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.

Don’t You Care, God?

The night before every physics exam in college, I chugged Dr. Pepper and crammed until dawn, stuffing my short-term memory with formulas and definitions. My two prayers were, “Lord, why did you create physics?” and “Tomorrow would be a good time for Your Second Coming.”

In Mark’s account of the deadly hurricane-like gale on the Sea of Galilee, Jesus’ disciples feared drowning and the fact that Jesus didn’t care about their danger.

The disciples woke Jesus. He stood in the boat to face the storm. Without a shred of alarm or worry, he quickly subdued nature's violent display with His words. The Bible App provides diverse translations of Jesus’ rebuke.

“Hush now! Be muzzled!” (AMPC). “Peace! Be still!” (ESV). “Quiet!” (NIV). “Hush!” (NASB1995). “Silence!” (CEB). And the wind and the waves listened.

After shushing the storm, Jesus asked His disciples two poignant questions: “Why are you afraid?” and “Do you still have no faith and confidence in Me?”

The terrified disciples didn’t answer His questions. They were too freaked out that someone with that much power rode with them in the boat.

Throughout my life, this story of Jesus’ ability to silence storms has seen me through worse tempests than physics exams. Yet His two questions to the disciples never cease to confront and convict me of my heart's attitude toward Him.

Grace, why are you so afraid of ---------? After all we’ve been through together, don’t you have faith that I hear your prayers and confidence that I love you?

Worries and fears are hushed as I remember the cross where Jesus died for my sins. Meditating on His life, death, and resurrection comforts my heart and mind. Jesus’ words and actions assure me that He loves me.

When storms shake you, cry out to Jesus. Be confident and patient that He hears you and will act.

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Our Daily Bread

I knew God was redirecting my course. He had sent me plenty of confirmations.

However, the change involved leaving a secure job that provided financial security, and I was nervous about the drastic reduction in income. How am I going to make ends meet? I thought. Where will I be a year from now? Will I have enough to support myself? Reflecting upon my anxieties about the change, I realized I was putting my trust and faith in my bank account instead of God. I needed to allow faith, not fear, to rule my heart.

Give us today our daily bread. As I recited the prayer repeatedly, Jesus’ words regarding daily bread struck me. He teaches us what we should ask our heavenly Father for regarding our needs. His word choice was no doubt deliberate. Jesus didn’t say, “Give us today enough bread to last a year,” or “Give us today enough bread for the upcoming month.” He didn’t even ask for enough bread for tomorrow. Instead, He encouraged the disciples to ask for and trust God to provide what they needed today.

I realized my perspective needed a drastic shift. I had been consumed with looking into the future, questioning whether I would have enough and how I would have enough when all I needed was to focus on today. I needed to trust God to provide for my daily bread, not my year’s worth of bread. He would give just enough for today. And tomorrow, I could trust Him to provide enough for tomorrow.

When we harbor a heart of thankfulness, seek God’s will, and trust Him to provide, faith displaces fear. We can rest assured that God will supply what we need to get through today. He is a good Father. Trust Him for your daily needs.

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Wasp

On our way to church one drizzly Palm Sunday morning, my sister Sandy and I noticed a wasp emerging from the vent below the windshield.

We looked at each other and agreed to ignore it until we pulled into the church parking lot. Unwilling to wait, the wasp eased closer and stared at me from the dashboard’s edge. I took a chance, eased up on the accelerator, and opened the driver’s-side window. Out it flew.

A few days later, a wasp landed on my desk. I followed its flight to the iron banister at the edge of my loft office/studio and stealthily retrieved a battery-operated fly swatter. Zap! He was stunned. A few more zaps, and he was lifeless.

Why do we have pests—creatures that “bug” us, we might wonder? I asked God to reveal the good He created in evil wasps. My spirit sensed His suggestion to Google it.

I learned that wasps are extremely beneficial insects, a necessary part of our ecosystem’s delicate balance. They protect plant and vegetable life by controlling populations of harmful insects such as aphids, flies, and caterpillars. Wasps are fiercely territorial. With one sting, chemical signals are released into the victim, beckoning others to join the attack.

God created the universe to perfectly reflect His glory. He has also given us rules for coexisting with dangerous creatures, like scorpions and wasps.

Watch out daily for dangers around you, submit to God’s laws of living, and appreciate His protecting love.

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The Water’s Edge

Sometimes, life feels like a run-on sentence with no pause or punctuation. Meaning gets lost in the proliferation of words and works.

I’m running along a worn, routine road and exhausted. I must discover a way to slip off the beaten path and find a still moment, to pause at the water’s edge where I’ll find God walking.

Soon, I veered down a tangled path, overgrown from far too little use. It wound to the water’s edge—calm and beautiful. I breathed it all in, closed my eyes, and sunk to my knees, letting the silken water run through my fingers. It washed my fear away and refreshed my soul. I knelt to drink deeply of these living waters so that the river of my life could run deep and still. My life is turbulent when I allow the world to set my course and bash me about the rocks at full speed, dashing from one thing to the next. Its surface is unable to reflect but a distorted image of God’s grace, power, forgiveness, and love.

I opened my eyes and was suddenly caught off guard by the beauty around me that, in my hurry, had gone unnoticed earlier. Each flower was intricate and ornate. Towering pines struck silhouettes against the brilliant blue sky, and the wind softly said, “Be still.” I looked up to see God walking, as He promised, and I sprinted to catch up. He slowed, and His smile pierced my soul. He knew all and yet still loved me.

I slipped my hand into His weathered grip—my forefinger traced the scar etched into His palm. We walked and talked about my day, and I released my concerns into His care. The wind caught my words. They became more ethereal, and the weight of my anxious thoughts lightened in His presence. His voice was gentle and reassuring and rang clear.

The water of the Word, the wind of the Spirit, and the calm of His mighty presence restored my soul.

Are you exhausted and running along a routine path? Take time to be still with the one who loves you most, to read His Word, and to lay your concerns in His mighty hands.

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I’m Not the Best at Much

The list popped up on my browser: “The 20 Most Beautiful Women of All-Time.” To my dismay, my name was not on it. And I’m not the best at much.  

I also did not make the Best Chef or Best Dressed lists. But I can do many things well, despite not being the best at any of them. Maybe I’ll make my own list and call it The 150th Best At.

When I measure my successes by other people’s, I can quickly lose my sense of worth, especially if I have bombed out or given up on a project that required a lot of energy. That’s when I must stop and ask myself a question: Am I losing my understanding of what makes me valuable to Jesus?

That’s a serious question and worthy of contemplation. Sunday school teachers stress that good little boys and girls are rewarded. According to Jesus, rewards and crowns will be earned. However, He loved us while we were STILL sinners, not because of our good behavior.

We have so much value that Christ gave up His righteous blood in exchange for our unrighteousness. When I think about that, I am amazed. I don’t have to earn my righteousness. Christ makes me worthy.

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. This powerful verse means I don’t have to be the best at anything for Jesus to love me. I don’t have to earn my right standing with God. Jesus does that for me. I want to be obedient because I love Him. After all, I delight in my children when they respect my counsel and obey me. They do not always manage that perfectly, but I love them even when they fail because they are mine.

Choose obedience daily, and revel in God’s love for you.

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Firm Foundation

I lived on Russian Hill, and my sister lived in the Marina District during the 6.9 earthquake in San Francisco on October 17, 1989. The quake was unsettling, especially for my sister. Her neighborhood was closed for several weeks and went without running water or electricity. The most extensive damage happened to the Marina because it had no firm foundation. Instead, it was built on uncompacted, sandy ground. In contrast, Russian Hill was built on rock and suffered much less damage.

A firm foundation is critical for building integrity and withstanding life's inevitable storms. A strong foundation of faith enables us to have security and hope regardless of our circumstances.

Many build their lives on shaky foundations like popular opinion, wealth, career, and fame. These things are not bad but do not bring lasting satisfaction, can be taken away, and tend to lose importance. We were made for so much more than living self-centered lives.

Building a secure foundation on God's Word brings satisfaction and leads to a life of integrity. God's truth brings wholeness, equipping us with everything we need to live for His greater purpose. It explains how things work and is the basis for making good decisions. Christianity is a worldview that leads to endless hope. Christ alone can satisfy our deepest needs for only He can remove our sin and make us His child.

Christ provides the firm foundation to live lives of eternal purpose at the vital corners of our lives. Learn to live God's way so you will have a firm foundation of security and strength when things get shaky.

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When Silence Is the Best Medicine

I sat outside, enjoying a pair of wrens flittering and fluttering in the sunshine while singing their morning song. Without warning, one bird soared past my face, smacked into the porch window, and plunged to the concrete patio. The stunned bird lay panting just inches from my chair.

Its friend called from a nearby branch, but it wasn’t the pretty Twill! Twill! the two sang earlier. No, this call, Scratch! Screech! filled the air with care and concern.

The bird below me made no sound. I stayed still. Eventually, its friend quieted and flew away.

I wanted to whisper, “You’re not alone; I’m here. You’ll soon recover and fly away.” But I knew my voice would further startle the shocked bird. Although ever watching, I could neither move nor make a sound.

Then God reminded me of this verse: For the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. He never leaves or forsakes us. The familiar words flowed through my heart like sweet honey, reminding me of times when the Lord seemed distant and silent after I had experienced a shock or sudden hardship.

Watching the scared bird, I wondered how often I had lifted my fist to the heavens crying, “Where are You, Lord? What happened? Why can’t I hear You?

Could God’s stillness be for our benefit? Does He sometimes allow us to rest, breathe, and recover, knowing His quiet presence meets our greatest need for the moment? Perhaps, when stunned, our hearts and minds cannot receive more. Certainly, the shock of our circumstances does not alter the presence of our loving Lord.

Have you ever misinterpreted God’s silence for abandonment? When struck by sudden calamity, did you wonder where God was? Our friends may move on, and God may seem quiet, but we can trust His promises. We may lay blindsided and panting, yet He remains, watching over us until, like my little friend, we can fly and sing again.

Ask God to help you determine when silence is the best medicine.

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Chase the Creator

Jeff opened the front door and called, “Come listen to this.”

Intrigued, I followed him into our guest cabin. A barely audible, high-pitched steady squeal came from the kitchen. We yanked out all electric plugs and pushed all buttons on the GFCI outlets. The tone continued while Jeff grumbled about visions of the cabin burning to the ground.

I googled “high pitch noise in kitchen” and was poised to call an electrician. Jeff bent down and stuck his head into the lower kitchen cabinet.

“Wait a minute,” I said, leaning on my husband’s back. “I think it’s coming from the drawer over your head.”

We opened the drawer and emptied it of dish towels and oven mitts. There it was—a forgotten timer sounding its shrill alarm. God got our attention as we chased the sound.

Then our washing machine died while we were entertaining out-of-town guests. The vacuum cleaner decided to kick the bucket too. Additionally, a temporary tooth, awaiting a replacement crown, broke into three pieces at three different times.

Although weary of all the replacements, scares, and stumbles in the chase, I am encouraged by Oswald Chambers: “Let actual circumstances be what they may, maintain complete reliance on Jesus, and be reckless—fling it all out on Him.”

I choose to lean on Jesus in the chase when things seem to be falling apart. Jesus was on the move, chasing His purpose. And our Creator created us to follow and pursue Him.

The blur of passing images on my path often distracts me. But God jerks my mind back to the Way, Truth, and Life. I hear Him say, “Stay the course, close to me.”

Determine to chase the Creator wherever He leads.

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Through the Valleys

As soon as I placed my foot on the edge of the porch, I knew I was in trouble.

As I fell through the air over the steps, I remember thinking, Oh, no! I’m going to fall! I hit the sidewalk face-first with a hard thud.

I was at my older neighbor’s house. For many years, a ramp had been leading from her porch because she walked with a walker. But she had gone to live in a nursing home a short time before, and the ramp had been removed. I remembered that too late.

Later, in the emergency room, I was diagnosed with a hematoma—bleeding on the brain—a concussion, and minor seizures. For two days, I hovered near death as my family hovered near me.

This was a new experience for me. With my bruised and swollen face, I looked as though I had been in a fight and lost all rounds. After being in the hospital for eight days, I was transferred to a rehab closer to home. Simple therapy was begun immediately, and I pushed myself to do whatever the therapists suggested.

Occasionally, I despaired of being able to walk again without assistance. But through the encouragement of the therapists and my family, I persisted.

Finally, after thirty-three days, the going-home day came. Rehab had held days of challenge, but I overcame them with the Lord’s help.

Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite Bible verses. I began claiming that verse as a promise of God’s faithfulness when I went through another trial many years before.

After being a patient myself, I now have more compassion and understanding of the frustrations and helplessness patients sometimes experience.

Your heartaches and challenges may differ from mine, but the Lord walks with you through your valley just as he walked with me through mine. He will use every despairing moment to draw you nearer to Him and work for your good.

Make it a point to let God meet your needs when you are in the valley.

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Grumbling and Complaining

At one point, Martin Luther did a lot of whining and complaining. One day, his wife, Kate, came downstairs dressed in all black as if she were going to a funeral.

“Oh, who is dead?” Luther asked.

“Why, have you not heard that God is dead? Kate asked.

Luther looked puzzled.

She continued, “My husband, Martin Luther, would never be in such a state of mind if he had a living God in whom to trust.”

Luther laughed heartily and said, “Kate, thou art a wise woman. Take off thy black.”

What is in our hearts generally comes out of our mouths. If we conclude that God is not faithful to His Word, we will see a difference in how we think, speak, and act. Our view of God determines the type of Christian we will be. If we allow false ideas or thoughts about God to remain in our minds, they will always end up in our hearts. And the evidence that they are there is in our words.

So, what is the solution? The Bible says we destroy arguments and arrogance raised against God by taking every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5 NASB). The antidote for falsehoods is the truth. The Word of God is the truth. We accept what only agrees with God’s words and reject all that doesn’t. No, we can’t control every thought that enters our minds, but we do oversee what stays there. 

Billy Graham once said, “You can’t always avoid a bird landing on your head, but if it starts to build a nest, you have a problem.”

When complaints and grumbling dominate your conversations, ask the Lord what lie of unbelief you have embraced. Don’t be a constant grumbler like the children of Israel.

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Yes to the Best

The smiling bride-to-be held a dress bag and a sign that read, “I said yes to the dress.” She had shopped and tried on wedding dresses until she found the perfect one—the dress of her dreams. Like so many others on social media, her picture proclaimed to the world that she had said yes to the best.

Jesus taught and lived the importance of saying yes to the best, and He was not referring to clothing or a social event. He lived the perfect life, shared God’s perfect love, and offered his perfect salvation. Yet many misunderstood. They wanted Jesus to meet their less-than-the-best expectations.  

While in Capernaum, Jesus taught in the synagogue, cast out demons, and healed the sick. When He withdrew to pray the following morning, Simon and others searched for him. Although they expected Jesus to continue His ministry there, Jesus announced His plan to move on. He came not for one group of people but for all. Others needed to hear His message and have an opportunity to give their lives to Him. 

As Jesus’ followers, we cannot say yes to every opportunity. Time, financial, and travel restraints hold us back from many. When unsure where and how to serve in the best way, we do well to follow Jesus’ example: draw away for prayer and seek God’s plan.

Daily, we choose between our agendas or God’s perfect plan that leads to eternal joy. God offers the best. Don’t settle for less.

Will you follow God’s perfect guidance to always say yes to the best?

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A Beautiful Melody

Attending an orchestra concert with my parents, I basked in the lovely music emanating from the stringed instruments.

As I enjoyed the wonderful performance, I noted the orchestra members. Everyone looked different. Individual orchestra members displayed differing ethnicities, hair colors, builds, heights, and shapes. Each member also harbored differing personalities, histories, families, likes, and dislikes. Yet a shared love of music bound each one. And together, they created a harmonious masterpiece that delighted all who heard its beautiful melody.

The orchestra reminded me of the body of Christ. While each of us possesses different gifts, interests, struggles, and triumphs, a shared love for Christ and a similar identity bind us as His beloved children. We are also united in our shared mission of spreading the love and hope of Jesus to the world.

We live in a world filled with division, strife, and disagreement, and the church is not immune. The apostle Paul spoke to such division in the body of Christ in his letter to church members in Corinth. The need for unity in the body of Christ is just as crucial today as it was then.

When disagreements or differing opinions attempt to divide us, let us remember that Christ binds us. Remaining united through our shared love, identity, and mission, we create a beautiful melody: the song of Christ’s mercy, hope, and love.

Think of how you can help Christ’s body show a beautiful melody.

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That Yellow Pig

A bright yellow pig can cause a lot of dissension, especially when it’s in your house.

After my husband and I married, I decorated our bedroom in shades of blue. I placed a bouquet of baby’s breath and azure blue silk flowers on the dresser. Then, I set blue-hued vases on either side of the bouquet. It was an eye-pleasing arrangement—until the yellow ceramic pig claimed squatter’s rights next to one of the vases.

My husband brought the yellow pig when we married. It was the type of piggy bank someone might win at a carnival—bright yellow and cheaply made. It definitely was not what I considered a pleasing accent to my flower arrangement.

I sneaked the pig out of sight, but my husband soon returned it to the original site. We continued to move the pig until I realized the futility of it. Now, the pig sits undisturbed in his corner.

Often, we must be willing to compromise, to separate the important from the trivial. It is senseless to allow unimportant things to create snags in communication. We must consider the desires of others and sometimes place them before our own.

Many churches have split because members on both sides were unwilling to communicate and consider the other side’s viewpoint. Many marriages have ended because the husband or wife refused to compromise. And many families are ripped apart because parents thought only of themselves.

The results may have been different for the churches and marriages if those involved had tried to live in peace, even if they had to run after it to catch and hold it.

When I did my share of running after peace, the clashing of a bright yellow pig and blue vases became less important than peace in my marriage.

Allow God’s peace to enter any problematic relationships you are in.

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Perfect Peace

Recently, in the western mountains of North Carolina, we experienced an earthquake.

The quake measured 5.4 magnitude. Water lines burst, and streets cracked. Folks over in East Tennessee also felt the mountains tremble. The last recorded quake was documented over one hundred years ago, in 1916. I thought about this verse when I felt the quake: For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

When we know God’s love, we can experience His peace—in times of trouble, turbulence, and uncertainty. Peace when our hearts are breaking and our minds racing.

In Isaiah, God speaks to His people, the Israelites. Over and over, they broke ranks with Him, but over and over, God had mercy on them. Isaiah reminds God’s people of the covenant of peace made with this wayward nation. God responded to them with everlasting kindness. A covenant requires action on the part of both parties. While God has never broken a covenant, humans have.

The covenant God made with His people is also a prophetic promise. In the Old Testament, we know the covenant as the “Covenant of Peace.” Jesus fulfilled this covenant through His birth, life, death, and resurrection. Only our Creator could orchestrate the beautiful plan to build a bridge from His heavenly throne into our hearts. Jesus carved out the covenant with his life and sealed it with His blood—becoming our “Gospel of Peace.”

God’s steadfast love will never leave us. He will never remove His covenant of peace, no matter what happens in the hills all around. His perfect peace gives assurance in every circumstance, courage in every challenge, and comfort for every broken heart.

The Lord will not leave us hopeless when the ground crumbles beneath our feet. Nothing happening in our life surprises Him. Although the nights are long and the ground shifts beneath our feet, we are not alone.

Remember God’s promises and call on His name. He will give you perfect peace.

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Beware of Vanity

Beware of vanity, for it has no essence.

The world system is Vanity Fair. Bunyan, in Pilgrims Progress, said Beelzebub, Apollyon, and Legion set up vanity and was where houses, lands, trades, places, honors, preferment, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts were sold every day all year long.

The word vanity means useless, empty, worthless, and futile. It is related to the English word vacuum. Solomon said, “Vanity of vanity all is vanity, and there is no profit of anything a man does under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:2–3).

Life was vain to Solomon because he walked away from God and followed vain things: idols, women, and wealth. Although his hands were full, his heart was empty, and he hated life. He looked at all his works and labor and saw all was vanity and vexation of spirit. Solomon created his own secular Eden and became vain.

When people follow vanity, they live in vain because vanity gives no real substance to their lives. Israel followed vanity, became vain, and God judged them. Solomon followed their pattern.

Vain people are empty, arrogant, proud, insincere, silly, valueless, worthless, hollow, and foolish. When we become vain, we are good for nothing. When the church becomes vain, it is no longer the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We become good for nothing when we follow nothing good.

The best way to avoid vanity is to recognize all things in this temporal world won’t matter two seconds on the other side of eternity. God is the one great reality and essence of life. He gives life meaning and purpose.

What are some ways you can keep from becoming vain? 

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A Question of Peace

It was a question of peace.

“When did you stop worrying about how and when you got your clients and work?”

My mother-in-law’s question caught me by surprise. I quit my office job in 2014 to start my own editing business, and since then, I felt as if I’d been worrying daily over every detail.

Initially, I worked with many clients I wished I hadn’t, and for little pay. But even though I took on almost every assignment that came my way, the work began to dry up. I worried that my decision to quit my job had been the wrong one. Yet I had felt God leading me in this path, so I prayed and sought His direction.

With God’s prompting, I decided to be more discerning with the clients I accepted and only work within the Christian market. God acknowledged my commitment as I relied more on His timing and the work He wished me to do.

When I needed a break, work dwindled, so I would have a few days to do fun things or relax my brain. And every time I said, “Okay, Lord, I could use some more work,” more came.

As I kept my mind on Christ and what He desired, He kept me in perfect peace about my career choice. I recognized the ebbs and flows of my job as part of God’s plan to sustain me while doing His work.

I pray I can eventually stop worrying about my career path and give every aspect to God, but I was glad my mother-in-law’s question highlighted how far I had already come.

How has God been faithful to you and kept you in perfect peace?

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Seeing God in the Dance

Catching the Aurora Borealis while in Fairbanks was at the top of our bucket list.

We consulted the Aurora forecast and asked the hotel staff to call if they spotted the lights. The call came, and my husband and I jumped into the SUV with our thermos of hot chocolate, picnic goodies, blankets, and camera and headed to the highway pullout, where darkness reigned and provided the best views.

The pink pirouette from the horizon announced the beginning of the celestial dance-a-thon. What started as a ballet with green and violet dips and arabesques low in the evening sky rapidly became a twirling waltz with breathtaking leaps and vaults, breaking into hip-hop footwork and reggae grapevines—all the while changing colors from pinks to violets to greens to blues. Partnering lights glided in tandem through the sky until the unheard music changed rhythm, and a glide transformed into a skip, a cha-cha, a moonwalk, and then a twist. Eventually, the brilliant lights calmed and sashayed out of the skies to dance another night.

The northern lights, the Auroras, were everything I imagined and more. As I watched the sky fade to black, my heart filled with song. I sang “How Great Is Our God” to the one who loves me with an outlandish love, praising Him for who He is—showing Himself in that moment and always. Creator. Sovereign. Savior. Lover of my soul. The one who deserves glory, honor, and praise—all proclaimed through the works of His hands in the dark skies of Alaska. 

We may never see the northern lights dance when we look into the night sky, but we will see stars twinkling on velvet, a streaking comet, or the moon wrapped in haze. All the heavens radiate the message of God’s love for us and showcase His glorious nature.

Take a moment to stop and praise God for who He is and what He has done, then rest in His glory and delight in His wonder.

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It’s Okay to Be Human

I once saw a news story about a near incident on an airplane.

The plane’s landing gear did not engage. But a brilliant pilot overrode the autopilot and safely landed the plane with all its passengers. No atheists probably flew on that plane. Some might have felt like kissing Mother Earth upon landing. Home in one piece, as my father said.

In these days of robots and automation, we can still read our Bible, which humans wrote. As the psalmist says, God’s words tell us it is okay to be human and care for others.

We have feelings, thoughts, and emotions. And it may take many years to figure out our life mission. At some stage, however, we can devote all our gifts and human foibles to God. God sent us His Son, Jesus, in human form, and we should feel love for our Lord.

God loves us to the moon and beyond—and our critters. Our mission is to pray for our Christian faith and each other. We can all pray for our freedom to continue believing in Jesus.

No robot can replace the great faith of Christianity. For those passengers, their unautomated pilot, and us, it is okay to be human.

What are some ways you show it is okay for you to trust God?  

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The Aroma of Christ

A mom and daughter came to my house for tea one day and handed me a bouquet of eighteen exquisite long-stemmed roses.

Over the next two weeks, I marveled at the bouquet’s beauty—creamy ivory petals edged with pink that progressed to a velvety burgundy. They stood elegant and upright as if aware of how superior they were. But their glory faded slowly into shriveling, slumping browns. As I removed them from their vases, their strong thorns pierced my fingers.

I reflected on how our earthly cultures love glorious presentations—social, business, and political platforms of showy superiority and success. Like my roses, elegant and elite, but oh, so temporary. Furthermore, those carefully cultivated flowers had an unpleasant odor, which surprised me, for natural roses are famed for their sweet perfume.

As I tossed them into the garbage, I reflected on Paul’s writing to the Philippian church, cautioning his readers not to pursue selfish ambition in their earthly lives. He cited Jesus’ example. Jesus laid down His right to an exalted heavenly throne to become an ignoble human carpenter in a brutally conquered land, choosing to serve others rather than exalt Himself.

I was relieved to remove the unpleasant odor from my home. I also remembered Paul’s description of us as the pleasing aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14–15). As I pursue my career, I need to keep that image in my mind. We all do.

How can you spread the aroma of Christ to others?

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God Cares about the Small Things

It turned out to be another God-appointment. One that only He could have orchestrated.

I came upon the obits of several family members whom I had not seen in many years and wanted to talk with someone to find out what had happened to them. There were only three people I could think of but had no way to contact them.

One of those people was a woman I had not seen in almost fifty years. Her name was Lugene, but I didn’t know her married name or have any idea how to find her. I expressed my desire to the Lord one day as I drove. I didn’t actually ask Him to help me find her, but He knew my heart.

Two days later, I was on my way home from an appointment when I felt compelled to visit Walgreens. As I checked out, the woman behind the counter kept grinning at me as if she had a secret. She finally said, “So how are you?”

That’s when I realized she knew me, but I didn’t recognize her. I glanced at her name tag. Kerry. I had no clue. Embarrassed, I finally said, “I get the feeling I should know you.”

“Oh, you know me,” she said. “I’m Lugene. But I go by Kerry now.”

Tears filled my eyes. God led me straight to the person I needed to find. Only God.

While visiting with some writer friends at a conference, one lady was devastated because she lost the diamond out of her ring. We prayed and encouraged her. God knew exactly where it was and how much it meant to her. Less than five minutes later, she opened her bag and found the diamond. Then God turned around and did it for someone else. He also prevented me from accidentally throwing away my wedding ring—along with a handful of trash—while on a recent vacation.

God is an up-close-and-personal God. He is concerned with everything that concerns us, whether it’s lost keys, a parking spot, or a decision. He even promises to give us the desires of our hearts when we delight in Him.

Whatever your need, ask the Lord. No request is too small or beyond His reach.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay and Dimhou.)

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Somebody Caught the Fish

Two lousy little fish! A whole day of fishing, and all I caught was two fish.

That was little Abe’s thought as he walked toward home, kicking rocks along the way. Up ahead, he saw a large crowd gathered.

Nobody comes this far out of town, he said to himself.

As he neared the crowd, he heard people praising God. Curious, he stopped and listened. Gradually working his way through, he saw people lying all around on beds. Then a man came and touched them. Suddenly, they rose and started running and shouting. He saw folks with crippled arms, hands, feet, legs, and a host of ailments touched and made whole by this man.

Suddenly, someone said to Abe, “This man needs your fish.”     

Still unsure what was happening, Abe gave this person his fish and bread.           

If that man can fix those people’s problems by touching them, I guess Mom will understand, he thought.

Soon, the man who took the fish and loaves returned.

“Here is some of your fish and bread back,” he said, giving Abe more than Abe had given. “Enjoy your meal.”

“That can’t be mine,” Abe answered. “I didn’t have that much.”

“I know,” the man replied. “The master took your little fish and bread, blessed it, and fed this crowd. Around five thousand men, plus their families, are eating because you gave your fish and bread.”

Still not understanding it all, Abe watched as eleven of the man’s friends approached. “Where do you live, young man?” one man asked. “We’re going to carry the leftovers home for you. We need to get going before it gets dark.”

Little Abe gave what little he had to Jesus, who multiplied it and used it to bless thousands.

Are you willing to give your little part to bless others? Remember, this event happened because somebody caught the fish.

What can you give to others? 

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Expect the Unexpected

A deer in a dove field was not what I expected.

While I didn’t grow up in the country, both sets of my grandparents had. Dove hunting was one part of country life I enjoyed. One of my cousins perched me and another cousin atop his car, spun out through a field—slinging dust and us across the hood of his car—and finally deposited us at one edge of the field. Now that his antics had stirred up everything in sight, we waited for the doves to fly across.

As I lingered, what came wasn’t doves but a cry from a cousin across the field, “Shoot him. Shoot him.”

As I shifted my eyes from the sky to the ground, I saw a large buck thrashing across the field and aiming directly at me. Although I had buckshot in my field bag, I had no time to load it. I shot birdshot, but to no avail. I was expecting doves … not a buck.

Peter’s audience, early believers, was peppered by persecution. Being a Christian in the first century was dangerous—and sometimes life-threatening. If Jesus was persecuted and killed, they shouldn’t expect any less by identifying with Him.

Expectations fill our lives. Spouses expect their spouses to love them, not leave them. Employees expect their bosses to pay them, not fire them. Children expect parents to love them, not abuse them. Landlords expect their tenants to pay them, not wreck their dwellings.

But the unexpected also dots our lives: abuse, wrecks, broken bones, life-altering events, tragedies, financial meltdowns, emotional battles, and attacks from Satan and those who represent him.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the unexpected attacks. We live in a shattered world ruled by an evil person who loves nothing more than to see us turn our backs on God and descend into the pit of bitterness and anger.

Expecting the unexpected, however, helps us respond more healthily. Trusting in a loving God, believing He is in control, and asking Him for strength to face what’s assaulting us is always the healthier approach. God allows nothing that isn’t for our ultimate good.

Think of some ways you can prepare for the unexpected. It’s just around the corner.

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Taking Thoughts Captive

I recently saw a clip of the Secret Service on TV. The officers’ eyes continually scanned their surroundings, searching diligently for anything that might harm the president. Each service member flanked the nation’s leader at different points. The sooner they could identify any potential harm, the better their chances of protecting the leader.

Then I wondered what would happen if I continually scanned my thoughts to recognize when fear, resentment, or self-pity crept in. Just as Secret Service agents train rigorously, I realized this process would take work. But I also recognized the Lord would help me.

I am grateful God reminds me I need to take every thought captive. The Secret Service’s high alert position shows how persistently I need to watch for even a hint of thinking that will bring me down. The Lord will help me take every thought captive and pull it out by the roots. I can replace unhealthy thinking by repeating what Paul said.

How can you take captive those thoughts you should not think? 

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Only One Said Thanks

I couldn’t help being a little perturbed.

We’d spent hundreds of dollars on Christmas gifts, mainly for family—and a good amount on the grandchildren I inherited when I married my second husband after we’d both been widowed. Within five minutes, it seemed the packages had all been ripped open by the receivers without thinking about their giver. Then, on to the next one.

Choosing my words carefully, I asked my husband later, “Does it bother you that the kids don’t say ‘thank you’?”

“Did you do it for the thank-you?” he asked.

“Well, no,” I replied, “but I want to teach them thankfulness.”

I love the children and will gladly give from my heart, but the thankless attitude of this day and age grieves me. The situation reminded me of the Ten Lepers. They asked Jesus to cleanse them. He told them to show themselves to the priest. As they went, they were healed. But only one of them returned to thank Jesus. Jesus wanted to know where the other nine were. To the one who returned, Jesus told him his faith had healed him.

During that time, leprosy had no cure, and those who contracted it were ostracized and left to die. For an example closer to home, imagine in our current culture having AIDS, cancer, or even COVID with all the symptoms, discomfort, and sometimes stigma. Then imagine being healed from the disease’s torment but not bothering to thank the one who made us whole.

In everything we do, we are encouraged to say thanks. Believers, of all people, should be grateful—not just for the big things but for the small ones too.

How can you do a better job of saying thanks?

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Under a Desk

While renovating our old farmhouse, we discovered messages scribbled on wood. They had been hidden for decades and noted measurements and the year the farmhouse was built.

Covering the old with the new, I continued the tradition by writing dates and love notes throughout the house. One day, someone may remove my walls and find unexpected messages. God tends to do the same, and we discover His messages when we least expect it.

Under a new desk in an office, I recreated the rat’s nest of cables that make a computer operate. Tugging on handles to access the nether regions of the desk space, I gasped as a drawer crashed down, making fasteners fly. The metaphor, screw loose, was not lost on me, for I am somewhat broken with a few screws loose. Struggling with greater issues than blue wire over black, I considered Paul’s admonition.

Lately, I have been anxious about everything. And petitions? Where do I start? A longstanding issue has permeated my thoughts—whether I have spent my time well or foolishly wasted it—and produced either good fruit or shriveled dates. I cannot see past the length of my nose, but the Spirit intercedes for us when we don’t know how to pray. And right there, under a desk, an unexpected message whispered to me.

I needed to look through a different lens. We can set our mark on something we do not doubt and measure. But remember the adage, “Measure twice, cut once, measure again, cut it right this time.” At times, my journal exposes truths only by the grace of God. That is the yardstick I should compare all else to.

Peace, answers, and direction often come from a place where I sought God the least but heard Him the most.

Where is your under the desk? I pray you find it.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay and Nennieinszweidrei.)

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Imitate Christ

Several years ago, my church held a Good Friday service in which I had a small part. I played one of the women who accompanied Mary Magdalene on Palm Sunday. The three of us joyfully walked the aisle, waving palm branches back and forth. I wore a long red gown and a wide piece of cloth covering my head and hair for my costume.

As I exited during one of the performances, I noticed a small pair of eyes watching me. “Hi, Joshua,” I greeted the young boy. “It’s me, Darlene.” Since I wasn’t wearing my glasses, I didn’t think he recognized me. He said nothing but walked shyly past. His mother smiled.

A few weeks passed, and one Sunday at church I noticed him watching me again. “Hi, Joshua,” I said brightly. He ducked under his mother’s arm with a shy smile.

“He talks about you every day,” his mother informed me.

Surprised, I replied, “He doesn’t even really know me.”

“Remember, he saw you in costume at the Good Friday service,” she said. “Now, every day, he puts a towel over his head and says, ‘I wanna be like Darlene.’”

I laughed. But I was grateful he watched while I was doing something good, not something I’d be ashamed of. One moment, caught in time and remembered repeatedly in a small boy’s mind.

The word imitate is translated as mimic. Paul invited his readers to imitate him as he also imitated Christ. Not many of us would be so bold.

Imitating Christ is mimicking Him and taking on the same heart attitude. Love as Christ loved. Hate sin the way God hates sin. Remember, someone watches us. Whether we see just one other person a day—or three or three hundred—their eyes might be on us.

We may be the only Jesus some ever see. His love shines through us. We, in turn, must look to Jesus because we can only be a godly example by following God’s example. By keeping our eyes on Him, we take them off ourselves.

How can you be someone who doesn’t mind being watched?

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Protect and Direct

My three-year-old grandson, Bennett, had a big problem.

Bennett could not walk in a straight line. Everything that little guy saw got his attention. He zig-zagged from one side of the sidewalk to the other. A giant rock on one side, a squirrel on the other, a lawn ornament on one side, and then a trailer full of junk in the street. He hopped over every fence and jumped on every porch. No tree was unclimbed or puddle not jumped. At that age, he was an energetic, curious little boy. I had to use both hands when we walked—one to protect him from his endless curiosity and the other to keep him going in the right direction. Doing so demonstrated the difference between a rod and a staff.

Psalm 23 is a familiar portion of Scripture to most people and gives a vivid picture of God’s personal protection promise. Sheep represent Christians for two reasons: we need protection and direction. Christ is the Great Shepherd who loves and protects His sheep.

Like sheep, believers are vulnerable to attack. Worldly influences are significant. The Enemy is always on the prowl to devour us. The shepherd’s rod beats back dangers and attacks. The battle often proves invisible to us, but it is real. In pursuing Christ, we can become embattled and lose our way.

The shepherd’s staff redirects and rescues his sheep. He keeps a constant vigil over His beloved children. The more we trust the Shepherd, the less we must fear. This is true even in trials referred to as the darkest valley. When we are there, we can choose to trust the Shepherd. His rod and staff protect and direct us and will bring great comfort until we emerge from the valley—and emerge we will.

The psalmist writes, “Though I walk ...” We must keep moving through our trials. Valleys open on each end. Although tempted, we should not sit or quit. Our Shepherd is with us, guiding us through the valley and protecting us as we go.

How can you have more faith that the Shepherd protects and directs you?

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A Difficult-to-Describe Love

Ours was a difficult-to-describe love.

Volunteering in a daycare for low-income children in Bangkok, Thailand, I connected deeply with one of the four-year-old boys. Although we didn’t speak the same language—the Thai greeting for hello was the extent of our verbal communication—love and kindness easily broke through our language barrier.

On my last day in Thailand, he babbled giddily while presenting me with a hand-colored drawing. The daycare owner helped translate that he had drawn a picture of a boat just for me. That drawing meant the world to me. Although we couldn’t understand each other when we spoke, that little boy and I cared deeply for each other.

God’s love is also difficult to express, much like my difficult-to-explain love for that little boy. God’s love is so infinite and complete that Paul says it surpasses knowledge itself.

Communicating with God can sometimes feel like attempting to converse with someone who speaks a different language. Yet, we can remain sure of His infinite love for us, manifested all around us through the beauty of creation, the promises in His Word, a heartfelt song, or even a child’s drawing.

Love is truly the universal language. Our love for others is the greatest testimony to a world yearning for the ever-enduring love of our Creator. God wants us to love others with the same love with which He first loved us. While doing this is an impossible standard to achieve on our own, we can with God’s help.

Who are the people around you that you need to love?

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Stay on the Path

Although options existed, my husband urged us to stay on the path.

My family recently loaded up our two dogs for a short hike on a mild winter day. The trail wasn’t crowded, so we took our time and enjoyed ourselves. The trail was pretty easy but a bit uphill as it zigzagged across the mountain.

As we walked, I noticed other trails veered off in several places. My husband explained that people had tried to take shortcuts instead of remaining on the trail. These areas were eroded and often went uphill. My husband advised us to stay on the trail, which was unobstructed and not eroded.

I pondered on this as I walked. How often do we stray from God’s path? We may veer off the main trail and make one of our own, but all this does is create erosion in our relationship with God. We create unnecessary obstacles for ourselves because we stop seeking His will and let our selfish desires be our compass. Then our happiness and peace start to erode. 

Straying from the path often means an uphill battle because we try to navigate by ourselves rather than let God guide us. Pray and ask God to help you stay on the right path–His perfect will for your life.

What areas in your life are causing erosion in your relationship with God?

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Praise at Christmas

Shepherds heard angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest, peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

These were ordinary men in charge of the flocks on the hills, visited by heavenly hosts who brought them this great news. Can we relate to the joy they felt? Can we hear the angels bringing us the good news of our Messiah’s birth?

The shepherds then hurried to Bethlehem to find the baby Jesus. Their hearts filled with joy as they knelt to worship this baby. Did they recognize Him as their Messiah, their Savior?

As we prepare for Christmas in our homes and places of worship, are our hearts full of joy and anticipation? Do we see the face of our Good Shepherd as we set up nativities, mail out Christmas cards and notes, and sing hymns of holiday praise?

The shepherds returned to their flock, giving thanks and praise to the Father. We should praise and thank the Father for what we have seen and heard.

What are some ways you can praise God during this Christmas season?

(photo courtesy of pixabay and BarbaraJackson)

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Changing of the Guard

A friend and I attended our usual once-a-month breakfast get-together.

We sat in the same booth and ordered the same meal. As we talked, we laughed about life and even went down memory lane. Suddenly, our laughter shifted to many of the challenges we were currently experiencing. I felt overwhelmed by my personal experiences and how circumstances looked grim. But my friend commented that she was content, despite her challenges. Her comment interrupted my whole decision to complain about how bad things were. I commented, “That doesn’t make any sense.”

I couldn’t understand how she could be so happy during a crisis. Then our conversation reminded me of this Scripture: For I learned in whatever state I am, to be content. Paul didn’t mean he was delighted and all smiles. He merely adjusted to different circumstances and challenges.

We can overcome any challenge with God’s help, even though it may not be easy. We will face many different events where we must adjust, but it does not mean the situation is permanent. Just as we experience different seasons in nature, we experience different seasons in our lives. Some experiences may feel cold and callous, while others seem vibrant and exciting. At other times, it may appear nothing is happening at all.

Whatever we face, we can remind ourselves that we can adjust to different situations with God’s help. We can even journal about when we experienced a challenge or when life was floating by. Then we can think about how things have improved.

Every situation will not look the same, but we can rest assured God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. 

How can you remember God never changes, even though your situations might? 

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Rejoicing in Jesus

Many years ago, I attended a conference with several prayer group members from my church.

Powerful times of adoration and insightful teaching marked the services. During a moment of intense prayer and praise, the leader encouraged us to push through all discouragement and distractions. He explained that God was releasing something new from heaven through the spiritual labor of our prayers. In the same way women are encouraged to push while giving birth, he encouraged the men to sing the word push while the women sang breathe. The atmosphere vibrated with God’s presence as our voices swelled with the music.

This was one of my most impactful encounters with the presence of God, yet I only noticed what I missed. As a single woman, I felt alone and disconnected from the moment.

Instantly, an image of Jesus appeared to me, and I heard Him singing, “Push.” Weeping joyfully, I joined in the song and rejoiced with those around me. I learned important lessons about Him at that moment. I was not alone. He was there all the time. I needed to look beyond the natural realm and see with spiritual eyes.

God’s love washed over me as we sang. His voice swept away my anxiety and doubt. Jesus, the lover of my soul, cast out my fears. He invited my participation. My sitting on the sidelines and watching hindered His activity.

None of us are ever alone. God continually pours His love on us. But our participation is vital to His work in churches, communities, and nations. God moves to bring His glory into every part of the earth. He wants us to push through every attack of the Enemy. Then He will release fresh hope, abundant joy, and new blessings.

How can you push through in prayer to participate in God’s activity on earth?

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Drinking the Poison of Bitterness

Drinking poison and expecting it to make someone else sick is ludicrous.

But that’s what we do when we hold a grudge or harbor bitterness toward someone. Amazingly, the person who offended us often doesn’t even know we’re offended. If they’re trying to live right and were aware of it, they’d likely try to reconcile with us. 

I know a man who held a grudge for decades against a pastor. Both men’s boys had fought after getting off the school bus. The first man confronted the pastor and promised to defend his son physically if they fought again. The pastor promised to do the same for his boy.

Reconciliation doesn’t mean we must always agree but that we are amicable or peaceable. The primary responsibility lies on the offended person to approach the offender for reconciliation.

A grudge left to fester quickly becomes a root of bitterness, which can eat at someone for years without them knowing it. In my example, one man drank the spirit of bitterness, the poison, thinking the pastor would feel the effects.

Be careful about allowing bitterness to creep into your life. It can and will ruin you spiritually. When we drink the poison of bitterness, we’re not hurting anyone but ourselves.

What root of bitterness do you need to release? 

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Joy in the Simple Things

They reveled in a simple thing that cost absolutely nothing.

Thanksgiving, 2020. After enduring almost a year of COVID-19 changes, my wife and I traveled to Arkansas to spend Thanksgiving with our daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons.

Our daughter’s family, like us, loves to look at Christmas lights. And since many places and people decorate during Thanksgiving, we decided to ride around town to see the lights. Sadly, we didn’t find many homes decorated, but their moderately-sized town did have two small parks and one university that had been adorned for the holidays.

The first night, we just parked in the parking lot and looked. Everyone donned their night clothes, so we didn’t get out—we didn’t know we could walk around. So, we made plans to return the next night for an up-close-and-personal view.

As we got out at each park and the local university, excitement peppered our grandsons’ faces. They ran, yelled, jumped, and paused long enough to enjoy the various lights and Christmas statues. They marveled at the waving Santa and awed over the giant Christmas tree whose lights kept rhythm with different Christmas songs. And all of us admired the long strands of white lights that slithered from stately oak trees at the university park. We felt warmth, even in the frigid night, as icicles of lights surrounded us, descending as if from the heavens.

I hope our grandsons’ love for the simple things will cling to them as they get older, but so often we lose it … only to regain it later in life. Life gets busy. We lose the innocence of childhood … of youth. It takes money and stuff to make us happy. A ride through the park to look at Christmas lights doesn’t seem to do it any longer.

We take pride in a daughter and son-in-law who teach their young boys to find joy in the simple things that don’t cost a penny and in the things God has created. They pause each night to do things together, like walking around the neighborhood or playing board games.

Solomon reminded his readers how wonderful being young is. He encourages the young to enjoy every minute of their youth because the demands of life often overwhelm us, taking with them the freedom and joy of our carefree days.

How I would love to return to my happy-go-lucky younger days. Romping through the neighborhood with friends. Playing Cowboys and Indians. Concocting other games. Not worrying about being kidnapped or shot. Sitting among a mass of clovers looking for a four-leafed one. Times when the days seemed to last forever. No cares. No worries. 

God has created a big wide world for us to enjoy, but overbooked schedules and misplaced priorities will keep us from adoring it. We’ll trudge through each day, and before long, life will have passed us by.

But if we learn to slow down, stop, and enjoy the simple things—the things that cost nothing and take us closer to God, nourishing our souls—life will take on new meaning. We’ll wonder why we ever wanted to live any other way.

This Thanksgiving, how can you learn to enjoy the simple things?

(Photo courtesy of pixabay and Goodfreephotos.com.)

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Answer Back

The atmosphere buzzed with excitement.

The score was close. This could be our first and only win of the season. My girls ran onto the field, whooping and high-fiving. But their celebration was short-lived. The other team quickly took the lead. After a long inning, the girls slumped into the dugout.

Several girls were new to the game, so standing in the batter’s box as a ball zoomed across the plate at fifty-five miles per hour took courage.

First at bat was one of my new girls. She jumped when the umpire yelled, “Batter up!” Wide-eyed and hesitant, she looked toward me for a lifeline. She needed to believe she could do this. She knew her skills did not match the pitcher’s prowess. And I knew this wasn’t about a win or a hit but about a heart—her heart. 

Draping my arm across her shoulder, I looked into her eyes. “You know the fundamentals, and you’ve got your favorite bat. When you get to the plate, I want you to answer back.”

A puzzled expression crossed her face. “I haven’t hit a ball all season, Coach,” she whispered. 

“I’m not asking you to hit the ball. I’m asking you to answer back. No matter what she throws, I want you to stand your ground. Show her you aren’t afraid. That’s how you answer back. You have everything you need right here,” I said, tapping her heart. 

It wasn’t a Hallmark movie ending. She struck out, but she went down swinging. More importantly, she returned to the dugout with a smile and her head high. With every pitch that whispered, “Are you afraid?” she stood her ground and answered back, “I am not.” 

Spending time in God’s Word is one piece of our spiritual armor and teaches us the fundamentals. Hiding His word in our hearts is like carrying our favorite bat to the plate. When faced with an intimidating circumstance, we can picture Jesus tapping our hearts, reminding us we have everything we need.

It doesn’t matter what pitch the Enemy throws or how often he whispers, “Are you afraid?” Stand your ground and answer back, “I am not.”

How can you answer back to Satan’s threats?

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Pink Cotton-Candy Clouds

My husband and I once had a neighbor we referred to as “The Curmudgeon.”

From the day we moved in, we tried to be friendly. While his wife was cordial, he was the opposite. We asked her one day if we had offended him. “No, he’s just like that. He is so focused on what he’s doing that he doesn’t notice anything else,” she said.

One day from my kitchen window, I saw him walking with his head down. His wife had just planted an array of colorful flowers exquisitely designed by the Maker of heaven and earth. I bet he’s never even noticed them, I thought.

What could be so important that it requires one hundred percent focus to one’s detriment? He’s a musician, and I understand creative souls. But a key to creativity is attuning to God’s world, not tuning it out.

Evelyn Underhill wrote, “For lack of attention, a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day.”

Observing my neighbor’s severely stooped posture, I suspected his looking-down habit had developed for years.

That afternoon, my husband and I attended a production where an illusionist exuded such joy. He climaxed the show with an airy fantasy image that encouraged us to look for the pink cotton-candy clouds—meaning we shouldn’t miss the wondrous things in life. He said some people never see them because they never look up.

A couple hours after returning from the show, we witnessed a pink sunset, and a few clouds did resemble the spun-sugar confection.

Our home is perched on a ridge in the Ozark Mountains where glorious, ever-changing views abound. Our music-loving neighbor did not realize that Julie Andrews was right when she proclaimed “the hills are alive with the sound of music.”

God can help us look up every day. He doesn’t want our necks to become stiffened into a head-down position where we see only sidewalk cracks—not when He has provided so much beauty. And when we look to the hills, we can listen for Him. God doesn’t want us to miss His creation or His voice. His help comes from there.

What are some ways you can look up instead of down?

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com.)

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Creature Love

“Nobody move! Hamster’s on the loose.”

Time and again as a child, I took my hamster from its cage and let it run freely. When the time came to return it to its cage, I lay sprawled on the living room floor, trapped it, and scooped it into my hands. This tiny creature, six inches long and weighing eight ounces, was mine to care for. I loved her. Hamsters live about two years, so I raised four of them and had each one eating out of my hand.

Pets have an important place in Western culture. They come in all varieties and provide comfort and companionship. The Lord Himself tells us He cares for the animals He made. God can use our pets to reveal His unconditional love and walk us through difficult times. No judgment, just love.

I delighted in the missionary assignment I once received to oversee the mission guesthouse for a month in a coastal resort town in Africa. Missionary families booked months ahead of time to reserve a week of their kids’ summer break to enjoy the beach.

What I didn’t anticipate was how lonely I would feel as a single person, watching families come and go. Then a new friend with tangles in his soft fur started hanging out with me on my daily walks to the beach. I called him Buddy. The neighbors didn’t know him, and the guests never saw him. He never begged for food. Buddy was a mystery. Africans do not have animals in their homes, and those on the streets fared poorly.

I’m convinced God sent His angel to me that summer in the form of a beautiful dog. His barks were smiles, and his playfulness endearing. He appeared and disappeared, as if on cue. He gave me renewed energy, made me laugh, and gave me hope. Who alone could do all that but God?

God never loses track of us, regardless of our circumstances. Although animals and people come and go throughout our lifetime, God is a constant presence. And sometimes, that presence comes through pets.

What are some ways you have experienced creature love?  

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Courage When Pushed

We took turns pushing each other and sailed back and forth through the air.

The young kids on our street enjoyed swinging on the big oak tree at the back corner of our property. It sat on a gentle slope near the woods and had a hand ring tied at the end of a long rope.

As Mom and I strolled around the yard one day, she swung me on that old tree swing. “Push me higher,” I hollered as the breeze pressed against my face. Then the unexpected happened. My hands slipped, and I fell to the ground, landing flat on my stomach.

I glanced into my mom’s face. She stared at me, frozen in panic. I couldn’t breathe, and she couldn’t speak. The fall knocked the wind out of me. As I rolled over, my breath finally returned. Poor Mom. She was distraught but incredibly grateful her little girl was okay—just many scratches and bruises.

Social norms push and pull us in all directions as we go about our daily lives. They tempt and tug at us. The surrounding noise and conflict often distract us from what God desires for us. Then we try to balance all the confusion with our values and beliefs.

Standing up for Jesus takes courage. His disciples faced pressure to abandon their faith. They were attacked and run out of towns and villages. They were even mistreated and suffered for their beliefs. But with courage, they learned to be strong and stand firm in their faith. The Bible describes how victory came in the end.

I could easily be led in the wrong direction. But through my faith in God and studying the Scriptures, I, with God’s help, stay on a straight path.

How can you maintain the courage to follow God’s path when pushed?

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Feeling Small

Walking the shores of Lake Superior is one of my favorite things. But when I do, I find myself feeling small.

On a still day, the expanse of blue water is calming and tranquil. But my favorite time to visit the lake is when she has her “sassy pants” on. The waves churn and jump, launching spray many feet into the air. The crashing makes talking impossible. Mist fills the air, and the wind takes one’s breath away.

This lake reminds me of God’s awesome power and majesty. It reminds me to respect God and remember how small I am compared to Him.

And when I look at the stars, they seem close yet far away. The tiny pinpricks of twinkling light are actually giant suns millions of miles away. Thinking of the natural world and the splendor of the one who created me makes me feel small … very small ... even insignificant.

But God has shown me He uses little things to do big things. The tiny acorn I place into my pocket is the start of the giant oak in the forest. A tiny kernel of corn produces a stalk that grows several ears and hundreds of kernels on each ear.

God can use me too, if I am willing. I’m still small when I walk with God, but as I follow Him and do His will, I find I am not insignificant. I am made in His image and with His hand. I am different from the rest of His creation. I have a soul, and He wants to fellowship with me.

What lessons does feeling small teach you? 

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Yoked to Christ

Use the word yoke in general conversation in the US, and you’ll probably get more than a few eyebrow raises and head scratches.

Jeff Foxworthy might joke that a yoke is the southern pronunciation of that yellow blob in the middle of an egg. But a yoke is a wooden frame fitted across the shoulders of two animals to keep them together and split the work burden. It can also be a long stick shouldered by a person and used to carry buckets of water for long distances.

Yoked animals are often raised together, graze in the same pasture, and train together to work as a team. They spend their lives together and get to know each other, which creates a level of trust. They sense each will do their part when the time for work comes.

In the Bible, the Greek word for yoke is zugos and comes from the root word meaning “to join.” According to The New Strong’s Expanded Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, it is a coupling “of submission to authority; of Christ’s yoke not simply imparted by Him but shared with Him.”

When we become Christians, we are yoked to Jesus. But if we don’t spend time with Him, our teamwork suffers. We will doubt His good plans for us, question His leadership, and often worry His yoke will be too great to bear.

But we can trust Christ when He says His yoke is easy and His burden light. He will share and even take on the heaviest parts of the burdens He may call us to shoulder. We may not feel Him as we walk through those difficult times. But if we remain yoked to Him through prayer, Bible study, and trust, we’ll see He was beside us through those seasons, supporting and guiding our every step and shouldering the heaviest load.

What steps could you take to better yoke yourself to Christ? 

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Abandoned

“I’m all alone!” cried Kevin, the main character in the Christmas movie, Home Alone.

Kevin was ecstatic in the movie’s opening scenes when he realized he had apparently ditched his family. He would no longer be the brunt of all his siblings’ jokes. He was free at last. But then the plot thickened as Kevin’s safety and well-being were compromised. In the end, Kevin was reunited with his family. Being alone wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

Elijah also thought he was alone and then despaired. But after complaining to God, God corrected Elijah’s figures. Seven thousand servants had remained faithful to God. Elijah was not alone after all.

Feeling alone is a natural human emotion. But we will also feel hopeless when we believe God has abandoned us. As a new missionary, I was assigned language school and a summer practicum at a coastal resort town where the population tripled during the summer.

My host family mocked my French, faith, and person. Like Elijah, I thought I was the only Christian among thirty thousand tourists. I feared for my life, being responsible as a nanny for three grandchildren who constantly plotted to make me look bad. And it didn’t help that the grandfather was a retired military officer.

After this assignment, I spent the following month decompressing. I was twisted emotionally and had allowed my circumstances to make me believe God had forgotten about me. But God did not abandon me that summer.

Some events can be so traumatic that God, in His mercy, must gently remove the layers of false thinking like peeling an onion. Trusting is difficult when we feel someone, even God, has let us down.

Temporary healing comes from talking with people who will listen to us without judging us. Ultimate healing comes from believing that God will never leave or forsake us.

What steps can you take when you feel abandoned?  

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Shopping for Comfort

Shopping with Daddy was interesting because he didn’t know the first thing about helping me shop for clothes. Little did I know I would soon be shopping for comfort.

After work one day, Daddy took me to a nice clothing store for children. The sales lady helped us as we looked through the racks of clothes. We came home with a lovely reversible red and blue plaid wool skirt. He also bought me a liner for underneath since the wool was not very soft. Then, he added in some other necessities.

The following day after I dressed for school, Daddy said I couldn’t go dressed as I was. The white liner peeked from beneath my skirt by several inches. Like any smart dad, he reached for the stapler and stapled the liner to shorten it.

A little girl needs a mother, but I didn’t have one during those tender years. As I neared the season of becoming a young lady, my mother went to be with Jesus. She would not be there to teach me about sewing, cooking, hairstyles, make-up, dating, social graces, and growing up.

My father told me the sad news as we sat together in my room. Our pastor and other close friends stood silently around us. They were heartbroken and expected me to cry, but I didn’t—until I watched my father cry. I felt so sorry for him that I began to cry.

I wondered where God was. I was too young to ask or understand then, but He was right there with me. He was a present help in my time of trouble—then and since. As I aged, I learned to draw close to God. His strength, peace, and comfort surround me. Whenever I read the Scriptures, I experience His closeness.

God comforts us in all our afflictions. When I lost my mom, the Lord provided hugs from family and friends. We were encouraged and supported by a community of love.

God is always with us. He is merciful. We can lean on the Lord for strength and comfort in troubled times.

How can you draw near to God when you need comfort?

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Leaving a Legacy

We will all leave a legacy when we pass away. 

I thought about this when I heard about a co-worker named Isaac. After losing his job, he murdered a seventy-one-year-old woman with a baseball bat. When I think of Isaac, that is how I remember him. I don’t know what provoked him to do that, but I know he was under much pressure.

At a previous job, I, too, had a lot of stress. Like Isaac, I did not handle my anger well. I became angry and foolish. One day, I lost control of my anger so severely that my employer almost called the police. Had it not been for a fellow Christian woman, I might have been in jail. I was suspended for a few days and placed on medication to help myself.

Admitting my mistakes is difficult, but I can’t change the past. All I can do is change the present. I am a different person now. While imperfect in many areas, I am living for the Lord. I pray about my anger, especially when I feel stressed. Also, my attitude is different because I care about my fatal flaws.

As Christians, we need to consider our legacy after we leave a job or when we die. Do we show the world we are Christians by our love?

What are some ways you can leave a good legacy for others?  

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Cozy with Christ

It was the day after Christmas, and the house was quieter than the day before.

My goal for much of this cold Florida day was to remain in my cozy red and black checkered pajamas and cozy up in the presence of Christ. Because mindful movement helps prepare me to connect with Jesus, I headed to my sacred exercise mat to stretch for five minutes. Lying on my back, I spread out in total surrender to God while author and YouTuber, Chrystal Evans Hurst, read Psalm 91 over me five times from five different Bible translations.

Chrystal’s invitation to do this had shown up in an email about gratitude. Part of that email read, “Take the time to examine where you are now and find something that you are thankful for. When you find the beauty in your journey, you can be an encouragement for others on the journey as well. Gratitude not only affects the way you see your life gone by, but it also informs your mind and soul about what you really want to work for in the days to come. You can be grateful for the circumstances you’ve experienced, the blessings you’ve received, or just have a greater awareness of the gift of you in this world.”

I recently spent almost a month with Chrystal in her book, The 28-Day Prayer Journey, so I was excited to take her up on her offer. After Chrystal’s reading and prayer time, I sat up from my supine position and read Psalm 91 aloud from The Passion Translation. The words of God echoing from the pages through my home comforted me as I confidently prayed this prayer of safety and security.

I encourage you to find a place to get cozy with Christ and surrender your whole body before God. Open your Bible and find a passage to read over you. Then, pray it aloud. Soak up God’s cozy connection and protection, which is something to be grateful for.

What are some ways you can get cozy with Christ? 

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Valley of Decision

Entering the tenth grade in schools in my country signifies a great change in every student’s life.

Each child must decide to take science, art, or commercial classes. Their decision determines their destiny. Whatever discipline they choose defines the subjects studied for the following three grades and sets future professions on a straight course. Some choose the same things as their friends, some follow their parents’ path, and a few follow their heart. It’s all about choice.

The valley of decision is this earth—a place of reflection, contemplation, and decision. The coming of Christ is fast approaching, and the Scripture sends a wake-up call to those on the fence.

Christ said He places before us life and death. He wants us to choose life, but He won’t coerce us. Instead, He advises. The valley of decision is beyond the physical dimension; it’s a time and place . . . a lifetime.

Choice is one important thing God has given to us. We can choose to serve God or do otherwise. But when the day of the Lord arrives, God will transport us from the valley of decision to the Judgment Seat. Here, we can no longer decide. God will simply proclaim.

Today, we have the window of grace and live in the valley of decision. But the clock is ticking, and no alarm will alert us to the Lord’s coming.

What are the proper steps for you to choose to follow God and the Scriptures?

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Don't Take Salvation for Granted

The teenager wept at the altar as I knelt by her. She said she wanted to be sure of her salvation. Although raised in a Christian home, she didn’t want to take salvation for granted.

We prayed, embraced, and she thanked me as the tears fell. This girl was now a child of God, without a doubt.

Later, I was called on the carpet so to speak by church leaders because this girl was the daughter of a long-time, respected deacon. Yet no one knew she had never accepted the Lord. Fortunately for me, I didn’t know her or who she was related to. But even had I known, we would have still prayed together.

Fast forward twenty-something years to another church service. Again, I was praying with someone at the altar when laughter erupted behind me. My husband sat on the front pew with one of our dearest friends—someone who had been a deacon, taught Sunday school, and served in church for over twenty-five years. His wife assumed he was a Christian. So did his children and all who knew him. He told us he had been pretending all those years, simply going through the motions. But he was tired of the pretense. He asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. From that day forward, there was no doubt.

Romans tells us that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The key word here is call. We’re not automatically saved because we go to church or because we were raised in a Christian home. Salvation is a personal, intimate experience.

My daughter once told me she could no longer believe what I believed just because that’s what I expected. She wanted to learn and know about God and His Word for herself. Instead of feeling threatened and worried, I was ecstatic. She was ready to seek God on her own and quit “riding on her parents’ coattails,” as she put it.

First of all, be sure of your own salvation. If you can’t remember a time when you invited Jesus into your heart, do it again. Be confident in what you believe. And then, never take for granted that someone has a relationship with the Lord. When He prompts you to talk to someone or pray with them, don’t hesitate.

Their eternity might rest in your hands.

 

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God's Poetic Kiss

Writing poetic prayers in rhyme has become one of my love languages with God.

Considering how quickly my pen moves across the page when writing this rhythmic way, I believe God hands me these words to express back to Him. He wired me to enjoy rhyming poetry since childhood and has blessed me to delight in Him this way in adulthood.

Jesus used poetry to share the gospel and had six books known as poetry included in the Bible: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Song of Songs, and Lamentations. Although my poetry is much simpler than God’s Word, writing these poetic prayers helps me delight in the Lord.

The Bible teaches us to pray with all kinds of prayers. So with my poetic prayers on various topics, I can’t get enough of spending poetic time in God’s presence.

Included below is a part of a longer poetic prayer I wrote during the start of the COVID pandemic, a time when praying poetically increased for me:

I enter the room of my soul and close the door
Seeking God to heal and cure
To shine His Grace upon this land
To remind us that it’s on His Love we depend.

Lift us up, God
Hear our cry
Shake this world
To in You abide.

Forgive our sins and dust us off
Help us to seek You before we take off
With our own plans
And that of man.

During my devotion time one morning, I postured myself before God, extending my arms up and out diagonally, asking Him to open my heart to connect with His Word poetically. I landed in Song of Songs. The Shulamite didn’t ask God for power, position, or promotion but for a kiss. Intimacy with Jesus Christ is more important than anything else He can give us.

God’s poetry is His kiss to us. How does God kiss you?

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Second Chances

We are stubborn folk.

I don’t know about you, but someone can give me clear instruction on a task—straight from the Bible or even from God—and I ignore it, pretend I didn’t hear it and fake ignorance, or completely turn the other way in disobedience.

Jonah did the same. God told him to go to Nineveh and warn the people of destruction because of their disobedience. Instead, Jonah decided to hop on a ship headed six hundred miles in the opposite direction. In fear, he ran from what God told him to do.

But God, in His infinite wisdom and patience, gave Jonah another chance. God is the God of second chances.

When we think we have messed up, turned our backs on God, pretended we didn’t hear His call, and held on with a death grip to what we want, even if it harms us, He gives us a second chance.

God gave Jonah a little time-out in the belly of a fish. After three days, the fish spit Jonah out exactly where God wanted Jonah to be. We can’t hide from God.

God calls us to obey Him . . . to lay down our wants and desires and follow Him. He gives us the strength to turn from our ways, seek out His will, repent, let go, and do things His way.

Even when we run in the opposite direction from where God leads us—even when we are so scared to let go of something—God is there. He gives us chance after chance to repent and do things His way.

What are some second chances you might need? 

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Sing to the Lord

In my quiet backyard, I hear fifteen hand-sized rocks singing praises to the Lord. I love every one of these singing rocks because they have the names of my grandkids and great-grandchildren engraved on them. In my mind, when I hear the stones, they sing songs of praise.

A prayer of hope ended our annual women’s retreat. The speaker asked God that each child, grandchild, and great-grandchild of every woman present would know Him personally. That as mothers and grandmothers, we would live our lives so that Jesus shined forth to all we love. Since that Saturday of teaching, prayer, and praise, I have heard my rocks singing. Their childlike voices blend with the few adult voices, full of excited joy.  

The psalmist states that all of nature sings of God’s glory. Each summer, my little garden has baskets of flowers, bird feeders, a birdbath, tall flowing grasses, a couple of tomato plants, and weeds. And fifteen stones, showing the names of grandchildren and great-grandchildren. These stones form a choir that exalts God’s creation. I want to be wrapped in His joy, to thrill in His music, so I stop and listen. 

When I enjoy the weather on my patio, walk to the trash can, get the mail, look through my kitchen window as I wash dishes, or cook, I listen. I smile because I discern these much-loved stones singing praise to God. I find joy, knowing my family choir will sing on and on. I hear the music of creation.

May we hear all of nature sing as our love of Jesus shines forth, drawing our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren to Him. The music of creation, a gift from Him to us, is present when we open our ears, eyes, and hearts. But to thrill to His music, wrapped in His joy, we must stop and listen.

How can you better hear the music of God’s creation?

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Living God's Vision

I once had a friend whose affluent family planned to sell their upscale home in an exclusive neighborhood. My friend brought me an advertisement for her family’s home. Her real estate agent had placed the ad and described some of the house’s features: “Five bedrooms, four baths, sauna, quarters . . .” 

“What’s quarters?” my friend asked. 

“Real estate agents use the term for a bedroom and bath where a live-in housekeeper might stay,” I explained. “Do you have something like that?”

“Well, yes, it’s just off the kitchen, but we use it for storage,” she said.

“Your agent saw that and described it in the ad as quarters. What you saw as ordinary, she saw as promising.”

In many ways, that’s how God deals with us. We may think of ourselves as obscure nonentities or lack the self-confidence to accomplish God’s plans. We might never think about what He could do through us.

But God sees us as promise-filled co-laborers in His service. He views us as valuable, precious, worthy, and qualified to receive His love, guidance, and provision. He has a vision for us—one as real as the real estate agent’s for the house.

What are some ways you could live God’s vision for you?

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Tranquilize that Dog

A woman once met Reinhard Bonnke, the famous evangelist, as he was leaving a meeting. She told him how she took sleeping pills because of fear. Curious, the evangelist asked about the source of her anxiety. She told him it was a dog. Whenever she heard the dog barking, she became afraid. At first, the evangelist was shocked, but then he said, “Instead of taking pills and being afraid, tranquilize that dog.”

God has given us the spirit of sound mind to calm us in storms, not to give in to fear. He has also given us power and courage, the best of friends. But love must not be exempted because love for God entails believing and trusting Him.

We have many phobias: heights, darkness, tight places, planes, sickness, and death. But we also have Christ, who is a present help in times of trouble. He gives us power over fear. When we know Christ is always with us, we can overcome fear. Remember the disciples who cried out in the storm while Christ slept like a baby? Jesus slept because He knew God had dominion over everything. A little storm could not overwhelm Him. Faith conquers fear.

So, tranquilize whatever causes you to fear. Speak to your fears in the name of Jesus, so you will not become a slave to them.

What steps can you take to help you deal with fear? 

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Eternity's Values

What I thought was heavier wasn’t.

Sitting in the class for elementary school principals, I listened to the facilitator direct us to predict which item in front of us was the heaviest. We took the picture cutouts of the objects and ranked them from lightest to heaviest. Finally, we glued our choices to the yellow construction paper. This way, we couldn’t manipulate our answers if they were incorrect.

In the next part of the scientific investigation, we checked our predictions. We weighed each object and compared it with the other items until we determined an outcome. I learned that using my sight was insufficient to determine an item’s weight. I needed an impartial instrument, a scale.

The experiment reminded me of life’s choices. Daily, I must consider my words and actions. God asks me to look at eternity and decide if my choice weighs more than my soul. Have I measured my choice against God’s Word?

The experiment taught me that using only my eyes can fool me. I needed an unbiased measure to determine actual weight. So, in light of eternity, I’ve decided to use the accurate measurement in the Bible when making choices that affect my soul.

What measurements are you using to determine eternity’s values? 

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A Fall Down the Stairs

Our daughter called me while I cooked supper one night: “Mom, Reagan has fallen down the stairs and is on the way to the emergency room.”

Tears poured, and fear crept in. “What ifs” overwhelmed me. What if she dies? What if she has suffered brain damage? What if she has broken bones and needs surgery? My mind played dirty tricks on me.

Then I surrendered and prayed, “Lord, please be with our precious Reagan and let her be alright.” For more than an hour, I prayed, cried, and waited for an update.

Our daughter and son-in-law had been on a date, and their children were at home with another set of grandparents when the accident occurred. Reagan had fallen down the steps to their basement and landed on a concrete floor—hitting a concrete wall on the way down. When she landed, she just lay there. It must have been a frightful moment for their Mamaw to witness. Our oldest granddaughter said Mamaw screamed for her husband to come quickly.

The doctor who examined Reagan found no broken bones and said the tumble had slowed her fall. It was a miracle she had no injuries. Not even a scratch on her little body.

God wants us to stand firm in our faith when anxiety tries to overcome us. Cast all your anxiety on him because He cares for you. Peter writes this letter to comfort and encourage us to stay strong when fear tries to overwhelm us. Memorizing Scripture helps when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. So does prayer. Our prayers should demonstrate joy and thanksgiving. Praying also calms our hearts.

How can you keep fear at bay when bad news comes? 

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Getting an A

While browsing social media, I came across one of my “getting an A” success stories.

An intelligent young lass I once taught had become a community historian and author. I felt proud. My classes were a privilege to teach.

This young girl had an upbeat approach to life. She greeted the morning, welcoming sunny days, good friends, and lovely books. “Look,” she would say to the class. “God is great. I got an A in religion.

But how can someone like me do the same? I can wake up thinking about how great God is. I can appreciate privileges and smile with a cheerful heart. I have sunshine and rain for my garden. I have a good family, nice friends, and lovely birds to feed. I am a “have” in modern society, so I have no need to whine. I have a local faith community and online worship as well.

We can all receive As by being living witnesses to the love and healing of Jesus. We can aim to motivate other Christians and non-believers in a simple network of binding friendships. Jesus’ love and healing are still available to guide us daily. We can all do our part to shape tomorrow’s faith community.

Although imperfect, we can thank God for our privileges and seek His blessings. And as the hours of the day wind down, we can reflect on God’s grace.

How can you walk tall in your Christian faith to get an A in religion? 

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Boots on the Ground

Tensions escalated across the globe, sparking fear the Middle East might erupt into a wide-scale war. The news networks debated the United States’ role in the escalating crisis. Would we intervene with drones from a distance or commit to a ground campaign with boots on the ground?

Battles are messy and not always well-defined. Sometimes, life feels like a war zone with walking wounded who feel isolated, shell-shocked, and scarred. Our conflicts may be physical, emotional, or financial. Perhaps a loved one struggles with rage or an addiction. An illness may sap our strength and resources. Denial or discouragement can become obstacles to healthy living. Chances are, we’re engaged on multiple fronts and battle weary

In the Psalms, David recounts how God lifted him out of a pit, put him on solid ground, and steadied him. No matter how deep, God can lift us out of any pit or foxhole. But sometimes He enlists others to help us by letting them put their boots on the ground.

Christ encourages us to leave the sidelines and take up arms for one another—bear each other's burdens. Together, we advance and defend God’s truth, energize and strengthen each other, and face our challenges. United, we prayerfully combat enemy strongholds that threaten to steal or destroy our faith. Reinforcements renew our hope as we pray and wait together. If worry or fear captures us, we can define a strategy built upon God’s Word.

We fulfill the law of Christ by bringing the Good News into the foxholes of life. As one, we wage war on fear, doubt, and loneliness. We fight for the life Christ died to give to us, and we are stronger together.

How can you better put your boots on the ground, knowing God has the victory? 

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Thankful for Everything

Why do we have so much laundry? I’m so tired of always cooking. Why can’t I have what she has?

I am embarrassed to admit this was me. I was tired and irritable, and nothing made it better. My grumblings turned my attitude sour about everything.

Then I read Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonica church: “Always be joyful and never stop praying.” Paul was forced out of Thessalonica after leading many Jews to Christ. Now in Corinth, he had received word from Timothy that unbelieving Jews were persecuting the new converts. Yet the Thessalonians held firm in their faith.

Paul wrote two letters to the church to encourage them in their sufferings. Paul, a man who had faced many hardships in his lifetime, also told them to be joyful. He didn’t mean for them to be happy about their circumstances but joyful in them because of the Spirit’s power.

I wasn’t obeying Paul’s instructions or being joyful in my tasks. I began praying. My prayers weren’t fancy but heartfelt. I prayed for God to change my attitude, outlook, and heart. These prayers led me to the last part of Paul’s advice. I thanked God for everything.

I struggled when I first started thanking God for my circumstances. Why do I have so much laundry? became Thank You Lord for this laundry. I have a family, and we are blessed to have clean clothes. The dirty dishes? I thanked God we had food and that I could love my family by providing a healthy meal.

The more I did it, the easier thanking became. When hard days come and my attitude starts to sour, I remind myself to be joyful . . . no matter what.

What steps can you take to thank God for everything and never stop praying? 

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Follow Me

Pastor Warren was lost in the middle of a national forest. He seemed to drive in circles. Finally, stopping at a deserted farmhouse, he used his CB radio to call for help.

A woman answered and asked him to describe his surroundings. When he did, she said, “Oh, you are just over the hill from my farm.”

The woman told Warren to come to her home. After he arrived, she jumped into her pickup and said, “Follow me.”

The kind woman led Warren to the address he sought. She could have given him directions to his destination, but she went the extra mile and led him.

God sent many prophets to His Old Testament people to tell them how they must travel to meet Him. All too often, however, the people failed to obey God’s instructions and lost their way.

When this happened after their exodus from Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness for forty years. As a result, those twenty and older who followed Moses out of slavery never saw the Promised Land but died in the wilderness.

In God’s timing, He sent Jesus, who proclaimed to be the Way who would take people to the right destination. If we follow Jesus’ directions, we will never be lost or wander in the desert of sin.

Have you chosen the only road that leads to Jesus Christ and eternal life?

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When Death Is No More

I’ve always dreaded late-night or early-morning phone calls. They typically seem to bring bad news.

In 1982, I was seventeen and a junior in high school. Our family had a wall phone mounted between the kitchen and living room. I remember that phone well—a beige touch-tone with a twenty-five-foot cord.

Around one a.m., I heard the phone ring from my bedroom on the second floor. I immediately sat up in my bed. My parents’ bedroom was on the main floor. My dad walked down the hall to answer the phone. I could barely hear the faint chatter coming up the stairwell.

Suddenly, my dad howled a long and painful scream, waking my younger brother and sister, who began crying too. They were scared and ran into my room for comfort, unsure of what was happening. I had overheard enough of the conversation to know someone had died.

Mom got up and asked my dad what had happened. But he was so overwhelmed with pain he could barely talk.

“Kenneth is dead.”

Kenneth was my dad’s older brother by nine years. He had died of a massive heart attack at the age of forty-six.

When I think of a time when there will be no more death, I take hope. The freedom from mourning, crying, and pain will be gone. Imagine. No more funerals or hospital rooms for the dying. Only health and happiness. How glorious that will be.

God loves us so much and wants to take away our pain. Isn’t it time that you cast your cares and pain on Him? 

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Forgiveness

Teddy Roosevelt died on January 6, 1919, and William Taft cried after the funeral. The two men had been close friends when Taft served in Roosevelt’s cabinet. They were so close that Roosevelt endorsed Taft as his presidential successor.

Taft had served loyally for several years, and Roosevelt, who had become increasingly progressive by the standards of the early 1900s, believed Taft was the man to carry his political vision forward. Unfortunately, Taft turned out to be quite conservative, and Roosevelt felt betrayed. Roosevelt was so unhappy with Taft’s presidency that he decided to run against him in the election of 1912, after which Taft felt betrayed.

The two men split the vote sufficiently, allowing Woodrow Wilson to win the presidency. Fortunately, at some point before January 1919, Taft and Roosevelt worked out their issues. At his friend’s funeral, Taft would say their reconciliation brought him great peace.

Life is short. We need to forgive people. Those who hurt us might not deserve our forgiveness, but then again, we don’t deserve Christ’s forgiveness, yet He offers it to us anyway.

Whom do you need to forgive today?

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Keeping Sane Amid Change

John Donne said, “Change is the nursery of music, joy, life, and eternity.”

Let’s admit it, most of us do not like change. We want our neat little world where we control what’s happening in our lives, but change is inevitable. It will come, and how we react to it speaks volumes about our faith walk with Jesus.

We don’t ordinarily welcome change unless it comes from the store’s cashier. It pops up at inopportune times and causes discord in our lives, families, and jobs. Or the change could be something we hoped for, but it didn’t happen the way we planned.

What happens when we reject the change and fight against it? It will tax us and drain our energy. We may even become angry and unwilling to see the good that could come from the situation, much less admit it if we do.

How much better to face change with faith that trusts God’s wisdom? Begin by praying and asking God to grant strength and guidance to handle the situation. Next, pray for a spirit that can discern His will. This puts change into perspective.

Change will always come, and often it will be beyond our control. We can fight it or lean on God. We can ask Him to help us walk through the changes and have faith that He will show us the way.

What changes do you need to make to face the next changes that come your way?

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The Search for Treasure

One day, I lost a booklet.

That may not seem like much, but it held importance to me because of its personal history. I plowed through the house—opening drawers, lifting pillow cushions, and looking under the beds. I invested two days in my version of a manhunt. The possibility that I might have thrown it into the trash pestered me. Still, I pressed on, believing the item was somewhere in the house. I spent another day searching before finally giving up.

I never found the booklet, but later in the week, I read this verse: If you seek her as silver and search for her as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and discover the knowledge of God. Immediately, I saw a picture of myself looking for something I treasured. I recognized then that God wants the same desire, energy, and determination when we search the Scriptures.

We should search God’s Word the same way we would if looking for lost treasure. The Bible promises we will find God and learn to reverence and trust Him when we explore this way.

How can you make a regular habit of hunting for treasure in your Bible?

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Calming Life's Storms

Coastal life can be lovely until a ravaging hurricane prances to your paradise.

I weathered a major hurricane when my children were small. Although we lived forty-five minutes inland, the wind impacts frightened me. I wondered if I could hold them tightly enough should the winds breach our home’s walls.

Later, my daughter’s family lived through a Category 4 hurricane in their coastal paradise. Again, we trusted God to calm their spirits and bring them safely through it.

Different seasons of life bring various kinds of storms. Some are sudden with no warning, while others are swift. Still, others remain for long periods. Regardless, the Lord is always there with me as I weather them. I can find Him when I stop to look for Him, pray, and cast my burdens on Him. I must let go and give my cares to God.

Storms of nature, sickness, trauma, relationships, or financial woes pile up through life’s journey, building layer upon layer. By casting our burdens or cares on the Lord, He sustains us. Jesus calmed the seas and will calm our hearts and spirits. We can lean our heads on His shoulder, for He will carry us through dark times and into His glorious light.

Only the Lord can hold me up with His strength and power during life’s storms. In Him, I experience real peace. Whether my storm waters are ankle-deep or waist-high, God can bring calm before the storm, guide me through the storm, and bring me out of the storms of life.

God is with us no matter what happens. Are you relying on God to carry you through the storm you’re facing?

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Forget What You Heard

Words are the public expression of our private thoughts. We may have immoral, cruel, and unkind thoughts, but if we can keep our mouths shut, no one must deal with them.

Often, when we get angry with someone, we say what’s on our minds. And it’s then that we must consider another person as we deal with our thoughts and words. Our thoughts are like birds in a cage—they do not take flight until we give them wings with words.

The curse in our text means to utter evil against someone—to make public our desire for another to be destroyed by evil. For example, if an employer hears a begrudged employee say they wish some evil would befall the employer or if the employee curses the employer, the employer should ignore it.

We are to ignore it because we have cursed others too. We cannot justify getting upset when we have done the same thing.

Christianity does not allow those who know Christ to curse anyone. On the contrary, we are to bless those who curse us and do to others as we would have them do to us. We cannot harbor malice, carry a grudge, or return evil for evil.

People may tell lies and speak evil about us. But when they do, we should let it roll off our back like water off a duck’s back, knowing we have often done the same thing.

What are some ways you can forget what you have heard?

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Lady, the Lion, and Trust

“Big lion. Big net. Big, big trouble.”

The Lion and the Mouse is an early reader book by Gail Herman and retells one of Aesop’s fables. A powerful lion catches a mouse, which begs the beast to free him in exchange for returning the favor one day. When a net later traps the lion, the mouse chews through it and frees him. Because the lion trusted the mouse’s pledge, the lion’s life was spared.

My yellow Lab, Lady, is a loyal and trusting dog. We walk the beach on most mornings. I unleash her because I trust her not to wander too far, and she trusts me to watch should her sand-sniffing ADHD kick in. She also trusts that when she spots Karen, she will have treats.

One day as we began our trek back home, Lady bolted back down the beach. Out of fear—certainly not because a run was high on my agenda—I took after her but quickly lost sight of her. A four-year-old Lab and a sixty-two-year-old woman are not exactly well matched in the sprinting department. Two blocks later, I saw she had stopped and patiently waited for a treat from Karen.

Trust is tricky. The lion wanted to trust the mouse’s offer, even though there was no guarantee. Lady trusted that Karen had a treat. Peter walked on water because he trusted Jesus. Until he didn’t. Then he sank.

Fear is one of the biggest impediments to trust. In Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, she compares the mind and a seesaw: “As your trust in Me goes up, fear and worry automatically go down.”

My fear factor has risen exponentially as my children have grown into adults. But I know no amount of handwringing, begging, negotiating, manipulating, or controlling will work. The only superpower I possess is trusting in God and His purpose for their lives.  

Where in the seesaw of your mind can you tip the balance from fear to trust? How can you call on ultimate trust and commit to God’s plan for your life or someone you love?

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Keeping Our Balance

The smallest things can make keeping our balance difficult.

“Look out,” I screamed from my office window. The dive-bombing sparrow knocked “Little Junior” off the birdfeeder ledge. Amazingly, the bird maintained his balance and flew away. God created birds with an innate sense of balance. However, keeping our balance is more of a challenge for us humans.

I once faced a challenge as a teacher, which left me feeling berated and confused. I prayed daily to be a light for the Lord to my students. A few select students always greeted me enthusiastically in the hallway during classes, which I acknowledged with a smile. They, in turn, laughed in my face. It happened repeatedly, so I soon avoided them. This made me feel powerless and off balance. Then one day, the light bulb turned on when one student stopped me and asked why I smiled so much. “Life is hard,” he said, “so what is there to smile about?” My heart sank.

Paul knew the believers in Philippi would face difficult circumstances, untrustworthy people, and sickness—all of which made keeping their balance difficult. Just as a racecar driver must depend upon his pit crew throughout the race to finish it, so must believers rely daily on the power of the Holy Spirit. He empowers us to get back on track, but He doesn’t do it automatically. Instead, He waits for us to ask for His help.

Life is a balancing act, especially for those who follow Jesus wholeheartedly. The Rnemy will try anything to knock us off course and dim the light of Jesus shining through us. He will use the slightest thing to discourage us. We need to depend upon the Holy Spirit to help us back up when life knocks us off balance. Paul is an example of one who maintained his balance and finished well.  

What knocks you off balance? What are some ways you can quickly recover?

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Shackled No More

I was shackled no more, but I wondered about him.

Carefully shuffling into PT one Thursday, I signed the blue form, made a silly remark to the sunny ladies sitting behind the desk, and planted myself in my usual seat.

Even with my back to the door, I knew he was there. The woman to my left gasped when he brushed her chair. The patient in front of me mouthed, “You have got to be kidding me.” And the elderly couple in the corner shifted their weight nervously as he quietly passed them.

It was not the orange jumpsuit that grabbed our attention. Nor was it the armed military guard at his right and left. Instead, it was what he wore on his hands and feet.  

Some might call them handcuffs. Others might call them restraints. But to us in the room, the shackles signaled we could pass judgment, labels, and preconceived notions.

Usually, someone in front of me would have gotten a smile or a good morning. But after a glance in his direction, I cowardly fixed my eyes on my poorly manicured feet.

And then the nurse called his name. I could not help but raise my head and look into his eyes. When I did, I saw something unexpected: no fear, anger, or shame. Just a penetrating sadness. Sadness that we saw only his shackles, assigned him an identity he no longer wanted, and judged who he was before we even looked him in the eye.

As often happens when I look outside my little world, I came face-to-face with something that day. I have been ransomed and freed, but sadly, on many days, I act as though I am not. I carry the burdens of this world as though they chain me to the same sadness I saw in that man’s eyes. I act as though I have no hope.

And yet God meant it when He said His yoke is easy and His burden light. It is a promise to remind us when we forge through hard things. We should be in the hope business, the freedom business, and the joy business.

When others look into our eyes, they shouldn’t see sad, defeated little children, but people beloved by the God who set them free.

How can you walk in the freedom God has for you today?

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Never Again Will I Fear

Never again will I fear obeying God, I vowed.

With my heart pounding and throat throbbing from screaming, I stepped off the Kraken roller coaster.

What possessed me to agree to ride the 153-foot high, floorless beast with my daughter? “Never again,” I said when she begged me to get back in line to experience the seven inversions, sixty-five-mph sea monster that hung us upside down and caused the tips of our hair to dangle in the water.

At times, I’ve agreed to do something, all the while petrified at the thought. I’ve stepped out and given a speech or volunteered to coach a youth drama team and later been glad I accepted the offer.

Spiritually speaking, I also have a never-again list. At the top is the reminder that I will never again respond to situations with fear and timidity. I’m not talking about natural choices, like riding the Kraken, that should be reserved for adrenaline junkies. Instead, I’m referring to spiritual situations, like talking to a stranger about Jesus or praying for someone on the phone.

When opportunities to be the hands and feet of Jesus present themselves as I interact in the community, speaking up or stepping out does not come naturally. As an introvert, praying silently for the person is much easier.

I once ignored the prompting of the Holy Spirit. One day, a neighbor saw me in the post office and tried to strike up a conversation. I quickly spoke and then hurried along, ignoring the voice inside, telling me to pray for her. I reasoned that she seemed perfectly fine. Then later in the week, I heard she had died. I was devastated.

God will sometimes ask you to step out and be His hands and feet. Will you shrink back in fear or say, “Never again will I fear?”  

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Warm the Cup

I love to begin my day with a fresh-brewed cup of steaming coffee, and I love to warm the cup before I do.

My preferred way to brew my coffee is with an Aeropress. For those unfamiliar with this little gadget, it’s a bit like a French press, but designed to brew a single cup of strong coffee.

No matter how you brew your coffee or enjoy your tea, one step improves the final product: warming the cup. Before I pour coffee into my mug, I warm my mug with hot water. Preparation is everything.

Likewise, before I join my church family on Sunday morning, I turn on praise music and sit quietly before God to prepare my heart. I find that when I ask Him to search me, He does. I’m always more ready to hear from God when my heart is warmed and prepared for Him.

What about you? Do you come home from church thinking, I didn’t get much out of that sermon? Does your time with God sometimes feel perfunctory and useless? You might want to warm your cup first.   

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Singing Praises

With blue, iridescent feathers glistening in the sun, a bird perched on my fence, singing praises with head lifted high and chest pulsating.

The bird’s musical notes punctuated the air and welcomed the dawning day. From its coloring, I determined my little bird visitor was probably an Indigo Bunting. The male whistles its sharp, bright notes at dawn with as many as two hundred notes, repeating one per minute throughout the day.

Our Creator designed birds with a unique voice box, called a syrinx, buried deep in their chest. The air flowing through it causes the membranes to vibrate and produce the melody of its song.

This beautiful bird’s chest, bursting with a joyous song, touched my heart and brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me that God wants to hear my song of praise every morning and throughout the day.

I don’t always praise God every morning with a song of joy that bursts from deep within my heart. Instead, I often wake up grumbling and have a heart filled with worry and fear. Finding fault with others and questioning God’s love rob me of my praise and joy.

Through songs of praise and worship, I can summon praise to my God, who designed me to communicate with Him. Like the Indigo, we all can sing a melodious song to our Creator that arises from deep within our beings. We can offer a tribute of praise to our Lord with our eyes lifted, hands raised, and voices caroling,

Watching this bird and hearing his beautiful song also taught me we have no excuse for not praising God for all the world to listen to. But just like birds use their voices to gain the attention of other birds, our praise and worship can attract the world’s attention and inspire them to look to God and praise Him for His love and mercy.

Think of some ways you can sing praises to God.

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Excellent Worth

Two miniature sparrows love to flit around our front porch, reminding me they have excellent worth.

My husband and I look at them from our kitchen window while we eat breakfast. But often, we do not see them; we only hear a few tweets or chirps. They nest in a crevasse in our garage eaves. Sparrows fly unrecognized because they blend in with the trees and their diminutive size. We notice colorful cardinals, distinctive blue jays, and even vocal mockingbirds, but we rarely regard sparrows.

Sparrows are common, plain, and small. They seem inconsequential but total over a billion. How many times do we pay attention to sparrows? Yet as minor as they seem, they are under God’s sovereign care. God sees and knows them. Not one falls to the ground without our heavenly Father knowing or caring for their welfare.

We may appear ordinary and irrelevant in the sea of social media, pop culture, or talented and famous people. We may feel lonely, forgotten, or unimportant. But our worth is great in God’s eyes. Our Creator sees, knows, and gives us identity.

Because of our value, God numbers the hairs on our heads. Numbering the strands of our locks takes constant calculation. God must be a superb mathematician to track all the gains and losses. I seldom think of the number of hairs I have, but God does.

If God counts the hair on our head and knows the sparrows, He also traces each tear and laugh with a divine hand. God knows our joys, sorrows, gains, and losses. We hold immeasurable dignity and significance to Him.

Let your importance to God soak into your mind like a roaring summer rain. Then, as you go about your day, remind yourself of your excellent worth to God.

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A Day of Small Things

Each day can be a day of small things. Aunt Della’s was.

Aunt Della’s family moved to rural upstate South Carolina when she was a child. She lived there for the rest of her life, mainly in the same house. She was always there for me during my traumatic childhood and later adulthood. When she died at 102, dozens from her church and community shared how she had also been there for them.

Nothing we heard was really dramatic. Aunt Della brought chicken soup during an illness, delivered a small bag of pecans when the nuts ripened, gave a five-dollar birthday gift to a child, and visited a grieving family. But two stories were particularly touching.

One person of color told how Aunt Della had visited his home sixty years earlier after his mother had died. She informed him and his sister they needed to learn to cook. Then, for weeks afterward, she went to their home and taught them how to prepare nutritious meals. In those days of segregation and prejudice, Aunt Della’s actions, which he never forgot, were far from ordinary.

The second story occurred a week after the funeral. A letter with an incorrect address somehow arrived at the home place. It was from a woman who had worked in the gift shop at the local hospital over fifty years earlier. She recounted how Aunt Della frequently came to the shop to buy just the right gift for the patient she planned to visit. Aunt Della’s thoughtfulness made a lasting impression.

Aunt Della would never have imagined the impact of her small acts of kindness. Neither would three lesser-known Bible characters.

David, the king of Israel, was on the run from his rebellious son, Absalom. Warned of imminent danger, he and his company crossed the Jordan River during the night. When Shobi, Machir, and Barzillai learned of their hasty departure, they took them basic supplies.

A kind deed, a bowl of soup, or a cup of cold water for the weary might seem insignificant. Yet sometimes, it is indelibly written on the heart of another. So, let’s do it and never despise the day of small things.

What are some small acts of kindness you can perform?

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Far Away Sins

“If God forgives and cleanses our sins, does He ever put them back?” Or do they remain far away?

Aiden’s question initially startled Mark, but as a Sunday school teacher of young boys, he knew his students were bright and inquisitive–Aiden in particular. Yet how could he answer?  

The class discussion had been about how God forgives and cleanses our sins, but Aiden’s question meant Mark had to take a different approach. So, after a brief pause to think, he had the children read Psalm 103:12 and then gather around a world globe in the corner of the classroom.

“Now, Aiden, hold your finger right there on the United States.” When the boy had done that, Mark continued, “Now keep your finger right there on the United States, and we’ll slowly turn the globe to the right. Note that we’re going east. Keep turning. Stop! Where’s your finger?”

Aiden studied the globe. “Hey! I’m back in the United States. But how’s that? I was going east, and now I’m back where I started. I went around the world, but it’s as if East and West never meet!”

“That’s what the psalmist was saying,” Mark said. “God removes our sins as far as the east is from the west. And since the east and west never meet, then that means our sins are gone. Even God can’t find them and put them back.”

Unfortunately, some of us share Aiden’s concern. But, if we do, it can encumber our spiritual lives. After all, how can we serve God when we’re busy worrying about reoccurring faults?

Yet, as Mark’s demonstration showed, what God has forgiven, He has removed far away and forgotten. Our sins are gone for eternity.

Have you grasped what God has done with your sins?   

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From Fear to Victory

God makes it possible to move from fear to victory.  

We may experience fear as we sit in the ER or surgery waiting room, waiting for a doctor to report on a loved one. But we pray and have faith things will be all right. Still, a nagging uneasiness bothers us, and the what-if questions come to mind. What if I’m wrong? What if it’s not the Lord’s will to answer my request the way I want? What if it’s cancer?  

Thinking about the what ifs is not always a sign of weak faith but can be an unwelcome reality check. The father in Jesus’ story asked Jesus to help his unbelief. He believed in what Jesus was capable of, but he had watched the Devil try to destroy his son for many years. He’d been disappointed by doctors and Jesus’ disciples because they couldn’t cast out the evil spirit.

When we see the opposite of what we’re praying for taking place, we need help to believe. Sometimes, this means letting others help us—folks with more faith than we can muster.

We can face days, weeks, or even years when we think God has forgotten us. We wonder if He is finished with us or will ever answer our prayer. We spend a lot of time in anguish and uncertainty, but suddenly God gives us the victory He has prepared for us.

The doctor gives us good news, or God’s answer comes in ways we never thought possible. God never forgets any of His children. He will never forsake us, bail out of a fight with the Devil, or let the Devil defeat us. How sweet it is to move from fear to victory.

What steps can you take to move from fear to victory?  

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Feeling God's Touch

A mom’s touch is similar to God’s touch.

Touch is one of the most personal responses. It requires closeness—reaching out and entering the other person’s space. It is also one of the most challenging senses to ignore. That is why after having said “mom” several times, a child will tug on the mom’s arm. Touch is so deeply personal, in your space, and close that we can’t ignore it.

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. "Get up," he said. “Don’t be afraid." When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. One day, after reading these verses, I experienced them replaying in my head for the rest of the day. Peter, James, and John had just witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration. His face shone like light, and Moses and Elijah appeared from nowhere. Then a cloud of light appeared, and a voice boomed from heaven. I would have fallen face-down and been terrified as well.

What I love most is Jesus’ response. He didn’t boast in His glory. He didn’t say, “Now that was cool.” He didn’t even call their names. Instead, before Jesus spoke, He came near and touched His scared friends. Once He had their attention, He spoke. And when they looked up from their fear, they saw no one except Jesus.

This is the Jesus we serve. The Jesus who comes near and touches our fearful hearts. Do you need to feel His touch? Ask Him to touch you, and He will in a way you can’t ignore.

For what reasons do you need Jesus’ touch? 

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Hiding from God

Surely, I’d done it this time. I crossed the line beyond God’s grace. I thought about hiding from God.

I awoke from another drunken night where I’d passed out in the living room chair. The stale taste of alcohol still lingered on my breath. My head pounded, and my eyes burned as I scanned the room and surveyed the damage—another night erased by the bottles at my feet. Shame engulfed me, so I planned for the worst and thought of where to hide next.

From a young age, I knew Scriptures that taught me about my sin. Like many biblical characters, I felt I had to flee. My response was not abnormal. Adam and Eve, David, Moses, and Jonah had all tried it.

My sin shamed me, so I ran—desperate to find a place where God could not see me in the middle of my mess. My sin defined me. I ran from home, friends, school, and even church. I lost so many years to shame.

Once shame takes root in us, no one has to say a word for us to hear the judgments. We feel the disappointments without anyone looking in our direction.

So, what can we do when we feel the weight of our sin? We can run to the cross. God has made a place there for His children to find forgiveness.

The cross teaches us that God is not shocked by our messes, that He loves us anyway, that our mess is not the end of our story, and that we are more than the sum of our sins.

While shame tries to define us, God’s love covers a multitude of sins. So I no longer need to run and hide. Instead, I’ve found Jesus’ forgiveness, and so can you.

What steps can you take to escape the weight of your sin? 

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The Unpresence of Christ

The unpresence of Christ must have seemed illogical.

In my college French class, the instructor opened each class by calling the roll. As she read our name, she expected us to respond in French with ici, which meant here or present.

One day, I decided to liven things up by replying with something different—in French, naturally. So when she called my name, I responded, Je ne suis pas ici, meaning, “I am not here.”

An unusual statement, to be sure, but although grammatically correct in English and French, it was also wholly illogical. After all, how could I say I wasn’t there when I was?

But the women in this passage would soon encounter someone who could say that. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. If we imagine Jesus standing in front of His empty tomb and saying, “I am not here,” then the statement is not meaningless.

The women faced new challenges after witnessing the empty tomb. After all, they had seen Jesus’ death agonies, watched Him die, seen His inert body removed from the cross, and watched it placed in a borrowed tomb. However, things would soon change. Three days later, they encountered the triumphant living figure of that same Man. They would see him with their eyes, touch Him with their hands, and hear His words.

Although we can’t share their experiences the same way, we can remember the empty tomb and live our lives in light of the resurrection. “I am not here” was an illogical and ludicrous statement for me, but not for our Savior.

How can remembering the resurrection change your life daily?

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Praying Where We Need To

No one said praying where we need to would always be easy.

The theme of the freezing day on the ocean was disappointment. Always wanting to see a whale, I embarked on a whale-watching trip out of Bar Harbor, Maine. We saw a few finback whales from a distance. Not exciting. Where’s the massive tail? Can’t they jump out of the water and smash down?

Sitting in my seat, I felt the captain slow the boat and then tell us to watch. On the left side of the boat, a humpback whale emerged and fed on krill. We could see its massive mouth open and slowly shut before the whale slid back into the water.

I was stunned, thinking about the size of the boat and this leviathan’s mouth. It was a Jonah moment. How could Jonah have survived in the stomach of a fish? What was it like inside with all the krill, maybe some fish, and a lot of cold water? Considering my issues with heartburn, how did the whale’s stomach acid not consume Jonah? And Jonah had the presence of mind to pray to God? I’d be calling the Coast Guard if not the Discovery Channel.

Jonah demonstrates we can pray anywhere and anytime. God listens to prayers not only from a beautiful sanctuary but also from a hospital room, a funeral home, a courtroom, or even a whale’s belly. The place is not important, just that we lift prayers to Him.

Sometimes we limit ourselves by only praying in the “right place.” Jonah shows us the right place is wherever we feel the call to prayer. Maybe we are on the road and see an accident. Perhaps we’re sitting in the doctor’s office, waiting for a diagnosis—which, by the way, can feel like a whale’s belly.

Pray wherever you need to, especially when you need a larger boat.

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Connection Brings Recognition

Connection brings recognition.

Panic crept from my stomach to my face. Immediately, this mama’s eyes switched from browsing through a clothing rack to scanning every nook of the store’s floor with the visual acuity and focus akin to an eagle. My toddler, Christian, who was previously beside me, had disappeared. He was holding my skirt, but something had drawn his attention. Then, with lightning speed, he wandered away. And I was too busy oohing and aahing over sale items to notice. 

I scurried past clothing racks, calling Christian’s name. Finally, I spotted him. Hearing my voice, he turned around, saw me, and let go of a total stranger’s skirt.

My son discerned my voice because he had heard it since he was in my womb. He has heard it as he listened to me reading bedtime stories to him. He has heard it directing and guiding him through the years. The hours, minutes, and seconds of togetherness and communication etched my voice into his mind.

Connection brings recognition.

Jesus talks about voice recognition as well. When we spend time with God and His Word, we will recognize His voice. Then we can follow Him.

Many voices compete for our attention, and the world’s voices are loud. As a result, they can drown out what we want our kids to learn. So, how can we teach our children to listen to the voices we want them to hear? How can we teach them what we want them to learn?  

Our children need to hear us speak God’s Word in our interaction with them. They need to see the way we live it out. This will help them distinguish our voice and the Lord’s. When they do, they will not be deceived and follow a stranger or the enemy of their souls.

In what ways can you bring God’s voice and word to others’ hearing?

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The Lesson of the Missing Forks

My grandmother taught me the lesson of the missing forks.

“Don’t throw the fork away!”

My grandma’s harsh tone stopped me on the way to the trashcan with my empty plate. I had just consumed a delicious helping of the Thanksgiving feast.

“I’m not,” I assured her and resisted the urge to sigh.

Why was she being so grumpy and ruining a perfectly good holiday by being the silverware police?

This memory rushed upon me as I opened the silverware drawer and found it empty. Searching the three-thousand-square-foot house, I found one fork and four spoons. Confused, I looked down into the trashcan and, to my horror, spotted three spoons lying at the bottom of the can.

“This is why!” I ranted to my children, who all stood frozen in their tracks in various stages of confusion. “This is why she acted like that.”

Scrubbing up my meager silverware, I wondered how many other times I had done this to people. All fifty pieces of silverware hadn’t disappeared overnight. It had been a long slow process, and I just hadn’t been aware.

I’m sure the same happened to my grandma. With twenty people coming for the holidays, she probably lost a hefty amount of her silverware into the trashcan each time. People tossing their disposable plates into the waste basket, not even thinking that the spoon or fork they used wasn’t disposable. I understood now.

We do not understand why people are the way they are and act the way they act until we’ve gone through what they’ve been through. From the outside looking in, they may seem a bit harsh, but we don’t know what made them that way.

Maybe it doesn’t make sense, but we can offer them grace. If they seem rude, extend mercy. And if they’re harsh, forgive them.

Someday, we will fight a private war that will change who we are, and all the grace, mercy, and forgiveness we planted into others’ lives will spring forth.

Drying off my solitary fork, I whispered a prayer for patience and found myself smiling and remembering my grandmother. Although she wasn’t with me on earth any longer, she still taught me lessons.

What lessons have relatives taught you?

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Don't Look Back

I once learned the don’t-look-back lesson.

A few decades ago, I ran on a seaside path and enjoyed the roar of the ocean waves—the fragrance of the sea spray tickling my nose, and the rhythm of my steps echoing my heartbeats. The wind blew my hair out of its neat braids, and I brushed the damp ringlets from my neck and eyes.

As I looked along the winding path, I glimpsed approaching walkers, roller skaters, bicyclists, and fellow runners. One runner stood out because he was quite handsome. As we passed, he smiled broadly and said, “Good morning!”

I could not resist the temptation to turn and look at him as he ran away from me. When I did, I tripped over an uneven portion of pavement, fell, and rolled along the path.

Dazed and bruised, I sat up. An older couple had witnessed the entire episode. The husband helped me to my feet and over to a wooden bench where I could recover. The wife offered me a packet of tissues, which I used to blot my scraped and bloody palms and knees. She also could not resist imparting a bit of wisdom. We laughed, and they continued their stroll.

I remained on the bench a while longer, marshaling my forces and contemplating what had transpired. I was there to exercise in the fresh air but had let a secondary motivation distract me. I lost focus by looking back and tripped over something I could have easily seen had I not turned around. Additionally, I sprained my ankle. I would have a long walk back to my car and several days’ delay before returning to my favorite running place.

If we’re not careful, the same scenario can happen in our spiritual lives as well. We start well with spiritual disciplines, like daily Scripture reading and prayer, but distractions come along and derail us.

What steps can you take to keep from looking back? 

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Trusting God Through the Waves of Trials

I love going to the beach and seeing the ocean.

I find it so relaxing to hear the waves crashing, and the ebb and flow of the water is quite tranquil. You would think because I love it so much that I am a great swimmer. I’m not. I am not even a good swimmer, so I stay close to shore.

Nonetheless, I love sticking my feet in the water. I also like to sit or lie on a float and bob up and down with the waves. The downside to staying close to shore is that the waves tend to drive me back to the shore like a beached whale. Then I stand up, drag my float back to somewhat deeper water, and start the process over again. If I can touch the bottom and the waves are not over my head, then I do not panic.

This process resembles life at times. We struggle, and the waves seem as if they keep coming, one after another. We get no break, and we feel as if we will drown.

The disciples probably felt like this when a storm arose while they were on the Sea of Galilee. But they had nothing to fear because Jesus was with them. He would not allow the storm to overcome them, nor will He let them beach us.

Sometimes God does not calm the storms around us, but He calms us while the storm rages. We can be still and know God will never leave or forsake us. We can trust Him with our storms.

Will you trust God today with what you face? Will you have faith that He is for you and not against you?

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Christmas Separation

I remember them well—the good old days when there was no Christmas separation.

My parents planned our Christmas Day celebrations, and I didn’t complain. We headed to my paternal grandparents’ home for lunch. The five of us gathered with my dad’s sister, my uncle, and their two kids. When we walked into the house, we discovered a mountain of presents around the tree nestled in the corner of a large living room. Our eyes bulged as we eagerly awaited the “opening ceremony.”

But not yet. First, we had to eat lunch. My grandfather’s tradition was ham, and he knew how to cook it just right. My grandmother cooked the sides. When all was done, the adults gathered around the dining room table, and we kids sat at the kitchen table. Of course, I didn’t mind. The old home only had gas space heaters. One sat beside my kitchen chair.

We gobbled our food, knowing what was next. As we circled in the living room, my oldest cousin played Santa and handed out the gifts. After a couple of hours of opening and playing with our toys, we headed thirty minutes down the road to my maternal grandparents’ old country home.

Mom’s sister, my uncle, and my cousins lived just next door. They walked the short distance to my grandparents’ house, where we ate . . . again. The present pile there was much smaller, but the love was just as great.

Fast forward twenty years. My family, brothers, their wives, and children gathered at Mom and Dad’s house. Our grandparents had died years prior, and now, Mom carried on the tradition. The food was homecooked, the presents were piled high, and the fellowship was precious.

Advance another thirty years. Miles, divorces, remarriages, grandchildren, and deaths have separated us, forcing us to celebrate this Christmas in segments. First, with one brother and his family, then another brother and his family. Finally, we’ll celebrate with our children and grandchildren. The entire process will spread over two weeks, not one day.

Such is the life most families live at Christmas. Despite the changes and the separations, one thing never changes—God’s love. Paul reminds us that nothing—death, divorce, remarriage, sickness, disease, financial challenges, or a sour economy—can separate us from God’s love.

Regardless of the Christmas separations we experience, we can still celebrate the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Lord. And we can relish in His forgiveness, the abundant life He gives us presently, and the eternal home He promises us. Nothing can separate us from Him in the present or the future.

Among Christmas’ separation, celebrate the togetherness you can have with Christ and others.

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But I'm Single

“So, iced tea for you?” the waitress asked. “What would your companion like?”

What companion? I sat in the restaurant without a wife, a girlfriend, or anyone. It was too hot to cook, so I thought I would treat myself to dinner out. Am I destined to be at a table by myself for the rest of my life? Was this dinner trip a big mistake? Maybe I should have gone to McDonald’s.

Being alone is difficult, especially when society seems to come in twos, threes, or fours. This story from Genesis does not help either, since it says it is not good for a person to be alone. But I am. McDonald’s, here I come.

But I wonder if there is another way to understand being alone. Yes, God created us for relationships, but He also made us to be social animals. Upon reflection, I realize I’ve been with people all day—at the gym, work, lunch, social media, and so on. So maybe I don’t need McDonald’s after all.

Feeling depressed and upset is easy when we feel alone—especially if we do so in a crowd. But when we do, thinking about whom we were with that day helps. We can also go to church, a club, or the gym. Not feeling ashamed or guilty when you are by yourself can be a gift. Being alone does not mean we are losers.

Yes, I was alone that evening, but that was okay. Iced tea to drink, ravioli, and a salad, please.

No, it is not good to be alone, but you are not. Enjoy those around you.

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God Provides

Sharon, my supervisor, sat working at her desk.

The scowl on her face warned me that I’d work another day in a tension-packed atmosphere. Working with Sharon hadn’t always been that way. Initially, my work met her approval, but now she even criticized my phone calls. I tensed when the phone rang, knowing she would be listening. I needed my job and enjoyed the work, and I firmly believed God had opened the door for me to work there.

Over the years, I had sharpened my abilities as a secretary. Now, it seemed Sharon’s constant criticism would erode my confidence. I knew she struggled with problems, and it seemed I had become her scapegoat.

I shared my problem with Christian friends who faithfully prayed for me. I was also praying—not only for myself but also for Sharon and our relationship.

After working with Sharon for many tension-filled weeks, she handed me a letter to type—a letter that detailed what she claimed to be my most serious faults, a letter she planned to send to our organization’s headquarters.

I struggled with typing the incriminating words, knowing they might result in my termination. By the end of that day, my emotions were frazzled. However, God remained faithful and did not allow the situation to devastate my faith and self-respect.

Slowly the atmosphere at work changed. Sharon and I talked more. From time to time, I told her what God was doing in my life that created joy from sadness and gave me peace. Months passed, and Sharon’s respect for me and my work returned. Then problems developed in her job, and she was fired.

A few days before Sharon left, she approached me. “There is something I don’t understand,” she said. “Even though I will be out of work soon, I have a strange feeling of peace.”

“Sharon,” I quietly said, “I’ve been praying for you. I believe God is answering those prayers.”

God walked with me through those tension-filled days. And He used me to encourage Sharon as she faced a change in her life.

When we are willing, God can use us to demonstrate His power and love to those who need encouragement.

Who can you encourage today?

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Interruptions

Some interruptions are more welcomed than others.

One week, my housemate and I received a call from a friend who lives on the opposite coast. She was visiting her adult son on our side of the country and wanted to visit with us. We had two hours’ notice to switch gears from our previous plans, decide what to prepare for lunch, cook, and tidy up things before she arrived. We were delighted. Her visit was a welcomed interruption.

But some interruptions are undesirable—such as when a friend bared her soul about a painful issue. She had just begun to unburden herself when the other person looked at her watch and announced, “Sorry, this is my errand time. I’ll check in with you tomorrow.”

When I first began my career, I was ungracious when interrupted. A manager, who later became a trusted friend, told me I only focused on my task, not the company’s overall goals. The company didn’t just need my piece of the puzzle. Other employees required answers to questions and assistance with tasks. He helped me see the bigger picture. Paul says the same thing: Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Had my roommate and I not been flexible, we would have missed a lovely reunion with a friend we hadn’t seen for several years. And the woman who put her errands first never regained the trust of the one whose confession she walked away from.

We will accomplish little if we are not mindful of our projects and responsibilities. However, if we are unwilling to be interrupted, we will miss opportunities to see the bigger picture and be present for others.

How can you look for the big picture so you won’t miss the interests of your family, coworkers, and others that God puts in your path?

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Worry to Worship

Sonia tossed and turned, unable to sleep.

Her mind raged with worrisome thoughts about her son. What if Eric hangs out with the wrong crowd and gets into drugs? What if he has an accident? What if I die before he graduates? The more she sought peace, the more agitated she became. She felt as if she were stuck on a merry-go-round, going nowhere.

How challenging it is not to worry about tomorrow. Jesus leads us to deal with our circumstances, one day at a time. He does not say we will never worry, but that when we do, we should not add the what-ifs of tomorrow to today’s struggles. Not to take thought about tomorrow means the concerning thoughts may come, but by His grace, we learn not to receive them as truth and dwell on them.

Thoughts of what might happen tomorrow or what happened yesterday hinder us from enjoying today. We must practice living in the present and should not be harsh on ourselves when we fail. Guilt added to worry results in despair. Instead, we can praise God for His amazing grace. We remember His love and worship Him. What helps us turn worry into worship is shifting our focus to Jesus and His ever-abiding presence.

The key is not to let worry turn into fear. When we worry, the outcome of a situation preoccupies us and robs us of peace. When we fear, we expect the worst outcome. Faith in Jesus, not faith in what we fear, enables us to stand amid our trials. Our worship of the Lord lifts heaviness and burdens. Thoughts of defeat, hopelessness, and fear will then leave. Worship flows on the wings of faith. We do not know what tomorrow holds, but we can trust Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who holds our tomorrow.

Trust the Lord day by day. When you do, you will find rest in His loving hands.

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What Brings Joy

Many things in life make me happy.

People, family, being alone, puppies, books, beautiful scenery, good food, music, writing, and clean windows are among the things I enjoy. Yet these same items can also cause pain, anger, or disappointment. People disappoint, family members make choices I don’t appreciate or, worse yet, they die. Too much alone time can cause loneliness, puppies pee and poop on the floor, and books sometimes have endings I would change. Beautiful scenery can lead to dangerous places, good food spoils, too much food makes me overweight, music I love is displaced now by genres of music I don’t enjoy or understand, my writing could be better, and clean windows only get dirty again.

All of the above are temporary and only make me happy for a short time. Joy is deeper. Joy is holding a newborn baby, knowing the person I love who died and left me is in a better place and will suffer no more, and finding the beauty of God’s creation in an everyday sunrise or sunset. It’s hearing God’s music in the breeze or the flutter of wings, and finding God’s presence in loneliness. Joy comes when someone says something I wrote spoke to them. Joy is sharing good food with people we love, and we all know clean windows are a waste of time.

The words Jesus speaks give joy, love, compassion, peace, hope, forgiveness, and thankfulness. The things we see as important in the story of His life bring joy to our lives: family, children, good friends, worship, giving, sacrificial living, kindness, and defending the right. Jesus loved people, yet His time alone to pray was vital to His accomplishments.

I don’t live with constant joy, but I could get a step closer by listening to the things Jesus has spoken and acting on them. Could you?

What can you do to find joy and take it to others?

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The Greatest in the Kingdom

Come with me and imagine what might have happened in heaven.

Wilbur was a member of a large church, and although many knew him by sight, few knew his name. He was often seen around the church doing tasks, like putting up and taking down tables and chairs for social events. He did everything behind the scenes to make church happen without any fanfare.

Wilbur never taught a Sunday school class—and heaven forbid that he would ever preach a sermon—yet the church would not have adequately functioned without him. He served the church his entire life. But one day, Wilbur died and went to his eternal reward. Sadly, there were many empty seats at his funeral service.

When Wilbur arrived at heaven’s door, he saw a line of people waiting for the Lord to greet them—pastors, teachers, evangelists, and other prominent Christian leaders. Jesus motioned to Wilbur to come to the front of the line. He looked behind him, thinking Jesus must be gesturing to someone else, but no one stood behind him.

Just as Jesus was about to greet Wilbur, someone shouted, “Why is he at the front of the line?” Another mumbled that Wilbur had never even preached a sermon. All the others in the line nodded in agreement.

But Jesus said, “No, this man has never preached a sermon like some of you have. I appreciate what all of you have done for Me, yet, in part, you did it because of the affirmation and acceptance you got from others. Wilbur did all he did just because he loved Me.”

Jesus stretched out his hand, looked into Wilbur’s eyes, and said, “Come in, my servant friend.”

What others think is not so important. What God thinks is. And God’s idea of greatness is much different than ours.

Are you one of the greatest in God’s kingdom?

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Strong Despite Persecution

I experienced a time when people tried to discourage, agitate, vex, and frustrate what I was doing.

This group did all they could to irritate and exasperate me, hoping I would lose control and then act as if I were insane. Their crazy-making behavior was manipulative, cruel, and abusive. Yet God helped me remain steadfast and strong. He was my refuge and strength—my very present help in times of trouble.

Times may come when life seems chaotic and out of control because others are trying to cause trouble and want to see us fall. In such times, we should remember that God is our refuge and strength. He helps us bear our crosses to the finish line. We must focus on the Lord and trust Him to endure stressful and difficult situations.

God is our safeguard, our pillar, our precious cornerstone of Zion. Regardless of what storms and trials we endure—or painful moments—God is with us and for us. He will not abandon or forsake us. We can trust in His protection. He will avenge us, for vengeance belongs to Him, not us.

In times of persecution, seek God’s Word and delight in Him. 

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Stop and Turn

I suffered a stroke at twenty-seven.

My family, friends, and I were shocked. I lay in the hospital bed, struggling to make sense of everything. My mind spun. How had this happened to someone so young? My eyes turned to the television, left on by the nurse to distract me from my situation. The audience clapped as a celebrity fitness instructor sat on the couch for a talk show interview.

“How do you keep going?” the host asked.

“I make sure I rest,” she said, “I stop and be.”

I turned up the volume. I did not spend any amount of time stopping. I liked to go, go, go. I had my job in the city, responsibilities at our local church, and my recent marriage. I honestly couldn’t remember the last time I’d sat on the couch.

Perhaps God tells us to be still because He understands our need to stop and turn to Him in the busyness of life and at those moments when terrible events occur. Coming to a halt is critical. First, we need to calm our body, soul, and spirit. Then He wants us to pivot toward Him and away from ourselves and the struggles.

Stopping can be scary. Our activities keep us from facing difficulties or dealing with pain. But if we allow ourselves to be still, we create space for God. When we turn to Him and acknowledge who He is, our countenance and entire being change. At that moment, we know He is God. We behold Him as our provider, way maker, and counselor. We appreciate Him as our strong deliverer, and we grasp that with Him, we can face whatever presents itself on life’s journey.

What challenging circumstances do you face? Be still and know God is in them. He longs for you to offer your troubles to Him so that He can bring comfort, help, and peace.

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Work Is Difficult

Like most people, I have had some difficult jobs along the way.

My first job was as a production assistant at a local cable channel. However, the management wanted to get rid of our channel and spend less money on new equipment.

I also worked for a television home-shopping channel. The equipment was better, but some people were challenging to work with. I was a camera operator, and one of the directors was picky about how people composed their shots, even after I was promoted to EFP lighting lead. I also had a lazy assistant who frequently called in sick to avoid work.

I once worked as a courier, where I drove more than two hundred miles a day. The repair bills for my car were expensive.

Then I worked as a mail processor, but the machine I used broke down frequently.

Sadly, sin has cursed the world because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, which means work is not typically going to be easy.

God put us on earth to work, and if we don’t work, we can’t eat. We will never find a perfect job, so we need to learn to cope with our current job because work will never be easy. But we are not alone. Jesus promises He will never leave us. He can help us tolerate that challenging work situation. We only need to pray and trust Him.

How can you better enjoy an intolerable work situation?

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Let Go

Many years ago, I had to let go.

My husband left me for another woman, so there were two things I needed to release. First, when he left, I prayed that my husband would return, but eventually, I had to let go of that desire and resign myself to living alone.

Second, I had to let go of my fear of being interviewed and look for a job to support myself. I had never worked outside my home. The Lord gave me the words and actions I needed. After being hired, I realized I could learn the many facets of the job.

The widow must have been pitiful as she stood before Elisha, the prophet. “What will I do?” she doubtlessly wailed as her frail body shook. “If I don’t pay my creditor, he will take my sons as slaves.”

Elisha must have taken a moment to comfort her before asking, “What food do you have in your home?” Quietly she replied, “Only a jar of oil.” Then Elisha gave her a surprising command, telling her to borrow all the pots and bowls she could and fill them with oil. The oil flowed until she had filled all the containers.

God abundantly met the widow’s need, but she had to obey Elisha’s strange request. She also had to let go of the little she had before God would meet her needs.

God is waiting to meet our needs, but we must let go of things holding us back from His blessing.

What do you need to let go of to have a more personal relationship with the Lord?

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Confronted by Sin

Explaining away my sin was easy.

I had just done the unthinkable: violated someone’s trust. But I wanted to blame them . . . to rationalize that it was their fault. Sin had once more darkened my conscience.

Why did I want to justify my sin? Because it was easier to see someone else’s wrongs than to admit I was the one who had transgressed. We all have our blind spots and our secret sins that enslave us. We compare ourselves to others and say we are not as bad as them. Or we excuse our sin as a mistake. At the opposite end is thinking some portion of our righteous acts will earn us God’s favor. All these efforts are dead ends.

Jesus saw the heart of the tax collector who had undoubtedly cheated and stolen from numerous people and had sold out to the Romans. All he wanted was to start over, have a clean heart before God, and imbibe the mercy of his Creator. Probably grasping for words, he must have trembled when he bowed and prepared his contrite prayer.

God is not impressed by our fancy words, much less deeds done out of a sense of regret or obligation. He is interested in our sincerity and vulnerability, our opening up that we are a part of the problem of sin in the world. Only when we own up to that can we experience God’s grace and forgiveness.

Are you willing to ask for God’s mercy for your wrong? Stop defending yourself and run to your heavenly Father.

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How I Made It

I don’t know how I got through life as a child.

I witnessed many arguments between my mom and dad. On top of that, the kids picked on me at school, calling me stupid because I had to repeat fifth grade. I lived in a broken home. My mom was an alcoholic. Dad tried to help her, but failed. At the time, I didn’t understand that my mom’s drinking was a problem. Nor did my parents teach me proper social etiquette. I have done some things I am embarrassed about. I had to learn a lot of social things the hard way.

When I was fourteen, my mom committed suicide. My dad became so upset he almost abandoned me. He thought it might be better to leave me with a pastor. Thankfully, a woman named Mary intervened and became my stepmom. I went into treatment, and this became the beginning of a long journey.

Then, in my mid-thirties, I lost my career job. God had to chasten me because there were things about me that still needed to change.

When I look at all that has happened to me, I am thankful I am not in jail or on the street. I am thankful because I have a roof over my head, which I don’t deserve. God never left me. The Lord lifted me out of the sticky mud, even though I didn’t deserve it. He put a new song in my mouth, and I praise Him for what He has done. I am still not perfect, but I am better than I was.

When we give ourselves to Jesus, He will help us with our fatal flaws and make us more like Him.

Let Jesus lift you out of the sticky mud.

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Our Spiritual Download

While helping my wife with a large online file download of pictures for a eulogy presentation, the link came with confusing instructions.

We couldn’t see the download button and wanted to avoid the time-consuming task of individually downloading numerous pictures. Thankfully, we finally determined how to “download all” and clicked that button. I said, “Let’s just do what it says and let it do what it does.” Upon clicking the right button, the process did the rest of the work—saving us incredible time.

As we worked, I thought of how that simple truth also applies to Scripture. I may not fully understand how what I read specifically applies to the situations, circumstances, or spiritual development of my life at the moment. Sure, I want to know. I study and research it, trying to discover what it says, what it means, and how it applies. But I act in faith when I simply do what it says and let it do what it does. I walk in the light God gives in that moment and trust Him to enlighten what I don’t presently know or will need to apply later. Either way, I keep downloading God’s Word and allowing it to do what it does.

The Bible isn’t simply a book to be read through like all other books. It is the living, breathing, working love letter from our Creator—a spiritual owner’s manual. As we read it step by step, we apply what we know when we know it. Then the supernatural happens. The Holy Spirit activates that spiritual download and does His silent, invisible, and incredible work. Slowly but surely, as we hide God’s Word in our hearts and surrender to His direction, He stores what we need for when we need it. Through His ongoing transformation, we find the necessary files strategically saved where God sovereignly knew we would need them.

How are you downloading God’s Word into your heart?

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Preparing for God’s Purpose

It was dark when I came to a stop sign at a “T” intersection.

In front of me was the babysitter’s house where twenty-two years ago my baby left her home in an ambulance, unconscious. At the hospital, I learned he had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage, along with bilateral retinal hemorrhage. He was diagnosed with non-accidental trauma. The licensed daycare provider had moved years ago, but as I sat there, God made everything clear. He wanted to use my story to help others.

Just moments earlier, my friend and I had left a women’s ministry event. Watching those women share their testimony inspired me. I wanted to share some unimaginable things that can happen even when we trust the hands we leave our precious babies with. I wanted to bring hope to others who felt as if they were powerless against the scariest moments in their lives, such as when Child Protective Services falsely accuses you.

As my friend and I shared, I pulled over because what came over me was like a bolt of lightning—kind of scary, but also spectacular and amazing. I found myself praising God for His mighty work and for revealing His will for me.

John Maxwell says we’ll know what our purpose is when we finally come across the thing that makes us cry. I had. I had been speaking for years on the dangers of shaking a baby, but God now wanted me to share a mom’s perspective of being falsely accused and of navigating the broken system designed to protect our children.

My son and I endured and overcame this unimaginable time in our life, and God put us in the palm of His hand. Paul reminds us that God has a purpose for each one of His children, and God wants us to live out that purpose.

Have you discovered God’s purpose for your life?

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Helpless

My cousin had a rare form of cancer and needed a liver transplant.

Everyone in the family volunteered to offer him a part of theirs. His siblings and first cousins were all eliminated as donors. My cousin’s good friends and business associates were all told they were out of the running. He was placed on a list to wait for a deceased donor. All we could do was pray. We felt helpless, but were we?

Prayer is not waving a magic wand. Many who are prayed for die. Many who are not prayed for live. So, what is the difference?

Prayer doesn’t always change circumstances, but it does change us. It places our will, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, in submission to God’s will where we pray not for our will but for God’s will to be done.

Doing this gives a great sense of peace as we place our trust in the One who loves us perfectly and has the power to act on that love.

Whom would you like to serve? Can you trust that Jesus, who loved us enough to die for us on the cross, has the power and desire to do the most loving thing for the person for whom you care so much?

And by the way, my cousin did receive a new liver and continues to recover.

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A Lighted Path

One evening after a holiday event, as my family returned to our vehicle, we trekked across a grassy field that served as a parking lot.

The surface was uneven, and because I’m older, I have poor balance and risk falling. My daughter used the light on her cell phone as a flashlight to illuminate the path, helping me see where to step. We arrived safely at the car.

The psalmist used the image of a lighted path to compare the light of God’s Word with our dark life’s path. It’s an interesting image, especially when we examine the reasoning. Just as the light from a lamp or flashlight illuminates the darkness so we won’t stumble and fall, so does the light of God’s Word. It not only reveals spiritual obstacles but also provides a remedy.

One obstacle I often encounter is worrying, which can lead me astray from God and His plans. However, God’s Word defines and provides the guidance and promises that will disperse the darkness of my anxiety. It also provides the confidence to step out in faith and press forward.

Turn to the sure source of divine light that provides illumination in a dark world.

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Flashlight Messaging System

Growing up, my cousin lived next door to me, and her bedroom window faced mine.

One day, we thought it would be fun to communicate with each other at night by using flashlights. We grew up in a time before cell phones, so flashlights seemed like a good idea. We spent hours thinking about what different patterns of flashing light would mean, practicing these new “light words” and deciding what time each night we would send these messages. We were so proud of ourselves for figuring out a way to talk to each other after dark.

I was so excited when nighttime finally came. I should have been sleeping, but there was no time for that. I had important messages to send and receive. I watched the clock and waited patiently (well maybe not that patiently) until our agreed-upon time. Then I pulled out my trusty flashlight and sent my first message. My cousin was there just as we had planned, and she quickly sent a message back.

Our plan worked . . . sort of. We spent the next fifteen minutes flashing our lights back and forth, never actually understanding what the other person was saying. After a while, we both gave up, put away the flashlights, and went to sleep. The next day, we laughed about how we had no idea what messages we were sending or receiving and decided that a flashlight messaging system wasn’t the best idea after all.

Communication wasn’t easy back then, especially when using a flawed flashlight system. Even now with our always-connected lives, it can still prove difficult. Thankfully, communicating with God doesn’t have to be complicated.

When we pray, God hears us, and when we read His Word, we can hear Him. When we have a humble heart and a right relationship with God, this two-way communication is always open, day or night, and no flashlights are required.

God desires a close relationship with us, and like any good relationship, communication is key. What a blessing to know God is only a prayer and a Bible away.

How can you improve your communication with God?

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A Thankful Heart

“Give thanks with a grateful heart” surfaced in my memory as I sat on my veranda on a glorious spring morning.

I had heard the lyrics in church. Now, I watched the sun peek over the horizon. The air was cool and calm, the birds sang their sweet melodies, and the hills displayed the glory of their Creator. As I rested in the stillness and beauty around me, I suddenly realized how blessed I was to awake to this each morning. 

Thankful people are generally happy, and a cheery person is always grateful for the good in their life. They have allowed the Holy Spirit to renew their thoughts and attitudes by fixing their minds on things that are worthy of praise. When we’re thankful, we demonstrate trust in our heavenly Father to care for us. The result is peace and joy.

In life, we will have situations that cause frustration. We may be tempted to let loose with an angry outburst, complete with a string of profanities. We need to put those away and replace them with thankfulness. This is never easy, especially in the heat of the moment, but Father God never asks us to do something without providing the power to achieve it.

We should be thankful we have our heavenly Father to help us in times of need, provide for our needs, heal our bodies, and protect us from harm. We should be thankful for the good things in our lives, such as a house to live in, clothes to wear, food to eat, the warm sun, a cool breeze, refreshing rain, and the list goes on.

At times, life can bring fear and anxiety. God’s Word encourages us to give our troubles to the Father in prayer and then to thank Him for all He has done. His glorious peace will envelop our souls, even during turmoil.

Our lives are never perfect, and we will have trials, but we also have much for which to be thankful.

Look for the good in each day and rejoice with a thankful heart in the blessings from your heavenly Father.

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The Storms of Life

As I write, the earth is blanketed in a covering of white, and snow continues to fall.

Underneath, the snow has a hazardous coating of ice, threatening falls and broken bones to the unaware. I am a senior citizen and will be housebound until the snow and ice have disappeared. The birds and squirrels who depend on me for their food must wonder what has happened to their source of nourishment.

Along with the storms of nature, many people also experience storms in their lives: losing a loved one, health concerns, marital stress, job loss, and other challenges. These storms can bring discouragement, depression, and doubt.

Two women experienced similar situations in their lives. Their husbands were ministers who left their wives for other women. After Janet’s husband left, she chose to return to the church her husband had served. Sue, on the other hand, became bitter. She turned from the church and her friends who were trying to help her. Bitterness crept into her heart and chiseled coldness into it.

The women served the same loving God but reacted differently to the grief of losing their husbands and beginning new lives without them.

Paul possibly experienced more trying times than any other New Testament writer. He was beaten, shipwrecked, stoned, and left for dead. Yet he wrote many letters of encouragement to the struggling Christians in the churches he founded. Many of these letters were written when he was in prison. He learned through the hardships that when he was the weakest, he was the strongest in his relationship and dependency on God.

Have the storms in your life caused you to drift from the Lord who loves you with an indescribable love? Or have you allowed Him to comfort you and draw you into a deeper relationship with Him?

What have you done with your storms?

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The Wow Factor of God's Grace

“Wow” quickly became our grandson’s favorite word whenever we played together.

It started with seeing Christmas lights and then encompassed all kinds of wonders in his world. Beginning to discover things around him caused him to explode in joy.

We never tire of hearing him exclaim “Wow!” when we love on him or introduce him to the beauty of objects around us, including seashells, pinecones, and snowballs. Even the realization that he can do certain things on his own leads him to use this word.

In the same way, we should never tire of marveling about God’s grace in our lives. Grace means He covered up all our sins with the blood of Jesus, even though we never merited this. Jesus made it possible for us to have a right relationship with God as His adopted children no matter what we have done (or will do). All He asks is for our love and worship. He never tires of us saying “Wow” as we gain insight into the beauty of His grace.

Often, we think we must perform good deeds or do something to earn God’s approval. Not so. Our adoption did not depend on our being good enough, smart enough, creative enough, or even humble enough. Instead, it was offered to us on one condition: that we stop trying to earn it and instead accept it as a gift.

As God’s children, we may be tempted to think we have sinned so badly that God could never forgive us. Even our regrets are not good enough to earn God’s grace. That’s what makes it so amazing. We simply must give up the idea that we can do anything good enough to gain it.

Are you filled with awe at the God who sent His Son to die for your sins? If so, pause and praise Him. You can start by saying, “Wow!”

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Enjoy Your Afternoon

One week did not go smoothly for me.

I was overwhelmed by some unexpected expenses—a canceled doctor’s appointment I had made months before and a disputed bank transaction I had never seen before. I went to the Lord for support and insight on how to cope with the setbacks and inconveniences.

I confess my prayers are more focused and passionate when life gets tough. I seek out God-time and petition Him for a way out. However, when everything is going well, I lose sight of God as I immerse myself in the joys and comforts of life.

Jesus asked the disciples what they wanted. His questions were always penetrating. He probed their hearts, trying to discover how they saw Him in their lives. He hoped to discover faith-filled and devoted followers, not believers who preferred Him to be nothing more than a problem solver.

We should approach prayer as a relationship with Jesus—a relationship with someone we love and who loves us. Our Savior wants us to know Him better. He is a problem solver for sure, but He is much more. He is the spark that brings purpose and true meaning to life.

Jesus loves and cares for each of us, listens to our deepest thoughts, and fills us with words of hope. We need to stay with Him as we would with our closest friend. Like the disciples, we need to spend time with Him, thanking and praising Him for being much more than just an aloof problem solver. Our Lord is a faithful companion to us—even more faithful than our closest friend.

Take some time to sit at Jesus’ feet for a while and listen to His comforting voice, deep in your heart.

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Not Magic but a Miracle

I desperately prayed for healing . . . but God had another plan.

My dad had Alzheimer's disease. Although this condition did not kill him, his brain slowly died. On the day we put him in a care facility, I realized no miracle healing would occur.

I have experienced times when I sought the Lord by praying repeatedly, but the feeling of anxiousness remained. However, I have learned a great lesson in my faith walk concerning these prayers.

Some of our requests are monumental. We think losing this battle may be unbearable. We may fear losing our job, our homes, spouse, children, money, health, and minds. We pray anxiously. We say, “Not my will, but thy will be done,” but peace is elusive. Why? Because deep in our hearts, we want our will.

I have learned to let the Lord know my desire even though He already knows. Then I give it to Him with thanksgiving by saying, “Lord, You know my need, but I will give You praise even if I lose this battle. It is Yours to do what You want with. I will trust You to care for the matter in Your perfect way. The result is on Your shoulders, not mine. I give up. Amen.” Then I take a deep breath and let God deal with it.

After doing this, something extraordinary happens. Although the problem is not gone, my anxiousness leaves immediately. The weight lifts from my shoulders like a magic trick, although it’s not. The process is beyond my understanding, but it is God's miraculous gift to me.

Am I always successful with this? I wish I could say yes, but I am still learning. I do remember the words that follow the above verse: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Why not try saying my prayer when you are anxious and see what happens?

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Writing What You See

I struggled with the topics.

Asked to write devotions for a ministry website, I knew hundreds, if not thousands, would read my words. I felt pressured to produce powerful pieces. While I took one college course on New Testament literature, I am not a biblical scholar. What wisdom could I possibly impart?        

As I mused, I recalled the devotions I had read that impacted me the most. The most powerful were those that incorporated a personal experience, a lesson learned, or an influence made on the writer’s faith walk. None were penned by seminary professors. The writers were regular individuals like me, attempting to walk out their faith in the real world. I could relate to the writer.          

God confirmed He uses people to share their own experiences with others when my Sunday school class studied Revelation. Write, therefore, what you have seen.This verse struck me immediately. Christ instructed John to write what he had seen—to share an experience unique to him. And he did not need a divinity degree. 

While I pray readers will learn faith lessons from the words I write, I have benefitted the most from my devotions. Writing them has opened my eyes to how my faith comes into play daily—even in the most mundane activities.          

Transforming what I have seen into a devotion leads me to look for God and the lesson He has. While not everyone can write devotions, all of us can focus on seeing what God is doing in our lives. Faith lessons are present if we look for them. And we can share with others what we have seen and learned—if not in writing, at least verbally.

How can you share what God is teaching you?

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Left Out

Everyone has felt left out at one time or another.

Perhaps we were not invited to a birthday party or didn’t get to go on a camping trip. Seniors may get left out because they’re frail and can’t walk or drive. No matter what the situation is, it hurts to feel left out, even if it’s not done on purpose.

Before Special Olympics was founded, no sport for special needs children existed. Imagine the disappointment of living in the shadow. One day, someone did something about it, and it brought a change in our world. In July 1968, the first Special Olympics competition was held at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.

Jesus has a heart for those who have been left out. He came for the hurting. He took time to stop and heal the blind and the sick. For the children, He carved out enough time from His busy schedule to bless them.

In third-world countries, many people are isolated from the rest of the world. They get left behind because they don’t have the jobs, education, and resources that other countries have.

Everyone is important to God. In God’s kingdom, no one gets left out.

If you’re feeling left out today, you’re invited to come before God’s throne and present your needs. There, you will find grace.

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The Real You

When asked to introduce himself to the group, a man once said, “I’m nobody. Just skip me.” He hunched down in his seat and never said another word the entire meeting.

The way we see ourselves is important. It affects everything we think, say, and do. Chris Tiegreen says, “Your behavior flows from your perception of who you are.”

While growing up, I often heard the following in Christian circles: “I’m just an old sinner saved by grace.” The problem with that mindset is that it causes us to live under the label of sinner. If we’re not careful, we will continue to sin, thinking we really don’t have a choice in the matter.

The truth is we were sinners saved by grace. We are no longer sinners. When we accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we become a redeemed child of the most high God. Clothed in His robe of righteousness. Sealed by the Holy Spirit. A new creation. Seated in heavenly places in Christ. A king, priest, and ambassador for the Lord. Our name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. We are loved, accepted, and free to be all He created us to be.

Why would we want to continue to sin or even label ourselves as a sinner?

Tiegreen also says, “Do you think you’re a loser? You’ll act like one. The world doesn’t need more half-hearted, disappointment-filled, wish-I-could-be-better people. It needs people who know who they are—people who are thoroughly confident in who God has made them to be and how He is shaping them.”

Some people spend a lifetime trying to find themselves, searching for their identity. Their place. Their purpose. Our true identity can only be found in the One who knows us best and loves us most. No one else’s opinion counts—not even our own. We are who God says we are. Period.

There is no such thing as a nobody in God’s kingdom. He sees each one of us through eyes of love and approval. We’re not perfect, but when we mess up, He forgives. And forgets.

If you’re struggling to find your true identity, get in the Word and talk to the Lord. He is ready to show you the real you.

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Pausing to Reflect

Wait. What just happened?

Disoriented, I felt white-hot searing pain. It happened so fast. I had slipped and fallen down the last three steps going downstairs. 

While I lay foggy-headed and in pain, friends rushed to help me up. It wasn’t until hours later in the hospital’s emergency room that I learned I had broken my wrist and cracked my ankle. 

The following eight weeks passed slowly, but during this time, God whispered for me to pause, reset, and refocus on Him. 

Sometimes God allows trials so we can learn to depend more on Him. He proves time and again that He can calm any storm we face. He is in control. 

At other times, our circumstances are the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect on Him. He beckons us to draw near to Him and to seek Him in our weariness. 

Our Father is gentle and humble at heart and invites us to lean on Him when our souls are tired. 

The Hebrew word Selah refers to a voluntary and intentional pause for reflection. Often, when we pause and reflect on God, He makes known what He wants to reveal to us. More central, this, in turn, can transform our perspective.

Pausing to reflect places us in a position to hear God’s voice and be in His presence. He alone provides rest for our weary souls.

Do you need to pause and reflect?

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Cameos of Courage

A house fire rages out of control. As a driver approaches, fingers of scarlet flames leap from the roof and windows shatter.

After phoning 911, the driver races into the flaming interior, searching for survivors. He hears cries for help and carries three children to safety. Then he returns to find the mother, who has been overtaken by smoke and is unconscious. As he carries her over the threshold, the house collapses. Four people are alive because one man dared to forget about his own well-being and risk his life to save others.

What are some definitions of courage? Dictionaries mention such things as bravery, nerve, fearlessness, and daring. Sometimes during our lives, we might be asked to show courage.

Monica and Carl are missionaries in a country that is hostile toward Christians. Three children have been born to them while living in this country. As parents, they are concerned for their children’s safety. Yet they remain in this land, doing the work God has given them to do, despite facing danger and possible death.

I lived alone in the country after my husband left me for another woman. As I lay in bed, I heard loud banging noises coming from the basement. Had a burglar crawled through the broken basement window?

Praying constantly, I fearfully made my way down the stairs. Trembling, I flipped on the light switch. Thankfulness flowed through me as I discovered the water pump was malfunctioning. Ascending the stairs, I praised the Lord for giving me the courage to do what was needed.

A familiar story in the Bible is that of Jesus walking on the water to meet His disciples who were in a boat. They were afraid and cried out in fear. Jesus assured them He was with them and would supply the courage they needed moment by moment.

Jesus’ words were spoken not only for the disciples but also for all of His future followers. God walks with us and meets our needs.

What are some ways you can let God calm your fears and give you strength to become a cameo of courage? 

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Tend the World

I thumbed through the pages of the Scout handbook, looking for an activity.

When one of my grandsons was in Cub Scouts, he had to complete several requirements before he earned Tiger Cub status. Beyond that, many other activities existed for him to earn slides, badges, and merits.

With his first badge under his belt, I looked for other things I could help him do. I came across planting a tree. I had watched a potted mimosa and crepe myrtle tree that lounged on our back patio for several months. They needed planting.

I called my grandson from his video games, and we went outside, gathered the pot, and secured the posthole diggers. After digging the hole for him, he helped me put the trees in the ground. I knew my wife and I would probably never enjoy the shade from these trees, but someone would.

After planting the trees, I talked with my grandson about what trees do for us and how important they are. We learned about God’s cycle of life. Trees give off oxygen—what we breathe to survive. We give off carbon dioxide—what trees and flowers need to live. I smiled when I saw the grin cross his face. We were helping tend the world.

Thousands of years ago, God issued Adam a command to tend His garden. We don’t know the size of the Garden of Eden, but Adam’s responsibility involved caring for it.

Knowing God will one day create a new heaven and earth doesn’t exempt us from our responsibility to care for the present world. God’s future creation may be a recreation. The more we care for the present one, the less God will have to do later.

My wife and I have attempted to help in small ways: recycling, picking up litter, avoiding putting harmful substances into the ground, planting a garden, and caring for the possessions God gives us.

God still expects us to care for our earth and teach others to do the same. Our present garden is much larger than Adam’s, but all of us working together can keep it clean and healthy.

Ponder some ways you can help preserve your “garden” and then start to tend.

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Window on Life

I looked out the window.

Geese on the pond, green grass, birds flying in and out of the birdbath, and trees reaching to the clouds. Only a thin pane of glass separated me from these sights. I marveled at how much life goes on outside my window.

What I discovered is that much of life passes us by because we do not see what goes on around us. We do not catch a vision of what is happening because our view is limited by our perceptions. But all along, life happens around us—the life we could see if we looked outside ourselves.

One of those many windows in Scripture is the observation that God has numbered our days. We are told to number our days as well. God wants us to appreciate that our lives are short. He does not want us to miss the opportunity to notice what lies beyond this life.

Unfortunately, we are often nearsighted when it comes to the things of heaven. For a long time, I thought my strength and health were enough to live life. As I aged and my health changed, God reminded me that strength and health were gifts from Him and that He wanted me to invest in things that last for eternity. As I peer through the window of my life, I hope I will hear God say “well done” at the end.

When we see that God’s design is for us to value others as beautiful recipients of the same grace we have received, we will love them more. That is a life worth living, even if it is shorter than we wish.

What are you seeing through the window of your life?

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Keep Doors and Windows Closed

After studying abroad in South Africa, I was ecstatic about spending a couple of days at a wildlife reserve.

As a lifelong animal lover, I relished the opportunity to see African creatures in their natural habitat. Checking into my cabin, however, my excitement morphed into terror as I stared at several large signs posted around the building: DO NOT LEAVE DOORS OR WINDOWS OPEN. WILD MONKEYS WILL ENTER. Possessing a deep-rooted fear of monkeys, the warnings sent shivers down my spine. Despite quadruple-checking my doors and windows to ensure they were locked tightly, I still slept with one eye open, fearful that a curious monkey might try to investigate his new neighbor.

While I no longer dwell in the presence of wild monkeys, I still reflect upon those warning signs and envision a slightly different one that constantly cautions my heart: DO NOT LEAVE DOORS OR WINDOWS OPEN. SIN WILL ENTER.

Adam and Eve’s son Cain provided a striking example of the consequences of leaving a door open to sin. After presenting offerings to the Lord, God looked favorably upon Abel’s offering, but did not upon Cain’s. Observing Cain’s dejected demeanor, God asked Cain why he was angry and then told him how to bring an acceptable offering. Unfortunately, Cain left the door to sin wide open and allowed jealousy, resentment, and rage to flood his heart—leading him to murder his brother.

Although Cain’s story serves as a dramatic illustration, the lesson is clear. If we do not keep the door to our hearts latched tightly, sin easily creeps in, leading us down a destructive path. We must keep a careful watch on what we allow our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hearts to receive.

While wild monkeys can certainly cause serious destruction, sin is the most destructive of all. We need to see if there are windows and doors to our heart that we have left open. If so, we should ask God to guide us on how to keep those vulnerable openings guarded.

Are there windows and doors you need to close?

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Garden of Growth

One summer, I tried to plant a container garden of vegetables as well as my tried-and-true herbs and flowers.

As always, the herbs produced scents and tastes as the flowers brought me smiles with their colors and beauty. But those vegetable plants looked so tired and dried up, no matter how much I watered and nurtured them. A single cucumber or tomato revealed a pitiful harvest.

I kept a journal of notes—of weather conditions and the tending I did after researching possible issues with the plants not producing. The answer came to me halfway through the summer and two vegetable plant fatalities later. I had taken shortcuts in providing the right soil conditions, the foundation of real growth.

This past year, I have hungered for more of God, intentionally soaking up more and more of His Word. Through Peter’s words, I got a taste of this hunger as my desire to know God more gave harvest in my life. I felt His presence grow closer as my “soil” rooted in a good foundation. The garden of my soul bore more than my vegetable garden did. But then I was using the best organic compost available for my growth: God’s Word.

God’s Word is the best compost for our souls.

Ask God to help you see the need for more of His Word. As you mature in your love for Him, you will feel a bounty of harvest coming. 

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The Importance of Forgiveness

Gertrude taught me something about forgiveness.

At a young age, Gertrude’s father physically abused her. Gertrude demonstrated her forgiveness by visiting her father in a rest home over the past few years. I don’t know if Gertrude prayed for God’s help to forgive, but she forgave. On the other hand, Gertrude’s sister and a brother refused to forgive their dad. That is sad.

When anyone does something so horrible, it stays with us for the remainder of our lives. I know because the memories of my mom’s alcoholism and suicide remain with me.

Many years ago, I went to a friend’s house and talked with his wife about how I needed to forgive my mom. She, along with another friend, told me to ask the Lord to help me forgive my mom. Interestingly, in the weeks to come, other people told me the same thing.

Jesus makes it clear that we need to forgive other people, and God will help us keep His commands.

One reason it is important to forgive is that it releases us from hurt feelings that steal our peace. Unforgiveness, left to fester in our hearts, can lead to anger, illness, and depression. When someone hurts us, we need to forgive them because the Father has forgiven us.

When forgiving is difficult, ask the Lord for help. Who do you need to forgive today?

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Living Water

My husband loves to hunt deer.

He loves the quietness of the woods in the early morning hours and breathing in the cool crisp morning air. What he loves, even more, is seeing that beautiful creature through the scope of his gun and hearing the BOOM as he pulls the trigger.

As the deer pants for the water brooks, So pants my soul for You, O God. When we first read this verse, the image is that of a graceful doe or perhaps a massive buck slowly lapping the cool water from a flowing brook. As we read the verses that follow, we realize there is much more to see. In Hebrew, the words pant and long for also mean “to cry out.” The deer pants when it desperately needs water—as when it has been running from the BOOM of a hunter’s gun or has struggled through the scorching heat of a summer day.

Like the deer, the words in this passage reflect the heart of the psalmist. He is not only running from his enemies but also struggling with his doubts and fears.

We too face struggles—internal and external—that leave us panting, longing for, and crying out to the Lord. While on earth, we face financial difficulties, relational conflicts, health issues, and the loss of loved ones.

When we find ourselves in life’s trials, we can learn a valuable lesson from the psalmist. We can encourage our souls by shifting our focus to our Living Water. When we fill our hearts and mouths with praise, we find real hope. It is in His presence, as we give praise to Him, He will quench our thirst, and we will find hope that restores our souls.

If you find yourself in a situation that leaves you panting for Living Water, don’t waste another moment. Shift your focus from the struggle to Jesus. Remember His faithfulness to you, and dwell upon His character. He is merciful, gracious, loving, and kind. 

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Blame It on March

The warm, sunny days of February lulled me into believing that winter was behind me.

But along came March with ideas of its own. As the astrological start to spring, March is fickle and unsettled by nature. Who can predict what it will do?

Nighttime temperatures dip, and I light a fire in the fireplace while the creeping vine along the back fence sprouts white flowers. I begin my day in sweats, switch to shorts at midday, and slip into a swimsuit for a late afternoon swim. The wind howls and carries kites, flurries, and the faint scent of orange blossoms.

Life, too, has its share of unpredictability. An illness threatens. A new life begins. A move puts distance between everything familiar. Love blossoms. A life ends. The nest is empty. A virus emerges.

When life imitates March, take refuge in God who does not shift like shadows and whose love for us won’t change with the times, seasons, or circumstances. He never adjusts His ways to satisfy current trends and is not impulsive, erratic, or capricious. God will not evolve into a higher power; He is an anchor and refuge in uncertain times.

Spring winds ushered in a virus that rattled and tested everything that wasn’t securely fastened down, exposing our need for consistency and security. While we look for stability in our habits, schedules, and routines, God asks us to take the long view—reminding us that He has planted eternity in our hearts. His timeline stretches beyond this life and declares that a virus or illness won’t derail His plan for humanity, a move or empty nest won’t separate us from His love, and the unpredictability of the world or our erratic behavior won’t separate us from His promises.   

As March gains momentum, everything moves forward. Even time obeys and jumps ahead. And while March finds resolution in April, I find resolution in a God who calms my fears about navigating life’s unpredictability. I embrace this unsettled life and accept that seasons of change are part of the forecast.

Do you have the peace that comes from knowing you can respond in faith to life’s volatility—secure in the God who is the same yesterday, today, and forever?

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Tantrums and Grace

Have you ever thrown a fit when talking to the Lord? I mean, mine was more like a tantrum, but who’s comparing, right?

Anyway, the few brief months (and moments) leading up to my toddler outburst had been hard—and often hurtful. My emotions were driven by my feelings and my feelings by my focus (which was on myself.) As I sat in my car, I listed the ways I had been slighted, the lack of understanding shown, the injustice done to my heart, and the exhaustion of having to take the narrow path on the high road. I was the prophet Elijah in the cave, except I was in a car. Still yet, the Lord allowed me to cry, complain, question, and be angry and self-centered—yet He didn’t let me stay there.

I remember my words as if I had spoken them yesterday: “I just want to know I am loved and that You hear me, Lord.”

Although I was still resisting what my spirit directed me to do—the kind and godly thing which goes beyond one’s self—God’s Words of life and truth began to fill my heart, one at a time. As I cried out to my Father, He patiently listened.

Soon, I felt Him lean in and love on me with His heart. I heard Him whisper, “You are mine, and I am yours. I am your rewarder when you diligently seek Me. I love you with an everlasting love. And the same love which covers a multitude of your sins is the same love which calls you to love others.”

The love of Jesus compels us to see others and to view our circumstances through Holy-Spirit-colored glasses. His tender correction tenderly toppled my tantrum, and His faithful hand of love sweetly subdued my fit.

Our Father’s love is bigger than our hurt. Bigger than our selfishness. Bigger than our complaints. Bigger than our fear. And bigger than our brokenness. So big it blows my mind.

Aren’t you thankful God doesn’t only whisper into caves to prophets—and that His fullness covers all our tantrums with grace upon grace? I know I sure am.

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You Will Have Trouble

I hit a deer. I never saw it coming.

I would like to say that a deer hit my car. I never gave my car a thought. I only cried for the deer. Then the neighbors gathered. One came out with a gun. I prayed he would not have to put the deer out of its misery. He didn’t. The deer died, and I did not have to watch the man do a merciful act.

The deer was beautiful, and we both paid a price. He seemed to come out of nowhere. I did not see him, or I would have swerved. Many questions filled my mind. I asked myself what I could have done differently.

I still had not thought about my car or myself. The neighbors checked on me and asked if I was hurt. I was fine—sore but fine. My son and husband showed up. My son took the deer. My husband decided it was safe to drive the car home. The damage seemed minor.

Jesus said we would have trouble in this world.

When we looked at my car in the lights at home, the damage was pretty bad. We would have to replace the bumper and hood. One lady in the group said, “Your insurance will cover it.” That would not be the case. I have liability only. The next day, we took the car to the repair shop. They told us they were behind and could not estimate the damage for two to three weeks.

We took heart since we had another car to drive. The air bags did not deploy. The windshield did not break. I had no soreness the next day.

Life seems like a roller coaster. Quarantines isolate us, pandemics rise and fall, and supply chains break down. Our peace does not come from the world. Our peace comes from the Lord. He has overcome the world.

Do you ever look back and realize how God was with you—right there on the side of the road when You needed Him the most?

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Sunrise at Happy Hill

My daughter bought the orange juice, and we headed out to the sunrise service at Happy Hill, Texas, early one Easter morning.

We planned to have pancakes afterward. All the church members brought foldup chairs and placed them behind the church, beside the road facing east. The musicians brought their guitars. Everyone either wore a sweater, a jacket, or a blanket. I always get a little emotional at these Easter services.

As we sang praises to God, the wind picked up. I pulled my blanket tightly around me. The church members expressed their feelings with tears of joy and happiness. After singing for a while, the big ole orange ball peeped out of the clear blue sky.

Worshiping with other Christians moved me. Had I been standing at the tomb of Christ on resurrection morning, I would not have felt any different. God’s presence was so real, right there and right then. I imagined the excitement Mary Magdalene must have felt when she heard the risen Lord call out to her on that Easter morning.

When Mary came to the tomb of Christ that Sunday morning and saw that the stone had been rolled away, she was sad. She feared someone had stolen the body of Christ. She ran and told the disciples. Not all the disciples knew Jesus would rise again on the third day. They were in for a big surprise.

Once Mary returned to the tomb, her tears of sadness turned to tears of joy. “Mary,” Jesus called. Mary turned and recognized the Lord. He had risen from the dead, and He had spoken to her. It was a special morning for Mary Magdalene, a Sonrise she would never forget. Now she knew her Lord was not dead but alive.

Because Christ rose from the dead, we can expect a resurrection of our own if we believe in Him. And He invites everyone to be a part of this.

Take a moment to thank God for resurrection morning. Because of this, we will live and not die.

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Adjust Your Antennae

Many of you are probably too young to remember the old “rabbit ears” we used to watch TV back in the ’50s and ’60s.

These ancient antennas had to be turned and adjusted time and again. I can remember my parents and grandparents adding aluminum foil to the “ears” for better reception. We even had to get up and adjust the dials on the TV to change the channel or adjust the volume. No remotes. (I know many of you are gasping for air about now. LOL)

Our boom boxes and cars had tall antennas to search for a decent signal. Now we simply flip a switch, push a button, or tell Alexa and Siri what we want. We stare at our tablets and smartphones to see how many bars we have. We Skype, Zoom, and Facetime. We can connect to someone on the other side of the continent in an instant.

In this super-tech society, we’re working smarter, not harder. We expect things to happen quickly. Easily. But maybe we’ve gotten lazy.

Yes, our world has changed dramatically, making it much easier to get information, be entertained, and stay connected. But what about our connection with God? There is no switch, dial, or button to push. He’s not on social media. He doesn’t do Zoom or Facetime. We can’t even get to Him through Alexa and Siri.

Communicating with the giver of life and creator of all things has never changed. The One who loves us and lives in us longs to commune with us. This happens through prayer. Time in the Word. Time in His presence. And it takes a conscious effort on our part.

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes, “Keep your antennae out to pick up even the faintest glimmer of My presence.” ~Jesus

God’s presence is always with us. Always available. All we have to do is speak His name.

If you’re having trouble getting a signal, maybe it’s time to adjust your antennae.

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Looking for a Place to Cross

"The water's too deep, and I'm scared," exclaimed the little girl as she sat sobbing by the river.

A friendly man, approaching nearby, responded, "Stick with me, I'll get you across."

As they walked together by the river, Jacelyn was no longer afraid. She'd heard of this man at school and knew his name, but nothing else. Nevertheless, he calmed her troubled little mind. Although she was cold and battered by the storm, she knew she'd be home soon.

After a few minutes of walking, little Jacelyn stopped crying. "Here it is," the man said. Tying his shoes together and throwing them over his shoulder, he reached for her hand. "Take my hand. I promise I won't let you fall," he said. Even though she was still afraid of the water, knowing he had her hand eased her fear.

Several steps later, through the rushing current, they reached the other side. "I told you we'd make it," the man said. "I've walked across this river many times with lots of people. Sometimes, it was much rougher than this. The key is, you've got to know where the rocks are," he told her as he waved and went on his way.

She joyfully ran across the field to her dad's waiting arms. "Get in out of the storm," her dad cried, leaning down to hug her. "I've told you never to cross the river alone when it is storming."

"Oh, but Daddy, I wasn't alone!" Jacelyn said, beaming with joy. "There was a nice man who helped me across."

"But Jacelyn," her dad explained. "I saw you come up from the water, and there was no one with you."

"Sure there was, Daddy. He told me the key is you have to know where the rocks are."

As Christians, wouldn't it be wonderful if we realized the same nice man is walking with us? He's made the crossing many times and knows where all the rocks are. He's never lost his grip on anyone who trusted him. One day, He'll deliver us home to our Father. He'll always be there to help anyone who is looking for a place to cross.

When you need to cross, make sure you take the right hand.

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Even in Hard Times God Provides

Living paycheck to paycheck, increasing credit card debt, saving nothing, and having no plan for our financial future. This best describes finances early in my marriage.

The year 1975 brought a recession and a rising cost of living. In this financial climate, our pastor encouraged parishioners to seek God’s answers to life’s problems. When he talked about money, my ears perked up.

Holes in purses described my and my husband’s finances. Whatever money came in immediately went out—and often, more left than came in. My husband and I were quiet on the ride home. A mental debate played out in my mind: Lord, you know I am willing to tithe, but I’m sure Bob won’t be.

I broke the silence with “That was quite a sermon.”

Bob quickly responded, “Yes it was. We have tried it our way. We need to start handling our money God’s way.”

The wind had been taken out of my egocentric sails. My bluff was called. How would God provide for our needs? We decided to begin tithing with our next paycheck.

The Bible says we should give our money with joy, but to be honest, we wrote that first check with fear and trepidation. God didn’t say it would be easy. We weren’t without trials and temptations.

God provided in unexpected ways. Within six months, Bob received two pay raises. We still didn’t know how to budget. One of the first tests of our commitment was a large insurance bill. We were tempted to hold off tithing to pay the bill. God promised to provide, so we decided to trust Him for the answer. It came a few days later.

A couple we knew wanted to take a trip. They asked us to take care of their four children, age’s three to eight, as well as their three dogs and six newborn puppies. For three weeks, we lived in their home, ate their food, and drove their car. We saved money on bills and earned one hundred dollars, plus expense money.

God showered His blessings on us through hard work and a new appreciation for becoming better managers of our finances. And the insurance bill was paid on time.

Are your finances out of control? Take God up on His challenge to test Him and see what blessings He sends your way.

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Walk On

Early one morning—after a few hours of deep sleep and while I snuggled up close to my sweet granddaughter—I awoke, and my mind immediately raced.

I have often wished I had an off switch on my brain because I would turn it off at bedtime. After an hour of tossing and turning and pondering and praying, I went to my quiet place to listen for my Father’s voice.

As I talked to God about the things pressing on my heart—loved ones facing health issues, family situations, friends facing hard circumstances, lost souls, and the state of our nation—I opened my eyes to see a piece of artwork I had recently placed in the room. On it was this beloved Scripture: But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint.

Normally, when we hear this verse, we visualize the eagle. That beautiful, majestic bird, gliding through the air with little effort. While we cannot soar in the air like an eagle, we can have a stronger walk.

The Lord is all-knowing and all-powerful. Nothing that happens in our lives or our nation is a surprise to Him. It is not our job to figure out all the answers to life’s problems. If we wait and depend on God to handle the issues weighing on our hearts and minds, we will grow stronger in the process. He will be faithful to lead, guide, and direct us in the right direction.

Regardless of how dim things may seem in our corner of the world, God is on His throne and His will will prevail. We need to lay our burdens down and trust Him. We can find peace in His presence and strength.

Learn to wait upon the Lord. Trade your weakness for His strength and walk on.

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Winter Is Past

Gladys, my ninety-year-old neighbor, was concerned about the approaching winter.

She was afraid she would need help and not be able to receive it because of the wintry weather. I assured her, “No matter how severe the weather or how deep the snow, someone will get to you.”

When winter came, it brought a thick sheet of ice and an abundance of snow. Although it was sometimes hard getting through the deep snow and hardened ice, help always reached Gladys.

Then spring came, trees bloomed, and bright colorful flowers emerged. When I took Gladys her mail, I reminded her, “The winter you dreaded has passed.”

Many of us have had hard winters, times when problems and heartaches weighed our spirits down with icy despair. Just about the time we managed to chip away the hardened ice, another storm swept in.

Some of the winters in my life have included my husband leaving me for another woman, being hired for my first job and struggling to learn the many aspects of it, being fired by a new supervisor who wanted a friend to have my position, and becoming a caregiver to my second husband when he developed Alzheimer’s Disease and several other health problems.

Your list of winters will vary from mine, but we have all faced those times in life when icicles clung to our hearts and we trodded on slippery ground. It seemed winter would never go away.

The winter Gladys feared eventually disappeared into the past. Spring came once again. God fulfilled His promise: “I will be with you through all the seasons of your life.”

Allow God to bring you through your life’s storms and winters.

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Birdwatching with a Twist

The Andean condor is one ugly bird.

Although the condor is graceful in flight, finches, parakeets, cardinals, and many other birds are far more attractive. Eagles are majestic, but like their condor cousins, personal beauty isn't a strong suit.

The condors' behavior, not appearance, intrigues me. These birds are the most massive flying birds in the world. Males weigh around thirty-three pounds and have a wingspan of over ten feet. How and when they take to the skies is nothing short of remarkable.

The condors face east to watch the sunrise each morning. As air currents begin to swirl, they twist their heads to pluck a feather from their backs. Incredibly, they toss the feather upward, testing the air. If the feather descends, they remain on their perch. However, if the feather rises, they know the currents are warm and strong enough to support their bulky bodies in flight.

These birds soar up to 18,000 feet, often staying aloft for five hours as they search for carcasses. They may roam up to 120 miles in a day and thrive on decaying animal flesh, just as other vultures do.

But the condor can teach us several spiritual lessons. Before taking flight, they look for the sunrise. As Christians, we'd be better off if we waited to see God's Son before we made a move. Condors wait for a breeze to stir, testing the currents for proper direction. If we learned to wait for the stirring of the Holy Spirit to usher us to greater heights, we'd spend less time in the valley of discouragement. Also, the higher we fly with the Lord, the better view we have of our Enemy.

The Andean condor isn't blessed with beauty. Still, their attention to seeing the sun and testing the wind is an excellent example we'd all do well to follow. Their life depends on assessing the wind to avoid plummeting to their deaths. Trying the spirits before we do anything can preserve our spiritual lives and help us avoid heartache.

You don't have to be beautiful to be a shining example that points others to Christ.

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Beautiful Feet

I have a heart for missions, especially in areas where people have never heard the name of Jesus.

Currently, I’m a prayer mobilizer and lead a ministry project in my church to fill one hundred shoeboxes to send around the world. When the children get these shoeboxes, they are excited about hearing the Good News and also seeing what’s inside. Those who accept Jesus are trained to be disciples by a local church and then go out and share the gospel.

I know God uses my prayers and efforts through Operation Christmas Child in my church to take the Good News to people around the world. I’ve been doing this for over a year, and it is the second year in a row to do this project for its international focus.

I think those who share the gospel have “beautiful feet” and that all Christians should be active in sharing the gospel in some way. We don’t have to be an evangelist or missionary to share the gospel.

Sharing the gospel can be scary, but we can look for practical ways to share it in our neighborhoods and around the world. The first step is to pray for opportunities and then to take those opportunities.

God wants us to obey His command to go and share the Good News. He says those who share His Word have beautiful feet.

Would you like to have beautiful feet? Then go out and share the gospel with all around you.

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Love Is Not All We Need

In July of 1967, the Beatles released the song, “All You Need is Love.”

The song had a catchy title and became the rallying cry for the counterculture movement of the 1960s. Unfortunately, especially for Christians, the message in this song is not true.

As a missionary, I trained young people for mission trips. We once had a young lady in one of our training schools who had experienced a hurtful past. God extended His lovingkindness to her, and the wounds of her past started to heal.

As time passed, along with His lovingkindness, God confronted her with the truth. Although wrongfully treated, her response to those actions was not always right. She resisted forgiving those who had hurt her and also resisted taking responsibility for her actions. Her healing was never consummated, and her discipleship was stunted.

Jesus always moved in lovingkindness and truth. When we elevate either love or truth above the other, we distort the character of God.

We never become fully functioning Christians unless we embrace the whole counsel of God, which includes His lovingkindness and His truth. Love is the balm of Gilead that starts our healing process, but embracing the truth sets us free.

People who are unwilling to accept God’s truth and love develop a dependent personality. They acquire a leak in their love bucket. The more love we deposit into it, the more we seem to need.

People who do this develop a lifelong quest to be loved, but it always seems to be just out of their grasp. Their desire to receive love far exceeds their willingness to give it. It becomes all about them.

We can go along in life, as the Beatles did, singing all we need is love, but if we do, we will never grow into the fullness of Christ.

Have you discovered that you need more than love?

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Patience

My niece’s ex-husband swallowed a small chicken bone one day while eating his meal.

Afterward, he was rushed to the emergency room where he underwent surgery to remove the bone. In the process, the surgeon disconnected his esophagus. For the next two to three months, he received nourishment through feeding tubes. He was devastated at first, but many prayers went up for him daily. Although a team of healthcare workers brought him back to health again, his patience brought him through.  

Patience is a fruit of the Spirit and the strength God gives us to wait for something. In the above case, a complete recovery. While family and friends prayed, the man’s son visited regularly. Through pain and irritation, strength was received for yet another day.

After a long time, a surgeon came in and wheeled the man to surgery again. The surgeon and his team reconnected his esophagus. Day by day, the man learned how to eat regular food once again. Patience and the will to live got him through. He knew God was with him. After the long haul and some rehabilitation, he went home with his son and got back to his life again.

As Christians, we must have patience for the journey, and it comes from the Fruit of the Spirit. Patience is one of God’s greatest gifts to us, but sometimes it is only accomplished during great frustration.

Ask God to help you be patient in all things as you walk this road of life.

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Sweet Nectar Blessings

Were they hummingbirds or fighter jets?

Watching the minute birds zip around my deck, I thought I was watching military aerial strikes. One bully bird used aggressive maneuvers on any bird approaching the feeder.

I was fascinated by the activity until I realized one bird greedily guarded the food I supplied. That little hummingbird brought nothing when he took up residence in my yard. His food came from my bountiful supply of sugar and water. As often as the feeder emptied, I refilled it. All that I had was available to him in abundance, yet he refused to share the sweet nectar I provided.

As I stood in my doorway watching the action, my fascination turned to sadness over one selfish bird. Then I pictured God watching each of us from heaven’s doorway. Does He observe us freely sharing our possessions and talents? We brought nothing into the world. All that we have comes from the Lord. He only asks us to use our blessings to do good deeds, to be generous, and to share with others.

In his book, God’s Smuggler, missionary Brother Andrew recalls how God never failed to provide. Whenever a need arose, Brother Andrew prayed and asked the Lord to meet that particular need. So many times, he moved forward, not knowing how his next step would be possible, but God provided a sweet nectar blessing at the exact time it was needed. Through God’s provision, Brother Andrew never lacked anything. The Lord enabled him to supply thousands of Bibles to Christians in Communist countries. The Lord supplied the Bibles, transportation, protection to carry Bibles through checkpoints, and safe delivery of them to underground believers.

Whenever I read this true story, I’m inspired by Brother Andrew’s unwavering trust in God’s ability to provide, and I’m in awe of God’s faithful provision.

The greedy hummingbird didn’t trust me to provide him with food, so he refused to share. Brother Andrew, on the other hand, knew God would provide abundantly, enabling him to share with those in need. Imagine the smile we bring to God’s face when our trust in His provision is so certain that we generously and joyfully share our sweet nectar blessings.

Ask God for opportunities to share His blessings.

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Beacon of Light

Several months after college graduation, a few lumps formed almost overnight in my neck.

I figured this was because I had been sick, and it’s common for lymph nodes to swell when a person is sick. One day in April, I woke up with a fever of 102 degrees. My dad took me to the hospital. After days of waiting and praying, I got the answer to the question burning inside my head. At twenty-four years old, I had cancer.

I had been strong in my faith, but the Enemy attacked me in the one way he knew how: the unknown. I couldn’t see what God’s plan was for this disease, and it felt as if my mind and heart were shrouded in darkness. All I could see was the pain, the fear, and the despair.  I knew I had fallen, but I didn’t know how to get up or how to find my way out of my world of cancer darkness.

Although at times my heart was not in it, I always found myself back at church. The more I listened to sermons and Bible studies and attended prayer groups, the more I saw God in everything. Through my darkness, I saw the meaning behind many of God’s teachings and words. I finally saw God’s hands reaching out to me.

Trusting God when everything is going well and sailing smoothly is easy, but when something terrible happens, it is easier to turn our backs than bend our knees.

Too often, we lose ourselves within our grief and pain, and it is difficult to see the light of God shining and guiding us. When life seems to be surrounded, we tend to fall from our walk with the Lord. But through those dark times, we can see God’s light shining through.

God wants us to rise through the darkness and find His light to guide us. Isn’t it time to search for His great beacon?

What is the darkness that keeps you from seeing God’s Light?

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Twins on an Escalator

The unnerving cry said, “I’m scared.”

Working inside a post office for years, I’ve learned to tell if a child is crying because they are tired, hurt, or just plain mad.

On this day, I was in the mall. This cry sounded like fear. My trained ear knew this child was not just pitching a fit. Hearing the desperate plea in that setting was chilling. I looked up from the shoes I browsed to investigate.

A mother leaned over the top of her twin stroller and peered down the escalator at her two-year-old son who had ridden to the bottom. Both twins cried while Mom tried to figure out what to do.

She could leave the child at the top and sprint down to scoop up little brother or try to maneuver the double-wide stroller down the escalator. Neither option seemed without flaw. Hearing not one but two upset tots screaming in a public place is not a recipe for calm rational thinking.

For a split second, I thought, Stay out of this. I was not the only one watching this play out, and no one else moved to help. But my heart said, Just go stand with that little boy till his mom gets there. I did. I stood by him and held his hand while he watched his mom come to the rescue. The one he trusted was on the way, and his little pounding heart slowed as she came closer.

The whole fiasco was over in moments. But the relationship between myself and this young mother had just begun. As she moved closer, we both recognized each other. We lived in the same tiny community of about 200 people, but on this day, we were both in Austin, TX, at a large mall.

Someone else could have helped her that day. I am happy my heart recognized the opportunity. When we accept the challenge to do good, we look more like Jesus. And that’s a good look for anyone.

Ask God to help you see opportunities to do good for others.

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Turn Worries into Prayers

When I wake up in the morning, I easily start to worry.

Often, I worry about worst-case scenarios. What if my car has a flat tire or a dead battery? I call Roadside Assist. That is one important bill I always sort first. What if there is a plumbing disaster? Then I call Home Assist. Another bill sorted. What if the television or phone malfunctions? Then I phone a young geek friend. Always ask someone young. What if the geriatric I care for collapses? Then I call 911 and summon paramedics. I can manage all that.

So, I proceed, smiling through the day. I pray to Jesus for a slow day of peace with positive intentions. I turn all my worries into prayers because I have the love of Jesus shining on my side.

John tells believers to take heart. A nothing-happening day can be a great day of prayer. There is no need to worry…no need to have the blues. Instead, many reasons exist for followers of Jesus to be jolly.

I proceed with a cheerful heart. Since Jesus overcame everything in His glorious resurrection, no one has ever won a battle against His true shining love. We can call on Jesus, turning our worries into prayers, as Jesus guides us to be faithful.

Each morning, I do my usual ten minutes of worry. But with my prayers to Jesus, I can pray to see opportunities to fulfill the Father’s purpose for my life and to be a smiling Christian.  

How can you turn your worries into prayers to Jesus? He still overcomes the world.

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With Faith

Sometimes, people try to discourage us from doing something for God’s kingdom, telling us it will never happen.

I had a person do this when I began pursuing creative writing. They told me to give up, to do something else, to realize it was a waste of time. They were even bold enough to say, “I don’t think you’re going to make even ten dollars on a poem or short story!”

With much prayer, fasting, and faith, not only did I receive a short story acceptance, but I was also paid twenty-five dollars. God provided, and He provided more abundantly until the provision overflowed.

Faith is confidence in what we hope for, and it is the evidence of things not seen. Even though others try to discourage us and say our plans are impossible, faith wins our victory. Even in the darkest moments when it appears as if nothing is moving, I can testify that faith can move mountains, overcome nigh-impossible odds, and quench the boasting of those who say some things are impossible.

Without faith, it is impossible to please God, for those who come to Him must believe He will reward those who diligently seek Him. Every Christian who has endured the journey has struggled to bear their cross.

When we are going through difficult circumstances and are in great want and need, we can trust in the Lord and remind ourselves of His promises. If we feel we lack strength in life’s storms, we can have faith in the Lord Almighty, for He is our refuge and strength. When we have a long-delayed godly desire in our heart and need the Lord to fulfill it, we can have faith in the Lord, for nothing is impossible for those who believe.

Persist and be strong in the Lord and all His mighty power. Never give up.

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Christmas Silence

Beginning with Thanksgiving and extending until Christmas Day, the holiday season can tax the best of us.

I’ve experienced years when I dreaded the thought of December. Not because I didn’t enjoy celebrating the birth of the Savior but because I knew activities would encumber almost every evening. The church Christmas party, the cantatas, the Christmas caroling, and of course the present buying.

By the time Christmas Eve arrived, my wallet was empty, and my body drained. I welcomed Christmas Day…but not so I could celebrate my Savior’s birth. Rather so I could celebrate the end of the hustle and bustle. Finally, I could breathe…and rest…and see family. Some of which I hadn’t seen for more than a year.

As our family gathered in our traditional circle to open presents, the children’s excitement and the adult’s conversations created noise, yet there was a hidden silence I hadn’t experienced during the entire month. The silence of peace. Peace because the celebrations were over, and peace because the Prince of Peace had been born.

Despite the noise and hectic events engulfing Mary’s small family, her son, our Savior, was born into Christmas silence amidst outside noise.

The Roman emperor had issued a registration decree for tax and military purposes. The order required everyone to return to their hometown—Mary and Joseph included. This meant an arduous eighty-mile trip to Bethlehem. I’m sure Mary didn’t relish the idea of the journey, but she had no choice.

Before they entered the town gates, Mary and Joseph would have seen thousands of people milling about. People pushing and shoving as they tried to make their way to the registration center. Every inn was full. Finally, one innkeeper told them of a nearby manger (probably a cave) where they could lodge.

As Mary slouched in the foul-smelling hay and listened to the crowd shouting and pounding about on the outside, she delivered her firstborn child in Christmas silence. None were the wiser that she had birthed the long-awaited Messiah.

This year I seek Christmas silence. Not the impossibility of deliverance from all the noise associated with the season’s celebration, but silence in my heart that comes from knowing all is right with the world because the Savior is in control.

Amidst the noise of Christmas, ask Jesus to help you experience the silence of knowing all is well because our Savior reigns.

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From Selfish to Selfless

The email from my pastor stated, “Here is your Advent Fellowship list. Pray about how you will reach out to one another during this Christmas season.”

Four households populated our list, with one couple living almost twenty miles away. I felt annoyed, not wanting anyone to dictate whom we should fellowship with. And why did we get “stuck” with people who lived so far from us?

The next morning as I studied my Bible and prayed, I heard that quiet voice inside, distinctly masculine. “It’s not about you, Anne.”

A wave of guilt flooded me, and tears spilled out as I cried for forgiveness. What was I thinking? Hadn’t Moses unselfishly given his entire life to lead a miserable grumbling people? Ruth forsook her heritage to follow Naomi to her homeland and live with her people to carry on the family name. Esther took a huge risk in reaching out to a foreign king for the sake of her people. Hosea married a promiscuous woman for God’s sake. And Jesus gave His life for my sinful selfishness. None of them asked for their assignment.

I whined inside about being asked to love others as Jesus has called us to just because it wasn’t my idea.

Obediently, I created and delivered gifts to those I’d been assigned. Despite myself, this unselfish act brought me peace and joy.

A phone message from the elderly couple in quarantine twenty miles away in an assisted living facility said, “Thank you so much for the beautiful, framed print with Scripture. It couldn’t have been more perfect, and we are so blessed.”

Of course, it wasn’t my idea. Only when God is in control can we truly experience the blessings He has in store. God will always move us from selfish to selfless.

May the true meaning of the Christmas season fill your heart today and every day of the year as you give according to God’s plans.

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Garden Visitors

Stand back! What is that?

Growing vegetables and flowers in the garden has always been a favorite pastime for my family. From marigolds to crabapple trees, each season provides opportunities to learn about God’s creation. Brightly colored butterflies and fast-moving hummingbirds enjoy nectar from the pink impatiens plants. Bluebirds look for extra grass to build a nest. The garden fills with busy activities from God’s creatures.

One day, as I made my usual rounds in the yard, I noticed something interesting. The garden was still moist from the previous day’s rain. Purple plumbago bushes hung heavily with water droplets. Pink petunias reached for the sunshine.

When I checked to see if the tomato plants in the backyard needed any water, I found an odd-looking creature in the flower bed. I quickly snapped a photo. The large bug never moved.

I typed South Carolina bugs in the search bar of the computer and found the answer. The bug was an Eastern Hercules Beetle. Reading the description gave me comfort when I learned that the bugs don’t bite. The best way to deal with it was to leave it alone since it had sharp pointers on the front of its head.

In my years of vegetable and flower gardening, this was a discovery, and it reminded me that God loves all His creations. Whether human, bug, hummingbird, dog, cat, bluebird, or other creatures, God loves us all.

What comfort to know God created us. Each of us is equipped with unique gifts and talents. The bugs are special too. I wonder if that bug was looking at me and wondering what might happen. I left the bug there in the flower bed.

What lessons have you learned from nature?

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God's Timing and Ours

In joyful anticipation, my friends Mary and Joe prepared for their new baby with a well-furnished nursery and expectant hearts.

However, they were not sure of the arrival date since the infant was thousands of miles away. Still, they knew she was coming. The foreign adoption agency had assured them the baby they’d named Emma was on her way, but first, there were the inevitable paperwork delays.

During this difficult time, Mary said they had a unique way of coping. “Joe has a watch with two dials,” she told me, “and he has one set to local time and the other to the time in Emma’s country. That way we know exactly when she eats, plays, or sleeps, and somehow this makes the waiting easier.”

Before they knew it, they received word all was ready. At the right time, Emma was settled in that long-planned nursery.

As Joe and Mary discovered, waiting was difficult. I’ve found it’s the same for me. Yet as the psalmist said, often as we wait, we become familiar with God’s timing, and we find that His is far greater than ours. What seems like an eternity for us is a split second in duration for Him. It’s as if he were saying, “My time is not your time.”

Since I know God has a perfect plan for my life, I must wait, for I know His reasons are perfect. And that’s all I need to know.

Don’t let your bad days diminish your faith in God’s timing.

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4 Steps to Get God's Help

In life-threatening circumstances, to whom can we look for help?

Most people frantically search for someone reliable—perhaps a family member or friend. If they are desperate enough, they may look for anyone willing to help, even for a price. Instead, why not look to the Lord?

Here are four simple steps to get God’s help.

Realize and Admit Our Mistakes

In the Bible, Hezekiah, king of Judah, counted on an alliance with Egypt, Philistia, and Phoenicia to defeat the Assyrians, who smashed every kingdom in their path. This was a mistake, for they were ungodly and unreliable. The alliance didn’t help Hezekiah. All of Judah’s fortified cities were smashed by the Assyrians, except Jerusalem, the capital city.

Turn to God for Help

Hezekiah made preparations for an upcoming siege. That was his responsibility. However, sometimes our efforts are not enough. We need supernatural help. Hezekiah called on his God, the one true Sovereign of the universe.

Have Confidence in God and Do Not Be Dissuaded 

In contrast to Hezekiah’s confidence in God, Sennacherib, king of the Assyrians, was confident in his abilities. He was arrogant and had a misconception of Israel’s God. To him, Judah’s God was no more powerful than those of other nations he had conquered. Israel’s God had not saved the northern kingdom of Israel from his destructive hand or any other fortified cities of Judah. Why should He deliver Jerusalem?

Regardless of who or what causes us severe anxiety, if we are living a righteous life, the Lord is on our side. And one plus God is a mighty majority.

Seek God’s Glory

How can we know we will get God’s help? We must seek His glory. The Lord is delighted to answer those seeking to please Him.

In one night, the angel of the Lord destroyed 185,000 Assyrians as they slept. Humiliated, Sennacherib returned home. Later, his sons assassinated him. Through this victory, God received the glory.

No one is more powerful than the Lord Almighty. Will you trust Him?

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Thought Control

Martin Luther said, “You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair.”

The quote came to mind as I compared the teachings of psychology and professional theology as they relate to controlling our thoughts. Having served professionally in both fields, this comparison interested me. I refreshed my curiosity and found two premises built into modern mental health that, if not modulated by the Word of God, can encourage the violation of moral absolutes, which produces tension in the ego core and often leads to a breakdown.

The emphases from both fields will help us find freedom from hindering restraints and will bring healing from emotional dysfunction. Adultery is an example. When a person believes that adultery is an essential core moral betrayal, and yet they commit adultery, this violation produces an internalized self-contempt that produces a breakdown that normally takes three to five years to recover from. They have been taken into slavery again after being set free by Christ.

I learned that behavior grows from our thoughts. I would change Martin Luther’s quote to, “We cannot keep birds from flying through the branches of our mind’s tree, but we can keep them from building a nest in our mind in which their offspring begin to grow and multiply.”

Thought control is similar to taking a broom and sweeping our mind’s nest clean from the unprofitable chatter and lice that wild birds fly in with as they take residence.

God can help us take each thought captive as we yield to Him. He is a loving Shepherd.

Follow Christ’s example by quoting Scripture to the evil one’s minions as they attempt to take residence in your mind and heart.

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A Sweet Aroma

As I planted my freshly purchased annuals, I wondered which flower had such a sweet aroma.

I sniffed each one as I dropped them into their new mud homes, but I never found that lovely spring messenger. My work finally done—and my grass-stained knees creaking—I gathered my garden tools and wandered over to a bed I had not tended. I wanted to at least peek at my project for another day. The aroma greeted me again, growing stronger as I approached.

Tucked in among the Hosta, the plant that can overpower a garden, rested some tenacious Lilies of the Valley, barely peeking out from among the giant plants. They stood unassuming and small, but sent out a large and inviting fragrance as a message of their presence, even among the giants that squeezed them. I wanted to stand near the flowers, look closely at their blooms, and inhale their fragrance.

I want my fragrance to send out a message of the hope and peace I have in Christ, even if I am nestled among giants who don’t know Him. Like the lilies, I want to be unassuming and make no excuse, except that my hope is not my doing and that anyone can have that same peace. I want my trust in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice to be so fragrant that anyone without that hope wants to ask me how they can have it.

I pushed the Hosta leaves aside, cupped the little flowers in my hands, and breathed deeply, in no rush to leave them.

Yes. I want to be like the lilies and have a fragrance of hope that draws people closer and makes them want to tarry long enough to find out what gives me hope and peace. As they tarry, I pray they will embrace my hope and carry the fragrance of Christ with them to others.

What kind of fragrance are you emitting?

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Making Waves

"Help!" Little Joey shrieked to big brother Jerry as he pointed toward the sailboat model drifting away from him on the park lake.

Jerry came up just in time to see the miniature vessel with its sails billowed, gliding with the breeze across the water and out of reach.

"You've got to get it back," Joey pleaded.

After a moment’s thought, Jerry stooped to gather a handful of small stones and hurl one at the departing model.

"You'll hit my ship," Joey blurted.  

Jerry continued to toss stones toward the ship. Although Joey couldn’t see it, Jerry was aiming the stones, not at the ship but the waters just beyond. As the missiles plopped into the water, each created a miniature wave that rippled back against the ship. Each successive billow sent out waves that caused the little ship model to pause and then turn back. Within minutes, the ship was within Joey’s grasp.

Joey was confused with Jerry’s tactic until he realized the purpose behind it. Joseph’s brothers faced the same dilemma. They had come from a foreign land to get help, but they faced opposition from a cold-natured Egyptian official. When that official later revealed himself as their long-lost brother Joseph, they discovered their evil actions against him were a part of God’s divine plan to preserve His people.  

I often feel the same as Little Joey and Joseph’s brothers when I encounter difficulties on my spiritual journey—or when I feel a sense of confusion at seemingly illogical and purposeless events. This can be frustrating, yet I have an advantage: I know God has a purpose. The Lord has a perfect plan for everything in my life. Even unexpected developments have a rationale.

When you don’t understand circumstances, remember God has a plan, then continue serving Him.  

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Looking for Courage on the Cheese Aisle

Cheddar or Italian?

I debated which to buy as my peripheral vision reported an approaching man. “You Chinese?” the thirtysomething inquired.

I nodded.

“People like us are rare around here,” he claimed.

Maybe he meant in the Caucasian neighborhood where the grocery chain was located, I thought.

He then launched a monologue about the racism he’s suffered since moving to America. His profanity-laced litany of complaints invited no response—until a pregnant pause ensued.

I sensed it was now my turn. I imagine he wanted me, another minority migrant, to join in and bash the country. I encountered an internal battle with polarized parts. One part encouraged me to voice my values—even though they ran counter to popular norms—while another part urged me to stay mum.

Jesus’ step-father would’ve understood. I’m sure Joseph didn’t plan to marry the one girl God destined as a surrogate mother for His Son, but this was what happened. Joseph must’ve heard Mary’s account of how the angel Gabriel forewarned her about the miraculous pregnancy and chose to believe her—the way he did the angel who later appeared to him. Despite the steep societal cost, he obeyed the Lord and remained with Mary.

Believing privately is one thing; exposing our beliefs in public is another. Thanks to a mandated census, Joseph had to travel with a pregnant woman whose child he didn’t help procreate. He must’ve exhibited outstanding courage.

As he readied their donkey, did he hear naysayers snicker? “There’s the guy with the outlandish tale! We know how that baby got into Mary’s belly. Angelic visitation my foot!” How many times did Joseph have to endure stares or answer fellow travelers, “No, she’s not carrying my baby?”

Cancel culture notwithstanding, we should boldly exhibit biblical values whenever appropriate. Joseph survived his haters, and we will too.

Back at the cheese aisle, I pondered my minority status and its accompanying hardship. But even if it’s fashionable to denounce the nation as racist, I refuse to do so. So, I told the man, “I love America.”

In what areas do you need courage?

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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.

(Photo courtesy of author.)

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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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Absent-Mindedness

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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Robbed

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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Abandoned

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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Papa

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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Whatever

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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Turbulence

“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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Talents

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.

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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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