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God offers us a gift not based out of our behavior, but out of His grace and generosity. It’s extravagant. It’s undeserved. It’s more than we expect. God offers us His unfair love. When it comes to God’s love for us sometimes we think it’s expected. It’s obligatory. He has to love us…that’s God’s job, right? But this isn’t the kind of love God has for you. This isn’t the love Jesus described in his stories or modeled with his life. In fact, I would say God doesn’t just love you, He likes you. That may seem a little off to you, but check out these verses in Romans. Romans 5:10-11 (NLT): “For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of His Son while we were still His enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of His Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God.” If you are a Jesus follower, you are a friend of God. Ever felt like you don’t have a friend in the world? You have a friend in God. You get to choose your friends, and God chooses you. You are not alone!

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Pretty much most of what we do and don't do is about trying to maximize the happiness in our worlds. Take the job, don't take the job. Buy the pet, don't buy the pet. Date him or her, dump him or her. Argue with my kids, ignore my kids. Eat the muffin, don't eat the muffin. And while making good decisions is important, and breaking new ground or getting new stuff is fun, this is not the way to maximize happiness. We know this, because that is what everyone does. This is the strategy everyone uses. It is the idea that if I could just get what I want, then I would be happy, but when you look around you don’t see an excess of happiness. But here is the life hack that we are going to see laid out in the Bible—a teaching by Jesus himself. The key to maximizing happiness is not getting what you want, but appreciating what you've been given. If you want to find out how you are doing…look to how much you thank God and thank others for what you already have.

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There are lots of studies that show keeping a gratitude journal or having a time each week you thank God for all He’s done has a powerful effect on people. If we all did that stuff, we’d all be happier. But I know how life is. Most of us are just too distracted and busy. So here is my suggestion for you: every time you find yourself complaining, use that moment to thank God for something. If your knee hurts, give thanks that you can walk. Being able to walk is a gift. If your car needs a repair, and you find yourself getting angry, give thanks to God that you have a car to take you places. Having a car is a gift. When your kids will not give you any personal space, give thanks that they are not yet teenagers who never come out of their rooms. And when they are teens in their room, give thanks that they are home, and not off living their own life yet. And when they are living their own life, give thanks you all made it through their teen years without killing anyone. When you wake up and need to go to work for another week, give thanks that God provides. If you’re struggling to find work, thank God for the time and the rest as you pray for work. Work and rest are both gifts. Even in the worst problems you can thank God for showing up and giving you strength to handle it.  Pretty soon gratitude will begin to transform your attitude. Life will become more of a gift. And you will come to know and love the giver of that gift.

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You may be facing all kinds of fears today. They are scary. They are hammering on your heart. More than these fears, you need to be alert to the shepherd who is protecting you and the enemy who wants to devour you. You need to be alert to the tactic of the enemy, which is to get to you bolt out from under the care and protection of Jesus. Satan is trying to get you to panic. He is trying to get you to feel vulnerable and question God’s care and control. He’s trying to get you to cut and run. Because as soon as you take matters into your own hands, as soon as you see yourself alone and uncared for in the world, as soon as you become convinced that your good shepherd is a bad shepherd or a powerless shepherd, you are going to bolt…and that is when life will start to eat you up. Problems will start to eat you up. Despair will start to eat you up. Bad habits, addiction, rage, and escapism…they all want to swallow you up. So you need to be alert. Not to what scares you, but to who cares for you. This is why the command in scripture over and over and over is, ‘do not be afraid.’

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Check out 1 Peter 5:6-7 (NLT): “So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” The Bible says the answer to worry is not to decrease your care and concern…‘Don’t worry.’ Nor is the answer to step up your efforts and totally control the situation. The answer is increased trust in the fact that a powerful God shares your cares. God says, give all your cares to me so I can share them. God says, don’t care less, realize that I care for you and care about all that worries you.

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Trust in God’s mighty power. The power that moves mountains. The power that shapes world events. The power who gave His life on a cross. The power that raised Jesus from the dead. The power that is making all things new. The power that will one day come in full, for all to see, the alpha and omega, the lord of the angel armies the king of all the rulers of the earth. To the degree you believe God cares for you is the degree to which you will cast your cares on Him.

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Ignite your joy. Renew your awe. Believe God for your miracle. Maybe some of us have just kind of given up on God. We’ve stopped praying and stopped believing things can be different. Today is an opportunity to pause and remember who God is. To reaffirm our faith in Him. To stand in awe of Him and we will start to see Him working in our lives again. He’s been working all the time. Believe God for your miracle. Or maybe you need to be a miracle today for someone else. So many are generous in our church with time, talent and resources and we thank you for that. God turns that generosity into a miracle for others.

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Some of you are hurting in your life right now and you need a miracle. It could be a miracle for a work breakthrough, a financial miracle, a health miracle or a relationship miracle. Don’t let a mess you’re in close your heart to the miracle God can do. It may be hard right now, but when you look to the Bible you see people of great faith going through all kinds of difficulties. It may feel impossible right now, but God is the God who puts the possible in impossible. He still shows up and He still moves. Don’t give up on your miracle because all you see around you is a mess. Keep turning to His word to be inspired by the God of miracles. Keep praying for your miracle. Keep holding out for your miracle. Keep gathering at church and in Groups to be inspired by others’ miracles. It may be that you and your story could open the door of faith to someone else who needs God to move. 

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We should continually have a sense of amazement with what God is doing. The very fact that we have the good news of Jesus to share is amazing. That good news isn’t just what God did in the past, but that He is showing up today in your life. God's presence is here. He is real and He is available, not because of what we have done, not because we are good enough, not because we have passed some kind of moral sniff test. If God is here, it is not boring. If God is here, it is not routine. If God is here, then chains are dissolving, and people are being set free, empowered and released into new life. And that is radical. It’s life changing. And it's amazing.

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God is still moving and working today. He is still changing lives. He is still doing miracles. He is still pouring out his goodness on the people He loves and on the whole world. God is not done with you. He is not done with His church. The best is yet to come because God is not yet done. He is here. He is alive. And we need to call out His wonders to recapture the awe and be amazed. 

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People tend to think of prayer as something everyone knows how to do—but them. We come from a culture where prayer has been a thing for a long time, and most people are timid or unsure about prayer. It can feel kind of weird. People get worried they are doing it wrong. “Do I kneel, sit, clasp my hands, lift my hands….Are there certain words I need to use? Is it working? I’m not sure it’s working…” Mother Theresa said, ‘you learn how to pray by praying’ and she’s right. And by ‘better’ I don’t mean you prayers become fancier or more effective at getting what you ask for. Prayer is not ultimately about getting what you ask for. God has already promised to provide for those who seek Him. It’s about knowing God a little better and opening your heart to Him.

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Check out 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT): “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” These are not just words written a long time ago. They are the inspired wisdom of God. This is God’s chosen instrument for life change. God uses these words to get us ready for every good work: all the good things He wants to do in us and through us. Imagine for a second some cool future God has in store for you. He wants you to accomplish something, help someone, make a difference or experience something. But you are not yet the person you need to be to do the thing you are meant to do. You need to grow into that role. The Bible is what God uses to grow you up, transform you and equip you to do the works you are called to do. Some of us feel that yearning to do more, and God is like, “I’m with you on that. I want you to do more, but first you need to become more, and that means you need to grow.”

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“Hebrews 4:12 (NLT): For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” This truth is alive. This truth is powerful. It’s sharp, meaning, it cuts through all the nonsense and tells you how things really are. In fact, if you have ever found yourself offended or a little uncomfortable with what is in this book, that’s a healthy thing. It means you are open and paying attention. It cut you a little, and it should, because it’s sharp. But the bible never cuts you like a knife does…on accident. It cuts you like a scalpel does, on purpose. The point is healing. The point is to cut away attitudes and patterns of thinking that hold you down. And notice where it cuts most often: your innermost thoughts and desires. These are like the engine that drives your life. The more you expose yourself to the word of God, the more God uses His word to transform you from the innermost to the outermost. It cuts deep, so that we can have deep and lasting change.

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It takes the people in the church to pass along the emotion and the meaning of what happened that day on a cross 2,000 years ago. That means you need to grow. You need to commit to fellowship, and make sure you don’t walk alone. You need to pray on your own and with others. Because we want the next generation of Christ followers to receive the significance of Jesus, His sacrifice and the grace of God. He ran into the jaws of death when everyone else was running away. He gave His life to save us. Was cut off from the father so we could call on God as our father. He was forsaken, so we could be brought in. And He is not done saving people, not by a long shot, and so He looks to you and me to stand in the gap and be examples of the love and mercy of God. That’s our ultimate squad goal: to share Christ, and to do it together. And experience the joy of that togetherness as we share the love of our savior.

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Sometimes it can be hard to let go of our plans, right? You can admit your feelings of disappointment or loss, even admit your helplessness, but still cling to the ways you think God should act and how life should be. When you feel all shook up the things you want most are quick solutions, clear paths, valid explanations, but there is no guarantee God is going to show up on your schedule and in the ways you expect. But one thing is guaranteed--He will show up. Here’s what I’ve found in my own life: God may not meet your expectations, but He will always meet your needs. The Bible says God doesn’t leave us in our suffering, but meets us in our suffering to bring His comfort and strength in His ways.

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Jesus models commitment. Before Jesus was born, the Bible teaches us He existed as God in eternity past. He had it all, but He gave it up to bring salvation to us. That means He came to where we were, put up with our habits, listened to our needs, and cared about our cares. He tied his future to ours and said, ‘I will never leave you and never forsake you.’ Love commits, and to fully love the person in your life you have to commit. You need to say in word and deed, ‘I will never leave you and never forsake you. I am in this for the long haul. My future is your future.’ Don’t ever threaten divorce just to get your way. Don't run off when things get hard. Plan dates together. Plan trips together. Talk about your goals and dreams. You care for each other by committing to each other. Jesus modeled this commitment to us and to the church.

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Sometimes you have to look within to see the problem. You have to takes some things apart. The same is true with our emotions. If you feel sluggish, if you can’t get up to speed, or if you feel on edge…it’s time to look without that other person or the situation—it’s time to look within. You need to check your heart and find out what’s going on in there. Accepting Jesus does not magically make you emotionally mature and healthy. Jesus sets you free from your past, but you may not be set free from the pattern of your past. You can be a Christian and you can know a lot about the Bible. You can be a follower of Jesus for 20 or 30 years. You can be very spiritually mature one the outside, and you can be emotionally immature at the same time. Take some time today to create space for God to work on what’s going on in the inside.  

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Some of us may feel very powerless right now. Powerless over excess in your life, a habit you can’t break, an addiction, or over food. God loves you no matter what the number on the scale is, no matter how the years have changed you, no matter the wrinkles or gray hairs, no matter your image, and no matter what you’ve done. Out of that love, we can access God’s power. God started a good work in you through faith and He will carry it to completion. He won’t abandon you or turn His back on you because you fail, but He is available to help us in our times of need to move towards greater health in Him. I love how Paul described God’s power in 2 Cor. 4:7-9 (NLT): “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves. We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.” We may still be pressed, but not crushed! Perplexed but not driven to despair, hunted but not abandoned, knocked down but not out. God’s power is our portion.

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We take gifts from God that are meant to be used or enjoyed in proper moderation and our desire for more takes over. We all wrestle with desires. Maybe that desire comes from ignoring loss or pain, so we self-medicate with food, drinking, or pills. Or we throw ourselves into our work at the expense of everything else. That desire for more drives us to keep seeking pleasure to provide us with something only God can provide us with, which is real and lasting peace. Take hope today. God loves you and He is available. Direct your cravings to God and find satisfaction in Him. It’s time to realize that God is our portion. What the Bible says is more important than what the scale says or what other people say, or even what we tell ourselves. He loves us in Jesus, forgives us, and His power is available.

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Believe God is with you when you’re so tired that you want to quit. Believe God is with you when you fail, when you feel lost, when you come to the end of yourself, when you are broken, when you feel alone, when you feel worried, when the future is frightening, when your past haunts you, when the pain feels overwhelming, when you’re frustrated with your health, when you’re upset at your sin, when you look in the mirror and don’t like what you see, when life feels like a dead end, when you’re waiting, when it’s dark, when your employer says it’s over, when the person you love says it’s over, when everyone says it’s over…it isn’t over because God isn’t finished. Believe God is with you!

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