When Your Prayers Seem to be Unheard

Provision

We’ve all asked God to intervene in our lives, haven’t we?

Some people ask for God’s help when they’re looking for a new job. Other people have asked God to help them win the lottery. I’m sure that we’ve all had times in our lives when we’ve asked God for the gift of healing – either for ourselves, or for someone that we love. A woman told me that she once asked God to provide a parking place for her at a local shopping mall, so that she didn’t have to walk through the snow when she went there to finish her Christmas shopping.

Jesus once told a story about a widow who had been treated unfairly. She asked a judge to help her, but he didn’t. And so, she started going to the Courthouse to plead her case every time the judge came to work and every time he left the building at the end of the day. But, the widow didn’t stop there! She started following the judge home and beat on his door in the middle of the night. And the same thing happened night after night after night, until the judge (who really didn’t care about God or even about people) caved-in and granted her the justice that she sought.

Have you ever felt like you were beating on the doors of Heaven, but that God wasn’t listening to you?

Maybe you didn’t get the job that you asked God to provide? Maybe you didn’t win the lottery and couldn’t pay your mortgage? I remember a time in my life when I prayed and prayed and prayed for young man who had brain cancer – and he died. What if God does not provide a parking place for you at the shopping mall during the busy Holiday Season and you have to walk through the snow – just like everyone else?

Many of us think that prayer is about asking God to give us the things that we want; and, when we don’t get what we want, we get mad at God. “Where was God?” we sometimes say when bad things happen. “If I’ve prayed every day for a young man who had cancer and he died,” we might ask, “then what’s the use in praying at all?”

As I’ve journeyed through life and as I have matured as a Christian, I’ve come to see that prayer is about far more than asking God to give me something and, then, expecting it to miraculously happen. God builds our faith as we pray; and, sometimes, God gives us the strength we need to face things in life that we can’t change. God helps us to see things in different ways when we pray and God promises to journey with us even when things are going dreadfully wrong.

St. Paul once wrote (Romans 8:35-37): “What shall separate us from the love of God?” “Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” And St. Paul answers that question by writing: “No! In all these things we are far more than conquerors!”

That’s living faith!

Faith is not about learning how to make our God jump through hoops. Faith is not about “doing something” to catch God’s attention; and, then, expecting God to bless you beyond your wildest dreams – even though that’s what the Prosperity Gospel proclaims.

God promises to journey with us through thick and thin. God promises to bless us with the gift of faith when we need it the most. God promises us that we will never be left all alone, and that God will never let go of our hand in the midst of a raging storm.

That’s the God that I meet and that I spend time with every day when I pray.

Click Here for This Week’s Message

Do You Want to be Healed?

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I suspect that we all have questions about healing.

We can all see the difference between those who appear to be healthy and those who are struggling with disease. Even little children can sense the distinction between justice and oppression. Almost all major religions try to speak a helpful word to those who struggle with human mortality and to point them to the hope of eternity. Today, we experience many gaps between where we live and experience life today and where God’s promised to take us in the future.

This week’s story is one of my favorite stories from the Bible.

Picture mighty Naaman, an “important” man who lived his life commanding others to do what he wanted them to do. Picture this same man carrying 750 pounds of silver and 150 pounds of gold across nearly 80 miles of untamed wilderness. And when Naaman gets to Elisha’s house, he expects something big to happen.

But we read that the prophet Elisha didn’t even come out of his house to meet Naaman.

And then, we hear this very human response from a man who expected the prophet to heal him. “I thought that FOR ME the prophet would surely come out!” Naaman says to those who were traveling with him. And, in those very human words, we can hear our own voices can’t we? Have you ever expected God to do something big and spectacular in your life? Have you ever asked God to ride onto the scene and heal a terminal disease, or give you something that you really wanted? Have you ever been disappointed because God didn’t do what you expected? That’s the beauty of this story.

We’re reminded, in the story of Naaman, that God doesn’t always bring healing into our lives in big and spectacular ways. God brings healing through the touch of doctors and nurses, and through the medications that we take. God sometimes brings healing into our live while we’re talking with a trusted friend, a professional counselor, or even a pastor. God fills us with strength and faith as we come to the Table to be forgiven and renewed by Bread and Wine – the Body and Blood of Jesus. God, sometimes, even helps us to bring healing into the lives of other people through the kindness, forgiveness and compassion that we extend to other people when they need it most.

At this end of this wonderful story, there’s a hidden gem!

Picture mighty Naaman, a commander of soldiers, walking down to the Jordan River to wash himself in the water. Naaman, undoubtedly, wore heavy armor. He wanted to look strong and ferocious in battle. He, also, wore his armor everywhere he went because a thick layer of armor also hides leprosy, doesn’t it? Can you imagine what would have happened if Naaman had just walked to the water – wearing armor? Can you imagine Naaman sinking like a rock as his armor dragged him to the bottom of the river?

As Naaman approached the Jordan, he needed to remove his armor didn’t he? Before Naaman could be healed, he needed to remove the armor that protected him from other soldiers in battle and from the eyes of those who would have been shocked when they saw his leprosy. And healing often begins in our lives when we do the same thing.

Sometimes, we need to remove the “masks” that we all wear before God can work in our lives to bring healing. How many times have you told people that you’re “fine” when you really weren’t? How many times have you carried burdens that you carefully concealed because you didn’t want other people to know what was happening in your life, or even in your family? Healing often begins when we become both honest and authentic with ourselves and other people. The “masks” that we wear aren’t always helpful.

Jesus once called us to come to Him when we’re heavy laden and nearly overcome. Jesus calls us gather with other Christians in a community of faith where we can be forgiven and strengthened, renewed and even healed.

What are you going to be doing this weekend? Perhaps, it’s time for you to push all of the busyness of life aside, for just a moment, and to find a precious place to rest with those who love you and who want what’s best for you? God’s calling you, right now, to set aside some time in the next few days; and to spend time with people who will strengthen, heal, renew, and help to make you whole again.

Please Click Here for This Week’s Message

The Church’s GPS

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One of the features that I use most often on my Smartphone is the GPS.

When I click the GoogleMaps application on my Smartphone, satellites that are flying far overhead can connect with my cellphone and provide my current location. I can choose my destination by typing an address onto the screen, or I can simply type the name of a distant city. And then, through the “magic” of technology, GoogleMaps plots my journey; provides an approximate arrival time; directs me around traffic jams; and even provides a picture of my destination, so that I don’t knock on the door of the wrong house.

Many pastors and congregational leaders are searching for the church’s path forward in quickly changing times. We realize that our society is moving through a time of dramatic change and transition. We can sense that dramatic shifts are occurring in people’s lives as we hear more and more about the “Nones” and the “Dones.” And we wish we could find the magic pill. We wish that we could somehow re-create an idealized past; but, deep inside, we all know that that’s not going to work. And so, we need to look forward. And, we also need to listen to God’s voice because the Church has been built upon the life-giving message of Christ crucified and risen for 2,000 years, and because the Risen Christ has promised to sustain the Church and lead it into the future.

So, what does our life of worship and prayer have to do with a GPS?

• First, a GPS reminds us that we can never travel from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be” until we know “where we are right now.” We begin worship services at Christ’s Lutheran Church, each week, by joining in a time of confession and forgiveness because we need to remember “where we are right now.” Times of confession call us to look deep inside; and, sometimes, call us to look at parts of our lives that we don’t like to see. Times of open confession call us to gaze into a mirror, and to see ourselves both honestly and authentically. And that’s important because some of the things that we see in the mirror can stand in the way when we want to serve God. And the pronouncement of God’s forgiveness frees us and liberates us, so that we can move in a new direction. Worship and prayer can open our eyes to “where we are right now” – and that’s where every journey begins.

• Second, a GPS reminds us that we can never travel from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be” until we know “where we need to be.” And worship and prayer can help us to see that, too. God opens our eyes and speaks to our hearts in worship and prayer – helping us to see the “gap” between where things are right now and where God wants them to be. As we “dream and dreams of God” in our worship and prayer, God gives us visions of the future that God wants to create for our lives and our ministry. God points us toward “where we need to be.” We might think that we can simply decide “where we need to be” by sitting at a table and by creating long-term strategies without God’s help. But, no matter how creative our strategies become, they’ll never lead us to “where we need to be” until we gather around God’s Word, spend time in worship and prayer, and ask God to lead us and help us to do what He wants us to do.

• Third, a GPS reminds us that, as we’re traveling from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be,” there are many different paths – and some of them may be far better than others. The book of Acts contains a wonderful story where the Holy Spirit opens and closes doors as St. Paul was traveling (Acts 16:6-10). We need to understand that God does the same thing today. When we spend time in worship and prayer, God works. God inspires. God leads. God opens door that we can’t open by ourselves with His mighty hands. And God chooses the best route forward. When we know “where we are right now” and “where we need to be,” we must remain in worship and in prayer – trusting that God will open doors and even close doors that will lead us down paths filled with unnecessary obstacles.

• Lastly, a GPS reminds us that, as we’re traveling from “where we are right now” to “where we need to be,” God will provide pictures of our destination. The Bible tells us: “Where there is no vision the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). As we worship and pray, God paints a picture for us. Can we see Christ’s Lutheran Church as a vibrant congregation that’s both multi-generational and multi-cultural? Can we picture Christ’s Lutheran Church as a place where people use the first five minutes after each worship services to engage and to speak with visitors, instead of just flying toward the doors? Can we picture Christ’s Lutheran Church as a place that devotes itself to listening to people and to building entire ministries around what God has told us to do to meet the needs of people who are living just beyond the walls of our building? Can we picture Christ’s Lutheran Church as a place that continues to lift-up the fact that ALL of God’s people are created to be ministers – and that one of the most important things that we can do as a church is to help people to fulfill their own ministry by equipping and empowering them by providing the tools and training and connections that they need to find?

When I click the GoogleMaps application on my Smartphone, satellites that are flying far overhead can connect with my cellphone and provide my current location. I can choose my destination by typing an address onto the screen, or I can simply type the name of a distant city. And then, through the “magic” of technology, GoogleMaps plots my journey; provides an approximate arrival time; directs me around traffic jams; and even provides a picture of my destination, so that I don’t knock on the door of the wrong house.

Can we look at our life of worship and prayer as something that does the same thing?

God’s Vision and Mission for the Church

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Many pastors and congregations struggle to define their vision and mission.

We sense that our ministries need to be about more than ourselves, and our own hopes and dreams. We know that congregations are not little social clubs where members “pay their dues” and then have a right to extract their benefits. But, who in the congregation is qualified to decide what’s best? The pastor? A Church Council? The Mission and Strategic Planning Task Force? Maybe, it should all be left-up to a bishop? The Church of the Risen Christ existed for thousands of years before any of us were born, and it will continue to exist long after all of us are gone. We need to remember that.

What if we began to consider the fact that specific congregations aren’t supposed to have their own vision and mission? What would happen if we began to consider the fact that God’s Vision and Mission has a Church? Hmm….

We set aside one Sunday each year and we call it: “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Sheep are rather awkward creatures who are stubborn and unpredictable. Sheep are demanding and independent. Jesus once said that people are like sheep. We tend to drift apart, and probably know little about what’s happening in each other’s lives. We’ve learned to just divide ourselves into smaller and smaller groups. We use our Smartphones (that can very easily access the collective wisdom of humanity) to argue and debate with people that we’ve never even met. And, as we’ve done that, we’ve lost a sense of compassion and love for each other. We’ve lost part of the very essence of human community.

In this week’s message, “God’s Vision and Mission for the Church”, we remember that Jesus – the Good Shepherd – has come into the world to draw us together, and to shape and form us into “communities of compassion” – “churches.” Jesus comes into the world to draw people together; and to create places where people can care about each other, support each other, and love. Jesus comes into the world to create places where sheep come together, and learn the importance of holding each other in their hearts and in their prayers. The Sacred Story reminds us that Jesus comes into the world to create something that we need more than anything else in the world – a place where we can come to be welcomed and embraced, to be heard and to be cared-for, to worship and to pray, and to be equipped and empowered for life and ministry in a quickly changing world.

What if we began to consider the fact that specific congregations aren’t supposed to have their own vision and mission? What would happen if we began to consider the fact that God’s Vision and Mission has a Church…?

Perhaps, we need to remember that a “flock of sheep” wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t a shepherd who was constantly working behind the scenes to hold it together? Perhaps, we need to consider the fact that ministry isn’t about trying to build something that’s going to last upon our own shifting ideas and dreams? The Good Shepherd calls us to live-into God’s great dreams for our lives and our futures. The Good Shepherd calls us to notice the sharp distinctions between what’s happening in our world and what God has planned for Creation – and then, to do something about it. God’s great vision and mission in one that continues to call people together and to create “communities of compassion” – in a world where people are becoming more and more isolated in an electronic world of shallow connections, more and more unfulfilled in a world of constant running and hectic schedules, more and more alone in a world where people tend to just move-on in life with or without us, and more and more detached from the God who comes into the world to be a part of our lives.

The Sacred Story tells us the story of a God who’s come into the world to show us that we deserve to be loved and to be embraced – to be heard and to be cared-for. The Sacred Story continues to remind us that God’s using us, in one way or another, to fulfill God’s great plans and dreams for Creation. And that’s why, on the bottom line, we need to see that it’s not our job to create and develop our own vision and mission for our churches. Our deepest calling is to immerse ourselves in Scripture (the Sacred Story); to pray; and to ask the Good Shepherd to open our eyes, guide us in the right direction, and help us to better understand how we can live-into God’s vision and mission for our “life together” as the Church.

Read Through the Bible – Weeks 34 and 35

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Welcome back to “Read Through the Bible.”

We’ve been traveling through the Gospel of John in the last few weeks. John is the last of the Gospels in the Bible and was, chronologically, the last of the gospels, too. The Gospel of John contains stories that we don’t find in the other gospels. This is where we’ll find the story of the wedding at Cana in Galilee, the Samaritan woman by the well, and a lot of stories filled with theological statements. John’s famous for the “I AM” statements that we find throughout his gospel, and we’re going to encounter two of those statements as we read from John’s Gospel this week: “I am the door of the sheep” (John 10:7) and “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:14). But, carefully tucked between these two statements, we find one of my favorite verses in the Bible.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

What kinds of things are stealing energy and enthusiasm from your life right now? What parts of your life do you find most difficult? None of us can live our lives without facing some challenges and obstacles, but there are other things in life that drain us (almost on a daily basis) and that leave us with weighted-down spirits and heavy hearts. Do you find yourself praying about those things? What’s God been saying to you? Jesus tells us that the “thief” comes into our lives to steal and kill and destroy – but God is mightier than the “thief” that Jesus describes, isn’t He? What do you need from God right now? How might God be working in your life to take away the power of the “thief” that’s stealing energy and enthusiasm from your daily life?

Jesus also tells us that He has come that we may have life and have it abundantly. What kinds of things make you feel close to God right now? What kinds of things send you into the world filled with energy and excitement? St. Ignatius of Loyola tells us that God is a God who spurs us on in life, and who creates deep passions and excitement. What are you most excited about right now, and how can that excitement be a clear sign that God’s doing something big in your life? Perhaps, that’s something that you can lift-up to God in times of prayer this week, too? How can the excitement and passions that you feel about certain things help you to understand God’s plan for your life and your future?

I know that I’ve asked a lot of questions. But, as we travel through the Gospel of John, we’re brought face-to-face with a God who’s come into the world to bring life, to restore hope, to give peace in difficult times, and to give us strength to face the challenges in life that we’ll all face at some point. Where are you finding God in your life right now, and what do you need the most from God at this point in your journey? Why not take some time to talk with God about that today?

Week 34

Sunday: 1 Timothy 4-6 – Monday: Numbers 5-8 – Tuesday: 1 Chronicles 10-14 – Wednesday: Psalms 99-101 – Thursday: Proverbs 19 – Friday: Hosea 1-7 – Saturday: John 7-9

Week 35

Sunday: 2 Timothy 1-2 – Monday: Numbers 9-12 – Tuesday: 1 Chronicles 15-19 – Wednesday: Psalms 102-104 – Thursday: Proverbs 20-21 – Friday: Hosea 8-14 – Saturday: John 10-12

 

When Storms Arise

Storm

When times are tough and storms arise,

I thank God that the path toward the future isn’t paved

with only my own inner strength and courage.

God is Mighty!

And the Lord who holds me in the palm of His hand

has the power to carry me safely

toward better days.

 

© 2017 Wayne G. Gillespie

Read Through the Bible – Week 17

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I hope that you’ve been blessed as you’ve been reading through the Bible with us! Please know that many other people are sharing your journey through the pages of God’s Word. If you’ve just discovered this site, welcome! The ExploraStory Cafe has been created to be a place where we read and reflect upon God’s Word, where we learn more about God’s plans for our lives, and where we are equipped and empowered for ministry.

This week, I was struck by the words: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and it is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

We’ve had a lot of rain in the last few weeks.

The herbs and flowers that my wife planted just a few weeks ago are growing like crazy. The trees are lush and green. The grass on my lawn is growing so quickly that I need to catch the clippings in a bag every time I mow it. And, of course, the weeds are growing just as quickly – sometimes, too quickly.

We all have times of abundant growth in our spiritual lives.

We have times when we drink deeply from the well of God’s love. We have times in our lives when we feel abundantly blessed – and almost like we’re planted beside a stream. Madame Guyon, a 17th-Century French mystic, once wrote in her short book entitled, Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ: “Rest quietly before the Lord. Let this simple, quiet rest in Him always be your preparation for everything. You must  keep this in mind: Your only purpose is to be filled to overflowing with the divine presence of Jesus Christ and, deep within you, to be prepared to receive from Him what He chooses to bestow upon you.

But Madame Guyon also writes: “The fact that you will have spiritual dry spells is not the issue. The important question is: What will you do in a time of spiritual dryness?

Perhaps, you have days when it’s hard to spend time reading the Bible and praying. I was reminded in last week’s reading from Jeremiah that there will surely be times of drought and times “when the heat comes” in every Christian life. But I was also reminded that, in those times, I can draw upon moments when I’ve felt God’s presence. I can be sustained by the waters that have moistened my roots in times of abundance. Madame Guyon tells us: “Wait upon the Lord in a spirit of humility [in periods of dryness]. Come before God quietly and peacefully, recalling your mind to His presence even though His presence may evade you.

Here are next week’s readings:

Sunday: 2 Corinthians 1-3 – Monday: Exodus 13-16 – Tuesday: 2 Samuel 1-4 – Wednesday: Psalms 48-50 – Thursday: Job 33-34 – Friday: Jeremiah 22-26 – Saturday: Mark 13-14

Blessings!

God’s Whispering in Your Ear!

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Many Christians (and churches) are struggling these days.

Christ calls us into ministry in the waters of Holy Baptism and sends us into the world as His representatives. The Bible plainly tells us that the Holy Spirit blesses us with spiritual gifts that we need – and assures us that, when we’re engaged in ministry, Christ journeys with us and opens doors.

But translating Christ’s “call to action” into concrete ministries isn’t always easy, is it?

It’s easy to talk about Christians being called onto the “front lines” of the battle. It’s easy to say that Christians need to get outside of their buildings and more deeply engage with people in their community. Many churches are trying to create long-term strategies for doing ministry in a world where it’s not always easy to know what the future will bring. And that’s what this week’s message,  “God’s Whispering in Your Ear!”, is all about.

Jesus says, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light. What you hear whispered in your ear, proclaim from the housetops!” (Matthew 10:27)

Ministry begins when God’s people pray, and when God’s people listen and talk with each other about what God’s been whispering into their ears. What does God whisper in your ears when you pray about people in your community who are struggling with illnesses and loneliness? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about people in your community whose lives are being destroyed by opioid addictions? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about little children in your community who were being offered a free breakfast when they arrived at school, but who have lost that daily meal during the summer? What does God whisper into your ears when you pray about young people who are being bullied, about children who need Sunday School teachers, about men and women who are being abused in their own homes, and about people in your own community who don’t have enough money to purchase medicines that they need in order to remain healthy?

God’s still using folks who are prayerfully listening to people in their community, and who are seeking God’s guidance and direction. Ministry begins when the people of God talk with people in their community, fall to their knees in prayer, and open their ears to hear what God has to say.

We live in a time when opportunities for doing ministry are immense! And, as we look for a path forward in ministry, we must continue to be people who are engaged in prayer and the daily reading of Holy Scripture. We cannot speak about what we have not heard! We cannot proclaim from the housetops what we’ve not heard whispered into our ears by the Living God!

And so, if you’re looking for a path forward in ministry – as either an individual or as a church – stop for a moment and pray. We are not called to build ministries and churches around our own agendas and good ideas. We are called, instead, to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd who has promised to journey with us (and to open doors before us) as we seek to fulfill His plan for our lives and for our ministries in practical ways.

Blessings!

Reading Through the Bible – Week 3

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I’m hoping that you continued your journey through the Bible this week.

Today, I have some good news for you! Studies have shown that new routines become a regular part of our lives after 21-days of consistent change. And so, if you’re sticking with your daily time of reading through the Bible with us, you’re well on your way to creating a life-changing spiritual practice. Congratulations!

We came face-to-face with the beating heart of the Christian faith this week.

On Tuesday, we encountered the words: “If you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7b) But, on Monday, we read a very different truth: “For we hold that one is justified (made right in God’s eyes) by faith apart from works of the law.” (Romans 3:28)

How have you found peace with God?

Does your journey of faith send you out into the world knowing that you have to find ways to “rule over sin” today – or does your journey of faith send you into the world knowing that you have peace with God because of your relationship with Christ? That’s something that I’d like to encourage you to think about as you move through the rest of this week’s readings.

And now, here are the readings for next week:

Week #3

Sunday: Romans 5-6 – Monday: Genesis 8-11 – Tuesday: Joshua 11-15 – Wednesday: Psalm 6-8 – Thursday: Job 5-6 – Friday: Isaiah 12-17 – Saturday: Matthew 5-7

Please remember that this journey through the Bible is meant to encourage you to explore God’s Word and to help you move through the Bible over the course of the next 52 weeks. It’s not meant to place a burden upon you! I’m hoping that if you miss a reading (or a few of the readings) along the way that you’ll feel free to simply jump back into the schedule of readings that I’m providing – knowing that, when you do, you’ll be re-connecting with faithful people who are committed to traveling through God’s Word with you.

Blessings!

Reading Through the Bible – Week 2

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I’m hoping that you were able to begin your journey through the Bible this week!

The Bible is so diverse! We’ve already read part of a letter that St. Paul, one of the most famous of all Christians, wrote to the Romans. We’ve read about God’s creative activity; and we’ve watched Job’s closest friends – Epiphaz, Bildad, and Zophar – demonstrate the fact that, when tragedy strikes, our presence is often more important than the words that we have to say. And we been reminded that we are “blessed” when we spend time in the presence of the Lord, and when we meditate upon God’s Word each day (Psalm 1:1-2).

And now, we’re ready to move forward with our next week of readings.

Week #2

Sunday: Romans 3,4 – Monday: Genesis 3,4,5,6,7 – Tuesday: Joshua 6,7,8,9,10 – Wednesday: Psalm 3,4,5,6 – Thursday: Job 3,4 – Friday: Isaiah 7,8,9,10,11 – Saturday: Matthew 3,4

Please remember that this journey through the Bible is meant to encourage you to explore God’s Word and to help you move through the Bible over the course of the next 52 weeks. It’s not meant to place a burden upon you. I’m hoping that if you miss a reading (or a few of the readings) along the way that you’ll feel free to simply jump back into schedule of readings that I’m providing – knowing that when you do that you’ll be re-connecting with faithful people who are committed to traveling through God’s Word together.

Blessings!