Saturday, December 23, 2023

Christmas Commission

Last time I wrote about the Christmas Crisis, which immediately followed the birth of Jesus. This time I will be writing about OUR role in the Christmas story.

In Luke 2:10, we read about the angels announcing the birth of Jesus, saying, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people…” Fast forward about 33 years, and Jesus uses a very similar phrase when speaking to His disciples. In Mark 16:15, Jesus says, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”

The word the angels used for “good tidings” in Luke 2:10 is the same word Jesus uses in Mark 16:15 for “gospel.” The good news of Jesus was for all people over 2,000 years ago, and it is still for all people today.

As Christians, we are told by Jesus in Mark 16:15 to go and preach the Gospel (good tidings) to all people. The same news given to the shepherds at the birth of Jesus and what the Magi experienced when meeting Jesus is what Jesus instructs His disciples to do as well. Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all people. If you are a disciple of Jesus, then you are commissioned by Him to go and share good news.

In Matthew 28:19, Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…” “All people” and “every creature” are clarified even further to “all nations,” which means all ethnic groups. According to the United Nations, there are 195 recognized countries globally. There are several thousand different ethnic groups in the world. The largest country by population is China, with almost 1.5 billion people. The second largest country by population is India, with about 1.4 billion. Can you guess what the third largest country by population is? It’s the USA, with about 330 million people!

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Most of us reading this article are living in the third largest populated area for sharing the Gospel. For going! For loving! We are to go and bring good news of great joy to all people:

to the shepherds and the Magi,

to the Republicans, the Democrats, the politically homeless, and the indifferent,

to the vaxxers, anti-vaxxers, and everyone in between,

to the rich, the poor, and the middle class,

to the citizens, the refugees, and the illegal aliens,

to every nation, every tribe, every tongue, and every ethnic group!

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to begin to bring the good news of the Kingdom of God with you wherever you go. Jesus is good news that will bring you and others great joy! Experience Jesus for yourself and then share Him!

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Friday, December 22, 2023

Christmas Crisis

Last time I wrote about the Christmas communication from the angels to the shepherds of good tidings of great joy for all people. This time I will be writing about the crisis that later followed the birth of Jesus.

In examining the Christmas story, we understand that the conception and birth of Jesus are both miraculous. The days and weeks immediately following His birth were fairly standard. Eight days after the birth of any Hebrew boy was their circumcision, and a couple of weeks after the birth of any firstborn Hebrew was their presentation to the Lord in the temple. (Luke 2:21-24) After they fulfilled their religious duties, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph traveled back to their home in Nazareth. (Luke 2:39-40)

Several months or even a year or two later, the Magi, wise men from the East (most likely Arabia or Persia), came to find Jesus. The Magi were astrologers and noticed an important star in the sky. Knowing about prophecies written of a King being born, they traveled for many months to find and worship the new King.

Not knowing exactly where the new King was, the Magi asked around and got in touch with the people who should know of a new leader being born, the political authorities. Herod, the Roman king/governor of Judea, told the Magi to find this King and let him know where the King was living so he too could worship Him. (Matthew 2:1-8)

After visiting Herod, the Magi see the star again and follow it until they find King Jesus. They are filled with joy and give gifts to Jesus and worship Him. The Magi are another excellent example that the birth of Jesus was good tidings of great joy for ALL people. The Magi were not Hebrews; they were astrologers and magicians from the East. They would have most likely been followers of a different religion, but they were now worshippers of Jesus. (Matthew 2:9-11)

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After meeting King Jesus, the Magi were told by an angel not to revisit Herod, so they traveled back home a different way. An angel also told Joseph of Herod’s anger and evil plan, and he, Mary, and Jesus escaped and lived in Egypt. Herod, not wanting someone to take away his job as king/governor, ordered the mass genocide of all children two and younger. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were refugees in Egypt until the death of Herod, and then they moved back to Israel and lived in Nazareth. (Matthew 2:12-23)

Next time I will wrap up the Christmas story and write about the most important part of all, the Christmas Commission.

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Christmas Communication

Last time I wrote about the many difficulties of Mary and Joseph as they obeyed the commands to travel to Bethlehem while pregnant. This time I will be writing about the communication of the birth of Jesus.

In Luke 2:8-14 we read of angels appearing to shepherds and communicating to them the birth of Jesus. The only event as important as the birth of Jesus (the Christmas story) is the death and resurrection of Jesus (the Easter story). The news of Jesus being born is world-changing, history-changing, and life-changing for any person who chooses to listen! The angels chose to tell this incredible news to, first of all, lowly shepherds.

If it was my job to tell of the birth of the Savior of the world then I would have picked someone to tell other than shepherds. Shepherds were out in the middle of nowhere and often alone. Who were they going to tell other than their livestock? Why tell shepherds? I think this would be news you would want to announce to the most important and well-connected people you know, people who could spread the news the furthest and the quickest. God had a much better plan.

Luke 2:10 says, “Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people...’” The first thing the angel said was, “Do not be afraid.” If any of us ever have an angel encounter like this then I’m sure they will need to tell us to not be afraid as well! The second thing they said was “behold.” They were telling the shepherds to pay close attention. The angels were bringing “good tidings” of “great joy” for “all people.”

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“Good tidings” is where we get the word evangelism from. The angels were sharing good tidings or good news with the shepherds. These good tidings were of “great joy”. Up until that time, there had never been such an occasion for as great of joy or gladness as the birth of Jesus, the Messiah. This good news that brings great joy was to be for “all people.” The good news of Jesus was for everyone, everywhere, for all time. This is demonstrated immediately as the angels choose to tell people of low economical and social status.

Immediately after hearing the wonderful news from the angels, the shepherds go and visit Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, and praise and glorify God for what they experienced (Luke 2:15-20). The next post about the Christmas story will be on the topic of the Christmas Crisis.

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

Christmas Commands

A couple of Decembers ago I had the opportunity to write devotionals once a week for the local newspaper in Park Rapids, MN. I wrote about the events surrounding the birth of Jesus. Since they were already written, I figured I would share them here as well for anyone interested.

Most of us are probably familiar with the Christmas story, but I want to examine the story a little more closely and pull out a few key points. In Luke 1:26-38 we read about Mary being visited by an angel of the Lord and being told who her Son will be. She is confused and has questions, as any of us would, but she responds in such a beautiful way I pray we can all emulate. Mary says to the angel, “Let it be to me according to your word.” May we all respond to the commands and words of the Lord in a similar fashion!

In Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus, Luke mentions there being a decree or command by the political leader Caesar Augustus. This command forced Joseph and his soon to be wife, Mary, to go to his hometown to be taxed. (Luke 2:1-5) This would have been a several day walk for Joseph and ride by donkey for Mary. All while Mary is VERY pregnant. I can’t imagine how difficult and uncomfortable of a journey this would have been for the couple! Unfortunately, disobedience to the Roman Empire would have been even more difficult.

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Conquering nations in the ancient world worked in various ways. Some brutally destroyed and plundered, some conquered people as slaves, others allowed the people to remain in their land and work as before, but with one major change: the conquered people had to pay taxes to their rulers.

In addition to the political and physical adversity Joseph and Mary faced, there were also cultural and religious complications. Mary was pregnant by someone other than Joseph, and this would have been difficult to deal with and explain. Joseph had the right to divorce Mary and probably would have if he had not received a visitation from an angel of the Lord. (Matthew 1:18-25) The angel let Joseph know Mary’s virgin birth story was true.

Joseph had to face the awkwardness of relatives and friends knowing his wife was pregnant by someone other than him. I believe this is the reason they didn’t find anywhere to stay while in Bethlehem and were forced to sleep with livestock in a stable. (Luke 2:6-7) While completing their civic duty in Joseph’s hometown of Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to Jesus, all while receiving no help or support from their extended family. The next post will be about the communication of the birth of Jesus.

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Little Margin for Error

Last time I wrote about the importance of creating love margins for others. This time I will write about the importance of us doing what we are created to do- to love God and love others. In some cases, there is little margin for error.

I don’t intend this article to be too heavy, but I want us to be aware we are essential and that what we do or don’t do can have eternal significance and consequence. Life and death are not solely in our hands, but we may play a part or crucial role in certain circumstances. We are no one’s savior, but there are times when we do play a part in introducing them to the One who can save them!

I’m currently 35 years old, and there have been several life-or-death circumstances I’ve been involved in during my lifetime. I’ve answered several calls over the years where people were contemplating suicide, and I was able to pray with them and get them the help they so desperately needed. I once led a man in a salvation prayer while he was in the hospital, and he passed away later that evening. Recently, there was an eight-month span where I was one of the first people to come upon a severe vehicle accident.

In November 2021, I was driving just outside Denver, CO, around 1 am, and we saw a vehicle flipped on its side on the interstate. My friend and I helped two people get out of their SUV and prayed with them while others called 911. In February 2022, I saw a van flipped upside down in a snowy ditch near Ottertail, MN. I stopped my car and yelled to see if anyone was in the van. Several seconds later, the horn started honking! I called 911 and struggled through stomach-deep snow to find an elderly man upside down in his vehicle. Thankfully, he only had minor injuries!

My friend and I are standing in the group of four people to the right of the Uhaul trailer.
In front of us you can see the SUV laying on its side.

In July 2022, I witnessed a motorcycle accident near Bemidji, MN. One of the bikers was unconscious and had very labored breathing. Another lady and I began praying for him, and soon he began to breathe normally, and a few minutes later, he regained consciousness. He was life-flighted to a nearby hospital and spent several weeks in the ICU. He had a miraculous recovery and was the talk of the hospital!

God wants to use us. God chooses to use us.

Lord, please help us open our eyes, hearts, and lives to You and our neighbor. May we be carriers of Your love, Your glory, and Your goodness! Amen!

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Create Love Margins for Others

Last time I wrote about the importance of creating love margins for ourselves. This time I will write about the importance of creating love margins for others.

In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus answered the question of what was the greatest commandment in the Bible. He tells them to love God with everything they have and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Once we love ourselves, we can love our neighbors well. Once we see ourselves the way Jesus sees us, we can see others the way Jesus sees them.

We must have time and love margins created in our lives, so we aren’t so pressed for time and space that we don’t even consider helping others when we come face to face with need. How often do we drive by someone stopped on the side of the road without stopping? How often do we walk past the homeless or hungry without looking at them? How often do we ignore our spouse, family, or friends because we have better things to do?

Photo courtesy of

I’m not suggesting we help so many people that we run ourselves into the ground. It is essential we have good boundaries, so we don’t burn ourselves out, but many of us use boundaries and overfilled schedules as excuses for not showing the love of God to our neighbor. This shouldn’t be the case! We shouldn’t be so busy that there are no margins for others available in our schedule.

Every human is loved by God and has infinite value. We often ignore the people outside the margins of social norms. Would we ignore Jesus if He was in the same situation? If Jesus was naked or hungry, would we ignore Him? If Jesus was stuck on the side of the road, would we drive past Him without a second thought?

In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus explains to His disciples, “inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me… inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.” This is a difficult truth to hear, but it is coming from Jesus, so it is most definitely the truth.

We are called to receive and treat every person as if they are Jesus. Wow, that changes things! Whether friend or stranger, we should receive, treat, and love them like they are the person Jesus. What would our world look like if we lived in such a manner?! May we begin to increase our love margins and find out!

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Friday, January 20, 2023

Create Love Margins for Yourself

Last time I wrote about the importance of creating margins of time and using your time wisely. This time I will write about the importance of creating love margins for yourself.

The other day a good friend called me out for not taking good care of myself. He encouraged me to ask God why I was willing to help others but not willing to help myself. Why was I ready to sacrifice, serve, and love others but not ready to do it for myself? It was a great question, and I appreciated his loving correction. After prayer and introspection, I realized I don’t value myself as much as I value others. I see others as more important than I am. This mindset and heart posture of self-criticism, another form of pride, is not where God wants me or any of us to be.

In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus answered the question of what was the greatest commandment in the Bible. He tells them to love God with everything they have and to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Before we love others, it is vitally important we understand how much God loves us.

God is unconditional love. Jesus is unconditional love personified.

We cannot love others well if we don’t first love ourselves well. We will love our neighbor in a similar way and fashion as we love ourselves. Jesus loved others well because He knew who He was and Whose He was. We can love our neighbor in a similar way as Jesus if we first experience and know the love of God.

A verse in the song “Jireh” by Maverick City Music says, “I’ll never be more loved than I am right now. Wasn’t holding You up, so there’s nothing I can do to let You down.” What if we all truly believed that phrase? We can never be more loved than we already are! There is NOTHING we could ever do to earn more love from God or to lose love from God! We are loved. We are His beloved.

YOU are loved. YOU are His beloved.

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God’s love has nothing to do with what we do or don’t do. How we love, think, treat, and speak to ourselves should have nothing to do with what we do or don’t do.

I encourage all of us to ask the same question my friend asked me. Why don’t you value yourself? Why don’t you love yourself? And what does Jesus want to show you about those lies you believe to be true about yourself? Ask and be ready to hear the voice of Love and Truth give you an answer!

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

No Margin of Time

Yesterday my printer malfunctioned and was printing out all kinds of letters, numbers, and symbols, and it wouldn’t stop. After printing several pages, I finally unplugged the power cord. The printer was filling up nearly the entire page. There were no margins on the top, bottom, or either side. It was stressful to look at it and gave me low-grade anxiety.

One of Webster’s dictionary definitions for margin is “a spare amount or measure or degree allowed or given for contingencies or special situations.” Many of us live such busy lives that we have no time margin whatsoever, and we have little to no time buffer or spare time between appointments, to-dos, and the busyness of our lives.

Here's the piece of paper. Please excuse the coffee stains ;)

Many of our lives look a lot like that piece of paper. No extra time. No extra space. No extra in our margins. We must widen our time margins.

In Ephesians 5:15-17 Paul writes, “See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

According to this passage, wise people will redeem and use their time wisely, understand the will of God, and they will live this way circumspectly- with accuracy and diligence.

Several months ago, I decided to stop playing video games. I enjoy playing them, but I tend to get hyper-focused on my interests, and they can eat up a lot of my time if I’m not careful. I will often cut myself off from social media for a month or more at a time as well. We need to be mindful of our interests to keep things in balance.

No more video games was challenging at first, but after a couple of weeks of using my time more wisely and creating new habits and it wasn’t too difficult. Soon after making these new habits, I was hired to help start a men’s soccer program at Oak Hills Christian College in Bemidji and could take that on without having to find or create much more time in my schedule. I was thankful I had already taken the Ephesians passage to heart and had more time!

Psalm 90:12 says, “So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.

The Lord wants to teach us and help us manage our time and schedules in order to gain wisdom and do all He created us to do. Many things demand our time, so we must be intentional in our choices, so our time is filled with what matters most!

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Friday, January 13, 2023

Don't Give Up On the Vision

Last time I wrote about doing the vision. Doing the vision is where we act on our previous praying and planning. Habakkuk 2:3 says, "'For the vision is yet for an appointed time; But at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; Because it will surely come, It will not tarry.'" After we begin to Do the Vision, we must understand the vision will come to pass if we Don't Give Up On the Vision.

The Lord tells Habakkuk the vision will speak, it will not lie, and encourages Habakkuk to wait for the vision because "It will surely come." It's possible to become discouraged when our vision, plans, or dreams don't go according to our timeline. The vision will rarely if ever, go according to our timeline. We will have the choice to keep running with the vision or to give up on the vision. Patience is key. Continually going to the Lord with doubts, fears, discouragements, etc., is essential and will help us grow during the waiting period(s).

A new vision from the Lord will most likely take a lot of time, a lot of work, a lot of resources, and a lot of prayers. We see this truth in the business world. According to the U.S. Small Business Association, only 70% of new businesses survive the first two years. After five years, about 50%. After ten years, about 33%. These statistics speak to the fact it's sometimes easier to give in and give up on the vision than to keep working, praying, and trusting in the Vision Giver.

Don't despise small beginnings (Zechariah 4:10). Rejoice in the small steps and the small successes. Learn from mistakes and failures. Bring these failures to the Lord and receive His input and plan. After all, if the Lord gave us the vision, we are not alone.

My brother and I inherited our childhood home after our father passed away in 2017. We rented it out to make some passive income, just as our father had done. The Friday before Memorial Day in 2021, while working on our house in DL to get ready to sell, I received a phone call about our childhood home in Willmar, MN. The caller said they planned to call the city to get the house condemned because of the property's condition.

Shock. Discouragement. Fear. Anger. Tears.

I soon realized this was an opportunity to be distracted from the vision God had given us. I brought my pain to the Lord, who gave me peace and vision to continue forward. We worked many hours with friends and family to begin cleaning the home. The house was not condemned. We lost tens of thousands in damages and lost rent, but we did not and would not give up on the vision, "It will surely come."

A few months after this incident, we sold the home to family friends. It was a good deal for us and good value for them. God worked it toward our good even though it was an awful situation, to begin with (Romans 8:28).

We were in the process of packing, preparing to move, and fixing our home in DL for nearly a year before it finally sold. It was a long process with many opportunities to give up and throw in the towel.

Final picture at our house before moving in February of 2022.

In February of 2023, it will be two years since we first started preparing for our move and one full year since the sale of our home. As of writing this, in January of 2023, we still have not purchased or moved into our new place. We are without a home, but we are not homeless. We have lived with several different friends and family and have several other offers of places to live/stay if needed. God provides, and we are so thankful to those who helped us during this weird season!

We have been given more opportunities to give up on the vision or continue to run with the vision. God has been so good and so faithful during this super-odd and long season of life. We are confident He will continue to work it all together for good.

If you're going through a difficult season, please be encouraged by our story and don't give up on the vision! God will take care of you and work things together for your good as well!

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Do the Vision

Last time I wrote about the importance of writing down our vision, dreams, and goals. Habakkuk 2:2b-3a says, “‘Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time;’” After we Write the Vision, we must Do the Vision.

The Lord tells Habakkuk those who read the vision should then run with the vision. Vision and dreams are wonderful, but they will have little value or impact if never acted upon. If God has given us a dream or a vision, then it is up to us to begin to carry it out. The exciting fact is once we begin to Do the Vision, the Lord will join us in the process! St. Augustine once said, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” St. Augustine’s thought process is a very helpful and effective way to live.

The Lord also told Habakkuk the vision was for an appointed or specific time. There are certain dreams and visions God created you to do within the particular time you are alive. The Lord is counting on YOU to do them. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” God prepared good works and then created YOU with those specific works (vision) in mind. You are not an accident; you were made for this.

An essential aspect of beginning to Do the Vision is filtering the vision through the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The Great Commandment is loving God with everything you have and everything you are, as well as loving your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-39). The Great Commission is going while doing (Matthew 28:18-20). If we receive our vision from the Lord and include Jesus in the process, then we will simultaneously be fulfilling the Great Commandment and the Great Commission at the same time.

As my wife and I were preparing our house to sell, we made a conscious effort to include the Lord in the entire process. We wanted to leave the house better than we found it ten years ago. We prayed for the future owners. We wanted our home to be a blessing to the next family that lived here, even if it cost us a little more money, work, or time. Our vision wasn’t to make the most money possible. Our vision was and is to build the Kingdom of God.

We did a bunch of work over several months, including painting every room in the house.
Every. Single. Room.

Next time I will write about what happens after we begin to Do the Vision. It’s important we Don’t Give Up On the Vision.

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Write the Vision

Last time I wrote about the importance of receiving our vision, dreams, and goals from the Lord. After we Receive the Vision, it’s essential we Write the Vision. Habakkuk 2:2 says, “Then the LORD answered me and said: ‘Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it.’”

The seemingly small and mundane act of writing something down causes multiple parts of our brain to light up and start working. When we write, it causes our brain to focus and pay close attention to what we are doing. Not only does the Lord encourage us to write things down in Habakkuk 2, but science can back up the importance of this practice as well!

There are a couple of important pieces to take note of in Habakkuk when we Write the Vision. First of all, the vision needs to be made plain. It needs to be clarified and concise. We need to know the vision inside and out, so we can explain it to others well. A quote often attributed to Albert Einstein says, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” Vague vision is no vision at all. Our vision and plan must be clear and concise. It’s vital we make the message simple and clear so most everyone can understand it.

photo courtesy of

The second part of writing the vision is sharing the vision. When God puts something on our heart, it is important to include others. If we can fulfill our dreams on our own, then our dreams aren’t big enough. If we can complete the vision without others or without God, then it’s too small. It’s helpful to both notarize and verbalize our vision and plan. It will keep it at the forefront of our thoughts and attention. Sharing and making the vision public gives the opportunity for others to join and assist in running with the vision as well.

During those two months of going through a prayer journal together back in 2021, my wife and I were also getting our home in Detroit Lakes ready to sell so we could move. We were very excited about the next season of our life, but selling a house was a LOT of work! We are so thankful we shared our vision and plan of moving with our church, family, and friends. Many came alongside us to assist in many different ways throughout that long process. Nearly impossible to do on our own, but a joy to do together. We are so thankful.

Next time I will write about what we do after we Write the Vision; we must Do the Vision.

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

Receive the Vision

Having vision, dreams, or goals is a super important part of life. Vision gives us something to aim for and something to work towards. It is extremely important we choose to receive our vision from the Lord. Habakkuk 2:1-2a it says, “I will stand my watch and set myself on the rampart, and watch to see what He will say to me, and what I will answer when I am corrected. Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision…’”

photo courtesy of free

Habakkuk was a prophet in the Old Testament. One of the jobs of a prophet during that time was to hear from the Lord and then share what they heard, the vision, with the entire nation. Talk about a lot of pressure! The word vision in this verse means “a revelation, a divine communication, a direct and specific communication between God and people.”

We read that Habakkuk put himself in a physical place and space to receive from the Lord. He stood, set, watched, and then waited. Something interesting can happen emotionally and spiritually when we physically act upon our faith. His physical act of obedience put his heart in a place to receive from the Lord. And what happened? “Then the Lord answered me and said: ‘Write the vision…”

On March 25th of 2021, my wife and I started a 40-day prayer devotional together… and it only took me about 60 days to complete! We had some significant life changes coming, and we wanted to ensure we had God’s vision for our family and future. Not our vision but God’s vision. Like Habakkuk, we set ourselves in a place physically to get our hearts in a position to receive spiritually.

We didn’t and don’t want to follow our hearts. We want to follow the heart of God.

We didn’t and don’t want to follow our truth. We want to follow Jesus, for He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (John 14:6).

We stood, set, watched, waited, and just like Habakkuk, the Lord answered.

Those two months or more of intentionally setting our hearts to receive from the Lord were incredible! I want to encourage you to set yourself in a place so you can also receive vision for your life from the Lord!

Next time I will write about what we do after we Receive the Vision; we must Write the Vision.

The time is now; shake the earth!

- Joel