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I love what Paul says in Philippians 4:6-7 (NLT): “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank Him for all He has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” Notice that the first thing Paul addresses after commanding people to be joyful is the area of worry. Overthinking. Self-rumination. Worry is how happiness leaks out of our lives. So if we can slow down that worry and stop the overthinking when it comes over us, then we plug up that leak. I love that Paul offers up a new habit to put in its place: prayer. Now, you may feel the way I do when I hear this. Oh, great. Really? That’s it? Worry feels so strong, so constant. It grips you. But this is one of those things where we have to commit. Worry is an attack on happiness, and we need to fight back with prayer.

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We all get into relationships hoping to share happiness with another person. This is why we have kids, why we make friends, and it’s why we invest in our families and seek romance. Then pressure shows up in that relationship, and you get things from that relationship you didn’t expect or want. The pressure to take ownership of someone's destructive behavior turns love into co-dependency. The pressure of dealing with someone who is pulling away or too controlling turns love into a wedge that drives people apart. The pressure of expectations not being met turns love into selfish demands or self-pity. All of these pressures turn love into something you didn’t expect and don't want. So how do we press pause on all the pressure and expectations and get back to the basics of love? Patience and kindness. Patience and kindness transforms the pressure we feel into the love we want.

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Paul sums up the posture of marriage this way: 1 Corinthians 7:4 (MSG): “Marriage is not a place to ‘stand up for your rights.’ Marriage is a decision to serve the other…” Marriage is a place where we grow in our understanding of each other’s needs and seek to meet those needs. As we do, we often find the feelings of love can be restored, forgiveness can happen, and what once made the other person so irresistible to us can be rekindled.

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Jesus’ Work = My Worth. When God looks at you, He no longer sees your shortcomings. All He sees is Jesus. He sees His perfect child in whom He is well pleased. He places on you the highest value, the value of Jesus’ death on the cross. Everything is worth what another is willing to pay, and God paid the highest price imaginable for you. Your worth is so high in His eyes that you can't ever do anything to add to it. So stop trying. Rest in that. Have confidence in Jesus’ work. And then have confidence to do God's work. My Worth = God's Work. You are so prized, so valuable and so perfectly gifted, God has work for you to do. Not to earn His approval, but because of it. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” He has plans for you. Good plans. Plans to be involved in helping others. Plans to have meaningful relationships and do meaningful work. All you have to do is hold firmly and have confidence in the work of Jesus. We know God's love by holding on to God's Son.

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Jesus modeled influence. Influence based on love and encouragement rather than fear and punishment. Fighting for people rather than fighting against them. Over the years a lot of people have modeled this influence to great success. Rather than trying to keep the people below you in their place, you say, “If I can help them rise, I rise with them.” At work we ask, “How can I help my supervisor win? How can I help and serve my company and my clients?” At home we ask, “How can I help my kids and my spouse?” It might be that you encourage them or invest in them. If your child has an interest, then lean down and take an interest. It may not be your thing, but if it’s their thing you have to find a way to make it your thing. Learn the names of your neighbors and the people you work with. Learn what matters to them and invest a little of your time and attention in what they care about. Kingdom influence bends low to lift others up.

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As we deal with the challenges of life, what can start to happen to us is exactly what happened to the Hebrews—we stop living with the expectation that Jesus can and will save us. We start to feel like we are completely on our own and we revert back to old ways of thinking and acting. You start to make most of your decisions without praying or considering God at all. You feel such pressure to make life better you become willing to compromise your values to get what you feel you need. When we stop expecting better things to come from God we seek those better things elsewhere. We want a relationship to make us feel complete. A vacation to make us feel alive. A job or family to give us purpose. Entertainment to keep us sane. Money to make us feel secure. Talent or looks to make us feel valuable. But it doesn't work! We never find the better we are looking for apart from God. We only find more work, more frustration and more disappointment. You are meant for better things! Not things that come with life, but things that come with salvation. So send off your requests to God. As many as you want! Be expectant that He can and will show up in the midst of your struggles. 

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Sometimes you expect things to go one way and life has other plans. You just want to go to work but your car won’t start and you freak out. You just want your kids to go to school but someone gets sick and you freak out. You can barely handle demands of life as it is. You are so tired, you are so busy, and then comes an illness, a family emergency, or overtime—and you freak out. You just want to save a little, get a little financial margin but there’s some unexpected repairs; a tax bill, braces, you name it—life is full stuff ready to break you—and you freak out! Here’s what’s at the core of most of the times we freak out: the fear of not having enough. Not enough money, not enough time, not enough energy, not enough patience, not enough connections, not enough skill or talent or whatever it is we need to feel like life is good. We freak out, wondering, how will there ever be enough to deal with what I’m dealing with? These moments shake us up, but here is the good news today: God has made a promise: if we seek Him first, He’ll provide all we need. He may not do it on our timetable, or in the way we expect, but He is faithful even when our faith is failing. What can you do today to seek God first in the midst of what has you shaken up?

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We’ll face rejections in life, but we are not rejects. You are chosen and that means you can live with great expectation. You are chosen for joy, peace, mercy, protection, inclusion, heaven, provision, and strength. You are chosen for God’s favor, chosen for God’s correction, chosen for God’s guidance, chosen for God’s love and chosen for God’s glory. You are not forgotten, you are not worthless, you are not overlooked, you are not unloved, and you are not second-class. You can reject that rejection because you are CHOSEN. God knows you and He chose you. That’s why you can hope again. You are chosen for hope, not despair. You are chosen for a better future, not a lesser future. You are chosen to live with great expectation in your great God who has chosen you for great things! Have faith in that today!

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Grace is the undeserved favor and forgiveness of God. It’s God’s grace that gives us all the opportunity to know God, be forgiven, follow Him and live in the greater purpose He has for us. God doesn’t treat us as we are, but instead as we could be through faith in Him. He has a purpose for you--a calling for your life. Hang tight to that truth!

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If you want more of God’s blessing in your life, be faithful with what He puts in your hand. Right now, some of you are praying for a better job. As you pray, focus on being faithful with the work you have until God opens a door. Jesus said if you are faithful with little you will be faithful with much. It’s how you handle the little now that determines how you might handle the much later. If you’re praying for a date, focus on being the most dateable person you can be. If you’re praying for more money, be faithful with the little money you have, tithe, give back to God, manage your expenses diligently, and try to make your little grow. If you’re praying for more growth spiritually, look at all God has put in your life today and be faithful with it. If you pray for more impact, be faithful managing the impact you have today. If you’re praying for more responsibility, be faithful with the things you are responsible for today. If you’re faithful with little, you will be faithful with much.

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Don’t let anyone call you worthless when God has made you worthy in Jesus. Your calling and gifting comes from God. Other people don’t get an opinion on the matter. They don’t get to judge God’s calling on another person’s life. Don’t think less of God’s calling on your life. At the end of the day, you are the only one who can write off your calling. Other people can talk all day long. They can accuse and ignore. But only you can ultimately deem worthless what God makes worthy. When we doubt God’s call, we doubt God. We doubt His work in our life. We doubt His worth in our life. And pretty soon we feel lost and overwhelmed. Your gifts matter and God has made your gifts worthy.

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The more you entrust your time, heart and mind to God the more He is able to make you rich in wisdom, grace, mercy and peace, and the more you are able to have an impact on others. God wants to make you rich in Him so that you can be rich toward others. Make time to meet with God who is able to build you up! What can you do today to make time with God?

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Check out what Paul says in Ephesians 1:19-20 (NLT): “I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.” This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms.” Paul doesn’t pray that we will get God’s power; he prays that we will realize we already have it.

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Check out Colossians 3:15-16 (NLT): “For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.” He’s describing what happens every week here at Central. The message of Jesus is shared. We teach and counsel each other with wisdom from the word. We sing together. We express thankfulness together. That’s why we always say; keep coming back each week, every week. It’s not just church. It’s not just an event. It’s a place where you encounter the power and the presence of Jesus. It’s a place where you are together with others as a body, and you are an essential part. It’s a place where you are not merely encouraged and lifted up, but given riches than fill you up so you can pour out all week. You cannot miss church any more than you can miss a gas station or meal or that nightly charge on your phone. You miss this, and you miss out on connecting to God’s body. You miss out on what God wants to give you and what you can give others. So, start your week with us. You never know what the week will hold!

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Check out Deuteronomy 5:15 (NLT) “Remember that you were once slaves in Egypt, but the Lord your God brought you out with His strong hand and powerful arm. That is why the Lord your God has commanded you to rest on the Sabbath day.” Here’s a powerful idea: in commanding a Sabbath, God is categorically forbidding slavery. A slave cannot choose to rest. And here’s what God knew…even after He sets us free, we tend to fall back into slavery. We can fall back into a performance mindset. We can become enslaved to things that demand our attention and our effort. So, God lays down a test. He says, I command you to rest. And when you obey this command, you declare your freedom from whatever is trying to master you. Once a week you get to declare: God has set me free. I have no master but Him. And if someone has a problem with you taking some time, you just tell them, “Take it up with God!”

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To follow Jesus is the true meaning of the Sabbath. When you are stressed you can rest in His care. When you are worried, you can rest in His power. When you feel rejected you can rest in His acceptance. When you feel overlooked you can rest in His presence. When you feel overwhelmed you can rest in His provision. When you are hurt, you can rest in His comfort. When you are confused, you can rest in His plans. When you’re at the end of your rope, you can take His hand, and He will save you. Keep company with Jesus. Learn how to be free.

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All of us have stuff from our past we would like to forget. Like if our life was a movie, there are whole parts we’d like to edit out. Let’s just skip over that month, that year, or that decade. Sections of our life feel pointless. They weigh us down with shame and bitterness. We want to forget them. We’re tempted to think that the dark parts of our story don’t matter. Or that our whole story is bad because of all of the dark seasons it contains. But God is using your whole life to tell His story. All of your story matters, because God’s story matters. And as you look back on those dark spots with the eyes of faith, you start to see God’s light was there even in the darkness. God was working in your life even though you couldn’t see Him.

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One reason people sometimes resist community, especially a faith community or a small group, is because they are worried about ending up with people who are different. What if they are on the opposite end of the political spectrum? What if they have different interests? Different beliefs. Different incomes. Different ages. Different ethics. Here's what I think Jesus would say to people who close their hearts to community:  “You were called into a personal relationship with God, but also a shared faith.” No matter what separates you from another person, the desire to meet Jesus and follow Him has tremendous unifying power—power that is released into our lives when two or more gather in His name. Power to help you learn, grow and experience joy.

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It’s a powerful thing to pray for another’s dream. Now, here’s my question to you: don’t you want something like that in your life? Wouldn’t you love to have someone praying on your behalf for what matters most? Wouldn’t you like to be alert to what your friends and family feel? The word for alert literally means “to keep oneself awake,” but it was used as an expression to mean “to be alert, to be on the lookout for, to be vigilant.” We don’t just look out for ourselves but others. Check out how the Message Bible translates this verse: “God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out” (Ephesians 6:17-18). Who can you be praying for today?

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When you’re frustrated, or feel guilty or unworthy, remember your rescuer. When you feel like you can never measure up and never get it right, remember your rescuer. When you feel nervous talking about the Ten Commandments, remember your rescuer. When you think you have it all together, you know best, and that the rules don’t matter, remember your rescuer. God rescued you from slavery. He does not rescue you into slavery. We are on the way to a greater blessing, so God has given us some rules—some statements of reality—to guard all the blessings He is giving us. You don’t have to live with constant emptiness and disappointment. The Ten Commandments are not about getting in good with God, they are about keeping the good life He has already giving us through grace. We can find the happiest place on earth by putting God first in our hearts.

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