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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5 Lessons From My 80-year-old Self

On the heels of writing some tips to my 18-year-old self, I was thinking of what advice I could use now. If my older self,

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

photo by Andre Delhaye via compfight

say the 80-year-old Kevin, could give me some guidance on navigating life from here on out, I wonder what he would say? I wonder what lessons, tips, and words of wisdom he’d share.

He’d probably start by saying I know less than I think I know right now. Then he’d say my future is bright and I become filthy rich (OK, wishful thinking there).  Most of all, he’d probably focus on regrets he has and how I can change my life to avoid them. So here are five things my 80-year-old self would tell me to live a fuller life:

SPEAK YOUR MIND

You tend to be cautious, young Kevin (yes, you’re still very young). You speak up when needed, but you’re guarded with your words. You’re diplomatic by nature, which has been helpful in gaining friends, bridging gaps, and defusing conflicts. Yet, your opinion needs to be heard more — unfiltered and direct. It will catch people off-guard, and it may hurt some feelings, but as long as it’s done in truth and love, it’s worth it.

BE SILLY

There’s nothing more beautiful in life than being able to laugh at yourself. It’s more natural for the youngest and oldest among us, but it’s something you need to rediscover and embrace. Laughing is one thing, but being able to make a complete fool of yourself — and awaken the silliness in others — is a moment you’ll never forget, trust me.

TAKE RISKS

You’ll never regret taking a risk. Do they all pay off? No. Is there embarrassment or discomfort in the moment? Yes. But looking back, taking a risk was always the right decision. Risks always result in either the outcome you desire or a lesson learned. The only thing that holds you back is fear. And you’ll find out what you fear most about risks never happens. The greatest risk of all is the risk not taken.

SPEND TIME WITH PEOPLE YOU LOVE

You’ve been telling yourself to do this for years, and you’ve gotten better at it, but remember this: You can never spend too much time with the people you love. No one ever reached 80 years old and said, “You know what, I think I spent too much time with loved ones.” Take every second and every minute that they give you. Too many people let work, school, church, chores, sports, Scandal, and social media get in the way of real relationships. By the way, Facebook, Instagram, and Olivia Pope won’t last that much longer anyway. If your loved ones are really loved, prioritize time with them.

SAY ‘I LOVE YOU’ OFTEN

Those three words mean the world to people, Kevin. They don’t part your lips enough. The people you love — which include pretty much everyone — need to hear it. You’ll regret not saying it enough. Your words are sincere. You only say what you mean. If there’s anything people should remember about you, it’s that you loved them.

Enjoy the journey, young Kevin. You’ll be OK. Oh, and get off Facebook!

What do you think you’d regret most at an older age? What are some changes you can make to avoid those regrets?

 

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5 Lessons for My 18-year-old Self

I read a Facebook post from a friend a few weeks ago that asked: What would your 18-year-old self think of you?

It’s an intriguing question, and as expected, the answers were comical and varied. I think for most of us, life hasn’t life lessonsturned out exactly how we thought it would be when we were 18. Whether that’s good or bad depends on your perspective. I know I don’t have nearly half of what my 18-year-old self wanted, and that’s OK. That kid didn’t know anything anyway. If I could write him an email — to his AOL address — about how he turned out, these are the five key things I’d point out to him:

1. YOUR DREAMS AND AMBITIONS CHANGE

I know you’re driven, and somewhat stubborn, Kevin. You have big goals and dreams. That’s great. But guess what? A lot of that stuff isn’t going to happen. It’s not because you don’t have a good work ethic, or won’t acquire the skills you need, it’s just that most of that stuff won’t matter after a while. The stuff you thought you couldn’t live without? Well, you’re living without it, and you’re doing fine. Your goals and values have changed — for the better.

2. YOU’RE SECURE

This may be the greatest relief to you, and one of the greatest things to happen to you. You don’t care what people think of you. You realize your imperfections, and you don’t sweat them. You’re comfortable in your own skin. Unfortunately, this took a while — years! The awkwardness you sometimes felt in high school, the desire to fit in with certain crowds, and the worry of what other people think of you continues well into adulthood. But it gets better. It’s a process, but you get to the point where you don’t give a damn. That’s a very good thing.

3. YOU’RE NEITHER MARRIED, NOR RICH…AND IT’S AWESOME

Sorry to break it to you, but you’re in your 30s and you’re single. You don’t drive a Benz either. You done crying? OK, now listen. Here’s the weird thing: You’re happier than ever. Don’t worry, you still have plenty of time to get married and acquire wealth — because contrary to what you think, 30something ain’t old — but you’ve reached a status much greater than married or wealthy. It’s called contentment.

4. YOU’RE SUCCESSFUL

Yup, you are a success. But not because of your career or accomplishments. That’s not how you measure success any more. You’re successful because of the people you impact. That’s right, you’re more concerned with people than promotion. You help others. You listen. You love. That means more to them, and you, than anything you ever dreamed of accomplishing.

5.  YOU HAVEN’T CHANGED

I know that sounds weird since Nos. 1-4 don’t mesh with who you are yet, but, at your core, you’re still the same guy. You know why? Because all this stuff is already in you. The wisdom, maturity, confidence, peace, contentment, and character, it’s deep in your soul. You’re a diamond in the rough. You still have a lot of rough edges now. But in the pressure cooker of life, the pretense, the fear, the insecurity, the doubt and dirt are chipped away, and who you really are is revealed.

Enjoy the journey, young Kevin, you’ll be OK. Oh, and pull up your pants!

What would you tell your 18-year-old self? What are the key things you’ve learned over the years?

 

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Is Instagram Ruining Your Life?

On the way home from work the other day, I was walking to my car and overheard two teenagers talking. It was a guy and a girl, and as they parted ways the guy said, “I’ll see you on Instagram.”Is Instagram ruing your life

I thought that was the funniest and, at the same time, dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. Because, you know, you actually don’t see anyone on Instagram. I mean you see their image and the food porn they post, but that’s just the virtual them. Are we at the point in our social evolution where Instagram counts as personal interaction? Like, could I ever tell my mom, “Hey, I know I haven’t stopped by to see you in a while, but just get on Instagram because it’s just as good as me being there.”

I’m not going to bash social media because I use it regularly — it’s probably the reason why you got to this page — and it is a great way to stay in touch with people, stay in the know, and stalk others. And you’ve probably already read an article or 20 about how social networks are killing the art of face-to-face conversation. We get it. We need to put our phones down. I agree.

Yet, let’s be honest, the tide has turned. This is the new social norm. You primarily interact through social media. And teenagers? Forget it. That’s all they know. So my dilemma is finding balance. I’m not shutting down my Facebook or Twitter accounts. That’s equivalent to living in a cave.

So how do we keep up with the latest social technology and at the same time not surrender the richness and purity of old school interaction? There are no hard and fast rules, but this is what I intend to do:

PERSONALLY (NOT VIRTUALLY) INTERACT WITH A FRIEND EACH WEEK

This means either a phone (not text) or face-to-face conversation with a friend each week. It’s easy just to drop a line or personal message on a social network, but taking the effort to call or sit down with someone shows him/her is worth your time and attention, and they’re not just part of your social network.

DON’T OPEN A SINGLE APP WHEN IN SOMEONE’S PRESENCE

How many times have you been with friends or family and everyone’s face is buried in the blue screen of his/her phone while having conversation? I know, all the time. My goal is to be present. If I’m with people, they should have my attention, not Kevin Hart’s Twitter feed.

NO FACEBOOK BIRTHDAY WISHES, A PHONE CALL/TEXT IS REQUIRED

If I have your number, that means we’re more than Facebook friends. You deserve more than a wall post on your born day. 

DON’T SURF SOCIAL MEDIA WHILE WAITING ON LINE

OK, this is a hard one because we are so freaking impatient. If we’re in line at a store, and the line’s not moving swiftly, we reach for our phones immediately. Surely Twitter can make this agonizing experience go faster. No, it doesn’t. And honestly, you look stupid. Just stand there and wait. Talk with a fellow waiting customer. Just don’t go to the phone. This can be as hard as holding your pee after drinking a quart of water, but damn it, it’s for the best.

These are just a few things I’ll try this year. Hopefully it will bring balance to my addiction, keeping me from getting totally swept away in the culture’s new form of communication. I challenge you to give them a try too, or your own variation. Whatever helps you unplug and interact as a human. If it doesn’t work, no big deal. I’ll just see you on Instagram.

 

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How God Gives Surprise Gifts

By Kevin Howell

photo by Shereen M via compfight creative commons

photo by Shereen M via compfight creative commons

There’s nothing like Christmas time. It’s truly the biggest spectacle in our society. As much as I like the commercialism of it, I stay balanced by reflecting of the story of the birth of Christ in Luke. It’s one of the most dramatic, miraculous accounts in history. And though Jesus is the center of the story, there are so many other characters that teach us inspiring lessons just in the first two chapters of the book.

Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, for example. He and his wife Elizabeth were quite old at the time, and they couldn’t have children. We are told this couple lived honorably before God, kept the commandments, and “enjoyed a clear conscience before God.” They were faithful, devout Jews.

It’s interesting that despite the couple being devout and pleasing to God, they still couldn’t have children. One of their desires remained unfulfilled. There have been times when I felt like I was doing the right things, pleasing God, serving, yet stuff was missing in my life. What I was believing for, what I felt I should have had, I lacked. Does it make sense? No. That’s where Zachariah and Elizabeth were.

Yet, despite the fact the time for bearing children had passed in their lives, they weren’t bitter. They still lived honorably before God. And Zachariah went about his business, serving God.

Zachariah was a priest, and one day he was going about his regular priestly duties when an angel appeared to him, scared the crap out of him, then said:

“Don’t freak out bro. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife is going to have a son by you (which must’ve been a relief, because no man wants to hear his wife will have a son from some other dude), and you’ll name him John. He’s going to be awesome. He’ll be filled with the Spirit and he’ll turn people of Israel back to God and prepare the messiah’s arrival.” Luke 1:13-17 (NKV – New Kevin Version).

Zachariah, still clearly freaked out by all of this, didn’t believe it because he and Elizabeth were too old. Because he doubted, the angel said Zachariah wouldn’t be able to speak (became mute) until his son was born. (Read Luke 1 for all the details).

The day Zachariah went to the Temple was just another day at work. He wasn’t expecting an angel to show up, that’s why he was freaked out. And he sure as heck wasn’t expecting to hear what he heard, that’s why he doubted.

I believe God operates the same way in our lives. I’m not saying you will be visited by an angel (and honestly, I don’t know if I could handle that), but as you are going about your normal business, staying faithful and doing the mundane things, God will surprise you.

He’ll surprise you because He loves you. He’ll surprise you because He’s never forgotten about you. As with Zachariah, He’s heard your prayer. Even if it was months ago…even if it was years ago….even if you feel your time has passed.

It’s clear Zachariah’s faith wavered. He was old; he didn’t think being a father was possible any longer. Chances are, if you’ve been waiting on a prayer to be answered for a while, your faith has wavered too. But God’s faithfulness isn’t based on our faith. He’s faithful, plain and simple, in spite of us.

At the time of the first Christmas, Israel was going about its normal business, not expecting the messiah to arrive. But God was faithful to His promise, and the Lord arrived. This Christmas, even if you’ve forgotten about a dream, or if you feel forgotten, God hasn’t forgotten. He’s bound to surprise you, just like Zachariah.

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