZSB are quite in depth!

But when it comes to the ESV translation, I confess I’m not a fan. While the ESV text does an excellent job of providing a more direct translation of the Greek/Hebrew text than the NLT or NIV, it also has the possibility of making it more challenging to read as the verbiage may come across a bit archaic.

Still, the ESV Study Bible footnotes are regarded as some of the best of the best out there. And on passages where a number of different scholarly views are held, the ESV will often list the 3-4 different views, without telling you which is the ‘right’ one. Finally, the book introductions are probably some of the best that are offered in a Study Bible. It’s likely the heaviest of all the Study Bibles mentioned here, because it’s got A LOT of information provided.

If you’re interested, here’s an intro to the book of Ephesians, that’ll show you the quality of notes and book introductions of the ESV Study Bible.

NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Translation: New International Version)

Who is the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible for?

The NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is perfect for the college graduate or History Education major who has a real interest in ancient cultures. While I wouldn’t recommend it to just anybody, it is currently my go-to Study Bible each and every morning. Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 6.52.59 PM

To be clear, the NIVCBSB generally steers clear of theology and notes that answer the question, “What does this text mean?” What it does really well, however, is answer the question, “What did this text mean to the people who first read it?” It’s an important distinction, as we may not often think about the Code of Hammurapi and other cultural laws known to the people in ancient Israel. Nor may we consider the cultural significance of Jonathan giving his tunic to David in 1 Samuel 18. But for those fascinated with ancient culture and/or archaeology and don’t mind reading commentary written in a scholarly manner, the NIVCBSB is excellent.

If you’re interested, here’s a sampler of the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible that includes the full books of Genesis and Matthew. You’ll likely be able to decide very quickly if the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible is for you or not.

ESV Archaeology Study Bible (Translation: English Standard Version)

Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 8.00.41 PMWho is the ESV Archaeology Study Bible for?

The ESVASB was just released in 2018, and was published by a different publisher than the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, with different scholars contributing. In other words, the ESV Archaeology Study Bible has a slightly different focus than the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible. That said, I would still only recommend it to those with a high interest in ancient cultures and/or archaeology.

At this time, I don’t have much to say about it as I’ve only read a few excerpts. That said, the few that I did compare with the Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible were similar, but the ESVASB noted some more details on archaeological discoveries that the CBSB didn’t cover. And in other places, the CBSB had more details on the ancient cultures that the ESVASB didn’t cover.

If you’re interested, here’s a sampler of the ESV Archaeology Study Bible that includes the full book of Philippians.

CSB Study Bible (Translation: Christian Standard Bible)Screen Shot 2018-05-28 at 7.18.49 PM

Who is the CSB Study Bible for?

The CSBSB is an updated version of what was formerly known as the Holman Christian Standard Bible. It has a number of similarities to the NLTSB, NIVZSB, and ESVSB noted above. Honestly, the biggest difference between these four are the translations used. For those unacquainted with the CSB, it reads very much like the NIV.

Admittedly, one thing the translators of the CSB did well is with the translation of John 3:16, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His one and only Son…” The phrase in this way is the best translation of the Greek.

The one thing that most sets apart the CSB Study Bible from some of the others already mentioned is that Greek/Hebrew Word Studies are available throughout the commentary, and the editors really made them stand out. These word studies bring additional clarity to the text without the need to flip to the back of the Study Bible.

If you want to have a closer look, here’s a sampler that offers additional insights into the CSBSB.

There are dozens of other Study Bibles out there. Personally, I’d like to get my hands on the CSB Ancient Faith Study Bible as well as the Complete Jewish Study Bible by David H. Stern. If I ever get my hands on these, I’ll be sure to include a brief overview in this post.

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These Bibles are HUGE! Isn’t there a better way?

I’m not going to lie, I read kindle books on my iPad a lot. A lot a lot. Like, almost every day. But over the past five years I’ve slowly moved from reading God’s Word digitally to reading it on paper. There’s just something about reading/studying the Bible distraction free. And distractions come a bit too easily to me when I’m staring at a screen. But I digress…

Almost all of the Study Bibles mentioned above are available digitally. What’s the best way to read them?

  • AVOID Study Bibles on the Kindle app. They’re generally hard to navigate, and will likely cause more frustration than it’s worth.
  • USE an app or software program designed for Bible Study. Olive Tree and Logos are both excellent.

Regarding Olive Tree: Study Bibles often go on sale, and their customer support may be willing to provide it a lower cost. For example, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible has it’s own app (designed by Olive Tree) for $19.99, but the same Study Bible provided as an in-app-purchase runs $29.99. A simple email to customer support will likely land you the IAP for the same price of $19.99, and you can run it all within the same Olive Tree App with additional Study Resources. Olive Tree is also available on Mac/PC, and your resources, highlights, notes will sync between devices.

Regarding Logos: Logos is a premier Bible Study software, with a ridiculous number of resources. If you really want to dive into the Biblical text and have several commentaries, bible dictionaries, word studies, and a ton of additional information, it’s the go-to software program. That said, you get what you pay for, and you’ll be paying a lot for a package on Logos. Still, the software itself is a free download for Mac/PC and the app is free as well. Those who download the app can also receive a free copy of the Faithlife Study Bible, which is yet another excellent resource. Finally, individual books / Study Bibles can be purchased directly from Logos, so buying a large package isn’t necessary. And like Olive Tree, all resources, highlights, and notes will sync between devices.

The main benefit of any software or app is that you can read your preferred translation right next to your preferred Study Bible. So if you want to read the New Living Translation next to the ESV Study Bible notes, you can do that.

What do I use?

Short answer: both

Long answer: I use Olive Tree for basic Bible Reading / Study Bible use (excellent in a Small Group setting or personal reading) and I use Logos for deeper study.

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Have a question about one of these Study Bibles or perhaps another one not mentioned here? Feel free to leave a comment I’ll do my best to answer!

Write it Out

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Take some time today to journal and reflect on the following questions:

In what ways have you seen God at work within you this week? Within your family? Within others you may interact with? 

In what ways have you resisted God’s word within you this week? 

(End with 1-2 minutes of silence)

David’s Confession

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Psalm 51:4 Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.

Three words that are often difficult to say aloud are, “I was wrong.” Try it. Think of something you’ve said or done over the past couple of days which may have be hurtful toward somebody else. Take 10 seconds today to approach them and say, “Hey, just yesterday I said ______. I’m sorry about that. I was wrong to say it.” Chances are, you may spend 30 minutes of energy emotionally preparing yourself for 10 seconds of confession. 

Seemingly, David didn’t struggle to confess his sins to God and others. In fact, David went on to write a song about his sin (Psalm 51). He didn’t write a song for his own time of personal worship. Instead, he shared with the entire nation! It became one the people of God sang together when they gathered to worship God. Think about it: Do you know of a modern worship song in which the songwriter openly speaks of their sin against God and others? Again, we may finds it difficult to confess our wrongs. But for David, he was open to God, his family, and the entire nation. 

READING & PRAYERS:

     2 SAMUEL 12:13-25, PSALM 51 (also read the commentary notes in your Study Bible of choice.)

QUESTION: On a scale of 1-10, how easy do you find it to confess your wrongs to others (1 being very easy, and 10 being very difficult)? What steps can you take to grow in your ability to more regularly confess to God and others? 

REAL LIFE PRACTICE: Think of something you’ve said or done over the past couple of days which may have be hurtful toward somebody else. Take 10 seconds today to approach them to confess and apologize. 

Take a Step: Remember to continue utilizing the One Minute Pause app throughout the week. If possible, begin to explore and practice the 3, 5 or 10 minute pause to more deeply root yourself in Christ.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, there are times when it’s easy to think to myself (or pray to You) that I’ve done something wrong, but it’s difficult for me to do so with others. Help me grow in my ability to openly confess to others, and to experience the freedom that comes from doing so. Amen. 

(End with 1-2 minutes of silence)

Decisions, Decisions

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2 Samuel 12:5 David was furious. “As surely as the LORD lives, any man who would do such a thing deserves to die!”

Each and every day you will make decisions. Many of those, you assume, won’t impact the lives of anybody else. You may be thirsty so you drink a glass of milk. You may be hungry so you grab a granola bar from the cabinet. These are small, simple decisions which often won’t greatly impact others.

But then there are other decisions you make which have a huge impact in the lives of others. If you’re a manager or business leader, you may move names around on a flow-chart trying to figure out how to make the business function better. Yet you may forget that these names represent real people, with real lives. And your decision to move them around or adjust their schedule will have a major impact on their lives. 

The account of David an Bathsheba illustrates an important principle to remember: “The decisions we make don’t only impact our own lives, but the lives of countless others.” We ought not be afraid to make decisions, but we must consider how our decisions may impact the lives of others around us.

READING & PRAYERS:

     2 SAMUEL 12:1-12 (also read the commentary notes in your Study Bible of choice.)

QUESTION: Think about some of the decisions you’ve made over the previous 48 hours. In what ways have you made decisions based on frustration, fear, or on your own terms? 

REAL LIFE PRACTICE: Today, spend a few seconds praying and partnering with God about each decision you make – whether great or small. 

Take a Step: Remember to continue utilizing the One Minute Pause app throughout the week. If possible, begin to explore and practice the 3, 5 or 10 minute pause to more deeply root yourself in Christ.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, today I desire to live with an ongoing recognition that You are with me. No matter what I may do, say, or think, there isn’t anything that can separate me from Your love. May I bask in the wonder of Your love throughout the day. In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

(End with 1-2 minutes of silence)

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