Ruth- God’s Picture of Redemption

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The book of Ruth is an incredible story of redemption. The story begins with Naomi and her husband leaving God’s presence to flee the famine in the land. Immediately we find the stunning reality of deception! Understand if you live for God long enough you will find yourself in a famine, but DO NOT listen to the voice of deception! The voice of deception will attempt to point your gaze towards “greener” pastures. Never be mistaken, the scriptures emphatically teach us “…sin is pleasurable for a season…” But like a narcotic the high will never sustain you past the moment, instead it will leave you crashing down to earth desperately seeking another high! Don’t abandon God’s plan now, don’t settle for the plains of Moab because Israel’s in a famine. This famine won’t last forever, you may be weeping now but if you’ll just hold on through the famine joy is coming in the morning!

As we progress through the book, we discover 2 daughter-in-laws, Ruth and Orpah. Both of these girls have verbally pledged their loyalty to Naomi. They plead with Naomi to take them back to her land and to her people. These girls were undoubtedly committed until Naomi began to count the cost. Once the cost had been counted the Bible says that Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clave unto her.

Orpah was content to simply kiss Naomi, but Ruth was committed beyond the emotion! She said “…whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people will be my people, and thy God my God.” There must come a point in every believers life where we move beyond the infatuation stage and become committed to God! If you idea of relationship consists of the highs of worship rather than the depths of prayer, you might have an Orpah spirit! But if you’ve made up in your mind, I’m holding onto to this thing with everything I’ve got! I’m not letting go of this great truth! I didn’t get into the church to kiss this thing, I’m committed to the plan of God!

I love what the Bible records next in Ruth 1:18, “When she saw that she was steadfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her.” In 2014 vernacular Ruth 1:18 says, “When she saw Ruth had made up her mind…” There are a lot of people who would love to talk you out of doing anything for God, but if you could ever make up your mind! Critics can’t critique people with a made up mind! Negativity can’t influence people with a made up mind! The devil is powerless against people with a made up mind! I think it’s time somebody stopped playing games with your mind and just steadfastly set your mind to do the will of God!

It was when Ruth made up her mind that she found herself in a position to be redeemed! The reality of redemption is God is a gentleman, and he will never kick open a door into your life. Instead he stands at the door and knocks. So once Ruth became eligible for redemption, there was a legal matter that had to be addressed first. There was a close of kin closer than Boaz, who had the legal right to redeem Naomi. He was fine with this, in fact I’m sure he even relished at the opportunity to redeem her. Naomi had a lot to offer this fellow, her bloodline was untarnished, she had property and an inheritance. What was there not to like about Naomi? But the unsettling truth was whoever redeemed Naomi, would also redeem Ruth. Ruth was different than Naomi; you see Ruth didn’t grow up in Israel, she was a Moabite. The kinsman redeemer weighed the reality of such an agreement and he decided the risk of Ruth’s “tarnished goods” were too big of a risk for his legacy.

Ruth 4 tells us that Boaz and this man met with the elders at the gate of the city, as the kinsman redeemer turned over his rights to Boaz. Ruth 4:7 tells us, “Now this was the manner in former time in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbor: and this was a testimony in Israel.” This custom was established in Deuteronomy 25:5-10, the law as written by Moses states that if a man was unable or physically unwilling to redeem then the elders would call him to the gate of the city. Deuteronomy 25:9 says, “Then shall his brother’s wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face…”

It seems to be a pretty disgraceful act, but redemption was a big deal! The act of removing his shoe and spitting in his face was the expression of his inability or unwillingness to redeem. Perhaps that’s why John the Baptist said in John 1:27, “…he…who coming after me is preferred above me, whose shoe’s latchet I am not worthy to unloose.” John stated that Jesus was so able to redeem humanity, that he wasn’t even worthy to loose his shoe! John was so convinced of who Jesus was that he reached into Jewish law and used an expression concerning redemption every Jew would understand to tell the world Jesus was the redeemer! That is why Matthew records these words in Matthew 26:67, “Then did they spit in his face…” They remembered the words of John the Baptists declaring that Jesus was able to redeem them, yet they spit in his face to express in their minds he wasn’t.

Although the Jewish people openly mocked his redemptive power, Jesus proved he was not just able to redeem, he was willing. When the world mocked him, he was willing! When the crowd spit on him, he was willing! When his disciples fled and ran, he was willing! When it felt like the whole world had turned their backs on him, he was still willing!

There is nothing more beautiful in scripture than God’s redemptive plan. Regardless of where you might have came from, be encouraged, Jesus is not just able to redeem you, he’s willing!

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The Wilderness of Sin

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Truly remarkable is the story of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. When we really examine the scenes of this journey we can catch a glimpse of our own lives. Most of humanity has spent time under the rule of oppression. I too have felt the whip of Pharaoh’s taskmaster in my life, but I have watched countless times as God’s divine hand reached into my bondage and brought me out! Where would we be today if not for the grace of God? Where would our families be today if not for God’s mercy?

As remarkable as Israel’s exodus was, it’s their journey towards Canaan that captures my attention. It is a symbol of God’s divine plan, not just to bring you out of sin, but to take you into a land flowing with milk and honey! I’m so glad that when I gave my life to God, I didn’t have to try and life for Him in the same mess He found me in, but his goodness and mercy led me to a “new dimension” of favor! Thank God for blessings!

As I read of Israel’s journey out of Egypt, I see an all too familiar scene unfold in Exodus 16. Israel has only been out of Egypt for 2 months when the Bible says that Israel found themselves in a wilderness of Sin. I am of the opinion, that once God brings you out of Egypt, you will find a wilderness of sin along your journey towards Canaan. Oh I’d love to tell you that Canaan comes immediately after Egypt, but truth be told there is a journey that must be traveled!

Because once God takes you out of Egypt, He then must take Egypt out of you!

As I examine the spectrum of Christianity I see the reality of people wandering in the wilderness of Sin. You see in this wilderness it gets lonely; in this wilderness it feels like your lost; in this wilderness you begin to wonder if you made the right decision or not; in this wilderness your family and your friends begin to turn their backs on you! For in this wilderness Israel said this..

Exodus 16:2-3

“And the whole congregation of the children of Israel murmured against Mose and Aaron in the wilderness: And the children of Israel said unto them, would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full, for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

As Israel wandered through this wilderness they began to reminisce about the good ol’ days. Remember in Egypt when we sat by the fire, pots roasting on the fire. We had all kinds of bread there too. Everyday was like a feast of some kind, we never seemed to be hungry in Egypt. Now the pains of hunger grip their stomachs, the chill of the night breathes down their necks and suddenly those reminiscent memories begin to taunt them. If you would’ve stayed in Egypt you wouldn’t be in this wilderness. If you would’ve never listened to Moses and Aaron life would be so much easier right now! Who are they to tell you how to live, where to go, and what to do? Who do Moses and Aaron think they are? This is all their fault!

I sense in my spirit today that there are precious people in this wilderness, listening to those same deceptive voices. When I was in the world I had money to pay my bills, now my Pastor is always harping about tithes! Back then I could watch what I wanted, go where I pleased, act how I wanted! I never wanted anything because I got whatever I wanted. Now, I’m stuck out here wandering around looking for some promises! Maybe I should just go back to my old job, maybe I should just go back to my old lifestyle! 

There is a reason Solomon in his wisdom declared in Ecclesiastes 7:10, “Say not thou, what is the cause that the former days were better than these?” Solomon had experimented in all the pleasures of the world seeking something to fulfill his soul. After his exhaustive search Solomon discovered “all is vanity”. In other words Solomon discovered that there is nothing in this world that can fill the hunger of your soul!

What Israel didn’t realize is that God was allowing them to starve in that wilderness. The bread of Egypt would never satisfy these Hebrews, yet they longed for it! It’s all they knew! What they didn’t know was God was already cooking up some bread in heaven! Only this bread wasn’t of this world!

I want to encourage somebody who may be wrestling with the hunger you feel. Don’t settle for Egyptian bread, not when God is trying to prepare you for the bread of life!

Exodus From Egypt

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The Bible is a fascinating book on many accounts. To some it is merely the greatest fabrication of all time, to others its a book of moral instruction, but to people in “the church” we know it is the divine word of God. The Apostle Paul was training a young minister named Timothy and he emphatically declared that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is critical for you to understand that the word of God is not up for private interpretation. The Apostle Peter told the church, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (1 Peter 1:20-21).

The word of God is inerrant, infallible and completely incredible! Since God divinely designed this book we call the Bible, surely there is a structure of salvation present in this book. If so then why are there so many opinions regarding this topic? Some point to John 3:16 and tell you that “…God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Others will tell you to rewind that chapter to John 3:3-5 where Jesus instructed Nicademus to be born again of the water and of the spirit, which was fulfilled in Acts 2! Still they will take you to Romans 10 and tell you to walk the Roman road, if you confess with your mouth and believe in your heart you shall be saved.” So the other group takes them to Acts 19:2, and Paul asked this question, “have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed?”

So who’s right and who’s wrong? Let’s look at this thing from a different perspective, first of all understanding that we are all sinners in need of redemption. Regardless of your doctrinal persuasion or your religious background we must all understand that we are sinners. David wrote of this revelation in Psalms 51:5, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Even in my most righteous state I am nothing more than a sinner saved by grace! I echo the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthian church, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Sadly, the reality of our world is a growing belief system that believes that there are many ways to to get to heaven, each person’s ideologies are irrelevant since we’ll all end up at the same place. That sounds great in theory, however when we study the geography of salvation we find there is only ONE way out of Egypt! Let’s examine this element of exodus and see God’s plan of salvation.

1.) A lamb had to die.

As the children of Israel were in captivity, they needed the blood of an innocent lamp to cover their households! That blood was a foreshadowing of what was to come, the blood cleansed, redeemed and protected them! You should be thankful that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, was slain from the foundations of the world so that you and I could be redeemed!

2.) They had to walk away from Egypt.

In order for God to take them to their Promised Land they had to walk away from Egypt. This is why we have to preach repentance! There are some things God has to do, and then there are some things you have to do! You have to make a decision to walk away from some things, walk away from some friends, walk away from some relationships! Repentance simply means to reverse course or change directions, if you want to be delivered from Egypt then you must be willing to walk away!

3.) They came to the water.

I know there is power in the blood, and I know there is life changing content in repentance; but if we think we can stop with simply walking away we will be devoured! Pharaoh and his chariots are coming after you, the only way to be redeemed is to go through the water! We don’t go through the water any old way, we go through that water in Jesus name! It’s only when you go through the water does Pharaoh lose his influence over you as he drowns in that water! When you go through the water all of your problems, chaos, enemies and addictions stay in the water! We still need the water of baptism to deliver us from sin!

4.) They needed the cloud by day and the fire by night.

It is rather unique for a cloud to lead Israel by day and a pillar of fire to lead them by night, but this is a spiritual typology of the Holy Ghost. It is no coincidence that as the Holy Ghost fell for the first time, the Bible says there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire!

Regardless of whether you believe in the apostolic message or not, there remains only ONE plan to get you out of Egypt and into the Promised Land! This was, in typology form, the the same message Jesus gave Nicademus, if you want out of Egypt and into heaven then you must be born again!

If you desire more information on the subject feel free to email me at joshuamcelhaney@att.net or find me on Twitter @jlmcelhaney

Principles for Ministry

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We live in a complex world; radically changing fads, polarizing celebrities, emergent churches and superstar preachers. The pull to follow these New Age methods can become enticing if we are not grounded in truth. I have recently become even more passionate about ministry principles than I ever have been before. I’m not sure if it’s the outrageous number of peers who have called it quits, the loved ones who have left “the faith” in pursuit of an easier way, or simply the rise of young people feeling the call of God on their lives in our fellowship. Something has propelled me into brand new perspective of what we call ministry. Recently I wrote a blog entitled The Blessing of the Second Man. In this blog I explained the blessing of serving your pastor. Ministry is multifaceted, it’s not about being “the guy” its about doing His will! With that being said I want to try and present something that helped shape my ministry and hope that this blog can impact your ministry as it did mine, whatever your ministry may be.

First of all allow me to explain that this blog is different than others I’ve written. I will be very transparent about my own struggles and how God helped me overcome those struggles to be an effective minister in His kingdom.

Like most “young ministers” I couldn’t wait for my first opportunity to preach. That is until I heard my Bible college peers! These guys were incredible! Immediately I questioned my calling, “there’s no way I can preach like that” I thought! I became fearful and intimidated because I started measuring myself against those guys. Understand comparison is a dangerous toy to play with! It took me a long time to realize that God had called me to be me! 

If I could sit down with every aspiring young preacher I would tell them as clear as day, “DO NOT COMPARE YOURSELF TO YOUR PEERS!” We can not be afraid to allow God to anoint us! That includes my quirks, my personality, my thought patterns and my mannerisms. Don’t try and duplicate another preacher, don’t try and mimic and emulate somebody else! God called YOU! Be YOU! I learned I can’t preach like those guys, because God didn’t call me to preach like those guys! Guess what, they can’t preach like me either! We are all different!

Principle Number 1: BE YOURSELF!

After I finally accepted the fact that I will never be so and so, I began to struggled in a different area. I am still by definition a “young preacher”, I’m 27 years old and I struggled with connecting to people as a minister. “Will these people take me serious? How do I minister effectively to people who have known me since I got in the church?” Soon the weight of my inexperience tormented me. I began to feel inadequate as a preacher. There those peers of mine were preaching youth rally’s and evangelizing and here I am leading service!

After years of struggling with comparison, struggling with feelings of inadequacy, struggling with the idea of whether or not I even belonged, God changed my life. I was simply reading my Bible one day when I had one of those “God moments”. I was reading the book of Psalms and I had reached chapter 78 and as I read down the chapter of 72 verse, the last 3 passages hit me like a ton of bricks!

Psalms 78:70-72

“He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: From following ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.”

God called David from feeding sheep to feed His people! “Don’t despise the day of small things” because God is simply preparing you for something bigger!

Principle Number 2: ACCEPT YOUR DESTINY!

David could’ve looked at his past, pedigree or present circumstances and decided he wasn’t cut out for this. He wasn’t invited to the party with the prophet, he was ridiculed by his brother, he was mocked by his adversary, and even the king of Israel tried to talk him out of it! But David had already accepted his destiny!

When God called me to preach, truth be told I was ill qualified. My past, my pedigree and even my present circumstances told me, “who are you kidding!” Members of my own family told me I was throwing my life away! If that was hard enough when I finally arrived in Bible college I found out my peers thought I wouldn’t last because I was a “new convert”! People have mocked me but my destiny has already been settled! People have ridiculed me and tried to talk me out of this “mistake”, but my destiny has already been settled! Settle your destiny now before your facing Goliath in a valley and your all alone because nobody believes in you! Peter told us in 1 Peter 1:10 to make our calling and election sure, and we will never fall! You can’t be defeated by family, peers, or giants if your destiny is settled!

So after David settled his destiny he was responsible for feeding Israel. Psalms tells us that he fed them with the integrity of his heart, and he guided them with the skillfulness of his hands. People notice the skill, but God notices the integrity. We may guide people all day long, but if there is no integrity in our hearts we will guide them into false doctrine and compromise!

Principle Number 3: INTEGRITY

There is a reason the Bible refers to David as a man after God’s own heart. David was a man of integrity! He had opportunities to vindicate himself, but integrity wouldn’t allow it! He had opportunities to eliminate his opposition to the throne, but integrity wouldn’t allow it! If we have integrity we have everything we need! Notice the Bible says he fed the people with integrity! He didn’t preach fancy sermons he had integrity! And the people began to grow. But integrity could only feed them, the people were still in need of direction and guidance.

Principle Number 4: SKILL

“He guided them with the skillfulness of his hands” Skill is not talent! You are born with talent, but skill must be developed! That is why the Apostle Paul told young Timothy, “Study to show thyself approved unto God…” Skill must be developed! We cannot depend on talent to get the job done, the people we minister to are in need of direction, and we must know the word! Daniel prophesied that the people that did know their God would be strong and do exploits. There is an anointing that flows from knowledge! When knowledge of the word is balanced with integrity the people will thrive! We need to feed and guide the people of the Lord!

I strongly believe that if we apply these principles to our lives our ministries will become more effective than we can even imagine! Be yourself! Accept your destiny! Strive for integrity! Develop your skills! I know there are many principles for ministry, but these principles have been a blessing to me and I pray they will to you as well. God bless.

Is My Church Really a Church?

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The Church is a beautiful entity. There is nothing in this world quite like the church of the Living God! The church, Jesus said, would be built on a rock and even the forces of Hell would never prevail against it!  With that being said, how do we determine the validity of a church? Is it validated by membership? Perhaps by age, history, or creed? What makes a church THE church? I’m not talking about denominational accuracy or doctrinal creeds, that’s another blog for another time. What determines if an organization is a church or simply a social club? What determines if your Pastor is really a Shepherd or a motivational speaker?

First of all I’d like to explain this is not a pro-denomination blog. It is neither my goal nor my aim to convince you I’m right and you’re wrong. My desire with this blog is to simply bring to light principles from the word of God.

First of we need to understand that the “church” must be built on 2 principles. Hebrews 11:3 tells us that the world was framed by the word of God. The first thing we need is structure. In Genesis chapter 1 we see the Word of God at work as God begins to speak into the dark abyss of nothingness. The Bible tells us that the world was without form and it was void, but the spoken word of God brought structure to a formless world. Do you ever wonder why our world is so backwards? Why it seems like there is no form of morality or form of godliness? It’s because we’ve removed God’s word from this world, and anytime you remove God’s word you remove structure! A true church will be defined by it’s adherence to God’s word! We don’t structure our lives or our churches after our ideologies, we allow the Word of God to bring structure and straighten every crooked path! I can’t do that with my intellect, but God can with His word!

Secondly, in Genesis the Bible also tells us of creation, “…and the Spirit of God moved…” Though the spoken word brought structure, the moving of the Spirit brought life! It’s not enough to have structure alone, we need to add to our structure the life of the Spirit of God!

In Ezekiel 37, the prophet Ezekiel is carried out into a valley of dry bones and the Lord asked a very unique question, “can these bones live?” The prophet answered wisely, “Lord, thou knowest” So God commands this prophet to begin to prophesy (preach) to these bones. As the Word of God was spoken, the scattered bones began to realign themselves. Suddenly, the bones began to take form as structure was restored to these dead, dry bones. Notice, after God empowered Ezekiel with the word, the valley was full of structure. If you look around your church and all you see are the fragments of defeated saints, maybe you need to consider moving to a church empowered with the word! Because the word can bring form to the fragments of your past!

Although the valley had replaced the mess with structure, there was still no life! Structure alone will not save us! We need the influence of the spirit as well! So God commanded his prophet once again, this time telling him to prophesy to the wind (symbolic of the spirit). As he did the wind began to blow, as it would again in Acts 2, and life was restored to the body!

Is it any coincidence that Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well, “true worshipers worship the father in spirit and in truth.” In word and spirit! I don’t want to be out of balance with God’s plan, we need preaching and spirit, spirit and preaching! We can’t have one without the other!

Samson had the spirit, but he had no structure! Spirit without structure leads to compromise! If Samson had structure in his life he would’ve never fell for Delilah! We need structure! I can’t make decisions for myself, the Bible says there is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof is death! God let your word speak to my spirit, let your word bring structure to my life!

The Pharisees had structure, but they desperately needed the spirit! Structure without spirit leads to legalism! That is why the Apostle Paul told the church at Corinth, “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” Word alone will develop a self-righteous attitude, you will become judgmental and condescending. God don’t let me become Pharisaical because I have all word and no spirit! Let your spirit balance the word and bring life to my soul!

So what makes a church a church? It’s not programs, people or pedigree. A true church will be a church built around the word and the spirit!

The Passionate Pursuit of Promise

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Passion… Pursuit… Promise… 3 words that undeniably shape, sharpen and solidify your future. Take any successful individual and ask them what made them what they are today and I assure you the overwhelming response would simply be passion! Without passion we are wasting our time, either we are sold out or we aren’t! But is passion alone all we need to find the promises of God in our lives?

Although passion is a catalyst for greatness, greatness cannot be achieved without clear and distinct focus! In other words, beyond our passion we need a determined pursuit for God’s promises. The word pursuit means to actively follow. Pretty profound I know; but it is significant when you really step back and examine its meaning. Active means to engage yourself while follow means to go after, it speaks of a premeditated mindset. Never underestimate the power of a made up mind!

In the Book of Hosea the Lord is speaking to the prophet a clear and direct message. In chapter 10 verse 12 the Lord tells Hosea, “Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy, break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.”

What a promise! God desires to rain on His people! But this promise is contingent upon passion and pursuit! “Hosea, you want to reap a harvest? You have to sow some seed!” The Lord commissioned the prophet, “…break up your fallow ground…” In other words, he told him there is soil in this field that has the potential to yield fruit but you have yet to tap into the potential!

Let me end the metaphor there and share what’s on my heart. God is calling for His people to start putting passion into their profession! There is a harvest of mercy, a harvest of righteousness, and a harvest of power available to you if you will break up some fallow ground! There are areas in your life that have the potential for greatness, but you must begin plowing by faith! The potential of your future is buried in soil that’s been ignored! Stop looking at your life through the eyes of reason and logic! Understand God see’s things differently than we do.

So how, you may ask, do I break up this fallow ground and tap into my potential? The Lord revealed this to Hosea, “…for it is time to seek the Lord, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” Once your promise has been realized and your passion engages your heart, it is now time to seek the Lord! If you are to experience the beauty of your harvest, it will require a passionate pursuit for the Lord! And the Law of the Harvest tells me, that if you sow you will reap!

Galatians 6:7

“…whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

Embracing Today

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I’m sitting here this morning thinking of all God’s goodness. I know I don’t deserve any of it, but nonetheless God’s been good to me.

As I sit here at work this morning I am reminded of something the Lord shared with me a short while back. Frustration seems to be the overwhelming theme for 2014, and without question it has bombarded my wife and I! There have been times in our frustration where we have cried, “God when will this season of life be over!” We know, to some degree, where our future is, yet the struggle to survive today weighs heavily on our minds.

I was simply reading the story of the lane man at the pool of Bethesda, 38 years this man spent stuck in this position. That wasn’t very encouraging to me! Suddenly I saw something I’ve never seen, it literally jumped off the page at me! When Jesus saw his condition he asked him an important question, “will you be made whole?” In other words, are you ready for a change? “Of course I am Lord, but you see (insert excuse here)”

Jesus responded lovingly,if you want change, take up your bed and walk“. Suddenly I realized something empowering! Jesus didn’t change his circumstances until the man was willing to embrace his bed!

What does that mean for us? Simple, the only way God will know he can trust you for the next chapter of life is for you to embrace today! It may not be what your vision sees, but embrace where you are! It may not be where you want to be, but embrace where you are! It may feel like you’ve been here 38 years, but embrace where you are!

I don’t know what has you frustrated, but I do know the Lord is simply asking His people, “take up your bed and walk!” Whatever your bed may be, embrace it and walk with God where you are!