The Mighty Oak

beauty for ashes

There are many trees in my neighborhood but one in particular has always stood out to me. Just a few doors down from my house is an oak tree. It was probably planted there around the time our neighborhood started over 100 years ago. This tree doesn’t just stand taller than the trees around it, it’s a giant. I feel very small under it. It’s magnificent, strong, healthy, well rooted, and flourishing.

As I thought about this verse in Isaiah I thought about this tree. This tree does nothing to make itself great yet it’s a magnificent display of God’s creation. A tree doesn’t need to go anywhere to glorify God. It stands tall, rooted deep and spreads out it’s branches offering rest and nesting places for many creatures. From it shade is offered giving a reprieve from the hot sun. It serves as food to some and materials to build homes for others. Even when it decays it still gives nutrients to the ground for new life to begin. A tree goes nowhere yet is so important to many.

When we are who God made us to be we glorify God as this tree does.We display the Lord’s beauty as we continue to be steady in the Lord, deepening our roots in Him and growing with every season. As we do what we were made to do we produce fruit and serve those around us effortlessly simply by being His.

It’s not about our image or our efforts but it’s all about loving Him and being the daughter, wife, sister, mother, co-worker, manager, friend or anything else He has asked you to be. You don’t have to do something mighty to be mighty. Look at our mighty oak. It’s not doing anything heroic. Just being what it was designed to be. Becoming mighty often comes in being steadfast more than it does through one glorious moment. We can be mighty like the oak.

If this one tree that cannot speak, cannot walk, cannot move can glorify it’s Maker than surely you and I – who are made in the image of our Creator, who have been given all blessings in heavenly realms, who has the Spirit of the living God in us, who is the crown of creation – surely we can glorify our Creator by simply being who He says we are. Regardless of where you live, how old you are, your social status or how much money is in your account. Just be you because what God has created you to be IS enough.

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for who you created me to be. Help me to continue to deepen my roots in you. May I glorify you by being who you designed me to be and help me to remember who you have made me to be is enough. May I live fully alive as I walk steadfast with You Lord. Thank you that among all you made I am your crown of creation. May my life display your splendor.

In Jesus Precious Name,

Amen

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Lightly Salted

                                       You are the salt of the earth. Matthew 5:13

Several years ago my dad had a heart attack. I saw how my mom had to make changes to my dad’s diet. Lowering a person’s salt intake these days is tricky since salt is in so much of our food. My dad’s heart attack helped me to make healthier decisions for my family as well.

One day I was putting chips on my kids’ lunch plates and I glanced at the chip bag. In big letters across the bag it said “Lightly Salted”. Those two little words were a selling point for me in the grocery store. I know chips don’t qualify as healthy but lightly salted helped me feel like I was being a little healthier. At the moment I glanced at that chip bag the verse “You are the salt of the earth.” (Matthew 5:13) immediately came to my mind. But what does that mean? In the American culture today we take salt for granted. There is so much salt in nearly everything that we have forgotten the significance of it.

In Leviticus the people were instructed to season their offerings with salt. Even their grain offerings. Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings. Leviticus 2:13 Before I read this I had never heard of a covenant of salt. To understand this we need to remember what salt does. Salt purifies and preserves. It actually keeps bacteria from multiplying keeping the food pure which makes the food last longer. A salt covenant was an everlasting covenant of faithfulness. A covenant that should not be broken. Salt was used as a symbol of the everlasting covenant between God and His people which is why it was used on every offering, not just meat.

Salt was used to remove the impurities from food, so by adding salt to their offerings they were offering a pure sacrifice to the Lord. Salt was a must to present sacrifices pleasing to the Lord. In the same way the Gospel, salvation through Jesus Christ, is a must to present ourselves as a pleasing offering to the Lord. Through Jesus Christ, His work on the cross and resurrection, we have salvation. It is only through Jesus that we can come to the Father free of sin and guilt. It is only through this Gospel message that we have eternal life. It is only through Jesus that we can present our lives as a pure and acceptable offering to the Lord. Just as they had to present their offerings seasoned with salt we now present ourselves through Jesus, the one who gives eternal life.

Just as salt has purifying capabilities, so Jesus purifies us from sin. If the salt has to many impurities it loses it’s ability to keep bacteria from multiplying. Which means the food will not stay pure and will rot faster. The same is true if we do not keep our lives seasoned with Jesus. In other words, we need to keep living in the way Christ lived. Free of sin and loving others. We need to continue to follow the example of Christ in how He did what the Father wanted Him to do. We need to stay pure in our thoughts, speech and motive. If this sounds like to high of a standard don’t worry. Father God already knew we couldn’t (and shouldn’t) do it on our own strength. That’s why He sent us the Holy Spirit. If we strike out on our own strength and no longer live the way Christ lived, if we take our eyes off Jesus and live like the world then we are salt that is losing it’s saltiness. Aside from Jesus we can do nothing to become salty again.

So when the Bible says we are the salt of the earth this means we are an example of what purity should like. Jesus is that example for us but many in the world don’t see Jesus and don’t know if they believe He existed. They can’t argue that we exist when we are standing in front of them. We are living, breathing examples of what Jesus does in a person’s life. We shine pureness and we are testimonies of eternal life through Jesus. We are to offer our lives to the Lord as a living sacrifice. As we go through the fires and trials of life, the impurities are burned off and we are salted with goodness that comes from the Lord. We are salted by letting His unconditional love wash over us and capture our hearts. We are salted by accepting the good news of the gospel. We are salted by learning God is faithful to us through thick and thin. Through these trials God is purifying and preserving us. Once we are salted we are to go out to the world and share our salt with them, purifying and preserving them. It should be such an unusual and welcomed difference that the world sees in us, that it’s savory. They aquire a taste for it and want to see more. They want to know more.

I continuously strive to be like Jesus. Until then, lightly salt my food but may my walk with Jesus be heavily salted.

Digging Deeper:

  • Read II Kings 2:19-22 How is Jesus like the salt in this story?

  • Have you seasoned your life by accepting Jesus as Lord of your life? If so, how has this changed you? If not, what is holding you back?

  • Ask the Lord if there is anything in your life making you lose your saltiness and ask Him for direction on how to become heavily salted.

Good Example

Recently I went to a meeting for church with my three elementary age kids. They had childcare but it was for children five and under. With a busy bag by our side we came prepared. Not long into the meeting my kids were asked if they wanted to be helpers in the child room. I was glad they were able to escape the meeting. It would’ve been pretty boring for them.

When I picked up my kids one of the ladies told me my daughter said she wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do to help. The lady told her that sometimes just being a good example is enough. At that moment those words profoundly reasonated in my heart.

I often feel like my daughter did. I say, “Lord, what am I supposed to do to help. To help spread your Word, to help other people, etc…? I feel like I’m doing nothing. I’m just living life.” But right there is the key, I’m living life. I’m doing my best to live my life for the Lord. To be a good wife, mother and daughter of the King of Kings. I need to not underestimate how valuable setting a good example is. I just need to relax and know that setting a good example – to my children, to my friends, to the world around me – is enough.

Jesus showed us a good example and we are reminded in I Peter 2:21 to follow his example. “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” And in Titus 2:7 it says, “In everything set them an example by doing what is good.”

Many times setting a good example is enough and those times when it’s not I’m sure the Lord will be faithful to tell me.

Homemade Christmas

People who know my husband and I well know we don’t have much money. It’s been that way all our married life. My husband’s jobs have been lowing paying, so we are doing well to make ends meet. Don’t get me wrong, the Lord takes care of us. We have our basic needs met but we have very little, if anything, for extras. So when Christmas rolls around each year all we have to say is, “Okay kids, you know the drill about Christmas.” They all nod as we continue, “We’ll do the best we can to get you gifts but we might not be able to get much at all.” Then we go in our spiel about how it’s not about the gifts anyway. Our kids are so used to it by now they roll pretty well with it. Of course I’d love to buy so much for our kids and my husband but that’s not always possible, not if we want to stay in our budget.

Yet through the years God has come through in some pretty amazing ways. People have bought us gifts anonymously, we’ve been given money – sometimes we knew who gave to us but sometimes we didn’t. We’ve had unexpected bonuses given to my husband. Then we-by we I mean my husband- would make a mad dash to the store with a ton of other last minute shoppers to buy presents. I’d love to tell all the stories of how the Lord has provided throughout the years but I don’t have time for that now. Those blessings have certainly increased my faith though and shown to me how faithful and loving our God is.

Since the kids don’t have access to much money we encourage them to make something for each other. Last year we stepped the presents up a notch. By stepping it up I mean the creativity and time put into the gift. Even my husband and I made gifts for each of the kids and each other. We bought one store bought gift for each child and the rest was homemade. I wasn’t sure how the gifts were going to turn out but I wanted to make the best of it. We took the month of December off from homeschooling with text books and planned and worked on projects instead. All projects had to be approved by either dad or I and I didn’t want to have to spend much, if anything, on materials. That would kind of defeat our purpose. I like doing crafts so I have a lot of supplies on hand, we just needed to add our imagination. Of course we had some inspiration from Pinterest.

We used three basic materials; fabric, canvas, and cardboard. I was in charge of the fabric projects because they had to do with sewing. We don’t have a sewing machine so all our sewing projects were done by hand. I’m sure it would be easier if you have a machine. The girls both received a flower pillow. I thought the butterfly was a nice touch from my older daughter.

My son got a Lego head pillow from his sister and a puppy stuffed animal from his other sister. She included a small container with a label that says “Spot’s food” on it. It’s actually a small spice container.

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My youngest son got a pteranodon jacket from his sister. We bought a green jacket that was on sale (I’m sure you could find one at Goodwill) and we sewed fabric pieces to make it look like wings. She had done something similar for him a couple years ago with a red jacket and sewed blue half circles filled with pillow fluff along the back to look like a dinosaur. He loved it but has outgrown that one.2016_12_29_12_12

On my next projects I got to do some painting. That was fun. I rarely have time to do things like this so I really enjoyed it. For my boys I made these canvases. I used tape to get the stripe effect. Then I hot glued buttons on to form the letter.

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For my oldest daughter I gave her a mirror with her name at the top and words along the sides that remind her of how the Lord sees here. I typed out verses that go along with the words. She hung those above her mirror. This way she’ll remember the truth God’s Word speaks over her and not the lies the mirror tries to tell us all, especially women. I wrote more about this in a post called “Do you see what I see” last December. https://shiningtheloveofjesus.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/do-you-see-what-i-see/

Mirror Edit

For this project my son and I painted some glass rocks you use for flower vases and hot glued them on a canvas. P1050243

Here’s a fun picture of the gift I made for my husband. He loves candy so much he says he has sweet teeth. So I made him this candy jar. 2016_12_24_11_49

Next are the cardboard projects. My husband was in charge of these. It’s amazing what that man can make with cardboard. Our son is a big Snoppy and Charlie Brown fan so my husband made him an airplane that Snoppy can fit in. It’s really large but really cool.

It’s 3 feet long with a wing span of about 29 inches. When he isn’t using it we hang it on the wall using shelf brackets. P1050244

For our daughter he made her a doll house out of cardboard big enough for Barbie dolls or Strawberry Shortcake dolls. The beds were made for her by her brother using leftover pieces of insulation foam. We painted them and dressed them up with scrapbook embellishments. The mattress is cushion padding covered with fabric.

 

A similar gift was a Hot Wheels parking garage for our youngest son.

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A super cool gift was this cardboard bird my husband made for my oldest daughter. When you lightly pull the chain below the bird, it moves up and down as if it were flying. It fit in well with their tropical room.

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The projects turned out well. It was fun to see what everyone made each other. An added bonus was my kids learned to sew and some learned to use a small saw, with the supervision of dad of course. We may not have been textbook learning but they were definitely learning and also learning to think of others. I’m sure we’ll remember our homemade Christmas for a long time to come.

Flaming Arrows

Your burdens you were never meant to wear, my child.

Give them to Me and I will give you arrows instead,

Arrows of prayer.

They are much lighter.

My yoke is easy &

my burden is light.

Prayers.

Flaming arrows shot in the heaven-lies.

That make the mountains move,

And the Earth shake.

That rattle chains of injustice.

That breaks the bonds of those suffocating under their burdens,

To weak to cry out for help.

Your arrows can send their rescue.

Never underestimate the power of prayer.

It is a gift.

It is a weapon.

Yield it well.

 

 

Gloomy Blessings

This spring we had a lot of rain in just a few days. No flooding, thankfully, but the ditches were full and the lakes were spilling over their banks. When the rain finally stopped the clouds lingered. For about seven to ten days our skies stayed gray. Everybody’s spirits felt gloomy and weighed down. I was no exception.

One day I was thinking about all the rain and remembered that in the Bible rain is a good thing, not bad. Rain brings crops and life to the land. Maybe I’ve been looking at this all wrong. Instead of looking at the clouds and giant puddles of water everywhere, I decided to look at the grass and plants. It was then I noticed everything was greener. The trees seemed to be standing at attention as they drank in the rain. The land was more vibrant. I had to choose to look at the benefits of the rain rather than focus on the gloomy, gray sky hovering over me.

Blessings are often thought of as joy-filled, beautiful gifts. Amazing experiences we wait for in expectation. While we should wait expectantly for the Lord we also need to be sure that’s not the only way we see blessings. Think about the blessings of life; marriage, a new job, the birth of a child, vacation, a new car just to name a few. These are examples of blessings but they certainly aren’t stress free. Sometimes it is through the gray skies that our blessings come. Sometimes it’s through the rain that we can drink more deeply in the presence of God.

cross picThe biggest blessing I have in my life is the gift of my salvation. That gift did not come through a sun-filled happy day. The resurrection was a happy day, that’s true, but first had to come the death of an innocent man. That Friday was a very somber day. Yet from that event came life, not just to Jesus three days later, but to all who accept Jesus as their Lord. The greatest blessing ever given came through the gloomiest day the world has ever known.

Maybe your like me and you need to readjust what you’re focused on. Are these really burdens or are they blessings and you just forgot what a beautiful gift you’ve been given? Is this really a gloomy day or is it a day full of vibrant life that has gone unnoticed? Don’t forget the Son is always shining, you just don’t always see Him doing His work, but have faith and believe He is there. He is doing His thing and He will work out all things to the good of those who love Him. He is in control. He always is and always will be. Rain blessing pic

 

Be Still

When we moved into our home I wanted to put up art with scripture on it. We’ve lived here several years now and I have only a few scriptures on our walls. I love drawing and painting so I decided to paint some verses that have meant a lot to me through my life.

Recently there was a death in my family that has left my head full of questions with answers that either weren’t there or hard to swallow. Family dynamics, that I’m not sure what to do with, have been brought out from their neatly packaged places in my heart and into the light, leaving my head in a whirl and my heart weighed down. With my head in a fog and a pit in front of me, eagerly waiting to consume me, I came to my breaking point. I looked to the heavens and cried, “Lord, help me! Please help me!” It wasn’t long before I heard two words echo in my head. “Be still.” For the next several hours I not only heard those words but I pondered on them. I knew it was a Bible verse and I remember hearing those words at other times in my life. I decided these would be great words to hang on my wall.

Be still…I painted those words on the canvas but it seemed so plain. It needed P1040793more. My intention was to put the rest of the verse but I found two similar verses. Which one should I put? Exodus 14:14 “Be still the Lord will fight for you” or Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God”? I felt these were the same but didn’t know why. What does that mean anyway, know that I am God? I know you are God. What are you saying here Lord? As I dug deeper I began to understand.

Be Still

     Be at rest

           Cease striving

Quit wrestling, warring, controlling, or manipulating. Quit trying to figure it all out. Don’t fret or be anxious. Quite down, settle down. Be at rest. (If you’re at rest, you’re not anxiously stirring with your heart pounding through your chest.)

Know that I am God.                                                                                                     The Lord will fight for you.                                                                                              I, the Lord…the One who held mountains in His hand,                                                                 the One who weighed the islands on His scale,                                                       the One who breathed life into your lungs…                                              He’s the One who has the final say.

                                                                                                                                                        The final say about who you are and who you are not.                                         The final say about life and death.                                                                              The final say about your healing.                                                                               The final say about your victory.                                                                                The final say about which way to go and when you will get there.

Know that this…this problem or trial or situation, is not your weight to bear. Jesus already bore the weight of sin and death on His shoulders.

Be still.                                                                                                                          Know that I am God. I will fight for you.                                                                  The Lord will take care of you.                                                                                   He’s got this.                                                                                                                    Nothing is to hard for Him. Nothing is impossible for Him.                                  He knows the truth and He knows which direction to go. Your only job in this situation is to trust Him and let God do what only He can do.

Be still. P1040833

I still have unanswered questions and things I may never come to understand. Yet, I know that I can rest in the fact that God is good, He is in control, and He loves and cares about me. I can sit with a quiet heart, even in the midst of uncertainty because I trust Him.

Wasteland to Fruitful

My kids were learning the history of the Great Plains. I love history so this was right up my alley. I thought I knew what to expect before we dug into learning but I was surprised when I saw pictures of the Plains in the 1800’s. It wasn’t the clothes or the buildings that surprised me, it was the landscape. It was formless. There was nothing there. It was so odd to see no trees, bushes or plants. The only place trees grew was near rivers. It was barren, which is why it used to be known as the Great American Dessert. It wasn’t seen as fit to grow anything. It was simply a path settlers traveled to get to the west.

There was a similar situation in the Old Testament. The land often lay barren, overgrown with thorns when the Israelites were taken as captives to other lands. The ground seemed to be good for nothing. In the same way our hearts can become like a wasteland when we make bad choices. Sin can take root and grow thorns and weeds in our soul making our hearts an entangled mess. Who would really want to fight the thorns and weeds to make this ground fruitful again? Who would want to buy barren land?

In Matthew 13 Jesus is telling a short parable about a hidden treasure. In verse 44 we read, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Jesus is like the man who gave all He had and bought us. He gave all He had for us. Why? Because He treasures us! He doesn’t care that our hearts look like a barren wasteland. It doesn’t worry Him that we have a mess of sharp thorns and stubborn weeds growing. He loves us so much He gave everything that we could be free of all that entangles us. He went before us making a way for us to be free. He lived in victory from sin. A perfect example to us of how to live. His heart was in constant connection with the Father’s as ours can also be. We were made to be in relationship with the Lord. To be free of sin that so easily entangles. To be like a tree planted by the water that sends its roots by the stream. We were made to be strong in the Lord and fruitful for God’s glory. We were made to walk in victory through the LoIMG_1619rd Jesus Christ.

If you see the Plains today it is a stark contrast to the pictures of the late 1800’s. What was once thought of as a barren wasteland is now producing crops and sustaining herds. I’m so glad Jesus was willing to give everything for us. Without Him our hearts would surely be a barren wasteland. But when you make Jesus the Lord of your life and allow Him to go through the process of restoring you, we become as beautiful as any garden.

beauty for ashes

Stories through Genesis (part one)

p1040420I mentioned to my kids one day that many of the great Old Testament stories of the Bible are in Genesis. They looked at me like this was an amazing fact they’ve never heard. “Really?” They said. All they remember about Genesis is the story of Creation and Adam and Eve. The Lord had already been stirring my heart to go through the stories of Genesis with my kids and in this moment I KNEW I needed to.

Genesis holds the foundational stories for our Christian faith. It’s a good book to use to introduce kids (and anyone really) to the Bible and Christianity. I love going through this with my kids. It’s helped me look deeper into these stories instead of just reading them with little thought because I’m so familiar with them. It builds up my faith as I see the constant theme of the Lord’s faithfulness.

My kids have been in church pretty much since they were born. They’ve heard the Bible stories from church as well as me reading to them. I noticed that I mainly read to them out of children’s devotionals or children’s Bible story books. That’s a great start but I wanted them to hear it straight from the Bible. There are pieces most children’s books leave out. Some for good reason. Prayerfully I went to the Lord to find out which sections to leave in and which to skip over. Also, how do I keep the attention of four kids with an age range of 6 – 14? Of course the Lord was again faithful as He guided me.

So here’s a snapshot of how this looks for us. I give each of my children a pencil, eraser and their own notebook. We pray. I tell them the section I will be reading from and write it on the board. I encourage them to take notes which can either be what I write on the board, pictures they draw p1040384(only pertaining to the story that day), or what they were inspired to write down. I read to them the section for the day. If it’s a larger section I will take breaks and talk about it as I go. If it’s a shorter story, I read the whole thing at once then discuss. Beforehand the kids know we are looking to answer three questions so they can be thinking about them as I read. The three questions are:

#1 What is the story about? Here we are discussing the facts of the story. I then write the facts on the board in an easily worded form so they can writep1040377 it down and read what they wrote later.

#2 What can we learn from this story? Here we discuss how we can use what we learn in our life. I also write this on the board.

#3 Is God speaking something to me personally through this story? This gives them a chance to listen to the Lord and learn to hear His voice. They have the option of sharing that with everyone or keeping it to themselves.

Because it’s such a large age range I try to keep things interesting. Every day we do notes but some days we will act it out like a skit and I take turns with who gets to help me. I also have A Beka Bible flash-a-cards I use to help illustrate if I have the ones for the story that day. At other times I turn to Pinterest to find some coloring pages and have them color a picture that p1040424goes with our story that day. Using this combination helps keep the kids engaged. Let’s be real, they’re kids, so it doesn’t always work but it helps to have a few different approaches up my sleeve. Always, ALWAYS I have to remember to lean into the Holy Spirit to give me ideas to help them understand and keep their wheels turning. Of course that’s true for parenting, not just Bible class.

I encourage you to take your time. Don’t rush through. Answer all their questions or help them find the answers. Take time to explore the Word with them. If you sense it’s getting lengthy for them, save the rest for another day.

Here’s how I’ve broken down the stories in Genesis. This is may or may not work for your family (or class). Use what you can. There are some stories that are more difficult for kids. Like explaining a covenant or circumcision or Sarai giving Abram her maidservant. Always ask for the Lord’s direction. He’ll guide you how to present it in the way your child (or class) will understand.

I skipped creation and the fall of man with my kids because I went through it with them a few years ago and am planning on going through it with them again in the fall. We have only done half of Genesis so far. I plan on doing a part two to this to show how the other half was broken down.

Stories:

Cain & Abel                                  4:1-16p1040425

The Flood                                      5-9

Tower of Babel                             11

The Call of Abram                       12:1-9

Abram & Lot part                        13

God’s covenant with Abram     15:1-7

Hagar & Ishmael                         16

Reinstatement of Covenant      17:1-18:15

Sodom & Gomorrah                    18:20-21, 19:1-7, 9-29

Birth of Isaac                                21:1-20

Abraham Tested                           22:1-19

Isaac & Rebekah                          (23:1), 24:1-34, 50-66

Hopefully this has given you some ideas to teach your kids about the Bible.

The Power of One

One…such a little number. Some say it’s the loneliest number. I say it’s an impactful number. There is power in one. In speaking to one person. In pouring into one life. In praying for one. One life represents many lives because one person touches so many other people. One person has a mother and a father. Possibly siblings, probably aunts and uncles. One has grandparents. One person has coworkers, a boss and friends.

In John 4:1-42 we find the story of the woman at the well. Here Jesus has a conversation with a woman, not crowds, just one woman. A woman with questionable character and a shady past. Yet none of this made a difference to Jesus. He did not come to judge her but to show her that He is the anticipated deliverer and King of the Jews. The woman ended up telling people in the town about Jesus. They ran out to meet Him and many got saved. What started with a conversation with one woman ended up with the salvation of many.

I believe the Lord rejoices to see us speak to even one person about Him. The Lord cares about every person, every heart. It may be difficult as we go through the mundane routines of life. Daily we live a Christ-centered life in front of our coworkers. We do our best to raise our kids in the ways of the Lord. We continually pray for that one person. Yet with all these examples we may see nothing that tells us we’re impacting anyone. I encourage you to continue…continue being that light, continue praying, continue doing all God has called you to do. That is one seed reaching into one heart. That one moment reaches into eternity and forever changes one life who in turn plants a seed…and the circle continues.

In Zechariah 4:10 it says, “Do not despise these small beginnings, for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin” The Lord doesn’t want anyone to be lost but wants everyone to come to repentance. (II Peter 3:9) Much rejoicing is done over one lost person who turns to Jesus.

You never know how much impact you may make. If God sends you to just one person, GO! Never underestimate the power of one.