Bible Reading: Philippians 2:19-30; John 13:31-35

In our journey through Philippians, we come to the part of the letter many us speed over or ignore altogether.  Why would we really concern ourselves with the travel plans and business of two men close to 2,000 years ago?  But when we do this, we do miss some great truths and lessons that we need to be the people of God.

In these eleven verses, we see that two men are on their way to Philippi: Timothy and Epaphroditus.  Timothy is Paul’s protégé, of sorts, and Paul has great confidence in Timothy’s abilities and passion for Christ.  Also, Timothy seems to be, “genuinely concerned,” for the Philippians, so Paul sends Timothy in his place.  The second man, Epaphroditus, has a much deeper meaning in coming.  Epaphroditus is the messenger and minister that the Philippians sent to serve and helping during a time of need for Paul.  Epaphroditus willingly left his home, family, and friends to serve as a missionary for and with Paul.  While on this mission, Epaphroditus became very ill.  So ill, that Paul notes that Epaphroditus was, “near to death.”  God in His mercy spares and heals Epaphroditus, but word of his sickness had reached the Philippians.  They were concerned for their own, and their hearts and prayers went out to him.  Paul is sending Epaphroditus home to be welcomed with joy and honor for his service of the gospel.  This was likely a wonderful and celebratory homecoming. 

This is the kind of love and genuineness we should expect among Christians.  Is this how you respond when you have a guest speaker comes to church?  Are you excited to hear what God is doing in and through them in the place He has sent them?  Are you joyful when a believer returns to your church to testify to the work God has been doing?

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Application:  As the people of God, we must demonstrate love for each other.  Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”  There are so many ways we must apply this, but let’s look at in the church specifically.  We must stop being in such a hurry.  Show love to one another by sharing your time and attention.  Don’t settle for superficial pleasantries but give of your heart and mind to truly talk with fellow believers.  Also, take the step to be more transparent.  Don’t feel like you must give your life story but know that it is safe to be open about struggles and hurts you experience.  All believers face struggles more often than we care to share.  But we can show one another the love and grace by being open and honest at times.  If we all come together to slow down and be real believers together, the church will become a place of safety and love, and that will show the world that we are God’s children.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, thank you for all the things you call and equip us to do in this world.  Help us to be loving to one another and share this life together.  May we not be afraid to be who you made us to be, and may we show love to those who share with us.  Transform us inside and out to be your people so that our love will show the rest of the world that we belong to you.  We love you, God.  Amen.

AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Philippians 2:12-18; Matthew 5:14-16

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“You are the light of the world.”  This is what Jesus told to His disciples.  Not that they will be lights one day, or have the potential to be lights, but that they are the light.  As Christ-followers, a part of our new life and identity in Jesus is to be a light in a world filled with darkness.  To do this takes commitment to God and discipline to follow Him.  This is what I believe leads Paul to write in Philippians 2:12 for believers to, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.”  I used to wonder why fear and trembling was involved since Christians had been saved from sin and death.  The reason Paul uses these two words is not because of the danger of sin, but due to the holiness of God.

As Christians, we are the born-again children of God, and everything we do has His name attached to it.  Therefore, your words and deeds show the world our Heavenly Father.  My first youth minister used to always say: the only Bible some people will ever read is you.  That is a huge responsibility!  Living as lights for Christ in this world should not be taken lightly, but humbly and seriously.  We have been given a new life that is covered by the covenant promises of God, and we must be sure not to waste it. 

Application: The way we carry ourselves must be innocent and blameless of all evil.  We should not be known as gossips and grumblers, but as peacemakers and servants.  We live in the midst of a, “crooked and twisted generation,” and it is among them that we must shine as lights.  This is not so they will look at us, but our shining light is meant to point people on the path to Jesus.  As a Christ-follower, do not preoccupy yourself with worldly wealth and material possessions, but focus on being pure and without even the slightest blemish of wickedness.  We must be a people that are, “holding fast to the word of life,” and not live out our faith in vain.  Make God the first and greatest priority of your life, even if it means you will be poured out for the sake of others.  To live as a light for God, no matter what circumstances come your way, you are always found to be rejoicing in the salvation, love, grace and mercy of God.  Fix your hearts and minds upon Jesus and live as lights for Him.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for removing the darkness of sin from my life and making me to shine as a bright light for you.  Protect me from sin and selfishness and teach me how to live and shine as a godly light for all to see.  May my life be bright for your glory.  I love you, Father.  Amen.

AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Philippians 2:1-11

One of the hardest things to do in life is putting others before yourself.  We have so much we have to take care of in our own lives, that putting other’s needs before our own can be very frustrating.  As we begin Philippians 2, we read that Paul is encouraging Christians to be united and loving towards each other.  As Christ-followers, we work for peace with all people, but especially with fellow believers.  We should not be trying to climb the spiritual-ladder by stepping on and over others but should be encouraging and helping others to climb.  If anything, we should assist others to grow in their faith and gifts, even if it means promoting them over ourselves.  This is not only difficult, but opposite to what the world teaches and models for us.  That is why we cannot look to the world for guidance, but we must look to Jesus.

Paul reminds us of the example Jesus set for us, and it really helps us find perspective.  If there was ever anyone worthy of praise and honor in this world, it was Jesus.  After all, Jesus made all things (John 1:3), so all things should be worshiping Jesus.  However, when Jesus enters the world, He did not come with majesty and glory, but He came as a humble servant.  He came to serve, not to be served.  Paul reminds us that Jesus is equal with God but lowered Himself to become a man.  Even more so, Jesus was willing to die for the sins of the world in humiliating fashion upon the cross.  This is the humble obedience to the Father that we see and learn through our Savior, and this is the example we should follow.

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Application: Is it difficult for you to see others getting opportunities, even at church?  Are you able to celebrate the blessings of God in the lives of others?  It can be difficult to do because we tend to magnify the areas we lack instead of the areas others gain.  We must look to Jesus Christ daily as our example to follow.  As we seek to imitate Jesus, we learn to look to the Father, learn His will, and we obey God’s will.  God’s will is for us to love one another and build up each other’s faith and gifts.  We should be stirring up goodness, not trouble.  Pray for God’s help in humility, look to the example set by Christ, and love and serve others by counting them as more significant than yourself.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help me to walk the straight and narrow path of Christ.  This fallen world tempts me to go astray, but I seek you for help and strength.  Teach me your ways, O God, so that I may honor and glorify you with my life.  Thank you for all you have done, are doing and will do.  I love you, Heavenly Father.  Amen.

AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

                                                                                  Bible Reading: Philippians 1:18-30

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Last week, we focused on living for Christ and not for ourselves.  How would our lives change if we lived by the motto, “To live is Christ, to die is gain”?  To continue from this thought, this week I want us to key in on another phrase found in 1:27.  Paul writes, “Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ”.  To live as Christ, we must act in a way that is worthy of Him.  As a church, Paul gives a few practical ways we do this: standing firm in our faith in Christ, being united in our thoughts and actions to promote the gospel, and to be courageous together in the face of opposition.  The people of God, though made up of many individuals, is meant to be untied as one people under God.  You and I are members of the Church, and we have individual responsibilities to live worthy of God and His gospel.  We can discuss specific matters, but we must realize that our individual responsibilities are never far removed from our church responsibilities.

As an individual believer, how can you live worthy of the gospel of Christ?  One way is by abstaining from sin.  If there is anything in your life that is not pleasing and disobedient to God, or could lead someone away from Christ, then you must remove it.  Not only are we removing wicked things from our lives, but we are replacing them with godly, pure and good things.  Instead of selfish ambitions, Christians strive to do charitable works.  Instead of stealing, we freely give.  Instead of bitterness and revenge, we forgive and work for peace.  Instead of lust and adultery, we promote faithfulness and purity.  Every word we speak and thing we do should reflect the life and love of our Savior.  We proclaim to the world that we belong to God, so how we carry ourselves reflects on God.  When the world around you observes your life, they draw a picture of your Savior.  As they draw that picture, humbly strive to show them the amazing love and grace of our Heavenly Father.

Application: Merriam-Webster dictionary defines worthy as something having value, or something that has merit and honor.  The competitor who spells all the words correctly is worthy to be called the Spelling Bee Champion.  Paul tells us to live our lives in such a way that we are worthy of being called a child of God.  Make no mistake, Paul is not telling us to earn God’s love and salvation.  We know from Scripture that we do not deserve and cannot earn salvation, but it is a precious gift from God.  As God’s redeemed sons and daughters, our lives should be entirely devoted to living for God and making Him known.  His love and salvation has impacted us so deeply, that we cannot help but live for Him.  Living a life worthy of the gospel cannot be faked but flows from a genuine and sincere heart.  As you fall in love with Jesus, walking worthy of the gospel will occur as His Spirit works in you and through you. Seek Him daily through His Word and in prayer and let the Spirit of God grow your love for Jesus and transform your life from the inside out.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the salvation and love you have given to us.  There is nothing in this world greater or that could ever compare to you.  Help me to live a life worthy of the gospel, and may my life reflect you to the world around me.  I love you, my Lord and my God.  Amen.

AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Philippians 1:18-23; Psalm 34

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I may only be speaking for myself on this, but have any of you ever felt tension between enjoying life and enjoying God?  Does it ever feel like you must choose one over the other?  I think it is good to enjoy the life we have.  God has given us life, and He desires for us to be cared for and fulfilled.  However, God calls us to surrender our lives fully to Him.  God does this because He knows this is the only way we can truly be fulfilled.  This is a major hindrance to nonbelievers, and if we are honest, to us as believers at times.  We are torn between living life to the fullest and living life for Christ.  God tells us that these two are the same, but we fail to see how.  When sin entered and infected the entire world, it tampered with how we view life.  All of us, even the most selfless and humble, have a self-centered view of life.  We may wonder, “how is my life making a difference?” Even some of our most other-centered thoughts focus on how we live.  “What can I do to establish my families future?”  “How can I make this world better for the next generation?”

When Paul looks at his life and purpose of it, he calls it, “fruitful labor”.  His focus is on producing fruit, which Paul himself cannot do.  No person can plant an apple tree and make it grow apples.  We can care for the tree, but only God can produce fruit.  The message here is: as you live, rely on God for your life, your family, your work, your focus, your provision, your everything.  When life is lived this way, death is seen as a precious gift, because you will be with Jesus, and that is far better. 

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Application:  How would adopting this passage as your mindset for life change your marriage?  How would it change your home?  Your work?  I think there is much joy and peace to be had in this kind of living.  To stay with the farming analogy for a moment, many say this kind of work is rewarding.  Rewarding does not mean easy but gives a sense of joy and fulfillment that not much other work can.  Likewise, making our life to reflect Christ will not be easy at times, but will be rewarding.  That reward will be seen in our homes, in our jobs, in our churches, and in all the world where God’s people are.  That reward is the joy and peace of knowing and experiencing Jesus.  To know in your heart and mind that you lack nothing because in Him you have everything.  With thankful heart, worshiping minds and compassionate hands, we will live for God every day.  When we do this, I truly believe that it will be far better than the life we have lived to this point.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, you are the best thing we have ever experienced or known.  You know our hearts and minds are prone to wander, so we pray asking for you to keep us focused on You.  Only you, O God, can make our lives full.  Make us full, Lord, and may we glorify you in this life you have given us.  We love you.  Amen.

AuthorLarkin Sumerlin
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Bible Reading: Philippians 1:12-18

In our first post of this series, we focused on the good work God is doing in and through His people.  In all the various stages of life we go through, God has things for His people to be doing.  The works may not be apparent to us, but there is a reason for the places and seasons we find ourselves.  We have Philippians 1:12-18 as an example for how to use your season of life for the glory of God. 

Paul has been thrown into prison, but he tells his brothers and sisters at Philippi not to be concerned.  How could Paul say such a thing?  Because his imprisonment has, “really served to advance the gospel”.  Paul is in chains and not receiving the best treatment at the hands of the guards, but he has made Christ known throughout the entire imperial guard and all his fellow prisoners.  He was arrested for preaching the Gospel, and what is he doing in prison?  Preaching the gospel!  They cannot seem to silence this man who loves Jesus, and God honors the words that Paul speaks.

Paul is not ignorant to the fact that some are trying to prosper in his imprisonment.  They are trying to cash in on the gospel and gain a following and fame from their, “ministry.”  As they seek to outdo Paul, they are selfishly trying to build themselves up.  Where this would greatly annoy anyone of us, Paul is just happy that Christ is being proclaimed.  Regardless of the motives of the minister, if the name of Christ and His Gospel is being proclaimed, then there is reason to rejoice.

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Application: There is a reason for the season of life you are in.  Regardless of whether the season is good or not, the reason is to make Christ known in how you live.  Are you facing trials and struggles?  Proclaim the gospel in it.  Are you a favorable season of peace?  Proclaim the gospel in it.  It is hard to not look at others whose lives may be in a better place than we currently are, but what we learn from this passage is clear: if Jesus Christ is being made known, then we have reason to rejoice.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, I know You are never far away from me.  You walk with me through every season.  You are the Good Shepherd who leads over hills and through valleys all my days.  Regardless of my season of life, help me to proclaim Christ.  May my life reflect Your goodness and love.  I love You, God.  Amen.

AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Philippians 1:1-11; Psalm 1

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Philippians is one of Paul’s prison letters, and it is a very popular, highly quoted letter among believers.  What makes this letter so stirring is the place Paul is in when he writes it.  He is in prison, and there is a chance that he will be executed.  At the time, none of the believers know if they will ever see Paul again, and Paul has no assurance of who he will see again.  Amid this tense and anxious time, Paul pens a letter to the believers in Philippi.  His opening statements are filled with a love and compassion that is rarely seen nowadays.  This love and passion is seen in the hopes and prayers he has for the believers in Philippi.

Paul first thanks God for them, because they have been wonderful partners in ministry.  The Philippians, after believing the Gospel, committed to following and serving Jesus.  They blessed Paul in numerous ways that we find out later in the letter.  Paul is certain of something about these Philippians, and that Is God’s transforming hand on them.  In 1:6, he writes, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  Paul has personally seen and heard of their growth in Christ, and Paul knows that God will continue to transform them until He has finished His perfecting work.  Paul knows that the Philippians are also struggling with persecution for their faith, so he encourages them that God is working in them to do His will.

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Finally, to close out the opening portion of the letter, Paul tells them a specific prayer he has for them.  Paul prays for their love to grow more and more, and for them to grow in both knowledge and discernment.  Paul prays these things so that the Philippians will not be led astray by the things of this world, and so they will only approve of what is good and honoring to God.  In doing this, these believers would remain, “pure and blameless for the day of Christ,” and they would be welcomed by God into His kingdom.

Application: Have you ever loved someone so deeply that you have prayed these things over them?  Have you ever prayed for someone to have a love for God and people that would continue to grow?  Or for them to grow in knowledge and discernment of the things of God?  Paul has a genuine affection for these people that should be strangers to him, but God has knitted their hearts together.  This is what God does!  He unifies people who would never have had any dealing with each other.  God takes people from all over the globe, and He makes them into one people, His Church. 

I want to encourage you to begin viewing other believers this way.  To open up your heart to genuinely love and desire things for them.  Pray for growth in love, knowledge and discernment, and for God to continue to work and perfect His people.  When we begin to have this kind of genuine affection for the people in our church, then we will begin acting like the Church.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach us how to love as You love.  Help us to have genuine hearts and be open to uniting with others.  We have been taught to hold back from such genuine openness, so we ask for You to teach us Your ways.  May we become the holy people of God and begin acting like Your Church.  We thank You for the work You have begun, and we praise You that You are faithful to complete it. We love You, Father.  Amen.

AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: John 8:12-30; Jeremiah 9:23-24

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When we read the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees in John 8, we see the wisdom of God pitted against the wisdom of the world.  The Pharisees doubt the authority of Jesus, and so they challenge his every word.  Although they never see eye-to-eye, this conversation gets very heated.  The Pharisees have become so wrapped up in their knowledge and legalism, that they despise the teachings of Christ.  Jesus claims to be light and life to all who believe, but the Pharisees have placed their life in the Law of God.  There is a phrase Jesus speaks in this passage that shows a major point of belief and difference.  In John 8:17, Jesus says, “In your Law it is written –.”  The Pharisees claim to follow and teach the Law of God, but Jesus calls it their Law.  The Pharisees have wandered away from true faith and worship in God and have learned to place their faith in confidence in God’s Law.

The Apostle Paul picks up this thought in his letter to the Romans, and he points out that God’s Law is not wicked or sinful.  God’s Law is good because it teaches us God’s standard of living and it instructs us in holiness.  The issue in John 8 is where the faith is being placed: in God, or in His Law?  If faith is placed in the Law, then our hope and confidence rely solely on our performance and obedience.  If our faith is placed in God alone, then even though we should fall into sin, we hope and rely on God to save us.  God is not in competition with His Law, as if we must choose one or the other.  We love God, and we love the Bible (which includes His Law) He has given to us.  The question then becomes this: what do you place your confidence in?

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Call to Action: We live in a world that loves accomplishment.  Many people of dreaming of ascending to the top of their field, becoming established financially, and living out their dreams.  They have put their confidence, ambition and self into this pursuit of happiness.  Sadly, there is not accomplishment or fulfilled-dream that satisfies the human heart.  Read what God says in Jeremiah 9:23-24, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord…”  Take some time to consider what you place your confidence and hope in.  Are you confident that your dreams and ambitions will fill your heart and give your soul peace?  Or are you confident in God?  Do you have peace knowing that no matter what this world says or does against you, that your God is and practices, “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth”?  You can be confident when God and Christ are your all and all.  Surrender your life to Him, and may He fill you with His love and peace.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, help us to place our hope in you.  Teach us to be confident that you alone are God, and that you are above all things.  May we trust you above and more than anything this world has to offer.  We love you.  Amen.

AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: Romans 12:1-21, Psalm 143:10

It is an understood truth, that as years go by, a person should be growing up and maturing in some way.  In eighteen short months, my daughter has gone from motionless to sprinting around the house.  She has also gone from a milk-only diet to enjoying many different types of food.  Her vocabulary is just now starting to grow.  I love watching her progress and grow up.  But imagine with me for a moment, if ten years from now, my daughter still spoke like her eighteen-month-old self.  That is a problem!  Her life should look vastly different ten years from now, and vastly more different twenty years after that.  That is the process of growing up and maturing. 

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Our faith in Christ is no different.  Our daily lives should be growing and maturing to look more like a child of God every day.  Growing and learning how to live like a Christian is a process we call sanctification, which essentially means to growing in holiness and godliness.  In Romans 12:2, Paul uses the word, “transform”, to talk about the believer’s life.  He writes, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.”  What is to be gained through this transformation?  That you will know what the will of God is, and that you will know, “what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

We may think, “That is all well and good, but can you help me see what that truly looks like?”  That is a mature question to ask, as we all need to know how to take something that is real and true in our hearts and minds, and then apply it to our body and work.  Paul knows this, and so he writes down what are some signs of solid Christian character.  He says that we should use our strengths and gifts to serve others, hate what is evil, rejoice in hope, patient in tribulation, and strive to outdo one another in love and service.  There is a genuine love for Christ and others that forms as you mature in your faith.  Do you see this kind of growth and maturation in your life with Christ?

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Call to Action: Psalm 143:10 says, “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God!  Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground!”  To grow in godliness, you must know God, and spend time in His presence.  The world demands a large amount of our time, energy and life, and we often do not question what it demands.  However, we far too often question the demands God makes of us.  Memorize Romans 12:21, which says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  The world may try to control your time, but you can overcome that by giving your time, energy, love and heart to God and His people.  Find a way to plug into the church and serve.  If you see a place you can do good for someone, do it.  As you surrender more of your life to God, He will work in you to show the world the marks of a true Christian.

Prayer:  Heavenly Father, this world demands so much of us.  Teach us to say “No”, to the world’s demands, and “Yes”, to You.  Work in us to know your will and teach us how to be godly men and women in this world.  May all our good serve to overcome the evil in this world and bring honor and glory to You.  We love you, Father.  Amen.

AuthorLarkin Sumerlin

Bible Reading: John 1

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Years ago, I saw a skit performed that made me rethink who I was claiming to be.  I called myself a Christian, but this skit challenged my identity.  In the skit, the man was pretending to be Satan, and he was challenging you to complete the sentences he was speaking.  He began a popular song lyric that myself and the crowd easily finished for him.  He challenged us to recite three different phone numbers with the area code and was stunned that we could recall thirty individual numbers so quickly.  Then he offered up a quote that none of us could complete.  He looked at us confused.  What caused his confusion?  Well, the quote was from the Gospel of John, and was a quote from Jesus Christ Himself.  How could an assembly of Christians complete a secular song lyric, recall three different phone numbers, but could not finish a verse spoken by our Savior?

This skit has stuck with me and challenged me to become familiar with the life and words of my Lord.  All believers should desire to grow closer in relationship to Christ.  Our faith, knowledge and love should be growing and maturing day after day.  Your faith in God should look much different than it did at the first.  But I must ask you the question that skit left me asking myself: How much do you really know the Savior of your soul?

When we look at John 1, we get a beautiful, poetic description of who our Savior is and what He came to do.  Jumping through the entire chapter, some of the descriptions given are: the Word, the true light, the only Son from the Father, the One through whom grace and truth come, the Lamb of God, the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of Israel.  In one Gospel chapter, we get a full picture of who Jesus is.  The message is true and worth our full attention: to know Christ and have your life centered on Him, you must learn about Christ and His life.  Where can we learn these things?  Through reading the accounts of the life of Jesus Christ over and over again.

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Call to Action:  It does not take much time to read a chapter of the Bible.  Not many chapters take more than a page and a half.  How would your relationship with Jesus change if you at least one chapter from any of the four Gospels every day, for the rest of your life?  Today, you read John 1.  Tomorrow read John 2, and keep this up until you finish John’s gospel.  Once you’re done, move on to Matthew, and then Mark and Luke.  When you have completed all four, start again!  We know song lyrics, phone numbers, and meaningless trivia because we constantly have it filling up our minds.  Instead of using temporary, worthless things to feed your mind, instead, fill your mind with the Word of God.

Prayer:  Lord Jesus, teach us to weigh and measure the value of what we take into our hearts and minds.  Show yourself as the most valuable and incomparable treasure our lives can receive.  I pray that all of us who claim your name would become familiar with who You are and what You did.  May we become so knowledgeable of your life, that our lives begin to reflect yours.  Help us in this we pray.  Amen.

AuthorLarkin Sumerlin