The Beauty of Diversity

For the last few weeks, I have been listening to a fabulous sermon series on diversity. It has expressed what I have experienced throughout my lifetime. Yes, diversity is important, but it is deeper than making sure that we are politically and socially correct. This goes beyond hiring different ethnicities and genders to ensure there is equal representation in the workplace. It is much more than being satisfied that your church, small group, or service club has a few people who are different skin color than the majority. As God’s dearly loved children, we are to embrace diversity, realizing that true love of others can be messy, confusing, and sometimes just plain hard work. But it is God’s will for His Church, and unity among diversity greatly pleases Him.

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I was born in the 1960s to a Caucasian-American mother and a Chinese-Canadian father. Being half Caucasian and half Chinese set me in a rare category back then. I felt that there was no place I belonged. The Asians rejected me because I wasn’t “pure.” Caucasian people didn’t accept me either because I was obviously “something other than White.” When my family moved to a multi-cultural neighborhood, I developed friendships with a diverse group of students—Black, Indian (from India), Pakistani, Jewish, and Caucasian. For the first time I felt whole, and my heart was full. Sadly, we moved a couple years later to a predominantly Caucasian city where a person of color would turn heads.

Because of my childhood experiences, I am compelled to speak and act in such a way that demonstrates the beauty of diversity and that every single life matters. From the moment of conception until death, all life is sacred and worthy of respect. Nothing can diminish that. Not legal status, ethnicity, skin color, worldview, sexual attraction, gender identity, political affiliation, lack of education, poverty, addiction, physical and mental health problems, or homelessness. Nothing can take away a person’s intrinsic value.

Today people often inquire about my kids’ background. One son, in particular, is frequently asked if he is Mexican (which makes sense because we live in an area that is 50 percent Hispanic). When he mentions that he is actually part Chinese, the person laughs, thinking it is a joke. Why is that so funny? Then they find out it is not a joke and things feel awkward for a bit.

My kids are grown, and I have seven amazing grandkids. Some of them are half Mexican-American. All of them are one-eighth Chinese. Each of them is delightful and has captivated my heart! I am also blessed to be unofficially adopted as “Nana” to a sixth-month-old boy of a Congolese couple. His smile is my undoing. There is beauty in diversity that delights the Lord, the One who creates such variety in the first place.

Racism is the belief that one’s own ethnicity, heritage, culture, or group is superior to others. Racism is ever-present and affects the way we look at the world. Left unchecked it leads to prejudice and discrimination. We judge others based on our own culture as the ideal standard. “My way is the right way.” Subtler forms of racism show up as comments about “those people” that elevate us. It divides people into the categories of “us” and “them.” It interferes with experiencing the beauty of diversity. As servant leaders, we must avoid racism and love all the people following our lead.

In the Book of Revelation, John had a vision of a great crowd surrounding the Lord in worship. “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. And they were shouting with a great roar,

‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne
and from the Lamb!’”
~Revelation 7:9-10

Every nation, tribe, people, and language worship the Lord! They all put their faith in their Savior. No believer was excluded, regardless of their background. Will we be people that love others and include them? Will we be leaders that speak in terms of “us” and “we”? People don’t have to look, believe, think, or live the same way as us to be included and genuinely cared about. When we appreciate the beauty of diversity, we no longer say with an air of superiority, “those people.” Instead, we humbly accept others as ones deeply loved and adored by Jesus. We take time to hear their life stories and experiences. We learn about other countries, cultures, and traditions. As we open our hearts, we will genuinely embrace them as “we.”

All the nations you made will come and bow before you, Lord; they will praise your holy name. ~Psalm 86:9

Mental Health & Jesus

The month of May has been designated for Mental Health Awareness since 1949. I am grateful that the subject of mental health is increasingly part of the public conversation. According to the National Association of Mental Illness (NAMI), one in five adults and one in six youth (ages six to seventeen) experience mental illness. These are pre-pandemic numbers, and experts assert that they have skyrocketed in the last two years.

My beautiful offspring, JoJo, modeling their newest statement shirt. I need to order one, too!

The topic of mental health in a generic sense is considered less hush-hush than in days gone by. But people who step forward and identify their struggle with mental illness are often met with an awkward silence or attempts to change the subject. Much more work needs to be done because only one-third of the people suffering from mental illness seek professional help.

I have been hesitant to talk about my own mental health journey. In my early days of ministry, I was well aware of the stigma for Christians (and even worse, ministers) who needed medication for depression. There were unspoken judgments of having a lack of faith, not trusting Jesus enough to live in the joy He provides. Who wants to be a target of criticism when already feeling incredibly vulnerable?

However, I feel challenged to break my own silence and contribute to finding solutions.

Today I approach you simply as one who has walked the road of depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I was six years old when I had my first encounter with suicidal ideation. I suffered from serious post-partum depression following the birth of each of my five babies. After my fourth child was born, I cried every day for six months until a friend insisted that I make a doctor’s appointment. I encountered several traumatic events throughout my life that took a serious toll on my well-being. I also have had the privilege of ministering to wonderful people seeking answers for their mental health.

The field of mental health is vast. Mental illness comes in many shapes and sizes. One blog post can barely scratch the surface.

The one thing I do know is that Jesus loves you. In whatever mess you may find yourself, Jesus is there. Not with shame or condemnation, but with grace and wholeness.

The route to wholeness looks different for each one of us; yet wholeness is ours through Jesus.

For me, this has looked like…

  • Prayer and worship focused on Jesus as my Healer.
  • Taking different medications during different seasons of life.
  • Many hours of counseling sessions to unlock trauma from the past.
  • Memorizing God’s Word to counteract the negative messages in my mind with God’s truth.
  • Working with a psychiatrist to discover how to properly balance my brain chemistry.
  • Heartfelt conversations with loved ones about my mental health.
  • Dozens of once-full-now-empty tissue boxes.

As you can see, it has been a process involving faith and community. I continue to become who God has designed me to be.

In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul recounts his story about a thorn in the flesh. He asked the Lord three times to remove it. God’s answer to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (v. 12a).

What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh? There are a variety of thoughts depending on the Biblical scholar you ask. Some say it was a physical condition, perhaps an eye disease. Others identify it as bouts of depression. Still, others claim it was a spiritual attack. Regardless of what the thorn was, we can be encouraged that Paul didn’t define it.

For whatever reason, Paul felt weak and God assured him that His grace was sufficient. Indeed, His grace was all, everything Paul needed. In the midst of weakness that threatened to hinder Paul’s ministry effectiveness, God’s power was at work.

We can take heart. The same God who was with Paul is with us. Jesus promised that He would always be with us. We are never alone.

Knowing this to be true, you can be honest with the Lord. (Um…He already knows anyway.)

You can be honest with others who have shown themselves trustworthy and supportive.

You can reach out to mental health professionals for help.

Mental illness does not disqualify you from God’s call. But, please, don’t leave it untreated.

You can thrive in life and leadership.

Because there is abundant grace and hope in Jesus!

When God’s people obey, God shows up in a big way.

By Julian Jagenberg @pexels.com

Joshua led the Israelite army to march around the formidable city of Jericho. The Lord had instructed him to place seven priests and the Ark of the Covenant at the front of the line. Nobody was to make a sound for six days. On the seventh day, seven priests were to blow the trumpets. Only then could the army shout. (See Joshua 6:1-27.)

Gideon led 300 Israelite soldiers to fight the vast army of Midian. Under the Lord’s command, he sent about 32,000 men home. Gideon divided the soldiers into three companies of 100 soldiers each. Upon the signal, the men were to break their jars with torches inside and blow their trumpets, shouting “For the Lord and for Gideon.” (See Judges 7:1-25.)

Paul and Silas traveled to the city of Philippi after receiving a vision from the Lord. Several days later, they were beaten and thrown into jail because they were considered a public menace when a slave woman was delivered from the fortune-telling spirits that made her master money. At about midnight, with their feet in stocks, Paul and Silas prayed and sang hymns to God loudly enough for the other prisoner to hear. (See Acts 16:6-40.)

These three distinct stories share a common theme of obedience. Joshua and Gideon were both given unusual battle plans. Both men followed the Lord’s orders. God performed mighty miracles and the Israelites won incredible victories.

Paul and Silas went to the place God had told them to go, but after only making one recorded disciple, they were falsely accused and put in jail. Instead of having a pity party and moping about their unfair circumstances, the two Jesus followers decided to praise the Lord. A divine visitation shook the jail, setting all the prisoners free. When the jailer went to check out the situation, none of the prisoners had escaped (a huge miracle by itself). As a result, the jailer and his entire household put their faith in Jesus.

God’s people obeyed, and God showed up in a huge way!

By Andrea Piacquadio @pexels.com

In the middle of obeying, it didn’t make sense. There were plenty of occasions for doubt to creep in and to quit before the plan was completed.

Joshua’s army could have stop marching before the seventh day. They might have felt silly marching silently around Jericho. But they persevered.

Gideon’s men could have decided to join all the others who had gone home. What chance did they have against the Midianites? But they didn’t give up.

Paul and Silas could have lamented about what a waste of time it had been to come to Philippi in the first place. How could the Lord have planned for them to land in jail? But they trusted Him instead.

However, in each situation, when they looked back, they could see the unmistakable intervention of God.

The walls of Jericho fell and the city was captured.

The Midianite army was soundly defeated.

The Lord visited the jail and a prominent family in Philippi was saved. (The Bible doesn’t say, but I wonder how many prisoners gave their lives to Jesus that night?)

What has God asked you to do?

What next step do you need to take to move forward in obedience?

Take courage, my friend.

It might not make sense in the middle. It might not be easy. But don’t give up.

As you obey the Lord’s leading, expect Him to show up. That’s the kind of God He is.

Special thanks to my son, Jason Babcock, for sharing a devotional that inspired me to write this.   

(Re)acquaint yourself with God’s grace

Resurrection Sunday is here! We put to rest the Lenten season of preparation and focus on the culmination of God’s plan to redeem humanity. The long-awaited and hoped for deliverance, the final blow in the battle against sin, they have been ushered in by the New Covenant of grace and faith in the risen Jesus.

picture by David Dibert, Pexels.com

Lent is observed during the forty days before Easter. It symbolizes the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, being tempted by the devil. Afterward, He emerged and began His public ministry. The season of Lent is dedicated to reflecting on our lives and opening our hearts to the sacred work of the Holy Spirit. We respond to God’s invitation to prayer, fasting, and giving.

I was drawn to observe Lent twelve years ago. Previously I hadn’t been aware of the church calendar. Through the influences of friends and authors, I learned about the life-giving practices of Lent that draw us closer to Jesus. Since then, I have established a rhythm of renewal each year during the Lenten season.

I’ll be honest with you. This year, Lent was difficult. It felt much more laborious than other years, like walking through the wilderness without any shade or water. I read my Lenten devotional and engaged in prayerful introspection, but fasting was brutal. Self-discipline, which is usually my faithful companion, was nowhere to be found. I related to Paul who described our battle with sin in Romans 7:15.

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.

The harder I fought, the weaker I felt. The more restrictions I put on myself, the more I food I ate. The vicious cycle spiraled steadily downward. Discouragement took root and feelings of failure settled in. What was happening to me?

It took almost thirty days before I could hear what the Holy Spirit was speaking to my heart. (What can I say? I’m a slow learner.)

I needed to get reacquainted with God’s grace.

Sometimes we can become masters at outward, godly behavior. We do and say the right things so well that they become automatic. We know how to play the Christian leader role with excellence. We are so good on the outside that we lose sight that the one and only reason we are good is because of Jesus.

God extends His grace to save us. We need His grace to change us. We survive by His grace as He renews us from the inside out. His transforming grace empowers us to honor Him with our lives.

I say “we,” but I really should say “I.” I had allowed self-sufficiency to infect my thinking. It showed up in my failure to fast. I couldn’t pat myself on the back for maintaining a routine with reading and prayer either, because I wasn’t relying on Jesus.

I was including Jesus in my life, but I wasn’t completely relying on Him.

I decided that the remaining days of Lent would be spent embracing His grace. I realized that the end game isn’t to be perfect at reading the Bible, praying, and fasting. It took off the pressure to perform and freed me to joyfully surrender to Jesus.

God’s grace is offered to you and me for every area of our lives every single day. We are blessed when we receive it.

In which area(s) do you need to get reacquainted with God’s grace? Ask Jesus to give you a fresh start.

By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence (1 Peter 1:3 NLT).

Six Important Questions about Your Goals

We’re already three weeks into the new year. How are you doing on the goals you set on January 1? Are you keeping up the momentum or is your motivation starting to fizzle? Before you go any further, take time to pause and reflect on your progress. Gain clarity and impetus for achieving your goals by interacting with six important questions.

Question One: Are my goals written?
If your answer is “no,” for heaven’s sake write them down. Writing down your goals does a number of things.

  • It helps you remember them.
  • It reinforces your commitment to them.
  • It makes you accountable.
  • It gives you focus.

Question Two: How often will I revisit my goals?
Having a written plan is important, but the power lies in keeping the plan continually before you. Some people begin each day by reviewing their goals. Others review their goals once a week. Decide the frequency that works best for you.

Only a small percentage of businesses that invest in the strategic planning process actually accomplish their goals. By far, the biggest reason is that once created, the plan simply sits on the shelf. They continue doing business as usual without referring to their well-designed plan.

Next, take a look at each of your goals and re-evaluate them with these questions.

Side Note: Select no more than five goals to really focus on. The fewer your goals, the greater the likelihood of achieving them.

Question Three: Is this a goal I believe God wants me to pursue?
This really is the bottom line. Does the goal honor the Lord? Does the goal align with the teachings in God’s Word? Would this goal be approved by trusted, mature believers? If you can’t answer yes, you have a goal that is not worth pursuing. If the Lord has indeed put the goal in your heart, He will help you accomplish it.

Question Four: Is this a goal I am committed to?
Be honest with yourself. Goals are successfully accomplished through commitment. If you aren’t willing to persevere during challenges, your commitment level is low. In this case, you should change the status from a goal to a good idea. Focus on a different goal that you will commit to.

Question Five: What obstacles am I facing in achieving my goal?
You’re committed to the goal, but you’re still having difficulty. Step back and objectively look at the situation. Identify the obstacles and problems. You may need to enlist support from a mentor or a friend.

Question Six: What adjustments do I need to make?
In light of the obstacles, you may need to tweak your plan. You may need to change your timeline. You may need to change your approach or take a detour. Ask the Lord for His wisdom.

If you can’t fly, then run.

If you can’t run, they walk.

If you can’t walk, then crawl.

But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Every choice you make is either bringing you closer to or farther away from achieving your goals. Choose wisely, and keep moving forward.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6, NLT).

One Word for the Year…With a Twist

In 2014, I added a meaningful activity to my soul preparation for the new year. It involves prayer, asking the Lord to direct me to one word for the year. That one word becomes a source of inspiration and encouragement in the weeks and months ahead. At first, the word might feel uncomfortable or it might not make sense.

One year I felt that God’s word for me was “dare.” Now, I am not a risk-taker. I like my routines, and I don’t enjoy rocking the boat. However, after trying several times to pick a different word—one gentler and less in-my-face—I surrendered my own desires. “Dare” it was. And that year, the Lord empowered me to dare to believe Him for big things for the pregnancy help center I lead. Believing for big things required me to stretch and walk in new territory.

At the end of each year, I start praying and listening for my word. Some words from the past have been “virtue,” “expectation,” “listen,” and “fearless.”   

This year I didn’t receive one word. I sensed there were three. Because I’m a rule follower, it felt like I was doing something wrong. I continued to seek the Lord, and the three words resonated equally. I couldn’t get rid of any of them.  Pray. Wait. Trust.

There are times that we can get set in our way of doing things and our rituals lose their vibrancy. The Lord may invite us to change some elements of deeply held practices and embrace flexibility. Being flexible can be life-giving as we rely on His steadfastness when we feel shaky.

How do you like to start off a new year? What can you change to make your routines more life-giving? May you thrive in life and as a leader through Jesus in the days ahead.

Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. ~Psalm 33:20-22 ESV

More About Words…

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There is an old story about an elderly couple who was approaching their 50th wedding anniversary. They had planned a small celebration with family and close friends. As the special day approached, the wife ventured to share a concern she had about the relationship with her husband.

“You know, dear, it has been a very long time since you’ve said, ‘I love you.’ In fact, I can’t remember the last time you said it.” She held her breathe, hopeful for some sign of affection.

The husband growled, “I told you on our wedding day. If I change my mind, I will let you know!”

It’s a wonder that this couple had managed to be married for so long.

Spoken words are powerful. Words left unspoken also carry a power of their own. They morph by people’s imaginations. Assumptions run wild.

There are four phrases that should be spoken often.

  1. I love you (or I care about you). Relationships need to be nurtured. At home and in the workplace, people need to know they matter to you. With my husband and kids, I made a commitment to say “I love you” every day before they left the house. If something unexpectedly tragic happened, I wanted my last words to be “I love you.” When spoken, the expression of affection builds others up.
  2. I appreciate you. It’s important to mention specific actions or attributes that you appreciate. Naming somebody’s strengths and talents affirms their positive qualities and encourages them to continue expressing them. Appreciation also creates a sense of value in the hearer.
  3. I’m sorry. Be genuine and mention what you are sorry about. Admitting that you are wrong and sorry establishes a safe environment. Mistakes are learning opportunities. By your example, others will be encouraged to take ownership for their actions and apologize for wrong-doing.
  4. I forgive you. Embrace the humility of Jesus and be quick to forgive. Let go of pride and refuse to hold a grudge. We receive God’s forgiveness when we forgive others. The LORD has graciously forgiven us and continues to forgives, and empowers us to walk in forgiveness toward others.

Let’s bless others with our words. May we speak words of life and love, building people up and glorifying the LORD. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (Psalm 19:14, NLT).

Four Questions to Guide our Words

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Words are powerful. The LORD God brought creation into being through words. “Let there be______. And it was so.” (Genesis 1). We have the ability to speak life or death into situations (Proverbs 18:21). Therefore, we must keep a tight rein on our tongues (James 1:26).

Nicky Gumbel, pioneer of The Alpha Course and Vicar of HTB in London, offers three questions to guide our words. I have added a fourth. As we pass our words through the filter of these questions, our mouths become refreshing wellsprings of wisdom and revelation.

  1. Is it true? As Christ-followers we are called to honesty, accuracy, and integrity. Our words must embody truth. “Telling lies about others is as harmful as hitting them with an ax, wounding them with a sword, or shooting them with a sharp arrow” (Proverbs 25:18, NLT).
  2. Is it kind? With our words we build up or tear down. Is our motivation to benefit the hearer, or is it to get something off our chest? “Kind words are like honey— sweet to the soul and healthy for the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
  3. Is it necessary? Is there a sense of urgency to avert danger or avoid a costly mistake? Perhaps it is essential to speak up on behalf of some else, or to highlight their positive achievements. Don’t use an opportunity to pridefully show off your knowledge. Instead determine necessity by being others-focused. “Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook” (Proverbs 18:4).
  4. Is the timing right? Is the audience able to give their undivided attention? Is there space to interact? If not, wait. Our words and the timing of delivery must both be right. “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket” (Proverbs 25:11).

Our words are designed to make a difference. In our families and in the places we lead, our words can set the tone of honoring God and one another, creating an environment of health, respect, caring, learning, and thriving.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

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For most of my life, I believed that conflict was negative. I dreaded the tension that filled the room when two people I cared about disagreed. I longed to run away, to find a place to breathe. The message came through loud and clear: Conflict is dangerous, disagreements are harmful, and differences ruin relationships.

I carried the message into my parenting. One of my roles was to keep the peace, to ensure that nobody rocked the boat. I wanted one big happy family where nobody would ever get hurt. Can you say, “Unrealistic expectations”?

I also carried the message into early ministry. I spent a lot of effort to avoid offending anyone. I had a fear of stepping on anyone’s toes. When I was eight years old, I literally stepped on my uncle’s little toe and broke it. Even though it was an accident, I was devastated. My uncle was gracious, but the memory impaired my perspective for decades.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught the crowds. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9, NIV). There is a blessing when we prioritize peace. However, merely avoiding strife or stilling opposition falls short of the mark. During the pax Romana, the mighty Roman military kept the peace. The powerful quelled all hostilities and conflicts, and the Roman Empire maintained the exterior of peace, while animosity boiled beneath the surface. We are not called to be peace keepers.

The New Living Translation phrases Matthew 5:9 as, “God blesses those who work for peace.” It requires consistent, courageous work to pursue peace in its fullness. Shalom is the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, meaning “wholeness, completeness, health, safety, and prosperity.” Shalom involves our relationships with others and replacing systems in which shalom is broken. Shalom originates from and is sustained by God.

As followers of Jesus, we must seek peace, working to maintain and strengthen it (Psalm 34:14). We reflect the LORD’s heart for humanity as we actively engage with others in pursuit of shalom. We should view conflict as a natural part of existing with human beings, rather than as a threat. As servant leaders, we create a safe place to lovingly address conflict, disagreements, and differences. We build bridges by seeking to truly understand, and emphasizing empathy, listening, and respect (even if we don’t agree). Beyond our relationships, we advocate for true justice and systems that restore shalom to others living in the margins.

Let’s be peacemakers—not peace keepers—and walk in the ways of Jesus, our Prince of Peace.

Where Has All the Integrity Gone?

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“What is truth?” Pontius Pilate asked Jesus the question in a dismissive manner during their encounter (John 18:38, NIV). Jesus had appeared before Pilate for sentencing. During their brief conversation, Jesus declared, “The reason I was born and came into the word is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me” (John 18:37). In Pilate’s world, truth was subjective, determined by the person considering it. Much like the society in which we live today.

The fact that Jesus mentioned “the side of truth” reveals that truth does indeed exist. Truth isn’t what we decide it will be. Truth isn’t like a chameleon changing color to blend into its environment.

In our current political environment, truth is difficult to discover. I have family members and friends who identify with a wide variety of political viewpoints. They are all good people. Some of them stand strongly on one side of the political aisle; others stand just as convinced on the other side. Political viewpoints come with particular beliefs. As a result, truth is reported by news media, social media, and other sources (on both sides) with subjectivity. It is often tricky to sort through so much information for the facts.   

As one who is passionate about the truth, my spirit is grieved by the partial truths and spin that surround us on every side. Where can we go to find out what is really going on and get the whole picture? Our country suffers from a lack of integrity, which prompts me to inquire, “Where has all the integrity gone?”

Now more than ever, we need leaders of integrity.  

Charisma can only carry leaders so far. Healing of our nation requires more than promises and new policies. Integrity is the quality that is essential to restoring trust. We need strong leaders to navigate the chaos and confusion of the times and model integrity before crowds and behind closed doors in top-secret meetings.  

Leaders of integrity tell the truth. They make sure that their words and actions match. Always. They are also genuine in every setting and have nothing to hide.

As Christian leaders, we must rely on the LORD to empower us to lead with integrity in our sphere of influence. We stand on the truth as revealed by the Word of God, and we live the truth without compromise. We may not be able to change the whole world, but we can make a difference where God has placed us.

Let’s pray for the restoration of our nation, and let’s be leaders who honor the LORD and those we lead by leading with integrity.

“May integrity and honesty protect me, for I put my hope in you” (Psalm 25:21, NLT).