Whose inheritance would you like a share in?

I have a hobby horse that I like to climb on and canter around upon from time to time. Usually it is in response to a tweet or speech or sermon that includes a phrase such as, 'my team' or 'my staff.' I am sure that I am probably being pernickety but something about the personal ownership over a joint venture makes me squirm a little. I am much more a fan of the language of team that includes words like, we, our and us rather than me, I and mine. You can tell a lot about someone by the language they use. 

Of course this kind of language betrays a culture of a church or a team. The language of sharing tells us that the culture within that team is one where credit is shared between all members; nobody is the star of the show. This of course brings its sacrifice to those within the team. Some will work more hours on a project but all will share the same rewards and credit. The more talented in the team will share the same glory as those whom they would outshine on individual merit but there is an understanding that this will be the case.

The theory of shared glory and shared shame is woven throughout the whole of the Bible and is summed up in one verse in Romans 5;

'Yes, Adam's one sin brings condemnation for everyone, but Christ's one act of righteousness brings a right relationship with God and new life for everyone.' 

In this verse hangs a central theme of the gospel; that along with the goodness of God's design instilled in us we also carry the flaw of sin, yet through Christ can receive an equal share in His glory through His righteousness. This is the ultimate culture of sharing. Jesus, without sin and the sole heir of heaven chooses to share all that is His with us. We become heirs of His inheritance. He approaches the throne of God with the language of we, us and our. We have not earned this and we do not deserve it yet we receive it nonetheless. 

Traditionally the church has been great at focussing on this inherited sinfulness through Adam and has even focused that on calling people to personalise their 'sinfulness' yet Paul speaks of this as being done away with through the shared righteousness of Christ. May we be a church who focus on our inherited grace and glory and live lives of gratitude for it. 

Rules, Religion and Real love.

When I was at school I sat beside someone who was fascinated by the fact I was a Christian. The most common thing they would say as the reason they weren't a Christian was, 'I could never live by all the rules.' At the time, young in my faith, I found myself admitting that my belief at the time was that the Christian faith was a lifestyle of rule keeping. I even remember on one occasion telling him that I didn't think he could keep all the rules either. I do find myself cringing more and more when I reminisce. 

As I have grown older and discovered the expansive grace of Jesus I have realised that rule keeping is perhaps the worst way to describe a life of following Jesus. If anything Jesus's life, death and resurrection are the ultimate end to any need to keep rules. He has come to fulfil all of the rules, to tick all of the boxes and to offer us free and un-earnable favour and grace. 

Jesus does however ask us to love Him and the way we do that is by keeping His commandments (John 14:15). We are faced with the paradox of the Christian life. One the one hand it is not about the rules, it is not about keeping our sin levels at an acceptable level, it is about grace and on the other it is about keeping commands to show our love. What is the difference?

Well I think it is the starting point. A religion of rule keeping has at its core a sense that love can be earned. it is an attempt to attract God's favour by being just squeaky clean enough for Him to love. We keep the rules to earn His love that we already had. The second option starts with love. We are loved so we love in return and the commands that Jesus calls us to keep are the best ways to show that we love Him.

The good news is that Jesus sums these up by calling us to love others. If we love God (the greatest commandment) we show it by loving others (the second greatest). Jesus says that all of the commands of the Bible hang on these. He levels the playing field and he simplifies the game. If you want to show you live Him, love other people. 

When we get this idea into our core, if we kill the lie that we need to please Him in order earn His love and embrace the fact that we are showing that we are loved by loving in return we find real freedom. It is in that place of freedom that we begin to love the world around us. We are loved regardless so we can allow that love to flow out of us into the world. This begins to have an impact on everything we do and have. 

If we are set free in the love of God we are free to be generous, we are free to forgive. We think about the planet in a different way, we think about our neighbours in a different way. We are loved so that we can love. We are blessed so that we can bless. We show that we are loved by loving. 

Obeying commandments is simple, it is to love. It is simple but it is costly, there is always more love required and more love to give. 

So this week, may we seek to be people known for our love. May we pour it out freely in every interaction, we will not run out, His love for us is eternal and infinite. 

Clean Shaven God

This Friday was a big day in my life. I cannot describe how significant a day in this email, it was huge. On Friday, after a long time of hirsute living I shaved off my beard. For many of you this will seem like a non-event but to me it was a big deal. I hadn't seen parts of my face for a long time. They had lay hidden under a covering of ginger and an ever-increasing amount of white hair. The last time I shaved my beard off a friend admonished me with the words, 'Never do that again,' whilst another kindly chimed in, 'you look like a wooden spoon with a face.' You can see why it felt significant. 

By 2pm the deed was done, the wooden spoon was back in the open air. Then something unexpected happened. Whilst changing my baby son's nappy he looked at my face for the first time since I had shaved and instantly started to cry. There is a part of me that is convinced it is because he didn't recognise me anymore. I was familiar but different. It must be confusing to a five month old mind. When I spoke he calmed down in seconds. He knew it was me. 

It made me think about my relationship with God. What are the markers in my Spiritual life that I use to recognise His activity around me? Am I missing things He is doing because I have an idea of who He is that means I don't recognise Him moving in ways that don't fit my understanding? 

The Bible tells us that if we seek God with ALL of our hearts we will find Him. It is quite the challenge. I wonder if sometimes we divide our hearts a little as we seek Him and that causes us to miss the wonder of what He is up to in the world. 

Do we love God's justice and sometimes miss His grace? Do we love God's calling of us to active mission in the world and miss His call to rest? Do we recognise all of His markers in our lives or are we so familiar with some of what He does and who He is that we are missing the rest. 

This week may we ask God to show us more of who He is and what He is doing. May we learn to embrace new parts of life with God that may feel unfamiliar or even scary to us. God's character and activity are vast and expansive, there is always more to discover. Lets seek Him with more of our hearts every day. 

By the way, I'm probably going to grow the beard back. It seems like much less effort than shaving regularly. 

One reason why we should keep showing up to church

In recent months I have read an increasing number of blogs that tell me why people don't go to church on Sunday's any longer. The content of these articles varies wildly depending on the author's own experience, anger or persuasions. In one article the church decline is due entirely to the embracing of an oppressive patriarchy which is killing the vitality of faith communities. In another it is the failure to engage with social media. In others it is the wrong music, too much moral teaching, not enough moral teaching, a straying from the traditional gospel or even an adherence to the traditional gospel. In each of the articles my response has always been that most who write an article like that miss the nuance of the discussion at hand. They say 'church' as if it is one easily definable thing in every place and then give their diagnosis as if there is one cause of decline. The real issue is much more nuanced than that. 

I find far fewer articles telling me why we should continue to gather together. Why should we stay in church. There are a few, I've read them, some were very good and others were great. As I've gotten older I've realised that things don't always get better by pointing out the faults with them. Intelligent critical thinking involves drawing out the good and improving on the bad, not just pointing at the negatives. 

So back to seasoning. One of my favourite sayings of Jesus is that we are the salt of the earth. When talking of those who follow Him, he describes them as the seasoning of the world. As I thought about our community on Sunday as we marked the start of a new season together, perhaps as an accidental play on that word, I thought that we gather in order to season our world to the best of our ability. 

I love to cook a roast, but I am rarely content to cook it just on it's own. I prefer to marinade it in some way. Often I will gather some herbs and spices, salt and pepper, some red wine etc. and smother the meat in it. In time the meat takes on the flavour of the mixed marinade. I am salivating at the thought. 

When we gather as church the room we are in becomes the mixing bowl. Some of us come as salt, some as rosemary, others as wine and others as pepper. As we share in community together the good of one rubs onto the other, the salt takes on a little rosemary, pepper and wine. The wine becomes flavoured with the other three. We gather and the good of one of us becomes distinguishable on the others. Then off we go, back into the world we are the seasoning of. 

It was good to be together on Sunday. It is a good thing to do. Let us keep gathering together and allowing the greatness of those we gather with to be absorbed into us. Let us be people who turn up ready to share the good within us with those we are with. Then let us go back to our homes, our families, our jobs, our local pubs and schools and season the world around us with the goodness that God has poured out upon us through those we are sharing this adventure of Church with. We do things better when do them together.

Changing perspectives

There are always two sides to every story. In every interaction with an other person that we have, there are two narratives being written. We can all think of a conversation that we have left sure of what has just happened, only to find that the other person has left with a completely different opinion. 

We also see it in circumstances. We experience a circumstance in our families, at work or in our day to day and can be shocked by the reactions that some people have to it. We can be having a stress reaction when those around us are pictures of serenity. We see people react to a conversation with real anger when we find it hard to see what the big deal is. 

Whether we realise it or not many of our experiences of the present are governed by our past experiences. We can find stress in situations that have similarities to things that have harmed us before. We find ourselves calm in situations that we have overcome before. What we carry in our baggage has real impact on how we deal with the details of our lives. The things that we have packed in our memories govern how we see what we face today. How we look at something will change how we see it. 

I've always found this helpful when we think of verses like Lamentations 3:25 (he says as if he thinks about Lamentations all the time.) Of course we all know it by heart but in case you don't here it is:

"The Lord is good to those who's hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him."

I read verses like this and on first reading they jar a little with my theology. I believe in underserved grace. I believe that God pours blessings out on those who seek him and on those who don't. I believe God is impartial with His love. So when I read something like this at first glance I wonder how it fits into my view of my Father. 

I wonder though if this actually is speaking of a heart view; about how the position of our hearts changes the way we experience God's blessings. I suppose if we position our hearts towards seeking Him, if we place our hope in Him our reactions to His actions in our lives will be different. If we have hearts that are not for God, that do not seek Him at all I would imagine that much of His commandments and ways would seem like anything but good. 


Does a belief in the goodness of God enable us to see more of His goodness? I think it does.

Let's be those who seek Him and hope in Him and to call Him good in all situations. May we have eyes to see His blessings and hearts that call them good. 

If you want to see good in the world, show goodness.

On Thursday morning I hit a bit of a low point. It happens from time to time and it rarely lasts longer than half an hour but every now and again I feel a little overwhelmed by the world. The world we live in is so different to the world of 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. We live our lives these days bombarded by information, more than ever before and when it comes to the pain in the world we have never been more informed. Sometimes it can feel a little overwhelming. I am not sure we have the ability to process the amounts of news that we are engaging with. 

This past week has been one of those weeks where the news, social media and every conversation was dominated by the horrors of the refugee crisis. That one harrowing picture of young Aylan Kurdi will be etched in our minds for many many years. It has all felt a little too much to cope with at times. 

Following Jesus has always involved connection with the poor and vulnerable. For centuries Christian's have lived lives of charity and sacrifice in the face of great pain and anguish. The response from Christians to this crisis, as with the other horrors of the world has been humbling to see. Hearing from Home for Good that over 8000 families have offered their homes for unaccompanied refugee children is a statistic that goes some way to restoring my faith in humanity. Millions of pounds, endless tons of goods and hundreds of man hours have been offered by all sorts of people of all faiths and none the length and breadth of this country. It is rare to see so many galvanised towards compassion. 

This has reminded me of a verse in the Psalms that has always been important to me when I feel surrounded by what is wrong in the world. It is Psalm 27:13 - I am confident of this: that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. I have chosen to make this a central truth in my life. I can be confident that even in the face of water shortages in Asia, increased poverty and destitution in Britain, millions of Syrian refugees or and AIDS epidemic in sub Saharan Africa that I will still see the goodness of God in the world. 

More and more I am convinced that the best place to look for the goodness of the Lord is in the actions of His people. Those who follow Jesus go into the world everyday to do the things that Jesus did. They go into the world to heal the sick, bind up the broken, comfort the mourning, feed the poor and shout loud for the voiceless. If we truly want to see the goodness of God in our lives, in this time, in this place then we are to be the bringers of that goodness. We are agents of His goodness scattered widely across the planet with so much to give to the restoration of a world that is tearing itself apart. 

So may we be people who do good and point to the one from whom all goodness comes. May we love those around us with the same love which we have received from our Father.

May we show the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

Calm in the storm

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I will never forget the first time I experienced a really serious storm. I was in Chicago staying with a community of Christians who live in an early 20th century hotel that they was donated to them by the City. It would be a huge lie to say that this building was in tip top condition but neither was it derelict. I was walking around the surrounding area just after lunch when I noticed that shopkeepers were taking signs down and packing produce into boxes to bring back inside. Shutters were coming down and bistro tables being brought inside. 

I remember wondering about whether there was a street event I didn't know about or if there was a half-day every Wednesday that had slipped my mind. Then without much warning I saw and then heard a huge lightning bolt hit the top of a building about 2 blocks away. It sounded like a bomb had gone off and it left a telephone cable box on the top of the building sparking. 

The local resident I was walking with calmly turned to me and said, 'perhaps we should go back to the centre and get inside.' I followed asking him, why, 'Oh. Sorry, I should have said. There is a hurricane coming in off the lake.' 

I nodded serenely displaying my masculine strength under pressure, whilst wondering whether I was about to wet myself through fear. My understanding of hurricanes was either that everything got flattened or you ended up in Oz where there are lions and tigers and bears. 

We got inside and from a downstairs window I watched the chaos unfold. By 3pm is was almost pitch black outside. A car blew into the middle of the road. Trees in the buildings back yard were falling down and the noise of the wind racing between the tall buildings was like nothing I had ever heard. Even from the shelter of the building I felt unsafe. Yet every American I looked at just seemed to be getting on with things. The receptionist was typing and filling envelopes. There were people drinking coffee and reading the paper. They obviously knew something I didn't. 

Of course, they were calm because this wasn't their first rodeo. They were calm because they had seen this all before and knew from the reports that this storm was far from apocalyptic. Nothing to fear at all. They had been here before, they knew the risks, they knew how to minimise them and they knew how to stay safe. I took a lot of comfort in that thought and felt my heart rate lower to only 187. 

There is a lot of comfort to be found in knowing that Jesus has gone ahead of us. Central to the Christian faith is the belief that Jesus faced all the trouble that the world had to throw at Him and yet he overcame the world (John 16:33). When we read the life of Jesus we can lose sight of the trouble he faced as we focus on the miracles and teachings but he was a man who faced poverty, isolation, persecution and criticism. Jesus at times had his own family question His sanity and saw His best friends desert him when He needed them the most. Yet he overcame it all. 

In the verse I alluded to above Jesus says that we can find peace in that truth. We can look to Him and see that He has already faced and overcome anything that we will face. In the same way that I found a little peace in knowing that those who had been there before were not intimidated by the storm around us so then we can take peace in the fact that Jesus has already gone ahead of us. 

What are you facing tomorrow that is bringing trouble in your heart? How can you look to Jesus amongst that and allow His peace to give you rest? He knows we are facing trouble but he has already overcome it.

Tuning in; tuning out.

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If you're on Facebook and Twitter you will find your feed is becoming increasingly full of articles telling you how to win at life. Either it will be a Buzzfeed article of Life Hacks (simple tricks to save you a few seconds here and there through your day) or it will be something like 10 Points to a Healthy Work-Life Balance. 

I recently scrolled down my Facebook News Feed to discover not just conflicting advice between articles but sometimes huge conflicts within the articles I was reading. I haven't even mentioned the comments that other users have added to agree or disagree with the original post (never ever read the comments section). Never before have we had so much access to so much advice. The world's opinions are literally at our fingertips.

The rise of social media has been meteoric and it has enabled some wonderful communication and reconnection but we are drawing ever closer to the point of information overload. I can think of times in the past when I was in a bad place, things had gone far from how I had hoped and I was seeking out something to hang my soul on; some comfort in the middle of the confusion. What I found online was overwhelming. My instant connection to the world placed far too many voices in my head. Every mind had an opinion and I was able to access them all. I was seeking life amongst the voices but what I found was a frenzy of advice. 

Don't worry, this isn't going to head towards the 'social media is the tool of the devil' type message that we've all read before. Neither is the irony lost on me that I am writing an article for the internet whilst saying that we can be oversaturated by articles on the internet. I just want us all to think about how we find the still small voice of God in amongst the clamour of everyone else. 

In John 6:68, Peter says to Jesus, 'To whom else will we go? You have the words of eternal life.' I love this verse. I love that you can read it in two ways. You can read it with an impassioned voice, 'We're not going anywhere Jesus! Every word you say fills us with life.' We can also read it in a tone of resignation, 'We've looked everywhere else, and yet we keep ending up here with you.' 

I also love this verse because it is so relevant to my life whichever way I read it. Sometimes I am riding a wave of energised faith and want nothing more than to seek His words. Other times I face a conflict, decision or am in pain and I fill my mind with self-help blogs and advice from any person who will give it and eventually come to Him worn out praying, 'Okay, I'm out of ideas, I am ready to listen to You.' 

As we go through our weeks filled with decisions and next steps on paths we have chosen may we find ways in which we can listen for His voice. Whether it be in stillness or activity, reading or prayer may we open our ears for His words. May we learn to turn down the volume of the crowd, virtual or real, and tune into the voice of Him who knows us better than we know ourselves. His words will fill us with eternal life that will not fulfil us but will overflow into the lives of those around us.

Colgate Christianity

I've always been fascinated by advertising campaigns. I often find myself desperately trying to understand how a marketing company got away with charging thousands of pounds for a campaign that bears no relevance to the product being advertise or how the casting team got away with choosing incredibly bad actors. Perhaps I should get a hobby. 

Recently I have found the Oral-B 'Go Pro with your toothpaste,' advert particularly irksome. It isn't because of the acting. It isn't even because of the script. It is because the lady in the advert speaks the whole time with her sparkling white teeth showing. I have a feeling that their pearly white brilliance was there before she tried the toothpaste, and is at least in part down to colour correction in a production room. Yet, despite my misgivings, I imagine the advert is successful. I even considered buying some for a second in between parts 1 and 2 of of 8 out of 10 Cats do Countdown.

I have spent time in the past around what I consider to be akin to Colgate Christianity (other brands are available). This is the section of Christianity that believes that a squeaky clean, moral life will cause the rest of the world to fall in love with Jesus. Weakness, frailty and brokenness are rarely spoken of and are replaced by triumphalism and celebration. 

Coming together for worship in this environment was often difficult. There were days when getting out of bed was a challenge never mind smiling through songs of triumph that I barely connected with. Lament was absent, pain was absent. We were encouraged to leave our problems at the door. 

In essence we were called to worship as half-people. The pain in our lives was neatly packed away for the rest of the week and what we could muster together from the remainder became our church-selves, smiling with our hands waving high. Perhaps some of us were not waving but drowning as Stevie Smith's poem goes.

When Jesus meets the woman at the well (John 4) he meets a woman who was carrying a story of pain and loss. Some through her own poor choices some through the choices of others. We can understand that her being there at that time was an attempt to avoid human contact. Jesus leads her to living water and invites her, exactly as she was, into relationship with God. In the middle of the conversation he says this,

"God is Spirit and His worshippers must worship Him in spirit and in truth." 

Far from being called to bring some mythical best to God we are being called to bring our reality to Him in worship. We are to bring our spirit; the seat of our emotions, our mind, our soul. We worship Him as ourselves; in truth. We worship God in the truth of who He is; an ever-loving, ever-giving Father who pours out endless grace and blessing upon our lives but also in the truth of who we are. We are to live everyday worshipping in honest reality. We are to bring our pain, our disappointment, our failures, our illness, our doubt just as much as we are to bring our hope, joy and faith. We come in our tensions and our paradoxes and He welcomes us.  

As we share our faith it is a faith of spirit and truth that we are sharing. We aren't selling toothpaste. It isn't our perfect moral lifestyle that will point to Jesus but we are to point to him in honest faith. So when we don't have answers it is ok. When we wonder where whether the God we are sharing with others is even there at all, it is ok, there are days like that. The path of following Jesus is often narrow, often rocky and sometimes gets obscured by the undergrowth of life. Never give up following. 

It is never time to Go-Pro with your faith.

Today is the big day!

Today is the big day! You probably got up earlier than you have in a long time and prepared yourself for the news. Today is results day!

For those of you who got what you needed to get the university place you wanted, congratulations. For those who will be faced with decisions about what to do next, take heart, today is the beginning of a new adventure. Your world doesn’t end here, God can bring you to places you didn’t dream possible. I hope you find a course, campus and city in which you will thrive. 

If you are coming to Bath, to the college, to either of the Universities or to Norland then extra congratulations are in order. You have chosen well. Bath is a wonderful place to move to. This city is full of life, creativity and is ridiculously beautiful. You are going to love it here.

In the next few weeks you will begin to google what there is to do in Bath and I could recommend a few things to you; coffee shops are my area of expertise and Bath has some great ones to choose from. You will get loads of advice about pubs, shops, museums and parks. Be prepared to get excited. 

But if I could give you one piece of advice it is this. Plan now to attend a church when you’re at Uni. Did you know that the overwhelming majority of Christian students never connect with a church when they are at university? I would imagine that a lot of these students intended to get stuck in at church but never quite made it through the door. So make it one of your priorities before you go. Get online and check a few churches out. You can even get in contact with them ahead of time using Fusion’s great little Student Linkup App

At Hay Hill we believe that a student connected with local church is a powerful combination. We believe that students can make a huge difference to the lives of those they live with in halls but also to their whole campus and to the city of Bath. We love seeing students become part of the life of our church and to see them thriving in their faith and mission as they follow Jesus. We are here for you and ready to have your back as you go on mission with Jesus on your campus. We want to be your family away from home and to help you become the world changers you were made to be.

We will be having some lunches after church on the first three Sundays in October. Some of our church will be there and are ready to welcome you. We are a really friendly bunch and you’ll feel at home with us pretty quickly. We’re looking forward to seeing you.

You can get in touch with us via Fusion’s website. 

We would love to welcome you to Bath when you get here but if you don’t connect with us then please do connect with one of the amazing local churches in the city. 

Trust me. It is one of the best decisions you will make at university. 

Love Your Neighbour

In days gone by the most well known Bible verses were, Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my shepherd,' and John 3:16, 'For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.' I am not sure that this is the case any longer, at least not if social media is to be believed anyway.

I am convinced that the most well known bible verse in the world, particularly amongst those who don't regularly attend a church or identify as Christian is actually Mark 12:31. What does it say? 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' 

The unfortunate reality is that this verse is mainly being quoted towards Christians prefixed by something like, 'well that is hardly very love-your-neighbour-your-self-like.' Somewhere in the past decades the sense for many is that some Christians are not as loving as they could be, that they are far from fulfilling this second greatest commandment. 

Yet, when I look at the wider christian church I see everyday people doing wonderful things. I see parents seeing other people's children going hungry in the school holidays and starting a Make Lunch kitchen. I see Christians Against Poverty centres opening up all over the country alongside Food Banks and Housing Projects. There are many christians on the frontline of loving their neighbours. Normal people doing little things that make a huge difference. 

Last week we thought about what we want God to do for us in this city, with our families and our friends. The other hand on the steering wheel of our mission in the world is what He is asking us to do; to love our neighbour.

When you think of the people you see everyday, what can you do to love them better? Is there someone in your workplace who is isolated from the others? Can you befriend them? What about your physical neighbours? Do you know them well? How can you love them today?

We are called to be a people who are known for our love for one another but also as a people who love those who are right next to us as if they were our very selves. Imagine what would happen if all of us lived that way even if just for a few weeks. 

If you need a little more inspiration check out this wonderful story about Josh Cyganik. 

What do you want me to do for you?

It is so good to finally be in Bath and starting life with you here at Hay Hill. Becky and I want to say a big thank you for such a great welcome to the city and for the wonderful gifts and cakes that have arrived at the Manse. We are thankful for the hills in Bath that will help us burn off the extra calories we have enjoyed. 

I've been thinking over the past couple of weeks about an encounter Jesus had with a blind man, Bartimaeus, as recorded by Mark in the tenth chapter of his gospel. 

Jesus is passing by on His way into Jericho and Bartimaeus cries out to Him for mercy. I have always found Jesus reply surprising. 

'What do you want me to do for you?' 

Surely it was obvious what the man wanted. Yet Jesus chose to engage Him with Him as a partner not as a patient. In inviting Bartimaeus to make the faith filled request Jesus entered into a healing relationship with Him. 

As I begin my role here as Minister and we begin a new season of life together as a church I wonder how we would answer that question. My prayers to this point have been quite vague asking for His blessing to be on our church or for wisdom to help me lead but I wonder if our Father wants us to be just a little more specific. What do we want Him to do for us?

When we look at our city and the opportunities to serve in it and to bring the gospel to it what are we asking Him to do for us?

When we think of our friends and families who have never encountered the love of God what do we want Him to do for us? 

May we enter this new season considering what we want Him to do and may we pray faith-filled prayers asking Him for exactly what we want to see.

I am excited to see what God does in response.