Have We Created an Elitist Faith?

Earlier this year, I attended a Buddhist wedding ceremony my first time attending a non-Christian wedding. It wasn’t much different from any other wedding I attended because, ultimately, a wedding is a wedding.

courtesy of compfight

courtesy of compfight

Toward the end of the reception, the bride was sharing her heart with the attendants, thanking everyone for coming and partly sharing why she became Buddhist. She said she grew up Christian like most people in her native country. She shared a story of when she first moved to America, she attended an all-day event with her daughter. They were both hungry and a Muslim family shared some food with them. She said years later, when she was recently divorced and moved to a new neighborhood with her children, Hindu neighbors would mow her lawn for her. These interactions with people of different cultures and religions opened her eyes to the good in people of other faiths and led her to explore other religions.

A recent study from MIT found that the percentage of Americans with no religious preference has risen 18 percent in the last 20 years. The study attributed at least 20 percent of that drop-off in religious affiliation to the rise of the internet because it “allows more personal interaction with people of other religions.”

Though the study included all religions, I think a large portion of those losing their faith were Christians.

The MIT study and the bride’s comments at the wedding have me thinking: Have we created a form of Christianity that is afraid of other religions? Have we, through the pulpit, ministries, or the Christian culture created an elitist mind-set that believes no one outside of Christ could possibly be good? Have we set up our children for culture shock when they interact with people of other faiths or face intellectual challenges in classrooms? Have we developed a simple-minded worldview within Christendom that views everyone outside of the faith as evil?

In a way, it’s hard not to develop an elitist ideology in Christianity. The Word of God says Jesus is the only way to the Father, the only way to salvation, and every other option is false. No gray area there. While that doctrine is sound, without balance and proper emphasis in other areas, the church can raise children and parishioners with a disdain and phobia of people of other faiths.

There are two major, false beliefs created when we do that:

1. We create a belief that atheists, agnostics or people of other religions are our enemies, when in truth, people are not our enemies, but rather ideologies, false doctrines, the system of the world, and Satan.

2. The belief that only Christians can be good, and “good” is usually measured by good works. I know plenty of people outside the faith who are “better people” than many Christians and do way more good works. While good works are essential to Christianity, they aren’t exclusive to it. Furthermore, we must be careful to remember that our hope and our righteousness is not in our good deeds, but in the work of Jesus Christ alone.

Though these problems aren’t pervasive in Christianity, they are contributing factors to the problem of millennials leaving the church, and will continue to be a problem for youth in church today.

So how do we resolve this issue? By developing believers properly by focusing on love. Love doesn’t sit in church and memorize doctrine, it engages individuals and culture. It’s exactly how Jesus lived and taught His disciples.

When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well, He knew she was of another faith and it was culturally unacceptable for Him to speak with her, but He engaged in communication anyway. With confidence, faith, and openness, He spoke with her and listened to her. When she made assumptions about Him because of His faith “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim the place we must worship is in Jerusalem” He explained the truth “a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:19-21).

Jesus’ way of faith didn’t shy away from those outside nor did He see them as enemies; He embraced them, interacted with them, and conversed with them. Jesus understood other people’s beliefs, listened to their stories, and brought the truth in a way that was welcoming, inviting, and revealing.

Maybe the larger issue of the exodus from the faith is what we’re emphasizing. Are we more focused on teaching a set of beliefs and practices than helping people develop a personal connection with the person of God and allowing that relationship to grow in its own unique way (through trials, questions, struggles, and personal encounters)? The Christian bureaucracy will lead us to believe that the greatest challenge to the faith is political ideologies, postmodern thought, and moral decline. But I happen to believe nothing outside the church is strong enough to hurt it (after all, Jesus said even the gates of Hell can’t overcome it). Only those within can hinder its progression.

I believe Christianity is credible and strong enough to stand up against questions and encounters with other kind-hearted people of other faiths (or of no faith). Our job as individuals and the church raising up young people in today’s culture is to make sure we are grounded not in an elitist set of beliefs, but rather in love. Love isn’t afraid of other beliefs, nor does it isolate itself from them; it engages every individual, sees the best in others, and endures. God is love and love never fails

 

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Why We Should Value Death

I attended a conference a few weeks ago that focused on living a meaningful life. One of the first speakers asked us a simple yet profound question: How do you want to be remembered?Why We Should Value Death

When you contemplate that type of question, you must inevitably contemplate death, that inescapable commonality of humanity.

We are all going to die.

Steve Jobs probably had the best outlook on death I’ve ever heard in a statement he made several years before his death during a commencement address at Stanford. He said death is a motivator in life:  

“Almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

I don’t like to think about death. I don’t want to consider dying. I know it will happen one day, but I have plenty I still want to do and can do before that transition. Yet, the best tool to push me toward those things I want to do and the person I want to be is my mortality.

We never know when our time will be up. Any day can be our last. Unfortunately, we don’t live by that reality. But what if we did? What would that look like? What would you start building if you were more conscious of the fact the clock was ticking down on your time here? What are you afraid to lose, or afraid to start? See how that fear shrinks when you stand it next to death.

Then think of what matters in light of death. Who do you value most? What do you value most? Is your time spent in proper proportion when you measure it by your values?

There are some simple things we could do now, simple steps we can take today to live in light of our mortality. I started to prioritize time with people since contemplating the questions I encountered at the conference. We’re all busy. There’s always work to do. But an extra 30 minutes of conversation, or lingering a little longer while visiting friends or relatives won’t ruin your schedule.

I much rather be remembered as someone who was available for people than one who was just a hard worker and always busy. We wear busyness like a badge of honor these days, as if our lives are more meaningful because we’re always occupied. Sure, we have important things to do and responsibilities to fulfill, but if we don’t put a premium on people and being available, at the end of our lives, we risk being remembered for things that don’t matter.

Death is inevitable. You get no choice in the matter. But living a life of meaning and the type of life you want is up to you. As Steve Jobs said, death is a tool to help you make the right choices in life. Make sure you spend your days on what you value most.

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We’re Not God, We Don’t Have Answers

Sunday night I was stunned and saddened to find out, via Twitter, that Dr. Myles Munroe, a renowned pastor and leader from the Bahamas, died in a plane crash along with his wife and seven others. I loved listening to Dr. Munroe speak. His teaching was so profound, insightful, and inspiring. And he always had a smile on his face when he preached, so he felt welcoming.We're Not God, We Don't Have Answers

Though I haven’t heard Dr. Munroe in a while, and haven’t read any of his books (he’s written or co-authored about 100), his tragic death hit home for me.

When untimely tragedies like this happen, we are forced to contemplate difficult questions of life and faith. Unfortunately, we don’t have proper answers to the questions.

I read several post on social media following news of Dr. Munroe’s death Sunday, with some people saying the pastor had finished his assignment and that his work on earth was complete. Those words are often used to help the mourning come to terms with their loss, but I question the accuracy of it.

How do we know Dr. Munroe’s assignment was complete and his purpose fulfilled? It might have been, but it might not have been either. Surely he has done more than most to advance the Kingdom of God in his lifetime, and he lived a full life. But just 60 years old and en route to a leadership conference, Dr. Munroe could have still done plenty more and impacted more lives.

I don’t know if Dr. Munroe’s time was up and he was just ordained to die on that day. But neither does anyone else on earth.

We like to have answers. Maybe we think it will help us sleep better at night or deal with difficulties in life. Maybe it’s just part of our culture, or just human arrogance that we need to know why. But I’ve found God rarely gives us answers despite our myriad questions. And He does it for a reason…faith.

We just have to trust Him. Trust Him when He tells us to do something that makes no sense. Trust Him when we experience an inexplicable tragedy. Trust Him in life, and trust Him in death. We don’t need answers, we just need Him. And though He never promised us answers, He has promised His presence.

Our theology — no matter how profound, historical, researched, spiritual and biblical — is inadequate to provide reasons and answers to difficult things of life. We do more harm than good when we try to give an explanation for everything.

God has the answers, not us. In our immaturity, we probe Him for answers. But in our maturity, we realize He is the answer. And that is enough.

Death is always a hard thing to process. And I don’t fault people seeking answers in pain. There are two great perspectives on death and mourning I highly recommend. First, my friend Jordan Rice, who lost his wife to cancer a few years ago, has written beautifully on this topic. Check out his blog post: Trapped in the Grip of Grace. Second, to go deeper on death and the hope after it, N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope is an excellent and profound read.

 

 

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God has a Role for Rejects

Have you ever tried out for a team or auditioned for a role and been rejected? It kinda sucks, right? Or how about applying for an organization or job and getting that kindly worded rejection email? We’ve all been there.

courtesy of compfight

courtesy of compfight

I was reminded of my times of rejection while reading about Gideon in the Bible recently. I’ve always been fascinated with the story Gideon, one of the judges of Israel, because of his journey from being fearful to a mighty warrior leading a pack of 300 men to defeat the Midianites (sort of like Leonidas, but more successful).

In Judges 7, God devises one of the most preposterous battle plans in history, which couldn’t have done much to ease Gideon’s fears. Gideon started with an army of 32,000-strong to take on the Midianites, but God told him that he had too many people and instructed Gideon to tell all those who are afraid to go home — 22,000 departed… 22,000 rejected.

Down to 10,000 men, God said there were still too many, so he devised a test where all the men who didn’t drink water a certain way (whatever that means) were sent home. That left 300 men.

9,700 rejected.

So with 300 men, Gideon went to the Midianite camp in the middle of the night, they played their trumpets, broke some glass, and shouted and that was enough to cause the Midianites to run for their lives. But the intriguing part for me is Judges 7:23, which says:

“And the men of Israel gathered together from Naphtali, Asher, and all Manasseh, and pursued the Midianites.

Though just 300 were set apart for the first battle with Gideon, God used other men to complete the work. And I believe the same men who were sent home because they were afraid or because they were deemed inadequate for the mission by God’s test at the water, were the same ones who gathered together to pursue the Midianites.

God used the rejected.

Despite their original fears, deficiencies, or maybe just not being destined to be among the 300, God still used them. Despite their initial rejection, they still had a role in God’s purpose and plan to deliver Israel.

That should be encouraging to us because despite our weaknesses, fears, and deficiencies, Jesus still has use for us. We still have a role in His plan, and our role is just as important as the 300.

The 31,700 rejected didn’t abandon the cause. They didn’t stop serving God. Sure, they had no clue what Gideon or God was up to. And that journey home was probably frustrating and confusing. They may have questioned God, they may have cursed Gideon, they may have doubted their own abilities. But when the time came to act, when their number was called, they didn’t hesitate. They knew it was their turn. (Heck, they even had the fun part. They didn’t just play trumpets and shout, they actually got to fight).

So even if it appears that you didn’t make the cut and you were initially rejected — whether in ministry, career, business, personal, or professional life — don’t give up, don’t be discouraged, don’t let your dreams die. Your time is coming. God is still calling you to a key role in His plan. Stay ready. You’re not rejected, you’re just reserved for a particular purpose.

 

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Stop Chasing Perfection

Perfection doesn’t exist. Not this side of Heaven. Most of us know that, but our expectations often belie that truth.

We know nobody and nothing is perfect, yet we are quick to complain about all the imperfections in the person we’re dating, the church we attend, or the job that pays our bills.Stop Chasing Perfection

High expectations are a good thing. Having a vision for the type of marriage you want, the church you serve in, and the career you navigate is important and admirable. And I believe the vision you imagine can become a reality as long as it’s grounded in reality. There must be some compromise and tweaking to the vision along the way.

Most people understand this. Where we go astray is when our focus shifts. Instead of remembering everything in life is a process, we get impatient with the immediate. So we focus on our partner’s imperfections, our church’s problems, and our employer’s negative practices. We magnify the few things that tick us off, letting those idiosyncrasies overshadow what we enjoy about our current state of life.

Consequently, we become complainers part of the unfortunate majority miserable in our relationships and jobs, and tuned out in church. Sometimes discontent means it’s time to move on. But most of the time the discontent comes from within, not without.

Changing jobs, churches, or dating someone else won’t change things when the problem is within you. The problem is often perspective. And perspective is tainted when problems arise: when there’s tension in your relationship, when there’s disagreement in church, and when there’s frustration at work. These aren’t signs to bail out; these are signs to dig in, roll up your sleeves and get to work. The life you want takes work. The vision you have won’t manifest without pressure.

So when things in life particularly pertaining to your relationships, church, and job become frustrating, shift your focus from the negative to the positive. Intentionally dwell on the good things about your situation. This fosters peace, patience, and problem-solving ability. If the negatives outweigh the positives, then maybe it’s time to move on. But chances are you’ll realize that though life isn’t perfect, it is good, and with patience you can build something close to perfect.

 

 

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What Inspires You?

We all need a kick in the butt sometimes…a little inspiration, that thing that sparks a dream, ignites passion, pushes hopeyou past procrastination, or causes you to light up inside. Sometimes it’s a speech or sermon, a scripture, a person, a book, song, album, or another work of art that stirs something inside you. We all need it, and we know when we come across it. It’s often small but profound in its impact. So if you feel stuck, if you feel lost, if you feel like life is passing you by, look for some simple inspiration. Here are five things that have inspired me in recent years:

The Book of Acts

Is there anything in history that documents a more significant, purpose-driven movement that turned the world upside down and still resonates today? Acts is the birth of the Church, Christianity in its purest form. It’s the ultimate grassroots movement. It shows what a group of people can do when they’re united, selfless, follow God, and empowered by His Spirit. It’s inspiring to see how the Gospel was spread and how a small group of regular men and women literally changed the world.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Don Miller

This is one of my favorite books by my favorite author. Any book Don Miller writes inspires me, but this one will help bring clarity and meaning to your life. You start by asking if your life was a book, would anyone want to read it, or would they put it down after a few chapters because of boredom? The book helped me find meaning in my life by simplifying what I wanted. Most importantly, it helps you realize conflict is an inevitable part of life, but it carries an important purpose — character development — therefore, we should embrace it.

“Live Forever” by Shad

Music is inspiring, whether for the gym or just life. This song by my favorite artist, Shad, always gets me thinking and focused.

My Past

There are plenty of things in our past that we’d like to forget. We all have regrets. We’ve all made mistakes, struggled with sin, wasted money, said stupid things, etc. But when I look back at my life (which is much easier to do when you keep a journal, so I highly recommend it) I focus on how much I’ve grown and how far I’ve come from the guy I used to be. It makes me grateful for the progress I’ve made and inspires me to keep pushing forward because I won’t be the person I am today 10 years from now. I’ll be better.

People

Nothing inspires me more than seeing someone using his/her gifts or taking a risk to follow a dream. These people are models of success, exuding inspiration. They show that it can be done. That a risk is worth it. That if there’s an opportunity for them in this world, there’s also one for me. They are people living life, in the game, taking full advantage of it. Their lives push me to do the same.

Hopefully you find some inspiration from this short list of things that have inspired me. Feel free to share what has inspired you in the comments section below or on your own social media feed. I’m sure others can use some inspiration as well.

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Is Your Life Remarkable?

“I don’t know why, still I try to wrap my mind around You, Your thoughts are higher, Your ways are better and I’m in awe, So bring me up to where You are.” – “Lofty” by Propaganda

As Easter approaches, I like to study the life of Jesus, so I’ve been diving into the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Gospel is a Is Your Life Remarkablebit more concise than the other accounts of the Savior’s life, but still quite telling and profound.

In Mark 6, Jesus performs the miracle of the five loaves and two fish, multiplying the portion in order to feed about 5,000 people. Immediately after that, He sends His disciples across the sea ahead of Him. Later, as they’re struggling to row in windy conditions, Jesus comes walking on the water — totally freaking them out — gets in the boat and the wind and waves calm down. The disciples’ response was interesting:

And they were astonished exceedingly [beyond measure], For they failed to consider [or understand the meaning of the miracle of] the loaves; their hearts had grown callous [had become dull]. Mark 6:51-52

 

There aren’t many times when we see the disciples being “astonished” or in awe of what they see. At this point they had been hanging with Jesus a while and had seen Him heal plenty of people, and even they had went out and healed the sick and cast out demons themselves, so not too much came as a surprise to them. But seeing Jesus walk on water blew them away. It was a different level of miracle for them. But the Bible says it shouldn’t have been because hours before they saw 5,000 fed with just five loaves of bread and two fish. That miracle was just as incredible as Jesus walking on water. But Mark writes that “they failed to consider” the miracle of the loaves because their hearts had become dull or callous.

I wonder if our hearts have become dull to the things God has done and is doing in our lives because they aren’t as “grand” as we expect. Because we haven’t miraculously received a huge pay raise, a surprise check in the mail, a debt canceled, the man/woman of our dreams dropped at our doorstep, or a family member instantly saved, we feel nothing spectacular is happening in our lives.

But maybe something spectacular is happening. Maybe, just like the disciples, we experience supernatural things daily but we never consider or value them. To consider means to “think carefully about, regard, believe, take into account, or remember.”

I’m not sure what things God is doing in your life that are awe-inspiring, but I know they are happening. That’s how God operates. Think about it: Does the most renowned chef in the world ever cook an average meal? Does the world’s best artist ever make a mundane piece of art? So if we are God’s workmanship, crafted in His image and in whom He continues to work, how is He not doing something spectacular in our lives regularly?

He is. Our hearts have just become dull.

I challenge you to take time during your busy day, to interrupt your routine to consider (recall the definition) what God is doing in your life. It may be something spiritual or it may involve your career or family, whatever it is, recognize God’s fingerprint in your life and regard it.

In meditating on that scripture, I consider how far God has brought me in my career and the doors He’s opened for me. I’m also in awe that, through His Spirit, I hear from Him every day. And even each week, when I sit in front of this computer with absolutely nothing to say, He deposits inspiration, ideas, and thoughts in my mind to share with you. I’m in awe.

Take a few minutes to listen to this song “Lofty” by Propaganda, it expresses why we need to be in awe of our Creator:

 

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Your Greatest Weakness is Your Strength

One thing I love about the Bible is the honesty in which it displays historic figures. No one’s flaws are hidden. Everyone’s life is pretty much laid bare — the good and the bad. And in certain places, the writer shares his own weaknessflaws, like the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians.

“I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” 1 Cor. 3-5

Paul admitted he was in weakness, fear, and much trembling when it came to speaking to the church of Corinth. Essentially, Paul feared public speaking. There are other instances in his letters where he admitted he wasn’t an eloquent orator. It’s odd because I always perceived Paul as a great theologian and preacher who commanded attention and respect when he spoke, but that wasn’t the case.

Public speaking ranks as one of the greatest fears for people. Most of us have suffered from it to some extent, which makes us much like Paul in that sense. Yet God knew Paul was weak in this area and He still called him to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles, an assignment that regularly put him in front of complete strangers to share a radical message none of them had heard before. Way to set up a guy for failure, God.

But God did this regularly, on purpose. Think back to Moses. He tried to explain to God that he couldn’t speak for Him to Pharaoh because he stuttered. It’s not like God was like: “Oh, my bad, I forgot you stuttered, let me find someone else.” He knew speaking was Moses’ weakness and He called him anyway.

Today, we do so much to hide our weaknesses. We focus on what we’re good at and pursue interests in those areas and hone skills pertaining to our strengths. We are caught up in a culture that only displays its best — we retake photos on our phones until we have our best-looking selfie; we search through pics to use our best-looking one as our profile image; we use Instagram to make our sucky photos look professional, all in an attempt to display an image of strength, beauty, and competence to the world. But none of it is true.

I admit, only God and I know my weaknesses. I’m the king of playing it cool, faking it til I make it, and if need be, just plain frontin’. But God, throughout history, takes the opposite approach with us. He doesn’t want any of those weaknesses, blemishes, fears, or things that make us tremble hidden. He calls us into those areas. He pushes us into those areas. He uses us in those areas.

Why?

Paul said it in his letter to the Corinthians: So that anything we accomplish and any life we impact won’t be because of our wisdom or skill, but solely by the power of the Spirit so our faith (and subsequently others’ as well) will be in the power of God, not in our own ability.

Have you been concealing or shying away from a weak area in your life God is nudging you toward? Have you shut your ears to what He’s been saying because of fear? Have you been worrying about what others will think? Fearing failure? God knows what He’s doing. He’s calling you there for a reason — to display His power and glory.

Like Paul, embrace your weakness. It’s the only way to see what the power of the Spirit can do in your life.

 

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When You’re Not in the Mood

I read a tweet that said “Music is the heartbeat of life.” Most of us have a connection with music. It touches our souls, it helps us through the day at work, at the gym, on the commute, or wherever else you want to close out the When You're Not in the Moodworld and get lost in the rhythm.

Music is the soundtrack to our moods. We use it to soothe and sympathize with us. If a woman is listening to Adele all week, you know what’s going on (i.e., leave her alone fellas). But it also has a different effect on us.

My favorite artist is Amos Lee. His music is a hybrid of blues, folk, rock, and soul. I began listening to him with his second album, Supply and Demand, and I was hooked. But when I previewed his next album — Last Days at the Lodge— I wasn’t feeling it. I was rather disappointed. There were too many songs about relationships. I didn’t have time for that.

I’ve enjoyed his two subsequent albums. But when I went back and listened to tracks from that album I didn’t like, I was blown away. I think it’s his best work now. I’m not certain why I was averse to that album in the past, but I bet it had something to do with my emotional state. I likely just came out of a relationship or some type of relational disappointment (women, smh) that I really didn’t want to hear about Mr. Lee’s drama. So I judged the snippets of the album through the lens of my negative emotional state, missing out on some great music at the time.

Unfortunately, music isn’t the only thing we judge based on our emotionally tainted state. What if the people we’ve met whom we don’t like, those people we got a bad vibe from, and those we felt rubbed us the wrong way weren’t bad people or didn’t really piss us off? What if we just weren’t in the right mood or emotionally prepared to welcome a new friend, colleague or acquaintance? Sure there are some people we just won’t get along with, but what if, for the most part, you don’t get along with certain people not because of their personalities, but rather because of your temperament? What if the issue is with you, not them?

I think that’s the case most of the time, at least in my life. Some people are difficult to deal with, but I can be difficult to deal with as well. We all need others to be patient with us, and in turn, we need to be patient with others. We need to give people a chance. Someone who completely turned you off could potentially be a close friend. (One of my best friends today was someone I couldn’t stand when we first met.)

When I listen back on that Amos Lee album, the funny thing is most of the songs aren’t about relationships. My judgment was clouded then. Whatever preoccupies our thoughts becomes the filter through which we see, hear, and encounter people and things. Whether it’s a breakup, money concerns, low self-esteem, or family issues, our circumstances often spill into other areas of life.

The Bible talks about being sober-minded, which means using good judgment, being sensible, and not being excessive. Regardless of what we’re going through, we must dwell in peace so we can judge wisely. Don’t let a bad day, stress, or your emotions affect your interaction with people. You could miss out on something beautiful. Or, in my case, some great music.

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Today is a Good Day, If You Choose

Philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre once said hell is other people. You may agree to an extent, especially if you’re facing800px-Smiley.svg those kinds of people today at work, school, or wherever your day takes you. But I like what Christian philosopher Ravi Zacharias says: Heaven can be other people too, and we have the ability to bring a little of Heaven into people’s lives today (hat tip to Don Miller for this). We carry the presence of God within us. After all, Jesus said the Kingdom of God isn’t some ethereal place, it’s within us. This day we can bring a taste of Heaven to this world. What a way to begin the week!
Love is a response to His love, and happiness is a choice. Respond and choose well today, and let Pharrell get you in the mood with this:

 

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