A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Faith & Family

Faith is a vital role in the family unit. It draws us together. Holds us tight. Binds us with the ties of God. Keeping faith in our families secures the values of Christ are embedded in our children

Chicken Little

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” screamed Chicken Little.

The occasion of this frantic pronouncement involved an acorn falling on the bare head of the aforementioned hen. And if we watch any of the mainstream media, we might certainly think the sky is indeed falling.

Asteroids are my personal favorite. Hardly a day goes by in my news feed without a screaming headline proclaiming that some chunk of space rock is hurtling toward earth. “Toward” is the operative word in the vast majority of these cases. Asteroids fly past us all the time. Only on the rarest of occasions does one of the random space rocks actually interact with our planet.

Yellowstone is another favorite. The supervolcano that lurks underneath the national park perpetually seems on the verge of erupting and destroying us all. If it’s not Yellowstone, then on any given slow news day, we might read “The Poles Are Thawing!” or “The Glaciers Are Shrinking,” or even “The Sea Levels Are Climbing!”

Lately, some headline-worthy events have reached out and touched us. Solar storms have pummeled earth, but, except for the odd lost satellite or two and some spectacular northern lights, they have been much ado about nothing . . . so far. And then, practically everyone on the planet knew someone whom the COVID pandemic stole from them.

The frequency of earthquakes in the New Madrid Seismic Zone rose three hundred percent above average during the summer of 2022. Since the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811–1812 are the biggest in American history, and, since we happen to live in the New Madrid Seismic Zone here in Middle Tennessee, that got my attention. The New Madrid Missouri Earthquake of 1811 was so mighty it caused the Mississippi River to run backward.

And yet, in the face of all these “the sky is falling” exhortations, Jesus tells us simply, “Do not be afraid.” In fact, the Bible repeats that simple thought over and over in thirty verses! Do not fear, do not be discouraged, do not worry, and simply trust in the Lord are repeated themes.

We can be sure we will continue to hear the sky is falling with increasing frequency, but we have the umbrella of our Lord’s promise repeatedly, stating that we should be at peace and not fear. Stand under His protection when the Chicken Little’s in your life start to squawk.

What fear do you harbor that you need to give to God?

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Deep Waters

One sunny afternoon when our girls were young, our family spent some time at our friend’s house, enjoying their beautiful swimming pool.

As I stood in the shallow water chatting, my daughter Amanda inched her way out of the shallow end and headed to the deeper end of the pool. When I looked down, I saw my sweet girl’s big, brown eyes looking up at me from under the water. I will never forget that moment. I immediately reached down and pulled her to safety. Thinking about this makes my heart skip a beat. A loving parent will do anything to rescue their child from danger.

Chapter 22 of 2 Samuel is a song of praise David sang to the Lord who had delivered him from the hand of his enemies and of Saul. He felt as if waves of death swirled around him and the torrents of destruction overwhelmed him. Yet he called to the Lord. He was confident God would rescue Him.

I do not remember a time when I ran or sought refuge from a flesh-and-blood enemy who wanted to take my life. I do, however, remember times when I felt as though I would drown in pain, sorrow, and difficult circumstances. In those dark and tumultuous seasons, I shifted my focus back to God and remembered His faithfulness to me in the past. Trusting His promises, I believed He would restore my joy and put a song of praise on my lips.

When we feel as though we are sinking in the circumstances of life or the deep waters of fear, sorrow, and regret, we can have hope. As my sweet daughter did, we can look up and give our circumstances to Jesus. God will reach down and draw us out of those deep waters.

How can you let God restore you? Will you trust Him to do it?  

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Working on Relationships

I tried to tell them, but they doubted it even though it was true.

I remember trying to explain to my family how to pronounce a certain title. I tried hard to show them where they were wrong, but to this day, we would still probably disagree if I brought up the topic. I laugh when I think about it. A silly and trifling thing, but it’s a good memory.

Jude’s instruction to present and future readers about how ungodliness will become more widespread in the latter days is a source of instruction we can still apply to our walk with Christ. We are called to mediate between God and others—to use God’s Word to preach, instruct, correct, and rebuke. Although Christ has warned us not to give the sacred to dogs or pearls to pigs, we are also told to show mercy to those who doubt the truth.

Fear has a way of making us prefer a comfortable lie rather than a challenging truth. We should mercifully and lovingly help those who doubt the truth of God’s Word and inspire those who are weak in their faith.

Keep working on interacting with others and being both patient and merciful with them. Seek the word of the Lord and delight yourself in Him.

What relationships do you need to work on?

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Peculiar Treasure

Precious jewelry can be created in a laboratory.

Emeralds, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds give special meaning to some. They may symbolize wealth, success, friendship, or marriage. The color alone has a special meaning. We buy birthstones to match our birth month.

After going through a controlled process, involving pressure and heat, a lab-created stone can look identical to a natural gem. I am told a jeweler has to look closely to tell the difference. We wear these precious jewels on our fingers, toes, and ears. We also like to buy them as gifts for those precious ones in our lives.

As I thought about the process a lab-created stone goes through before becoming a beautiful jewel, I thought of Christians as we endure fiery trials and temptations while God creates us in the image of Christ.

We are in God’s laboratory, being created into a distinguished jewel of His making. While there may be a little heat and pressure during the creating process brought on by trials, this only makes us shine brighter. Let’s not forget the price Jesus paid so we could be one of His own.

Because we keep God’s commandments and serve Him, He calls us His peculiar treasure above all others. Won’t you trust Him today to form you?

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Generations

On July 8, 1944, twenty-two-year-old Corporal Jack Brown of Company G, 2nd Battalion, 24th Regiment, 4th Marine Division, was on the island of Saipan as a part of the ongoing invasion and battle to wrest that island from the Japanese army. World War II raged, and Saipan, one of the Northern Mariana Islands in the central Pacific, was the latest battlefield in the United States’ war with Japan.

The Battle on Saipan was in its closing stages, the Japanese having been pushed back to a series of caves on the flanks of Mount Marpi. Corporal Brown was leading his machine-gun squad in clearing one of these Japanese-held caves when an enemy sniper took his life.

In the ongoing confusion of battle for the cave, Brown’s dog tags and all his remaining identification were lost. When the search and recovery teams cleared the battlefield in the aftermath, Brown became an “unknown,” officially “missing in action.” His unidentified remains were labeled as “X-30”—another anonymous United States Marine who gave his life for his country.

Corporal Brown’s unidentified body traveled first to a shallow grave in Saipan, then was reinterned in 1948 at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in the Philippians. He was not, however, lost to his family.

The Virginia Beach native was remembered by succeeding generations of the Brown family. Family members handed down stories at reunions that kept the memory of “Uncle Jack” and his sacrifice alive. They hoped and prayed that someday he would come home. They even donated maternal and paternal DNA.

And then, on March 29, 2022, a miracle occurred. The anonymous remains—lost for over seventy-five years and labeled simply as X-30—were discovered to have testable DNA. And that DNA belonged to Corporal Jack Shelton Brown, USMC. For the Brown family, Uncle Jack was finally coming home. On Saturday, August 13, they laid him to rest in Virginia Beach with full military honors. Generations of Browns attended.

It has taken me decades to see how the Lord’s hand has worked in my life to bring me where I am today. And yet His plans cross centuries and millennia. All generations, the psalmist tells us.

While the Lord has graciously given us an outline of how His plans for humanity will end in glory, He has yet to reveal His ways of doing so. All I can do is live my daily life by serving Him. In truth, I fail at this as much as I succeed, but I know His love for me endures forever. And so, I keep striving to make the effort.

Is your daily walk with the Lord worthy of His enduring love and the wonderful plans He has woven for you?

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Drowning in Fear

The downtown river surged inches from the car.

Traffic cones blocked our way. Beyond the barrier, murky water lapped at the sidewalks in front of the businesses. I sighed and searched my mind for an alternative route. We’d only lived in the small town for a few months, and I didn’t have a GPS or smartphone at the time. How was I going to get my son to preschool?

A small voice piped from the backseat, “That looks dangerous! I want to see more dangerous stuff!”

I wanted to run from the danger and saw only problems: cars washed away, carpets soaked, businesses lost, schools canceled. I was filled with anxiety. My son was filled with excitement. He was safe in his car seat. His mother was at the wheel, and he was ready for a new adventure. In the fast-moving water, he saw a place to sail boats, puddles to jump in, and sticks to play with.

Now my preschooler and his older brother are in high school. Every day is another opportunity to let go as I release them into adulthood. The danger of the flood seems small compared to the dangers that surround my boys and me now. I want to strap them into their car seats and take them back home, but I must let go.

I need the mindset of a preschooler. Instead of focusing on the dangers before me, I need to focus on the opportunities. Instead of anxiety, I should be filled with excitement. God is in control. He’s ready to lead all of us into a new adventure. He has a plan for me and a plan for each of my sons as the prophet Jeremiah reminds us.

Are you focused on the dangers in front of you? Do you feel as if you’re drowning in anxiety? God wants to take your worry and fear and give you His excitement for all the opportunities in front of you. He has a plan for you.

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Worth the Wait

Thinking I was well into my twenty-three-minute exercise workout, I pushed the pause button on the TV remote to see how many more minutes remained until I could fling myself on the couch.

My strength had run out, weariness had set in, and quitting seemed like an excellent option. Backing out of my commitment to get in shape was looking like an attractive option as well. My temptation to quit became an embarrassment when I realized I was only eight minutes into the routine.     

We can become impatient while en route to our goals, overly anxious to reach the end. If we’re too focused on our destination, we may not realize that through the process of waiting, we’re building strength, perseverance, and character. I suspect God is more interested in what we learn along the way than the result itself.          

Waiting on God for answers is more challenging than waiting for an exercise program to end, especially if it’s a long wait. Imagine what Abraham and Sarah experienced while waiting for Isaac, the son God promised them. They took matters into their own hands after waiting twenty-five years for God’s plan A to come to pass and instead activated Plan B, which brought forth Ishmael.         

After a long wait, it can be tempting to press the pause button, throw in the towel, or take matters into our own hands. But Plan A is well worth waiting for if we’ll only be patient. The word wait is the Hebrew word qawah and means to expect, to patiently wait, to hope.         

God keeps His promises, and His plan is perfect. While you're waiting on God, be on the lookout for the answer and patiently expect the fulfillment of the promise that’s on the way.           

As you wait, be strong and take heart. God is a God of suddenness and surprises. It might seem as if He's waiting for the last minute, but He's never late.

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Get Up and Go

“But, Mom, do I have to?”

Whining never did me any good. When Mom said, “Get up,” I knew to get up. When she said “Go,” I knew to go. With time, I learned she had good reason for those firm commands. I needed to get to school on time. I had a doctor’s appointment. Sunday school began in an hour.

Whatever the circumstance, she was helping me develop a disciplined life. Mom would probably have enjoyed more sleep herself. However, she knew the importance of my childhood obligations and personal growth. Therefore, I got up and went. Usually, I knew where I was going and why, but not always.

After Saul encountered Jesus on the Damascus Road, Jesus told him to get up and go. Because of Saul’s temporary blindness, he required help. Nevertheless, he went. Jesus told Saul where he was going, but Saul had to wait on why.

In the meantime, God told Ananias to go minister to Saul. Ananias knew Saul’s reputation all too well and, quite frankly, wanted nothing to do with the man. Who could blame him? Many believers who encountered Saul never lived to talk about it. Nevertheless, God commanded Ananias to go, so Ananias went.

God continues to call His people to get up and go. Sometimes we know where; sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we know why; sometimes we don’t. Whether we understand or not, our all-knowing God remains in control and acts in love to lead us in the right direction. We can trust God to show us His will in His way and in His time.

Will you claim the power of God’s Holy Spirit and faithfully follow? When God says, “Go,” will you go?

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Growing Pains

My wife is going to kill me, I thought to myself.

The grass in our yard, a sickly-looking yellowish olive under the brutal July sun, crunched under my feet as I lugged the water hose to where Charlotte’s garden struggled against the unrelenting heat.

For the last three weeks, my wife Charlotte has been in Germany, the land of her birth. It has been her first trip back since she first came to the United States at age twelve. It has been a magnificent trip for her and her dear friend Irmi as they’ve toured Charlotte’s hometown of Augsburg and other sites in Bavaria and greater Germany. As I write this, Charlotte and Irmi are in Munich, ready to board their flight back to the United States. In twenty-four hours, she’ll be back in Middle Tennessee.

And therein lies the problem. The last three weeks have been scorchingly hot here in Maury County, Tennessee. We’re about forty miles south of Nashville. And despite my grandson Caleb’s and my best nightly efforts at keeping the plants hydrated, Charlotte’s vegetable garden and beautiful flowers show definite signs of heat distress. It has just been too dadgum hot.

Charlotte had been particularly apprehensive about her precious plants while she was gone. And while I know she trusted Caleb and me to water them, she also had a plan B. On at least three occasions over the last three weeks, I’ve had well-meaning family and friends call or drop me a text on “welfare checks.” These were just to ensure Caleb and I weren’t starving and the house was still standing. And, of course, they would ask, “And oh yeah, how’s the garden?”

My spiritual garden needs watering as well. The affairs of day-to-day life can easily keep me from being in the Word daily. Even though I have a routine of reading a Bible chapter daily every morning to start my day, outside influences and pressures attack that time.

One morning, I opened my Bible and realized three days had passed since I last opened it. Three days! The words of our Lord are the seeds of my spiritual life. They are life itself. I must plant and nurture them and, most of all, guard against Satan’s persistent efforts to steal them from me. I wish I could say I won every battle, but I can’t. But I keep trying even when I fail, nurturing that precious garden in my heart.

How is your spiritual garden growing?

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Home Improvements of the Heart

After searching for years for an affordable home, Nick and I finally found one.

Although small, it was perfect for us. Nothing excited us more than the prospect of moving into our new home, unpacking, hanging pictures, and making it our own.

Before we could move in, several items required attention. The chipped bedroom walls needed a fresh coat of paint. The carpet needed cleaning, dusty cabinet shelves needed a hefty scrubbing, dim lightbulbs needed replacing, and left-behind possessions of the previous owners needed discarding. Although the lengthy to-do list overwhelmed us, we enjoyed the reward of finally being able to settle in.

“I want to stay here forever,” I exclaimed to Nick. But I had to remind myself that this wonderful home God had provided was only a temporary dwelling. My forever home was elsewhere.

When I contemplate being reunited with my Creator, dwelling in His house, gazing on His beauty, and worshipping Him for all eternity, I’m left speechless. Heaven is the home I will never want to leave.

As I reflect on the day I will enter my eternal dwelling place, I’m reminded of the many home improvements my heart needs in the meantime. Such reparations are far more crucial than any I could perform on my physical home since they have implications not only in this life but also in the life to come.

Scrubbing out the bitterness from my heart, I must forgive those who have wronged me. Replacing the windowpanes of my eyes, I strive to see those around me with Christ’s eyes and to love them as He does. Swapping out the dim lightbulbs in my soul with those of much higher wattage, I desire to act as a bright light for Jesus in our world.

As I trust the Holy Spirit’s good work in me and continue to seek and emulate Him, I know the renovations of my heart will not be in vain.

Does your heart, like mine, need home improvements? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the areas needing some servicing and trust His good work in you, which will not cease until you’re called home.

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Let Them Carry You

One time I pushed my kids down a mountain—in a stroller of course.

The rest of my party had gone off to hike trails I knew even my amazing double BOB couldn’t handle, so I was on my own. I had to get my toddler down to the creek bed and give him the chance to throw some rocks, so my toddler, my three-month-old, and I set out. 

The path wasn’t bad for a while. We enjoyed the greenery and cool, mild weather. Then came some rocks and bumps. Then it got steep. Next came some fallen trees. Finally, it became steep and rocky and had more fallen trees.

I could see the water. I’d come this far. I knew I could make it the rest of the way. With much heaving and heavy breathing, I did. But my toddler decided he didn’t want to throw rocks and immediately got back into the stroller. Now I had to get back to the top. 

When my group found me, they laughed at my craziness, hoisted my stroller above their heads, and carried it back up the cliff to even ground. I followed, insisting I could have done it myself—while feeling relieved and rather foolish at the same time. It’s always been difficult for me to accept help. I feel as if it’s an inconvenience.

I think God knew people struggled with helping and being helped, and that’s why He guided Paul to tell us to bear each other’s burdens. But He didn’t tell us not to let others bear ours. I get to help others, but I should also let them help me. We all need help. That’s why Jesus came.

God wants us to give and receive help with grace, for it’s a gift to help others and to let them help us.

Think of some ways you might bear someone’s burdens. Then, think of some ways you could let others help you. 

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No Second-Class Citizens in God’s Family

Nancy’s mother died when Nancy was only six months old.

Nancy has no memories of her mother. Her dad remarried, and eventually, he and Nelly, his second wife, had a daughter. As the girls grew and became young teens, the stepmother negatively compared Nancy to Karen, her stepsister.

Nelly talked about how beautiful and special Karen was while she told Nancy such things as she needed a nose job. Nancy’s father never took her side but remained silent when the taunting occurred.

Years later, when Nancy was an adult and had a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, she remembered the mental abuse she suffered when her stepmother compared her with her younger sister. One day, she was feeling like a second-class citizen, but the Lord gave her loving encouragement.

In God’s silent words, He told Nancy to take her finger and write her name down her right side, one letter under the other. Next, she was to draw a heart beneath the letters. She did as the Spirit instructed. God lovingly assured her this was His heart for her and that He loved her with unconditional love.

At times, we may all feel like second-class citizens. Perhaps our skin is a different color from those living around us. Maybe, the work we do is considered a lowly trade and not as important as the career of others. Or perhaps our education ended with grade school or high school.

If we have asked Jesus Christ into our lives, we are children of the King. In His family, no second-class citizens exist.

Today is a perfect day to become a member of God’s family in which all citizens are first-class.

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Acting with Mercy

The wrongs done to us by others can sometimes agitate us beyond the norm.

These wrongs pester and harass us, making us lose control and then look like a fool in the process. I remember a time when I had to deal with people like this. They pestered and poked and prodded me continuously, and it came to the point where I thought I couldn’t take it anymore. I finally exploded.

There are times when prudence must set in. If we lose control and act in the flesh, not only do we cause ourselves and others harm, making them look bad, but we also don’t exalt the Lord.

As servants of Christ and soldiers of the cross, we must walk by the Spirit so we won’t be tempted to satisfy the desires of the flesh. In such times, we should remember that just as Christ showed mercy at the moments before He was crucified, we should be patient and merciful with others so that they will be convicted of sin and accept Christ as Lord and Savior.

Sometimes, the Lord will send difficult people for us to love, and He wants us to love them as He has loved us in our transgressions and rebellion. Mercy, patience, kindness, and forgiveness are fruits we should continue to cultivate. If we allow bitterness to take root, we may not receive God’s grace.

Jesus said those who are merciful will be shown mercy. What are some steps you can take to show mercy and patience toward others?

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Detour

The new Interstate 65 overpass bridge near our home has been under construction seemingly since the Spanish-American War.

About forty-five minutes south of Nashville, Tennessee, this Interstate exit that connects with Bear Creek Pike was never one of Tennessee Department of Transportation’s finer moments.

Engineers had to sandwich the exit ramps and overpass bridge in the original interstate construction into a very awkward space, shoehorning them between a cemetery, a pipeline right of way, a substantial creek, and a gas station/convenience store. The results weren’t pretty. Bear Creek Pike actually curved under the interstate bridge. Because of that bend, you couldn’t see what was coming from under the bridge when you came off the Interstate exit ramps and stopped to turn on Bear Creek Pike. Major accidents were common. Then a few years ago, a truck stop was built at the exit, adding a constant flow of eighteen-wheelers to an already dangerous situation.

Finally, the county, state, and DOT decided the infamous I-65 Exit 46 would get a makeover. As I said, that feels like it was a few centuries ago since we’ve been dodging orange barrels and negotiating wild lane changes for decades.

One day was worse than usual. I pulled onto Bear Creek Pike and headed toward the interstate, only to be greeted by a blocking row of the ubiquitous orange barrels and a sign that read, “Road Closed. Find Alternate Route.” No helpful detours or even an arrow suggesting which way to go. Just “Road Closed.”

I can’t tell you how often I’ve run into a similar proverbial road sign in my often-wayward life. A sign that would flash in my brain like a neon sign: “Road Closed. Find Alternate Route.” And I’m embarrassed to tell you how many times I ignored that warning and breezed merrily on to near disaster and ruin.

It didn’t have to be that way. I knew there was an “Alternate Route”—one found in the Word of our Lord. But I had to read, study, and live God’s Word to find the detour. The Bible did me no good sitting as a leather paperweight on my desk.

The Word of God is a seed. The more I plant it inside me, the more it grows and fills me. Most importantly, when I encounter one of those life-changing “Road Closed” situations, God’s “Alternate Route” lights up in my heart like a neon sign.

Are you planting the seeds of God’s Word where they can grow and guide you when you need your next alternate route?

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Your One True Father

I miss my dad.

Twenty-seven years ago, we bade him goodbye as he took flight on angel wings. It was a strange moment for our family. Once Dad was gone, we just stood there quietly.

“What do we do now?” I whispered to my niece, an RN.

“Call the nurse’s desk. They’ll know what to do.”

We didn’t call. Instead, my niece took my hand, and together we walked down the long hospital corridor to the nurse’s desk.

“He’s gone.” My voice quivered. The nurse on duty walked around the desk and hugged me.

“I know. I saw his stats on my desk. You and your family take the time you need to say goodbye, and when you’re ready, you can leave. I’ve already called the doctor to come and make the declaration.”

Dad’s cancer road was short, and we are fortunate that God saw fit to take him before he began to suffer. His compassion for Dad and us was immeasurable when we think about what could have been.

The psalmist grasped the great compassion of our Father in heaven. He reminded us God’s mercy is available to us in so many ways—even though sometimes we don’t recognize it immediately. God’s passion is girded in His compassion, and He longs to share that with His children. 

Dad knew the Lord intimately, but not until his elder years. He was baptized as a young man but chose to walk away from God’s love and compassion during his mid-life years. But one day, God moved in Dad’s heart. We still don’t know how or why, except that from that day forward, Dad walked hand in hand with the Master. He learned of the mighty compassion of the Lord for those who fear Him, and when his time came to take flight, Dad took hold of God’s hand and was gracefully lifted into His arms.

Some feel they never had a father, and others, like me, only knew immense love from their dad. Still, we all have a Father who longs for a relationship with us and whose compassion will carry us through every joy and hardship.

Reach up. Take hold of the Master’s hand. He is your one true Father.

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Surprises in Scripture

I was raised in a Christian home, so I knew about Jesus.

However, it wasn’t until I was in my forties that I experienced a change in my thinking. I was studying the book of Romans. I had gone through a few difficult years. My husband had left me with two children to raise. A year later my father died. I had lost the two most important men in my life.

When I read Romans 5:8, I realized I didn’t need earthly men for support. The Man I needed to rely on was Jesus. I have never remarried because Jesus’ support continues to grow stronger. I needed to break down to open my heart to what Jesus did for me and to believe deep down how much He loves me.

I had read this verse many times throughout my life, but this time something happened. I realized Jesus suffered and died on that cross for me. At that moment, my relationship with Him became real and personal. I cried like a baby.

As we read our Bibles, we can read a certain passage multiple times with no reaction. Then suddenly, a new meaning hits us. God opens our minds to things in Scripture when we need them.  

God knows what’s going on in our lives, and His timing to intervene is perfect. Moses had to experience God away from the Egyptian influences before God could use him to save the Israelites. He spent years in Midian until he was ready to accept God’s interaction. God also knows when we are ready to accept His interaction.

Now, when reading my Bible, I think, What is God trying to teach me in these verses? Sometimes, reading a passage gives me comfort but nothing more. At other times, a verse pops out. When it does, I spend more time on it because I know God is trying to teach me something.

As you are reading your Bible, a verse might touch you for no apparent reason. Be open to what God has in store for you. What you find might surprise you.

When you read your Bible, do it with a clear mind.

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Adopted by God

I often say the adoption of our daughter from Russia in 1989 was a different kind of “labor.”

Still, the adoption was fraught with the same emotions of a biological birth: excitement, fear, joy, anxiety, hope. Because of that process, I gained a new perspective for my own adoption as a child of God. I see with fresh eyes the emotional and physical cost Jesus paid in laboring for my inclusion into His family.

Jesus’ joy was not in what would happen to Him, but in what it would accomplish—salvation for sinners—and in what His reward would be—sitting at God’s right hand.

In His most human of moments, Jesus sweated drops of blood as He thought about what lay ahead for Him. He knew it would not be easy or pain-free. It would be brutal and cost Him everything.

It wasn’t enough that Jesus suffered emotionally; He also suffered beatings and torture. Death. The ultimate cost.

When I saw Jesus’ laboring for my adoption in this light, it overwhelmed and humbled me. I can’t begin to imagine the cost He paid. While our daughter’s adoption cost us considerable time and money, my eternal and priceless adoption cost Someone His life.

Have you thought about what it took to adopt you into God’s family? If not, take a few minutes and meditate on it. Give thanks to Jesus for the cost He paid on your behalf.

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Recall

With one hand holding the jar of peanut butter and the other holding my magnifying glass, I struggled to read the tiny numbers on the sixteen-ounce plastic container.

The manufacturer had printed the numbers below a barcode on the bottom of the jar. I moved the magnifier up and down until the numbers swam into focus. Finally, I could make sense of them. I compared them to the long list on my computer screen. About halfway down that list, I stopped short. I read the ten-digit sequence of numbers listed there again. And then, I compared them to the ten-digit series on the jar of peanut butter. They matched. The container I held in my hand was on the recall list—part of a batch strongly suspected of being contaminated with salmonella. And our family had already eaten three-quarters of the peanut butter in the jar.

No one in our family had become sick with diarrhea, fever, chills, or stomach cramps that salmonella loves to bestow on the people it infects. Even so, I tossed the plastic jar in the trash can. I can happily do without abdominal pain.

In this age of Covid, this psalm has become a watchword around our house. We thank the Lord for that wonderful promise in family prayers, blessings over food, and just plain conversations with our Lord. But the assurance doesn’t just apply to Covid or any other dangerous virus. It also applies to the unseen dangers lurking around the corner and over the horizons of our lives.

I have no idea how many dangers and sicknesses I’ve NOT encountered because of God’s love and grace—such as the possibly contaminated jars of peanut butter. And I can’t even count all the bad situations from which He rescued me before I planted His word like a seed in my heart.

I know I walk in the darkness of a fallen world. God’s love and His Word are the only lights I have to find my way.

Are you walking in God’s divine light?

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Who You Gonna Call?

In my early teens, I babysat for the family across the street.

Their children included a six-month-old girl and incorrigible twin four-year-old boys. The baby girl’s needs were simple. However, every time I tended to her needs, the boys used their unfiltered creativity to entertain themselves.

When I gave her a bottle, they took their bunny out of its cage, placed it on the record turntable, and watched it barf. While I changed her diaper, they decided it would be even more fun to put the bunny in the dryer and see it barf in there.

While I was rescuing the bunny, and cleaning up after it, they went into the garage, brought the lawnmower inside, and sucked up a throw rug into the mechanism.

As I rectified the lawnmower-rug encounter, I smelled smoke. I rushed upstairs to the kitchen to discover they had set the kitchen curtains on fire with their chemistry set.

I called the fire department and my mother—who ran across the street with an extinguisher as I corralled the three siblings on the sidewalk. The volunteer firemen arrived just as my mother declared victory over the flames.

My mother trained me as a babysitter before I was hired, so I knew whom to call when I needed help with a flaming chemistry experiment. My parents taught me about God and how to pray to Him, so, like the psalmist, I knew whom to call when I needed help with life issues.

When our relationships, finances, or health issues spin out of control, we can call on God. He waits eagerly for us to do so. And we don’t have to wait until things become an emergency.

Why not get to know God now by calling upon Him? 

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Changing Our Minds

“Where were you last night?”

“I don’t want to tell you.”

One son had escaped the house by going out the window of our guest bedroom to meet his friend so they could have fun.

Like many parents, we faced a lot of challenges during our children’s teenage years. Being adopted did not make it any easier for us or them. They thought when we weren’t watching them, they could get away with anything. Our hearts were torn between loving them and wanting them to grow up disciplined.

How refreshing it was to see the transformation that came about in their lives about the time they turned twenty. They realized first-hand the need for repentance, a change of mind and direction based on submitting to God.

When we come to God, confessing our sins and acknowledging our guilt, He wipes the slate clean. Suddenly, all the old sins in our life get covered with Jesus’ blood. We no longer want to do the sinful things we once did. And God is there to help us live holy lives, not just dread the consequences and guilt of our disobedience.

Wanting someone else to repent is easier than seeing our need to repent. We think we are doing great when all the while we are committing the same sins repeatedly. We believe we are good enough in God’s eyes but don’t see how much we need God’s mercy and grace.

God waits for us to come to Him. When we do, He opens His arms wide to forgive us. Our sons discovered that they, too, could experience God’s pleasure as they stopped their rebellion.

Are you willing to change your mind and repent of your sins? If so, you can enjoy God’s forgiveness and fellowship.

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She Is Pleased

She'll be ninety-six this year.

My mother has good genes, and I believe her longevity is a part of that. Though she lives in an assisted living facility, Mom's health is perfect, and her creativity in quilting still wows everyone (she turns out a queen-sized quilt every other month). My brother and I are fortunate that Mom does so well. We call her “near perfect,” short of a little selective hearing. At ninety-five, she's earned that.

Recently we were chatting about children. Mom sat quietly listening as I rambled about our boys and grands. After a bit, she looked up from her quilting and smiled.

“You know, I'm very proud of you and your brother. You've raised your children to be fine, independent adults. They can stand on their own, and they're successful and happy. That makes me so proud. Guess I did something right, heh?”

The writer of Proverbs took the time to mention the importance of parents. He wanted the people to know the value of a good mother and father. Throughout Proverbs, he reminds us not to shame our mothers, but that children should bring their mothers joy. It was a nod to the time and love mothers invested in their children.

My mother has always been a wonderful mom. She invested not only in my brother and me but also in our friends. Our home was always open to the “strays,” as Dad jokingly called them, who spent countless hours hanging out with our family. Mom was a mother to many who needed the support they didn't receive in their own homes.

To say that my brother and I are proud of her is one thing, but to have Mom say she is proud of us brings a new meaning to the word. She glanced at her wall of family photos and smiled. “I'm pleased.”

This Mother’s Day, allow time for your mom to breathe you into her heart. Let her enjoy the person you've become. Show her your smile, your happiness, and your faith. Allow her to see the reward of her efforts. She will be pleased. She can rejoice.

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The Big Picture

My granddaughter dumped the puzzle out of the box and onto a table.

One thousand pieces in various shades of green, blue, red, yellow, and white. A field of flowers under a blue sky and bright sun. At least, that’s what the picture on the box portrayed. Beautiful. I could hardly wait to get to work.

I picked up a green piece that looked almost identical to a hundred others. Only the shape differed … and only slightly. I groaned. This was going to be difficult.

And it was. We put the edge pieces together, then began filling in the rest. The process became slow and frustrating. We would walk away, take a break, and then come back. No matter how many times we looked at the picture, we simply could not make the pieces fit.

Our life is much like that puzzle. Hundreds, even thousands, of pieces we can’t fit together, no matter how hard we try. We get so caught up on one single piece that we forget about working on the others. We want to see the completed picture with all the pieces in perfect order. Yet all we see are gaps and holes that need filling. Too many times, we throw up our hands in defeat and walk away.

The good news is while we see something incomplete and imperfect, God sees the big picture. And He is continuously working on it, making sure that every detail of our lives is continually woven together for good, even when we can’t see His hand moving each piece into position.

Our beautiful puzzle took a long time to finish, but it was worth the time and effort.

Don’t beat yourself up when the puzzle looks too hard. Maybe even impossible. That’s when God does His best work. He assures us in His Word that every detail of our lives is continually woven together for good —and ultimately for His glory. After all, He doesn’t just see the big picture. He is the Master artist who designed it, and He will bring it to completion.

Ask God to help you trust Him for the big picture.

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A Taste of Heaven

“Your mother won’t be coming home for a while.”

Those were words no ten-year-old can prepare to hear. Mom was going to be hospitalized indefinitely. My Dad was going to care for David, my four-year-old younger brother. But, being older, I could more easily adapt to a new environment, and so I was sent to Grandmother and Grandfather Lane’s for the summer. It was my first journey into the wilderness, emotionally speaking.

Granddaddy Lane was a salesman for Johns Manville and away traveling. And since it was summer, my grandmother decided we needed an adventure—just the two of us—so she suggested we go to the beach.

Granddaddy Lane had built my grandmother an oceanfront cottage on Long Beach (now Oak Island) thirteen years earlier. Hurricane Hazel had christened it, but it was still there, and it was just about my grandmother’s favorite place on earth. Mine too. The cottage’s name was “Sea Lane.” Just hearing her say the name brought joy to my heart.

I was a reticent child. Watching and listening was pretty much my specialty. I didn’t ask too many questions of adults, but I worried plenty, especially about Mom. And I talked to God. I spoke with Him in the one place I felt He always listened: on the sea-side deck at that beach cottage. I would sit, watching the ocean send its rhythmic breakers against the shore, and I could talk to Him in a way I never could kneeling by my bed or in church. My words and questions came naturally there. It was one of the reasons the beach cottage was one of my favorite places. Usually, the entire family occupied the cozy beach cottage. But for once, I had Sea Lane, and my grandmother, all to myself.

Making a trip to Jones Seafood, a now-legendary restaurant on Oak Island, was always a tradition when we went to the beach. However, in all the times I had been there, I had never had dessert. Restaurant desserts were just not something my parents did. But this time, it was just the two of us. When the waitress came around at the end of the meal, two pieces of delicious pie arrived with her. It was a tangy lemon custard with a saltine cracker crust and had sweet, whipped cream piled and swirled high. It tickled my young taste buds like nothing I had ever tasted. This was a taste of heaven. Manna, maybe, tasted like this.

It had been a topsy-turvy summer. I missed my dad and my little brother. Mom being hospitalized had turned my world upside down. Especially since no one was talking about Mom, except in whispers just out of my hearing. Naturally, my young imagination ran wild with the possibilities. But here, in this moment, God answered me . . . with a piece of pie. With my grandmother’s undivided attention and that taste of heaven on my tongue, I knew I was loved and cared for. Everything would be okay.

Mom came home before school started back at the end of summer. The family was whole again. But to this day, remembering the taste of that pie brings a sense of peace to my soul that can only be explained by the faithfulness and love of God. He gave me, a ten-year-old boy, manna in my wilderness.

God uses all our senses to speak to us, even taste. On that occasion, He used a piece of pie to comfort a troubled little boy—a wonderful taste of heaven.

In your wilderness, keep all your senses open for God’s answer and direction. It may come to your taste buds. 

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Repeated Love

I found it ironic yet somewhat prophetic.

As I skimmed through Scripture, I found both Jesus's sacrifice given in great love and God's sacrifice of His son listed in the books of John. Although the chapters and verses were not added until the fifteenth century, I'd like to think it's a nod from God to John for the words he penned. What interested me was that both are found not only in a book John wrote but also in 3:16. More so, both show the immense love for us by Christ and the Father.

I'm sure multiple Scriptures follow suit. Still, I am always amazed at how God proves Himself repeatedly. Subtle things like this come to light when we are shown that Christ loved us so much He laid down His life for us and that God loved us so much that He gave His one and only Son for us.

There's a greater love at play here than we can imagine. We have difficulty getting our heads around a sacrifice that is so great. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV).

Each Easter, we focus on the death and resurrection of Christ. The picture that looms over us is the agony Jesus suffered. I sometimes wonder if that overshadows His resurrection. Though both are highly recognized and acknowledged, why do we only focus on this act of immense love at Easter? What about the remaining 364 days after this passion picture fades from sight. Christ becomes “ordinary” to us, and the sacrificial lamb's reality becomes a sweet lamb photo in our children's Sunday school papers.

Every morning, we should remember the love of Christ, and each night, we should remember that the love of God is so great that He gave His only Son for us.

The death and resurrection are vitally important. I would never lessen this. Instead, I hope to bring to light the importance of these two verses in our daily lives, not just at Easter. Christ chose to bear the burden of our sin. He agonized in the garden, pleading with the Father—yet accepting the will of God. The weight of sin didn't begin on the cross. It took Him to His knees in the garden, and with each step closer to the cross, it pushed harder against His shoulders—pure, perfect love. No greater love was ever shown.

Take time and ponder the great and enduring love of Christ and the Father. Celebrate this love every day of your life and celebrate it to the fullest. We are so loved that Jesus gave His life, and the Father gave His only Son—for us.

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Falling in Love with the Word

During my and my husband’s first year of dating, everything was blissful.

Nick and I met small acts of kindness with great appreciation. Time together was sacred. Everything was new and exciting. As our relationship progressed over the next six years, however, our appreciation and awe of one another faded. Although our love for each other remained strong, we took each other for granted.

My relationship with the Bible was similar. During my teenage years, I hungered for the Word of God. After completing my homework each evening, I spent hours poring through the Bible and reading it through cover to cover multiple times over. I thumbed through stacks of memorization notecards. I was in awe of the living truth at my fingertips and grew to savor even the smell of my Bible’s pages.

In time, however, my appreciation and excitement for the Word of God faded. Verses that initially rocked my world became ordinary. Spending time in the Word was no longer a priority. Instead of utilizing it as the powerful tool it is, my Bible functioned as nothing more than a dust collector on my bookshelf.

Recognizing my need to fall in love with the Bible again, I asked God to increase my hunger for His Word. I began waking up fifteen minutes earlier to spend time in the Bible and to complete daily devotions. As I continued to read and study, God answered my prayers. The more time I spent in the Bible, the more I hungered for more. The Holy Spirit pointed out new golden nuggets in verses I had read fifty times before.

The Word of God will never change and never fade. As we ask God to help fill us with a hunger for His Word and to fall in love with His commands, He will honor that request, and our lives will be all the richer for doing so.

Have you fallen in love with God’s Word?

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Representative

When my brother asked me to take him to the store for tobacco, I grew irritated.

Immediately, the noise started in my head. Why would I want to take you to get something that’s killing you? Why don’t you just go to the eye doctor and get new glasses so you can pass the vision test and get your driver’s license again? Don’t you realize it’s an imposition to ask others to take you places?

And then I heard that unmistakable quiet, gentle voice of the Holy Spirit say, “Whatsoever you do for the least of these, that you do unto me.” In other words, “You represent me, Anne.”

My brother is not a believer, and how I treat him reflects on my faith or lack thereof. He is seventy-five and has no friends. His only exposure to God’s love is from my husband and me.

Representing Christ well is important. So is demonstrating the love of Jesus, no matter how we feel. I must ask myself if I am shining a light on the right path or pouring gasoline on a forest fire blocking the way?

What if I cried out in need and God ignored me? What if He told me He was too busy to deal with my foolishness? That wouldn’t be a God I’d want to worship and trust.

When Saul was blinded by the light and love of Jesus, he asked, “What shall I do, Lord?” Like many of us today, he might have responded, “What the…” or “Surely, I’m losing my mind!” Instead, he recognized the voice of God and willed himself to do whatever God asked, no matter the consequences. He was willing to be God’s representative, whatever that looked like.

I want to be light and love to everyone I encounter, friend or foe. I never want to misrepresent the goodness of my Lord.

Ask Jesus every day what He wants you to do.

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Love

I stared in horror at what I had done.

An anguished wail of despair exploded from the depths of my heart. On the floor at my feet, a crimson halo of blood spread from the head of the week-old kitten. I had just crushed it under one of my size fourteen hiking shoes.

It was an accident . . . a horrible accident. The kitten's mother had decided to move her new litter of three from the box where they were born to a new location. For some reason, she had dropped this kitten under the archway that leads from our living room to our kitchen. And there I had encountered it, late in the evening, as I moved to turn the house lights off for the night. With most of the lights already off, I simply didn't see it.

The tiny kitten cried and struggled feebly as the blood continued to spread. It absolutely tore my heart out. I sank to my knees, and the grief again erupted in a harrowing wail from somewhere deep inside me. Such a tiny, beautiful, helpless creature, and I had crushed the life out of it. As my eyes tried to fill with tears, I begged God to forgive me for killing one of His innocent creatures. 

And then, in my spirit, I heard clearly: “This is how I feel whenever one of my children goes to Hell.”

Later that night, as I lay sleepless in bed, God's earlier words returned to me: “This is how I feel whenever one of my children goes to Hell.” And it began to sink into my thick skull and hard heart just how incredible His love must be to inspire such pain over each of us who is lost.

Now the thing is, that shouldn't be such a revelation. I've read the words and absorbed the stories in the Bible that describe His magnificent LOVE repeatedly. But sometimes, the mere words don't translate into my heart as they should.

However, this night, as I rolled my earlier anguish around in my head, as I thought about God's words in my spirit, these words bloomed to life in my heart: “And may you have the power to understand, as all God's people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is” (Ephesians 3:18). And suddenly I knew . . . I KNEW. God IS love, and HE loves me beyond all measure. Awesome. Absolutely awesome.  

Have you experienced God’s love?

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The Herding Dog

It didn’t take me long to determine Margeaux was in charge.

When my friend goes out of town, I often watch her rescued Russian sheepdog, and she has no problem telling me she is in charge.

A sheepdog's instinct is to herd animals. In the absence of animals, they will herd people. So, whenever Margeaux comes to visit, she follows me from room to room, nudging me along with her nose to follow her. When I don't follow her lead, she either taps me with her paw or barks at me until I stop whatever I'm doing and follow her.

When it comes to Jesus, He is like that insistent dog. He fervently encouraged His disciples to follow Him. He does the same for us.

Once Jesus is in our life, He convicts us and doesn't give up on us until we follow Him. Some may be too busy with other things to follow the Lord. Others may be stubborn or somehow resistant. Most like their lives just as they are, and change is hard. But God will change us when we choose to follow Him.

God pursues you because He loves you. Follow Him.

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Know Him Deeper

My heart ached as I watched a video of a Christian, solid in the faith, asking college-aged students to define love, happiness, and God.

Their answers were staggering. Many seemed to have no idea about the love of God. Their idea of happiness was doing what the cosmos led. Cosmos? When asked what they would say if a forty-year-old man told them he wanted to be a student in a first-grade class, many responded, “If that is where he feels he needs to be.” These students were clueless about Christ, and they had no idea how to question something they knew to be innately wrong.

I laid my head on the table and sobbed. What happened to the absolutes we once knew?

The writer of Hebrews felt that same frustration when he reminded the people they'd been believers long enough to have moved ahead in their study of the Word. Instead, their hearing was dulled. They'd made no progression in their knowledge of the Word. They still fed on milk and were not ready to feed on the meat of the Word, much less teach it.

The problem has changed little throughout the ages. With such extraordinary technological abilities at our fingertips and our extended abilities to learn and teach, we give little focus to knowing God's Word proficiently. Many in our churches still feed on the milk. Our zeal for knowing Him better has diminished.

Christ brought us so much with His entrance into the world. He raised the bar from strictly obeying the law to knowing the Father's human, tender, and fruitful side. Yet as time passed, we have folded under the world's demands and allowed the absolutes of who God is, why He came, and why He left to slip from us.

If ever there was a time for God's people to know Him fully, it's now. Study to show yourself approved in the Word. Not only will you grow, but you will also be able to share Him in the fullest and most accurate way. He waits for you to respond. Answer.

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Overcoming Trials God's Way

In the middle of a pandemic, over six months, our family experienced losses in ways we never had before.

Unexpected relationship issues arose outside the family that hurt us deeply and caused division. A business deal went wrong, so we had to employ an attorney. Issues came up in our church, and we made the tough decision to leave this church family we had grown to love. My husband also lost his job.

As time unraveled and our hearts healed from the pain, we saw these situations as opportunities. God was giving us a clean slate, and hard lessons learned helped us attain this. We looked forward to the good God had in store for us that He would bring out of the next hardships we would endure.

Sometimes, God has to change situations so He can transform us, even if it means working against our expectations. When we experience regression in an area of our lives that once thrived, or distress where there was vibrant life, we can trust God to take a dry tree and make it flourish. When we feel knocked down, we can remember God is the lifter of the lowly. We are valuable to Him. He wants an ideal future for us, so He will do whatever is necessary to get us there. He wants to advance us because we are His. God is in the business of recovering, rebuilding, refurbishing, rehabilitating, and reviving our souls.

In your season of unexpected loss, my prayer for you is that God will help you expect there is something good waiting down the road, you will realize these trials will eventually come to an end, you will gain God’s perspective of what happened so you can understand better how to perceive, react, and respond to each situation, He will fill you to the brim with His joy and perfect peace, and the power of His Spirit will surround you so you can receive the strength to heal and move forward.

Let God teach you how to overcome trials His way.

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Jesus Is All the Provision We Need

In April of 2017, I heard a preacher praise Thomas for doubting the rumor that Jesus had risen from the tomb.

“Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were and put my hand into His side, I will not believe it.” The preacher then asked, “But who of us does not have doubts?” He continued by saying that questioning God’s Word to verify its authenticity was normal, even healthy. My spirit recoiled.

In Luke chapter nine, Jesus sent out the twelve disciples with these instructions: “Preach the kingdom of God but take nothing for the journey. No staff. No bag. No bread. No money. No extra tunic.” He advised them to find a welcoming home in which to rest and to remain in that home until they left.

When the Twelve returned, Jesus gathered them in a remote place, but late in the afternoon, the Twelve came to Him and asked that He send the crowds away. They still had not grasped that He alone was their provision.

Days earlier, the Twelve had gone out to draw crowds to Jesus. Now, they were sending crowds away from Jesus. This is us. This is the modern church. Tapped out, tired, and living by sight not faith, we send crowds away from Jesus.

“You give them something to eat,” Jesus replies.

“But we only have a few fish and loaves. How far will that go among so many?”

Although Jesus stood with them, Phillip and Andrew only saw five small rolls and two small fish. Jesus saw “in His mind what He was going to do.”

Jesus looked to heaven, the source of all provision, and gave thanks. He blessed what He held. He divided the food into smaller bites and distributed it to the Twelve.

This is the multiplication power of our Father. What we have is always enough when we have the power of Jesus within us. The five loaves, distributed to people seated in groups of fifty, fed five thousand plus. The Twelve gathered twelve baskets.

In chapter ten, Jesus sent again. It’s as if Jesus was saying, “Okay, team. You’ve seen how this works. Let’s try once more.” Jesus concluded His instructions with this: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

Believe Jesus is enough. He is all the provision you need.

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Love Is...

The sheets were wet, but that was nothing new.

Each morning, I stripped his bed and did the laundry as I cared for my father at home. Now, he was in hospice, and his life was coming to an end. I didn’t ask for this duty, nor was I ready for it.

After a fall in the kitchen, my father had dragged his frail body to the stairs and plummeted down the six steps before him. He proceeded to drag his bloodied body into the nearby bathroom. Why? I would ask him later, but without getting a reply. He topped the event off by pulling a metal décor piece full of blue marbles and candles on his head. He was found fifteen hours later, bloodied and bruised, but, by the grace of God, still alive.

Love is patient and kind because it is the cornerstone of Christ. God gave patience and kindness to my dad when He allowed him to live. God gave me patience and kindness when He placed my dad in my care.

When we want to be the light of Christ, we act in patient and kind ways. To be more Christ-like is to be full of love towards everyone we encounter. I want to be more Christlike, and God gave me this opportunity. I plan to obey in all things He places in my path.

This life is fleeting in the bigger scheme of things. My dad needs Jesus, and I may be that instrument God uses to bring Dad to God. If I could bring the good news of salvation to just a limited number of people, I would want to include all my family first.

Today, after me praying for years, my father said, “I love you.” This happened because I was patient and kind. I became the love that Paul speaks of.

What have you become because of love? Pray to have a firm focus on Jesus as you carry God’s love to others. Be obedient, even when you are spent.

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The Audition

“I’ll never get this part. The casting director hates me.” My daughter Sam stressed over her audition for Mary Poppins.

“I’m sure the director doesn’t hate you,” I said.

“He only gives roles to kids he likes. So I’m not even going to try out.” Her voice got quiet. “He thinks I stirred up drama earlier this year, but I didn’t do anything wrong.”

No amount of encouragement from anyone changed her mind about auditioning. She stood firm that she was in the right, and she would not apologize or even smooth things over with the casting director.

I dropped her off at theater camp on audition day, fully prepared for Sam to be cast in the chorus ensemble.

Imagine my surprise when I heard she auditioned anyway. She started her audition with, “I want to start this audition with an apology. I regret any drama I may have caused earlier this season, and I promise to work on my lines and my singing instead of gossiping with my friends.” Then she sang in her best British accent.

“The director actually smiled a real smile at me,” she said. “Oh, yeah, and I got the part!”

Imagine how differently her audition would have gone if she had not humbled herself first, even when she still felt she was right. Imagine how differently it would have turned out if she had not auditioned at all, arms crossed in the corner, fuming silently over being in the chorus ensemble again.

For some of us, it’s hard to imagine letting go of that outer pride shell. For those of us who hold our pride in high regard above all else, so many things stand in our way – mostly ourselves and the high horses we ride in on.

When God calls us home, He calls only our souls. We leave all of our other shells behind. If the deadly sin of pride is one of your afflictions, here is your not-so-gentle reminder that humility in character and strong relationships with others are more important.

What is one thing you can do to shed your pride shell?

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Bashing the Idols

We weren’t far into our adoption when we took our sons to eat at their first Chinese restaurant.

Inside was a huge Buddha. One of my sons looked at me and asked, “Is that an idol?” I replied that it was, and he then asked, “Do you want me to bash the idol?”

His childlike faith was demonstrated at that moment. We had talked about ours being the one true and living God, and he believed this. Motivated by the stories in the Old Testament about how the kings had gone about destroying idolatry in the land of Judah and killing those who practiced it, our son simply wanted to imitate their faith.

Paul reminded his readers many times in his letters to imitate him. These days we would consider that “humblebrag.” We fear people seeing us as how we are. We depend on the Holy Spirit to work out faith in us. However, we are called to be examples to those around us.

One problem is that we fail to see the idols that exist in our lives. I grew up hearing Bible stories and thinking of an idol only as a statue. But I struggle with all kinds of idols in my heart—pride, reputation, and writing, to name a few.

Jesus confronted these idols and more in Matthew 6, pointing out that outward adherence to the Law was not the same as having the right attitudes.

If others saw how I eliminated idols in my life (ruthlessly bashing them if necessary), they would want to imitate my faith. This is the same kind of faith the author of Hebrews was talking about in the above verse. Faith shines amid opposition.

Which idol are you willing to rid yourself of today by faith?

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Closer Than a Brother

Once upon a time, I spent seven years of my life on the same three acres of land.

Doing so wasn't by choice. I was a guest of the State of Florida. The name of the place was Marion Correctional Institution, and it was a maximum-security prison in central Florida.

Never in my life had I been as alone or as much a stranger in a strange land as I was those first couple of years in prison. In prison, there are two sets of rules. One is the rules of the institution, written by the institution and printed up helpfully in a nice handbook that officials give to every inmate. Mostly, it is a list of all the myriad ways an inmate can run afoul of said institution. The other set of rules appears in no handbook. They aren't written anywhere. But knowing these rules are the difference between life and death. The strong survive. The weak die, if not in body, then in spirit, as they succumb to the hell that is life inside prison.

Some find protection in gangs—strength in numbers. Although I was recruited, I resisted. I tried to avoid all the games and distractions that most inmates desperately cling to. I walked my own path, as quietly as I could, while I clung to my Father's promise that I would go home. I wasn't a walking talking Bible-thumping evangelist. That wasn't me. There were guys who were, that acted the part, and it's not upon me to judge their hearts. As Forrest Gump would say: "That's all I have to say about that."

But to say the entire experience was terrible would be a lie. Through God, I found an inner strength I never knew I had. And perhaps strangest of all, in that most unlikely of places, and again through God, I found someone who would become a life-long friend, closer than a brother. Russ's quiet dignity in the face of the overwhelming odds against him was what first caught my eye.

Russ was looking at spending the rest of his life incarcerated. He was a tattooed biker, hard as nails, whose worship of his older brothers had led him to an infamous journey of mayhem across the country. And although we did actually look alike, you couldn't have found two more different people.

Thrown together in a working environment, I realized in time that Russ was different. He had a deep and questing intellect riding on top of those tattoos. And despite all he had been through, Russ was a man of good heart. Over the years, through the trials of living in prison, we formed a lasting friendship. Russ came to know the Lord through our conversations, and I came to know that I could trust Russ completely. And together, watching each other's back, we made it out of that hell.

Through God's grace, we were both given second chances. My original forty-six-year sentence became just seven years, and Russ was proved innocent on appeal. We were released about the same time. Russ made a new life for himself as a long-distance trucker and found a charming and beautiful wife, Connie. This year they will celebrate their twenty-seventh wedding anniversary, and they enjoy their grandchildren in a beautiful home they own. I'd like to think I had a small part in changing Russ's life, but in reality, it was all our loving, forgiving, wonderful Lord.

Today Russ and I remain close friends, trying to visit each other once or twice a year. And I still trust Russ to watch my back, in any situation.

You never know how God may use you, even in the most unlikely of places. Are you living a life that He can use?

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Under Construction

A few years ago, I waddled into our local friendly farmstead with my daughter and two-year-old son, knowing it might be a recipe for disaster.

Armed with sunscreen, a heap of ambition, and an expanding pregnant belly, we walked through its gates in the hope we could call the day lovely. And it was … until it happened. 

I watched my son stroll into the barn, equipped with a giant tube slide. I planted myself at the bottom and waited for his smiling face to appear. I waited and waited. Suddenly panic set in. Where was he? Did someone take him? Did he run away with a rogue cow? I wondered.

I looked everywhere. I even looked inside the bunny exhibit by the barn. But I will never know why I didn’t look at the construction site to the barn's left. It was a two-year-old boy's dream, complete with yellow warning tape, a mud lake, and drying cement. It was not until I saw a crowd gathering in front of the yellow tape that I saw my son—smack dab in the middle of the mud lake, yelling loudly with tears streaming down his face. A MESS!

Once we were safely inside our minivan and had pulled away from our adventure, something hit me. How many times has my heavenly Father pulled me out of the mud? 

When I saw my boy, I was overjoyed. I didn't think about the mud all over me. I didn't care what others thought. I didn't even mind that the cleaning-up process got messier before it improved. I just knew I had to rescue him because he was mine.

How much more precious to know I am God’s? He doesn't care if I am covered in dirt. He doesn't care what others think. He is willing to rescue me, even through the muck, the mire, and the messy clean-up. I am His and He is mine—mud and all.

While we often lose our way in the messiness of suffering, we can take heart, knowing God will always come to our rescue. 

When has God rescued you from the muck and the mire of life? 

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Till the Soil

Although I grew up in a rural county—where on a windy day one could smell the natural made all-purpose fertilizer of cows—I am very much a city girl with not even a tiny green thumb or any farming experience.

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. I was a bit surprised when reading this passage about tilling the soil. God’s Word is like seeds that sprout and grow if planted and cared for under the right conditions. We must allow God’s Word to take root so the fruit can flourish. The condition of the heart (or the soil) the seed falls on can delay production, but God is patient enough to see that His seeds produce fruit.

God consistently tills the soil of our hearts, so the seeds will grow and flourish. Tilling means turning the ground over and breaking it up so organic matter can mix into it. That live matter controls the weeds, breaks up crusted soil, and loosens up small areas for planting.

Just as the rain and snow serve a purpose, so does God’s Word. God sends reminders of His Word so its purpose will be accomplished. God reminds us of the condition of our hearts (soil) and evokes us to make the necessary changes so we can receive it and prosper.

When you receive the organic matter in the form of God’s Word, revelations, encouragements, and prophecies, till the soil of your heart so you can reap your harvest.

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The Miracle of Life

December 10, 2009 was a challenging day.

Although we don’t know the exact sequence of the events, my husband fell, got a deep cut on his head, and received a severe brain injury. He also suffered a heart attack and probable stroke, in addition to significant oxygen deprivation when his heart and lungs stopped functioning.

That experience, and the days that followed, magnified my gratitude for the miracle of life and those who promote, sustain, and enhance it.

I’m thankful for:

  • The 911 dispatcher who calmly walked me through those first minutes and remained on the phone until the ambulance arrived.
  • EMS personnel who professionally met my husband’s physical needs while obtaining necessary information and providing guidance during my emotional distress.
  • Doctors, nurses, and other hospital medical and support staff, who honestly yet compassionately explained the dire circumstances. They provided emergency care yet respected privacy and personal dignity. They also arranged as comfortable a setting as feasible—preparing us for what they thought inevitable.
  • Family, friends around the world, and a church that surrounded us with prayer, love, and innumerable acts of kindness.
  • The neighbor who blanches at the sight of blood yet cleaned the floor where my husband fell, so I would not have to face it when I returned home.

I’m thankful beyond words that twenty-four hours after our crisis, with his respirator removed, my husband breathed on his own, tracked motion and sounds with his eyes, and squeezed our hands in response to questions. I’m thankful that within forty-eight hours, he sat up and talked. I’m thankful that staff in three hospitals continued to provide tests, treatment, and therapy but also openly acknowledged the miracle of his survival.

I’m most thankful for the ultimate Provider of all healing and the Giver of life—not only physical but also eternal for those who accept the gift available through Jesus’ sacrificial death. Because of all He did, does now, and will do in the future, when we take that inevitable step from this life to the next, we need not fear. The same God who walks with us every step of this present life will welcome us into the next with open arms of love.

Will you also accept God’s gift?

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Every Day Is New

New. That’s what jumps out at me on New Year’s Eve. Do over. Start fresh. Second chance. Brand new.

I’ve never been a party bug. For me, staying up on New Year’s Eve is torture. All that hoopla just to watch a ball fall. I know, call me boring, but I find no celebration in a once-a-year New Year’s Eve event when I receive the gift of a do-over daily.

What does that mean? Well, I suppose you must dig into my heart for that one, but it seems to me when I open my eyes each morning, I’m blessed with a new day . . . a new beginning . . . a do-over. I get the celebration in New York City, and around the world for that fact, but aren’t we given something special every day?

There was a time when I looked forward to the new year, citing things would be better in the days to come, but the truth is, life is still happening. Nothing has changed. Covid still covers the world like a dark cloud. Thousands still die, men still fight wars, politics is still dishonest. The world hasn’t changed.

The psalmist made an important point when he said of God in Psalm 98: “For he has done marvelous things.” God doesn’t just do “new” at the beginning of the year. He does new and marvelous things every day.

We classify January first as the start of something new, and maybe for some, it does draw a line in the sand that constitutes change. As for me, I am blessed daily by the loving forgiveness of a Father who knows me well. One who knows my imperfections yet chooses to let me start each day anew.

This God, our Abba Father, stands with His arms extended, offering us renewal in Him all the time. All we must do is say yes. I am happy to share in the joy of a new year, but not because it’s a new year. Rather, it’s another day of opportunity to meet face-to-face with Abba Father and know I’ll find peace in the breath of His ways.

I wish you a happy new year—not with capital letters, but with this blessing of a new day given to you by a Father who loves you.

“The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

May you be blessed in 2022.

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The Heart of a Magi

While nearly all Christmas Nativity scenes picture the “We Three Kings of Orient are…” hanging out with Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus in Bethlehem, this isn’t true.

Not to say there weren’t kings or Magi at the birth of Jesus. There could have been. I wasn’t there, so I wouldn’t know. But the three kings of history didn’t show up until later in the story—not in Bethlehem, but at Joseph and Mary’s house in Nazareth.

Jesus was nearly two years old when the Magi finally found him by following the star. The Star went before them, leading them. And it led them to Nazareth. This wasn’t a natural comet, star, or planetary alignment. They don’t move like that. It was not a natural phenomenon; it was spiritual.

Now the Magi did bring gifts. Oh yes, they brought gifts. Perhaps a better word would be “treasure.” A whole storehouse of treasure. And what did they bring? Gold, a lot of gold. The Greek word for gold that Matthew uses is “chrusos,” plural, meaning many gifts of gold, profound wealth. In fact, millions of dollars’ worth of gold, which was the custom of the day to honor a new king. And they were seeking the King of Kings, so we can be pretty sure what they brought was a magnificent sum.

They also brought frankincense, which just so happened to be the chief fragrance used in worship in the Temple in Jerusalem. It was very expensive—the Frankincense tree didn’t even grow in Israel. It had to be imported from Sheba and Arabia. It was the fragrance of kings.

And the Magi also brought myrrh, a very costly perfume. And like frankincense, myrrh is obtained from a tree that doesn’t grow in Israel. Interestingly, and prophetically enough, it was also used as an antiseptic and for embalming.

Gold for a King, frankincense for a Priest, and myrrh, prophesying Jesus’ death. The frankincense and myrrh were, in fact, more valuable than the gold.

The Magi spent their whole lives studying the prophecies concerning the coming of the King of Kings…the Messiah…the Christ…just to be ready when He appeared. And then they spent years seeking Him after they knew He had arrived. And my word, how they honored Him when they found Him.

Yesterday we celebrated the first coming of Christ. His Second Coming looms before us like the predawn light in the East before the rising of the sun.

Are you seeking Christ today with the heart of the Magi who sought Him two thousand years ago?

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Prepare the Way

God made meticulous preparations for the arrival of His Son.

Jesus came when the Roman Empire ruled most of the world. This provided a political climate of relative peace among nations for the spreading of the gospel. The Greek language was used as a language of commerce, providing a linguistic bridge among the many ethnic groups that made up the empire. A system of roads was built to provide for that commerce. “All roads lead to Rome,” someone said, and so it was for the travels of the first gospel missionary, the apostle Paul, who carried the gospel down those Roman roads.

God also prepared a forerunner, someone who would go before the Messiah to help people understand what God was doing in their world. His arrival was prophesied by Isaiah: “a voice of one crying in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3). He was known for baptizing people in the waters of the Jordan River. His name was John. People called him “the Baptist” (Matthew 3:1). He introduced his followers to Jesus by saying, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).

We’ve probably heard someone talk about Jesus and their faith in Him, maybe a grandparent, parent, or friend. Through their witness about Christ, God prepared our hearts to receive the Messiah. We should want to pause a moment and thank God for that person who delivered the Good News to us.

The Advent season is a time of preparation for the coming of the Messiah. We have a role in this preparation. Someone near us, a family member or friend, needs to hear our testimony just as the world needed to hear the testimony of John the Baptist. As we share with others our faith in Jesus as Messiah, we prepare their hearts for His coming to them.

Make this Christmas complete by letting others know you believe Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

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Sweet Smell

Thousands of blooms combined to deliver the sweetest fragrance my nose had ever encountered. I repeatedly inhaled. Ahhh!

I identified various scents as I progressed on my tour of the huge Tournament of Roses Parade float barn in Pasadena, California. Roses, orchids, chrysanthemums, and various other blooms each emitted their special smell. The flowers’ vivid colors provided no competition for the pleasing aroma wafting from the eighteen million blossoms covering the numerous floats that occupied the venue.

The delight evoked by this once-in-a-lifetime olfactory experience caused me to struggle with the characterization of Jesus as a fragrant offering to God. His life was sacrificed in a hideous death on a wooden cross to which His hands and feet were nailed. How could the smell of His blood and the stench of death be fragrant? Flowers smell sweet, but the mere thought of the odors associated with crucifixion turns my stomach.

The key is understanding that the offering God desires is obedience. At His direction, Jesus voluntarily acted to make Himself a pleasing, fragrant offering. The Son’s complete obedience to His Father’s will allowed a path to open for our reconciliation to God. What could be sweeter?

While the flowers God created are fragrant, the best fragrance to Him is our obedience. Let’s follow Jesus’ example and show our love for our heavenly Father by obeying Him. Our obedience will be a sweet smell.

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No Need to Blow the Trumpet

Mother was a giver, but she never blew a trumpet.

As a child, my mother chose me to deliver goods to the needy. After coming from the market, Mom parceled out essentials like flour, sugar, cornmeal, soap, and sometimes even a bit of meat for the needy. She then sent me to give these items to two young women who had children. On Sundays, my mom sent me with dinner to my grandfather. Only our household knew of this.

This is how God wants us to give to the poor. We do not need to tell others what we have done or what we are doing.

Three times in Matthew chapter six, Jesus told His disciples that God sees what we do in secret, and He will reward us. Jesus spoke about giving alms, praying, and fasting. Giving alms involves reaching out to others. The other two activities are about our spiritual life—getting in touch with God.

In our spiritual growth, there are times when we do a communal prayer or fast. But on most occasions, we pray in secret to God who sees in secret. What a wonderful opportunity. In this time of prayer, we can be vulnerable. No need to hold back, for God sees us in secret and rewards us.

This is also true of personal fasting. No need to blow a trumpet. This act is between us and God.

In today’s world, people post a lot of things, especially things that give them a halo. We do not have to let anyone know we are helping others. And this does not just apply to money. It can be any action we do to help another. It could be praying for someone, staying with a sick person, giving someone a meal, or offering encouraging words. No need for a trumpet sound.

Keep on doing for others. Pray and fast. Do these from sincere, penitent hearts, and the God who sees in secret will reward you.

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Joseph, Son of Jacob

Joseph, husband of Mary and father of the infant Jesus, stood in the warm illuminating glow of flickering candles...and itched.

Itched mightily, in fact, because the robe he wore was an old burlap potato sack that had been given a second career as a robe in the annual church Christmas pageant.

Worse than the itching, though, was a baby Jesus that kept winking at him. Jesus was a plastic baby doll with eyes that were supposed to open and close, but one eye was stuck open. That meant that as Joseph and Mary gazed down adoringly, baby Jesus' one working eye kept winking up at them. This caused Mary Ellen to giggle, and Mary Ellen's giggles were highly distracting. Mary Ellen was one of the prettiest girls Joseph knew, and that was distracting enough without the giggles.

I was Joseph, chosen to play the part because I was tall for an eight-year-old and could (more or less) sing. We were taking part in our church's Christmas pageant. I struggled to remember my lines, trying not to scratch where the itchy burlap was rubbing my skin, trying not to look at the winking Jesus, and trying not to think about that odd tingly feeling I was getting every time Mary Ellen giggled. It was a long night.

It was an even longer night for the real Joseph that glorious night two thousand years ago in Bethlehem. What with caring for Mary and the newborn Jesus, cleaning out the manger, dealing with a steady stream of shepherds coming out of the darkness to see the infant, and seeing the miraculous sight of a night sky full of singing angels, Joseph had his hands full. Not to mention that brilliant new star that glimmered above the manger. But Joseph kept the faith, kept doing God's work, and kept fulfilling the purpose the Lord had entrusted to him.

I think about Joseph often. Like him, I've been blessed with a child I didn't father, but whom I love dearly, nonetheless. I don't know what God has planned for my grandson Caleb, but, like Joseph, I know my job is to get him ready for God to use.

I got through that pageant so many years ago, remembered my lines, and sang my song. This Christmas, as you deal with your own versions of itchy burlap, plastic baby stand-ins for Jesus, and cute giggling Mary Ellen's, try to let God’s peace guide you through the bright baubles and shiny distractions. May you stay focused on the one crucial thing: the incredible love of our Lord, who gave us Jesus, the greatest gift of all.

Wishing a wonderful Christmas season to you all, and may God's love be with you, always.

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Little Wonders, Giant Threat

Teenagers! The word alone often strikes fear in the bravest hearts, but for my husband, a high school Algebra 2 teacher and youth pastor, they were no big deal.

Fear struck, however, when our church asked him to be the children’s pastor. Yes, children are small in stature, and many have only begun their spiritual journey, but these little wonders posed a giant threat to the man who’d shepherded and taught only our children.

After seeing giants in Canaan, ten of the spies returned with a bad report. Quickly, their apprehension spread fear. “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” The bad news spread like wildfire. Had they forgotten what God had already done? The Israelites wanted to return to Egypt. They trusted in the words of men who had seen the people living in their promised land.

When fear overcomes us, we often want to return to the familiar, even if it’s not good for us. We choose to trust in what we can see and what we believe we know. It takes faith to believe the promises of our unseen God—the One Hagar called, “The God who sees.”

At first, my husband wanted to return to youth ministry. His experience leading teenagers made him comfortable, but God wanted to do a new thing in our lives. We settled into the saddle of the challenges of children and reaped giant-sized fruit for several years.

Giants are big and problems are big, but our God is bigger. It takes faith to step into the unknown. Recounting the things God has done in our lives shatters fear and builds faith. Our challenge is to move past our fear and forward into our future, trusting God knows and sees what’s ahead of us.

Tell your fear to flee and go where God leads. Don’t miss your promised land.

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The Comforter

The phone rang as I walked through the door.

My sister called to tell me Dad was extremely sick. As I ran to the car, I asked the Lord to be with me and my family. I drove the eight miles to my parents’ house, praying.

The ambulance and rescue squad had already arrived when I pulled into the driveway. Before getting out of the car, I bowed my head and asked the Lord to provide the strength I would need to face whatever was ahead. As I opened the car door and got out, I felt a calming presence and inner strength and peace I had never felt before.

My dad died that night. Without the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit, I could not have helped my mom and sister through that night and the days ahead. Since then, I have continued to call upon the Lord, not only in times of hardship but also every day and in every situation.

If you are going through a difficult time, lean on the God of all comfort and invite the Holy Spirit to fill you with peace. As promised in God’s Word, the Holy Spirit is there to help you through challenging times.

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Hidden Spots

My experience with chocolate can best be described as a love/hate relationship.

My children and grandchildren know I’ll receive with joy boxes of my favorite chocolates for Christmas or other holidays. Occasionally, I’ll share some pieces of candy, but more often than not I keep the box for myself. I love to enjoy two pieces of chocolate as my dessert when I sit in my recliner and watch the evening news on TV. Later, however, I regret having done so.

I’m not talking about putting on extra pounds. My rail-thin frame could use a few of them. What I do regret comes in a more subtle form. After sending my clothes through the washer, they usually look spotless. But then minute chocolate flakes explode in the dryer, creating horrifying brown patterns that are difficult at best, or even impossible, to remove.

Could this be like sin in my life?

During the pandemic shutdown—when my church wasn’t meeting—I watched a televangelist one Sunday afternoon discussing the sin of pride. Mentally, I hoped my open-book life revealed no trace of that. However, before the program finished, I said to myself, “Well, this evangelist makes as many grammatical errors on air as he did in his book.” Then it hit me—I was exhibiting pride in my knowledge of correct English usage and failing to rejoice that someone was teaching the Bible to thousands of watchers.

That sin was highly recognizable, but others in my life are not. Having grown up in the church, many probably think my life is saintly, but how wrong they are. My thoughts, words, and actions could be much better.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. This Scripture has the remedy for all sin: confess and ask for forgiveness. Unlike scrubbing hard-to-get-out spots, these sin blemishes can be completely removed at once.

Like the joy I experience when I receive a box of chocolates, I feel exuberant knowing I’m not bound by my mistakes. I’ll certainly make more because of my humanness, but they will not become burdensome. For now, I’m free.

Have you let Christ remove your hidden spots?

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Plans

As we crossed the high peaks of Northwest Georgia's lower Appalachians, the sun caressed the yellow, orange, and scarlet red of this year's autumn foliage.

The leaves were beautiful. Along the side of the road and in the fields beyond, suddenly bright orange pumpkins were everywhere. It was early in the last week of October, and my wife, Charlotte, and I were returning from our annual week in Alpine Helen, Georgia. Every year we attend the Oktoberfest there, one of the best and longest in the nation. Charlotte is Bavarian-born, and our annual visit is a way to embrace the heritage she left behind in Germany.

Almost every year, the same phenomenon occurs. We leave our home in middle Tennessee with the trees still clothed in late summer olive-green and return a week later with those same trees ablaze with the fiery colors of fall.

Although man's calendar says autumn started on September 22nd, nature's symbols of fall don’t begin to appear here until the last week of October. We have yet to see the first frost or freeze, and it's barely gotten cool enough at night to smell the familiar smell of woodsmoke wafting from the scattered chimneys on our Tennessee ridge top.

Man's constant, desperate attempt to control his God-given natural world exhibits itself in many forms. Once, we managed to build civilizations simply on the sun's rising and setting, but soon we subdivided those daylight hours with sundials and hourglasses. Mechanical timepieces followed, and Benjamin Franklin first suggested daylight-saving time.

Man took the natural seasons and assigned artificial start and stop dates. We start celebrating fall at the beginning of September, but it’s nearly November before the first pumpkin appears hereabouts. God moves on His schedule, not by any measurement of man.

In our personal lives, too, God has plans for us. He had a plan laid out while we were still being knit together in our mother's womb. But we must seek out that plan through His Word and His Spirit. More importantly, we must let go of the steering wheel as we discover that plan and let God drive the car.

As a little boy, I wanted to be a preacher. Okay, it was because I thought they just worked one day a week on Sunday, but still, the passion was there. As I grew older, I rebelled, choosing the carnal over the spiritual, and then spent years paying for that rebellion.

Have I fulfilled God's plan for my life? Sadly, I don't think so. I have God-given gifts I don't use enough for His glory. Thank goodness I can hold Jesus' hand and hide behind His forgiveness when I have to stand before God on Judgement Day.

Are you seeking God’s plan for your life in His wonderful written Word? Are you listening to His Spirit? Are you fulfilling His goal for you? Jesus said to seek His kingdom and righteousness first, and then He would add everything else.

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The Park Reserve

I was on a twenty-four-hour fast while visiting my hometown.

I ventured to the bridge where my mom committed suicide and prayed. The horrific site was now a park reserve. 

Years earlier, on the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, my mom left home and never returned. The next day, I saw her suicide note on the kitchen table. My mom had said she was mad. I was fourteen and did not realize that was a warning sign.

I rode my bike to the bridge and found her car. Then I went back home and told my dad. We called the police as we raced back to the site. While waiting, I remember my dad yelling, “Liz, I loved you.” A week later they found her body in the river.

Having a mom—a recovering alcoholic—commit suicide was one of the worst times of my life. On the surface, her suicide was awful. A lot of people would have gotten mad at God and rejected Him, but this never shook my faith. Because of my mom's suicide, I can relate more to others who have experienced a loved one’s suicide.

We live in a sinful world. My mom chose to end her life. But it wasn’t God’s fault. She made the wrong choice. The good that came out of my horrible situation is that Jesus loves me. He can make good out of a suicide that doesn’t make any sense.

Hope in Jesus always exists, no matter what you’re going through. Trust Him.

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The Harvest

Autumn slips into southern California with less fanfare than most parts of the country.

But when it arrives, it brings chilly mornings and evenings—and the time for long pants and sweatshirts. During autumn, I bask in childhood memories of the Colorado Mountains—deciduous trees aflame with color, displaying their spectacular autumn dress. Days can be warm and deceptively summer-like, followed by a sudden dusting of snow overnight. The abrupt temperature changes can set off a tidal wave of color among the aspen trees, creating the most colorful displays of the season.

When I was a child, our family lived on a five-acre farm on the outskirts of town. As the days grew cooler and shorter, everyone was expected to gather the crops we had tended all summer. The tedious hours of weeding, watering, and hoeing brought an abundant crop. Our garden was lush with tomatoes, corn, beets, green beans, and many more vegetable varieties—enough to feed our large family in the winter. We all knew when the crops were ready, we had to harvest.

When Jesus looked at the crowds of people around Him, He saw into their hearts. He felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited, like sheep without a shepherd. He referred to those hopeless, hurting people as a field ripe for harvesting and urged His disciples to pray for workers to send into His harvest.

We can be those workers, bringing comfort to the hurting. We may think someone we know is not ready to believe. While we can't see into people's hearts to know who will respond to the gospel, God knows. We should be a harvester—a witness for Christ.

The crops are ready. Head to the fields. It’s harvest time.

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The Devil Made Me Do It

When I was either four or five years old, my dad decided to teach me how to crank up the car.

Although I’m legally blind, my parents still treated me as normally as possible. One Sunday night after the church service, my mother had taken me to the car, but left her keys on the dashboard. Big mistake!

The car key wasn’t as easy to notice as they are now—they were the same size as the rest of the keys—but somehow I found it. I thought I could turn it on and off like a regular switch, but for some reason, it didn’t turn off that easily. It cranked up and started rolling backward away from the building.

Fortunately, a lady rescued me. When mamma got me home that night—need I say more—I got what I deserved and was never allowed to crank the car again.

Did the Devil make me do that? No, but he sure helped me out a lot. I’m not joking about sin although I have been funny.

God gave Adam and Eve that choice. Although Eve was deceived in the sin, she was too busy talking to the Devil. She listened with interest to what he said. Adam was also spiritually lazy. He didn’t do his part. God had told him to “keep” the garden, which I believe meant keep the Devil out.

The Devil tempts us to do things, but he can’t make us do anything. The Lord defeated our sins on the cross so we can overcome him. We have a choice to do right or wrong.

We who have the Lord in our lives should be sensitive to the Holy Spirit every day to keep us from sinning.

Ask God to help you do your part to overcome sin daily so others can see God in your life.

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Gathering Sticks

A woodpile starts with only one stick.

My parents’ first house wasn't a house at all, but a converted garage. It was one room without plumbing. That's what you call "roughing it." They didn't have two nickels to rub together.

But something must've taken for them. When Dad passed away after he and Mom had been married for almost forty-five years, they had four grown kids and five grandkids. They owned their two-story home—a long way from the little place they started in. Dad had even owned his own business. Those things were worth more than money.

Often, we're prone to make the same mistakes as adults that we made in our early years. We think we must have everything at once. By doing so, we can put ourselves in dire financial straits, which can leave us bankrupt with worry.

Several people were "poor as dirt" until God blessed them with more than riches. A widow saw her meal and oil sustained because she obeyed and made Elijah a cake. Another widow—who was about to have her sons taken as bondservants to pay her debts—saw God let her little pot of oil flow abundantly so she could sell it, pay off her debts, and provide a living for them. Many were poor in health but were healed and became rich in Christ. It takes more than being penniless to be poor and more than wealth to be rich.

If it seems like we’re gathering sticks and don't have two nickels to rub together, we can take heart rather than giving up. Those are the perfect times to watch God work. Today's sticks may become tomorrow's woodpile. God created this earth from nothing by just speaking a word. He can still make something from our nothing.

When you're gathering sticks, don't lose hope. Just wait for a word from the Lord.

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A Safe Place

I live on a battlefield.

Every autumn and spring, howling arctic cold fronts barreling down out of the Canadian Rockies meet up with moisture-laden tropical lows coming up from the Gulf of Mexico, and they have it out right over our heads here in Middle Tennessee. This meteorological battle usually results in severe tornado-producing thunderstorms.

Once, the local television stations preempted their regular programming to cover the latest round of supercell thunderstorms to march overhead. I really didn't need them to tell me that. The sight of my BBQ grill and cheap lawn chairs doing cartwheels across the lawn told me all I needed to know about the weather conditions outside.

Weather forecasters insisted I needed to be in my "safe place" immediately and that the dangerous storm was bearing down right where I lived. The problem with their advice was that our humble little wood-frame house had no safe place. There is no basement and only one completely interior space—a small, cramped linen closet. We live in a rural wooded area. No close neighbors. Outside, marble-size hail battered the windows and roof. I began to worry.

Then, my eyes fell to my grandson's illustrated Teen Bible. We had been reading the Easter story earlier, and the open book was still on my desk. This particular page had an illustration of Jesus' empty tomb on Easter morning. And there, I realized, was my safe place.

My safe place was in that empty tomb, right there, in the heart of Christ. And what it represented was Christ's victory over death. That should have been imprinted on my heart. God should not have had to remind me. Somewhere between the howling wind and the pounding hail, I took my eyes off Him. But He never let me out of His sight, nor out of His heart.

The story doesn't have a happy ending. Oh, the storm passed over our home without incident, and my family was safe. But it touched down as an F4 tornado just a few miles east, snuffing out lives and injuring scores of people. I prayed for those people, even as I thanked God for keeping us and our home safe. And I hope that the next time the sky darkens, He won't have to gently remind me that I am nestled deeply in His heart. Something I should already know.

Do you know Him? Does He have to remind you? 

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Caught in a Jam

I can still taste the homemade strawberry jam, frozen in an empty Cool Whip container.

Using spoons as our make-shift chisels, my brother and I hunkered in a corner of the barn to enjoy our bounty. We knew we shouldn’t have stolen the jam from Mom’s freezer, but nothing makes thieves of little boys as quickly as sweets.

Sadly, unlike strawberry fields, strawberry jam doesn’t last forever. So, we planned our end game. After hiding the container in some hay and washing the jam off our faces, we reasoned with each other: “Who could possibly find out?” Answer: Dad. Somehow, it hadn’t occurred to us that at least one of our parents also used the barn. We paid dearly for that jam.

Sin always has consequences. It can take various forms, but ultimately it boils down to unbelief. Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites doubted what God had told them. God warned the tribes of Reuben and Gad what would happen if they did not keep their oath to defend their fellow Israelites. Their sin would not go unnoticed. A just and righteous God cannot allow sin to go unpunished.

Despite our best efforts, we cannot keep anything from God. He not only sees our sinful actions but also knows the hidden motivations of our hearts. This knowledge should lead us to two conclusions. First, it should deter us from disobeying God. Our illusions of secrecy dissolve before an all-knowing God. Second, we should confess our sins and seek God’s forgiveness. We can’t hide our sin, so we shouldn’t try.

Are you hiding something? Jesus has already paid for it. Confess it to Him and receive His forgiveness.

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God's Gift of a Good Dog

My first memory includes a dog—two, in fact.

Before I could walk on sturdy legs or talk in lengthy sentences, when all things—colors, sounds, scents—were still new and fresh from heaven, Momma would push me in a stroller. We ventured down a gravel alley that ran behind the houses on our street, dividing the homes which lined King Avenue with those that sat behind. A right turn out the garage door and ten paces forward took us to a small patch of worn grass, enclosed with a chain-link fence. This was the dwelling place of two dogs—their gender, breed, and color no longer etched in my mind. What I do remember is their scent and the happy feelings a little two-year-old girl experienced each time we happened by.

“Doggie,” I’d exclaim, pointing. “D-ood dog.”

And Momma would bend low to kiss my brow before affirming the truth we both believed. “Yes, those are good dogs,” she’d say as she pushed my stroller close enough so I could take in their dog smell—a mixture of moisture and earth and, well, dog. To me, it was the fragrance of joy.

I don’t remember if Mom ever allowed me to pet those mongrel pups or if they ever licked my outstretched fingers through the fence. I don’t know the number of times we passed by or if, one day, we discovered them gone. Like many memories from one’s distant past these, too, although beautiful moments, are like shards of stained glass—pretty to look at but no longer a part of a bigger picture.

To me, these visits of long ago were gifts. My recollections—simplistic though they are—remain treasures. If young children have a unique sense that somehow links them to heaven, then perhaps these dogs were a reflection of their Creator.

In some sort of way, perhaps our “Good dog” exclamations are much like a prayer that God Himself can decipher and know the full meaning.

The Giver of all good gifts, our heavenly Father, hears. He knows. What we’re saying is, “Good God,” because that is what He is.

What good gifts might you thank God for today? He bends low to listen.

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Strays and Misfits

"Can I keep him, Mom? I'll take real good care of him. I promise!"

“I'd love to have a dollar for every time I've heard that question," Mikey's mom replied. "Yes, but he's your responsibility."

"You'll see, Mom. You'll never know he's here," Mikey said with excitement as he rushed into the backyard with his new best friend.

Something about strays and misfits appealed to Mikey. He had a heart of gold. He always wanted to help those whom others seemed not to notice. People, dogs, or pretty much any other creature. It didn't matter to Mikey; he loved them all. He once bottle-fed a baby raccoon whose mom had gotten hit by a car. That momma raccoon didn't know it, but her baby couldn't have fallen into better hands.

Mikey probably developed a compassionate heart because of his time in an orphanage. He could relate to his new dog, Bubba. He, too, had once felt unloved and unwanted. That was before Paul and Gina Jackson came to the orphanage to adopt a child. Mikey was five at the time, but when their eyes met his, he knew he'd finally found a place he belonged. Now, he was an eight-year-old with eyes full of wonder and a heart full of love. Mikey remembered those early days as he scrubbed and brushed Bubba's coat.

We can all relate to Mikey and Bubba. There was a time in our lives when we were unwanted and unfit to be loved. We were alone and unnoticed by most but loved by one. Even in the condition we were in, Jesus still loved us.

The world may have passed us by and written us off, but Jesus came to where we were. He's never met a stray or misfit He didn't love. He took us in, saving us from a miserable future of eternal separation from God. He cleaned us up and made us fit to be loved. He wasn't concerned with others' opinions; He loved us anyway. He saw something in us others couldn't see.

Your needs will be forever met, and you'll always be loved because Jesus gave His life for strays and misfits like you. 

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Dangers

Fritz, our large, six-year-old, orange tabby house cat, trotted happily out the door with me onto our front porch. With tail held high, he bounced by my side into the hot, humid August afternoon.

Every day, Fritz would take his “walkabout.” He would take off on a long circuit of his world here on our Tennessee ridge. He is usually gone a couple of hours, returning in time for his supper in the late afternoon. Our property borders a Wildlife Management Area along the Duck River, which is designated a National Scenic River along this miles-long stretch.

The Wildlife Management Area means wildlife is protected, and because of this, we are used to a wide variety of creatures and critters meandering through our yard—deer, turkeys, ’possums, raccoons, skunks, foxes, boar, and a host of the other usual suspects. Fritz is familiar with all these, and despite being quite territorial and possessive of his ridge to other male cats, he adopts a live-and-let-live attitude with nearly all wildlife. I’ve seen a flock of turkeys pass peacefully around him as he lounged lazily on a rock in the middle of them. (Rodents and snakes are another story, however. Frequently, Fritz will proudly bring those home as gifts … sometimes while they are still wiggling.)

But this day differed. Fritz took a couple of steps onto the porch and froze. His nostrils went into overdrive. Hopping up on a table for a better look, he slowly scanned the front yard while tasting the air, his tail occasionally swishing with concern. Eventually, he focused on the thick woods that border the eastern edge of our property, the tree line about a hundred feet away.

His body went rigid, and his hackles rose. His tail sliced the air. Occasionally, he would look back over his shoulder at me to make sure I was still close, his green eyes as wide as quarters. Something was out there. A something he didn’t like and even feared—and I have rarely seen Fritz fear anything. Cats aren’t called nature’s gunslingers for no reason.

I didn’t see a thing. I scanned the area carefully with binoculars but saw nothing. When I got up to go back inside, Fritz dashed to the door with me and slipped safely back into the house. Definitely no walkabout today.

Fritz sensed something he couldn’t see, and he heeded that warning. I, too, have an early warning system. God’s wonderful gift, His Comforter, His presence in the form of His Holy Spirit, lives in me. The Spirit sees things I don’t, sees across time, teaches me, and helps guide me through the hidden dangers of this fallen world. Often, my problem is stilling the clutter in my mind long enough to hear the Holy Spirit’s soft voice speaking. I must focus on God’s Word, let His peace soothe the chaos that usually swirls in my head, and most importantly, listen for and recognize that sweet soft voice.

Are you listening for the Spirit’s voice?

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Draw Near to God

On one Thanksgiving, I enjoyed a round of golf with my two adult sons.

I learned the game in my mid-thirties, then taught them to play as youngsters. We spent many summer evenings walking as many holes as we could play before dark.

By their late teens, my sons could outdrive me. By the time they reached their thirties, they beat me whenever we played. I didn’t mind. I valued the time I spent with them on the golf course, and I took satisfaction in knowing I had taught them to play.

My sons once needed my help to brush their teeth before bed, to put on a sweater as they dressed for church, and to tie their shoes multiple times throughout the day. I carried them on my shoulders when they were tired, and we had a long walk ahead. I remember when they climbed on the sofa as I watched a football game, just so I could hold them in my arms where they felt safe and secure.

Whether they were happy or sad, obedient or disobedient, pungent and sweaty from playing outside or smelling like baby shampoo after a bath, they did not hesitate to draw close and feel my embrace.

James tells us we can do the same with God. Regardless of what we have done or what we are going through, God invites us to draw near.

We draw near through confession, prayer, worship, and meditation on God’s Word. When we draw near to God, He does not turn us away. He draws near to us, wrapping His arms around us when we need His comfort and assurance that He loves us.

If you need to feel God’s love and acceptance, draw near to Him, and He will draw near to you.

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Contagious Obedience

We are under attack. Sin, all around us, is contagious. The world’s ways are not God’s ways. Evil forces push and pull at us, wanting us to accompany them on their deadly, destructive path. 

Many years ago, an audit manager asked me to pirate a software package—to make illegal copies. She told me it was permitted “because everyone else does it.” I refused, obeyed the truth, and left the company.

Once, after leading a Bible study at church, I was drained and beaten down. My daughter was with me and refused to sit still—a distraction. What a test. Then, someone complimented me on my presentation. I thought I had failed, but everyone signed up for the class. God rewarded my obedience.

But on one Thanksgiving, I disobeyed. As our family sat around the big table, my husband leaned over and asked if I wanted to give thanks. Stressed from the preparations and confusion, I announced, “Let’s individually thank God in our hearts.” That was disobedience. I’m sorry I didn’t allow my family to openly express their thanks to God for His amazing goodness.

People near Jesus refused to touch a leper, afraid of contracting his disease. Jesus boldly pushed past their reluctance. Allowing Himself to come in contact with the man’s leprosy, Jesus pressed His healing love into the beggar’s darkness. He obeyed his Father’s command to bring life from death.

We are created to be obedient, contagious, and spreaders of the light of God’s love in every situation. In this way, we can enjoy a deeper relationship with God as we connect to Him and each other.

Seek to glorify God as you travel toward eternal life with God. Chose to be obedient and filled with His love.  

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Buried Alive

Frenzied with the back-to-school rush, I perched in the middle of a mountainous mass of clothing that threatened to overwhelm me.

I desperately threw the articles of clothing into three stacks. One load to donate, a second for immediate use, and a third for storage.

Buried alive is buried alive, whether in dishes, laundry, information, or to-do lists. Any one of those can leave us feeling exhausted and hopeless. Often, we find ourselves overwhelmed with these issues at the same time.

God can help us sort information just like clothing so that we do not become entrapped under a pile that steals our joy. Life bombards us moment to moment with what we should, could, and might do. Advice from various sources pour in from news articles, social media, well-meaning friends, and family. We should sort these messages according to God’s Word, seeking His wisdom on how to prioritize our lives.

Most worldly thoughts should go straight into the rejection pile. Rather, we need to review and consider the second batch of advice we receive from godly individuals.

The third message from the Word of God has relevance for both immediate and future use. The sincere and peaceful wisdom from above allows us to navigate our world under the submission of Christ. God’s will is the safest place we can be. His pure wisdom gives us rest.

Reject the cluttering thoughts of the world. Allow room in your life for the processing and use of God’s wisdom. Take out the trash. You don’t need to say yes to harmful messages or yes to every item on your to-do list. Listen to and prioritize God’s wisdom for your life.

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Hold Your Tongue

She was often referred to as the dragon lady.

Most people feared her. No one dared to cross her. Her tongue was full of fire. Whenever the dragon lady spoke, you could almost feel the flames. The angrier she became, the more intense the heat. Everyone learned to steer clear.

James describes the tongue as “a world of iniquity that can defile the entire body.” The Passion translation calls it “a hellish flame” and “the most dangerous part of our human body.” In other words, small but deadly. James goes on to say, “But the tongue is not able to be tamed. It’s a fickle, unrestrained evil that spews out words full of toxic poison! We use our tongue to praise God our Father and then turn around and curse a person who was made in his very image! Out of the same mouth we pour out words of praise one minute and curses the next. My brothers and sister, this should never be! (vs 8-9 TPT).

My grandparents used to say, “hold your tongue.” They believed in the adage, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. It’s a thought-full, purpose-full, self-control issue. But we all know self-control does not come easily. It requires help from above. And God promises His help whenever we call on Him.

Here’s another time-tested adage: Today, let your words be sweet, for tomorrow you may have to eat them.

Let’s not ever be like the fire-breathing dragon lady. Instead, let’s pray, Holy Spirit, take control of my tongue. Guard my mind, my heart, and especially my words. Use my tongue to bring hope, encouragement, and peace to every situation.

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A Stench in My Nostrils

My stomach roiled. An uncontrollable retch erupted, and the dry heaves had me again.

Had I not already been on my knees, the retching would have driven me there. I was on the floor of our sparkling new, renovated bathroom, surrounded by smeared feces. The smell of the pine cleaner, ammonia, and chlorine weren’t enough to cover the smell. And they did nothing for the sight, the awful sight, of the condition of our new bathroom.

My poor 93-year-old father-in-law was having a bad day. Physically healthy for his age, Father Kirby had Alzheimer’s. And like most semi-advanced Alzheimer’s patients, he had an episode of incontinence every once in a while. Like today. And this one was a doozy.

Evidently, he had realized his ‘uh-oh” and gone to the bathroom to try and clean up. But unfortunately, he only succeeded in smearing it virtually everywhere. Eventually, he must have forgotten what he was doing and wandered out of the bathroom. I discovered him a few minutes later, or rather my nostrils did, and I promptly hustled him into a hot bath. But that still left the bathroom to clean.

So here I was, on my knees, scrubbing the bathroom. Between violent retches, I asked God for help. I thought maybe he would close my nostrils or still my stomach to help me get through this, but instead, something else happened. He showed me Sin. In a sudden revelation, I realized this was how sin looked to God. All sin, from harmless white lies to mass murder, carries this awful, terrible stench to God.

I had never thought about sin like this. Of course, I knew my past and continuing sins, but they were always sort of an abstract concept. Here was sin as God saw it, up close and personal…and awful. And as I pondered this, I noticed a few minutes later that I had finished cleaning the bathroom without realizing it.

My life has been a series of lessons, some harder than others. Thank You, Father, for using this opportunity to teach me and for Your revelation. But it would certainly be okay if we didn’t have to repeat this one.

Do you see sin as God does?

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Be Patient

I once had a lot of trouble with my computer.

I had owned it for six months when one day I received an error message when I tried to open a Word document—the program I use to write my devotions. I couldn’t get rid of the message, nor could I type anything into the document.

My dad enlisted a man from another country to help him fix it. As they worked, my dad and the man talked to each other about the Lord. Hearing my dad talk to someone about the Lord made having computer problems worth it.  

Paul must have prayed for patience because he said we should glory in tribulation. I do not think he meant he enjoyed being beaten with rods or that he wanted to experience it a second time. He just knew God was going to get glory from his experience if Paul had the right attitude despite his circumstances.

We need to mimic Paul. Although we don’t need to thank God for everything, we need to remember that He controls every situation in our lives if we belong to Him and allow Him to have full control. My dad did this with the man who fixed my computer and with others on the phone as he tried to enlist help.  

Although we don’t have to ask God to give us patience, we should ask God to remind us to have the right attitude in all our trials, which means to have His joy in all circumstances.

Ask God to give you opportunities to witness about His love and to be patient as you do.

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Where Is Your Brother?

I dread the day I will lose my brother.

My brother is four years older. Growing up, he was always there for me. We made up games together. Our imaginations had no limit. We collected baseball cards. We played army with friends in the neighborhood and romped in the woods nearby. He taught me everything I know about baseball, football, and basketball. As young adults, we played softball and basketball. Now, being older, we play golf together.

As an ordained minister, I had the honor to marry him and his wife. We have always had a good relationship, and I always try to let him know how much I love him. I cannot imagine my brother not being near when we need each other.

Cain and Abel had a different relationship as brothers. Animosity existed between them. So much so that Cain killed Abel over petty jealousy. I can’t comprehend this.

My brother and I were raised to love and respect each other. I am my brother’s keeper. I should have his welfare close to my heart. But I should have the welfare of others close to my heart also.

Jesus says we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We can love everyone through the love that God has shown us. After all, we are not perfect, yet God loves us unconditionally. Sometimes, loving others is hard, but doing so is what God tells us to do.

Ask God to help you love others as He does you.

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Let Freedom Ring

I sorted through family photos–the ones Mom kept in an old album in a drawer that showed a snaggle-toothed little girl swinging on a homemade swing when the world seemed carefree.

As I looked through the yellowed pages of the albums, what caught my attention was the pictures of Dad. He never seemed to smile. If anything, it was a half-hearted smirk. What I remembered was a dad that seemed happy on the outside but sad on the inside.

Then I found the source. An album of Dad’s days in the Army. He lied about his age to get into the Army, entering a year sooner than he should have. Within weeks, he was shipped out to do hand-to-hand battle in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. At seventeen, he was a gunnery sergeant, making decisions no seventeen-year-old should have to make and many times determining the lives of others. Dad suffered from PTSD and, sadly enough back in those days, the men who survived the battles suffered in silence when they returned home.

One year, my brother framed Dad’s medals as a gift. Dad smiled, thanked him, and then said, “You could buy these on the streets in the Philippines. There’s no pride in the freedom.” He was referring to the fact that locals would steal personal items off the bodies of dead soldiers and sell them on the streets. Anyone could buy a medal and claim to be a hero. It broke Dad’s heart.

Freedom had no meaning.

Paul wanted the people to know that through Christ the veil of the old law was lifted, and this new covenant of life was available to everyone. He reminded them the Spirit of Christ was with them and with that…so is freedom. What a message of hope. What a promise.

Dad came home from the war broken in many ways. His hurt stemmed not from his physical wounds but from the wounds of his heart. Was it worth the lives of his friends to know freedom was unappreciated–had no meaning?

Christ fought the earthly battle. Some might say He failed–Christ died. But we know it wasn’t a failure, for through that death we gained freedom. The promise stands strong.

This Fourth of July, remember the sacrifices, earthly and spiritually, that have been fought so you might have freedom.

Note to our American Veterans and currently serving men and women. Thank you for your service. Though the world seems to take for granted your sacrifice, never believe the lie. Your service, your time, and your sacrifice have great meaning. Thank you.

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Twister

God picks up Brenda Jean White.

He picks her up and places her on a small, carpeted landing in a stairwell just outside her office.

It is May 25th, 2011, in Sedalia, Missouri, at 12:59 p.m. Tornado sirens are sounding off and on all morning. Still, the weather remains an uneventful, dreary gray at Don's Truck Towing in Sedalia. This is where Brenda works as an office clerk. She and her fellow assistants work in a double-wide trailer that serves as the office for Don's—an office connected to Don's main building by an enclosed stairwell.

As the tornado siren howls again, Brenda glances outside. The weather has changed. Darkness seems to engulf the trees whipping back and forth. Brenda and her fellow workers decide to go down to the main building where it is safer. As they rush down the enclosed stairwell, they try to close the door behind them. It won't close. Something unseen and terrible holds it open. The tornado.

Brenda records the next seconds as a series of mental snapshots. The ceiling is obliterated. Wood paneling peels up the walls leaving trembling bare studs. Geodetic shapes swirl around and around in the dark. Through the window, she sees her car—here one minute, then gone. And then she sees IT. A twirling roaring monstrosity … Satan's carrousel. And it is right outside the window. Brenda prays, "Jesus, save us."

Brenda doesn't pray out of panic. Instead, she prays as a daughter of God. She is a Christian who has a tremendous heart for God and who lives and works her faith. And God is there. He picks Brenda up and lays her gently down on the carpeted landing. His warm peace covers her, and from the safety of His hand, she watches her world disintegrate around her. It was, she says, "The hand of God" holding her on that landing. The stairs tear away above her. She feels a tug at her elbow and realizes her pocketbook is being sucked away. She grasps it harder and fights against the winds that clutch at her and threaten to strip away her clothing.

And then it is over.

Brenda's ears are filled with dirt, and she has a souvenir from the paint shop next door. Green paint has sandblasted through her clothes onto her body. But she and her coworkers are safe.

Brenda Jean White knew where her shelter lay in a time of trouble. Without thinking, she prayed, and God answered. A lifetime of worship, of studying the Word, and of walking and talking with Christ prepared her for this single moment of terror.

When terror strikes you, will you be prepared? Lean on God, always.

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Live to the Fullest

Death took two friends in one month. Two! Both were lost to those nasty C words. Cancer and Covid.

They died within days of one another. The first loss was a dear writer friend and mentor. When I first met her, I longed just to be her friend, and when God blessed me with that friendship and the fact that she welcomed me into her home and called me Sugar, I was beside myself. I was gifted with her wisdom and love. Something I will never forget. The second loss was a childhood friend who’d been my friend since we were in diapers. Both losses cut deeply.

Death is never a welcomed friend even when we know it is the kindest of solutions. We loath the pain and loss of that person, but we understand the compassion within. There never seems to be good words or right deeds when we face the family members of those who have passed. Sometimes, silence is not a bad thing. A simple hug says more than words ever could.

Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome to encourage them in a time when standing firm as a Christian was hard and when joy and happiness tended to be fleeting. Paul understood their pain and loss. Still, he encouraged them to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. In other words, be considerate of the feelings of others rather than spending our time waiting on them to feel our loss and pain. Together, we will help one another. Paul knew if the people learned this compassion, they would find peace.

My childhood friend’s daughter asked me to do her momma’s eulogy. Both honored and terrified, I wondered if I could manage it. So, as I prepared the memorial, I took heart in Paul’s words. I sought out those memories that were filled with laughter and fun, and we rejoiced together in a life well-lived. And we wept together at the loss of a soul who meant so much to us all.

Live a life filled with joy and love. Rejoice always and weep when necessary. Whether life ends sooner rather than later, God has our days planned. He will guide us through each moment, and when our time is complete—when we have finished the race—He will welcome us home where tears no longer exist.

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All About Attitude

“But, Mom, I want that toy.”

I missed getting that toy because of the tantrum I pitched. Had I just accepted things as they were without the tantrum, Mom may have gotten it for me eventually.

Attitudes do matter. Sometimes they are good; sometimes they are bad. Bad attitudes get us nowhere with our parents. This is also true with our jobs, marriages, friendships, or any other area of our lives. Our attitudes can take us far in life or they can cause us grief and disappointment.

The Scripture about Cain and Abel is a good example of this. They each presented an offering to God. God accepted Abel’s offering but did not accept Cain’s. Abel gave his offering with genuineness while Cain gave his with insincerity and carelessness.

God knows our heart and purpose for doing things. He could see Abel was sincere in his offering, but He knew Cain was not. Later, we can tell Cain’s heart was not right because he killed his brother out of jealousy.

God told Cain he would be accepted if he did what was right, but if he did not, sin would crouch at the door, eager to control him. Cain failed to heed the warning and was “cursed and banished from the ground, which has swallowed your brother’s blood.”

We must examine our lives and ask God to forgive us for any wrongdoing. Our attitudes do matter. Just as with Cain, God knows our heart and expects us to have an offering (attitude) pleasing to Him. He expects us to freely give our lives to Him for His glory alone.

Do not let a bad attitude cause you to miss the blessings God has for you.

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When Complacency Hits

Some friends and I enjoyed our coffee on the outdoor patio of a local café when a car alarm went off in the parking lot.

We ignored the alarm initially, but when it sounded again a few minutes later, one friend said, "Why don't they do something about that?" Then we realized that someone might be breaking into a vehicle.

When car alarms were introduced, everyone was aware of them and thought of them as a deterrent to crime. Now we either ignore them or consider them annoying.

Complacency is common. We can be lulled into ignoring the moral issues of our day just as we do other common occurrences such as car alarms.  It's easy to become thick-skinned and tolerant of evil, believing we are growing older and wiser. But is this thinking only of our comfort? Will it take too much effort to get involved?

Ignoring the major debates in society on moral issues will not make them go away. As I watch television and read the newspaper, I'm aware that much is out of my control. Sometimes, it seems as though everything affecting my life is decided by others. I think, What's the use? I can't change it, anyway.

Complacency is a valuable tool for Satan. He knows he will eventually wear down our resistance, and that we will abandon all matters of faith in action—which gives him access to our minds and hearts.

But we can do something when we hear the alarm. Someone said, "It is not what one does but what one tries to do that makes the soul strong and fit for a noble career.”

Look for opportunities to break out of your comfort zone of complacency, move into awareness, and put your faith into action.

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Renewal

Each year, on one particular day in early spring, I look out the window to the opposite ridge to the north, and I see for the first time, color.

The black and white and gray of winter are transposed into the pastels of spring, seemingly overnight. Life renews. The sleeping world, hibernating through the bleak cold of winter, awakens and seeks the sun.

Today was that day. A brilliant sun in a clear blue sky shone down on buds bursting open in the warming temperatures. The opposite ridge across our little valley here in Middle Tennessee looks as if a child has colored it with pastel crayons. Closer to home, here on our ridge top, yellow daffodils reach up. Bradford Pears explode in snow-white petals. Emerging new leaves glow spring green. Other colors, magenta and Carolina blue, appear around the edge of the yard. The roses push out new maroon shoots. Seeds that have survived the winter reach up to the warmth.

We, too, have survived the winter—although it has been, and continues to be a hard one. Winter storms, seen and unseen, sent icy tendrils into our souls and buffeted us this way and that. The cold this winter was exceptional, and accumulating snow seemingly managed to blanket every state in the lower forty-eight, except for Florida and Middle Tennessee. But still, the warmth returned.

When I see the new rainbow of spring colors, I'm reminded of God's promise to Noah under a different rainbow. A commitment that the seeds would grow, the harvest would come in, the seasons would continue, and the earth would endure.

Life endures. Sprouts seek the sun. We endure, and we seek the Son. Remember God's promises. Immerse yourself in them as you glory in the warmth and beauty of a new spring. A spring He promises will always renew as long as the earth endures.

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She Yelled at Me

She called and yelled at me.

I hung up on her—my half-sister, Alice. She called back and spoke in a quieter tone. As usual, it was hard to talk to her, and doing so caused me a lot of stress. I tried to speak, but she refused to give me a chance. In previous conversations, when she allowed me to talk, my words seemed to go in one of her ears and out the other. She never listened. She just didn’t get it.

Alice has passed away now. The sad part is, no one wanted to be around her, including her sons, her dad, her other brother, and me. In some of her angry rants, she chewed us out for not staying in touch. We tried, but it was always the same. If she had listened for once when I tried to confront her lovingly, she might have been able to have close relationships with her family. Unfortunately, she was blind to how she pushed people away. We could see it, but she would not hear us. 

That makes me think. Do I listen to the correction other people or the Lord brings to me? Taking correction can be difficult, but that correction could be from the Lord, and it could improve our life. I believe our life should prepare us for heaven. The Lord wants to help us, not hurt us, and He often uses others to speak to us.

Are you listening to the Lord?

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The Cure for Every Illness

Illness touched our family, and we were never the same.

When I was sixteen, my father died from his fourth heart attack. As a family, we struggled during this time with his sickness. I remember the day well, as it was not a particularly good time in my family’s life. I struggled with God over my father’s death, questioning Him numerous times. I questioned God’s reasoning and asked, “Why didn’t you heal my dad?”

Some families experience mild illnesses while others experience devastating illnesses. Regardless, no illness is easy to deal with. Knowing my father was a Christian was the only way I could cope. 

In 2020 and into 2021, the world dealt with Covid-19. Many were sick, and many died from this horrible virus. We may ask why people get sick. Or why no cure for cancer exists after so many years of research. Many of our questions go unanswered.

The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful, and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So, she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it too.This verse explains how sin entered the world. Sin—not necessarily personal sin—is the source behind all sickness, and, just as we need a cure for sicknesses, we need a cure for sin. Sin is an illness of the heart, permeating our soul and separating us from God. Sin spreads like a virus.

The good news is a cure exists in Jesus Christ—forgiveness. Those who have experienced the cure can testify to this. I can. Jesus came to earth and experienced the temptations we experience, and He overcame each one.

Since Jesus conquered sin on the cross, we can be cured (forgiven) for our sins. Although we will still suffer from physical illnesses on this earth, God has given us the ultimate and eternal cure for the cause of these illnesses.

Because Christ defeated death and sin, you too can experience the forgiveness of sin He freely gives. Have you asked Him to cure you of your sins?

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A Gem of a Mom

On this Mother’s Day, Mom will be 95. Her eyes still sparkle, and her smile still shines. Her health is amazing. Mom is nothing short of stupendous.

Because of my mother, I am not afraid to try new things. As the matriarch of the family, she was number three from the bottom of seven children. She’s outlived her siblings, her parents, all of her aunts and uncles, and my dad. This year, she reminded me her mother was 95 when she died.

 “I hope you aren’t putting a time frame on your life,” I joked.

“No, but I am the last one,” she said, her voice quivering just a bit.

I can’t imagine how she feels to have outlived all her immediate family. Oh, there’s my brother and myself, our spouses, her grands and great grands, but I get what she means.

Because of Mother, I’ve learned to be a jack-of-all-trades, to be innovative, to use my creativity, to never hesitate, and to try. She taught me kindness, generosity, and compassion. My mother was, and still is, a mother to many of my friends who love her as their own. She always opened her home to them but also demanded the same things from them that she demanded of me, and they loved her for that. My mom is a true mother.

Wanting to be a good person was never hard because Mom motivated me to be the best me I could. Knowing she is proud of me means a lot. She may not always agree with me, but she is always proud of me.

Proverbs instructs us to make our mothers glad, to let the one who gave birth to us rejoice. Be upstanding and good. When our mothers rejoice in us, God is pleased. But not just that. Moms being glad and proud of us offers us great encouragement, and it shows their love to others.

I know every child has not had the privilege of having a mother like mine. I wish they could have. My brother and I have tried to share her as much as we can. We realize, even with Mom’s excellent health, that her years are growing noticeably short. We are grateful for the woman she is and for the individuals she has groomed us to be.

For all, she has been to me and my children, I can say I am fortunate to pray on her behalf: Lord, may her crown be filled with the gems of heaven, and when she is in Your presence, may she feel a hundredfold, the love she has given. Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. You’re a gem of a mom.

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Reaching Up

Upon hearing my voice, a smile broke across his face.

My grandson ran to me with outstretched arms and reached up for Papaw to get him. After giving him a big squeeze, I talked to him. Within a few minutes, he leaned over toward me with his little mouth open, trying to give me a kiss the best way a one-year-old knows how.

I know that scene plays out countless times in most people's lives. But when I experienced it, I thought about how our heavenly Father feels about us. I was anxious about just getting to see Sam. I was even more thrilled when he came to me as he did.

I wonder how happy and excited the Lord gets when we come to Him with our arms up to be lifted into His arms. I imagine one of His greatest joys is for His children to want His embrace. When we greet Him with a kiss, a smile, and a hug, I am sure it melts His heart as Sam’s did mine.

Sam wasn't expecting to receive anything, nor did he want anything. He reached up for me to receive him. As a parent, there's no greater joy than for our child or grandchild to run to us, wanting nothing but our love and embrace. At that moment, our world stops, and that child has our undivided attention and love.

I'm thankful we are made in our Father's image and likeness. He anxiously waits for His children to run to Him to be picked up, embraced, and loved on. I wonder how blessed we would be if we went to Him, not for things or even answers, but just to experience joy and love.

Are you reaching up to the heavenly Father?

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Raised from the Dead

My sixteen-year-old grandson, Caleb, slumped behind the wheel of the car in abject dejection.

The vehicle in question was a 1998 Ford Crown Victoria. It would be his first car, if he could get it running. Unfortunately, the twenty-three-year-old engine defied his every attempt to make it turn over and fire. It didn't help that the car had sat in the corner of the yard for almost two years.

The Ford had belonged to his great-grandfather. When my wife, Charlotte, acquired it, the plan had been to save it for Caleb. And Caleb was eager to have it. He had washed and polished it inside and out. He had drained the gas tank and replaced it with a gallon or two of good gas. He had checked fluids, cleaned filters, tightened belts, replaced wires and clamps—and still, the car refused to run. Caleb had practically memorized the owner's manual and watched countless YouTube videos. Yet, with every new test turn of the ignition, the engine remained frustratingly dead.

Seeing Caleb's frustration, I said a quick silent prayer: "Father, if there is any way this car is going to run, please guide Caleb to the answer."

Caleb slid from behind the wheel, planning to remove the jumper cables that supplied power from our Escape to the Crown Vic. But he stopped suddenly. "Opa," he called, "these cables are hot to the touch." I checked them. They were indeed hot. And with that, I knew the answer. "Thank you, Father," I silently prayed. I waited for Caleb to work it out for himself. Which to his credit, he quickly did.

"Opa, these cables aren't strong enough. That's why they're hot. We're not getting enough power to start the car!"

Have to love that boy. He was right, of course. We quickly swapped out the cheap jumper cables for a battery charger with industrial-strength connector cables. After letting it charge the battery for thirty minutes, we gathered around the car again. Caleb put the key in the ignition and turned. The crankshaft turned once and then twice, and suddenly the car roared to life. Caleb let out a whoop I'm sure they probably heard in heaven. To be honest, so did I.

Abraham, Moses, Jonah, Sampson, and Paul all failed but didn't give up. And of them all, the Apostle Peter is probably the poster boy.

God doesn't expect us to get everything right the first time. He does expect us to keep trying and not give up. Just as Caleb persevered for his “Crown” Victoria, we persevere for our “Crowns” in Heaven.

Don’t give up. Keep going. 

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Resurrecting Hope

In room 503, He whispered to me, and my eyes popped open. “It’s time to awaken my child. I am not done with you yet. Your story is just beginning.”

Lying in the hospital bed, motionless. No coloring in the face or frigid hands. Tubes and wires going in all directions. Still, the clamoring of all alarms and carts ceased. Doctors and nurses overflowed into the hallway—solemnly standing with tears pouring down, reflecting on the end gone wrong and the flat white line across the screen.

Mark tells of a little girl's family who mourned with angst and grief over her sickness. In desperation, they went to find Jesus. As Jesus walked with them to their house, a messenger arrived and said she had died.

As the crowd mocked Jesus, doubting His power and word, Jesus, along with a select few disciples and the little girl’s father and mother, went to the girl’s bedside. Jesus held her hand and told her to get up…and she did.

The little girl had no pulse. No evidence of life. Yet by the power of Jesus, her rib cage rose. God spoke a better word, not only to her but also to us. Because of Him, hope resurrects.

Most of us have been in this place. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally. Spiritually. I can relate to this little girl in more ways than one. Dead. Gone. No evidence of return. Still, as we see Jesus’ response, He didn’t even waver.

No marriage is too far gone. No body too broken. No dream is dead. No diagnosis is a death sentence. No finances are beyond reviving. No life is a waste.

Jesus longs to bring to life and awaken even the deepest and darkest of people and places. If not here on earth, for eternity in heaven.

Quiet the chaos and distractions of this world. Take Jesus at His Word and surrender all to Him.

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Living as if We're Dying

I asked them to live as if they were dying.

I remember the middle school years. Occasionally, I thought about dying, but most of the time I focused on living. 

During the last nine weeks of the school year, I assigned my middle-school students weekly one-page essays. One topic was “If I Only Had One Day to Live.”

Most of the papers told of selfish pursuits. Going to places they wanted to visit. Buying things they wanted to have. Spending time with friends and family.

Although a few of the papers mentioned confessing sins to God before they died, most made little mention of spiritual things. Only one student captured what I had hoped most of the students would have. She told of how she would tell everyone she met of God’s love and encourage them to trust Christ as their Savior.

As I near retirement age, I know I have more years behind me than in front of me. Death, while an unpleasant subject, is something we must all think about. All of us will die, except for those alive when Jesus returns.

We begin dying the moment we come into this world. Our bodies deteriorate rather than rejuvenate. Regardless of what techniques we use to keep them healthy—exercise, vitamins, medications, rest—our bodies will break down.

The way to live as if we’re dying requires walking by faith. Faith in Christ as our Savior and then faith in Him to guide our lives. We can put off asking Christ to forgive our sins and live with reckless abandonment—as many of my students said they planned to do on their last day—but we may not have a last-minute chance to ask forgiveness before death. Procrastination is risky business.

Jesus offers a much better lifestyle. One He calls abundant life. One where His priorities become our priorities, where His love for others becomes our love for others. One where we let Him guide us as a shepherd guides and cares for His sheep.

When loving God with all our being and others as ourselves becomes our main goal in life, we’ll successfully master living as if we’re dying.

How would you live if you only had one day? Who knows? You just might.

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Remember the Way

The weeds were almost as tall as my mower.

It had only been three weeks since I mowed the path. Although I knew a trail existed, it seemed as if I were starting over. I raised the deck on the mower, engaged the blades, and got to work. Often, I had to slow down to make sure I was mowing in the right place. The weeds were so thick, and the way was often questionable. Thankfully, I remembered the way.

The weeds of life often grow quickly like that, covering well-worn paths and familiar roads. Many times during the chaos of this year, I felt lost. Even though I knew my way, I couldn’t see the path. I remember the meme on social media that said, “What you don’t change, you choose.” I chose to allow the weeds to grow for three weeks before I mowed the grass. In the same way, I choose the weeds in front of me when I choose to trust myself instead of God.

When we don’t change our routine to include exercise, we choose to remain unhealthy. When we don’t change our eating habits, we choose to gain weight. When we don’t read the instructions, we choose to make a mistake. When we don’t stop a habit, we choose an addiction. And when we make excuses for where we are in life, we choose to remain stuck.

The weeds may cover the path, but God can help us remember the way. Why not change whom you trust, stop leaning on your own understanding, and let God lead you through.

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At Peace with Easter

Easter at church was scary for my disabled son.

As a child, he saw the flannel graph pictures of Jesus being dragged to Calvary and hung on a cross. He saw the pictures of Mary mourning at the foot of a bloody wooden crucifix. The pictures frightened him.

We dreaded Easter when our son was young. The weeks before Resurrection Sunday were filled with nightmares and frightening thoughts. No amount of chocolate Easter bunnies or colored eggs helped soothe his fear. Our son has a form of mental retardation, and with that comes a certain lack of understanding. It sometimes makes something truthful, like the sacrifice of Christ, very difficult for him to grasp.

I worried about his eternal life, doubting he would understand baptism or sin enough to repent or accept Jesus into his life. Until a wonderful man spoke at a church we attended when our son was eleven. He talked about the mercy in the sacrifice of Jesus and how God understands all those who do not.

After the service, I pulled the man to the side and asked if that mercy carried over to a child who didn’t understand? He reminded me my job was to continually expose my son to God. To instill the love of Christ into him. “God understands and knows how He made every individual. His mercy is greater than anything we can imagine.”

When Chase turned thirty, we attended a different church. He came to me one day and asked what he had to do to be a member of that church. I took him to our minister who loving drew him a picture and described sin, repentance, Jesus’ death, and the resurrection in a way I had never heard. When he was done, he asked, “Well, does this make sense?”

Chase nodded and replied, “I guess I need to be baptized.” And that night, at age thirty, he was baptized. That day he came to peace with Easter, and now when he watches the resurrection story, he wipes a tear away.

When you think others could not possibly understand, remember in his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. You too will be at peace with Easter.

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Winter

The whirling, fluttering kaleidoscope of colors around our birdfeeder was impressive.

Scarlet Cardinals, Blue jays, Goldfinches, Red-headed Woodpeckers, and a menagerie of other songbirds all flocked to the bird feeder in our front yard. Business at the feeder was busier than usual because we had been nearly a week below freezing. The four-inch cover of snow and ice didn’t help the birds either. Natural food was scarce.

Watching them interact fascinated me. In normal times, some of the larger birds, especially the male Cardinals, are territorial. They camp out on the feeder, claiming it as their own. Only their mates—roly-poly brown female cardinals, fat with eggs—can get near the food. They gorge themselves on the seeds of sunflower, safflower, thistle, flax, and corn. Eventually, they get their fill and grudgingly allow other birds at the feast.

However, on this day, with freezing temperatures and snow cover, all the birds had adopted a live-and-let-live attitude to the free food. They hovered and fluttered and waited their turn, diving for an open space at the feeder as soon as one became available. The bare trees in our front yard seemed alive with colorful birds, inching closer to the feeder by hopping from limb to limb.

Also watching the show were our cats Fritz and Chipmunk. They, too, seemed to have adopted a casual attitude toward the birds. They contented themselves with watching the activity. They lay curled on the wicker chairs by the firepit where a couple of logs burned slowly, keeping them warm. Only when a bird flew too close to the porch did they chitter a cat’s frustration warning: “Don’t make me get up from here. You won’t like it if I have to get up.”

For Christians, too, a spiritual winter is fast approaching. Even now, the temperature is dropping, and the clouds, heavy with snow, drop lower and lower. The signs are everywhere. The abundant nourishment we have used to feed our spiritual selves vanishes at an alarming rate, and we find ourselves in an increasingly hostile world. We are strangers in a strange land.

Even so, we still have the delightful nourishment, the “feeder” our Father in heaven has provided. We have His wonderful Word, the Bible, our roadmap to Him that He so graciously has given us.

Eat up! Gorge yourselves on His words of love and grace. Eat, now, while the manna is here...because the winter of our Christianity is coming.

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Word Power

“You’re a goonus.”

“Oh, yeah? Well you’re a nincompoop!”

“No. You are!”

These are the backbiting words of my four-and-six-year-old boys, arguing over who gets to be the main character in their favorite cartoon. It’s a big deal. Obviously.

As I head over to break up the brawl, I can’t help but stifle a laugh as I listen to these boys dig deeply into their bag of insults to throw at one another. If the worst thing I get called is a goonus, I’ll count that as a good day. Unfortunately, as we grow older, the arsenal of insults is transformed from seemingly innocent words into daggers that cut and scar our intended target.

Whoever coined the phrase, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” must have been the tin man in search of his heart, because those of us who do have hearts know that words can lift our spirits or tear us down. Our words do not just drop off into thin air once they leave our mouths. They penetrate the mind and spirit of the receiver.

Gun instructors say, “Never point a gun at something you do not intend to shoot.” What would happen if we looked at our words like a loaded gun? Would we be more hesitant to fire that insult, knowing that, much like a loaded gun, our words can deeply wound or possibly kill?

Fortunately, our words do not physically harm like a gun, but they do affect others spiritually—and that goes deeper than we know.

Will there be times when we fail to speak love? Yes. Should we fester in guilt for failing? No. God did not create us to be perfect. We are not meant to be almighty. But take heart. We have a God who helps us. This life is about recognizing our dependency on God in all things, including the small muscle that packs a big punch.

When you feel as if you are about to lose control, run to the One who is in control.

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Pass the Praise

She strolled into my room, plopped into my teacher’s chair, and said, “Hey.”

Carol was a three-year student of mine—a talkative young lady who feared moving on to high school the following year. The security of middle school seemed to comfort her. As the end of her last year in middle school neared, she visited my room almost every morning before the bell rang just to talk. In her mind, she was my favorite student, and her gracing my room made my day. I must admit, we did have some interesting conversations.

One morning, a classmate of Carol’s burst through the doorway as we conversed. “I have some news that’s going to make your day.”

“I’m in here. I’ve already made his day.” But her quip didn’t quell her classmate.

Carol’s classmate divulged the good news. Her aunt lived in Texas and had been reading devotions in a magazine and noticed one tagged with my name. She phoned her sister. “Do you know Martin Wiles?” She told her I taught her daughter. “Well, I’ve been reading his devotions, and we are using them at our church. I’ve also bought one of his books.”

Pride welled within me. And surprise. Someone had discovered my devotions…and read them. The young lady beamed a smile. “See, Dr. Wiles. You are famous.”

I knew better than that, but I did take pleasure in knowing my devotions impacted people. I quickly squelched those prideful thoughts and mentally passed on the praise to God. Isaiah did the same.

Satan loves nothing better than to convince us we’re responsible for our successes. God desires that we have a humble heart. An attitude that recognizes we’re nothing without Him. Apart from His inspiration, my devotions—or anything else I write or do—holds little value. But with God’s guidance, my writing can race across the world, touching the exact people God wants it to encounter.

God authors our gifts and talents. He creates our unique personalities. He brings the two together and then presents us with opportunities to use them for His glory, making the world a better place. He initiates, guides, and finishes the process. Our job entails obeying and trusting.

When good things happen in your life, don’t forget to pass along the praise to God. After all, He engineers the results of all you do.

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Around Go the Blessings

Mom and Dad struggled to stay afloat.

Dad stopped working at sixty-two. Too many years of crawling on his knees in damp coal mines left him with black lung. Paying the bills with Social Security as the only source of income was almost impossible. Mom had to work part-time at various minimum-paying jobs.

Dad applied for a miner’s pension and for black lung benefits. He filled out papers, answered countless questions, and submitted to numerous physical examinations. Mom and I spent much time praying they would grant the benefits. But Dad wasn’t a Christian, and felt we were wasting our time.

After several months of prayer, we received the good news that the benefits had been granted. Now, Mom and Dad were able to enjoy simple luxuries they couldn’t afford prior to receiving the pensions. Things like a bathroom, hot water, and a better car.

Then my husband left me. A homemaker, like my mother, I also was forced to find employment. Although I had no experience working outside my home, through a series of “mini-miracles,” I began work as a secretary one month after my husband left. I didn’t have a car, and the job was fifty miles from my home. My parents gave me a used car, complete with insurance and a license plate.

Mom and Dad are now frail, and their health is declining. Through the years, they helped me, and now it is my turn to ease their load.

God is omniscient and knows the path He has planned for us. His provision is always perfect. He answered my prayer that Mom and Dad would receive financial help, and He used that answer to meet my needs many years later as well.

God has a plan for your life and wants to fulfill it. You may not receive all “yes” answers to your prayers, but you will receive what God knows is best.

Open your life to the Lord so you can experience His plan.

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Traps

In the rising sun of an early spring day, I noticed a thousand silvery strands covering my yard.

Although my grass was still more winter brown than spring green, the spiders were out forming their webs. Sticky strands that would be death traps for the thousands of insects soon to emerge as the weather warmed.

Satan has laid his sticky webs, his death traps, across my life as well. I’m sorry to say, I’ve managed to get entangled in them with a repetition that might be funny if it weren’t so life-threateningly sad.

First example. Halfway through college, on an end-of-year beach trip, a friend handed me a Rum and Coke—my first taste of liquor. The next few days in Myrtle Beach were fantastic. My natural shyness was washed away by the Rum. I discovered I was pretty smooth when I was not being shy. I got the prettiest girl (her name was Toni) on the beach and fell head over heels over her. Of course, I wanted that feeling to continue.

But in three months, I was an alcoholic, living to drink. In another month, as I read the inevitable “Dear John” letter from Toni, I heard Satan laughing. I was trapped in a hell that didn’t stop until I was on my knees before God in a jail cell.

Another example. I dated the same girl throughout my junior and senior years of high school. Her name was Cathy. She was the first girl I had seriously kissed. I took her to both the Junior and Senior Proms. We were a good match, comfortable with each other. She was a sweet, innocent soul.

But then Satan sent another girl across my path. This girl was not so innocent. And I, being the fine, upstanding guy I was, dropped Cathy without so much as a goodbye so I could chase after the lusty new girl. I will forever hear Cathy’s last words to me, speaking through tears over the phone: “What did I do?” And I heard Satan’s hideous laughter.

Lately, Satan has tried a different tack. He whispers in my ear: “Look at how good a writer you are! Look at how people love your writing. You’re the greatest!”

No, I’m not. The truth is, I only try to write what my Lord tells me. These are His words, graciously given to me to put down on paper. If my devotions move people, and I hope they do, then I want them to praise Him and give Him the glory.

The Lord gave us an instruction manual: His Word. We should use it. For a long time, I didn’t do that, and I paid the price.

Please put His words in your heart today. Arm yourself against Satan’s laughter.

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Emerging

“What’s that?” my three-year-old grandson asked as he pointed at a cicada shell attached to the bricks.

I stooped. “Oh, that’s a cicada coming out of his shell. See the split on the top? He’ll push through that hole and leave the shell behind. He starts out living underground, but when the time is right, he will come up and shed his old shell. Then he’ll fly up into the trees and sing.”

“Why’s he singing? What’s he saying?”

I laughed and ruffled his hair. “Listen. Do you hear that?”

The air hummed with the sound of the cicadas in the warm sunshine. My grandson’s face lit up as he heard the song. “He’s singing because he’s happy to be on the outside instead of in the dark and out of that old shell. He’s probably thanking God for making him new and giving him wings to soar.”

I thought about my own emergence. God took me out of the darkness and exposed me to the Son. He brought me out of my shell and birthed a new me. One with a new heart, future, and perspective. One in which I can sing.

What about you? Have you been released from the old shell holding you captive? Are you a new creature in Christ, soaring up high and singing?

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If I Have Love

I don’t remember last Valentine’s Day.

My husband and I were running on autopilot. The trouble began in August 2019 and dragged on until February 2020—surgery day. The love of my life faced multi-procedural cancer surgery and bladder removal. The last words the doctor said still ring in my ears: “We’ll do our best to bring him through this.”

My knees weakened as the elevator doors closed. I leaned against the wall and slowly slid to the floor. “Oh, Lord, Your will be done. Just help me understand. Just love him.”

I managed my way back to the waiting room where my sons and three couples of friends waited. It was an amazing thing, the sacrifice they made. Driving hours and flying in from other states to stand by us. What love.

Love is a hard word to define. It’s best defined by actions. When we see the action of love, it touches our hearts, digs into the soul. It sticks and defines into the meaning it needs to have.

As I waited for my husband’s life-saving surgery to complete, I looked around the room and saw the act of love in my friends. They’d come to make sure my boys and I were … loved. They selflessly stepped to the forefront, and their hearts burst forth. The love they felt solidified, and I felt it. They never left our side until they knew Tim was fine.

Paul did his best to make the Corinthians understand that love is more than a word. He emphasized that we can have amazing things to boast about, but if we do not ACT love, they mean nothing. The act of selfless love moves mountains. It does change lives. It’s the most effective love.

It’s not about the Valentine’s Day hoopla. It’s about the act of love. Examine those in your life who love without hesitation. Those who love using action to change things. The Father loves you without hesitation. He loves you fully. He loves you with the act of love.

Emulate God’s love ... and love.

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Teaching Opportunity

Would I still have a job?

The director of a local university called two weeks before I was scheduled to teach a class. “Unfortunately, you don’t have the qualifications for the upcoming class you agreed to teach,” he said. “You need a master’s degree in computer science instead of your MBA degree. But we might be able to skip that requirement with a letter from your alma mater’s department head stating he would hire you as an instructor if given the opportunity.”

I gave him permission to call the dean of the accounting department. I hung up the phone, dropped to my knees, and gave it to God. I knew He was in this. I thought about the conversation later in the day, but I obediently gave it back to God and tried not to worry.

Later that same day, the director called to say he’d spoken to the department head. Not only was my former dean willing to write a letter of recommendation for me, he also had an opening for an instructor and would consider hiring me.

The local director went on to say, “When we have an MBA program, I hope you will be available to teach those classes.” 

God gave the apostles an opportunity to keep telling others about Jesus Christ—and they took it.

I will thank God for every door He opens today. I hope you will too.

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Thirty-Six Cents

About ten years ago, Father Kirby adjusted his cap on his head and called out to me as he headed out the back door.

"Breakfast was excellent,” he said, "Thank You!" He continued, "I left your money on the table. See you in the morning!"  

I called to my grandson Caleb to put his shoes on and make sure his "Paw-Paw" didn't get lost. Out of curiosity, I went to see what Father Kirby had left by his breakfast dishes. Sure enough, he had left money. A quarter, a dime, and a penny. Thirty-six cents. A tip, I suppose, for his breakfast. Or perhaps he thought he was paying the bill.

Father Kirby was ninety-one years old at the time, and, physically, was as healthy as could be. A career in the Army saw to that. His issues were mental, a touch of Alzheimer's. More than a touch, really. He was living with us that summer—a challenge for all of us.

The constant questions were enough to drive us insane. If they had been different questions, maybe it would have made a difference. But Father Kirby locked in on a particular issue and asked the same question over and over. He would have forgotten the answer, and even that he asked the question, within seconds of us finishing the answer. And so it started over.

Finally, I hit upon the idea of writing a brief history of where he was, who we were, and why he was living here. When the questions started, I simply let him read the history and find the answers for himself. Of course, sometimes when he started in, I felt like shouting, "JUST READ THE PAPER, FATHER!" I didn’t, of course.

In a sense, we have a paper full of answers to our questions, too. A book, actually. Our Bible, the living Word of God. I wonder how many times, listening to my prayers, that my Father in heaven has wanted to shout, "JUST READ THE BOOK, CHILD!" He doesn't, of course.

I read my Bible every day. It isn't enough. I know I should be immersing myself in the Word and that there are times when I let the television or the computer or the latest bestseller distract me from where I should be. I'm continually falling short. But my Father, my God, is patient. Thank goodness He doesn't shout.

Later that night, I slipped the thirty-six cents back into Father Kirby's pants. I knew I'd find it on the table, again, somewhere down the road. And I did. But that's okay. It reminded me, again, of how patient my Lord is with me. Thank You, Father.

Make a regular practice of thanking God for His patience.

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Lasting Priorities

For a brief time, my husband David required home-health services.

During most visits, I remained close to be available for questions or instructions. While visits were cordial, I was anxious to resume my busy schedule.

One day, another lady replaced his usual nurse. David never missed an opportunity to learn whether or not our first-time visitors had a relationship with Jesus. The substitute’s drawn face, leathery skin, and sallow appearance—plus her somewhat awkward demeanor—exhibited signs of a difficult life. When David asked his usual question about Jesus, she shared a moving testimony about God’s faithfulness in her life.

The following visit, David’s regular nurse informed us that her substitute had been killed in an automobile accident. The news impacted me more than I would have ever expected. Although doubtful we would have seen her again on this earth, something about the finality of her life struck me. Her affirmation of God’s deliverance through the storms she had weathered was more important than whatever work responsibilities captivated my attention.

Opportunities to share or hear others talk about Jesus’ love are often fleeting, and I quickly move on with the many tasks I think are important.

Jesus talked about misplaced priorities when He visited with His friends, Mary and Martha. Martha, occupied with many important chores to her, complained about Mary’s lack of help. Martha failed to understand that those activities didn’t compare with spending time with Jesus. He reminded her, “There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

God used the untimely death of a stranger to remind me how numerous people cross my path almost daily—many of whom I’ll never see again on earth. God instilled in me the importance of listening to and sharing about the sacrifice for our sins at every opportunity. My lifetime is uncertain, but as Jesus shared with Martha, my priority must be to put Him first in my words and in my actions.

Where are your priorities?

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Deliver Us from Evil

Walking is my daily exercise.

Walking about my neighborhood—praying, observing, breathing fresh air, soaking up the warmth of the sun, hearing the rain fall on my umbrella—gives me great pleasure. I love exploring laneways and sharing my faith when opportunity beckons.

One day was no different than any other. Without warning, I noticed two vicious-looking dogs leap into my right peripheral vision. They barked furiously and bounded with the speed of light toward me.

A short chain suddenly stopped one, but the other kept coming. I had no time to fear or run. I spontaneously reacted by shouting, “Stop in Jesus’ name!” and held up my hand. The dog immediately stopped and stared in disbelief—almost frothing at the mouth in rage.

As I continued my walk unscathed, I made a mental note of the long chain attached to the dog’s collar. This is how God delivers His people. We will face evil, danger, and threats in life, but trusting God to be true to His Word will bring a deep sense of safety and peace.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Deliver us from evil,” for He knew the Father is pleased to answer this prayer.

Know that God will deliver you from evil as you follow His instructions.

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The God of New Beginnings

After the shock wore off, I thought, how will I support myself?

My husband had pastored a rural church for only ten months when he and a young mother from the congregation drove away together one Sunday night around midnight. He returned the next morning to gather his belongings and then was gone from my life forever.

I soon realized I needed a way to support myself. I had no experience working outside my home. For twenty-seven years I had been a wife, mother, and homemaker. I felt I had no qualifications for anything, but God was bringing His plans to fruition.

A woman from our former church told me about a temporary job where her daughter worked as a secretary. The job paid only minimum pay, but I felt the Lord’s leading. One major problem stood in my way. My husband had taken our only car, and I was living in the church parsonage, thirty-five miles from the job. I had no money to purchase a car. I felt stranded.

A few days before the job began, someone gave me a used car, complete with license plate and insurance. I had worked at the job only one week when the secretary got upset, quit, and recommended me to replace her. I was hired as the district secretary for a non-profit organization that assisted cancer victims.

You might say, “That could never happen to me.” But God works in many ways, and it could happen to you. He has a plan for the lives of His followers, and when we willingly give Him control, wonderful things happen.

God’s timing may not correspond with ours, but He loves His children. Like a loving father, He will open doors we thought were closed forever.

Allow the God of new beginnings to work out His plan in your life.

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Fishers of Souls

When I fished years ago, my target was to know which fish to aim for and to use the correct bait to lure the catch. I joined in the fun of fishing for freshwater trout by baiting the hook with salt-water mussels. “Delicious,” said the trout, as I reeled them in. I had used the right bait.

When calling two of His disciples, Simon Peter and Andrew, to follow Him, Jesus said He would make them fishers of souls. They immediately left their nets and followed Jesus.

As I aim to live the Christian life, God commands me to set an example. This spreads my faith in Jesus Christ. I pray to become a better Christian while caring for a geriatric.

I also need to understand the qualities and nature of the people for whom I fish. I must show them the light of the gospel. God knows which fish are His and which fish I should target. If I pray and seek His wisdom and guidance, He will send me on deep soul-fishing jaunts. When I lead by example, with tolerance and patience, I use the right bait.

I get such guidance in the quiet stillness before dawn as I meditate on Jesus’ healing hands and try to see the world through spiritual eyes. All my gifts should magnify Him. I turn to my Bible, remain still, and know He is God.

Our Christian message contains the love and life of Jesus. Trust your heart to Him, and seek His wishes as you fish for souls.  

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Merry Christmas, Dad

On the last day of this past October, about an hour and a half before it turned into November, my father had a few bites of ice cream, took a last look around, and said goodbye to this world. I got the call a few minutes later. He was gone.

Robert Eudean Spencer, "Bobby," and later "Bob" to his friends (my mother affectionately called him "Bobert") had been here awhile. Ninety years altogether, plus six months. He had seen a lot in all those years and been through a lot more.

At seventeen months, polio found him—the only person in Guilford County to contract the disease in 1931. The illness left his young body twisted and wracked, muscles atrophied, and little Bobby crippled for life. If that weren't enough, at seven years of age, he contracted pneumonia, which came within a whisper of taking his life.

My Dad was, to put it simply, the kindest, gentlest soul I've ever encountered. He was universally loved by all who knew him, and he had a heart for others that knew no bounds.

In all my years, I only heard my father raise his voice once. And no, amazingly, it wasn't at me, although goodness knows I gave him enough reasons to do so. With me, when I had yet again put "Be Stupid" first on my list of things to do on a particular day, Dad would simply look at me, shake his head, and say sadly, “What were you thinking?” Every time, his question cut me to my soul.

Dad loved Christmas. He loved giving. Some of my earliest memories are of him with his camera on Christmas morning, snapping pictures as my brother and I delighted at what Santa had left for us under the tree. And Dad lavished Christmas on my mother, often reducing her to tears with his knack for finding the perfect gift.

Dad will be with Mom in heaven this Christmas, and that's okay. I'll miss him, but to see all the Christmas spirit the season brings is to see him. I'm sure if I turn my head fast enough, I'll see him in the corner by the Christmas tree with his camera, waiting with that quiet smile of his to take another holiday picture.

In the same way, the Christmas we celebrate is just a picture of the incredible love God has for us. He gave us a gift in our Lord Jesus that is the most wonderful Christmas present we could imagine. A child, in swaddling clothes, in a manger, given to bring us back to Him.

Merry Christmas, Dad. I know you're having the best one yet.

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Invite Him In

A few days before Thanksgiving, I snuggled in a warm quilt and wool blanket, waiting for sleep to come.

Work pressed in. As I tried to clear my mind, I realized the holiday season was upon me. The pressures of deadlines left me without the time I wanted to think about Christmas and the gifts I hoped to make for friends and family.

My life—influenced in part by the world outside (work)—dictated “no room for them in the inn.” I imagine Bethlehem was crowded and, with that, noisy. Perhaps not quite like Black Friday, but still throngs of people who did not have the essence of Christmas in mind.

In our efforts to capture how it might have been for Joseph and Mary that night in the stable, we're reminded a stable isn't quiet either. Even so, it seems the sounds of animals and nature would be more soothing than the sounds of the city.

Some people are able to withdraw into a place of silence within themselves, even when surrounded by people or noise. I wrote this piece as I sat in the entrance hallway of a busy downtown restaurant waiting for my husband to arrive.

We don't know how much waiting time Mary had before Jesus was born. Later in the story, Luke wrote that after the shepherds had come and gone, "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). That tells me she had the ability to find a place of silence within herself, because by that time she also had a newborn to tend to.

We need to nurture an ability to find silence before God amid our busy lives. My goal for this Christmas season is to make room in my heart and in my life for Him and to take time to ponder and enjoy the essence of Christmas.

Think of one specific way you can make room for Jesus in your life this year.

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Be a Light Bringer

I sat beside my husband, anxiously waiting to see how his body would tolerate the medicine infusion at the cancer center.

Sadness looms in a cancer center. Life and death hang in the balance, and hope can be hard to find. As the nerves and tears got the best of me, an older gentleman decked in a bright, red three-piece suit, complete with hat and feather, bounded in. He knew all the nurses by name and lit up the room with joy as he moved from station to station giving happy greetings, hugs, and handshakes. Suddenly, the air lightened up, and smiles spread across every face. Things didn’t seem so heavy or dark anymore.

The sad parts of life get heavy sometimes. We encounter hard days and tough moments—times like that first cancer treatment—when it’s hard to find joy. Some days, we simply struggle to put one foot in front of the other.

I am grateful for a God who loves us enough to know when to send those light bringers our way. Just like He sent me and others that man in the red suit who waltzed in and left a trail of joy. Light bringers come in the form of friends, family, strangers, children, and pets. They always show up on time, dancing a sparkling little jig and bringing Jesus’ joy right into the door of our souls. 

We live in a dark world filled with pain and heartache, and we need the joy of light bringers. I’m so grateful for the ones who have come my way recently. We don’t always have to wait on the light. Sometimes, we need to be the light taker. One text. One call. One prayer. One encouraging word. They all can make a difference.

So, put on that bright red suit and waltz right into someone’s life with joy and light this week. Be the light of Jesus the world so desperately needs.

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Before, Beside, Behind

While touring Cambodia in 2007, I was in an auto accident.

My husband and I were on a remote narrow-lane dirt road when the driver—driving too fast—lost control of the SUV. We rolled over twice and landed in a dry rice field. My husband and I suffered vertebrae injuries, our son walked away, the fourth passenger suffered cuts and bruises, and the driver fled the scene. The people who were in the car behind us pulled us out through the sunroof.

Two men who attended us were doctors. I believe they were God’s provision. One of them had almost cancelled the trip, but his wife had urged him to go without her. He was formerly a Peace Corps volunteer who practiced emergency aid in primitive conditions.

The nearest hospital was a two-hour ride, which I made in the back seat of a car, wearing a ripped T-shirt and lying on a makeshift back brace made of sticks. While spending eleven painful days in the Thailand hospital, I could have moaned, “Why did this happen to me?” or “Praise the Lord, I got into an accident!” I did neither.

Instead, I said, “I can’t wait to see how You are going to get me out of this pickle.” I stood on my faith, knowing God would pull me through. I was in the best hospital in Southeast Asia.

For the first time, I had purchased travel insurance because I wanted the cancellation option. That insurance paid all the medical costs, including the airlift to Thailand and business class air back to the United States.

The Thai doctor advised, “Lie on your back as much as possible for the next one hundred days, and then you will be fine.” I did, and he was right.

In times of sudden events, when we don’t know what is going to happen, we can stand on our faith, knowing God goes before us, beside us, and behind us.

Praise God without worry. Stand on your faith. You can expect miracles when you obey God.

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Leaves

I stood in a long shuffling line of inmates that slowly approached the prison “Mail Room.”

The Mail Room was actually a separate building. We were lined up in front of a small window where the Florida Department of Correction's officer assigned to handle our mail read, censored, and dispensed our contacts with the outside world.

I was in prison, a victim of my own stupidity. It was Fall, which throughout my life had been my favorite time of year. Now, my spirits were at rock bottom. I had been here a little over a year, and despite my Lord's promise to me that I would go home, I could see no end to my incarceration. I was stuck here. I missed home. I missed the change of the seasons.

It was bad enough seeing the outside world through a double chain-link fence topped with razored serpentine wire, but to watch the distant Ocala National Forest just slowly turn from green to olive to brown was even more depressing.

My heart was empty. I didn't think God was listening to me anymore, but as I stood in the line, I silently prayed again, “Please, Father, I just want to go home. Please.”

Finally, I got to the mail window. I was fortunate in that my dad wrote to me almost every day. Sometimes just a couple of lines. Usually, some clippings from the local paper about life at home in Raleigh, and later Lincolnton, North Carolina. Dad was great at writing. And the result was that I was in the mail line every day, and the mail officer knew me perhaps better than she knew some of the other inmates.

She looked up as I approached, and I saw something in her face as she saw me. She motioned me to step to the side door. This had never happened before, but I did as I was told. 

She opened the side door and said, “I can't let you have this, but I'm going to let you see it.” She handed me a large manila envelope. It was from my dad. I opened it and out slid a handful of red, yellow, and orange leaves that Dad had evidently picked up in the yard, and knowing how much I missed the seasons, had sent to me. My eyes welled up as I fingered them for a second and smiled at the thought of Dad walking through the yard, picking up leaves like a little boy. 

“I'm sorry I can't let you have them,” she said. I struggled to keep the tears back and mumbled something about it being okay. And fingering the leaves one last time, I handed them back. 

“Thank you,” I said. 

“You're welcome,” she replied.

And then, as she shut the door, she said, “Watch your feet.”  

Glancing down automatically as the door clicked shut, I saw at my feet a bright scarlet sugar maple leaf. She had dropped it there for me. A small kindness. I scooped it up, stashed it in my Bible, and carried it with me until I eventually went home.

God answered my prayer, not in my way but in His. I didn't get to go home, not yet, but He brought a small piece of home to me. And He told me He was listening to my prayers, always.

Thank You, Father, again.

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Godly Influence

When I was young, my grandmother lived with us.

In our small house, my sister and I shared a bedroom with her. She was a wonderful woman with godly influence in our lives. One of my fondest memories was hearing her pray every night. The sound of her talking to the Lord comforted me, and I never forgot those moments. 

Paul reminds Timothy about the godly influence of his grandmother and mother. They had impacted his life. What a wonderful heritage for us to live out our faith before our children and grandchildren, just as my grandmother did for me and my sister.

Sometimes, the small things make an impression on those around us, like thanking God for our meal, reading our Bible, or praying for others. These are simple things we can do daily that honor and glorify God. Our actions can be more meaningful than our words.

Even though Grandmother was a wonderful witness to me, I still had to respond to God's call in my life and accept the gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. I finally understood Jesus had already done everything for me. All I had to do was pray, “Lord Jesus, thank You for dying on the cross for me. Forgive me of my sins, and come into my heart as my Lord and Savior.”

The gospel is simple, but the Holy Spirit must prepare our hearts to receive Jesus and to surrender to His wooing. Once we have received the gift of salvation, God wants us to share our newfound faith with others.

Thank God for the opportunities He gives you to share your faith.

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Three Ways to Avoid Being Offended

If only life’s problems could be solved with wood putty.

My husband once built me a small table. I asked him to make it quickly since others would rarely see it. He ran screws through the top rather than in some fancier way. “I’ll cover it with wood putty,” he said, which turned out to be sawdust and glue.

When we are hurt, we often want to carefully examine the offense and magnify the problem—not cover it with sawdust and glue. We skip over love, even though the Bible tells us it covers a multitude of offenses. We go straight to being mad and hurt and nursing a grudge. But we can avoid those angry feelings and reactions using three ways.

Examine ourselves emotionally. Are we in a vulnerable, already hurt, state of mind? Are we going through something unrelated to this situation that primes us for being upset? Reflecting on these questions could put the offense in perspective. We may conclude the offense normally wouldn’t have bothered us.

Look at ourselves physically. Are we tired or hungry? We laugh at those Snickers commercials about hunger making us a different person because there’s some truth to it. Consider how Elijah was able to press on after he despaired to God. God provided him with sleep and food. We shouldn’t decide to be angry or scared if we’re not feeling the best.

Review ourselves spiritually. Are we acting out of our flesh, or thinking about how God would have us respond? We can extend the same grace to others that we would want extended to us.

Sure, some big offenses can’t be worked out so simply. But many small, everyday problems—where people meant no offense and probably didn’t even realize they offended us—can. At the very least, these strategies can help us not speak so quickly and help us avoid saying words we will later regret. And most of all, they will show our love and Christ’s love to others.

Which of these ways should you try so you won’t be so easily offended?

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A Grandma's Joy

Thanksgiving 2009. I sat in church, holding my first grandson, Aidan, on my lap. Tears streamed down my face as we sang, “How Great Is Our God.” Yes, God is a faithful, generational God.

When I was twenty-nine, I had a face-off with cancer. I won the battle, but the experience left me unable to bear more children. Although we already had a son, we wanted to adopt more children to complete a family of three.  

My husband and I were a mixed marriage between Chinese and Austrian. When the Vietnam War ended and many refugees came to the United States, a person involved in placing Vietnamese children knew a couple who preferred to have their child adopted into an Asian family. We were the only Asian family he knew. Of course, we would take the child. At two days old, James became ours in September 1975.

A few years later, we searched for a daughter. Asian countries stopped allowing their children to be adopted out of their native land. To find another Asian child would be difficult and take perhaps five years.

After submitting our application, we settled in for the wait. Within thirty days, we got a call to adopt a two-and-a-half-year-old Korean girl. She had been brought to the States before Korea closed its doors to foreign adoptions. The adopting mother had fallen ill and could not care for her, so she was placed up for adoption again. Since the former family had two young boys like ours, the agency thought our family would be the perfect fit. Within a week, we had a new daughter. This young girl grew up, married, and is now the mother of Aidan, the grandson who sat on my lap.

When I was twenty-nine, the joy of being a grandmother was in the distance, but I knew it could happen. The Enemy tried to steal that “grandmother’s joy” from me, but God had other plans.

Things may not work out the way we envision them, but God knows our heart’s desire and can make a way through the impossible.

Trust God through what seems like your impossible times.

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Cleansing Blood

I was hooked up to a machine for apheresis (platelets donation) at the local Red Cross center. 

Not long before, I didn’t know what a platelet was, much less that someone would want mine. Platelets are small disk-shaped bodies found in the blood of vertebraes and are also associated with clotting.

Time crept at a snail’s pace. To scratch my nose or move my arms was prohibited. I squeezed a bright-red rubber ball every five seconds so the blood could flow steadily from my left arm into the tubes of a machine before returning to my right arm.

Tensed muscles left me completely exhausted. My body tingled and shivered from the cold room and depleted calcium. After one grueling hour, the nurse asked if I could remain on the machine another hour and donate a double dose. “Your platelets are plentiful and healthy,” she added. I reluctantly complied. 

Afterward, in the recovery room, I reflected on the process of giving life and hope to a medical patient whose blood could no longer produce platelets. Hopefully, mine would flow into someone else’s veins soon after I left the center.

The spiritual analogy is richer. Christ did the same for us. His Spirit cleanses and strengthens us in discomfort, blessing others through our temporary suffering. But we must allow Him to sift out the greed, selfishness, and pity-platelets in our bodies. Sometimes, we need to hook up to the machine for a longer period so we can give a double dose. 

Our sacrifices can give hope to the hurting as Christ’s Spirit cleanses our hearts and purifies our lives.

Make a point to submit to God’s purification process.

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Choosing

My wife, Charlotte, and I sat at the dining room table and opened our Official Ballots from the Maury County Election Commission.

We decided to do our ballots at the same time so as not to make a mistake. We had heard absentee or mail-in ballots could be rife with hidden traps that would disqualify a voter’s ballot and cause it to be trashed and not counted. So, we carefully opened the envelopes and, together, went down the list of instructions line by line.

She and I opened each envelope, marked our ballots, signed where we were supposed to, resealed our return envelopes, and found a couple of stamps. Then, I handed our ballots to our trusted longtime mailman, and we were done.

We don't have many responsibilities as citizens of the greatest republic the world has ever known. Mostly, we just enjoy the advantages our way of government has given us. Yes, we pay taxes and occasionally have to take off work for jury duty. And if we argue vehemently over the direction our country should take every four years, that is a right our government has given us as well.

A national election is coming Tuesday, November 3, the likes of which our country has not seen since 1860. Now, I know every election cycle we hear the same hyperbole about how dire and vital that year's particular election might be. This year might live up to the billing.

During the last national election in 2016, nearly 25 million Christians did not vote. About 1 in 5 self-professed eligible Christians do not even bother to register to vote. In a world where most Christians are persecuted and oppressed by governments they cannot change, our voting habits in the United States are a travesty and a disgrace.

Jesus said in Matthew 22:21, “Therefore render to Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's, and to God the things that are God's.” We owe it to our fellow Christians around the world who live under governments that hate them for their faith, but who are powerless to change it, to exercise the most fundamental right we have as Americans.

Get out and VOTE.

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Lessons from the DMV

If there is anything that approaches my dread of going to the dentist, a trip to the Division of Motor Vehicles would. 

But my daughter needed to renew her license, so off we went. As we waited, I noticed one of the clerks was very friendly, funny, and engaging with his patrons. I hoped my daughter would get him when they called her number, and she did. The clerk asked her questions that helped him know her and that showed genuine interest in her. It made me think about a few things.  

Whether we are CEO of a Fortune 500 company or an employee at the DMV, we can work heartily as for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

The DMV employee exemplified this biblical principle by taking time to know individuals he would probably never see again. After my daughter’s license was renewed, he said, “I’ll see you in six years”—a nice way to end their business and make her smile. And it’s not often you leave the DMV smiling.

If taking time to build a relationship in a five-minute business transaction can have that kind of result, how much greater effect will we have if we take time to build relationships with people we see every day. What influence could we have on our neighbors, co-workers, friends, and family if we were willing to invest in our relationships with them?  

Finally, I saw a man who was content with his work. No matter what God has given us to do, it is a gift from Him, and we ought to do His work with joy and enthusiasm.  We can view our work interactions as opportunities to be salt and light in a dark world. We never know who is watching us work or what the effect might be that we have on someone else because of our attitude toward our work.  

What are some ways you can improve your attitude about work?

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Lighthouse

The ocean mesmerized us.

I once traveled with my young daughters to St. Simon’s Island, Georgia. My brother, Ron, lived there, so my other brother, Darryl, and his family ventured with us down South. We spent hours at the beach. The kids played in the waves on child-sized rafts, buried each other in the sand, and built castles.

As much as I enjoyed the water, the climb to the top of St. Simon’s lighthouse topped my favorite’s list. We watched dolphins play in the water and got a feel for the work of the lighthouse keeper. If he didn’t light the lamp, the risk of shipwrecks increased. The pilots of the vessels depended on the light keeper to do his job. Whether he lit a wick or flipped a switch, he needed to make the top of the tower glow.

I’ve been fascinated with lighthouses for years. They grace our home in paintings, photos, and 3-D images. Their purpose reminds me of the hope I have in Jesus. Just as a lighthouse guides vessels to safe harbor, Jesus moves me through the rough waters of life and buoys me in His calm. I have to keep my eyes on Him and trust Him to guide. A ship’s captain may not know what’s ahead, but he follows the light. As a believer, I place my trust in Jesus and follow His radiance to everlasting life.

When God created light and dark, He knew we'd need someone to illuminate the way through the turmoil and pain of life. Jesus is the lighthouse who can guide us through the difficult and sorrowful times. He shines a path of hope in the darkness.

Jesus provides a safe refuge in the storms of life. Seek His light and rest in His peace.

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A Truck for All Reasons

Wow! What a deal, we thought.

Joni and I planned our next concert. We needed to transport ten eight-foot choral risers, music stands, sound equipment, and stage décor. But we always ran short of transport resources.

“Let’s pray for a big 27 x 8 foot truck with a hydraulic lift!” Joni cried in desperation.

So, we agreed in prayer, “Lord, we need a 27 x 8 foot truck with a hydraulic lift. Please meet our need. Thank you. Amen.”

At the next rehearsal, we announced our search for a truck with a hydraulic lift to transport our production equipment. 

“I don’t have a truck, but I have a Class C license. I can drive anytime,” Craig offered.

“I have a truck in our company’s boneyard. After we bought new ones, we didn’t know what to do with the old ones. With a little tune-up and a new battery, it will run. We’ll donate it,” Mark offered.

“My son is a mechanic who is also looking for the same type of truck for his Boy Scout troop to use on weekends. (We only needed the truck four times a year.) We could park it at his gas station,” volunteered Pat.

Just as we thought we had to say, “Thanks, but no thanks,” because of the high cost of insurance, the Boy Scout leader proposed that if the Boy Scouts of America accepted the truck as a donation, they could give the company a 501(c3) tax deduction. Then, as owners, the Boy Scouts would carry the insurance and allow us to use the truck as needed.

The company unloaded a truck useless to them in exchange for a tax donation. We got the free use of a truck and a driver four weekends a year, and the Boy Scouts got their truck for weekly projects.

We shortchange ourselves when we are not specific in our prayers. We can see the answer more clearly when we know what we are looking for. God can answer many prayers at once, so everyone wins.

Never forget that God is your Provider.

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Signs

The fiddler crab scooted past me, its big dominant claw high in the air. A sign to other fiddlers that it was just passing through—no harm intended or trouble wanted.

The crab joined hundreds of its fellow fiddler crabs in an exodus off the beach and toward the relative safety of the swamps that lay several hundred yards behind the barrier dunes. The crab knew, without any connection to the internet or satellite television, that a hurricane was coming. Perhaps it was the beginning of a subtle drop in barometric pressure that would continue until the hurricane eye was overhead. Maybe it was the change in the rhythm of the breakers coming ashore … the heartbeat of the beach. Or it could have been the sudden disappearance of the soaring seagulls with their harsh cry, along with the accompanying absence of the sandpipers dashing in and out of the surf.

It was time for me to leave as well. My small brown Pinto station wagon was loaded with the keepsakes from our family oceanfront cottage. The knickknacks Mom didn't want to leave to the vagaries of wind and storm surge. I said goodbye to the cottage and Mr. Crab and headed inland.

Whatever sign that propelled the small crab and his kin inland, the rest of life along the beach followed suit. Even as the ominous dark clouds appeared on the southeastern horizon to embrace the setting sun, the beach emptied of the wildlife that called it home. They knew.

God's Word is full of hints, suggestions, warnings, and scenarios that point to what we call collectively the “end times.” Jesus Himself told us, “So also, when you see all these things, you know that He is near, right at the door” (Matt. 24:33 NKJ).

I don't need the Weather Channel's Jim Cantore to tell me a hurricane is coming. The beach speaks to those who listen, and so does God's Word and Spirit. And yes, I think they speak of a gathering storm.

But Jesus also said not to be afraid. To be prepared. To rest in His peace. No matter the signs or how much the next few months may rock our little boat, the peace of Jesus rides with us. The same Jesus who commanded the storm to “Peace! Be still!”

Rest in God’s peace. “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus (Rev. 22:20 ESV).

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Mending Fences

The cows were not in their allotted field.

When I investigated, I discovered several parts of the fencing ripped out or torn down by the livestock. I had erected the barrier to keep them from getting into neighboring fields or wandering onto the highway. Of course, the cows wanted greener pastures.

The next day, I located the problem and fixed it. Then I walked the entire perimeter of the field, fixing and replacing portions of the fence. I’m sure the cows enjoyed their short-lived escapade outside their boundaries.

After I finished, I sat on the back porch and admired my work as I watched the cattle test the fence. When I saw a steer touch the wire with his nose and then jump back, I knew the black hairy beasts would have a new respect for my boundaries.

This incident caused me to think about my own boundaries. How often do I maintain my fences to keep me safe from the wickedness of this world?

God’s armor is not a hot wire fence, but it does provide spiritual protection to keep us safe. When there is a breach in the armor, our hearts become susceptible to Satan’s lies and the traps he lays.

Personally, I daily need to gird my waist with truth, put on the breastplate of righteousness, shod my feet with the gospel of peace, take up the shield of faith, and put on the helmet of salvation. And I need the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. I am thankful Mom made me memorize verses. With God’s Word, I can counter Satan because it is sharper than any double-edged sword. And we should never underestimate the power of prayer.

Keep your fences mended by daily putting on the armor of God. Don’t go into battle against Satan unprotected.

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91 Is Greater than 19

“The virus hit the church family. My husband had it and is completely recovered. I am nearing two weeks of quarantine.”

The text came from a friend in late March of 2020 and was my first encounter with COVID-19. Yes, I’d been keeping an eye on news reports and governmental briefings, but my friend’s message made the pervasive effect of the pandemic clear.

At the beginning of 2020, if someone had told me in just a few months I’d be using the phrase “social distancing” almost daily, I would have asked “social what?” COVID-19 dramatically impacted our speech, our routines, and our lives.

A lot of commentators on Christian television characterized the pandemic as having the potential to bring a “divine reset”—a time to draw closer to God, to our families, and to our own hearts. And they were correct. Enduring the pandemic was all that and more for me. But that didn’t negate the unimaginable loss of life, fear, and economic trauma the virus caused. People who suffered needed empathy and acknowledgement of their pain … not clichés.

Psalm 91 is a song of protection many cling to. It does not offer clichés, but deep assurance and strength. It does not sugarcoat the fact that we face trials: attackers, pestilence, terror, trouble. Yet during those things, it directs our attention to God, who supersedes those forces with His love, protection, and supernatural power.

One of the lessons I gained from the Psalm during the COVID-19 season was that it is okay to be transparent about how we’re feeling—with ourselves, with our families and friends, and especially with God. God invites us to be hopeful and to have a confident expectation of good even amid crises.

If you’re grieving or struggling, let God know how you feel. Then, rise in confidence.  

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Spiritual Transfusion

I watched blood surging into my seventeen-year-old son’s body.

This was Jared’s sixth transfusion due to gastrointestinal bleeding. His bleeding was related to Crohn’s disease—an autoimmune disorder that attacks the gastrointestinal track, has no cure, and hopefully responds to medicines which keep it in remission. While I watched, I thought of the blood’s purpose to supply essential nutrients and remove waste as it circulates through our body.

Jesus speaks symbolically when He says we need to eat His flesh and drink His blood. Because each of us is exclusively created by God with a purpose, our walk of faith is also unique. We work out our walk with the Lord day by day and, at times, moment by moment. We spiritually eat Christ’s flesh when we accept Him as our Savior and allow His cleansing power to flow through our spiritual veins. We drink His blood by studying His Word, fellowshipping with other believers, and praying.

If we don’t do these things, sin creeps in and clogs our spiritual veins. When this happens, we need a spiritual transfusion, much like my son needed a physical transfusion. This spiritual blood transfusion not only replaces the blood lost through our sin but also heals the broken and open sores that come in the form of consequences for our sin. Further, it restores our broken fellowship with the Lord.

Jared’s transfusion was due to Crohn’s. His body needed to replenish the blood loss caused by his disease just as we need help replenishing our spiritual blood bank when it runs low. Only when our bank is full can we function and complete the work God gives us.

COVID-19 brought difficult times, including stay-at-home orders, but one person we never have to isolate from is Christ. Hold tight to Him and, when needed, let Him give you a spiritual transfusion.

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In the Blink of an Eye

Charlotte screamed.

My wife, Charlotte, and I were in fast-moving, heavy traffic in Knoxville, Tennessee, heading to the mountains on the first day of vacation. Traffic hemmed us in on all sides, moving well over the speed limit of 55 mph. Directly in front of us was an eighteen-wheeler hauling scrap lumber, covered mostly by a tarp. The back-left corner loosened and flapped in the wind. I noticed this abstractly, not even remembering I had seen it until later.

In a way, it was beautiful how the board lifted off the back of the trailer in front of us. The slipstream flowing over the truck created a vacuum, and it suctioned the board out through the flapping gap in the loosened tarp. The board—three to four feet wide, five feet long, and at least an inch thick—floated and hung in the air before diving for our windshield.

Charlotte screamed. I could do nothing—and there was no time to do anything anyway. The hurtling board grew huge and filled the windshield.

Jesus told His disciples they must always be ready for His return. The same is true of our going to Him. Unless we happen to be on death row and our appeals have run out, none of us know when God will call us home. Most of us don't even want to think about it. Me included. But that day will come.

I don't particularly worry about that day. Like a toddler on the beach, holding his father's hand, I hold my Father's hand. I get knocked down by waves, trip over my feet, and get distracted by shiny shells, but my Father's grip never wavers. And when that day comes, He'll still be holding my hand.

And that board flying toward us at sixty mph? It wasn't our day to go home. At the last fraction of a second, an angel lifted it on its side, and it went down the side of the car. Neatly sliced off my driver's mirror and scraped here and there down the side, but that was all the damage done. Thank you, Father, thank you.

Someday, though, the final day will come for all of us—probably in the blink of an eye. Are you holding God’s saving hand and walking in His love? Be ready.

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The Teacher's Voice

All twenty-two five-year-olds gathered in the classroom.

In cap and gown, the graduates’ cuteness was undeniable. We were so elated. We cheered and gave a standing ovation. You would have thought they had won the Superbowl, but this was only a kindergarten promotion ceremony. The teacher calmed us and called the children to find their places. One by one, they filed in and found their seats—smiles, waves, and applause didn’t distract them.

Amid the chaos, I noticed a few children who stood still. Frozen and unsure of what step to take, they missed out on the fun. Did the overwhelming sounds drown out the instructions? Did they not want to sit in their seats? For reasons unknown, some children stood there—unable to participate…missing out on the most exciting moment of their little lives.

Just like the children, we too have a choice. When our Teacher calls to us, we can choose to take our seat and participate. The position provides forgiveness, grace, mercy, and an eternal promotion into heaven. Or we can stand still, forever leaving us separated from the love and safekeeping afforded through our faith in Christ.

Have you taken the seat your heavenly Father has offered? If not, accept the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ.

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The Lonely Slide

It appeared to be in perfect condition.

Behind my son’s school is an empty play area where broken equipment lives. At the very back is a slide, which appeared to be in perfect condition. I wondered why the school didn’t use it on another piece of equipment.

Seeing the slide made me think about people who are in spiritually broken zones. Many believers—who have perfectly good talents, abilities, and gifts—have stopped using them. For whatever reason, they park themselves in the broken equipment zone.

Maybe they were offended or mistreated. Or told they had nothing to offer. Maybe they got tired or overloaded. Perhaps other responsibilities got in the way. Or they convinced themselves they were no good and stopped offering themselves to God.

Imagine the joy that slide once brought when it was used on the playground. I can see the faces of smiling children as the slide fulfilled its designated purpose. Imagine what these believers were like when they served by using their gifts. They shared with those around them and smiled as they fulfilled their designed purpose.

Just because we are in the broken zone doesn’t mean we are useless. Our gifts, talents, and abilities might be a little rusty, but someone somewhere can benefit from their use. Even if we are more limited now than we once were, we can offer something. Volunteer. Pick up that instrument. Build that ramp. Cook that meal. Write that card. Save that life.

Whatever you choose to do, move away from the broken zone. Connect yourself with a body of believers and offer your gifts and talents back to God. Don’t be a lonely slide in the broken zone anymore.

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Rhetoric!

“Rhetoric! That’s all I hear. It’s like a constant bashing inside my head. Over and over. There’s no escaping it. I just want the noise to cease.”

A young girl sat outside the grocery store pressing her hands over her ears. I can remember when I was a child, my grandmother’s favorite phrase was, “These is troubled times, and troubles never cease.”

I could relate to the young girl. She swiped tears. “Honey, are you all right?” I asked.

“All I hear in my head is the news about this stupid virus. It’s relentless. Everywhere I turn. I’m scared to death.”

Easing next to her on the bench, I patted her knee. “The world is never quiet. Today it’s a virus. Yesterday it was how terrible our president is. There is always something. That’s the way the world likes it.”

“I just want quiet.”

“Me too, sweetie. The only place I find that quiet is when I pray.”

It must have been frightening for the disciples, being on a boat in the middle of a horrendous storm. And to think, Jesus slept through it. In fact, He seemed a bit annoyed when the disciples woke Him. Whether it was because they accused Him of not caring or if it was the fear that didn’t seem to matter, Jesus’ question stumped them: “Don’t you have faith?” With that, He calmed the storm.

We live in chaotic times. An uneasiness settles over the world, and the virus isn’t the cause. Faith wanes, and when that happens, the voices of rhetoric grow louder. Fear seeps in, and people grow weak under the pressure. This is what Satan wants—for us to be enthralled in chaos.

With three simple words, Christ calmed a storm. An easy task for Him. What makes us think those same three words can’t still calm? When we trust that God is on the throne and that nothing gets past Him, we really have little to fear. Yet we do.

Close your mind to rhetoric. Take hold of the promise of Jesus and listen to His words. “Quiet. Be still.” Allow Him to fill your heart and mind, and then quiet will set in.

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Rabbit Trails

The speaker was not holding my attention. Yawn.

No matter how hard I tried, my mind would not stay focused. The man kept taking rabbit trails, never finding his way back to the main point. I left the meeting, wondering if he even had a point. Time for a nap … or a jolt of caffeine.

We all have a tendency at times to veer off the subject at hand, but the Lord showed me one day how anxious thoughts are much like rabbit trails. Those thoughts branch off in all directions, taking us off course and away from our foundation of trust in the Lord. They steal our peace. The more anxious we become, the further away we travel. We might even find ourselves all the way down the rabbit hole.

We’re told throughout Scripture to be anxious for nothing, to cast all our care on God, and not to fret or faint. We’re also told over and over not to fear. Anxiety causes worry, and worry leads to fear. Fear contains torment. It clouds our thinking and keeps us wandering around on those annoying trails, lost in the woods of doubt and unbelief.

How do we find our way back to that place of peace and rest? By calling on the Lord. A simple “Forgive me, Lord, I trust You” will get us back on the right path.

Don’t allow anxious thoughts to remain in your heart and mind. When they come against you, say what my former pastor used to say: “That’s NOT my thought.” Then capture, like prisoners of war, every thought and insist that it bow in obedience to the Anointed One.

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False Echoes

As little as a decade ago, I remember our little blue Ford Escape rocking with the sounds of Jimmy Buffett and Radio Margaritaville as Charlotte, Caleb, and I motored down the road.

We sang along to one of Buffett's older, more infamous songs: “Why Don't We…Eat Lunch in School.” Caleb was only six at the time, so the song had to acquire a new title and more innocent lyrics for his young ears. Caleb loved the song, although he was somewhat confused about what the pitchers of beer and the waterbed in the song had to do with “eating lunch at school,” but he sang along anyway. Charlotte and I sang loudly (if not on key) our improvised lyrics whenever Radio Margaritaville played one of the song's many versions.

When I was younger, Jimmy Buffett provided the soundtrack to my life. Before Buffett, it was The Beatles, both collectively and separately. But my second year at Montreat College, I discovered Margaritaville and was hooked. I spent the next twenty years chasing the “false echoes” of pirates, beaches, boats, bars, frozen concoctions, blonde strangers, and those funny cigarettes with the funky smells and spontaneously quick glows. I followed them almost to my ruin.

False echoes are what your local TV weather forecaster will professionally call "virga," while pointing at some colored blob on their $40 million radar. That colored blob is supposed to mean precipitation, but since it isn't actually raining, anywhere, the smiling blonde forecaster explains this by calling it virga. That means the $40 million radar has had what my grandson Caleb would enthusiastically call a “brain fart.” 

I still feel those occasional false echoes from my earlier life. We all do. Memories of past sins whisper seductively. Even Paul (the apostle, not the Beatle) felt them. He said, “I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do the thing I hate.” Corrie Ten Boom called them “echoes of the past.”

Paul also has an answer. He tells us, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Jesus is the true echo of our loving Father. Jesus freed us from our past.

Keep your heart and mind on Jesus, and let those false echoes sweep over you and back into the dust from which they came.

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Love the Season

Parents spend so much energy running their homes.

The chores, activities, and schedules are relentless—our time spent more like an administrative assistant than being engaged in life. The thrill-less endeavors of keeping a tidy house, shuttling to events, and providing meal services can leave us lifeless and searching for a source of happiness and enjoyment.

Lost in the daily grind of life, we find ourselves on a path of monotony and escapism. Our efforts turn from happily serving our Lord, family, and friends to finding ways to fill that eternal hole of emptiness.

Inapproprate thoughts, attitudes, and actions temporarily fill the void. Left on our own, work, drinking, drugs, sports, social media, church, clubs, and people become the center of our universe.

Thankfully, God reminds us there is a time for everything. Parenthood may be grueling at times, but God has designed it to be fruitful and lifegiving. It is God’s gift to us to find joy in even the most repetitive tasks. Picking up the same toy five times in one day may not be enjoyable, but the opportunity to teach our children is rewarding.

Parenting can be equally grueling and rewarding. Either way, we must take the opportunity to look for the blessing that comes along with the season. We just might find the moment God ordained for us to experince blessings such as we’ve never imagined.

Ask the Lord to help you see the blessing in the season of life you are currently in.

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Protector God

My temperature plummeted, and my blood pressure soared—then crashed.

Frantic, muffled voices surrounded me. I could not make out their meaning, but I knew I was in trouble. At the birth of our twins, my husband, John, ran between the bedside of his semiconscious wife and his children in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The doctors asked him to leave as one boy crashed and they attempted resuscitation. My son later required intubation. No one should have to see their child with a tube down their throat.

At this point, John found a location devoid of people, fell on the floor, and begged for the life of his wife and children. Desperately, he pleaded to Jesus as his Savior and Protector. That day, John needed a place of safety—somewhere to turn.

Jesus stands available to us in times of tragedy and in our everyday lives. We can rely on Him not only for salvation but also for strength. He is our Lord and our Protector.

I don’t know what would have happened to my husband’s heart if he had not fallen into the arms of his Strong Tower. God rescued four people that day. The road ahead held many challenges, but this dramatic testimony of God’s provision bolstered our strength.

Sometimes, we hold on to other things that prevent us from running to God. Or we run but drag our feet along the way.

Release whatever you need so you can rest in God and receive His protection. Allow Him to be the sovereign God He is.

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My Super Hero

I smelled rubber as the sedan screeched to a halt.

With legs sprawled, and palms stretched wide, my three-year-old son stood in front of the car with an expression of delight. How had he slipped his hand out of mine? I scooped him into my arm, tightened my grip on my daughter’s hand, and apologized to the driver.

Once inside the store, I asked, “Son, what were you thinking?”

“I’m Superman! I stop car!” My son flexed his muscles to demonstrate his power.

“That was neat,” my daughter said.

“Not exactly,” I said, knowing we would discuss street safety later. I’ll shelve the super hero videos for now, I thought, but I knew that would be futile.

To my three-and-four-year-old children, super heroes were as real as Charlotte the spider who lived on the porch—and I was not permitted to sweep her web away in case she wanted to write a message. The Easter Bunny lived in the neighborhood—my children had seen him. Pretty soon, Gilligan would teach my children boating skills—as soon as he got off the island. And Mr. Rogers would bring Lady Elaine and Daniel for a visit soon.

Super heroes empower children. With their imagination activated, they envision the world as a safe place to grow, learn, and play. Once we become adults, we lose that safety-net of knowing there is a super-power greater than ourselves … or do we?

With faith activated, we can know the One who is more majestic than any imaginary Super Hero and whose name is mightier than any name that is named. Jesus Christ is our Super Hero—the One who carries our fears so we don’t have to. He is the One who activates dreams—those we gave up on achieving. He is the One who provides bread on our table when the mortgage is due and the dollars are few.

Although Paul sinned, he knew Christ’s transforming power. Christ was his Super Hero.

We can thank our Super Hero Jesus Christ as eloquently as Paul did. God has placed within us the indelible gift of imagination. As we pray, we can envision with childlike faith just how majestic our real-life Super Hero truly is.

Ask God to help you envision Jesus Christ in His majesty.

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Acrophobia

Fifty feet up, from where a fork in the old oak tree expanded into two wide limbs, Fritz the cat wailed mournfully.

Fritz is a four-year-old orange and cream tabby that loves to go up trees. Coming down, however, is entirely another story. Hence the wailing. This has been one of Fritz's peccadillos from the moment he marched in as a kitten and pronounced himself our new house cat. After a visit to the vet—where he received his shots—Fritz promptly set about stealing our hearts. He quickly learned he was adept at climbing, especially in escaping Leon's attention—the patriarch feline that rules our outdoor clowder.

Leon isn't a house cat, or even a people cat, and doesn't like much of anything about us except our free food. But he does what he does exceptionally well: rule our ridge. Leon keeps his females in line, shoos the youngsters off when it is time for them to go, and, most of all, keeps the yard and ridge free of every critter, rodent, and snake that doesn't belong. One thing Leon doesn't do is climb, so Fritz can easily scamper up out of harm's way.

Fritz loves to climb just for the fun of it. He enjoys the view from on high and chasing squirrels and birds who venture too far into his domain. He is excellent at going up. Coming back down … not so much. He sits and cries pitifully to get back on the ground.

I have often done the same thing in my life. Chasing something bright and shiny, I have steered off God's chosen path for my life and gone figuratively straight up a tree and out on a limb seventy-five feet in the air. And what do I do then? Exactly like Fritz. I sit and wail pitifully to my Father for help.

Learning my lesson is hard. Walk in God's Word, and the path is straight and true. Get off course chasing bright baubles, and suddenly I’m seventy-five feet in the air, crying out for God to save me. Again.

Thank goodness, God is faithful to both humans and cats. He has never failed to pluck me from my predicaments—or guide Fritz back down from the tree.

Have you ever been out on a limb? God is faithful to rescue you.

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The Honor of a Father

I had a wonderful dad.

I was fortunate to have a very loving father, though when I was a child, he wasn’t always Mr. Jolly. I never questioned that he loved me. He tucked me in at night, sometimes lying beside me telling me silly stories, and he was always interested in my imaginary adventures.

He worked hard at the papermill repairing trucks and machinery. If something went down, Dad was on a timeframe to fix it. After all, time was money to the paper mill. Mom was the one who took me places, did things with me, and helped me experience the world, and Dad wasn’t present.

When my brother was a child, Dad was very active in the church, but then one day, without explanation, he walked away, never darkening the doors except to walk me down the aisle. Despite our family efforts to bring him back, it was an adamant no. Despite Dad’s long absence, we never browbeat his attendance. We prayed and loved him deeply.

In 1984, Dad’s only brother passed away. My parents drove to Orlando for the funeral. I don’t know what happened in that seventy-two hours they were gone, but when Dad walked in the door, he was a different man. A few Sundays later, he surprised us when he walked into the church service and sat down. He never left the church again.

Paul reminded the people of the importance of family and the value in respect. Honor your parents. Love your children. Cherish your spouse. He wanted the people to know the strength in the hierarchy of family and just how important it would be as their families grew.

Dad was a good man and a loving husband and father. Was he perfect? Nope, but whatever reason drove him from the church, something of equal importance brought him home. We never questioned that. We only rejoiced in his return.

Hundreds of people came to his funeral. Person after person told us sweet details about things Dad did for them that none of us were aware of. He prayed for folks, took them doughnuts, and visited them at their work weekly. The local McDonalds Dad frequented, CLOSED for his funeral. All this to say, he was honored. The lost child God loved so patiently many years prior, found his way home.

Honor your father. Love him, even if it is hard, and your Father in heaven will reward your efforts.

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Rebellion

When I was a teenager, my mom homeschooled me.

I once made a bad grade and failed an English test. Mom grounded me and said I would stay grounded until I finished retaking the PACE. PACE was the name of the book used for the curriculum. If a student scored below 80, they were supposed to redo all the PACE work, but often Mamma only made me retake the test—unless my grade was unusually bad. This one was. 

Although I knew I could finish a PACE in a week, I got mad, sat there, and did nothing—at least on the English PACE. One day, my dad came into my school room—the room we used for me to do my school work—and told me I was rebelling. I hadn't ever thought of it that way. He also reminded me that most of the time one of the things teens are known for is rebelling against their parents.

When Dad said that, I knew I needed to repent—not only because my punishment would get worse if I didn't soon change but also because I saw how God felt about my attitude and actions. I asked God and my parents to forgive me. Then I straightened up, started progressing through the PACE, finished it, and passed the test.

When we’re living in known disobedience, God wants us to stop rebelling and make things right with Him—and anyone else if necessary. God always blesses repentance.

Repent of anything you are rebelling against.   

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The Speeding Ticket

The reflection of blue lights flashed in my rearview mirror. Embarrassed, I pulled over.

“Ma’am, can you explain why you were speeding?”

“I wasn’t paying attention.”

When I got home, I looked up potential consequences: one-year revocation of license, lawyer and court costs, license points. I felt nauseous. Rather than worrying further, I prayed, “Father God, this license is Yours to take or give as You desire.” I called my husband, and he called our attorney.

“I might get the charges reduced by ten miles per hour,” the lawyer said, “or it could be reduced to improper equipment.” He explained his rates. “Do you have questions? And try not to worry. I’ll do my best to get this matter resolved.”

“Will you be with me in court?” I asked.

 “You stay home. I will speak to the judge on your behalf, and I will represent you.”

A few days later, my lawyer called. “Your case has been dismissed.”

“Dismissed? As in, forgiven?”

“It’s better.”

“Better?”

“Dismissed means we’re acting as if this never happened. It won’t appear on your record, and you’ll owe no court costs. Your slate is wiped clean. Oh, and my services are gratis.”

God is good, and even if my license had been revoked, I would still have reason to believe this is true. God loves us so much He sent Jesus to take the punishment for our transgressions—even those more serious than traffic violations. With our belief, Jesus erases our record of sins. Through His shed blood, Jesus blots our sins away. The work He accomplished is beyond forgiveness, and the charges against us have been dismissed.

When we get to heaven, no one will say, “Remember when you were speeding?” Not only are we forgiven, we are also made new. Our good God knew we’d need a Savior, so He sent the best Lawyer we could ever dream about.

Take a moment to thank God for sending Jesus to wipe your record clean.

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Tempests

I barely had time to register the strange movement of the clouds swirling above.

Suddenly, the top third of an old oak tree twisted off and plummeted to the ground. In the next instant, the wind howled through the open windows in the back of the house, bringing blinds, curtains, and even pictures off the walls as it roared through the house.

The whole world seemed to tilt from the wind’s force. Above my head, the front porch roof creaked ominously as the winds pounded the front of the house. All around me, I heard trees cracking apart like the sound of a thousand bedsheets tearing at once.

Thirty seconds later, the storm passed. Branches and leaves continued to fall for the next minute or two, but the worst was over. In the aftermath, our yard was littered with the remnants of oak, cedar, hickory, and black walnut trees. Some of the limbs and tops were as thick as twenty inches in diameter.

The weather forecast had called for severe thunderstorms. But to be honest, at this time of the year—and in the fall—we get so many severe thunderstorm warnings they tend to fade into the background. So had this one … until it fell on us with all Mother Nature's fury.

The important thing, however, was that we were safe. Our house was intact, despite some interior rearranging by the wind. Our cars and camper were undamaged, and our pets were all okay. Even our garden was unharmed. And none of that was really a surprise.

You see, God's promises of protection are everywhere in our house. Some are verses in fancy-framed prints, and some are scrawled in magic marker on a simple sheet of typing paper. But as a family, we incorporate them into our prayers. God's magnificent blessings and promises don't do us a bit of good locked away in a pretty leather-bound book. I have to pull them out of the Bible and carve them word by word on my heart.

Sometimes, I can see trouble coming, but more often than not, it's the trouble I don't see coming that reaches out for me. Often, when I least expect it, I only have time for an earnest, "Abba, Father," before I clutch at those promises I've engraved inside me.

Are God's promises written on your heart?

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Trusting God as Father

Trusting God has been difficult for me.

I had a father who was in the home, but who never wanted to spend time with me. This led to me being molested and to other things. I sought my dad’s love, but it was not there.  

When I came to Christ, I had trust issues. Often, I mirrored God through the relationship I had with my dad—and then believed God didn’t care for me. Many times, I have cried out to God, asking Him to help me see Him not only as my creator but also as my Father. I am learning to trust God more and more as I keep my mind focused on His Word and what He has to say about Himself and His relationship to me as my Father.

The more I keep my mind on God’s grace and mercy, the more I understand that He thinks of me in a different realm than my earthly dad did. God, as My Father, shows me love in many ways—ways I never would have imagined.

Once, I needed money and had no clue where it would come from. I had writings out for review with publishers, but hadn’t heard from them. God showed His provision through a friend who sent money to cover some of my expenses.

As I go through life, I find God’s ways aren’t the ways of people. Although my earthly dad taught me none of the graces and mercies of God, my heavenly Father has shown me I can trust Him as a loving and generous Father.

Ask God to help you trust Him in every life situation.

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Looking at Life from a Soccer Game

“We need to learn how to play soccer, not just run around!”

As I watched eleven-year-old boys play soccer, I heard the coach make the statement. My grandson was one of the eager players with inexhaustible energy. Since my own son played as a youngster, the excitement of watching returned. I observed carefully. The referees called the plays, and the game stopped each time an infraction occurred. When the ball went out of bounds, the game stopped. If somebody from our team was at fault, the opposing team gained possession of the ball. They threw the ball in from the boundary line, and play began again with them having the advantage. When the opposing team pushed the ball out of bounds, our team resumed play with the advantage. The team with better playing skills—dribbling, kicking, and blocking—advanced more quickly, and the opportunities for shooting goals increased.

I thought about the coach’s words. Life is learning to play the game, not just runnng around. God gives us a playing field with boundaries, rules, and regulations. He instructs us in wisdom and leads us along straight paths. We can know where our goal is and keep moving toward it. When we go out of bounds or break a rule, the opposition gains advantage over us. We then need to repent. When the opposition goes out of bounds or breaks a rule, we take the advantage by forgiving and getting back in the game.  

Opportunities to reach your goal increase with your level of life skills, education, and talents. These equip you to play life on the field God gave you. Don’t just run around.

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Entrusted

The job of a mother never ends.

Until our children grow up and have their own children, they never fully grasp that concept. Mothers have a unique bond with their offspring. Nature makes it clear the nurturing instinct never really leaves.

I watched a nature show recently about a mother bear and her three cubs. It was amazing to see her caring instincts when her babies strayed too far or ventured into potentially harmful situations. The mother bear exhibited heightened senses even when she slept. If one cub shifted, her eyes opened, and she scooped them closer to her body—before snuggling back into a semi-rest. As the cubs grew more independent, this momma slowly loosened her grip until she finally allowed them to go their own way. As they did, she stood watch until they were gone. When she could no longer see her cubs, she reared and wailed toward the sky. She wept.

This emotional moment took me back to when I said a final farewell to my youngest son. He’d packed his car, took a last look, and then kissed me goodbye. As his car disappeared, a wail of loss rang through me. Although he wasn’t leaving me to marry, he was grown. The thought of his dependence on me ending sobered me. I could suddenly relate to that momma bear. Proud of this graduation, yet mourning the end of a season.

I’ve entrusted a second son into the hands of a beautiful woman who loves him deeply. I must admit, the moment of giving up that care was no different. A mother’s job is never done. We are instructed to let our sons and daughters mature, leave home, and even marry. To allow the growth of a new relationship and a new family to happen. It’s a new season. I have done my job as a mother. But that doesn’t mean my relationship ends with my child. It simply soars to a new level.

Mother’s Day allows a mom time to reflect on when she once nestled her babies in that special place. It’s the crowning moment when we can step back and bask in the pride of the men and women they’ve become. They will always be our babies, so we continue to pray for them and offer guidance and direction when needed.

As a mother, you’ve successfully completed the task entrusted to you. Never stop praying, never stop loving, and never stop being grateful for the moments you share with them. God has blessed you with children—the jewel in your crown.   

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Not What You Think

Stepping into the house for lunch, I went to the fridge and grasped the bowl I wanted to heat.

Opening the door to the microwave, I observed a plate with squiggly black-looking loops. Knowing my five sons, I thought, They have microwaved worms. Yuck!

Seconds later, my oldest son stepped into the room. “Oh, I forgot that.”

I stared at him. “What is it?”

“Oh, that’s my macaroni and cheese. Maybe a little overdone, huh?”

As I gazed at the blackened macaroni, I sighed. “How long did you set it for?”

“Twenty minutes.”

“Twenty minutes?”

“Yeah, I always put extra time, then come back and check on it. I forgot to come back and check.”

I have found that things are not always what I think they are. Samuel discovered this when God sent him to anoint a new king for Israel. He looked at the outward appearance of Jessie’s sons, but God looked at David’s heart.

All of us have looked at someone and wondered why they act or talk as they do. Or why they dress as they do. Sometimes people I meet seem super annoying while others appear overly quiet. Maybe they’ve had hard times or don’t have enough money to dress better. Perhaps they are afraid to speak, as I used to be. Occasionally, I’ve had to step back from people because of the evil surrounding them.

I’ve learned to ask God to help me look below the surface and find the real person inside. Not always easy. God’s Word tells me to look deeply and watch people’s actions. In this way, I can truly and carefully observe them. God allows me to see the spirit and actions of those I meet.

Listening, watching, and talking to people allows me to express God’s love for them. If I listen and observe closely, I find God opens my eyes to truly see others.

Ask God to help you see people as He sees them.

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Rocks

The three of us—Charlotte, Caleb, and I—stood covered in Tennessee mud and stretched wearily.

We discovered later we were also covered in Tennessee seed ticks. At best, they itch furiously and must be tweezered off some pretty sensitive (and embarrassing) places. At worst, they can carry Lyme Disease or Powhassen virus. But currently, those sicknesses would have to stand in line to have a shot at killing us, so I'm not particularly worried.

Our newly created garden—hacked out of our stubborn Tennessee ridgetop soil (they don't call it Rocky Top for nothing)—stood before us. Seedlings lined up in rows like good little soldiers: tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, banana peppers, and sweet potatoes snuggled in the ground. In other rows where seeds had been planted, little flags marked what they would be: pumpkin, watermelon, carrots, lettuce, and Italian sage.

Fist-sized white Tennessee limestone rocks—hundreds of them, maybe thousands—piled up as borders for the plant beds, courtesy of the limestone bedrock that underlies the soil in these parts. And each one had to be hoed, raked, or plucked from the planting beds. I think they replicate at night like aliens from a cheap science fiction novel.

My heart, like Paul’s, compares to the soil of our garden. Big things don’t impede my spiritual growth ...well, not usually. However, I have had my moments. Mostly, it is those dadgum fist-sized rocks that constantly trip me up.

And those are the rocks I'm continually digging out of my heart’s spiritual garden. Little things, like my mind wandering while I'm in my morning reading of the Word. Little things, like a lack of patience and quickness of temper. Little things, like an unclean word that slips past my tongue in a moment of exasperation. Little things, like more than a passing appreciation of a woman's beauty and figure. Little things, like a small “harmless” white lie told in a social situation.

Little things. Those small rocks of sin in my spiritual garden. Every day, I try to pry them out of my heart. And even though each day brings more, thank Jesus, I can give the ones I dig out to my Lord. I suspect I'll be raking rocks out of my heart until the day I get called home.

Take a moment each day to give your rocks to the Lord.

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Sneaky Pest

My brother was once a sneaky pest.

When my sister and I were not home, our brother would ransack our room and steal our money, which gave us ample reason to hate him. The day he loosened the wheels on my sister’s bike, knowing she would wreck, was one of his worst pranks. My sister retaliated. She dragged her bike and wheel home, searched until she found him, and beat him until he screamed for mercy.

God does not beat us up every time we mess up. Most of the time, we do that part ourselves. At times, we just want to scream for mercy, but don’t. We carry the mess-ups in our heart, heavy baggage we can’t get past. We decide God could never love or forgive us when we do such bad stuff. But He does and can. However, some things we do have consequences.

Retaliation for what we consider slights against us can be costly. Sometimes, we need to make things right, apologize, clean up the mess, give back the money. Whatever the cost, we might have to pay.

Mercy, however begins with God. We know we messed up. We know our hatred or deep longings for some way to make someone else miserable. We know we need to change.

The change starts with Jesus. He offered mercy to those who crucified Him. They, however, had to accept His offer. Many did; many didn’t. His offer of forgiveness, love, and mercy still stands. But we have to accept. We have to want Jesus living in our hearts, filling us with gracious forgiveness and love. Then, we can offer it to others.

Rather than retaliating, think of some ways you can offer mercy to others.

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Joy in the Despicable

Sometimes it’s hard to see. Hard to look past the things the world throws at us. Easier to comply than to fight.

Our Christian hearts grow weary as we struggle to fight against the world and its desire to force us to agree on its sinful nature. Now more than ever, finding a way to focus on Christ is important.

We can’t close our eyes to the things of this world, and, if the truth be known, we can’t battle every issue either. We are, after all, only human. Just because we cannot clearly focus on every issue does not mean we are poor Christians. It simply means we set personal boundaries and stick to them. Spend time in the Word, pray, and remember the battle is not ours to fight. God does that for us, but what is ours. . .is the command to be obedient, pray without ceasing, and be the example Christ asks.

We assume Paul is the author of Hebrews, and when he penned this letter, persecution continued. His desire to help believers stand firm and keep their eyes fixed on the Lord led to some heartfelt words: “For the joy set before him he endured the cross.” What prolific words. What joy could have possibly been reason enough for Jesus to endure the cross?

No one alive can grasp the kind of love entailed in the cross. That one man (and we call Christ a man at this point because He was flesh) would shoulder the sins of the world. Not just current sin, but sins of the past and sins of what was still to come. And He did it with “joy.” 

Imagine how difficult it was for Jesus to see. The sin of every person flashed through His mind with lightning speed. Try to take in the pain, the hurt, and the disappointment He must have felt as He took hold of this burden. Then imagine His doing so with joy. Outwardly, He was slaughtered, but inwardly He rejoiced in the success of His sacrifice. His love strengthened Him.

When you find it hard to see and hard to focus, remember that through the horrors of the cross joy emerged. Strengthen your heart. Set your example as Jesus did. Rejoice. For in the despicable shame of the cross came life.

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When the Storm Overwhelms

I sat in my recliner and listened.

The wind howled outside, the rain beat on the roof, lightning flashed, and thunder pounded. Then suddenly, it stopped. The eerie silence almost made me sick. I strained and listened for the deep, prolonged roar I knew would follow. Through the silence, I heard a high-pitched whine.

My mind went back to the hallway in our little framed house when I was only six years old. My parents grabbed my brother and me and carried us to the windowless hallway. The sound was intense. I could see my parents’ mouths moving, but the roar drowned out their voices. Our house shook and rattled and sounded as if a freight train was about to plow through our home. A fear I had never experienced swept over me.

The whine grew louder, and I snapped back into real time. I heard breaking noises in the distance, and the whining sound intensified. I tried to form a plan and think of the best place to hide my children, hoping these weren’t the last moments of my life. That same overwhelming fear I felt years before swept over me once again. I had no control and no way to manipulate the storm. All I could do was pray for safety. Soon, the strange whine disappeared, and the rain fell again. The pressure in the air changed, and my insides relaxed as I let the melody of the rain lull me back to sleep.

Like the psalmist, all of us have had those intense experiences that cause fear to rise up and hold us hostage. For some, it’s a storm. For others, it is an accident or illness. Events happen and certain triggers cause our emotions to edge. Worrying doesn’t help, panic won’t work, and fear just paralyzes. We have no control over the situation, and our only hope is God. He is the only One we can lean on and trust to see us through.

When the winds start to howl and fear sets in, stop and pray. Trust that God is in control, and rest on His Word and truth. He is the only way you will make it through the storm.

Ask God to help you trust Him when you are afraid.

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Plagues and Pestilence

When my beloved aunt passed away, Corona was still a beer, and Wu Han was a Chinese historian/intellectual whose 'purge' was one of the opening shots of China's infamous Cultural Revolution.

For various family reasons, my Aunt Marjean's memorial service was delayed for a few weeks—a few weeks in which the world turned upside down. The family asked to speak at the memorial and, I had agreed. Doing so meant a 500-mile trip from Middle Tennessee to Charlotte, NC, and back. But Marjean had been very special and influential in my life. I wanted to honor her memory. A few years had also passed since my North Carolina family had seen Caleb, the 15-year-old precious grandson my wife Charlotte and I have raised since he was two.

By the time the weekend of the service approached in mid-March of 2020, Covid-19 had escaped Central China. The world whispered the word 'pandemic.' What should we do? What we did do was pray and place the trip before our Father. And what appeared before us almost everywhere we looked in the days before we left was Psalm 91, specifically verses 3, 5, 6, and 7.

We loaded the car, and, standing on those verses almost continually in prayer, traveled to North Carolina—taking precautions along the way. We took extra care in public not to touch anything we didn't swipe with a disinfecting wipe. We kept the hugs at the service to a minimum. But most of all, we simply stood on God's promise through the Spirit to David: "Don't fear the plague; it won't touch you."

We stepped out on God's promise—in faith and with a measure of common sense—and had a wonderful visit. Oh, I managed to blubber my way through my tribute to my aunt, but I got through it. And we got back home—safe, sound, and Corona-free.

Fear and confusion abound at the present. Death stalks us in a minuscule virus, but then, as Christians, death and the world always stalk us. Thank goodness, Jesus overcame the world and holds the keys to life and death.

Don't be afraid of a little virus whispering death. You're bigger than it is. And anyway, our Lord has already kicked its butt.

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Bigger and Better Than a Summer Schedule

The sound was like a breaking tree limb echoing through the forest.

I heard the sound in the middle of a hike when my feet hit the ground after jumping off of a log. My three teenage children rushed back to the rest of our group when I screamed. My youngest daughter later told me she thought a bear had grabbed me.

We left early from our summer vacation with friends and drove home. A call to the doctor led to an appointment that same day. I planned to wear a medical boot as I healed so I could still get around. I reviewed my full day timer and revised the rest of my summer. The doctor and his staff saw my shock during the exam when the doctor told me he needed to operate the next morning. I had shattered my ankle bones.

My husband and I returned home, and I walked upstairs in a fog, entered my prayer room, and talked with the Lord. This verse entered my thoughts: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. I could trust the Lord to show me the path, even in the midst of this painful situation. My schedule wasn’t really mine. When I released my schedule and my situation to Him, I felt the peace of knowing He loved me with His perfect love. He would carry me through this as He continued to mold me.

My surgery was successful. Friends and family members prayed for me, took care of me, and supported me. I’m usually the caretaker, but I humbled myself and received their help. I worked with a physical therapist and his team and became stronger than before.

We often think we control our schedule, but we don't. However, we can trust our schedule to the heavenly Father who directs our paths. When we acknowledge our Shepherd who loves us, He will guide us.

Humble yourself and receive God's direction, which is bigger and better than your comfort or your summer schedule.

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A Beautiful Picture of Love

While teaching a Comparative Religions class during my college educator phase, I explained the difference between Bible-based Christianity and world religions. One of the easiest ways to contrast religions was to ask the students where they believed they were going when they died. Only the Christians had a solid confidence they were going to heaven without having to work to get there.

I have been asking God to teach me what Christianity is. Is it only information about Christ and the Bible, or is it a personal relationship with Christ? By studying passages in the Bible on this subject, I have been taught what I already knew, but needed more understanding about.

A few of the passages that revealed the essence of being a Christian were “Abide in Me and you will bear much fruit, for without Me you can do nothing” (John15:5), “I call you friends” (John15:15), and “Abide in my love” (John 15:10). These inspired passages make it clear that being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not primarily learning information about Him. Christianity is a personal, ongoing relationship with Jesus, and our relationship with Him is a love relationship that is illustrated by John’s feelings about His Lord.

One of the most beautiful pictures of love found in the Bible is when John needed the touch of Jesus and leaned against His bosom. Jesus’ touch healed and comforted then, and it still does today.

A believer’s studies in God’s Word should never be far away from having feelings of love for Jesus. Without the touch of Jesus, we feel lonely and parched, thirsty for living waters. The bottom line in the tally sheet for our lives will be how much time we spent in touch with Jesus, our fruitful Vine.

Desire to be touched by Jesus’ presence and kindness, and you will always have a good day.

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Where the Spirit of the Lord Is

My husband Tim and I walked our dogs by Grant Lake on the night of the blue moon.

As I followed our dog Olive along the bank, Tim asked me something, but I couldn’t hear him. He pointed at the lake. When I turned toward the inlet, I saw a great blue heron resting on the water, occasionally dipping his head into the water for a drink or to catch minnows. This ominous bird fascinated me.

As darkness covered day, the bird blended in with the shadows. Tim motioned me to where he stood. The moonlight cut in just enough for the bird to remain in view. As we watched, the great bird spread his wings, lifted off, and flew across the lake. The wingspan looked enormous as he drifted over the lake with power and grace.

Like a great blue heron, the Holy Spirit hovered over the water as God created earth. He accompanied God, just as Jesus did from the beginning.

What a blessing to know God remains close to His people. He moves over the earth in Spirit and dwells in us. The Spirit lives in me every day. He nudges me to serve, gives me direction, comforts me when I am down, and rejoices with me when I am blessed. No matter what the day may bring, the Holy Spirit guides believers.  

Spend time reading the Bible to better understand the Spirit in your life. Then, pray and ask God to help you recognize the Spirit's voice and nudges.

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The Old Well

“Can you hear it?”
 
My husband was restoring an old well on the few acres God had given him. Most people would have given up, as each step faced another hurdle. The cost of purchasing what was needed was not an option.

So with prayer, ingenuity, and substitutionary parts, the day came when he put the last piece of equipment into the well: a sensor to tell when the water level was low. With the help of a friend, they wired the sensor and lowered it into the bore hole. Nothing happened. They prayed some more and talked about what the problem might be.

They finally discovered the tiny apparatus was upside down. When they set the sensor the right way and put it down the bore hole again, my husband rang me and asked, “Can you hear it?” I heard the water flowing out of the well as it gurgled across the airways to me.

God told His people of old not to fear. He was with them. He still is. Sometimes, a simple adjustment to our lives will make the difference between success and failure. Listening to the Holy Spirit through prayer and counsel from those with knowledge concerning the issue is wise.

If you have something you don’t understand in your life, persevere in prayer. God is always available to help.

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Distractions

I had a problem.

A Boy Scout weekend camping trip coincided with my Sunday to be acolyte in our church. As a Patrol Leader, I was expected to lead my patrol on the camping trip, as well as be in church that Sunday.

Unable to find a replacement for either duty, I decided to do both jobs. I would take my Scouts on the camping trip, and my dad would get me early that Sunday morning and take me back to do my acolyte thing in church. I had it covered.

But teenage boys aren’t prone to sleep when on a camping weekend away from home. By flashlight, we told ghost stories, talked sports, and discussed the marvelous mysteries of female anatomy until way past midnight.

Before I knew it, the sun was up, and Dad had arrived to pick me up. Once at church, I donned my white acolyte robe. Out I went, walking with pace and reverence to the altar where I lit the candles and then returned to my reserved front pew.

During the first half of the service, we did a lot of standing and singing, so I was reasonably active. But as Rev. Hutchinson launched into the sermon, my eyes slowly shut. My head drifted back to rest on that lonely front pew, and in front of the entire congregation—with my mouth gapped open—I fell sound asleep.

At the end of the sermon, the kind lady sitting behind me gently nudged me awake, and, blinking away the sleep, I quickly woke up enough to extinguish the candles as the service concluded. Later, I learned Rev. Hutchinson had explained to the congregation my double-duty weekend and told them just to let me rest. But at that moment … I was mortified.

I wish I could tell you I learned my lesson that Sunday morning—that never again would I let the bright baubles of the world distract me from learning about God’s Word—but I’ve had to learn it over and over. Wasted hours slip away on television and internet foolishness.

One of these days, I’m going to feel that gentle nudge on my shoulder again, and I’m going to turn and see my Lord. I hope I’m not mortified, again.

Are you ready for the Lord to tap on your shoulder?

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I Want to Encourage

He slammed the door in my face.

I tried to do everything I could to encourage my dad. I tried to change his focus, pointing out that his present rehab facility was better than the last one he had been in a few years ago. I gave him this Scripture, thinking surely God’s Word would encourage him: I will never leave you: I will never abandon you. It didn’t go over well. He told me to quit preaching.

My eighty-seven-year-old father had undergone hip replacement surgery and was in a nursing home, trying to learn to walk again. He desperately wanted to go back home, but he had to get his strength back first. I think at times, my dad felt as if the Lord had abandoned him. It can feel that way in life when we go through times of darkness.

Sometimes, we don’t understand why we go through difficult times. Trusting God is difficult when things go wrong and all hope seems lost. I felt abandoned when my mom committed suicide and at other times when my faith was tested.

My dad refused to listen and be encouraged that day, but our heavenly Father will always listen to us. He will never leave us because He said he wouldn’t. In this life, we will have difficult times because life this side of heaven will never be easy. But God is always there to guide and comfort us through our horrific circumstances. That is something I look forward to with joy.

Trust that God will never leave you.

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I Got You, Buddy

Our backyard is every little boy’s paradise: a giant pile of dirt.

The bank where we dug the dirt out for our new project was extremely steep. Carter, my oldest, figured out a way to climb up on his own. Everything that big brother does, little brother wants to do too. Daniel, my youngest, desperately tried to climb the steep bank. He fussed and hollered. He pawed and jumped, but he couldn’t climb the bank.

Finally, Carter came from behind and pushed Daniel up. Even though he wasn’t strong enough, Carter kept trying. Slowly, Daniel climbed a little higher. Carter finally wrapped his arms around his little brother and said, “I got you, buddy.” Then he hollered up to me, “Mama, help pull him to the top.” By that point, he was high enough for me to grab his arms and pull him to the top.

Carter trying to lift his younger brother up pictures what Christians should do. There are people all around us who are stuck in deep holes or messy dirt. We need to do everything within our power to come alongside them—or even push them from behind—and say, “Hey, I got you, buddy.” We may not be able to lift them all the way up, but a little boost may be enough to get them off the bottom and into the reach of Jesus who waits at the top. Although we aren’t the saviors, we can be the lifeline God uses to get others to the Savior.

Look around for opportunities to come alongside others, wrap your arms around them, and say, “I got you, buddy.”

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The Father's Care

A flash of lighting in the dark often terrifies children.

I expected Sam, my oldest grandson, to be scared too. On one of his overnight stays, I laid out a foam mattress, along with blankets, on the living room floor for him. Then I put a sleeping bag and blanket beside it for me. We had an indoor campout.

As we lay in the dark, I thought of a time twenty years before when I lay awake listening for my son Tyler to breathe. As I lay beside my grandson, I saw lightning flash periodically, casting quick shadows in the dark room. I thought of how Sam wasn't concerned in the least with the weather outside. I also thought of how he hadn't given a thought to whether he would be warm and comfortable or even fed or safe. When he finally closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, I was sure none of these thoughts entered his little mind.

I also thought about how our heavenly Father desires for us to depend on Him. He wants us to trust Him completely, as Sam did me. To trust to the point where our care and provision never cross our mind. He also wants us to be so sure of His care that the storm around us doesn’t faze us, no matter how dark and scary the shadows might be. He wants us to lie next to Him and close our eyes in total peace, knowing we are safe from all harm.

Doing so is a great testimony of God’s care for us. For Him to have our total trust and dependence brings the same satisfaction to His heart as Sam's complete and unquestioning faith did to mine. 

Take the necessary steps so you can have complete faith in your heavenly Father's care.

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Rescued

My alarm rang me awake at 4:45 in the morning.

Had there been a snooze, I would have slapped it, but this was 1970, and my clock was a wind-up Big Ben with no snooze button. So I turned the alarm off and urged my thirteen-year-old body out of my warm bed and into my clothes.

Waiting for me seven blocks away near Winston-Salem’s Baptist Hospital were fifty editions of the Winston-Salem Journal newspaper. I was a paperboy, and my job was to deliver those papers to the front stoops and porches of the houses on my route. So I dressed and padded my way quietly down through the house to the garage. Gathering up my trusty ten-speed, I eased the garage door open … and stopped in wonder. The world was white with snow.

This was a first. I had never delivered papers in the snow before, but I rolled my bike out and lowered the garage door. Snow fell hard, but only an inch or so had accumulated. I had no trouble traversing the seven blocks to my papers. By the time I had them rolled and in my shoulder bag, another couple of inches had fallen.

An hour later, I was in trouble. Slogging through ever-deepening snow, I was soaked. My canvas sneakers were wet and my toboggan cap sodden. I had opened my coat to cover the papers, and now I felt ice-coated and was shivering uncontrollably.

Suddenly, headlights flashed over me, and a car horn sounded. I turned and saw the most welcome sight in the world: our car with Dad at the wheel. Observing the weather when he arose, he had wrestled the snow chains onto the car and come to my rescue. Together, we finished the paper route. With the heat on high and my bicycle in the trunk, I was sound asleep by the time we got home.

My Father in heaven lovingly watches over me, just as my earthly dad did. When the going gets beyond my ability to handle, He has proven over and over He will be there. He holds me in His hand, and I have rested there in peaceful gratitude more than once.

If you are slogging on a hopelessly torturous path with no end in sight, give it to God. Rest in Him. His love will never let you down.

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Abandoned

On a fall day in 1979, my mom got into the car and pulled out of the driveway.

The next day, I found her car at a bridge. Rescuers found her remains in the Minnesota River about a week later. She was a recovering alcoholic at the time. In her suicide note, she said she felt as if she had not been a good mother. My dad re-married for the third time the following year.

Later, my dad divorced my step-mom. He did what he has done every time trouble has erupted in a relationship: got in the car and left town. Somehow, I discovered where he lived and wrote to him several times, but he never wrote back. All I had was a post office box number with no street address. 

I find it ironic that both of my parents got into a car and left. I felt abandoned, as if they had left me alone on the street to fend for myself. The good news is that my step-mother re-married my dad. We were re-united, and I stayed in touch with him the last four years of his life.

God assured Joshua, the new leader of Israel, that He would never leave or forsake him.

I am so grateful that I, too, don‘t have to worry about my heavenly Father pulling out of the driveway. He has promised never to leave or forsake me, even though it might not always feel as if He is near. The Lord knew I was hurting, and He allowed my dad to come back into my life. But even if that had never happened, I knew my heavenly Father was there. I just needed to trust Him.

Regardless of who else might leave you, Jesus never will.

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Facing a New Day

Every new school year was an overwhelming experience in our house.

Raising five active and needy children—in addition to two exhausting careers—often caused my wife and me to remember the picture of a donkey with a too-heavy load. The donkey was lifted off the ground and stuck in the air. Under him were the words, “I can handle it. Just give me a minute.”

We found when we stopped trying to handle being overwhelmed by ourselves and instead put our loads in the Lord’s hands, we discovered peace and relief.

Life has been filled with labor that is often heavy and overwhelming since Adam and Eve experienced unpleasant results from their disobedience in the Garden of Eden. The woman received increased pain and suffering with childbearing. The man had to sweat away his life struggling with “thorns and thistles.” Now that both men and women work to provide for the family, women often deal with thorny jobs also.

Each day pray, “Lord help me.” Today’s verse is often misunderstood. We think it only applies when a person can’t figure out any more answers. But we aren’t to come to God only when we are at the end of our strength and have nowhere else to go.

Another verse is often forgotten in this competitive, fast-paced world: Without Me, you can do nothing. Jesus meant what He said. All good gifts come from God, and that includes our health and strength. We must continually come to Jesus for companionship and help.

Even as small choices determine quality and outcome, choices also determine life and death.

Each day pray, “Lord help me.”

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An Attitude Adjustment

I sometimes had a disrespectful attitude when I was in the seventh grade.

My homeroom teacher often gave unannounced locker checks. On one of these surprise occasions, the teacher told us to file into the hallway and stand by our lockers. I felt confident my locker would pass inspection, so I had no worries. When Mr. Pack reached my locker, I proudly opened the door and quickly caught a few flying papers being held hostage inside. My teacher looked at the disorganized mess and declared, “That’ll be five demerits, young lady.”

Without thinking, I stomped my foot and cried, “No way!”

“Make that ten demerits because of your attitude,” he replied.

“But, Mr. Pack!” I whined.

“Five more!”

I was stubborn, but a building didn’t have to fall on me for me to realize my attitude was bad. After losing fifteen points off my deportment (my conduct grade), I closed my mouth and proceeded to clean out my locker.

When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he instructed them to have an attitude like Christ’s. He also encouraged them to let others see God working in them.

As Christians, we need to show the world our lives are full of the joy of Christ, not the disgruntlement of ourselves. We need to “provide people with a glimpse of . . . the living God” within us.

I am grateful I outgrew my seventh-grade insolence. As an adult, I can still have an occasional bad attitude. However, I have learned that approaching life with joy, respect, and humility makes me a better person. It also helps me set a better example for others.

Think twice before stomping your foot, grumbling, and complaining about life. Instead, be of good cheer. Be the fresh air that society needs, and let others see God living in you.

Think of one way you can adjust your attitude.

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Changes

"It's cancer," she said. Her voice broke. "It's bad." And then the tears came. "It's not fair,” she cried.    

My heart wept with her. She was right—it certainly wasn't fair. If anyone could claim unfairness, it was my friend. Over the last twelve months, she had lost her mother and then her father. Just a few weeks prior to our conversation, she had buried her only surviving sibling—her beloved brother—who had succumbed to an incredibly aggressive and fast-moving cancer.  

Now, cancer had her…again. Cancer had already took one bite at her years earlier and had left her body scarred and mutilated as the doctors chopped away at the relentless disease. Now just a few days after her first chemo session, we spoke again on the phone. I could hear in her tremulous voice how far she had fallen. As we talked, a coughing fit seized her, which led to a nose bleed—a relentless consequence of the chemo. Only able to get out a few words between dabs at her bleeding nose, her tears poured out in frustration.

I waited patiently until she wrestled her sobs under control. The crying wasn't really her; I knew. She was a strong woman, but her past year would have brought the strongest person to tears. Of course, the tears brought on more bleeding from her nose. After a few heroic breaths, she finally brought everything under control, and we continued our conversation.

She asked what I was doing. I told her I was writing this devotion.

"Will you do me a favor?" she asked.

"Of course," I replied.

"Will you tell them to be grateful for what they have today? Will you tell them to look around at the family they still have with them…at the health they enjoy…and be grateful for what they have? Because it can all be gone in the blink of an eye."

“You just did, my dear friend. You just did.” And she did what Paul enjoined all of us to do.

What are you thankful for as this year slips to a close and slides into 2020? What can you thank God for as the New Year dawns?

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Christmas Greetings and Strange Looks

My “Merry Christmas” brought a strange look.

My accent is so thick that I don't have to go beyond our local supermarket or Wal-Mart for people to listen and grin when I talk.

When I visited Minnesota in the summer of 2016, I spoke to random people just because I knew my southern accent would get looks and begin conversations. After I had gotten the look, I asked, "Would you believe I'm a local?" Of course, everyone says, "No," and the conversation turns to where I am from. While in Minnesota, I had the opportunity to tell them about the new Baptist churches we were working on. When I said the number one word that Northerners want to know if Southerners really say, "Y'all," everyone gave a good belly laugh.

I bet you have already smiled at least once. Maybe even laughed at the thoughts of a Southerner ordering at McDonald's in Minnesota or Illinois. 

We can be friendly and wish everyone we see a “Merry Christmas,” along with giving them a big smile. Not only will it help them, but it will also make us feel pretty good too. When we wish people Merry Christmas, they might pay more attention to the calendar. And it will brighten someone's day, if only for a moment.

We all need those escapes from reality that come from an unexpected greeting or someone using good manners and being polite. Good laughs and trips down memory lane are also helpful. We might be surprised at how many witnessing opportunities a greeting to a stranger might bring.

God wants us to be full of joy so the world can see Christ's love in our lives. We might even get to tell someone what Christmas is really about.

Try saying Merry Christmas to someone today.

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Mary's Song

Shoppers hurried into the mall to escape the winter winds.

One man ambled towards the entrance, methodically tapping his cane. He pulled a flute from his tattered jacket and played Christmas melodies. Passersby scarcely noticed him. A mother dropped a coin in the overturned hat. A teenager handed him a water bottle. It was my chance to talk to him.

“Excuse me, sir, but why do you play?”

“Fer Jesus.”

 “Does anybody ever take your money? You wouldn’t know seeing as ...”

“I sees them with me ears. They can have me coins. I play ’cause I want ’em to have a song in they’s heart like I’s got in mine.”

As the flutist played “Mary’s Song,” I felt a warmth erase the wind that whipped onto the sidewalk from the nearby alley.

I learned something that day. Although the gentleman was blind and poor, the song of the Lord residing within gave him a joy no one could take. Rather than worrying about his circumstances, he focused on expressing the song within his heart.

Like the flutist, Mary had a song in her heart no one could steal. Her song, “The Magnificat,” declared her faith. She sang about her surprise to learn God had chosen her to birth the Savior. She glimpsed the impact of Christ’s birth—that it would bless generations. Expectantly, she sang about God’s sovereignty.

Mary reminds me of the flutist. She knew she’d have a difficult journey, but she kept a song in her heart when challenges came. As gossip mongers publicized her premarital pregnancy, she kept singing. When she and Joseph fled from wicked King Herod, I imagine Mary whispered lullabies into her child’s ears. As her Son lay upon the cross, beaten and dying a horrible death with His blood pooling at her bended knees, I am certain Mary had at least one chord from her Spirit-song residing within her wounded soul. But when Jesus arose, the whole world sang, as did Mary.

Christmas is a time to resurrect the song of the Lord that He’s placed within you. Listen closely. The Great Flutist has written a melody on the recesses of your heart.

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The Value of a Penny

Stepping over the threshold of the restaurant, I spied a shiny penny.

After reaching down to pick it up, I noticed not just one, but thousands of real pennies. The builder of the establishment had used pennies, some shiny and some not so shiny, to tile the entire floor of the entryway. I thought, What a waste.

When I was a child, I bought penny candy at the country store near my grandfather’s house. I wore penny loafers in the fourth grade. I kept a piggy bank in my room, and I took great pride in making frequent deposits. My parents always advised, “Save your pennies!” They also often asked, “A penny for your thoughts?”

I believe in the value of the penny, literally and metaphorically. People who donate their pennies to organizations such as Fellowship of the Least Coin and Pennies for Peace help provide meaningful services to impoverished people throughout the world. These small but heartfelt donations are pennies from heaven to people in need.

The widow who gave an offering of two small copper coins made a big faith sacrifice. Those two coins were all she had to live on. In contrast, the scribes and Pharisees gave what they did not need. When Christ said she had given more than all the other contributors, He used her kind of sacrifice as an example of the type we should all be willing to make for Him.

Focusing on cost rather than value is tempting. Living in a throw-away society, we often place more value on possessions than we do on relationships. However, if we focus on the value of things that money cannot buy, God will richly reward us. Like the widow, if we give beyond our ability, Christ will supply our needs.

Reconsider the value of the penny as well as the value of your talents, your time, and your treasures. Then give accordingly.

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Divine Disarray

It was noon, and the playroom was already a mess.

As I finished washing the dishes, I realized I needed to prepare lunch. I looked around, and my heart sank. Toys and books littered the floor. The children, though having a great time, ran chaotically around the room and into the halls. Their singing, screaming, and laughter seemed deafening. I took a deep breath and whispered, “God, please help me.”

In the midst of the commotion came a still small voice, “Give thanks.” I instantly knew it was my heavenly Father, but “Give thanks?”

I took a deep breath and accepted the assignment. I looked around the room once more, now with a fresh perspective, and thanked the Father for my eyes.   

I was in a home where love prevailed. My children and I were safe. “Thank You for my home and my children,” I whispered. My children ran, screamed, and sang. I whispered again, “Thank You, Lord, for healthy children with healthy voices.” I was also at home at 11 a.m. instead of work, and I thanked God for that privilege too.

For the next thirty seconds, I reveled in gratefulness. My heart was full. As I smiled and left to bring order to my blessed situation, I gave my final thank you. “Thank You, dear Father, for helping me to see Your blessings in the midst of it all.” 

Sometimes it is easy to forget that each moment of life is a gift that warrants gratitude. We tend to remember only when things are going our way. But God uses all times to help us remember how precious we are to Him and also the gifts He gives us every day. His will is for us to thank Him in every circumstance.

Unfortunately, we tend to hear Him best when life becomes turbulent. When that happens, stop, breathe, and say, “Thank You.” Use the opportunity to see God’s blessings and love.

Give thanks. It will bless your day.

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Thankfulness

Just about the time the predawn light creeps over the eastern horizon on Thanksgiving morning, I’ll bundle up against the cold and slip out the door.

Waiting for me in our outdoor fire circle are meticulously stacked piles of hickory wood, prepared the day before. Carefully cradling my precious mug of coffee, I’ll light the fire that will lead, in a few hours, to a delicious smoked turkey.

Once I start the hickory burning, I’ll settle in with my coffee and feel the warmth of the growing fire wash over me. Once it is light enough to read, I’ll open my Bible, but for now, it’s just my Father and me. This is one of my favorite times of the whole year … this time by the fire early on Thanksgiving morning. A time to be thankful for what I have by God’s amazing grace.

By the time I’ve refilled my mug a couple or three times, the sun will stream through the bare trees nestled to the east. The coals at the heart of the fire will glow and shimmer with heat. This is the signal to load the firebox on the smoker with hot hickory coals and then retrieve the turkey, prepared the night before. Settling the bird on the top rack and a large bowl of apple cider on the bottom shelf, the cider will steam up into the turkey as the heat increases—keeping it moist and adding another layer of flavor.

And with that, for the most part, my contribution is done. Oh, I’ll keep adding hickory logs to the fire and hot hickory coals to the firebox, but the turkey is on its own now, cooking slowly in the hickory smoke. In eight hours or so, it will be ready.

Thanksgiving will spin on. Charlotte will prepare the side dishes and desserts she does so well. Parades and football will be on television. Family and friends will filter in. But for me, the best part of Thanksgiving will be the quiet communion I have with my Father before the sun comes up. The rest of the day is just whipped cream on the pumpkin pie.

Don’t forget to give God thanks this Thanksgiving.

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Behind the Scenes

I didn’t expect all the challenges I would face when my daughters entered high school.

I knew things would be okay because God was with me. He would take care of the challenges, give me the correct answers, and make everything right. After all, I was a woman of faith.

Well, my faith evaporated like ice cubes left in the hot sun. I had to decide about parties, friends, curfews, makeup, skirt length, phone privileges, and discipline. I knew I had to bring them up to love the Lord above all else, but wondered if I was giving them mixed messages when they saw me lose my temper and yell at them. Did that show God’s love?

Raising kids in the eighties and nineties was different than today. It was even more different when Solomon penned the proverb, Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. I didn’t have to deal with cell phones, the internet, foul language on the airways, music laden with obscenities, sex education beginning in kindergarten, schools that follow a curriculum opposed to Christian values, a constant flow of bad news, and inappropriate behavior on television shows and movies.

Although the time was different, my mother’s love and concern were the same. There was a time when I was so desperate for answers that I poured out my heart to Jesus. If You are really there, why aren’t You answering my prayers?  Don’t You see what’s happening? Don’t You care?

When I did, Jesus spoke the verse from Proverbs to my heart. Circumstances may have changed, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. When discouragement comes, we can trust in God’s goodness.

No matter your circumstances, remember God loves you. His Word is true, and you can count on it. He is working behind the scenes to accomplish more than you could ever imagine.

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A Homecoming to Remember

“Who lives here?”

“We do,” I said.

“How long have you lived here?”

“We live here together. Remember, I’m your wife.”

He stared until recognition crossed his face. “When can we go home?”

“We are home. This is where we live now.” Over and over, I gently prodded his memory.

Following a heart attack, a stroke, a fall that resulted in severe brain injury, and a lack of oxygen when his heart and lungs stopped functioning, my husband seemed a goner by medical staff. Miraculously, he survived, but he would need long-term care.

After four weeks, he walked into our home—a home he didn’t recognize. After several days, he began recalling the move to our house, and his questions changed.

“When did we leave the old house?”

“About nine years ago,” I responded.

“Where do we keep the soap?” Or shampoo, bowls, or countless other items used daily. We found them together.

One part of our routine he never questioned was our evening time of Bible reading and prayer. After I finished reading a Bible passage each night—and before we prayed and turned out the lights—he clasped my hand in his.

My husband’s need for outpatient therapy lasted only a few weeks. He quickly progressed from walker to cane to nothing but supervision. Gradually, he regained almost full independence. Bit by bit, most of his memory also returned. He moved from little long-term and almost no short-term memory to primarily short-term memory loss.

The summer following my husband’s hospitalizations, we took a short vacation. Although a refreshing change, it also proved exhausting. The closer we came to Kentucky on our return home, the more excited we grew. Finally, we crossed the state line. With joy in my heart, I echoed his spoken sentiment: “I’ll certainly be glad when we get home.”

Our experience pales in comparison to the rejoicing we’ll experience when we cross the threshold of our eternal home.

Jesus waits with open arms for you to come home. Are you ready?

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Underwater Caves

I once watched a YouTube video about underwater caves. Explorers entered caves, which had stalagmites and stalagmites, as well as other interesting things from long ago. This is one reason explorers love diving into them.

Several men talked about how scientists had said climate change could destroy the blue holes and the underwater caves within a lifetime. One man said he didn't know how he could go on if he didn't have his “church underwater”—as if to say he thought he'd have no reason for living without underwater caves.

I thought of this verse: Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of person ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness. I love watching videos about scuba diving, and if I wasn't legally blind and had the chance, I think I would scuba dive—although I may not explore underwater caves.

God says there will come a time when He will burn up the earth. In the book of Revelation, John said he saw no more sea. Although this can be disappointing to sea lovers, what God has in eternity for those who love Him is far better than anything our minds can comprehend or earth can offer.

Peter says we should live our lives to please God so that we'll be ready to see Jesus face-to-face, which will be the most wonderful thing we will ever experience.  

Live your life as though you want to see Jesus face-to-face.

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Obstacles

The date was October 17, 1954, and Guy and Bryte Lane were hiking across Oak Island, North Carolina.

Their stroll was not a Sunday stroll. Because the bridge was out, they had to take a makeshift ferry just to get to the island. The roads they had traveled in the past were impassable or obliterated. The majestic oaks that gave the island its name lay in mangled ruin.

Guy and Bryte made their way to Long Beach, where they hoped to find their two-year-old oceanfront beach cottage, Sea Lane, still standing. Two days earlier, Hurricane Hazel had howled ashore just south of Oak Island.

When the couple finally broke out of the trees, they paused in shock. The beach had been wiped clean. Out of the 357 structures that had stood forty-eight hours earlier, only five remained on their foundation. Most cottages were in a jumbled mess, 500 feet from where they had once stood. The hurricane had created a brand new inlet, splitting the island in half.

And so it was with Sea Lane. As Guy and Bryte reached what had once been East Beach Drive, they realized their beloved cottage, like so many others, was gone.

The story could have ended here. Guy could have sold the oceanfront lots he owned and washed his hands of the whole affair. But he didn’t. Half buried in the swamp behind the beach, Guy found a surprisingly intact cottage. He contacted the owner, purchased it for $500, hauled it back to the beach, and put it up on deep-driven wooden pilings. There, his wife and their four children painstakingly cleaned out the mud and swamp water.

This new “Sea Lane” provided generations of Guy and Bryte’s children, grandchildren (including your humble author), and great-grandchildren with years of memories. All because Guy Lane refused to let a hurricane stand in the way of providing for his wife the beach cottage she longed to enjoy.

Paul encountered constant obstacles as he struggled to fulfill God’s will: hunger, thirst, robbery, shipwrecks, snakebite, beatings, stoning, and even a hurricane of his own. Yet he, too, persevered and completed the journey God set before him.

What is God calling you to finish today? Don’t let obstacles keep you from it.

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Here One Day, Gone the Next

The tree loppers worked hard.

Our yard backs up to a school playground. We rose one morning to the sound of chain saws. The workers were removing a mistletoe-infested tree from the school yard.

Tall and majestic and a leafy haven for local birdlife, the tree was there one day, gone the next. The sounds of the birds disappeared. All was quiet. No longer did we experience the music of baby birds learning to feed and fly.

Change also occurred for us. Our view changed. Our yard now laid bare and open to all passersby.  

Sometimes, God does this to us. When we become comfortable—settled in our ways and content with our rate of growth—He rips something from under us and propels us into another level of awakedness.

At first, we only see what we have lost. But as God gently opens new doors and possibilities, we see our lives afresh as new hope arises.

Ruth, a Moabite who married a Jewish son of Naomi, faced a similar situation. When these two women both lost their men to death, Ruth followed Naomi back to her homeland, an arduous journey with an unknown future. But God had great plans for Ruth. She resettled and eventually became King David’s great-grandmother and an ancestor to the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

As we sat in front of the fire during the winter months, we reflected on the change the tree loppers brought to our comfort zone. We gained enough wood to heat our home the whole winter. Birds, too, are slowly returning to our backyard.

Adjusting to sudden change can be traumatic. Sometimes life throws us unto unfamiliar territory. Change gives us opportunity to remember God always accompanies us wherever we go, whatever we do, and whatever happens. Then, peace invades our hearts as we explore those new horizons He opens, which help us mature into the image of Jesus Christ.

Allow God to make the changes needed for you to grow. He is trustworthy.

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Come to the Table

Some of my fondest memories have been around our four-legged beast.

Dinner time has always been an event at our house. Our family comes together around our table to eat, but conversations emerge and then laughter—lots of laughter. Sometimes, we toss food around, feed the dogs under the table what the kids don’t want, read the Bible, and make prayers—all the time. 

We have signed college scholarship papers for two of our kids on that table, celebrated many birthdays, and completed numerous homework assignments. It's a hallmark of our kitchen. It bids us come, eat, fellowship, be in the vicinity of each other, watch the outdoors when in disagreement, and hold hands to pray in good and bad times.

We've changed diapers on that table when necessary as well as popped champagne and wiped tears. But one thing stands firm: we were never alone around the table. Even when we couldn’t find placemats and had to use paper plates, the table reminded us of love and an invitation to join. Loneliness has never surrounded our table. 

God also sets a table before us. He wants us to come, take a seat, and enjoy His company. But more than that, He invites us to commune, talk, reason, and argue. He also invites us to express disappointments and misunderstandings, shed tears, and talk about all kinds of mysteries. He wants us to jump up excitedly about victories won and mourn the losses that break our hearts.

But we have to join God. By doing so, we also let our heavenly siblings love on us and do life with us. Jesus ate with Pharisees, had expensive perfume poured on Him, served friends, prepared a table within eyesight of His enemies, and blessed food—all around a table. 

Jesus wants us to spend some time at the table and let Him serve us from the rich bounty of His Word. He can heal us of any brokenness we have.

Feast on God’s goodness. Let Him handfeed you His rich truths. 

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Fallen

Fall leaves crunch underfoot and brisk air invigorates every movement.

My girls squeal on the giant inflatable pillow at the pumpkin patch. Jumps and twirls delight them. The sister’s hold each other tightly as they race from one end to the other. The erratic bounces of the other gleeful children force a higher bounce and a tumble onto the lively pillow. Louder squeals ensue. Their joy is not hindered by a fall, but rather they look forward to the other sister pulling them back up. Complete trust in each other’s love. What an amazing gift from God.

As the writer of Ecclesiastes knew, we can’t do this thing called life alone. We need other people around us whom we can trust to pick us back up.

In my life, I’ve experienced no shortage of falls. However, there has been a lack of people I can count on to pick me back up.

As Christ followers, we know where our real help comes from—the Lord. If we lack in loving and trusting relationships, we can go to Him with our requests. He is a God of abundance, and His love for us is immeasurable. He will grant us friends to sit with us during hard times. He will bring divine connections of people who can speak light into our lives. He will let us feel His hand, lifting us up through the hands of His chosen people.

God will also give us the strength to pick others up. We will refuse to ignore their hurting. He will enable us to sit with someone in their pain without judgment.

Ask God for friends who have His character; patience, gentleness, and faithfulness.

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Heritages

As I write this, the Autumnal Equinox has arrived.

The first day of fall is a day of transformation at our house. Framing our front door are the black, red, and gold stripes of the flag of Germany and the blue and white diamonds of the flag of Bavaria. Lights decorate our windows, and large colorful leaves hang from our ceiling as if falling. Vibrant autumn-hued garlands of leaves and pumpkins outline our windows. Everywhere, symbols of Oktoberfest abound.

The reason for all this? My wife is a daughter of Germany—from Augsburg in Bavaria—where this time of year all eyes are on the bright lights, rides, and tents of the Oktoberfest in Munich. It has been fifty-five years since my dear Charlotte was last in her native Bavaria. But we decorate to celebrate the opening of the Oktoberfest in Munich and to bring a little of the Oktoberfest to Charlotte.

This time next month, Charlotte and I, along with family and friends, will gather in the northeast Georgia mountains for one of the best Oktoberfests this side of Munich. It is an annual event for us—part vacation and part family reunion. I'll hope my Lederhosen fits for another year, and Charlotte will joyfully get out her colorful Dirndls. We'll dance polkas and waltzes to accordion-heavy oompah bands, and feast on bratwursts and pretzels. (We're not talking bags of Snyders here. We're talking the dinner-plate size soft, hot, and incredibly delicious authentic Bavarian pretzels shipped from Munich.) It is all to let Charlotte touch her heritage … to hold on to that part of her she once called home.

I also have another celebration of another faraway heritage. My body … my life … is an ongoing celebration of my future with my Father in heaven.

Through Moses, God gave the Israelites annual celebrations and events that pictured the coming Christ. I have been given the Bible, the Word of God. It is a picture of my heritage. Its words are my celebration. Its Psalms are my songs. In it are my proper attire, my armor, my wisdom. Inside it are the seeds of my future, waiting to be planted, so that I can be a true ambassador of my proper, genuine, and authentic home. Now that's worth celebrating.

Find a way to celebrate your heavenly heritage.

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Serving When It's Uncomfortable

Here I was, right in the thick of it.

Day three of Vacation Bible School rolled around. This, I had argued with the children’s director who had asked me to volunteer, was not my spiritual gift. I felt called to teach women.

She countered with “You are a Bible teacher, and we need you. I can count on you to teach the truth.”

The day before, I had taught the children about the plagues of the Exodus. They really enjoyed hearing about the boils. By day three, they were overly excited and practically bouncing off the walls. I could barely contain them. I remarked to my co-teacher, “The first graders are here with their mob mentality. Be prepared.”

And much to my surprise, a deep connection happened. The first graders gave me their rapt attention. The Red Sea parted, and we tromped through the wilderness. Little Moses made bitter water sweet, and the breakfast cereal manna fascinated them. The paper quails kept their attention, and they recited in order everything they had learned the day before.

As I said goodbye, one of the little girls jumped into my arms for a hug. Her friends joined her and told me they would miss me. My heart was full (and convicted).

Children are a reward from God. We are a part of God’s family and should help bring children up so they know what it is to belong to the family. They just may surprise us and show us what the joy of our heritage is.

Don’t get stuck in a comfortable rut of serving God. God may have a surprise for you if you follow His leading.

Even when it is uncomfortable, enjoy God’s rewards.  

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In the Quiet

My friend and I tried for several weeks to coordinate our calendars for a game of golf. Finally, we found an afternoon when we were both available. We talked about our jobs, families, and church responsibilities. Each of us commented on how busy we are.

“I’m not as proud of my busyness as I used to be,” he said.

I nodded.  

“I realized not long ago that when I take time away from work I get a headache. I talked to my doctor about it. It seems I’ve never learned to rest. When I try to take time off, I feel nervous about what’s going on back at the office, about getting behind on things. It makes me physically ill.” 

Life throws various stresses at us—jobs, school, family drama—making what God told the Israelites to do difficult, to observe the Sabbath. When we find a moment to relax, we can’t turn our minds off, sit still, or take a deep breath. Our inability to rest damages us physically and spiritually. Hurry jeopardizes our souls, leaving us weary and vulnerable to temptation and distracting us from the Father.

Meister Eckhart, a German philosopher from the thirteenth century, observed, “God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by subtracting.”

When we subtract hurry, distraction, and anxiousness, the fog of busyness dissipates and we see, maybe for the first time in a long time, the beauty and glory of our Lord.

In order to honor the Sabbath, we must break from work and rest, pushing the mess of life from our minds, hearts, and bodies. We focus on God—remembering and worshipping. In these moments, God is the Lord who makes us holy and molds us in the quiet.

So sit on the back deck with a glass of sweet tea. Or beside the creek with a fishing pole. Or in a quiet chapel with a Bible. Put the phone away, close the Outlook calendar, and exhale. Mediate. Reflect. Gaze upon God’s glory, and let Him cleanse your soul and fill your heart with His holiness.

Breathe in, breathe out, and be filled with God’s presence.

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Divine Safety in Emergencies

In times of national emergencies, a buffer zone is usually a safe haven for vulnerable people facing stormy blasts.

During such times, people value the importance of peace and safety. National governments have to put in place adequate measures to arrest this ugly trend as soon as possible.

Sometimes in our nation, there are instances of national emergencies or conflict, but God has kept His people far away from these unforeseen situations. Whenever there is tension in our nation, we call on God before we do the government.

National disaster had taken place in Egypt. Hail, mingled with fire, affected the lives of people, plants, and animals. Tension reigned, but God secured His own people who were in the land of Goshen. The ravaging disaster did not touch them.

God knows how to secure His people in times of crisis. He is our shield and buckler, a present help in trouble. He wants us in His camp so His defence will continuously rest on those who put their trust in Him.

To enjoy divine safety in times of emergencies, we must be a friend of God. He is a Father who values the safety of His people. He is our rock and fortress always.

Trust God to keep you and your family safe in His hand and far away from any spiritual and physical disaster.

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There's No Hiding from God

The three-year-old sat in the middle of the floor and covered his eyes with his chubby fingers.

“You tant fin’ me now,” he said. All of the adults laughed. The child truly thought that because he couldn’t see anyone in the room, they couldn’t see him.

But the age-old game of hide-and-seek ceases to be funny when we try it out on God. “If I can’t see you, Lord—if I’m not praying, reading your Word, holding my tongue, controlling my anger, being obedient, and worshiping You as Lord of my life—then You can’t see all my mistakes and the mess I’ve made of my life. I’ll come out of hiding when I clean up my act.”

In reality, hiding from our Creator is impossible. He knows where we are every moment. He knows our thoughts and the intent of our heart. He hears every word spoken and sees every deed—good or bad. He even keeps track of the number of hairs on our head. The psalmist tells us there is no escaping His presence. And why would we want to?

Someone once said that trying to clean up our messes before we come to God is like waiting for the bleeding to stop before we go to the hospital. Our Father sees every need and patiently waits with open arms for us to run into them. He doesn’t want us to try to hide from Him, and He certainly doesn’t hide from us. God’s game is only to seek. He pursues us with His relentless love and expects us to seek Him with our whole heart.

If you’re living in the shadows, thinking you’re not visible on God’s radar, take His hand and walk into the glorious light of His presence. He will make all things new. No more hiding.

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Are We There Yet?

My grandson Caleb loves to ride in the car.

Caleb embraces the journey, describing every horse, monster truck, race car, fast food place, playground, and even the bugs on the windshield as we motor along. He keeps up a running commentary as we ride, as if he could pull the wondrous outside world into the car with him. With Caleb, it is never, “Are we there yet?” Rather, it’s always, “Can’t we go somewhere else?”

I wish I could face my daily journey as a Christian as enthusiastically as Caleb’s journeys in the car. Yes, I know I’m going to heaven, but there’s much more to my daily Christian life than just waiting for that wondrous final reward.

I remember singing in church of “the sweet by and by,” but all too often I wake up grumpy to a new day faced with the hard now and now. Yet that too is part of my journey, part of my growing process. Christ is alive in my heart, longing to fill every minute of my life if I would just let Him.

Paul speaks of our Christian life as a marathon, a long-distance run. As a former long-distance runner, I should appreciate this more, but I often find myself forgetting that the endurance of each step is its own reward. I find myself merely looking ahead to my promised finish line, rather than embracing the journey that gets me there. All too often, I start the day with, “Are we there yet?”

But God is patient with me, pulling me up and helping me start again on our daily walk together. He helps me sleepily put one foot in front of the other and take that first step of the new day. He reminds me He will be there when the race ends to sweep me into His arms—but also that He is in my heart right now, helping me every step of the way. And always I hear the whisper of His voice urging me to be more like Caleb ... to embrace His journey for me with boundless enthusiasm.

Don’t let preoccupation with your destination spoil your journey.

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Giving Thanks When Life Stinks

Wringing my hands, I tried to calm my fluttering stomach while my mother and I waited in the hard-cushioned chairs.

Sounds of squeaking shoes and a crying child echoed from the hall into our small room. Opening the door, the neurologist greeted us and washed his hands. He asked a few questions and examined my mom. His next sentence took our breath away: “You have Lou Gehrig’s Disease.” 

Mom and I ducked into a private room and hugged as tears streamed down our faces. Thoughts swirled in my mind, and worry seized my heart. ALS is terminal. Why God? Why my mom? How can this be Your will?

On the night of His betrayal, Jesus gave thanks. He knew Judas would betray him, but Jesus requested a Passover meal with him and the other disciples anyway. Jesus knew His suffering was imminent, yet He expressed gratitude to God—two times.

By focusing on His heavenly Father and the promise of the future reward, Jesus chose joy and endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). He realized suffering was temporary, but God’s promises were eternal.

My mom passed away one year later. Even though the pain still hurts and I miss her, I’m thankful for the promise of eternal life with our heavenly Father.

When trials come or when you receive earth-shattering news, follow Jesus’s example. Give thanks and focus on your heavenly Father. Ask God to center your eyes on Him, not your circumstances.

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Day at the Zoo

Walking with my wife and our grandson at a zoo near our house in Surprise, Arizona, I was overpowered by beauty.

Looking at the birds in the aviary, I was reminded of God. I saw birds with brilliant and diverse designs and stopped in silent awe. The Chinese pheasants were masterpieces of color, as was each species of bird surrounding them.

Standing there, I thought of a Bible verse: “All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, and another of birds” (1 Corinthians 15:39). And also, “God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth the living creatures according to its kind … each according to its kind and it was so’” (Genesis 1:24).

Later, we went to the aquarium and saw amazing fish, such as the “Discus fish,” which was so striking in all its pastel colors that our grandson stood still for several minutes.

We left the zoo thinking about the birds, the fish, and the giraffe—who stood fifteen-feet off the ground on a platform and ate out of our son’s hand. Our time together left us laughing, sharing, and blessed. The animals demonstrated Jesus’ creative love, for all things are made by Him.

The best outcome of the zoo trip was that our grandson asked Jesus to come into his heart after my wife testified to him and stressed how each person has to ask Jesus to do this. He now gives such beautiful prayers at our meals.

Talk about Jesus when you are with your children. Tell them about His love and what He has done. You will miss them someday if you are in heaven without them.

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Salad in the Mailbox

Sometimes, unusual things appear in rural mailboxes.

My husband, who was a minister, left me for a woman in our congregation. I had never worked outside the home, but God opened doors only He could have opened. Within three weeks, I was employed at a nonprofit organization.

When my husband left, we were living in the church’s parsonage. The officers of the church graciously gave permission for me to continue living there until a new minister was called. All they asked was that I keep the lawn mowed. Several people from the church were kind to me and gave needed support and encouragement. I will always remember their loving acts.

One hot summery day, I came home from a stressful day at work and stopped at the large rural mailbox to pick up my mail. Inside the box, I found a fresh crisp salad, accompanied by a container of salad dressing and crackers. Marjorie, an older member, had placed the salad in the mailbox just moments before she knew I’d be home. I enjoyed the tasty food twice as much, thinking of Marjorie and her thoughtfulness.

I lived in the parsonage for eight months until the church hired their new pastor. During that period, my special friends encouraged me in various ways. Verna was my listener and let me talk out my frustrations. Johnny and Velda, a sweet older couple, supplied me with meat and fresh eggs. Johnny also kept my push lawnmower working.

We don’t have to do extravagant things for people in order to give them a blessing. Small acts of kindness, like a salad in the mailbox, bring unexpected joy to those in need of encouragement.

When God’s Spirit nudges you to be a helper, an encourager, or a blessing, obey.

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Your Kisser Doesn't Work

My grandson once pinched his finger. Nothing serious. Just a small skin squeeze, but the sudden pain startled him. He waddled over to my chair and showed me his finger. I looked at it and asked if he wanted me to kiss it to make it better. He nodded and held up his finger.

I kissed it. "There, it's all better now."

He looked at his finger, looked at me, looked back at his finger, and then said, "Opa, your kisser doesn't work."

How many times have we heard the words, "The cancer has spread,” “There's been an accident,” or “We have to make some cuts in staff?" How many times have we fallen to our knees, begging God to remove the hurt, only to feel the pain gripping our heart?

Healing takes time. My grandson was young. He would learn that with time. God's healing takes time too, but we are young. We will learn this each time a new pain interrupts our day. We will also learn God's love is long-suffering … that He longs to hug us until the pain stops. And in the end, we forget the pain but never the touch of His embrace.

I lifted my grandson and placed him in my lap. I tucked his head against my chest and looked at his finger. In a few minutes, the sniffles stopped, and he hopped down and ran off—no longer focused on the pain.

We are never closer to God than when we hurt. Cry out to Him and say, "Kiss it, Opa, and make it better."

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Keeping in Contact

I stood there with a silent hope that the tiny box on the counter would hold what I needed to regain my vision—or at least, enough to get me by.

A rummage under the sink had produced an old, rogue, still-packaged contact. There I stood with the thankful find—a left-eye prescription, which, I discovered, not only brought refreshment to me but completely adequate vision.

We each stand in a spiritual fog at times. We pray for solutions to problems. We wonder what we should do. We ask God to confirm callings. It’s hard to see the right path. The situation feels stagnant or even desperate.

But as God’s own, we don’t have to remain there. Paul writes the method of gaining greater revelation: “Let God change you.”

To let God change us, we must be in His presence daily. In addition to communicating with Him through prayer, a relationship that consists of reading His living Word, offering Him our sacrifice of praise, and being still to listen for Him helps us receive needed alterations and obtain the clarity we seek.

God knows your exact prescription. By keeping in contact with Him, you will experience refreshment and see your vision improve.

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Weary of Waiting?

I looked at the list of prayer concerns written on the 3 x 5 card and released a sigh of frustration.

I’d been praying about some of the situations for months. Years. Decades. Why don’t I see any progress, Lord? I wondered.

Across the top of the card, I’d written Zechariah 8:6. This is what the LORD Almighty says: "All this may seem impossible to you now, a small and discouraged remnant of God’s people. But do you think this is impossible for me, the LORD Almighty?" I knew the answer to God’s question. Of course nothing is impossible for Him. He is the LORD Almighty, Jehovah Sabaoth, the Commander of Heaven’s Angel Armies. His power is unlimited. I didn’t doubt God’s ability to answer my prayers, but His delay chaffed me. The fabric of my faith had worn thin—too fragile to protect my spiritual skin from the irritation of His apparent inactivity.

So I whined a bit in my prayer that morning and admitted my discouragement: “I’m tired of praying about these things, Lord.” But even as I whispered those words, guilt pricked me. You don’t doubt His power. Why do you doubt His timing? That’s when the Holy Spirit seemed to ask, “What do you think faith is, Denise?”

I read Zechariah 8:6 again. One phrase stood out—“this may seem impossible.” What seems to be true and what is true are often opposites. The people to whom Zechariah spoke thought God had forsaken them. But He hadn’t. God asked them to trust His goodness, His wisdom, and His power by focusing on what they knew was true about Him.

He asks me to do the same thing. For some reason it’s easier for me to say, “I know He is able to fix this someday” than to say, “I know He is doing just what needs to be done today.” The first response is a wistful “maybe” faith; the second response is a confident “absolutely” faith.

God’s not indifferent to our requests. Every day He is doing just what needs to be done according to His eternal plan. Therefore, I’ve changed the way I present my prayer concerns to God. Instead of saying, “Do something about this, Lord,” I now say, “I know You love this person, Lord, and are working in his life,” or “I know You are working on the solution to this problem, Lord. Help me wait patiently, confident You have everything under control.”

Believe in God’s power, and you can wait for His timing.

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Broken Dishes and Forgiveness

I gathered the pieces and hid them in the bottom of the trashcan.

When I was a young girl, I broke my mother’s casserole dish. I still remember the feeling of its smooth surface, slick with water, as it slipped through my hands. For a moment, my heart stopped. Then, there was a loud crash and the dish shattered. When my mother came home, she asked, “Do you know what happened to my casserole dish?”

I am ashamed to say I lied. I told her I had no idea what had happened to it. My mother looked at me sadly and said, “I found the pieces in the bottom of the trashcan. I am very disappointed in you for lying.”

Many years later, I stumbled across the same dish at an antique store. The memory of my mother’s disappointed face rushed back to me. I purchased the dish immediately, lovingly wrapped it, and gave it to her as a gift.

When my mother opened the present, she was confused. “Thank you,” she said, “but I really don’t need another casserole dish.”

“Don’t you remember?” I asked. “This is a dish like the one I broke when I was young!”

She thought for a long time, then said with a smile, “Oh, I forgot all about that. I forgave you years ago.”

Although Mom had completely forgotten about the incident, it took me years to forgive myself. The forgiveness my mother showed me mirrors the forgiveness that God, our heavenly parent, shows toward us.

The psalmist tells us we are blessed when our sins are forgiven. We have no need to carry our guilt and sin with us for years—the way I carried the guilt I felt over breaking my mother’s casserole dish.

Sometimes, forgiving ourselves for mistakes we have made in the past is difficult, but God waits to offer us forgiveness. All we need to do is ask.

If there is something you have carried on your heart for years, ask God’s forgiveness—and then forgive yourself.

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Storms

The brilliant blue-white flash and the accompanying ripping crash of thunder brought me out of my nap in my office chair.

The wind hit the house as if God himself was knocking and wanted in badly. The warnings about this weather system had blared all day. The television weather-heads were beside themselves in their earnest misgivings. The computer monitor flashed continuous threats as Accuweather—the National Weather Service—and Weather Underground all chimed in with their concerns. Finally, my phone also joined the fun—beeping, dinging, and buzzing for my attention. Severe Thunderstorm Warning! Seek Shelter Now!

I ignored them and took a nap instead. The constant onslaught of dire weather warnings in this age of constant communication has all but caused me to tune them out. This past winter we endured snow warnings. Three inches, five inches, and eight inches were all forecast breathlessly. In the end, we didn't get the first snowflake.

But that was then; this was now. This time they had gotten it right. The house shook from the wind, and thunder roiled the atmosphere. I went to the front door just in time to see my heavy grill cover lifting from the grill. Stepping onto the porch, I was immediately blasted by the wind. Grabbing the grill cover, I wrestled it back into place and secured it with a block of firewood.

Incredibly, the wind got stronger. Small limbs blew past me. As I watched, the lawn chairs around the firepit lifted and flew toward the woods. Moving to get back inside, I cracked opened the storm door and felt it rip out of my hand. I grabbed it with both hands and stepped back inside. It took all my strength to pull the door shut. We survived with only a downed tree, fallen limbs, and a ripped camper canopy.

However, there is another storm coming. Indeed, it is already here. And God's Word is full of strident warnings about it's coming. The Bible's great summation—its "take away"—to the entire story is the Book of Revelation. And Revelation's beautiful message is simply this: Jesus IS coming back, and tribulation and persecution will precede His coming.

We have been warned. The alerts are sounding. The time is close ... so very close.

Think of something you can do to get ready for Jesus’ coming.

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Strong and Courageous

One in eight women develop breast cancer. I am one.

On the drive to my routine mammogram one November day, I became overwhelmed with emotion. My mind raced. What if I have cancer? After I was diagnosed with breast cancer later in the week, I remembered that moment. Never before had I experienced something like this.

God was with me, preparing my heart. He continued to give me strength every step of my journey. Cancer wasn’t always easy, but He promised to be with me. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord is with you wherever you go. Words, such as the ones He gave to Joshua, delivered peace. I saw evidence of God’s hand throughout my treatment. In many ways, He confirmed His Word to me.

According to God’s Word to Joshua, we do not need to be afraid. God is with us wherever we go. This is a wonderful gift for any situation in our lives, even the really difficult, discouraging, and scary ones.

Imagining not being afraid in scary situations is difficult, but that’s what God commands. He knew life would be difficult, so He gave us many verses to comfort and guide us. He also said He would be beside us.

Whatever your life struggle, God wants to meet you in the situation. Trust in Him and His promises, and remember the Lord is with you wherever you go.

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More of a Father's Love

The call never came.

My boys waited for the phone to ring, and, once again, their dad failed the simple task of a call. I’m not sure which made me angrier: The fact their dad lied to them or the sadness on their little faces when the phone remained silent.

No one wins in a divorce. Everyone, at some point, pays a price. My price for a failed marriage was watching my two little guys be disappointed. I had no explanation why their dad opted to ignore them. All I could do was give them a hug. “I promise. I’ll never let you down.”

My youngest stared at the floor as he walked away. He was brokenhearted, and there was nothing I could do—nothing I could give to ease his pain.

My husband leaned against the wall and eyed my son. “I need some help. Can you give me a hand?” My son nodded.

Tim picked up his stepson and gave him a bear hug. “I love ya, son,” he said, then dropped into the rocker and began to rock so hard his feet flew off the floor. It was only seconds before giggles rang through the living room and both boys were rocking with their stepdad. A simple gift. Immense love for children who were not his biologically, but ones he called his own.

Our Father in Heaven loves us so much that He pursues us. Even when we don’t feel worthy or when our hearts are breaking, His love never fails. His love for us is so immense that He calls us His children. His. Children. How amazing is that?

In the moment of his stepchild’s pain, Tim did what he could and gave what he could to show my son love. The biology brings about conception, but a real father makes the child. My boys grew into fine men, thanks to this wonderful stepdad.

The love of a good father shapes us in wonderful ways, just as the love of God shapes us eternally. Whether you have a good earthly father or not does not mean your heavenly Father turns His back. He is faithfully there.

Happy Father’s Day. May the love of the good Father fill your heart.

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God's Love Is with Us

“Place this in your front windshield,” the park ranger said, handing me a permit sticker.

I stuck it on as instructed. Later, I needed to remove it. Some came off, but one piece remained affixed. I tried window cleaner. No luck. Next, I tried a razor blade. Still, one persistent strip of glue remained. A last-ditch effort with rubbing alcohol removed every trace. The sticker lived up to its name by not letting go of the glass.

Like the sticker, God’s love clings to us no matter what our situation. We may feel unworthy, but what we think does not matter. We may mess up, but God’s love holds, sticking to us regardless of the circumstances. Nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Paul knew this because he endured many hardships for his faith. He was persecuted, beaten, shipwrecked, and imprisoned. Nothing—not prison walls or the considerable power of the Roman Empire—could contain his witness. While imprisoned, he wrote letters of encouragement to fellow Christians all over the known world. He told them Christ died for all and that God gave His Son because He loves us. Words that still inspire and teach Christians today.

Sometimes, I feel inadequate to describe God's love. At other times, I lack the resources or courage. Because God and His amazing love are always with me, I can overcome my misgivings. Sharing God's love is not always easy, but possible with His help.

Remember that nothing can separate you from God’s love. Then, tell others.

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Take Responsibility for Your Own Actions

Growing up, it became a way of life—blaming others for my mistakes.

Raised by a strict and sometimes harsh grandfather, I was expected to be perfect. You know, the child who’s seen and not heard. To avoid his anger and unfair punishment, I learned to shift the blame.

As I got older, the habit continued. I struggled with inferiority and low self-esteem, feeling as if everyone was constantly judging me—especially when I blew it. It was very difficult to admit when I was wrong or at fault … to anyone. As a result, I became an angry person.

After battling anger for years and begging God to deliver me from this emotional baggage, my life changed dramatically one day when He told me I was choosing that behavior. It had become my default. When unable to control or fix a situation, my typical response was anger. My deliverance from that ungodly behavior came when I finally accepted responsibility for my own actions and stopped blaming everyone around me.

Too many times, especially as Christians, we tend to think admitting our faults and mistakes makes us weak. Others might think there’s something wrong with us. We want to be perfect in the world’s eyes.

As I found out, nothing could be further from the truth. It takes strength and courage to admit we’re wrong. Not only that, the Bible says Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed (James 5:16 KJV). When we confess those faults (sins, shortcomings, failures, mistakes, blunders, mishaps, and faux pas), God forgives us and sets us back on the right path. We develop more compassion, even for ourselves. We’re also able to see things from a godly perspective.

One writer says, “Mistakes are natural and inevitable—and they’re just mistakes. They can be corrected. It doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you.”

If you’ve become accustomed to shifting the blame, maybe it’s time to take responsibility for your own actions. When you do, God will set you free, pour out His forgiveness, and enable you to walk in the peace that passes human comprehension.

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Glasses

Suddenly, I could see.

For the first time in several years, the world swam into sharp focus. It had been too long since I had had new glasses, and I had forgotten what it was like to have everything in exact and precise relief. Colors leaped out at me in the distance. Glancing at my wrist, I marveled that I could read the day and date on my watch.

I have worn glasses since the fourth grade. My eyes and my vision have been my personal thorn-in-my side all my life. From the very beginning, I hated glasses. Well, maybe not from the very beginning, but at least from the first mocking "four-eyes" that came echoing down the school hall. I yanked the glasses off and shoved them into my pocket. And for the most part, they stayed there.

As soon as I could talk Mom and Dad into them, I tried contacts. Of course, it turned out I was allergic to them. My eyes simply wouldn't tolerate them. So it was back to the glasses.

Eventually, vanity gave way to practicality, especially when I had to buy glasses myself and they became a permanent fixture on my face. They lasted a lot longer there, doing what they were supposed to do, than they did crammed into my pocket.

For too long, I treated God's Word like my glasses. I've had a Bible my whole life. But without opening it, without reading it, without studying it ... it did me as much good as those glasses did in my pocket. That Holy-Spirit-breathed Word, those life-given verses, are God's glasses for me to see His world. I have to get that Word into me ... to wear it like a pair of glasses to see my Lord and the supernatural world that is our forever home.

God gives many descriptions of His Word: a double-edged sword, a light on my path, bread, rivers of living water, and even Jesus Himself. But the description that suits me best is the Word as glasses. My glasses. My vision into my Lord's world and His way for my life.

Don't be like me and leave those glasses, His Word, stuffed and useless in your pocket. Put them on. Discover His world. See what He desires for you to see.

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The Young Man, the Old Man

The young man went from one frustrating job to another, from one get-rich-quick scheme to another. When confronted with his need of Jesus, his answer was “I am a spiritual man. I do not need Jesus.”

The old man referred to God as the “man in the sky” or sometimes, “the man upstairs.” He relied on being a non-active member of a denomination and his good deeds to make him eligible for heaven.

To walk through life relying on our own spirituality or concept of God is the pathway to hell. Only the Word of God, Jesus Himself, is able to bring us truth and spiritual inheritance in heaven.

To be economically rich but spiritually poor is bondage to the kingdom of darkness. Only the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ leads to a heavenly eternal life.

Many people claim to believe in God, but what god? There is only one living God–only one sovereign Lord. To pass from death to life, we must hear the words of Jesus and believe it is Father God who has sent Him to give eternal life.

The young man still denies his need of Jesus, but the old man, once confronted with the gospel truth, became a believer a few weeks before passing into heaven.

Accept Jesus today. Tomorrow may be too late to make this life-changing decision.

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Walking the Aisle with Mom

When I was small, a caring woman took me to Sunday school and worship services. As an older youth and teenager, I walked alone to a church in my neighborhood because my parents were not Christians, nor did they attend a church.

Then a revival began at the church I attended. The minister stopped at our house to invite Mom. She was hesitant at first but eventually promised the minister she would attend. At the age of fifteen, I was led by God’s Spirit to accept Jesus Christ, but I was too shy to walk the aisle by myself to make the decision public.

The first night of the revival, Mom and I sat near the door in case we wanted to leave, but we stayed. On the second night, as the congregation sang “Softly and Tenderly,” Mom said she was going forward.

Her heart had been touched to accept Jesus. I wanted to go also, but that long aisle seemed to stretch forever. I tried to talk Mom into waiting until the final verse, but she wouldn’t wait. I walked the aisle with her, and we made our decisions known.

Mom’s road as a Christian was not smooth. My father wouldn’t attend services and denied God’s existence. Still, as long as she was physically able, Mom faithfully attended.

I would have eventually had the courage to walk that long aisle, but with Mom at my side, I was encouraged to do so at an earlier age. Perhaps, through the years I attended church alone, God’s Spirit spoke to Mom about salvation. I am thankful she heard and obeyed.

Many times through the witness of a family member’s faith in God, an entire family will accept salvation.

If you struggle to live your faith before an unbelieving family, don’t give up. God may use your witness to bring about their salvation.

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End to Enders

My wife, Charlotte, and I are official “End to Enders.”

A framed certificate hanging on the wall in my office (okay it’s not so much an office as a corner of the living room) proves it. The Blue Ridge Parkway awards it as a promotional campaign to anyone who has traveled the entire length of the Parkway.

From earliest memory, my family has traveled and camped on the Parkway. When I was a boy, it was a road of mystery—waterfalls, incredible vistas, ancient log cabins, and wildlife in abundance. For me, the Parkway hosts a lifetime of memories, from camping to picnicking to racing my little brother up Mt. Pisgah.

From an abundance of mountaintops up and down the Parkway, one can look down and see miles of concrete ribbon as it winds along the ridge tops. As a boy, I imagined God seeing us this way, gazing down from some remote spot high above, occasionally brushing aside a cloud to get a better view.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered my youthful analogy has held up. No, I don’t think God peers down through the clouds, although He might, but rather that He lives in me and with me. What comforts me, like my boyhood image of God looking down on the Parkway, is that God knows the twists and turns of my life from beginning to end.

God can see what I can’t—what lies around the bends in the road and what joys and dangers are hidden from me by the curves of life’s highway. He provides what I’ll need. He teaches me lessons that will serve me up ahead on the road—in some future situation I can’t even imagine now—because He knows where my life’s path is going.

I take comfort in that … when I remember it. Sometimes God has to remind me He is in control.  And He knows the road ahead far better than I do.

When the curves in your life’s road seem too sharp to handle, remember God knows what lies around the corner and has an ‘End to Ender’ certificate awaiting you. Trust in Him.

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Believe and Declare

Easter has always been hard for us.

Since he was a child, my disabled son has hated Easter. It scares him. Even as an adult, he still can’t manage seeing the dead body of Christ hanging on the cross. Honestly, I have a hard time seeing it too. But it’s for a different reason.

Where Chase is fearful of the scene, my heart is simply ripped out of my chest. Wrapping my head around the sacrifice is difficult. I feel undeserving and guilt ridden. It is not uncommon for me to burst into tears when I see the Passion story.

Our church did a mini version of the Passion play for our children. Those who directed the walk were very sensitive to what small children could take in, so instead of Jesus hanging on the cross, it was draped in purple cloth, surrounded by green plants, and adorned with a crown of thorns on top.

A soft light lit the cross from the bottom and conveyed the story perfectly. During this scene, we also saw the angels at the tomb who said, “Do not be afraid. He has risen. Go and tell everyone.” The words were simple yet powerful. He has risen. Go and tell everyone. Wow.

Paul said it well. Declare with your mouth Jesus is Lord. Believe with your heart He was raised from the dead and salvation is yours. He wanted the people to put their heart where their words were. Believe and profess. The sacrifice was made for us.

Easter can be scary when we think of the level mankind stooped to end Jesus’ life. Taking in the cruelty of man is hard. But what an offering. What a gift. We earned God’s acceptance and forgiveness through that cruelty. It shouldn’t be hard for us to open our hearts and believe, then open our mouths and profess that Christ is Lord. He died, was buried, and was raised from the dead, overcoming that which Satan will never overcome.

On Easter morning, remember that Jesus rose with the morning sun and that His glory still shines above all else. Rejoice. Believe. Declare Him King of Kings and be saved.

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(Phote courtesy of Cindy Sproles. 

 



Find Rest

“If only I could have a little peace and quiet—a minute to hear myself think with no one calling my name or needing me to fulfill a request. Is it asking too much to have time to do what I want for a change?”

Ah! Rest. How nice that would be. Sound familiar? Despite my best efforts to plan and prioritize tasks, too often the unplanned and unprioritized tasks compete for my attention. During these times, the words of Jesus bring comfort to my weary soul. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Jesus invites us to come and learn from Him. But we are only able to do so when we stop the merry-go-round of busyness and sit peacefully in His presence. Alone with the Lord, we are ready to listen and to learn.  

The Word of God always provides just what I need—especially in moments of mayhem. I learn best by reading the Bible. When I do, God’s glorious rest engulfs me like a warm blanket. I am reminded why Jesus wants my attention. He does not want to add another burden but to exchange mine for His. My burdens are too heavy, but His burdens are light, because He bears the full weight.

Ask God to help you slow down and refocus your attention on the One who gives sweet rest and carries your burdens. His rest will satisfy your soul and strengthen your hands to do what you need to do.

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Out of Sight

The problem was my right heel.

Dry skin had caused my skin to split. Each step hurt. Even putting on socks made me wince. The pain did not start overnight, but had gotten worse with time. I ignored the pain because I could not see the bottom of my foot. Out of sight, out of mind. But the longer I ignored it, the worse it became.

Sin is like that deep crack in my heel. Since I am blind to my own weaknesses, I mentally dismiss them. Everyone except me can see my flaws and sins clearly. God sees my heart too, and knows how sinful I am.

I once thought I was doing well. I went to church, didn’t steal or cheat, never used illegal drugs, never had premarital sex, and never drank alcohol. By my own standards, I was flawless.

Of course, I ignored all my other faults. Wasn’t it right to conceal those minor blemishes? No one can see them, I thought, so I marched along as if they weren’t there. The split got bigger and deeper all the time.

The day came when I could no longer ignore them. Just because I couldn’t see what was wrong did not mean I was not bringing pain to myself. The time had come to “examine my heel.” As soon as my wife did so, she researched online and went to work to take care of my foot. Thankfully, it did not take a physician to realize what the problem was. My heel began healing.

The Holy Spirit convicts us concerning sin and shows us the way out, so it’s important to regularly ask Him to examine us thoroughly as the psalmist did, showing us all our hurtful and harmful ways.

When you develop a crack in your soul, let someone take a closer look, especially God’s Spirit.

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Bobby's Prayer

In 1937, on a sick bed in Caswell County, North Carolina, a seven-year-old boy lay dying of pneumonia.

Ladies in the neighborhood relieved his exhausted mother by sitting at his bedside through the night and wiping his fevered brow. Their efforts did nothing to slow the gradual strangling as his lungs filled with fluid.

Dr. Simpson came to see the boy twice a day. One day, he gave the family the bad news. Although drifting in and out of consciousness, the little boy heard the news, understood his condition, and in his heart prayed, “Lord, please don’t let me die. It would hurt my mother too much.”

When he was conscious, the boy repeated his simple prayer. One day, in the upper left corner of his darkened room, a light appeared and then a voice: “Stop worrying. You are not going to die. Go back to sleep. You need the rest.” A deep peace came over the boy.

When the boy next awoke, Dr. Simpson was back, and daylight filled the room. The boy heard Dr. Simpson tell his parents, “I don’t want to give you false hope, but his vital signs are a little better.”

Again the boy slept, and again he awoke to Dr. Simpson checking him. Late afternoon light filled the room. The doctor said to the mother, “I think we may be turning the corner.” The boy’s mother left the room so no one would see her tears.

As Dr. Simpson turned to pull the boy’s covers up, the boy touched his arm and said, “I’ll not die.”

Dr. Simpson bent low and said, “No, Bobby, you’re not going to die.”

The doctor started to rise, but Bobby wasn’t finished. “Last night, I prayed, ‘Lord, don’t let me die.’ And God said, ‘You are not going to die.’”

The boy’s strength vanished, and he collapsed back into his pillow. Dr. Simpson leaned closely. “Bobby, you keep talking to God. He is a better doctor than I am.”

Bobby did, and through his recovery from pneumonia and multiple surgeries as a teenager to recover from the devastating effects of polio, he kept talking to God. And God kept answering. I know, because Bobby is my father, Robert Eudean Spencer  And on Tuesday,  March 26th, he celebrated his 89th birthday.

God listens. Put your cares before Him, and listen for His answer.

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Praying for Eyes to See

Some things God wants us to see are often overlooked and missed.

We once invited a married couple we’ve known for several years to church. We were concerned for the spiritual growth of the wife and had prayed many times for her strength in the Lord. At the end of the service, the unexpected and incredible happened. The husband responded to a call to invite Jesus into his heart.

The man broke down with tears in his eyes, raised his hand high, and invited Jesus into his heart. My wife and I were astonished. We were so focused on helping the wife that we had missed the one with the greatest need.

The book of Acts paints a picture of a similar situation. Peter and John were on their way to pray in the temple when they passed a paralyzed man sitting at the gate and begging for money. He lay there daily and had been passed by not one time but many times by believers. Apparently, no one said anything to him until Peter and John gave him the invitation of a lifetime.

God works in mysterious ways, and He wants to use us to tell the story. Often, we look for the right situation before we step out and share our faith. We seek God’s will but walk right by situations where He needs us to intervene. Once my wife Gail could not find her cell phone, and she was holding it in her hand.

Maybe you’ve passed by a similar situation as Peter and John. Perhaps you weren’t walking into a temple to pray, but the idea is the same. If we’re too busy and inwardly focused, we can miss those who need us the most.

Ask God to give you the eyes to see the opportunities He lays before you.

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Decisions, Decisions

Decisions stink. Well, some do.

Deciding to have chocolate fudge brownie ice cream over an ice cream sandwich isn’t so bad. It’s more a win-win decision, but those decisions that tax us with restless nights, worry, and fear “ain’t so much fun.”

I’ve struggled with a decision for two years, truly not knowing if God was trying to move me or if I simply struggled with fear. Fear is my weakest link. I like having a plan in place, knowing that if plan A fails, I still have plan B, and if I get a little obsessed . . . plan C.

At times my first plan has failed, but I moved seamlessly into the next with little to no worry. Still there are those pesky decisions that eat away at us. The ones we struggle to give over to the great Decision Maker. We think we’re so smart, hanging on, fretting, worrying over what God sometimes looks at as . . . minute. This doesn’t lessen the extremity of the decision we must make. God gets that, but to Him it boils down to trust.

Paul knew through the Spirit there was no need for us to worry or fret. He worked tirelessly to help people understand this newfound Christian life through Christ Jesus. He confirmed that God loves His people and when those people allow Him, He works magnificent things both spiritually and physically. Paul wanted them to understand this amazing love of God. A God who could and would work to the good when we love and trust Him.

That’s the hard part–trusting Him. We’re such an impatient people, demanding results now when in truth the growth in trust is valuable. The success in waiting is so much better than an impulsive resolution. We know in all things God works for the good. He calls us according to His will and ultimate plan with the promise to care for us, not harm us. BUT, we must trust in His timing. In His plan. In His will.

I’m a worrier. Sometimes releasing my grip on the decision is worse than the decision itself, but God has yet to let me down. Oh, He’s allowed me to walk through muck at times in order to strengthen and build me, but He has never let me down.

Loosen your grip on the decisions and let God work.

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Second Time Around

One of my relatives loves amusement park rides—the more extreme the better.

A merry-go-round and Ferris wheel provide all the excitement I need. Eventually, he talked me into getting onto a roller coaster he said was “not that bad.” Right!

He laughed as I questioned our sanity and offered to hold my hand. Clutching the security bar before me in a death grip, I replied in no uncertain terms, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

For each of my concerns, he had a ready answer. However, once the ride started, all my fears became reality. As we plunged and whirled, I promised God once I escaped I would never get on that thing again. And I have not.

That experience reminds me God offers second chances. When we suffer from poor choices, God waits for us to leave our senseless path and return to Him.

Like the father of the lost son, God’s arms open wide, ready to forgive. We’re unworthy, yet God waits to shower us with the finest and host a celebration on our behalf. When we return in confession and repentance, a feast of forgiveness and acceptance awaits.

Throughout the Bible—Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian bondage, the return of the Babylonian exiles, and countless others examples—God offers hope. God’s followers return home and rebuild their lives. We can too. However, we make the choice.

God loves us and wants the best for us. We can continue pointless spinning that takes us nowhere, or we can abandon all that for the greatest do-over we’ve ever known. 

Let God do a do-over in your life.

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Friend of God

As we sang “I Am a Friend of God,” the look on her face was obvious. She wasn’t buying it. When we got to the part “He calls me friend,” she sat and crossed her arms tightly across her chest.

After church, the woman cornered me. “I don’t believe that!” she huffed.

“Believe what?” I asked, knowing full well where the conversation was headed.

“God does not want to be my friend. I’m not even sure He knows who I am.” Her words came out harsh, but the tears pooled in her eyes gave away the longing in her heart.

The Bible tells us God no longer calls us servants, but friends. Some might ask, “How can that be?” The mighty One. The sovereign Lord. Alpha and Omega. The Great I Am. King of kings and Lord of lords who reigns in majesty on high.

And yet He chooses to make His home in our hearts. To be with us 24/7. To love us, heal us, redeem us, guide us, deliver us, bless us … and to call us friend.

It’s a dichotomy. A paradox. It’s unexplainable and beyond human comprehension. But God loves each one of us so much that He numbers the hairs on our head and engraves our name on the palm of His hand. He longs for us to take His hand and walk with Him throughout our day because He treasures our time together.

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes:

I AM the Creator of heaven and earth. Lord of all that is and all that will ever be. Although I AM unimaginably vast, I choose to dwell within you, permeating you with My presence. Only in the spirit realm could Someone so infinitely great live within someone so very small. Be awed by the Power and the Glory of my Spirit within you.

Worship the Lord and reverence His name, for He is high and lifted up and worthy to be praised. But don’t forget that He is as near as your breath. He is an up-close-and-personal God who desires an intimate relationship with each of His children.

God wants to hang out with you because He calls you friend. Will you let Him?

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Ah-Choo!

“SNEEZE!” “Sneeze-SNEEZE!!”

Out of the blue, my spring allergies reached out and smacked me upside the head. They came early, but I supposed the warm and wet winter we had had in Middle Tennessee caused them. All the symptoms suddenly appeared: incessant sneezing, clogged sinuses, itchy red eyes. These symptoms probably came from the grass pollen I’m particularly sensitive to, as well as cedars, which are prolific here. The old maps label the area I live in as “Cedar Forest.” Oh, happy day.

I’m also allergic to the cats that live with us. I usually keep those allergies under control, but when my system goes into overdrive because of other pollen, the cat allergies become a problem as well. Just getting close to one can cause more sneezing and even rashes. I’ve learned that with the first sneeze of spring to start a vigorous hourly hand-washing routine, as well as a frequent uses of hand sanitizer. This helps keep the cat’s contribution to my misery at a manageable level.

Two days after my allergies hit, our grandson Caleb came home from school with the flu. I knew I had the Asheville Christian Writers Conference coming up in a few days. And here Caleb had probably been spreading lovely influenza viruses around the house for at least 24 to 48 hours.

That’s when it hit me. For the day or so Caleb had been contagious before his symptoms hit, God had actually protected me through my allergies. While I had fussed and moaned about the clogged sinuses and constant hand washing, those things kept me safe from the influenza virus Caleb unknowingly spread all over the house. What I had cursed, my loving Father used for good. 

In the process of protecting me, my Father had also reminded me of yet another lesson I have been slow to learn. He is always with me, always loves me, and always works for my good—even in those things and in those times when I forget to look for Him. 

Always seek God. He is eternally there—even when you're sneezing.

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Tea Pot, Not a Barrel

I saw two kids playing. They seemed to get along well until …

When snack time came, sharing became a problem. One child had a biscuit in one hand and a cookie in the other. She was supposed to pass the biscuit to her friend but wanted both for herself. Her friend looked on almost in tears, yet that didn’t change anything.

The first child then asked for some juice, but her mum refused. She wanted to teach her daughter to share. She could only have the juice if she passed along the biscuit and had an empty hand to receive the juice.

We’re often like the kid who wouldn’t share. We gather for ourselves. We receive from the Lord—who generously gives us many opportunities and resources—but we forget that He gives so we can share with others.

I often say God didn’t make us barrels to hold the things He gives us. He made us large teapots to pour out and fill others as He keeps refilling us.

In the parable of the talents, Jesus taught that it isn’t about what we are given or how much we receive. It’s about what we do with what we have.

If we keep everything to ourselves and do nothing with it, we misuse our resources. It is interesting to find a link between the lack of investment or multiplication of resources and their misuse. The greatest use of the resources and opportunities the Lord gives us is to invest them in other’s lives. That kind of investment multiplies and lasts. We only receive more of what we use, not what we keep.

Many people do not have the resources or the opportunities to turn certain resources into great life achievements. But they do have hands to accept what we give them. We must simply be willing to give.

Decide that you will be a teapot by helping others have a nourishing and fulfilling life.

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No Distractions

The day started out normally. The kind of day where I might have spent all day preparing to complete a project. Everything was going as planned, but suddenly all of the plans were derailed by an obstacle. I became frustrated, but then stopped and realized things could be worst.

If we can remember what God has already done, He will give us strength to press through, regardless of life’s challenges. Many times when navigating through life, our personal testimony gives us encouragement.

So do stories like that of Nehemiah. He had a heart to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and did not allow opposition to make him give up. During every step of progress, his adversaries tried to hinder his work, but he remained dedicated. At times, they were blatantly dishonest, trying to prevent Nehemiah from finishing what he started, but through much prayer, tenacity, and hard work, he completed the task.

Like Nehemiah, we have to remain focused on seeing our dreams come to pass. Whenever life becomes a little hectic and we are bombarded with things that attempt to distract us, we can always find inspiration in the Word of God. And when we know God is with us—even when we have to stop and regroup—we can press forward to fulfill His purpose for our lives.

Don’t allow distractions to keep you from trusting God to complete what He has started in your life.

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Learn to be Still

Be still and know that I am God.

“That sounds great, Lord, but You have no idea how busy I am today.”

Be still.

“I would love to spend time with You this morning, but my day is full. I have a doctor’s appointment, errands to run, a house to clean, and three baskets of laundry. Company is coming tomorrow. I can’t slow down or I’ll never make it. My to-do list is out of control.”

The truth I’ve learned is that I’ll never make it if I don’t slow down. When so many things vie for my attention, it’s crucial for me to stop and be still in God’s presence.

Being still is a learned discipline, especially for those of us who are workaholics and multi-taskers. It’s essential for the well-being of our soul. It refreshes us, revitalizes our mind and thoughts, and gives us a different perspective—a godly perspective. Being still helps us sort out what is important from what is not. It keeps our brain from getting stuck like a car in the mud—spinning and going nowhere.

Romans 12:1 (NKJV) tells us to present our bodies as a living sacrifice. But how do we practically do that? The Message explains it this way: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. 

God wants to be involved in every moment of our life. He cares about everything that concerns us and promises to be right there with us, giving us the strength, wisdom, and time we need to accomplish every task.

If you’re rushing around trying to keep up with all the demands on you, maybe it’s time to stop and be still.

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Waiting in Peace

We got the news last summer.

Because of overcrowding at the county’s brand spanking new high school, officials “re-assigned” our little section of the county to the much older Central High School. 

Our concern was for our 14-year-old grandson, Caleb, whom my wife Charlotte and I have raised since he was two. He will start high school next year, and we hoped he would attend the new school. Issues have plagued the older Central High over the years—the usual problems with urban high schools. We didn’t want Caleb to have any part of those.

Caleb is an A student, but his current school has its share of problems as well. Three principals in four years and severe budget restraints. Brand new teachers resigned on their first day. In one class, Caleb has had three different teachers this year alone. The school has a policy of no homework. All of this frustrates us because none of this prepares Caleb for high school or college.

We placed the situation before the Lord, asking for direction. Should we look at a private school? We couldn’t afford this, but we knew if that were God’s will, He would provide the means. That didn’t seem to be the direction we should go, so we continued to pray and worry and wait for an answer. 

Three weeks later, the answer came. As an honor student, Caleb had been invited to apply for Central High School’s “Collegiate Academy.” The older Central has the only public school pre-college honors program in the state of Tennessee. As a school-within-a-school, the selected students stay together for four years and support each other while preparing for college. We had no idea such a program existed, but this was perfect for Caleb. Of course, the Lord knew, and He arranged events so Caleb could attend.

I realize now I could have saved myself a ton of worrying if I had trusted and waited on the Lord. Just another reminder that as I grow in the Lord, I need to ACT on the Word, not just READ it. I need to learn to trust in the Lord and rest in His peace.

Let God teach you how to wait in peace on Him.

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Wake Up

I like to sleep when I am having a bad day and when everything seems to be falling out of place.

Yet I wake up to face the situation. Sleeping doesn’t solve the problem. The struggles and challenges in life go beyond a bad day. Sometimes we feel as if we are in the middle of a storm. Weathering life’s storm requires action, which means sleeping amid the storm is not an option.

The sailors woke Jonah (Jonah 1:6), and the disciples woke Jesus (Luke 8:24). Sleeping is viewed as not acting or taking proper action. Jonah was awakened to find a solution to the problem, and Jesus was called to save the day.

When going through a situation which may seem difficult, the last thing we need to do is sleep. The situation may be bad, but we need to wake up and act.

Taking action requires doing a number of things such as seeking God’s help, as in Jonah’s case. We ask God for strength, wisdom, and guidance to deal with the situation.

Taking action entails identifying who we are in Christ and what God expects of us.  

Taking action also means living out the power of God in each situation by acknowledging the authority of God.

Giving up, living in fear, or ignoring the situation is not the way to handle the issue. Salvation comes by calling on God, as well as speaking, meditating, and living out His word.

Don’t give up; wake up.

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God’s Peace in Tight Places

“You’ll be in the MRI machine for about forty-five minutes,” the technician told me. “What kind of music would you like in the headphones?”

“Gospel,” I said.

I’m not claustrophobic, but the thought of being in a narrow tube for nearly an hour, along with the health concern that prompted the test, troubled me.

MRI exams are extremely noisy as the machine takes images. The clatter added to the stress of an already difficult situation. But in the midst of it—and through the headphones the technician gave me—God assured me He was with me and would bless me.  

As I listened to the music, I was amazed to hear two songs that quoted the Scriptures I’d prayed that morning: He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4b), and No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me, says the Lord (Isaiah 54:17).

Tears sprang to my eyes as I rejoiced in that tight place and experienced a new level of God’s peace.

Gideon found himself in a tight place as he threshed wheat in a winepress to hide from the enemies of his people. It was a fearful time, but God sent His angel to tell Gideon He was with him. When Gideon realized he’d seen an angel, he was even more frightened. God assured him, Peace be with you; do not fear, you shall not die.

Despite Gideon’s shortcomings, the Lord blessed him and used him to lead a vastly outnumbered group of warriors to victory, to guide his people for forty years of peace, and to live to a good old age.

We all get in tight places. Maybe it’s a relationship that seems hopeless, a health matter that’s weighing you down, or a financial crisis. God’s peace can come as you read your Bible, hear a sermon, speak with a friend, or even listen to a song.

When you are in a tight place, anticipate that God will strengthen your faith and empower you to receive the victory that’s yours as His child.

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Don't Make Me Ask for Forgiveness

My daughter hit a little boy and refused to ask him to forgive her.

The incident happened while I was volunteering at my daughter’s school. Her teacher informed me, and I went to the classroom to talk to my daughter.

“Did you hit the little boy?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. But when I told her to ask the little boy to forgive her, she hung her head and said, “No.”

Talking to my daughter, I realized she knew she had done wrong. However, she did not want to ask for forgiveness because of the guilt and shame that came with it. Then I realized how I, too, have wanted to run from feelings of guilt and shame of my sins by ignoring them.

In confession, we find freedom, as John notes. It is not in knowing we sin but in confessing our sins. I told my daughter how Jesus Christ came and took her punishment on the cross, but the only way He could take her punishment was for her to say, “Forgive me.” By acknowledging her guilt with that request, Jesus’s death on the cross would be her punishment. Otherwise, she would have to take the punishment for her actions.

She quickly walked over to the little boy with tears coming down her face and said, “Forgive me for hitting you.” The little boy said, “Okay” and asked her to play.

You may want to forget about your sin because you hate the guilt and the shame you feel, but the only way you can be free of your sin is to confess it. When we come to God, He stands with His arms opened wide, ready to forgive and to cleanse us from all our sins. But we must come and admit our sin by accepting Jesus’ payment. By His blood, we are cleansed from all unrighteousness.

The next time you know you have sinned, run to Jesus and ask Him to forgive you.

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Little Lotte's Christmas

Little five-year-old Lotte had to pee.

Unfortunately, Lotte was locked in the Spielzimmer—the playroom—with the other children her age. She jiggled the locked door handle. Her red curls bounced as she jumped and tried to peer out the window. She called, but no one came.

Nestled under the Alps in the heart of Bavaria, the imposing four-story Catholic orphanage in Augsburg, Germany, was a large place. In the years after World War II, there were far more orphans than Nuns to shepherd them. Sometime they resorted to the only option they had: locking the children in a room.

The number one no-no was to wet her pants. Sweet little Lotte did the only thing she could. She broke a windowpane out of the door, stood on her tiptoes, unlocked the deadbolt, and raced to the bathroom. But as she crept back from the bathroom, a nun waited, hickory switch in hand.

Because it was almost St. Nicholas Day, Lotte quickly forgot about her punishment. In Bavaria, St. Nicholas comes on December 6th. For the children of the orphanage, it was the only time they received candy and toys.

December 6th dawned, and Lotte was thrilled. She could almost taste the candy. She also hoped St Nicholas would bring her a new doll. The children gathered, and the nuns passed out the gifts. When it was Lotte’s turn, she took her gift and eagerly tore open the paper ... and stared in shock. St. Nicholas had left her the hickory switch, along with a single piece of candy tied to it.

Tears welled in Lotte’s eyes. The other children squealed with glee with their candy and toys, but Lotte’s heart broke. Unable to control her weeping, she stumbled back to her bed and cried herself to sleep.

Not the happy, feel-good ending you expected? Does your heart ache for sweet little Lotte? How does our heavenly Father, who loved us so much that He let His only Son pay for our sins, feel when our sins entangle us and bring about our punishment?

For sweet little Lotte, it was a separation from the joys of Christmas, and a valuable lesson learned. For us, without accepting the loving sacrifice of Jesus, it can mean eternal separation from the love of God.

Eventually, little Lotte left the orphanage in Bavaria and came to the United States. She began to use her full first name: Charlotte. Every year, she embraces Christmas with all her heart, having known what it was like to miss it. And oh yes, she eventually married me. 

Merry Christmas, Charlotte, and Merry Christmas to all of you, too!.

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The Glory of Humility

Born in a manger doesn’t sound like a befitting story about a king.

In 1865, an Episcopal priest named Phillips Brooks visited the site of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. He was so moved by his experience that he penned the words to our beloved Christmas carol, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

When we think of rulers and kingdoms, we imagine stately mansions, crown jewels, bodyguards, and lots of fanfare.

When Isaiah’s contemporaries heard the words “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,” I imagine they pictured the same. They looked for the spectacular. So did all the religious leaders up to the birth of Christ.

But the Savior of the world, the Messiah, came with no fanfare and no parade. No crowd to cheer Him on. Not even a clean, sterile place to lay His head.

The King of all kings came in the glory of humility. Jesus Christ, the Lord of all Lords, left His throne in heaven and came to us as a baby, born in an obscure village stable with no one to welcome Him except a band of weary shepherds, not royalty or nobility.

Jesus laid aside His deity for humanity and His power for humility. Born of a virgin and raised by two ordinary, God-fearing people, He lived a life without sin and yet experienced all the hurts and temptations He knew you and I would go through today. He came for the nobodies so we could become somebodies. His entrance into this world did not make the headlines, but it spread throughout the earth as lives were changed.

Jesus’ birth was humble, but His return will be glorious. Are you ready?

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Messy Christmas!

A bundle of energy, Heather determined to make Christmas merry for everyone.

Newly-married Heather made her Christmas project plan in early October. It included guest lists, gift lists, travel itineraries, seating charts, menus, concert schedules, church programs, and photo session appointments.

“Calm down, hon,” her husband, Paul, urged her at least twice a day.

“I’ve got this, babe,” she replied, scanning her project plan and proudly checking off another accomplishment.

Three days before Christmas, Heather’s plan began to unravel. Paul fell while shoveling snow and broke his arm. Two expensive gifts she’d ordered online arrived damaged. Their best friends from college had to take care of a broken water heater and wouldn’t arrive until December 26. Finally, the stress of the previous two months crashed down on Heather, and she was forced to bed with a debilitating migraine.

Often, like Heather, we try to plan the perfect Christmas celebration. But try as we might, those plans never seem to pan out. And maybe that’s the point.

The first Christmas was messy–not merry–from a human perspective. Among the highlights: burdensome government demands, exhausting travel on rough roads, sold-out lodging, shared space with smelly, dirty animals, and a visit from smelly, dirty shepherds. That’s a far cry from the pristine, serene scenes we see on Christmas cards.

Maybe God is showing us a few things through the self-inflicted stress and unexpected mishaps of the Christmas season:

  • He’s in control; we’re not.
  • This life is and will always be messy until He makes all things new.
  • Despite the messiness, we experience love, blessings, joy, and purpose.
  • Christmas is not about the trappings or traditions, but about Christ.
  • We all desperately need Jesus and His promise to give us rest for our souls.

If your celebrations this Christmas season include a little messiness here and there, relax. You’re in good company.

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Viewing God in Triplicate

Drive to the summit on the Veteran’s Memorial Highway, built and dedicated in 1969 in honor of America’s War Veterans. Along this very enjoyable 5.5 mile drive up, stop at three breathtaking scenic overlooks, read the travel brochure.

On a warm August afternoon, my wife and I looked forward to the opportunity to view the sites mentioned from the three overlooks. As promised, each provided a more exhilarating view than the previous.

Gazing on the horizon, I could not help but think of the Creator who made it possible. While many people are confused by the Trinity, God revealed Himself as three persons, and all of these were present at creation.

But each scenic overlook promised something more, just as we learn more about God through examining each of the three persons. In the Old Testament, we discover God the Father, the all-powerful One who looks after and provides for His people.

The second view is the incarnation of Jesus, the Son of God. This beautiful picture shows God’s mercy and grace toward us. Jesus not only was perfect in every way, but He also willingly died for us because we lack the perfection the Father expects. Because of how He showed God to us in the flesh, it should take our worship up a notch.

The third view is the Holy Spirit who is manifested in the lives of God’s children. He is sent by the Father and the Son into the lives of believers. When we are tempted to think it couldn’t get better, we discover the Holy Spirit shows us our future—being one with God for all eternity by the witness of the Holy Spirit within us.

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—one with each other, and showing us three different aspects of God. Each amplifies the other, just like the three views of Lake George.

Let these views of God lead you to worship Him.

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Success, Not Excess

Success. We strive for it, rise before dawn to work on it, and work long hours to attain a certain level of achievement.

Sadly, once we’ve arrived, we are never really satisfied, so we search for the next ladder to scale, hoping it will culminate with a sense of fulfillment.

Interestingly, the success Scripture speaks of has nothing to do with achievements, having an expensive home, or earning a six-figure income. Instead, God places a high premium on retaining His Word. He sets an even higher value on obeying it. These two principles should go hand in hand.

Retaining God’s Word isn’t enough because we may become puffed up with knowledge. The Pharisees and Sadducees were masters of pontification, yet their hearts were far from God (Matthew 15:8). God expects us to do something with what we know. His truth should be lived out, not just discussed. When we purpose to be doers and not merely hearers of God’s Word, God will not withhold His blessings.

Too often, we correlate material possessions with blessings. Yet it isn’t what we possess in the natural realm that defines success—that is only excess. Real success and blessings come with spiritual maturity.

Scripture shows God blessing His people (Psalm 1:1-3, James 1:21-25). God wants us to understand His blessings trump worldly wealth or the accolades of others. The dividends of our spiritual growth far outweigh all the riches of this world.

God desires to prosper you spiritually. Be faithful in doing His will so He can. Remember, the true measure of success in God’s estimation is all that matters.

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Sea Lane

On a cool spring day, I stood on a lonely stretch of North Carolina beach.

The Atlantic rolled her breakers onto the shore behind us in a gentle rhythm. Susan and I, and my wife Charlotte, stood a few hundred feet east of Oak Island's Ocean Crest Pier, looking inland at something that was no longer there.

A family member once lived at that spot on the beach. Susan and I had spent many of our childhood Thanksgivings there. That "member of the family" was a quaint, 50's-era, flat-roofed beach cottage named "Sea Lane" that my Granddaddy Lane had built. It had a unique and unforgettable personality our family loved. But it was gone now. As with all things built on sand, the inevitable will happen. As we stood on the beach, the only thing left for Susan and I were the memories.

Every Thanksgiving our family gathered at the beach to help close our grandparent's beach house for the season. Repairs were made, windows boarded, refrigerator and freezer emptied, water pipes drained—everything necessary to preserve an oceanfront house until spring.

There were trips in Granddaddy's Jeep around the island to gather the translucent red Yaupon berries and the huge Carolina Longleaf Pine cones Grandmother Lane used in her award-winning Christmas decorations.

We kids played on that cold November beach while our mothers scurried around fixing the usual wonderful Thanksgiving dinner. Food cooked at the beach always had its own unique flavor.

Sea Lane survived Hazel and Hugo and all the big-named storms that lashed that portion of the coast over the years. But as anyone who has ever built sand castles on the beach knows, the ocean always wins. A succession of lesser storms in the early '90s with names like Bob, Earl, Grace, Danielle, and Emily eventually eroded the beach from under the foundation of the cottage. She was gone.

All of the earth is the Lord's; we just get to use it for a time while we're here. Susan and I stood on the sand and remembered the beach God had let us use. I'm so thankful for those memories. Thank you Lord, for the times we had there. Thank you, too, for the family and friends I was blessed enough to have and share those beach days with.

I love you all, dearly. And thank you, readers, for letting me share my memories and stories with you. May your Thanksgiving be filled with joyful memories and gratefulness to a Father who loves us enough to share His creation.

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Junkyard Treasure

He walked through the junkyard, looking for something he treasured—and he found it. The first car his dad had given him.   

He ran to the junkyard owner and asked, “Is that car for sale?” 

“Why do you want that thing?” the owner asked. “It’s a mess—rusty, falling apart, not able to do what it was made for. It has been in a few crashes and isn’t worth fixing.”

“I don’t care. How much?”

The owner rubbed his chin and, with an evil eye, quoted an outrageous price.

“I’ll take it,” the man said and paid the price.

The man took the car home, planning to restore it to its original glory. He put it on cinder blocks. The engine started, but with grinding and sputtering. He cleaned and restored the most vital sections of the engine, put new tires on the car, and took it for a spin around the neighborhood. The neighbors saw a dilapidated car with dents, rust, broken glass, and a trashed interior, but the man knew someday it would be the boast of the town.

His mechanic friends joined him on his new project. Some restored the interior with new seats, upholstery, and mats. They installed new windows and a new steering wheel. Then another group of friends came to do the body work. They scraped, sanded, and pounded out dents. They refitted parts, painted, and polished until the car was a work of art.

At each stage of the restoration, the man drove the car around the neighborhood to show it off.  Eventually, the neighbors looked forward to his drive, and they cheered when he took it out on the first road trip.

Sometimes, we end up in a junkyard—battered and in disrepair, Jesus is the Man looking for us because His Father gave us to Him. When He takes us into His garage, He puts us on cinder blocks for a period of time. His friends—teachers, pastors, doctors, friends—join Him in working on us. They work on how we think and behave. Interior restorers work on our emotions, choices, and relationships. Body workers address our health and appearance.

As the psalmist said, the Lord will not leave us in a junkyard when we call out to Him. Let God—and those who help Him—restore you. 

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Suffering for a Purpose

My wife and I struggled early and often in our ministry, living off of one income as I tried to get my foot into the door of my calling.

We stepped out of our comfort zone many times. Such as when my wife and I—along with our two-year old daughter and newborn son—lived with my wife’s parents while we tried to find God’s path. A hurricane forced us out of that living situation into a hotel hours away. No jobs, no direction, and three hundred dollars to our name.

I tried to make my own way, trying with everything I had to make something happen, but I was not in control of my life. God placed us in the situation to get me to surrender to His will for our lives.

Jonah was in a similar situation. He tried to escape His destiny. He ran from God until he had to surrender to God because of his circumstances. When Jonah surrendered to the Lord in that desperate moment, the Lord had a big fish ready to take him to the place God called him to go.

We all experience seasons of hardships. Through these experiences, we can let God craft a deeper understanding of Him in our lives, or we can drift from the source of our comfort. The comfort we seek is not in the world, but in the Lord, who lives inside of us.

We saw the Lord open doors and slowly develop our path to His will. Your suffering is for a divine purpose. The Lord wants you to surrender your will in exchange for His. He will reveal His glory in your life when you surrender to Him.

Allow God to position you for greatness.

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Look Out!

Ever had a staring contest?

Only a wrought-iron fence separated me from the one who stared. I was in the pool, and he just stood there staring at me. I couldn’t be sure but guessed he wished he was inside the pool area with me. So I looked back at him. After five minutes, the young deer slinked back into the wooded area which surrounded the pool on two sides.

God wants us to stare at Him. When God tells us to look to Him, He sets no time limit. He never tires of my gaze as I seek for Him to show me mercy. He never criticizes me for continuing to look at (and to) Him. His desire is that I would look to Him continuously. He especially wants me to acknowledge Him as my master.

We are to look at God as a child looks at his parent when he wants something from the checkout lane. God wants us to look at Him rather than ourselves and our own resources. This is especially true when He calls us to do something for Him that is outside of our comfort zone. Looking at Him puts things in the right perspective.

The author of Hebrews said we should look to the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). God desires us to turn our gaze (and thoughts) to Him all day long.

Focus your gaze on God. You might find that once you start looking at Him, you can’t stop.

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Panic

“Uh oh,” I thought. “Houston, we have a problem.”

I put the key in the ignition and turned it. The same action I had done at least a thousand times over the past eight years. But this time was different. Instead of the expected, comforting sound of the engine starting, the dashboard lit up with seldom seen or noticed icons. Various alarms buzzed and beeped.

I did what we always do: turned the key again while silently pleading for a different result. The icons and alarms resumed their sound and light show. The engine did nothing.

This was more than just an inconvenience. My lovely wife Charlotte and I were 3,500 feet up a mountain having just ended our annual Oktoberfest vacation. We were in the northern Georgia mountains at the Alpine village of Helen, Georgia, where the strong expatriate German community who lives there puts on one of the best and closest-to-authentic Oktoberfests in the country. It is an annual way for the town to touch base with her heritage. 

But now we were at our rental cabin—our Ford Escape packed from the front seats to the back glass, half a mile up on top of a mountain, six hours from home, and with a dead car. Worry and panic nibbled around the edges of my mind. But then I glanced at the dashboard where I had placed my Bible. Peace flooded back in.

Taking Charlotte’s hand, we prayed. Suddenly, Charlotte remembered we had a roadside assistance program through Verizon. We had never used it, but we had it. Charlotte dug out the phone number we needed, and thirty minutes later a truck pulled up at the cabin. All we had was a dead battery—a product of the frigid temperature the night before and an hour of open doors loading the car.

Within five minutes, we were on our way, with a quick stop at the first auto store we passed for a new battery and with another pause for a quick prayer of thanks and gratefulness. By sunset, we were home.

In times of trial and worry, it is easy for me to let Satan’s lying voice creep into prominence. Fortunately, if I will only remember, I have my Father’s word and loving promises to keep me focused. 

Don’t let the trials of life send you into a panic. 

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Admitting Weaknesses

The greatest frustration I have is my desire to be right, even when I’m clearly wrong.

I am a young pastor. The greatest tool I have in ministry is the ability to see my weaknesses and let God show me where I need His guidance. I stand before people weekly, teaching God’s Word. I see the spiritual development in people that surpasses my own influence. I try to influence people for a predetermined outcome, but I often turn off my ability to be used by God when I attempt to influence a situation I have no power to change.

Marriages are strained when one person tries to turn their spouse into a reflection they have predetermined as acceptable. We are taught in higher learning that there is a path for success, but paths lead to many destinations. We have no control over when we arrive at this predetermined place. Control is only an illusion of human pride.

The key to success in God’s kingdom is different than temporary success in the world. When we admit weakness, we open an avenue for the Lord to lead us to our specific place of victory. God has a detailed plan that covers every detail and every moment of our lives—a plan that spans from our first breath to our last.

When we admit weakness in judgement and decision making, it gives us strength in the Lord. When we don’t, we struggle with a problem we were never meant to handle. God created us for rest and peace in Him.

When you are weak, the Lord’s strength is seen in your life. Be strong in the Lord and weak in yourself.

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Balm for the Soul

I was worn out—physically and spiritually.

Days earlier I’d told my ministry partner, “I feel like I’m in a desert. I can see an oasis within arm’s reach, but it’s like someone nailed one foot deep into the sand and all I can do is walk in circles.”

Just like everyone else, I juggled multiple tasks: women’s ministry, travel, teaching, writing, caring for my family. All the “stuff” of the world had me staked down into the sand and walking in circles. Very tiring circles.

I was exactly where the world wanted me . . . in Christian overload. It happens to many of us involved in church. The 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people. I loved the work I did, especially at church. It was a joy to do my part to grow the kingdom.

So when my hair literally began to fall out, my blood pressure rose, and I found myself pacing the floor at all hours of the night, something had to go. After a visit to the doctor and a few blood tests that proved normal, the doctor gave me a sheet of paper filled with squares.

“I want you to write down everything you do.”

I smiled and asked how long I had to complete the task. He didn’t laugh, but gave me 24 hours.

I filled out the paper and quickly found myself carrying tasks over to a new sheet. It only took one page to realize how much busy work I was doing. Busy work that wasn’t productive to the kingdom. The busyness drained me physically and spiritually.

The writer of the psalm hit the nail on the head. Rest is found in God. We simply need to learn to find our solace there. When we become fully dependent on Him, rest is not far behind. Not just our physical rest, but a balm for our soul.

I released much of my busyness to become healthier. It was hard, but what made it successful was grasping hold of my Father in heaven so He could pare down and refine my work. When I made real space for the relationship with Christ, the “rest” came. The world calls us to overdo, but the palmist teaches us to find rest in the Lord.

Truly, our rest is found in Christ. Reach out to Him and take hold.

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Just One Thing

I have been met with a smirky little smile several times when I have quoted, “Without Me you can do nothing.”

Sitting in my office one day, interviewing a couple a pastor had referred, I made a wrong assumption. Since they were Christians, I thought we must be on the same page about our need for Jesus’ strength if we were going to accomplish good things. The couple had a broken relationship that lacked warmth and friendship. The husband was an “I don’t need anyone” type of guy. This attitude left the wife feeling unneeded, and their problems spiraled from that lack of being needed.

The husband had written a book and was having it published in the near future. I was happy for him and mentioned the Lord’s gracious help. He didn’t want to hear about Jesus. He felt he had done the good things of life by himself and was as proud as a peacock. Thus, his smirky smile.

The husband didn’t realize the truth of what Jesus said about vines, branches, and fruit. He didn’t realize that without Jesus, God’s children can bear no lasting kingdom fruit. I don’t think he cared. All a peacock wants is to spread his tail and strut.

JUST ONE THING: Billy Graham said many times that the greatest pleasure he had during his long and blessed life was his daily sweet and restful personal relationship with Jesus. Jesus was everything to him.

JUST ONE THING BLESSINGS BRING: Facing each new day with the guarantee of a productive day lying ahead is a treasure. What would the world give to have a guarantee that each new day would be successful? Many would give all they own, but often they don’t desire to possess a humble attitude before God. A branch that rests in union with its vine is productive.

Keep things simple. Remember, just one thing is all you need: abiding in Christ. You are guaranteed to produce kingdom fruit.

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Hurricane Season

August 28th. That’s when she first came to the attention of those guys down in Miami who work for the National Hurricane Center. As they peered over their meteorological charts for West Africa, they spotted an elongated trough of low pressure called a “tropical wave.” 

The year for hurricanes had been quiet so far. Not every friendly little tropical wave gets to grow up to be a hurricane. Lots of factors will influence that low pressure. Wind shear, cool currents, and long dry plumes of dust off the Sahara can keep a hurricane just a bad thunderstorm.

However, our little buddy had none of these factors impeding it, and it popped off the continent of Africa and crouched over the Cape Verde Islands in the far eastern Atlantic. Here, the men at the NHC gave it a name: Tropical Depression Six. Behind the scenes here in the states, they began passing the word: “Watch this one.”

It didn’t take long for Tropical Depression Six to become Hurricane Florence—or for Hurricane Florence’s eventual landfall to be the immediate topic of conversation, primarily if you lived in the ever-narrowing-cone between Norfolk, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina. As Flo swirled her skirts up to a Category 4, evacuations commenced in the expected impact zone. 

Included in these were mandatory evacuations were my younger brother David, and his wife, Linda. They joined the line of refugees heading west, finally stopping in Raleigh. On September 10th, Flo was a roaring Category 4 with one-minute sustained winds of 140 mph and taking aim at southeastern North Carolina. 

Then, something remarkable happened. A small prayer came across my desk via the Internet that utilized Jesus words to the storm on the Sea of Galilee: “Silence!” “Be Still!” I sent that prayer to my brother and his church. Posting it online, it was picked up and shared in ever-increasing numbers. We could just picture thousands of Carolinians praying Jesus’ words. 

And you know what? Hurricane Florence degraded in strength. Within forty-eight hours, she was a weak category 1 and was barely a hurricane at landfall. The flood waters came up to the bottom of the storm door on my brother’s house, but did not get inside. As bad as Flo was, she could have been several times worse.

Even in the most extreme emergency, God will hear our prayers. He listens, He acts, and He loves.

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A Reason to Praise

I remember thinking, I want to be like her.

As a twelve-year-old girl, the beauty radiating from the woman behind me mesmerized me. With hands held high and a joyful smile on her face, she swayed back and forth in a dance-like motion. I knew staring wasn't polite, but I couldn't take my eyes off her. Curiosity made me wonder what it was that led her to rejoice. Never in my life had I witnessed someone praise the Lord so passionately in church. She was joyful, unbound, wild, and free.

Twenty-five years have passed since I watched that woman, but I still remember it as if it were yesterday. Even now, my flesh begs me to wonder what brought about her praise. The truth is I will never know—this side of heaven—what the story was behind the woman's vibrant display of worship. It could have been anything.

Not knowing the reason behind the woman’s praise reminds me I don’t have to be circumstantially motivated to praise the Lord. Circumstances can change quickly—from pleasant to painful in a matter of minutes. Praising the Lord when things seem bleak is difficult. Praising Him when things are good is easier.

I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. This verse encourages us not only to praise the Lord in the good times but also to praise Him all the time.

Despite what may be going on in our lives, one thing is sure: God doesn’t change. We can count on Him to be merciful, good, kind, gracious, and loving. These truths alone are motivation enough for His praise to forever be on our lips.

Praise the Lord every day. You have a reason.

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Prideful Posture

Being silent is an art, and beauty is knowing when to speak and when to be quiet.

We all know loquacious people who are talented with quick come-backs, witty-responses, or must-have-the-last-word syndrome? I've suffered from LWS (last word syndrome) too—a condition found in many marriages where a spouse has to have the last word, has to be right, and has to win no matter how trivial the argument.

Pride causes these unsavory conditions. Pride is a nasty trait that not only stains our character but also impacts our relationship with God and others. James says God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. We can’t gloss over God’s response to the proud. He vigorously fights them.  

When pride enters the boxing ring, we need to stop and look at our heart and our opponent. We will find God is no longer in our corner rooting for us. He has become our adversary.

But God loves the humble. He delights in the one who swallows their pride, apologizes, forgives, or wisely remains silent. The one who wins the fight because of pride doesn’t reflect Christ. Beauty and God’s favor are found in the art of humbled silence.  

The next time you allow your pride to swell and you itch to throw that last punch, ask yourself what is more important: to be right or to do right?

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My Friend, Bob

I never said “thank you” when people did things for me—until I met Bob.

“Thank you, God, for sending Jesus.” I heard those words from Bob—a man in my Bible study group—every time he began his prayer. I had never considered thanking Jesus for what He did on the cross. It saddens me that I am not very thankful to the person who did the most for me. 

The free gift of salvation is unlike any other gift anyone could give me. Because of Jesus’ suffering and death, I can spend eternity with Him. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have stakes driven through my hands or wrists, especially since I hate needles.

I felt abandoned by my father when he divorced my stepmom and left town. Jesus felt ultimate abandonment in His hour of need. He experienced the Father’s rejection while upon the cross, sacrificing Himself for all of humanity.

Not enough words are in the dictionary to express thanks for what Jesus has done, especially since we fail Him every day. We need to thank Him every time we pray and ask for His forgiveness.
 
Believers should appreciate what Jesus did for them on the cross. He suffered for you and me. If He hadn’t done this, we would spend eternity in hell.

Tell Jesus daily how thankful you are for what He has done for you.

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Resolved and Ready

“I’m ready.”

We’ve all been there. Determined to carry out a course of action, wholeheartedly believing we’ll follow through. Whether it’s starting a ministry or forgiving someone who has wounded us, we confidently reply, “Yes, Lord, I am ready.”

One trait stands out about Peter: his impulsivity. His passionate proclamation was characteristic of him. He was resolved, self-confident, and certain he would follow Christ—even if it meant dying.

Upon Jesus’ arrest, Peter stood ready to defend Him. With his sword, Peter swiftly cut off a soldier’s ear. How impulsive. What self-confidence. Had he forgotten what Jesus told him? “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”

Peter relied on his strength and sword for protection. He had no way of knowing how ill-prepared he was for the adversary’s onslaught. Resolve alone would not do. Peter had yet to learn this truth. He miscalculated the strength of the enemy and underestimated the love of Christ.

I’m a lot like Peter. A self-starter. We take pride in our ability to get things done. But I have learned that if left unguarded, a strength can become a weakness. Self-reliance and impulsivity have led me down paths I never should have taken—forcing me to acknowledge my weakness and my need for God.

If we want to overcome the enemy, we cannot do it in our own strength. We can’t afford to formulate a plan of action—no matter how impenetrable it may appear—and expect to win if we go it alone. We must lay down our weapons and our self-effort and rely on Christ.

Jesus knew Peter would betray Him and prayed for him in advance. God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. His knowledge of us is complete, and He loves us still. His power to save hasn’t diminished. Scripture says, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him because he always lives to intercede for them” (Hebrews 7:25).

Even when we fail, God lovingly restores us. Surrender your way of doing things, and look to Him for the power to overcome.

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Hearing the Word

Charlotte, Caleb, and I were about three hours into our twelve-hour summer road trip east to the North Carolina coast when out of our car’s stereo speakers came the following: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine.” 

As I’m sure most of you will recognize, this is the first verse of Solomon’s Song of Songs. And as I’m sure most of you also know, Song of Songs gets a lot more interesting from there. I looked at Charlotte, Charlotte looked at me, and from thirteen-year-old Caleb in the back seat came a low snicker.

Let me explain. When we go on long road trips, we put an audio version of the Bible on the stereo and listen to the Word. Listening to the Word, as opposed to reading, allows us to hear things and make connections we may have never read. And it’s important to remember that the Word of God had its beginnings as a repeated oral history until Moses, under the inspiration of God, began to write everything down. Even after that, the Israelites learned the Word by hearing, first from Aaron’s line of priests, and later by rabbis in the synagogues. 

For me, listening allows my ears and eyes to take the same text and discern different meanings. And so, back in the car, we had picked up where we left off on our last trip. We had been listening to Proverbs, Ecclesiastes (which has some interesting passages of its own), and now Song of Songs.

I debated about whether to advance the CD to Isaiah, but eventually, I just let it play. For one thing, I was reasonably sure I had Caleb’s undivided attention, at least for a few minutes. It would be an eye-opener for him to discover the Word was more than just dusty stories of events that happened long ago. And it might cause him to pay more attention to the Word in the future. Just as I’m sure, concentration in the synagogues perked up when it came time to hear the Song of Songs.

If you haven’t, open your ears to the holy Word of God daily.

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From Flawed to Flawless

The hole was minuscule. Barely visible. But it felt as if I could put my fist through it.

I was asked to speak to a group of volunteers and hopefully impart some wisdom. I wanted to make a good impression, so the night before I scoured my closet for the perfect outfit. The right choice would not be too businesslike, but not too casual either. I found the perfect sweater in the back of the closet and felt confident about the next day.

The morning of my speech, I dressed in a hurry and took one last look in the mirror. That’s when I saw it—the hole, a flaw in the fabric. It wasn’t much, just a little tear, but the longer I stood in front of the mirror, the larger the flaw grew until I could see nothing else. In my mind, I was sure the audience would not hear me, because they would be staring at the hole in my sweater.

Our minds, our beliefs about who we are, often focus on our imperfections. Instead, we should remember who God says we are: His children, daughters and sons of the King.

The world may see our imperfections, focusing on what we are not. We, too, often measure ourselves according to the world’s standards, which continually change. God sees His perfect children, without one flaw.

Remember who you are. You are the child of God, not the sum of your flaws and imperfections. The Father’s love has made you perfect.

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The Quiet Game

In elementary school, I was shy, barely having the nerve to raise my hand when I knew an answer. Yet I enjoyed learning, as well as the games we played every day.

One game was the Quiet Game—a genius idea obviously created by a multitasking yet respite-seeking teacher. It begins with the lights off and all students laying their heads on the desks. The teacher asks one student to stand up and search for their quietest colleague. The victor is then tapped on the shoulder. This winning student becomes the new chooser.

Bashfulness aside, I was thrilled to play this game. I discovered I was good at it, which resulted in me being picked more often than others. I mastered the Quiet Game. My secret technique was not just in being quiet—which came easily for a timid student like me—but also in that I had taught myself how to be still. I barely breathed, and I closed my eyes. I didn’t look at the other students around me. My toes were still. As I look back, I wonder if I repeated “Be still” in my mind.

I’m an adult now and rarely engage in group games for leisure. There’s no teacher to push me through the flow of my day. And no classroom. I’ve replaced my “shy” with “introverted.” However, I am continually called to play the Quiet Game.

God invites all of us to play this game. We not only should be quiet and listen for God but also be still with patience before Him. This is how we give Him reverence and acknowledge He is bigger than everything. It’s the way to fully accept that the people and situations in our lives will be pushed through the flow of His plan.

Take part in the Quiet Game today, and practice being still before God.

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T-Shirts and Love

I walked into the hotel lobby, and a sea of lime-green t-shirts met me. I panned the crowd, trying to figure out who the group was.

People dressed in almost blinding neon shirts stood in clusters, laughing. A few seated on sofas were deep in conversation, and many were in a check-in line. I walked to the shortest line to get my room key when a shout calling someone’s name interrupted my train of thought. I turned to see two people embrace. Based on their words, they hadn’t seen each other in a year. The back of the green shirt read, Campbell Family Reunion.

Those who hadn’t attended reunions in a few years, and those who hadn’t seen each other since the last reunion, knew they belonged. Green shirts and their love for each other identified the family.

Jesus gave His disciples a new commandment: “love one another.” He says love will be their identifying mark. They will be distinctively different from others when they show love for each other.

Jesus wasn’t referring to romantic or friendship love, but unconditional love. Love marked by kindness when you are hurt—or by giving up a prime parking spot to someone else. It’s self-control when you feel like responding in anger. Sometimes, love shows itself in patience when you’re in a hurry, but someone else isn’t. It’s the unnatural expression of character Paul says is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).

In today’s culture of hurry and get ahead, love that puts others ahead of self stands out. We have seven days of opportunities in our family, neighborhood, school, and workplace to be distinctively different.

Think about your opportunities to show unusual love. You won’t have to wear a lime-green t-shirt, but people will notice.

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Idols

I couldn’t believe my ears.

“Say that again?” I asked my brother.

“I sold it,” he replied.

The “it” in this case was a cherry red 1967 Chevy II that had been a part of my brother’s life for over forty-four years. He had started with a rusted hulk of a frame in high school and had restored the car from the ground up. 

I don’t know how many times I tripped over the Chevy’s transmission and drivetrain in our basement Rec Room. A part of our décor were ‘67 Chevy parts. It became something of a standing joke for Mom and Dad to gift David the money for birthday or Christmas to paint his restoration …. only to have him use the cash for another engine part he needed. 

Over the decades—through girlfriends, college, work, marriage, sons of his own, and building a business—the Chevy II slowly came together. It became a lightning-quick show car—a cherry red blur on the back roads of Pamlico County in North Carolina and a favorite at local car shows. It was as well-known as it’s builder ... a thing of beauty and as much a part of David as his middle name. 

Now it was gone, sold. But David seemed at peace about it, and indeed he was. “It was an idol,” he explained.

“Do you know how much money I spent on that thing? Not to mention all the time and energy I wasted on it. I spent decades making it perfect. And really, honestly, what did it ever give me in return?”

He had a point. Our Father warned against idols on His stone tablet hit parade (Exodus 20:3), and Jesus reaffirmed it (Mark 12:29, 30). And yet I still have a problem seeing the idols in my life. I tend to think of idols as golden cows or statues of Baal, and since I don’t have those in my closet, I want to consider myself good to go. But idols can come in all manner and forms ... and we should be on guard against them.

David’s idol wasn’t hidden; it was out in the open. He just had to wash the scales from his eyes with the Word to see it.

If you have idols in your life, get rid of them.

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Survival

In a threatening manner, he came toward me, his knife blade open.

A small table stood between me and the eight-year-old boy. I made good use of it to put more distance between us. As I sent a lightening prayer to heaven, the boy’s forward hand thrust stopped in mid-air. He stood dazed and still. I maneuvered to the telephone and rang the child’s mother. Waiting outside the apartment for her arrival, I reflected on how I found myself in this situation.

Having returned home from a two-year mission trip in China, I discovered my job qualifications had lapsed. After three months and many job interviews, I finally acquired a child-minding position for a couple of hours a day. After the serious threatening posture of the boy in my care, I resigned from the only employment I had.

In Luke 4:28-30, the people in the synagogue objected to what Jesus was saying. Filled with rage, they rose up and cast Him out of the city, planning to throw Him down a cliff to His death. But He passed through their midst and went His way. It was not His time to die.

Father God will protect us until our time has come. Just as the express prayer ceased the boy’s hand from doing any harm to me, Father God will keep you in His care when life-threatening situations arise.

Many years later, I saw the boy’s mother. Her son had grown into a handsome teenager. I was happy to hear his unresolved emotional anger had been dealt with through counseling.

When we go through life knowing God is in control, all goes well. Reach out to Him, and you will survive all that comes your way until it is your time.

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It's Not Okay

“No, it’s not okay.” His scream pierced the campground and didn’t subside until I got him to Meme.

My wife and I hatched a plot: take our two oldest grandsons camping. At the time, they were two and five. Our daughter appreciated the three-day break from motherhood.

Things progressed nicely … until we made a trip to the bathhouse. On the way back, our two little munchkins laughed and raced. I didn’t worry too much that they were in the middle of the road. After all, the campground only had a small number of sites and the name was Lazy J. What could possibly happen?

Our smallest grandson—the one we call pig pen or Clumsy Clyde—found a way to fall on the gravel road and skin his knee. He wanted to beat his brother back to the campsite, but stepped out of his shoes and tumbled instead.

I couldn’t imagine the hurt being serious, so I picked him up and told him he was okay. That’s when he screamed loudly enough for the entire campground to hear him: “No, it’s not okay.”

I plopped him into Meme’s lap where he had a good cry as she wiped the blood away, applied some antibiotic cream, and sealed the cut with a bandage. Within thirty minutes, he was fast asleep on grandma’s lap. 

Paul says all we have to do is tell God what we need and thank Him for all He has done. Once we’ve done that, His peace will saturate our entire body, soul, and spirit—if we truly leave whatever it is in His hands and don’t take it back to worry over.

Life’s trials have a way of knocking us down, scraping our knees, and making us cry. And they have a tendency to do it when we least expect it … when we’re having fun … trying to beat someone else in life’s race. Before we know it, we’re out of commission and don’t know where to turn.

Been there, done that. And instead of running to the Father where I can receive comfort, healing, and peace, I often go to other sources or other people who cannot do what only He can. Unlike my grandson who didn’t believe what I said, the heavenly Father truly can make things okay.

When life’s not okay, go to the One who can make everything all right.

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We Are Free

Imagine being chained and locked up by someone who claims to be your owner and has absolute control over your life.

You have no choice but to do his bidding. You wake up each day doing only what he asks. No one seems to have the power to set you free. Nor do you. This is a picture of slavery and how I pictured myself—incapable of doing anything, hating the way I felt.  

I was in the same situation before Christ saved me. I indulged in deeds which displeased the Lord because I didn’t have the power to do otherwise. I often forgot that when Jesus came He defeated my captor, broke the chains, and set me free. I am forgiven and hopeful about an eternity with Him.

I forget I’m no longer in bondage to sin. Having a life of victory over sin is my portion and the reason Jesus came. He came to set me free so I can live for Him now, not just go to church and glory in living with Him in the future.

Ignoring this truth is like having our owner come to us while a captive and express displeasure for the life we lead because of the things we do. He offers forgiveness and promises to come for us at an appointed time. Yet He leaves us in chains and under the control of our captor.

This isn’t what Jesus did. He broke the chains and walked away with us from the influence of the enemy and a life of sin. We know we’re not far enough if we keep doing the things we know only our captor will make us do.

Christ has set you free, and the Spirit gives you the power to stay free.

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God Speaks in Your Darkness

We all struggle with the darkness of personal adversity.

As I finish the manuscript of my latest book that explores the secrets of finding peace and hope in adversity, I am reminded how God has spoken through my personal storms. I invited some storms by sinful choices, yet storms of divine preparation and providence that seemingly serve no human purpose also came. In the darkness, God still spoke to my heart.

God spoke to Jeremiah in prison. I suspect he wanted different circumstances and outcomes. If it were me, I would have said, “Um, God. Before You start Your message, can we please talk about getting me out of prison? After all, I only did what You asked of me. Why am I still here? Can You not speak to me in the safety and comfort of my home?” God did not mention Jeremiah’s predicament or give an indication as to when he would be freed—He simply shared His message and mission.

Jesus said, “Whatever I tell you in the dark, speak in the light” (Matthew 10:27). He did not imply, “If I speak in the darkness,” but gave the expectation of “When I speak.”

Darkness may cloud our minds and shrink our hearts, but God’s whispers are a ray of unending light. He speaks in our darkness so we can encourage others by sharing what He told us.

Jeremiah 31:2 speaks of people who “found grace in the wilderness.” They did not find grace by a refreshing oasis or the abundance of the Promised Land, but in the dry, barren, wilderness.

God shares His grace when He knows we need it the most—and are more apt to listen for Him. In the light of our comfort zones, we live in self-sufficiency. In the darkness, we recognize our inadequacies, insecurities, and futility. In our weakness, God’s strength is revealed.

When adversity and unfavorable circumstances cloud your skies, listen for God’s whisper in the dark. He wants to share great and mighty things.

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The Holy Spirit Protocol

“I want the Holy Spirit,” announced our thirteen-year-old grandson, Caleb.

My wife Charlotte and I have raised Caleb since he was two. Over the summer, while awaiting his move to the eighth grade, he has had daily readings in his Bible, his devotional, and C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We discuss his readings at the dinner table. And once a week, I give him a special topic to research. This week’s topic: The Holy Spirit. 

Caleb’s overall enthusiasm for this summer reading and study project is probably on a par with most thirteen-year-olds. I fully realize what we’re doing is mostly just planting seeds. But in Caleb’s case, his thoroughness and participation are also directly related to his Xbox usage. So he has an incentive.

In this case, however, something had sparked a real interest. So I asked, “Why do you want the Holy Spirit?” 

“Because,” he answered, “it’s like an invisible Ironman suit!”

Okay, that wasn’t exactly the answer I expected. But maybe the boy was on to something. 

“Go on, Big Guy,” I replied. 

“Well, when the Spirit came down on the apostles at that Pentecost place, they all had tongues of fire, like Ironman. And after Philip baptized the Ethiopian dude, Philip flew away just as if he was in Ironman’s suit. When the snake bit Paul, the suit’s armor protected him and protected him again in the shipwreck. But most of all, the Bible says the Spirit gives you direction, answers questions, and tells you which way to go, just like the F.R.I.D.A.Y. voice-interface-thingy guides Ironman.”

At this point, Caleb looked thoughtful for a moment. “And doesn’t the Bible say to put on the armor of God? That sure sounds like Ironman to me!”

I have to admit he has a point. The Word is full of references to the armor of God. And if Caleb can relate to it as an Ironman suit easier than ancient body armor, I’m okay with that. 

I guess Tony Stark, the comic book inventor of the Ironman suit, would call it the Holy Spirit Protocol.

Counselor. Comforter. Shepherd. Dove. Breastplate. The Spirit is all these things. He is the great gift to believers and the church. 

Don’t try to live the Christian life by your own power. Seek the Spirit. Hunger for Him. Ask for Him.

He is promised to us! 

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My Heritage

I’m used to it. Folks making fun of my accent. When you’re born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains, people are going to tease you, sometimes relentlessly, about your dialect.

Over the years, I’ve learned to roll with it. I’m proud of my mountain heritage. Nothing surpasses the mountain people: a simple life, values, and unfailing faithfulness. Knowing there are still places in the world where family and friendship take precedence over cell phones and personal agendas is comforting. People here take pride in their heritage. Founded in hard work, determination, and faith, we may not be a perfect people, but we are proud of who we are and from whence we came.

Recently, while attending a conference, I had to make a fast side trip to the restroom. It was empty (for which I was glad, since women’s restrooms tend to house lines of waiting occupants). As I readied myself to leave the stall, I heard the door open and two women laughing and joking … making fun of other conferees. What are the odds? One of those being made fun of was me. “Her accent is the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”

Now, on a good day, I’d blow this off, but that day I was tired. I’d worked fourteen hours a day for three days to teach, meet, and serve conferees. That sentence was hurtful. I kept quiet until they left and then found a dear friend.

“Do I come across as stupid because of my accent? I know I tease about it, but do I come across as stupid?”

He reassured me I was not the stupid one, and it was my faithfulness and genuineness that made me approachable and loved.

The Israelites sometimes felt persecuted because of their heritage, but God was faithful to His people. Even in times of discipline, He reminded them they were His. To this day, the Jewish people cling tightly to traditions and heritage. They were not perfect, but their ties to their past gave them hope for the future.

Where you came from is part of who you are. When you were adopted into God’s household of children, you, too, gained the Father’s heritage. Share your love for God. Teach others about His faithfulness.

Your heritage in Christ is a special and amazing gift.

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Lifted

A car floats through outer space, and it drives conviction into my heart.

A dummy by the name of Starman sits in a shiny, red convertible after being carried up by a rocket and then released to wander amongst nothingness. It’s a marketing stunt, set to gain awareness and boost sales of a practically unattainable vehicle—both by comprehension and monetary means. Although most can’t afford it, or understand it, they will hear and talk about it, marvel at it, and in some cases deny its reality.

People easily display fiction as truth. I do not excel in matters of science or technology, so I can’t make an educated guess about this event. I do know the person behind this idea is intentional and determined about getting the word out about his passion.

Thinking about this made me realize I don’t give adequate witness for my Savior. I might offer an encouraging biblical word to others occasionally. And I’m not ashamed, but I worry I can’t make others understand, that I can’t make them believe, or that they will think I’m obnoxious.

The Bible has a freeing truth: the Holy Spirit fills the gap and does the persuading. I don’t have to worry about that part.

When lifted up on the cross, Jesus established the salvation for our souls. If we lift up His name, He will put into motion whatever pull is needed to bring others into His saving grace.

Ask God to help you be more intentional about His commission to witness for Him.

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Be Brave and Move On

Lana Del Rey said "being brave means knowing that when you fail, you don't fail forever."

The Psalm tells us we are gods and also children of the Most High God. This should give us courage to face and overcome the challenges of life. We can be brave and take our rightful place and blessings because Jesus Christ our Lord is seated in the heavenlies.

According to Ephesians 2:6, we are seated with Christ by virtue of our faith in Him. Where God is, we are too. Our place is far above all rulers, authorities, powers, dominions, and every name that is named—not only in this age but also in the world to come.

We can take bold steps for our Father who is the Almighty. All things are under His feet and ours—including Satan. As the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, so we walk by faith in God and not by sight. We are stronger than any challenge because we have the greater one living inside of us. We can take complete charge over the affairs of our lives.

Enjoying the blessings available to us means learning to deal with the Devil. But with our heavenly position, every devil will bow to us. We can handle any challenge because we are made in God's image.

With faith, tell the mountain of obstacles in your life to move and it will obey.

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Leviathan

It was gone!

Dad’s new prized rod and reel was gone. The exact same rod he had told me to watch while he went back to the cottage on the beach behind us for a moment. Dad was surf fishing and even now had a line cast out beyond the breakers. I was six years old and had been happily building sand castles while Dad fished.

Then, astonished, I jumped to my feet. The pole holder Dad had shoved into the sand lay on its side, having been pulled out of the sand. Staring up and down the beach, I saw Dad’s fishing rod sliding down the sand toward the breaking waves. Racing after it, I snatched it up and tried to rewind the line. I couldn’t budge it. Hollering for my parents, I struggled back up the beach with the rod, fighting against whatever was pulling it out to sea. Fortunately, another fisherman close by heard me yelling and rushed to my aid, even as my parents hurried to the beach. 

The fisherman took the rod out of my hands and began to wind the reel. I took off for the surf to see what Dad had caught. Following the line into the waves, I saw it disappear into the breaker building right in front of me. And then, surfing out of that wave as it began to curl was the biggest, meanest, scariest looking stingray in the world. The fishing line disappeared into his mouth, and his eyes bored into mine.

I screamed in sheer terror and raced out of the surf. Somehow I beat the wave to shore. The fisherman pulled the stingray onto the beach, where he quickly cut off the ray’s dangerous barbed tail. 

Once the monster ray was harmlessly on the shore, it wasn’t nearly as big as it had been coming out of that wave. It was barely two feet. As it flopped and breathed its last, I actually felt a little sorry for it. 

Most of our problems are like that. What at first glance seems overwhelming, when put into perspective, is just something else flopping on the sand. When we put our problems into perspective by giving them to the Lord, He can show us how tiny they really are in His hands. 

What Leviathan can you put into God’s hands today?

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The Memory

The whimper turned to a quiet moan of anguish. 

When my future husband and I were planning to marry, we travelled to another state to meet my future in-laws. The visit progressed well until we took a sightseeing journey. After one stop, I waited until my future mother-in-law settled in the backseat before closing the door. I stepped into the front seat and was about to put my seat belt on when I heard a faint whimper behind me. I looked back and at first could not see what was wrong. Then I saw. I had closed the door on her hand.

Leaping out, I grabbed the handle and opened the door. She was a tiny person. To my horror, I saw the flattened fingers on her child-like hand. Crying out to God with an urgent silent prayer, I asked Him to heal them, and He did. Blood returned to her fingers, and her hand returned to normal. She had no more pain, and we all got back into the car and continued our tour.

Remembering the acts of righteous people brings happiness. I was more affected by the incident than my future mother-in-law. After receiving my apology, she never mentioned it again and forgave me immediately. I was so grateful when I heard there was no bruising or loss of function.

I learned two lessons from this experience: God is a healing God who waits to come to our rescue in times of need, and forgiveness clears the way for healthy relationships.

Let knowing Jesus is near to you at all times bring you great comfort.

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You're the Berries

“You’re the berries.” The words made me smile.

I met her in college and wished I could be her friend. She was always filled with joy and happiness. Her sense of humor was . . . well . . . great. Her laugh, infectious.

It wasn’t until we were both married and returned to Johnson Bible College that I finally met Lisa face to face. I was sitting on the front steps of Johnson Hall, watching the sun rise. She walked out the door on her way to work. I smiled. She smiled.

“Can I watch too?” she asked. I patted the step and she joined me. “You’re the berries.”

From that day forward, we were fast friends. We found laughter and joy in everything. Lisa taught me that when I allowed God to fill me fully, others couldn’t help but see the joy of the Lord within me.

When the time came for us to leave college with our husbands, my heart ached. The day we moved, Lisa gave me a picture she’d drawn. Berries. “Just remember, to me, you are the berries, and to God you are ALWAYS the berries.” A tear dripped from her cheek and smeared the picture.

Two years later, I received a call, Lisa was dead. It was . . . a great loss. I looked at the picture Lisa had drawn and remembered, “You’re always the berries to me.” The joy of the Lord still spoke through her drawing.

God is a loving God. The Israelites knew the faithfulness and joy found in seeking after Him. They lived in the shadow of God’s provision and love, receiving abundance in everything when they were obedient. Other nations saw the joy and power of a great God who provided and loved His people. They couldn’t help but see it.

Sometimes our biggest losses become our greatest blessings. Lisa’s loss was deep, but the memories of joy and laughter are one of the greatest gifts God could have given me. Thirty plus years later, I still miss her.

What made Lisa so infectious? Her immense love for God. She was joyful, even when things were difficult. You couldn’t help but see God in her. These days, I make it a point to tell those I love, those who bring me joy and laughter, that they are the berries. Hopefully they see that same love and joy of God in me.

Let your joy be abundant. Allow others to see Christ in you. You’ll find, when you do, that “you are always the berries” to Christ.

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Destiny

I am not a “natural woman.”

I love cozy homes with squishy beds and home-cooked dinners. I appreciate a glass of white Zinfandel too. In my younger days, I was adventuresome, trekking winding paths with my trailblazing buddies. But the impact of six decades on this modern girl has plopped me in the middle of comfortable suburbia. 

Even though I may not be a lover of nature, I know God is. After all, He created the rushing rivers, mutely painted desserts, and ice-capped mountains.

God once proudly, but gently, led Abraham outdoors and showed him the vast, starry sky. Abraham struggled with God’s plan for him. For decades, the aging Hebrew had implored the Lord for a son. Year after year, God gave none.

Finally, the deafening silence of the heavenly Father was pierced with an announcement that the Lord would make him “into a great nation” (Genesis 12:2). But years passed and still no son. The affliction of his family barrenness gripped the heart of this righteous man. I imagine he pounded the heavens with questions about God’s previously presented plan.

At last, a vision came to Abraham, and the Lord said, “I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1). Abraham replied, “You have given me no children; so a servant … will be my heir” (Genesis 15:3).

A quiet pause may have occurred in the heavenly realm as all celestial ears turned to hear the Father’s firm reply: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body” (Genesis 15:4).

That’s when the Father took His precious child outside. I envision God’s big-daddy arm enveloping Abraham’s drooping shoulders as the Lord said, “Look up” (Genesis 15:5)! As the Abba-Father showed Abraham His plan through the starry example of the brilliant, unadulterated night sky (no light pollution here), Abraham once again saw a teeny glimpse of God’s magnificent plan.

Traipsing through the outdoors may not be my preferred pastime anymore. But catching my Father’s heavenly vision for me is vital. He has a vision for you too. Look up at Him, so you can see His destiny—one designed especially for you.

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Who Has the Last Word?

Pneumonia. That was the diagnosis for my eighty-eight-year-old father. The call came from my brother. Dad had contracted the flu, and it worsened into pneumonia.

No one involved was optimistic. In addition to being eighty-eight years old, Dad has what is called post-polio syndrome. At seventeen months old, Dad contracted polio. It left his body wracked, withered, and crippled before his life had even begun. A lifetime of overcompensating for the diseased muscles polio had taken finally started to overwhelm the good muscles his body had left. His body was failing.

I called my father. When he answered, I could barely understand him. His medication caused him to slur his words. But he was lucid and in the present (My father has Alzheimer's and lives most of his days in the past.). He told me he was tired, very tired ... that it was all in the Lord’s hands. I told him it was okay and that he could rest. I told him I loved him. He told me he loved me. We hung up. And yes, I cried.

Dad continued to slip away and was unresponsive to visitors. He slept nearly all the time. I spent every second waiting for “that call” from my brother, David. He and I prepared for the worse, and we prayed. A lot of you prayed with us, and for that, I dearly thank you.

Between the flu and the pneumonia, something had been taken from him. As he had told me …  he was tired. The doctors told us this was going to be his new “normal.” In other words, be prepared.

I thought to myself, But y’all ain’t Jesus, and my Lord has the last word. My brother agreed. And we continued to pray.

The next day saw Dad more responsive. The pneumonia disappeared. The day after that even more improvement. And by small steps every day for the rest of the week, he made continual steps back from the brink. Finally, as I write this, my brother reports our Dad has returned to just about where he was before the flu. He’s awake, dressed and out of bed, and ready for the day. Hallelujah. Thank you, Lord.

The Lord longs to help us, to hear our prayer. What can you lay before him today?

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Comforting the Yearning

“Your sister works out like a champion,” an exercise trainer once told my brother.

When I was in college, I aimed for perfection. I studied hard. I exercised six days a week using a StairMaster, lifting weights, and doing two hundred crunches each workout. I highlighted my hair and wore beautiful clothes. I made sure my perfume and lotions’ fragrances blended perfectly. I thought of everything.

My perfectionism wasn’t just about getting good grades or looking pretty though. It was about finding a boyfriend, and it became a consuming obsession. I knew God had chosen my future husband, so I looked everywhere for an attractive man with a gentle spirit—but I couldn’t find him. Not in my college classes. Not at the gym. Not at church. Not at restaurants or grocery stores or anywhere else. I prayed and prayed for God to send me a boyfriend.

In hindsight I think my faith made me unappealing. No teenager or twenty-something wanted that kind of girl. You know, the kind you introduce to your mother. They wanted the kind you have fun with. I was desperately lonely. I made a habit of hugging a stuffed animal at bedtime so I could fall asleep.

That was twenty years ago. Since then I’ve discovered the best way to cope with any type of longing is pouring myself into prayer. The Holy Spirit soothes my burning heart. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Comforter, and he will never leave you” (John 14:16 TLB).

No matter whom you seek, or whom you have lost, the Holy Spirit will comfort you. Ask God to ease your yearning so you won’t try to satisfy it with something harmful such as alcohol, drugs, pornography, adultery, or fornication.

Take comfort knowing God is always with you. He loves you more than any person could. 

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No Issue Too Big

“I can’t find anything wrong,” the neurologist said.

Although the neurologist had multiple diplomas and had performed three MRIs and numerous neurological tests, he couldn’t answer why a forty-six-year-old healthy female had developed sudden inexplicable symptoms: weakness, numbness, and leg pain. And while these symptoms were bearable physically, they were unbearable emotionally. She was a marathon runner.

“We’ll send you to Massachusetts General,” the doctor said. “Or we can perform a muscle biopsy.”

Grasping at medical straws, the doctor tried to comfort his patient as she pushed the tears behind a steel wall. She felt certain a cure would not be found. Future marathon goals would have to be shelved. But she found comfort, knowing that in suffering she was not alone.

Christ was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our sins. By His wounds, we are healed. He bore the pain of each thorn with tremendous love.

Through Christ’s suffering, we find comfort for our own suffering. Bearing discomfort is difficult but leads to endurance—out of which integrity and character are born.

There is no issue too big or too insurmountable for Christ. Whatever may be troubling your mind, heart, or spirit, lay it at the foot of His cross. Prepare to be enveloped in His unfathomable love and mercy. Rejoice in how deeply you are cherished.

Rest, knowing Christ will meet you with open arms at the finish line.

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The Land of Could Be

A trip to the grocery store isn’t so simple when we have to load a wheelchair and things like oxygen, medication, and syringes.

I’m often asked to sit with my disabled grandson, Wyatt, while his parents are involved in other activities. His being left behind often sends me to the Land of Could Be.

In the Land of Could Be, Wyatt is walking out the door with his parents with a smile on his face and big blue eyes bright with excitement. In the Land of Could Be, he runs out the school door and stops to play kickball with his friends. Could Be has endless possibilities for a seven-year-old. He could be reading a book to me or sitting up at the table eating supper. Instead, I place another spoonful of his pureed carrots and chicken into his mouth. He smiles around the spoon, and some of the mixture oozes out of his mouth and down his chin.

God has promised to work all of this for good according to His purposes. I confess sometimes the good is not readily apparent to me. What could be good about a little boy not being able to walk or talk? Who spends his days confined to a spot on a couch or in a wheelchair? My imaginary Land of Could Be seems so much better.

Then I remember the radiance of Wyatt’s smile and how he has engaged so many people just by the purity of that smile. I recall how we have drawn closer to God through prayer and how the outcome of those prayers led to Wyatt’s healing from pneumonia and multiple surgeries. In the most impossible way, a little boy who can’t speak manages to tell others about God by his mere presence on earth.

In our humanness, we want everything in life to measure up to what we see as good, but God’s definition of good forces us to look at things from His perspective. Serving a meal to a disabled child and holding his hand is what Jesus would have me do. I may not understand exactly why this happened to Wyatt, but I know the definition of love took on new meaning when we were called to take care of him. And that is good.

Trust God to bring good from what appears bad in your life. 

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Jesus - Peace in the Rhetoric

It was sheer and utter chaos. Memories of the 60s resonated. I was a six-year-old child, hiding behind the couch as Dad watched the news.

Anti-war riots, Viet Nam body counts, and racial unrest scared me to death. When would the rhetoric make its way to our rather peaceful, mountain existence?

Rioters chanted, “Peace not war! Love not hate!” Yet fighting and destruction followed their chants. I didn’t understand how people could scream love but throw rocks at policemen. The signals sent over the airwaves were confusing and frightening.

Today is no different. The news shows the same chants ... the same hate-ridden actions. And I’m still frightened. I’m frightened for my grandson and our grandbaby-in-waiting. Fear is nothing I want them to feel.

Paul saw much of the same thing when he penned his letter to the Thessalonians. He understood what chaos could do to the body of believers, so he urged them to remain peaceful, never paying back wrong for wrong. He could have coined the phrase, “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Paul knew vengeance led to retaliation, and retaliation led to chaos. His entire letter encouraged them to make right and good decisions, to rejoice always, and to pray continually. No one knew better than Paul about the hardships and temptations they would experience. He’d lived through them himself, and he wanted them to know—as hard as it was to be the bigger, better person—that the rewards of their efforts would be greater.

The world has changed little since Paul meandered the rocky paths from town to town preaching God’s word. These days we have stints of peace when the rhetoric eases, but then Satan gets a foothold and things whirl out of control again. Anger, selfishness, and entitlement wreak havoc. The “all about me” attitude breeds unrest and greed. And for me ... the memories of the 60s resonate again.

As much as I’d like to hide behind the couch, I have no need to fear. We have hope in the resurrection of Christ. That in and of itself takes the sting out of the chaos away. Despite what seems to be our inevitable desire to self-destruction, Jesus sacrificed that we might be saved. He took on the battle for us, fought it, and won. Choose to walk away from the rhetoric. Don’t subject yourself to payback and hate. Rather, strive for the good. His sacrifice was not not in vain.

This Easter, remember the sacrifice made for you. There is peace in the rhetoric and His name is Jesus

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Passages

Last year at about this time, I sat and jubilantly waited for my father to answer my call. It was tradition.

For thirty-five years, whenever North Carolina won the National Championship in men's college basketball, I called my Dad. No matter where I was, or what time of night, if Carolina won it all, my Dad (UNC '52) waited for my call, and we celebrated together. 

There had been four of these wonderfully special calls over the years: 1982, 1993, 2005, and 2009. The 1993 call I made from prison. (You'll forgive me if I don't elaborate on exactly how I managed that.) That night, Dad was at his apartment in the Springmoor Retirement Community in Raleigh, North Carolina.

No answer. Thinking I had misdialed, I hung up and redialed. Ever since I was a little boy, my father and I had suffered through the ACC and NCAA Basketball Tournaments together. Either watching on TV or huddling by the radio, together we tried to will the Tar Heels to the National Championship. Somehow throughout the 60's and 70's, there would always be another team slightly better or luckier. And Dad and I would commiserate together. Finally, in 1982, Dad and I were able to joyously celebrate, as we had three additional times over the years.

The phone continued to ring, until finally … sadly … I hung it up. Three months later, my brother and I moved our father into the Alzheimer's Wing at Springmoor. The disease had progressed that fast. In just a few months, Dad lost his hold on the present and slipped into the past where he now lives out his days. Should Carolina win it all again, it somehow won't ever be the same. There will be no more calls.

Our Father tells us through his Word that to everything there is a season. For all things, there is a time to live, and a time to die. In the blink of an eye, a season can change. It does not matter if we are ready for the change; the change is inexorably coming. We are the last generation before the return of our Lord Jesus. Our particular season is moving—second, by minute, by hour to its conclusion. 

Our season is ending; a glorious new season is waiting to dawn. Are you ready?

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Fruitful Relationships

Stormy winds swayed trees and bent them toward the ground.

Watching from my living room window, I saw branches separating and falling. What a mess! I thought. Lovely branches, once part of the tree’s vital life, now lay dying on the ground. I would have to gather the dead branches and put them out for garbage collection.

Thankfully, the trees were not uprooted, and they still have most of their branches. I was comforted with the thought that the branches remaining on the tree would develop leaves and bear fruit in spring and summer.

Jesus made His relationship with others clear: “I am the one who gives life and you are the one who receives life. Maintain an intimate relationship with Me. We need a lasting and inseparable relationship with each other. This is the only way you can have a fruitful and fulfilling life.”

Relationships that stand the test of stormy experiences require work and commitment. Each person must believe losing the relationship is losing the essence of life. Keeping this foremost in our daily thoughts will help us serve life-sustaining food to each other and experience the healthy relationship Jesus came to give each one of us.

Live in a faithful relationship with Christ. Otherwise, your life will be useless and unfulfilled.

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When God Delays

Every day . . . numerous times, I walked to the woods and prayed the same prayer.

Betrayal is never easy to endure—especially when sorrow isn’t offered. When sorrow and repentance are expressed, the betrayed has something to cling to.

I had little hope. I heard no “I’m sorry,” or “Let’s try to work things out.” Rather, “I don’t love you anymore.” I was left … with my thoughts, loneliness, and children. Several times each day, I made my way to the patch of woods behind our house and prayed for God to change her mind and trouble her soul.

I’m sure God answered my prayer, at least the part where He troubled her mind, but He didn’t make her return. From my perspective, it seemed as if He wasn’t listening or that He was delaying His answer for some unknown reason. The psalmist must have felt the same way.

What I had to learn, or remember, is that God’s delays only appear as such. They aren’t in reality. To say God delays means He operates from a past, present, or future perspective when He doesn’t. In my world, past, present, and future exist. In God’s world, everything is now. He sees it all at one time and at the same time. While mind boggling, believing this about God helps when I feel as if He has forgotten me.

In times of delay, realizing the difference between feeling and fact is also vital. I felt forgotten. The psalmist felt forgotten. But our feelings didn’t represent reality. God never forgets me or any request I make. He merely knows more than I do and sees the Although He will trouble their soul. If I’m the one suffering because of someone’s bad choice, I may think God is delaying an answer when it’s actually the free will of the person causing the delay.

God’s delays are only delays from our perspective. Don’t let appearances fool you. God loves and cares for you and will do what is in your best interest.

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The Powerlessness of Darkness

When we walk in darkness, we bump into things we would normally avoid in the light.

As I got ready for work in the pre-dawn darkness, I stumbled around the bedroom, not wanting to turn on any lights to disturb my sleeping wife. I bumped into the dresser, felt for the doorway, and then brushed my feet along the carpet in search of the stairs. I knew their locations, but the darkness disoriented me. God then whispered about the importance of walking in His light.

Jesus is the light of the world (John 8:12). His Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105). As His followers, who walk according to His Word, we walk in the light as children of His light (Ephesians 5:8), letting His light shine through us (Matthew 5:16). His light has no fellowship (intimate compatibility) with darkness (1 John 1:5-6) because light and darkness cannot coexist simultaneously.

Darkness frightens us with the unknown and unseen, but we walk by faith, not by sight. Darkness threatens, yet we must leave the presence of light. Darkness fears light because light illuminates, exposes, liberates, brightens, and encourages stumbling feet to step forward confidently. Even death is but a shadow fleeing from the glorious light of Christ’s resurrection.

We were never meant for darkness. If we dim or cover our light with doubt, fear, or sinful habits, our flame flickers and darkness hovers. Darkness doesn’t respect our light, but when we don't shine darkness exists. If we grow dim, shadows creep in. Then, in our self-made darkness, we stumble and bump into avoidable things, places, and people.

Where light shines, darkness flees. It isn't defeated; it simply lurks in the shadows waiting for the lights to dim. But it cannot overpower light. We shine our light to dispel the darkness. Where we go, the world should be a brighter place.

Turn on the light of God’s Word. Keep your candle burning, so it will shine everywhere you go. Fuel your lamp, and saturate your world with heavenly light.

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Warranties

The engine on our eight-year-old Ford Escape skipped. Or maybe it was the transmission. I'm not a car guy, so I don't know for sure.

My little brother is a car dude. David tears engines down in his sleep. When he was in high school, our family's rec room floor was covered with the transmission of a '67 Chevy Nova. David would know what the problem was, but David wasn't here.

The engine straightened itself out, no idiot lights decorated the dashboard, and I continued down the road. I was headed for the Asheville Christian Writers Conference, a state away in the mountains of North Carolina.

Ever since the warranty on our once-new Escape ended, I heard and felt every hiccup the car spit out. When it was under warranty, I didn’t worry about mechanical failures. They weren’t my problem. If something broke, I took it to the dealership. They would make it right again. There was a beautiful peace about that, especially if you weren't really a car guy—like me.

Over the next week, the Escape would need to get me over these mountains, down to the coast, around the state, and hopefully, about the time you’re reading this, back to my family in Tennessee. I had prayed about the car. I had spoken to God about the car. I had spoken over the car in faith. I had declared a moratorium on flat tires, engine hiccups, bored highway patrolmen, and texting teenagers. Still, a part of my brain always listened to the car. And part of my heart longed for the peace I had when the car was new and I didn’t worry.

My problem is that I tend to cling to worry like a security blanket. Actually, I don't have to worry about the car … or anything else. And when I learn to turn worry off and walk in faith, it will be the happiest day of my life. But I'm not there yet.

As Christians, we come with a warranty. We don't have to stress over what life might bring, because we have a Father to whom we can give every headache, heartache, problem, and worry. He wants us to give Him our problems ... if we just will.

What problems are you clinging to that you already have a warranty for?

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The Sifting Process

The aroma of homemade biscuits baking permeated my grandmother’s home. My taste buds anticipated every delectable bite that would drip with butter and grape jelly long before she removed them from the oven.

One of my memorable cooking experiences with my grandmother, whom I affectionately called Mama, was her preparation for making buttermilk biscuits. She placed a large metal bowl, a silver sifter, and all the ingredients on the counter. Then she filled the sifter and allowed me to sift flour into the bowl.

At the end of the sifting, I saw several hard pieces of flour captured in the sieve. I stared at Mama through widened eyes. I didn’t understand the purpose of sifting and would have innocently dumped the remains into the bowl. Understanding my dilemma, she instructed me to toss the remains into the trash because they were unsuitable for her biscuits.

In David’s psalm, he asked God to point out anything He found that made Him sad. David pursued God’s heart and knew he needed assistance exposing and eliminating sin hidden in his own heart. He determined not to break God’s heart again because he never forgot his past indiscretions. David’s intimate fellowship with God empowered him to request that God take his heart through a sifting process to reveal anything deemed insufficient.

God desires the same from each of us. He wants us to abide in His presence and to offer our heart to Him for inspection. God loves us more than we know, and His plan is not to harm us.

Face your fears and ask God to take your heart through His sifting process.

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Spiritual Healthcare Questions

I hate getting sick.

I once believed if I took care of my body with physical exercise and good health habits it would take care of me in the long run. Now I’m not so sure. No antidotes exist for growing older, unforgiving gravity, and the inevitability of declining physical health.

While sitting at my doctor’s office, I noticed a health advisory poster from the regional healthcare provider. The message was medical in nature, but the depth of the questions and answers took my mind to the spiritual realm.

The poster posed three questions:

  • What is my main problem?
  • What do I need to do?
  • Why is it important for me to do this?

In the medical field, sicknesses range from the common cold to a life-threatening illness. Some suffer from chronic or terminal illnesses. These questions are real and lead a person to face his or her health issues and subsequent treatment.

However, the same questions are significant in the spiritual realm. Self discovery in answering them has eternal implications. Honest self-assessment is the key. Even Jesus said He couldn’t help those who didn’t think they had a problem. Denying a spiritual problem solves nothing. Denying the truth doesn’t change it.

Finding accurate and unbiased answers to the spiritual problem is paramount. Imagine a doctor who didn’t want to hurt a patient’s feelings with bad news. Or worse, a timid surgeon. Though truthful answers may be painful, they describe the solution.

Action is also necessary. Acknowledging a spiritual problem and finding an accurate diagnosis are useless unless we submit to the recommended treatment. The world is hurting and doesn’t know why. We need encouragement to apply unfiltered and untarnished truth to our lives.

Believers should let their lights shine to others as they share God’s truth candidly, yet lovingly. We can be Jesus to those around us so they are drawn to His marvelous truth and life.

Be the spiritual treatment for a sick, lost, and dying world. 

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Faith Amidst Suffering

I often wonder why bad things happen to good people. How I answer this question often dictates the direction of my spiritual journey. I submit to God’s will, or I rebel.

My older brother was once a healthy and obedient child, but now he is confined to a wheelchair, unable to care for himself. The condition that robbed his vitality has not deprived his mind. I can only imagine the questions that race through his head as he lies immobilized in his bed. Why? Why me? What could I have done differently?

Job asked these same questions as he faced similar sufferings. Job had a blameless and upright nature. He feared God and turned away from evil. Yet he wasn’t immune to suffering. The loss of his family, possessions, and health left him in despair.

We have a natural tendency to question suffering. In Job chapter 38, God answers Job’s questions—and ours—even though we might have difficulty accepting it. God tells Job He is in control and that Job doesn’t need to understand the reasons for his suffering. If Job cannot comprehend the foresight it took to create the earth, then he cannot comprehend the foresight it took to order his life. Although Job doubts God’s providence, he brings these doubts to God in prayer. He refused to curse God for his sufferings and is later rewarded for his faithfulness.

God puts us all through tests of faith. Our job is not to question them but rather to remain faithful and trust in an all-loving and all-powerful God.

Let God stretch your trust level through your trials. 

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Paths

Recently, a close friend and dear sister set out on her own path of faith.

Her path is one only she can see from the vantage point of her unique personal situation. It isn't a path all of us could understand, nor, I suspect, were meant to. The path is for her and her alone.

The Wise Men, or Magi, were learned men . . . men of knowledge of their generation and place. For centuries, since the time of Daniel, their order had watched for a sign in the sky. And finally, it was there. The Star of the Savior of mankind shone brightly. Imagining the joy they must have felt is impossible.

Far to the West, in the small hamlet of Bethlehem in the land of the Jews, a baby had been born to a virgin. He would be known by many names, but to these waiting, watching, and joyous Wise Men he was King, Savior, and Lord of all Mankind. They immediately began to prepare for their journey to the West to find and honor Him. 

The Wise Men knew the path they were to take, but to those outside their order, their preparations must have seemed bizarre. To all the drivers, guards, and others who made up the caravan that brought the Magi and their gifts to the newborn King, this months-long journey probably made no sense at all. 

Like the Wise Men from the Orient, my friend alone knows the meaning of the star guiding her. I will miss her a lot. But her star is guiding her on a different path than we had imagined a year ago. And I respect that. I have to let her go . . . just as a lot of us have to let people go.

Safe travels, my sister. Follow your star. You will always have my prayers, my love, and my unquestioning support. 

“May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you His favor and give you His peace.”

Pray for those God leads on different paths. 

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Flooding Waters Cannot Quench Love

As I watched the devastating flood waters of Hurricane Harvey surge through Houston and the surrounding areas, I was horrified by their powerful, damaging, and unforgiving effects. Human attempts against such force seem feeble—and usually are futile.

As I considered the devastation, God brought Scriptures to mind related to flooding waters. Song of Solomon 8:7 shows the power of love. In the intimacy of marriage, passionate, burning love can withstand attempts to quench it. This correlation signifies the power love holds over those consumed by it.

Isaiah 59:19 reflects a spiritual reference to flooding waters: “When the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.” Our enemy is powerful—a roaring, rushing torrent with intent to steal, kill, and destroy. He rushes about with deceit, distraction, and destruction. Just like flood waters, he values nothing nor does he play favorites or give anyone a break.

And yet we can withstand the enemy’s malicious tide. The impenetrable, non-eroding seawall of the Spirit of the Lord takes precedence and power over Satan and his nasty attempts. When Satan tries to erode our faith, we rest and trust in the Spirit of the Lord. When his flood waters swell, we find safety under God’s almighty wings. But just like an earthly flood, recognizing the flood warnings and immediately seeking shelter is critical.

Jesus is the standard raised against our enemy. He is love and lovingly gave His life as a ransom for us. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. He is a fountain springing up within us, never a destroying flood. His banner over us is love. He is our shelter.

God gives His conquering power of love over spiritual flooding. If we wonder whether any flood can dampen, quench, or separate us from the source of our love, the answer is found in Romans 8:38-39: Never!

Hurricanes may blow and flood waters may rise, but your safety lies behind the seawall of God’s never-ending love.

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Solomon, Browning, and Life

As a teenager, I fell in love with Robert Browning’s words:

“Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made:
Our times are in His hand
Who saith ‘A whole I planned,
Youth shows but half; trust God: see all, nor be afraid!’”

My love for those words increases with each new life stage. Although Browning sounds far more optimistic than the author of Ecclesiastes, they reach a similar conclusion: Remain focused on God, on what God can do through our lives, and on the meaning God offers from beginning to end.

For years, I was a social worker and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. The work was stressful and the hours horrible, but I loved it. I also believed God called me to it, and I had no intention of leaving . . . ever. Yet, after almost thirty years, God told me clearly it was time for something else. I had no idea what that was but believed His promise that everything would be okay.

Initially, I thought I would spend more time on mission trips, a long-held passion, but that door closed as well. However, as each door closed, another opened—not as fast as I might have chosen, but in God’s time and in God’s way.

At the urging of a fellow church member, my husband and I served as a friendship family to international university students. Some stay in our home. Others visit for meals or special events.

I also rekindled an earlier interest in writing. Not long after I began writing again, my husband suffered the first in a series of health crises. God has amazed us by the way our family’s experiences and challenges have ministered to others through my written words.

Once again, I can’t imagine doing anything else. I have no idea what the future holds. No one does. As Solomon says, I’ve reached “the conclusion of the matter.” Along with Browning, I will “trust God: see all, nor be afraid!”

Trust God, enjoy life, and don’t be afraid. 

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Overcoming Obstacles for the Cause

“Your articles are horrible.”

Although the call was more than ten years ago, I remember it well because it was so mean. A magazine had just published a series of articles I wrote about a fledgling industry. I was getting a lot of encouraging feedback. Then, in the middle of the good, came this phone call.

As it turned out, a struggling public relations professional with a temper—who was mad I hadn’t interviewed his client—made the call. His client didn’t fit my employer’s needs. Even though I knew I had done the right thing, the call stung. Criticism in any shape or form is difficult to handle, especially if it seems unjust.

We can learn a lot about unfair opposition from Nehemiah. He was cupbearer to King Artaxerxes during the time of the Jewish exile. While he was interred far away in the ancient city of Susa, news came to him about his homeland. Jerusalem’s walls and gates were in ruins.

Nehemiah fasted and prayed to the Lord, beseeching Him for favor with the Persian king. He then waited for the right opportunity to approach the throne. He asked for time off to return to Jerusalem, for accommodations for safe passage, and for lumber to complete the wall rebuilding project. “And because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests (2:8).”

Just because the Lord ordains our work doesn’t mean it will be stress free. Before the work started, three men vocally opposed Nehemiah—accusing him of inciting rebellion. The opposition continued throughout the project. Naysayers rose up from the Ammonites and the men of Ashdod, but Nehemiah comforted himself and his workers: “The Lord will fight for us” (4:20). With God’s help, the wall was completed in fifty-two days.

Sometimes a godly calling or passion grows dim because of opposition. We take the critics to heart or perhaps the work feels more challenging or less rewarding than expected.

If you are discouraged today, let Nehemiah’s story encourage you to keep pressing forward. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time, we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). 

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New Year’s Contentment

I only knew him fifteen years, but never saw him dissatisfied.

My mom’s dad—Pappy we called him—died a few weeks after I turned fifteen. Although I only knew him a short time, I never detected dissatisfaction in his life.

My grandfather enjoyed small-farm living. He relished in his old farmhouse instead of building a nice new home. A small, red tractor and field hands worked his farm. He didn’t need to go into debt to buy fancy farm equipment. Even though he owned two vehicles—a truck for him and a car for my grandmother—he bought them used. He also contented himself with hundreds of acres of land rather than thousands.

I never saw Pappy get in a hurry, no matter what dotted the day’s agenda. He rose early in the morning, sat on the porch to watch the sun rise, and then ambled down to the small-town store to talk with fellow farmers. He never drove over twenty-five miles per hour. He lived life with little, but enjoyed the most from every moment.

Paul learned the same trick. Sometimes, he had much. At other times, he had little. Regardless, he learned contentment regardless of his circumstances.

I’ve not always mimicked my grandfather . . . or Paul. I’ve piled up debt trying to have what others have, attempting to get stuff I thought would make me happy. But the older I get, the more I realize gratification isn’t about possessions.

Satisfaction lies in wanting what God wants for me. God blesses some with large amounts of money and material possessions. Others barely have enough to get by. Why the difference, I don’t know—and God doesn’t say. Our job is being content with what He gives.

When we learn not to let others’ demands control us—it’s called peer pressure—we’ll enjoy serenity. Only what God pressures us to have and do is important.

Contentment also comes when we want those things that advance God’s Kingdom. Ultimately, that’s our primary responsibility and the thing that leads to fulfillment, regardless of our life situation.

Nor should trials affect our happiness. They are temporary, controlled by God, and have purpose. Seeing them through those lenses helps us endure them without losing our serenity.

This year, let God teach you how to enjoy contentment, regardless of what comes your way.

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Gifts

“Opa?” asked my thirteen-year-old grandson, Caleb. 

“Yes?” I answered. For eleven years, my lovely wife Charlotte and I have raised him, and I have been Opa to him.

Caleb continued, “Can I have an XBox One for Christmas?” 

I pondered this a minute and answered, “Why?” You see, Caleb has a perfectly good Xbox 360, the previous model to the newer XBox One. 

"Well," Caleb answered, "the XBox One does stuff the 360 doesn't." 

"Let me ask you something," I answered. "Is your 360 broke?" I knew it wasn't. He spent too much time on it.

“Nooooo,” he answered finally. “The new one just does more." 

"Well, big guy, just because it has a lot of shiny bells and whistles and might look sharper, it still basically doesn't do anything your XBox 360 can't do. I'd like a new car with backup cameras and push-button start, but the one we have still works fine. We can't replace something that expensive just for new bells and whistles," I told him.

He looked downcast for a minute and then looked up at me. "So that would be a no?"

"That would be a no." 

We like to say Christmas isn't about all the gifts and giving. And that’s true. But there’s more to it. Christmas is also about the greatest gift ever given. God gave to us—His lost and helpless children—the only thing in the entire universe He only had one of: His Son, Jesus. The infant child who can become our Lord, Savior, and Redeemer. If God can give us the greatest gift ever, then the gifts I give at Christmas are just types and shadows. 

Have you embraced the love of the Father’s Christmas gift to you? If not, open that gift right now, and accept Jesus into your heart.

One last note. Tomorrow, on Christmas morning, Caleb is going to happily open his presents. In the joy of the moment, he will have completely forgotten about the gift he didn’t get . . . until he opens that last present with the XBox One in it. 

Shhhhhhh … don’t tell him!

Merry Christmas!!!

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Birth Announcement

Imagine the scene of Jesus’ birth.

The Son of our glorious God was about to enter the world. But no marching band, no atmosphere of celebration, no special edition of the newspaper, and no CNN 24/7 television news coverage were present. Nothing took place to herald the royal birth.

God sent His Son’s birth announcement through angels. Even then, the angels didn’t appear at a place like Times Square in New York City, the site of universal celebration on New Year’s Eve. On that holy evening, God didn’t send angels to heads of state, kings or queens, or city mayors.

Rather, God selected a field three-quarters of a mile west of Bethlehem. The quiet countryside, dotted with sheep asleep for the night, lit up with blazing heavenly lights that pierced the darkness. God brought attention to His birth announcement in the presence of flocks of sheep and the men who tended them, not in the presence of prominence.

God sent His Son as the ultimate sacrifice for the world’s sins, and He wanted to make sure the news would be shared. If He had chosen to give the news to the ruling class, they might have thought too highly of themselves and greedily kept it to themselves, reasoning that only the elite deserved such news.

But God knew what He was doing. He knew who would appreciate the news and who would share it. The angels told the shepherds where they could find the new baby, but they didn’t command them to travel there. After the angels left, the shepherds discussed the news and went with haste to find Joseph, Mary, and the babe.

You, too, can be like the eager shepherds and rush to tell the news the angels heralded. The Bible gives us the Good News, and with modern conveniences we can share it more easily than the shepherds did.

This Christmas season, share the news of Jesus’ birth with someone. 

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Sacrifice of Praise

Two days off from work and I was ready.

My supervisor had been upset all week—stressed because of a personal problem—and appeared to take her anger out on me. As I pulled into my driveway one Friday, I was thankful the work week had ended.

I was driving a friend’s car because my old car was in the shop again. As I sat in the driveway, I reached into my purse for my door key—but it wasn’t there. It was inside the locked house.

Winter had arrived, and snow covered the ground. Wearing high heels, I slipped and stumbled through several inches of snow to a building for my stepladder. Carrying it back, I placed it under a kitchen window.

I pried off the screen and crawled through the window. As I did, the phone rang. Hurrying to answer it, I hit my arm. Picking up the receiver while rubbing my aching arm, I tried not to cry as I received more frustrating news.

After hanging up the phone, I sat at the kitchen table realizing I had two choices. I could give in to despair or praise God despite my problems. I chose the latter. My praise became a gift of sacrifice to my Lord.

Offering praise is the fruit of our lips, and God lovingly accepts our offering. He blesses when we willingly offer our praise to Him.

Eventually, the car problems were solved and tensions at work eased.

When you are tossed upon a turbulent sea of stress and fear, choose to offer God a sacrifice of praise.

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Seeking the Gift or the Giver

Why we follow God is crucial to our spiritual journey. 

When I worked with YWAM, we did an evangelistic outreach on July 4th at the National Mall in Washington, DC. We gave away chicken to draw people to our table so we could share Christ with them. Two hippies walked past our table. While one of them munched on a piece of chicken, I heard him say, “Yeah, just tell them you love Jesus and they will give you one.” I didn’t see the other guy come back, but if he did it would have been about his stomach, not his heart.

Jesus saw through the hypocrisy of many who sought Him. They pursued the temporal blessings rather than the eternal ones. They cared more about the gift than the giver.

I once attended a church where we believed God heard and answered prayers. People came with many needs. Some needed physical healing, others had marital problems, and still others needed financial miracles. On many occasions, God met those needs. But sometimes He didn’t.

Attendance waivered for some who didn’t have their prayers answered. Then we didn’t see them at all. Perhaps they were seeking the gift more than the giver.

Anytime we want what we can get from God more than we want God, we create an idol in our lives. Parents love to bless their children, but there are times when giving them what they want may not be the most loving thing to do. God also occasionally withholds from His children out of love.

God is good all the time. He is loving when He answers our prayers, when He says wait, and when He says no. Don’t love God only for what you can get from Him. Love Him because He is a loving Father. Seek the giver, not the gift. 

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Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

Let Him Say So

Routine. In prison routine is everything.

Perceived safety comes by having everything happen the same way day after day, week after week, month after month . . . and yes, year after year. There is safety in what is expected. The unexpected, the un-routine, gets you hurt. When daily routines go off the tracks, stress levels skyrocket. 

Another stressful time for anyone incarcerated are the holidays. The loss of family and holiday traditions play tricks with a man's head. I know. They did with mine. The memories of Thanksgivings past haunted me. At the same time, those memories blinded me to any sense of thanksgiving in my present circumstances. 

But giving thanks in all circumstances was exactly what the Word said I should do—especially in prison. The Word is filled with examples of thankful praise in prison. The Lord brought this home the first Thanksgiving of my incarceration. On that morning, an early announcement that we had the day off and that the chow hall would not be open for breakfast turned my world upside down. Instead, the chow hall would open at 10:00 am and remain open until 3:00 pm. We could go through the chow line as many times as we wanted. And not a chow line with the usual barely edible institutional food we were used to. Real roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, rolls, and fresh salad greeted us. All we could eat. 

That night as I stretched out on my bunk after the lights went out—still so full I could barely move—I thanked God for bringing alive His word. And I thought about what I had to be thankful for: I was breathing, my stomach was full, I had family who loved me, and most importantly, I had Jesus, the Son of the Living God, who loved me. Me . . . Kevin Spencer. Wow. And what could I say to Him, but, “Thank You, Lord.”

Your circumstances are never bigger than your thanksgivings. What are you thankful for today?

Let Her Say So

I must have looked like a caged tiger trying to shake off a tranquilizer, as I paced around the outer parameters of my jail cell.

It was the week of Thanksgiving, and I was certain no judge in that small southern town would be available to release me so I could be with my young son for the holiday. A lower bond was my only chance. I got lucky. By Christmas, however, I faced a similar predicament, with a twist.  I was innocent this time, but it was the most serious crime I had ever been accused of.  

I didn’t know it, but the road ahead was a journey I couldn’t avoid. Walking laps helped release my anger, but it was no escape from the magnitude of my situation. I knew I was losing everything, I knew I’d be a convicted felon, and I knew life would never be close to normal again. I was right.

Every year at this time, we’re encouraged to give thanks. As a Christian, I have struggled and prayed over this. I love you, Lord, but you know my life stinks! Please don’t expect me to be thankful. I ain’t feelin’ it.  

One lesson I’ve learned is to leave my feelings out of it. When I do, all is well with my soul.  When feelings take over, I have an ungrateful heart that is cold and indifferent to God’s mercy and love. Still, I’ve never been sure how to give thanks for “everything” without being pretentious.  One day I received a simple answer. We are to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. 

It made sense. I’m sure the apostle Paul never said, “Thank you, Father, for these irritating chains and iron manacles ripping into my wrists and legs.” But Paul did praise God through his suffering. The prophet Daniel also gave thanks when he learned evil men wanted to destroy him. They were doing what is asked of every Christian: enduring hardships with gratitude, having faith, and being thankful.   

With Jesus in my heart, I always have something to be thankful for. I didn’t like falling, but I praise God for raising me up. I miss every lost year with my child, but I’m so thankful to God for my son’s precious life. 

Choose to be thankful—regardless of your circumstances.

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In Control, Even in Chaos

Sometimes, conditions are perfect for massive storms to develop in our lives.

In 1979, a tropical disturbance formed in the Pacific. Initially, the storm was too small to name, but several meteorological conditions fueled it, and it soon morphed into Super Typhoon Tip. At its peak, the system stretched more than thirteen hundred miles, making it the most massive storm of all time.

As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.This verse reminds us that when the world feels as if it’s crumbling and everything seems to be going wrong, God is still in control. Joseph was dumped in a cistern by his brothers. Reuben, the oldest, intended to rescue him later, but when he momentarily stepped away, Joseph’s other brothers sold him as a slave to a band of Ishmaelites passing by on their way to Egypt.

Joseph was thirty when he entered Pharaoh’s service—fifteen years after he was sold. During those years, heartache occurred. Joseph may have had sleepless nights when he thought, If only my dad hadn’t given me that coat, elevating me above my brothers. If only I hadn’t shared the dreams that made my brothers jealous. If only Reuben had come back sooner. If only those Ishmaelites hadn’t passed by. If only ...

Ultimately, Joseph’s pain was purposeful. God was in control—even in the moment when everything went wrong and he was sold as a slave. We know this from Joseph’s own testimony. When he was reunited with his brothers many years later, he told them, “It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”

Our life storms may start off small, but as negative moments, words, and decisions build, they can morph into massive storms.

If you are going through difficult times where everything seems to be going wrong, or if you are struggling with regret because of the what ifs, remember God will use your pain for His glory. It is not senseless.

Lean into God for comfort during your storms. Ask Him to reveal His purpose in your pain.

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Receiving the Moments

Stepping forward to shake the hand of one of my favorite authors, my heart quivered to think I was actually talking to her.

With clumsy words tumbling from my lips, I knelt beside her chair for a picture. Then, my movements became as awkward as my words. Losing my footing, I grabbed the end table beside me to catch my balance, but the table—including the large plant it held, along with me in my clumsy glory—fell headlong into an empty fireplace. Fortunately, the scene was only witnessed by a few dozen people, the friend who invited me to the event, and Elizabeth Elliot.

That moment met with embarrassment and found me mentally slapping myself for not being able to hold myself together for a few minutes. Yet the story it gave me to tell always brings laughter. And laughter itself is a gift.

Tiny moments of life impact our hearts. An interaction doesn’t go the way we hoped, and the spirit we meet it with has the potential to carry us either into a corner where we are left hiding or into a state of brokenness. In my brokenness, I don’t deny the way I feel but rather receive my feelings as a gift from God for His purpose and in His timing. And this within the beautiful day He has made.

Many times, I’ve hidden when such feelings met me, and still God waits for me to boldly show Him my awkward pieces. His comfort always makes me fresh again.  

For every instance the Enemy hopes to back us into a corner, God waits for us in the sweet broken place. The day is His and we should rejoice.

Hold your moments loosely, knowing the day belongs to God. In the end, doing so will give you the gift of gladness—maybe even laughter.     

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Jealousy's Offspring

Where the gospel is concerned, success always breeds opposition.

Resistance to truth is conceived in the human heart through jealousy, and slander births it. The human heart inclines itself towards pride, which makes us elevate ourselves by denigrating others. 

Paul and Barnabas preached with much success in Antioch. Almost the entire city turned out to hear them. But the Jewish leaders resisted Paul and Barnabas—not because of their message but because of their popular teaching.

The gospel has a polarizing effect. A person either accepts it or organizes himself against it. Christians should never be surprised by the reaction to their message. The question is how we respond to accusations. We should never fight pride with pride. Our weapons for warfare are mighty, but not carnal. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). If we allow the Enemy to entice us to fight the conflict on his level, the battle becomes about people and personalities. Even when we win, we lose.

Overcoming slander with more slander is like fighting fire with fire—it produces a larger blaze. Humility—which is strength under control—is better. Doing so brings credibility to our message.

Pastor Alistair Begg once said, “To return evil for good is devilish. To return good for good is human. To return good for evil is divine.” Sometimes, actions speak louder than words. Winning a soul is more important than winning an argument.

Jealousy and strife’s offspring, slander, never bring people to Christ. Don’t fall into the trap of slandering those who accuse you. 

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So - Words

Let Him Say So

In my whole life, I had never heard my dad use profanity—except once. 

I was twelve years old, and my family had been camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mount Pisgah. We pulled out, and Dad was in line waiting to get gas at the pumps in front of the little camp store that served the campground. My younger brother, David, was in the front seat between Mom and Dad. I was in the back, sandwiched between my grandparents who had camped with us. 

Behind the car, Dad towed our Starcraft pop-up camper. The parking lot on top of 5000-foot Pisgah ridge is constricted where the camp store and gas pumps are. This particular Sunday afternoon in October, it was crowded with leaf-peepers, day-trippers, and people visiting the famous Pisgah Inn Restaurant. 

Suddenly, a car to our left backed straight toward us. Dad threw our Ford wagon in gear, but there was nowhere to go. We were hemmed in, and the driver of the other car paid no attention. Dad went to plan B and leaned on the horn. The other car skidded to a halt with only inches to spare from Dad’s driver door. Dad rolled his window down and cut loose with a string of profanity I had never heard him utter before, or since. Mom gasped while my grandfather quietly chuckled under his breath.

When I came home from prison to my parents’ house—despite my Christian heart—I had a foul mouth. Seven years in that hell of a sewer rubbed off on me in ways I didn’t even recognize. I had acquired the gutter language of prison.

It didn’t take long in the Christian home of my parents before my cussing sounded wretched in my ears . . . a stink in my nostrils . . . and I made the conscious effort to clean up my speech. My parents never said a word about it; they simply led by example.

We are new spirits as born-again Christians, but this fallen world can rub off on us in ways which we may never notice if we don’t constantly wash ourselves in God’s Word. Make sure your wedding clothes are ready for the Lord's return and His Great Wedding with His church.

Let Her Say So

Shut . . . up . . . !

Several expletives joined with those two words as I yelled through the vent at a woman in the next cell. I had been alone in solitary confinement for months, with no one occupying the only other cell in my isolated pod. Who was this woman? I wondered.

I didn’t grow up with that kind of potty mouth. In fact, certain words were so vulgar they never flowed past my lips. Somewhere in life, that changed. I couldn’t see the evil that had taken root in me. The world had become a disappointment, and my situation and other people were to blame. I simply reacted. 

The lady next to me had plenty of troubles—mental issues among them. She spoke with multiple (non-existent) people, making it hard for me to maintain my own sanity. Her constant chatter drove me over the edge. Although she only had a $100 bond, no one cared enough to get her out. And I had no compassion.  

Jesus taught us that everything that flows from the mouth originates from the heart. Without Christ, hate came from my heart. I was blinded by it. Hate pushed every button in me, from persistent anger to depression. 

After becoming a Christian, one of the first things I prayed for was that God would clean up my gutter language. Not many other things changed quickly, but my speech did. I felt God’s goodness in me. My words were, and are, an indication of what is in my heart. An evil man has an evil treasure in his heart, and out of it brings forth evil things (Mathew 12:35).

Not many days pass when I don’t think about the women I met in prison. I want prople to know what I discovered: words are the spontaneous manifestation of our true character. Real change begins with inviting Jesus Christ into our heart. 

If we ask, Jesus will carry us through our troubles and strengthen our resolve against the battles of our flesh. He will stand guard over our tongues so we’ll speak words of love and not hate.

Ask God to help you be justified—not condemned—by your words.  

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Trusting Strangers, Doubting God

I allowed a total stranger to place a drill into my mouth.

I’d been having a problem with a tooth for several weeks. Eventually, I stopped ignoring it and made a dental appointment. The dentist, who had just joined the dental group, examined my tooth and discovered a loose filling that needed replacing. With several sharp and noisy instruments, she began the procedure. Afterward, she gave me instructions and told me to return in a few weeks.

Later, it dawned on me how much we trust total strangers. I had never met this woman, yet I let her perform an uncomfortable procedure. We hop onto airplanes and into taxis operated by people we’ve never met. Complete strangers come into our homes to maintain our furnaces and install appliances. We take medicines prepared by people we don’t know.

So why do we have a hard time trusting God or believing a promise He’s given? Jesus’ disciples felt this tension. They encountered Jesus on a mountain after His resurrection. Although the risen Savior was in their presence, some doubted.

Our tendency to favor the material and natural over the immaterial and supernatural is a barrier to trusting God consistently. God knows this and has given us a resource to combat our tendency: faith. Jesus talked about its power often: “For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 HCSB).

Tiny faith does mighty things–even the tough stuff like trusting God in difficult circumstances or continuing to believe Him for a promise you’ve been awaiting for years. Doing so isn’t easy, but possible. To His children, “God has distributed a measure of faith to each one” (Romans 12:3b HCSB).

Let God teach you how to trust Him in all situations. 

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Living Waters

I wonder if living waters flow from me.

An old man lived in the Alpine forest, high above a village. The village hired him to clear rubbish from pools of water which fed the stream that flowed through the town. Faithfully, he removed leaves, branches, and accumulated silt that contaminated the fresh-water flow. The town possessed such a beautiful, clear stream that it became a popular tourist attraction.

One year, the town council questioned the salary paid to this obscure keeper of the stream and voted to cut expenses by eliminating his position. When fall arrived, trees shed their leaves and small branches snapped off and fell into the pools, impeding the flow of water. Within a few weeks, a slimy film covered sections of water and villagers detected a foul odor. Tourists left and some residents became ill. 

Realizing their error, the town council called a special meeting and rehired the keeper of the stream. Soon, the stream cleared and life in the town returned to normal.

When I heard this story, I thought about my stream and the debris that clogs it. Habits, gossip, pride, unforgiveness. Rotten leaves create a dam and keep water from flowing.

I understood my goal was to be so connected with Christ that living waters flowed from me so others may know Him. And I thought about Christ being the keeper who removes what litters my stream.

The danger of no keeper is subtle at first. I may not notice the fresh and flowing water becoming stagnant and still. But eventually, leaves of self and sin pile up, stink, and rot. Just like the town council, I can choose to value the role of the keeper and allow Him to work or I can let my stream stay clogged with stink and slime. 

The keeper of the stream is always willing to clean up our mess. He never walks away muttering, “You get what you deserve.” Rather, He lovingly removes the debris and encourages us to flow again. He loves us unconditionally and died to pay the penalty for our sin, junk, and debris.

Let the keeper of the stream remove anything that prevents your living waters from flowing to others. 

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The Right Side

Getting stuck in a life rut is a common problem.

Life begins to feel mundane—as if it lacks substance. This emotion makes us feel insignificant and diminishes the reality of our importance to people around us.

The disciples were seasoned fishermen with generations of experience. Peter had multiple boats with fishermen who worked for him, and he knew the sea well. But he was having a bad day fishing and was about to give up. Jesus saw the rut Peter was in and said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!”

Peter and the others obeyed Jesus and caught so many fish their nets could not hold them. But the real truth comes from Peter’s obedience. He chose to humble himself, listen to the voice of the Lord, and try something new. The fish were just on the other side of where he was looking. 

Sometimes what we are striving for is in a different place. We get comfortable in our routines and with our own wisdom when what we’re looking for is where we are already standing.

Peter was exhausted but listened to the wisdom of the Lord. Our efforts are not without reward and our wisdom is not without treasure. We only have to change our approach to see what we are searching for.

Joy can be found in our children, instead of a great career promotion. Satisfaction can be found in what we have and not in what we are seeking. Prosperity can be found in the treasures the Lord has placed in our lives and the love He has wrapped us in.

The thing you are looking for may be on the other side of where you are currently looking. Change the way you think about life, and see the great blessings on the “right” side. 

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Out of School Life into Life's School

Graduation is the high point in many people’s lives.

After years of studying and attending a variety of classes, graduation brought me to the end of that stage in my life. When I graduated from high school, our class motto was, “Out of School Life into Life’s School.” The slogan had a nice ring to it, but little did we know how true those words would become.

Many years have passed since I received my diploma and said “Good-bye” to my classmates and teachers. During those years, I have experienced many things. I’ve attained an education never dreamed of. Some experiences were happy—such as becoming a wife and a mother. Other experiences included heartache, health problems, and disappointments.

After a heart-breaking crisis when my husband left me for another woman, I claimed Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

Christ never promised Christians a life free of bad things. He did, however, promise that He would walk with us through whatever we encounter—the good and the bad.

We do nonbelievers an injustice by telling them, “If you give your life to Jesus Christ, your life will be all roses and no thorns.” But we can give them a promise, which those who have lived for the Lord have discovered: Jesus Christ is always faithful.

I have found this promise to be true. As I’ve walked through other sorrows and disappointments, I have never walked alone. The Lord has always been by my side.

God will be with you also—through the valleys and the mountain-top experiences. As long as you live, you will be educated in life’s school, and you will discover school is always in session.

Never stop learning in the school of life. 

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So - Blinders

Let Him Say So…

A few years into my incarceration, I managed to get handcuffed and shoved into a security cell. Popular culture would call it “the hole.” We called it “jail.” The idea of a jail inside a prison might strike some as silly. However, in a population of men with serious impulse control issues, there will always be a need for a place to lock people away . . . even inside a prison.

I was here because a tool I was responsible for was missing—a high-end pair of bolt cutters that would go through chain link wire like a welding torch through a hula-hoop. I had no idea what happened to them.

After a couple of days—and a pleasant question and answer session with the head of security—I was suddenly released. The bolt cutters turned up in the possession of a trusted co-worker. He confessed to stealing them and admitted I was innocent. 

The man was charged with theft and put in protective custody. Although scheduled to be transferred to another prison, someone in security screwed up. The day before his transfer, he was released back into the general population with the four men he almost caused to lose everything: our jobs, our room/cells in the honor dorm, and our earned "good time." The incident could have added years to our sentences if we had been charged. 

There on the prison yard in front of us, big as life, was this fool. His kind of indiscretion isn’t just shoved under the rug in prison. There needs to be an accounting, or you are seen as weak—dogfood.

What happened next wasn’t pretty. Without unnecessary details, honor was restored and retribution satisfied. The man was allowed to run back to protective custody until he was transferred away. Despite the godfather face I wore as the leader, I was troubled. It wasn’t until I read King David’s reply to Nathan that my hypocrisy was driven into my heart. 

I had been forgiven, and by God’s miraculous hand I was seeing my forty-six-year sentence melt away week by week. Yet, given the opportunity to spare and forgive this man, I urged on the wolves instead. I felt sick. I had failed my Father and Lord.

But like King David, God picked me up and restored me. I can hear His longsuffering sigh though: “Child, what were you thinking?”

Thank the Lord His love is beyond understanding and His forgiveness is eternal.

Let Her Say So…

David was furious. “As surely as the Lord lives,” he vowed, “any man who would do such a thing deserves to die!” 2 Samuel 12:5 NLT

Over twenty years of meth use had taken her front teeth.

This is the woman sent to condemn me? As all ninety pounds of her wailed in my face, she put on a show for the other inmates. However, I wasn’t foolish enough to be baited into a fight. I listened with disgust as this tiny, toothless woman pranced around spewing accusations. Who was she? That woman obviously neglected her children through drug abuse.  

I was arrested on fugitive charges—wanted in another jurisdiction for an incomprehensible charge of attempted child abduction. The guards warned me against discussing anything with other inmates, but the story was sensationalized all over the news. They knew more than I did. 

I did know one thing. No one was looking for explanations that day. Not them. Not law enforcement. Not even me. My only response to this woman was a rhetorical question, "What happened to your teeth?" 

I knew I was innocent, but when you’ve been arrested, perception matters, not truth. To the women that day, and to a community whose bandwagon they jumped on, I was guilty. 

Those days are forever etched into my conscience and serve to reprimand words I speak in judgment of others. The prophet Nathan was that reminder to King David when he eloquently revealed David’s faults in a parable. 

Outraged by the selfish, heartless man Nathan spoke of, David condemned him to death. I can easily put myself in David’s shoes as Nathan reveals to him, “Thou art the man.” I see young mothers daily who struggle with issues like drug abuse and poor decision making. I question why they deserve their children more than I do mine. But, who am I? The answer is the same one Nathan gave in response to David’s rebuke—Thou art the woman condemned by her own tongue many times.  

Like David, my suffering was caused by my own vices. I have been a liar, a thief, and many other things not physically manifested. Instinctively, I believed I was a good person and a good mother. But good was never enough to erase the corrupt nature of my character.  

If your harshest condemnation of others happens when you’re most indulgent in your own sin, you may be judging yourself. Be like David after he recognized his sin. Own it.  

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Babbling at the Savior's Feet

Reasoning with a nine-month-old child can be tough.

Each day when I leave for work, my daughter wails for me. Having not yet fully grasped that something out of sight can still exist, she isn’t sure when or if I will be back.

Returning home proves an even worse experience. She is delighted at first, and it warms my momma heart to see her excitement as she realizes I have come home to her. Her little hands slap at the floor. She bounces up and down, awaiting my arms to lift her to me.

But this joyous reunion is short-lived. Incessant fussing and whining are ushered in for the remaining hours before bedtime. I am told she plays, smiles, babbles, and explores all day long while I am away. It is frustrating that her caregiver gets to see the cute and happy baby while I get the leftovers. 

I can’t help but wonder if this is how God feels about me. I stand and cheer at sporting events, throwing my hands in the air in excitement. Then I fall into bed at night in exhaustion and give what is left over to the King. I fuss, whine, and complain to the Creator, giving Him a laundry list of tasks to complete for me: “God, take care of this, do that, heal him, fix her…” 

My Savior cares about those requests. He tells me to cast my cares on Him. In a greater way than I care when my little one is upset, He cares for me. I also know that just as I long to see my daughter’s eyes fill with wonder when she looks at me—and to hear her laughter and babbling more than her fitting and fussing—so Jesus wants to spend those moments with me. He wants moments when I stand in awe of Him—when I throw my hands in the air in excitement to be in His presence. He wants to watch my eyes fill with wonder as I enter into His gates and babble happily at His feet.

God deserves and desires my first fruits, not my leftovers. He is worthy of my praise and thanksgiving!

Try babbling at the feet of your heavenly Father. 

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A Father's Sacrifice

As a young child, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and homemade gravy was our Sunday meal. Today, I still crave my mama’s fried chicken—a dish I can’t duplicate. Maybe it was the little can of grease sitting on the stove that gave it that extra flavor.

Years after the passing of my father, I mentioned to my mom how I couldn’t believe Dad really liked the chicken backs. A huge grin covered her face. She said, “He didn’t, but he ate them so you kids would have the best pieces.” That day, I saw a tiny glimpse of the sacrifice my father had made over the years.

The central event of the Christian faith is Jesus’ death on the cross. His Father’s sacrifice to all of us so we would have the best. He paid the price for our sins. Through His grace, we are allowed to have a relationship with the Father. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the only things that allow us to enter heaven.

My dad sacrificing his wants at our Sunday meal was the central event for me at our dinner table. Unfortunately, for years that sacrifice went unnoticed.

Let’s all remember the great sacrifice our Father in heaven made for us. I can’t even begin to imagine the magnitude of that sacrifice.

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Ultimate Love

Jack wept and wimpered in the other room, her stomach boiling in angst and melancholy.

Jack’s owner—a man who loved and cared for her—had just finished scolding and whipping her for eating a fowl. Now, the much loved and cherished Jack cried without anyone to cuddle her and give her a gentle scratch.

An hour later, the owner gave Jack a soothing call. She answered the call without any grudge or hate but ran majestically while shaking her tail. Since that incident, I've learned a dog's definition of love.

The best friend a man has may turn against him and become his enemy. His child whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us—those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name—may become traitors to their faith. A person may lose their money. It can fly away when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action.

The people who are prone to fall on their knees and honor us when success is with us may be the first to throw stones of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. But the one unselfish friend a man can have—the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous—is his dog.

Jesus’ love, however, is superior to a dog’s kind of love. Love that warrants dying for another truly defines the concept of love—ultimate love. How pleasant it would be if our lives reciprocated such love.

Love with ultimate love—not a dog’s love. 

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So - Betrayal

Let Him Say So
The Playmate of the Month stretched over three fold-out pages in all her natural and airbrushed glory.

After my cell-partner casually tossed the magazine down on his way out the door, the page flopped open to the centerfold. She stared up at me. I was in the fourth year of incarceration—a long time to live without a woman’s affection.

Shortly after my arrest, I crawled back to the Lord. He welcomed me with open arms. Despite my forty-six-year sentence, I felt He would free me much sooner. I just needed to avoid the prison culture, which was challenging. After all, I was living in hell on earth. I had to survive until freedom came. 

Jesus said, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In my heart, looking at a Playboy centerfold meant trouble. Though I try my best to honor God’s instruction, my flesh is weak. Biological imperatives that accompany the Y chromosome often take effect before I think. Intellectually, I know a woman’s heart and mind are more important than anything else, but I am still a man—tempted by my flesh and an overwhelming desire to procreate.

Unfortunately, biology has no off switch. A low simmer is the best I can hope for. In my situation, after four long years, it was more like a rolling boil. I tried to ignore her. Impossible!  The centerfold even stared at me through the leather cover of my Bible. After all Jesus did for me, I failed to do as He instructed. I picked up the magazine and gazed longingly at the woman inside.

The price for my sin was guilt, a strong sense of failure, and a shameful knowledge I had dishonored and betrayed Jesus’ Word. In my distress, I heard the Lord say, “One of you will betray me.” I was Judas.

I felt shame and regret. I begged for strength to conquer my flesh. Important in the first step toward repentance, but in itself, not enough. I asked for, and received, forgiveness. 

Knowing Jesus is my Lord and Savior—and that He will forgive me when I ask—may be the only thing that makes me different from a man like Judas.

Don’t betray the Son of Man.

Let Her Say So
Why’d you do it? I thought you loved me.

These uninviting words haunt my dreams. Memories emerge in the night like weeds, choking out the beauty of a previous season. My subconscious mind still searches for answers which may not exist. I run away, but can’t escape the pain of one simple truth: regardless of why, I hurt the people I love. In my darkest days, I was no different than the one Jesus said would betray Him.  

The story of Judas Iscariot is like mine: both reveal the unbelievable depth of Jesus’ love. I felt the same grief and regret Judas must have felt when he threw the thirty pieces of silver at the feet of those Roman soldiers. Their money was worthless.

I desperately wanted to change things—to give back what was never mine and to take back my place in the lives of those I loved. Judas’ story ended at the noose of a rope. Had that been my choice, Jesus never would have taken His place in my heart.

The biggest difference between Judas and us isn’t that he betrayed Jesus and we never could.  Even Peter betrayed Jesus three times. The most significant variance is Judas didn’t believe Jesus was who He said. He had no understanding of Jesus’ love for him or of how quickly he would have been forgiven had he asked.

Judas did nothing that could not or would not be forgiven. His life could have been redeemed, despite his betrayal. Judas’ story is more than we like to admit. He was not simply a biblical character meant to be set apart from the human race and despised. His life is a reflection of our humanity and shows the ability of everyone to do evil acts. On the bright side, his was a life that gave Jesus an opportunity to show His unconditional love in spite of man’s depravity.

When resentment and hatred would have been the human thing for Christ to feel, He manifested the magnificence of God’s love instead. I cling to this hope in the darkness. It’s the type of love I want to imitate.

Jesus never asks why we have done wrong. He asks that we repent and seek His forgiveness. Take the power of hurtful memories away by giving them to Him.

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Out of the Comfort Zone

I looked down at the little rose in my hand. Pink petals looked back at me; the exact kind I had written about in my book. The book Jill hadn’t read yet.

“For me?” I asked.

My new friend smiled as she nodded. I took the potted rose into my hands, grateful for her friendship and thoughtfulness. I had just met Jill, so she had no idea what it truly meant.

I thanked the Lord for this gift from my new friend, but also from Him. I had stepped out of my comfort zone and gone to a writer’s conference, not knowing anyone, yet I met so many new people that week, including Jill.

God often calls us to go beyond our comfort zones . . . to talk to new people, to go somewhere we’ve never been, or to be there for someone who is hurting. And when we take that step, He is faithful to meet us there and give us the strength to go further than ourselves.

If God is prompting you to knock on that new neighbor’s door, knock. If you have a feeling that you may be needed in missions, go.  

Take the first step out of your comfort zone, and watch how the Lord meets you there.

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Passing Through Threatening Waters

I wondered how God would see me through challenging parenting, medical needs, and a grieving heart.

My mom died unexpectantly in March—less than one year after my brother-in-law committed suicide. The week before Mom passed, my parents-in-law were involved in a head-on collision, and my mother-in-law broke her back and ribs. Since my son struggled with medical issues, I pulled him out of school to teach him at home.

I clung to the Scriptures for truth while the circumstances whirled around me. God provided manna in the wilderness for His people. He protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the flames of the furnace. I trusted Him to lead me through my wilderness too.

Whatever flames of suffering we face, God stands with us. When we encounter various trials—job losses, sick loved ones, financial ruin, strained relationships—we choose to stake our ground in the Lord or face it alone. To place our confidence in our own ability to navigate the wilderness or to follow Jesus even when it seems like we walk in circles.

Jesus said, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:4). Never. He is the faithful one, our redeemer, lover of our souls, and the great I Am. He created the world with a word. He spoke and it appeared. He knitted us together in our mother’s wombs and numbered our days before one of them began.

Our God remains good even in the midst of stormy waves. We can trust Him, even when it hurts to pray. Speak to the Lord about your circumstances, and ask for His help. Then wait. Turning your soul over to Him in expectation sometimes brings to mind the Scripture you need to remember, the truth you need to cling to, or the sin you need to repent of. God confirms His leading in the Bible you’re reading.

Seek God in the threatening waters. He will meet you as you seek Him.

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Sharing God's Goodness and Gifts Through Hospitality

The instance when my mother welcomed what she described as an angel remains a wonderful memory.

My mother operated an eatery in a market, and we children helped serve after school. One day, a man came into the shop, and I asked for his meal choice. At first, he was reluctant to reply, so I left him to wait on others. In time, I lost interest in him and was overwhelmed by the welfare of the other customers I was serving.

When I had waited on all my customers and collected their money, I decided to have a rest in our dining spot. It was there that I beheld the man in question in a serious discussion with my mother. The end result of a long conversation was that his bill was canceled. He had eaten to satisfaction and was asked to go his way.

At the end of the evening, my mother said she had received more than she gave, stressing that the man had told her deep things about her life. To her, she had had a discourse with an angel of God.

The writer of Hebrews concluded his thoughts with some exhortations for community life, including that his readers should continue to welcome strangers. He may have been referring to Abraham and Sarah, who welcomed three strangers—reaching out to them with generosity and treating them to a feast, as was the custom in biblical times. They didn’t know they were entertaining angels who brought them a message of blessing.

We don’t ask people into our homes in the hope of gaining from them, but often we receive more than we give. May the Lord spread His love through us as we reach out with His welcome.

Don’t be afraid to entertain strangers. 

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So

Let Him Say So

The scars are still on my forearms—and always will be. Stark white parallel slashes just below my elbow. I usually wear my sleeves at about three-fourths length to hide them. Tanning doesn’t hide them. They stand out more the deeper my tan gets.  

I got the scars early in my incarceration. I was new to the system and not able to recognize the signs something was wrong. I was alone in the shower, and then I wasn’t. There was no time to think. A demand was made. I refused. I bled. 

The details are mental snapshots: a rough knife glistening, red-colored water flowing, a gripping fear and desperation. Adrenaline kicked in as I struggled to keep the knife away. Knees and elbows were everywhere. The knife fell and bounced before sliding across the white tile. And then it was over.

Just because we give ourselves to Jesus doesn’t mean our lives will be milk and honey—especially if you’re incarcerated. My heart was full of the Lord, but I was still locked up. Even after I had a significant reawakening in my life with the Lord, I was just a “number” bound for prison. Each morning, I arose from my thin mattress—placed on the cold concrete floor—and prepared to fight for my breakfast tray. It was either that or starve. 

We all have troubles. In prison or in life, we have to contend with a fallen world. However, Jesus also said, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Paul the apostle knew a thing or two about troubles and said, “For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Regardless of what troubles you face, keep your eyes on the joy to come. And remember, Jesus has overcome this world for us.

Kevin Spencer

Let Her Say So

My first experience in the backseat of a patrol car was a rear-view perspective with blurred images of a world I knew nothing about. I couldn’t make sense of it.

When my siblings and I were very young, my mom left us alone in a Florida trailer park. She needed a vacation. After a couple days, our neighbor called the authorities. We were busted.

In the 1970s, sensitivity training for men in law enforcement probably didn’t exist. The five of us were handled like little jailbirds and booked into a group facility.

That childhood scene played out in my mind the day I left prison. I had one final charge to face, and two officers from that jurisdiction came to give me a ride. Once again, my view of the world was from the back window of a squad car.

Along the way, they stopped at a fast food restaurant for lunch. As I was shuffled toward the restroom in chains, people held their gaze. I saw curiosity, judgment, and contempt. Each expression said I was a rogue—unworthy to be in their presence.

This isn’t all I am! I didn’t do anything . . . recently, I thought. I wondered if I’d ever stop paying a price for my past. Remaining silent was difficult. Somewhere in the moment, I escaped behind a spirit of equanimity and held my head high.

As prison ministers say, we don’t go through anything Jesus hasn’t endured. How sad to think of Him being displayed as a condemned man. Jesus knew suffering and expected more of it. He warned His disciples of pending trouble so they’d be at peace when it arrived.  

Staying in the Word throughout my incarceration helped me prepare for trouble. My trouble wasn’t like the disciples’, but Jesus was the same source of strength and hope for me. Through my guilt and consequences, He was there. When I was consumed with fighting for the injustices of this world, He understood.  

I don’t have all the answers I want. I don’t know why children have to suffer or why the indigents of society go to prison more than others. Life’s not always fair. I do know I couldn’t have been content without God.

When we put the Lord first in life, it doesn’t matter where we are. We have a rear view that is out of this world: peace.

Patricia Lefler

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At Your Service

Pericles said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

The words “at your service” or “I’m happy to serve you” are often seen at places of business. Whether or not they have a service job, some are naturally inclined to serve others and may not even give it a thought. But for those who want to follow Jesus, we must consider a life of service.

Paul wrote of Jesus, “Having this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).

If anyone had the right to be served, it was Jesus. He was God. Yet, never once did He demand to be served. He dwelt among people and let humanity see Him, touch Him, laugh with Him, and cry with Him. He showed what it meant to serve and love people. He gave His life to redeem ours.

Living a life of service is easier than we might imagine. Not all acts of service must be huge, obvious acts. Most service acts that really mean something to another person are often the little things in life. Seeing someone in need and asking how you can help is the best way to start serving. Some acts of service may not be known to anyone but God because even the people we are serving may not notice.

Regardless of whether we are a waitress or the CEO of a large company, we’ll be happier and more fulfilled if our focus is on serving instead of being served.

Look for ways to serve those around you, and see what happens. The world always needs more kindness.

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You Are Cherished

His eyes were the captivating blue pools for which I’d always wished.

Our eyes met across the expanse of the deck while a guitar-picking cowboy strummed songs about mountains and love. Everything about the moment seemed like a romance novel … frozen in time … inviting me in. 

A dozen years later, his eyes catch mine across the living room. A six-year-old struggles through her reading lesson on my lap while her two-year-old brother drives plastic cars over my head. They have their father’s eyes. And despite the chaos of the moment, I see his smile. My husband still rejoices over me. 

This is what it means to be loved. He sticks with me through the blissful romantic seasons of life, and he adores me through the mundane seasons. He rejoices over me as I devote myself to serving others, and he delights in me when I glance in his direction in the midst of my service. I know I’m deeply loved, and I rest in the security of his promise to walk with me through life.

Marriage is a dynamic example of God’s fervent love for us. Christ is the bridegroom, and His people are His bride. As my husband rejoices over me—even when I’m covered in sticky handprints and spilled milk—God rejoices in each of us when we commit to walk in a love relationship with Him. He is delighted in the relationship, and we captivate His heart.

God has a joyful heart toward you. He loves you with the tender affection of a devoted spouse.  He longs for you to slip away to a quiet place and connect with Him through his Word, through worship, through prayer, and through simply resting in His affection.

Respond to God’s tender pursuit today.

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Citizens of Heaven

She feels at home at the stables and is happiest when she’s there.

My daughter loves riding horses. Throughout the week, she anticipates seeing her favorite horse Moose—named for his size. Every Saturday morning, she suits up and we take the scenic drive to the stables. She knows all there is to know about Moose—his likes and dislikes and what makes him happy or afraid. She spends hours riding and caring for the horses.

My daughter’s affection for horses caused me to wonder about my approach to God. Do I anticipate going to church on Sundays or eagerly race to mid-week prayer meetings? Am I reading Scripture so that I can understand what God’s will is and what pleases or displeases Him?

If you asked my daughter if she has to go horseback riding, she would say no. She would tell you she gets to go. She counts it a privilege and realizes we pay a steep price for her lessons because we love her. 

Rather than a “have to” attitude in our approach to God, we need a “get to” attitude. We have the privilege of calling God Father because He demonstrated His love by sending His Son to die for our sins. Because of our Father’s act of love, we get to spend time in His presence and enjoy eternity in heaven.

I don’t ever want to lose sight of the truth that this earth is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven. Because of God’s love and the sacrifice of His Son, we get to go to heaven.

Prepare now to make heaven your home, and take every opportunity to make yourself at home in God’s presence.

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The Team Call

The young players have little or no control over their team identity.

The children stand in a huddle around two team leaders. The leader who wins the coin toss chooses first. Taking turns, each leader picks a player. The body language of those not yet selected screams, “Pick me! Pick me!” If chosen by their desired team, they victory dance their way to their new teammates’ line. Those left until the end or chosen for the wrong team occasionally stomp off, refusing to participate.

Not so in the eternal game of life. We don’t have to beg God to pick us. We don’t have to wonder whether we’re good enough to be a team player or if the team is good enough for us. God calls each of us to be a part of His team, regardless of what race or nationality we belong to.

Nevertheless, team identity rests in our hands. If we choose God’s team, He clothes us in His righteousness, equips us to meet every opponent, and provides the Bible as our play book. He also gives us the Holy Spirit as coach, personal trainer, and encourager.

As with any effective team, our roles vary. We might be the stars, the supporting players, or occasionally the bench warmers who encourage those on the field. Jesus called the twelve apostles for specific tasks. The decision to follow was theirs. How faithfully they followed was also their decision—as was how they treated one another.

Although we fill different roles, our tasks share common characteristics. The team revolves around Jesus. Any play begins with Him, and He assigns the positions. After receiving Jesus’ authority, He sends us out to share His message and recruit others—no favorites, no rejections. All players are on the same team.

Join God’s team if you haven’t. If you have, give Him your best.

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Freedom

Let Him Say So.

Twenty-seven-hundred and ninety-nine days. That’s how long I had been on this same three acres of chain-link encircled Florida soil. Seven years, eight months, and thirteen long, mind-numbing, aching, lonely, and occasionally terrifying days.

Finally, by the grace of God, I reached the end. The last sunrise I would have to see reflected through coils of concertina razor wire. My few possessions had been packed for days. Most everything that had been of value inside would have no meaning outside the fence, and so I had passed them on—as they had been passed to me.

Collected over the better part of a decade, these simple items made life in this hell slightly more bearable. A twenty-two-ounce insulated mug, a stadium cup, and a pair of clip-on sunglasses. Meaningless items that were invaluable inside that constant chain-link fence that had for so long marked the boundaries of my world.

The morning stretched on. It felt like an eternity before I finally heard my name called to report to the front gate. Taking my cardboard box of remaining belongings, I reported as instructed and then went through another excruciating hour of signing one bureaucratic form after another. 

At last, the time came for me to rid myself of the prison uniform I had worn for so many years. I was handed a package from home—Levi jeans and a polo shirt. For the last time, I peeled off my prison uniform.

Changing clothes felt as if I were shedding a skin. Years of tension and stress seemed to wash away. I was a new person. No longer Inmate #269493. I was once again Kevin Eudean Spencer, human being.

And then it was time. With a final instruction from the corrections officer processing me out and a cynical “good luck,” the steel door swung open, and I stepped into a glorious Florida spring. It was April 14, 1994, and my mom and dad were waiting—having come all the way from North Carolina to take me home. I fell into their arms, fighting tears. I was free.

Someday, I’ll feel that way again. Having been freed by the blood of Christ, I’ll step out of the prison of this world into new clothes and a new eternal, heavenly life. And there to greet me, I expect, will be my mom and dad.

Let Her Say So.

I had “nothing left to lose,” as a songwriter once described freedom.

When the door opened and I walked into the ice-cold darkness of a winter’s night, I had nothing but jail-issued scrubs. I was in an unfamiliar town; no one was waiting to pick me up. I didn’t care. I would have crawled under a shrub and frozen rather than stay another minute in a cell. I was free. The kind of freedom I understood. It was tangible. It could be bought, fought for, taken. But that night, it was all I had.

I chased after my kind of freedom for years—crossing a multitude of lines. My freedom was elusive but necessary—or so I thought. I didn’t realize every step I took only added another link in the chain, pulling me further into an abyss of dejection and indifference. I became cold, bitter, and angry. After my final arrest and incarceration, the freedom I knew became only a memory of a good idea I once had. 

During my days in isolation, I despairingly reached out for anything resembling freedom. And in a time of desperation, I met Christ. There were no white light moments of transcendence or blink-of-an-eye epiphanies in which I suddenly realized true freedom. That kind of Christ-liberation took a long time. I read words like forgiven, pardoned, and free in the Bible, but there were no judges, lawyers, or jury members offering to go back to my jail cell for me.

My new faith collided with reality on a daily basis. Still, I believed and accepted God’s freedom because I had no hope for anything else. Even today, behind all of my Christian beliefs, there is a reality I can’t quite ignore. I still have untamed emotions and wild dreams of the freedom I once imagined. I’m not always sure how to be real about that, while at the same time honoring the God I love. Like crafting a beautifully structured poem when I can’t seem to get the meter right in every verse.

I’m not perfect, but the freedom Christ has given us does not require perfection. He simply wants us to be free from the bonds of our sins. 

The freedom Christ gives is the only freedom worth losing everything for. Experience Christ’s freedom today.

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A Father's Love

He was a gruff old bird. My friends shuddered when he spoke, and his stare sent chills down your arms. That was dad. A little on the brusque side. A little sharp around the edges. He demanded respect and rarely failed to attain it. You knew he meant business, yet when he’d gently squeeze your shoulder, his inner tenderness showed. You. Felt. Loved.

Perhaps that’s why my friends spent so much time with my parents. Many of them lacked what I didn’t realize I had … a true father. One who loved me despite my shortcomings. Despite theirs. Forty-five years later, many of my friends still tell me how much they loved and respected my father.

I had as many guy friends as girls and each one loved my folks. The proof was in the pudding. They were at our house even when I wasn’t. Dad guided my friends. He gave them rules, commands, and standards he expected to be maintained. As they loaded into their cars to go home, Dad paced the length of the car, kicking the tires, checking under the body. And before he’d send them on their way, that big bear hand would grasp their shoulder and tenderly squeeze. “You know what I expect.”

“Yes sir.” They’d smile and drive away.

My father always welcomed them and always commanded their respect.

When Jesus explained who He was and how He loved us, the instructions were clear. Keep my commands. When we obey, the promise is to remain in His love–and Jesus always keeps His promises.  Christ showed us through His own relationship to the Father what God expected of Him. In turn, He expects the same from us. The reward of obedience is pure love in Him. What a gift.

The love and joy given to me ... to my friends … by my Dad has never been forgotten. Years later they still feel the warmth of his touch and the expectations he held from the tone of his voice. God’s love for us commands one thing: keep my commands, and you will remain in my love.

On this Father’s Day, never forget the warmth of the Father’s hand on your shoulder. Keep His commands, and you will always remain snuggled tightly in Him. 

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Friends

Dear Jonathan,

You are worth more than a friend; you are family. To share a bond with you that was woven with the cords of love, honesty, and faithfulness is God’s handiwork. God, in His greatness, formed a friendship through which He will draw us to Himself and work out His amazing plan. The sharp edges of hatred and jealousy were too blunt for our bond of friendship as we sharpened each other to the very end. I thank God for choosing you to be my friend.

Your friend,
King David

Apart from the amazing friendship we have with Jesus, our Saviour, the friendship between David and Jonathan is one of the greatest friendships we find in the Bible. And one we can learn from. I wonder if these are words David would have said to Jonathan, his close friend. I would love to say them to my friends.

When we understand friendship, we cherish friends. They are people we share our deepest thoughts and secrets with. We’ve had the most laughs with them and watched each other cry. It is amazing the kind of bonds two unfamiliar people are able to share.

God’s greatness is seen in His ability to create such amazing bonds. Friends are Gods messengers, people set aside to be there for us and through whom He stirs up laughter, joy, and happiness in us. Through friendship, God causes us to enjoy the world in another way. The Lord is able to teach us amazing truths and help us grow in Him with the friendships He gives us.

Don’t let selfishness and unforgiveness pull back the hand that is meant to hold another. Choose to thank God for your friends, and celebrate friendship.

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Making Turtles and Building Relationships

“I think we need to make some turtles.”

We hadn’t seen Anne for several years. She had completed her education, married, and moved to another town. She enjoyed a successful teaching career and was expecting her first child. Although as beautiful and outgoing as always, grief overwhelmed her.

Standing with her mother and sister, she accepted condolences from friends and family during visitation at a local funeral home. Her father had suffered a sudden, massive heart attack. He died moments later. The physical and emotional strain left her drained. Yet when my husband and I drew near, she smiled through her tears. While we hugged and held to one another, she whispered her desire to make turtles.

We created those wonderful gooey, chocolate-covered candies for hours when she and her sister Val were elementary-school age. I relegated my turtle molds to a shelf of seldom-or-never-used items soon after. However, with those few words, floods of memories returned.

Anne’s father and my husband worked together. Our friendship grew through shared family recreation. We invited the girls to stay with us several times, and one of our favorite activities was working in the kitchen. Turtles were our specialty. In the process we made messes, giggled, and endured endless teasing from my husband.

I can’t recall spending a great deal of time discussing deep theological issues. We had our usual prayer of thanks before eating, and we read the Bible and prayed together at night. I’m sure we discussed whatever tragedies revolved around their lives at school, especially involving some of those horrible boys in their classes. But most of the time we simply enjoyed one another’s company.

Little did Anne or any of us realize God would use our fun days so long ago to help us through one of the hardest experiences of our lives as we mourned together.

In much the same way, God offers to spend special time with us. He loves us, wants to share our daily joys, and wants to be a part of our ongoing growth. Whether we’re making turtles, folding clothes, or visiting friends, allow God to be a part of it all.

When inevitable difficulties arise, let your strong and vital relationship with the Lord provide an unlimited source of comfort and peace.

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord "SAY SO"

Let him “Say So.”

The noise in prison is neverending.

Blaring loudspeakers rule your life twenty-four hours a day, along with constant reverberations of every sound of life. The noise is enough to unhinge a man from reality. Some of it is deliberate, designed to reduce a man as an individual. A human being who once had a name becomes an inmate with a number. A cog in a machine. Go here, go there. Wake up, go to sleep. Eat. Obey.

I knew correction officers who would deliberately wear taps on their shoes when they patrolled at night. The tap-tap-tap echoing in the dead of night yanked me from whatever escape I had found in my sleep and thrust me back into the hell that had become my life.

Prison allows no individualism. Inmates dress alike, wear the same haircut, and eat the same meal. No facial hair. Conform. Stay in line. Don't speak. The mayhem is neverending. Sounds of incarceration pose a constant threat to any tenuous peace of mind . . . even the peace invading your dreams.

Our Lord said to be still to find Him. He showed us through Elijah that He wasn't found in major special effects, but in still small places.

The problem in prison is finding those still places. After the trauma of my arrest, I was shut down. The Lord answered my prayers, as promised, but a nagging problem remained. I could not consistently seek Him in the chaos of carnality surrounding me every day.

God will provide, however. In time, that still, small, quiet place found me. The prison recreation yard had a quarter-mile track. I began to run. First for the exercise. Then for the peace. Years passed. I was eventually running between eight and ten miles each day and began to experience what long-distance athletes call runner’s high—where the runner reaches a mild state of euphoria and endorphins flood their system.

For me, this stage was a place of peace. The world faded away until the only conscious sound was my rhythmic breathing. And there I met with and talked to my Father.

Where do you meet your Father? Find your place to “be still.” He will be there.

Let her ‘Say So.’

A thread is not much to hang by.

Years ago, I discovered how fragile my connection was to things I’d tried to hold on to. The weight of bad decisions was unbearable. Every fiber of hope that I could have what I wanted suddenly snapped. I fell hard into the deepest level of despair and hopelessness ever imagined and landed on rock bottom. My “rock” was a slab of concrete inside a secluded jail cell smaller than a typical horse stable. There, I lay in silence for nine months.

Sometimes, God needs us to be in a quiet isolated place to hear from Him. His Word says, Be still and know that I am God. I would have preferred being still in a green pasture in Ireland or on a deserted Hawaiian Island, but I met God in prison. I had no place to run or look—except up.   

As days in isolation passed, another thread began to unravel  … the one my sanity hung by.  Experts have studied the effects on individuals held in solitary confinement and concluded their ability to relate socially, enjoy life, or hold a job (once released) disintegrates—a result of being segregated and alone.

While I don’t disagree, I’m thankful my personal experience could not be used to help support those findings. A single moment makes my life an anomaly: the night I went to my knees and knelt beside a metal bunk. The negative effects of solitude would not be my story because Jesus came into my life that night. I was no longer alone. 

Through the silence, God’s voice resounded. My mind—and more importantly my heart—grew stronger. Today, friends would describe me as socially adept, life-loving, and hardworking. My life is empirical evidence that knowing God can improve a person’s capacity for positive change and success.

Do not hang your hopes on anything other than Jesus Christ. He hung on a cross to endure the weight of our sins. While I did not choose my time of silence, I rejoice in the memory of hearing God’s voice.

When everyone else abandons you, God says, I will never leave you. And He won’t.

He didn’t leave me. 

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God Is Able

She said, “I will walk again!”

In February of 1998, my mother Mattie was diagnosed with a neurological disease that was destroying her nervous system. Often, this disease travels through the body, attacking each limb and muscle and leaving a paralyzing effect. It caused my mother to be bedridden for more than a year. A strong woman who had just retired a few months before, she was disheartened and devastated. Many times, I could see the anguish and frustration on her face and the embarrassment of having to depend on others for her needs.

Through it all, my mother’s faith did not waver. She was determined. Every day, she pressed forward. She would say to the doctors—and to anyone who would listen—“I will walk again!” After a few months of therapy and surgery, she did. Her faith kept her strong as it did the woman who came to Jesus. Mom would not give up.

My mother has faced several more physical trials over the last two years. Observing how she continues to stay grounded in her faith has inspired me and others to do the same. Her feet were planted, and she did not move. She continued to grow and blossom. Her faith was great, and God gave her the desires of her heart.  

No matter what struggles and challenges we face, God is able to do all we ask. All He wants is for us to trust Him, believe Him, and have faith in Him. We will not always have an easy road to travel. We will have bumps along the way—and sometimes large potholes. But because we have faith and believe in the power of prayer, we get through and make it to the other side.

Maybe you’re facing a situation that has left you feeling hopeless, devastated, or fearful about the future. God’s promises stand true for you, just as they did for my mother. He promises to be there and to never leave or forsake you.

Reach out to God. He will make a way. He is faithful.

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Honor Her

It was 398 square feet.  My heart sank. Would Mom accept this?

After three weeks between the hospital and rehab, decisions were imminent concerning Mom’s care. Until February, she was driving without issue. Now her legs were weak and her blood pressure plummeting, causing her to pass out.

I’m proud of my mother. She’s a wonderful momma who encouraged me, supported me, and taught me to be a jack-of-all-trades. These decisions were not what my brother nor I ever anticipated, especially with Mom being mentally perfect. Her ninety-year-old physical body is simply uncooperative.

We dreaded the conversation. She has always been compliant with us on her health matters, but this was different. Asking her to give up her 2500-square-foot home for an assisted living apartment that gives Tiny House Hunters a run for their money, hurt. She needed to be safe should she fall again. We were lucky this time. All she sported was a nasty black eye.

We nuzzled close and explained how much we feared for her safety if she continued to live alone. She was quiet before she teared up and asked, “Is this where I will spend the rest of my life?” Even with the assurance her home would remain available for her, it was heartbreaking.

Imagine what circulated through Mary’s mind. Finding out she was an unwed mother and that her son would be the Savior of the world was a blessing and a curse. It was overwhelming. Still, she took in the upcoming season of her life, pondered it, cherished it, and moved ahead. Scripture speaks little about Mary, but we know she followed Jesus at times as He traveled—watching, listening, pondering. Finally, sitting slumped at His feet as blood puddled around her knees. She knew this would come, yet wished it wouldn’t.

We are fortunate to have Mom after ninety years. And though the realization to her—and us—that more is behind her than ahead, we are blessed. Mom ponders all she has stored in her heart from days past—friends, family, and adventures—and willingly walks into this new season with gratitude.

This Mother’s Day, spend time pondering the love of your own faithful mother. If you are one who did not have that, rejoice in the life she has given you and what you have made of it. Honor your mother.

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Slingshot

“You can’t raise any two kids the same.”

I always though the saying meant each child was different, and that the same tactics would not necessarily be successful due to personality differences. Now in my forties, I mother my last child differently than I did my first.

With my first child, I had a vision of what I wanted her to become. I planned to maneuver the universe to help me mold her into the young lady I wanted. Three kids later, I no longer try to “sculpt” a child. Instead, I evaluate strengths and inclinations and then determine what sports or careers suit them.

I would like to say child rearing has gone smoother since that transition—and for the most part it has—but then our Attention Deficit Disorder kid came. The kind you have to tell five times to put on his shoes, who still puts his shorts on backwards, and who has to struggle to write a sentence. But he’s also the kid who cries at the heart-wrenching part of a movie, breaks into an English accent at random, and can tell you anything you want to know about any animal. I worried about my child. In a world where college is king, what would become of my boy? I wondered as I watched him make faces in the mirror. And that’s when I thought making faces (acting) might be his slingshot.

I had just read the story of David and Goliath to my little ones and laughed when I thought of how it might have been to raise young David. He was the runt and not considered important enough to be called among the seven sons when the prophet Samuel went to Jessie’s house to anoint the next king. He was tending sheep, which was considered one of the lowliest jobs. I pictured his father standing at the door, watching his son, shaking his head, and wondering what would become of him. “Just look at him, honey, all little and unskilled. All he does is play with that blasted slingshot!”

The very thing his father found little use for was the venue through which God would bring victory for His people.

Keep your eyes open for your child’s “slingshot.”  It may just be his salvation.

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord "SAY SO"

Let him “Say So.”

The first rule of being a convict is that every inmate is innocent. 

Inside this chain-link and concertina wire compound are the most amazing circumstances of coincidence and mistaken identity you’ve ever seen.

The second convict rule is if I am guilty, it’s someone else’s fault. That was me.

While I avoided the first rule by never denying what had happened, I fell to the second rule. I blamed an individual for everything that happened to me. He was responsible for ruining my life. I dreamed of the day I could get out and find this person. Every bench press, every push-up, every mile run was done with the idea I would someday see him again. I didn’t want to do him physical harm. I just wanted to shake hands, step into his personal space, and see his eyes flash with a momentary fear. In time, the Father showed me how stupid I was.

One night after a workout, I was looking at my arms in the mirror, flexing my biceps and congratulating myself on the transformation since my arrest. In the next moment, I sat down with my Bible and read in Revelation, “I am the Alpha ...”

I let that sink in. In fact, I read no further. I meditated on the power in those four words. Later, I read where God says twice that He will take revenge and pay back. My foolish fantasy was outside my authority. In a moment of clarity, I realized what God wanted was for me to love the one I hated.   

I wasn’t able to do that. I’m human, flawed to the core in ways I’m sure make my heavenly Father shake His head. While I couldn’t love, I could stop hating. As the years passed, I found myself thinking less about him until one day I realized he didn’t matter at all. 

Today, the man I once hated has a progressive nervous system disorder. Do I feel satisfaction? I feel pity, sorrow, and pain for his family. Perhaps that in itself is a form of love.

I’m glad I let go of hate. I can see it in an alternative life festering, poisoning, and driving out God’s Word with my own petty fantasies of vengeance. Jesus repeatedly tells us to let go of such thoughts.

Release the things that block forgiveness.  Let them go.

-Kevin Spencer

Let her “Say So.”

Day after day, alone in a prison cell, thoughts of retaliation consumed me.

I read through this verse—Never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, "I will take revenge; I will pay them back," says the Lord—wondering if God’s idea of revenge was the same as mine.  Would He destroy the lives of those who had falsely accused me? Would He be as vindictive, or would He satisfy my desire to watch a certain individual suffer as much as I was? I doubted it. That’s one reason I resisted giving in to God’s Word.

Refusing to believe those words didn’t stop me from hearing them. A battle raged in my conscience, and anger prevailed. It’s what gave me the energy to continue fighting. I couldn‘t give that up. All I wanted was to get back to my life, recover my reputation, and take back my child. I wanted justice on my terms. However, God’s voice grew louder each day: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

The creator of evil wants us to continue blaming others for our faults. I felt Satan’s hold, but something more powerful was pulling me forward. Awaiting trial, I read the entire Bible for the first time. In between, I read other books as well. Author Chuck Colson became a favorite. Every word of truth I read met me at a place of self-deception. I had been falsely accused of the crime I was being held for. That is all I wanted to focus on. I didn’t want to take responsibility for anything I had done. 

This mentality was common among other inmates too. Colson’s timely words instructed me to understand other people’s wrongdoing by looking inside myself. I had made bad decisions in life, and I’d hurt people. If not for the grace of God, that could have been the end of my story. But God’s Word is sharp. He convicted me in ways no courtroom judge could.

When anger turns into hatred and unforgiveness, don’t seek your own revenge. Look inside your heart, and ask the Lord to help you stay in this fight by living your life according to His Word.  

-Patricia Lefler

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Twilight Prayers

It happens a lot—and in the middle of the night.

I wake up and start praying for someone I know or barely know. It might be someone with a broken heart I’ve come across on Facebook or someone from my past who has hurt me. I start praying for them and immediately fall back asleep. In the morning I can barely remember what my prayers were about, but I do remember I prayed for different people at various times of the night during my twilight sleep.

As I contemplated this continuous phenomenon, I realized my spirit is always willing and continues to pray while I sleep. Psalm 16:7 says, I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.

Sometimes we tend to put our needs before others’ needs when communicating with the Lord, but the Spirit knows there is much more that needs to be said. The wee hours of the morning are a wonderful time for the Holy Spirit to intervene because our minds and flesh are completely out of it.

If you sometimes wake up and a friend or family member who is in need comes to mind, your spirit may be trying to pray for that special person. We are all connected, and God is concerned for you as well as your loved ones.

Let God work through you, even in your twilight prayers.

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Because of Him

He was the strongest person I’d ever known. His demeanor was gentle. His voice firm yet tender. This man commanded a certain presence—thought-provoking and intelligent. So when He died, it was hard to take in.

I was a child when I met Him, but His ways guided me in the most simplistic way. It upset me when I heard of His brutal death, but what took my breath was how He succumbed to death. Willingly.

I’ve suffered hardships. Who hasn’t? Still, despite my trials, none can compare. Nothing in my own pain comes vaguely close to His.

Jesus. I never met Him in person. He was gone long before my birth, but His life impacted me for all eternity.

Paul talked about the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of those who followed Him. He said more than once that hardship in Jesus was tough, but the eternal impact was more than worth it. To believe in Jesus meant, both in biblical times and in present time, that we would most likely suffer. Those same people who shunned Him, would shun us. Some might even torture and kill us. Believing in Jesus did not mean smooth sailing.

Christ was the strongest man who ever lived. He could have called down the angels to protect Him. He could have waved His hand and those who tortured Him would have dropped dead, but that was not Jesus. God incarnate, man as well, had the ability to walk away, but He didn’t. He suffered tremendously and died . . . for me, for you.

Easter holds mixed emotions for the Christian. Seeing the depictions of Jesus’ last days tears my heart out. I can’t get through the Easter season without relentless sobbing, feeling the weight of guilt because Jesus took my sin. He took our sin, and buried it in the grave. The Son of Man lived, died, and in the greatest of all feats, overcame death. He rose and lives.

Knowing Him means I may feel the brunt of the unbeliever, but it also means eternity, salvation, and forgiveness.

As you walk through the Easter season, don’t forget the depth of Jesus’ suffering or the resulting gift. Because of Him . . . we are saved.

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Out of Tune

The conductor enters. Out of respect and anticipation, there is a hush as he raises his baton.

The concert hall is abuzz with excitement. Audience members engage in conversation. Some are calling to friends and some are whispering to the person in the next seat. Their voices blend with the random notes of the orchestral instruments tuning for the performance. Then, as the concert master rises and begins to tune all the instruments to the standard A 440, silence falls. The dissonance of sound blends to one note.

But what causes all these instruments to go out of tune? Reasons range from extremes of temperature and humidity to damage, age, or defective tuning pegs and devices.

Psalm 119 employs word, law, saying, statutes, way, commandments, path, testimonies, precepts, and judgments as names for God’s Word. In verse fifty four, David, the sweet singer of Israel, finds his song from the Word of God. In his journey and in his solitudes, he was familiar with the statutes of God. Through his words, we find that the sweetness of a melody celebrates times of blessing and can be like a cool rain during difficult times.

As children of God, we are created to be His instruments, but the seasons of life often require our re-tuning. The searing heat of a painful wilderness experience, the damage of a crushed spirit, the drought of missed blessings, or the placing of faith on the wrong foundation can all cause the song of our lives to go sour.

This world is the house of our pilgrimage. We are sojourners and tourists, not permanent residents. During this residency, God’s laws are to be our songs until we reach our true home.

The Word of God is our definitive source and authority for finding understanding—a song in all of life’s seasons. So whether we are sorting through all the voices clamoring for our attention or whether we’re sorting through the weighty noise of life’s trials, we can be still and look for the word and direction of our Lord Jesus Christ—the Master Conductor.

In your uniqueness, tune your song to His song as you continue your life’s journey.

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When God Says Let Go

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been asked to do, but there was no mistaking God’s voice.

My daughter has had many hardships and near tragedies in her young thirty-something life. She’s struggled with relationships, health issues, and a bout with drugs and alcohol. A believer who loves the Lord with all her heart, she wonders sometimes why God doesn’t come immediately to her rescue.

As mothers do, I’ve had a tendency to pick up her offences over the years and take on the care of her problems. I’ve prayed for her faithfully every day since she was a baby and felt many times as if her problems were my own. I’ve found myself totally stressed out without even knowing why.

As I was driving one day—and praying for my daughter—the Lord clearly said to my spirit, “Will you release her to me?”

The question took me by surprise. He asked again. I said yes, but found myself having a hard time following through. The act of letting her go was physically painful. My heart felt as if it were being crushed under the weight of His request. Could I truly trust God to take on the responsibility of caring for her?

The moment I released my child to the One who loves her unconditionally—and has a wonderful plan and purpose for her life—a deep sense of heaviness left me, and the peace of God filled me. Yes indeed, I can trust Him to take care of my daughter, as well as everyting else in my life. My only responsibility is to love, to pray, and to be there whenever she needs me.

The cares of this life are many, but God tells us not to worry. When we do, we allow those cares to choke out the Word that has been planted in our heart. God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere present). He knows the end from the beginning and everything in between. He is concerned with everything that concerns us and is more than able to handle whatever comes our way. Nothing catches Him by surprise, and nothing is impossible for Him.

If you find yourself weighed down by the cares of this life, maybe God is saying it’s time to let go. Cast all your cares on Him, and watch what He will do in your life and in the lives of those you love.

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I Resign

Sometimes a parent feels like resigning.

Barbara Johnson, author of Where Does a Mother Go to Resign? is the founder of Spatula Ministries, a non-profit organization designed to "peel parents off the ceiling with a spatula of love and begin them on the road to recovery.

Before reading her book, I’d heard her speak at a retreat. The hardships and tragedies she went through broke my heart, but she used the pain of life by writing spiritual and humorous books to help others. She is an example as I write about my own experiences with children and family dysfunction.

Isaiah 29:23 is a verse I use to pray about my children. I pray they will keep God’s name holy and acknowledge Him in awe. I also hope those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding and that those who complain will accept instruction.

If you are a parent, you’ve probably felt like resigning. Of course, you love your children and they are precious to you and the Lord, but sometimes relationships with them can hurt. Like Barbara, I’ve needed to be peeled off the ceiling more than once.

It hurts when a parent tries to steer their children to help and wholeness and they don't listen. It hurts to see them in physical or mental pain and not have the resources to help them. It even hurts to back off because you know the Lord wants to help them have a stronger relationship with Him—the ultimate parent.

Yet the Bible says children are God’s best gift to us. Ultimately, they must be put into His hands of sovereignty. We can ask Him to put them on a path that He can bless instead of their own path that might lead to harm and destruction. We can also ask Him to take away the spirit of resignation that may try to overcome us. When we do these things, He sets us up to face another day without sending in that resignation letter.

When you feel like resigning, go to the throne of God where Jesus intercedes to the Father for your children.

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Blessed

My eyes moved over white pages—words black and red—as I searched for comfort, peace, and mercy.

A bronze star with the word “blessed” hangs in my car. It started as a Christmas tree ornament, but I decided the single word written in gold was more important to see every day rather than just at Christmas.

It’s difficult to feel blessed when I’ve been out of work for six months with no new job prospects on the horizon. I worry I can’t pay back my family, the ones who loan me money to pay the bills.

The psalmist knew he was blessed, but I often need a physical reminder that although I might not feel blessed I am blessed. The world can easily drain my joy. Family arguments, work stress, and financial woes can confine the happiness I’m supposed to feel.

God wants what is best for me, but I don’t think of myself as being blessed as often as I should. God wants me to prosper and live abundantly.

Yeshua (Jesus) never promised I would have material wealth or that my life would run on an even path. In fact, He said His children would be prosecuted and persecuted. We would experience trials and tribulations.

However, Yeshua did vow He would never leave or forsake His children. He will walk beside me through each moment of my life. Not only when everything is going right, but also when everything is going wrong—especially when everything is going wrong.

Nor did Yeshua ever promise me a pleasant life. But He did promise me eternal life. If I accept His gift of salvation, I will have forever to sit at His feet, sing to Him, and praise and worship Him. What greater future could I ever imagine?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. No matter what circumstances surround you, you are blessed because you carry Yeshua, the Messiah, in your heart. 

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A Peak Experience

I peered out the window of the fire tower perched atop Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota’s Black Hills.

After our three-hour hike to the summit, my husband and our three kids rock-hopped along the peak’s craggy knolls while I escaped to solitude in the musty cool of the stone fortress. From my vantage point at over seven thousand feet, I marveled at the miles of mountainous ridges dotted with pine, aspen, and oak. Clouds rolled over the hills, casting shadows that animated the formidable landscape. God had surely crafted this panorama, I mused, to remind us of His immense love for us and His dominion over all the earth. 

Suddenly, I heard a thin voice lift a familiar song of praise from the landing above. I glanced up to spot a spry seventy-year-old woman descending the metal stairway with the help of a walking stick. My heart thrilled at the opportunity to share this sacred moment, and I raised my voice to join hers. We sang together until the woman reached the ground floor, where our duet turned into words of gratitude for the creator of the universe who arranged for this mountaintop meeting of two sisters in Christ. 

My joy burbled over as we hugged goodbye and I watched my new friend hike down the mountain. I smiled at God’s little nudge. While I had withdrawn to admire His handiwork, He had sent me a companion to deepen my faith and magnify His praise.

How often we pull away to seek God when our Father’s loving heart points us instead toward meaningful connection with others. While there is a time for searching and separateness, Christ’s words remind us He is uniquely present in Christian community. 

Have you found a place where you can gather in Jesus’ name with two, three, or hundreds? If so, thank the Lord for His provision and make a commitment to gather regularly with His people. God will bless your efforts to grow with others as He increases your faith in Him.

If you haven’t found a community of believers, look now.

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Travel Companions

After decades of being beside me, a regular travel companion was becoming unreliable.

As an author, I am on the road from time to time—sometimes over land and sometimes over the ocean. Having a reliable companion is essential while traveling, speaking, teaching, or book signing.

My companion is not like any other. It is a small, green, faded plastic battery-powered travel clock. It takes up little space, is lightweight, and appears on every packing list. Placing it beside my bed—no matter where I am, brings me a measure of comfort and also provides a sense of security since I value punctuality.

In the past when it stopped, I replaced the battery. A spare battery is also a part of my travel equipment. Recently, it began to stop and start, becoming unreliable. I make a habit of talking over everything about my day with the Lord. So I asked if the mechanism was quitting on me or if the battery was going dead.

A thought crystallized in my spirit: clean the battery connection. The Holy Spirit is never wrong. Dust particles had settled inside. Once attended to, my travel companion was back on time.

Sometimes our important relationships become disconnected due to maintenance neglect. Even taking them for granted can develop a fractured communication. A little intentional effort can restore unity, especially with our Father God.

This is why Psalm 119 is also an excellent travel companion. Verse 25 reads, My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word. And verse 149 declares, Hear my voice according to Your loving kindness, revive me O Lord, according to Your ordinances.

Outer appearances will grow old, but our spirit relationship with God needs constant refreshing. Find one way to daily renew your relationship with God. 

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God Sprinkles

It was a cold, fall night when my family and I finally saw it.

From their sleeping bags on the patio in our backyard, my husband and two girls had upturned faces and eyes to the sky. I looked up into the starry blackness from my place on a chair beside them, hugging my blanket tightly around me. We had been watching for a predicted meteor shower for more than an hour. It was getting late, and we were about to give up and go inside when we simultaneously witnessed the most spectacular burst of white trail across the expanse of darkness. It was an awesome display of God’s beautiful handiwork.

James reminds us that all good things come from God.

Before we went outside to look at the meteor shower, a friend called and offered much needed encouragement to my aching soul. Earlier that day, I had gotten an email explaining that a piece of writing I had submitted seven months ago—and had given up on—was going to be published. I call those moments, God sprinkles. They brighten our lives the way sprinkles liven up a cake … the way a meteor lights the sky.

With all of the struggles we face in a fallen world, it’s a blessing when God displays His love and care for us in unexpected ways that strengthen our faith and motivate us to keep running this race called life.

Thank Abba-Daddy for the “sprinkles” He showers on you and for the gifts He gives His children.

Bless us, Lord, with grateful hearts and eyes to see Your goodness.

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Keep a Calm Heart

Sometimes, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Four times I suffered nervous breakdowns. The first one brought me to the end of myself. I had no place to look but up. When I did, the Spirit of God spoke to me and I came to Christ.

I prayed for four years but received no answer. I thought, I’ll just have to do the best I can. God has given up on me. Perhaps, the Lord can use me in a Spanish work. I had studied Spanish and believed I would learn more if I worked with the Spanish people.

However, God had a different plan. A missionary to the Navajo Indians preached at my church.

“What about working with the Navajo?” he asked.

I said, “I’m not called to the Navajo.”

Later, he returned to my church and asked me to visit his mission field. The Lord took away my excuses while there, and I learned to love the Navajo. I even met my husband there.

After sixteen years, the Lord took my husband to heaven. But God captured my heart and gave me calm in a difficult situation. After my beloved’s death, God gave me a work to do for Him: writing, something I love to do.

God permits hard things into our lives. Sometimes, He gives us a glimpse of His purpose. He comforted me in my loss and showed me a glimpse of His plan.

God wants to give us peace when our hearts experience turmoil. When we trust Him with our problems, He gives us calm and rest, not spiritual heart trouble.

Let God give you a peaceful and calm heart in your time of trouble. 

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Too Many Heartaches

I believe the cashier glanced at the small cross pin on my sweater and assumed I was a Christian

As I laid the decorated birthday cake on the check-out counter, I told the friendly cashier it was for my neighbor’s ninety-second birthday. He looked at me sadly and said, “I pray to the good Lord that he won’t let me live past my fifty-fifth birthday. I’ve had too many heartaches in my life.”

I reminded him that, despite the fact there are heartaches in Christians’ lives, our Lord gives us joy. But he replied, “There have been far more heartaches than joys.” I felt sad for him. He seemed so unhappy.

There was a grey period when it seemed everything I knew had been destroyed. My husband of twenty-seven years had run off in the night with a young married woman from our church. I was left alone in a parsonage several miles from my home. Rain poured outside the window as I stood pondering my future. Then, the rain slowly turned into a drizzle. As I glanced out the window, a beautiful rainbow appeared. Where the clouds had been dark and threatening shortly before, the sun now streamed through the darkness and revealed its encouraging light.

God reminded me of the promise He made to Noah about sending the rainbow (Genesis 9:11-16). I knew this rainbow was His encouragement to me. No matter what happened in my future, I would not be alone. God would walk with me through the good and the bad. 

Sometimes the heartaches, illnesses, and pains of life seem to outweigh the joys of living. All of us, whatever our age, experience those valley days when the dark clouds of despair pour rain upon us, and we feel alone.

But God’s promise to Jeremiah still holds true: ”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). This promise has proven true through the thirty years since my husband left, and I pray it will hold true for the cashier and for you too.

Let God fulfill this promise in your life so He can turn your heartaches into joys. 

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Sinful Consequences Taste Bad

When my daughter and I sampled the cookies, we looked at each other with furrowed brows and screwed-up noses.

“Mom, these taste funny,” she said.

I agreed.

I had baked a double batch of pumpkin-chocolate-chip cookies to share with the women in my Bible study. A fall favorite. I took another bite just to see if the bad taste was my imagination. Nope. There was definitely something off. But I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

I looked over the recipe, one I’d used many times before. I was almost certain I had used all the right ingredients—until looking in the spice cabinet. There, staring me in the eye, was the spice cumin in the spot where cinnamon usually sat. I laughed.

“I used cumin instead of cinnamon,” I said.

“How could you mistake cumin for cinnamon?” my daughter asked. “They’re two completely different spices.” 

I showed her the two bottles. Their labels were alike, their colors were similar, and in my haste of gathering all the ingredients, I had grabbed the wrong spice. I had made a mistake—a mistake that left a bad taste in my mouth. A mistake I won’t make again.

My mistake was a great analogy for sin and its consequences. The consequences of our sinful choices tend to leave a bad taste in our lives. Consequences can teach us to avoid the same sin the next time it stares us in the face so we will say, “You can bet I won’t do that again!”

Consequences aren’t necessarily bad. They can—and should—lead us to make better choices. Righteous choices, which lead to godly and holy behavior.

If you have committed a sin and have a sour taste in your life, confess it to the Lord and learn from the consequences. Then savor the sweetness of God’s unfailing forgiveness.

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Discover Your Real Identity

The world's identity system is broken and empty.

According to the world’s philosophy, our identity is based on physical appearance, wealth, education, skin color, religion, sexual preference, clothes, and cars—leading nowhere but to dead ends and disappointment. When we come to Christ by faith, we are set free from the world's identity system and can be the person God intended.  

Even the family God allowed us to grow up in—whether healthy or filled with pain and brokenness—no longer has to define our identity. We take on a fresh, new identity when we place our faith in Christ. All the amazing gifts and talents God put in us when He created us—along with our experiences—can be used in God's plan to give us a life of purpose, meaning, hope, and eternal peace.    

When we come to God the Father for forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ and His completed work on Calvary’s cross, a transformation takes place. At that moment, God the Father—through His indescribable love and amazing grace—forgives us, and God the Holy Spirit moves in. From that moment, we can experience God every day as we allow Him to lead and direct our lives.  

With God directing our life, we can discover our real identity—a discovery that’s impossible apart from faith in Christ. Everything else is broken and fading away. 

If you have placed your faith in Christ, decide today to live fully in your identity in Him. Don't allow the world to lead you. Listen to God who lives in you and is leading you. 

If you haven’t claimed your real identity, do it today. 

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A New Creation

We slept in the barn—where horse manure, pigeon droppings, and water damage used to be.

Larry and Denise—dear friends of ours—bought some property in northern North Carolina near the Blue Ridge Parkway. What had been a horse farm years ago was now empty pastureland with a ramshackle, vacant two-story barn.

When Larry first toured the property, the barn was disgusting. An accumulation of moist mud, manure, and hay covered the floor. The walls were streaked and buckled by years of water damage. White stripes of pigeon droppings blanketed everything. Flies noisily buzzed the stalls. A musty smell of neglect and decay assaulted the air.

Most of us wouldn’t have bought the property. Even if we had, we would have probably torn down the barn, hauled off its nasty debris, and replaced it with a brand new building. But Larry envisioned a far greater future for this run-down, neglected building.

Larry knew what needed to be replaced and what could be cleaned up and reused. He valued the invaluable potential of its sturdy interior. After several months of cleaning, replacing, building, painting, and planting, the renovated barn stood as a gorgeous, cozy, and useful home surrounded by God’s beauty in the mountains.

As I drifted off to sleep in what was once the hay loft, I thought about the barn’s transformation. In that sleepy haze, God whispered, “This barn is a lot like you. Your life was a wreck, marked by years of spiritual neglect and sinful decay. Yet, just like Larry did with this barn, I am doing with you. I saw potential, cleaned you up, rebuilt the broken areas, and restored you to what I know you can be. As you are now present inside this renovated barn, My Spirit lives within your restored and renewed heart. While you enjoy your after, never lose sight of your before.”

God specializes in making all things new. He removes our smelly yuck, repairs wounded souls, cleans up sinful lives, strengthens weak areas, and breaks bad habits. He is the Master Craftsman who forgives, purifies, revives, and commissions us. All we have to do is ask for His help, be open to His transformation, and be available for His work.

Thank the Lord for the transforming renovation in your life. 

(Photo courtesy of the author.)

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God's Unfailing Forgiveness

I was hurt and deeply wounded by what had happened to me in my past.

Because of the destructive drug addiction and erratic behavior of my younger sibling, I felt justified in holding on to my twin sins of anger and resentment. Even after my conversion, I struggled to forgive

Then I read about Joseph’s response to his ten half-brothers who pleaded for forgiveness for betraying him two decades earlier: Am I in the place of God?

Joseph knew he wasn’t God and didn’t have the authority to withhold forgiveness. This simple yet profound statement was a powerful, undeniable truth I couldn’t ignore. I needed to forgive my brother. By withholding forgiveness, I had put myself in the place of God and remained trapped in unforgiveness too long. I had allowed this sin to gain ground in my heart.

God gently reminded me of my own past—fraught with disobedience, debauchery, and self-destructive behavior. God had not withheld forgiveness from me, so who was I to withhold it from my sibling. I forgave and experienced a sweet release and a restored relationship with my brother.

Like Joseph, we should not put ourselves in the place of God and deny others the thing which we have so graciously experienced ourselves: God’s unfailing forgiveness.

Forgive those you need to forgive, and find blessings—and a sweet release, beyond your wildest imagination and expectation.

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The Hardest Question

At the end of therapy, he said: “I feel I was only half educated before.” He now knew how to answer his hoped for little girl when she asked, “Daddy, who is God and how can I know Him?”

Sitting in my office waiting for a new patient, I wondered what he would be like. He was a young electrical engineer