A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Peace & Presence

The peace we find in the presence of Christ is like crawling under a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day or feeling the soft breeze on a warm spring morning. Seeking after God is a continual process that grows us into a deep and long lasting relationship with Him. Come into His presence and find peace.

The Best Is Yet to Come

For years, a friend of mine has said to me, “The best is yet to come.”

Because this friend is also a believer, I have always thought her saying had more to do with heaven than my life here on earth. In that sense, it is true, although it still seems quite far away.

I am not sure my circumstances have changed so dramatically that I have started seeing it my friend’s way, but I am more certain of one thing: I am changing. I am beginning to see some of the fruit of her words here and now.

With every conviction, big and small, my earthly defenses are eroding, allowing me to see more clearly the folly of all the ways I have tried to protect myself, control people and events, and make things work as I think best—as if I could.

As I surrender, I am finding rest for my soul that I have only known in fleeting moments, as well as freedom for which I have fought people and circumstances most of my life.

My realization is not unlike Dorothy’s red slippers. That rest and freedom have always been available to me for as long as I have known the Lord. But I have not always known how to gain access, and, even when I knew how, most of the time I was too busy arguing or wrestling against God’s will to yield and receive the benefits of surrender.

As I submit my will and my way to God’s will and His way, peace and stillness come softly and strongly to my soul, bringing tears to my eyes. At that moment, I can’t help but wonder why letting go was so hard in the first place. I know I haven't let go enough, but this taste of God's goodness is on my tongue and in my soul, and I don't want to forget again.

Each time I experience God’s rest and freedom, I wonder why we fight Him so.

What can you do to experience God’s best?  

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The Word

After two choking incidences, my six-year-old daughter would not drink or eat.

On the third day after her choking spells, she began drinking, but still would not eat. The doctor and I stayed in touch, thinking she would eat solid food again soon. She did not. After five weeks of my daughter only drinking smoothies and eating pureed food, the doctor said she would have to be hospitalized if she did not eat solid food that week. I was frantic.

I thought if my daughter could somehow feel her throat was more open, she would eat. I remembered reading Scripture about a word that meant “be opened.” I found it in Mark 7:34 and, at lunchtime, spoke the word, “ephphatha,” over my daughter. I saw no change that day.

I felt sad and not very hopeful. The next day, as I had done at lunch many times over the previous five weeks, I asked my daughter if she would like her favorite food: pizza. In a small voice, and on the day after I had spoken the word “ephphatha,” she said, “Yes.”

Though written by human hands, the inspired word emanates from God. As a living word with deep meaning, Scripture is always new and revelatory for every circumstance … always ready to speak to scenarios in our present situation. God knows and loves those to whom He speaks.

Jesus is the Word. His words are life and enlighten us with understanding, knowledge, insight, and wisdom to make the right decisions and to keep us healthy and safe.

When we speak His words, we replace fear, sickness, suffering, and grief with words for healing, wholeness, peace, and release from evil. We speak words that replace lack with words for sustenance and opportunity.

When we speak the living word of Scripture, it has power. God’s Word, once spoken, provides what is available from our kingdom inheritance. Our answer is within reach.

God loves you and will answer your prayers.

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Promises Promises

As I turned on the television to watch my exercise video, the news was on. In just a few seconds, riots, shootings, and mayhem flashed across the screen.

Although some may think me naïve or sheltered, I avoid the news because it makes me feel angry or depressed. Technology has its benefits, but discernment is prudent.

God promises good things. He promises love, hope, provision, guidance, companionship, strength, wisdom, courage, and even eternal life. He is our fortress, deliverer, and redeemer.

God asks only one thing of us: to follow Him. His way is perfect, and we know this. Living according to His plans and purposes for our lives is simple. God promised great blessing to the Israelites, but time after time, they turned from Him, relied on their resources, and lost hope.

We still complicate our lives and turn to the world for answers–radio, television, magazines, and newspapers. Too often, we follow others on social media and get caught up in the discouragement of people without direction, hope, or faith. None of them have answers for the pressing problems of the day. Not even our best friends.

Human beings are fallible and easily fall prey to Satan’s lies. Only God is infallible, and He promises all good things for us.

The Lord told Solomon, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

That promise encapsulates all the goodness God offers. We live in a land filled with milk and honey. God’s promises still stand for those who fear Him and put their trust in Jesus.

Where are you getting your information? Whom do you trust?

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No Longer an Orphan

The little boy remained in the system for years, going from one foster family to another.

He was timid and fearful, flinching when someone came near him. Because he never felt safe or accepted, his behavior was atrocious. He trusted no one. Maybe he would remain an orphan forever.

One day, the boy met a family who longed for a son. They chose him immediately, but he was skeptical. Thinking this would surely turn out the same as all the other times, he refused to go. But for some reason, he was drawn to the young couple. Something different characterized them. He decided to give it one more shot.

At first, he stayed to himself, mostly in a bedroom decorated in blue and green that held everything a young boy could ever want. They could never be his, or could they? Day after day, he waited for the yelling. The name-calling. The threats. But they never came. Instead, he experienced kindness.

Little by little, he grew closer to this couple who seemed to care about him. His fear slowly diminished, replaced by trust. And hope. Hope that this would be a forever home. Here he felt safe. Accepted. Even loved.

Many of us can relate to that orphan, mentality and emotionally, wondering if we’ll ever find a place where we truly belong. Where we feel safe. Accepted. And especially, loved.

The truth is when we accept Jesus, God adopts us into His family. This was His plan from the beginning, and it gives Him great pleasure. His home becomes ours. This is where we belong. Where we can rest in the knowledge that we are no longer orphans but sons and daughters of the Most High God.

The Bible says, No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you (John 14:18 NLT). That’s a promise we can count on. We are completely—and eternally—secure in Him.

Have you found that place of security? If not, it’s waiting for you. All you have to do is ask.

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From Broken to Beautiful

I once stuffed my grandmother’s childhood dresser so full that when I pulled the second drawer open, it nearly crumbled to pieces.

Thinking the dresser was irreparable, my heart sank, along with the outpouring of socks, T-shirts, and other random contents. But Justin, my sweet fiancé, took one look at my dresser, and said, “I can fix it.” He spent one entire morning running errands to get wood glue, clamps, and other items needed to fix antique wooden furniture.

After bonding for nearly two days, he brought the drawer to my room. It was as good as new. Perhaps even better. The replacement parts, coupled with the strong adhesive, breathed new life into my old wooden friend.

So many times in life, we simply break. A hurtful word from a well-meaning friend. An unkind gesture from a stranger. A day of giving with no receiving. It can wear a body down.

Yet there is always a friend who wishes to fix our broken spirit. To breathe life into our exhausted lungs. To replenish that which was once a whole heart, but somewhere along the way, was shattered in two.

Justin’s gesture reminded me that Jesus is humbly waiting for me to reach out. No matter the situation. No matter the time of day. No matter how completely I have messed things up. He wants to fix the situation—and me. To make me stronger, better able to function than ever before, and able to withstand the stresses of life. He wants to repair and rejuvenate this weary soul into something new, beautiful, functional, and grateful.

Jesus wants to clean the dirty, tired, and unusable contents from the remnants of my being and bond me together again. A new work, a fresh spirit, and a stronger vessel to hold the most precious contents my heart could conceive.

Like my treasured antique dresser, this old soul often needs cleansing of the old junk, adhesive to restore the walls, and bonding time to heal and renew. From broken to beautiful, Jesus specializes in turning battles to blessings if only we seek His loving and healing hand.

If you’re broken, let Jesus restore you to beautiful.

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The Promise in Adoption

Adopting was not easy.

Nobody said it would be. Ten-year-old boys can be a handful. Even our sons questioned us about why we had adopted them.

We always responded that we adopted them because we loved them. Since they could not comprehend that kind of love, they continued to test us. Twenty years later, we could see the hand of God in our adoption. God made them both whole again in Him.

The Jews who languished in Babylonian captivity might have questioned God’s goodness to them after their smothering defeat and exile. People who hated them surrounded them. Most of the Jews had lost everything as a result of Babylon conquering them, including their sense of purpose and hope. Through Jeremiah, God reassured them that He had a plan for them—to give them a future and a hope.

Many times, we clung to this promise with our sons. Why had God allowed us to be childless? Why had God allowed them to grow up in a dysfunctional birth family and then be placed in an orphanage? And why had God brought them to America to us?

God did not give any audible explanations to our “why” questions. Instead, He called us to trust Him and His plan in our lives and to submit to it.

God has a plan He is working it out in all our lives. By adoption, we can provide His hope to children in need.

Are you willing to have a part in God’s plan for others and for yourself? His blessings await you as you step out in faith and trust Him to provide.

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Teased and Taunted

I was teased and taunted as a child, sometimes for my thin arms and legs and other times because of my glasses or hand-me-down clothes.

I didn’t see it back then, but now I assume all kids are teased at one time or another. Likely, most of them are hurt by it, too, as I was. Contrary to the old saying about sticks and stones, words can hurt.

As adults, we are still vulnerable to others wishing us harm, perhaps as subjects of gossip or as victims of unjustly negative performance reviews. Since we teach our children not to resort to violence or to return the insults, we certainly can’t do so either. What can help us feel better?

Peninnah, one of the wives of Elkanah, taunted his other wife, Hannah, year after year because Hannah had no children. Hannah was so hurt that she cried and refused to eat. In desperation, Hannah went to the temple where she wept and prayed—vowing that if God gave her a son, she would offer him back to the Lord as His servant. God heard her prayer, and Hannah soon conceived Samuel. Peninnah had to cease her insults.

While God probably won’t interfere in as big a way as He did with Hannah—finally allowing her to have a son—we can turn to God when others cause us pain. We can pray for soothing and for the redemption of the taunters. We can ask for the strength to proceed without retaliating. Even just thinking of God at such a painful time reminds us of our worth in God’s eyes, regardless of the opinions of our peers.

Praying can make you feel better. Remember you have God on your side.

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Let There Be Peace on Earth

One of my favorite songs from my youth, “Let There Be Peace on Earth,” comes to mind whenever I hear the phrase “peace on earth.”

God created a perfect world with perfect people. We began the undoing of creation by choice, becoming entangled in drama at every turn. Since Eve took the first bite of the forbidden fruit, people have been doomed to a chaotic existence on earth.

Every war, abusive relationship, battered child, addiction, obesity, self-mutilation, and disease began with a selfish decision: I want what I want, and I will get it at any cost.

Peace on earth begins with salvation, but it doesn't end there.

Jesus taught that life wasn’t about us. His sacrifice on the cross was for our salvation to point the way to peace. Peace on earth won’t exist until He returns to gather the faithful. He will create a new earth, then we will finally know peace.

But can we experience peace on earth today? Yes. When we receive the Holy Spirit by trusting Jesus as Savior, His peace resides in us. Through every trial or difficult circumstance we face, we can cast our anxieties on Him and draw from His well of peace, hope, mercy, love, and encouragement. Let this be the moment, now.

Because we can draw from our well of peace at any time, we can share that ladle of hope with a world in need, spreading the peace we’ve been given in our salvation.

Let the peace of Jesus Christ rule in your heart like a beacon to shine His light on the Good News.

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Comfort in Discomfort

I’m not what one would call adventurous. Rather, I’m a homebody who appreciates cleanliness and comfort.

I was once challenged to step out of that zone when my husband and I were invited on an excursion to Brimstone—an ATV recreation park in east Tennessee. “You’ll love it!” we were told. “It’ll be fun,” we were promised.

As the owners of a side-by-side, we had the vehicle but needed the appropriate attire—boots, goggles, and coveralls, not to mention thermal socks and gloves. Although the forecast called for sunshine, the air would be brisk and the ground wet and muddy.

On the morning of the adventure—protected head to toe in safety gear—I giggled, “This is what I call the full armor of God!”

I did feel secure, but as I logged miles over many hours of wild terrain, I noticed a nagging pain. Having chipped my tailbone many years earlier, this unseen injury threatened to steal my joy. Despite all my efforts to dress appropriately, the old injury ached. I found comfort only in clinging tightly to the emergency handle of the ATV and holding fast to God’s promises as we bumped along that red Tennessee clay toward home.

God promises us full armor to thwart the Enemy’s schemes. Still, wounds may remain—hidden and undetected. Circumstances may cause them to surface. Perhaps we suffer physically, or maybe our discomfort is rooted in fear, insecurity, or painful memories.

God gives us many good and precious promises—each to preserve and protect us on life’s often bumpy and difficult path. Believing God won’t waste a single suffering brings purpose to pain and beauty to brokenness.

What life-preserving promises from the Bible bring you comfort? Hold tightly to them. The suffering may remain, but so will your Savior—until you’re finally home with him. That’s a promise!

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Along the Pathway of Peace

I sit with my mother on a hilltop bench, overlooking the river along miles of bluffs and trees. I look up into the night and breathe in the lighted star-cubes. Or I sense the spirit of peace in cottonwood fluff and breezes. At such times, peace is part of what God’s creative gifts offer me.

Then come moments of little peace—while attempting to quiet a classroom of yelling students. When I dislike the actions of a neighbor, or if I am in a hurry at the grocery checkout.         

How is it, I wonder, that peace and stress-free living never occur for as long as I would like? Perhaps I need to open myself more to the power of peace available to me through Jesus—and to enter the mystery of peace by recalling sacred Scripture.

For me, lasting peace comes as a gift from God. I am ready to receive peace daily. But peace is also given to me in its completeness in an eternal realm. God provides me with a foretaste of this eternal peace right now—for example, when I am brave enough to open up about my faith and receive a pouring out of peace and acceptance from someone I barely know.

The pathway of peace is both partial and complete. In part, I walk it when I am frustrated and turn within to receive God’s gift. I prepare myself for the fullness of peace in God’s eternal reign, a not-yet experience for me. As I sit in my peace garden, I pray the mystery of God’s peace in my life, now and in eternity.

When the world offers us little peace, we can open ourselves to accept God’s gift.

Ask God to provide you with His peace as a gift, now and forever. Allow Him to become a part of your pathway of peace for a stress-filled and troubled world.       

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Planning My Days

Some days things strike a chord in me more than other days.

I have a planner on my coffee table in full view every morning. During my quiet time of morning devotions, Bible study, and prayer, I often glance at the mountain of books and papers sitting there. One day, my eyes were drawn to my day planner titled 2020-Be Inspired. The year of the Coronavirus. For months on end, it affected our world, country, state, and town—hitting us right where we live and how we live.

Life is different during a pandemic. I find myself waking up in the middle of the night and praying myself back to sleep. I think of all the ones who are deep in the trenches of the Covid-19 virus. Doctors and nurses marching courageously into environments that are 100% Coronavirus infected. No guessing, as we do, if the people they encounter have been in contact with someone who has tested positive. A full-fledged life-threatening illness is present.

As I wonder what tomorrow may bring, I seek the Lord for this day. I am reminded of the verse, “The steps of a good man are ordered…” Ordered? How are my steps ordered in a time of disorder and chaos?

Be inspired. I looked that word up to remind myself of the meaning. Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines inspired as “outstanding or brilliant in a way or to a degree suggestive of divine inspiration.” Who can inspire me during this time? The Lord can. The Lord orders my steps.

Some parts of the world are quiet while other parts wallow in utter chaos and despair. What should I be inspired to do? Seek and serve the Lord by serving others. The Holy Spirit will move and guide me. Guide me today and tomorrow. Guide me beyond the next twelve calendar months.

Like others, I feel nervous, fearful, and apprehensive. Yet I am filled with hope because my steps are ordered by the Lord. There is hope in uncertainty and hardship.

Ask the Lord to order your steps as you plan your day. Today is the day to offer hope to the ones around you.

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Make Lemonade

We've all heard the saying, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade." That's another way of saying, "Make the most out of bad situations."

When I was a truck driver, customer relations were a crucial part of my job. Management seemed to think numbers made the company successful. As experienced drivers, we realized if we took take care of the customers, the numbers would take care of themselves.

As I walked into a customer's business—especially if he seemed frazzled and out of sorts—I often said, "Smile. It can't be that bad. If it is, it'll get better or get over. It always does."

That kind of greeting usually put customers at ease. If not, they'd reject my optimism and begin talking about their day. That also served a purpose. It allowed them to vent without fear of reprisal. A little bit of joy and pleasantness often changed someone's demeanor, improving their day and mine.

Sometimes we forget people are hurting and need encouragement. Our encouragement could be an old saying, a kind word, or even just a pleasant smile. I hope my words do that for others. 

Any situation we're in could be worse. When we've had a bad day, there's still something that could've made it worse. Job lost all his children within moments, as well as his livestock and personal wealth. Yet he responded, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). Imagining a worse day than that is difficult, but he or his wife could also have died.

Things could always be worse. When life gives you lemons, just make some lemonade.

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The Modern-Day Good Samaritan

A co-worker once gloated over the misfortune of a certain celebrity.

He talked as if he knew—and didn’t like—the celebrity, then laughed at himself, saying, “I’m talking as if I know __________ personally.” 

My co-worker spoke for us all.We read and see pictures of people we’ve never met and then form an opinion about them—positive or negative—as if we know them personally. We become part of the jury in the court of public opinion without ever hoping to know the hearts of these individuals whom we rail against. 

Sounds kind of like Saul of Tarsus. He probably didn’t know any followers of the Way—as the first Jewish Christians were called—but boy did he have an opinion about them. And he was about to act on that opinion. The tune to Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood wasn’t exactly on his mind as he breathed out those murderous threats (Acts 9:1). 

What a stark difference from our Lord, who routinely went out of His way to reach those on the other side of the tracks. What if we dropped our verbal and emotional swords and saw those on the other side through God’s eyes? Or took a moment to pray for the celebrity or politician who made the most recent outrageous comment. How much better to ask God to touch them in their pain and draw them to Himself. Imagine how that would revolutionize not only us but our world. 

We should pray for those who make our blood pressure rise. When we do, the next time they do or say something outrageous, we will react with compassion rather than anger. Even better, we can endeavor to know someone who differs from us ethnically, religiously, and even politically.

Ask God to help you love your enemies. When you do, some of them might become your friends. 

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Those Fancy Restaurants

A popular area in my town is dotted with fancy restaurants.

I don’t have a lot of money—I live paycheck to paycheck. Sometimes, I would love to go to these nice restaurants. Maybe even take a date or friend to dinner. But when I looked at their menus, I discovered there was no way I could go based on my salary. I am also thankful that the company I work for orders lunch for us from a fancy pizza place in the area.

I should not be sad or jealous about not going to a nice place to eat. I should be interested in the things of God. I must remember that while those expensive things may make me happy for a time, they won't last, especially if it’s food.

Jesus offers two options. He says we can either store up treasures in heaven where they will be safe or store them on earth where moths and rust will destroy them. He says to store them in heaven.

Although I can’t afford a fancy diner or the finer things of life, I can help support a missionary in a foreign country who will bring eternal life to the lost. We need to value the things of Jesus with our money and build our treasure in heaven.

Let God help you re-evaluate what you are spending your money on.

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Home Before Dark

“I’ll be home before dark, my special girls,” Grandpa said, bending to kiss the top of Grandma’s head.

My sister and I smiled as we finished our breakfast, anticipating the ice cream treat he’d promised us. We waited for Grandpa on the front porch. The squeak of the swing kept us company as Grandma sang our favorite songs. Our spirits soared as we discussed which flavor of ice cream Grandpa would bring us.

The beauty of the sunset hushed us momentarily. Darkness drifted in stealthily at first, but it was fully oppressive in its finality. Anxiety invited the what-ifs. Hadn’t Grandpa promised to be home before dark? What happened?

Tension grew as we watched Grandma force smiles through stiff lips between hurried glances at the horizon. We heard the silent message, we should worry, loudly and clearly. We no longer anticipated what Grandpa would give us. Our hearts turned to wanting to see him home safely.

Suddenly, Grandpa’s rust-red truck burst over the hill. Relief flooded us. Why the delay? I still don’t know.

The Hebrew word for wait and hope are the same. When we wait, we hope. The waiting with expectation opens our hearts to hurt. When we receive what we think is the lesser thing—or worse yet—when life is immersed in pain, it’s hardly the ice cream treat we hoped for. Doubt seeps in. Does God love us? Why the delay?

Maybe the delay is about pressing into the goodness of the Lord. To press out our desires and long for the greater thing: His presence.

Our earthly desires, the ice creams of our hearts, do not compare to the security of knowing who God is—our Father. The spiritual security of knowing we are His children, who can safely trust in His provision, is priceless.

Press in and allow your heart to turn from what you hope for to fully engage in a relationship with Your Lord.

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An Uncountable Number

Many have never heard the word googol.

Googol is a mathematical term, defined as the digital number one followed by one hundred zeroes. After it was coined by a nine-year-old boy, the word came to mean any large number.

Edward Casner, a mathematics professor at Columbia University in the early 20th century, wanted to stimulate children’s interest in math. One day, he asked his young nephews to think of a word to describe any large number. Nine-year-old Milton suggested googol, and after Professor Kasner used it in a book in 1940, the word became widely used to describe a large or uncountable number.

This same concept occurred when God promised Abram he would have not just a much-desired son but an indeterminate number of descendants. Abram’s progeny would equal the number of stars in the sky, a picturesque way of saying an uncountable number.

God probably won’t promise us that many descendants, but His assurances to us in other areas are just as reliable and dependable as they were to Abram. After all, behind that uncountable number of descendants was God’s perfect planning and provision for the Jews. In the same way, God guides and provides for us in every way, which makes His assurances as certain and sure as His character.

Trust God’s promises to you.

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Swimming in Circles

Many of us remember the colored rocks, the coral-looking arch, and the globe-shaped bowl. Add water, and we created a goldfish world.

For many of us, our first pet was a small, bright orange fish that circled tirelessly in its clear glass home and ate as often as we fed it.

As a youngster, I enjoyed watching my submerged pet swim, patrolling its little world with an occasional race around the perimeter. Yet these easily managed pets don't get much respect. They don't learn tricks as dogs do, and their funerals are often accompanied by a flushing sound. With all this inferiority, I find one characteristic endearing about these underwater creatures: their extensive dependence upon humans. 

Other pets exercise a degree of resourcefulness in getting food or shelter. But goldfish can't forage through our neighbor's garbage, nor can they seek out any other shelter but their little sea of tranquility.

Goldfish are also verbally challenged. They can't talk to us or understand our smallest request or command. I would have loved to jump into that little bowl and introduce myself or teach my goldfish something.

What goldfish do have is a life that in many ways reflects ours. We like to think we are self-reliant and in control, but we rely heavily on forces beyond ourselves. God’s hands hold our lives. He provides our home, our world, and all that sustains us. 

And God did jump into our world to talk to us. Jesus Christ came as one of us to introduce Himself. He wanted us to know Him. He wanted us to know we aren't pets, but precious children whom He loves and cherishes.

Through worship, we celebrate a faithful God who provides for all our needs and meets us face-to-face. We press our face against the glass of our little world and see our Creator. We hear His voice through the Scriptures as He introduces Himself. As we worship, we listen and speak to Him from our heart.

Have you learned that life is more than swimming in circles? 

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Reclaim the Joy

"Wanna come fishing with us, Grami?" asked my grandson, Deacon, as I sat on the veranda enjoying my book, coffee, and the cool morning quiet of the surrounding mountains.

I'm not a fan of fishing, but I am a fan of my grandkids. Laying aside my book, I followed Deacon and his sister Eden to the dock where their dad stood baiting the fishing lines. I sat in a lawn chair next to my daughter to watch the activity. We were vacationing in the North Georgia mountains.                                                                                                                                             

Sounds of excitement soon signaled someone had a bite. Surprised, I saw it was Eden, usually the reserved one. She didn’t rival Deacon’s exuberance, but the joy on her face was something to behold. A wiggly fish dangled on the end of her line. Her first catch.

As I looked into Eden’s face, I caught the excitement and clapped in delight. I was taken back to my childhood summers when each day unveiled new and wondrous discoveries.

I had to wonder. When do we stop looking at each day with anything less than joyful anticipation? Why do we resist getting animated about life? Maybe the peer-pressured teen years changed us. Maybe we hide our emotions because the world tells us it’s unsophisticated to get excited. Maybe we let disappointments and troubles we’ve encountered rob us of hope.

When we let boredom or cynicism become our default mode, we don’t experience life abundantly as Jesus intends.

The psalmist rejoiced in the day because God had created it. He wants all His children, young and old, to enjoy life. And when we show our joy, we serve as witnesses for Him and the abundant life He gives.

Joy is a response to God’s gifts and to who we are in Him. Finding and expressing joy is not difficult. We start by remembering each new day is from God. We express gratitude for this gift. We open our eyes and see signs of God’s love everywhere. And just like children, we celebrate.

Celebrate today. Reclaim the joy.

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Sunrise Reflections and Autumn Rainfalls

As the sun rises over the water through my office window, it brings good-morning kisses from my heavenly Father.

Like walking into an art exhibition, I find myself face to face with the artist and His newest masterpiece. The wonder and beauty leave me breathless, stunned. Each day, the sun sneaks down the lake a little closer toward our house—or farther away, depending on the season. It cannot stand still.

In June, it climbs directly over our dock in the wee morning hours, reminding me that mid-summer is here. As warm days slip away, the sun creeps to the right, to the south, to hide behind our neighbor’s trees. Then, after all the autumn leaves have fallen, the sun boldly shines through bare trees into my window.

On one rainy November morning, I looked out my window and saw ducks, hundreds of them, flying just inches above the lake’s smooth surface, like an army of ants crawling in formation along the top of the water. Raindrops near the house nudged the last leaves off the branches of tall trees, creating a damp blanket of golds and browns on the hardened ground.

Watching sunrises and listening to autumn rainfalls remind me that nothing stays the same. God, the instigator of seasons, continually alters His creation, His universe. Parades of sights and sounds reflect His glory.

Praise God that He never changes. He will always be God—our Creator, Sustainer, Provider, Artist, Eternal Change-Agent.

I plan to reflect on the beauty of all the changes God brings me today. I hope you will too.

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Weeping May Last for the Night

God broke the mold when he made Sir Winston Churchill.

Churchill planned his funeral. Queen Elizabeth broke tradition when a royal attended a commoner’s funeral. On that day in 1965, when the clergyman had given the benediction, a trumpet playing taps rang out on the far side of that great cathedral. When the last note of taps fell silent, the crowd heard another bugler on the opposite side of the cathedral playing reveille.

The year 2020 was a year to remember…or forget. Many couldn’t wait to get through it. A global pandemic locked us in our homes. Political, racial, and social divisions tore our nation apart. Our nation and many other nations endured a dark period, yet, in Christ, joy always comes in the morning.

In Christ, when we say goodnight on earth, we will say good morning in heaven. This is our great hope. No words can describe the joy we will experience on that heavenly morning.

Much has been said in recent decades about health and wealth in the body of Christ. A more biblical description of God’s favor involves a covenant of grace. Health and wealth can be elusive, even for Christians, but God’s faithfulness never wanes.

I don’t know what we will experience in 2021, but I do know that God has promised He will never leave us or forsake us. His presence is our greatest possession.

Weeping may last for the night in 2021, but God’s presence in the morning will bring you everlasting joy.

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Follow the Leader

Everyone should have asked where they were going, but no one did. 

Rather than gathering information, the herd of deer followed their leader over the bridge railing to the highway below. After the one-hundred-foot drop, there were no survivors. Onlookers stood around, wondering how this could happen. Why would a herd of deer follow the one in front without knowing where he was going and then jump off a bridge to their death?

Similar scenes play out countless times worldwide, especially in cold weather and in high traffic areas. Panic is the only answer. Most of the deer probably didn't know what spooked the big buck to make him run. They panicked, thinking they were in danger, and rather than running across the bridge into the woods, they followed him and bounded over the side.

But this story isn't all about wildlife. I'm sure if the leader could do it over, he would make a better decision. Nevertheless, one moment of abject fear led to the demise of all those following him.

We should consider who is following us. We can either sprint blindly away when Satan comes on the scene or unknowingly hasten our death or that of others. Even if those following us survive our actions, our actions say something about us and fear. Weak faith affects our testimony and doesn’t strengthen anyone else's faith. What we’ve done in the past won't matter. In a split second, we can destroy other’s confidence in us—a decision that could cost them their life spiritually or physically.

We should live so that we are an example of what a true Christian looks like, leading others in the paths of righteousness, not over the side of a bridge. One thing is certain. Others will follow a leader.  

Be a leader worth following. 

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When Bad News Is Good News

When I was three, I heard our pastor preaching a sermon called “When Bad News is Good News.” My dad said he heard me say something. He asked me what it was, and I told him the preacher said, “When bad news is good news.”

In the year 2020, the United States and the world went through a Covid-19 pandemic. This virus caused thousands of deaths in the United States and around the world. It affected entire families, including my parents and me. It affected my dad worse, but he eventually got better.

In all that happened to us with the virus, we can say that both in this trial and in other trials we’ve been through, this verse is true: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Paul the apostle was put into prison and wrote most of his letters from there. He knew a lot more than most of us because of his sufferings. Those prisons were not fancy places but were filthy dungeons. Yet the Lord helped him.

When bad news is good news, we have the Lord’s help by letting Him turn things out for our good instead of worrying and complaining.

Let Jesus help you turn bad news into good news.

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He Will Provide

We stared at the documents.

We were signing papers to buy a house. The one that stunned us showed the final amount we would pay at the end of our thirty-year mortgage. We would pay about half of what the house was worth in interest. Where would all that money come from?

So often we think in material terms regarding decisions about the future. What will the economy do this year? Will we be downsized out of our jobs? Will we be able to afford to pay the bills? Or will I get that promotion (and pay raise) I had my eye on for so long?

Although finances are important in knowing God’s will, God often stretches our faith by asking us to trust Him to provide for us. He is the one who not only sees but also controls our future. And He is working everything out so that He receives the greatest glory in our lives.

The disciples worried about their futures as well. They left their livelihoods behind to follow Jesus, expecting that things would turn better for them once Jesus took His rightful role as Messiah. But following a nomadic rabbi? Where would their next meal come from? And what if their sandals wore out?

Jesus wanted all who listened to Him to understand that the same God who provided for the birds would provide for them too. God knew what their needs were and wanted His followers to focus on the one thing of true worth: His kingdom. The value of God’s kingdom, according to Jesus, exceeds anything else in this life. Jesus challenged them to rest in their faith believing that God would take care of them.

Is there a bottom line you are struggling with? If so, God calls you to let go of those concerns for just one day.

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God's Got You

After weeks of wearing a constricting rotator-cuff brace, I ripped off the Velcro attachments with fervor and threw the contraption down.

I couldn’t tolerate the pain anymore. My inner arm felt like a swollen baseball. Although I had smoothed the brace out flat, that night it had still chafed against the sore. Tears filled my eyes. “Dear God, please help me not to have another meltdown tonight. Please let me get through this pain and help me sleep.”

After counting to ten and praying, God’s peace seeped in, and I fell asleep. For the next several weeks, God calmed my emotions and eased the pain. I fell asleep in the easy chair every night—my new normal. Over a month later, I finally slept in my bed. It felt so good to stretch out on a mattress.

When I awoke in my bed, tears of joy welled up in my soul as I realized God hadn’t abandoned me during this challenging time. He had taken me through one of the most painful experiences of my life and comforted me during many grey days when I sat pinned to the couch. He brought me friends to clean my house and bring me food and friendship. He surrounded me with His presence the entire time—soothing my emotions, calming my fears, easing my pain, and filling my loneliness with His presence and the beauty of nature.

During the 2020 COVID pandemic, many suffered emotional pain, loneliness, and fear. We experienced isolation as never before. We were challenged to press into our faith. We wept, yet God proved faithful and never forsook us. His presence comforted us.

Although pain is real, we look to Jesus. He will be with us through every difficulty. When we are in emotional or physical pain, we can cry out to God in prayer. He will hear and answer according to His goodness and in His timing. His answer may come wrapped in a meal from a friend, through the wind blowing in the trees, or even in a painful recovery from surgery.

No matter what happens, remember God has you.

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Never too Late for Amends

A friend and I once invited a homeless man to join us for lunch.

We learned this young man had been homeless for four years. Raised by a Christian mother and atheist father, he admitted he resented his mother for forcing him to go to church and that he didn’t believe in God.

I’ve had my amends to make with my sons for lacking proper parenting skills. One proverb says if we raise our children in the way they should go, it will stick with them for a lifetime. We should raise our children with an awareness of God’s presence in our lives. Doing this also means we must understand and guide them according to their personality types. We should develop techniques for discipline and encouragement that meet each child’s temperament. I didn’t have the skills and knowledge I have now when my boys were young. Like many parents, I made mistakes that resulted in strained relationships with two of my sons.

How can we parents mend broken relationships with adult prodigal children to help them heal, trust, and turn to Jesus?

First, we must forgive them. They are struggling to find their way in the world and need guidance, not scorn.

Second, we must humble ourselves, admit our shortcomings, and ask for forgiveness. We must show sincere recognition that we failed them on some level, along with a genuine desire to respect them as fellow human beings in need of a Savior.

My experience with making amends and resolution has been life-changing. This process should be done with prayer and guidance from a wise counselor. When we prayerfully admit our wrongs and open the door for an honest conversation with our adult children, God’s blessings will flow, and we can begin the reconciliation process. To be successful, we must clean up our side of the street—not point out their sin but focus on our own—with genuine repentance.

It’s never too late to mend a broken relationship with an adult child.  

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Unspoken Words

Someone made a decision that caused me to be anxious for them.

They were pleased with the decision and eager to accomplish the goal. I, full of perceived wisdom, desired to share personal insight. Yet something inside prompted me to remain silent and accept that it was best to support the individual’s decision rather than speak unsolicited, well-meaning advice. Why generate needless thoughts of anxiety? My spirit guided me with the advice I needed to follow, but my flesh longed to interfere in business that was not mine.

Ultimately, I was victorious, followed the promptings of my heart, figuratively bit my lip, and kept my mouth shut. Patience. Patience. Patience.

Why generate needless fear into the affairs of someone not asking for our insight? The best advice is to allow others to be content with the decisions they make when they do not seek our advice or if they are in no imminent danger.

No one asked me for an answer, and I imparted grace by remaining silent. I learned that I may find the support I desired to voice is not salty but an expression tinged with fear.

Let God guide you when and when not to speak.

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Walking into a New Journey

All journeys start with a leap of faith.

Imagine a group of aspiring adventurers whom a king has called to go to a distant land and overcome a wicked king who reigns over a mighty fortress. The adventurers are taken aback by their king’s request, for they don’t know how they’re going to overcome the wicked king, let alone get there.

The adventurers think about the potential ways they could fail, and fear gains a foothold in their minds. But then, one of them encourages his companions to pursue what their king has called them to do and to proceed with a leap of faith.

Yes, they endured harsh weather and sleepless nights. Attacks by bandits and goblins came by surprise, at times. Nevertheless, they persisted and, throughout all of it, became battle-hardened and succeeded in their mission.

This is somewhat like how the Lord calls us to walk with Him. He says, “Go this way,” or “Go that way.” We may not understand why or how. All we know is that He has given instruction, and we should seek them wholeheartedly.

When the Lord calls us to obey, delays and excuses should not suffice. If the Lord says go, we should walk in obedience, not allowing fear or uncertainty to dissuade us. God allows us to obey or disobey, but our faith is made stronger when we obey.

When the Lord calls you, move forward in faith.

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No Reserves, No Retreats, No Regrets

At different points in William Bordon's short life, he wrote in the back of his Bible, “No reserves, no retreats, no regrets.”

After he graduated from high school in 1904, Bordon was called to be a missionary. Although he came from a wealthy family, wealth did not possess him. Early in his life, a friend expressed that he was throwing his life away by becoming a missionary. Bordon wrote in his Bible, “No reserves.” After he graduated from Yale, he was offered lucrative positions. He penned, “No retreats.”

His missionary call narrowed to a Muslim group in China. After doing graduate work at Princeton Seminary, he left for Egypt to study Arabic before arriving in China. In Egypt, he contracted spinal meningitis and within a month was dead at age twenty-five. Before his death, under the other two notations he had made in his Bible, he wrote, “No regrets.”

Was William Borden's seemingly untimely death a waste of human life? Absolutely not. Thousands have read his story and have been encouraged in their missionary call. God never wastes any of our sorrows.

Things happen to Christians. We experience what we don't expect, and some expectations don't come to fruition. The Christian life often entails disappointments we can't understand, but God uses them for His ultimate good.

God lives in the eternal now. He makes decisions based on past, present, and future considerations. Humans remember the past imperfectly and know what is happening now—but know nothing about the future. God dwells on eternal priorities while we major on temporal ones. Our heavenly Father always knows best.

Church history is littered with people who have done great things for God yet became sullen and cynical at the end of their lives. Things happened to them that may have seemed unfair or unjust. Some ended their lives in unbelief rather than faith in God.

Will you, like William Borden, at the end of your journey, be able to say, “No reserves, no retreats, no regrets.”

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Changing Times

The notice seemed ironic.

As I stepped out of my local bank after making a deposit, I looked back at the front door and saw words emblazoned on it. Curious, I removed my pandemic-required facemask and leaned down to read them: “For security purposes, please remove all hats, hoods, backpacks, and sunglasses prior to entering the banking center.”

The notice seemed understandable, since it was designed to prevent potential bank robbers from coming into the bank wearing a disguise. As I folded my mask to put it away, I realized the irony of the notice. These days, a potential robber didn’t need to hide their identity by wearing a hood or sunglasses. Not when he could just put on the standard facemask and face no suspicions.

We regularly encounter changes, and the threat of COVID has added to the situation. Yet we know changes in situations and people are an ongoing life factor. In fact, some would say they are inevitable—except when it comes to God.

Malachi reassured his readers that God would not forget His covenant with them. Theologians call this eternal consistency God’s immutability. 

So what does this mean for us? That God’s promises and provisions are as consistent now as when they were given. They are a part of His character. And in a world where change is a constant factor, that is reassuring.

Be confident that God’s promises to you will never change.

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Leaving the Past Behind

The semi in front of me slowed down.

I also slowed down, all the while glancing in my rearview mirror to check the traffic. I became so involved in watching the road behind me that I failed to realize I was following the truck off the road. The driver had turned into a truck stop. Somewhat embarrassed, I returned to the road.

Sharon had trouble letting go of problems that resulted from her past wrong choices. As she walked one day, struggling with fears and doubts, she glanced down at the sidewalk. Written in bold blue crayon were two words, Trust Jesus. The message made her pause and ponder its meaning. After a while, she continued, but once again, anxiety invaded her thoughts. Then, for the second time, she came upon the same words. She needed this second reminder, and this time she trusted Jesus with her past burdens.

Many times, we become so preoccupied with our past that we refuse to take our thoughts from the things which lay behind: failures, broken relationships, sins committed against us, and sins committed against others.

The apostle Paul had many things in his past which could have held him back in his Christian life. But he confessed those sins and accepted God’s forgiveness.

As Paul and Sharon did, we should let go of our troubled pasts and allow God to walk with us daily. He will forgive the sins of our past, but we must accept His forgiveness and move forward.

What is holding you back from advancing in your relationship with Jesus Christ?

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Be Encouraged to Encourage

“You did a great job with your presentation.”

“How beautiful your house is, all decorated for Christmas.”

“Wow! Dinner is delicious. You’re a great cook.”

“Thank you so much for your visit. It brightened my day.”

We all love to feel appreciated by others. Kind words encourage us and can make our day. We walk away with a spring in our step and a smile on our face. We have been affirmed. When someone speaks words of affirmation to me, my spirit is lifted and, because of this, I look for opportunities to affirm and encourage others.

God gives us a mandate to encourage one another. The Greek word for encourage is parakaleo, and it appears more than 100 times in the New Testament. Speaking kind words to others can lift their spirits, and we can find different ways to be an encourager? I've listed a few below:

  • Smile and speak to the person behind you in the grocery line.
  • In heavy traffic, let a car merge in front of you.
  • Sit with a visitor in church.
  • Take a hand-picked bouquet to a family member or friend who is going through a difficult time.
  • Send cards. Better yet, send a handwritten note.
  • Volunteer in a food bank.
  • Smile at those you meet on the street or in a hallway.

One of the greatest encouragers in the New Testament was Paul. A part of his ministry entailed writing letters to churches, many times while he was in prison, so he could encourage believers in their walk with the Lord.

Likewise, encouragement is necessary to our faith-walk. When we encourage others, we give hope. This helps them through times of conflict or illness. Encouragement nurtures kindness. Even in church, we find those who desperately need to be encouraged. We may need encouragement ourselves.

Set a goal to encourage at least one person daily. Your act of kindness may change their life for eternity.

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On Your Mark, Get Set, GRACE

Grace is sometimes difficult to give.

I once talked with a college-student friend who complained about his disappointment with a few people who had hurt him. He found it difficult to forgive them and move on. In fact, he harbored bitterness.

I thought back to the time when I, too, languished in the clutches of bitterness. The thing was, no one I held bitterness against even knew it. I simply held a grudge inside and let it eat at me. I never stopped to think God stood behind the circumstances that led to my bitterness. I finally found freedom when I unconditionally forgave my offenders.

Peter seems to have had a similar problem forgiving those who sinned against him. He didn’t understand God’s concept of grace. Jesus said those who truly comprehend the magnitude of God’s grace should forgive those around them as many times as necessary.

When I realized this, I immediately asked God to forgive my unforgiveness, and then I forgave those who had hurt me. Forgiveness, I found, is a journey. Doing so requires repetition over a long period of time. As I did so, I found the burden of bitterness lifted from my life and joy entering my heart.

The next step entailed confessing to God what I had done wrong. I was in such a hurry to blame others that I  overlooked my own sin, which led to taking up an offense. Too often, I am guilty of pointing out the shortcomings of others without seeing my blind spots.

The last step involved blessing those who had hurt me. This required a spirit of thanksgiving for the good things I had seen in them. This was a change of focus, given that I was concentrating on their faults. I chose to bless them before God in spite of my feelings. In time, thanking God for them changed my perspective of them.

All three steps involved doing something countercultural. In a society that routinely says, “Don’t get mad, just get even,” I found I could demonstrate love in a way that runs against the grain. God once again showed me His grace so that I could shower it upon others.

Which of the grace steps do you need to work on?

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Hummingbirds in a Hurricane

As Hurricane Sally made landfall, hummingbirds at the feeder outside my bedroom window battled the strong winds.

Despite the monster storm slowly rolling onto shore, the hummingbirds demonstrated no worry. I, on the other hand, was not so calm. A seventy-five-foot pine tree grew just outside my bedroom window, and the fierce winds pushed so hard that several neighbors called to warn me of danger. Meteorologists predicted hours of rain, and gales topped 100 miles per hour. Nightfall approached.

I didn’t want to be “that story” on the news—the person who dies in their sleep when a tree crashes on their house. As the winds screamed around the corner of the house, I prayed. And I thought of those hummingbirds and Jesus’ words as He prepared His disciples to take the good news of the kingdom into a world filled with dangers.

Jesus pointed to His Father’s watchful care over a creature without value in His culture to amplify how much God cares for us.

I asked God to send His angels to hold up the tree and bring us safely through the night. As I drifted to sleep, I heard the Spirit whisper, “Remember the hummingbird.”

Day dawned, and I thanked God for our safe passage through the night. The storm still raged, but hours later, when Sally had finally passed, the tree had not toppled. The bird feeder had blown over, but as I put it back up and refilled it with fresh nectar, the hummingbirds reappeared and buzzed around my head in gratitude.

When storms come into our life, we can think of the hummingbird. Our heavenly Father values us more than sparrows. He knows how many hairs are on our head, and He will care for all our needs.

Rest in God, and trust that He cares for you.

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Our Pulpit

I waited patiently for the space in an unusually crowded supermarket parking lot.

My day had been packed with obligations and deadlines. I was tired and reluctant to make this quick stop for something I needed for dinner. The driver finally backed out. Suddenly, from the other direction, a woman darted into the vacant space.

My first instinct was to honk my horn. My second was to wait until she got out of the car and give her a piece of my mind. After considering both, I reluctantly drove away. Maybe, like me, she had a lot on her mind and just didn't see me, I rationalized. It was some time before I reconciled my feelings with those thoughts.

I once read, “Make a pulpit of every circumstance.” But how? Doing so is difficult when we rely on ourselves. Our human reaction often sends a poor message. But the Bible says we can be conformed to the image of God's Son if we let Him transform us into a new person by changing the way we think.

Living at peace with others is a choice. I’m grateful my thoughts overruled my feelings that day. What would it have accomplished to be confrontational about a parking space? Outbursts of anger aren’t the kind of righteous behavior God desires.

With each act of graciousness and patience toward others, we learn more of God’s will, which pleases Him. Our lives will bring glory to God and have a positive influence on the world around us. We can show them. We don't need a pulpit, a platform, or a microphone to tell others about God.

When you encounter a situation that leaves you frustrated, remind yourself that you are an expression of God to the world. Ask Him to help you reflect His love, and then step up to the pulpit.

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Confessions of a Speed Addict

As an addict, cravings crowd my mind.

The hankering I have for haste translates into a lifestyle of rushing myself and my forbearing husband. And what would be a compelling illustration to convey my conviction against slow living? The laptop’s black cursor blinks on as I brainstorm this question. Nothing comes up. Hmph!

But since I hurry John habitually, perhaps I can mine his memory for a few examples. I scurry to scrutinize him.

“John, please tell me how I’ve rushed you. But keep reorganizing the garage. Don’t let me stop you.”

He sighs at my perennial pursuit to make him go go go. “Audrey,” he explains, “I need to think to tidy up the place and respond to your request. Can’t multitask.” He takes a seat. Wrinkles his forehead. Flips through his mental rolodex.

The tapping of my sandal saturates the waiting air. Silence stretches, swelling my angst like helium expanding a balloon, until the tension pops. “Hurry,” I urge him.

He shoots me a knowing look, which I decipher immediately. The elusive example I had been groping for has just hatched. We combust into chuckles, mine sounding slightly sheepish.

Do you share my fondness for fast? No offense, but our addiction is unbiblical. Since patience is one of the fruits of the Spirit, God frowns upon anything un-slow. Or so I thought until I read what Jesus said to Judas: What you are about to do, do quickly.

Whoa—Jesus sanctions quick? There must be no divine displeasure against speed in general. But what about rushing? The verse swirled around my thoughts, settling into insights. Rushing fears time—as in running out of time. Quick prizes time by moving efficiently. Rushing adds anxiety. Quick doesn’t. Rushing prioritizes velocity over quality, which can lead to mistakes, which calls for corrections, which costs more time. Quick means thoughtful, which ultimately preserves time.

Absolutely anyone can live rushed. But to respond with speed sans stress—what being quick is about—requires the Lord’s aid.

If you’re a fellow addict, what if we enter rehab together? Let’s ditch our dependence on pace and rely on God’s grace instead. Let’s, uh, ban the word hurry from our lips.

Would You please change me quickly, Lord?

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When Blessings Are Disguised

We’re often tempted to complain.

It seems I do it all the time. I once had a car accident that caused $2,000 in damage. The worst part was my brain freeze prior to the accident. I got depressed over the increase in my auto insurance premium, rather than thanking God for allowing me to have insurance in the first place.

Often, God uses such experiences as blessings in disguise—to show His ability to provide for us. When I complain, I refuse to believe He is in control. Complaining shows I do not accept that God knows perfectly when events happen, and that His sovereignty allows these events. He designs the bad in life to turn us to Him. If we fail to recognize everything is a part of God’s divine sovereignty, we won’t ask for His grace.

The Israelites were like this. They had just left a lifetime of slavery for the Promised Land. But when their food ran out, they accused God of abandoning them. God knew they were going to run out of food. Yes, this would be a trial for them, but God had a plan to feed them.

When confronted with a trial, I usually turn to my own resources and solve the problem myself. If I can’t, I might turn to prayer. But I often fail to stop what I am doing and thank God for allowing the trial. If I acknowledge the grace of God, I admit I lack the resources to deal with the situation by myself.

Since we are so self-focused, when we find ourselves in a bind, we often stop showing grace to our family and those around us who may be affected by what is happening. We seek little gods to rule over the kingdom of our lives. What we need is to accept God’s grace and then show that grace to those around us. God provided for my car repair needs—and even the extra financial cost—through a special gift.

Stop and ask God for help the next time you confront a crisis. Turn to Him first for aid.

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He Can Calm Your Storm

When I was little, my daddy, two of my uncles, one of my cousins, and I went on a shrimping trip.

Late that night, after my daddy and uncles finished shrimping, they wondered how to get the shrimp back to land. Suddenly, a great wind arose on the gulf—one like in the Bible story. My dad and uncles decided to drop the nets into the boat, and off we went. It looked as if the boat spun in a big circle. I looked at the clouds, and it appeared they spun like tops. 

Whenever we hit a wave and came down, it sounded as if the boat was doing a belly buster instead of the front or back of the boat hitting the waves. I was scared, but my younger cousin was more afraid than I was. He cried the whole time—and even on the way home. I prayed and said, “Peace be still.” Although the winds didn’t calm as when Jesus said the same, we made it safely to land, and I felt the peace of God.

Jesus was asleep until His disciples awoke Him with their cries for help. After all, He was and is God and had everything under control. They had a lot of trouble trusting God to deliver them.

I’ve weathered a few storms since the one with my dad—at least one of my own making and some not of my own—but God has helped me through them all.

When the storms of life come, ask God to help you trust Him instead of worrying about them.

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Taste and See

In 1963, a new slogan for Lay’s Potato Chips took the world by storm: “Bet you can’t eat just one!”

The slogan suggested to potential eaters that they could not eat just one chip—no matter their self-discipline or restraint. With the challenge issued, everyone accepted, wanting to disprove what they had heard—but also wanting to taste something good. We thought, for such a bold challenge to be issued, that this chip must be as good as it claims. The only way to find out was to surrender to our curiosity and give it a try. 

I got my first taste as a young girl and, even today, I still can’t eat just one. In fact, I don’t know a single person who can eat just one Lay’s potato chip. Whether at a barbecue, a birthday party, a restaurant, or at home, these chips are a popular side item. With such high ratings, it’s safe to say the validity of their goodness has been proven. And I, for one, am grateful I gave them a try when the challenge came. 

A long time ago, the psalmist—who had been overwhelmed with a new discovery—issued an even bolder challenge. Unable to keep this information to himself, and with sheer delight, he sent out an invitation for one and all: “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good!” David had tasted and experienced the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. 

I, too, can witness of God’s goodness. God is so good that anyone who experiences Him develops an appetite for Him. We hunger, thirst, and long for Him. Only He can quench our thirst and fill our deepest desires.

Like David, we who have tasted God‘s goodness become His living, breathing, and walking billboard. We are compelled to go into all the world and tell everyone about the God we’ve experienced.

Have you missed out on something good? Let God adjust your taste buds and give you an appetite only He can satisfy. True joy that’s inward and lasting belongs to all who choose to give Him a try. 

The invitation has been presented. God is waiting for your response.

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Angels in Disguise

While on vacation, a health crisis put my husband in an unfamiliar hospital where I spent many lonely and frightened hours at his bedside.

As a nurse myself, I had to trust strangers with his life. Advocating for him felt like rowing a boat against the current. I ached to bring him home, or at least to our home hospital.

Overwhelmed, and needing to cling to my heavenly Father, I attended Sunday services at an area church we had visited before. When a parishioner greeted me, she asked how I had come to their church. She was so kind, and I found myself pouring out my husband’s situation and my fears for him. The congregation immediately introduced me to Sarah, who talked and prayed with me during the long hours I spent at the hospital. Because of Sarah’s encouragement to trust my instincts, I refused a procedure that, in hindsight, would have killed my husband.

Sarah reminded me of the angel God sent to the prophet Elijah, who fled from the soldiers Queen Jezebel sent to kill him. Like Elijah, I was frightened, overwhelmed, and about to surrender to whatever the doctors suggested. But God sent me Sarah, and her real presence, like the real bread the angel gave Elijah, fortified me.

When we are in a crisis, God’s help may come disguised or in unexpected ways. Perhaps it is my neighbor turning up just when I need him. Or coming across the Bible verse that speaks to my situation. Sometimes, we call these heavenly helps coincidences, but when we see through eyes of faith, coincidences become God-incidences.

In our humanness, we need to remember that God always knows what we need and when we need it. Especially in difficult days, we must step out boldly and trust God to provide—sometimes in unique ways.

Make sure you don’t miss God’s angels in disguise.

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A Turn of the Head

The beach was nearly deserted as I walked briskly on my regular route along the cliffs of the shoreline.

The breaking dawn cast its shades of soft pink on the rolling waves. Godwits, plovers, and sanderlings ignored my presence as they feverishly scurried about, probing for prey hidden in the wet sand.

I was absorbed in the wonder of God’s creation, praising Him for the sweet communion we shared, when a house under construction along the cliffs caught my attention. The residences that overlooked the shore and captured pristine views from La Jolla to San Clemente engrossed me.

“Oh, Lord,” I prayed, “How I would love to live on Pacific Avenue right at the water’s edge. You know how much I love the water.” I continued my walk, gazing up and imagining how it would be to live in one of those houses.

Some time passed before I looked back toward the sea. Wow! What had I done? I had abandoned all thoughts of praising God for what I had for thoughts of what I wanted. All it had taken was a simple turn of the head. When I focused on God’s creation, I thought about Him and all He had given me. My heart was filled with gratitude and peace. But when I turned my head and looked away from Him, I found an urgent, restless longing for the things I wanted.

How often do we allow ourselves to get caught up in the things we want? Through prayer, we can turn toward God and His abiding presence in our lives and turn away from a longing for empty things.

Keep your eyes on Jesus and the things above, not on things of this world.

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Car Trouble

Click-click, click-click. Nothing.

One morning after Bible study, my car wouldn’t start. Navigating the mega-church halls, I asked a passing school teacher where the nearest phone was. She directed me to the school office. But when I arrived, something told me to turn around and go to the church office at the other end of the complex. Quite a hike.

I called a mechanic at my car’s dealership. A lady in the church office overheard my conversation about my dilemma. She contacted someone in the church’s facilities department and asked him to check my car before I called a tow truck. 

Soon, two men lifted my car’s hood and jiggled the battery cable. I turned the key, and the car started. One recommended a local service station to complete needed repairs, saying the repair should only cost a few dollars.

I became lost and drove in circles, looking for the suggested auto mechanic. Frustrated, I cried out, “God, I don’t dare turn this car off before it is fixed. What should I do?”

Suddenly, I thought of the local auto repair I used for all my car’s maintenance. Why didn’t I think of them first? I knew why. God wanted to give me a jewel…to reveal His presence and power in my day-to-day distracted life.

My mechanic welcomed me with open arms and fixed the battery cable in two minutes at no charge. I thanked God for leading me to the church office worker who pointed me in the right direction. She may never know how God used her.

We can lay every frustration and concern at Jesus’ feet, asking Him to let us be a blessing to others in need.

Ask God to give you a desire to help others along life’s way.

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Holes in My Spiritual Sheetrock

An addition to the home, even if it is just a remodel, can be exciting. But it can also be physically demanding, emotionally draining, and spiritually enlightening.

We once made our screened porch into an enclosed sunroom. Although the screened room was enjoyable, the excessive pollen and bugs became problematic. Who can enjoy a nice breeze while seated on a covering of fine yellow dust with cobwebs under the table?

So, demolition and construction began. Out with the old and in with the new. With renewed interest and anticipation, we checked the progress daily. First the framing, then the electrical. We tucked the wiring and insulation into place and then covered it with sheetrock. We now had a room—and it looked perfect.

Next, we had to prime and paint, which the contractor agreed to let me do. Getting up close and personal with the walls, I noticed the imperfections. Here and there, small holes, gouges, and scrapes had somehow survived the spackling. From a distance, they were undetectable. But upon closer inspection—and when covered with primer—they became visible. Repairing these small deficiencies would require more work.

How similar this process compares to the Christian walk. After conversion, we begin with enthusiasm and commitment. Each day, we approach God with anticipation, excited at His new work in us. As time passes, we see the progress God has made. Then comes the temptation to step back and think, “Wow, I clean up nicely!” But upon closer inspection …

I’m grateful for the ongoing transformation of the Holy Spirit and the purifying work of God’s living Word. He sees my imperfections—even those small, invisible holes and cracks—yet continues His spackling action. As I yield to Him and allow Him to search me, He lovingly reveals those areas that need His transforming touch. It’s all a part of His overall renovation until Christ is formed in us.

Think of one way you can better let God do His transforming work in you.

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Hope in a New Year

“There’s no happy to it.”

The woman snapped at the clerk who wished her a Happy New Year. The clerk meant well. Who’d have thought she’d get such a negative remark from saying Happy New Year?

I turned to the young girl behind the counter. “Sweetie, it’s been a hard year for everyone.” I handed her my store card. “You keep that pretty smile. It offers hope.”

The year 2020 was tough, but it’s behind us. Now, there is hope.

I remember the movie, Ghostbusters II, when negative thoughts and frustrations were so high that it overcame a city. Bad things began to happen. It took hope—the promise of all that was good—to restore the desire of a city to pull together and be happy again.

COVID has pushed us to the brink of complete negativity. People can’t see anything positive in their future.

Christ told His disciples of His impending death. He reminded them that shortly they would not see Him. They would grieve and hurt, but later, He would return. Jesus likened their grief to the pain of a laboring mother—at the moment it was excruciating pain, but once the child was born, the pain was no longer remembered. Instead, the mother rejoiced in the birth. He later reminded them trouble would always be present, but they should not worry for He had overcome. 

In other words, hope. Things might get hard, but there is hope because Christ has overcome the world.

We cannot hide from the difficulties of the world, but we can seek hope. Hope will always exist because Jesus gave us that gift. I realize the great loss many have felt through the pandemic of 2020. Some have suffered job loss, illness, even deaths, but we cannot allow ourselves to remain stuck in hardship. Instead, we should rally together, seek joy, and grasp hold of the hope promised to us through Christ Jesus. He didn’t die in vain. He died that we might have the hope of salvation, grace, and eternal life.

Currently, we feel the sting. Remember, Jesus overcame. So will we. Stand tall, pull your shoulders back, and step into the New Year with hope on your side. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son.”

Hope then, now, and to come.

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Big Sandals to Fill

I scanned the photo of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.

My mom wore a satin choir robe with a long piece of material draped over her head and wrapped around her shoulders—the classic “church version” of how Mary must have dressed. Joseph stood, clad in the same choir robe, a striped head piece tied by a thin rope around his brow. And me, four months old, one hand extended from the swaddling wrap that bound me tightly. Even then, the weight of portraying the infant Christ, weighed heavily. Or it could have been my diaper. I’m not sure.

Every Christmas, Mom pulled out the family album and showed me that photo, and every year, I felt the weight. Was I worthy? Am I worthy?

Mary hardly had the opportunity to be a child before God thrust the responsibility of Christ in her arms. Yet, He saw her worth and honored her. Scripture gives the abbreviated version of the birth from the gospels, and we’re left to wonder about the thoughts of a child mother giving birth alone in poor conditions. Mary and Joseph had nothing but the clothes on their backs. Then, the time came for the baby to be born…and they had everything.

Each year, I look at the photo of our church nativity and wonder that the sandals of Jesus were big sandals to fill. Could a child, a girl, or a woman like me fill them?

The birth of Christ changed everything for everyone, and by human standards, we are not worthy, but by God’s hand, we are made worthy. Whether we’ve had the role of Jesus in a play or watched the story of His birth for the zillionth time, we all inherited the sandals when we gave our hearts to Him. And they are big sandals to wear.

On this Christmas day, remember when the time came that Jesus was born. Then, know that we can never fill the sandals from His feet, but we can walk in the footprints He leaves behind. And when we turn and look at where we were and where we are now, we can rest assured that He came and that He will come again.

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A Lonely Day in December

Two days before Christmas, and I was alone.

I stared out the window. The rain fell. The house was empty, except for a small tree. I don’t even know why I put it up. Nobody would see it because nobody would come. There were no presents underneath.

Christmas was not the way it once was. No one waited at the top of the stairs to come down so I could get the perfect picture. No giggling and tearing open presents. I felt sorry for myself—and it felt good. At least for the moment.  

I glanced at the nativity set under the tree, wondering what the first Christmas must have been like. The nativity painted a pretty picture: Mary smiling down at her baby, Joseph standing near, and the shepherds kneeling and adoring.

Then I wondered if it was really like that? It might have been cold. They were in a dirty stable, not a suite in the hospital. No balloons welcomed the baby. Only the baying of the animals in the nearby stall. Dirty shepherds came mostly out of curiosity. Mary and Joseph were probably scared. They must have wondered what they were supposed to do next.

I was strangely comforted in my sadness. But then I felt guilty. What did I have to be sad about? Compared to most people in the world, I was blessed. I had a warm home to shelter me from the cold. I had food in the refrigerator, and I had water that ran freely from the tap. How could I not be grateful? Maybe I took so much for granted that I forgot how blessed I was.

In that moment of feeling sorry for myself, I contemplated the wonder of that first Christmas. Jesus came to earth for ME, and I realized I was more than blessed. Although I was alone, I was not alone. Jesus was my Christmas gift. So, I sat quietly and worshipped with praise and thanksgiving, wondering how I could have overlooked the best gift of all.

Are you alone this Christmas season? Jesus beckons and quietly calls your name. Reach out and receive the gift He offers. He will give you peace and will be with you always.

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In God We Trust

I used to stop at a diner early every morning on my way to work.

I don’t recall how good the coffee was, but I vividly remember a sign hanging over their cash register: In God We Trust … All Others Pay Cash. With many of us wondering whom we can trust, I was encouraged by a story I read.

During the darkest hours of the Civil War, the Reverend Mark Watkinson wrote to Treasury Secretary, Salmon Chase, with a unique request. In view of the national crisis, he suggested an inscription be placed on our money, acknowledging our urgent dependence on God.

Chase also sent a personal letter to the Philadelphia mint: Dear Sir, No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.

In our time of national struggle, with many establishments only offering coffee and food to go, we might wonder whom we can trust. Maybe the answer is still on the back of every dollar bill. We can trust God. He will always be our refuge and fortress whenever we choose to live close enough to rest in His shadow.

When you wonder whom you can trust, remember you can always trust God.

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Little Messes

About two feet from the bottom of my glass door, a little hand’s outline marred the surface.

I smiled. It reminded me of the little fellow to whom it belonged. I would have reacted differently twenty-five years ago with my own children. Irritation would have ruled as I thought about the effort and time required to clean the door…again. I would not have thought the handprint was so cute.

But Grandma has mellowed. I decided to leave it for a while and enjoy the memories it brought. Yes, I will get around to cleaning it, and he will visit again and leave proof of his presence…again.

My thoughts turn to God as I consider the door. I wonder if He ever gets tired of our messes. Do we wear Him out? After countless admonitions for my grandson to keep his hands off the glass, the messes keep appearing. Likewise, God gives us directions and warnings, and we continue to make our own messes. If the love I feel for my grandson lets me clean the mess without getting rid of the messer, just think of the great love the Father has as He cleans all our messes. Thankfully, He doesn’t grow weary.

Although I am not irritated at the mess left on my door, I know the prints would become less cute if they happened daily. And I do get weary. As much as I love my grandson, cleaning is not my favorite thing. I know as he grows, he will be less inclined to leave his handprints on the glass. He will learn the proper way to use the door.

I hope to grow more into the image of my Savior daily, leaving less messes for Him to clean. I hope you will too. Don’t wear God out with your messes.  

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Driving Me Crazy

It could have happened anywhere, but this time it happened in India.

Traffic jams are a way of life for many of us city dwellers, but we find them hard to accept when we are in a hurry to get somewhere. We are surrounded by trucks, buses, cars, and motorbikes. Some who hate traffic jams attempt to cut in front of others. With no real right-of-way, the rule of traffic in India is that the driver who gets to the open space first wins.

When someone cuts me off in traffic, my first reaction is anger because someone has violated my right to unimpeded access. More than once, I have honked the horn at an offending driver. I am ashamed that I am only concerned about their causing an accident.

God has slowed me down a great deal as I get older, and I now know one of His purposes for allowing frustrating situations is to teach me patience. Patience is an uncommon commodity in our culture because we want everything instantly. The adrenaline surge when we become impatient also reinforces our habit of impatience.

I realized I believed getting where I was going was more important than what other drivers were thinking. But my desire to control their erratic driving was selfish and impatient. Even if I couldn’t’ understand the reason for their me-first behavior, I needed to forgive the other driver and thank God when I arrived safely at my destination.

The next time I hit a traffic jam, I plan to ask God for help with the fruit of the Spirit, including patience.

Ask God to help you be a blessing—not a source of frustration—to others.

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A Christian's GPS

I was ready to go.

I started the car but remembered one last preparation. I typed my destination address into the GPS app on my cell phone. An hour away from my destination, I noticed traffic backing up on the freeway. I decided to take the next exit, thinking, I can’t risk getting stuck so I’ll find a parallel road. I’ll be back on the freeway in no time. “Make a U-turn now,” the female voice said immediately and repeatedly. But I was certain the shortcut around all that traffic was just ahead.

Minutes passed before I realized the GPS wasn’t correcting me anymore. I was far into an unknown rural area with no signal and no instructions. I didn’t know whether to backtrack to the freeway and sit in traffic, head in the direction of my destination and hope for a restored signal, or wait for someone to come along and help me.

I decided to keep going, hoping I would make some progress. Eventually, I heard the words I wanted to hear: “In two miles, turn left to merge onto the freeway.” As I rejoiced over hearing directions, I glanced at the clock. I had wasted forty-five minutes wandering around. I would be late. But I learned a lesson. I promised myself from then on I would listen to my GPS.

The same lesson applies as we move through life with Jesus. When our way slows, we have two choices: seek Him for advice or turn away. As we navigate our journey, He reveals the straight paths and winding drives. He gives us wisdom and discernment to know when danger is ahead.

Just like ignoring a GPS, taking our own detours takes us away from God’s path, even though He warns us to turn back. We get delayed, lost, and may even lose touch with our Savior. Not until we seek Him again are we able to walk in His will once more.

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. Sure, we get frustrated and weary when our path seems obstructed, but as this verse reminds us, God will work all things together for our good. Time is never wasted when are in God’s will.

Seek Jesus for directions and ask Him to map out your journey.

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Thankful for Fleas

Why would anyone be thankful for fleas?

Betsy and Corrie ten Boom were. These sisters from Holland were placed in the notorious Ravensbruck prison during the early 1940s because their family opened their home to Jews hiding from the Nazis. For four years, the family saved many people who would otherwise have been taken prisoner or killed simply because they were Jewish.

But an informer betrayed the ten Boom family to the Gestapo, and they were arrested. The Nazis freed some members, but they took Corrie and Betsie to Ravensbruck where women prisoners were crowded into the camp and treated cruelly. The women were forced to labor at back-breaking work, given little to eat, and faced death every moment.

Even in prison, Corrie and Betsie witnessed for Jesus and showed His love to those around them. When Corrie complained, Betsie reminded her of Paul’s words to the Thessalonians. Paul, too, suffered many things to spread God’s Word.

When the guards saw the sisters’ living quarters infected with fleas, they would not enter. Corrie and Betsie were free to share the encouraging words of the Bible with those who desperately needed to know God loved them. Many women heard the salvation message and became Christians because the fleas kept the guards away.

Corrie and Betsie thanked God they could be together and that they had a Bible. They also thanked God for the overcrowded building, because that meant more women could hear God’s Word. Betsie even thanked God for the fleas.

We may have fleas in our life—problems that seem unsolvable. We may feel alone and believe no one cares about us. But when we open our life to Jesus Christ—as those persecuted women did in that inhuman prison—we will have the assurance God knows about the concerns in our life and will guide us through everything. He may not take the fleas away, but we will never have to face them alone.

Give your life and your problems to Jesus Christ.    

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Letting Go

“Maybe it’s not the right time. Not meant to be, especially at your age.”

Being fifty years old, working part-time, and struggling through a sixty-hour master’s degree in professional counseling was hard enough. Not being able to find an internship made things worse. Time was running out. I was frustrated with myself because I had always gotten things done. On top of everything else, I was discouraged by loved ones and friends who told me to quit or give up. Their chatter tugged at me.

I finally gave up when I’d exhausted all possibilities. I had trusted in myself and failed. Every door I knocked on refused to let me in—and most wouldn’t even open. I relented and withdrew from the sixty-hour program and entered the thirty-hour non-licensure program.

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. Maybe it was time to trust something bigger than myself like the Scripture stated. I knew this in my head, but my heart struggled. Letting our own desires fall away and accepting God’s will for our lives takes enormous trust, even if that means utter silence and a time of wandering through barren places. It entails a complete letting go of our own will. That’s scary.

Still troubled in my spirit, I prayed all the way to my subbing job at a local elementary school. As I mouthed the words, “If you want me to be a counselor, Lord, you’ll have to open the doors. I have no control. I give up. You open the door, and I’ll walk through it. Or I’ll let all this go forever ...” my cell phone rang.

A local agency I’d applied to five months earlier asked when I could begin. Shocked at the timing of the call, I agreed to take the position. Seconds later, I phoned the university and changed my program again. I couldn’t stop smiling. God had been waiting for me to let go and lean on His understanding, not my own.

Have you experienced moments of testing when you were determined to figure things out on your own and with your understanding? What keeps you from letting go and submitting to God?

Trust God, and He’ll make the crooked paths straight.

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Practical Math

Sometimes, we need a ruler or a tape measure but have neither at hand.

My elementary math teacher taught me to estimate measurements using parts of my body. I’ve used that practical math lesson my entire life. Today, I know the span of my fingers is about eight inches, the distance from my elbow to the tip of my fingers is eighteen inches, and my relaxed stride is about two feet. My grandmother taught me to measure fabric with my arm and to estimate weight: “A pint’s a pound the world around.” With this information, I have a ready tape measure and scale any time I need them.

Isaiah recognized the immensity of God was impossible to understand or measure, yet God can easily measure all of creation. One handful of water equals an ocean. The solar system is the breadth of our God’s outstretched fingers. While our greatest scientists work to calculate the volume of rock in a mountain, God can heft the earth in the palm of His hand and know its weight.

When we forget to marvel at God’s awesomeness, we begin to rely on our own strength and judgements. Isaiah says, Who is able to advise the spirit of the Lord? Who knows enough to give Him advice or teach Him?

If we’re not careful, we can think we know better than God regarding the plans for our life. Or we can question why we are experiencing adversity.

When we find ourselves weary from present circumstances, we should take a moment to marvel at God and His creation. We can envision His mighty hand measuring the universe, cradling the earth, and holding our hand. Just as God holds the earth, He holds our life in this moment in time.

Trust God to be with you, regardless of what you are facing.

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Riding Bicycles with Little Sister

“Sisters! My little sister is always following me.”

While taking a walk, I noticed a ten-year-old boy riding his bicycle. He shook his head and mumbled words about his little sister. Perhaps he stated his feelings to get rid of the grouchiness he felt toward the girl trying to follow him. Although he tried to get away as fast as the bike would move, his little sister ran along behind him, trying to catch up.

“Wait, wait for me!” she yelled.

He didn’t wait. He left. She plopped down on the sidewalk. No tears. Looking down at the ground, she fiddled with a stick and tried to direct a row of ants toward the grass.

“Hi, how are you?” I asked. I wanted to tell her everything would be okay. Big brother would come back. But I truly didn’t know what would happen.

The cute little brown-haired girl looked up and said, “I wanted to go with my brother. He doesn’t want me to go.”

My heart broke. “I’m sorry. Hope he will come back soon.”

As I pondered what to say next, I heard a sound coming around the corner. Bicycle tires screeched on the walkway as her brother put on the brakes.

“All right, come on. Get your bike.”

Big brother had returned. Tears formed as I watched the siblings smile at each other. The girl jumped up quickly and ran to the garage. She brought out a bike adorned with pink streamers and a white basket on the front. She followed her big brother who peddled slowly so she could keep up with him.

I don’t know what happened the rest of the day, but for those moments in time, a big brother came back and gave his little sister the chance to join him.

Sometimes, we feel left out. Or sad when we’re not included in activities with friends or family. But God never leaves us. He is with us always. Even when we stray, He searches for us and leads us back to Him.

Take comfort in knowing God will never leave you.

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Perfect Timing

Suddenly, I realized I was late.

One morning, following a Bible study, I spoke with a group of women on the importance of disciplined, daily, and personal devotions. As I did, I remembered a meeting I had on the other side of town—one for which I was now late.

The Lord calmed my spirit, reminding me He was in control. I needed to trust Him. I finished my discussion and encouraged them to set aside time for their relationship with the Lord. At 12:45, I walked into the next meeting and apologized for being forty-five minutes late. They said, “Oh, no, you’re fifteen minutes early!”

One Sunday morning, I realized—when five hours from home—I was scheduled to be in two meetings that night. I recognized my dilemma as a test, an opportunity to trust God and wait on Him. Ten minutes after pulling my car into the garage, I received a phone call from a friend. When I told him of my conflict, he offered to take care of one of the meetings. An answer to prayer.

On another occasion, I was asked to get an additional player for our Bridge group. During my devotions that morning, I asked God to help me know the right person to call. My phone rang. A member of the group asked if she could play with us, even though she had not signed up. I smiled and said, “Thank you, God!”

God’s timing is always perfect. We think we are in control, fooling ourselves, but God will always lead us in the best way, at the best time, and with no stress.

Relax and enjoy everything in God’s perfect timing.

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Broken People

We toured the orphanage and saw what I expected.

The facility was small with large dormitory-style rooms for both boys and girls. We were touched by the caregivers who did their best to handle over two hundred children. Our hearts raced as we anticipated meeting the boys we hoped to adopt.

The next day found us in court to finalize the adoption. During the hearing, the judge asked each boy if they wanted to be adopted. They both sobbed and nodded. This confirmed my suspicion that we were about to adopt two broken boys.

As I reflected on our sons’ brokenness, I realized all of us are broken in God’s eyes. Unfulfilled dreams? Par for the course. Misbehaviors? Guilty as charged. Rough backgrounds? God knows it all. Nothing takes God by surprise. Knowing how broken I am, I am amazed that God loves me despite my imperfections.

Two forms of brokenness exist. The first is inflicted on us through others’ abuse. The other comes from realizing how we stack up in God’s eyes. While the former can humble us, the latter chooses to show humility before God Almighty. This kind of brokenness is not the expression of a low self-image or a lack of self-confidence (“I am as worthless as dirt!”). Rather, it is accepting God’s assessment of us as sinners.

Our brokenness is the sacrifice God looks for. He does not look for perfect people but for those who know they need a Savior. Brokenness becomes the right starting point for a relationship with Him. He just waits for us to recognize we are incomplete without Him.

When our kids wailed, I knew instinctively what to do—hold them close. God wants us to bring our brokenness to Him. He wants to comfort us because we are His children.

Let God have your brokenness.

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You Were Created for Greatness

“God has an amazing plan for your life,” the leader of the Bible study said. “You were created for greatness.”

A hush fell over the room. Confused faces made it obvious people were evaluating their worth and contribution to the kingdom.

While it’s unlikely that any of us will be the next Billy Graham or Mother Teresa, we still have much to offer and should never take our efforts and acts of service for granted.

Take, for instance, those who have cared for elderly parents. Or those who have raised children with physical or mental disorders. Many grandparents have taken on the responsibility of raising their grandchildren. Others spend their time volunteering at homeless shelters or working with at-risk kids.

But no deed is too small. Think about the folks who offer patience or a genuine smile to a weary salesclerk. Or those who leave a generous tip for a server who has dealt with difficult customers all day with no compensation. Some people never pass a Salvation Army bucket without dropping in a dollar or two, or at least some change.

Greatness, just like anything else, is in the eye of the beholder. The Bible tells us the greatest among you will be the one who always serves others from the heart.

It’s been said we might be the only Bible someone will ever read. What is our life saying? When we have a servant’s heart, the smallest act of kindness can produce the most significant results. God sees and knows our potential. We are here to let our light shine brightly and bless others in whatever way we can.

You, my friend, were created for greatness.

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God Loves

Hogs and birds have taught me a lot about God’s love.

Pappy—my maternal grandfather—raised hogs. And my cousin and I loved nothing more than to roam the hog pens.

One thing we enjoyed was watching a sow birth piglets. When she finished delivering her little ones, she lay still while each piglet rooted for a milk source. If she happened to get into a position where some couldn’t get a teat, their squeals quickly let her know, and she would rearrange herself so all could suck nourishment.

Loving hogs remained in my blood. When I lived in places where I could raise a few hogs, I did. As I reflected on my boyhood memories, I watched again as my sows gave birth, and the piglets rooted for milk. Mom cared for the little ones by feeding them and by guarding them against strangers.

I’ve seen mother birds do the same, but in a different way. For hours and days, Mom sits on eggs, leaving only briefly for food and water. When her young hatch, she makes hundreds of trips, searching for and then bringing the food back for them. Bugs. Worms. The young wait at the nest with mouths open, and she drops her treasure into their open beaks.

Jesus taught about God’s love by appealing to nature. If a single sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground without God knowing about it, then surely He knows about the fortunes and misfortunes we experience.

God’s love is powerful. A sow can turn deadly if her little ones are threatened. So can a mother bird. Although God may not keep us safe from temporal dangers, He ultimately controls what comes into our lives and will protect us eternally in heaven.

God’s love has no end and is repetitious. As long as they are together, sows love their pigs. So do birds. God’s love has no boundaries.

God’s love also leads Him to act on our behalf. As sows and birds provide for the ones they love, so God acts in our best interests. Everything He does helps us accomplish His plan and enjoy the life He has created for us.

If you doubt God’s love, just look at a hog or a bird.

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The Voice

I heard that Voice one evening at a church service where my mother and I went to hear a visiting minister.

A few days before, my grandfather had suffered a stroke that left him unconscious and in critical condition. During the closing prayer, the pastor asked the congregation to think of someone who needed healing. I thought of Granddaddy. Although my faith in God in my teen years was strong, I was looking for a sign that night that God was listening to and cared about me.

As I prayed, I felt a tap on my right shoulder and a presence behind me which said, “Don’t worry. Your grandfather is going to be okay. He is going to wake up and talk and walk around his hospital room.”

I wept with relief and turned to my mother and said, “Granddaddy’s going to be all right.”

My father was at his father’s bedside that evening. When I told him what happened at the service, he gently brushed me aside, clearly doubtful. The next afternoon, I came home from school hoping to hear good news about Granddaddy. And I did. My father called from the hospital. “Macy, you were right. Your grandfather woke up today and talked and got out of bed and walked around the room. He’s going to be all right!”

Taps on the shoulder still get my attention. I have a friend who allows her Bible to fall open to the place where God wants to speak to her that day. One day while preparing for my daily devotion, I thought I’d give her practice a try. My Bible fell open to Isaiah 30, and my eyes rested on verses 20 and 21. I read them over and over, scraping crusty scum off gold. I learn through pain, and the Holy Spirit, my teacher, reveals Himself to me minute by minute. He guides me—with a tap on the shoulder or a whack across my back.

In the middle of adversity and affliction, God speaks. He points the way and gives us hope through voices of faithful servants who have gone before us. I will continue to listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice and believe. 

Make it a point to listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice daily.

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Overcome Panic with God

I heard the hummingbird’s frantic wings beating and witnessed its panic.

My routine morning quiet time happens just outside my bedroom door. In springtime, I leave the French doors slightly open. The little circular table to the right of the doors is where Jesus and I come together before the day gets going.

One day, chaos broke loose just inside the door. Looking up to the loud vibrating in the corner of the room, I could barely tell what was happening. A hummingbird had found its way through the slightly ajar doors and was terrified. I ran from the room and found my husband. As he mounted the ladder, trying to flush the little creature from the corner, I couldn’t help but feel as the hummingbird felt: panicked.

But that wasn’t the only time I’ve felt panic. We are in spiritual warfare daily. We often choose to ignore the Word or Christians who try to help us. Instead, we go with our default mode and spiral out of control. The what-ifs hound us. Our minds are the battlefield in this war.  

God tells us not to be afraid or dismayed just as He did Joshua. This is not a suggestion but a command and a reminder that He will deliver us. The Lord allows panic times so we can see our attempts are worthless and then seek Him.

God has given His Spirit to guide His children through life. His promises are as faithful as He is. God’s Word tells us many times that He can do more than we can ever ask or imagine. But we must decide to believe His promises and stand on them—regardless of what we see or feel. Jesus is in us, with us, and goes before us. Our job is to follow Him.

If you are panicking as the hummingbird was—and your mind is held captive with thoughts that seem to come from nowhere—take time to restrain your thoughts and sit with the Bible. Wait on God as you pour out your heart to Him.

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Holey, Holy, Wholly

As my neighbor completed his spring therapy of lawn aeration, I walked over and, with my wry smile, said, “I guess this is holey ground now.”

He loved the pun, and we enjoyed a great laugh. The truth of the matter was, he had done a great thing for the health of his grass. The hardened ground had been pierced, and moisture and nutrients now had easy passage to the secret of healthy grass: strong roots. I wondered if some of the pains in my life had come when God broke up the hardened soil of my life to strengthen my roots.

Here is my version of Romans 12:1-2: “I admonish you, my fellow worshipers, because God has reached out to you with love and forgiveness, dedicate yourself to pure worship by allowing His breath and living water to penetrate your life through the sacrificial HOLES of aeration. I pray you will allow God to set you apart for His work, that your worship would be noticeably changed by His power, and you will become HOLY before Him. Finally, as God renews you and transforms you, I pray that you will persevere and allow Him to make you WHOLLY His, which is His desire for you.”

Being a living sacrifice means giving up the places where we are too firmly entrenched—places where we have not allowed God to break through and grow us. Doing so might hurt. We might suffer for God’s sake. But this is how God sets us apart for His work … how He makes us holy.

Sometimes we use the word sanctification to describe God's work in our lives. Jesus wants to complete the work He has started in us. Just as my neighbor cultivated his lawn to make it healthier, our Creator wants to bring us wholeness by making us living sacrifices.

Think of a way you can allow God to bring more wholeness to your life.

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When You're Downcast

I’d been handling the COVID-19 quarantine pretty well until …

Each day, I tried to accomplish at least one positive action—among them spending time in meditation with my Lord. But one day was different. I got up a little earlier to run a necessary errand (my positive for the day), spoke with a friend on the phone, and took a three-hour nap because I couldn’t shake the depression hanging over my shoulders. It was a day unlike any I had experienced in the last month.

The next morning, as I drank my coffee and began my Bible study, I looked at the devotional book date and realized I had not read the previous day’s devotion. Deciding I didn’t want to miss anything, I read the one I’d missed. The scripture was Psalm 42:5: Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

That was it. I had talked with God in the car the previous morning. Or had I talked at God? I had not opened His Word, listened to what He had to say to me, or heeded His advice—His prescription for my ailment. Nor had I placed my hope in Him or praised Him for all the blessings I enjoyed daily.

I determined the present day was going to be a brighter day, even if it was raining outside. I would read His Word, listen to Him, and lift His name in praise. Spending time with my best Friend always picks me up. Hearing His sweet voice reminds me of His infinite love and provision, and lifting His name in praise also lifts my posture and puts life in its proper perspective.

Have you talked with your best Friend today? Listen to Him. He has what you need to hear. Lift His name in praise and feel the warmth of the Son.

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Lifting All the Weights

By lifting all the weights, she plans to build strength and endurance.

My co-worker is an avid fitness buff who likes to go to the gym after work. Her departing phrase is often, “Today I’m going to lift all the weights.” This means she has a serious workout in mind, and she is excited about it. It’s a big plan—not just to lift the small, easy weights, nor just the big, impressive ones.  

For me, the idea of lifting all the weights at a gym entails torture, but I understand my co-worker’s enthusiasm. As a writer, it’s how I feel when I try to describe what God has done in my life. My idea of a spiritual workout would be to sit at my desk and write all the words that praise and glorify God.

John acknowledges his writing is only a small account of Jesus’ works. Many other things that Jesus did, as well as signs He gave His disciples after His resurrection, went unrecorded. John chose the words he wrote so his readers might believe Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and that they might have life in His name.

Meditating on what God has done is a great spiritual workout and builds faith muscles. Sharing those things is an even more extreme workout where we invite others to see, believe, and experience God’s goodness for themselves. When we fill our minds with what God has done for us, we will be ready and eager to share our story.

Think about the small, everyday ways God is present in your life—or when God has intervened in your big moments. Take some time to write your thoughts using a wide variety of words.

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Sweeter Than Peppermint-Marshmallow Ice Cream

I remember vividly the day I tasted it.

Heaven must taste like homemade, peppermint-marshmallow ice cream. When I first tasted it, my childhood mind was lost in ecstasy. It was a life-changing experience for a ten-year-old. The peppermint crunched and the marshmallows melted in my mouth. Forever after, it has been my all-time favorite. Although I have made this ice cream multiple times, I have only had that first-taste experience once. My memory of that first moment is warm, wonderful, and often revisited.

But I have a sweeter memory: the moment I made Jesus my Savior and Lord. That moment didn’t happen at an altar, but in the pew. Walking forward only let everyone else know Jesus had won the battle for my heart. I committed to follow Him wherever He led. My decision wasn’t just life-changing; it was life-giving and eternity-changing.

Our first moment with Jesus is worth remembering, savoring, and marveling over. Knowing and following Jesus changes everything.

Why not dedicate a moment to making a new memory? Assemble a list of things Jesus changes in your life. Then pray over that list as you glorify and praise God for the joy of your salvation.

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Let Me Tell You about My Daddy

My grandson bounded through the door and into his pre-school classroom.

His classmates—who busily colored, played with blocks, or put puzzles together—didn’t even look up. Liam jolted them from focusing on their early morning activities with a loud announcement: “You need to thank my daddy. He’s out fighting monsters.”

Liam’s father, a military officer, was often gone from home. His job was to protect his family and his country from the bad guys, the monsters of our world. Liam enthusiastically informed anyone he encountered about how his dad was a hero—and he didn’t wait for them to ask. Liam’s love, pride, and thankfulness for what his dad did naturally prompted him to share about his dad’s work.

Liam’s dad isn’t the only father who fights monsters though. Father God took on the ultimate monster: sin. He did so out of love for His children—you and me. His love was so great that He sacrificed His own Son, Jesus, to offer each of us a release from the monster’s clutches.

My grandson’s exuberant words made me pause and consider what I tell others about my heavenly Father. When have I bounded into my daily encounters with words of praise and love for Him spilling from my lips? Shouldn’t all who have been saved from sin and given eternal life be praising the One who rescued them?

Let’s tell everyone about our monster-fighting Daddy.

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Praise Through the Pain

With the Coronavirus spreading like an uncontrolled wildfire, I determined not to let fear grip me.

I tried to remember and repeat the Lord’s promises. It worked for a little while, but then I heard something that reminded me of how dire the circumstances were. I felt anxious and sunk into a deep pit of despair. God prompted me to listen to Him—not to fear, but to trust. I tried to fix my circumstances. I had to do something. 

Finally, in obedience, I sat with God’s Word and prayed. He reminded me of Psalm 23, one I had written about and quoted many times. I didn’t have any enemies I could think of, but God showed me my biggest enemy was the spirit of fear. That’s when He led me to 2 Timothy. If I had a sound mind, I wouldn’t have a mind filled with fear.

When I thought about the constant talk of the Coronavirus and the pain and death it was causing, I took fear into my spirit. Fear—my enemy—was stealing my joy and my hope. Once again, I determined to stand strong in God’s strength and to resist this evil spirit.

Our enemy might be fear, sadness, or a virus, but Jesus defeated all of them. They are under His feet. We can praise and trust God through the pain. We don’t have to be hard on ourselves when we slip back into worry mode. When we feel uneasy and begin to fear, we can stop and refocus on our great God who said He would never leave or forsake us.

Remember, you are not alone.

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I frantically slapped my pockets. Nothing!

Before entering the grocery store, I took the credit card I planned to use out of my wallet so I wouldn’t have to carry my wallet. I also picked up some trash from my car to throw away on the way in. I shopped and proceeded to the checkout. After my food was bagged, I reached into my pocket for my credit card—but came out with only lint. I realized I had tossed my credit card with the garbage from my car. I ran to the car for another credit card—feeling the weight of the angry scowls of the people in line. Then I ran back in and paid, praying the credit card was still in the garbage. Thankfully, it was.

The whole incident reminded me about how often we do things absentmindedly. Usually, it happens without great consequence. But what if we walk through life spiritually absentminded? Three times, Peter warned his readers to be sober-minded and alert. Peter wrote to Christians, but Satan is able to cause even them to fall into sin—and loves it when they do. That’s why Peter’s warning is so severe. By the time Peter wrote the letter, Christians were being thrown to the lions in the Roman colosseum. He wanted his readers to know that if they lived absentmindedly, Satan would do the same to their souls.

If we go through life unaware of Satan’s schemes, the consequences can be eternal. But if we trust Jesus for our salvation, the Holy Spirit will give us the power to resist the Devil. Now is not the time for spiritual slumber. There is a spiritual battle raging for our souls. Satan does not rest. He’s working to tempt us to ruin our lives through sin. It’s one thing to absentmindedly throw away our credit card. It’s another thing to absentmindedly allow Satan to have our souls.

Don’t absentmindedly forget your faith in Christ.

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Eyes on You

As a young teenager, I often cared for my three younger siblings while Mother did domestic work for a doctor’s family.

One Saturday while at the doctor’s home, Mom received a call. She quickly called me. “Don’t answer the door for anyone. Just stay inside the house and keep the children nearby. I will explain later.”

Fear was my companion that day, but I focused on the Lord and asked Him to give us protection. “Oh, Lord, help us” was all I could pray. I was responsible for my siblings and didn’t even know what kind of danger lingered nearby.

A few hours later, Mom came home. The phone call had been from a man who said he knew where her family was. He told her to get a large amount of money from the doctor and meet him at a particular place. The doctor involved the police, and they caught the criminal.

Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, was told, “A vast army is coming against you to wage war.” He called an assembly at the temple of the Lord to ask for God’s help. He stated, “Our eyes are on You, Lord.”

On the day of battle, the king instructed the people to praise and sing to the Lord. The Lord sent ambushes against Judah’s enemies. By the time the men of Judah arrived at the place of battle, they saw only dead bodies lying on the ground. The Lord fought against their enemies and killed them. The Israelites spent three days collecting the plunder. Focusing on the Lord—instead of the danger—gave them the victory.

When something or someone wages war against us or our family, we can reach for a weapon to defend ourselves, ask others to rally around our cause, whine and complain—or turn our eyes on the Lord. Telling God our eyes are not focused on the problem at hand, but on Him, is the first step toward victory.

Turn your eyes to God when things appear to be against you.

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Awesome Living

I needed to repent of my bad behavior and forgive others of theirs.

Although I thought of myself as a good Christian, I yelled, scolded, and grumbled at my children—and made some bad choices in life. Those barriers kept me from God’s love. Others also hurt me by making promises they didn’t keep, speaking crossly, and not giving me the credit I deserved. No matter how I rationalized, I still hurt.

If you love me, you will obey my commands just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. After reading this verse, I turned to the Ten Commandments God gave Moses. I went to church regularly and was not a murder, adulterer, thief, or gossip. I felt confident I was obeying God’s command to remain in His love.

The Father did not give Jesus a to-do or not-to-do list. Obedience was a day by day, moment by moment existence. Jesus gave us the instructions for remaining in God’s love. The first command of His ministry was “repent” and the last was “forgive.”

Repenting is more than feeling sorry. It is an intentional decision to bring behavior, thinking, and feelings into alignment with the Father’s commands. Jesus could be obedient because His hands, head, and heart reflected the Father’s will. Many people offended Jesus, but He forgave them. He allowed people to make their own life choices while He chose to obey the Father. To forgive, I too must choose to let go of offenses made against me. Offending and being offended are definite barriers to remaining in God’s love.

Remaining in God’s love is different from a short visit or having a revolving-door relationship. To remain means to be engaged in His love 24/7, which requires continual obedience. When we choose to do this, we will always be in God’s love.

Choose to remain in God’s love, and enjoy awesome living with an awesome God.

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"So Help Me God"

As we celebrate America’s birth, we should consider the man most responsible for its formation: George Washington.

Tradition says he included “So help me God” in his presidential oath of office. Whether he did or not, he demonstrated the meaning behind this expression in his life. Washington was a godly man. After taking the oath of office with his hand on the Bible, he kissed it. He set a righteous example as he discouraged cursing among his officers. God raised this man up and preserved him.

In the French and Indian War, a Native American chief fighting against Washington was awed by his invincibility. After one battle, Washington had four bullets lodged in his coat and two horses shot out from under him—with hardly a wound. Although he led from the front rather than the rear as most generals did, he avoided death. This chief, convinced that the “Great Spirit” had preserved Washington, prophesized that “he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn, will hail him as a father of a mighty empire!” 

Sadly, Congress decided to remove “So help me God” from the President’s oath of office. Also, Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, where Washington attended while he was President, removed a commemorative plaque because of his ties to slavery. Washington was not a perfect man, but he did a great deal for our nation.

America’s existence can only be explained by God’s providence—not her wealth or might, although God has given her both. Her existence is due to men and women coming to her shores, seeking freedom to worship their Creator as their consciences dictated. And God did not disappoint them.

If we remove the collective consciousness by which this nation was formed through the intervention of a divine hand—using good but imperfect people who are inadequate in themselves and therefore need wisdom from heaven to continue this experiment in democracy—America will crumble.

Pray that Americans will always remember their origins.

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No Longer a Lone-Ranger Christian

My previous home church dissolved.

I struggled not only about where to worship on Sunday but also about where to become a member. I decided to attend some of my friends’ churches and even facilitated a Christian recovery ministry at a church where I am friends with the pastor and congregants. After a year of visiting different churches, I still fought with which one to join.

I had many questions of the church I would join: Is the doctrine sound? Should I choose another denomination besides the one I had worshipped and served in for over eighteen years? What role would I serve, if any? How far is the commute? Should I join a large or small congregation?

I knew I needed to pray for God’s direction. A pastor I knew invited me to worship at and to join his congregation. But he also encouraged me to take my time and pray. Four months later, I told the pastor I felt like a “fish out of water” by not having a home church and joined his fellowship.

Let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together. This verse speaks personally to me—and with new meaning. Community worship with prayer, fellowship, encouragement, and comfort for one another is important as we always remember the day of the Lord’s return draws near.

I am no longer a lone-ranger Christian, reading the Bible and leaning on my own understanding. Sharing, praying with others, and worshipping with other believers are crucial elements in my spiritual walk on my way to heaven.   

If you have not joined a church, pray and let God direct your path so you won’t be alone in your Christian walk. Give yourself the opportunity to grow in the Spirit and in God’s grace.

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Staying Afloat

Buoys are found in every ocean on the planet.

Buoys provide valuable data for weather forecasting and boating conditions. Many people around the world depend on their information to predict deadly events like tsunamis. They are strong and dependable and can withstand difficult water and weather conditions. Essentially, buoys are unsinkable because of the way they are anchored.

Peter was afraid and overwhelmed. Once he took his eyes off Jesus, he sank. Jesus caught him, but told him he had little faith.

Life can make us feel as if we are tossed about. We cannot avoid life’s storms, but we can cling to the One who will keep us above the waves. Every day, Jesus reaches out His hand to us. The life preserver is our faith that He will pull us out of our situation.

If we are anchored to a solid foundation, we will not sink when the waves get rough. Jesus is that foundation. Daily highs and lows can leave us drowning in loneliness, sickness, or debt, but Jesus will rescue us if we believe.

Anchor to faith in Christ. He will keep you afloat in all situations.

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Safely Home

My wife and I once rode in separate vehicles on the way to church.

I led hymns at a nursing home during the Sunday school hour. Generally, one of our boys rode with Nancy while the other tagged along with me. But one ill-fated Sunday, we accidentally left our eight-year-old at church. At first, Chris searched up and down the emptying aisles, but after checking everywhere he could think of, he sat on the front steps—puzzled and wondering what to do. One of the deacons found him as he was locking the doors.

 “So, where’s your mom and dad?” John asked.

“I don’t know,” Chris answered, shaking his head.

“If you want to ride in my truck, I’ll take you home,” John offered.

Meanwhile back at home, we realized what had happened. In embarrassment and fear, I ran out the door, ready to speed back to church. Before I could leave, John’s truck pulled into our driveway.

“Forget something?” John asked with a chuckle as he opened the door and Chris hopped out.

My wife and I both embraced our lost son—just as the father did in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son.

As I remembered this scene, I imagined how the heart of God bursts when we come home to Him. Unlike me, He never forgets us, even if we have forgotten Him. Instead, He sent Jesus to pick us up and bring us home.

Take comfort in knowing God will lead you safely home.

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Courage to Obey

Some perceive Christians as sanitised people wrapped in perfect obedience.

I carried this false image for many years and found I failed to measure up to my own expectations. Then came the time when I knew I should write my life story and publish it. The courage to write was no problem. I knew the writing exercise was not therapeutic. Rather, it would confirm what God had done in my life. But the fear of the publishing world and the marketing became a huge hurdle.

Why was I so apprehensive? The transparent writing style left no stone unturned. It exposed areas of my life I would have preferred to have kept hidden. It opened up issues with family members that were difficult to face. And it obliterated anyone’s false perception of my now sanitised persona.

The Lord came to my rescue as I chose to obey. He showed me that Satan or the world could not point any finger at my past if God had led me to the ministry. No person could judge what God had forgiven.

As the Israelites began to seek the Lord and find Him, God said to King Asa, “But you, be strong and do not lose courage, for there is reward for your work.” The king obeyed by removing all the abominable idols from the land of Judah and Benjamin.

Sometimes it requires courage to obey the Lord, but God will supply what is needed for us to do what He asks.

What is God asking you to do that is difficult?

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Plans of Hope

Life rarely goes as planned.

My wife and I married in November of 2016 on a day filled with plans for a perfect wedding. Who could forget the anxieties and months of preparation? Sure, men have it easy with weddings. Get a tuxedo and show up, right? My wife, on the other hand, spent every aching moment leading up to that day combing over every minute detail. What color cake should we have? What song should we dance to? Should I marry this man? Wait, maybe not that one.

Our plans as a married couple included lifelong love and happiness. We never anticipated health problems for either of us—especially early on. But problems that altered my wife's lifestyle cropped up soon after we wed. Her ability to manage and maintain peace have been a constant struggle.

I’m sure Mary and Joseph had exciting plans for their lives as well. Those plans were halted when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and shared God’s plans for her—plans that differed drastically from hers. She would birth the Messiah. Mary submitted to God's will, although I imagine she did not want that enormous burden.

Being able to adapt and handle life's unpredictability is vital to our spiritual growth. Jeremiah reminds us God has plans for us—plans for our welfare and a future of hope.

Finding comfort in controlling our own life and its trajectory is easy. But it’s better for our soul if we let go of that control. If we are in tune with God's will, His plan for our life will unveil itself in ways we could never imagine.

Make it a point to align your plans with God’s plans.

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What a Drag

Swimming laps in pantyhose was a real drag.

According to my swim coach that was the point: create drag and build endurance. The intended result was speed on race day—when we swam without pantyhose. Modern runners do the same thing by adding body weight for practice runs. During competition, runners sprint through the course free of the burdensome weights.

Scripture reminds us we are not alone in our struggles. Others have experienced many of the same challenges. Hebrews chapter eleven shares a long list of those who overcame sin and adversity to run a race of purpose and obedience. Hebrews twelve reveals how their faithfulness encourages us to get ready for race day by dropping the weights of distraction and sin and focusing on the task at hand.

While our races may take different routes—and each of us will experience a variety of turns and obstacles—we are all called to lay aside the things that hold us back from running the race to completion. Some of our resources can create drag. Resources that consume our time, energy, and money. Things that if dropped would create opportunity for something more meaningful. When we shed the weight of distraction and sin, we may find that those former burdens have prepared us to dodge other obstacles along the way.

Whatever challenge you face, take courage that a great cloud of witnesses has overcome similar obstacles and crossed the finish line in victory.

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Day 3 on Day 1

I opened my life to a circle of friends and asked them to hold me accountable.

I gave my friends permission to ask how my Purpose Driven Life Bible Study was going and to pray for me along the way. When one of them asked how my study was going, I had to be honest: “I am on Day 3.”

He chuckled. “That was two weeks ago.”

He was almost correct. I had started two and a half weeks before. I was supposed to be on Day 18. So, I opened the book and read the long-awaited Day 3’s question: “What drives your life?”

On one Christmas Eve, God gave me Psalm 16. The words have consumed my thoughts since underlining their truth through my tears. God is my portion, my share, and my reward. This divine, holy, perfect, merciful, forgiving, and almighty God. He is my legacy and my truth. I do rejoice, especially since I know I have a tendency to fall short.

We all have hurdles and victories … and we do our best to survive the in-between. To stay stuck in the embarrassed-emoji mindset is to let the enemy win. We must move on. I wanted that to be the case with me, but I let so much of life’s circumstances distract me into forgetting. Thankfully, God is ready to remind me as often as my memory lapses. Even when I skipped the study, He was faithful to take me to the right path. All I needed was to surrender and wait at His feet.

My heart and flesh are going to fail, but Christ is my portion, my strength, and my hope—forever. Forever is hard to grasp for my finite human mind, but it is no less true because I do not understand it. Understanding doesn’t need to accompany trust—just surrender.

The Lord will show us the way of life, granting us the joy of His presence and the pleasures of living with Him forever.

Let God give you the gift of His perfect counsel, the provision of His steadfast love, and a share of His enduring grace.

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Hard Times' Prayer

After returning home from a family retreat, I contracted a Staph infection.

I told my parents about the pain in my leg, and the doctors confirmed Staff was the cause. Mom tried to drain the infection, which caused agony I did not want to go through. I went into the woods at the back of our house to ask God to remove the infection from my leg. God did not heal me right then, but He had a plan. A week and a half after I got the infection, I went to the hospitable for surgery. The surgeons removed a two inch deep by two inch wide section of tissue. The surgery worked.

Perhaps God did not heal me immediately because He wanted me to learn perseverance through prayer when life is rough.

Problems make life scary. Whether a family member dies, a disease enters our life, or another tragedy happens, we can know Jesus abides within us wherever we go. With God, we hold perfect peace, knowing the Lord is with us. We do not have to be troubled when storms hit because God will bring us out of the mess.

When difficult times come—and when we’re afraid of what might happen—we can go to the Father in prayer and ask Him what is going on. He will give us peace when storms hit and will help us when we face problems. The healing might not be instantaneous, but we don’t have to give up. We can keep praying, and God will answer in His perfect timing.

If you are facing hard times, pray.  

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Never too Late for Amends

A friend and I once invited a homeless man to join us for lunch.

We learned this young man had been homeless for four years. Raised by a Christian mother and atheist father, he admitted he resented his mother for forcing him to go to church and that he didn’t believe in God.

I’ve had my amends to make with my sons for lacking proper parenting skills. One proverb says if we raise our children in the way they should go, it will stick with them for a lifetime. We should raise our children with an awareness of God’s presence in our lives. Doing this also means we must understand and guide them according to their personality types. We should develop techniques for discipline and encouragement that meet each child’s temperament. I didn’t have the skills and knowledge I have now when my boys were young. Like many parents, I made mistakes that resulted in strained relationships with two of my sons.

How can we parents mend broken relationships with adult prodigal children to help them heal, trust, and turn to Jesus?

First, we must forgive them. They are struggling to find their way in the world and need guidance, not scorn.

Second, we must humble ourselves, admit our shortcomings, and ask for forgiveness. We must show sincere recognition that we failed them on some level, along with a genuine desire to respect them as fellow human beings in need of a Savior.

My experience with making amends and resolution has been life-changing. This process should be done with prayer and guidance from a wise counselor. When we prayerfully admit our wrongs and open the door for an honest conversation with our adult children, God’s blessings will flow, and we can begin the reconciliation process. To be successful, we must clean up our side of the street—not point out their sin but focus on our own—with genuine repentance.

It’s never too late to mend a broken relationship with an adult child.  

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Grounding Our Children in God's Ways

“Mom, I can’t believe just because you do, or because you tell me to. I have to find out for myself. To know why I believe. Or not.”

It was one of the boldest statements my daughter had ever made as a teen. I could picture her throwing everything her dad and I had ever taught her out the window and walking away from her Christian roots … away from God. My heart threatened to shatter into a million pieces until I heard that still, small voice inside: Trust me. I’ve got this. And He did.

Letting our children go is never easy, whether we’re teaching them to ride a bike without training wheels, allowing them to drive the car for the first time, or sending them off to a college hundreds of miles away. But we must allow them to learn for themselves, even if it comes the hard way. Just like the mama bird pushes her babies out of the nest when it’s time, our children must learn to fly.

In this post-modern society, our children are taught to question everything and not to take anything at face value—or accept what their parents believe. They are encouraged to be independent freethinkers who are not afraid to rock the proverbial boat. This used to make me fearful for the future well-being of my children and grandchildren, but no longer. God makes promises in His Word and when we dare to believe Him, He is faithful to bring those things to pass. Our job is to love and pray.

My daughter had to find her own path … to become spiritually grounded on her own terms in God’s ways and in His Word. Today, if you ask what she believes and why, she can answer with assurance because her relationship with the Lord is strong. And it’s her own—not a shadow of her parents’ relationship.

If you have children, especially small ones, let them see your authentic Christian lifestyle. They learn much more from what we do than what we say. Talk to them about the Lord without being pushy or preachy. Pray for them daily. Pray with them. And commit them to God, trusting Him to manifest His glory, grace, and presence in their lives and to draw them close to Him.

What are some ways you can help ground your children in God’s ways?

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Garden Dilemma

The lady warned my husband.

My husband had agreed to water her garden and plants while she was away for a month over Christmas holidays to visit family in another country. She told him not to leave anything out in plain sight because thieves would steal it. Since she lived in a retirement apartment complex, her admonition surprised us. But my husband took her warning to heart and made sure every time he came and went from her place he hid the hose and fixtures well in different places.

The hose disappeared first, then sprinklers, and finally fittings on a new hose. Since her home was quite a distance from our home and my husband’s job, caring for her garden became a frustrating time-consuming problem.

As I talked with my husband one day, I thought of a childhood reminder from an honest teacher. She taught us that taking someone’s ruler, pencil, or pen without permission and not returning it was stealing. This lesson has stayed with me throughout the years—especially when I walk away from someone with their pen in my handbag, only to be convicted. Then I must take the time to return what does not belong to me.

We may plead innocence and argue about the value of things, but God did not clarify the cost of any item in the commandment. I do believe God meant it when He said, “Do not steal.”

Perhaps you need to return something that does not belong to you to someone. Do it today, and be blessed by knowing you have obeyed God’s Word.

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Give God the Earthquakes

Our son lives in California on one of the most active faults.

Because of this, I decided to install an earthquake app on my cell phone. The app notifies the user of earthquakes all over the world. Since installing the app, I’ve noticed how frequently they occur.

During earthquakes, a bunch of shaking goes on. An earthquake happens when two large pieces of the earth’s crust (tectonic plates) slip past one another. This place is called a fault. But nobody, not even scientists, can predict or know for sure when a quake will happen.

Like an earthquake, much of the stuff that happens in life takes us by surprise. Some things give us happiness while others we wish had not happened. Just as an earthquake causes buildings to shake and things to break, our challenges and hurts can do the same to our lives if we have the wrong focus. I have had my faith shaken many times, but God has always been with me in that place of shaking.  

Because Peter took his eyes off of Jesus, the waves shook him, and he fell beneath them. But Jesus quieted the storm and saved Peter from his doubt.

The Spirit reminds me that God should be my focus-factor when my heartaches come and when pain attacks my core. Quakes will happen. Learning to trust God’s perfect loving plan for our lives takes time, but God will deliver us from our doubts as He did Peter.

When your world shakes and threatens to collapse, let go of controlling your own life and place your focus and trust in Christ alone.

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Push Through the Pain

My daughter labored for hours and was tired.

The kind doctor encouraged her, telling her she might feel a little pressure as she made a final push and brought her baby girl into this world. Any who have given birth know it is not a “little pressure.”

My daughter looked at me and asked, “Is it going to hurt?”

Staring straight into her beautiful tired eyes, I answered, “Yes, but it is only for a moment. Then, it will be over.”

After those comments and the next contraction, she bore down and delivered my first grandchild, learning the truth for herself. When we look at our sweet children for the first time, the acknowledgment of pain disappears and is replaced with joy and the surreal feeling of knowing we birthed life.

We all want our family and friends to be saved from painful experiences. But if we want to become the complete person God intends, we cannot sugarcoat or avoid our circumstances. We must push through. As we grow through overcoming obstacles, we find the peace and hope only God can provide.

We often look back at a hard time and realize how God refined us for the better. I left a toxic relationship. Doing so taught me to be stronger and gave me knowledge of what God wanted me to have in a husband. By crying out to God, I became dependent on Him, which increased my faith and opened the opportunity to meet my present husband who treats me with abundant respect and love.

God doesn’t promise a pain-free life. He does promise to walk with us through it and to give us the gift of eternal life. In our suffering, we flourish the most. God strengthens us, teaches us to be reliant on Him, and refines our nature into something closer to His.

The next time you are confronted with a painful situation, do not let it stop you. Step out in faith and trust God to strengthen and perfect you in the trial.

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Take Time to Rest

Down the hallway and through the church foyer, I hurried as if going to a fire. Two steps into the sanctuary, someone grabbed my arm. “Slow down. You look like you’re in attack mode.”

I was at it again. Focused on the tasks before me as the pastor’s administrative assistant. Oblivious to the people around me who needed my attention. And also unaware of my own need to stop and take a deep breath to keep myself from getting stressed out.

I’m a doer. Not a bad thing when balanced with rest, relaxation, and large doses of fun. The problem is this balance eludes me. I feel guilty when I’m not doing.

Several years ago, I found myself with a lot of time on my hands after two back-to-back surgeries. The latter involved my vision, so I couldn’t read, work on the computer, or exert myself in any way. Instead of allowing my spirit, soul, and body a time of rest and recuperation, I fought the downtime. I fretted over the slow healing process. I grumbled about the inability to do anything around the house. I even complained about missing so much time at work. Friends told me to stop worrying and to allow my body time to heal. Someone suggested I accept the downtime as a gift. My greatest need was to “rest in the Lord.” Unfortunately, I didn’t know how.

My prayer became, Teach me how to be still before You. As always, God was faithful. In those quiet, intimate moments with Him, I found exactly what I needed—acceptance, affirmation, and strength. He drew me close, watering my dry, thirsty soul and showing me my identity is not in what I do—but in who I am as His child.

Jesus is our example. He took time to get away by Himself and rest. Jesus hung out with His disciples. He shared meals with His friends. He even spent time playing games with the children.

Sometimes our misguided idea of what it takes to please God will ensnare us, putting us in bondage to a “works mentality” and stealing our peace and joy. Fortunately, He doesn’t require us to prove our worth by being constantly busy or by getting lost in the doing—while missing the rest found in simply being. Tremendous freedom resides in knowing we don’t have to earn God’s love or approval.

I’m ready to rest in the Lord. How about you?

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Waiting Well

I dreamed of being a writer.

Putting words on paper and transforming them into a story is almost life-giving for me. But I thought the day that my writing would exist anywhere else other than in my journal would never come. I never envisioned God weaving my dream into His plan for me.

Now that the wait is over, I see His goodness, but the path to get here was long. The wait was a struggle and, at times, painful. The battle to slip away and take matters into my own hands raged inside of me. After all, I thought I knew what was best for me.

Sarah, the wife of Abraham, struggled to wait well too. She wanted a son, but she never conceived. Her dreams of having a child seemed to slowly move out of reach as she aged beyond the childbearing years.

Her inpatience led her to create her own path to motherhood. Instead of trusting God in her current circumstance and waiting patiently, she took matters into her own hands. But her scheme crashed down around her and the others she included in her plan.

Thankfully, God had a grander plan. He forgave Sarah and opened her womb, and she gave birth to Isaac—a direct descendant of Jesus. Sarah did not know it at the time, but waiting for her son weaved her into the most excellent salvation story on earth.

When faced with making our dreams happen or letting God’s will reveal itself, we often struggle, especially if it appears the dream is taking forever to materialize. Sometimes, we don’t wait well. God can give us the patience we need to see the journey through. His promises are always true and trustworthy.

Trust God for His next step for you.

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Work at It Hard

Wherever Grandmammy made the bed, she made it well.

Bait worms were important to my grandmother. She fished for a hobby—but also to make a little money. Initially to pay for my mom’s piano lessons. She never used a rod-n-reel. Rather, she cut cane from the woods and fashioned it into poles. A large one for catfish and a small one for bream. Nor did she use fancy lures. She loved fat, juicy night crawlers. And why spend money buying them when she could raise them?

Her favorite spot to raise worms was in the middle of her back yard. The farmhouse was old, and the sink drain line didn’t empty into the septic tank, but directly into the yard. She covered the spot where the water held with two pieces of rusty tin—no doubt left over when my grandfather tore the barn down. The muddy mixture made a perfect bed for baitworms to multiply. When she got ready to head to “the River,” she simply took an old can, went to her created spot, lifted the tin, and scooped up the worms.

My grandmother’s hard work paid off. She didn’t have to purchase worms, and she caught myriads of fish, which she then sold to neighbors. Paul instructed early Christians to work hard at whatever they did, just as my grandmother did.

Work isn’t a curse, as some imagine. God didn’t tell Adam and Eve to work because they sinned. He told them to care for the garden long before their disobedience. Only the nature and intensity of work changed after their sin. They’d have to fight thorns and weeds. Their work would be toilsome. But work was God’s plan from the beginning.

Some imagine we’ll sit around on clouds doing nothing in heaven. I picture another garden, larger this time, where we’ll work for God throughout eternity. The work will be pleasant … enjoyable. Our work will have purpose. Perhaps we’ll manage large gardens in heaven … or on the new earth.

God wants our best from the work He assigns. Sloppy efforts don’t glorify Him. And they also speak poorly of our association with Him. Our work is “as unto the Lord.” Regardless of whom we work for, God’s our boss.

Whatever God gives you to do, do your best. Remember, you’re really working for Him.

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Courage in an Upside-Down World

Have you seen the show that left America on the edge of its seat? 

Fans of “Stranger Things” know all about The Upside Down–a nightmare version of the world we live in, complete with monsters and mayhem. But even those who’ve never watched are familiar with a place where life is the opposite of all it should be. A place where fear closes in, and there seems to be no escape. I’ve been there.

As a child, the solemn oath, “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye,” scared me to death. As an adult, that fear became reality. Without warning, I experienced a stroke in my eye—a treatment requiring a series of eye injections while fully awake. My options only included getting the needles or going blind. Enter panic.

This trapped feeling reminds me of the story in 2 Kings 6 where the prophet Elisha and his servant, Gehazi, were surrounded by the fiercest army and completely outnumbered and doomed—or so it appeared.

Upon Gehazi’s cry, “What shall we do?” Elisha replied, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” He continued, “LORD, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Heaven’s army, greater in number and fire power, was there all along. God revealed this invisible realm and changed Gehazi’s perspective. And prayer was the key. Prayer also opened my eyes. God showed me His vision would be enough—even if mine was not—and exposed panic as the enemy’s weapon. I wasn’t about to lose that battle with all the power of heaven fighting for me. 

When we feel caught in the upside down of this fallen world, sometimes the crux of the war lies within. We need to surrender to sovereignty and pray for sight. God’s presence makes a world of difference. Gehazi recognized this.

Take courage in our God of wonders and look again. Stranger things remain to be seen.

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This Is the Way

When children are small, we want to protect and guide them.

One little child who was learning to talk kept saying what sounded like ndnt. I couldn’t figure out what she was saying. I listened carefully, but still didn’t understand.

I looked at her mother, who laughed and said, “She’s saying, ‘No don’t.’ We always tell her not to touch or to get into something. We look at her and say, ‘No, don’t.’ What you hear is her version of those two words.”

We need to read God’s words carefully and prayerfully. Sometimes when we read them, we think it is okay to do certain things. We read into His word what we think or want Him to say. Instead, God says, “No, don’t.”

Many are led astray by others who declare the word of God in their own way. Taking the words out of context causes spiritual harm. Listening to someone else’s version of God’s words can even keep us out of heaven.

One day, God will stand at the door. As He searches His book of life, He will not see some names. Those who have listened to God’s words taken out of context will be surprised when they are turned away.

God says there is a way, but severe punishment awaits those who lead others astray. Seeing God’s wondrous face, but not being allowed into heaven, will be awful. God asks us to read His Word, learn about Him, and trust His words for life.

Don’t let anyone fool you into believing the wrong words. Open your Bible, ask God’s Spirit to guide you, and let His words seep deep into your heart. That way, when you reach heaven’s door, God will say, “Come in my faithful servant”—rather than “No, don’t.”

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Milieus of Purpose

If cheese, milk, raw meat, or fish is left unrefrigerated for too long, they will mold, go rancid, or rot, due to the non-conducive surroundings.

Just as we follow care instructions on food packaging, we should also follow God’s care instructions on what we let enter our minds and hearts. After all, the heart is where our intentions flow from.

God gave the Israelites sets of rules which they were required to live by to influence people around them who held different religious beliefs. Instead, they were influenced by the surrounding cultures and broke God’s’ rules.

What we choose to ingest, spiritually or physically, will flow from us and our spirit. Continuously surrounding ourselves with gossip or negativity will produce gossip and negativity from within. However, the opposite effect can occur if we surround ourselves with encouragement, friendships that speak life, and personal time in God’s Word. Our environment breeds our character.

Ruminate on what is surrounding you and filling your life-vessel. What do you want your vessel to be overflowing with?

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Are You Immunized?

One of the most unnerving trips for children—and some teens and adults—is to get routine immunizations.

The antiseptic smell, the caring but professional manner, and the cleaning swab mean the dreaded needle will soon follow. Although many put on a brave face, they want to run from that spotless room as fast as their legs will carry them. Although they fear the shot, their parents say they need it. That moment of pain prevents life-threatening illnesses.

Immunizations are important because the initial symptoms of many deadly diseases are deceptively similar to less serious problems. By the time we realize we have the disease, it may be too late.

Temptation to sin can also arise gradually, appear benign, but destroy if we don’t immunize against its threat. This progression of sin occurred in Achan’s life: “When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them” (Joshua 7:21). Achan saw, coveted, and then took.

We may also see and admire, with admiration gradually becoming much more. Thinking we deserve the happiness temptations offer, we sample them, unaware of their growing power in our lives.

Jesus’ words prompt us to immunize against such temptations by becoming so full of God’s joy, truth, and power that no room remains for temptation to take root. Sin’s lure continues to surround us, but we’re securely wrapped in God’s protection.

By keeping our immunizations up to date through daily Bible study, prayer, regular worship, friendships that hold us accountable, and service to others, we maintain our goal of good spiritual health.

Jesus’ prayer also reminds us that those influenced by our lives benefit from our preventative steps. When we give God control, people see a difference. Although this repels some, others will be drawn to the change they see and desire it for themselves. 

If you must be contagious, let it be with God’s love, not sin’s deceit.

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Faithful Heart

I’m tired of attending funerals. Tired of seeing tears. Weary of seeing broken hearts. It seems this is becoming the new normal around here.

We attended our fourth funeral in two months—one a week for three weeks and one the month prior. As we walked through the receiving line, I said to my husband, “What will she do? They’re attached at the hip. I worry about her well-being now that he’s gone.”

I felt the emotion rise in my throat. These funerals were getting to me, especially since my Prince is fighting cancer. The reality of what could be our future choked me.

Our friend was comforted because she knew the love of her life was safe in God’s arms, snuggled tightly against His heart. She comforted us for the pathway she knew we were about to walk. I couldn’t utter a word. My tight lips held back a flood of tears.

I know where our Valentine’s Day will be spent. In a hospital room at Vanderbilt. I dread it. Between facing this path for Tim—not to mention all the funerals we’ve attended—my heart aches. The thoughts of celebrating a day for hearts and love, just seems … wrong.

If ever anyone could cry out to God with such passion, David could. Even at a young age, his writings prove his sensitivity and compassion toward the Lord of All. David was gifted with a gentle heart and the ability to verbalize it to God. In his trials, frustrations, and fear, he trusted his heart to God, soaking in the strength to move ahead. God never failed him, and He never fails us. He promises He is our strength. Our fortress. Our refuge. David knew this and believed.  Honestly, I know this as well.

We know God is the strength of our hearts and that His love is unending. All we have to do is reach out and grasp hold. Imagine the healthy portion of His love that awaits us.

On this Valentine’s Day, be grateful for the love of your heart. Love your husband, your children, your parents, but more so, love the strength and portion of God. His love is pure joy. It’s there for the taking … and waiting for you. Partake.

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Peace like a River

It had been a frustrating morning.

According to my husband, I could do nothing right. Much of the stress related to his medical problems. Gene has Alzheimers, a disease doctors have diagnosed as irreversible.

One of the side effects of the illness is an inability to reason and think things through. I tried to explain why something he wanted wasn’t going to happen. He angrily accused me of not caring and of thinking only of myself. I heard those words many times whenever things did not go according to his wishes.

I needed to pick up our mail at the post office. I always keep a CD playing in the car, and as I turned the key in the ignition, a song played with words about promised peace—a peace as deep and wide as a river. I took a deep breath and allowed the words of the song to wash away the turmoil that  threatened to chase away the peace only God can give.

Perhaps you are also a caregiver, and, at times, your load seems heavier than you can carry. You may suffer with a debilitating illness. Perhaps your finances are at an all-time low, and the mortgage statement will soon arrive. Maybe your spouse is cheating on you and has told you they want a divorce. Possibly, your child has become an addict and hope is dim that they will admit their need for help.

Whatever the problem or heartache, God waits to give us His peace—a peace flowing like a tranquil river.

If you have never experienced God’s enduring peace, open your heart to salvation in Jesus Christ today.

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Find a Need and Fill It

A pastor in Michigan didn’t judge my unsaved dad because he avoided the church services.

Reverend Thomas Grassano, Sr. and his wife shared beef tacos at Dad and Mom’s home on numerous occasions. He wanted to be Dad’s friend. Dad didn’t accept Christ under that pastor’s ministry, but the seeds of kindness eventually grew into faith.

When a hospital co-worker experienced a long-term illness, I saw her getting weaker. Even after visiting doctors, she had no answer for her illness. She began to miss work. One day, I took her a chicken pot pie and drove her to the bank at her request.

Later, I said, “Mary, I’ve talked to our Emergency Room Director, and she said if we come to the ER, she will make sure a good doctor sees you. Will you go with me?”

“Yes,” she said, “I’ll go.”

“Can I pray with you that the doctors will be able to diagnose your problem?” She agreed and we prayed.

Mary was admitted to the hospital that day, and when we had a moment alone, I said, “Mary, let’s thank God for your answer.”

Recently, she had awakened at two in the morning and in pain. “I knew you were praying for me,” Mary told me.

How did she know? I hadn’t said anything. Those who are near to the kingdom know when they encounter kingdom people. And they know whom to call on for prayer.

After two days, the doctor said, “Mary, you’re going to make it.”

People around us need someone to express God’s love to them, as did the Proverbs 31 woman. Jesus was full of compassion too. Judgment wasn’t on His mind when He encountered the woman at the well. He offered her living water.

God’s Word challenges us to recognize and meet the needs of others as we can. Mary Crowley, founder of Home Interiors, Inc., had a motto for sales success: “Find a need and fill it.” God’s work is similar.

Recognize a need, and ask God for wisdom to minister to that need.

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A Pedicure Showed Me the Way

My big toe let me know I had annoyed it.

I love the Power Pump workout class at my local YMCA. But the problem began as soon as I put my foot down for the lunge track. I ignored the pain in my big toe and concentrated on the proper movements. No luck. How annoying. It had to be the pedicure I had gotten the day before. My toenails were shorter than usual, and I had probably started an ingrown toenail. I would endure this small obstacle cutting into me.

I love the lunge track because I have decent lower body strength and can usually perform well. But getting on my knees and balancing involved cramming my sore toe into the ground for support. I really wanted to leave my friend Erin, who was right next to me, in the dust.

You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? I think when Paul wrote this verse he had in mind a little healthy competition—but for the right reasons. The people he wrote to were competing about an old law and getting derailed. The old law was an obstacle to obeying the truth of Jesus. God didn’t require the Gentiles to follow the old Jewish law of circumcision. Claiming uncircumcised Gentiles weren’t part of God’s family—the obstacle—cut off some Jews in the good race they were running. They needed to fulfill the law by loving all people.

Was my possible ingrown toenail something I needed to work through? Was it an obstacle to winning my competition—an obstacle Erin knew nothing about? The truth is, Erin is much stronger than I am and more disciplined in her overall workout routine. Leaving her in the dust was a figment of my imagination. The ingrown toenail was certainly an irritant to my adequate performance, but instead of being an obstacle to my “race,” it redirected my attention to love Erin as I do myself.

Many things can cut in on us and keep us from obeying the truth. A pedicure got my attention. Though we are formed from dust, God doesn’t want us to leave others in our dust. Rather than becoming conceited and envying one another, God wants us to love our own “Erin.”

Run the good race by loving others as you do yourself.

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The Good Shepherd

The players in the production, “Godspell,” reminded the audience of how silly and foolish sheep can be.

In one scene, Jesus directed His followers to sit at His right side as they would in eternity. The performers slowly made their way across the stage on hands and knees, baaing back and forth to each other like children playing a game. Jesus abruptly stood in front of them and baaed back to get their attention. This sidesplitting scene revealed that Jesus speaks our language, whatever it is, and will get our attention.

We are “Sheep in Training (SIT).” We sit and wait on Jesus, the perfect Shepherd. He tends His sheep, placing our needs before His. We faithfully follow Him wherever He leads. The sheep and the Shepherd are eternally connected.

How else could we receive and understand God’s instructions? We know His voice. We hear Him in the crowds, in the grocery store, over the internet, and on the radio. We are in training wherever we go, whatever we see, and with whomever we meet.

The Good Shepherd calls us by name, but we must listen. There is so much He wants to teach us. We can be encouraged and rejoice that we are His chosen lambs whom He picks up and carries into His fold.

He guides us to calm waters, so we can be courageous. He restores our soul so we can be filled. He anoints our heads with oil, showing we are honored. He fights off our attackers, which gives us security. And He provides for our needs, making us feel complete.

Rest in the arms of the Good Shepherd today.

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Thanks in Troubled Times

When I pastored my first church, I was eager to meet the members.

I began a robust visitation schedule. Figuring I would meet the regular attendees at church, I started with the shut-ins. One visit was memorable.

Betty had terminal cancer, but talking with her didn’t reveal any sorrow. She was thankful and told me how people in the church were good to her, how God was such a blessing, and how blessed she was. Although her body was wasting away—and although she labored to walk across the living room to ensure her new pastor had a clear place to sit on the sofa—she was a picture of thankfulness. I went to see her thinking I would make her feel better about her sad condition but left feeling better for having visited her.

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Betty had a good understanding of Paul’s words. She was not thankful for her cancer, but in that circumstance, she perceived opportunities to give thanks. Her thankfulness during her bout with cancer amplified the glory of God. Few would have faulted her for complaining and grumbling, but her thankfulness and joy were not grounded in the shifting sands of her circumstances.

Paul encouraged the church at Thessalonica to view their present circumstances with the conviction that God was working on their behalf.

God wills for us to be thankful. By giving thanks, especially in troubled times, we give a visible expression of God's will in our lives.

Go ahead. Give thanks today.

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Knowing When to Look Up

Woman falls into mall fountain while texting.

The headline came from a news story. It might sound silly, but how many times have we missed something important because we were distracted by something else?

I had been looking forward to some rest and relaxation with my family in Georgia while we camped at a beautiful farm. One evening at dusk, my husband built a fire. I gathered around with my cell phone in one hand and my coffee in the other. As I glanced around the campsite to catch the hustle and bustle of the other campers, my eyes suddenly looked toward the open sky. It was pure perfection—possibly the best sunset I had ever seen.

My heart was overwhelmed with gratitude for such a magnificent sight, and I felt the sense of peace I searched for. If I would have fallen into my routine of checking my emails and social media, I would have missed God’s beautiful display of creativity. I spent the remaining daylight time marveling at the sky.

In the daily grind, we are so focused on getting where we need to go that we often have our nose to the ground. At the end of that time, I Nebuchadnezzar raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. Nebuchadnezzar knew there was a time to look toward heaven. When he did, his sanity was restored.

Sometimes we need to quiet the chaos of life and soak up the glory God has given us on earth. This reminds us of His greatness and removes the focus from us. No matter what the situation, we can always look up. Our time is temporary, but God’s kingdom is eternal.

When things demand too much of your attention, look up. Then place those things to the side for a moment and glorify God by marveling at something He has created.

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Learning to Float

My mom loved to float.

Whenever Mom could be in our backyard pool without any kids splashing about, she'd lie on her back and float. As a kid, I never understood the appeal of such a boring activity. In fact, learning to float on my back was a scary task. How could I expect the water to hold me up? I would try, lying back on the water, but soon my arms would flail, my feet would kick, and I’d sink below the surface. 

As an adult, I discovered the joy of floating like Mom. The times I find myself alone in a pool without splashing kids around, I float. The cares of the day lift as I rest on top of the water.

When it comes to faith, the same principle holds true. When we try to live by our own power—worrying, fretting, and planning our lives—we expend a lot of energy. We assume we are the only one who can keep bad things from happening. We are anxious and tired.

But we don’t have to waste so much energy. Instead, we can trust in God’s unfailing love as the psalmist did. We can stop running around trying to save ourselves and rest in the love of the One who saves us. When we do, we rejoice in our salvation and find peace.  

When things are good, floating is easy. Trusting is more difficult in times of tragedy, pain, and loss. Worry and anxiety rob us of energy and time as we attempt to control things we cannot. Learning to trust in God and His faithfulness gives us peace.

Ask God to help you rejoice in His faithfulness.

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Willing Hearts

Several months before Christmas, Connie lost her job.

Connie was a single mother with two children. Her husband had deserted her and did not pay support for the kids. Although Connie’s job had been a low-paying one, she managed to pay her bills. Now, with the loss of her job, she was anxious because her rent was due, and she didn’t have money to pay it.

It seemed Christmas would be a heartbreaking time for Connie and her family. In her mind, she could picture last year’s artificial tree with no gifts under it.

Two weeks before Christmas, a stranger appeared at Connie’s door. After being assured she had the correct address, the woman thrust an envelope into Connie’s hand and quickly left. Connie didn’t have an opportunity to question the woman or ask about the contents of the envelope. The woman had appeared suddenly and left the same way.

When Connie opened the envelope, she discovered $250 tucked inside—enough to pay the rent and to purchase a few inexpensive gifts for her young children.

God chooses many ways to meet people’s needs. Often, it is through touching the hearts of others to reach out. We may be asked to send a card, visit a shut-in, or give money. Perhaps we will be asked to listen to someone’s problems or to pass along a smile. The question is whether we’ll be like Connie’s caring stranger and respond to God’s leading.

As God speaks to you today, respond to His leading with a willing heart.

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Pure Joy?

“What?” I squeaked.

I went to the chiropractor assuming I had a small issue with my shoulders. I came out with x-rays that looked as if they belonged to a pro football player. I dreamed of a quick fix. Instead, I got a long and pricey haul. I wanted to scream, but I managed “Let me talk to my husband.” I slinked out of the office—shoulders sagging more than when I came in.

After months of adjustments, exercises, shoe-lifts, and other painful processes, I gained forward momentum on restoring my spinal alignment.

We all want to be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. Otherwise, how could we accomplish anything of lasting worth? We want to align with God’s plans for our life. We desire favors and blessing only. Trials and tests hinder our happy lives. Or do they?

James says to count it pure joy when trials come because they produce perseverance.

We have all met people who appear to have avoided God’s refining fire. But do we seek out these people for advice on how God provided them wisdom and perseverance through trials? Or do we seek advice from the battle-worn?

I had to decide. Do I want to be a world changer for Christ? And what about my children? Or do I want an absence of adversity? We can’t have both.

Thank goodness, God is smarter than those of us on this struggling planet are. He longs to give us our heart’s desires. My strongest desire is not only to raise children who persevere but also to raise children who demonstrate Christ’s victory in their lives.

God’s wants us to be complete in Christ, but we must do the work to align our hearts and lives with His Word and His will. Walking in perseverance, tested faith, and blessed assurance that comes from relying on God in our storms—this is the legacy I want to leave.

Face your trials with joy, and determine to leave the right kind of legacy for those you influence.

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I searched my shoulder bag with a sickening realization.

My bag had been opened by a pickpocket, and all my money was gone. I didn’t even have enough to take the bus home.

I was in another country and had just stepped off a crowded minibus. As I trudged to my destination, a mixture of anger and vulnerability filled me. Now what? The loss was more than money. A sense of insecurity and uncertainty about what would happen next almost paralyzed me. Would I really be safe here in this country? And could I actually trust God to provide for me?

It took a while to recover from this experience, but it reminded me of all the other thieves in my life: time, materialism, peace. How often was I willing to settle for second best by allowing the media to steal my time? I also realized that materialism steals my sense of contentment by making me want just one more thing.

By letting myself dwell on how I had been wronged, I lost my peace. Did I really believe God had set aside His sovereignty by allowing me to be attacked? Or did He still have a better plan despite the apparent chaos? Too often, I stop believing His plan for me is abundant life, which comes through a peace only He can give.

God’s peace only comes when I am willing to surrender my feelings about what I think is right and allow Him to direct me, despite my circumstances. I need Him to be my Good Shepherd, for only He knows the path along which He leads me. Even though I did not get my money back, I needed to forgive the one who had wronged me and trust in God’s grace and provision for me as His child.

Are you struggling with a wrong committed against you? Change your focus from your circumstances to the Good Shepherd who is watching over and caring for you.

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An Encouraging Eppie-sode

Everything was going as Eppie had planned.

Our granddaughter waited patiently by the family car. Her dad and her sister Rise were inside the house, preparing for their return trip to Vermont following a delightful Father’s Day weekend visit with the Delaware grandparents. Also safely inside was Willow, their nearly-grown golden retriever.

Suddenly, Rise shattered Eppie’s plan when she opened the front door, letting Willow gallop to freedom.

“I didn’t want the dog to come outside,” Eppie screamed angrily.

Rise’s jaw dropped as Willow pranced gleefully, but only briefly into the front yard. Eppie marched up to the carefree puppy and dragged her back to the house. Willow was too stunned to object or even eek out a slight “ruff.”

“That dog is stronger than you, Eppie. You can’t pull her by yourself.” As soon as Granddad uttered the words, he knew he had said the wrong thing to the four-year-old.

“No, she’s not. I’m stronger than she is,” erupted Eppie.

And Eppie proved it. Willow was back in the house in record time. Although her victory was won mainly by sheer tenacity and willpower, Eppie’s resolve speaks volumes. We must have the same determination and bulldog faith when the Enemy of our souls knocks on our door with sickness, fear, doubt, strife, lack, or condemnation.

Paul says God will do what He promises. Daniel opened the windows of his home and prayed unashamedly to his God despite the satrap’s evil plot against him. The three Hebrew youths refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. Josiah pledged himself to the Lord and required the Israelites to do the same. Nehemiah’s team repaired the walls of Jerusalem though surrounded by enemy ridicule and threats.  

These heroes of faith expected God to lead and protect them in the face of danger and death. We can be fully persuaded that God’s promises are “Yes” and “Amen.” 

Even though life can be ruff, as Willow discovered, choose to believe God can do whatever He promises.

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Seeds of Faith

I kept silent. Again.

I arrived at the office at 6:30 a.m. and scooted over to the breakroom for coffee to jump-start my day. As I dumped creamer into my coffee, I overheard two colleagues discussing their daughter’s clothing choices. “My parents would have never allowed me to dress the way they do these days,” said one of them. “It’s too showy for my taste.” But they did not think it caused any real harm.

Even though I believe it is important to teach young people about modesty, I did not say a word. Instead, I elected to show tolerance toward my co-worker’s dress code views.

As I returned to my desk, I realized I had silenced my Christian beliefs for the sake of tolerance. I remained quiet about something I could have spoken up about. In truth, it was not in favor of tolerance that I remained silent—but fear. Fear of offending others and of being labeled around the office as another narrow-minded Christian.

Jesus often told His disciples not to be afraid and to remain steadfast in fulfilling their mission. His words to them are also words for us. Jesus did not command us to tolerate all views. He wants us to go and make disciples of all nations—even if it means ruffling feathers along the way.

God wants us to remain faithful to His teachings and allow our true Christian light to shine forth for others to see. We are called to be His messengers. And this supposes telling others about Jesus Christ and His life changing message—a message many of our colleagues may label as offensive.

But the risk is worthwhile, knowing it allows others to see Christ in us. And when we boldly share the Christian message, seeds of faith are planted, and God brings a harvest.

Become a mirror of Christ. Be a courageous seeder of your faith.

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Two Brothers

I was not as good as I thought.

I grew up in church and had all the perfect attendance Sunday school pins down one lapel and up the other one. I made a public confession of my faith and was baptized—which was expected of all young people in the church. People knew me as a good boy. I tried to do the right things, especially on Sunday mornings—until one day on my college campus I gave my heart to the Lord. Then I saw I was a lot more like the older brother in the story Jesus told.

Luke records Jesus’ story about two sons. The younger forsook his father and his household while the older stayed home and did all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

The younger brother spent his inheritance on wild living. He lived among the pigs and even desired their food. He finally came to his senses and realized he no longer had the right to be called his father’s son.

The younger brother returned home and told his father about the sorrow he had experienced in his heart. His father, being a type of Christ, treated him as if he had never sinned. He clothed him with a beautiful robe and killed the fatted calf for a celebratory feast.

Enter the older brother. He was not excited about his brother’s return. He was angry that his father didn’t give his brother what he deserved. All the elder brother’s good works did little to change his heart. He served his father, but not out of love. He tried to earn what he felt he deserved: his inheritance.

Recognizing our sin against God is like finally seeing the obvious. There are none so far from God that live close to Him without ever really knowing Him. We can never receive anything from God until we realize we deserve nothing.

But repentance never demands mercy from the one we’ve offended. And when our hearts are right with God, we always rejoice when others repent.

Trying to work for our salvation always makes us feel entitled. Don’t try to earn what you can only receive by God’s grace.

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All Things

Opening the door to greet me, the hostess smiled, but had a puzzled look on her face.

Peering into the house, I didn’t see any guests. “Were you told to be here at 2:00?” she queried. “The event starts at 3:00,” she explained.

I was mortified. How could I, a detailed and punctual person, have gotten the time wrong? Brushing aside my embarrassment, I stepped inside. We chatted as we waited for the other guests to arrive—as well as the guest of honor, J.W., a missionary friend visiting from another continent.

The doorbell rang, and the hostess left to answer the door. I heard her greet J.W. and tell her I was already there. To my surprise, J.W. responded, “God sent her!” God had indeed sent me—very early—just to help in a way no one else could.

As J.W. approached the hostess’ door, she talked with a co-worker on the field who needed legal advice. The co-worker thought J.W. might check with an attorney while in the States. J.W. told her co-worker an attorney specializing in that very area would be at the event, but there would be many guests and she didn’t know if she’d have the opportunity to speak with the attorney privately.

God had arranged for me, that attorney, to arrive early. J.W. and I had plenty of time to discuss the issue while undisturbed.

Although the Bible tells us “all things” work together for good, we often act as if we don’t believe it. Me included. My first thought on learning I was an hour early for a social event was not that God had a purpose for having me show up then and be embarrassed. But my mistake on the event’s time was exactly what He had in mind. Although I had arrived early for the party, I was right on time for the divine appointment God had for me to help this missionary.

Rather than getting embarrassed, frustrated, or angry when seemingly negative things happen, we should readjust our perspective. Let’s remain calm and look for a God-purpose in the way events unfold.

Remember, God is in control, so all things can work together for good.

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Stop the Bellyaching

We all have complainers in our life.

Those who bellyache about their looks, job, church, the weather, the government, the price of gas, their kids, their friends … and just about anything else you can think of. Nobody enjoys the rantings of a Negative Nelly or Donald Downer.

What we fail to realize is God doesn’t like bellyaching either. When the children of Israel complained, it displeased the Lord. All the grumbling, murmuring, and complaining got His hackles up, and He rained fire into their midst.

Let’s face it. We all have adversity to some degree. Sometimes it’s health or financial issues. Sometimes the consequences of poor choices. Many times, it’s relationship or job related. Or it might be something we’d like to change about ourselves.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve griped, moaned, and complained about people, situations, and circumstances, some trivial and some major. A few situations (very few) were within my control, but most were not. All the complaining has ever gotten me was a case of frustration and a spirit of discontent. Not a good way to live.

Sometimes things can—and should—change. This is when our faith-based prayers come in. The Bible tells us not to worry about anything, but to pray about everything (Philippians 4:6). But when it gets right down to the heart of the matter, sometimes it simply is what it is. There are people and situations we can’t change. That’s when we, like the apostle Paul, need God’s grace to get us through.

The old song tells us to count our blessings one by one. I’ve found that when I do, adversity is swallowed up in God’s mercy and grace. When I fully realize how blessed I am and how much I have to be thankful for, my attitude changes, and it’s easy to stop the bellyaching.

Try counting your blessings. Stop your bellyaching, and put on a garment of praise. You’ll be glad you did. (And so will everyone else around you.)

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Providential Provision

I once stayed with a dear friend in the hospital as she watched her husband fight for each breath.

Her husband needed a liver transplant. In previous months, his health had deteriorated, and now doctors had admitted him to the ICU. She did not know if he would survive the night. The battle for healing lasted not one night, but years.

Through the journey, I observed my friend’s attitudes and actions with amazement. She played and sang worship songs continually, and she served her husband with joy, rarely leaving his bedside. In the struggle, God provided for their needs again and again. Despite the enormous medical bills and time off from work for months at a time, they always had enough financially. They witnessed God’s sufficiency firsthand.

God carried my friend and her husband through their wilderness experience, just as He did the Israelites. Years later, they found out they were expecting their first child.

God is alive and active. He performed miracles in the past, and He is still capable of meeting the needs of His followers today. Does this mean God is a genie, granting our wishes and desires every time we ask? No, but He loves us, and He loves giving us good gifts.

In valley seasons, we can remember how precious and valuable we are to God. He is Immanuel, God with us. We can lift our concerns to Him, knowing He has our best in mind. His thoughts and ways are higher than ours, and He has a plan.

When in your wilderness, trust in God’s providential provision.

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All of the French Fries

When Mark’s children were small, he took his oldest child, Caleb, to lunch at a fast food restaurant.

Without hesitation, Caleb ordered his favorite meal: chicken nuggets and French fries. Mark divided the food, giving Caleb his fries and nuggets. Then they asked God’s blessing on their meals and began to eat. Mark hadn’t ordered French fries for himself, so during the meal he asked Caleb if he could have one of his fries.

Caleb said, “No, Daddy, these are all I have.” His father assured him they could order more, but Caleb stood firm. Twice more Mark asked for one of Caleb’s French fries, but Caleb refused to comply. They finished their meal, and Mark left frieless.

Mark didn’t need his son’s permission to eat one of his fries. Mark was bigger and could have taken what he wanted. Nor were those all the French fries Caleb could have had. His father had additional money and could have ordered all the French fries Caleb wanted.

Mark asked his son for fries because he wanted Caleb’s love. He hoped Caleb would offer him a French fry because he loved him.

We can act as Caleb did. God owns all of our “French fries,” and we have them only because He gave them to us. He doesn’t need our money because there’s nothing our money can buy that He can’t provide for Himself. If He wanted our money, He is strong enough to take it, rich enough to buy more, and wise enough to make it stretch.

God wants our love. He wants us to share our last French fry because we love Him that much. And if we run out of French fries, He’ll buy us more because He loves us as no one else ever has.

God owns all the cattle, all the money, and all the French fries. Trust Him. Share with Him because you love Him. He won’t leave you hungry.

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I was on the other side of the world, looking at a fourteen-year-old orphan.

As a last resort, the young girl had traveled with an embassy representative to the village clinic to see an American doctor. She had an incurable condition. Her parents had abandoned her as a baby and taken her to an orphanage. Maybe they could not stand to see her physical struggles. Now, years later, society considered her unadoptable and a blight.

The thought struck me that our merciful God pays close attention to the disenfranchised—the orphans, the widows, the poor. The Bible describes Him as a Father to the fatherless. He loves this teenage girl too, and doesn’t agree with our cultural idea that productivity equals value.

I also realized I once lived in this condition, hopeless and condemned to death because of my sin. God loved me before I knew it and chose to rescue me by sending Jesus to die for my sins. If that were not enough, He also ratified this redemption by adopting me into His family, even though I could have done nothing to earn it.

Not only did adoption give me a new relationship with my Father, it also gave me a new standing. As His child, He views me as someone who has worth, and I don’t have the insecurity that accompanies abandonment. I have Someone to whom I can go with my problems. Someone who will also give me an eternal inheritance.

I never saw the girl again. I pray she will get the medical help she needs, and that someone will tell her in her language about the Father above who loves her. She taught me that I have gone from hopeless and unwanted to hope-filled and treasured. Never again will I be abandoned.

Thank God that in Christ you are never abandoned.

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Something Old, Something New

One of my favorite things to do while travelling is experiencing the different foods a place has to offer.

More often than not, I look for foods not readily available in my country. Recently, I visited Indonesia, where I was introduced to coconut water from fresh young coconuts (picked from the tree on consumption) and jackfruit, which has a chicken-like texture. The fresh coconut water tastes nothing like the packaged versions found in supermarkets. My radiant skin can attest to this. And I was intrigued by the creative dishes made from jackfruit: jackfruit curry and jackfruit tacos.

Embarking on any kind of change is challenging, especially if you’re doing it alone. God wants to help us through this process. He wants to enter our hearts and assist us in positively transforming different areas of our lives.

If I was not open to trying new things, I might not have experienced the copious benefits of fresh coconut water or scrumptious jackfruit. So too, if I am not open to the Holy Spirit working in my heart and transforming me, I might still be where I was a few years ago—mentally, physically, and spiritually.

God wants us to let go of anything that holds us back from personal transformation. With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can open ourselves to new experiences and opportunities.

Try something new. A new exercise, food, hobby, social group, or anything positive that interests you. Then, write down how you felt after trying it.

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The Ordinary Sparrow

Sparrows are ordinary.

I watched as a little brown bird perched on the fence in my yard, searching the ground below for a tidbit of food. The wings spread as the bird jumped into the grass to retrieve dinner. Songs filled the air as a variety of birds tweeted their morning conversations to each other. Brilliant red cardinals flew with their breakfast from the bird feeder to the trees. Purple finches pecked away at seeds, and the tiny chickadees discarded pieces to the ground after perusing the selections and choosing what suited them.

The sparrows in the yard were abundant. But they didn’t stand out like the cardinals or finches. Nor were they cute and fluffy like the chickadees.

I sometimes feel like the sparrow in the human world. Nothing earthshaking about my life. I can’t proclaim achievements that would reduce human suffering. No great inventions that would aid technology or medical advances fill my resume. I blend in with the population like the little brown sparrow does in the aviary world.

But God reminded me of what He said about sparrows. Not one of them falls to the ground without the heavenly Father knowing about it. The sparrows have value too.

Ordinary has a place in the world. Without the ordinary sparrow, there would be a missing piece in the songs the birds sing every day. The thousands of insects the sparrows eat would be rampant if that plain brown bird didn’t exist.

Without ordinary people, there would also be a hole in the world. The missing pieces of the people puzzle would be scattered if ordinary people didn’t fill the population.

If you feel ordinary, remember our extraordinary God loves ordinary. Just like the sparrow, we are as special to Him as the cardinals.

Tell someone how special they are.

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Seeking Peaceful Streams

As a child, I scared easily.

In front of my bedroom closet hung heavy chenille blue drapes with a black jacquard pattern. The drapes reflected in my dresser mirror when I lay in bed. If I awoke at night, my eyes caught the shadows of the drapes, making me think a monster was leaping out. I shrieked. I felt calmer once my parents stood next to me and assured me everything was fine.

One worried day, I turned to Psalm 23. When I got to verse two, I cried, “Lord, if you are leading me to peaceful streams, how do I get there?” My occupied life prevented me from seeking God’s place of rest. Once I admitted this, God reminded me He was steering me—but I remained somewhere other than there.

Letting go of fretful concerns is difficult. Fear entered my mind. I doubted my trust in God until I read Psalm 23. The psalmist illustrates God’s benefits—benefits absent in my own journey.

God guides along right paths and renews strength while anxiety makes us feel weak. The mind plays what-if scenarios, causing fearful thoughts. To follow God’s lead to peaceful streams takes renewed strength and assurance. We are not to fear our enemies because God is beside us to protect and comfort, even when we are led through dark valleys. God anoints, blesses, and pursues us with unfailing love.

Dark valleys trigger our imagination to believe all kinds of strange appearances, create shadows of evil, and give feelings of impending death. The valley appears vast and desolate without end. Our personal ghosts materialize when we walk through a dark valley alone.

God assures us everything is fine when He leads us to our peaceful stream. He is our shepherd and we are his sheep. We can trust Him to watch over us. He guides us along right paths, renews our strength, protects us, comforts us, and walks closely with us. He is leading us to rest beside peaceful streams in the presence of our enemies.

When you feel anxious and restless, let God lead you to a place of peace. 

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The Voice of God

I was working from home when a thunderstorm moved in from the west.

Thunder rumbled low and ominous against the backdrop of the noonday sun. As I pondered the storm’s timeline and path, I realized the birds had gone home to tuck themselves in before the storm. Ten minutes earlier, my yard was chock-full of cardinals, sparrows, finches, and woodpeckers, scolding, squawking, and vying for a position on the feeder’s perches. An eerie quiet replaced their chatter, and I fought a sudden urge to abandon the sunroom for the safety of the main house.

I was both fascinated and in dread of the approaching storm, but curiosity won out, and I stayed in the sunroom keeping watch to the west. The glow of distant lightning erupted into brilliant streaks of pure energy as the storm neared. The thunder was the kind that rumbled through my bones and made the windows vibrate long and hard. God was speaking.

That first clap of thunder took me back to my childhood when storms terrified me. To my child’s mind, they inevitably occurred at night when long shadows already lurked in the corners of my bedroom. I must have been terror-stricken during one storm because my mother sat on the edge of my bed, stroked my hair, and reminded me thunder was the voice of God.

Somewhere in my transition to adulthood, I lost the childhood wonder that I could hear God’s voice, and the thunder became just thunder again. But like Job, on that day I remembered how big God is. I remembered the thundering sound of His voice, and that His ways are past finding out. I remembered He is the Creator, and I am the created.

Sometimes, we need to let go of our “adult” understanding of God and see Him through the eyes of a child. When we do, we can take His Word seriously, believe it, and let it change us. We can embrace a God who is beyond our understanding.

When we take our place as the created—formed by an all-knowing, all-powerful Creator—we will find ourselves upheld, protected, and surrounded by a God who defies human understanding and reason.

Look to God as your safe place.

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In the Name of Jesus

Who was the young man approaching my car in the parking lot of a business?

I was somewhat wary of him as he apologized for bothering me. Obviously embarrassed, he asked to use my cell phone. “I’ve lost my billfold and I need to phone my mother.” I hesitated, thinking it could be a scam. But eventually I handed him my phone. He stood beside my car and dialed a number. “Mom, I still can’t find my billfold. I found thirty cents in my car, and I’m going to buy gas with that to get home.”

As he thanked me for the use of my phone, the young man again apologized for disturbing me. As he turned to walk away, I pulled a five dollar bill from my purse and offered it to him, saying, “I give this in the name of Jesus.”

Surprised, because he hadn’t asked for money, he asked, “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” I replied. And once again I stated, “I give this in the name of Jesus.”

It was a simple way of witnessing, but I realized God could use my words to point the young man to Jesus, or if he was a Christian, to encourage him to grow in his faith. Some may believe I was naïve in giving the man five dollars, but I felt the leading of the Holy Spirit and followed.

Christians witness through the words and the actions we say and display. A smile or a friendly greeting may be what someone needs to encourage them when they’re having a bad day.

Wearing clothing and jewelry with Christian messages and placing bumper stickers on our cars can be good witnesses—but only if our words and actions correspond with them.

What do your words and actions tell others about you?

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The Power of Words

I was in shock as I heard the negative words that rolled out of my mouth.

I had awoken with a deep sense of failure. I felt as if I was achieving nothing. I had been out of work for five months, and our finances were tight. We were missing payments, and my job hunt looked bleak. Suddenly, I stopped talking in the midst of my negativity and heard a quiet reminder telling me, “You will have what you say.”

I realized the words I was speaking would only make things worse. I needed to seize the barrage of emotions that flooded my soul. And the way to do that was to change my tone and speak words of hope rather than death.

We underrate the power of our words, often thinking they are just words—even after realizing the old saying, “Sticks and stone may break my bones but words cannot hurt me” is false. We say all kinds of things, some in jest but most in the name of how we’re feeling emotionally at the moment. We declare them loud and clear and establish them in our lives.

Our words, not just God’s, are living and powerful. Our words, too, carry the power to create. We know how good it feels when someone says a kind word to us. Those words carry energy to undo the adverse effects we experience when we receive harsh or unkind words. When words leave our lips, they carry the power to affect us, our life, those around us, and our world.

Ask God to help you take more care with your words and to help you choose them wisely so you can build up rather than tear down. Then you can see your life blossom into what God has already purposed for you.

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Our Powerful Hands and Words

Her hands reminded me of the way I can use my tongue.

During one Wednesday night service, our worship leader sat down in front of me and rested her hands on the top of the pew. While looking at her hands, I was reminded of this verse, which talks about the way we use our tongues. It is the same with the tongue. It is a small part of the body, but it brags about great things. A big forest fire can be started with only a little flame.

Not only can we use our tongues to spread evil, but we can also use our hands to spread wickedness. We can use our hands to make hateful hand gestures, write an unflattering email, or cause physical harm to someone. Because of our sinful nature, we may have hurt someone through the use of our hands. Malicious words—whether or not they are written or spoken and meant to harm, such as gossiping—can hurt just as destructively as a fire can destroy a forest. Having our fingers used in the wrong way can ruin someone’s life.

As Christians, we should use our tongues and hands to bless others and to be a positive influence on them. Our worship leader uses her hands to play beautiful music, which is a blessing to our church. 

Use your hands and tongue to bless others.

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Angelic GPS

After a nice dinner with friends, I got into my 1990 Volkswagen Vanagon and headed home—20 miles away.

It had just turned dark, and I noticed the battery light on the dash shining brightly. Hoping it would go off, I hurried home. The area was unfamiliar to me, so I turned on the GPS. I wanted to take the freeway to get home as quickly as possible, but the GPS gave me a route on secondary streets. I deviated and turned up a street I recognized as a freeway entrance, but could not find the on ramp. The GPS rerouted me back on secondary streets. Twice I tried to find the freeway entrance, but with no luck.

By the time I was halfway home, I decided to follow the GPS. The battery light stayed on, and I wondered if the alternator was dying. I prayed for the Lord to get me home safely.

The engine died when I stopped for the stop sign at a dark intersection close to my driveway. I could not restart it, and the lights went out. One house away, a crew worked on power lines. They had lights flashing and safety cones all along the street, causing traffic to slow and make a detour.

Roadside service came in thirty minutes when a driver showed up and pushed my car to the side of the road. By then, the power crew had finished their work, leaving the street dark while I was safely parked on the side. The next day, the mechanic confirmed the alternator was kaput.

As the wise king wrote, God directs our courses. Although the GPS normally uses the freeway as the shortest travel route, this time it kept me on secondary roads where I would be safer had the car died on the way home. I realized afterward I made it home without any stops at lights or signs. I lived through a miracle where God guided my steps. 

Let God guide the course of your life.

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Lest We Forget

The greeting was unusual and read, Lest We Forget.

We usually reserve the saying for remembering military people who have served their country during war and peace time. But this sender had something else in mind.

Three images accompanied the greeting. The first was Mary and Joseph in a stable with the Christ child. Underneath was written, Born of a woman. The second displayed the crucifixion with a caption that read, Killed by man. The final image showed Jesus’ empty tomb and featured the words, Raised by God. The images were the story of the Lord Jesus in a nutshell.

Between Easter and Christmas, we tend to forget the story as daily responsibilities swim about us. But God, the Father, does not want us to set Jesus aside and bring Him out only on special holidays. He wants us to remember Him every day.

Christianity is a day-to-day, minute-by-minute walk with Jesus as our Saviour. Religion brings Jesus to the fore only during holidays. Faith puts Jesus in the forefront of our lives forever.

If you have not committed your life to following Jesus every day, do it today without delay. Tomorrow may be too late.

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The Wringer and the Winepress

I went home and cried daily.

I missed my old manager who said I was a blessing to her. Since she had left, the new manager seemed to put a target on my back. I prayed and asked God for deliverance. I told Him I was going into the VP’s office and complain or just walk out: fight or flight.

But I heard God say, “There’s another option.”

I froze and asked, ”What?”

He said, “ Wait on Me to work in this. Be still and know I am God. I am sovereign over every situation and always with you. I am your shield, strong tower, and refuge. For this light affliction, there is a greater weight of glory. Can you hang on for that and another transformation of your mind and soul?”

I was studying John 11 and suddenly saw my situation in a different light. Sometimes it’s hard to see God’s reasons for our suffering (the winepress). This was true for Martha and Mary. They couldn’t understand why Jesus allowed their brother to die. Even after Jesus tried to comfort them, Martha admonished Him for not doing what she wanted or expected.

God taught me suffering can also come as a consequence for how we have behaved toward others (the wringer). I acted in anger, causing harm and bringing human wrath upon me. God desires loving relationships.

In the midst of my rage over my work persecution, I heard the Lord say, “Forgive them. I do not revile those who revile me.”

I felt the Lord’s presence as I forgave and received release. The next day, I went to work with a song in my heart and a smile on my face. The Lord had transformed me, and the managers noticed.

In the end, God taught me to forgive, which created a better witness than if I had never gone through any of this hell on earth. He used my suffering to hone my character and accomplish His purposes.

Don’t end up in the devil’s wringer. Hold on while you are in the Lord’s winepress.

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Short Falling

After helping someone who appears ungrateful, I become offended.

Even though my intention in helping starts out well, when the response of the recipient is as though I owed them something, I question the recipient’s lack of gratitude. In truth, I am learning that I should question my attitude. Did I really help to demonstrate the love of Jesus? Did I give because I wanted to feel good about myself?

Whenever “I” gets in the way, despite the fact that giving took place, I have fallen short of the glory of God. The closer I draw to the Lord, the more I realize how much I need His transforming power, particularly with humility. My journey toward humility is unending. The closer I think I am to reaching it, the more I realize how far away I am.

This is where grace comes in. All have fallen short of God’s glory and will continue to do so. Even in the meditation about the fall, we continue to fall. When we meditate on our falls, failures, and sins, we subconsciously condemn ourselves, forgetting there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The difference between a short fall and a long one is Jesus. Dependence upon Jesus’ finished work on the cross causes us to look up, get up, and go boldly before the throne of grace to find help and get going again. This shortens our down time.

But when we fall and are independent, we spend our time in limbo looking back, thinking we have overcome our area of failure. What a mess I’ve made. Will I ever get it right? We may even decide to stay down for a while and settle into failure. Satan loves this.

When you fall, don’t stay down for the count. Look up. Your help comes from the Lord. Get going again in the power of the Holy Spirit. Make your fall a short fall.

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The Rock That Doesn't Roll

Rocks—big rocks—keep falling, but not from space.

Rather, they cascade from mountains. Huge rocks will not stop plummeting onto Interstate 40 in North Carolina. These incidents have a lengthy history. In the mid-80s, a major rock slide closed two tunnels. In July 1997, two people were injured when their vehicle ran into a boulder. In 2009, a rock slide—with some rocks the size of a garage—occurred outside Asheville, North Carolina. In 2019, rocks fell again, closing the east and west lanes of the interstate.

Some rocks are immovable—like the Rock of Gibraltar, located on the Iberian Peninsula on the southwestern tip of Europe in the British territory of Gibraltar. The rock is a massive stone full of limestone, standing nearly 1,400 feet tall with a circumference of about ten miles. Talk about an immovable rock.

We tend to idolize people who appear to have the faith of Gibraltar. Their faith seems immovable. But we don’t know where they have been or what trials they have weathered.

From Streams in the Desert, L.B. Cowman wrote: “When you see a spiritual giant, think of the road over which he has traveled, not the sunny lane where wildflowers ever bloom, but a steep, rocky narrow pathway where the blasts of hell will almost blow you off your feet! God of the sun and rain, Thou who dost measure the weight of wind, fit us for stress and strain!”

Problems may fall all around us, if not on top of us. We may even experience panic attacks as a result. Our financial debts may appear higher than any mountain, dysfunctional relationships may emotionally crush us, or stress at work may close in on us, but God is the Rock who won’t ever move or disappoint us.

As you begin your day, why not write down this verse as a promise from God for when the pulverizing circumstances come? He is the rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright He is!

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The Greatest Freedom

“What can I do? I’m a senior citizen.”

Frank and Jerry are two senior citizens in my small town of four hundred people who have dedicated themselves to hanging American flags on patriotic holidays at several locations along the main street of Sandborn. I notice their efforts and appreciate their faithfulness. They have chosen this way to show their thankfulness for the freedom of our beautiful land.

Throughout the history of the United States, men and women have shown their love of country by serving in different ways. Many have given their lives to secure and preserve our freedom. Loved ones have watched family members march away to war, never to see them again. We are thankful for the sacrifices made for our freedom.

Christians enjoy an additional freedom and are doubly blessed with the freedom Jesus Christ offers. He suffered, gave his life, and rose again so we might have spiritual freedom. He offers freedom from the power of sin and freedom for a fulfilling and eternal life with Him.

On this July celebration, let’s pause amid the parades and cookouts to remember the sacrifices others have made throughout America’s history. Let’s also remember Jesus Christ, who gives the greatest freedom—one that can never be taken away.

If you are in good health, think of something you can do to help celebrate freedom.

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Different Strokes for Different Folks

When in my twenties, I realized eating smaller meals every four hours worked well for me.

I was also a frequent gym patron. A colleague noticed my eating habits and followed suit. Because her body weight was greater than mine, the smaller meals did not nourish her body enough. Her attempt at mimicking my dietary lifestyle (she did not notice my in-between snacking, daily water consumption, and gym routine) resulted in her getting ill frequently. She finally visited her doctor, who told her that her diet might not be best suited for her.

He who eats meat, eats it to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. This verse speaks about Christianity and our conscience. Even first-century Christians struggled with whether or not to be vegetarian. Every Christian does not follow Christ the same way. The many denominations are proof.

God wants us to be considerate in our decision-making and to do it to glorify Him. Even in our food choices. While being mindful of what we put into our bodies, we should also respect others’ choices.

Applying divine principles to real-life choices and situations can be challenging, especially when we compare ourselves to others—and also when many options surround us.

Feeling inspired by someone else’s healthy way of life is wonderful—and even better if we feel motivated to live healthier too. But it is imperative to notice how our bodies react to these changes and to seek godly guidance to do what is best for our bodies. Not comparing ourselves to others’ health journeys is also important.

If you need to make a healthy lifestyle change, trust God for wisdom and strength to do so.

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Etch a Sketch Life

The sunrise was beautiful.

Peeking out the window, I could still see the night’s crescent moon and the horizon streaked orange and pink—a sky softly awakened by the hand of God into the dawn of a new day. The canvas of the master painter reminds me of an Etch a Sketch. Each new day, the canvas is cleared for a new design—no two ever the same.

The knobs of the Etch a Sketch are the artist’s brushes. As Solomon suggests, God draws His best for our life, but we often wiggle one knob or both, unable to resist the desire to rush things or make our own way. God’s hand on the knobs orders a perfect plan, drawing flawlessly. However, when the hand of our free will turns the other, the masterpiece is distorted and conflicted.

Slowly, and sometimes painfully, we get a glimpse of the mess on our life’s screen and recognize our hands in it. We come to the Lord with weary but repentant hearts, once more allowing Him to shake the screen, erase the messy canvas, and create an opportunity for a new work of His art on our hearts.

Ask God what you need to take your hand off of today.

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The Wedding Dress

The plans for my wedding went flawlessly—well, except for one thing.

I once had a dream about myself in a wedding dress. A dress that was beautiful, strapless, and sparkly, and had a curvy sweetheart neckline. One year later, I got engaged and looked for that dress.

The first bridal shop had a similar one, but they could only sell me the sample dress that a million other brides-to-be had tried on. They also wouldn’t budge on the $1,300 price tag. The dress was dirty, worn out, and frayed, but they still wanted me to pay full price. I refused.  

After much research, I found an online site with the same dress (used) for $700 … except when I received the dress—weeks before my wedding—I realized it wasn’t the same at all. The dressmaker had used polyester instead of satin, and the color was gold instead of white. I couldn’t wear it.

I returned the dress and rushed to the bridal shop, begging them to sell me the sample dress. “We can do that, but we’ll have to have it cleaned and tailored,” the clerk warned, “and that will cost extra.”

“How much extra?” I asked. A whopping $500. With taxes and rush delivery fees, this filthy, tattered dress cost nearly $2,000. I’d run out of time and options, so I prayed, “Lord, I felt sure this was my dream dress. Why has everything gone wrong?” That’s when He showed me this wedding dress was a picture of His love for me.

God once had a dream of me: beautiful, sparkling, brand new. When He found me, I was worn out, dirty, and frayed. My soul needed cleaning and my tattered heart repairing. I wasn’t worth the price it would cost to do that, but He saw the beauty that could be—the beauty of something He dearly loved—and He paid full price for me with the blood of His only Son.

Ask God to make each day new for you until you are completely ready to be His bride.

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Healthy Living

“Lose ten, twenty, or fifty pounds if you follow the plan.”

Every day, commercials promise incredible health results. However, positive results are possible only if we follow the suggested protocol.

After working through a recent health issue, a friend suggested a diet she thought might help. The information was two pages long: the “No” list and the “Yes” list. Wow, I thought to myself, this is great. I like the simplicity of having someone lay out what is good and what is bad. Oh, but wait a minute. What’s that on the “No” list? Pasta, rice, bananas, peanuts? But, I LOVE peanut butter. And on the “Yes” list? Hemp seeds, psyllium …

Isn’t it funny how we want good results without having to make tough choices? When God created human beings, He designed within us the ability to choose between right (the “yes” list) and wrong (the “no” list). He calls it free will.

My friend wanted her diet plan to make me feel better physically. God’s precepts help me thrive both in this world with others and in my relationship with Him. I've found some of God's principles are easier to follow than others. Yes, He has given me a choice, but if I decide I don’t want to follow His plan, then the results will likely cause pain and suffering for me or someone else.

The philosophy of the world promises we can have things our way. Such as when ordering a hamburger. I don’t want to think the consequences of my choices are only personal and affect no one but me. The “me generation” is nothing new and began in the Garden of Eden.

Free will is both beautiful and daunting. Thank God, Jesus chose well. He gave everything for me, for us—right up to the cross.

Ask God to give you a mind for healthy living.

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Persevering Through Disappointment

Something disappointed me recently, and I asked God to protect my heart … to not let it discourage me.

He did protect my heart. I fell asleep with that prayer on my lips, and I woke up lighter of heart and genuinely carefree. I felt the victory of not succumbing to disappointment’s strong sway. The new and welcomed lightness made me laugh aloud, and I said to myself, “It is like there is a shield around me, and He is protecting my heart. I feel it! I shouldn’t feel this good after experiencing that kind of rejection, but I do feel good. I know this is the Lord meeting my need, encouraging me as only He can.”

How grateful I was for this answer to prayer. In the past, I had not always won this battle over disappointment, but God was teaching me through each experience of disappointment, discouragement, and rejection that I should not let it stop me. I shouldn’t let these negative circumstances bring defeat.

With each encounter, I have learned a little more, and I certainly know it isn’t wise to let disappointment become a dark cloud that follows me around like a repeating message in my mind or a broken record skipping over the same spot.

The important issue with disappointment is not to let it stop us but rather to glory in it as Paul writes: And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Disappointment can bruise our egos … make us doubt we are capable.

Good can come out of disappointment when we look inside, accept the disappointment, and find the will to go on anyway. It also helps to realize disappointment happens to all of us. Rising above disappointment is a valuable life lesson we all learn at one time or another.

Choosing to overcome disappointment builds strong character and strong hearts, bringing a healthy balance in our lives that will help us cope with all that life holds.

When disappointment knocks you down, let perseverance pick you up.

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Heritage Remembered

They needed a refresher.

My wife and I arrived at the party hall to celebrate a family member’s golden wedding anniversary. The place was decked in gold helium balloons, sparkly gold-glittered flowers in golden vases, and gold-lined tablecloths.

Our adult children attended too. Considering their meager five years of marriage experience, it made sense in a funny way that our children would be curious about how fifty years of marriage looked.

Some of the septuagenarians attending the celebration stopped by our table for a chat. We hadn’t seen many of them in a while. We talked about the old days. They rattled off the names of family members, past and present. Our family elders believed it was important to know and share one’s heritage.

Not recognizing most of the names, our children wanted to hear more about their ancestors. In a way, they had forgotten who they were and where they had come from. We briefly revisited the personal stories of some of our relatives at the party—and also talked about their great-grandparents, whom they had never met. This strengthened their sense of identity.

This look-back reminded me of the Israelites’ return from Babylon after seventy years of captivity. When they returned to their homeland, the Israelites needed, as our children did, a refresher on who they were. Reflecting on their heritage, the Israelites rediscovered their identity as God’s chosen people.

As children of God, reflecting upon our Christian heritage often—and with gratitude—is important. We should never forget who we are and what it means to belong to God’s family. Being a member of His spiritual household affords us many gifts and a promise of eternal life. God will keep His promise to His family, as He kept His promise to the Israelites.

Invite someone to be part of Jesus Christ’s family today.

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He followed me home from school every day, but I never knew it.

When I was in the first grade and only six years old, the walk from school to my grandparents' house took about thirty minutes. Walking to and from school during this era wasn’t unusual. Nevertheless, I felt very grown up. What I didn’t know was my grandfather followed me at a reasonable distance to make sure I arrived home safely. It wasn’t until many years later that my mother told me this sweet story.

Today, when I close my eyes, I can see my tall Papa and his Fedora straw hat and fragrant pipe that I loved smelling when he was around. Thinking about him hiding behind trees, trying not to be seen by this six-year-old, makes me smile.

At the time, I would not have been happy knowing I was considered too young to make the walk by myself. Looking back, however, I see the wisdom exhibited by my loving grandfather to keep an eye on his grandchild. I also recognize the deep compassion he showed, not wanting to take away my sense of independence, while at the same time keeping me safe.

Many times throughout my life, my heavenly “Papa” has also been present when I didn’t know it. The times are plentiful when I chose reckless over reasonable, pride over prudence, and independence over God’s direction. Still, He never left me alone.

Seeing the bigger picture today brings tears to my eyes. Knowing the Lord gives me free will to learn and mature in my faith walk, while making sure I get home safely, is a tender reality I cherish.

God knows the way home: Jesus. Take time to thank your “Papa” God.

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God Loves Tattoos

A physical scar. Impressions branded on our souls.

Some folks live with them every day. One is visible on the outside. One is felt emotionally on the inside. Some memories we would like to forget, such as military personnel who remove their tattoos.

Ann Voskamp shares a flashback about a tragic accident involving her sister: “Memory’s surge burns deep. That staining of her blood scorches me, but less than the blister of seeing her uncovered, lying there. She had only toddled into the farm lane, wandering after a cat, and I can see the delivery truck driver sitting at the kitchen table, his head in his hands, and I remember how he sobbed that he had never seen her. But I still see her, and I cannot forget. Her body, fragile and small, crushed by a truck’s load in our farmyard, blood soaking into the thirsty, track-beaten earth.”

My scar is eight inches long and runs down my chest. My open heart surgery reminder. That operation occurred two months before I walked my daughter down the aisle. Voskamp provides hope after struggling: “That cross on my wrist where I used to self-harm, that cross keeps relentlessly suturing me together.” 

Jesus has scars from His crucifixion, and He cares about the marks left on our souls. Consider what He did to a skeptical man: “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God’” (John 20:27-28 NIV).

One day a man, the God-man, will come to our rescue. When Jesus the warrior comes, He will reveal another mark. An eternal tattoo, if you will. “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war” (Revelation 19:11 NIV).

Don’t let what you are going through damper the hope of your future promise from the warrior on the horse.

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How Can We Question God?

On a Saturday morning, I heard the space shuttle had blown up on re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. A sad day for the United States.

The good news is God created an atmosphere we cannot see, feel, or touch, allowing us to exist. That made me think about how wonderful and amazing God’s creation is. The sun, which is ninety-three million miles away from the earth, heats us. The orbit around the sun is precisely at the right distance from the sun. If we were any further away, our high temperature might be twenty degrees below zero. If we were any closer to the sun, our low temperature might be ninety degrees. 

When I marvel at God’s creation, I wonder how people can doubt that God exists. I like to talk to people on the streets about Jesus. I also like to point out the facts about how incredible God’s creation is and also share the evidence that these things could not have happened by accident. When I explain the facts, I wonder how anyone can doubt God’s existence.

God is real. His Son came to die for our sins, so we can spend eternity with him. All we have to do is ask Him into our hearts.

Turn to God and accept His free gift of salvation through His Son, Jesus. 

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Texting from Heaven

“Mom, is there texting in heaven?” my seven-year old daughter asked as she munched on a snack.

Snack time tends to present the wildest questions. I wondered if she asked because I had recently been very sick. Was she thinking about mommy being in heaven? Or was this another one of those thoughts that enters her wild imagination? 

“No, there’s no texting in heaven,” I told her. “But what if there were?”

“Jesus could text to me here on earth,” she exclaimed.

Wouldn’t that be great? We could read His words, typed by His own fingers. We could even scroll back through past messages and read them over again. But we don’t need texting for that. He has already given us a beautiful love letter, composed by His own breath.

God didn’t wait for us to get to heaven to tell us how much He loves us. He breathed Scripture, and it is useful for many things—most importantly for conveying His love to us. Something we don’t have to guess about, but can read about and experience.

God’s breath spoke words of love so they would be written down forever. Because they were, we can hold His love letter in our hands even today. Sometimes, we keep love notes for generations. The Bible is God’s love letter to us—kept safely for generations because He loves us that much.

When you need reassurance of God’s love, open His love letter.

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Trembling at God's Word

Kids often do what they are told not to do just because they are told not to.

A father bought a new phone after his son damaged the one he owned. He brought the phone home, placed it on the table in the presence of his son, and instructed him not to touch it. The boy picked up the phone and asked his father if he meant he wasn’t supposed to touch it.

When angels rushed Lot and his family out of Sodom because of the city’s impending destruction, the angel told them not to look back. Lot’s wife, however, looked back and turned into a pillar of salt. While the Bible doesn’t tell us why she looked back, her actions aren’t surprising. For some reason, we tend to do what we shouldn’t.

Although God saved Lot from the horrible tragedy, Lot’s wife did not fully obey the word of God’s angel. She obeyed when they were asked to leave Sodom, but not when it came to looking back. Her reason trumped God’s command.

We often find ourselves in situations where we are saved from one thing, but never completely get out of that situation because we don’t fully obey God. While many reasons can divert our attention to other things, our disobedience results from not trembling at God’s Word.

Trembling at God’s Word means putting it above every desire, word, thing, and person. As we trust God to work in our lives, we will avoid certain wrong turns and have more faith.

Let God’s Word cause you to tremble so much that you won’t disobey.

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What the Blind Man Saw

Subway commuters bustled on a steamy summer day in Buenos Aires, but one man stood out among the thousands in the jostling crowd.

Eyes half open, head tipped back slightly and carrying a white cane, he called out above the noise, “El vive!” (He’s alive!) His outstretched hand offered a full-color leaflet to people who approached him. His smile and his voice caught my attention. Although I did not yet know Spanish, I made my way over to him and took a tract.

That evening a friend translated the story of how Jesus died on a cross and came back to life three days later to save us from our sins. Clearly this blind man could see and share truth. Could I? I wanted to try. Experienced tract-givers urged me to be cheerful and confident that I was offering something of great value.

Did you get one of these? Here you go! Here’s something to read later! That’s all I needed to say. In a crowded area, I didn’t have to speak at all—I could just face the oncoming foot traffic, extend a tract, and smile.

These days, our family keeps an assortment of tracts in a basket by the front door for repairmen and delivery people. We insert tracts with bill payments. When travelling, we leave a generous tip inside a tract for our waitress or hotel housekeeper and also offer tracts to toll booth attendants when driving across country. Tracts in the car are handy when out and about locally.

Jesus said, “You will be my witnesses.” An easy way to start is simply handing someone a thought-provoking gospel tract. I wonder what would happen if we all begin doing this? Imagine how many would read God’s truth each day. A blind man clearly saw this amazing opportunity to witness.

What can you do to help spread the good news of God’s love?

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The Courageous Lifesaver

Tom sacrificed his life to save others.

I didn’t know Tom personally. When I was in ninth grade, he was the quarterback for our high school football team. Later, he used his leadership skills to save many lives. He sacrificed his life on September 11, 2001, when he kept a plane from destroying the United States Capitol. I didn’t know if Tom was a Christian. Sadly, if he didn’t know Jesus, I won’t see him in heaven.

Two thousand years ago, a man named Jesus sacrificed His life to save people from their sins. He surrendered Himself so that we can have eternal life.

As Christians, we should will to leave our comfort zones and share the gospel with unbelievers. Unfortunately, we often don’t make the sacrifices it takes to win the lost.

I hand out one trac a day on my commute to work, and I let the words on the trac do the speaking for me. Jesus sacrificed His life for us. We should be willing to make a small sacrifice for Him.

Think of one thing you can do daily to share God’s love with others.

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God of All Comfort

I received an incomprehensible phone call from my doctor—the call I had feared and dreaded.

The details of the cancerous tumor in my body reverberated in my ears as I hung up the phone. I was alone, or at least that was my perception. In my quiet, empty house, I lay across my bed and cried. As tears cascaded down my cheeks, I wailed, “Jesus, I know You are here with me, but I could really use a person right now! I want someone to hug me and pray with me.”

Within seconds, my phone rang. This time the call was from a dear friend who said, “Hi, Linda! I’m in my car in your driveway. Could I come in and pray with you?”

When I opened my front door, she enveloped me in a huge hug, then sat on my couch and prayed. Before I ever prayed my lonely, desperate prayer for comfort, God had urged my friend to comfort me.

One of the beautiful results of suffering hardship is experiencing God’s comfort. Then He teaches us how to be His hands and feet in others’ lives after He sends His comfort during our times of distress. No greater comfort comes than in knowing the God of the universe hears our prayers and wants to comfort us.

We aren’t an intrusion or nuisance when we bring comfort into another’s life—a common fear that prevents us from reaching out to others. Jesus uses us to love and comfort the hurting. Having God stir our heart to carry His comfort—the same kind He poured out on us—into a hurting person’s world is a privilege.

Ask God whom He wants you to comfort.  

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The Fight

Dressed in white full gear and trembling, I watched my opponent from across the room.

That morning I had awakened confident I could fight like a warrior. Just a few days before, I had broken a board with my foot. Now, my knees were shaking from fear. My mouthpiece almost fell to the floor as I got into stance. My form was spot on, but for some reason in that instant I couldn't move.

For weeks I had trained for this moment, but I wasn't prepared for the first blow to the head. I came back, but I wasn’t quick enough. My opponent defeated me. I left the auditorium with my head hung low, a participation trophy in my hand, and tears in my eyes. In my eleven years on earth, I had never experienced a defeat so huge. How could I face my instructor who had so much confidence in me?

A couple of days later, I walked into class still heartbroken—and a little embarrassed. Most of the other kids had won big trophies. My instructor told us to line up and go up against him with our best kick. I stood, watching as everyone was called before me. Finally, my name was called, and I stepped up to face my instructor. I looked for a disappointed look on his face but instead found a great big smile. I will never forget what he said. “Class, I saved the best for last.”

The others had all gone first that day. I had no big trophies to display at home on my shelf, yet my instructor still showed me such grace. He did not care about my rank in the class, or even the fact that I was the youngest of them all. To him, we were equal, and he loved us just the same.

No specific ranks exist in heaven. The poor will not be placed in the poor section while the rich live in luxury. Those who served Christ for years—and knew the Word back and forth—will not outrank those who did not know as much. God will accept us all. His grace is amazing, and His arms are open wide to everyone.

Don’t focus on your position. Focus on the goal.

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The Bad Fruit of Bitterness

When fruit is mistreated—by overwatering or by planting in bad climate—it produces bitterness, which is stored in the root.

Researchers say the chemicals from this kind of food could potentially kill if eaten. Once a plant creates a bitter product, the bitterness must be cut from the root, because it will continue to produce more bitter food. Bitter fruit is sharp and sour. Sometimes it’s even smelly.

We can become like the fruit: angry, unsweet, sour, resentful. Paul says to get rid of every form of meanness, including bitterness. He says to be caring and understanding to everyone all the time. This includes the one who let you down, cheated on you, abused you, and lied about you. And this requires forgiveness.

As with fruit, when we are wronged, bitterness forms in our root—our heart. This may be because of bad experiences. Perhaps we were cheated on, fired, or sued. As with food, bitterness spreads to other areas of our lives. It effects our minds, our will, our emotions, and our health.

Medical professionals suggest bitterness can lead to diseases like cancer. Bitterness is contagious and will affect other fruit in our lives—like joy, peace, and happiness. Our hurting hurts the ones we love. We must quickly uproot that which produces bitterness.

In spite of our good intentions, we still let others we love down. We all have fallen short of the measure. Jesus alone is perfect. When we place others in His seat, we open the door for disappointment.

Let your life produce kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

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Preparing for Adversity

When humans suffer great loss, either from natural disasters like hurricanes or from personal loss of relatives, it often brings out the worst in us.

The ravaged Atlantic seaboard this year demonstrates how people lost hope when they realized how unprepared they were for the storms. They lost human life, homes, food, possessions, and in many instances, their moral compass.

By the time they discovered which way they were headed, they’d already stolen goods from neighbors and businesses around them in order to survive. Their actions demonstrate how little accountability means. Rather than steadily preparing for storms, they chose to do nothing, including remaining in a high risk area after warnings to evacuate.

In the parable about sheep, Jesus describes how they are confined in a safe place and watched over by the shepherd. Still, a thief will invade the fold to kill and destroy, but he won’t enter through the gate, designed to be opened only by the shepherd. The sheep, because they live every day with their watchman, understand his importance and direction and will follow him to a good life.

When it comes to earthly trials, our threshold holds them at bay when we know the voice of Jesus through the doorkeeper known as the Holy Spirit. This Helper opens the gate to Jesus. We understand the voice and follow in obedience to a way greater than our earthly circumstances. Jesus leads us to safety.

How we choose to prepare for adversity determines how we react under the circumstances. If we add to our stores a little bit of food every month for a time when the grocery store may not be open, we’ll survive the disaster without stealing from the neighbor. If we invest a weekend a month learning survival skills, we’ll do better in hard times.

Don’t let the tough times catch you off guard. Jesus knows the Way. Follow Him.

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A Hole in the Whole

It was a beautiful day when I decided to join my daughter for a hike.

Although it had been two years since I last hiked, I donned my sneakers and went out the door—a decision I would soon regret. After hiking up a winding, steep, wooded trial, we began the descent. During the last quarter mile, I fell, rolling my ankle. The pain was awful. After a visit to the orthopedist, I learned I had suffered a high ankle sprain which would require four to six weeks to heal.

In the fourth chapter of Ephesians, the apostle Paul expounds on the importance of believers fulfilling their roles within the church. He encourages the church to walk in their respective gifting so that she can be built up and come to full spiritual maturity.

As I pondered this verse, I questioned what God was after. Why did I sustain this injury? Surely He could have prevented it.

After several weeks of incapacitation, something happened to the rest of my body. The weak ligament caused other parts to compensate for the injured part. My whole body suffered. Needless to say, the laundry wasn’t done as often, the dust settled, and my family had to help with numerous chores. Because of one tiny ligament, the entire household was disrupted.

The Scripture became clear. I had neglected responsibilities, and because of my neglect, there was a hole in the whole. Something was missing.

When we fail to fulfill our calling, the entire body of Christ suffers. When we don’t teach, someone is not taught they can do all things through Christ who gives them strength. When we don’t minister in song, someone isn’t comforted and encouraged.

God has used this experience to show me how important we are to His work. We’re called to build others up, and when we do, the church functions as it should. But God is faithful, even when we’re not.

Press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of for you. Fill the hole in the whole.

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Joy and Hope

Have you have ever seen a Coten de Tulear?

This dog breed, friendly and full of life, acts like popcorn being cooked whenever we come home. She seems to be the epitome of joy and brings it to my heart all the time. Although she does give some attention to my wife, she lies on the rug next to me as I write. If I get up for a cup of coffee, she follows, hoping my action will take her to the car for a ride.

One of our friends who trains dogs told us we need to know what her currency is. He suggested it may be a pat on the head, the scratch of an ear, or a taste of food. Cindy, we found out, will do most anything for food, but nothing for anything else. But she doesn’t require food to jump for joy at the sound of the key in the lock, or to run to the door when we enter. Her actions bring us happiness.

David seemed to think God looks at us the same way. God’s heart swells with joy when we run to Him, and we should jump for joy at the hint of His presence. He gives us our daily bread simply because we’re there, anxiously awaiting a little attention from Him. He holds us in His arms, not only to comfort us during trials but also to love us. Like our dog, we should yearn for our Father to come home so we can show unrequited love through outstretched arms and joyous hearts.

Learn to anticipate God so you can offer gladness and joy at the thought of His presence.

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Breaking Up with Wendy

No matter how strong any relationship may be, it is susceptible to a break up.

The origin of the relationship could be family, gal pal, longstanding friendship, or romance. For me, it was a favorite food addiction at Wendy’s, the fast food chain. During a multiple-year period, I left work most evenings to roll up to the drive-thru window for my favorite dinner meal: a single cheeseburger combo and large Coke.

The struggle to maintain a healthy weight has been a lifelong battle. I grew up eating hamburgers and French fries and didn’t realize there was an age cut-off point for routine fast food consumption. I prayed about it constantly. I read good, spiritual-based books like The Maker’s Diet by Jordan Rubin. But nothing gave me the discipline I needed to break up with Wendy.

The Bible clearly identifies our bodies as temples of God that were made as a gift in the image of God. And if we truly love God, we should take care of this temple. Scriptural passages teach that food serves as nutrition for the body, and anything in excess is like any other sin. The Scriptures also suggest that long life comes to those who treat others well, including how well we treat ourselves.

Three years ago, the break up with Wendy finally occurred. I lost thirty seven pounds. It wasn’t the fast food alone that forced my efforts for positive results. It was cholesterol numbers that I couldn’t deny, unexplained lower leg pain, and elevated glucose levels. These undesired metrics set me on a new course of eating fresh fruits and vegetables, designating smaller meal portions and sodium control, and exercising daily—if only for fifteen minutes.

Without Wendy, I learned how to live a healthier life, trust God at a higher level, and recognize that I am not my own.

Break every habit that keeps you from being your best for Christ.

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No Small Detail

When I worked as a production assistant for a cable channel, I produced and shot a segment on the election. I went to both victory parties at a hotel ballroom to get what is in the television business called “cover shots.” The difficulty was that the rubber eyepiece and plastic lens had fallen from the camera‘s viewfinder. 

The candidate came out to make a victory speech, and I, along with others, followed him onto the stage. I was so pre-occupied with getting the video I needed that I didn’t realize the part had fallen off.

A videographer from Channel Four approached me and asked, “Did you lose your rubber eyepiece?” I looked down at my camera and realized it was gone. 

A short time later, a man went to the podium and asked if anybody had lost a lens. Needless to say, I was embarrassed and looked for a table to hide under.

At the same time, I felt blessed because the Lord had my back. He knew what would happen and took care of my insignificant need. I didn’t have time to ask, nor did I realize there was a problem.

God promised to meet the needs of His Old Testament people, and I can be at peace knowing the Lord is always watching over even the smallest details of my life. No small detail is too unimportant for the Lord. He loves to meet every need in all aspects of our lives.

You can expect the same in your life if you trust God.

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Releasing the Arrows

Every year parents across the country prepare to send their children away to college. Some are ready to embrace this new chapter with all of its challenges, while others are far less enthusiastic.

This rite of passage is heart-wrenching for many parents and is fraught with a host of new concerns and fears. Will my child adjust? What challenges and temptations will they encounter? Will they find good friends? A Christian community? I found myself in this predicament, and, although excited for my son, I didn’t know whether I was prepared to let go just yet.

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. When I ponder these verses, I am reminded that our children are a blessing from God, given to us for an all-too-brief season. Our responsibility is to exemplify Christ and instill in them a love for God. We instruct them in the hope that they’re able to grasp that God has a specific plan they alone can fulfill.

But still, this warrior is hesitant to release the arrow in her hand. When the day of departure came, I had a choice: I could release him and trust that God would bring to fruition all I had deposited into my son’s life, or I could release him and face sleepless nights, consumed by the what ifs.

When a warrior releases his arrow, he intends to hit the mark. I choose to trust and release my son into the loving and faithful hands of my heavenly Father. God is faithful to keep that which we entrust to Him.

Trust your children into God’s hands. He cares for them.

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Not a Bear in Sight

What came to mind in this remote, wooded forest environment was bears—and only the Lord knows what other creatures lurked in the woods. 

I finally went camping on a beautiful fall weekend in September. Temperatures were in the low 70s. Mary, a friend of my sister Betti, offered me her cabin on a lake in New Hampshire—a place I had never camped.

Preparing to protect myself from the bears was my number one priority. I was obsessed with how to deal with a bear should it cross my path. I shopped online for pepper spray and bear noisemakers. I even entertained the idea of getting a gun, which I had never owned or even considered owning. 

Mary and Betti assured me they had never encountered bears or other dangerous animals. I should not worry, but just have a wonderful time. I packed up my necessities—without bear deterrents—and arrived safely at the cabin. I had a difficult time locating the keys. But after a series of directives from others, I was able to gain access and had a restful night. I prayed for God to put a hedge of protection around the cabin and property. 

I penned this devotion on my final day while sitting on the porch overlooking the lake. I thanked God for my time away in this peaceful and serene environment, another creation of His handiwork. And not a bear in sight.

God’s protective care does not immunize us from trouble and is not limited to certain times or places. There are bears and other creatures in the woods, but the Lord gives his angels charge over us, and that is all the protection we need. 

When a scary situation comes across your mind or path, pray Psalm 91, and a protective calm from God’s presence will surround and shield you. 

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Get Up!

While growing up, I often heard, “Get up.”

As a mother, I’ve said “Get up” many times. Children, especially teens, often love the opportunity to stay in bed just a little longer.

But never have I heard or said “Get up” in the same sense Jesus said it to the daughter of Jairus. He and His followers walked through a crowd to the home of an important man—a leader of the Jews, a worshiper in the synagogue, a man who fell at the feet of Jesus and pleaded with Him to heal his daughter.

Jesus walked into the house, sat on the edge of her bed, took her beautiful lifeless hand, and said, “My child, get up.” And she did. He then told her parents what to do: feed the girl.  

I have never had to deal with this kind of tragedy, but I am certain my emotions would take over. I would beg, plead, and bargain with God. Anything if He would heal my dying child.

I find myself wondering how many times Jesus has said to me, “My child, get up.” When my heart is hurting, when I feel lonely or forgotten, when I’m full of guilt for some real or imagined transgression, or when I have completely forgotten how much He loves each of us.

I can hear Him say, “Get up. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, pray for the lost soul I brought to you today, share the wonderful things I have done in your life, listen for My direction and do what I say.” Jesus’ command to “Get up” has more power in my life than that same command had on my children.

Thank God today for the direction He gives. Ask Him to help you listen and then to act quickly.

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The Upside of Aging

If I’d only known that when I was younger. If I’d only had the money for that trip in my twenties or thirties. Too bad I didn’t learn that lesson sooner.

Have you ever wrestled with these thoughts? I have. The aging process is a bit of an upside-down dilemma. When we’re young, we don’t have the time or money to do all the things we’d like to do—not to mention the wisdom. For many of us, by the time we’re able to do all the things we wanted to do when we were younger, we’re out of energy. Oh, we’re smarter. We have the money and the time, but as the old adage goes, our get-up-and-go got up and went.

People ask, “Don’t you wish you were a teenager again?” Not on your life. I made a lot of mistakes and endured a lot of heartbreak. You might say I graduated from the School of Hard Knocks. Those days are in the past—exactly where they need to stay.

Getting older has its own set of problems, but there’s much to be said for this new phase of life. These days, I’m able to work from home—even though I’m supposed to be retired. Material possessions are becoming less and less important. After all, it’s just stuff. I’ve learned people are far more important than any possessions. My bucket list is not as long as it once was because my priorities have changed. I can enjoy my grandchildren, spoil them rotten, fill them with sugar (just kidding), and then send them home to their parents.

God has shown me this new season of life holds many blessings as I walk hand in hand with Him, listening for His voice and following His lead. He knows the number of my days and even the number of hairs on my head. He’s still molding me into the person He created me to be and has a wonderful plan and purpose for my life.

Proverbs says, Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a godly life. The Passion translation puts it this way: Old age with wisdom will crown you with dignity and honor, for it takes a lifetime of righteousness to acquire it.

If you’re getting up there in years like me, don’t despair. God says your best days are ahead.

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A Wonderful Way to Die

My wife asked me one day as we were driving, “Have you ever wondered how you are going to die?”

Traffic was nasty, so I tried to ignore her. As usual, once she gets something on her mind she wants an answer. I mumbled something, trying to distract her. You’d think after all these years I’d know that wouldn’t work, but at least it got me a brief reprieve.

When we came to a stop sign, she turned her beautiful, determined face toward me and said, “Well, have you?” I stayed quiet. I knew from experience she had something on her mind she wanted to say.

After a few moments, she said, “I think I’d like to die the way your dad did. He was reading the paper in their backyard, having breakfast under his grape vines, and just fell forward. Your mother had gone in to get him another cup of coffee, but suddenly a white dove bumped into the kitchen window and flapped its wings to get in. Mom was so startled she went outside to look for the dove and found your dad dead. As she looked up, she saw a dove with a broken wing fly away. That brings goosebumps every time I think about your dad’s homegoing.”

By letting my better half answer her own question, I’d heard an insightful answer that caused me to reflect on what she was saying.

One evening while I was home from college, I told Dad I was afraid he wasn’t going to heaven with Mom, me, and the girls. We would miss him. His answer surprised me: “Let’s go into the bathroom right now and settle this with God.”

We went into our little bathroom, and I knelt beside Dad as he asked the Lord to forgive him and save his soul—despite all the evil he had done. As he repented, tiny tears came from his eyes. He still had flaws but knew he would go to heaven someday.

If you haven’t yet, do what my dad did, and you will find a blessed life and a wonderful way to die.

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Never-failing Leadership

“Washing dishes is women’s work.”

That teasing remark led me to capture my younger brother in a headlock and shove a dish towel into his little chauvinistic hands.

I doubt many in Israel’s patriarchal society teased about gender roles. Yet Deborah never backed down from atypical responsibilities. God called her and she obeyed.

Deborah’s story begins in Judges 4. She was the fifth judge of Israel—plus a wife, prophet, counselor, poet, and singer. During the twenty-plus years of terror under Canaan’s King Jabin, Israel’s vineyards were destroyed, women dishonored, and children killed. Israel cried out to God, and God called Deborah to lead. She urged her people to stand against their oppressors and to return and worship the one true God.

When Deborah relayed God’s message to take 10,000 troops to face Canaan’s army, her commander was reluctant. The order sounded humanly impossible. Sisera, Jabin’s army commander, led around 100,000 troops with 900 iron chariots. Defeat seemed certain.

Nevertheless, Barak said he would go if Deborah went with him. His apparent respect for her relationship with God and abilities as a leader trumped his ego as the nation’s military commander.

Deborah agreed to Barak’s request, but because of his hesitancy to follow God’s command, she said the honor for Sisera’s defeat would go to a woman. The two set out to rally the troops.

From these ancient leaders, we can learn never to underestimate God’s power and promises. He is able to work in unusual circumstances. We should follow His directions whether we understand them or not, support one another’s strengths, supplement one another’s needs, confront when necessary, and always show respect.

Deborah and Barak stepped forward when God called, defeated their enemy, and led their people back to God. Deborah received her confidence and boldness from God and shared those gifts with Barak.

God’s provision and expectations remain the same. He equips us for every task and expects us to support one another. He reminds us of His promises and provides the courage we need.

With God’s guidance, step forward. Direct others to the One whose leadership never fails.

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God Is in the Details

Has the Christmas story become so familiar that you skim over the Scriptures, reciting them in your head as you read and then moving on to the festivities of the season?

I think we’re all guilty from time to time. But as I study the Jewish context in which the New Testament was written, I’m discovering God was in the details, and I’m seeing the account in a fresh new way.

For instance, historians say the shepherds whom the angels appeared to the night of Jesus’ birth probably weren’t average shepherds. They were Levitical shepherds who tended the flock that was used for the sacrifices in the temple of Jerusalem.

They also believe there was a reason Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes and a reason why the angel went to the trouble to give the shepherds this information. This detail doesn’t seem important until you find out the significance of swaddling clothes.

As caretakers of sheep used for sacrifices, the shepherds had to make sure the newborn lambs were without spot or blemish. They did this by wrapping the clumsy little lambs in a special cloth to protect them when they fell or bumped up against rocks or jagged edges. The shepherds knew about swaddling clothes and why they were used. It was a detail God provided and one they understood.

God was in the details the night of our Savior’s birth. God was in the details when He created heaven and earth, and He is still in the details of our lives today.

Take time this Christmas to focus on the wonder of Jesus’ birth and the love God displayed.

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As a first-time parent, I assumed it would be smooth sailing once I survived the Terrible Twos.

But to quote a favorite response from a two year old, “No!” Along came the Turbulent Teens, complete with bad attitude and eye rolling. Although “No!” was no longer spewed at me, I was blown off by my teenaged little darling. Her standard response to my suggestions, opinions, or directives during her Turbulent Teen phase was, “Whatever.”

So I decided to fight fire with fire. I countered my daughter’s whatever with God’s whatever. Knowing that a teenage girl would love to receive clothing for her birthday, I ordered her a special t-shirt. Emblazoned on the front was the whatever language of Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. This present was a humorous reminder about a positive use of the word. 

As God’s children, we often act like kids going through the Turbulent Teens. We roll our eyes and dismiss what He has told us to do because we know better—or so we think. But our disobedient actions are a disrespectful whatever response.

Although we are parents on earth, God is still our heavenly Father. He has directed us to concentrate on whatever is good, right, etc. Whatever is right includes showing respect and being obedient to Him. Rather than copping an attitude, as God’s Turbulent Teens, we should adjust our attitude and our focus.

Immersing ourselves in God’s Word and memorizing Philippians 4:8 are steps in the right direction. If necessary, we might even wear a t-shirt with the words from Philippians 4:8 on it. My daughter is now grown and out of the house, but I still have and wear her whatever t-shirt to remind me of what my focus needs to be.

Do whatever it takes to obey your heavenly Father and to focus on whatever things are positive and uplifting.

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Jesus, Our Restitution

Restitution is restoring someone or something to its pre-sin condition.

Many times it is impossible to restore to pre-sin condition. Suppose I am walking down  the street with an ice cream cone in my hand. Someone—who is not paying attention to their surroundings—bumps into me and knocks my cone out of my hand. I am offended, suffer a loss, and have a right to demand restitution. If the one who bumped into me moves on and ignores my demand for a replacement, I am left without my ice cream.

The store clerk, who saw the incident, offers me another cone, at no charge. But I refuse the new one and continue to seek restitution from the offender. The store manager hears the commotion and offers me a double-scoop cone. I reject the new offer. I want restitution. Finally, the owner of the store offers me a triple-scoop sundae with a cherry on top. Since I insist on restitution from the offender, I have missed the restitution that came from other sources.

Paul tells us to forgive each other as Christ has forgiven us. When we forgive, we stop seeking restitution from our offenders and are open to receiving restitution from others. Jesus is our restitution. He restores us out of the riches of His grace and will also use others to restore to us.

Do not look to your offenders to be your source of restitution. Forgive them. Look to Jesus for your restitution. He can restore in greater measure than you can think or imagine.

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Walk a Little Slower

She gave me a model to follow.

As we touched down, the Boeing 747 bobbed down the runway amid the flickering lights. The plane joggled to a stop. Passengers grabbed coats and bags from the overhead compartments and crammed the aisle to deplane. I continued to rummage under the front seat for a missing pink sneaker. 

My daughter and I finally exited the plane and headed for the confines of the terminal. “It’s better to walk a little slower, Daddy,” she shouted. “I don’t want to fall.” My daughter often reminded me I was leading her, and my steps were too fast. 

She’s all grown-up now and married. But I remember how she followed me everywhere, believing I was able to guide her safely through the circumstances of the day. She followed when I escorted her to school on the first day of kindergarten. She followed when I stepped into the doctor’s office for her to receive shots. And she followed when I led her to the edge of the pool for our first dip together.  

But unlike my daughter, I normally prefer to lead and direct my destiny. I even find myself talking over God, insisting that He follow me instead. Then I shamelessly plead for His help when things don’t go as planned.

In truth, we don’t entirely have the ability to control our destiny. Our knowledge and understanding are limited—and we have a sinful nature besides.

The rightful one to lead is our Maker. The same one who led Noah, and whom Noah walked with. He who holds knowledge of the past, the present, and the future events all at once. He leads us safely through our storms, our doubts, our fears, and our agonizing losses.

If we’re to become committed followers, the requisite is complete trust in God. Our obligation is to humbly follow, knowing He will steer us in the right direction. To help, God gives us His footsteps to follow and asks that we not yield to the temptation to rush ahead—alone.  

My daughter’s words, way back when, still remind me it’s better to walk slower so I don’t fall.

Let Christ set the pace for you each day.

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“More!” A small voice giggled in the back of the plane, indicating this toddler enjoyed the turbulence as the plane flew over the Rockies.

The boy was on his way to visit his grandparents and was excited by the whole flying experience. The bumpy ride rivaled amusement park attractions. Though people chuckled, I doubt everyone had the same opinion of that bumpy ride. Many feared.

If you have flown very much, you’ve probably experienced air travel discomforts. In addition to turbulence, delays, missed connections, long waits, broken planes, security hassles, and lost luggage are common. Once, when our son flew into town, a delay caused him to miss his connecting flight and arrive hours later, smack in the middle of rush hour traffic. We were not amused.

Life is like that—a bumpy ride, full of challenges. Almost every day we encounter some sort of annoyances. We’re stuck in traffic. Someone cuts us off. We pick the slowest checkout line at the grocery store. Our schedule gets interrupted.

Sometimes the bumps are more like mountains—illnesses, financial troubles, broken relationships, and numerous serious problems, all destroying our smooth ride. Who would say “More?” Yet James tells us these everyday trials of life are God’s building blocks to make us into the person He wishes us to be.

Oswald Chambers said, “No matter how difficult something may be, I must say, ‘Lord, I am delighted to obey you in this.’”

Discovering a new way of manifesting the Son of God should make our heart beat with renewed excitement. Our steadfastness can develop a spiritual vitality in which we willingly do what the trial demands, no matter how much it hurts and as long as it gives God the opportunity to manifest the life of Jesus in us.

Be brave enough to say, “Lord, bring it on. More! Make me into the person You want me to be. Help me bring glory to You in this.”

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Set Free from Anger

Anger haunted me.

After a year of therapy for the nemesis, I realized my anger surfaced when I feared something: losing control of a friend, a family member, or a position of security and comfort.

Like many of us, Naaman had an anger problem. The prophet didn’t heal him in the way Naaman imagined he would. Naaman also had to have someone else point out his anger to him.

Others can often see us far better than we can see ourselves. Like Naaman, I wanted things done my way. I now walk in happy warmth with less headaches and more energy. I allow the Creator to be fully in charge of my life, family, possessions, and circumstances.

Pride and self-reliance kept me from surrendering to my loving Father earlier. They had to be confronted and eliminated.

I’m far from perfect, but now stand in awe of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead of being angry, I try to wait on God.

Surrender your all to God, and be set free from anger.

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Seeing in the Dark

Darkness settled over our street. A gang of young people cased our neighbourhood, looking for opportunities for mischief.

Other people living on our street had reported them to the police, but nothing was done. So we went to bed trusting in the Lord for protection. The next morning, the path of senseless damage was easy to follow. Fence boards broken, cars scratched, glass broken, bushes pulled up by the roots. 

Neighbours wondered why we did not suffer anything from this rampage. Then they noticed the streetlight at the corner of our small house plot. It shined into our garden, over our house, and down the short driveway. It was so bright, we did not need to put a light on in the house if we needed to get up during the night. We could see in the dark. When the streetlight began to flicker, we would notify the council, and they would come and replace it.

Our neighbours wondered how we slept with such a bright light shining in our windows all night. After they experienced the gang rampage, they were envious of our position. The light had saved us and our property from harm.

When we receive Jesus as our Saviour, His light and life come into our hearts. Then we must keep that light burning brightly to draw others to Him. To keep our light shining, we need to practice spiritual disciplines: praying, reading the Word, obeying the Holy Spirit, and fellowshipping with other believers.

Sometimes we become dull, and our lights begin to flicker on and off, growing dimmer each day. We become prey for the Enemy to bring darkness around us through circumstances or trials. This is when we need to reach out to others for support. People who will come alongside and help us see through the dark moments. Once back on our feet, we are able to continue our pursuit of God through our regular disciplines. 

Keep your light burning within so there is no opportunity for the Devil to cause you hassles. And be humble enough to ask for help when you need it.

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Why Me, Lord?

When circumstances are adverse and our mind is clouded, we often turn to a trusted friend or spouse.  

Some seasons in life cause us to question whether God is with us, whether He has abandoned us, or whether He has given us over to be tossed about by the enemy. One difficulty after another assaults us, and we doubt if God is who He says He is.

I think we can all sympathize with Gideon. When the Midianites oppressed the Israelites, God’s people cried out to Him. Without relenting, the enemy pillaged the Israelites. Sparing nothing, they destroyed crops and livestock alike. How could a loving God allow such unmitigated disaster to come upon a people who were His very own? Why them? Why you and me?

When faced with adversity, we do well not to allow our circumstances and fears to override the truth of God’s Word. God hasn’t abandoned us, and He never will (Deuteronomy 31:6). He has also promised to be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). These are remarkable promises we need to remember so we can stand under severe testing.

God rescued His people from the Midianites, and He will do no less for us when we cry out to Him in our distress. The next time you’re tempted to question why difficulty seems to find you, remember the words of the apostle Peter: In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire, may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7).

God can turn your “Why me?” into gold. Remember His promises and trust Him.

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The Special Mirror

I stared into the mirror. Terror filled my heart as the commandment, Thou shall not lie, convicted me as a liar, and the commandment, Thou shall not steal, convicted me as a thief.  

I understood how God saw me and realized I had no right to find the path to life. With tears in my eyes, I dropped the mirror and walked away. Then I heard One crying as He died on a cross: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me. My memory was etched with the bloody nails lying at the bottom of the cross.

This special mirror is the Ten Commandments. When we look into the mirror, it shows we have broken God’s laws. This frightens us and makes us uncomfortable. We want to do what we want. After a while, our conscience becomes quieter. If we walk away, we lose all hope of finding the path leading to life. 

Few find the path because none are righteous. God alone must show us the entrance, yet knowing our hearts are evil, He can't allow anyone access. So He gives people a conscience to know right from wrong. He also provides a special mirror that will guide us to the entrance of the path.

Some spend time gazing into the mirror, but try to clean the sins reflected in it. If we try to justify ourselves in this way, trying our best to do good, the mirror will be our destruction. 

Knowing the truth means grasping the mirror tightly and looking deeply within so it can reveal our hopeless condition before God and show us that it was our sins that put Jesus to death. The King Himself endured the shame of the cross and died on our behalf.

If you haven’t, look in the mirror and approach the entrance to the path that leads to life. Feel great sorrow, but also amazing joy. 

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Otters and Community

Their cute faces and funny antics make them popular with old and young alike. 

Sea otters are some of my favorite creatures. I love watching them at aquariums, floating on their backs and playing with their fellow otters. The way the mothers cuddle their young as they float is heartwarming and makes me want to hold my own children close. Otters are social, engaging in play with each other and hanging out in groups called “rafts.” They often wrap kelp around themselves to keep from drifting away. When they sleep, they hold hands or lock arms to keep each other close.

Christians also have a need for community. King Solomon wrote, A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). And the writer of Hebrews encourages us to continue meeting together so we might build each other up.

Just like otters, we need to live in community. We need the voices and encouragement of other Christians to help us stay afloat so we won’t drift away.

Grounding ourselves with Scripture through regular Bible reading or weekly Bible study with a small group keeps us from drifting. By linking with other Christians, we keep each other close. We can encourage each other and be encouraged. We learn we’re not alone in our struggles.

Many Christians drift away because they don’t get connected at their church or find a place to serve and fit in within the church community. God made us for relationship, both with Him and with others, so building strong relationships and communities of faith is important.

If you aren’t part of a Bible study or small group at your church or in your community, consider joining one. Someone may need to hear your story of faith and feel your encouragement. You may even need to hear their story.

Prepare yourself to help someone else in their faith journey. 

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Search for the Lord

“I can’t find my Nintendo DS game. Help me!” My daughter’s pleas filled the house.

“Where was the last place you had it?” I asked.

“My bed,” she cried. “Now it’s gone. Help me!”

“Look under the bed and move the covers and pillows around,” I instructed.

I watched her enter her room, turn around in a circle, and then proclaim, “It’s not in here.”

I shook my head in disbelief. She was upset because she wanted something she would not search for. Although she said she searched, she didn’t. She wanted the Nintendo to jump up and say “here I am.” I finally went into her room and found it under the bed, where it had fallen, proving she could have found it if she had searched.

Many people are upset with God because they believe He is not there and does not care. In His Word, He tells us to seek Him while He may be found. Seeking requires searching. Yet we enter the room and cry “where are you,” expecting Him to jump up and say “here I am.”

Although God is there, He wants us to search for Him … to consider Him a treasure worth looking for. If you have trouble seeing God in your life and circumstances, seek Him. Take out your Bible and read. Be open to talk with and  listen to other Christians who can share Christ with you personally—Christians who spend time in prayer, not just speaking to God but listening for His still, small voice.

Times in life will come when we feel as if God cannot be found, and we will ask, “Where are you?” When these times come, know He is there. Be willing to search for Him until you find Him.

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Problem Solving

In frustration, he cried, “I have more questions than answers!”

As I listened to the man’s concerns, I felt I understood them. Reflecting on this later, I realized I, too, had more questions than answers. Only my situation was different.

For years, I had worn hearing aids, but lately I had not been able to hear anything out of the right ear. I feared I was losing my hearing entirely, so I made an appointment with a hearing specialist. The young lady answered my questions, tested my hearing aids, and solved my hearing problems.

After she made the adjustments, I replaced my hearing aids. For the first time in a year, I heard clearly. As tears welled up, the specialist asked, “Are you all right?” I told her I was and thanked her for her service. She told me she liked problem solving—a rare gift for someone so young.

Sometimes, we try to reason out our problems before we consult the specialist—the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is the greatest problem solver we will ever know. He brings strategies into our circumstances and answers questions we have no answers for.

After guiding my friend into some relevant Scriptures for his dilemma, he reported later that he discovered his answers.

Consult the best problem solver, the living God, for the right answers to all your questions. You will not be disappointed.

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Slithering to Safety

Sheer terror replaced anything I may have planned years earlier while draped over the couch, textbook in hand.

While on a dirt path, deep in the forest, I came nose-to-toe with a copperhead snake. His nose. My toe. But I was not some rank amateur. No siree. Girl Scouts and first aid courses had trained me on how to respond: Remain calm. No loud noises. No sudden moves.

So what did I do? What any self-respecting city girl would do. I panicked. I screamed. I turned and ran for my life. So much for being prepared.

God’s pleas beckon us from the pages of Scripture: Come to Me … Call upon Me … Seek Me first … Take My yoke … learn from Me … Be anxious for nothing … Give your requests to God … Fix your eyes on Jesus ….

God’s promises follow each plea: … and I will give you rest … I will answer … I will show you…and all these shall be added to you … and you will find rest for your soul … and the peace of God shall guard your hearts and minds ... so you may not grow weary or lose heart.

One day, without warning, God may call us to experience a crisis we’ve only read about or watched others experience—one that’s frightening, humiliating, devastating, shocking, overwhelming, or heart-breaking. A temporary setback or a life-changing disaster. A private struggle or a public nightmare.

We can read self-help manuals or stories of saints who’ve overcome. We can plan, prepare, and preach on “Ten Steps to Handling Adversity.” But until we face that difficult life situation head-on, we won’t know what our gut reaction will be. Will I turn to God or to self? To God or another person? To God or another source—such as alcohol, anger, seclusion, fear?

Whenever we come nose-to-toe with life’s challenges, why not respond to God’s gracious offer and run into the ever-present arms of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Protector, our Refuge, our Rock.

Run to the Rock, and watch your worries slither away.

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Sister Mary of Jordan

Arab woman don’t normally remain single and live alone all their lives.

Sister Mary (Ukt in Arabic), however, devoted her life to full-time ministry for her Lord. When still a young woman, she began Bible studies in her home. They grew into a church and became one of the largest, most active Protestant congregations in Jordan.

Each morning and afternoon Ukt Mary led either a meeting for women or for girls in her house or in other homes in different areas of the city. On Friday mornings, a men’s prayer group met at Ukt Mary’s house. After a time of prayer, they engaged in lively discussions.

Over the years, Ukt Mary developed health problems, but she didn’t let these challenges slow her down. She continued to lead Bible studies until her death and trained women to take her place. She never feared death but looked forward to leaving this earth to be with Jesus. God forewarned her of death, so she put her affairs in order.

The morning of her death, Ukt Mary got up knowing she would meet Jesus. She even called her doctor. She had lived her whole life in anticipation of this day. She called relatives and some of her friends to invite them to come over. She was going home to Jesus.

When they gathered around her, she lay down, waved at them, and said, “Goodbye, world. I’m going to Jesus.” Just like that, she died. Her death, the ideal leave-taking of this world, was a beautiful testimony of the harmony between her and Jesus.

Don’t fear death. Rather, follow Ukt Mary’s example by looking forward with excitement and anticipation to going to your Father’s house.

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Keep Your Focus

Do you ever have so many problems you feel as if you won’t make it through another day?

I’ve had many of those moments over the past couple of years—health, family issues, financial decisions—and have found myself frequently saying, “This too shall pass.”

We all know trials are part of this earthly existence. They come with the package. But our response to them can many times determine their length and severity. Keeping our focus on the Lord instead of the problem is the biggest key.

Our burdens may seem to linger with no end in sight, but they all have a shelf life. Situations and circumstances I once thought would never change have been transformed by God’s miraculous, loving hand. With Him, all things are truly possible. In fact, God calls those heavy burdens “light and momentary troubles.” Not only are these troubles light, but they are also gaining for us “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” I love the way the Message puts it:

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

I’ve learned that when the storms of life (those small potatoes) rage all around me and the darkness closes in, my hope is renewed when I look to the One who loves me, is always with me, and cares about everything that concerns me. With one single word, He can calm the storm and cause the light to break through. Even if the storm continues to rage, He will fill me with His peace and give me a new godly perspective. As one writer says, “ Whether God takes you out of the situation or brings you through it, trust Him. He’s working for your good and His glory.”

If you’re experiencing a trial that is threatening to take you under, don’t give up. Be still and listen for His voice. He is saying, “Hold tightly to my hand, my child. This too shall pass.”

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Call Them by Name

I have a habit of nicknaming people. It’s my way of recognizing who they are to me.

We all do it, don’t we? Use labels as identifiers? Mutti. Dot. Paige. Super Girl. Boss-Man.

When God created Adam and then the creatures, God asked Adam to name them. God must have had His own labels. After all, He created the entire universe from fiat.

But He wanted to know what they were to Adam. He never said, “No, you’re wrong.” Or, “Use their proper name.” God allowed Adam to personalize his relationship with every one of His creations by giving them a unique name.

In the same way, God personalizes His relationship with us. He has many names: Abba. Yahweh. King. Almighty. And so do we. Beloved. Treasured. Precious. Forgiven. Saved.

But we can also create unhealthy identifiers: Careless. Mistake. Stupid. Unforgiven. Those are the weak threads … the ones we need to remove to make room for God’s thicker chords.

God doesn’t say we must choose just one and forget the rest. Not at all. Rather, He blends every good thing to weave us tighter into a strong rope to be used by and for Him. Each identifier is just one thread of our total being.

Strengthen your threads with the teachings of God’s Word.

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Be Prepared

The power bill had more than doubled in a month.

I knew I needed better insulation in my thirty-year-old townhouse. The homeowners’ association planned to install some in the coming weeks. I hoped replacing the windows would help too, since they were so old.

I’d called several companies to compare estimates for new windows. One gentleman came out and demonstrated how their product worked with its various features. He measured all the windows and returned to write up the estimate. As we sat at the table he said, “I have to ask.”

“Okay. What?” I had no idea what he would ask.

“I saw the folder on the book of Daniel in your office. What’s the study like?”

I told him a bit about the book and said our weekly Bible group was studying the book. He said he led a Bible study in his home too. We discussed the importance of going back to the original text to know what it meant in order to rightly apply God’s Word to our lives. We talked about living for Christ each day and ensuring we follow Him in the decisions we make.

After he left, I realized I had followed Peter’s advice to the early Christians. I reflected on the afternoon and what a surprise I’d gotten. I’d made an appointment to get an estimate for new windows, and God sent a man who, in the midst of his work, talked about the importance of Christ in his life.  

God gives us opportunities to integrate faith into our lives and share our beliefs as we go about the day. All we have to do is ask and be ready.

Ask God to show you opportunities where you can share your faith today.

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He was a self-made billionaire.

The eighty-year-old Irish American had the ability to see opportunities to make money at an early age. Growing up poor and often hungry, he used his intuitive talent and collaborated with another youngster to find odd jobs people in better neighbourhoods needed doing and then started his own business. He admitted the co-worker did most of the work as he went about finding more jobs.

By working smarter instead of harder, he worked his way through college, and his knack for making money continued. He found a need and supplied what people wanted. Before long, he was a millionaire, married, and a father.

Then he discovered his children did not know the value of work ethic or money, so he changed his lifestyle. His philosophy became giving while living. His philanthropic endeavours affected third-world countries and his own native Ireland in profound ways.

While listening to his story, I became aware that he did not thank God once for giving him the ability and the talent to make money.

Miriam brought dance to the Israelites, a form of worship they had not experienced before. Ruth worked in the fields with her hands, won the attention of Boaz, and became part of Jesus’ lineage (Ruth 2, Matthew 1:5). Peter and James organized the first church in Jerusalem, which established a foundation for Paul’s travels to spread the gospel to Gentiles. Aquilla and Priscilla were skilled tentmakers, which aligned them with Paul in both work and ministry (Acts 18).

God not only gives us spiritual gifts through His Holy Spirit once we believe in His Son Jesus, He also places inside each of us talents and natural abilities for us to discover, develop, and use for His glory.

Ask the Lord God to reveal your gifts and talents so you are able to serve Him with them. And don’t forget to thank Father God for them.

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Evidence for God

If the lights in the sky—which are made of inanimate gases, dust, and rocks—make known the workings of an intelligent God who is in control, shouldn't the lives of those created in His image and quickened by His Spirit do the same?

As the heavens declare the glory of God, so should believers. Our lives should give evidence that reveals the reality of an intelligent, planning, controlling, and presiding Creator and Savior. We all have moments when we do this, but the challenge is doing it consistently.

When I was young, I thought glorifying God meant being perfect all the time. Every wrong thought, word, or action convinced me I had no business trying to know God. Thankfully, God gave me both time and wisdom to learn the truth that He loves me—all of me, the good me, the bad me, and even the ugly me.

God’s loving nature doesn’t mean He excuses or overlooks sin in my life. He simply forgives me through the shed blood of Jesus Christ of all my sin. I am forever in His loving arms, and I have the privilege and ability to reveal His controlling presence in my life. When I fail to declare His glory, He lovingly points that out and corrects me. Even His correction declares His glory.

Letting God's Word impact our lives daily helps us declare His glory. Through His Word, He teaches, corrects, and equips us to impact the lives of those around us. He can and will bring glory to His name by our testimony as we give Him the credit for our accomplishments and discuss openly how He has worked even through our shortcomings and weaknesses.

Pray that your life will be a constant and abiding declaration of God’s glory.

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Crossing Bridges

Nothing compares to a first mission trip. Life changes and memories last forever.

Hispanic ministry in upstate New York with a team of four adults and three youth introduced me to this incomparable joy. We stayed with and served under the guidance of a career missionary couple. Four of us knew a smattering of Spanish, so together we managed when we had no interpreter. However, we relied primarily on the local Hispanic pastor and a summer missionary to help bridge communication gaps.

Our daily schedule included the basics of any backyard Bible school (repeated three times): songs, crafts, Bible stories, and games. We used puppets, drama, and group interaction to deliver the story. A crown of thorns—the real thing—received the most attention. Because children are children, and curiosity reigns, we had to caution them to look but not touch.

I used the thorns during my role as a friend of Jesus. We wanted the children to learn how Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection bridged the gap between them and God. The emotion of the drama, combined with sorrow in leaving the children that final day, threatened to drown us with tears as we boarded the van.

At night we helped with outdoor revival services. We loved trying to translate introductory Spanish comments, especially the funny ones about us. A few harmless jokes at our expense broke the ice for everyone. With the salvation of a teenage girl from the morning Bible school, all the fatigue from a week of maximum activity and minimum sleep melted away.

We made a one-day side trip to Niagara Falls, where Rainbow Bridge connects the United States and Canada. Early mornings frequently find the bridge shrouded by a heavy mist that feels like rain.

In much the same way, our efforts at bridging relationships can become bogged down by human imperfections. However, when we travel the bridge Jesus supplied through the cross and invite others to journey with us, we discover genuine, lasting peace.

Dare to cross bridges to introduce others to Jesus.

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Keeping Watch

The tiny barn finch searched for the perfect place to build her nest. The same day, my husband hung his car-washing mitt on the clothesline to air out.

A week later when my husband approached the clothesline, a small brown bird chattered and darted, showing its displeasure. A quick glance in the mitt showed a bundle of sticks, branches, leaves, and grass. Backing away, my husband watched as the tiny bird flew deftly into the glove.

Days later, as I hung a few items on the clothesline. I was met by the same chattering, swooping barn finch. I spoke soothingly to the critter, but it didn’t listen. It sat on the garden fence, fussing and complaining.

Later, I paused to reflect. If I were as diligent at keeping watch as that small bird, life would change. It did when the watchmen of Jerusalem did their job.

Keeping watch, I could discourage family or friends from making the wrong choices. I could keep my family close, assuring them I have their good in my heart. If I were as careful for other’s lives as that finch was for its babies, I would speak to the lost and help them find the way to true happiness. If I were more diligent, I would spend less time complaining and chattering.

After the finch moved out, we checked the mitt. Stuffed with twigs, leaves, and bird debris, the mitt needed to be tossed. As a Christian, if I do not show others the way to God, they too will be tossed into the eternal fire that has no end.

Ask God to help you be diligent and caring. Rather than chattering and complaining, let God prompt you to care for those who are lost and lead them carefully to Him.

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Obey the Rules

Few things are more daunting than flashing blue lights … and I’m not talking about K-Mart’s blue-light specials.

I was in pain, in a hurry, and headed to my chiropractor’s office when I blew through a stop sign. It was a small intersection with nothing around, but that was no excuse. I looked up and saw two cars parked in an abandoned parking lot. Instantly, one of the cars zoomed out of the lot. A siren split the air. Blue lights flashed behind me, demanding me to pull over.

Almost in tears, I apologized. Told the officer I was in pain and on my way to an appointment, My assurance that I was a good driver and would never let this happen again seemed to have no effect.

The officer was extremely courteous. Said he understood about pain and chiropractors, and he was glad I was a “good driver.” But his reprimand was to the point: “It doesn’t matter. You still have to obey the rules.”

The incident made me wonder how many times I’ve gotten in a hurry and blew through the spiritual stop signs God has placed in my path. Those times I’ve ignored the rules He has set forth in His Word, going my own way and doing my own thing.

The truth is—whether in the natural or spiritual world—stop means stop. And in both realms, consequences follow. Obeying the laws of the land is not a separate issue from obeying God’s laws, because everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God (Romans 13:1 NLT).

Like it or not, God expects us to follow the rules and be obedient. Period. Not because He’s a hard taskmaster, but for our benefit. Listening to His voice and following Holy Spirit’s lead keeps us out of a passel of trouble.

Thankfully, the officer had mercy and only gave me a warning. Trust me, I won’t be blowing through any more stop signs.

Be alert. Listen for God’s voice. And always follow the rules.

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and fantasista.)

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When a Perfectly Planned Day Goes Terribly Wrong

Everything was planned. The hotel was booked. Our bags were packed.

All my daughter and I had to do was hop in the car and drive the 212 miles to our destination. In exactly three and one half hours, we would experience a fun-filled day at our favorite theme park.

When we arrived, everything was perfect—at least until high winds blew everything around. Debris was everywhere, on the ground and in the air. The wind blew so hard it felt as if tiny needles pricked our skin. Because of the inclement weather, the park shut down some of the rides. We rode a total of three before they chose to close the park altogether.

What happened to my perfectly planned day?

At first, I wasn’t sure I could keep it together. After a hectic week, my patience was paper thin. I hoped our trip would be an escape from all the craziness.

As I thought about our situation, I realized I was at a crossroads: I could lose control and go down an angry road, or I could ask God to fill me with the patience to handle our situation gracefully.

Letting my temper get the best of me would lead to misery—and that wouldn’t change our circumstances or make our trip better, only worse. If I asked God to give me a patient heart, we could salvage our trip, and my daughter and I could still enjoy our time together. The wiser choice was to seek God’s help.

Solomon reminds us it isn't wise to allow our tempers to dictate our reactions to things. When our plans get ruined, it is frustrating, but with God’s help, we can have a better attitude.

The next time your temper threatens to lead you in the wrong direction, pause and ask God for directions. He will always guide you to a better route.

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Hidden Treasures

With the details of our vacation planned from the starting time to the rest stops along the way, I was anxious and ready to head out. But we slowed down and read our morning devotion from Isaiah 45:3.

I hadn’t planned for the traffic jam created by a visiting politician, which changed our timeline. Suddenly, threatening dark clouds formed to the left of us—not part of my planning—but our path remained clear, dotted with puffs of clouds and a splash of blue. I wanted to focus on the darkness. My husband and I decided to look at the clouds, searching to see what animal or shape the wind had formed. We found God’s hidden treasures among the overcast sky. The dark threatening clouds didn’t go away, but our anxiety did.

I once believed the Old Testament was boring and irrelevant. However, I now see it filled with treasures of wisdom and facts that pull me into the history of our precious Lord. God’s personality and character are written on all the pages. Within the details of the Old Testament, I discover new insights about God’s love and promises that strengthen me.

Details matter in our life—our clothes, our language, our travels, our budget, our thoughts. When I took my eyes off the darkness, I found the treasure God had placed within the threatening storm.

Our duty is to read the Bible. God has riches for each of us in it. Either we can focus on the darkness and let our feelings take over or we can focus on knowledge and trust God’s personality and character.

This life will have trials, but search for the treasures God has stored for your discovery.

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The Advocate

Parents hold the responsibility of making decisions for their children—decisions they may not always understand.

When little, children don’t understand why they can’t play with matches or put objects into an electrical outlet. Teens may not understand why they have a curfew. They do not recognize the potential for danger—and they certainly don’t understand we do what we do out of love.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He explained to His disciples that it was good for them that He depart. Otherwise, the Advocate would not come. The disciples had walked with Jesus for three years and had observed His miracles, His compassion, and His power over stormy seas. I imagine they came to look at Him not only as their teacher but also as their trusted and cherished friend. Now He told them His leaving was good for them. They had to know persecution loomed ahead and that they would need their leader. They thought He would restore the kingdom to Israel, but He was returning to the Father.

The disciples didn’t know Jesus’ departure would lead to their empowerment. Instead, they fretted. Jesus promised them the help of the Holy Spirit who would lead them into all truth and tell them things yet to come.

We, too, often forget we are not by ourselves. We have been given the same Spirit that led the early church. It is vital that we are cognizant of the Holy Spirit who indwells us. Jesus is with us as He was when He walked the earth with His disciples.

As we follow God, His Spirit empowers us, leading us to accomplish God’s purposes on earth. He has placed at our disposal the promise of direction, comfort, and counsel. We are not alone. He promised not to leave us as orphans but to come to us when we call.

When you feel lonely or uncertain, remember God’s Spirit is with you. God loves you and offers all you will ever need.

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Striving or Abiding

In seeking the Lord to meet our needs, going from abiding to striving isn’t difficult.

Recently, I had a serious medical event and developed a massive blood clot that affected blood flow into my lungs. I caught it just in time, and, with medication, I am recuperating nicely. I will have medical bills because of my hospital stay, coupled with the loss of income from several weeks of not working.

During my recuperation, the compressor on our heat pump died, and we have a significant repair bill. At the same time, the recent nor’easter came through the east coast of the United States and damaged our roof, which we may have to replace. We also had to hire someone to clean up our wooded lot that I usually take care of. For a while, I was afraid to get up in the morning for fear of what else might come down the pike.

I prayed and thought about calling others and asking them to pray. Then, the Lord gave me this Scripture and with it a gentle rebuke: Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Getting people to pray is always good, but, due to our unbelief, we can major on exercising faith rather than resting in it. The former leads to striving and the latter to abiding. Peace is always the by-product of abiding faith.

Are you striving or abiding over your needs today? The absence or the presence of peace will answer this question for you.

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Perfect Submission

I don’t always seek God’s approval before embarking on a venture.

Too often, I allow my heart and limited understanding to dictate whether I’m going to follow through without first seeking God’s will. I wonder if He’d approve or if I heard Him say move forward. Looking back, I am thankful God in His wisdom has sometimes denied me when I wanted to move forward.

Trying to discern God’s will may seem like a mystery at times, but if we follow the lead of Jesus, things become clearer as we seek God in prayer. Jesus submitted Himself entirely to the Father, seeking only to do His will.

Prior to this event, Jesus prayed, asking the Father, if possible. to let the cup of suffering pass. Although He did not want to go to the cross, He submitted to the will of His Father, even when it meant death. He did nothing out of selfish gain. He could have used His power to call on God to intervene with twelve legions of angels, but His primary concern was doing God’s will. True power is restraining ourselves because we want to please the Father at any cost, even when every inclination says otherwise.

Doing the will of God brought Jesus shame, ridicule, and death. In the eyes of His enemies, He was a fool, but in the eyes of God He was esteemed. His followers didn’t know His submission to God would lead to death, but His death lead to the salvation of the world. Their understanding, like ours, was limited.

God sometimes asks us to surrender something that feels like a death: a child, a marriage, a dream. We may not fully understand why, but if God asks us to submit to Him, the same God who subjected His only Son to death will resurrect the situation.

Trust the Father, and submit to His will. He is all-wise. When you do, He will get glory, and you will experience the power and peace that comes with perfect submission.

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Silence, Not Always Golden

One year had passed—with only a few words spoken.

My son stopped speaking to my wife and me the day after we discovered my wife had a brain tumor. We thought he had gotten mad because I shared the news with him one day later than I did with his sister. My wife and I made numerous attempts to contact him by phone and by text. No response.

We let our son stew in his silence. It wasn’t the first time he’d gotten mad and quit talking to us. Silence seemed to be his preferred way to handle things … but his silence wasn’t golden. At least, not for us. His silence meant we didn’t get to see our grandson who was two and who was growing up not knowing who we were.

In a one-year period, we saw our son once and our grandson twice. Hello and goodbye. Nothing more. Our grandson barely acknowledged us.

One night, as I relaxed in my recliner, my phone rang and my son’s name appeared. He was calling to apologize for the way he had handled the situation. He wasn’t mad about what we had assumed. His silence came out of anger. He thought we always expected him to bring our grandson to see us.

I told him we’d love to come see them. At the time, my work schedule and theirs prevented much visiting. Now, things had changed. We made plans for them to come the following weekend to eat Sunday lunch with us. My wife and I celebrated the end of the silence .

The proverb about the merits of keeping our mouths shut rings true … most of the time. I’ve avoided a lot of trouble by remaining silent. But silence can signal various things.

Silence can express wisdom or signal trouble is brewing. In our case, silence demonstrated unforgiveness for something we didn’t know we’d done. Forgiveness broke the silence. Silence can also articulate anger, as it was with our son. Since anger has a deadly nature, expressing it normally gets us into trouble. Breaking the silence with kind words often heals the hurts. It did with our son.

Don’t let silence be your unhealthy response to a situation.

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The Lord Is My Shepherd

During my days in MD Anderson Cancer Center, I learned the real meaning of Psalm 23.

Many times in the darkness of night and pain, I quoted this chapter in my mind, along with many other verses. Even today, if I awake at night, I still quote this passage as a reminder that the Great Shepherd cares for His sheep all the days of their lives. I also learned the psalm has a message when we’re fighting battles and carrying burdens. Both my wife and I have experienced God’s goodness—and we are grateful.

When King David says “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,” he’s not saying only good things will happen to me. He knew as well as anyone that bad things happen to good people. He’s saying God’s goodness will follow or pursue him. No matter how difficult something seems, God works it out for good.

I memorized this psalm when I was in the first grade at South Side Elementary School in Meridian, Mississippi—thanks to Miss Virgie Upton, a Christian school teacher. As a pastor, I used it in many funerals.

The psalm is one of God’s great promises given to believers. In everything that happens to us, God works for our good—if we love God and fit into His plans (Romans 8:28). Not all things are good but rather work together for good.

No problem, pain, difficulty, or disaster in the believer’s life is beyond God using it for His purpose and plan.

Know the Lord wants to be your shepherd and tenderly care for you.

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Be a Source of Water

Growing up on a small farm in rural Washington State, I became familiar with our pump house and well.

Though too young to know the well depth or water purity—or even how the pump worked to get water to our house—I did notice my dad’s concerned and frustrated look when something went wrong with it.

If he could fix the problem, which he often did, he wrestled the heavy concrete lid from the top of the well and worked on it. I remember looking over the edge of the uncovered well and seeing the water shimmering far below. The presence of water was always a good thing. Fixing a pipe or pump was easier and cheaper than drilling a new well.

But imagine going to a well and finding it bone dry, and then drilling another well and finding only dry sand and dirt. For miles around, no water—not in wells or bottled in stores. Possible heat stroke or dehydration would follow. Then, on top of this, imagine a nationwide drought. In Jeremiah’s day, their drought conditions were a result of God’s judgment for rebelling against Him and forsaking His moral standards.

Israel’s waywardness and God’s judgment remind us sin is a counterfeit that never fulfills, satisfies, or quenches our desires. Having wandered that dry, barren desert, I know sin is merely an appealing mirage that abandons thirsty, fatigued, ashamed, and confused people.

The world is a desert, and sin is the drought. Many people wander about seeking relief from the heat at a refreshing oasis. They just do not know where or how to find it. They not only need a refreshing drink, they also need the source of satisfying, living water.

As followers of Jesus, the Living Water—who drink from His fountain and have a wellspring bursting forth within us—let’s be the source of refreshing, untainted water for a dry, thirsty world. Let’s not simply talk about or describe it, but let’s bring others to Christ’s overflowing well of Living Water.

Be a water source to end sin’s drought and quench its thirst.

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Miracles and Science

The idea of miracles sometimes causes people to disbelieve the Bible or turn away from God. But it is possible to believe in the miraculous and in the laws of nature. Science and faith can coexist. 

Some say ancient cultures believed in miracles because they did not understand science and the laws of nature as we do today. However, when Joseph found out Mary’s pregnancy was by a miracle, he was prepared to divorce her privately, because he understood where babies came from. Something miraculous had to convince him otherwise.

When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were afraid, because they knew such a thing was not normal but unusual and extraordinary. They were convinced Jesus’ actions were miraculous. Ancient cultures understood the laws of nature and recognized when they were being superseded. 

Others who are skeptical of miracles believe God is capable of performing them yet will not violate His laws of nature. But the miracles of Jesus demonstrate God’s power to work within the laws of nature, accelerating or reversing their processes. The same sovereign power who made nature rules it every day. 

The miracles performed by Jesus—even the one of His own birth—are microcosms of God at work. What we see in the miraculous is God changing the speed or direction of natural processes to demonstrate His power, to bring glory to Himself and His Son, and to indicate the promise of hope that is ours if we will receive it. 

To believe in miracles is not to disbelieve in science. Rather, it is to believe in the One who formed the structure in which science exists and to understand that science is a light shining on the glories of the miraculous through which we glimpse the hand of God.

You can believe both in the laws of nature and also in the miraculous works of God who designed the framework of nature’s laws in the first place.

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Deep Calls to Deep

As a child, I feared water.

I learned to swim a little later than my friends, so I often stayed in the shallow end of the pool. One time in a friend’s pool, I drifted into the deep end, panicked, and lost control. I remember when my feet could not touch bottom, and the water began to cover my head.  A panic developed in me as I was completely covered by the water. A nearby mom heard my panicked cries and jumped in to guide me back to safety. The moment was overwhelming.

The psalmist felt the same. As an adult, I see the parallels between my panicked situation and my walk with the Lord. I tend to stay in a comfort level with the Lord, to get comfortable with the feel of my walk, and to see God in a certain light and pattern. I put limitations on God that do not exist because I’m afraid of the moment when I lose control.

The Spirit leads us to places where our comfort level is taken away and where His presence overtakes our being. A place beyond our understanding and ability to comprehend. A destination where tradition and religion cannot lead. The Lord calls us to a state of intimacy—a place of trust where He takes us to a depth that overwhelms our situation.

We often put limits on God’s love, mercy, and grace because we are limited in our understanding. The Lord beckons us to a place where all limitations of His love are removed and where His grace sweeps over our lives every moment—a place of complete peace, but a place where we have no control.

We must lose complete control to find God’s peace and lay down our lives to find God’s purpose. God calls us to a deep relationship beyond our comfort level.

Be overwhelmed by God’s grace so you can find the peace you are searching for. 

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Fine China or Cheap Glass

Collecting fine china is one of my many weaknesses.

I entertain with our best dinnerware. Visitors express their enjoyment over eating from nice dishes instead of casual paper plates. Using fine china demonstrates the value I place on my guests. I rarely pass up an opportunity to check the china section in stores. The luxurious appearance exhibits its value. The finest china gleams, is nearly transparent, and often reflects images like a mirror when held to the light. Many fine pieces come rimmed with platinum or gold, adding to the cost and appearance.

Paul used expensive dishes saved for special occasions as an illustration to remind Timothy about characteristics of a good soldier for Christ. He urged Timothy to remain pure for every good work, encouraging him to avoid foolish arguments and to stay away from sin so he would be like the finest dishes in a household. He also instructed him to flee evil desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. By doing so, he would join those who had pure hearts before God, and he could be of greater service to Christ.

In the same way, Christ wants to remove sin from our lives and use us for His purposes. When we allow Him, we become worthy vessels, valuable for His intentions. He wants us to seek those same characteristics Paul suggested to Timothy. As a result, our lives and behavior will mimic Christ’s qualities and likeness to others like reflections in fine china. Lives patterned after Christ will never cause shame, but will display our spiritual image.   

We can live our life without regard to how it influences others, or we can choose to turn from sinful behaviors, to imitate Christ, and to become worthy vessels of service. Choose the latter.

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House for Sale

Down the neighborhood a ways sits a well-kept home. The yard is mowed, the flowers and shrubs have curb appeal, and the home looks freshly painted. No cracks appear in the flat-stone sidewalk, and the trees around the home offer plenty of cool shade. For all intents and purposes, this is the perfect place to live. So why have the owners placed a For Sale sign in the yard?

Perhaps the family outgrew it, or the owner’s job transferred him. Maybe a death created an unneeded residence, or the owner is just curious about what he could be offered in today's market. One thing’s for sure, all sorts of individuals traipsing into the home will bring unwanted things. Some will deposit dirt from their shoes. Some will throw trash on the floor. Others will leave spiritual garbage like the fleas off a dog.

As the Passover feast approached, Judas Iscariot had already made his decision, and Satan used the instance to take advantage of Judas’ lapse. Judas took thirty silver coins in exchange for betraying Jesus.

Danger comes when we wonder what could be or open our homes to unknowns. The same is true for our spiritual well-being. Judas went astray when his love of money pulled him from Jesus. Reading astrological charts, viewing Internet offerings, and going to that particular place where we open our heart to desired emotions put us at risk. As one saying goes, "The devil can only come into your life if you invite him."

We endanger our faith by stepping away from Jesus’ Word—whether by curiosity, emotional stress, or anger.

Take a look at what you’ve invited into your home and recognize how it affects your Christian foundations. Perhaps it’s time to take down the For Sale sign.

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What If You Dropped Your Laptop

If I dropped my laptop from the roof, the chances are that when my computer hit the ground it would be in a million pieces.

I have first-hand knowledge of what other people’s words can do. The kids in school knew I had learning disabilities and had a hard time getting an education. They called me dummy, a word that has haunted me all of my life. I have always felt like I am not smart enough. Even now, there are times when I feel I am not intelligent enough to write devotions or go back to school. 

We have to be careful about teasing people and think about how our words could affect someone. I will never forget the words of my seventh-grade teacher. When people were making fun of each other, he would ask, “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” 

Forgetting words that are meant to be cruel is hard. When you speak to people, remember what you say could possibly bother someone for the rest of their life. Like my broken computer, your words could shatter someone into a million pieces. As believers, we need to encourage, not discourage.

Make sure your words don’t stab people but rather bring them healing.

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I Give Up

“The worry wheel has always spun in our family,” my cousin told me.

I felt better knowing my anxiety was an inherited trait. I couldn’t do anything about it. Not that I haven’t tried writing down verses on trust, reading in the Bible about God’s unwavering love for His children, and listening to songs about God taking care of us.

But the wheel spins on. One morning I woke up with a headache and weighted down with heaviness over several situations. I’d prayed, thought through possible answers, and prayed some more. Then finally, struggling under the weight, I sat up in bed and cried out, “I give up!”

Picturing myself with hands raised in surrender, I prayed, “Dear Lord, I no longer want to be my own burden bearer. Help me remember You are the One who took that on willingly by giving Your life for me.” 

Gradually the familiar heaviness disappeared. I realized I had a choice. I could trust and let go or return to lugging my constant load of unanswerable problems once again.

God promises His trustworthiness and continual caring and wants us to exchange our tension for resting in His perfect loving care in every detail of our lives. The Israelites sat by a river singing and talking about how the Lord provided food in the desert and protection from their enemies. God had not forgotten them and He hasn’t forgotten us.

My tendency to worry probably will not disappear, but with the Lord’s help I will not forget the morning I sat up in bed and said, “I give up!” I remind myself when things get discouraging to remember the times the Lord provided and rescued.

Learn to give up on your own strengths so God can provide His.

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We held our breath. The flames were almost on him. 

Just as the raging bush fire rose up behind him, the man leapt from the rock. He reached forward to the other side of the river. For a while he seemed suspended in mid-air. We all breathed a sigh of relief when he landed on the other river bank. We knew it was a movie, but the scene was so real. His elation was evident as he moved forward with zeal and purpose out of harm’s way of the heat and flames.

The apostle Paul was suspended twice during his missionary journeys. Once for eighteen months in Ephesus, and then three years in Corinth. Both times the Lord changed Paul's strategy for making disciples. By suspending Paul, the gospel spread throughout the known world by those Paul trained.

Esther was suspended between leaving her people and becoming queen. During the time she prepared, God changed circumstances to make the way for her. Jesus was suspended between earth and heaven after His crucifixion. During this time He rose from the dead and appeared before many, confirming Him to be the only living God.

In all these biblical examples and others, God worked, His purposes went forward, and He accomplished His will.

We all go through seasons when we take leaps of faith. We feel suspended awhile before we land safely into the next adventure with God. Time and life pass by. We know we are going forward and that God is with us, but we feel suspended—that we are not going anywhere.

We will reach the other side and land safely. God is with us and is working behind the scenes to prepare the new way for us.

Faith in Jesus will see you safely to the other side.

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Member of the Dad Bod Squad

My wife said the five dreaded words I have been hoping to avoid our entire marriage: “We should start working out.”

Wait . . . what? Why? What did I do to deserve this? Apparently, there is this thing where people run for fun. Yeah, I know. I had to look it up because it didn’t sound like a real thing to me either. If you run with me, you better be prepared to walk . . . a lot.

But the crazy thing was, the more I did it the better I felt, the more weight I lost, and the longer I could run without my heart feeling like it would explode.

Our body is a fined tuned machine that God created. He gave us the tools, the wisdom, and the resources to take care of ourselves physically and spiritually.

Start off by leaving the house and walking a mile. By the time you get back home, you will have walked two miles without thinking about it. Don’t worry about time, just do your best. All God wants is all we have.

I am not cut up with muscles or in great shape, but I plan on giving God all I have to give. I still have my dad bod, and I think that’s okay. It took you a while to get the body you have now, so it will take a while to get the one you want. Stay focused.

God will give you the wisdom and the resources to help you work out physical and especially spiritually.

Don’t give up. Press toward the mark. 

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Getting the Message Right

Strange hymn lyrics did not alter my preschool friend’s enthusiasm in the least.

Without question, he simply went along with what he thought everyone else was singing. At the top of his lungs and with a smile on his face, he sang, “Here are mice in me, warts on me.” Apparently no one noticed his words—a bit different from Isaiah’s response to God’s call in Isaiah 6:8, “Here am I. Send me.” They also differed considerably from songwriter M. W. Spencer’s lyrics, “Lord, send me.”

Years later, when someone shared this story, we had a good laugh, recalled other experiences and characters from our home church, and then moved on to other topics. However, when I had time to reconsider this experience, I realized how relevant it remained.

This innocent misunderstanding reminds us to look beyond our limited and often faulty perceptions. We often miss what God wants in our lives by relying solely on what other people say or do. By choosing an effortless path rather than seeking God’s direction, we fail to recognize countless ministry opportunities.

Instead, we should explore what the Bible teaches, what God places on our hearts, and what the needs around us are. We might also check God’s work through more mature Christians. If we seek God’s direction, we can expect an answer. It may not come when we expect it, arrive through traditional channels, or be the reply we want, but it will be the right path to take. 

In spite of my little friend’s unique twist on this old song, he did uncover one incredible truth: God sees not only our mistakes but also our potential.

Offer whatever you have and all that you are to the One who accepts you as you are and transforms you into all you can be. 

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All Things New

Wyatt, my seven-year-old grandson was sitting on the couch in the living room when I came into the house. Pillows propped him up, and a fuzzy brown monkey rested in the crook of his arm. Wyatt has a severe form of cerebral palsy caused from a rare intra-uterine stroke.

I said his name. He turned his head and looked for my voice. I asked how he was feeling. He opened his mouth.

“I know you’ve been a good boy today,” I remarked.

He grinned and turned his head to the side, his long eyelashes dipping over his big blue eyes.

“The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year.”

He blinked.

“Maybe, if things were different, you might have ridden a bicycle on a day like this.”

He looked at me.

A robin sang in the maple tree outside. They’ve always been symbols of spring, a time when everything becomes new again. Flowers sprout from the earth, and leaves turn vibrant green. What has seemed dead and lifeless all winter lives again.

Just like the passing of winter carries the promise of spring, God’s Word carries a promise in Revelation 21:5 that I cling to: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new.’”

Tears stung my eyes as I looked at my grandson’s limp hands. “This new place will be a place where all little boys will be able to run and play,” I told him.

He looked at me, and a bit of drool dribbled from his mouth. I sat down next to him and held his hand. “That includes you, Wyatt.”

He gushed a radiant smile.

Even though there are days when all I see are things Wyatt can’t do, I hold to God’s promise that He will make everything new. I look forward to the day when my grandson’s broken little body will be made new. I can’t wait to see how the touch of the Creator’s hand will give new life to his limbs and restore speech to his lips.

Only the loving God of all creation could promise to fix what is broken and make everything new again.

Let God fix whatever is broken in your life.  

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Circles of Life

The animation by Disney called The Lion King brought a new look to an old adage: the circle of life.

The circle of life concept transcends specific time periods and also sends mixed cultural messages. It refers to a natural progression of life on earth: birth, life, death, and—depending on your stance in life—birth again in a higher or lower position than before.

Circuitous can mean a roundabout lengthy course or can mean characterized by indirectness, evasiveness, or complexity—as in action, language, or arguments. The problem with a circle of life is you get back to where you started.

A recent testimony of a man hooked on drugs indicates addicts are on this circle of life program. They reach out for help, but the origin of their circle remains. No matter how many times they traverse the circle, they are considered addicts, recovering addicts, former addicts, or backslidden addicts.

Christ identifies the issues with the circle of life. The broader one’s approach to life, the more circuitous the path allowed. Wander around long enough, and we’ll get back to where we were. Instead, Jesus tells us to choose the straight gate with the narrow path. Following this road keeps us on the straight and narrow path heading to a destination where time and space stretches before us for an eternity.

The circle of life concept either lures us away from God’s intended path or helps us understand why we remain anchored to a point of origin without ever being relieved of the torment. God’s Word is clear. Each of us can choose which gate and way to take.

Don’t opt to go around and around. Enter the kingdom of God and go straight to eternity.

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When driving somewhere, turns are required.

Sometimes, I believe I can figure out my destination without directions. Once, we took our two grandsons to a kid’s museum. After thirty minutes of driving down the same road—which I thought was the right way—we stopped for directions. I should have turned four miles back. Had I, we would have already been there.

King Solomon finished building God’s temple and challenged Israel to turn from their wicked ways and back to God. If they did, God would consecrate the temple and listen to their prayers. But if they sought their own ways and other gods, He would uproot Israel from the land He had given them, reject the temple, and bring disaster on them.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. As with driving, we need directions for life, and this verse gives God’s. We must turn toward Him through humility, prayer, and seeking. Humility admits God is sovereign and means being selfless and attentive to God. Prayer is talking to God on a regular basis with specific requests, asking Him to help us with our turns. Seeking Him is making a defined turn back to Him as we continue to follow His directions and show our willingness to remain obedient.

Godly change requires intentionally turning in a new direction. Sometimes, we stay straight and miss our exit. We stay on the easy main highway and never go back to see what God may have had for us. Our turn must be a turn in a new direction and off the main highway. Through prayer and time in God’s Word, we can ask God for directions so we can make the right turn.

Have a time of reflection to help your mind slow down from the daily grind, rut, routine, and rat race. Ask God to show you where He may want you to make a turn. 

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Greater than Ourselves

Putting complete trust in something greater than us is difficult and requires tremendous faith.

Amidst uncertainty in my life, I have had to place the control I desired in God’s hands and trust He would meet my every need.

The prophet Habakkuk knew this better than anyone. Facing violent persecution from the Babylonians, he cried out to God in fear for his safety and well-being. He gathered the strength to trust in God’s plan and to rejoice in the Lord. In a time of need and frailty, he gave up control. Rather than depending on himself, he relied on the eternal and all-knowing God.

Our lives are in a constant state of uncertainty—whether our life’s direction or our survival. In these times, we can find the certainty we need by putting our absolute trust in God.

Trust God completely. He will never fail you. 

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The Battle Belongs to the Lord

I live with consuming fear. Fear of failure, fear of having insufficient funds, and fear of regret. 

Everyone experiences fear. Sometimes it only lasts a moment. At other times, it lasts longer than I want. Occasionally, I am so paralyzed with fear that I cannot make a decision—fearing it will be the wrong one. 

King Saul and the Israelites knew fear. They lived with it for forty days. Not only did they live with it, they also lost all hope. Enter young David. He was undaunted by the fears of the Israelites and the pride of the Philistines. He faced a giant who was twice his size and who wore armor weighing 126 pounds. David did not fear nor was he hopeless. He ran with confidence toward Goliath, believing the Lord would protect him.   

Unlike the Israelites, David understood his relationship with God. He knew his obedience would be met with God’s protection. He knew he needed to honor Him, and he did that by taking out the one man who disgraced God.

We can learn a lot from David. We can live each day for the Lord knowing that when we are afraid to be obedient, He will protect us. He will also give us courage and hope.

Change whatever you need to in your relationship with God so you can run with confidence toward the things you fear the most. 

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The Future Is Secure

I once lived in fear, thinking a day would come when I would commit a terrible sin, fall far from my Savior, and go to hell after death.

Fear kept me from doing many things in life, such as pursuing new job opportunities, going out to have fun, and making new friends. I aimed at eliminating all the opportunities that could lead to sin. As a result, I was neither happy nor fulfilled. I was a miserable Christian living in dread.

Then I realized Christ has promised nothing can separate me from His love. My future lies in His hands, and He will not allow anything to snatch me away (Psalms 55:22). I do not have to worry about failure since He is in control. When I fall into temptations, I can boldly go before the High Priest and ask for forgiveness (Heb.4:15-16).

Believers have the assurance their future is secure. Give thanks to the Lord all the time because we stand secure in His promise: nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We are free to go after our dreams and to live each day to the fullest. Christ came so that we can have abundant life. His death on the cross was a guarantee of our forgiveness.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. The great Shepherd will be your guide. 

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Finding Direction Amidst Distraction

Max, a boxer cross, was a typical puppy.

Puppies wander here and there, noses to the ground, eyes playfully following a butterfly—unaware of anything but what’s in front of their nose at the moment.

Max would become a large dog, but as a puppy he was a stumbling, rolling, mess of way-too-big puppy feet and flopping ears. When he heard his owner call his name, he sometimes turned slightly, but he kept going his own way in the end. Max was his own dog.

Unfortunately, Max’s owner thought his disobedience was cute. Other than a half-hearted attempt to make him come when called, Max’s puppy-will was never thwarted. One day, Max once again ignored the mundane while following a delicious scent. But reality interposed sharply in the form of a blaring horn and screeching tires. Max’s young life was saved by the observant driver, but a bumper tap on his tail was a wake-up call for the puppy’s owner.

The Bible says we’ve all gone astray like sheep . . . like puppies. Sheep are famous for wandering, but they have nothing on a distracted puppy. Going astray is their normal course of action—and ours too.

When we direct our own paths, we follow numerous rabbit trails. Wandering around on our own seems fine until we happen upon an impossible situation. Then we have to decide where we will turn. Trying different things, while enjoying the supposed freedom of a self-directed life, may be common, but they’re directionless in the end. Only God can rightly direct our paths.

If you’ve followed a wayward path that has led to close calls and bumps, give God’s direction a try. He promises to guide you across the most treacherous streets.

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A Lesson in Significance

We have all felt lost at some point—lacking significance. But we can find comfort in our existence, and biblical examples prove it.  

Ruth was a great woman of God who lost her whole way of life. She became a stranger in her own life, but followed passion during a time of great sorrow.

At a young age, Ruth lost her husband, but clung to her mother-in-law, Naomi. She left her homeland and followed Naomi to a foreign place she did not know. She entered the fields after the reapers and gleaned what was left behind. She humbled herself and left grief behind.

Ruth later married Boaz, and her life was restored. In her restoration, something significant occurred. A man named Jesse was born, and he had a son named David. From his seed, our Savior, Jesus Christ, came.

With obedience and meekness, Ruth began the genealogy of Jesus Christ. She was the great-grandmother of David and the ancestor of Joseph—Jesus’ earthly father.

The warm story of Ruth impacts us all, but her significance is often lost. God chose her to begin a process that directly affects your life. We often think our lives lack significance because we are not on the mountaintop getting all the attention. Understanding how the Lord works on this earth lets us comprehend our impact on the world.

Ruth turned the pain in her life to a promotion from the Lord. You can find significance in your situation. Even in the darkest moments, the Lord can lead you to fields of prosperity. When we humble ourselves despite our circumstances—as Ruth did—the Lord is faithful to promote us. 

You are not a victim of your circumstances, but an overcomer in Christ. 

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When God Pushes

On a windy Florida morning, my parents stepped out on the balcony facing Cape Canaveral­.

A giant barge drifted into the harbor followed by a little tugboat. They watched as the tugboat crept toward the barge until it became dangerously close. The barge’s monstrous presence made the tugboat look more like a bath toy bobbing up and down in the water. To my parent’s surprise, the tugboat turned its nose toward the barge and pressed into it. With its motor revving, the tugboat eased forward, steadily turning the barge.

A barge, though massive in size, cannot move itself but needs to rely on the small tugboat to push from behind and direct its path. When we finally make the decision to give our lives to the God of the universe, we give Him the power to lead. And He does ever so gently.

Even though we don’t see God directly in front of us, He steers us in the way we should go like the rudder of a ship. We can trust that though His voice is still and small, He is always encouraging us to follow His lead. 

In times of helplessness and trials, listen to the teaching of God through His Word, and believe His power will watch and guide you through.

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The Work of His Hands

On August 21, 2017, portions of the United States experienced a total solar eclipse—an event many will never see again in their lifetime.

The natural phenomenon captivated thousands of people, bringing them together in a few moments of awe. Viewing boxes were built and special glasses purchased. More people took in the glory of God than on any other day of the year.

As people looked to the sky, I wonder what they thought. Did they acknowledge the work of God’s hands, admiring His handiwork? The psalmist says we should have. The skies proclaim the work of His hands.

When we looked to the sky and watched totality of the eclipse, it was our moment to acknowledge God's presence. When we count the colors in a beautiful sunrise or sunset, it is our comfort that God is near. The heavens declare His glory, and the skies proclaim the work of His hands.

Step outside and look around. Look into the sky. Study the color patterns and cloud shapes. Admire the work of God’s hands.

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Growing Old According To God's Words

I’ve said it: “Boy, I’m getting old.” And “I just couldn’t sleep.”  

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 provides a great picture of how our bodies wear out. When we get old, our bodies fail and life gets harder. Simple tasks become large ordeals. Our eye sight dims and can even fail. Our hands may get shaky and our legs weak. Our grinders—or teeth—may go bad. At night, we grow restless and find it difficult to sleep. Since our sight has worsened, we become afraid of heights. Small noises are a burden. The man finally leaves earth, and people morn for him.

“Don't let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, ‘Life is not pleasant anymore.’" The main point of this Scripture is that we should work hard for God while we can. Then, when we’re old, God will help us fulfill our purpose with softness and meekness. Just because we age, we don’t quit. We follow Christ into a new method of worship and worth.

Don’t let growing old keep you from doing God’s work. 

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In Him

The earth shook as the giant called Goliath stepped onto the battle ground. 

The presence of fear held the army of Israel far from the sight of the giant. The weight of their thoughts held their tongue in place, and their faith in a positive outcome was already sealed in defeat. The giant’s length cast a great shadow over their hearts as hopelessness settled in. Who would save God’s people?

Out of the despair came a ruddy kid with a sling and some stones. A boy called David. A mere shepherd. The giant laughed and mocked such a display before him. The boy would merely distract this massive obstacle before he chose to dispose of him.

Goliath taunted David, but David was unshaken by the giant. Goliath pointed to the sky, saying he would allow the birds to eat David’s body after he was done with him. Goliath’s outward strength was greater than the army of Israel, so how could a boy defeat this great giant?

As the giant gestured widely at David, David calmly took a stone and put it in his sling. The giant laughed at a child’s toy being used to defeat him. As the Philistines behind him laughed and yelled, the giant fell.

The two armies became silent as the boy stood victoriously over the giant. The cloudy cold day gave way to the first ray of sun. The clouds parted, and they could see God had delivered them from a fog of fear.

We all seek to be as strong as Goliath, but it was the Lord’s inner strength in David that defeated the giant. The outward appearance of Goliath kept the others hiding, but David saw through the outward strength and glimpsed the giant’s weakness.

David had the Lord, but Goliath did not. David saved his people and shows us what real faith is. David would become a king, but it was in that moment he was crowned by God.

Your giant is not as strong as you think. Use what God has put in your hands, and defeat the obstacle before you. God has already overcome the world. You only have to believe He is and that you are in Him.

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What Kind of Cloud Are You?

Clouds fascinate me.

My eyes fixate on the sky, mesmerized by their vast array of shapes, colors, and sizes. White cottony clouds. Dark menacing clouds. Rain clouds lined with golden sunlight. Early morning clouds tinged in pink. Hazy clouds set against a blazing orange canvas. Churning minute by minute, the sky displays a kaleidoscope of tinted textures and hues.

My interest is piqued most by a mixture of big billowy dark clouds and white cottony ones that seem to emerge right after a summer rain. What attracts my curiosity is the way they overlap. Dark clouds hover over the horizon, low enough you could almost poke them with your finger and release a deluge of rain. Then, peeking out from behind these dark billowy clouds are the fluffy cottony clouds framed by the brilliant sun. Both are set against a backdrop of azure blue. The mixture of hues is stunning.

The combination of dingy and bright reminds me of my life. Some days my countenance is dark. One—often innocent—remark pokes my emotional surface and brings forth a flood of tears. Offended and hurt, my demeanor displays the appearance of deep-gray ominous storm clouds hovering over the earth ready to erupt. With my somber mood roiling inside, I anger easily and often say words I can’t take back. My words leave a path of destruction. Rebuilding is cumbersome, awkward, and slow.

Then there are days when my disposition is sunny and bright. It doesn’t take much for a smile to radiate upon my face. The tiniest things bring me joy, such as the sweet song of a robin outside my bedroom window on a summer morning.

Finding pleasure in the unique moments God creates challenges me. I can cling to the unpleasant and allow its darkness to affect my behavior or seek the wonder wrapped in each encounter. I can allow negativity to pierce my mood or invite God’s radiant love to wrap my soul in warmth and protect my heart.

Be the kind of cloud that lets brightness and radiance win in your life.

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Thoughts of Christmas

For most of us, thoughts of Christmas lead to thoughts of home.

Often these thoughts are sweet and contain the most wonderful and loving memories.  We remember past Christmas celebrations filled with people loving each other: decorating the house, putting up lights, sharing meals, buying gifts, opening gifts, going to church together, and singing carols. Memories that warm our hearts and make us smile.

Others had different Christmases. There was little love, no money, no decorations, and no reason for the season. Christmas was something to be endured—something that caused pain that would be felt and remembered for years to come.

Jesus invites us to live and celebrate life—not just Christmas—at home in His love. Home where we are accepted exactly as we are, where we know we are safe and protected, where we are encouraged to dream and step out in faith, where we are supported, and where life is full of compassion, joy, and peace. Home where there is more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

This Christmas, think on Jesus’ invitation to be at home in His love. Doing so will make your year a year of real celebration.

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The First Christmas Card

Opening the mailbox in December and finding a Christmas card from a friend or loved one brings cheer to our hearts.

Despite the present electronic versions of communication, receiving a paper greeting is more delightful. We have something we can hold and display for others to see—something to keep from year to year if we desire.

But a letter of greater importance than any sent from friends or families was broadcast on a hillside in Bethlehem to shepherds: “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy. The Savior has been born.” What report could be better than that?

The first Christmas card was dispatched from heaven when angels left the throne of God and brought glad tidings to men watching their sheep. Shepherds depended on their sheep for their livelihood. If something happened to their flock, they had no income. Yet they left the hillside in search of the One the angels had told them about because the story was so astounding.

The lifeline from heaven brought headlines that God’s anger at sin would be reconciled through the body of a little baby. The proclamation was that the Son of Man had been born through a bloody birth and would grow up and die a sacrificial bloody death as the Son of God. The gospel was the most incredible and loving announcement ever to be proclaimed.

The extraordinary broadcast has continued throughout the centuries and is a Christmas card we can keep forever, because the news never wears out, fades, gets old, or tears. After the holiday season, we put our paper greetings and decorations away, but we can display the story from heaven all year because the living Word abides in our hearts when we make Christ our Savior.

If you haven’t accepted this card in your heart’s mailbox, open yourself up today and let the eternal message be the best Christmas present you have ever received. God’s arms are reaching out, and He has sent His gift to you.

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The Path

I once asked the eye doctor why my husband could still see better than I even though we both wore glasses to correct our vision.

The optometrist’s answer, “Everybody’s different,” irritated me. Obviously. I wanted a more scientific answer, but the optometrist apparently thought I was too dense to understand.

Sometimes I need to be reminded with a simple answer. God treats us differently because He made us differently. He gives us our own path to walk, an individual race to run. Not the race marked for my parents, neighbors, co-workers, or friends—but a race marked out for me.

If God has set before me a 5K race, trying to run a marathon would be silly. He hasn’t put a marathon before me, and He probably hasn’t prepared me for it. Conversely, if He sets a marathon before me and I choose to run a shorter race, I’ll be frustrated that the training He put me through was for nothing—even if running the shorter race is easier.

God wants the best for us. He knows what we are capable of and where our individual strengths lie. He puts tasks and experiences before us to help us grow and then uses that growth to its fullest potential.

God has marked out a path for me, and that is the path I should follow. It may seem steep or rocky at times, but I choose to believe that either He has already trained me for it or that He is training me for something else. I will probably never know what my entire course looks like, but I want to trust the One who has set my path.

Travel the path God has marked out for you. 

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When God Doesn't Explain Why

“Grandma Moore has stage four pancreatic cancer, honey.”

I’ll never forget the day Mom told me this. I sobbed. Even at age 81, Grandma was the healthiest person I knew. She golfed nine holes almost every day, and she walked the course. How could she have terminal cancer?

A specialist recommended experimental surgery. He’d remove her entire pancreas, and she’d manage the resulting diabetes with insulin and a low-carb diet. I begged her to opt for palliative care instead and let the Lord take her home in His timing. I’d worked in doctors’ offices and saw how challenging diabetes was to manage. And Grandma had never needed to monitor her carb intake before. I knew she had no idea what she was in for, but she thought surgery was her only choice.

After surgery, Grandma suffered terrible pain. She was also overwhelmed by the task of learning how to manage her blood sugar. Watching her suffer made me angry. But the irrational part was that I was angry at her—frustrated that she’d rejected my advice.

I was also angry with myself. I felt guilty because I couldn’t help her. She’d shown me unconditional love and support my entire life, but I had two demanding toddlers to care for. But I was the angriest with God. Why would He let a devoted servant suffer like this? She’d spent her whole life serving Him.

Grandma’s pain mounted as time passed. Managing diabetes took over her life. She went into remission a couple of times, but cancer eventually spread to her lungs. After battling cancer almost two years, she went to be with the Lord.

I never surrendered my anger to God until after Grandma died. Once I knew she wasn’t suffering anymore, I finally let go. Getting angry at Grandma, myself, and God served no purpose.

Watching Grandma die slowly taught me that serving God doesn’t guarantee we won’t suffer. Acknowledging that doesn’t bring me any comfort. God allowed Job to suffer, and he did nothing to bring on his disaster and pain. Grandma didn’t do anything to cause her pain and suffering either.

God neither explains His purposes nor needs to. He is omnipotent; I’m not. Believe that suffering has a beautiful purpose, even if you can’t perceive it.

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Double Vision

“God, I trust you with the results of my Lasik surgery. I will praise you no matter the outcome.”

I knew there were risks, but I didn’t think anything would go wrong. I didn’t know anyone who had problems after having Lasik surgery. At the time, it was an easy prayer.

The morning after my surgery, I got in the shower and couldn’t read the words on my shampoo bottle. Nor could I read the words on my lotion bottle or soap dispenser. My cell phone was blurry. I didn’t understand what had happened.

Then one evening I was stopped at a traffic light and realized I saw two red lights stacked on top of each other. While driving home, I saw four headlights coming at me instead of two. I was seeing double.

After consulting three eye specialists, the last one explained the puzzle of my double vision. At the time of my surgery, my lenses had already become partially rigid. When the Lasik surgery changed my vision from nearsightedness to farsightedness, my lenses couldn’t adjust properly between the two extremes. When I read anything up close for long periods of time and then tried to focus on something far away, I experienced double vision.

Paul says thanking God in all circumstances is God’s will for us. I had promised God I would praise Him regardless of the outcome. That isn’t always easy. Blurry vision is annoying, but when I complain, God reminds me of my promise.

Thanking God despite my irritating circumstances starts when I remember my vision won’t always be blurry. Someday it will be perfect. And then I remember God is sovereign and must have a purpose for my double vision. Perhaps to teach me contentment in all circumstances. When I focus on all Christ has done for me on the cross and what I can look forward to, my circumstances pale in comparison. I can never forget the gospel and the grace extended to me daily. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I can redirect my thoughts to reasons for thankfulness rather than complaints.

When circumstances don’t go the way you want them, thank God instead of grumbling and complaining. 

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I Wish I Were More Like You

When I see Facebook photos of you with your friends and families, I envy you. You don’t seem worried about how you look in the pictures. You’re smiling and enjoying the camaraderie of those who enjoy spending time with you.

I wish I were more like you, because I often avoid having my picture taken. I’m afraid my physical flaws will freeze forever in that snapshot, so I miss out on many Kodak moments. 

But no longer. I want to develop a different perspective.

Instead of being preoccupied with how unphotogenic I am, I now ask God to help me see myself the way He and others see me—especially the ones who want me in pictures with them. I will begin by not focusing on myself so much, especially my outward appearance.

The apostle Paul has something to say to those of us who struggle in this way. If I were to believe I have been chosen and that I am dearly loved by God Himself, it would change the way I see myself. And it would change the way you see yourself. Eventually, the truth of this status could equip and motivate us to become more compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient.

As we continue to change, our character would become so attractive that it would radiate in our countenance, reflecting the One whose character we desire to emulate. As we become less focused on ourselves—including how we look—we might become more relaxed and enjoy being a part of other people’s lives.

Though I still might not run to have my picture taken, I’ll stop running away from the chance to be included in someone’s photo album or Facebook post—and finally update my Facebook cover photo.

Don’t be preoccupied with your physical appearance. Make positive changes that will help you better reflect God’s opinion of you.

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Lost in the Backyard

When visiting my cousin, my backyard increased exponentially until exploring it required more than one day.

I envied my cousin. He and his family lived on my grandfather’s farm. Farmland, woods, hog pens, and cow pastures surrounded his house. When I visited my cousin, the woods became our second home. Occasionally, we’d enter a stretch of woods he’d not explored before. We’d use our knives to notch trees to find our way back should we got lost. Those experiences were the exceptions—not the rule.

Normally, we could roam all day and never get lost. He knew his way around. After all, he did this regularly. I was the visitor who didn’t have his bearings. I stood amazed at how my cousin could roam in all directions and then guide us back home. His backyard extended for miles, and he never got lost nor worried about any dangers in it.

Jesus describes a different backyard. One just as large, but one that involves getting lost inside. He came to save those lost in their backyards.

I never remember a time when my family had to search for my cousin and me. My cousin always knew our location, and we always came when called. Not the case with Jesus. He came to search. In fact, He searched before He came and still searches now that He’s back in heaven. He searches because I and the rest of humanity are lost. I was born lost and remained that way until He found me—and I let Him discover me.

Sin causes the lostness, not geographically, but spiritually. Sin is a word fewer people are comfortable with but one the Bible uses to describe our natural state. The consequences of sin aren’t pretty either: spiritual death and eternal separation from God.

Had I and my cousin ever gotten lost, his parents or our grandparents would have willingly searched until they found us. Jesus does the same. Staying lost in our backyard is our choice. So is being found. When found, forgiveness flows and life changes. Condemnation flies out the window, and acceptance moves in. Peace comes as I realize all things are now right between me and my Creator.

Don’t stay lost in your backyard. Let Jesus find you.

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Hold on to Love

I’m a lifelong people watcher. Since childhood, I’d rather sit on a mall bench and watch people go by than go inside and shop.

Restaurants provide another people watcher’s paradise. Young couples enter, holding hands or with arms around one another and heads together. They gaze into each other’s eyes and talk a mile a minute. Couples with small children try to talk and share some quality time but often get sidetracked with wiping noses, breaking up fights, and cleaning up spills. Older couples vary from hand holding to visiting other people to sitting together almost mute. With the quiet ones, I get the feeling they find joy in one another’s company without having to say a word. Others seem to grudgingly tolerate their spouse’s existence—to have lost their first love.

John wrote to the seven churches of Asia during his exile on the island of Patmos. He began God’s message to the church at Ephesus by recognizing their strengths. Then he addressed a problem: the loss of their first love. Their devotion to God and fervency in worship and service had waned. They needed a good dose of repentance and revival.

That same fading of zeal for God still occurs today. We get caught up in daily life and forget to live for the Giver of life. Spiritual apathy and neglect replace the passion and praise of our early Christian lives. Not only do we lose, but the people we fail to touch in Jesus’ name and with His love also lose.

Refuse to lose your first love. However love’s original intensity looked for you—hands lifted, voice raised, messes cleaned, or quietly sitting in God’s presence—hold on to it and never let it fade.

(Originally appeared in Reflections (volume 24, 2014), Smyth and Helwys Publishing.)

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Pay Attention

“Pay attention.”

I heard these words at a baseball game where my five-year-old grandson was playing baseball. He was playing third base, throwing grass and dirt around, and his dad was telling him to pay attention and keep his eye on the batter.

Maybe you’ve heard these words from a teacher, coach, or parent. God also tells us to pay attention. My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. Don't lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart.These verses remind us to seek wisdom and discernment in the routes we walk. We can only do that by reading and meditating on God’s Word—and then obeying.

We must be careful with our words, our heart, our steps, and our routes. Proverbs 4 has many verses that instruct us to be intentional in our walk with God and to move forward and not be influenced by the wicked. Our goal is to stay on God’s passageway.

Our way is in God’s full view. He watches all in our pathway: words, thoughts, relationships, responsibilities, choices, actions. The way of the wicked results in darkness. Paying attention gives us wisdom and discernment to keep our feet on the right trail.

Sometimes, we drift in our relationship with God. Busyness takes away from time in His Word. I work on a verse for the week, writing it down on an index card as a constant reminder during the week or putting it on my phone in a notes app.

Reading God’s Word and confirming our decisions are aligned with God’s path may involve spending more time in His Word, more time in prayer, or more time in regular church attendance, but it will keep us on the right path.

Pick a part of your path and pray through these verses. Then allow God to change you or adjust your way so you can draw closer to Him.

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Tipsy Elephants

Gripping the steel rails of our open-top truck, my teenage daughter and I bumped and bounced along the sweltering, dusty roads through the Ankegura National Game Park in Africa.

As lovers of elephants—those magnificent, gentle giants—she and I hoped we’d spot one. Our guide warned us, “Elephants in these parts are known to get drunk on fermented bananas and go on a savage rampage, crushing everything in their path.”

Sure enough, we saw trees and bushes trampled to the ground—clear, unsettling evidence of an elephant stampede. We turned a sharp corner and suddenly met them face to face, a massive pair of killer elephants. Our hearts stopped. This was no zoo, or Disneyland, or a dream where we could fashion our own ending. This was real life, and it terrified us.

In crisis times, we realize how little control we have. We cling to our faith and the One who holds the remote control of our lives in His merciful hand. God graciously steered us to safety that day, but I mulled over that experience long afterward and penned the following in my journal:

Why, Lord, does it take those heart-stopping moments to remind me of Your reign over my life—ruling as You judge best for me—Your reins on my life—holding me back, spurring me on, as You see fit—Your rain in my life—allowed for my good, to soften, shape, and cleanse. I recall times I have behaved like a stubborn, self-sufficient child, reluctant to hold her Daddy's hand—until the Giant appears—then leaping into His arms and clinging with all her might. Thank You, Father, for always being there with open arms, to protect Your little girl from gentle giants—and not-so-gentle ones—even before I know they are there.

We all face life’s giants: failure, loneliness, fear, discouragement, regret, worry, anger, doubt, guilt, temptation, resentment, jealousy. The list goes on. These seemingly unbeatable foes are intent on lurking and taunting us, bent on defeating us.

The Bible tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus. He is our light, our protector, our ever-present giant slayer.

Focus on God rather than your elephants. 

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Sowing Good Seeds

What we sow, we reap.

The concept of sowing and reaping means different things to different people. Preachers teach extensively on the subject. Church members take pages of notes on it. However, gospel truth is gospel truth. Spiritually, if a person plants it, they will harvest it. 

Some seeds yield a harvest sooner than others, such as negativity. The world is full of it. Plenty of fertile ground exists in which to grow counterproductive thoughts. Not long after we plant it, we reap a bumper crop of negative thoughts. Negative situations soon follow.

We can also plant anger. Someone wrongs their neighbor, and the neighbor gets angry. The anger becomes a seed planted in a heart which takes root and grows into a powerful grudge. Grudges choke out compassion. Soon, the neighbor reaps a harvest of anger and bitterness that ruins their life.

Believers should sow the good seeds of compassion and faith. When trouble comes our way, we should also step away from the habit of blaming God or others for our problems. We reap what we sow. 

Don’t blame unpleasant situations on God or others. Instead, be honest about what you planted.  

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Why the Conflict?

Difficulties and conflict make us aware of our need for God and His presence.

I have learned I don’t have to be overtaken when troubles loom within and without. Instead, I can take great comfort in knowing that my heavenly Father is with me in every circumstance of life and longs to show Himself strong on my behalf. Through the process, my faith is made stronger.

The apostle Paul describes the conflict he encountered in the midst of doing God’s will. He tells of having conflicts from without and being filled with fear from within.

God uses trials and difficulties to show us the nature of His character and to strengthen our faith. We can’t grow in our faith and understanding of God’s character except through difficulty. We can study about God’s ability to give peace, but until we’re in a position of unparalleled difficulty that threatens to rob us of our peace, we will not experience the peace that surpasses all understanding. We may possess knowledge of the truth, but God desires that we know Him intimately so our faith is deepened.

If we never experience a need, we will never know God’s ability to supply all our needs according to His riches in Christ. Nor will we be able to declare with the psalmist David, We have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. Without weakness, we will be incapable of experiencing God’s all-sufficient strength.

Let your conflicts drive you closer to God, not further away. 

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Access to the CEO

The communication business strives for clarity.

Committees ensure words express the specific meaning of the message. You’d recognize the branding ideas of many corporations because their three-word phrases bring them instantly to mind:

“Eat Mor Chikin.”

“Fun Family Entertainment”

“Just Do It.”

Common talking skills lack the clarity these companies apply to get these exacting standards.

There have been times when I asked for the pepper but received the salt. In my mind, I had made a simple request. Not so on the other end. Do you suppose we could get the straight scoop from the corporate executive officer rather than from the janitor? In the case of the above companies, they make sure you get the same answer from anyone associated with them.

In the Old Testament, only prophets heard from God. The Hebrew people depended upon them to verbalize what God said. Abram started it, Moses built on it, and Jesus finished it. No matter how often the Jews brought sacrifices to atone for their sins, the priests made the act complete in the tabernacle where those burnt offerings were made.

When Christ was crucified, the temple veil tore in two. The Holy of Holies no longer remained sacrosanct. The priests’ hold over the Hebrew people vanished, and Jesus foreshadowed the event when he stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Jesus created the way for everyone to communicate with God. We now have the telegraph to get the Word straight from the CEO. God really is better than any committee. No higher authority on what we need to hear exists than the words given by God.

If you’re having trouble understanding anything in this life, get to the CEO. He sent His Son for the express purpose of making the Word fully comprehensible by everyone. 

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Are You Distracted?

Somehow, I don’t seem to be getting to my destination.

I know where I want to go, but often find myself effortlessly moving in a different direction. It happens so fast and so often it’s hardly noticeable. I usually take time to notice certain things beside the road. Before long, I am moving towards the object—and I’m not the only one.

I wondered why I move towards my desires when my original destination was towards God’s will. The answer was found in Colossians 3:2. My affections were in the driver’s seat and on earthly things. I had grown to love these things more than God and His will. Paul said the same thing in another place, “Don’t get confused, you don’t belong here on earth, don’t get too attached to it.”

My desires and needs determine what my focus in life becomes. If that shifts from Christ and His will, I will let go of God’s principles to lay hold of whatever I want and by whatever means necessary.

To glorify God, I must have a change in my affections, which will result in a shift in my attention. This is only possible by renewing my mind through constant meditation on God’s Word. Through this, I get to know His desires. It also requires intimate fellowship with Him, wherein He stirs up His desires in my heart.

When my greatest affection is for Christ, He will be my focus. Rather than letting people, objects, wealth, and other things distract me, I can let them guide me.

Don’t let anything or anyone steal your focus from God. 

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Called to Worship

The only food God eats is our worship. But we have to give it to Him in the way He loves.

Worship is the devotion given to a divine being. Almighty God calls us to give worship to Him, the creator of heaven and earth. God created us for His glory and pleasure. Our whole being is meant to worship Him. Although He doesn’t need our money, houses, cars, lands, or food, He will make use of them without our permission if He has need for them.

For God to have pleasure and inhabit our worship, we must present ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him. We must worship Him with gladness of heart, reverencing Him as our life. Beside Him, there is no other God.

Worshiping God doesn’t mean we will avoid afflictions and persecutions. The Bible says “many are the afflictions of the righteous…” Yet in the face of those afflictions, we worship God even more because the devil recognizes us as righteoua.

When God sees that we are consistent in worshiping Him despite our afflictions, our worship will come to Him like a sweet smelling savor. He will rise from His throne and receive it to Himself—exalting us above those afflictions, principalities, and powers.

Give God quality worship. He will give you quality blessings. 

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Longing for Home

Home is where the heart is.

Often, after an extended period away from home, I feel the need to return where things are familiar and where loved ones await. Home represents a place of origin and belonging.

To be far from home conjures up feelings of longing and melancholy. In spite of the natural beauty of my surroundings, some of my best vacations have left me with an unshakable restlessness.

I think the feeling comes because we are created with a void only God can fill. He has set a longing for heaven in our hearts, and this longing is the reason we sometimes find ourselves restless or lonely. 

What helps alleviate these feelings for me is cultivating an awareness of God’s presence and remembering Jesus is preparing a home for us. One day, He will return to take us to heaven where we’ll worship at His throne in unbroken fellowship. This thought fills me with peace and anticipation—regardless of where I find myself.

In our eternal home, sorrow and tears will be no more. We’ll experience real joy. We can have hope now because we are headed to our eternal home. And we’ll be there in the twinkling of an eye.

Let your homesickness lead you closer to God.

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Giving God Control

Wait. I hate that word.

I typically don’t know how long I’ll have to wait on things. A couple of minutes might pass until the pizza is baked, but it could be a few days before a package arrives. Or what I’m waiting for may be interminable.

I believe something beautiful is coming, but I don’t know when. The unknown makes me uneasy. I want to know precisely when God will fulfill my hope. I want to see a vision of it—something beautiful coming from the throbbing cavity in my heart. Even though God has given me hope, not knowing when it will come to fruition agonizes me.

Giving God complete control in my present situation supersedes my ability. Surrendering to God requires supernatural help. I want to soothe and heal my heartache by solving the problem myself. I want to run the show.

But I can’t do this if I want to obey God. I have to submit and wait for the Holy Spirit to guide me. While I wait, I have to carry on until God shows me my waiting is over. This stings my pride.

Allowing God to run my life when I don’t know how the situation will turn out or how long I will have to wait until He fulfills His promised hope requires a disciplined prayer life. Daily concentrated prayer nourishes my soul and draws me into the throne room of heaven.

God’s Spirit rules over everything in my life, but I have to accept His timing and will if I am to become who He wants me to be.

Your life isn’t over. One day you will understand the point of your waiting. Until then, let God control your life.

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Quitting Won't Solve Anything

“You’ll never be what God has called you to be.”

Before I could apologize for what I said, the devil reminded me of my weaknesses. I knew my kids needed a strong teacher, but on this particular day, I’d had enough—enough of the disrespect and filthy language that came from the mouths of thirteen-year-olds. I walked out of my classroom and left them in their mess.

I ruminated over my mistake, then spoke with my mentor. “Out of the 120 kids you teach, only two got on your nerves. Those two got suspended, so why would you want to quit on so many of the other kids who need you?” She made sense. Perhaps too much sense.

In that moment, I understood what messing up felt like. I made the mistake of trying to fight my own battle, not realizing God is the one who rebukes the enemy for me. This verse in Zechariah reminded me: The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!

I was chosen for a purpose—to stand in the gap for children who need a mentor who can lead them into their destiny. I understood my mess, the things I’ve said, and the commitments I’ve run from. God has sustained me and rebuked the enemy through the process. He has never quit on me.

Today could be the day you want to quit or give up. Satan tries to accuse and convict even the godliest people about their past failures. But God still stands in the gap and rebukes him for your sake.

I could’ve given up on my eighth graders. I could have left them in their maturation process, but that would have been hypocritical, knowing God has never left me. God knew from the beginning the struggles I would endure. He knew the struggles that would come with teaching a child, and He knew the path I would walk—long before I was born. Yet He still allowed me life.

Your being here is not a coincidence. God has a plan suited for your life to bring joy to others. Although you’ve fallen before, you can get up because a just person falls seven times but rises up again. Believe your life is wonderful. Allow the Lord to be your vindicator.

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God's Type of Life

Since my recent valley of death experiences, I have become interested in what it means to be alive.

I have learned the Holy Spirit is the distributor of God’s gifts. He is the chosen executor of Almighty God’s will. The Father is the planner, the Son is the revealer, and the Spirit is the distributor. But having been given a gift doesn’t necessarily mean the gift will be used.

Each of God’s children is given—at the moment of their second birth—a reflection of God’s type of life. God is all powerful, He is love, and He is in control. A born-again person lives God’s type of life by yielding through prayer to Almighty God. The Spirit of God lives inside the fabric of a born-again personality and wants to take control.

This troubled world needs God’s children to radiate the divine qualities living inside of them. Each day, we live because God wants us to share His power, His love, and His sound mind. Every believer is a short-term missionary.

Hopefully, before we take our final walk through the valley of death, we will mature into what our Father gave us the day we took Jesus as our Savior. By yielding to the Spirit of God, a believer experiences what they are changed into: a new creature.

Having been zombies, or dead men walking in trespasses and sins, God’s children can now choose either to live energized by the Holy Spirit’s life, power, love, and self-control or to fall back into being controlled by their flesh.

Failing to approach God in prayer and asking for His life to flow through us will produce a counterfeit of God’s type of life. The flesh guarantees this. Our power will have the lusts of the flesh flavor, including wrath. Our love will have a rotten smell as we seek for love in all the wrong places. And self-control will have selfishness coloring its fabric. 

Pray today to be controlled by the Spirit of God and to have the power, love, and sound mind you received at your best birthday party.

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Whose Report Will You Believe?

The message etched in my heart was “You’re worthless!”

“You’re just like your father—moody, no friends, no personality. You’ll never amount to anything.” Growing up, I heard these words—and others even more hurtful—over and over.

The old sticks and stones adage is bogus. Words do hurt. They go down into our innermost being like a heat-seeking missile and lodge there. Some folks don’t intend harm when they spout off hateful words. After all, hurting people hurt people. Others use words as weapons of mass destruction, planning their strategy carefully.

A well-known speaker and author told about a comment directed at him when he was young: “You’re just stupid.” He shared how those words took root and impacted his life for years.

The mean-spirited words spoken to me as a child (and even as an adult) replayed in my mind like an old 45 RPM with the needle stuck in one place. I rehearsed those comments for years until God revealed His truth and set me free. He showed me His opinion of me was the only one that counted.

Many voices speak in this world. The naysayers and critics are inevitable and unavoidable. They’ve always been there, and they always will be—just take a look at the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

The Devil is called the accuser of the brethren and the father of lies. His biggest weapon is deceit. But we also have the voice of the Spirit, speaking words straight from the Father’s heart. Our only defense against the lies is knowing who we are in Christ and what His Word has to say about us. The question is: Whose voice are we going to listen to?

Years ago, Ron Kenoly sang a popular song entitled “Whose Report Shall You Believe?” If you’re not familiar with it, check it out online and study the powerful lyrics. And the next time negative words are hurled at you, throw up the shield of faith and ask yourself, Whose report will I choose to believe? Then tell yourself—and the enemy—I choose to believe the report of the Lord.

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Cleaning Fingerprints

“Fingerprints all over the place.”

My oldest grandson called the dirty storm door to my attention as he and his younger brother stood looking over the back yard. Of course, he failed to mention both of them were the reason for the smudges. Since we keep them five days a week, keeping the door clean was an exercise in futility I’d almost given up on.

“Handprints are more like it.” I snickered.

“You need to clean it, Pop,” he said.

As a Type A personality like myself, my grandson can’t stand dirt—or smudges. I walked by and left the door alone. Since we were moving in a couple of weeks, I had even more reason to ignore the grimy handprints. When I decide to clean the door—probably just before we move—I won’t replace the entire door. I’ll just take out the window cleaner and clean the glass portion.

Jesus proposed a similar scenario to His disciples. They didn’t need to wash all over—just their feet. They were totally cleansed when they believed in Him and decided to be His followers. Now they merely needed a daily sponge bath.

At nine years of age, I decided to do what these early disciples did—trust Jesus as my Savior. Dad explained the gospel message of how Jesus died for my sins. I believed and invited Him into my life. In that moment, He cleansed me all over. Past, present, and future sins—of which there have been many—were washed away. The price Jesus paid on Calvary for humanity’s sins was applied to me.

But what about the daily fingerprints that come from putting my hands where they don’t belong—like my grandchildren? They won’t send me to hell, because Jesus’ blood has covered them. They will, however, interfere with my spiritual vision as the fingerprints on the door cloud the view of the backyard. Confession will clear away the smudges. My acknowledgment of my failures and sins is what Jesus referred to when He mentioned a daily foot washing.

Make confession a daily practice. Doing so is good for the soul and will keep your feet clean—and remove the smudges from the doors so interaction between you and the Savior can be open and clear.

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The Rest of Freedom

There was once a bird who lived in a cage. The door was left open, but the bird did not fly away because it was used to the confines of the cage. How much like this bird we are.

Jesus died to set us free, yet we do not walk out of our own cages—many of them self-created.  The price was paid for our complete freedom, yet we must take the chance and step into it.  Jesus paid the highest price so that we can.

The word indeed means to add to or strengthen a previous statement, without question, undeniably, incontestable, indisputable, and inarguable. To be “free indeed” is to be free without question. It cannot be argued, disputed, or denied.

Although we despise our bondage, it’s what we know. We understand how to manage it. Freedom can be scary if we’ve lived in bondage for years. It requires a new way of living and thinking. Our mind—the way we think—is the beginning and end of our troubles.

To walk in freedom means trusting the One who bought our freedom. But trust doesn’t always come easy. It requires trusting God enough to actually live in freedom. So often, we receive freedom but never experience the full benefits because we spend our entire lives trying not to lose that freedom. It’s similar to the difference between playing to win a game and playing not to lose a game. Only one produces true victory.

To live trying not to lose our freedom is like saying we earned it so we can somehow lose it. True freedom brings rest—a rest knowing the God who set us free is able to keep us free. We may be physically free, but if we constantly feel as if one little thing can push us over the edge, our mind is not free. As a man thinks, so is he.

Are you walking in freedom daily? Ask God to help you. Your confidence will grow, and your trust will lead you to rest in His freedom.  

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Lessons from a Hot Iron

Mom taught me how to iron clothes.

Since we had no television while I was growing up, Saturday mornings usually found me ironing the pillowcases and dish towels mom had laundered, starched, and rolled up in a large plastic bag. This would keep them moist while awaiting their appointed time with the iron.

Until I was tall enough to reach the ironing board while standing, we used a combo “high chair” and stepstool with two squeaky steps. Maybe it was early onset OCD, but I grew to enjoy transforming those moist wrinkled items into dry smooth works of art.

Now that I’m grown—except for the periodic break when I take my clothes to the cleaners—I don’t mind ironing my own clothes. As a child, we didn’t have the luxury of a steam iron, so we kept the clothes moist and smoothed their wrinkles with a simple iron that had a cool handle and a hot base. But today’s new and improved models feature so many fancy knobs, buttons, and settings that it requires an instruction booklet.

One of the safety features on new irons is a cut-off mechanism when the iron is inactive. When I'm ironing, the green “in use” light is on, and the iron performs smoothly and effectively. However, when I get distracted and leave it standing inactive for a short while, the green light blinks off and the iron shuts off. This is by design so I don’t burn the house down.

As I ironed my business shirts one day, God showed me how I am like that iron when I’m supposed to be doing something for Him. While I’m active and busy, He supplies the power, energy, and enthusiasm to complete the task. When I get distracted, forget my priorities, and become discouraged, my spiritual “in use” light blinks off and I lose His power and my enthusiasm and effectiveness.

Jesus said we were to let our lights shine. God usually won’t show you the longer pathway until you are taking the steps He's already shown you. Whether He's convicted you to stop something or inspired you to start something, get busy doing it or you may be stuck for a while with your “in use” button off and your iron growing cold.

Don’t let anything or anyone keep your light for God from shining. 

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Cover It Up

He hurt me. Everyone will know about it. I trusted them not to do such a distasteful thing, but what I feared most has happened.

For each of these situations, pain and anger can cover up love. Sometimes payback—instead of grace and forgiveness—is the next agenda. God wants us to forgive as He forgives us. But sometimes we are not able to go a step further when we are finally able to forgive.

Even when we let go, we are unable to cover up what has happened. We want to pay back by letting everyone know what the offender did. Seeking the best for the person who has hurt us should never elude us because we have been hurt. We should not seek to hurt or disgrace them by making sure the world knows we’re the better person in the friendship. Rather, we should cover up the wrong that’s been done to us as Joseph did.

The way Joseph handled his experience with Mary taught me a lot. He was the right man for her and for the job the Lord had for him.

One act that will hurt only for a time doesn’t have to be made into an issue that will scar the other person for life. We don’t always have to spill the beans. Sometimes we need to cover them up. We never know if we may have to come back to the offense. Doing so is difficult, but grace abounds. We may not want to cover up offenses for the offender or for ourselves, but we can do it for Jesus. He will be pleased.

Forgive and cover up every wrong with love.

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Broken Vessels

Clay pots can be broken and then mended.

God has broken me over the past three years. He hasn’t pulverized me, but I have a deep crack. Even though He has sealed me back together, the crack remains and is obvious to anyone looking for it.

Bipolar depression and marital discord have cracked me in pieces. Although God is repairing me, the cracks remind me God alone sustains me through my mental and marital problems.

Ministry seems to be the reason God has broken me. He wants me to be able to empathize with others who are broken. Transparency is critical when ministering to someone else’s brokenness. I can sense a phony immediately. I imagine others can too. I can only be authentic if I am raw and vulnerable in my writing. So I had to be broken.

I’m learning to invite God into my heartbreak. Only He can soothe me. No substance or person can help me. It’s spiritually exhausting to struggle against the loss of peace in my life. But God is teaching me to trust that He can give me peace even while the storm rages.     

The more transparent we are about our struggles, the better equipped we are to point others to God who comforts the suffering. Let others see what God has done in your life. 

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What The New Mall Can't Offer

Many people shopped until they dropped.

Last year, the buzz around town one weekend was that a new outlet mall was opening. Right before Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the holidays. Now we wouldn’t have to drive sixty miles for discounts. We would have them in our own area.

Sometimes I feel sick over the commercialization of Christmas. The media assault through television, billboards, and radio ads to buy the biggest, newest, and best gift makes me think about never being satisfied.

If you think your children are never satisfied and you feel compelled to make their Christmas dreams come true, going into a hectic mall is enough to take away any joy and peace you might hope for when celebrating the season. But gifts that come from the heart—love, joy, and peace—can’t. These are gifts from God.

Another is forgiveness. Everyone needs to be forgiven and to feel forgiven after they have done something wrong, something that hurt someone. Maybe it was an oversight or wrong decision. It might have been unintentional, but the damage was done. Owning up to it can be difficult, but you know there is no peace until you ask for forgiveness.

Imagine walking the steps to someone’s home and feeling like your shoes are as heavy as iron. Your stomach feels as if it has a huge rock sitting in it. You wish you could vanish from the face of the earth.

Then, wonder of wonders, the one you wronged forgives you. Your feet become light, your stomach feels normal, and the heaviness wrapped around you lifts. Life is good again.

With forgiveness comes love, joy, and peace. Forgiveness can’t be bought at the mall. It’s a free gift. We don’t have to shop until we drop to get it or give it.

Forgive whomever you need to forgive. 

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Behind Our Masks

We all possess masks. For some, masks are our identity. Makeup, hair, weight, shoe size. For others, masks are accomplishments. Job promotions, GPAs, or marriages.

Masks cause us to build walls to hide behind. Few desire to be real with others, so we build walls of protection, but walls of death by isolation. A mask placed over the eyes to protect, to conceal, to not be real. Yet those masks turn into gags and those walls into prisons.

But this should not be what the church is known for. Jesus is not a God of walls. While on earth, He saw what lay behind those masks. Walking past Matthew, He saw his heart and called him to follow. He didn't see the hatred or stigma Jews had for tax collectors. He saw Matthew’s longing for more.

Believers should play it straight, not try to be fake. We are human, works in progress, who are still struggling to live this life on earth. A life where Jesus is changing us. With God’s help, we can leap over those walls we have hidden behind for so long. “With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall” (Psalm 18:29 NIV).

Dare to be bold by being genuine and by being true about your heart.

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The Candle

"Don't feel bad if people only remember you when they need you. Feel privileged that you are like a candle that comes to their mind when there is darkness."

I love this quote, and it changed me. I find truth in the simple sentence.

Prior to reading the quote I had a different outlook on those kind of people. Countless times the same people would call, and I would think, "Great, wonder what they need?" Usually, they needed something when they called. Their call didn’t make me feel privileged. Most of the time I felt angry. Resentment welled up inside me. Why do they only call when they have a need or a problem? I thought. I wouldn’t mind as much if they wanted to be a part of my life on a regular basis and not just when a need arose. I hadn’t seen that by meeting their worldly needs I might have the opportunity to guide them to someone who could meet their spiritual needs.

God put the quote before me to soften my heart and change my perspective. What a gift that someone thought of me first when they needed help. Not in their moments of celebration but in their moments of need. What a compliment that they knew when tough times came, I would be there and willing to help.   

This caused me to think of someone I don't always call on when things are going well—but He is the first person I turn to when things don’t go smoothly: Jesus. He can be easily neglected when I am busy, happy, or carefree. But when I have a need or problem, He’s the first one I turn to.

Jesus never rejects us. He is always there when we call upon Him—and without judgment, waiting with open arms and thankful to be our candle.

Let Jesus be the bright candle you turn to in the good and in the bad times.

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Veil of the Clouds

There is something about a drizzly, blustery day that attracts me. Not to cozy up under a blanket, but to put on my boots and start walking.

The day Eliyah Kate died was such a day. Perhaps that’s the trigger that attracts me to get up and go. When I go, I’m not driven by her memories but by the God who met me.

The books of Exodus, Joshua, and Numbers speak about a “cloud by day” and of “following the cloud.” God’s people ran to the cloud for protection and direction. When the cloud moved, they moved because God had instructed them. Moses approaching the thick darkness where God was intrigued me. He was attracted to the thick dark cloud because he had discovered this was the meeting place of God. 

I, too, find the meeting place of the Lord in my walks on dreary days. The cloud guided the Israelites, and they followed like blind sheep. They could not see where they were going, only that they were following the cloud because God said to.

Often, we have no idea where God is taking us. We wonder why we are in this unfamiliar and uncomfortable place. Even with all of His love and goodness, God sometimes doesn’t offer a response—at least not immediately.

But God loves little secrets. He loves when we seek Him out. Doing so is like a child’s game of hide and seek or blind man’s bluff. Once the discovery is made, there is great laughter and joy. 

Trials and seasons of hardship have a purpose, as does everything else in the kingdom of God. In the end, you will discover the secret God longs for you to know: a deeper revelation of Himself.

Don’t fret or be fearful if you find yourself in a dark cloud. It is the meeting place of God. Enter into it.

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Put Away the Gasoline

I set fire to someone today.

Actually, I dreamed I set fire to someone. I saw the shoulders of two men who were showering in side-by-side shower stalls. The first man’s skin bore burn scars from fire. That man spit a flammable liquid from his mouth toward the second man, hitting the second man on his bare flesh. Then the first man threw a lighter toward him. I watched as his skin flamed, as he writhed in agony, and as he uttered an anguished cry.

I asked God what it meant. He said it showed the effect of our hateful words. We cannot fight fire with fire. One man acted from his fleshly nature rather than responding by the Spirit. God reminded me that wounded people wound others. Speaking hateful words is like spewing fire on another person. They burn from the caustic nature of our verbal cursing.

Reading the proverb, I considered the power of words and this dream in light of modern culture which has become a hotbed of clashing ideologies. We see light and darkness collide on the streets and transmit into our homes and telephones. It can be overwhelming.

When you see news of people who hold opposing views protesting publicly for a social cause, don’t slander them in the privacy of your home with your words or thoughts. As Christians, we know not to curse others, but it’s easy to get disgusted and think thoughts or say words we’re not proud of.

In this season when God is separating truth from lies, we must choose sides. God brings order from chaos, but we must not fight God when we enter into chaos. Rather, we should bless and not curse. God wants us to visualize others as His precious yet wounded children bearing visible scars. Then to respond not only with sympathy but also with empathetic compassion.

The lens of our eye must be clean so we can view others in the light of God’s love. Our hearts must be purified so we do not transfer our offense to them. Only with clean hands, pure hearts, calm voices, and buried flesh will our words carry weight.

Offer bandages, not gasoline, to others and overcome evil with good. 

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Letting God In

My profound need for a human relationship that is deep and completely fulfilling haunts me.

I am beginning to see that God alone can be in a deep and satisfying relationship with me. To achieve this, I have to let Him into that aching place I keep locked up so no one knows about it. The older I get, the more closed off I am to emotional vulnerability. I’ve been burned by people too many times to freely bare my soul.

Baring my soul to God is different from opening up to people. With God, I’m telling Him something He already knows. Though God knows everything about me, He waits patiently for me to tell Him. Then He waits for me to ask for guidance. He will give wisdom when I ask, but I have to do what He says: trust, be at peace, and not worry.

And I worry too much. I don’t always believe God is in control, but I try to rest on His promises and let Him into the deepest, most private part of my heart as the psalmist instructs me to do. I ache to let God in so He can work in my life. I attempt to discipline my mind to fully trust that He will continue ruling from His throne.

God fills the aching places in our hearts. We may not sense His repairing the aching spots all at once, but they may heal slowly like an empty well whose water slowly inches upward. One day we realize the hurt is gone and the One who will never leave, forsake, or betray, has filled it to overflowing.

Let God into every area of your life. 

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Hand Therapy and a Heart Change

Events last year drained my energy supply.

The events included cleaning out a house full of lifetime treasures, assisting a face-painter at an all-day festival, and helping a mom give a gigantic birthday party. Soon after those events, I had surgery.

Despite a bandaged left hand, I agreed to help a family by watching their dogs for two days and nights. I had to medicate the older dog and let her outside every two hours around the clock. At eight o’clock Monday morning, I had therapy. Mission impossible? I prayed God would control this situation and give me time to accomplish everything.

Warrior King David wrote Psalm 31 at a time of failing strength. David had been sick unto death, but God healed him. Now, his enemies and neighbors took counsel against him. He called himself a broken vessel, too weak to fight. Time was short. Ahead was the grave. But David called out in weakness to God. God’s love and goodness energized him. He placed his life and his times into God’s hand.

Back to my story. “You’re early,” the receptionist said. “In fact, your appointment is eight o’clock tomorrow. Did you know?”

Apologizing, I declined a nine-thirty cancellation. I thought about the dogs’ perfect behavior and wondered whether they would behave as well tomorrow. A therapist walked by and beckoned me to follow her. Her next patient was late. Therapy was nearly finished when her patient arrived.

“I have a problem. I am upset. I’m sorry to bring my troubles here. It’s a family matter,” the therapist cried.

The room grew quiet except for sniffles. Compelled, I spoke. “Every family has someone or something that causes pain for others in the family. When I have problems, I ask God to help me. I am a Christian.”

She replied, “My relatives claim to be Christians, but they picked on me, blaming me for everything.” Silence was deafening.

“Thank you for talking to me,” she whispered. “See, you were supposed to be here today.”

I realized the importance of being available to serve people. Time shared with others is not wasted. Burdens of a busy life are lighter when God gives strength to complete His assignments.

Make time for those God puts in your path. 

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A Joyful Mother

The moment He took His first breath I became His mother. My life forever altered.

A baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, though adorned with royal titles: Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace, Holy King, Emmanuel, and Ancient of Days. I held Him in my arms. Overjoyed. This is my child. My baby boy. Barely minutes old and seemingly fragile.

But this baby embodied the fullness of the Godhead. Power demonstrated years later when He cast out evil spirits and raised the dead.

As mothers do when handed a newborn, I studied every feature. Gazing intently at Him, the goodness and greatness of God spilled out. The Lamb of God. He created the star announcing His arrival. He’s the light of the world.

I looked into His eyes. Eyes that later peered into the depths of human hearts. I watched His mouth yawn. Wonderful, powerful, life-giving words were spoken from His mouth. Commanding even the winds and waves to obey.

I placed my hand on His chest. The rise and fall of breaths ladened with grace. A strong heartbeat surfaced. The day came when His heart, broken and betrayed, offered forgiveness.

I wrapped my fingers around His tiny hands. The same hands grew in size. They caressed, comforted, healed, and restored sight. His hands stretched out to calm a storm—and stretched out on a cross to give hope, peace, and life.

A mother always inspects feet—yes, five toes on each one. I’d felt them kicking inside me. His feet carried Him to speak to the masses. Walked on water. Were washed by perfume and anointed. A baby’s feet are precious. Stare-worthy. But nails pierced those beautiful feet.

I drew the Christ-child to my chest in a snuggled embrace. His embrace offers more security than any earthly mother could ever bestow. How ironic. I nursed Him to sustain physical life, but He is the bread of life.

We can only speculate on Mary’s joyful thoughts. The birth of Jesus made her a mother and changed her life.

As you remember and honor the mothers you know, reflect on how Christ came to alter your life forever. 

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A Burst of Joy

My corner of Indiana had been covered with snow and ice for several weeks.

About the time I cleared a path to the car, snow flew through the air again. Our worship services at church were canceled for two Sundays because of a lack of parking space and because many in our small congregation were senior citizens.

On one of those Sundays, I had my own service which started with watching a worship service on television. Later, I sang and whistled, which led to a burst of joy—an unexpected blessing of praising the Lord.

God has given me other bursts of joy throughout my life. After my husband left me for another woman, I was given an indescribable joy—even in the midst of shock. It was not something I would have expected, but it was what one song describes as “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

I had to find a job to support myself. I had never worked outside the home and only had a high school education. But God was working out His plan for my life. Within three weeks, I was hired as a secretary for an organization providing help for cancer patients and their families.

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The prophet chose to rejoice in the Lord. God hasn’t given the blessing of His joy because of anything I’ve done to earn it. Long ago, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

The fruits of the Spirit cannot be earned by living a good life or by helping others. Only by accepting Jesus’ salvation and having His Holy Spirit live within us, can we have the blessings of the fruit.

Some people believe happiness and joy are interchangeable, but happiness depends on the happenings in our lives and can be elusive and short-lived. Christians can have the joy of the Lord in their lives even though their hearts are sad and troubles are knocking at their doors.

Praise the Lord for the bursts of joy He gives—when troubles threaten to overwhelm and on sun-filled days when praise comes easily. His joy can never be taken away.

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Promises When the Path is Unbearable

One rainy day as I was walking the path around our land, my boots and feet got wet.

At 34 degrees, walking became a nuisance. The path is usually easy to walk, but when snow or rain falls, it becomes a test of endurance. I had just started my walk, so my options were to return home or keep going—discomfort and all. I had to pep talk myself into continuing. My default action is to always give up.

This path is similar to my life. When things are going well, I walk the journey in faith. When it gets difficult, I want to throw in the towel at the least little accumulations. I sometimes question if I have enough faith to maneuver what comes my way.

I yearn to walk securely with God in the good times and in the distressing times, as Azariah told King Asa to do. So far, I’ve failed miserably. But I’ve come to realize some things. It’s not failing if I get up and try it again—trusting God to help. God delights in me wanting to be better and to get closer to Him. Hard times are the best way to grow, and I’m never alone. God promises to be with me forever. He doesn’t pull back; I do.

When I remember who is with me, I can put my head down and journey ahead. It’s still hard and the temptation to say I can’t do it is still real. When those thoughts appear, I try to grasp five promises: God will strengthen me, I will reap a harvest of blessings when I persevere, I will be blessed, God promises life if I endure, and God will make my paths straight even if the path is muddy.

Keep walking your life path faithfully—in the midst of the hard and easy times. God’s hand extends to you all the way from the beginning to the end.

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Responsible Gifting

I admit it. I am a re-gifter. And I know I am not the only one.

At our wedding shower we opened a gift from Rachel, the preacher’s daughter (who was also getting married that month). Inside was a little card that read, To: Rachel and Steve ... From: Carla and Jim.

We had a good laugh over that one, and I was happy for it. It became my favorite casserole dish (win, win). But there are some instances when gifts are not used so positively.

The Devil roams around like a roaring lion, trying to devour all of God followers. He is so dirty he'll even use the gifts and desires God places within us to use against us. In the Garden of Eden, he used Eve's desire to be like God (a noble desire) against her. He told her she would “be like God, knowing good and evil,” and that by eating the fruit she would "become wise.” He tempted her so much that in her effort to be like God she forgot God. 

Satan used Moses' love for God's people to stir up anger, which ended with Moses committing murder.

David’s passion produced many beautiful praise songs, but Satan used it to notice a lady in a tub, which David allowed to end in unholy passions.

Satan also led Joseph to brag about his prophesies, which led his brothers to sell him into slavery and Joseph to later end up in prison.

Part of our heavy responsibility is to not only use the gifts God gives us but to also tame them so they can continue to be used for the Lord and not the enemy. Even when we slip and fall (as all of these did), God's redemptive hand stays waiting to use us again—at just the right time and in just the right way.

God is the master restorer and second-chance granter. Use your gifts for Him. 

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Clothed with Christ

My shirt spoke volumes without my mouth ever saying a word.

I was called to pastor a small-town church. I was excited, and so was everyone else. What better way to show my pride—and for the members to show their pride over belonging to that particular church— than to order t-shirts with the church name, along with a logo or Bible verse. So we did.

When we went on mission trips, we wore our shirts. Church outings? We wore our shirts. Around town? We wore our shirts. And sometimes when we went out on the town for a night, we’d all decide to wear our shirts. Then it hit me. Our shirts were speaking words without ever saying any, and I was caught in the middle.

If I hit my finger with a hammer, I had to watch what I said. If I was in the retail store with a buggy full of items and there was only one register open, I had to monitor my words and actions. If the waiter acted as if they could care less, I had to watch how I responded. If someone told an off-color joke, should I laugh?

Whether to wear the shirts or not became a joke between my wife and I and a couple we often went out with. If we wore our shirts, we had to be on our best behavior. If we didn’t, no one would know we were Christians—unless we gave it away in some other way.

Wrong assumption. Paul says I was clothed with Christ the moment I chose to become His follower. I don’t have to wear a shirt. I wear Him. He speaks more words than a shirt ever could. And He speaks them through my actions, words, and attitudes.

I don’t have to advertise myself as a Christian with clothing or jewelry—although there’s nothing wrong with Christian symbols. When I exercise love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control, people assume there is something different about me. All are traits they’re probably not accustomed to seeing—at least not on a regular basis. Should I show the opposite of those traits, they assume I’m just a regular guy.

Remember who you are clothed with. Let Christ speak loudly everyday through your lifestyle. 

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Glorious Resurrection

The memory slithered across my mind once again, unwelcome and cold. I shivered as my soul slunk back from the ugly details.

The intruder held the knife, threatening violence. My friend, frozen in time, did as she was bidden. They walked into the corridor, down the stairs, and out the door. 

Evil raises its head when you least expect it. We were in a safe boarding school on the second floor and locked in for the night. All young innocent school girls. But a wooden fire ladder made access easy for the disturbed violator. He could have taken any one of us sleeping in the dormitory, but it was Mira he chose. A beautiful pale-skinned, fair-haired doll-like fifteen-year-old girl. Intelligent, gifted, sweet, and kind.

Shocked and in disbelief, we awoke to the news of the truth. Mira was dead at the hand of the predator. Numb, we entered a fear-filled silence. The question that passed across our minds was, “Why?” Why was Mira the one to die? Why did God allow such a tragedy?

The unknown always lurks around the corner. We live in a violent age, yet God’s rule prevails. The destruction of the lawless one and all evil is foretold. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming (2 Thessalonians 2:8 NKJV).

Father God is not unfamiliar with suffering. His Son Jesus died a violent death at the hands of His persecutors. Yet three days later, the Holy Spirit raised Him up.

We may not get all our questions answered, but one thing is certain: we will rise again if we choose to believe in Jesus Christ. Mira’s faith was evident in her life. She often spoke of her quiet love for Jesus. Though absent from us, she is present with the Lord.

We may not be able to prevent pain and suffering, but we are able to trust the Word of God. It promises we will live to resurrection life once we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Take a step of faith today and believe.

(Name changed to protect identity.)

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Delighting in the Wait

I have learned to welcome being alone with Yahweh (GOD).

Raised by my grandmother—who was busy and whose children were already grown—I would often play by myself. I named all the flowers in the tiny garden in front of the house, created classrooms with bottles and cans, and developed commentary on every bird or lizard that skittered across my sight. I became comfortable being by myself.

Now that my life has changed and my responsibilities have multiplied, it is difficult to find those moments of solitude, but I make sure to get alone time with the Father so I can become centered and focused. The result is a refueling that makes me wonder what took me so long.

Replenishing my spiritual fuel is no longer a mechanical express stopover when I am on empty. I now step into the moment with a sense of relief and expectation. Like walking into a spa knowing I will lose myself in the aromas and the soothing massage of God’s love on my heart and mind. I go in prepared, but prepared to do and say less. I sit and wait, following the lead of the Spirit. Just thinking about His love and the opportunity to come away with Him is enough to loosen the tension knotted together by cares and anxieties. 

After a quiet time comes the adoration and appreciation for the One whose presence beckoned in the first place and for the forceful presence of His anointing to direct my praise and prayers—making intercession for others and myself. It is a lesson in love—a narrative of peace that I hear in my heart as I move back into a noisy world crowded with responsibilities. But now I am ready and full of joy and peace. I’m ready to share myself again.

Our Father never delays or disappoints us. He always shows up for those who are willing to wait without an agenda and with patience. Moses was on the mountain for six days, content to sit and wait in the cloud for instructions to build (Exodus 24:16). The apostles waited for days for the coming of the Holy Spirit’s fire. 

Find the value of waiting in His presence.

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A Galaxy Far Away

Thinking about Carrie, have you sat for several hours and cheered for Princess Leia as she challenged the evil empire, stood up to Hans Solo, and strangled Jabba the Hutt?

Everything seemed better when the universe was safe and when all the enemies had been defeated. Peace reigned supreme. What a great feeling. Then the lights came on and you left the theater. Once out the door, you had to battle thorough a haze of cigarette smoke, trek through the crowds to the parking lot, and then fight traffic on the interstate on the way home. Maybe total peace had not been accomplished

Or life seems good and love surrounds you as you sit before a blazing fireplace with that special person next to you, while a George Michael song plays. Then the phone rings and a telemarketer wants to sell you burial insurance. “Life ends,” you are told, and the mood is broken.

But there is a galaxy where the enemies have no presence. They were conquered forever centuries ago and peace does reign. And there is a mansion with a fireplace where love is never interrupted.

The things of this world—the enemies and the interruptions—will never be defeated while we are here. We must step out of the theater of reality and enter the world of the supernatural. The place where Christ reigns and love lives. The place where our fears are left behind and life eternal is good.

I have God’s assurance that He will never leave my side and will always defend me. The Word does not say it will be perfect; it just says it will not be lonely, and defeat has been defeated.

Anyone can go to this galaxy now by opening God’s Word, allowing Him to speak, and turning control of their life over to the Lord of Lords. The world will then make perfect, uninterrupted, and peace-filled sense.

Don’t wait. The Galaxy beckons. An eternal empire with the King of Kings on His throne. It’s a box office hit. Don’t miss it. 

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The Oil Did Not Decrease

Her husband had died, and creditors were at the door. She had no money to pay her debts. She had no time to lose. Her children were about to be sold into slavery.  

Since this poor widow’s husband had been a prophet, she went to Elisha for help. He was head of all the prophets. After hearing her problem, he wanted to know what she had of value in her home. “Only a jar of oil,” she told him. He told her to borrow pots from her neighbors. Lots of pots. As many as she could. Then, in the privacy of her home—with only her and her sons in attendance—she was to fill the pots with the oil from her jar.

Oil flowing into pot after pot must have been a sight to behold. The oil did not increase, nor did it decrease. It just kept flowing. Her sons saw this as they brought the pots to her. “How could this happen?” I can almost hear them asking. “How can that little jar of oil fill all these pots, Mother?” Her husband had been a faithful prophet of God.  Now she and her sons were seeing God’s provision for them.

When all the pots were filled, the oil stopped flowing. It stopped because there were no more pots to fill. She went back to Elisha and told him what had happened. “Sell the oil and pay your debts,” he told her. “The rest, you and your sons shall have to live on.” Her children saw their desperate situation resolved because God provided for them.

As we trust God to provide for our needs, our children will also see Him providing for us. Let them see the bad times, and then keep them with you as God shows Himself in answered prayers. Let them see God fill your “pots.” This will strengthen their relationship with God, even as you also get to know Him better. They may even remind you from time to time of the things He has done for your family.

Take your children along as you learn from the Lord.

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Can You See The Wind?

In many of our spiritual struggles, it seems as if our pleas with God go unheeded.

One fall day, the pressures of life seemed to encroach increasingly upon me, and God appeared to be a bit hearing impaired. The wind blew briskly, and the leaves swirled. I looked up and said, “God, you control the wind. Can you not control my circumstances?”

A few minutes later, the Lord spoke. In my mind's eye, I saw a conversation between me and Him. He said, “Did you see the wind?”

I answered, “Yes, I saw the leaves blowing.”

Curiously, He asked the same question again: “Did you see the wind?”

I answered, “Yes, I saw the tree limbs swaying.”

A third time the Lord spoke, and it was as if He were saying, “Read my lips.”

God repeated the same question, but this time I got the message. It was one of those “Aha” moments.

The movement of God’s Spirit—like the wind—though unobservable, always accomplishes its intended purpose. When we place our petitions before Him but don't observe anything around us—or the circumstances get worse—we assume God is not answering our prayers. Things often have to get worse before they get better.

The Holy Spirit can be active, yet unseen and silent. When I questioned the Lord's management of my problems, I treaded on shaky ground. I was saying God either didn't care or wasn’t able to do anything about it. I questioned two of the character traits of God: His goodness and His omnipotence.

There was one further exchange between me and the Lord. He said, “You, the finite, might want to be a little more careful when talking about One who is infinite.”

He was graciously saying I shouldn’t talk about what I didn’t understand.  My reply: “Yes, Sir.

Like the wind, the moving of God’s Spirit is discerned by its effects—not by direct observation. Ask God to help you see it. 

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Power under Control

Plowing with a mule requires a great deal of meekness.

At twelve years old, my grandfather was left to run the family farm and tend to his mother, sisters, and brother. A task he might not have been able to handle had it not been for an uncle who helped him.

Mules were used for plowing fields, but mules could also be stubborn. And so could Uncle Ransom. He had a habit of “fussing the mule out,” which resulted in its stubborn refusal to move or plow a crooked row. My grandfather would intervene, talking gently to the animal. The mule would cooperate and plow a straight row.

Eventually, my grandfather left the farm and began selling ice, then milk, and finally ice cream. Many a customer was gruff with him or with other delivery companies. But my grandfather’s meekness had a way of winning over those stubborn customers.

According to the psalmist, the meek will be rewarded with the earth and with peace. Jesus says a similar thing thousands of years later in His Sermon on the Mount.

Some associate meekness with weakness and avoid it like a plague. But the two are not the same. Meekness is power under control—just as the mule controlled his temper and his ability to harm the person ordering him to work and instead worked for the person giving the orders.

David demonstrated meekness when King Saul attempted to kill him and when he fought the giant Goliath. Jesus demonstrated meekness when He refused to retaliate against those who abused Him and tried to take His life.

I demonstrate meekness when I follow their examples. I may have rights and power, but I voluntarily give them up when I have the chance to retaliate, to become angry, to plan revenge, or to undermine those who harm me. Meekness is acting as Jesus did. It’s a willingness to take the lowest place, letting Christ elevate me instead of me attempting to do it myself. It is understanding that greatness in God’s sight is not how many people serve me but how many people I serve.

The inheritance and peace that come from being meek come from knowing I’m living as Christ wants me to live. And in eternity, I’ll be rewarded.

Be meek, not weak, and look for the rewards God will give you now and later.

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Tomorrow is always before us; unknown and often unprepared for. We will not escape it.

Peter was a guy who had it all together. If ever there was one who had self-confidence, Peter was the guy. Impulsive, determined, assured, and directed. But one thing Peter did not have was tomorrow. What led to his downfall was just around the corner, but he never saw it coming. That which would lead Peter to the lowest point in his life was smoldering along the roadside, just waiting.

Peter’s lesson is one we all need; especially as we try to see what’s down the road. Tomorrow is a distant unknown for all of us who think we have both hands on the wheel. Tomorrow may well bring its own troubles. No need taking today’s along with us as we walk into it. The greatest calamity of tomorrow may well be the catalyst that propels us to the highest mountain of our lives, as it did for Peter. Tomorrow should not be cursed.

There is also One who has seen tomorrow, prepared it, walked through it, and wrote our name all over it. Knowing Him is important. So is being closer to Him today than we were a year ago.

God waits for you with hands outstretched, ready to guide you through all of your tomorrows. Don’t wait another day to renew your relationship with Him.

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It's Only Straw

It’s only straw. But having it delivered to them made it easier to make bricks.

People in other countries still make bricks the old fashioned way. Soil or clay and straw and water are mixed and beaten down with the people’s bare feet. Hard work, even when all the ingredients are available. Later, the mixture is formed into bricks. 

Everything was going as expected and desired for the Israelites—until the straw was taken away. They would have to gather their own straw, putting their quota for the day in serious jeopardy. God sent Moses and Aaron on a mission that really messed things up between the Israelite slaves and Pharaoh. It may have only been straw, but for the Israelites it was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Straw is often taken away from us too. Opportunities evaporate and life becomes more difficult.  Our friendly and caring boss is replaced with an unreasonable one. A good neighbor moves away and is replaced by one whose sole purpose in life seems to be to make your life miserable. We find ourselves in debt, or our loved ones endure illnesses. Life brings many changes—changes we’re not prepared for or don’t want to deal with.

God let the Egyptians take away the Israelites’ straw. For believers, nothing happens that God doesn’t allow. He is also the solution to new situations. We have to look to and depend on Him to get us through. The prophet Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (32:17).

While making bricks without straw was more difficult for the Israelites, it wasn’t impossible. Neither will God abandon us to the control of the world. He will light our way with His presence, just as He did for Israel. There is no situation, difficulty, or challenge that poses a problem too big for Him.

Trust God with everything and everyone you hold dear. The enemy will still take things away, but remember, It’s only straw.

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This Is for You Strong Ones

It’s hard being strong.

You know who you are. You’re the ones others turn to when they’re struggling. The ones who always have a verse ready to bolster your friends’ faith because you read your Bible every morning.

You’re the ones who carry a multitude of prayer requests close to your heart and pray for them in the night watches. And the ones who remind others that God loves them and will meet their needs, even when the situation seem impossible.

You’re the people who set the example for others to follow. Your lives are a demonstration of what it looks like to rejoice in suffering, persevere through trials, and never stop believing. But even you grow weary sometimes.

When my daughter was young and her little legs would tire, she’d tug on my husband’s sleeve and whimper, “I’m tired, Daddy, will you carry me?”

Without missing a step, my husband would reach down and scoop her up in his big, strong arms. She’d wrap her tiny arms around his neck, lay her tired head upon his shoulder, and sigh.

“I’ve got you, baby girl,” he’d whisper in her ear. “You take a little rest. Daddy will carry you.”

If you’re usually strong, but you’re feeling weary right now, it’s okay. Even strong ones grow tired. It’s human to wonder, Who will carry me while I carry all the others?

The prophet Habakkuk, a strong man with strong faith, also felt the strain. He sought the Lord in his weariness. “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me” (2:1).

God’s answer to Habakkuk is God’s answer to you too. When you grow weary, and the faith burdens you carry grow too heavy, tug on your Father’s sleeve. Cry out to him, “I’m tired, Daddy, carry me.”

Without missing a step, He’ll scoop you up in His big, strong arms, tuck your head under His chin, and whisper in your ear, “I’ve got you, baby girl. Take a little rest. Daddy will carry you.”

If you’re a strong one who’s feeling weak, allow the Sovereign Lord to be your strength today.

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Is Anyone Exempt from Falling?

The news broke my heart and left me wondering if anyone was exempt.

They were the last couple I would have expected to go through a painful divorce. We attended the same church for years. They were both leaders and shining examples of committed Christians. They seemed to have the perfect little family. Other people admired and respected them.

But as they say, no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors. No one sees the strife, chaos, and secrets others hide so well. And no one truly knows the wounds and heartaches another person carries.

The Bible tells us that in the end times even the elect will be deceived. We already see it happening. Respected Christian leaders fall into gross sin. A family member suddenly turns her back and walks away from the faith. A man well known for his acts of kindness is arrested for molesting young boys. A mother turns to drugs and alcohol after a bitter divorce. These scenarios beg the question: Is anyone exempt?

Scripture tells us, You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. It also tells us to stay connected to the vine and to walk in the light. We’re instructed to be alert, watchful, and vigilant because the enemy of our soul is on the prowl, looking for someone to devour.

Sounds hopeless and discouraging, but the good news is that God has given us power and authority over all the works, plots, and schemes of the enemy. He’s given us His own armor for protection and the Sword of the Spirit—the living, powerful, and unchangeable Word of God—to fight for what rightfully belongs to us.

King David was a man of integrity—a man after God’s own heart. Yet he blew it by committing adultery and murder. Abraham, the father of nations, was called a friend of God, yet slept with his wife’s maidservant and passed his wife off as his sister because he was afraid. Peter was called a “rock,” but when push came to shove, he cut off someone’s ear in anger, then denied the One he swore to love and follow unto death.

We’re all human. We all make mistakes. But no matter the circumstances, God’s arms are always open wide when we repent and run back to Him.

No matter how many mistakes you’ve made, He’s waiting for you.

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In Google We Trust

"Are we going the right way?" my friend, Gina, asked as we sped down an Indiana highway heading home from a weekend of bargain shopping. "This highway isn't familiar."

Gina and I had been caught up in our chatter for the last hour, trusting Google Maps to get us safely home when we suddenly realized we were headed south. Michigan, our destination, was over 200 miles in the opposite direction.

As Gina drove on, I studied the screen on my phone to figure out where our Google guide had gone wrong. Thanks to a new update, the default address in Google was leading us to the correct street address, but the wrong city. Had I not checked up on our trusty navigator, we would have arrived four hours later...in Independence, Kentucky! I quickly corrected the error, but we’d already wasted 60 miles of gas and an hour of daylight we couldn’t recoup.

Putting our trust in worldly things is tempting—our careers, our abilities, our brain power, our paychecks, our earthly relationships, even our smart phones. But while depending on these worldly things may bring a measure of assurance, nothing can replace the unshakeable security we find in relying on the God of Abraham.

The Bible tells us our God is all-knowing and His word eternal and flawless. Trusting in anything else may seem like a good idea at the time but can lead us miles off the path God has in mind.

The next time you find yourself in an unfamiliar place—and wondering how you got there, forget human knowledge and self-reliance. Instead, seek God. Better yet, check in with Him before heading out on any of life’s road trips. He will never steer you wrong.

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Rustling or Resting

Thankfully, the mother bird saw the rat snake before the rat snake saw her.

She was perched on the edge of the nest she had woven in my hanging basket, a wriggling worm dangling from her beak. Ready to drop it into the open mouth of one of her fledglings, she froze, then quickly hopped into the nest. Her squawking babies quieted as she covered them with her outstretched wings. Hunkering down atop her tiny babies, she blended into the foliage until the slithering serpent passed by.

Those babies may have been newly hatched, but they knew something I often forget—that danger is an invitation to trust. As my friend and fellow author Nan Jones says, “It’s better to rest than to rustle.”

When danger threatens me or my family, my default setting is to start squawking. I cry. I fret. I call my friends. I wring my hands and wail as if the Philistines were storming the gates. I work myself into an emotional tizzy that would rival a two-year-old’s bedtime meltdown. In the end, I’m left spent and exhausted.

On other days, when my heart is full of God’s Word and I’ve spent time in prayer, I react to a threat much differently. Like the baby birds in my geranium, I seek the shadow of my heavenly Father’s protective wings and rest quietly, trusting He will care for me.

How do you react when something scary threatens you? 

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God Is with Us

When the package from the Holy Land arrived, I turned the cobalt blue cylinder over in my hands.

Robin and I became friends while attending a low-residency graduate school program. During meals, we chatted about our families. Both of us had adopted two children. Because our kids were now in their teens and twenties, we found parenting these young adults challenging and shared how our faith was the foundation of our lives. Robin was Jewish, and I was a Christian.

As our children matured, her son found employment in retail sales while my son, Mat, advanced in his military career. After a deployment to Afghanistan, Mat was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. One snowy February night, two soldiers in blue uniforms delivered the news that despite counseling, our son had ended his life.

When my shaking fingers could finally tap out a message, I sent a text to Robin who immediately wrote back, “I will be saying Kaddish every morning at our synagogue. May those prayers bring you comfort.”

On the day of Mat’s funeral, friends surrounded my family with love. After the last notes of taps faded away at the graveside, my husband and I clutched our folded flag, knowing life for our family would never be the same.

A few day later, Robin wrote an email saying she was ordering me a Yahrzeit candle holder from Israel. “You should burn the candle on the first anniversary of Mat’s death to remember and honor his life.”

Because my husband and I are farmers, Robin had chosen a candle holder decorated with different agricultural designs. Then I spied the name of the artist on its bottom edge: Emanuel. Only God could have selected and sent to a Christian in Michigan a holder painted by an Israelite bearing one of Jesus’ titles, reminding me God is with us.

The Lord was and continues to be our stronghold who carries us through the darkness of grief. I know the God of Jacob will be with us whatever challenges and trials erupt during our journey through life. He will shelter us from the storms and provide the courage to walk forward in hope.

No matter what you face in life, remember God is with you. 

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Are You All Things to All People?

The load was getting to be more than I could handle. Juggling too many responsibilities while trying to please everyone and attend to their needs was draining the life out of me.

Life can be demanding and stressful. It pulls us in a gazillion different directions while we try to accommodate every demand, handle every situation, and do everything ourselves. But we can’t … at least not for long.

The truth is, none of us are superheroes. We all have talents and abilities, but we also have limitations. That’s why we need each other.

Ecclesiastes 4:9 (NIV) says two are better than one. But most of the time, we’re much too embarrassed or prideful to ask for help. The Message puts it this way: It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough!

When Moses was responsible for the children of Israel, his task was overwhelming—especially with all the whining, complaining, and petty issues he had to deal with on a daily basis. The weight of doing everything by himself became more than he could handle. He tried to be all things to all people … all the time. But it didn’t work.

It couldn’t work because that was not what God intended. Moses’ father-in-law came to the rescue when he suggested asking for help and delegating authority. The plan worked well, and Moses was able to resume his rightful, God-given duties as leader.

If you have too much on your plate and you’re trying to do it all by yourself, stop and look around. Ask for help. God has put people in your life who are willing to come alongside and take up the slack. They will ease your burden and help you carry the load.

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The Three Widows

Three widows celebrate eighty-four years on earth.

The first widow drives but just downsized to a two bedroom apartment after living in a two-story home with a magnificent garden she maintained herself. She visits cancer sufferers, prays, and gardens. She attends church and travels long distances to visit family and conferences. Our phone calls are always joy-filled.

The second widow recently moved from her farm—which was out of town—and stopped driving. She also downsized to a two bedroom unit. She attends a senior’s group twice a week, a ladies study group, and church services. She always has an encouraging word and is glad to see me when I visit.

The third widow had a light stroke a few years ago and has an impaired memory. She moved into her daughter’s home many years before, settling into the comfort of the master suite. Though still able to walk well with a walker, she spends her days lying in bed, getting weaker and weaker. She no longer listens to the radio or CDs or reads and has almost given up on life.

All three widows love Jesus. Two are still serving God and involved in life, but one has decided to drift towards heaven. The first two never complain; the last has to be cajoled out of her slumps every time I visit. She has no interest in anything.

I love all three widows equally, but I’ve learned from these relationships that regardless of how life on this earth ends, we need to stay connected to society and accept the aging process graciously.

Don’t quit serving God and others, no matter what your age happens to be.

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Christmas Remembrances

As I grow older, I yearn for the Christmases of my childhood.

Being the first grandchild in the family meant a great deal of spoiling. Though I don’t remember much about those years, pictures relay the joy and giving that took place. Prior to my paternal grandmother’s retirement, she bought presents with abandonment and worked to make Christmas a special day for everyone—especially the grandchildren. Presents waist high lay under and around the tree waiting for eager little hands to open them. 

Christmas at my maternal grandparent’s house was practical. They were more into the fellowship—telling stories, hunting, cooking, and eating—than the giving of presents. One or two gifts was all I could expect. 

When my giving grandmother retired and could no longer afford to buy mounds of presents, Mom took over the tradition and continued it until she retired. Now, my wife tries her best to keep the abundant giving alive. But things have changed. 

My early Christmases were about togetherness. The togetherness lasted for days. They weren’t pop-in visits from children and grandchildren. We hung around, talked, laughed, hunted, and watched ball games together. Never did I hear, “We can be there at ___, but we have to leave by _____.”

In the midst of my childhood Christmases, we always remembered the reason we were celebrating: to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. He overshadowed the presents rather than the other way around. Much like the first Christmas the prophet of old foretold. It too was all about a birth—and it was simple.

We said blessings at Christmas meals, and, just as at Thanksgiving, we remembered God was responsible for all we had and enjoyed. 

My childhood Christmases were also times of joy—and not just over presents. We were glad to see each other, to celebrate Christ’s birth, to eat a meal together, and to open presents. Just to enjoy one another’s company. 

Divorces and remarriages have now changed the structure of our immediate and extended family, multiplying in-laws and grandparents and dividing our time into tiny increments that temper the joy of being together. Though some of the things from my early Christmases are missing, I still enjoy the Christmas season. 

Don’t let the changing seasons of your life steal the real meaning of Christmas. Remember the birth of the Savior, and celebrate it with family and friends. 

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It's All One Story

God is painting a vast mosaic which depicts a magnificent story.

You and I are a part of God’s picture. Though a tiny scene on this canvas or a brief paragraph in the story, we complete the narrative. Those of my generation, the Baby Boomers, need to run the last leg of the race and pass the baton in a fashion that tells the story of God’s faithfulness to the emerging generation.

We hear of prominent Christian leaders losing their zeal—becoming apathetic and sometimes even cynical. Some lose sight that their own little corner of the world is not the beginning or the end. The story of redemption runs throughout the Bible’s pages. Each part of God’s revelation builds on the previous. It’s all one story.

Jesus said those who sow and those who reap should rejoice together because we get the same reward (John 4:36-38). Many in my generation may be transitioning to a consulting or supportive role, and it may feel as if we have gone from a reaping back to a sowing mode. But we can get behind the next generation with the same zeal and enthusiasm with which we pursued our ministries. It’s not about our plans but God’s eternal purposes.

Consider this. You could be more productive in a collaborative role, though it may be behind the scenes. Paul spent a lot of time in prison or under house arrest but wrote a significant part of the New Testament. Additionally, the greatest fulfillment does not come from the utilization of our gifts and callings but hearing God say, “Well done,” at the judgment seat of Christ. Then those who sow and those who reap will receive the same size trophy.

Run to the finish line, and rejoice that God is going to do greater things for those taking our place. It’s all one story.  

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Sufficient Grace

We came home and she was gone, lying in a pool of fluid.

We loved our dog, Koko, for twelve years. I was devastated. The pain of losing a loved one was evident in the agony of my cry. As the days went by, I heard God through the strength of my five-year-old saying, “It’s okay, mommy, she had a long life.” These words gave me immediate comfort.

Then I realized God prepared us for Koko’s passing. The day before, my husband and I met a pleasant woman who told us about her dog that had the same name as ours. She struggled as she told us how her dog passed. On the day Koko died, we noticed a difference in her breathing but thought it would go away. So we went to church. The message was that God won’t take the trial away but will give grace to see you through.

When trials come, they can hit like a pitcher throwing a baseball ninety miles an hour. But it’s important to realize God is always with us through the storm. Sufficient grace means He has our back during the hard times. When we depend on Him, we discover a peace inside us. Through our weakness, God works wonders in our lives.

If you need God’s sufficient grace, He is always there. It hasn’t been long since my Koko passed, but I feel God’s grace and hear His still voice comforting me every day.

God is concerned about everything in your life. Let Him comfort you when you need grace.

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Recipe Box Christmas

Whether a few teaspoons or a pinch, salt is necessary.

Salt seasons, flavors, preserves, heals, melts ice, and is good for cooking and baking. If salt represents our lives as God’s children, we must discover how to show its qualities in our actions.

November and December are baking months at our house. We share cookies and sweet breads with family and friends—all of which takes time. The holiday months are so full of activities that it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of self-assignments.

I remember a Christmas when I was ten. Our family moved to upstate New York where my father attended seminary. He worked full-time and attended classes for three years. Without warning, he had an eye hemorrhage. We drove from Upstate to Manhattan bi-weekly for his treatment. Our lives hung in the balance as resources stretched to meet needs. But God sent groceries to our front door through friends’ gifts.

Dad’s schooling ended just before Christmas. Our parents gave each of us a small present. My sister and I received metal recipe boxes with extra index cards inside. Though they felt sad giving us such meager gifts, we felt their love. Their salt made a tough time tasty.

When I was in Junior High, Homemaking was a course. Cooking class peaked my interest in baking, and I asked for favorite recipes from family members. I typed each card’s recipe treasure: Gram’s favorite cake, Aunt Shirley’s brown edge cookies, Aunt Violet’s heirloom pastry, and Mother’s pumpkin pie. I still use that recipe box which is chock-full of memories.

There is also a recipe for Christmas Joy. Beat together 1/2 cup of better behavior, 2 cups of sweet blessings, and 2 tablespoons of “stay together.” Set aside. Then measure 1 ½ cups of duties and 1 ½ cups of desires. Sift out 1 cup of unnecessary tasks, duties, and desires. Combine all ingredients with 1 teaspoon of salt of Christian savor, 1 teaspoon of spice of minute vacations, and 1 teaspoon of meditation. Add the spiritual fruits of love, joy, and peace. Use a slow “oven.” Do not over-do.

Read your recipe to make sure your ingredients are on God’s list.

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Worth the Wait

My grandson was in a baseball tournament, and it was the first night of the Blueberry Festival.

When I arrived to watch his game, my son greeted me. In his hand, he held a plastic bag containing two dozen blueberry donuts. Their fresh-baked aroma seeped through the bag, and my mouth began to water.

As we sat in the stands watching the game, the blueberry donuts became the talk among the locals.

"Have you bought your donuts yet?"

"Oh, yeah! I bought ours this evening before the line formed."

“Not me; I waited for over an hour to get mine."

My curiosity was piqued. With all the playful banter going back and forth, I decided I must taste these donuts. When the game ended, I found the donut stand and stood in line.

Bartimaeus also waited. He was a blind beggar who sat beside the busy road that led into Jericho. Although the Bible doesn’t say he was waiting for Jesus, I believe he knew Jesus was in town. 

When Jesus, His disciples, and the large crowd of followers left Jericho, Bartimaeus heard them coming. He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more.

When Jesus heard Bartimaeus, He stopped, called to Bartimaeus, and asked him what he wanted. Bartimaeus said, “I want to see.”

Jesus told Bartimaeus to go. “Your faith has healed you,” He said. Immediately Bartimaeus received his sight and followed Jesus. 

For Bartimaeus, sitting along the roadside day after day was worth the wait. Eventually, he received his sight from the One who heals. His faith and determination caught Jesus’ attention. With compassion, Jesus reached out and granted his request.

Although waiting can be tedious, it was worth it for Bartimaeus. After standing in the donut line for more than a half an hour, I claimed my dozen and left. Once home, I quickly opened the box and bit into a succulent, sugar-glazed blueberry donut. As crazy as it sounds, standing in line was worth the wait.

When we seek Jesus with all our heart, our faith, and our determination—like Bartimaeus, He will not overlook us.

Seek Jesus today. Call out to Him. His compassionate touch will be worth the wait.

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Put It On!

The battle against flesh and blood is waged in an operating room every day.

Standing against the patient's blood and tissue—not to mention the irrigation saline and contaminating germs, surgical personnel don’t wear their outer garments to make a fashion statement. Usually, the attire is called a gown, but it isn’t what a woman would wear to a posh evening at the gala ball.

Surgical gowns and their attendant accessories—such as gloves, masks, and face shields—have an important role to impede the transfer of liquids and infectious agents. That’s the battle of the operating suite, and the apparel is well-suited for the task.

The same is true of another similar outfit. Paul called it the armor of God. He told the Ephesians to wear all of it. His admonition is still timely. Every day, we are in an operating suite called life with far more dangerous consequences. As in the operating room, the question isn’t whether we are going to encounter things that might be harmful. We will. The question is whether or not we have on the right attire. God’s armor provides protection—not against the flesh and blood of an operation but against every evil force Satan can muster.

Satan’s plan is to bring us down. The rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of darkness intend to infect, incapacitate, and destroy us. We would never enter the operating room without a gown and be totally exposed. Nor should we enter a new day unarmored, unequipped, and totally exposed.

Put on God’s armor, and be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 

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Lions Tigers and Bears...Oh my!

I close my eyes, I’m five again, and Satan is there—as pleasant as the smell of ammonia.

The interest is appealing to a child, but just the smell itself can cause damage. His intentions are to smell the danger and plant a small seed of fear that will last a lifetime, eventually killing me. But he knew I was surrounded by a hedge of righteousness. So he tries to put tiny fears in my head—like spiders, monsters, and anything on the television that is not of God.

That’s how Satan begins his work in a child’s life. But Jesus came to give us authority over everything—even at a young age. Before Jesus, it was impossible to defeat the devil, but when He left His throne and came to earth, He gave everyone all authority over the devil. The key word is all. When we get the revelation that we have all authority over Satan, his tactics become obvious to our spirit and we can defeat anything he throws at us.

Teaching our children the Word at a young age is vital. Doing so helps them know they can trample on the enemy with the peace of mind that nothing will harm them.

Satan loves to fill our minds with fear, but we can beat the devil at his game. Show your children who they truly are. When they tell you a monster is under the bed, have them quote scripture so the devil will flee.

Let your children know they are kings and queens and more than conquerors though Christ Jesus.

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A Healthy Balance

The Ngäbe women loved pampering and listened attentively to God’s truth.

For several years, our church and local university maintained a partnership with missionaries to the Ngäbe people of Costa Rica and Panama. We helped with five church plants and made regular trips to provide training, lead Bible schools, construct or update church buildings, and perform other work requested by the missionaries and church leadership.

After learning the Costa Rican government required churches to have a working bathroom, a construction team became a top priority. As they planned and collected supplies, the wife of one team member felt called to offer a women’s conference.

Ngäbe women have a rough life, and she believed they needed spiritual nourishment along with some physical pampering. Her vision included haircuts, manicures, pedicures, a special meal, small gifts, and a foot washing service. She wanted them to feel Christ’s love through the team’s servant role. Her husband never discouraged her, but his attitude was, Sure, sure, you can have your little women’s conference while we’re doing the real work.

When the team began washing the ladies’ feet, everyone watched reverently, including children and construction workers. With an assembly-line style, the team washed, dried, and massaged the women’s calloused feet. They polished nails and distributed colorful flip flops. They loved the women with each drop of water poured from the pans and their eyes, with every gentle stroke of the cloth, with every application of lotion or polish, and with their prayerful smiles. No life felt God’s love more than those servant women on their knees and the men who watched with hammers in their hands.

Later, several Ngäbe women told the team, “No one has ever done anything like this for me.” Team members echoed that sentiment. Never had they experienced such an event.

And the husband who minimized the little women’s conference? He believes the conference was probably God’s primary plan for their trip. However, the entire team fulfilled their call, whether through construction, teaching, evangelism, or a long overdue day of respite.

Don’t minimize other’s methods because they differ from yours. God may be calling you to a new way of feeding your world. 

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Not Punished as We Deserve

Our two-year-old German Shepherd/Golden Retriever mix, Kirby, was a mess.

Kirby found a mud hole in the back yard, was covered in mud from muzzle to tail, and wanted in. Though she was filthy, she was my dog and I loved her. So I let her into the laundry room.

Our dog appeared repentant, and looked at me as if she hoped I'd be merciful instead of treating her as she deserved. I’m sure it was a momentary lapse of judgment. Besides, her frolic in the oozy mud probably brought pleasure on a hot summer day—until she saw me.

Although this scenario occurred years ago and Kirby has since died, I smile when I think about it. And I reflect. I've wallowed around in mud holes of my own, and you may have too. Those temporary lapses of reasoning when we forget who we are and whose we are. When we forget we belong to a holy God and are called to a life of righteousness.

Our mud romp seems enjoyable for the moment—until we face our owner. Then we realize we have messed up and are sorrowful. There is nothing we can do to clean up the mess, so we depend on the mercy and grace of a God who does not treat us as our sins deserve—a God who does not repay us for our iniquities…a God who casts our sins as far as the east is from the west.

We stand before a God who does not wait for us to get all the mud off before He will let us enter His presence. God takes out His garden hose and washes us clean through the power of the sacrificial blood of our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. By Christ’s wounds, we are healed, cleansed, and found not guilty.

The next time you come upon a tempting mud hole, quit lingering near the mess, and run as far away as possible.

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Growing Pains

In God’s eyes you are perfect.

An acorn has within it all of the properties necessary to become an oak tree. An acorn doesn’t look like an oak tree, but once planted in the ground, it will grow into one. You and I may not resemble perfection as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, but God sees us with a capital “P”—perfection through Christ Jesus.  

Each night when I lay my head down on the pillow, my mind replays a script of the day’s events. Thoughts conjure up a spectrum of emotions from joy to regret. My words and actions may not have aligned with my professed love for Jesus and others. Sometimes I was able to make a positive impact even when I wasn’t aware of it.

Christians are “being made holy.” Perfection is our status with God—compliments of Jesus. We didn’t do anything to earn or deserve it; it is a gift. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “It is finished!” Salvation and perfection are synonymous. “Being made holy” is a process.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul said, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV). Paul doesn’t say work for your salvation but “work out your salvation.”

In Christ, we have the necessary elements for holiness. The process of becoming holy is called sanctification. A process that will only be complete when we take our final breath on earth and experience our first breath in heaven.   

Don’t fight the growing pains on your way to holiness. 

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Too Lazy? - God's Grace Is Available

Today’s lifestyles don’t allow much time for quiet moments with God. When you’re not a morning person, it gets more challenging.

I set my alarm at 5:00 every morning, but I always push the snooze button until the alarm stops ringing. I’m still under the covers one hour later. My intentions to have a first morning encounter with my Lord and Savior are not enough.

Unless I purposefully set a time to be in God’s presence, I only manage to have a rushed three-minute good-night prayer—which is okay too. At least I’m having some time to connect with Him. But a three-minute prayer isn’t going to help me grow in my faith or make the impact God wants me to have. Call it spiritual lethargy, laziness, or just daily distractions, it is a struggle for me to wake up earlier so I can spend quality time with God.

To avoid being just a Sunday Christian and to have an intimate relationship with God require some things. I started by recognizing my weakness and coming to the throne of grace—realizing it’s not what I do but what God does in me. Through His unconditional love, I’m forgiven and restored. Internalizing this truth helped me understand that prayer is about quality time—not so much the quantity or format of my prayer time.

Who and what I surround myself with—people, music, books, devotionals—helps me get into the mindset or atmosphere that triggers the thirst to talk to my heavenly Father.

Let prayer be a lifestyle for you, not just another chore.

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A Personal Love

As children need to know they are loved individually by their parents, I needed to know Jesus loved me personally.

Parents can get so swallowed up by trying to make sure their children are loved that some of the children get lost in the shuffle. Fatigue and lack of time may be the cause, but so are bills and being short-sighted. It’s a wonderful thing to know Daddy loves the children but quite another thing to know Daddy loves me. That’s what I needed.

Many things have been lost by modern society—pensions and clean air, but other things have been gained—such as fathers being more involved with their children. The individuality of children has had a pendulum effect for several generations. We have swung from a society whose children were greeted with “children are to be seen and not heard” to a society that often overweights the immature opinions of children. But that’s the way it is with pendulums. They swing far in one direction before swinging far in the opposite direction. God’s children are often on a pendulum ride while trying to understand love.

Love is almost too much for me to fathom. Love, along with trust, is real and freely given, but its completion depends on subsequent attitudes and behavior, I thought. I also knew God’s love was eternal, and that we weren’t saved by good behavior or kept saved by the same.

But I was still hungry for verses that told me Jesus loved me. I found what I needed in John’s gospel. Jesus calls His sheep by name. And by Matthew’s words—which say God knows the number of hairs on my head—I found what my soul needed: God’s warm, concerned, and personal love. I sighed. Thank You Lord.

Find comfort and joy in the words of Jesus that He calls each of His sheep by name.

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Be an Ant

There has to be a plan. I’m one of those people who has to be ready.

I’ve always been someone who prepared way ahead of time for any project, whether it was a weekly meeting or an annual retreat. I would panic if I wasn’t ready beforehand. 

My grandfather was someone who influenced me greatly regarding preparation. He was always well-prepared. He taught Sunday school weekly until just before he died, putting a lot of time and effort into each lesson. He didn’t have prepared material like we do today. Each day he would sit in his big armchair with his Bible on one knee and a black spiral notebook on the other.  I saw him every afternoon handwriting in his notebook and searching the Scriptures. He didn’t wait until Saturday night to study his Sunday morning lesson but worked daily to ready himself for Sunday. And his process for the next week began again on Monday. 

God tells us to prepare ahead of time for His coming. He reminds us in Proverbs to take a lesson from the ants. All these little ants do is work, work, work. They prepare for the future by working all summer storing up food. When winter arrives, they have prepared ahead of time and are ready.

We should be wise and learn from ants. Prepare like them so we will be ready. We know God has a plan for us. A plan for us to prosper, a plan to give us a future and hope. We don’t know when He’s coming back; we just know He is. We should be ready by preparing ahead of time.  

Don’t wait, you lazybones. Get ready now. Be an ant.

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God's Agenda

As a toddler, my daughter delighted in the game of chase.

Giggling as she ran through the house, she would squeal when I caught her. Then I’d pick her up, swing her around, and kiss her. Each time I set her down, she beamed and said, “Do it again.” No matter how many times I chased her through the house and lifted her in the air, she begged me to do it again. Eventually, I had to fulfill other responsibilities.

The game of chase with my daughter helped me understand why Jesus told his disciples, “Let’s go somewhere else.” After Jesus healed many in a large crowd one evening, more people searched for Him to do it again the next day. Through prayer, the Father led Him to continue His mission in other parts of Galilee.

According to God’s agenda, it was time for Jesus to preach and heal in the nearby villages. Constrained by His humanity, Jesus could only be in one place at a time. The Word made flesh required a break from the endless demands of ministry to pray, sleep, and travel. In the limited time before His death and resurrection, the Son needed to follow the Father’s agenda.

Like Jesus, we face an endless stream of pleas for help. You and I can’t give our time and money to every worthy cause clamoring for our attention. But we can ask the Lord for wisdom. God will show us which needs to meet and when and how long we should tend to those tasks.

Let God’s Spirit tell you when to do a task again and when to move on.

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Picking Teams

I was not the most coordinated or athletic child in the class during elementary school.

During physical education class, the teacher would assign two children to be team captains and they would choose other children for their teams. I dreaded these moments. It seemed I was always one of the last to be chosen—an experience that left me feeling rejected and inadequate.

On Judgment Day, Jesus will choose some to be on His right, the most honored place. Others will be placed on His left where they will be dishonored. When we choose to be followers of Christ, we develop a desire to follow His example in how we treat others. Jesus honors our good deeds and chooses us for His team on Judgment Day. He sets us apart from others and honors us for loving and obeying Him.

I may not have been picked first for teams in school, but Jesus will pick me to be at His right hand, separated into the group of those He loves. I can’t think of another team I would rather be a part of.

Make sure you’re one of the ones Christ will pick for His team. Accept the promise of eternal life now. 

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God's Perfect Timing

I was the sole believer in my immediate family for almost thirty years.

Since 1987 when I committed my life to Jesus Christ, it has been a lonely—and sometimes discouraging—journey. My family did not understand my newfound faith. I was accused of being “brainwashed” and called a “fanatic.” My Dad even threatened to kick me out of the house if I left the mainline denomination of my raising.

But my fervor for my Savior never waned. I persevered alone, enduring insults and mockery. And my dad eventually disinherited me, not wanting to face the possibility of his money going to “that church.”

I longed for one of them to commit their life to Christ and join me on this wonderful journey. At times, it seemed like it might happen. One of them would go through a really tough time, reach a low point in life, or even hit rock bottom. I would think, This is it. Surely they’ll see their need for You now, Lord. But they didn’t. As the years passed, I began to lose hope and didn’t pray for their salvation as often as I should have.

Then a miraculous thing happened. After a devastating event that left my younger brother thoroughly humbled and humiliated, he surrendered his life to Jesus. He had finally seen his need to be saved. And the Lord graciously allowed me to play a part in his conversion by answering all his heart-searching questions and comforting him during that terrible time. It was a long year of painful consequences for him, but also a year of tremendous spiritual awakening and growth. He followed his decision by getting baptized on Easter morning.

I am overwhelmed by this amazing gift from God. My baby brother, at the age of forty-seven, is now my forever sibling. I’ve learned God is sovereign, even in the timing of a person’s salvation. We cannot rush it. Psalm 18:30a says, “His way is perfect.”

If you’re waiting for the salvation of a loved one, don’t lose faith. Trust God’s perfect way and timing. 

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Double Happiness

A mission trip to Hong Kong with two Chinese friends whet my appetite for Chinese culture, cuisine, and language.

Our family reaches out to international students from our local university. Some stay with us when the dorms close. Others visit to experience everyday life in an American home, prepare and compare recipes, practice English, and decorate for and learn about our holidays. A few have become an informal part of our family and maintain contact after they leave. The majority of those students speak Chinese as their first language.

In spite of all this exposure, my mastery of the Chinese language is lacking. One symbol I do recognize translates as “double happiness.” Frequently associated with wishes for newlyweds because of the combining of two lives and two families, the two symbols for happiness become one.

Although not a part of the original meaning, that symbol reminds me of the difference in happiness and joy. Because happiness depends on our circumstances, it comes and goes. If I’m having a good day, I’m happy. If everything’s going wrong, I’m not. Genuine joy remains with us regardless of our situation.

I want more than a good feeling when life goes well. I desire something lasting—something that will see me through the inevitable tragedies and struggles of life. But I often find myself rushing around in a dozen directions, trying to get everything done. Almost like a toddler saying, “By myself,” I fail to slow down long enough to ask God what He wants to do through me. I trade the joy only God can give for a few moments of personal control, followed by frustration and fatigue. 

My head and heart tell me to follow God—to unite my life with and experience the double happiness made possible through Jesus. Granting God total control remains the one perfect way to fully understand the possibilities of endless joy.

Choose “double happiness” by releasing every part of your life to Jesus.

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Going Home

“I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop,” we sang with cracked voices and tear-filled eyes. 

Nancy lay almost motionless in her bed, surrounded by those she loved. We knew her time with us would not be long; we just didn’t know how long. Believing Nancy could hear us, we sang to her about heaven—the home she longed for.

After Nancy’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, she decided against chemotherapy. She realized her decision shortened the time she had left with her family and friends. Rather than spending her remaining days undergoing treatment, she insisted on living life normally. She vowed to be an example to all she met and confessed she looked forward to heaven where she would reunite with her daughter, Cindy, who had died earlier. Nancy was excited that she had received her “ticket home."

In spite of her prognosis, Nancy’s attitude amazed us. Her smile radiated warmth. She laughed and lived each day to the fullest and was determined to get the most of her time left on earth.

Nancy’s daughter Toni cherished each minute spent with her mother and drew encouragement from her unwavering attitude—a blessing Nancy passed on to her.

Now, here we sat at Nancy’s bedside giving back to her a smidgen of what she had given us. Singing of heaven was a gift we could give. Nancy was ready. Jesus was calling. It was time for her to go home.

In Psalms 139:16, we are told, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Our time is limited. Don’t wait for news your life’s end is near to decide how you will spend your remaining days. 

Be a living example of God’s love now.   

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My Mother's Call

I always knew when my mom was calling for the last time. 

“Ben, come home,” my mother would call. Sometimes she would call again, “Ben, come home. It’s time to eat.” I wanted to keep playing, but I knew there would be consequences if I didn’t pick up my things and head home.

As a little boy, I played in an open field with my friend. We dug holes in the dirt with our toy trucks, built hills, and pushed dirt around to make roads that went everywhere. It was fun to pretend we were building cities and other important things.

When I arrived at the door, my mother would meet me, brush me off, and tell me to put away my toys and wash up. Putting away my toys was easy, but washing up for a little boy was never fun. My mother expected me to come to the table clean. Looking back, I realize this was her way of showing love and care for me—though it seemed unnecessary at the time.

At the table, I never knew what I would have to eat, but I knew it would be good. Even if it wasn’t, my mother had a special way to make the bad seem good. Now that I’m older and my children are grown and my mother is with the Lord, I can remember how her call was like the Lord’s call—personal and at the right time. Knowing our needs, the Lord, like my mother, has something good prepared for us.

When my mother called it was clear what she wanted. The Lord’s call is clear as we read His word, listen to our Christian friends, and obey the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit living within us.

We don’t always like to leave what we are doing at the time—and yes the Lord requires us to be clean, and there are consequences when we disobey—but what enjoyment awaits at His table when we come home. 

When you hear the Lord calling, go quickly.

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Roller Coaster Rides: Not Always Fun

My grandson was all smiles. “Guess what? This year I can ride the roller coaster. I’m finally tall enough. I can’t wait!”

Excitement for riding roller coasters at amusement parks is one thing. Roller coasters in life-changing events don’t carry the same enthusiasm.

Like any mother, Jochebed looked at her baby and thought he was the most beautiful baby she had ever set eyes on. But her joy was marred by Pharaoh’s decree to kill all male Jewish babies. Her plan to save him involved placing him in a basket in the Nile. As the basket floated, Moses’ sister hid and watched. Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe…She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you (Exodus 2:5-9).

Jocebed’s loss turned to gain as she cared for her son until he was older, and then she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. Jochebed rode a roller coaster of emotions and decisions: exhilaration, joy, resolution, release, caring, and letting go again.

Our days include celebrations, disappointments, and sometimes irreversible life experiences such as job loss, rejection, financial reversal, death of a loved one, or inability to have children.

Jochebed’s example shows us we can trust God in the highs of a roller coaster ride and in the downhill fall. As an adult, her son became the leader of the Jews and led them out of Egypt. God knows what He’s doing. We might even find we grow taller.

When life puts you on a roller coaster ride that’s not fun, trust God for the best. 

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The Destruction of Our Princes

In the last two generations, many major pop icons have self-destructed. 

Three of our most popular cultural symbols—Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Prince have perished through self-inflicted means. All three had talent and charisma that invoked unprecedented adulation. Due to their entertainment genius, they developed cult-like followings—though it may have never been their intent.

Idolatry happens when legitimate things become ultimate things. Recognizing and enjoying great talent is acceptable, but when those gifts become the driving force in our life, they become our god. When we deify a person, we never do them a favor. We put them in a role in which they can never succeed. 

God is the only One who is worthy of our veneration and capable of receiving it without negative consequences. He wants our reverence, but He doesn’t need it because He is self-sufficient.

Unlike God, humans are self-centered and needy. The more adoration we receive, the more we desire it to feel complete. This places public figures on an unsustainable treadmill with no end in sight. History records that our brightest stars have self-medicated to dull the pain of their existence.

Our culture worships the creature rather than the Creator—a dilemma that exists in the sacred as well at the secular world. The solution is simple, though not always easy. We must worship the one true God.

Worshiping God can save you from the disappointment of worshiping a false god and the destruction of trying to be one.

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Small Things

Memorial Day was one week away, and I needed red-striped petunias.

Mat, our son, died while serving in the Army. Since he loved red-striped petunias, I hunted for them at several garden centers. I wanted to honor him and my daughter-in-law—who yearned for him to have striped petunias, by decorating his grave with his favorite flowers. Defeated, I bought a petunia blotched with maroon, hoping it would satisfy everyone.

A quick errand to buy baling twine so we could make hay sent me to town. I rumbled down back roads, reveling in the spring flowers, the corn sprouting, and the overall beauty of the farming landscape. Zipping by a family-run greenhouse, I felt God nudge me to turn around and go to the greenhouse.

Though I was in a hurry to get twine, I obeyed and rolled into the graveled parking space. Inside, signs pointed customers to various flowers and plants. Humid air filled my lungs as I wandered along aisles decorated with flats of marigolds and blue lobelia. A riot of colored petunias smothered one table, and at the far end was what I searched for. I sent a photo to my daughter-in-law who was ecstatic. Thanking God, I filled a flat with petunias and added in a few heirloom tomato plants. That evening, I planted red-stripes in a large pot and placed it by Mat’s gravestone.

Finding the petunias reminded me that Jesus is Lord over the smallest details of our lives—even when I need to find red-striped petunias to honor a fallen soldier and satisfy a young widow’s heart.

Let God control the smallest details of your life. 

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What Big Eyes You Have!

This is for you. The teen girl who feels invisible. The mom surrounded by loneliness. The woman who wonders if anyone cares. The man struggling with meaning. Those touched by hopelessness. Souls caught in the pit of despair. The lost who don’t believe they can be found. To everyone who questions God’s existence or love.

Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf in disguise possessed big eyes. “The better to see you with,” he said. But his eyes don’t compare to the Lord’s eyes which are vast, keen, and aware.

A story of the God who sees is found in Genesis 16. Childless, Sarai devises a plan for her servant Hagar to conceive her husband’s child. Hagar obliges, but Sarai regrets her scheme and deals harshly with Hagar. Hagar flees the scene. Alone in the wilderness, she encounters an angel of the Lord who tells her she will bear a son, her offspring will be multiplied, and she is to return and submit to her mistress. She calls the name of the Lord who appeared to her the God of seeing.

God’s vision is omnipresent. To and fro references a constant movement—backward and forward, side to side. There’s no place to escape His sight. He found Hagar in her wilderness and finds us in ours.

God’s eyes are on a mission to support us. He undergirds us in all of life’s plans, schemes, and ordeals. Our support is from the eyes and heart of the Almighty. Especially in those instances when we flee the scene because the ordeal is too much to handle.

God cares for us and wants our hearts to be completely His. He wants to devise our life’s plans. He desires that we submit to His will, expect Him to be visible in our lonely places, give Him authority to reign supreme, and find our hope in Christ alone.

You’re not invisible or alone. Your life has meaning. Find your hope in God. He has big eyes.

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Keeping the Vessel Clean

Keeping silver clean is no easy job.

As one-time antique dealers—and recipients of my mother’s silver—my wife and I know a little about silver. One, it’s valuable, and two, it’s difficult to keep clean. Before my mother gave us her silver flatware, she sat for hours shining each piece until she could see her reflection. She then separated the various utensils and placed them in a plastic bag where air could not touch them. We have kept them in the same zip lock bags. We know if we expose the set to air, we’ll soon have to repeat what she did before she gave them to us.

We’ve also owned silver tea sets which we displayed on antique buffets. When shined, they made an attractive addition to our antique furniture. But after a short period of time, tarnish crept over each piece. We either had to polish them and put them away or leave them out and shine them every few months. Leaving them out and tarnished wasn’t a choice. Doing so ruined the looks of our décor.

Being used by God requires purity. Exposing silver to air means it will turn and eventually require cleaning. Living in the world exposes me to sin whether I want it to or not. Even monks and nuns who withdraw from normal life still face sin’s inner pull. Cleaning silver can be challenging. So can keeping myself pure.

Keeping myself pure is made easier by realizing I have an inner power that guarantees success—God’s resident Spirit. Holiness is not something I can accomplish on my own but is possible when I allow God to accomplish it in me.

Just as silver exposed to air requires regular cleaning, so does maintaining holiness. If I neglect tending to holy living, the tarnish of sin will take over. But if I spend time in spiritual disciplines and put obeying God’s commands at the top of my list, my vessel will remain pure.

Do whatever it takes to keep your vessel clean.

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Allergies and asthma are annoying and can even threaten your life. I passed those traits to my grandson, Austin.

One day while Austin was outside playing, a nearby farmer started harvesting his wheat. The chaff cloud from the wheat blew across the field and set off Austin’s allergies and asthma. By the time he went into the house, he could barely breathe. Immediately his mom took him to the emergency room.

Chaff is debris from wheat kernels. It is useless and in this case almost cost Austin his life. God warns us not to absorb chaff from this life because debris is not healthy. It clutters, clings, and keeps us from living the life God intends. Chaff in the form of drugs and alcohol can be life-threatening. Chaff can destroy and mar until we can no longer function.

My Sunday school class once discussed how wrong desires impact us. I realized the chaff that fills our lives is like the chaff that filled Austin’s lungs. Only if we cling to God and allow Him to remove chaff and debris, can we live fully and completely. God’s Spirit lifts us from our ungodly desires and temptations and allows us to live and breathe freely.

I want to remove the chaff and allow God’s soul-changing food to enter. He has the true blueprint to help me live fully. If I search His Word and seek Him diligently and listen, I can embrace the precious food that offers life.

Seek the Lord’s ways, and destroy the useless chaff in your life.

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Bragging Rights

Giving people the right reason to be proud of us is important.

A weight lifter friend of mine used to say, “Short term pain leads to long term gain.”  The Bible speaks about the fruits of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. Paul was answering those who were bragging about external appearances rather than a changed heart.

Gifts are bestowed but fruits are grown. The fruits of the Spirit—such as love, joy, and peace, are often cultivated in the soil of trials and tribulations. The gifts of God can come quickly, but the fruits of His Spirit are developed over time. The Corinthians Paul confronted were guilty of dwelling on the spectacular aspects of ministry and missing the godly character traits exhibited by Paul and his followers. The things we sometimes prize are nothing more than wood, hay, and stubble that are easily consumed when the fiery trials appear.

Jesus said, But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven (Luke 10:20 NLT). We should be excited that we are a child of the King and are being conformed to His image.

Don’t brag about what you can do for Christ but rather on who you are in Him.

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God's Providence

Sometimes life is difficult. A death occurs, health issues arise, a child goes astray, or the job ends.

When life gets difficult, our minds get busy trying to process it all. When faced with trials, imagining any good coming from them is hard. All the while, God’s providence is at work bringing about His will for our lives and His glory. 

Joseph, the son of Jacob, is a good example of God bringing good out of bad circumstances. He was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers, sold into Egyptian slavery, falsely accused of rape, and imprisoned. Through it all, God was with him. Joseph rose to prominence as the highest official under Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt. During Egypt’s seven-year famine, he was responsible for saving many lives, including his brothers. He forgave them, and the family reunited and settled in Egypt. Joseph understood that what his brothers intended for harm, God intended for good.

Our Heavenly Father governs the world—upholding heaven and earth by His power, yet a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice. Our lives are not left to the whims of chance. We are created by a God who knows the number of hairs on our head. As Christians, we can be confident Jesus will be with us through every trial we face. 

If you are facing trials, remember God is in control and can bring good out of your circumstances. Jesus promises to be with you through every trial you face. 

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Game Changer

With just five minutes to go, the game was essentially over.

During an NFL game in 2003, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had just scored again, giving them an unsurmountable 35-14 lead over the Indianapolis Colts. Tony Dungy, the Colt’s head coach, was considering pulling his starters to save them from injury. But what happened next became the turning point in what many call the greatest comeback in NFL history.

Brad Pyatt returned the kick-off to the Tampa Bay 12-yard line. With such great field position, the starters returned to the field and quickly scored. The Colt’s defense, now infused with courage, stiffened. The Bucs could not make a first down and were forced to punt. The Colts quickly scored again, making the score 35-28 with minutes left.

The home crowd became deathly silent as the Colts recovered an onside kick and scored another touchdown, tying the game and sending the contest into “Sudden Death” overtime. The Colts completed an improbable comeback by kicking a field goal which bounced off the goal post and went through, beating the Buccaneer’s 38-35.

Pyatt’s kickoff return was a sports game changer. God changes the game for people. He is our exceeding great reward and the answer to our hopes and dreams. What if, like Asaph in Psalm 73:28, we said, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.”

Imagine the impact if we believed God Himself was our highest good and enjoying His nearness was the aim of every moment. God would replace checking through our to-do lists, accumulating possessions, and fighting for smooth circumstances. Like Mary, we could focus on one thing and trust the Lord to care for our needs.

Drop whatever is consuming your focus into God’s hands and trust Him with it. His nearness is your good. Embrace Him, not your problem.

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When We Draw Near

The solution to my dilemma was simple. All I had to do was slow down and get closer to know for certain.

On my way to church one Sunday morning, I saw a fawn poised in front of a tree line on private-owned property. Since I was far away and driving on a highway, it was difficult to know whether it was real or fake.  Many deer inhabit the area, but sometimes people use look-a-likes as yard ornaments.

My only personal experience with a fawn was early one morning in my neighborhood. Taking my dog for a walk, I spied a fawn on the shoulder of the road a few feet away from my footpath. Laying in the ditch, it didn't run as a mature deer would have but continued to rest with no fear. Large brown eyes blinked as it observed me, and the white spots on its tawny coat moved gently as it breathed. This time I was close enough to remove all guesswork about the fawn being real.      

In our perception of God, sometimes we're not sure if we can believe or trust Him. We wonder if He's authentic or just another phony. But if we get close to Him, we can know for sure. 

The best part is that God invites us to come near. He's not an impersonal god who doesn't care about His creation. He didn't make us to do life all by ourselves but longs for relationship and desires to partner with us so we can live our best lives. Knowing we need His help, He has given us the Bible for instruction so we can be close to His heart on a regular basis.

Draw close to God so you can know He is real.  

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Count It All Joy

A person’s value is not rooted in surroundings or in the sum of people’s opinions. 

Everyone goes through seasons of hardship and frustration—situations that didn’t reflect our worth or merit in life. In those moments we have to remember to find joy in the middle of desperate situations. 

Joseph was thrown into a hole by his brothers, sold into slavery, and falsely imprisoned. He could had given up in despair, but he found joy in his trial. Everything he touched, the Lord blessed. He received favor as a slave and favor as a prisoner. He was promoted from prison to second in command to the Pharaoh of Egypt. His story demonstrates God’s love for a person who was discarded by their environment.

But Joseph had to choose to work in those hard places for the Lord to bless him. We sometimes get discouraged by what’s ahead of us. We think our value is linked to our surroundings. Joseph was worth more than the prison he sat in for many years, but he had to find joy in his situation.

We cannot be moved by the small or insignificant things in life. Every oak tree started as a single seed, every skyscraper as an idea on paper, and every harvest in the fields as an empty field full of seeds.

I’ve struggled with feeling insignificant because of my surroundings. I thought I had to be surrounded by thousands to validate my ministry and calling. But I discovered joy in the small and encouragement in the obscure. My worth is not wrapped in my surroundings but in the One who gave His life for me. 

Joy can be found and great achievements made in any situation by identifying your source of joy in the midst of the trial and then putting your hand to doing good.

Discover your value in the unshakable love of the Lord and in His grace toward you.

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Open and Shut Doors

Sometimes it’s difficult to wait for God to unlock doors He has closed.

Although I believe Jesus will open the doors He wants me to walk through in His perfect timing, I don’t enjoy waiting.  

In the book of Revelation, the letter to the church in Philadelphia was one of encouragement. Jesus told them He was the one who could open what no one could shut and shut what no one could open. He knew the Philadelphians weren’t strong. Because of that, He protected them by keeping the doors shut they should avoid and opening the doors they should walk through.

When we do everything in our power but doors won't budge, we can be encouraged as the church in Philadelphia was. Jesus knows us inside out. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. Closed doors can be His way of telling us we aren't strong enough to walk through them.

Trusting that Jesus is sovereign over all things helps us deal with the disappointment of closed doors. But I often wish He’d put a big check mark on the doors He intends to open and a big X on the ones He wants to remain shut. Then I could be certain which doors He wants me to keep pounding on and which doors I should turn and walk away from.

Learn to trust God whether He shuts doors or opens them.  

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An App for That

“There’s an app for that” has never been a truer statement than now.

Recently, my daughter showed me a phone app that allows you to correct photos. If you look a little too chunky in your picture, you can gently chisel your cheeks to give a slimmer appearance. Have under eye circles? Just wave the correcting wand in that area and poof ... no more circles. Freckles on your face that you detest? Get rid of them with a touch of a button. Want different colored eyes or a prettier nose? You can change those too. Any imperfection you dislike can be eliminated by the features on your phone or computer. 

After playing around with this app with my daughter, I pondered, Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an app for your heart? This app would take care of all those unwanted heart issues. Anger, greed, distrust, or any hidden sin. 

But I don’t need an app to handle my heart impurities. As a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, I am assured He has already paid the debt for my sins by His blood shed on the cross. God completely wipes away our imperfections if we repent and turn to Him. Forgiveness that leads to refreshment of our hearts and deep cleansing can be ours. No app needed. All we must do is ask. Once we receive forgiveness, we must cling to God so He can continue to help us overcome our sin.

So for now, there’s not a magic app for matters of the heart. But I’m so thankful God loves me enough to take care of my heart like no other can. As I learn the process of confessing my sin and leaning on Him, my heart is growing as I never imagined.

Rather than turning to other things, turn to God for matters of the heart.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Look Back for a Bounce Back

It’s okay to walk away from something that hurts you.

Sometimes, no matter how hard we wish the circumstances of life were different, they never change–and never will.

Those are the times when the best thing to do is turn the radio up and sing along with country/western singer Jo Dee Messina as she sings “Bye-Bye.” On the other hand, you may only want to turn the rearview mirror sideways for a while. You can keep it that way long enough to take the action necessary to stop the cycle of pain, give your heart time to heal, and regain your strength. But not so long that you lose sight of the fact that nearly every successful bounce back includes a realistic look back. The trick is to keep the lesson and let go of the pain.

I will never forget the brutal pain of betrayal and crushing rejection I felt the night my former husband agreed with his lover that I needed to leave–and quickly. I literally found myself out in the snow with two small children and nowhere to go.

In my heartache, I drew closer to God, and He was faithful to comfort, protect, and sustain me. But once I was back on my feet, I was off and running again on “Penny Power” with little thought of looking back, learning from the past, or applying those valuable lessons in my life.

For a while I did all right. That was before my son was about to enter kindergarten and the weight of single parenthood and an uncertain future brought me to my knees again.

This time I stayed close to God long enough for Him to show me how He never wastes our pain. His grace flows through every circumstance of our lives. I’m sure because I have seen it in my life and in the lives of others.

If you have ever dealt with the pain of rejection, abuse, or disappointment, you know how difficult it can be to let go of the pain and move beyond it. Pain, however, does not get the final say so. God does. Without picking at the scabs or replaying the DVD in HD over and over again, you can look back, review the past, and discover the positive.

God can continue to use your pain for good in your life and the lives of others.

(Devotion used by permission of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.)

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Write the Vision

“You got the job!”

These are the words I had been praying for three years about a job I hoped to get. Before I got the position, I wrote the company’s name on my vision wall and posted it in my kitchen so I could thank God every day. I’d sent resume after resume, and when it didn’t look like I was going to get a phone call, I still thanked Him for the job. Two weeks ago, I received a call from a friend who works for this company. She referred me, and two days later I got the job.

Habakkuk encourages us to write our visions on paper. God wants us to have clear objectives. He wants us to pursue our goals with a clear vision and never lose track of what we’re hoping for. The second part of the verse says “So that the herald may run with it”—meaning that whoever reads it won’t forget.

Everytime I had a bad day or it looked like my goal was moving further away, I would say, “Lord I thank You for my job at this company.” Doing this gave me hope and built my faith. This was my opportunity to strengthen my faith muscles and learn to trust God through my trials.

When it looks like the vision isn’t coming to pass, fortify your faith muscles. Thank God every day for the vision, and watch how He teaches you while you wait. If it’s in His will, the vision will materialize, and you too will have an amazing testimony to help someone.

Write down your vision and post it—along with this Scripture from Habakkuk—where you’ll see it daily.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Our Reputation

“Thunk. Thunk.” The dull blows of the axe made little impact on the four by fours holding the sign we so proudly erected several years ago.

Now the sign mocked me: Center for Pregnancy Care. I had to get rid of it. I was humiliated, broken, defeated. My daughter, a twenty-two-year-old graduate student, was pregnant.

I wiped sweat and tears from my face. I brought her up in the way she should go, Lord. I dedicated her to you, prayed for a godly husband, and taught her that sex is a sacred act between a man and wife. Don’t you care, God? What about your name? This is your reputation at stake here. Pushing the sign over, I let it lay on the grassy front yard.

Papa God gathered me in His arms and assured me He wasn’t worried about His reputation—and I shouldn’t be either. God is concerned about our perfection—shaping us, molding us, crushing down the clay, and putting us back on the wheel. The Potter is more interested in creating a vessel fit for His purposes than He is in His own good name.

Perhaps when we worry about God’s reputation, we are more concerned about our own. God will burn our pride in the fires of His holiness. It is hard to look into our deceitfully wicked hearts and realize God chastens those He loves.

You may not understand your trials and even feel they are unfair and incomprehensible challenges. God won’t whisk you through the challenges of life, but He will walk by your side as your comforter and guide.

Accept God’s plan and His purpose for you and your children. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Too Many Words

Sometimes, when I think I’ve said a lot, I realize I’ve said very little.

The assignment was simple. Students were to write a short paper detailing three things they felt strongly about. When all were finished, I collected the papers and redistributed them to their peers to check for grammatical errors, redundancy, and wordiness. 

One young lady approached my desk. “Doesn’t this sentence say the same as the previous one,” she asked.

“It does,” I replied.

A short time later, she returned again, “Doesn’t this sentence say the same thing too?”

“Yes, it does,” I said again.

With a confused look and a sigh, she whispered, “But that only leaves one sentence in the entire paragraph.”

I shook my head and smiled, then called the class to attention, “Class, life lesson. Sometimes, when we think we have a lot to say, we have very little.” The student—whose paper was in question—laughed, but I was convicted.

Many are the warnings God gives throughout the Bible with outright instruction or example about the potency of our words. Taking into consideration those warnings—and noticing that I have two ears but only one mouth—I’ve concluded it’s better to listen more than I talk. I’ll learn more, stay out of trouble, and develop healthier relationships.

The classroom exercise also reminded me of how crucial it is to choose carefully the words I write or speak. Since wordiness and redundancy are rife, I need to make sure the words I give out are worth listening to. Saying the most in the fewest words is challenging and requires forethought, but is possible.

Since people’s attention spans are growing increasingly shorter, speaking or writing with as few words as possible is wise. Otherwise, I’ll lose those tp whom I think I have something to say.

Words also reflect my character—the person I really am on the inside. I have a sneaky suspicion the young student was attempting to take a shortcut. Since I require a minimum of five sentences in a paragraph, he was shooting for the goal rather than truly thinking about what he felt strongly about. His attempt was foiled by a student with a watchful eye.

Make sure the words you deliver are worth listening to.  

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Being Remade

God said He did not want to restore me to the way I was before; He wanted to make me into something better.

I had always thought when God re-created you into another vessel, it was because there was something wrong with the vessel you were. However, I came to the place in my life where I knew something was wrong, but I did not know why. As far as I knew, I had not disobeyed God or sinned. I prayed, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.”  

God took me to Jeremiah 18 and showed me how the clay was marred in His hands. He told me I had been a tea cup. I was a good tea cup, and many times I had even overflowed onto brother saucer, but now God wanted to make me into a pitcher. He wanted to pick me up at any given time and use me to pour into other vessels.

God warned that the transformation would hurt. Things would have to be cut out of me before He could make me into a pitcher. God reminded me He was the good potter that would comfort me along the way. He would even walk with me into the fire when it was time, but He wanted me to be willing.

I knew God would not cut out one thing from me without my permission. In Jeremiah 18:6, God asked, “Cannot I do with you as this potter?” God asks the same question today.

Letting God cut things out of our lives and remold us isn’t easy, but it is rewarding. If we choose not to let God remold us, we can end up on the shelf. God doesn’t design us for the shelf, but there are times when we cannot go back or stay the same. We must be remade.

How will you respond if God asks “Cannot I do with you as this potter?” Let God make you into another vessel.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Resurrection Christians

Easter baskets full of candy, going to church, eating with family. What, after all, is the big deal about Easter?

God came to earth born as a man and then spent three intense years of ministry. While here, Jesus trained a team of twelve men to carry on His work after He left. He taught us how to live in godly righteousness and promised eternal life. Amazingly, folks wrote down His words, and the Bible now serves as a love letter from God given through Jesus. 

But we seem to know better. We often don’t want a spiritual king who doesn’t speak of wealth and luscious desires of the flesh like our human kings do. A king like this gets in the way. So we cry, “Get rid of Him,” “Stone Him,” “Whip Him,” “Nail Him to a cross,” or “Humiliate Him.” When He responds, “It is finished,” we think He is off His rocker. Especially at the end when He asks God to forgive those crucifying Him.

Then hysterical women say Jesus’ tomb is empty, and we wonder where the body of Him who called himself the King of the Jews is? The body of that lunatic who said He was God. And then we hear of Him reappearing to the faithful with promises of life everlasting.

But it is true, and that’s the big deal about Easter. God loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son so that when we believe in Him we will have eternal life with Him (John 3:16). Jesus’ agonizing death on the cross drew the line in the sand, wiping clean the blood-red sins of those who believe in Him and making them lily white.

Because of Easter, when we look in the mirror, we can see a new being washed by Jesus’ blood, loved as His child, and filled with the joy only He can bring.

Forget about the bunny! Pick up your Bible and go forth as a mighty resurrection Christian.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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I Am the Resurrection

Easter Sundays can be filled with pressure and anxiety.

My family and I were pastoring a church in Illinois, but we left to celebrate Easter alone. The morning began with an early service followed by a mid-morning service. People filtered in, dressed in their Easter best. Sounds of conversation filled the church, and, later, excitement twinkled in the people’s eyes as they rushed to get their Easter lunches. 

My family and I gathered our belongings from the sanctuary as the excitement began to lose its momentum. My wife used this quiet moment to whisper her pride in my performance. Her encouragement was a great end to the service. 

Loneliness caused me to question the move to a church so far from family and friends. We entered into our house, which was filled with silence, as others were still consumed by the conversation of the day. We had previously celebrated Easter with family and friends as they were.

As I began to unwind, my mind contemplated my sacrifice for this day. My whole life was based on this day. If Jesus never rose from the grave, my life and sacrifices were empty expressions.

Easter is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. We enter into the Lord’s house to join others in this celebration. Jesus was declaring that He would not only have a resurrection but that He was the Resurrection. The Father in heaven had already embedded in Him the power to overcome.

We have the same power in our lives to overcome—the ability to rise above the problems of our lives and find His strength.  Christ died for our sins and rose from death for our empowerment.

As my family celebrated our first Easter alone, I was encouraged when I realized the strength to leave family and friends to teach this gospel was already embedded in my soul. I was walking in God’s power and had conquered my fears. 

The same power that raised Jesus from the grave is in you today. Find His strength because He is calling you to do something great! 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Complex in Mind, Body, and Spirit

People struggle all their lives with self-image, looks, and acceptance.

Advertising perpetuates the myth of beauty and style as models of perfection and the way to popularity and success. As a teacher, I see “fitting in” as students’ number one priority. Those who feel they lack the prerequisites retreat into cocoons of their own making. Their need to blend in and not be different is like camouflage, making them invisible.

God didn’t intend for people created in His image and after His likeness to face this struggle. God is many-faceted, and we are perfected through Him. Our struggle should be to become the people He created us to be while experiencing the fullness of His love. Then we can confront the world, equipped to be a witness of His mighty works.

To illustrate this point to students, I brought rocks of all shapes, variations, and composites to class. “Like these two malachites, each rock is different, even from those of its own kind,” I said. The difference is what makes them interesting and beautiful in their own way. All rocks are God-made, unique, and one of a kind.

Placing a brick on the desk, I continued, “This brick is man-made. Its uniformity makes it easier to fit in a wall and look like the others.” When we sacrifice our values and beliefs to help others chisel away our uniqueness, we become like the brick. Bricks are useful, but they are rarely appreciated and, over time, become boring.

Each of us is beautiful in God’s eyes. Remember you are a reflection of just one of the many facets of God’s image.

Prayer: Father, help us emerge from our cocoons as individuals—different and unique. Make us sensitive to the fragility of those around us who struggle. Help us grow in wisdom and discernment, so we might be effective witnesses of Your awesome love. Amen.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Enduring Life's Thorns

I hadn’t garnered enough backpacking experience, so my first long haul involved a serious mistake.

Hiking and backpacking had become a love I pursued monthly. But I wanted more. My daughter would soon be out of school for spring break. What better way to spend the week than hiking a remote section of the Foothills Trail which meanders along the South Carolina/North Carolina border.

My mistake was wearing a new pair of boots. Halfway through our first day of hiking, a burning sensation grabbed at the side of my heel. We stopped at the first cool stream of water so I could investigate. The culprit was a large blister. I cleansed the area, applied antibiotic cream, covered it with a bandage, and moved on. This thorn on my foot required daily care for the remainder of the hike. 

Paul was a great apostle, but he had a thorn. Theologians conjecture what it was, but Paul leaves the answer as a mystery. What it was isn’t as important as how he responded to it. His actions are noteworthy when dealing with our own thorns.

Paul identified his thorn—not to us, but to himself. I knew what mine was as well. Soldiers in battle must identify the enemy before they can fight him.

Though it’s not recorded in Scripture, it’s feasible to imagine that Paul asked God why he had the thorn. Asking God a question and questioning God are different. The first is permissible; the second questionable. God may choose to reveal why—or He may keep it a secret. I knew why I had the blister.

Paul asked God to remove the thorn. I would have loved for God to miraculously heal my blister, but I doubted that would happen until I took the boots off. God didn’t take Paul’s thorn away either. Paul’s thorn had a purpose; my blister did as well.

When God refused to remove Paul’s thorn, Paul made peace with his thorn. I did with my blister. I doctored it daily because I knew the risk of infection. Paul was obviously tempted to have a prideful spirit—since he concluded God gave the thorn to keep him humble.

God has a purpose when assigning thorns. If and when you get yours, rather than complaining, ask God what He’s attempting to teach you. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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While driving through the mountains, I approached a cloud that hovered low over the highway. I was forced to slow down because I could barely see a few feet ahead. The road was curvy and I moved carefully, not knowing how long it would take me to get through the fog. It was all I could do to keep driving, but before long I was through the white mist and could see the beautiful mountains around me. Passing through that cloud forced me to look at my life.

There have been times in my life when things appeared fine but then the bottom would drop out. I would be in a place where I couldn’t see what was ahead of me—or how to respond. All I could do was keep going without knowing how long the turmoil was going to last. I could not see far in front of me, but I kept going and, eventually, I could see down the road again.

Even when I couldn’t see what was going on or why, God was with me. He would bring me out in His time. He knew where He was leading me, and it was always to a better place. The longer I wandered through the cloud, the better it was after the sun would shine in my life. In the cloud, strongholds were broken and a better understanding of the Father’s love was gained. It was always a time of getting close to my Father.

Keep your eyes on the Father, and He will see you through whatever you are facing. Your relationship will grow as you draw near to Him.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Sharing God's Photos

Pictures only let us see what we want them to.

We can tell a lot about one’s life by looking at photographs. Most subjects wear a smile. If someone glanced at my old photos, they would probably think I was the happiest person on the planet. But I can’t think of anyone who wants to capture or remember moments of despair. The essence of snapshots is to freeze time so we can look back at happy memories and pass those along to our loved ones.

As time passes and I glance at old photos, it’s not the conflicts I remember. Rather, it's the people who were with me during those times and how, with God’s help, they overcame the obstacles.

The Lord charged Joshua with the task of leading the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land—a feat requiring strength and courage. God would remove their enemies from the land. Priests carried the Ark of the Lord and led the way. As soon as their feet slipped into the Jordan River, the flowing waters were cut off, and the river stood up like a wall. After the people crossed the dry riverbed, the Lord told Joshua to place twelve memorial stones at the place where they crossed. When their descendants asked what the stones meant, the Israelites could tell the story of God’s power, presence, and promises.

We all occasionally pass through our Jordan Rivers. We’ll probably take a selfie before and after the crisis but most likely not while we’re in the middle of it. Hard times build our character and make us who we are. When we don’t see a way out, God will pull us through. And when we make it to the other side, we may look a little run down. Our knees might be a little beaten up, but our testimony will be worth telling to our children—a story of a good Father who delivered us into our promised land.

When you feel weak from battling trials, rely on God’s strength.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Eating Machine

My thirteen-year-old son is an eating machine. He is six feet tall and wears a size fourteen shoe. He has been growing like a weed and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. I am constantly asked where my offspring gets his height? I always reply the same, “I honestly don’t know, but I’m not complaining because he loves to play basketball.”

Especially during growth spurts, Zack can really put away some food. He doesn’t discriminate either. My son will eat meats, sweets, fruits, veggies, and breads. You name it – he wants it. There are days it seems I don’t even step foot out of my kitchen because of his constant state of hunger. Even after eating a huge meal, my son is still scrounging in the pantry to find more food. His appetite cannot be satisfied. In his words, he is starving. He always needs just a little bit more.

Wouldn’t it be great if I were starving too? No, not starving from being on the latest fad diet. But starving to dig deeper into God’s Word. How wonderful it would be if I had an enormous appetite for studying the Bible and praying. I petition the Lord to bless me with a hunger to know Him in a deeper, more personal way. To never be satisfied – always wanting more.

I love the passage of Scripture from Deuteronomy that describes when Moses talked to the Israelites about God’s Word. Moses told the people that God’s Word was meant to be studied so it can be applied in their lives and passed on to others. That’s a good reminder for me. The Bible isn’t filled with idle words. Those words require action. I need to learn more of God’s Word so I can diligently share it with others.

I hope my children will discover the importance of reading and applying the Scriptures to everyday life. As difficult as it is now for me to satisfy my son’s appetite, he won’t always be classified as my eating machine. Hopefully a steady diet of the Bible, fruits, and veggies will keep him very healthy. 

Aspire for God to lavish a spiritual hunger in you that will help you grow and mature in His grace. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and AllisonWeeks.)

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Morning Mist

The mist hung deeply and heavily this morning, a shroud on the hills and neighbors’ houses. Even with headlights on, cars remained invisible until they passed directly in front of my window. The haze obliterated the sun that labored to spread its light. Dangerous, I thought.

Morning mist is caused when warm, moist air fails to rise, and it meets sudden cooling temperatures. Without a wind to blow it away, haze envelops the ground. Equation: Warmth + Encroaching Cool + Lack of Wind = Morning Mist.

But within an hour, the fog in front of my home had disappeared. Gone. Shazam. The sun glistened clearly and brightly. Not a trace of mist remained. Mist . . . a short-lived morning occurrence, dissipating rapidly as the temperature rises.

“Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears,” God warned the Hebrews.

Is your faith like the morning mist? Does someone’s unkind word or criticism leave you in a fog, wondering where God is? Don’t let heartache, illness, rejection, or financial reverses cause your faith and trust in God to cool and disappear like the morning mist. The warmth of our nearness and relationship with God is easily cooled when we fail to remember His faithfulness and trustworthiness. When we do, we are no different from the Hebrews. God calls it dangerous because then “Your love (for Me) is like the morning mist.”

God reminded the Hebrews that He cared for them in the wilderness and the desert. And He reminds us of His faithfulness and of His presence when the temperature of circumstances rises and our trust cools. He assures us that the wind of His Spirit will blow doubt and uncertainty away as we seek Him in the difficulty. Equation: Warmth of Trust in God + Faith Not Cooled by Circumstances + the Wind of God’s Spirit = Clear Skies.

When the mist of faithlessness spreads a shroud of oblivion over your life, reach for God. He is there in your fog. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DodgertonSkillhause.)

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Faith Moves Forward

I’m often haunted by my past blunders, the times my feet slipped, and the times I missed the mark. As I talk to other Christians, I find some of them share the same grief. The apostle Paul encourages us to leave the past behind and to reach forward to what lies ahead. 

Paul spoke from experience when he said to leave the past behind, for he had to bear the memory of persecuting innocent Christians. Before receiving Christ as his Savior, Paul was known as Saul of Tarsus—an overzealous Pharisee who was eager to stamp out the Christian faith. Rather than be a prisoner of his past, Paul embraced God's forgiveness and became a powerful witness for Christ. One of the greatest evangelists of all time, he took the message of salvation to the Gentiles, authored thirteen epistles in the New Testament, and was a preacher, teacher, missionary, and church founder who helped shape Christianity’s history.

Some ask, "How is it possible to forget the past when I'm reaping the consequences of my sins?" Paul's exhortation to forget the past does not mean all memory of the past is erased. He never forgot his former life and even called himself the chief of sinners. But his teachings encourage us to press on to maturity and be all we can be for Jesus.

Through God’s grace and forgiveness, Christians can move ahead and not be held captive by wrong choices, sins, and failures. Faith moves forward and paves the way for blessings and new beginnings. The mistakes and blunders of the past do not have the final word—grace and forgiveness do. 

When moving ahead becomes difficult, remember Paul’s encouragement: press on and finish the race. Don’t be held captive by sin. Instead, seek after God.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and GaborFromHungary.)

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Mary's Gold Stars

“You are now a gold star mother,” my son’s commanding officer said as she pinned the tiny gold star to my collar. “Thank you for being willing to sacrifice your son for the welfare of our country.”

I didn’t feel noble or patriotic; instead I was overwhelmed by our son’s death. During a bleak week in February, he left behind a heartbroken wife and three young daughters. After the flags and funeral, Lent began, a time of reflection and repentance seasoned by my family’s grief as we struggled with the aftermath of Matt’s PTSD.

On Maundy Thursday, my husband and I attended a communion service that focused on Jesus’ march to the cross. We passed around wreaths of thorns. I marveled over Mary’s submissive spirit. From the moment of conception to the crucifixion, Mary surrendered her will to the God’s plan. I knew that if anyone had tried to touch my sons and nail them to a cross, I would have clawed and kicked in their defense.

Did the treasures she had stored in her heart over His lifetime provide the strength she needed during those dark hours? I can only speculate that they and the promises from God’s Word about the Messiah sustained her faith. Like the disciple’s, Mary’s sorrow turned to praise when she learned about Jesus’ resurrection.

The hope that bubbled up from Easter Sunday and Christ’s resurrection fed my family as we waded through our grief. I know my faith will never match Mary’s, but I pray for a servant’s spirit that surrenders to God’s will in all situations. If I could, I would pin thousands of gold stars onto Mary’s robe and thank her for trusting God even when He sacrificed her Son.

Take time to reflect on the sacrifice God made for you.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ronnieb.)

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Big Brave Heart

My husband and I had just had a discussion. Some might call it an argument and be correct, but I’ll stick with calling it a discussion.

What had started as a calm debate escalated as we both tried, not so successfully, to make our differing opinions heard. Our granddaughter was upstairs playing, but I knew she could hear our conversation.

 “How does it make you feel when you hear Nana and Papa argue?” I asked our girl.

“I want to comfort you,” replied my petite five-year-old.

“You have a big heart, little one.”

She raised her eyes to meet mine and asked, “You can have a big heart and still have a brave heart, can’t you Nana?”

What a great question. I needed to think about this one before giving an answer.                                                        

Micah, an Old Testament prophet says not only is it possible, it is also what our Heavenly Father says is right and even demands of His children. A big heart puts mercy as its first concern. A brave heart sees that justice is done. A heart which humbly obeys God in this world must be both brave and big.

If God demands it, then He also promises to help us achieve it. He doesn’t promise it will be easy, yet we must strive to attain it. When our culture does not agree with our Christian worldview, we need to have big, brave hearts. Be fair. Be nice. Obey God. When fellow Christians stray, we need to have big, brave hearts. Be fair. Be nice. Obey God. When I stray, I need to have a big, brave heart.

“Can it be both?”

I looked into her eyes before answering. “Absolutely, my girl. It’s the best kind of heart to have.”

Ask God to examine your heart. Is it big and brave? 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and MichelleBulgaria.)

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Seek Him in Life?s Comedy of Errors

It was a comedy of errors. Sometimes, regardless of our efforts, things just . . .go array.

I love working puzzles. It’s relaxing for me after juggling three jobs in a day. I’ve worked puzzles on fold up snack tables, the kitchen table, and a puzzle board. But this year, we decided it was a worthy investment for me to purchase a puzzle table.

One hundred and fifty nine dollars later, I had a beautiful cheery table–extending sides for puzzle pieces and legs so it stood. Felt covered interiors so the puzzle pieces didn’t sneak away into “lost land.” I could open it at night, work a couple of hours, then neatly close the entire thing and slide it behind my couch. I . . . was . . . a . . . happy . . . camper. UNTIL, I left the table standing one evening, trying to press my nearly finished puzzle flat.

After work, I ran through McDonalds and grabbed my lunch. As I walked in the house, I made my way to the puzzle table. Food in hand, I stepped toward the table to peek inside. That’s when the comedy of errors began. Our Rat Terrier wanted my McDonalds for lunch, so he leaped up, grabbing at my bag. I lifted the bag and smirked, “You thought you had it, didn’t you?” But as pooch came down, he bumped my leg behind the knee. That caused my leg to give way, the McDonalds bag to go airborne, and my tea to hit the floor.

Things went into slow-motion as my leg collapsed, sending me reeling across the puzzle table and landing in the center. Both I and the table smashed to the floor. Tea soaked into my shirt, and the dog and cat stood on my shoulders trying to lick up “Sudden Service Tea.” If that wasn’t enough, when I rolled over my McDonalds bag was . . . well . . . flat.

It was nothing short of a comedy of errors. One that left me not only injured but with a broken puzzle table. Sometimes despite our best efforts to make a save, we still fall.

Unfortunately, it’s the same way with my spiritual life. I try to make a save when the comedy of errors hits, but despite myself, I can’t. This is when God must roll His eyes and shake His head. If you will only seek me. Just seek me.

The world sends its lions to attack far too often, and each time we think we’re equipped to fight them off when we really aren’t. The psalmist offers good advice: seek the Lord and lack no good thing.

We’ve heard it said hundreds of times, “God never promised it was easy to be a Christian.” But we fail to acknowledge that through the rough times, when we seek Him, we lack for no good thing. At the time, we may not recognize the good, but eventually we can look back and be amazed at how God eased the pain of the hardship. He groomed us into something better...something stronger...something more prepared for the next thing that comes along.

It's learning to seek Him that makes us tighter in our relationship with Christ, so when the next hard event hits, we can loosen our white pressed knuckles and let God take the lead.

I doubt God will miraculously heal my broken puzzle board or provide a new McDonalds hamburger or Pal’s tea. But in the grander scheme of things, I’ve learned a hard lesson: food belongs in the kitchen.

For the times I’ve relinquished my own efforts to Him and sought after His will and guidance, God has never failed to sustain me. And I can say with great confidence that the lions who have attacked have grown weak and hungry when God stands before me.

Seek the presence of God, even in the little things. It’s not a matter of things being “fixed.” It’s a matter of growing in a confidant relationship with Him. When you seek Him, you will lack no good thing.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jppi.)

(For more devotions, visit us at www.christiandevotions.us.) 

The Skittle

We were having the time of our lives on my son’s school field trip to the North Carolina State Fair. We had looked at exhibits, played games, and rode twirling rides. Exhausted and hungry, our group went in search of something yummy to eat. 

Walking through the dense crowd, I heard someone yell, “Hey, lady, you in the bright pink shirt. You stand out more than a Skittle in an M&M box of candy!” The game attendant was trying to reel me in to play the ring toss game at his booth. He certainly got my attention and my first thought: “What’s wrong with my shirt? Is it really that bright?”  Immediately I became self- conscious. I wondered if I looked ridiculous. Later, I just shrugged the attendant’s comment off. I knew He was trying to drum up business. 

While I really liked my super-comfy shirt, this guy’s statement triggered something else in me. I started thinking about the attendant’s comment about sticking out in the crowd. Initially, my attitude was negative, but I soon viewed things from a different perspective. Isn’t it really a compliment when I don’t blend in with others? I want to be different...special...unique.

I realized that’s exactly what God wants for us. He wants us to stand out, not because of the clothes we wear but because of the lives we live for Him. He desires for us to be different—to be distinguished by our Christian love toward others. John tells us to love others as God has loved us. We are set apart by our actions of love toward others. We show that we belong to Him by the love we offer in our relationships and interactions with others.

Love is more than just warm fuzzy feelings. It reveals our identity to others. When people look at you, do you stand out because of the love you share? Set yourself apart from non-believers by practicing love every day. I don’t mind if I stick out like a Skittle in an M&M box if that means I’m working on setting myself apart for the right reasons. 

Be the Skittle for God in a world full of M&Ms.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and natepowers.)

(For more devotions, visit us at www.christiandevotions.us.)

The Honor of Humility

I wonder what they think about me now?

I worked for a mission’s organization called Youth With A Mission, referred to as YWAM.  I was a recruiter who set up missions meetings in thirty-five cities east of the Mississippi. One weekend, a couple that organized meetings for me in South Carolina came to the YWAM center in Virginia where I lived. This couple really loved missions. They also had liked YWAM and respected the work we did. I was a little surprised when I found out what this couple really liked about our mission.

On Sunday morning we invited them over to our apartment for breakfast before church. I was trying to entertain my guests and help my youngest daughter get dressed for church. My little one, usually the picture of submission, was having a hard time listening to her dad.

Finally, I lost it and let her have it verbally in a very unloving fashion. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew I was wrong and apologized to her. She forgave me as kids usually do. But we were in the room right next to where my guests were waiting. I thought to myself, I wonder what they think about me now.  Needless to say, it was a very awkward breakfast for me that morning.

After church, we went to lunch at a restaurant. Before we prayed for the meal, I decided I needed to get this thing off my chest. It didn't matter whether they had heard me or not. I needed to be known in my weakness and ask them to pray that I would be able to handle stress better.

As I told them the story, the husband got a huge smile on his face. He said, “That's what we like about you YWAMERS. You have the rhema in this area of openness.”

Wow! I saw more clearly than ever that I had been believing a lie.

What I wanted to hide, when revealed, didn’t bring shame but respect. In God's kingdom, honor is always preceded by humility. Be of humble heart. It is an honor.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hotblack.)

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Setting the New Year Pace

Is that really how you want to start out the new year?

My husband and I decided to go to Cracker Barrel for breakfast on News Years morning. Tim is a “drive-through” parker, searching the parking lot for the perfect drive-through spot. Located between to huge pickup trucks, Tim eased into the parking spot. He smiled a victorious smile. I rolled my eyes.

We squeezed out of the SUV, at which point, Tim had to duck under the side mirrors of the Ram Truck on his side.  I rolled my eyes again. Such are the joys of the drive-through parker.

Tim took my hand in his and kissed my knuckles. We passed an older couple on the sidewalk and realized, they were the owners of the red Ram truck. I glanced over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of the woman standing in the parking lot, hands on her hips, tapping her foot. “Really, of all the parking spots, you choose this one?”

Though I’m not “drive-through” parker and I don’t always get the logic behind the challenge, my husband had parked our vehicle perfectly in the spot. The SUV sat evenly between the lines. In essence, he’d done nothing wrong other than choosing to park next to this truck.

What do you do? I thought about turning around and wishing the irritated woman a Happy New Year. Or maybe going back and opening the truck door for her. Though both were well intentioned on my end, I’m afraid for this woman, the kind acts would have seemed snide. So, I walked ahead ignoring her sour response.

Sometimes our acts of kindness seem bittersweet to those who harbor unhappiness. Gentle acts of love are misunderstood and taken as insult. Even the kindnesses of God are sometimes taken as His turning His back on us, even when we know God works to prosper us and not harm us. The fact remains, we are at times, very selfish and most displeased when things do not roll the way we want.

It's a new year. A new day. Praise God for the kindness He has shown, even when you do not understand the purpose. Start out the new year in joy, gratefulness, and happiness. The choices we make today, set the pace for tomorrow, so don’t waste valuable moments. Grasp hold and praise Him from whom all blessings flow. Choose kindness – every time.

For more devotions visit ChristianDevotions.us

Photo courtesy of pixabay.com and Unsplash


Tuppence a Bag

“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.” Mary Poppins sang about the old beggar woman who sold breadcrumbs on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. “Feed the birds. Tuppence a bag.” I remember wondering why the old woman was so poor, and why Mr. Banks wouldn’t let the children buy a bag of crumbs to help her out. His intent – for the kids to learn to save their money for . . . retirement.

Retirement is supposed to be . . . comfortable. Either that or I fell for the age-old lie that retirement is filled with travel, adventure, and financial security. Thanks to slips in the economy,  we seemed to have only tuppence (twopence) left.

In my first marriage, we’d begun a small nest egg, but divorce bit into the account and I had nothing. The boys and I moved into a borrowed room in the basement of my parent’s home. There, I literally saved my pennies just to buy food.

My parents would have happily given me money if I had asked. I didn’t ask. I needed to learn to be self-sufficient, even if it meant doing without. I saved my coins in a jar and watched for the sales. In those days, ninety-nine cents would buy you two yards of cotton fabric that would make a shirt and a pair of elastic waist pants for the boys. We ate a lot of spaghetti and peanut butter, but we were grateful for what we had.

Mary and Joseph had what they could carry with them. There wasn’t much room on a donkey’s back when a pregnant woman took up the majority of the space. And Joseph’s back could only haul so much. I can’t speak for the peculiar pair, but I’d guess the two were still somewhat stunned at the reality of becoming parents. And not just any parents – parents of the Messiah. I doubt possessions topped their lists. Searching Bethlehem for a place to sleep was probably the first real slap in the face to understanding what poor meant.

When they settled into a dark and dreary stable and Mary gave birth, grateful was probably an understatement. They snuggled close, held their newborn son, and gazed into the eyes of God. My guess is, in that moment they had all they needed . . . food, clothing, and happiness.

My days of poverty are gone. In truth, retirement isn’t so bad. God has provided every need . . . each one as it has risen. At the end of our first year of retirement, our bank account shows we have what we began with, plus a tiny bit extra. Go figure.

This year we’ll spend a few leftover tuppence for those in need. As we do, we’ll reap the joy of what we have. Food. Clothing. And happiness. Don’t let the pressures of Christmas-buying weigh you down. Be happy in what you have, for God sees every need.

If He cares for every bird, He’ll care for you.

(Photos courtesy of office.microsoft.com. and morguefile and shannontanski.)

(For more devotions, visit us at www.christiandevotions.us.)


Lessons from a Bike

As Christmas nears, I’m actually thinking of Mother’s Day.

One year, as Mother’s Day drew closer, my family asked the same question they’ve asked year in and year out: What would you like for Mother’s Day?

In years past I’d feigned indignation. But that year I had an answer. “I want a bike.” Gift received, a few weeks later, as I pedaled around our neighborhood, God taught me five lessons I would soon need.

Lesson #1: Keep a Look Out Ahead

That morning I coasted around a bend in the road. I jumped up on a sidewalk and as I did, I noticed about six feet of sidewalk missing, replaced by a large hole. I cut my eyes to the right. I had just enough time to slip onto the road without injury. Keep a look out for what’s ahead, God whispered.

Lesson #2: Keep a Look Out Behind

Later, I heard a car approaching from behind. Keep a look out for what’s coming up behind you… Sometimes life has a way of sneaking up on you. The most innocent of things can come back to bite us. Sin has consequences. When we run to the Father and plead the blood of the Son, the sin is forgiven, but the consequences often remain.

Lesson #3: Watch for Others Along the Way

I continued forward, dipping into an area of winding roads shaded by large oaks. It’s my favorite part of the ride, but with the roads curving as they do, I have to keep a watch for who might be ahead of me. As popular as this neighborhood is with bikers, it’s even more so with walkers and runners. Life is like that, the Lord whispered again. Sometimes it’s the people we encounter who can trip us up along the way.

Lesson #4: There Will Always Be Poop

Our neighborhood policy is: if you “walk your dog,” you “clean up behind your dog.” All along the way folks amble behind their furry friends. They have a leash in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. But, sadly, not everyone poop-scoops. No matter how well you plan it out, said that tiny whisper again, life sometimes means running into poop every now and then. We watch out for it as best as we can, but sometimes, well, it’s too late. And then we have a mess to clean up.

Lesson #5: Keep Your Wheels Pointed Toward Home

As I turned the final corner that morning, I realized that from the moment I’d left the house, the wheels of my bike had been pointed toward home. Always remember where your spiritual home is … and run to the Father in prayer. No matter what, keep that focus. I am here. I am at Home. And I am waiting to chat with you.

Once inside, I showered, changed, and headed to my office. Not a minute later, my husband came in, looking quite pale. Within minutes, I had 9-1-1 on the phone.

The next few days were filled with doctors and nurses, personal care technicians, cardiologists and their array of tests, phone calls to family and friends, prayer unlike anything I’ve ever felt before, and—finally—surgery.

The very points God had given to me on my bike ride were now those lessons pushing me forward and helping me to keep my balance and momentum.

I’m thankful for Mother’s Days past and for the joys of a loving parent. I’m grateful for a young mother who gave birth to the Savior of the world.

This Christmas, remember, with every step we take—one foot in the past and the other in the present—we head toward an uncertain future. But God is there … all the way. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Alvimann.)

(For more devotions, visit us at www.christiandevotions.us.) 

A Sunshine State White Christmas

As the calendar rolled toward the last week of December,1989, meteorologists up and down the East Coast were not focused on the holidays. They were watching a record-breaking Arctic high=pressure ridge over the Central Plains that was sending temperatures across the United States plummeting. On the morning of December 22nd, the temperature in Northern Nebraska was minus 36 degrees. 

Out on the periphery of the continent, especially on the East Coast, temperatures were also well below normal. And there was something else: off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, a low was forming. As it slowly spun out in the Atlantic, it began to send ocean moisture slamming into those drastic cold temperatures. And so it was that as Christmas 1989 approached, snow began to fall from Cape Hatteras to Melbourne, Florida. Places that had never seen snow were suddenly watching in wonder as a White Christmas materialized out of nowhere.

One of those places was Ocala, Florida. And just outside Ocala was the Marion Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in the Florida Department of Corrections where inmate #249293 watched in sheer joy as snow began to fall. That was me: Inmate #249293. 

Christmas was never a good time in prison. Not that there were any good times, but Christmas was more stressful than most. And to a North Carolina boy stuck in a Florida prison, it was even more stressful. Let me explain. Florida has two seasons. There is the very hot green leaf season, which is roughly March to October, and the less hot, brown leaf season, which would be during the remaining winter months. In other words, it was nothing like a North Carolina boy had grown up experiencing.  

I had been fighting the depression the holidays in prison inevitably bring, and finally asked Jesus for help. Not just for me, but for my family. I didn’t want them to pick up on my lowered spirits and worry about me any more than they already were. “Jesus,” I prayed, “please help me find just a little Christmas Spirit.”

And so it was that the next morning I stood in the prison yard watching in sheer wonder as snow, real snow, fell on central Florida … and my up-turned face. And my heart burst with joy and gratitude, and yes, even Christmas Spirit.

As I looked around, even the chain-link fences that bordered my world, with their crowns of deadly barbed serpentine wire, looked beautiful as they were slowly covered in ice and snow. It would not be the last time He would be there to hold my hand when the going got tough. But I had to reach out. And every time I did, He answered.

Do you need help this Christmas season? Reach out to the One who could turn a Florida prison into a Winter Wonderland and give a White Christmas to the Sunshine State.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and biberta.)

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Circle of Giving

After returning from our church’s Christmas Eve service, my husband, John, and I tried to gather our twenty-eight-year-old son into the parlor so we could open gifts. Carlos continually muttered he needed to find a card he had bought for us before we opened gifts.

Wrapping paper rustled and packing materials tumbled to the floor as the three of us clamored over what we had bought or created. Extreme weather conditions had claimed most of our fruit crops and limited our income that year. John and I had selected only a few, meaningful gifts for each other.

Then Carlos handed us the envelope snatched from his father’s desk. “Remember, Dad, how you always slipped me twenty-dollars and filled up my car with gas every time I came home?” he said. 

“Well, sort of.” John glanced at me. The habit had been instinctive. Didn’t most parents tuck a box of cookies into their student’s car along with a little cash?

“One time you handed me a fifty-dollar bill. You guys didn’t know it, but I really needed it then. And with it being such a bad year on the farm, well …”

John opened the envelope, pulled out a fifty-dollar bill, and wiped away tears. I cried and still cry when I remember my son’s gift. Like most parents, we hope our actions reflect our love and heap blessings upon our children.

Tears gather when I ponder the numerous times Jesus has slipped me moments of grace: an unmerited gift that affirmed my talents, a granddaughter that gave her life to Him, or a glorious sunset that welcomed me while walking along Lake Michigan’s shores.

No amount of money stuffed in an envelope can repay the grace Jesus heaps on me, so, instead, I offer Him what He most desires: my heart. Accept the gift Christ offers you, and let it be the best Christmas ever.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cohdra.)

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Enjoying God

"Eat your breakfast, Kathryne."

I heard those words constantly growing up. I'm not a breakfast eater to this day. Never have been. As a kid, I'd fake mom out by leaving a bowl and spoon in the kitchen sink with cereal and milk residue to avoid getting yelled at.

As an adult, I force myself to ingest a small amount of nutritional fuel along with my morning coffee. Yes, I'm a coffee lover … addicted and passionate about it. Coffee alone, however, doesn’t provide the nutrition I need to energize my day.

But what about spiritual breakfast? As a Christian, do you ever struggle with reading your Bible in the morning? I know I do. We know all the reasons we are supposed to read our Bible: to strengthen ourselves spiritually, encourage ourselves, grow our faith, increase our knowledge of God, increase our wisdom, and gain guidance.

It's like dieting; you know you should eat healthy. You know what to do but don't really want to. Here's what worked for me. I forced myself to eat healthy foods at first. After a while, I begin to sincerely enjoy the taste. Once the enjoyment factor kicked in, it was easy sailing. I begin craving healthier foods.

Reading the Bible has followed the same pattern in my life. I started reading because I was told it was good for me. Before long the spiritual food tasted so good I returned to the feasting table to dine with God readily—even eagerly.

If we view it less as lifeless drudgery and seek after the ultimate Writer Himself, the Bible will come alive. John 6 teaches the Spirit gives life while the flesh profits nothing.

When I began viewing my daily Bible time as personal time with God, it changed. It became less about the book and all about the Person. Enjoying the Word of God is related to enjoying the God of His Word. Re-frame how you view your devotional time and eat your spiritual breakfast. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cbcs.)

(For more devotions, visit us at www.christiandevotions.us.)

A Most Thankful Woman

Hannah was an unusual gift-giver among Bible women. Her act of thanksgiving and the song that flowed from her happy heart, in no way hinted a former time when Hannah wept in bitterness of her soul. Why? Hannah’s husband had two wives, and Hannah was the barren wife by God’s design.

Elkanah loved Hannah. His devotion to her might be the reason Peninnah was jealous. Despite having sons and daughters, the rival wife provoked Hannah relentlessly. Hannah suffered with each look of distain and each hurtful remark. Her face was always sad.

At Shiloh, Hannah cried in front of her husband, who could not console her. She cried in front of the temple priest. Hannah cried out to God, “See my affliction. Remember me, and do not forget me.” Then Hannah made the vow that set her apart from other women. “LORD, if you will give me a baby boy, I will give him back to you forever.”

Eli the priest watched the woman’s lips move. Something is wrong with her, he thought. “I think you are drunk,” he accused. Hannah insisted she did not drink wine, but she had poured out her soul before God. Eli blessed her. “Go in peace, and may the LORD grant your petition.”

No longer sad, Hannah returned home with expectation. God remembered her faith in Him. She gave birth to the darling son she desired. Hannah remembered her vow.

Amazing is the level of Hannah’s thanksgiving to God. We give out of abundance or give to God a small portion out of poverty. Each is relatively easy to do. Giving in faith or keeping our promise to the Lord costs more. But God is never in our debt. He supplies our needs as He uses our resources in His work­--giving to others. God multiplies our gift to do exceedingly and abundantly above all we ask or think. Hannah bore three sons and two daughters—and Samuel the Prophet of God.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and greyerbaby.)

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A New Perspective

The recipe called for fresh ginger. I could have substituted ground ginger, but for some strange reason, I felt compelled to follow the directions exactly.

Why am I making all this fuss? I thought as I drove to the store. I would soon find out.

I had never seen fresh ginger before, so I had to read the produce signs to find it. I did a double take when I spotted the price of $2.49 a pound. But I was even more shocked when I saw the ginger itself. It looked grotesque. I almost changed my mind about buying it, but I selected a few pieces and headed for home.

Back in my kitchen, as I started to peel the ginger, a delightful aroma came forth. How deceiving, I thought. Its ugly exterior has camouflaged its fragrant interior.

Things came into focus. God was using this experience to teach me a lesson. Don’t judge. He knew I always equated outer beauty with greater happiness and pleasure.

For a moment, my mind drifted back to several events in the past. I recalled the vacation my family spent at a beautiful motel. Yet when I thought about it now, I realized we had more fun on our camping trip in the rain—in a tent. I also thought of our large home which I was sure would make me happier than our smaller one. But looking back, I knew nothing could ever replace the twenty years of wonderful memories we spent in our first tiny home. 

I remembered the Thanksgiving Mom and Dad took Jim and me and our five boys to a restaurant so I wouldn't have to cook. But even that couldn't hold a candle to the meals we enjoyed crowded around our small dining room table.

God seemed to be telling me to look at things from His perspective … from within … from the heart. I knew it would be hard for me to change my habits after so many years of judging people and things by their external appearances, but I decided to try.

I still have to watch what I say before jumping to conclusions, but through the Lord's help, I am making significant progress.

How do you judge others?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and modnar.)

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Peace and Presence

“That’s it!  I GIVE UP!  There’s no hope.  I will never find a job.”

 Interview after interview after interview … same story. “We’ll call you.”  Stupid phone hasn’t rung once.  “I’m gettin’ drunk,” Sal screamed in the lobby and slammed the door behind him. 

“Not so fast, fella!” 

“What’s it to you, bud?”

“My treat at Starbucks.  What’s your name?”

God’s holding Sal in the palm of His hand.  He hears his misery, his frustration, his anger, his lack of hope. God also hears our pain. Each and every one. Paul says when He comes to us and we choose to trust Him, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be filled with joy, peace and hope. 

The word is “choose.”  We choose hope when we say “yes” to Jesus. This hope is not hollow but full of promise; not of the earthly human flesh, but of the eternal glory of Heaven. With the vision of the glory of God—of His incredible love for us, we can choose not to be discouraged by the rocks thrown in our path. We can be filled with His joy and rest in His peace that God is in control. 

When my husband’s diagnosis was stage-four cancer, we chose God.  He was there guiding the surgeons, sitting in Starbucks with our son and me. He was giving us strength for the days ahead knowing that the outcome was in His hands. We could all bathe in His peace and presence.

God will be by your side too. You just have to choose Him through Jesus Christ. Where do you need Him most today?  God knows where it is. Choose to trust Him and rejoice in that sense of peace which really does pass all our earthly understanding. He promises to speak to you through His Word, your devotional readings, and your prayers to Him. I can say this because I chose Jesus, and He has never failed me. All glory be unto Him.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DarrenHester.)

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Whale Boy

I married a farmer’s daughter who is described by her sister as “the pick of the litter.”

Growing up on a dairy farm, my wife learned about chores and developed her body by bailing hay. She and her sisters developed a work ethic that despises idleness, and they learned the joy of using a strong, healthy body.

I met another psychological therapist on a trip who also married a farmer’s daughter. His wife has the same traits. We agreed this upbringing contributes to our wives becoming superlative wives.

Two weeks ago at our beach community, my wife brought home what I named “Whale Boy” because he looks just like a Sperm Whale. The day before, my wife spotted a piece of driftwood and was determined to take it to our home in Arizona. This soaked piece was three and a half by two feet and weighed some two hundred pounds. To be honest, I thought she must have had too much salt air.

As we fought the driftwood out of the surf, I thought reality would strike. I was wrong. I thought she would forget about it overnight. You’d think I’d know better by now. I woke up the next morning, and Whale Boy was sitting in our back yard.

She had awakened early, taking our kayak gurney down to the beach. She then slowly worked her treasure onto the gurney, wrapped the rope around her waist, and struggled her way across the beach to the boat dock. She towed it home the same way, one step at a time.

Dried out, Whale Boy now weighs about seventy-five pounds. To me, Whale Boy represents my virtuous wife. She approaches life one step at a time and has always used her hands to serve her family and others. She believes she can do all things with Christ strengthening her. I am a blessed man.

Become a virtuous woman. Bodies and backgrounds differ, but every woman can claim the Lord is her strength and be a constant channel for God’s love.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and clarita.)

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Pity Parties and Blessings

We’ve all had a pity party.  They take little preparation. Just gather a long list of “poor me’s,” and you are ready to party.

If you do have pity parties, perhaps you’d like to try the following idea. List the ways in which you have been blessed. This seems an excellent antidote for the blues. The following are included in my list:

EMOTIONALLY – When my husband of twenty-seven years left me for another woman, I was shattered. I began claiming God’s promises, and He gave an indescribable peace. Of course, there were lonely moments and times when my emotions tumbled like clothes tossing in a dryer. However, when I placed my emotions in God’s hands, I was bathed in peace and a deep joy.

MATERIALLY – After my husband left, I quickly realized I had to support myself. Like many women of my generation, I had been a homemaker and had never worked outside my home. Through a series of “mini-miracles,” I began working as a district secretary for a nonprofit organization. I was forty-five when my working career began.

PHYSICALLY – When I was a young mother of three children, extreme pain began tearing through my abdomen. I was sent to a hospital where exploratory surgery ended in an intestinal resection. I hovered near death at times, but eventually returned home to my family.

MATERNALLY – Like many mothers, I didn’t always understand my children as they grew from infancy to adults, and there were times when they certainly didn’t understand me. My three children and I survived, and today we have a good relationship. My son and his sisters threw away the childhood boxing gloves and now communicate as friends.

Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite verses. Through my trials and heartaches, God has proven this verse to be true.

My pity parties are growing fewer and farther between. It has become easier to dwell upon the blessings of God rather than upon the problem of the moment.

When you are tempted to start planning a pity party, try counting your blessings instead.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mariask.)

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Growing Through Weakness

If you’re like me, it’s easy to over-notice the flaws in your partner and under-notice your own. When this occurs for me, my heart usually gets filled with pride that I’m better. As pride takes hold, respect tends to disappear, and intimacy tends to unravel.  

God has taught me to pray and reflect on all my areas of weakness. He often presses on my spirit where I’m fallen and where my flesh gets the best of me. Seeing my sinful bent reveals why I need a Savior. I recognize how broken I a