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His perfect gift

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

One of the things I gave up when I moved to Jerusalem was my bicycle. Shipping a bike would have been expensive. One of my neighbors had her bike stolen and was in real need for a replacement.  I gave my bike to her and was glad that I could bless her. I really felt the hand of the Lord bringing this all together. He arranged a good gift for my neighbor and allowed me to show her a little bit of His love.

This bike, however, wasn’t just a bike. It was the first new bike I had ever owned. All my other bikes had been second hand. This one was new, from the store. I even got to pick which color I had wanted; purple metallic. It really was the perfect bike and I loved it.

Since Jerusalem is a city of hills I didn’t replace my bike. I used the car, busses, trains, or simply walked for transportation. But my bike had not just been a means of transportation. Going out for a bike ride was something I enjoyed. Taking a ride in nature would lift my spirit on a difficult day. Even just 20 minutes of paddling would put me in better mood.

I had kind of forgotten about that benefit that having a bike gave me. The Lord, however, did not. A friend was leaving the country and she was planning to sell her electric bicycle. I had been saving up some money and had enough to buy it from her. I was excited about having a bike again. The electric gears help make the uphill parts a bit easier. I had been planning to use it to get to work.

I took the bike for spin to test it out. And suddenly remembered how much I loved riding my bike. My heart overflowed with thanksgiving. My Father in Heaven knew what I needed before I even asked him. (Matthew 6:8) I had been planning on buying a bike to use it to get to work, but the Lord was using it to bless my soul. The blessing of owning a bicycle again was His good and perfect gift for me.

I do use my bicycle to get to work, so it is a means of transportation. But at the same time, it is so much more. I am reminded of the Father’s love & care for me every single time I ride, and it makes my heart overflow.

What things has the Lord done in your life that remind you of His love for you?

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Dancing in the rain

So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the Lord your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul—  then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and olive oil.  I will provide grass in the fields for your cattle, and you will eat and be satisfied.
Deuteronomy 11: 13-15

I was born and raised in a country that has rain all year round. We used to pray to God for it not to rain on days spent outside or during our vacation. I moved to Israel as an adult and it took me a bit of time to get used to the long dry summer. Israel is a dessert country and during the summer months it doesn’t rain at all. Months on end when it is dry. Rain is a blessing in Israel and when the first rains come in the fall, it is a cause for celebration. It took me some time to come to see the rains as a blessing.

A few years ago, we visited the Netherlands during our summer vacation. Our girls were five & three years old at the time. We stayed in a little wooden house at a small farm that rented out several of those to tourists. Now in the Netherlands it will rain all year, even in summer. On one of the evenings the sky turned dark and big heavy drops of rain started falling down. Our girls were already in bed but the noise of the rain on the roof woke them up. They ran out of their room and were ecstatic that there was rain, in the middle of summer. They asked us if they could go out. The girls were already in their night gowns, they just put on their shoes and rushed outside. The girls danced in the rain. It wasn’t too cold as it was summer and pretty soon the girls were soaked.

The people staying in the other houses were locals. Those two little girls dancing in the rain were a strange sight to them. But those little Israeli girls were seeing rain for what it really is, a blessing. And it helped me to see it too.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans 12: 2

My old pattern of thinking was to see rain as something negative. The Lord used my daughters and their joy in the rain to renew my mind. I learned to see rain for what it really is, a blessing from the Lord. And now, whenever it rains, we celebrate with hot cocoa.

“Father God, thank you for renewing our minds. Transform us to be more like You. Help us to see things from Your point of view. Thank you for your abundant blessings and Your provision for our lives. In Jesus name”

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Not very humble beginnings (VeYeshev)

What comes to mind when we think of Joseph?
A man with dreams? A man who was honest and served his master faithfully and paid a high price for his integrity? A man who interpreted dreams? A man who saved his family and a whole nation from starvation?

The Lord blessed Joseph and used him to bless others. In this week’s Torah portion the story we read his story and it starts out with him being a spoiled young man of seventeen.

It was Joseph’s job to tend the flocks of his father. A job he did together with his brothers; Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher. We don’t know what happened out there in the fields, but Joseph brought a bad report about his brothers to his father. Joseph was loved by his father, more than any of his brothers. Everyone knew this. His father even had a robe made for him. Joseph was special, and brothers hated him because of this.

Joseph starts having dreams about becoming a leader. Dreams we know were inspired by the Lord. All his dreams eventually came true. But when Joseph shares about his dreams with his brothers, it only makes them hate him even more. “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” (Genesis 37:8) Joseph shares his second dream with his father. And his father rebukes him. “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” (Genesis 37:10)

The Lord takes Joseph on a journey, literally, to make him into the man he is supposed to become. It is a life of ups & downs. The spoiled young man is thrown down in a cistern and sold into slavery. In the house of his master he rapidly raises in statue and is put in charge of the whole household, only to be brought down again. Falsely accused, Joseph once again finds himself at the bottom, this time in prison. Also there his leadership skills show, and the warden puts him in charge. Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker are put in prison, dream dreams that Joseph explains correctly, and the cupbearer is restored to his former position. Things seem to look up for our hero again, but the cupbearer forgets about him and Joseph remains in prison.

The Lord has a plan for our life too. And there will be ups & downs. In the darkest times, when we might feel like we are at the bottom of a cistern, the Lord God is in charge, just as he is when we are raised up. There will be days when it feels like all is lost and we feel like we are in prison, forgotten. But God is still at work in us, just as he was in the life of Joseph. The Lord has a plan, and His plan is good. We can take His Word on it.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.

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There is deliverence on Mount Zion (VeYislach)

In addition to reading a specific section from the Torah every Shabbat we also read a portion from the prophets. This week we read the book of Obadiah. It is the shortest book in the bible with one chapter divided into 21 verses. You can find it after the book of Amos and before the book of Jonah.

It is a difficult book to read. The prophet Obadiah speaks of the judgement that will come over Edom, the descendants of Esau. Unlike most of the other prophets he doesn’t encourage the people to repent. He brings his message as a matter of fact. Doom & destruction is coming. But right in the middle of his message from the Lord, there one little sentence that brings hope.

But on Mount Zion will be deliverance: it will be Holy and Jacob will possess his inheritance.
(Obadiah verse 17)

There is deliverance! I can be found on Mount Zion!

Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion.
Revelation 14: 1

Obadiah lived and died many years before the Lord Jesus walked on this earth and paid the price for us. His prophecy speaks about Mount Zion as a physical place of deliverance and safety. But his words hold deeper meaning. Because Mount Zion is more than just a safe haven in a time of war. Mount Zion is where the Lamb is standing; Jesus Christ who was sacrificed for our transgressions. Mount Zion is where we find true deliverance because it is where the Son of God is. Mount Zion is where we are all welcome to join the angels in singing praises to the living God.

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.
Hebrews 12: 22

“Father God, we thank you for the words of the prophet Obadiah. How amazing that words spoken so long ago can encourage us today. Thank you that you are the same all throughout time. Lord, we thank you for the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion. We look forward to seeing the angels in the heavenly Jerusalem and worshipping together with them. Thank you for your deliverance on Mount Zion.”

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Doubting Thomas, Sceptical Jacob (VeYetze)

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him “we have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” And Thomas said to him “My Lord and my God!”

John 20: 24-28

Even people who have never read the bible or attended church know about Thomas.  doubting Thomas’ is a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience. Only after Thomas saw the Lord with his own eyes did he believe.

The Torah portion that is read this week has another skeptic in it, Jacob.

Jacob had tricked his father and stolen the blessing from his brother. He fled Beersheba and set out to Harran. He got tired and used a stone for pillow. While he was asleep he has his famous dream and the Lord speaks to him.

I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.

Genesis 28:13-15

But unlike his grandfather Abraham he didn’t just pack up and followed an unseen God. He asks the Lord to first give him some proof.

If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s household, then the Lord will be my God.

Genesis 28: 20 -21

Also Jacob needed to see some proof that the Lord is who He says He is. The Lord didn’t only provide him with food & clothing, He makes him exceedingly rich. The Lord gives him twelve sons, believing that the Lord was going to make him into a great people must have been a lot easier for Jacob then it was for Abraham & Isaac. And the Lord brings him back home safely.

As believers today, we can relate to both men. A lot of time has gone by since the Lord promised He will return. Some days it is very hard to believe that His promises still stand. But even today the Lord still appears to people, like he did to Thomas. He watches over us just like He did over Jacob. And he will keep His word and return.

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What little things can help you remember to pray

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, The Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

Deuteronomy 6: 4-9

One of my childhood friends is a missionary in South Africa. The Lord put the love for Africa on her heart at a young age. After several short & long-term mission trips she felt the Lord calling her to move to South Africa permanently. Together with her husband she takes care of aids orphans. Despite living almost 6000 miles from each other, we remain close and have been able to see each other regularly over the years.

When she made her permanent move she gave a magnet with 2 elephants on it. A physical reminder to pray for her. I put it on my front door and every morning as I leave my house to go to work, I pray a blessing over her & her ministry. The little magnet helps me to remember. While my friend is always in my heart, in a busy day it helps me to have a little visual. By seeing the 2 elephants every morning I am reminded to cover her in my prayers.

The Lord God gave a similar idea to the people of Israel. He told them to write his commandments on the doorframes of their houses and on their gates. The Jewish custom of the mezuzah is based on this verse. Jewish homes have a little decorated box on the doorframes. Inside there is a little piece of parchment with the words from Deuteronomy written on it. It is literally doing what it says in scripture.

“I thank my God every time I remember you”

Philippians 1:3

Just as Paul remembered the believers in Philippians, I want to remember to pray for my friend. Having a little magnet on my door helps me to remember, just as the mezuzah has helped the people of Israel to put the Lord’s commandments on their hearts.

It always encourages me to see in scripture how much the Lord God understands us and knows what we need. He knows that we need reminding and He does so lovingly. He even gives us very practical tips on how we can do so.

What little things can help you remember to pray?

“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and dept of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of the righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ – to the glory and praise of God.”

Philippians 1: 9-11

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A Simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’

“Again, you have heard that is was said to the people long ago, ‘do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made’. But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you can not even make one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘yes’ or ‘no’; anything beyond this comes from evil.” Matthew 5:33-37

I don’t know about you but the part that caught my attention in this part of scripture was that we can not make one hair white or black. I got my first white hairs when I was a teenager. Now I tried to change my hair color as I was not very happy to have my hair turn white at such a young age. And while I successfully covered up my white hairs with hair dye, over time the hair color would fade. My hair would grow out and the roots would be white. Because despite what it might say on some box of hair dye, only the God who created heaven & earth can permanently change our hair color.

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10: 29 – 31

As we continue reading in the gospel of Matthew we find the Lord Jesus speaking about hair again. While the Lord Jesus uses a new example, the hairs on our heads, the trust that the Lord God knows us intimately was not something new for the disciples. They were most likely familiar with the words of King David from Psalm 139; ”You know when I stand and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand on me.” (verse 2 – 5)

The Lord does not make things complicated, on the contrary.  He asks for a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

On the days that I worry because life is becoming too overwhelming, it is a great comfort to me that I can pray; “Lord God, I trust you. I find comfort in knowing that you have numbered the hairs on my head. Help me to not be afraid. Thank you for your loving reminder of your amazing love for me.”

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What is Your Orientation

What is your orientation like? God’s orientation, the way He sees things is totally different than the way we see things. And we have to adjust our orientation if we are going to follow Him. Let me give you an example. When God called Abraham, he comes out of Ur of the Chaldean, comes down through the crescent and he reaches the Land of Israel. If you know Israel by map, you would see the ridge that runs north to south through the middle of the country. To the left, there is the Mediterranean sea and to the right, the Jordan Valley. Our automatic orientation is that north would be up and left and right would be east and west.

So, Abraham comes into the Land that God promises him and there is too little grass for his herd and the herd of his nephew, Lot who was with him. The two men are both shepherds and both have a lot of flock, so there was a lot of arguing between the herdsmen. Abraham is a peacemaker who believes in the promises of God that he doesn’t have to fight to fulfill those promises. So he says to Lot, “you chose which land you want, left or right and whichever one you chose, me and my herdsmen will go to the other”.

When we make our decisions based on an earthly northward pattern, we may be way off. Our cultural backgrounds may dictate certain understandings that are really not the way God sees it. God’s north may be due east and not what you are thinking. So when you think about making decisions and lining yourself up with God’s values, you have to line it up according to His word, to get His orientation on things and then you’ll be able to make a proper decision in your walk with the Lord. But if you are basing your decisions based on a cultural understanding, you might be pitching your tent near Sodom and Gomorrah and that never ends well because bad company corrupts good morals. When you are making decisions, you want to be able to line yourself up with God’s word so that when He tells you to go left or right, you will know where you are headed.

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The Calling of Separation

Judges 13:7

And He said to me, ‘Behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. Now drink no wine or similar drink, nor eat anything unclean, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb to the day of his death.’”

13 So the Angel of the Lord said to Manoah, “Of all that I said to the woman let her be careful. 14 She may not eat anything that comes from the vine, nor may she drink wine or similar drink, nor eat anything unclean. All that I commanded her let her observe.”

1.

What do you think about when you hear about Samson?

Many of us may think of a guy who was really strong and powerful that fell asleep of the lap of the wrong girl. The next thing you know, he’s weak, blind and grinding wheat to feed his enemies.

While this is all true, it doesn’t really do justice to the story. Is it so simple that God just got mad at this guy for getting a bad haircut that He takes away his strength and leaves him helpless in facing his enemies?

This type of simplification of the story can create a distorted perception of who God is and how He deals with us.

The traditional site of Samson’s grave is right over here, let’s take a look.

The Biblical account states that Samson was buried in the tomb of his father and so you have here the graves of Manoah and Samson together.

But what is the real lesson of Samson? What can we learn from this man’s life?

2.

Samson’s mom was a barren women and couldn’t have children. But the Lord visit’s her and promises her a son that will begin to save Israel from the Philistines who ruled over them. He gives her specific instructions that she was to abstain from wine and unclean foods because Samson was to be a “Nazarite” to the Lord even from birth.

What was a Nazarite?

We think of Jesus being a “Nazarite” because He was from Nazareth. But the “Nazarite Vow” was what was taken as a symbol of ‘separation’ or ‘set apart’ for a season.

How was this ‘separation’ put into practice?

Numbers 6 is where the law of the Nazarite was described.

Numbers 6- The Law of the Nazirite

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin.

‘All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body. He shall not make himself unclean even for his father or his mother, for his brother or his sister, when they die, because his separation to God is on his head. All the days of his separation he shall be holy to the Lord.

‘And if anyone dies very suddenly beside him, and he defiles his consecrated head, then he shall shave his head on the day of his cleansing; on the seventh day he shall shave it. 10 Then on the eighth day he shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons to the priest, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting; 11 and the priest shall offer one as a sin offering and the other as a burnt offering, and make atonement for him, because he sinned in regard to the corpse; and he shall sanctify his head that same day. 12 He shall consecrate to the Lord the days of his separation, and bring a male lamb in its first year as a trespass offering; but the former days shall be lost, because his separation was defiled.

13 ‘Now this is the law of the Nazirite: When the days of his separation are fulfilled, he shall be brought to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 14 And he shall present his offering to the Lord: one male lamb in its first year without blemish as a burnt offering, one ewe lamb in its first year without blemish as a sin offering, one ram without blemish as a peace offering, 15 a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers anointed with oil, and their grain offering with their drink offerings.

16 Then the priest shall bring them before the Lord and offer his sin offering and his burnt offering; 17 and he shall offer the ram as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the Lord, with the basket of unleavened bread; the priest shall also offer its grain offering and its drink offering. 18 Then the Nazirite shall shave his consecrated head at the door of the tabernacle of meeting, and shall take the hair from his consecrated head and put it on the fire which is under the sacrifice of the peace offering.

19 ‘And the priest shall take the boiled shoulder of the ram, one unleavened cake from the basket, and one unleavened wafer, and put them upon the hands of the Nazirite after he has shaved his consecrated hair, 20 and the priest shall wave them as a wave offering before the Lord; they are holy for the priest, together with the breast of the wave offering and the thigh of the heave offering. After that the Nazirite may drink wine.’

21 “This is the law of the Nazirite who vows to the Lord the offering for his separation, and besides that, whatever else his hand is able to provide; according to the vow which he takes, so he must do according to the law of his separation.”

In order to maintain the calling of a Nazarite, Samson had to maintain what made him ‘separate.’ The three primary things were:

No contact with dead things, any copse, human or animal, not even for the sake of burial of close relatives.

No contact with wine, or anything that comes from the vine, not even raisins.

No cutting of hair during the season of his separation.

3.

Early on, Samson kills a lion with the strength God gave him. But later he goes back and discovers that bees have made a hive in the dead carcass of the lion and he takes some to eat.

When he marries the Philistine girl, they have a weeklong party. It is very hard to believe that the Philitines he was partying with would understand him not being able to have some wine.

Then there is Delilah, whom he falls for. Samson has only one thing left that still distinguishes him as a Nazarite, his hair. He has never had a haircut since birth. People could see, because it was noticeable, that he was still a Nazarite. But now, with his head shaved, there was no longer anything left that made him ‘separate’ from others as his calling demanded.

4.

Judges 16:20-21

“And she said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” So he awoke from his sleep, and said, “I will go out as before, at other times, and shake myself free!” But he did not know that the Lord had departed from him.

21 Then the Philistines took him and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza. They bound him with bronze fetters, and he became a grinder in the prison.”

Here was a guy with a calling and God had gifted him with the ability to begin to deliver Israel, but he refused to recognize that to fulfill his calling he had to remain separate from the world around him.

God also has a calling on our lives, a plan that He desires us to enter into. To be a blessing to others and to defeat the enemies in our lives. But that plan can never be fulfilled unless we understand that God calls us to a life that is visibly separate from the world around us.

Samson is a sign for us, to help us understand that God will not go with us if we choose to go our own way.

Choose this day, the call of God on your life. Don’t cut short His plan for you in order to satisfy the short lived satisfactions of this life.

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Comparison is a Sickness

I was just a child in elementary school learning to read when I experienced something that would change my life. My teacher, who had also taught my older brother and sister before me, saw that I struggled to read and said, “If you are their sibling, why are you so different that you can’t read like them”? In that moment my confidence to read was shattered. For many years afterwards, I was terrified to read in front of people because one woman who had authority in my life spoke something negative over me. And as long as I believed those words, they had power in my life. 

One day I decided not to let them affect me anymore. I began reading out loud and was even able to read in front of the group I was teaching at the “Heart to Serve” seminar. When I shared this testimony with those who were present, they clapped for me because they saw that I could do it and in encouraged them to overcome their fears and weaknesses as well. 

Those who think they are weak have a lot to give. Many times, the weak are stronger than those who think they are strong. Yeshua told the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” And Paul responded, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Messiah’s power may dwell in me”. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-10

Since I was born in the 1960’s, I remember the time when magazines came out featuring models as examples for beauty. Intelligent young women suddenly struggled with anorexia and depression because they were trying to be like those models and they couldn’t. How many times have we looked at other people’s Facebook pages or lifestyles or the opportunities other people have and we compare ourselves with them? It produces the same kinds of sickness! No one is supposed to be the same as anyone else. We were all created differently with sets of strengths and weaknesses. But God never intended that we should accomplish anything on our own. When we try to be perfect in the eyes of man, we fail because our trust is in ourselves and not in God. For it is “not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the LORD of hosts”. – Zechariah 4:6. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. But He has given us the gift of His Holy Spirit and this same Spirit that raised Messiah from the dead lives in us! 

“But let him who boasts boast about this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises loving-kindness, justice and righteousness on the earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD”. – Jeremiah 9:24.

If you have swallowed the lies of the enemy about who you are, I encourage you to face that lie with God’s truth and trust Him to give you the courage to see yourself through His eyes. He has given you great gifts to be used for His glory and as a blessing to others. So don’t let the enemy make you sick with comparison or depression about what you don’t have. Be thankful for all that God has given you and go out and make something of it! 

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