A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Spirit & Body

We have two bodies as such. The physical body and our spiritual body. The Spirit is an important part of both. Giving our hearts to Christ brings that spiritual body into balance and therefore, helps us understand the ups and downs of the physical body – even accept them when others cannot.

From Fragments to a Masterpiece

My grandmother was born in 1899.

She sewed by hand and on a treadle sewing machine. When I was a child, I loved to watch her pump the foot pedal up and down while she worked. I sat mesmerized by the low, rhythmic hum with each motion. She kept that sewing machine throughout her life. No matter what electric convenience Singer invented, she would have no part of it. All her creations evolved from the old-timey apparatus.

Her specialty was designing quilts. She stretched the sewn-together fabric on wooden quilt frames to keep the layers flat after she covered the base in batting. In a basket, she saved every snip of material left from making a dress or blouse until she had enough for the pattern she desired. My mother’s contributions from all the clothes she made for me helped fill the reserve. No remnant was ever wasted.

Most people would think those snippets of cloth were useless and send them to the trash pile. But my grandmother cherished each one, and when they were all assembled, the pieces formed a beautiful artistic creation that pleased the eye and kept the body warm.

Unexpected events can cut our lives with the scissors of tragedy and disappointment, leaving a trail of fragments behind. We can feel as if nothing will ever be healed or happy again. Our emotions drift toward the refuse heap, and without help, we can’t get out.

When we give the Lord our pain, He sutures our wounds with His healing hands. He adorns us with the thread of His love and acceptance. Our fragmented life grows into a colorful mosaic of wholeness.

Jesus doesn’t discard us no matter how hurt or broken we may feel. When we offer Him our shredded lives, He shows us how valuable we are to Him. He wastes nothing, as He demonstrated by telling His disciples to gather the leftovers after He had fed the thousands.

When pain fills your life, don’t give up. Offer your fragments to Jesus and let Him create in you a masterpiece.

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Jesus Feels Our Pain

The most humiliating situation I can think of would be a toss-up between fleeing my home in the middle of the night without my chemo wig and make-up and running a marathon stark naked.

In Corrie ten Boom’s World War II biography, The Hiding Place, she and her sister, Betsie, along with thousands of other doomed prisoners at the Ravensbruck concentration camp near Berlin, were subjected to the worst treatment imaginable by their Nazi captors. My imagination is not vivid enough to take in what they suffered. One of the most excruciating portions of the book describes the emaciated prisoners parading naked in a circle while the Nazi guards laughed and joked at their degradation.

Where was God in their suffering? Where is God when I suffer? One depressing song sends the wrong message when it says “God is watching us from a distance.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is God right beside us when we suffer, but He also understands our suffering. Isaiah describes Jesus as a man of suffering and familiar with pain. According to Merriam-Webster, familiar means “well acquainted with something.”

Pain and suffering were Jesus’ constant companions. Even though He healed deadly diseases and raised people from the dead, He was abandoned in His greatest hour of need as He hung on the cross for our sins.

Whatever our pain or grief, Jesus understands and is with us, but there are steps we should take to experience His presence fully. We can keep a journal of our anguish, grief, prayers, and helpful Bible verses. God speaks to us through His Word. The Lord can love us through people as well. We can call someone we know. There are also Christian helplines and websites where trained believers in the Lord are waiting to talk and pray with us.

Be proactive in dealing with your pain. Your healing may begin when you least expect it.

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The Truth about Lies

I lied. Again.

When my high school cheerleading coach noticed I'd lost a considerable amount of weight, I told her everything was fine. Even though it wasn't. My desire to fit in with the other girls on my team that were thin and in good shape overshadowed my physical, spiritual, and mental health needs. I lied about what I ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to lose weight. I believed being thin would cause people to love and accept me in a way I desperately wanted, and I would feel less broken on the inside.

As I tried to acquire the approval I thought I needed, I fought a battle I no longer had the energy to fight. The more lies I told, the harder it became to keep track of them. Living in constant terror of slipping up wore me down. I finally reached a point where changing my dysfunctional cycle became necessary and uncovering the truth of who I was and why I did what I did was inescapable.

Falling into the trap of wanting to impress people on the outside—while we are utterly oblivious to the corrupt state of our hearts on the inside—can cause damage as it did for the religious leaders with whom Jesus interacted. When we are preoccupied with keeping our exterior beautiful while our rotting interior is left untreated, we can develop spiritual cancer that causes us to die inside.

Authenticity teaches us we don't have to present ourselves a certain way for others to love and accept us. Unraveling lies we believe about ourselves instead of hiding behind them is crucial. I pretended to be okay when I wasn't. Not only was that unhealthy, it was ungodly.

When you find areas in your life where the lies prevail, seek forgiveness. Then turn to the God who sees nothing but beauty in you.

What is one area where you can work on being more authentic? Choose to be transparent when the next opportunity arises.

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Master Sculptor

My son once told me that artists create sketches by first carefully penciling many lines on paper.

The desired result is then achieved by erasing all the unnecessary lines. I once read somewhere that a gifted author writes down every word that comes to mind and then skillfully removes the ones not needed.

The Lord teaches us contentment by gently removing whatever makes us discontent. We don’t always know the source, but He does. We are foolish, imperfect, greedy, grabby, and dissatisfied with what we think we love. We imagine we can fill our empty hearts with created things. Yet sometimes when we receive what we asked for, we push it away in disgust, like a tomato rotting on the vine.

God is the master sculptor. He takes our lives, like a pristine piece of stone or wood or ice, and chisels away tiny slivers to form the perfect masterpiece—smoothing edges that don’t reflect the amazing work of art He purposed us to become.

When we feel as if we’re under the sculptor’s chisel, the artist’s eraser, or the writer’s delete key, God gives us good news. He uses our discontentment. His perfection is revealed in our unique imperfections. He wants others to see Jesus more clearly through the gaping holes, the worn-out places, the broken pieces, and the missing words of our lives. 

Even though the battles with dissatisfaction will never end in this life, we will become more experienced warriors. Internal conflicts are good. They reveal the Holy Spirit’s presence in us, fighting with and for us. We face our struggles courageously so we can encourage others in theirs.

Ask God to help you be content with your imperfections, then point others to Jesus today.

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Come as You Are

I woke up in the wee hours one morning—my usual routine.

I remembered I had not written a blog for that day. I headed to my office, only to find that my desk looked as if a tornado had passed through and dared to come back. I immediately cleared the paperwork and put items back in their place—all the while praying God would give me an idea for that day’s blog. His idea came quickly. “Just as you cannot work unless your desk is perfectly clean, so many people, including you, feel they cannot come to Me unless their life is perfect.”

Ouch. Don’t you love it when God shares a profound thought and includes you as a person who needs to change?

I thought about what God said and realized I believed I had to be perfect before approaching Him in prayer, my quiet time, or anything God-related. And heaven forbid I would show up at church or my women’s group without being perfect. I had to have the right outfit with matching jewelry, shoes, and handbag. I thought I had to be perfect and pretty—neatly wrapped with a ribbon and bow. How foolish of me.

Do we think God doesn’t already know our flaws, imperfections, and sins? Of course He does. And He wants us to come to Him with all those things. When we open ourselves to Him and ask forgiveness for unconfessed sins, He is quick to forgive. When we become vulnerable and transparent, He shows us what He thinks of us. He doesn’t see our flaws and imperfections. He sees us as the beautiful children He created us to be.

We might think a perfect God would want perfect people. He doesn’t. He wants us to come to Him just as we are—broken, wounded, sinners—so that His mercy and grace can overflow our lives, and He can forgive our sins. He wants to pour His unconditional, extravagant love into us, and, in our weakness, He will show Himself strong on our behalf.

Untie the bow, take off the ribbon, remove the wrapping paper, and come just as you are. God is waiting.

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Suit Up

Playing basketball was my passion in high school.

Our team won the state championship my junior year. We practiced for hours every day and played games twice a week. One of my favorite parts was suiting up for games. Putting on the uniform elevated my anticipation and readiness for competition.

Once, for an away game, I grabbed my suit and shoes and ran for the bus. After we arrived and dressed for the game, I realized I had grabbed two left shoes from my locker. Although I had all the other needed items, I could not play with two left shoes. I was unprepared.

Paul instructs us to put on the full armor of God, not just certain parts. We need each element to prepare for battle: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, feet covered with the gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit which is God’s Word. If one element is missing, then the whole armor is weak, and we become vulnerable. Each part is necessary for the relentless attacks of the enemy.

Our lives must have integrity (belt of truth). Our character and conduct (breastplate of righteousness) reveal our commitment to God. We share the good news without fear (the gospel of peace). We trust God (shield of faith) for all things. We delight in God’s gracious gift (helmet of salvation) and hold tightly to God’s Word (sword of the Spirit).

When I explained my two left shoes to my teammates, I received a good amount of teasing. Fortunately, a teammate loaned me a pair of shoes. I was then prepared for the game.

What piece of spiritual armor are you missing? We need to prepare before the battle begins. We cannot wait until it starts. By then it’s too late. So, let’s suit up.

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Beautiful in His Eyes

People seem to be forever beautiful and young on social media, magazines, television, and movies.

I’m bombarded by aggressive ads that tell me how to keep that youthful look and how to be more beautiful. Ads that tell me I’ll only be enough by getting that tummy tuck and facelift. Ads that tease me to rid myself of those nasty crow’s feet and fine lines with a little Botox. How about a lip filler, teeth whitening, some chin work? The ads insist I tighten all my saggy skin too—skin that gets saggier as I age.

I believe my grandparents were a lot tougher. They accepted their body’s changes, transitioning without the so-called medical miracles that entice us to fight nature’s gift of getting older.

Granny simply aged gracefully, and I loved her more for it. I remember her soft and thinning skin as she wrapped wrinkled arms around me. I felt safe and loved inside those aged arms. Those images still bring me comfort, though she’s been gone for years. She wasn’t afraid of gray as I am.

After retiring, I’ve thought a lot about aging, my worth, and my identity in Christ.

Peter reminds us that what others see in our outward appearance is not really who we are. Who we are on the inside matters to Christ and is what should matter to us. This is what God sees.

To God, we’ll always be enough. Our inner selves and countenance are of great worth to God, and nurturing our relationship with Him is how we can become beautiful people.

If I had a hint of how beautiful I am to God, I would never believe the lies or exhaust myself on the world’s beauty secrets. If we remind ourselves of what the Bible says and continue to pray for inner growth and inner beauty, we will spend less time worrying about what others think and more time growing closer to God.

If today’s cultural influences pressure you, strive to be beautiful on the inside by cultivating your relationship with Christ. You will realize what God sees in you is all that matters.

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A Special Gift

God intentionally made the coral reef.

The coral polyps are real live animals that build the reefs. We benefit from them in more ways than one. I have learned through the National Geographic channel on television that the coral reef protects our coastline from storms and erosion. A good part of the ocean’s fish depends on them. They raise their young among the crevices. People depend on the reefs for food and jobs. They are a special gift from God.

The Holy Spirit is another special gift from God to us. On the John Angerberg show, Anne Graham Lotz explained, “The Holy Spirit is Jesus without skin.” I couldn’t explain it any better than she.

The Holy Spirit is the comforter whom Jesus promised to send back to us when He returned to heaven. The Holy Spirit is many things to us, Advocate and Counselor included.

When we accept Jesus as Savior, the Holy Spirit comes in and has fellowship with us. He will lead, guide, and comfort us. Through the helping hands of doctors, nurses, ministers, and missionaries, the Spirit brings hope to hurting people. But He won’t come in without an invitation.

Have you invited Jesus into your heart? Let the Holy Spirit be your helper and comforter throughout life.

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The Person in the Mirror

The hair dryer broke, and my pants felt tighter than the day before.

I wanted to look nice each day, but regardless of my efforts, I always saw a fat, ugly person staring back at me in the mirror. Why I felt this way was a deeper secret. I reflected upon my childhood when I didn’t consider my looks. I swam like a fish until I was wrinkled, climbed trees to the top, and refused to wear a shirt until I was eight. I was a typical tomboy. One day, a teenage boy led me into the nearby woods. What he did changed my self-image forever. I didn’t tell anyone. I just tucked it deep inside.

When I read that God was in my mother’s womb, knitting me together to make me perfect in Him, I understood it didn’t matter what happened to me in this life because He was my life. He told me I was wonderfully made. I had seen these verses before, but one day, I understood them in a new way.

I had once accepted that deep-seated pain that led me to deny my identity in Christ. I doubted my usefulness to Christ, and I let the world tell me my outward appearance dictated my value in Him.

Like sin, we can keep these lies or let them go and allow God to work in our lives. Today, I have changed the person I see in the mirror. My self-talk is full of love and encouragement. I have a wonderful identity in Christ. I am a child, warrior, heir, and more. I will not doubt my usefulness. I will be a tool for Jesus every day in any way He asks. I will not put importance on my outward appearance any longer but rather focus on my heart and service for God.  

What has the world convinced you of? Read this psalm daily until you are convinced of who you are in Christ: For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; I know that full well.

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Dance Lesson

From across a dance floor during my junior year, I watched one of the few fellows I hadn't danced with—and had no plans to.

He knew how to partner dance, and it seemed all the girls he'd danced with did too. Unlike me. I only danced in free style. In that era of Saturday Night Fever, when everyone with two good legs did the hustle, I was the girl who didn't. Who couldn't. Time after time, I had tried dancing with a partner, but my lack of skill made it look as if I were boxing with the guy instead. When I wasn't trampling his feet, I was stumbling over my own.

As the next tune played, I looked away from Mr. Greatest Dancer and set out for the punch bowl. That's when he jumped up, dashed forward, took my hand as I passed, and said, “Let's dance!” I was terrified.

But I didn't pull away. I walked with him to the center of the dance floor and, within moments, discovered my legs and feet heading in all the right directions. Whenever he flicked a wrist, turned an arm this way or that, I moved in response—forward, backward, sideways, swirling, twirling. In sync with my partner, I found myself dancing as I had never danced before.

That graceful girl flying across the floor with fabulous feet was me having fun on top of fun. Finally, at the punch bowl after our dance, I considered what had just happened. Yes, those were my feet. But it was my partner's skill that made them fabulous. He knew how to lead.

I also have realized that my life's accomplishments, abilities, and talents—those things that come easily to me without thinking—testify to God's genius and skill, not mine. In all the steps of our lives, the Spirit's leadership is flawless. He is the Greatest Dancer.

God wants to open our eyes to see how He works in our lives. He helps us do all kinds of things we could not do on our own. He wants us to see that what we once thought was just us was Him.

What are some ways you can better observe God’s dancing in your life?

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Did You Bring Your Leg?

“You better be careful standing in front of an old lady’s car. You might get run over.”

The older woman behind the wheel smiled as she joked with me.

“Isn’t that why God gave us two legs?” I teased back.

“I know you’re joking, but my dad lost his leg in an accident way back in the old days. He decided to make his own prosthetic leg out of wood. I still have it standing in the corner of my living room.”

Of course, my jaw dropped, but I had to know. “Why do you still have his prosthetic leg?”

She smiled. “Well, I don’t know. He just asked me to keep it when he died, and it’s a good reminder of my daddy. I will bring it and show you.”

The other volunteers finished loading food into her car, and she went on her way. A month later, she arrived at the food distribution. I ran to her car and asked, “Did you bring the leg?” The other volunteers looked at me as if I had lost my mind.

“I sure did.” She pointed to the passenger seat, and there it lay. An ancient piece of wood, complete with straps and a support system. All created by her father over seventy years earlier.

Carefully, I picked it up and showed it to the other volunteers. “Wow, what a cool heirloom. Your daddy did a great job.”

Her smile beamed from ear to ear. At that moment, she knew I cared about her story, her dad, and her. She wasn’t just a recipient of a charitable deed; she was seen and cared for by another.

Such encounters are what ministry is about. Taking time to listen. Stopping to hear stories. Showing folks they matter.

I never want to put groceries in someone’s car and send them on their way. They need to know they matter. And when they know they matter, they are more willing to listen to us.

Filling a belly is important, but forging relationships and gaining trust enables us to share the gospel of Jesus.

What are some ways you can show people they matter and then tell them about Jesus?

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Inch by Inch

Every step hurt.

I had just gotten both knees replaced, and, as a part of my rehab, I was walking in our neighborhood. My goal entailed walking a half-mile loop. As I set out, I wondered if I’d make it back home. Each step was followed by another step, and inch by inch, I made it.

The only reason I did this is that I wanted to take walks again. The process of relearning how to walk was painful as I did it but rewarding in the end. I never had the same bumps and falls that my new grandson had as he learned to walk, but both of us were driven by the idea that walking held importance.

Walking with Christ is something we learn to do and is a part of our growth in the faith. This walk includes joyful moments and painful times. Times when we put one foot in front of the other and keep going, knowing God is walking beside us and watching over us.

The walk with Christ includes being established in the faith, and God’s Word gives us the nourishment to keep us growing. God doesn’t want us to become discouraged. Even when we stumble and fall, we should ask Him to pick us up and move us along. We do not allow the pain to deter us. Our goal should be to become mature by walking with Him.

Ask God to help you stop complaining about the obstacles in your path and instead to focus on the One who is walking beside you. He will never leave nor forsake you.

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Prayers Anonymous

While I was rereading an article one day, I noted a tag: “Okay, boomer, okay.”

That was applicable since I’m in my senior years, but this boomer babe is doing okay. Barring all medical catastrophes, my boomer family and friends are doing okay also. I hope it stays that way. That is why someone wrote that line. We keep on keeping on.

Then I reread Third John in my Bible, a book worth rereading. On a larger scale, as worshippers, we are the members of Christianity today. We must all keep on keeping on. I hope we are all doing okay. We can pray that we enjoy good health, that all goes well with us, and that our souls do okay.  

Those are good things to pray for since we are members of prayers anonymous. These are our prayers of good intentions. Christians can believe that Jesus made a place for us and still is. We can dwell in a place where no one is ever alone. We should all keep on keeping on.

Even at my age, I seek to find my light and follow it. I am a face in the crowd, joining in prayers anonymous. We can keep on praying that all goes well and that our Christian faith keeps doing okay.

Keep on praying in prayers anonymous for God to bless us all.

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A Bigger Plan

As I stood in the empty apartment I once called home, tears streamed down my cheeks.

I could see where I woke up in the middle of the night to feed my son and where he first learned to crawl and take his first steps. I could hear the laughter from my friends who had gathered there for holiday celebrations.

The pain felt unbearable. To think that our life here was over and that we needed to start a new chapter. It seemed unjust in so many ways. I didn’t know how to accept having to move on, let alone embrace the next season ahead.

All I knew is that Jesus had ordained this time. He wanted it to be this way, and I needed to seek His Word for comfort and peace. But in my quest for that peace in this season, I still questioned why.

Why did my husband have to lose his job? Why did my son have to experience uprooting in his life? Why did I have to feel a loss of security?

In the story of Habakkuk, God brought the solace I needed. Habakkuk also questioned the grievances he saw in the world. He did it through an open and honest conversation with God, and so can we. God speaks to us and responds to our questions just as he did with Habakkuk.

We can trust that God hears us, and we can be assured, like Habakkuk, that God has a good purpose for the hardship we’re enduring. In our pain, we can share our hearts with God.

Doing so is not for nothing. In such times, He guides us in valuable, necessary growth that wouldn’t take place otherwise. We’ll learn who God is and how to lean on Him more.

God will do astounding things for us. We can persevere, knowing God is by our side to hear our grievances, to speak to us, and to show us that He is a good God who has us in His hands, no matter what.

Have you discovered that God has a bigger plan for you?

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Weary and Worn Out

Shirley sought answers for months.

Weary and worn out from her health condition, tests, and appointments with specialists, she finally got her diagnosis. Her illness had a name, although not a cure. Her treatment included medication, diet changes, and exercise. Only God could have arranged Deb’s placement at the gym one morning, riding a stationary bike next to Shirley. During their conversation, Deb revealed she had the same unusual illness. Once they had finished exercising and were walking to the locker room, Deb suggested they meet again. That day, a supportive friendship began.

Moses was weary and worn out too. He had led the Israelites safely out of Egypt only to hear their complaints in the wilderness. When the Amalekites attacked them, Moses stood on top of the mountain with the staff of God in his hands. He raised his arms, indicating the strength of God. But Moses’ arms gave way, and when they did, his army began losing the battle. Seeing Moses’ fatigue, Aaron and Hur provided a seat for him, then supported him on each side by steadying his hands. Eventually, the Israelites won the battle.

Moses needed relational and physical support. Two men saw his need and met it. Today, we can come alongside others to link arms in friendship and to lessen their burdens.

We may not stand by someone in a military battle, but we have opportunities to minister to those facing tough times. That may include providing meals for a household that is financially challenged, being company for a friend grieving and alone, or giving encouraging words to someone living in disappointing circumstances.

Look around today. Who comes to mind that is weary and worn out? How can you link arms with them and steady them in challenging times?

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Beautifully Broken

One quiet evening, I enjoyed a few moments catching up on Facebook posts from family and friends.

As I scrolled, I stopped on an interesting illustration regarding a glow stick. The kind we purchase at the dollar store and give to our grandchildren on special occasions. The kids just love to get in a dark closet or room with them. They wave them in the air and laugh themselves silly. Now that’s a good time. But when we purchase one of these neon-colored treasures, they do not come out of the package glowing. Before it can fulfill its purpose of glowing, it must be broken.

Sometimes our God-given purpose is discovered in our brokenness. At the time of our daughter Kristen’s death, my husband and I were stretched thin. We can be so busy doing good things that we miss the best things God has for us. That is one of the greatest and most heart-rending lessons we have learned. I would have never dreamed I could make it through the death of one of my precious daughters. My God has been faithful to sustain and strengthen me thus far, and I am confident He will continue the work He has started in me until I meet Him in heaven.

If we trust God with our broken hearts, He will bring healing and bind our wounds. He will make us stronger if we cry out to Him in prayer and lean on His promises. His Word is true and faithful from generation to generation. As time has passed, our heavenly Father has given us a heart to share the life lessons He is teaching us with others. There is purpose in our pain. We have found when He heals those broken places, that is where His light shines through.

If God has healed your broken heart and bound your wounds, ask Him to show you the purpose in your pain. Like a brightly colored glow stick in the hand of a child, let your light shine. Someone needs to hear your story.

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Love of a Father

Father’s Day was not celebrated in America until the twentieth century.

The special day was initiated to complement Mother’s Day. After Anna Jarvis founded Mother’s Day in Grafton, West Virginia, the first Father’s Day celebration was held on July 5, 1908, in a Methodist church. After several attempts to make it a national holiday, President Lyndon B. Johnson made the first proclamation honoring fathers. He designated it for the third Sunday of June. Father’s Day did not become a holiday until President Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

Long ago, our fathers came to the untamed land, built log cabins, and plowed the fields all day long. By the sweat on their brow, they put food on the table. They protected their families from Indian attacks, and some fought in various wars to keep us safe.

Today, our farmers have tractors which make their jobs a little less rigid. Still, many fathers work as hard as they did in the old pioneer days. Some work in hot factories and coal mines. Others have back-breaking jobs such as constructing buildings, highways, and bridges. Some men don’t get to choose where they work.

Countless men sign up for the military, committing themselves to keep us and our little ones safe. Firefighters and police officers work tirelessly around the clock to protect us.

In addition to our earthly fathers, we have a heavenly Father. He loves us and wants to have fellowship with us daily. Jesus showed us how to do that when He prayed to His father.

God loves you and is waiting for an invite for fellowship.

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The Provision of Pain

Pain is like a perimeter alarm that grabs our attention, alerting us to danger.

A paper cut, a dropped can, a banged knee—they stop us in our tracks to assess the damage. If we ignore or silence the warning, we risk exacerbating the injury or allowing a wound to fester.

Pain flared in my shoulder one fall and quickly impeded my daily activities. Cooking, cleaning, and even dressing produced loud gasps that worried my family as I tried to do life. Hoping to avoid surgery, I went to a physical therapist who recommended exercises, but the pain increased. I widened the field of medical opinions and procedures. First shots and painkillers, then x-rays, an ultrasound, and finally an MRI. Meanwhile, my shoulder pain worsened. Each intervention revealed more significant damage than the practitioner expected until a seventy-five percent tear in my rotator cuff sent me straight to a surgeon.

After surgery, it was back to physical therapy. There, pain meant I either pushed my limits or put premature stress on healing muscles. I didn’t know which—I had to trust my therapist’s directions. STOP if it was unsafe to continue, WAIT and breathe to relax my spasming muscles, or GO and push through for more progress. I’ll admit, the thought of doing more damage terrified me, making me reluctant to press on without the PT’s assurances that it was safe and necessary.

Yes, necessary. I needed to follow their instructions for optimal outcomes. Sometimes we need to push through the pain to achieve healing.

Many of us are walking through pain these days—pain of injury, loss, or limitation. We’d rather ignore or mask it than let it interrupt our plans, but pain gives us pause. We want relief, and there isn’t a flowchart. We need trustworthy and informed guidance.

Jesus is our Good Shepherd and best caregiver. We can turn our pain over to Him. If we ask for wisdom and follow closely, He will guide us on the right paths. He knows us best and loves us more than we could ever imagine.

Turn to the Good Shepherd for the guidance you need.

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Ask and You Shall Receive

I was forty-five years old before I began my relationship with Jesus.

I grew up not knowing much about Jesus. I lived with addictions, as those around me did. Then I moved away and met a good friend who invited me to join a Bible study each week. My interest in Jesus grew into love. I joined a local church and was baptized a year later, yet I fell into the same destructive habits.

I attempted to give up my habits but would resume them a month or two later, which made me feel guilty. I now know this feeling was God’s conviction. I talked aloud to the Lord and told Him how weak I was. After a few weeks, I noticed I had no desire for those habits anymore.

I decided to set a final quit date for my habits. Each day for the next month, I talked to the Lord and said, “Father, I am going to quit on September 5. I cannot do this without You, Lord, so I am claiming Your promise to provide me a way of escape.” On the morning of my quit date, I thanked God for giving me the victory.

When the Lord promises to provide a way of escape, He always comes through. I had to ask Him for the strength to overcome these sins in my life, and when I did, He not only gave me the strength, but He also took the desire away.

We are weak, and yet we are often too proud to ask for help. Jesus says all we need to do is ask, and it will be given. He is the provider of all things we need. It was not my willpower that set me free—that failed me many times—but the will of God that provided the way of escape. When we struggle with anything, all we must do is ask, seek, and knock.

Seek God daily, and He will draw close and give you the strength you seek. He waits to open the door.

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Stinky Room

The smell of sweaty shoes permeated the air, or so a friend told me.

I have never had a keen sense of smell, but in college, I did have an active job, no roommate, and hours of homework to do every week. Diligently writing papers in my dorm room occupied my time—not smells that failed to bother me. One day, a friend bluntly told me, “Your room stinks.” Taken aback, I sought other opinions. One by one, different friends confirmed it—my sweaty work shoes stunk up my room.

Jehu, the prophet, confronted King Jehoshaphat of Judah. Considered a godly king, Jehoshaphat had just returned from fighting a common enemy with King Ahab of Israel. Jehoshaphat survived the battle and probably returned thinking the Lord had blessed him by saving his life. Jehu, however, stood ready to rebuke him. Ahab, king of Israel, knew he should worship the Lord, but he and Queen Jezebel led their subjects into idolatry by worshipping other gods. Jehoshaphat’s alliance with such a couple displeased the Lord and needed correction. Jehu served as the Lord’s instrument of rebuke.

Rebuking or getting rebuked by a fellow Christian may scare us—especially if the person in need of correction occupies a powerful position. Like Jehu and Jehoshaphat, God calls Christians to both correct others when they fall into sinful behavior and to receive correction when they engage in wrong actions.

We may think we need to play the role of Jehu to someone in our lives, but we may have more in common with Jehoshaphat than we want to admit. We may need someone to confront us about a pattern of sinful behavior. Purchasing shoe-cleaning powder and air freshener fixed my problem.

Does someone need to gently correct you in any way?

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Forgiving Self

The saying, “It is harder to forgive yourself than for God to forgive you,” has an element of truth but is essentially false.

Attempting to forgive ourselves for committing what we feel are unforgivable sins is a study in futility. Mental health therapists have found that living with unresolvable guilt-producing situations contributes to many emotional problems and addictions—among them, migraines and pain pills.

When we find ourselves in apparent unresolvable failures, we must do something to escape the guilt and pain. One of the most common escape mechanisms is to forgive ourselves. Every mental tool is called to the rescue, such as attempts that search for a reason to blame another person. The more powerful our mind is, the more reasons we can find to blame. Another escape attempt is to forgive ourselves through positive thinking and meditation.

These approaches provide only temporary relief because our minds never forget anything unless we have had physical injury. The best we can hope for is to gradually change the unresolved guilt into bad memories instead of living memories, which relive the trauma every time they emerge.

When we violate our value system—a system that has been held together by beliefs that are a part of our self-image—we move toward a mental breakdown. Learning to live with a fractured ego is a bad idea. We need Divine forgiveness.

Forgiving ourselves for sinful behavior is impossible. John reminds us only Almighty God can do this. The question is whether we will believe and claim God’s answer for how to deal with what feels like unforgivable sins. When we experience a cleansed soul, we can rejoice in the gift of forgiveness that the God of second chances gives freely.

Claim that all your sins were paid for on Calvary’s cross.

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A Gratitude Attitude

From attitudes grow behaviors.

Many health benefits come from positive attitudes, and many harmful results arise from negative attitudes. An example of the positive effect is found in thankfulness, which promotes friendship and the desire to share. The contrast is criticism and its effects on relationships, such as withdrawal and defensiveness. Relationships grow from attitudes, and from gratitude grows love.

The importance of attitudes is found in a parent’s attitude about their babies. Some first-time parents feel a new little one is primarily a responsibility and hindrance to their freedom. From this attitude grows the behavior of calling the little one such names as “Rug Rat.” Sadly, little ones are literal and believe their parents’ negative attitudes. The baby soon feels repulsive to his or her parents and, consequentially, the rest of the world.

The parents that raise their children with a consistent attitude of thankfulness and gratitude for the divine gift their children represent produce children with positive feelings about themselves. A gratitude attitude is one of life’s most important emotions for us and our families.

This principle gives rise to the following questions: “Are we grateful for our husband or wife? Are we grateful for the journey God has chosen for us to walk toward heaven’s door, even if it is hard and seems impossible at times? Are we grateful for whoever our children marry?”

When the heavenly Father tells us the interaction of “all things” results in greater effects for good for those who love Him than do the effects of individual items, we should believe His promise with gratitude. We must believe our heavenly Father sees the whole picture and is beneficially in control.

A way to understand the importance of gratitude is to imagine having no spouse, children, family, or friends. The lack of gratitude naturally grows into a spirit of bitterness, which contributes to losing our key relationships. We then learn the hard way that in a life without family and friends, despite their imperfections, we have nothing.

Let an attitude of gratitude change your life for the better, both with God and man.

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Weathering the Winters of Life

At times, feelings of defeat, sadness, and loneliness control our mindset as struggles consume our lives.

During these times—when all seems hopeless—we feel as if the cold will never end, and the sun will never shine again. Despair dominates our thoughts. These seasons of suffering bring images of winter to my mind.

As the barren trees stand still and silent in the cool winter evenings—dormant, waiting for spring to awaken—they seem to long for the warmth of the sun and the ability to grow and bloom.

God gave a simple tree a way to live through the cold winter, yet remain patient and strong. It knows spring will come again. It knows the warmth of the sun will return, allowing it to grow and bloom once more.

Winters will always occur in our lives. Sometimes, we will struggle, but at other times, we will wish to shrivel, hide, or run away. During these times, we must remember the trees—patient and strong—standing against that which would kill them, yet triumphing and blooming again when the time is right.

The next time we struggle, we can remember the tree. We can be patient and strong until the sun shines again. God returns our joy, showering us with warmth and love. He will always help us weather any situation. It may not always be easy, but He is there to give us strength.

Ask God to help you rely on His strength and not to be afraid during the trials of your life.

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Servant Washing

Riding the train to a destination always makes me feel a sense of community.

Although we may be strangers, the passengers all share the same journey and the same resources–especially the same air.

On my last cross-country trip, I had a little sleeper room to myself. Near the end of my trip, a tired-looking young girl and her two young children entered the room across from mine. They looked–and smelled–as if they had not washed in a week. The protests and sound effects from other passengers sounded loudly throughout our car as we all breathed in the foul body odor.

I wasn’t sure if the porter was too busy or just avoiding the odor. I said a little prayer, held my breath, knocked on the young girl’s door, and introduced myself. After all the social pleasantries, I said, “I’m not sure if the porter told you, but there’s a shower room downstairs. I’d be happy to watch your kids if you’d like to freshen up.”

She declined. I couldn’t believe it. Did she not know how badly she needed that shower? I tried again. “I’m just right across the way. I’m a mom too. I would take care of your kids like my own,” I said.

The girl still said no. I stared at her a moment, trying to read her. I thought maybe she would explain. But no. I looked at her energetic children. “I’ve been where you are,” I said. “Would you please let me help you?”

She told me all about her trip and about how none of her traveling companions would help her with her kids because she’d had them out of wedlock. I motioned to her diaper bag as she poured out her problems.

I thought about Jesus washing His disciples’ feet and how He commanded us to do the same for each other. The Lord served as an example of how He wants us to honor others. I remembered that I must thank the Lord even during trials, and I thanked Him for blessing me with the opportunity to help a struggling family that day.

How can you do a little servant washing?

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Responsibility

I was given responsibilities at an early age.

My parents held me accountable and insisted I do my best. I became known as a young man who could be given responsibilities and be trusted to fulfill them in a timely and professional way.

Yet humans are the most irresponsible creatures God made. All other creatures fulfill their responsibilities. Although they are amoral and have no free will and therefore no choice in the matter of their responsibilities, they carry out their responsibilities by creature instinct and intuition.

God created humans in a way that if we fulfill our responsibilities, we can reach our full potential and glorify Him as well. God created the universe and is the Moral Governor. His law is the moral law, and we are the moral agents who dwell under His law.

Since we have received responsibilities from God, we are answerable or accountable to God. But if we are not accountable to God and there is no final judgment—as some believe—then we have no God-given responsibilities.

King Solomon summed up our responsibility from and to God by saying we are obligated to obey God’s commands (His Word) and that God will judge us to see if we have.

Since we have a fallen nature, we cannot fulfill our responsibility to God and consistently keep all His commandments without help. Jesus Christ, in love, took responsibility for our sins and was held accountable for them by God at Calvary.

When we accept Christ’s sacrifice, we will not be held accountable for our sins when we stand before God. Christ’s sacrifice for us satisfied a holy God and His holy law. But those outside Christ will be responsible for their sins and held accountable for them by God on judgment day.

Being saved and free from God’s judgment should make us more responsible to the One who set us free. Are you acting responsibly?

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Be Available

I once watched a movie about a disabled boy who could hardly talk.

The boy was autistic, and his dad thought he could not do anything because of this problem. Initially, all the boys at his school made fun of him when he tried to play ball with them. They soon found out he could play much better than they thought.

A boy named Zack was assigned to play with and help the autistic boy. They soon became close friends. Even the boy’s daddy found out he could do things when his son threw an egg in his face. His dad was proud of him and asked him to throw a tomato in his face, which he did.

The boy soon proved himself on the ball team. He eventually brought the baseball team together, and they all became close friends.

Near the end of the movie, the boy fell on the field near the end of a game, and he was taken to the hospital. All the boys gathered around his bedside. God used this boy to show the other boys on the team how to come together and be true friends.

For God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. This verse reminds us that God can use anything and anyone He desires—such as was portrayed in the movie—to confound the wise. If we make ourselves available to Him, he will use us no matter what people may say or think about us.

Make yourself available for God to use, regardless of what you may think of yourself or what others may think of you.

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Insight and Sight

I thank God for my sight.

I also thank God for my insight. I received both from Him. Since my sight is good, I don’t need to ask God for better sight. But I do pray daily for more insight. I ask for wisdom and understanding. I ask God to explain His Word to me and then to help me explain it to others. I read God’s Word with my sight, but insight comes from God.

When God spoke to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask for whatever he wanted, he asked for insight.

Insight comes from within. With insight, we see the meaning of things. With our eyes we have sight, but with our heart we have insight.

Jesus gave His disciples insight or understanding of Scripture. This insight is also called spiritual understanding or illumination.

The Holy Spirit illumines or gives understanding to believers. We read the Word, but we cannot understand it without spiritual insight. Spiritual truth can only be comprehended by those who’ve been born-again and whose spiritual faculties have been made alive by God.

Just as we need physical light for our sight, so we need spiritual light for our insight. We can have sight without insight, but we can also have insight without sight if we have access to the Word of God. Those with sight only see world-changing events and consider them insignificant, but those with insight see the significance of those events and God’s eternal plan being fulfilled.

Jesus often rebuked His disciples for their lack of faith and insight or discernment. That’s because faith is the prerequisite for insight. We must believe before we see.

Blind Bartimaeus received his sight through faith in Jesus. We receive insight the same way. Natural sight is precious, but limited. Spiritual insight is more precious and only limited by our faith. We should pray for more spiritual insight.

Insight gives us the meat of God’s Word and helps us understand the will and way of God our Father. Will you ask God for spiritual insight?

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Suffering Has a Purpose

No one will get out of this life without suffering.

Life does not come on a silver platter, except for those born into riches, and they soon learn silver tarnishes quickly. Always being given what a person wants within a framework of constant leisure produces a too-much-honey-in-the-mouth-bitter-taste syndrome. Those who seemed privileged by the possession of multiple houses and early retirement often find a set of pressures and problems they did not anticipate, as several in my immediate family discovered.

We put our problems into perspective when we see a crippled person howl in agony, as I observed near a pool at our resort in Cabo San Lucas. Another time, I cried when I saw a blind person, reaching to touch the face of a loved one as they attempted to picture their smile.

Examples of suffering that have a purpose are found in the way almighty God treated His prophets who often were abused, hungry, and far from home. Yet God loved them. Another example is found in faith’s hall of fame as recorded in Hebrews chapter eleven. The heroes were permitted to experience terrible sufferings, such as being sawed in two. They conquered sufferings through faith by believing the Lord knew what was best. His love and promises carried them through.

Many of God’s children testify that they find great help in times of suffering by remembering that the Divine potter—who holds their clay in His almighty hand and is removing their imperfections—is preparing each believer for heaven’s showrooms. Only the Potter knows the big picture of what each masterpiece must go through to produce a unique, one-of-a-kind work of art that He will display in heaven for eternity.

You are never alone when you suffer. Jesus said He would never leave or forsake you.

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Is It Kind, True, or Necessary

When we kids were cruel to each other, my seventh-grade teacher would ask, “Is it kind, is it true, or is it necessary?”

When we lightheartedly tease other people, we can hurt them. One day, a woman I worked with commented about my brain. I don’t think she meant to hurt me, but the way she said it made me feel as though I was dumb. Her comment hurt because I had learning disabilities as a child, and the kids picked on me. For me to talk about my brain was difficult and devastating.

I sing in a men’s choir, which also includes women with low voices. As usual, one Sunday I dressed up for the services. A woman in the choir sarcastically commented, “You actually can dress nice.” The way she phrased it hurt. She could have said, “You look sharp today.” Instead of being offended, I would have felt good about myself.

When you talk, do not say harmful things, but say what people need—words that will help others become stronger. Then what you say will do good to those who listen to you.This verse tells us not to say harmful things. We should want to help people become stronger and encourage them through the words we say, not discourage them and make them feel bad about themselves. We need to build others up, not tear them down.

Are your words kind, true, or necessary?

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God Our Strength

My sister is a two-time breast cancer survivor.

Breast cancer starts when cells grow out of control and form a lump. The tumor is malignant if it spreads to different parts of the body. Once diagnosed, several different treatments are available.

During my sister’s difficult time, she put her trust in God to see her through this crisis. During her first experience with cancer, she had a mastectomy and underwent chemotherapy. She suffered the side effects of fatigue and nausea.

In between treatments, I visited her. I couldn’t believe the strength she possessed. Daily, she worked in the garden. In the kitchen on the shelf sat mason jars full of food she had preserved. Additionally, she cared for her grandchildren and cooked three meals a day. And all of this with a smile on her face. She never complained, although she had plenty to complain about.

She was going strong, as if she had never heard of cancer. I quietly observed her, looking at a real live miracle. Many people prayed for her daily, but she was the warrior. Her faith in God was the most powerful weapon, giving her strength for each new day.

My sister enjoyed remission for ten years. Then one day the cancer returned—this time in the other breast. She rolled up her sleeves and went off to battle the disease again. With God and the doctor by her side, she survived the second time. Had it not been for her confidence in God, she would have perished already. She showed us all what we can do when God is our strength.

When God is our strength, we can endure the most unbearable thing.

Thank the Lord that He is your strength and life.

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How To Overcome When Overwhelmed

Being terrified when overwhelmed produces paralysis in us, which steals the potential for a positive outcome.

God desires a brave spirit in His children. When we are engulfed by fear, we are a living contradiction between what we have been given and how we live. We are not living by faith.

Living as we have been created through the new birth, we are powerful and loving and have a sound mind, which involves good mental and emotional health. When overwhelmed, we overcome by living a life of trust, faith, and prayer—not by being anxious.

Feeling overwhelmed usually brings with it a feeling that what is bothering us is impossible to work out. This feeling is overcome when we become convinced that our heavenly Father is watching out for us and has our situation under control. We take comfort in understanding that, with God, all things are possible.

Another source of feeling overcome is when it seems impossible for us to have enough strength, finances, or wisdom. Our Father tells us His divine power has given us everything we need. Our Shepherd will provide, guide, and protect us if we will follow Him.

Science has found that how we interpret pain affects the intensity of the experience. Believing the promises of God changes the overwhelming experience from devastating to beneficial.

We can stop struggling and start trusting our Shepherd. He loves us and has a plan in everything He permits our way. He will work all things for our good. We are not alone. He has promised never to leave or forsake us.

Keep looking up and pressing on in the power of the Spirit and the love of Jesus.

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Sweet Temptations

I didn’t realize how difficult a three-week sugar fast would be.

It’s only three weeks, I thought. Purposely finishing off the leftover birthday cake sitting on the counter the night before my fast started so there were no delectable goodies to tempt me, I discovered that the first couple of days were easy.

A few days later, however, my fiancé Nick brought home a box of dulce de leche drumstick ice cream cones as a special treat. He forgot about my fast. As I sat night after night watching Nick devour the savory frozen desserts while my mouth watered, temptation kicked in.

Expressing to God how much I was struggling to resist such a silly temptation, God reminded me He understood because He, too, had faced temptation.

After fasting for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, Jesus was tested by the tempter. “Tell these stones to become bread,” the Devil said. “Throw yourself off the temple, for He will command his angels to protect you. If you bow down and worship me, I’ll give all the kingdoms of the world to you.” To each temptation, Jesus responded by quoting Scripture.

As I fought temptation during my fast, I was comforted by reading about Jesus’ experience. Following His example, I spoke the truth displayed in Scripture. God has given me a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. I am disciplining myself for godliness. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

Although the temptation to indulge in the sweet treats surrounding me didn’t magically disappear, I was strengthened and empowered through the Word. With God’s help, I completed my fast.

When we face temptation big or small, we can cry out to Jesus because He understands. He endured the same. And like Jesus, our first instinct, when faced with temptation, should be to cling to the Word for strength.

Are you struggling with temptation? Cry out to Jesus. God understands, empathizes, and will empower you to say no to the flesh.

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My Close Call

I was traveling on I-64 in East St Louis at fifty-five miles an hour when I noticed stopped traffic ahead of me. I slammed on the breaks and barely missed hitting a tractor-trailer.

Later that night, two thoughts came to mind. First, Jesus preserved my life—and I thank God for that. I could have had serious injuries or maybe even died had I hit that semi-trailer. Second, I remembered the verse from Jeremiah: “I have good plans for you not to hurt you. I will give you hope and a future.”

The Lord has a purpose for me on this earth. But many times I have wondered. My past has been littered with great trials, learning disabilities when I was in school, and an alcoholic mom who eventually committed suicide. With both of my parents abandoning me and never remarrying, I have felt unloved and purposeless.

Maybe my purpose is to share Jesus with a broken world. I know others have experienced the trials I have encountered. Maybe my hope and future are to show others how to have hope while using my personal experiences.

We all have a reason for being here, and so do you. Ask the Lord to show you the good plans He has for you.

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Hope for the Hopeless

The aging are surrounded by friends and loved ones who are ailing and dying.

Death is inevitable. We’re all going to face it. How and when each of us will end, only God knows. But facing it in misery is not necessary.

Being a Christian does not exempt us from experiencing malady, anxiety, depression, and even suicidal ideations. It’s easy to buy into the world’s lies that euthanasia is an option when faced with a life-threatening illness or despondency. As one who has battled depression my entire life, I’m all too familiar with the Enemy’s voice that proffers hopelessness.

If we’re a person who suffers great pain, whether physical or emotional, we may despair and cry out to God in desperation, “Why? Why must it hurt so bad? Why can’t you just end me?” Remember Job? Even his wife said he should curse God and die.

But wait, as the annoying infomercial says, there’s more! More pain? More suffering? Job could have listened to all the negative noise around him and given up. Instead, he decided that no matter what happened next, no matter how he felt, he would trust God and praise Him.

Therein is the secret. Both hope and misery are choices. I can choose to wallow where even pigs would rather not roll, or rise above, look up, and praise God for another day. In my pain and suffering, what good am I? God tells me I am loved, valued, and created with a purpose. Until my last breath.

Go to the park and watch little children running, laughing, and shrieking with joyful abandon. When we find ourselves smiling, take that smile and give it away. Think of everyone in need and pray for them. Life is not over. Prayer is a powerful and effective tool—the final gift God gives us when our bodies no longer cooperate.  

Until you’ve exhaled your last breath, you still have time to pray, shine the light of hope on those around you, and praise God. Cast your anxiety on Him because He truly cares for you.

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Does God Have Super Powers?

“Ella, God made the stars and put them in the sky,” Mamaw said.

Three-year-old Ella’s eyes widened as she listened and peeked out the window at the twinkling stars.

Mamaw Karen Parker continued reading from the children’s book, “He made the sun to shine so brightly and the stars for the night.” Ella’s excitement grew.

Before they could finish the book, Ella blurted, “Mamaw, does God have super powers?”

We live in an age when our children have varied superheroes. Some represent the best attributes of humanity and the ultimate force for good, living by a high moral code. Children want to be like their heroes, even if that is only to don a cape and try to fly.

But how do our children and grandchildren learn the concept that God is mighty? With our actions and words, we can show them who God is and help them form their view of the heavenly Father. If we believe He desires us to live by a high moral code, we model that before them.

When we tell them about God, our attitude about Him comes through to the little ones. They sense our faith. God joins with us at the point of faith to accomplish great things in us, around us, and through us. He values each one and desires to see us achieve greatness according to His power working in and through our weak, human selves.

God continues to perform the miracle of creation every time a baby is born. Each child who enters the world has purpose and is included in God’s universe for a reason.

God gives us unique flowers, trees, and animals for our pleasure. We see the wonder of His creation through natural beauty. The Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls reveal His splendor. Scientists continually discover heavenly bodies we never knew existed.

“So yes, Ellla, God is a superhero, and He has super powers.”

Let your children know you believe that God is the greatest superhero of all.

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Spiritual Discernment

One of my sister’s best friends since high school passed away at the age of forty-two.

My sister was so engulfed in grief that she felt heavy and cried a lot. I had never seen my sister in so much pain and heartache. I wondered whether she needed a phone call, dinner, or me to sit with her during this trying time.

Jehosheba, the aunt of Joash, was a spiritually discerning woman. When Athaliah knew her son Ahaziah was dead, she went on a killing spree of all of the royal heirs. Since Jehosheba witnessed all this, she decided to hide her nephew from Athaliah.

When I read this Scripture text, I was saddened that the grandma was so engulfed in her grief that she started killing people. I assume she was in a hurt place and lashed out scarily. But I was struck that the aunt was discerning enough to hide her nephew from being killed. I assume the aunt was able to examine the situation carefully and decided to save her nephew’s life, even though it was risky.

When we are faced with life-altering situations, we must decide how we will respond and if we will allow our spiritual discernment to lead us. Are we going to lash out without thinking about the lifelong implications? Or are we going to retreat until we can devise a plan we know will have lifelong implications? Simply put, are we going to be like Athaliah or Jehosheba?

I believe God put this story in the Old Testament to remind us to pause and think about our actions and reactions because lives are often at stake. When I make life-altering decisions in the moment because my emotions are heightened, like Athaliah, I often regret the decision. But when I use spiritual discernment as my foundation, like Jehosheba, I am always happy with the outcome.

How will you respond when you are faced with life-altering decisions?

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One Day at a Time

In the warmer months, I ride my bike four to five times a week.

My trek is about forty-five minutes to an hour. Toward the end of my ride, I see a hill that is significantly steep and long. I refer to this segment of my ride as “Heartbreak Hill.”

As I approach this incline and look to the top of the hill, I feel it is almost insurmountable. One day, I noticed a cement drainage ditch put together by ten to twelve-foot concrete slabs. Instead of focusing on the top of the hill, I kept my eyes on the next segment of the ditch. With one or two rotations of my peddles, I was past the present slab and on to the next.

I repeated that process, never allowing my eyes to get too far ahead of me. Before I knew it, I was at the top of the hill—and without feeling too winded.

In 1974 American country singer, Marilyn Sellars, recorded the song, “One Day at a Time.” The song’s adnomination is a scriptural way of Christian living, just as my looking at one section of the drainage ditch helped me get to the top of the hill.

We often focus on more than we can deal with emotionally or spiritually. Rarely are we defeated by one day’s problems. We lose the battle when we try to navigate present challenges while worrying about tomorrow’s potential problems.

Grace is the divine ability to cope with life’s difficult circumstances. Yet God does not give us grace today for tomorrow’s would-be problems. A large percentage of the things we worry about never happen. We waste our worry on what we cannot change because it does not exist.

So, what is the solution? We need to listen to God and not worry about tomorrow. We are not wired to take on present and future concerns simultaneously.

Take it one day at a time, and you will find that sweet Jesus will provide the grace you need for the journey.

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Feeling Burdened?

If grocery bag carrying were an Olympic event, I would score gold.

Refusing to ask for help, I often lug such a plethora of plump bags from my car that I’m hardly able to fit them through the front door.

“Do you need help?” my fiancé will frequently ask.

“Nope. I can do it by myself.”

Part pride and part not wanting to inconvenience another, my stubbornness has often led to broken bags, spilled groceries, and a grumpy attitude. It’s so hard to ask for help.

As followers of Christ, we weren’t designed to navigate life’s mountains and valleys alone. God designed us to need each other. Friendship and community are fundamental not only to share the joys and accomplishments of life (the fun stuff) but also to share struggles and sorrows (the not-so-fun stuff). Even Jesus maintained a close group of twelve whom He confided in and journeyed with throughout His ministry.

I find it incredibly difficult to reach out to others when I’m struggling. The last thing I want is to weigh others down when I am feeling weighed down. And yet when I do confide in a trusted friend during the trial, I find immense comfort and encouragement and always leave the encounter feeling lighter. Likewise, when a friend or loved one reaches out to me, I am grateful when I in turn can meet them where they are and help them weather their storm.

The best part is, we don’t have to carry our burdens, or the burdens of others, on our own. The Lord daily bears our burdens. We need not be weighed down, for nothing is too heavy for Him.

Do you know someone struggling? Are you struggling? Be encouraged to help share each other’s burdens, to share your burdens with others, and to lift every burden to your heavenly Father.

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Deferred Hope

“I’ve prayed about this for years, Lord. I don’t understand why there’s no change.”

That was my prayer for a long time over certain situations. Well, maybe it was more like whining. I felt as though God had turned a deaf ear.

Ever felt that way? We are a generation of instant gratification. When we don’t get what we want immediately, we get frustrated and complain. We question why. This attitude especially affects our prayer life.

Proverbs tells us that deferred hope can make the heart sick. The Passion Translation puts it this way: When hope’s dream seems to drag on and on, the delay can be depressing. Sometimes we pray and wait. Ask again and wait. Even pray and ask and beg … and wait while we wonder, why doesn’t God respond?

Chris Tiegreen suggests this could be a test. “If we focus on the deferral, we grow despondent and lose faith.”

So, what is the answer? Tiegreen also says, “If we focus on His goodness, faith grows. His promises are rarely immediate, and the way you handle the wait is designed to prepare you for the fulfillment.”

The key is to learn how to focus on the goodness of God. Just because the answer doesn’t come when we think it should doesn’t mean it will never come. God might be doing a work in us to be sure we’re ready for the answer.

A child might ask for the car keys at age ten, but a wise parent won’t put those keys in his hand until he’s old enough, mature enough, has passed the driver’s test, and has a license. The waiting might seem like an eternity to that child, but the fulfillment always comes at the right time.

If you’re praying for something that has not come to pass, don’t lose heart. Deferred simply means put off or postponed. Remember, God works behind the scenes to make sure all the pieces are in place. He always has our best interests at heart, and His timing is perfect. So, keep believing. And thank Him in advance for what He is going to do.

Look up. Your answer is on the way.

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Peace at Christmas

Our Christmas tree rotates, and I love it.

I can turn the house lights off, sit in my recliner, and watch it gently turn. Decorations dangle and lights twinkle. It’s beautiful. 

My habit is to wake up every morning around 1:45 and make a lap around the upstairs interior. I call it my prayer pacing. The house is quiet—nothing makes a sound—but as I walk through the hallway, I see reflections of glistening ornaments on the ceiling. 

I stopped and leaned over the upstairs railing, gazing down at the tree as it spun gently. Before me were memories of times past. Family, friends, prayer stars, one tiny handmade ornament given to me by a friend, and a baby Jesus—wrapped in burlap, sleeping and snuggled tight. As the baby Jesus’ shadow passed by, I suddenly found myself...touched. 

I can’t say it was a silent night when Mary gave birth. She did it in some makeshift-type barn, either a lean-to-type shed or perhaps a burrowed-out cave in the side of a hill. I’m sure it was noisy. After all, childbirth in and of itself is not silent. And with animals around, I doubt there was little peace for the child or mother either. I can’t begin to imagine the cleanliness factor.

Yet, in all His wisdom, God came to earth in the vilest of positions—an infant. An innocent, dependent, needy, human infant. It could have been so much more, but God chose the commoner, the poor, and the simple to place His Son among so that He would experience the fullness of humanity instead of the entitled.

There was little quiet in the life of Christ except for the moments He separated Himself from others to pray. Imagine the noise in His head. The sounds of humanity ripping at His soul. I imagine the only peace He truly felt was the moments after His death when His lungs sighed out the last push of air and His voice stilled. At that moment, when His earthly life ended and His spiritual transition happened, I wonder...was it silent? Did He have peace?

Christmas is such a sweet time to remember Christ. To imagine His momma, a child herself, holding Him tightly. And His earthly father, still a bit stunned at the birth, stepped up to love and raise a child that was not his by nature. So much happened that year. We’ve crammed it all into one night, but it was more than a night. It was a beginning to an end.

I made my way down the stairs to the tree, and when the child passed by, I gave him a little kiss. Sleep in peace wee one, for I am grateful for your birth, your plight, and your moment of silence.

May you find peace in the Christ-child.

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The Real Christmas Spirit

“Excuse me, ma’am. You dropped this,” she said, running toward the two young ladies.

I watched as the woman put some crumpled-up bills in the hand of one of them that looked to be twenty to forty dollars. “I saw you drop this a second ago,” she said.  

As she and I walked in the same direction through the store, I quietly commented, “That was a nice thing you did, and a lot of people wouldn't have.”

“It's Christmas,” she replied with a smile.

“Yeah, but I've got an idea you're like that the other eleven months of the year too,” I said.

“I try to be,” she responded.

“That's good because we have a God we'll stand before one day to give an account of stuff like that.”

She agreed, and we wished each other a Merry Christmas and went our separate ways.

That may not seem like a big deal to us, but it would if it was our money. There's no telling how devastating losing that money could've been for that young lady. There's also no way of knowing how much the lady that returned it might've needed it herself. To her, though, it was more important to do the right thing.

Doing right by our fellow man shouldn't be an occasional act—and definitely not a seasonal one. This lady didn't even have to think twice about whether or not to return the money. It was just natural for her.

As we stand in lines or sit in traffic this Christmas, we can take time to look at the things of others. Where would we be if Christ was only concerned with His things and not ours? If so, we might not always get the things we want.

Have you discovered the real Christmas spirit that it is more blessed to give than to receive?

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Listen

Listen became my go-to word as I sought to instill discipline and training in Charlie’s little rambunctious puppy brain.

When Charlie began misbehaving, whether barking incessantly at a neighbor, chasing after a bunny who dared enter her backyard, or getting too close to my dinner plate, I’d say “Charlie, liiiiiissstttttennnn” with the hopes it would immediately garner her attention. At two years old, anytime I utter that word, she stops in her tracks and looks at me, waiting for further direction from her master.

I’ve often felt God utter the same six-letter word to me. When the Lord instructed the prophet Elijah to stand on the mountain and wait for Him to pass by, Elijah probably expected a dramatic entrance. When a powerful wind tore the mountains apart, Elijah was likely surprised that the Lord was not in the earth-shattering wind. Nor was He in the earthquake that followed. Or the fire that proceeded the earthquake. Instead, the Lord revealed Himself to Elijah in a gentle whisper.

In our busy world filled with buzzing phones, social media, news notifications, and ever-growing to-do lists that vie for our attention, I find it difficult to silence my heart and mind and listen to God. I frequently neglect to hear Him speak to my heart because I don’t silence myself and listen to His voice.

Just as I tell Charlie to listen when I need to regain her attention, I can almost hear God saying, “Emily, liiiiisssstteeeeeen.” I have chosen to deliberately quiet myself, open my heart, and listen each day, allowing God to speak.

Take time today to quiet your heart and mind and invite God to speak to your heart. Then listen. He has so much He desires to share with you.  

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Bad Days

I hate getting out of bed.

It’s 3:30 am again and time for me to get up, but I don’t want to. It’s not so much my job that I dislike, but the thoughts of what could go wrong. I have had many days that started good, but then things went sour. When I was fourteen, I got up just like any other Saturday. Later that day, my mom left home and committed suicide. 

I also hated getting out of bed and going to school. I had learning difficulties and failed many tests. The kids knew I received bad grades, and they made fun of me. I recall the day when I found out I would have to repeat fifth grade. And also the day I found out my dad had left town after his divorce.

With each of these days, I did not know what would happen. After reading my list, can you see why sometimes I prefer to stay in bed? Can you relate?

Bad days happen as a result of living in a sinful world. If Jesus is in our heart, we can rest assured there will be a day when there will be no more deaths, failing grades, tears, or sins Thanks to Jesus, we won’t experience anymore crying in heaven because there won’t be any more sin.

If you want to one day end your suffering, ask Jesus into your heart. You will have a home in heaven someday where your bad days will end.

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Be Kind to Yourself

“I’m such an idiot,” I told myself one day after doing something ridiculously stupid.

“Don’t say that to yourself,” the good Lord gently chided. “You wouldn’t say that to one of your friends, so don’t say that to yourself. It’s just as sinful to say it to yourself as it is to say it to a friend.”

Talk about a “lightbulb moment.” I had never considered that, but it was true.

We may sometimes curse, criticize, or condemn ourselves without thought, yet the Bible instructs us to walk in love with others. At the risk of stating the obvious, we are people too. We need to be patient and kind to ourselves. We all make mistakes. We have hurts and we hurt others.

Thankfully, our heavenly Father has provided mercy and forgiveness, not only for others but also for us. Yes, it is noble and godly to give these to the people around us, but if we withhold kindness from ourselves, we are not walking in the love in which Jesus commanded us to live.

We may often find fault with our looks also, using words we would never think about hurling at another human being. We must remember we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. The fact is no one has a perfect body, but we can thank the good Lord above—who isn’t too interested in how we look—that He looks on the heart instead.

When we’re faced with our human failures, we can be kind and patient with ourselves. We do not have to be perfect to be loved. After all, He who began a good work in us will complete and perfect it until Jesus returns. We can embrace who we are and be true to ourselves instead of being discontented and trying to be carbon copies of someone else.

Remember, you are beautiful, magical, and wonderful just as you are.

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Joy

As soon as my head hits the pillow, concerns fill my mind.

Like bothersome flies, the things I didn’t do during the day and the things I want to do tomorrow keep bugging me. Prayers for sick friends, for the homeless, and for someone grieving churn through my mind. I toss and turn. Take deep breaths. Relax my arms and my legs. Finally, sleep sneaks in and takes over.

When the morning sun creeps through my window, the angst of night fades away. I eat a slice of toast, drink my coffee, and then settle in my easy chair—wondering what God wants to tell me today. I open my Bible to Psalms 30, pause at verse 5, and nod my head. Yep, tears of frustration had spilled onto my pillow when I couldn’t sleep.

A yawn follows my left-over pity party. Suddenly, a bird zips past the window, and I stand up to get a better look. Aha! A house finch. Getting his breakfast at the bird feeder.   

A bright red hood covers his head, and a red vest covers his grey suit. “Oh! There’s Mrs. Finch, completely dressed in grey.” In their raspy voices, they say hello to each other. A smile covers my face at this gift of joy from God.

Every so often, just when we need it the most, a God-blessed moment, one we usually take for granted, bursts into our lives.

When God moments happen to you, take them into your heart, seize the joy, and be glad.

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In Uncertain Times, Trust God

They lined up at the grocery store with face masks, standing six feet apart.

I felt awkward. I did not have a mask to wear and could not find one because stores were sold out. Even with a loved one at home recovering from a stroke, I could not stay home all the time. I had to buy food and keep doctor appointments.

My only choice was to make a mask. I tried my best. I sewed elastic to the ends of a sock—not professional looking, but breathable. I thought about the healthcare workers and store clerks who had to wear a hot face mask all day every day to care for and feed people like me. I could wrap a scarf around my face and take it off as soon as I left the store, but those on the frontline couldn’t. They weathered the storm and went the extra mile.

For many, the Covid pandemic was the biggest threat in our lifetime. During uncertain times, when we don’t have strength, we can look to God for His strength. He carries us through His Son Jesus. Unpredictable storms may come our way, and we will feel the effects of them, but our God is still at work behind the scenes and on our behalf.

We can trust the One who calms the storm. The shepherd boy David trusted in that Eternal Being when he faced his enemy, Goliath, the giant of the Philistines. He knew God would deliver the enemy into his hands, for his Sovereign Lord was with him.

Just as God was there for David, so He is here for us today. Riches, wealth, and disease will all pass away, but our God is here to stay.

Trust the Lord always. He is with you in the good and the bad times.

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Unity

When in my early twenties, I went to a college-prep program.

I visited a college with an electronics lab. I had so much fun. We did safe experiments with a laser and electricity. The lab had an electricity monitor that showed electricity running through the body.

We experimented with a light hooked to a wire that was attached to the electricity monitor. It was set up during part of the experiment so we could all participate in keeping the light shining. If we all joined hands, the light shone, but if one of us released our hands from the others, the light stopped shining.

When we are unified in the body of Christ, our lights shine, but if we are not, our lights stop shining. The more that local churches don’t have unity, the more it affects a nation and the world.

The church was born on the Day of Pentecost, and it happened only when 120 followers of Christ were unified. As a result of that unity, the church continues.

To be unified around God’s Word, we must be unified with the Lord by doing what He tells us to do. Some of those things involve praying, fellowshipping with God, and staying right with others.

I want to stay right with others, and I usually do a fairly good job with that. One of the hardest things is making things right with someone.

Commit to staying right with God and others so you can stay in unity. And why not pray together as individuals, families, and local churches.

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Turn Fear into Trust

Hate is a gentle word! Or at least it was and still is for my feelings on the scariest day of the year.

I’ve never liked Halloween. Even as a child, I dreaded walking through Roses with my mother and seeing the multitude of bloody, scary costumes hanging in the front of the store. I wasn’t fond of Casper the friendly ghost either.

My mother always encouraged me to make a fun costume, and on Halloween night, she and her best friend walked us kids around the neighborhood. Despite the candy, I still hated Halloween. It didn’t help that our backyard backed up to the local cemetery. Although we played there during the day, I feared the nights.

One Halloween, Mom and her friend walked us to a dear lady’s home who prided herself in making the best popcorn balls in the world. I remember most that with each popcorn ball she distributed, she attached Psalm 34:7 to the stick.

I remember knocking on the door and Mrs. P kneeling, handing me a popcorn ball, and hugging me. “Little one, never fear this night, for the Lord surrounds you. You are safe.”

Being a shepherd had its joys, but it also had devasting dangers, especially when night fell and predators sleeked out of hiding to hunt. The shepherd’s job was to keep his sheep safe from all the evil that lurked in the weeds. There were times, their own lives grew endangered as they protected their flocks, but they were steadfast in their care. The sheep were calm because they trusted the care of their shepherd.

How often do we forget that God surrounds us with His love and protection, and I wonder why? His desire for us is to trust in His protection. As our Father, our Shepherd, God never leaves us. He cares for His children. He is steadfast in His care, and that is a true comfort for us.

I don’t suppose I will ever like Halloween. Despite the cute costumes, it still leaves me uneasy, but as I have grown into an adult, I’ve learned that God surrounds me daily in His protection. I am safe.

Turn your fear into trust. Offer it up to the Father, the Shepherd, who watches over you daily.

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Proclaiming God's Work

After squeezing my wife’s calf, the doctor grimaced. “If you keep using the muscle, your condition will only worsen.”

Six weeks and 2,300 miles from the Pacific Ocean, we were in Sioux City, Iowa—halfway through our bicycle tour.

“You can take anti-inflammatories and try riding in several weeks. But be cautious. Compartment syndrome rarely improves without months of rest.”

My heart sank as Debbie’s lips drooped. Stopping now would mean less money and awareness for our cause.

Beautiful summer days ticked by. We laid low and pitched our fundraiser with more vigor as local media covered our mission. Several people agreed to pray that we could continue our tour.

After two weeks, we reached a crossroads. We couldn’t stay holed up indefinitely. Debbie’s condition had improved, but the muscle remained tight and ached. Nevertheless, we decided to bicycle two days toward Omaha–and fly home if her leg was no better.

Just before we departed, Debbie’s foot slipped into a crevice in the building’s foundation. When she pulled it out, a bat stuck to the Velcro on her shoe and flopped around listlessly. She kicked it off. Was this an omen? Had a spiritual force let go of us as we rolled out on a gorgeous day to discover our touring destiny?

After fifteen miles, Debbie said, “It’s fine. There’s no pain at all. I can’t believe it!”

In the following weeks, we cycled another 2,000 miles, ending the journey with over $22,000 raised for ministry. Debbie had no recurring symptoms. God performed a miracle.

An unexpected setback, a call to prayer, and a time of waiting had laid the groundwork for God to act. We had to step out in faith, despite our doubt. Once God did His thing, our part entailed proclaiming His work.

Sometimes we try to rationalize what only God can do. Without a logical explanation, people think we’re crazy. Yet it’s important to assign credit where it is due.

Reexamine the unexplainable in your life to see if God has overridden His laws of nature. If He has, it’s time to let others know about it. Bringing God glory is what we were made to do.

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You Are Walking Well

My husband and I have three Newfoundland dogs: Harvey, Baloo, and Daisy, a nine-month-old rescue puppy.

Harvey is the eldest. Arthritis has made his joints stiff, so sometimes walking is difficult for him. Exercise is crucial for his resilience and well-being. We have all learned to adjust our walking times to accommodate how he feels.

The perfect conditions for a good stroll are when it’s cool and dry. On those days, Harvey feels great and walks well. On other days, he still wants the company and exercise, but he is slower and needs to take his time, spending a little longer sniffing and taking a few breaks to rest. And he needs encouragement, so I walk next to him and tell him how well he’s doing. Every time I say, “Good boy, Harvey,” he walks a little farther.

Paul knows the Colossians exercise strong, confident faith, and there is order, unity, and harmony among them. His heart is with this fledgling church, and a part of his joy is that they are growing in faith and knowledge—without needing an apostle like him to be there in person. The Colossians have taken responsibility for their spiritual walk.

We need to own our spiritual walk too, and commit to journeying with Jesus every day. Regardless of how we’re feeling or how our day appears, continuing in our walk with the Lord is crucial for our resilience and good for our well-being.

And we don’t do it alone. The Holy Spirit understands the highs and lows of life and walks beside us through it all. He encourages and spurs us on. The Father sees our heart and everything we do for Him. He tells us we are walking well.

Make sure you stay in step with God and keep walking well.

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Character Matters

Michael Jamison would not be alive today if not for his reputation.

Mike, a bank employee, was known for dependability. He rarely missed work, would call well in advance if he needed to be off, and was never late. Never.

One morning, Mike didn’t show up on time. His boss and coworkers became concerned. When Mike didn’t answer his phone, they called his wife who had left earlier that morning for work. She contacted a neighbor, who found him unconscious on the floor of his bathroom and immediately summoned an ambulance.

An aneurysm in Mike’s brain had ruptured, causing a catastrophic cerebral bleed. Doctors agreed that if Mike hadn’t arrived at the hospital when he did, he would have died.

Although he never returned to full-time employment, Mike worked with the youth at church, volunteered at the public library, and nurtured his two children into adulthood. He continued to live out his well-deserved reputation for dependability—the character trait that saved his life.

Several people in the Bible were known for their dependability, especially the prophets. Samuel, in particular, comes to mind. From childhood, he steadfastly proclaimed the words God gave him, no matter what danger threatened. Whether anointing kings, delivering bad news, or calling Israel to repentance, he refused to soft-pedal the truth. Leaders and common people alike trembled at his coming because they knew he proclaimed God’s judgment, whether good or bad. His reputation made him a respected servant of the Lord.

Whether meeting a writing deadline or just meeting a friend for lunch, I strive to be on time. To do what I say I will do. To be trustworthy. Not only because I was raised that way but also because a good character honors God.

Are you cultivating a reputation for dependability? If not, start now and see how God can use it in your life. Character matters.

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Believing the Simple Answers

“Lord, You’ve got to be kidding me.”

The answer for direction I’d been praying for seemed right in front of me, confirmed by a settling in my soul that finally brought a sliver of peace. The answer was simple, but one that seemed too simple to be legitimate.

I tend to expect answers to be multilayered, well-planned, or detailed. But sometimes God works in ways that seem oversimplified, crazy, or even laughable.

Take Naaman, for instance. He was a high-ranking soldier with power and authority, accustomed to being in control of situations. He was also a man afflicted by leprosy.

A servant girl in Naaman’s household suggested that he see the prophet Elisha for healing. Naaman got permission and went, but Elisha didn’t come to meet him. Instead, Elisha sent a message to Naaman through his servant: “Go wash in the Jordan River seven times, and you will be healed.”

Naaman reacted as many of us might: with anger and disbelief. What made the Jordan River more special than others? Why had he traveled so far to be given an answer that seemed ridiculous? Why hadn’t Elisha bothered to see Naaman himself?

In other words, Naaman said the same thing to Elisha’s messenger that I said to God: “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

Naaman’s servants convinced him to go down to the river. He followed Elisha’s instructions—despite how odd they sounded—and was healed of his leprosy.

God doesn’t need fancy, complicated, or attention-grabbing tactics to answer our prayers. How easy it can be to miss God’s answer because we don’t hear what we expected. But we don’t need to understand the answer to believe it will work. Like Naaman, we just need to listen, follow, and let God do the rest.

Are you believing God’s simple answers to you?

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Take Time to Teach

He had no idea how to do what I asked.

One of my grandsons, along with his family, was visiting from Arkansas to attend the funeral of their other “Pop.”

The weather was hot and sultry. That’s okay when driving around in an air-conditioned vehicle, but not if you’re driving around in a little truck in which the air conditioning doesn’t work. And mine didn’t. I had bought the small 1986 Toyota pickup from a neighbor after her husband died.

Since I had grown up riding in vehicles without air, it didn’t bother me too much, but my grandson…well, that was another story.

When he complained about being hot, I said, “Roll down the window.”

“Roll” proved an interesting concept to him since all he knew how to do was “push.”

“How do you do that?” he asked.

“With that handle,” I replied.

He was intrigued. He had never rolled down a window. That started a ride-long discussion about how vehicles once looked on the inside and how they had changed into what he was accustomed to. I told him how vehicles looked when I was his age, and he listened intently. 

I try never to miss an opportunity to teach something of worth to my grandchildren—and to the middle schoolers I teach. And when it fits, I throw in a biblical application with the story.

Timothy had also been taught. Paul reminded him of his faith and how his mother and grandmother had passed it down to him.

God places teachable moments in our life regularly—and it’s not just with children and grandchildren. Teachers have the privilege of influencing many students. Sunday school teachers as well. So do employers, work peers, and coaches. Actually, anyone.

So, what did showing my grandson how to roll down a window teach him? That not everything in life happens with the push of a button. Some things…many things…require effort and forethought. He may not have gotten that lesson then, but I suppose a day will come when he’ll think about it.

Telling others about God’s love remains the most important thing we can teach, but showing others how we can take godly principles and apply them to everyday life also proves essential.

Ask God to send you teachable moments.

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Participation

As a grandmother, I inwardly giggled as I watched my young grandson.

The concert was ready to begin, and I sat in the audience to watch him perform. He stood on the riser with the many other children as the program commenced. I heard some off-pitch voices in different octaves. I saw dancing with gusto, hand motions with flare, and expressions that would melt a parent's heart. That is—all but my grandson. I watched in amazement. His face did not change even slightly as he stoically stood, hands tight to his side, expressionless, and tight-lipped like a figurine on a shelf for the entire concert. He was a choir member, but refused to participate.

I wonder if God views His children as I did my grandson. God extends His love and forgiveness to make us part of His kingdom choir, yet some refuse to participate in His program. Many people, battered with scars of suffering and pain, have developed calloused spirits. They have a lock of protection on their hearts. Does God still love, chase after, and romance the disabled nonparticipant, leaving the ninety-nine active choir members?

According to Matthew, this is the precise action of Christ. As a flawed human grandmother, I did not scold or criticize my grandson after the program but wrapped him in my charitable arms.  My love for him did not diminish but swelled. I knew of my grandson's pain, and I did applaud his fortitude to remain like a defiant statue without fleeing. He had his reasons for non-participation, and I did not view him with contempt but with compassion, empathy, and pity.

If my imperfect love swelled, can we assume God's perfect love overflows even for those who refuse to participate? God knows the pain, the blindness, and the spiritual handicaps that keep some from responding to His call. His grace is like applause wooing us with these words, "I love you. My blood has made you a choir member, but if you want to experience my glorious music, take my hand, receive my forgiveness, dance and sing and participate in me."

Be willing to step out of the choir to reach those who are in pain. You may never know who will eventually participate, but God does.

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The Change of 9/11

On September 11, 2001, an explosion that shook our building awoke my husband and me. 

We ran to the terrace on the 24th floor of our apartment building, which is six blocks from the World Trade Center. We saw thick, black smoke pouring from the North Tower. We watched as a second plane roared overhead and struck the South Tower. The impact hurled us backward into our living room and briefly knocked us unconscious.

When we came to, we grabbed our dog and ran. Barefoot and still wearing pajamas, we sought safety in nearby Battery Park. But the nightmare continued as the towers fell, covering us with toxic dust and debris while heavy smoke surrounded us in a deadly cloud. A boat eventually rescued us, but we couldn't return to our apartment for weeks. The attacks also left us unemployed and our dog clinging to life. Immediately, we showed symptoms of PTSD.

At the time, I identified as a Christian, but my faith was compartmentalized, weak, and untested. When our bills overwhelmed us, a friend advised me to go to a church that was helping 9/11 victims financially. As someone who gave to charity and had never been on the receiving end, I went reluctantly.

The aid workers at the church listened as I vented my sorrow and frustration. They bore witness to my pain and validated my experience. And they cared. I walked out the door holding an envelope containing financial help. Something shifted inside me. I felt hope. That simple act of Christian mercy began the process toward restoring my faith in God and igniting a new desire to learn more about Him.

Brian and I began worshipping at this church, eventually making friends, joining Bible study groups, engaging in church activities, and volunteering with outreach programs. All of which led us into a deeper relationship with Christ that changed our lives.

As the 20th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, I look back and realize our current endeavors and blessings flow from that awful day. God met us at our lowest point, sheltered us, and rebuilt us in His image.

In this broken world, we know that injustice and suffering will be a constant presence. But take heart. Jesus has overcome the world, and He promises He will never forsake or abandon us.

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My Healing

Sometimes when I reach the end of the day, my legs and feet are aching, my back is sore, my mind is doing stinking thinking, and I sink into my bed, totally cheesed off with my routine as a caregiver for a geriatric.

On those evenings, I am ready to throw in the towel and quit while I am ahead. But then I open my Bible before bedtime and read this verse: He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

From these words, I gain inspiration and perseverance. Yes, Jesus experienced much worse. I almost sense God throwing my towel back at me, telling me to wipe my face and keep going. So I do.

I pray for healing for the geriatric, for every one of my family and friends, and for myself. God cares about our healing. As a follower of Jesus, I aim to carry the healing of Jesus to other people. My family says things always look better in the morning. True. Things do improve. We can all do with faith for our healing.

I sleep well and awake refreshed in the morning, ready to manage the day. No one day will ever come again, so I plan some positive activities. This is a part of the great mission of the church to teach others by example about divine healing. A morning prayer. A kind smile. A peaceful, calm routine. An act of kindness to someone older—hoping his health and attitude improves.

Ask God to help you remember a new day is dawning and that Jesus’ healing is still here.

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Punishment Too Great

My brother and I had seen our dad’s belt whip out of his pant’s loop before, and we knew what was about to happen—that is, if our two sisters did not intervene.

We had received spankings before for such things as disobedience, backtalking, and misbehaving in church. This time it was for bad grades. Dad told us to sit on the couch in the study. Then he told us why we were being punished.

Our sisters overheard the conversation and intervened on our behalf, talking Dad into punishing us by other means. Dad never spanked us again for bad grades. Our sisters thought it was a “punishment too great.”

While reading about the Israelites disobeying God repeatedly, I judged them. How could they continuously disobey God when He had done so much for them? The Israelites, while wandering through the wilderness heading to the Promised Land, disobeyed God numerous times. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and they saw all the miracles He performed to deliver them. He even parted the Red Sea for them to safely cross on dry land. As the Egyptians crossed in pursuit, God crashed the waters down upon them, saving the Israelites from capture.

I realized I resemble the Israelites. I have seen the works of God in many lives, including mine, yet I still disobey Him. How can I judge them? God punished them for their disobedience.

Our sin causes pain and suffering to ourselves and others. We deserve great punishment for our sins. But Jesus took intervening one step further by taking upon Himself the punishment we deserve. Through grace and mercy, He took the punishment that was too great for us to bear by dying on the cross.

Have you received the benefits of the punishment Jesus took?

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The Cockeyed Squid

I once read an article about a deep-water squid called the Cockeyed Squid.

This squid has one small eye that looks into the darkness and one eye on the other side of its head that grows larger as it looks into the light.

These squids remind me of how many of us navigate life. Squid vision is dangerous for a Christian, but we can learn to see both the earthly and the heavenly at the same time.

A medical condition of the eyes called Antimetropia vision illustrates how the Creator can provide a balanced 20/20 spiritual vision. I was born with this condition. Strangely, one eye is farsighted while the other eye is nearsighted.

When I grew cataracts in both eyes, the eye specialist gave me a choice of remaining monocular or correcting to binocular. I was a bit concerned but chose to remain as the Lord had made me since I felt He knew best.

The doctor encouraged me when he told me he had had his eyes surgically corrected to be monocular. The surgery had helped him see the smallest detail with one eye, and he had performed 3000 eye corrections without any negative results. He also told me my brain would take the two pictures and form them into one clear picture. I discovered he was right.

Only the Holy Spirit can produce spiritual vision that accurately sees both the earthly and the heavenly simultaneously. It is supernatural to have an accurate realistic perception of what is going on around us and yet experience a heart, soul, and mind that rests in the love of God and His promises in the Bible. Only Almighty God knows how He can reveal both the earthly and heavenly to His children without them losing their minds.

The clearest vision you will ever know is when you yield to the Holy Spirit and let Him have control.

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Warrior Shoes

Shoes have evolved.

Centuries ago, everyone wore sandals and used them for protection, not a fashion statement. Malls full of accessories to match every robe did not exist.

In our modern world, a woman can fill her closet with a variety of footwear: slides, espadrilles, pumps, ballet flats, loafers, boots, and more. My husband stands amazed at the selection of women’s footwear available in stores. I mean, what more does a man need than sneakers and motorcycle boots?

Paul compares the spiritual armor believers should wear to the military armor worn by soldiers. A Roman soldier’s boots were made of tough leather, studded with hobnails on the bottom. Marches across miles of rough terrain required gripping power. These iron-studded soles also served as a weapon. A quick kick with a sole full of nails inflicted painful stopping power to an opponent. Warrior cleats were designed for battle.

Paul calls the foot-covering aspect of our armor the preparation of the gospel of peace. The knowledge of God’s Word prepares us for traveling through life’s calamities. And the good news message strengthens our confidence and trust in the Lord despite the situations we face.

When we allow stress and worry to paralyze our fellowship with our heavenly Father, we are not walking in the harmony Christ died to give us. Confusion reigns, Scripture gets confusing, and condemnation attacks. If we miss this essential element of our armor, we become vulnerable on the battlefield of life, like a soldier who tries to fight an enemy barefooted.

But when our journey is studded with the nails of the gospel, we can dig into spiritual terrain and stand our ground. Each step we take into a hostile world has the power to destroy the domain of anxiety, placing us in a battle-ready position to use the other elements of armor.

We may have a variety of foot adornments to choose from, but the most important pair will be to cover our spiritual walk with the knowledge of God’s Word.

May each step you take remind you of the warrior shoes you wear.

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Squirming Stones

Had the quarry stones used in the construction of Solomon's temple been alive, they would have cringed in pain under the workman's chisel.

The stones may have cried out, "I can't take this anymore!" or yelled, "You've cut me too deep!" They may have squirmed at every blow from the hammer. Nevertheless, the work would have continued until the stones were suitable for use.

God refers to His people as living stones. And just like the workmen at the quarry, God often needs to smooth our rough edges to prepare us for greater use. During the sculpting process, we often cringe and fear the things that are happening.

To most of us, God's shaping tools seem unreasonably sharp. We know He loves us because the Bible says God corrects those He loves. Yet that knowledge does not make the hewing of our character any more pleasant. We want to run, but that will only prolong the process.

Our best recourse is to pray for grace and depend on God’s mercy. He will only cut out that which is necessary. And He will never do it for the pleasure of watching us squirm. Our weeping may endure for a night, but joy will come in the morning.

Be encouraged. God loves you. The pounding will not last forever. And joy unspeakable is on the way.  

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Seeing Life Clearly

It happened again.

I got behind a semi-truck, and the road spray from his tires flew up on my windshield. My vision momentarily clouded, I activated the windshield washer on my car, and the wipers swayed across my window. Then the message popped up that I needed to refill the windshield washer fluid.

I needed to recharge the washer fluid reservoir so that the fluid could dissolve the dirt and mud on my windshield. Without this, I would drive with difficulty, hardly able to see where I was going. The dirty window in front of me clouded my vision.

We take visibility—both physical and spiritual—for granted. We think we can see far enough ahead until something comes into our life that makes us re-examine ourselves. It could be an illness, a job setback, or something that happens to our spouse and children. Or that our vision gradually clouds over time from lack of spiritual input.

Asaph had a similar problem. He struggled with the wicked always getting ahead in life. Although he did not want to believe it, he looked through fogged lenses. Only after Asaph went back to God and His sanctuary did he get the right perspective on life and God’s plans for it.

We get God’s perspective on what we go through by reading and meditating on His Word. In it, God reveals a clear picture of His nature as well as His plan for our lives. When we think we can manage without spending time in the Bible, our thinking becomes cloudy, and we lose our heavenly perspective.

What can you do today to plan for a consistent intake of God’s Word? Maybe you need to clean your spiritual glasses so you can see God as He is.

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Butterflies

“Look! There’s a butterfly!”

When we say those words, any person within earshot will turn to look at the butterfly. As the tiny creature glides through the air, we observe them with wonder and awe.

What is it about butterflies that makes them so universally loved? Perhaps it is the beautiful colors on their delicate wings. Or the graceful way they fly from one flower to another. It might be that butterflies suddenly appear at the same time each year when winter turns to spring and flowers have begun to bloom.

When I think about butterflies, I remember that every magnificent butterfly was once a lowly caterpillar crawling through the grass. How does a wormlike earthbound creature become transformed into a graceful, winged butterfly that floats through the air? I know there is a detailed scientific explanation for this phenomenon, but I like to look at each butterfly with childlike faith and simply believe it’s a miracle.

And with childlike faith, I also believe that the same God who changes a caterpillar into a butterfly can also transform our lives if we allow Him.

All our sins were placed on Jesus when He died on the cross. When we put our trust in Him, He sends His Spirit to live in us. He then begins the process of changing us from the inside out. Gradually, we become more like a butterfly and less like a caterpillar.

The transformation process is gradual. Our part is to remain close to Him. Talk to Him. Listen to Him. Obey Him. Trust Him. Relax and allow Him to do His transforming work.

The next time a beautiful butterfly glides by you, remember it was once a lowly caterpillar. Then remember that the same Creator who transformed the caterpillar into the butterfly is also transforming you.

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His Eye Is on the Sparrow

In 1905, Civilla Martin wrote a song entitled His Eye Is on the Sparrow.

Whitney Houston sang the song beautifully many years later. It became my dad’s favorite hymn. Every time I sing or hear it, I think of my dad and thank God for God’s faithful provision.

One evening, my husband and I were driving home through a winter storm. When we started, the roads seemed okay. But the closer we got to home, the worse they became. I was nervous and jumpy. Whenever my husband would apply the brakes, I’d grab the side of my door.

Then I received a text from a friend who knew we were on the road, asking if we were home yet. I replied that we were not and that I felt as if I were either going to burst into tears or get sick—or both. My friend sent the symbol of praying hands in her next text. I was humbled and thanked her.

The next morning, while sitting at the table with my warm cup of cocoa and my phone, I saw a tiny sparrow land on the snow beneath our bird feeder. Did he worry about the falling snow all around him? No. Did he worry that we might not replenish the feeder? He didn’t.

If God takes care of a tiny little bird, why should I doubt His provision for me?

Give thanks for God’s ever-present, precautionary, and provisional hand over your life.

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My Cinnamon Roll Prayer

“Want cinnamon roll on potatoes?”

“What?” I questioned my just-turned two-year-old granddaughter on her unusual request.

“Cinnamon roll … on potatoes!”

“Sissy, I don’t have any cinnamon rolls, and anyway, we don’t eat cinnamon rolls on potatoes.”

Fortunately, Sissy’s older and wiser four-year-older brother interpreted, “She means sour cream. She wants sour cream on her potatoes.”

Ahhh. Request granted.

 I identify with Sissy’s communication calamity. Words sometimes fail me when I make my requests to God and when my good intentions to pray fizzle out. Like my granddaughter, I need an interpreter, and I have one in the Holy Spirit.

When my mother died, words could not express my grief. My mind could not articulate the immense horror of a loved one who committed suicide. And words were lacking at the end of an exhausting day of diaper changing, laundry, and cooking for my terminally ill mother-in-law. At such times, knowing the Spirit understands and interprets brought great comfort.

We can rely on the Holy Spirit within to clarify our feelings to God our Father when we feel discouraged, empty, and unable to describe our heart-felt emotions. We can talk to Him, not worrying about our word choice, and know He hears and understands.

Thanks to her older brother, Sissy enjoyed her potatoes with sour cream, not cinnamon rolls. And I am trusting my heavenly interpreter to make sense of my words when I feel weak, overwhelmed, and confused.

Take all your needs and emotions to God.

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Commotion in the Clouds

An ear-splitting boom thundered above.

Startled, my husband stopped talking mid-sentence. Others around us froze in their tracks. Simultaneously, heads turned skyward, searching for the source of the blast. Cries of amazement rang out, and fingers pointed as an object emerged through the clouds. A space shuttle descended for a landing at the Kennedy Space Center.                  

Despite our awareness of the impending arrival, everyone jumped at the boom, announcing the space vehicle’s grand appearance. Before that point, we had been distracted by informational displays on the ground. Our attention centered on things around us, not what was going on in the sky. But our focus changed with one deafening blast.

With such a momentous event about to occur, how could we Space Center visitors have been so distracted from the event we had come to see? Although we anticipated the shuttle’s arrival, we were not ready for it.             

Those present for the shuttle’s landing that day mimic many believers. Christians know Jesus is coming again. His return will resemble a shuttle landing. He will appear in the clouds, accompanied by a loud sound—trumpets rather than a sonic boom.

But knowing Christ will return and preparing for that event are two different things. If we are so caught up in what goes on in our lives, we will be caught off guard when He appears.

Jesus instructed us to watch for His return. Unlike a space shuttle, we do not know what day He will return, but His command requires active looking and readiness, not general anticipation.

Be prepared for Jesus’ emergence in the clouds by prioritizing spiritual, rather than earthly, concerns.    

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When We Cannot See the Future

Beep, beep, beep. The endless sound of the heart monitor deafened me.

My sweet husband, Mickey, lay unresponsive. He had been on the registry for four years due to lung disease. We had been in the hospital for a week, awaiting his double lung transplant. One doctor would perform the surgery for one lung, and another doctor would transplant the other, simultaneously.

“Prep him right now. The lungs are here!” Dr. Myers shouted.

I jumped from my chair, heart pounding in my chest. I grabbed Mickey’s hand and quoted our favorite verse from Hebrews to him. “Remember, He will never leave you or forsake you,” I whispered. Our eyes met, and he smiled, tears running down his cheeks. Then, they rolled him away.

I retreated to the waiting room and opened my Bible to Hebrews. Mickey was now in God’s hands. Hours went by as I waited to hear about his condition.

“Martha, Martha.” I heard someone calling my name and felt a hand on my shoulder.

Dr. Myers was smiling. “He’s doing fine, Martha. He made it through the surgery.”

I wrapped my arms around the doctor’s neck and sobbed. Then he told me what to expect the first time I saw Mickey…that I might not recognize him. Tubes were everywhere. The ventilator breathed up and down. The heart monitor beeped. Mickey could not speak because he was in an induced coma. I wanted so badly to let him know I was there, but all I could do was hold his hand and cry.

The double lung transplant was a success—and for a special reason. Mickey had always had a soft spot for the homeless and those in prison. We had visited the prison many times together to minister to them. Mickey’s lung donor was a young man who had died while in prison.

Mickey clung to that verse in Hebrews, before and after surgery. He always told me he would be okay if God called him home. He also wanted me to remember that God would always be with me. But God was not finished with Mickey. He still had things for him to do.

Know that God will never leave or forsake you. No matter what.

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I Wish I Had a Father

“I wish I had a father.”

Gene spoke these words poignantly as memories of his past stomped around in his mind.

It was Father’s Day, and my daughter had brought a gift and a card to my husband, her stepfather. Gene appreciated the visit, knowing my daughter had worked that day but took time to visit.

Later in the evening, Gene made the wistful comment about wanting a father. At the age of seventy-nine, that may have seemed a strange comment.

Gene’s father was an alcoholic. His parents divorced when he was five. Later, his mother remarried, and Gene’s stepfather was also an alcoholic. He abused Gene physically and verbally.

Gene’s stepfather was a logger. On many days, when Gene should have been in school, he cut and loaded large heavy logs instead. When he was seventeen, he ran away from home rather than face more abuse.

Now in his senior years, Gene’s thought of a loving earthly father was wishful thinking. He longed for what he never had.

Sadly, many people have not been blessed with fathers who loved and cared for them as they grew from infancy to adulthood. Their memories may not include an earthly father ever being present in their lives.

But there is a Father who wants to be involved in every facet of everyone’s life. He knows everything about us, and He knew us before we were born because He knitted us together in our mothers’ wombs.

God the Father loved each of us so deeply that He sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die in our place that we might have eternal life and the assurance of living with Him forever.

Will you accept the Father’s sacrificial gift of His Son?

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Add a Little Sunrise

I rolled over and looked at the clock: 5:28 a.m.

Who gets up at this time of day? Three days in a row, God had awakened me at the same time. I lay there a while and finally drifted back to sleep. I decided if I woke up at that time again the next day, I would get up and head to the porch to watch the sunrise.

Like clockwork on day four, I woke up at exactly 5:28. I got up, showered, and took my coffee to the porch. I sat in the dark for a little while and listened. The chorus of birds, frogs, and bugs greeted me like no other symphony I’d ever heard. Slowly, yellows and blues snuck across the tree line in streaks, as orange exploded on their heels. A blueish gray cloud changed shape. A tear snuck down my cheek as a fullness flooded my heart. A giant eye looked back at me from the cloud formation and immediately I felt it. “I see. I know. I’m here.”

More tears trickled down my face as I thanked God for such a tangible reminder. If I had stayed in bed, I would have missed this moment. I would have missed His message. I would have missed Him.

Now, my days begin before sunrise. Starting each morning surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature stirs my heart in a way nothing else will. I’m more at peace. More centered. More focused. Less hurried. Less worried. Less overwhelmed.

In the darkness before sunrise, songs erupt. Songs of hope. Songs of peace. Songs of joy. We need to let our souls tune in to those songs—songs that will draw us out of our slumber and closer to our Father. And as the sun peeks over the horizon with colors from all directions that brighten a once-dark sky—I know there is hope.

Wake up, take a chance, and let the freshness change your whole view. Early morning isn’t for everyone, but it’s a change that’s working for me. And room always exists in our life for a little sunrise.

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Shake Your Salt

My friend and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the restaurant of a recently opened hotel.

Fresh green spinach peeked from the tantalizing omelet adorning the plate before me. My mouth watered, seeing the melted cheese oozing from this egg dish. My first bite set off an explosion of delight on my taste buds. Only one thing could have made this omelet better—a dash of salt.

I reached for the clear shaker and sprinkled salt on my omelet. At least, I thought I was sprinkling salt. But nothing came out of the shaker. Obviously noticing my frustration, the waitress approached and apologized. She explained that the shakers were new but defective. They looked great, but the holes in the tops of each shaker were too small to allow the salt through. What good is a saltshaker that will not dispense salt? I unscrewed the cap, poured salt into my hand, and took a pinch between my fingers to sprinkle on my food.

While the thought of a saltshaker that won’t shake salt seems ridiculous, the equivalent happens for believers regularly. We have the appearance of being Christians who are filled with the Good News, but we fail to sprinkle that content on the world around us. We’re not effective as God’s salt when we are not spreading the truth we contain.

Think of ways you can be a saltshaker, not simply a salt container.

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The New You

Carefully, I hung the 2021 calendar on the wall.

The old year had been trashed in seconds by the removal of the 2020 calendar from that spot. And good riddance! A new year beckoned with possibilities and opportunities. Although the date automatically changed at midnight on December 31, I did not.

Even before 2020 was ushered out the door, the material world assaulted me with suggestions on how to become a new me in 2021. A plethora of e-mails with life-changing offers cluttered my inbox. Television commercials depicted how to better my life—for a price of course. Purchase a high-end exercise bike with streamed classes. Order a meal kit delivery service, offering fresh and healthier dinners. Whatever the suggestion, the onus was on me to take action and keep at it.

Sighing at the uphill battle required to meet the new me on the other side of a mountain of effort, I daydreamed about the what ifs. What if I could take a pill and, in the blink of an eye, become slimmer? What if I could flip a switch and have my closet immediately organized?

I wanted the bad things to simply melt away. Good luck with that, I concluded. Humans just can’t do that. But then it struck me. I was already a new creation. The bad melted away from me the moment I accepted Christ. My sins were erased, and I became a redeemed believer with eternal life.

As a Christian, I still face the same physique in need of toning, and the closet screams for organization, but I have been transformed by Jesus’ blood. The new you He offers beats any positive change humans could achieve on their own in a new year. What we believers need is to change our attitude.

Ask God to help you be thankful for how He has already made you as a new creation.

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A Blind Servant

My mother was going blind in her one remaining eye.

After a long life of serving Jesus, my mother was robbed of sight in one eye by a nasty strep infection. Surprisingly, she kept serving the Lord in the jails of Central California as the first female chaplain in Fresno County’s history. Fear often overwhelmed her, but she placed it in Jesus’ hands and pressed on.

Later, she lost my father to heart failure but again pressed on. Having become one of the founders of The Valley Mission of Central California, my dear one-eyed mother spent hours each day on her knees praying in our small bathroom.

My mother’s prayer life frightened me when I was young. On a few occasions, I came home from high school just as she emerged from praying. A glowing light surrounded her. Living with my mother taught me about the reality of the Holy Spirit’s presence and healing ability.

Yet years later, this dear handmaiden of the Lord was in danger of going blind in her one remaining eye. She was frightened primarily because she would no longer be able to read her Bible. Even in this circumstance, she continued to teach me. She taught me that her soul was not blind but full of light.

When she passed on—with my three professional sisters in attendance—my nurse sister testified that the room filled with golden light for several blessed moments. Then, Mom made it safely home, and the room became dim.

Because my mother struggled with blindness, I tried to write what she had taught me: “A man blind to there being a God is a man who trips and falls. He uses walls to hang on to as he tries to make his journey safe. A man who refuses to look into the heavens is a nearsighted man, blind to what is coming. This man is blind from birth and cannot imagine a sunrise. He tries to lift burdens without a fulcrum. Those without faith’s light live a life without God’s power and grace. They are impotent.”

So, keep looking up and pressing on with your eyes on Jesus’ beautiful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim.

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Sleeping Through the Storm

A violent storm descended upon my family.

I was only eight when the storm assaulted the seven of us who lived in a little two-bedroom house. We had no basement, so our parents ordered all five children to crawl under their bed and cling tightly to the springs that supported the mattress. I was not scared at all. To me, it was an adventure as everyone huddled in our make-believe fort on the floor.

As an adult, I have faced worse storms where it felt nothing like an adventure. With health, job, and financial issues, I was terrified and scared, just like the disciples on the lake. When the Covid pandemic swept the globe and caused unrest in the world, many found themselves clinging to their under-the-bed-spring modes of comfort, wanting the painful attack to cease. 

When the disciples chastised Jesus for not joining in their panic during the storm, Jesus asked them a question: “Why are you afraid, you people of weak faith?” If our fear comes from weak faith, we must remedy this.

God has the power to calm our internal storms, even if the batteries of this world are in full force. He knows what we lack, and He is willing to give it to us when we ask. Now is the time to seek God to enlarge our faith. As our faith increases, so does our trust in Christ. Soon, faith crowds out fear and anxiety.

I held tightly to the springs under that bed many years ago, but as I’ve grown older, I realized God held me. As I lie down in His green pastures of peace, rest my head on the pillow of His hope, and climb under His blankets of grace, my eyes succumb to the sweet and deep slumber of a child in the arms of her Father. 

If you desire deep sleep during life’s storms, ask God to deepen your faith. 

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The Wrinkled Sweater

“Happy Mother’s Day!” my daughter exclaimed as she smiled broadly and handed me a colorful gift bag.

I pulled a soft red knit sweater from the bag. It was covered in wrinkles, and the style was different from what I usually wore. I thanked my daughter, knowing she had lovingly shopped to find the gift for me.

Later, I ironed the sweater, smoothing out the wrinkles. I discovered it looked different than the rolled-up sweater I had taken from the gift bag. I tried it on and realized I liked the new style.

Sometimes, a similar thing happens when we look at certain people. Perhaps they belong to a different race or faith. Their quality of education and financial status may not be the same as ours. We may be tempted to “stuff them back into the bag” and decide they don’t meet our requirements.

Jesus set an example in selecting His followers. He didn’t choose the religious leaders and teachers of the law to be His disciples. Instead, He chose a wide assortment of people with different qualities and occupations. He associated with people whose reputations caused others to turn from them with scorn.

When Peter, a disciple of Jesus Christ, was told by God in a vision that he was to witness to Cornelius, a Gentile, and his family, Peter found the command difficult to accept. God used the vision to convince Peter it was God’s will that Peter witness to these people whom he considered unclean. As a result, Peter shared the plan of salvation with a large crowd of people gathered at the home of Cornelius, and they received Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

We have a choice. If I had chosen to put the sweater away because the style was different than my usual preference, I would have missed the pleasure of wearing it. If we associate only with those who are like us, we may miss opportunities to share God’s message and His love.

Are you willing to allow God to use you to tell everyone, not just those like you, about His plan of salvation?

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The Problem with Rules

 

Many years ago, a friend was humiliated by the pastor—from the pulpit—for wearing make-up and jewelry. It was her first and last visit to that church.

Guidelines and boundaries are necessary, but sometimes we can rule and regulate people to death, especially in the church. Some churches should have a sign on the door that reads:

 

You’re not welcome here if you:

  • wear shorts or jeans
  • have tattoos or piercings
  • are divorced
  • don’t tithe
  • have a criminal record
  • just don’t fit in with our folks.

The list could be endless. I once heard of a church that split because half the men believed a man had to wear a tie, while the other half refused. The doctrine of ties. Sad but true.

God doesn’t call us to dictate how others should think, act, dress, or live. We have our hands full taking care of ourselves. We’re called to share the gospel…the good news. What God says…not what we say. Our mission in life is not to change people but to love them.

God accepts us as we are and gives us His Word to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. That’s His grace and mercy abounding toward us. How can we do less for others?

In these crazy last days we’re living in, we need to let our light shine. Instead of requiring others to live by our man-made rules and giving them a list of dos and don’ts, let’s introduce them to Jesus.

Are your rules driving others away from God?

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The Blessing of Infertility

A bird’s nest gob smacked me today.

Who knew such a frail creation could pack such a punch? After two bluebird couples occupied our bluebird house over the summer, I emptied the nest trash and readied the lodging for next spring. As I pulled out a large, cubed chunk of carefully intertwined grass, I noticed there were no eggshells on top.

But when I lifted the upper layer, I found them. Four perfectly formed bluebird eggs. Never hatched. Buried. Dead before arrival.

I had photographed the first bluebird couple as they busily and merrily built this nest. They must have waited…and waited…never to see their young. Was the bluebird house too hot? Was there something wrong with the eggs genetically? Why would God deprive these beautiful creatures of children?

Similar questions plagued me when I struggled through a season of infertility nearly thirty years ago. I thought I was past the pain. But this day brought it all back. The hurt.

In the meantime, though, God has taught me that He is sovereign. His ways and thoughts are far beyond ours. He is a loving God who only has good plans for our future. He allows sorrow and tragedy for reasons only He knows. He is good all the time, even when we can’t see it…even when life doesn’t give us what we want. He’s given us permission to be angry at death. To grieve a vanished dream. To speak honestly with Him and ask, “Why this? Why me?”

If everything on earth were perfectly happy and satisfying, we would have no need for a Savior…no need for the comfort of His Holy Spirit…no need to seek Him. C. S. Lewis said pain is “God’s megaphone” to get our attention.

So today, I run to Jesus again for His blessing. He is my strong tower in time of sorrow—the One who receives me into the shelter of His peace so I can bury my face and tears in His embrace.

In our seasons of despair, infertility, hopelessness, and loss, we can run to Jesus. He knows all our pain because He was a Man of sorrows and well-acquainted with grief.

Let Christ be your source of blessing and wellspring of praise. Trust Him to turn your mourning into joy.

(Photo courtesy of Nancy Williams, Lighbourne Creative.)

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Fall Winds

As I sit, I listen to the wind whistling by our house.

The gusty fall winds stirr up everything, and the leaves dance to the sound of their blowing. Even the branches of the trees sway in harmony as the leaves rush by our home. All the animals and birds disappear, seeking more hospitable habitats.

As Elijah waited to hear God’s voice, he did not hear it in the tornado-like winds that rushed by him. Instead, the still, small voice of God repeated to him the same question he had already heard: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” Elijah, probably like us, was attracted to the possibility of hearing God’s voice in the commotion of life. However, although God had just answered by fire from heaven, consuming not only his offering but also the altar and everything about it, Elijah still wasn’t satisfied.

Rather than waiting for the still small voice of the Holy Spirit to speak to me through the Word of God, I impatiently wait for God to do some extraordinary thing. Instead of relishing in the grace I have already been shown through the death of Jesus, I hope God will rectify all my problems with disagreeable people so they will all agree with me. Rather than being still and knowing that He is God, I stew about the next thing that is going to happen because of COVID-19 and get depressed when circumstances around me change or I run out of money.

“What are you doing here?” patiently asks God’s still, small voice. Of course, He already knows the answer, but waits for us to respond. He wants us to reply, “I am here, waiting to hear Your voice.” That reassuring voice comes to us as if He were reminding us, “Never fear; I am here.”

Stop right where you are and listen for God’s voice of direction. It probably will not come in a clap of thunder or a rush of wind, but through the gentle leading of the Holy Spirit.

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Peace Comes by Coming

“I’ve just got to find peace from all the worry I am carrying about the virus, violence, and politics,” a young desperate woman said.

When asked about what she used to find relief, she listed a litany of things: thinking positive thoughts, eating foods that would not make her guilty (such as chocolate brownies, which were an addiction), walking when she could find enough energy, driving in the country, trying not to yell at her children, practicing good hygiene. She had even begun reading self-help books and practicing yoga. She also spent a lot of time staring into space.

However, none of her interventions were working, and her neighbors wondered whether she had lost touch with reality. Her children began leaving the house, poking her, and spraying her with water. She did not know what more to do.

This young lady represents the approach most seem to use to find relief—the approach of self-effort.

Recently, I discovered the cornerstone that provides safety and relief when we are over-whelmed. As I prayed one morning, needing relief from this tumultuous world, my heart grew warm with what felt like a breath from God’s Spirit that said: “Peace from the Father comes by coming.”

Trying to understand this declaration, I was reminded that both Jesus and God’s Word tell us to go to Jesus for peace and that this peace will be one that surpasses understanding (Matthew 11:28, Philippians 4:7).

A light came on, and I realized peace comes not from doing, but from going. I felt relief as I stopped struggling and opened my heart to the Lord who loves me and wants me to rest in His love and in the victory His beloved Son accomplished on the Cross.

Peace does not come from doing but from daily going to the Father through His Son.

Go to the right place to find your peace.  

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Shepherding by the Heart

I was about twelve or thirteen years old when I had my tonsils removed.

Although I slept through the procedure, I remember a visit from my pastor. I don't think I had ever seen him anywhere but behind a pulpit. He stood by my bedside and talked to me. His actions made quite an impression.

In my hospital room stood a mere man. He was not in his Sunday suit, and he spoke directly to me—not in his preaching voice. He used a gentler tone. Not that he shouted from the pulpit all the time, but his preaching voice, to me, sounded just like God's voice. Now he spoke in a less commanding voice. He also prayed and said my name (I didn't even think he knew it).

After that brief visit to the hospital, my pastor never looked the same. Not until years later did I realize that in those brief moments in the hospital, he became my spiritual shepherd. I watched him closer and listened more intently when he spoke. His ministry at my bedside made a difference in our relationship.

Words are more powerful when they come from someone who walks with us in our spiritual pilgrimage. They carry a measure of guidance that goes beyond what we hear or see through media and screens.

While leaders are not perfect, they have vowed to shepherd faith families by the power of the Holy Spirit. Understanding the shepherd-sheep relationship helps us carry the message of our faith to the heart of others.

The inspiration and knowledge gained from words are significant, but an exchange of influence and spiritual energy comes when we hear from our worship leader. Worship entails hearing God's Word from the voice of a shepherd—those who come alongside of us and speak with a voice that reflects God's heart.

Make sure you are shepherding according to God’s heart.

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Message in the Mask

I had never worn a mask before Covid 19 in 2020—a date we’ll all remember.

Today, we wear masks everywhere. With the validated need to protect ourselves and others, it’s actually more disconcerting to see folks without masks.

So, what scriptural basis did I find when one lady came unmasked to help our women’s group pack Christmas shoeboxes? I was absent at a previous meeting when the group agreed it was acceptable because the lady was claustrophobic and masks fogged up her glasses. My dismay led to a troubled heart that heard the clock strike from 2 to 5 a.m. Should I confront or stay quiet?

God had a surprise for me. It wasn’t about whether my boundaries had been stomped on. For me, it was a nudge from God saying, “Sara, Sara, you are worried about many things. Sit at my feet for a while.”  

God’s agenda for me had nothing to do with facial masks and everything to do with a mask on my heart. I had been trying to cover His call to write, filling my time with lesser loves—yes, even packing gifts for needy children. I had been ignoring the signals to set apart and to “write down clearly on clay tablets (aka Word document) what I reveal to you” (Habakkuk 2:4).

I had an invisible mask. Busyness fogged up the call to use my gift and kept me from writing encouragement to my WatchWomen/Intercessors. Our focus can be so distracted that we don’t see God’s unique target for us. It may not be about our current demanding dilemma but rather a more profound personal assignment.

Think about things that might be taking you away from your calling? How does God want you to use your spiritual gift(s) to honor Him? Unmask your heart to answer God’s calling on your life.

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Two Funerals at My Kitchen Table

Everything in life was different in 2020.

A year ago, I never dreamed that the death of a friend would mean sitting alone at my kitchen table, watching the recording of a funeral service. Nor would I have expected that two hours later I would be sitting at the same table, watching the live stream of a different funeral.

The two women who had died that week were different in their personalities and in their life stories, but they both loved Jesus and impacted my life. I am a better person for having known them.

Today, I am certain that both women are with Jesus in heaven—peaceful, joyful, and pain free. Although I admired and respected the two women, their lives are not what convinced me they are in heaven. My assurance can be summed up in the words of the song “Who Am I?” by Casting Crowns. Both families selected this song to be played at the services.

These two women are in heaven today because of who Jesus is and because of what He has done. He is the Son of God who died in their place on the cross. For that reason alone, they have eternal life. For that same reason, I will see them again.

Grief is hard, and it is sad when loved ones are no longer with us. As Christians, we have sorrow, but we do not “sorrow as those who have no hope.” Although funerals are sad, I also had hope in my heart as I walked away from my kitchen table.

Where do you find your hope?

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Hershey Kisses

I struggle to learn obedience in eating. Addicted to food, I shove aside the spiritual for the physical.

I once kept Hershey kisses in the refrigerator. One afternoon, I was drawn to the kitchen—not hungry but either stressed or bored—with visions of chocolate dancing in my head. I stopped before opening the refrigerator door, and said aloud, “Ok, God, these kisses would taste great and make me feel so good. Can You do better than that?”

What happened next is difficult to explain. A quiet peace fell over me. I didn’t want the candy. I wanted God. I realized that nothing tastes as good as being close to Jesus feels.

God blessed me with this weakness to teach me that nothing He creates is ever meant to satisfy my desires. Everything looks delicious, but the taste? Disappointment. Again.

A frustrated friend once asked, “Why doesn’t God take the fat away?” Yes, He’s powerful enough. Imagine what would happen if God removed the consequences of indulging in food, drink, or anything else. Would we ever stop? If God didn’t nudge me to think of Him instead, I would be many times my current size.

The Holy Spirit lives in me and guides me through all the lessons of life. Will I push Him aside? I can only blame myself if I ignore His guidance. My relationship with Him is more wonderful than anything I could ever put into my mouth, mind, or body.

Reach for God today instead of things He has created.

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Pursuit of Holiness

When a friend asked me about a prayer labyrinth, I did some research.

A prayer labyrinth is a spiral path used for prayer and meditation, meant to draw us closer to God. Anything we do that puts our focus on God and draws us nearer to Him spiritually is a good thing, right?

But how can this draw us closer to God? Walking to the center of a labyrinth is a means to an end. Supposedly, when we get to the center, we reunite with God in some manner. Then, on the way out, we pray for God’s direction. Although the labyrinth design was derived from pagan practices, anything that realigns us with God’s heart and purposes is good.

For me, sitting in solitude on a rock beside a rushing creek in the mountains, surrounded by evergreens while breathing in fresh air, allows me to slough off the filth of the world and seek God in a special way. For others, it might be sitting in a church or walking to a favorite place. Whatever causes us to seek first the kingdom of God in quiet meditation is our labyrinth.

Each of us has an innate desire for holiness. We were created perfectly to be in union with God. Sin broke that connection, but God wrote into our DNA a desire for holiness…a longing to be set apart. The problem with sin is, it clouds our view of perfection and the desire for holiness.

We live with an ongoing internal battle between the sin that pulls us away from God and the holiness which is the magnet to God’s heart. But can we be perfect as Jesus instructed? I don’t believe this is possible as long as we are wearing human skin with its sin nature.

Seeking holiness is a goal we should strive for. It doesn’t have much appeal in this present world, full of forbidden pleasures. However, when we seek the heart of Christ, we will discover far more joy than anything else this world of dark forces offers.

Find your own prayer labyrinth. Ask God to remind you of your first love and to give you a desire to be perfect even as He is perfect.

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Eternity's Values

While sitting in a class for elementary school principals, we were directed by the facilitator to predict which of the items in front of us were the heaviest.

We took the picture cut outs of the objects and ranked them from lightest to heaviest. Then we glued our choices to yellow construction paper. This way we couldn’t manipulate our answers if we were incorrect.

In the next part of the science investigation, we checked our predictions. We weighed each object and compared them with the other items until we determined a final outcome. I was surprised that some things I thought were heavier just by looking at them were lighter. Using my sight was not enough to determine an item’s weight. I needed an impartial instrument, a scale, to find the items’ mass. 

This is like my life choices. God asks me to look at what I say and do. In so many words, He instructs me to look at eternity and decide if a choice weighs more than my soul. Am I willing to go on my own predictions? Have I taken this choice and measured or checked it against the Word of God?

What I discovered that day was that using only my eyes to examine the different weights fooled me. It took an unbiased measure to determine the true weight. In light of eternity, I’ve decided to use the factual measure found in the Bible when making choices that affect my life and my soul.

Make sure to weigh your decisions to see if they align with God’s Word.

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They Treated Me Differently

When I was a kid, I had learning difficulties.

The worst part was the other kids knew it and called me stupid. I thought as I got older, things would change. Adults are grownups, right? Unfortunately, things did not change as much as I had hoped. It hurts just as much when adults who have a higher intellect talk down to me. I can always tell by their tone of voice and disregard for my thoughts and ideas. Having others treat me as if I am dumb hurts.

I know I’m not the smartest person in the world, and I don’t always think through my thoughts before I speak. Yet because of how people have treated me, I have never thought highly of myself. People's words and actions have often made me feel worthless.

Nonetheless, I know God had a purpose in mind for creating me. Maybe the reason I experienced hurt was so I could reach other people who feel the same. If you can relate, remember someone named Jesus does not think you are worthless. I had enough worth in His eyes that He shed His blood on the cross for my sins so I could spend eternity with Him. I don’t have to be intellectually smart to enter heaven.  

Don’t let others define your worth. Let Jesus define you because He came to seek and save the lost. He made you in an amazing and wonderful way because you have value in God’s eyes.

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The Stream

Midmorning dawned before I dragged myself out of bed and dressed.

I had been depressed for too long. I slipped into the little red Pontiac and headed toward the mountains. Fall hung in the air. The trees displayed their brilliant colors of red, yellow, and orange. I parked next to the creek that wound its way through the maze of color and settled on a large rock lodged along the stream. I don't know how long I sat there in the comforting sunshine—breathing in the vibrant smells of the season, listening to the sounds of the rushing water, and basking in the consoling nature that ministered to my tired soul and weary body.  

I prayed for God to lift the feeling of hopelessness I had been immersed in for so long. “I surrender all the circumstances that have brought me to this place, Lord. I seek Your grace, most Merciful Father, to release these desperate feelings that have taken over.”

Slowly, peace moved quietly through me. I recognized it. The peace that had eluded me since I had begun to do things my own way…trying to fix everything I felt was wrong with my life. I'd left God out of the circumstances. Now with complete confidence, I let go and gave it to Him.

As I drove home, I knew something was different. I was different. Jesus said we find rest in Him. In the world, we will have tribulation, but He has overcome the world. How could I have known it would take giving up to Jesus instead of the usual giving in to the world?

God led me to the stream and to His gift of refreshing water. The future looked as elusive as it had when I drove to the mountains. But I was no longer afraid of it. By His grace, my life has blossomed into something I could not have imagined.

Don’t try to fix things on your own. Take them to God and find rest.

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Rotten Tomatoes and Redemption

My first daring escapade as a young girl took place on a rainy day when the boys in my neighborhood felt a little too mischievous and asked if I would accompany them for some fun.

Curious about their plan, I followed them to a garden of tomatoes in a nearby backyard. The boys picked what appeared to be all the rotten and damaged tomatoes and stored them in makeshift pockets in their t-shirts, then relocated behind some bushes to line up their ammunition.

Remaining out of sight, I watched in fascination as the boys aimed their squishy missiles with such precision, striking the passing cars effortlessly. I dared myself to throw one, knowing full well my arm did not possess the strength to hit a moving target. Filled with relief that I would not be forced to give my father an explanation for this vandalism, I went home. Later, I reflected on how curiosity drew me in to this seemingly innocent activity. I had no gauge with which to measure the damage caused to the cars or my character.

I felt guilty, yet had to admit that this misbehaving felt good. I questioned why I had no power to turn away from it. My sinful desire and controlling weakness lured me in without anyone’s help. 

We might ask if it’s possible to be free from sin. James said we fall into sin because of a sinful nature, but Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36), meaning we can receive power from God to resist temptation.

We may feel like rotten tomatoes on the inside, but with God’s help, we can experience freedom from the bondage of our sin nature. God helps us war against sin through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, who equips us to stand against our own evil desires. 

Rejoice today that your heavenly Father has provided a way out from under the guilt and condemnation of sin. Trust Him and receive His forgiveness.

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Little Goodies

My high school freshman mentee never showed up at the front office to meet me.

I went to the cafeteria to search for her. As I made the first hallway turn, I noticed a small group of friends in the distance with my mentee. When she glimpsed me, she jumped behind a pillar that only partly concealed her. I acted as if I didn't notice the arms and legs sticking out and continued with my search.

On the walk back from the cafeteria, I ran into the group again. I smiled when I locked eyes with my mentee. When she saw me, she dived onto the ground below a window. The closer I got, the more I saw her hair and back jump up and down as she tried to scurry away. By the time I opened the door, she had jumped up and run to the bathroom. I assumed she didn't want to meet, so I left her the little treats I had brought her.

A couple of days later, the school's mentoring program sent me an email that included a note from my mentee, stating how embarrassed she was about being in the mentoring program. She wanted to apologize. When the friend gave her my little goodies, she realized her thoughts were wrong.

Sometimes, we push back from God for different reasons because we forget the benefits of spending time with Him. He surprises us with good things, even when we don't deserve them. Our Lord reminds us we will experience more of His goodness if we are closer to Him.

If you are weighing out the priorities of your day against spending time with God, take a few minutes to reflect on the benefits of being in the vicinity of God's presence. He will bring things into your life that will build you up, not tear you down.

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Rolly Pollies and Sin

As a kid, I loved Rolly Pollies.  

Rolly Pollies are little dark grey bugs that roll up in an armor-like, BB-sized ball when you touch them. But as a grown-up with a garden, I have discovered these little things are destructive. They pick off tender plants one by one, converging on them in the early dawn hours like a pack of ravenous wolves on the last hunt of the night. The lens of childhood are gone, and I now see these critters’ true colors. They are a persistent pest that comes to steal, kill, and destroy.

Sin is a lot like Rolly Pollies. Jesus warns us that the thief—Satan—only has one agenda: to steal, kill, and destroy. And sometimes it’s the little sins … the ones that aren’t so visible … that cause the most damage. Pride, gossip, and lying may not be as high profile as murder, stealing, or pornography, but they can overrun our lives and cost a tremendous toll.

While I may never win the battle with the Rolly Pollies, Jesus has already won the war against sin and will help us fight each battle. Sin brings death, but Jesus came that we may have life. When we spot a Rolly Polly of sin, we can turn to God, the Master Gardener, and ask for help. We can agree with Him about the problem, confess the sin, repent, and then choose to follow His ways.

Rolly Pollies and sin have another thing in common: they both keep returning, at least for awhile. We must be diligent and repeat the above steps as often as necessary.

May your garden and your life be fruitful. And watch out for Rolly Pollies of all kinds.

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Going Where

We were in another country, getting ready to board a bus to a different city.

We had crisscrossed the bus station to find the right bus. The weather was rainy and miserable, so we were glad to board the bus. I was sure we were in the right place. I pulled out my tickets to show to the conductor, confident of his approving smile to board.

But when I handed him the tickets, his smile turned to a remonstrating glance. “Of course, you need to go to the next bus,” he said.

At a loss for words, I realized we had almost gotten on the wrong bus. How many times in my life have I made what I thought was the right decision only to find out it was wrong? During those times, it was more than confusion. A wrong mindset led me to the choice. In fact, my whole way of thinking needed transformation.

Paul noted a similar problem with his thinking. He realized one could be sincere and be sincerely wrong. He encouraged the Roman believers to transform their thinking.

Transformed thinking only occurs when we allow God’s Word to alter our perspective on life in general, as well as with specific questions we face. The Bible becomes a help desk, telling us where to go.

Since my mistake at the bus station, I have memorized parts of the Bible that address specific problems of mine. I realize the only way to correct wrong thinking is to meditate on Scripture. God’s Word has rescued me from bad decisions many times.

I finally got to the right destination, thanks to the help of someone who knew more than I did. God’s help will always lead us in the right direction.

Stop relying on your own wisdom. Be willing to ask for God’s.

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Good Grief

Lun Chun-lin, 22, has a regular routine as she prepares for work.

According to a Taiwanese newspaper, after she brushes her eyelashes and fastens her flowing raven hair, she takes off for another day where she cries her heart out for someone else’s dead relatives.

Lun Chun-lin and five fellow employees are with the Filial Daughters’ Band—professional mourners hired by grieving families to wail and scream at funerals. In their culture, this is the proper way to demonstrate sorrow.

Although we might be uneasy about such dramatic responses at a funeral, doing this is a custom in some settings—and was in the ancient world. One Roman carving depicts the deceased lying on his bier with women around him—hair flowing loose while they claw at their bosoms to show their grief.

We also see an expression of grief in the biblical account of the resuscitation of Jairus’ daughter. Mark describes the Lord’s arrival at the dead child’s bedside: “When they came to the home … Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly.” Jesus had to clear the room so He could concentrate on His task.

“Good grief” is a common expression, but can we really say grief—no matter how we express it—is good? After all, grieving over the loss of a loved one means sorrow, heartache, and anguish—and with no promise of relief. There is nothing good about it. And all the while, we crave comfort, reassurance, and hope.

Hope is what God promises. Paul said, “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope.” And with that promise, we can call grief good.

In your times of grief, cling to God’s promises.

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Don't Neglect Your Spiritual Food

The conversation with my friend went something like this as she poured out her heart.

“Nothing is going right in my life anymore. I feel as if God has abandoned me.”

Without hesitation I asked, “Have you abandoned Him?” The look in her eyes tore at my heart, but I could tell my words hit their mark. I pressed on. “Are you going to church?”

“Not really. I’ve been slack.”

“Listening online?”

“N … no.”

I leaned forward and put my hand on her shoulder. “Are you doing anything at all to feed yourself spiritually?”

“Not in a very long time.” She hung her head as the tears fell.

Most of us would not dare go even a day without food, let alone weeks or months. Our body requires certain nutrients to keep it strong, healthy, and functioning as it should. But too often we forget our spirit also needs to be fed.

God’s Word is referred to as both milk and meat. Jesus calls Himself the Bread of Life. And let’s not forget the fruit of the Spirit. (That covers four spiritual food groups that give us a balanced diet.) When we hide the Word in our heart, it will not only help us not to sin against God, but it will also strengthen and empower us for daily living.

Job said, “I have treasured His words more than daily food.” When we desire the Lord more than our daily food, we will feast on His Word and spend quality time in His presence. We will seek Him first above everything else in our life that screams for attention.

God wants His children to be strong—spirit, soul, and body. Do your part. Don’t neglect your spiritual food. Make it a vital part of your day.

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Recognizing Our Shortcomings

Imagine a band of aspiring adventurers.

They have a great and epic journey ahead of them. Their purpose is to slay the dragon within a mountain lair that travels deep into the heart of the earth. Within the dragon’s inner sanctum, treasure and riches have yet to be plundered. Gems, gold, silver. They’re all there. They gather all the materials needed for the initial parts of their journey—sharpening their swords, adjusting their armor, and gathering the steeds to carry all they need.

Along the way of green pastures, they march on an open trail. However, the side of the road slides downward on the left side, leaving a decent blind spot. Underneath the blind spot, a group of bandits hide, making ready to assault the caravan. When the surprise attack comes, most of their materials are robbed and half of the company is dead. They look to the left side of the road and feel foolish.

We are not supermen by any means, and if we fall short in certain circumstances, our strength is indeed too small. Regardless of what mistakes we make during conflict and of what adversity may follow, if we give way amid a challenge, it shows we need greater strength.

The Lord doesn’t want us to rely solely on our strength, for our strength is insufficient for the physical and spiritual battles we face daily. If we do anything, we should rely on the Lord as our refuge and strength. In our time of trouble, we can lean on Him.

When we attempt any sort of feat, we should seek the Lord’s counsel and consider His way of doing things. If knowledge and wisdom are strength and power, how much better we would be to rely on His strength rather than our own.

As you journey with the Lord, remember to put on the full armor of God and that the Holy Spirit is greater than those within the world.

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At Home

Christmas at home? Hardly.

Family members gathered. Christmas music played. Seasonal greenery and decorations adorned the tables. Gifts appeared for one and all. Food weighed down plates while hearts lifted with hugs and memories shared.

During that Christmas season, our family had to adjust to an unwelcome but unavoidable new normal. Dad’s medical condition required advanced care our family could no longer provide. Our hearts broke a few days earlier as we moved him into his new home. We added a few festive touches to his room and placed his Bible and favorite photo on the table by his bed. We visited regularly and shared his likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies with staff who provided round-the-clock care. Yet at the end of each day, we had to leave, and Dad had to stay.

No longer could he visit neighbors and tell them the story of salvation. No longer could he distribute Gideon Bibles he kept in the pockets of every coat and jacket he owned. No longer could he teach Sunday school or serve as an active deacon.

Instead, Dad waited for visits in his tiny room or the activity room with other residents. Or he maneuvered his wheelchair up and down the halls, greeting residents and workers alike with a smile and a heartfelt, “God bless you.” However, his heart longed for home.

That Christmas afternoon, we gathered to celebrate as best we could, maintaining some traditions and tweaking others to accommodate his needs. Although emotions remained raw, we tried to focus on the positives. We claimed the promise of God’s peace and presence in spite of every circumstance.

Little did we know how tightly we would cling to that assurance less than one month later. We gathered again with family and friends to thank God for Dad’s life on earth and to celebrate his move to his eternal home in heaven. As before, our hearts broke with this transition. We mourned Dad’s absence. At the same time, our hearts rejoiced that he was with the Savior he so faithfully served and that we would someday join him there.

God, our heavenly Father, has a home in heaven for all who accept his gift of grace. Are you ready to go home?

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Pigs in the Muck

The human capacity for blame and resentment can sink us into an unholy mire of misery.

The expression, “Pigs don’t know pigs stink,” illustrates how history can repeat itself when we don’t learn from our past mistakes. If we lived in a sty, we might not learn anything either. When focusing on the faults of others, we may boldly go where no pig has gone before.

Jesus summed up all the commands in two: love God wholeheartedly and love one another as ourselves. That kind of love includes forgiveness.

Grace leads us to the Ten Commandments, which God provided not to enslave us to rules and regulations but to show us how to live abundant lives filled with joy. When we carry resentment, we block that flow of joy from heaven.

We must forgive those who have sinned against us because harboring resentment is like wallowing in a pigsty. The sty may be a fine place for hogs, but it’s an unhealthy place for us. Pigs don’t mind living in a slime pit because it’s all they know. Christians are not meant to immerse themselves in past grievances while complaining of the stench.

History can be a great teacher if we allow it. When we look back, it should be for our edification so we can learn better strategies, stop reliving past mistakes, and avoid treacherous pitfalls.

We can stop dwelling on the pain in our past that others caused by asking God for the resolve and mercy to release us from the pigpen of unforgiveness. We can make peace with others.

We need to forget the past and press on toward the goal of righteousness. God has a plan for us that doesn’t include bathing in simmering sludge, but does promise us hope for the future.

Are you wallowing in historical muck? Reach out to Jesus, confess your resentment, and repent. He is faithful and just to forgive, to wash away your impurities, and to restore relationships.

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Housekeeping

I’ve been a sloppy heart and housekeeper lately. Neither my heart nor my house will clean themselves.

My mother urged me to be sensitive to the needs of others, especially her need to keep our home immaculate. “Look at these filthy floors and foul bathrooms,” she would declare. My husband graciously points out the specks of dust I can’t see or old food boxes and bags that clutter the pantry.

I remember visiting my mother when Daddy was in a nursing home. I was stunned how the years had snatched her scrupulous sensitivity to the grime on her kitchen counters. Is that what happens when our brains wear out? Maybe some things go to the back burner (literally) and off the earthly check-off lists.

Not so in God’s eternal kingdom. Do I ignore the stench of rotting desires in my heart as piles of dust and clutter multiply inside my home? A connection exists between the physical and the spiritual, as Nehemiah’s account of cleansing the temple and tackling personal reform illustrate.

For our own good, God never lets up. He pleads, “Clean up those hidden rooms that have become dusty and grimy—those secret sins. You ignore them, but I can’t. Throw out those useless activities that clutter your life and rob time and attention from Me. They are fluff, worthless in My kingdom. Instead, fill your heart with My treasures!” 

Into the heart trash-dump, I toss the box of stale relationships and multiple bags of thingamajigs, which take up much needed space for Jesus. Cleaning the compartments of my heart is a daily, oftentimes hourly routine.

Grab the sponge and bucket and get to work on your heart today.

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Do All You Can

Getting a divorce was one of the most difficult decisions I ever had to make.

I used divorce as a threat in our marriage all the time, but this time was different. I planned to follow through. I got the courage to tell a few of my close family members and friends. I heard the same thing from everyone: “Well, you did all you could do.”

After the fourth time of hearing the same quote, I had an “Aha” moment. Everyone was right. I had done all I could do. Now it was time for me to turn it over to God—something I should have done in the first place.

I think saying the words, “I have done all I can,” is a great indicator we are not giving our all to God. Rather, we are trying to understand and control something or someone beyond our power to control. God knows the desires of our hearts and has a plan for our lives. When we deviate from that plan by making decisions without asking Him, life becomes confusing. Confusion is not from the Lord, but from the Enemy.

Doing all we can means giving the situation to God and letting Him do all He can. His way is more abundant than what we could ever dream of.

When you find yourself thinking you have done all you can, take a step back to see if you really have.

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Weaned

My friend’s baby took one look at me and screamed.

We all laughed. He obviously didn’t like the looks of me. Babies are not at all polite. They are selfish, insecure little creatures. And with good reason. They come into a strange world, completely dependent on someone else to provide warmth, food, and loving care. They cry and scream to make their needs known, grabbing on to fingers for dear life. They are quite unaware of anyone else’s needs—especially their need for sleep.

When I first came to Christ, I cried and held on to God because of my own need. I was completely selfish. That was no problem with God. We come to Him empty and needy, and He reaches out to take us as we are. God loves His baby Christians and is well able and willing to care for them and answer their prayers.

But as children grow and are weaned, they become less demanding. They still depend on their parents but are more confident and assured of their love and protection. The relationship deepens. They can forget about themselves and think of other members of the family, reaching out to care for them and their needs.

As I grow in my Christian life, I become more confident in my heavenly Father’s love for me. I have His ear and can trust Him for everything. Leaving behind baby ways, I take on the challenges life brings, being willing to forget myself in caring for those around me.

Good parents never over-indulge their children. They allow them to make mistakes and learn from them, at the same time keeping a watchful eye on their children. Our heavenly Father allows us to experience problems and setbacks for our own growth and development, but we are never out of His sight.

Submit willingly to God’s weaning process.

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The God Hole

My body jerked, almost falling from the bed. My breath caught and held as I searched the darkness for the source of my terror.

Finding no monsters in the dark corners of my bedroom, my heart calmed, and my breath returned as bits and pieces of my nightmare traced across my consciousness. The dream slowly drifted away, yet the feeling of aloneness remained. What was missing?

Sometime later, I recalled that dream and remembered how I had reached out to my snoring husband for reassurance. His presence helped my loneliness, but could he or anything else fill that hole? My salvation was assured, but I longed for more.

Paul gives the answer. God gives each person a God-consciousness. A stirring within. We can embrace that and be filled with His presence or go our own way and attempt to fill it with temporary fixes.

Thankfully, God directed me to a church body that encouraged me in my spiritual growth. Over the years, God has continually poured into me and drawn me into a deeper walk with Him. As I remembered that feeling of loneliness, I realized that God had replaced that feeling with a confident knowing that He is with me. I am never alone, even in the middle of a crowd.

A smile lit my face, but sorrow wrung my heart as I thought of all the people with an empty God hole. The ones living life with no thought of God. Will they come to the end of their lives, confident in humanity, or will they wish they had not silenced that drawing from deep within themselves?

What about you? Who or what is filling up your God hole?

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No Concerns

The sun had barely peeked over the clouds when I woke to the sound of my cell phone pinging.

My son had just sent a text with an attached photo of his two-year-old daughter. She was sleeping peacefully in her bed, completely unaware of the world surrounding her—oblivious her father lovingly looked over her and took her picture.

As I studied the tiny details of her face, her soft glowing skin, and her dream-filled smile, I reflected on how my heavenly Father had watched over me throughout the night. 

When we live in a world filled with uncertainties, doubts, and fears, knowing our heavenly Father always watches over us is comforting. Just as my son keeps a loving eye on his precious little daughter, God keeps a watchful and careful eye over us. 

Let God take away your concerns as you remember He watches over you always.

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More of God

I am satisfied with too little of God.

For a number of years, I downplayed love’s importance. I didn’t think I was worthy of God’s love. So, I tried harder. Do this. Don’t do that. But when my heart lacked love, I was turning in a homework assignment for a grade, instead of singing God a love song.

The realization that too little of God satisfied me struck while reading Ephesians 3. Now, I crave more—more of God, more of His fullness, more of His love.

God is the source of love, and we all need love. That’s how God designed us. Only He can fully satisfy this craving. A life without love is a sad existence. Love makes us whole.

The wonderful truth is we don’t have to earn God’s love. His love doesn’t wax and wane based on our behavior. God’s love is constant. He loves us when we are lovable—and when we’re not. His love is not the fleeting crush of immaturity but the sustaining strength of a marriage that endures for decades—tough and unbreakable.

How do we grasp a love so wide and long and high and deep? A love beyond our ability to comprehend? We open our hearts and receive it. By faith, we enter into the heart of God. When I go about my daily routine and fail to grasp God’s love—or even forget about it—I am satisfied with too little. I nibble on crumbs when God offers the loaf.

God is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine. I tend to translate God’s “more” into things I want to happen: heal my sister’s cancer, provide a job for my friend, eradicate Coronavirus. Weighty needs. Although God is fully able to deliver on these needs, they pale in comparison with the greatest need: to know His love surpasses knowledge.

Perhaps, like me, you struggle to experience God’s love. He can help you. Those who seek God with all their heart, find Him. He is worth every effort. In the end, we find God has been pursuing us all along.

Don't be satisfied with too little. God has immeasurably more for you.

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What Would You Miss?

For years, I’ve been convicted about what I watch for entertainment.

I’ve always enjoyed adventure, sci-fi, and mystery. Currently, even in those genres, they all seem to have pervasive themes around sexuality and violence, promoting sinful behaviors and unholy lifestyles.

Recently, I saw a controversial film created by a Hollywood stunt man that offered a glimpse into the entertainment culture. I wrestled with the subject as the enemy tried to convince me it was all conspiracy theory and hype.

My pastor once said, “When you give your life to Christ, you give your life to Christ!”

That powerful truth resonated with me. I am in Christ, and He is in me. Then God opened the eyes of my heart to draw my own conclusions about what I was watching. I asked, “Jesus, will you join me to watch this?” With every selection, His resounding response was “No.”

Paul answers his own question in the next verse. “By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2).

I earnestly prayed, asking God to remove my addiction to television and to guide me to wholesome, godly entertainment. Spending time with family. Reading a good book—or the Good Book.

My Bible time has increased from fifteen minutes every once in a while, to an hour and a half of reading, studying, meditating, and praying every morning. After working all day, I write, exercise, and check in with friends and family. I’m also watching some outstanding recorded sermons on YouTube and church websites.

These changes are deepening my relationships and increasing my faith. I don’t miss television because I’m hearing the Word of God in fresh new ways and finding it far more exciting than anything I once watched.

Where is your entertainment coming from? If you turned away from it, what would you miss? Try turning it off and tuning in to amazing interactions with your Creator.

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Being Loved and Loving Others

A sadness like nothing I’d ever known surged through my empty soul, like drifting on an open sea with no oars. Lost. Alone. Broken.

Recently divorced after a twenty-two-year marriage, feeling sad and unloved was an understatement. I held onto the self-pity to bide me through my long empty days. Yes, I had faith. I went through the motions of church, praying, and reading my Bible. But I withdrew inside myself and licked my wounds. Doing so kept me feeling alive … somehow. And yet the isolation consumed me, pulling me deeper into the abyss of heartache.

How do women do this? How do they go on? Where was God’s peace in this horrific storm? Had He forgotten me?

During one of my closet floor breakdowns, I heard a knock. The sighting of visitors was rare at my place, as sporadic as spotting a yellow Cardinal. I flushed my face with water and went to the door. A male friend kindly asked that I visit his wife who was grieving over her mother’s death. I agreed and shut the door, instantly awed at the wonder of how God pulled me off the floor and into service in one quick moment.

As 2 Corinthians outlines, Christ called me out of myself to comfort another. He let me know I was His and that He saw me. Through knowing this, I was comforted and now equipped to assist another wounded soul.

I spent the rest of the afternoon loving this dear sister. God watched over her ... and me. In that moment, through our visit, I knew God loved me more than I could ever know. God forced me to reach beyond myself to begin again.

During those moments when we feel lost and alone, God can use us to comfort others. And when we do, we heal in the process.

Ask God to give you opportunities to console others as He has comforted you.

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Joined Together

When I was five years old, I began private piano lessons.

I had a pretty good ear and loved music, so my teacher encouraged me to enter piano competitions. When I turned seven or eight, I started competing for trophies and prize money. During every lesson, my teacher would talk about how one of her other students had excelled and won many trophies. Her comments encouraged me to try harder and also created a longing for her to praise me in the same way she did her other students. The day came when I was her number one student of the year. Soon after, I quit taking lessons, but I never stopped looking for and needing praise.

Our life in the Lord is different. It is not a competition, as we understand that word in this world. God does not compare our walk with anyone else’s—although we may do that with each other. This kind of thinking tends to separate and divide rather than unify.

God invites us to be one in the Lord with fellow believers (echad in the Hebrew or heis in the Greek). He wants us to be joined to each other in similar fashion as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are.  

Our ultimate witness to the world is that we, who are broken and disconnected by sin, can be brought to a wholeness which allows us to join with each other—even love one another—because of the life of Jesus in us and the Father in Him. This is impossible except for the work of the Holy Spirit in each heart. He heals and woos each one to come into a living alignment with the prayer Jesus made.

God can assist us in letting go of our need to win, sometimes at any cost. He can help us surrender our hearts to His love. In this way, we will know His love more fully and be better able to love others as He has loved us.

Ask God to help you join together in unity with other believers.

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Growing Weary

Dreams can seem so important.

At one time in life, we probably spent hours strategizing and envisioning goals and the finish line.  But as time passed, family, jobs, bills, and so many other things took center stage. Before we realized it, we had lost our dream. The idea which was once so valuable was now a distant memory.

In the grind of life, past goals can seem unobtainable. Our present schedules, packed with “life events,” offer little grace for “I always dreamed of …” We're often left weary, seeking anything to rekindle the emotional highs those dreams once invoked. We feel empty, and temptation calls us away from our desire. In our weariness, we have a choice to pursue the idea, find another goal, or let it go altogether.

Even our Savior experienced a trying time when faced with fulfilling the dream and meeting the goal. In His weariness, instead of seeking temporary pleasure, He pursued His Father in prayer. His faith and focus on the Father allowed Him to face a complicated process, overcome His obstacles, and accomplish what He set out to do. As a result, we are all reaping the harvest.

Have you let go of a dream because you think achieving it would be too difficult or too sacrificial? Follow Christ's example. Go to the Father in prayer and ask for the strength to see it through.

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Unsteady

My left arm felt as if I had slept on it the wrong way.

Within three hours, numbness had overtaken my whole arm, both legs, and lower torso. I couldn't walk on my own and had trouble going to the bathroom. I thought I was having a stroke.

After eight days and multiple tests in the hospital, the diagnosis came back: transverse myelitis (TM). TM occurs when a virus attacks the spine and the body launches an auto-immune attack against the virus, as well as the myelin sheath around the spinal nerves. Symptoms vary depending on where the attack hits the spine.

Months of physical therapy and prayer ensued. I progressed from a wheelchair to a walker to a cane and finally to a wobbly gait on my own. Balance issues are my major remaining symptom, particularly on stairs, inclines, or uneven ground. Sometimes, someone will offer an arm or hand, which helps to a degree. But what helps most is something solid and unmovable.

When I saw the word unsteady in 2 Peter 2, I immediately identified with the type of soul Peter was talking about—one that could easily stumble and fall without support. Throughout this letter, Peter warns about false teachers, saying they use greed, lust, rebellion, and blasphemy to entice "unsteady souls."

Guarding against the enticement of false teachers and remaining steady in our faith entails holding on to God's solid, unchangeable truth. We read and obey it. We get to know the God who spoke it. We listen to and read sound teaching that lines up with the Bible.

If you are a little wobbly spiritually or feel the need of something firm and steady to guide your steps, then God has provided His Word to keep you steady as you walk with Him. Steady your soul on God’s Word daily.

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Developing a Good Habit

When I first embraced Christ as my Savior and Lord, I struggled with fears and insecurities.

Somehow, I realized my genuine desire to know the Lord would help curb my anxieties. I also felt I was not spending enough quality time with Jesus. I made a choice to carve out time every day to meet with the Lord. Developing this habit took months. I often missed my time with Him, but eventually the habit formed. Spending quality time with Jesus has helped me receive His love and experience inner peace.

David had a habit too. It wasn’t some insidious practice that dragged him down like a ball and chain, but a good habit that opened the doorway to God’s kaleidoscope of blessings. David learned to praise God, and he did it early every morning.

I’m sure David had a special place where he poured out his praises to God—a place where he developed ears to hear his Creator. There, he meditated on God’s Word. His praises and prayers paved the way for his day to team with God.

We, too, should come before God consistently and passionately. Great rewards await us as we develop this habit. Negative habits tend to lose their grip as we draw near to God and as we make spending time with Him a priority.

Whether at dawn, in the midday, or late at night, we can come before God to a place of our choosing. As we develop this habit, God will meet us there, move on our behalf, and open doors no one can shut. Spending time with Him will shape us into whom we need to be for His glory.

Make it a point to develop good habits.

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Pay Attention

Without thinking, I bent over to pick up the package on my porch. That’s when I felt the stabbing pain in my back.

Doctors had warned me to change my habits so my damaged disc could heal. I knew to bend my knees, not my back, but I had mindlessly reverted to my old ways. I had prayed for God to heal my back. Now, I uttered a different prayer and asked Him to help me pay attention. God answered by reminding me that my greatest need was not for physical healing, but for spiritual healing—healing that would require paying careful attention to my thoughts, words, and actions.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to pay close attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from God’s teachings. Not an intentional turning away, but a mindless drifting away. And that is exactly how the enemy traps me—distracting me so that I travel mindlessly through the day, unaware of my careless words, the hurting person in my path, or the not-so-good decisions made in haste. These old ways of doing life—pursuing my agenda and failing to pay attention—set me up for the pain of regret.

My physical therapist prescribed daily exercises to gently push the tissue around my disc into place, supporting healthy alignment of my spine. Doing these exercises each morning increases my mindfulness throughout the day.

In the same way, spending time each day reading God’s Word and listening to Him gently aligns my perspective with His. Doing so reminds me His goal is for me to reflect His image. It also gives my weary soul an opportunity to heal.

By living intentionally and paying attention to what God has said, we can avoid painful regrets and be transformed into His image.

If you have places in your life that ache, ask the Lord what He is trying to accomplish through your circumstances, and then pay attention.

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Self Defense

When the sirens blared and the lights flashed, I jumped and held my breath.

My response was the speaker’s purpose. She wanted me to understand how I’d freeze up when faced with a threat. She was right. The blood rushed to my heart and caused my hands, arms, feet, and legs to turn into noodles.

Debbie Gardner from Survive Institute gave life-saving advice on overcoming fear. If I’m threatened by someone, breathing, inhaling, and exhaling are important. If I can escape, I should. If I can’t, then gripping my hands in fists to keep the circulation flowing and stepping back to create space between me and the attacker is essential. Instead of focusing on fear, I must focus on the people I love and want to live for to stir the courage to yell, “No!” or to go for the attacker’s throat. If all they want are valuables, giving them my purse makes sense. On the other hand, if they want my life, going for their throat with a water bottle, a marker, keys, my hand, or whatever works to stun them is the right procedure. After that, I can run and call 911. 

Debbie’s instruction addressed physical threats and the importance of being prepared mentally in a crisis. But what about spiritual threats and attacks? Job was attacked repeatedly, yet he continued to inhale. He knew God authored his life’s breath.

When attacked by Satan, we can inhale God’s breath. To escape, we should turn away from the temptation and run the other way to create space between us and the problem. If the Enemy keeps coming, we can shout, “No!” and focus on the people we love and don’t want to harm by our actions. We can also go for the throat or, as I like to picture in my mind, poke him in the eyes with spike heels. We can say, “Get thee behind me, Satan” and then call on Jesus to set us free.

Job's friend Elihu reminded him God breathes life into each person. With life, God has given us the responsibility to choose obedience or rebellion. His self-defense plan includes prayer, repentance, and grace to lift us from Satan's snare.

When temptations dog you, turn away and call on God. Seek His wisdom and breathe in His grace and peace.

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Burdens

For years, I yelled, “Move, move!”  

I yelled at my past and my failures. But once as I prayed, Jesus reminded me His yoke is easy and His burden light. As I meditated on this verse, I saw myself yoked to a huge ox. As I pushed against the yoke, the ox dug in and remained immovable. I kicked and whipped the animal and yelled at it to move, but it stood like a stone. As I strained at the yoke, feeling the weight of the immoveable burden, I finally fell down in defeat.

I asked the Lord, “Why can’t I move this object?”

He said, My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.

But isn’t my past my burden? I wondered. After all, I created the failures when I led life my way. I now suffer from the consequences of those decisions and can’t seem to escape them. They are reflected in the behavior of my children and how they relate to me. And my ex-husband continues to speak abusively to me and my son. Twenty years have passed with no repentance from him—only vain attempts to cover up his black heart with his money.

“I can’t change the mistakes of my past. They are immoveable,” I said to the Lord.

Exactly, He said. You can’t change your past. Only I can change people’s hearts and heal the wounds of the past with My love and your faith in it.

God’s yoke is easy, and His burden is light because He carries the majority of the load. As we walk beside Him in sweet trust and faith, He moves what we can’t. Until we stop striving to fix our past, He can’t move in our lives or in the lives of those around us.

“Yes, Lord, I will release this burden to Your miraculous ways, rest in Your Love for me, and see You move in my life.” I sighed as peace filled my heart.

We all need God’s grace and words of love, forgiveness, and mercy to wash over us every day. We need to believe Him when He says He no longer remembers our past sins. We must forgive ourselves, raise our heads, look into His eyes of love, and give our burdens to Him.

Are you giving your burdens to the Lord?

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Able, Not Disabled

“You don’t look like you need to park in that handicapped spot!”

Startled by the man’s sharp, abrupt tone, I turned to see where the voice came from. “What did you say?” I asked. He repeated his words, then turned and walked away, shaking his head and saying something to his friend.

I felt hurt and angry. How could he know my handicap? Could he see my constant burning or know weakness in my spine? Why did I need to have his words frame my thinking or attempt to smash the moments of joy I had planned for this little shopping trip?

My day was not his to mess with; it was already given to the Lord the moment I opened my eyes. Later that night, I sat with the Lord as He reset my heart and mind. The Holy Spirit reminded me that my accident was always woven into the purpose He had ordained for my life.

In this painful place, I find more peace as the Holy Spirit enlightens me to God’s perspective. My mind told me I was of no use to Jesus anymore. That was a lie the Enemy peddled to my heart. But Jesus is the truth. God gave me His perspective: He is for me, not against me, because I am His child.

God sees our heart and develops it to bring our desires in step with His … to delight in Him. This means desiring what He wants in my life. My life won’t be satisfying if I am trying to do it in my own way.

Although I am unable to do what I once did, Jesus has enabled my ears to hear His voice clearer and more often. Obeying His voice has become my joy. He has given me more purpose now than I could have ever imagined. My disability trains me to see my life in His perfect hands. I am able not disabled.  

If you’re dwelling on past losses, ask God to release you from that captive thinking. Trust Him to bring peace with your disability, loss, fears, or uncertainties.

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Unangelic Angel

His little halo tilted on his head—and he scowled.

I looked up at my three-year-old son, who was supposed to be an angel in our church’s Christmas presentation. He folded his arms tightly. All the other angels acted angelically and sang sweetly. He had told me earlier he didn’t want to wear the angel wings, but I strongly insisted. I wanted to frame a picture of him in a precious angel costume.

My stomach dropped as something caught his interest. He left his place to explore the baptismal font, then lifted the top and plunged his hand in. I wanted to die of mortification. I was the parent of that child—for all the world to see.

This moment reminded me of why parents should humble themselves as children. A child shouldn’t always do what he wants. He needs help and guidance from a parent, but sometimes he strays. Following directions is difficult when you don’t want to do what a parent asks.

Parents usually know what is best for their child, but we need humility and should play the game “Follow the Leader” instead of doing what we want. A little childlike trust in our heavenly Father might be a better direction than the path we have chosen—which may not be suitable for us in the long run.

I wonder if God sometimes looks at me and says, “I am the parent of that child.” Thank goodness, we have a Father who gives us every resource we need to follow Him. And we can be confident He welcomes us when we do.

What can you do to better follow your heavenly Father’s direction?

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If You Don't Work, You Don't Eat

When growing up, I was lazy about a lot of things.

I didn’t enjoy doing schoolwork. I didn't like the thought of doing chores, even though my parents didn't make me do them often. If I wasn't sleeping, I was thinking about a worship service I had recently attended.

For even when we were with you, this we did command you, that if any would not work neither should he eat. The familiar phrase, "If you don't work you don't eat," is a paraphrase of this Bible verse. The people to whom Paul wrote this warning attended a church that did too much looking for Jesus to return. They were so obsessed that all they did was sit around. Their boredom led them to become busybodies who stuck their noses into other people's business—a bad practice.

Christians differ in their ideas about the details of Jesus' return. Regardless, God wants us to live for Him, so we'll be ready when Christ returns or when He calls us at death.

The saying, “They are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good” speaks about the person who wants to do nothing but talk about the Lord all the time but won't work like they should—not only in schoolwork but also in all other areas. God wants us to do a good job in whatever we do so we’ll have a good reputation when we talk to sinners about the Lord.

Although I ultimately write for the Lord, my goal is to make a living by writing devotions.

Regardless of what type of work you do, do it for God's glory so you can be a shining example for Him.

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Peace in the Valley

Over the past months, peace has become more precious to me than ever before.

The world shifted when the Coronavirus pandemic struck. I attempted to operate in a new normal, walking out each day as an “essential employee.” If not careful, I could have become anxious and fearful.

As I drove home from work one day—a bit weary, but grateful to have made it through the week unscathed by our modern-day plague—I kept hearing, “Peace in the valley.” This spiritual utterance reminded me of Psalm 23, a psalm I memorized as a little child in kindergarten and now carried out in real time.

The Coronavirus caused us all to “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Everywhere we turned and listened, the uncertainty and fear of the unknown was palpable. Even though we faced this valley, God was there. He abides amidst the evil in this world, and although we were forced to distance ourselves from one another, God remained close. God is present in our new reality.

Wrapping our minds around everything during the pandemic was difficult, but peace lives where God is. Addressing the root of my fear and seeking God’s guidance created a new level of peace during the COVID valley.

God does not want us to fear Corona or anything else. He wants us to be confident that He will comfort us and provide us with the peace we desperately need during our treks through the valley.

Let God be your rod and staff which will provide divine peace and protection during your seasons in the valley.

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God Cares about Jack Fruit

I met this spiky green fruit during a trip to Asia.

Bangladesh has a wet climate, paired with multiple growing seasons, which allows this small country to produce many unique foods—especially fruit. Jack fruit grows high in tropical trees and ripens in early summer. Its weight makes it dangerous for people and animals if it unexpectedly falls.

The fruit itself is protected by a tough outer shell. Inside are sweet yellow pods that grow around seeds. The seeds can be eaten in savory dishes like curry or dips, but the fruit is what most people think of when talking about jack fruit. During my visit, I was told some Westerners do not like the way jack fruit tastes. But from the first bite, I fell in love and have had a soft spot for it ever since.

One night, I prayed for fresh jack fruit. I almost laughed as I did. I was talking to the God of the universe about my craving for jack fruit—and He listened and cared. He didn’t care because the jack fruit had value—although that week it had more value to me since it was part of a special dinner—but He cared because I matter, and He loves me.

Prayer is one of the many ways God allows us to experience His unfailing love for us. The Lord of all creation makes Himself available to His children. Through prayer, we give Him the opportunity to speak into our lives, and we have the privilege to seek and learn about Him.

God is ready and waiting to hear from you. Will you take Him up on His offer?

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Everything You Need

She was so alone.

Looking out the window, watching my only surviving goat wander around the yard, I pitied her. Goats, being herd animals, don’t do well on their own. But after an unexpected illness swept through the farm, killing off the rest of the herd, that’s exactly what my last doe was left with—loneliness. I watched as she trailed the dogs around, cried and chased us down the road when we drove away, and allowed the chickens to roost on her back—anything to keep from being alone.

So much like us. So much like me. God designed us to desire companionship and even stated it wasn’t good for people to be alone.

Continuing my perusal from the window, I calculated how long before my lonely goat would give birth. Judging by the size of her rounded belly, it wouldn’t be long. Then she wouldn’t be alone anymore.

In that moment, I wondered if she knew everything she needed to end her loneliness was inside her. Just like us. Just like me. I try to stave off the feeling of loneliness by fitting in with crowds and people I don’t belong with when all I need is inside me: God’s Spirit.

We often look to other people or things for fulfillment. Perhaps we reach for material things to quiet our lonely hearts. We may even allow others to roost on our back with their opinions of us. But the Creator of the universe dwells in our heart and provides all we need.

Everything you need is already inside of you.

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Strife Busters

What would a day without strife look like?

A stream of strife pours into our lives daily. News headlines, social media rants, and reality TV scream at us 24/7. From a royal family to the family next door, worldwide discord is on the rise.

Imagine a challenging day at work. On the way home, you stop at the supermarket, spot a cashier who has no line, and direct your cart toward her. Suddenly, a woman cuts in front of you and says, “Sorry, but I’m in a hurry!” Is it possible to be slow to anger in such a situation? Easy, no, but possible with God’s help, yes.

Thankfully, we don’t have to be victims of this drama. We can defuse conflict by slowing our anger. Doing so makes us like God who is slow to anger and abounding in mercy. Since we’re called to imitate Him, it’s important not to lose our temper.

Along with being merciful to others during potentially explosive situations, we should be slow to get angry with ourselves. Many remain enraged with themselves for things God forgave them for years ago. When we hold on to self-anger and guilt, it’s as if we’re saying, “Lord, I know You forgave me, but that’s not good enough. I’m going to continue punishing myself to compensate for what I did.”

One of the most effective tools to help us be slow to get angry is forgiveness. Whenever we sense an interaction with someone is leading to strife, we should immediately set our minds to forgive them. Jesus taught us forgiveness is essential, and He modeled it Himself—even on the cross. God fully equips us to forgive and be slow to anger.

Be slow to anger so you can help minimize strife in a strife-filled world.

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God Is for Us

World War I, World War II, Desert Storm, Vietnam, the Korean War. And there are more. Wasn’t that enough? But now we wage war on ourselves?

Our world is in a mess these days. I can’t remember things being this bad since I was a child in the late 50s and early 60s. Rioting, hatred, lack of respect. Marchers holding signs that say “I’m going to hell and proud of it.” It all rates right up there with the time folks shouted, “God is dead!”

War doesn’t count the color of one’s skin. It doesn’t care what sex you are or who you think you are or want to be. War is war, and it’s waged on every person alive—not just one group. War kills innocent people. War tears and divides, and yet we wage war against ourselves. We live in a time when we are like sheep led to the slaughter—following along because it’s what the one in front of us does. We are a gullible people.

Paul tried his best to help people see we are all God’s children. All adopted by Him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. He reminded us God loves all His children. We’ve earned that status because of Jesus. So, when Paul finished out by saying, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” it shook up the hearts of the people. God is for us, not against us. Still, we do not believe Him.

This nation was built on the principles of God. The country was born from the desire to worship our God. We cannot … we simply must not … forget those who laid down their lives for this nation. Whether we approve of what the next big issue is or not, millions have stood firm in defense of our right to be who we want to be.

Give thanks and respect to those who have served this country either in the military, police, or firefighters. Emergency workers, physicians, and support staff. And finally, remember this: If God is for us, and He is, who can be against us?

As you celebrate Independence Day, remember you were not made independent on your own, but by the blood of others. Just ask Jesus, since His blood was shed for us all.

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The Process of Dying

I grieved as I watched my father die a slow death.

We had no idea how long his death would take, but watching him lapse into unconsciousness on a Friday led to three more agonizing days of waiting for the Lord to take him home. Finally, his breathing slowed until it stopped.

Not so with Jesus. Cruelty and hate marked His death. One of His inner twelve betrayed Him. Those who had no interest in His innocence—but only proving themselves right—put Him on trial for His life. They brutally flogged Jesus and gave Him a crown of thorns designed to inflict agony. Then they nailed Him to a cross and left Him to die from tortured asphyxiation. Thieves on either side of Him scoffed Him. And if this wasn’t enough, a centurion speared His chest to guarantee His death.

This cruelty on display could have been viewed as the lowest point in human history. Instead, God turned what people planned for evil into the greatest opportunity for grace humanity has ever witnessed. While these actions terminated Jesus’ life, He pointed out that His death was a result of God’s complete control. Jesus’ willful surrender of His earthly life on our behalf reversed the downward spiral of human history. He had not committed one sin, even while being crucified.

Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, my father died in peace, never wondering what would happen afterward. Dad had the hope he would see his merciful Father face-to-face. I have witnessed many deaths as a physician, and I have seen calm wash over faces time and again as they face the end. No believer in Jesus Christ need ever doubt their forgiveness or acceptance by God. Only God can transform something as dreadful as our death into a testimony of His grace toward us.

This news is too good to keep to yourself. Tell someone that death is only the beginning of new life.

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The Battle Is the Lord's

Startled from a slumbering sleep, I sat straight-up in bed.

Panicked breaths and fear gripped me. My mind raced with dreadful thoughts of how I could conquer this giant. Tears filled my eyes. I cried to God for help…for answers…for strength. Within moments, He reminded me of a small stone I kept tucked in my purse—given to remind me I wasn’t alone. Occasionally, I still reach in, pull out the stone, and remember how it symbolizes God’s power for me.

The strength and power of God in David were stronger than a nine-foot giant bearing armor that weighed 125 pounds and a spear that weighed seventeen pounds. David was a courageous and skilled warrior, not because he was large in stature or suited in heavy armor but because he was strong in the Lord. As a shepherd tending his father’s flock, he had killed a lion and a bear with his bare hands to protect his father’s sheep. Facing Goliath would be another opportunity to show he trusted God’s power and not his own.  

David was also a spiritual warrior with a brave and guarded mind. He didn’t let people or events distract him but kept his heart and mind focused on God. He did not let fear and doubt distract him. He could have stopped, looked at Goliath, and run back up the mountain—flying white flags of surrender and defeat—but he didn’t.

David ran toward Goliath—weapon in hand—knowing God went before him. David was a single warrior, but not alone. God’s presence surrounded him, and the Spirit of God came upon him. David selected five stones for his sling shot. The precise size and details of the stones had to be accurate to slay this giant. David released the stone and trusted God for the outcome.

When we face a giant, we don’t fight alone. God is with us, goes before us, and prepares us. God’s Word is our accurate weapon of force for battle, giving us every detail we need to stand strong and fight against our Goliaths.

Remember your battle belongs to the Lord. You are not alone.

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A Father's Love

Gladys’ father had a heart filled with love, and he showed it one Christmas Eve.

The Great Depression surged in 1929. Ten-year-old Gladys knew money was limited, but she still hoped for a present. Her hope was lost when her mother said, “Gladys, we don’t have any money, so don’t expect a gift this year.” Even though she understood, Gladys cried herself to sleep.

Sometime during the frigid night, she heard their old truck pulling out of the driveway. She wondered where her father was going. Later, she was awakened by her father who stood beside her bed. With eyes filled with love, he handed her a book and said, “Merry Christmas, honey.” Gladys realized her father had gone to the general store in their small town to purchase her sacrificial gift.

That happened over eighty-five years ago, and Gladys has received many gifts since then. But the gift she will never forget is the one from her loving father who sacrificed his time and money to show love to his child.

Gladys was blessed to have a loving father. Many of us have experienced a similar love from our fathers. However, some children have never known a father’s love. Perhaps their father abandoned them at birth and their mother struggled to provide a living. Some fathers abuse their children, verbally and physically. When the dad comes home reeking of alcohol, the children know to get out of his sight. They will never experience the love lavished on Gladys by her father.

But there is a Father who loves us unconditionally, no matter who we are or what we have done. We need not cringe in fear or hide from Him. God, our Father, loved us so much that He gave His most perfect Gift so that we might have salvation and life eternal when we accept His Son as Lord and Savior.

Have you accepted God the Father’s most precious Gift? 

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Disciplines of a Beautiful Woman

The title drew me because, like most women, I wanted to be beautiful.

While browsing through our church library, I stumbled upon a book entitled, Disciplines of the Beautiful Woman, by Anne Ortlund. The word beautiful wasn’t what initially drew my attention. Rather, the word disciplines did. As a young wife with two small children, I felt dictated and controlled by members of my household—along with a never-ending stream of laundry.

All it took to change me was a college-ruled spiral notebook with dark lines and a fine point pen—a useful tool I employed to implement the author’s advice. I began to plan out my life in detailed fashion. Today, planners are the rage, but beautiful women have been writing a better story for centuries—Queen Esther and Ruth of the Bible to name a couple.

But something else must occur before any discipline or habit can take hold. A woman has to become a beautiful woman through her identity in Christ—a worthy goal according to Paul. We can’t plan anything successfully unless we have a wellspring or fount to draw from. No amount of planning or discipline will succeed unless our identity is separated from our responsibilities and goals. Even if we’re born with physical attributes that normally define beauty, we must become the kind of beautiful that only manifests itself through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Although I have missed my goal many times because of disobedience and wanting my own way, God’s mercy endures forever, and my joy remains. We are the apple of God’s eye, and He gives us the strength to increase the efforts of our daily routine to be women of beauty.

Commit to a few disciplines that will make you a woman of beauty.

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Seek and You Will Find

“Follow the sound of my voice.”

With unsure steps, I inched through the darkness toward our blind guide. I was beginning to doubt my decision to sign our family up for the Dialogue in the Dark simulation. We were supposed to gain empathy for the blind and awaken our other senses as we shed our world of pictures.

The brochure made the adventure sound like such a good experience. In the first moments of total darkness, I lost my husband and my son in the crowd. Now I fought panic as I bumbled my way—one hand grasping my cane, the other in front of me.

But a gentle touch on my arm made me jump: “Mama?”

“I can’t believe you found me!” My son was a superhero with a genetic homing device. He could locate his mother in complete darkness. “You’re amazing!” I told him. 

“Not really,” he admitted, linking arms. “I’ve been looking for you ever since the lights went out.” 

Like the baby bird in P.D. Eastman’s classic story, he had asked everyone he’d bumped into, “Are you my mother?”

God asks us to seek Him just as earnestly. When we’re unsettled and unsure of which way to go—in the dark—He wants us to seek Him with all our heart. Prayer is one of the ways we can do this. But praying with all our heart is different than asking God for peace, comfort, wisdom, guidance, trust, strength, or hope. We must pray with one desire: to be in God’s presence.

When we earnestly pursue an encounter with God, He promises He will not reject us. His presence may not be announced with fanfare—no angels singing or bright lights of heaven—but our hearts might leap at the beauty of creation. We may feel peace in the midst of crushing circumstances, or joy in the midst of grief. These are quiet yet miraculous signs of God’s presence.

When the guide called us to leave, my son and I fumbled our way toward the one who would help us navigate the darkness … the one who had been there all along.

God is never far away when you seek Him. Seek Him often.

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The Beginning of the End

I looked in the casket and saw my sister who had died of cancer.

I recognized the body I viewed wasn’t really her any longer. She was in the presence of the Lord and of those who had gone before her. Once again, I realized I couldn’t stop death—but death couldn’t stop me either.

We often think of death as an end to bodily life, but death for the believer is the end of five other things.

Death is the end of time as we know it (1 Corinthians 15:53-54). We are currently creatures of time, but we have been prepared for eternity—the converse of time. We will be in the presence of the heavenly Father and beyond the dimension of time.

Death is also the end of sin (1 Corinthians 15:56). Physical death is the consequence of our disobedience (Genesis 3:19). The removal of our sinful natures will mean we no longer desire to do what displeases God. We will no longer struggle with temptation or its consequences.

Death is the end of separation from God (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Our physical death will transport us into the presence of God, from where we will never depart. While we struggle with experiencing God’s presence now because of the suffering we experience, we will see Him just as He is.

Death is the end of fear (1 John 4:18). We live in fear presently because we recognize the Creator will judge our actions. In heaven, the perfect knowledge of the Father’s love will drive away that fear.

Death also ends sadness (Revelation 21:4). Sadness is the endgame of a world gone bad and wishing for something better (Romans 8:22). But God promises to wipe away every tear from our eyes, including our regrets and pains. Complete joy and peace will flood over us.

While we know little about heaven, we can be sure our physical death marks the start of an experience unlike our present one.

Anticipate the day when you will celebrate the death of death itself.

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The Wisdom of Moisturizing Your Neck

I stared at my face in the mirror.

How it seems to have changed lately. I saw unmistakable lines making their home on my forehead. Mom always said to moisturize my neck, and now I see why. Crinkly skin moves with each swallow. And where did these jowls come from? My droopy face reflected that gravity was a law I could not break.

I chuckled and stepped away from the mirror. I’m not afraid of getting older. It is simply funny when it happens to you. My wizened skin now packages a spirit that has learned where true wisdom comes from.

When I was younger, I thought I had plenty of wisdom. I remember my effort to pick the perfect school for the perfect major to land the perfect job. The ideal guy to marry must be found. My skin lacked wrinkles then. I was internally driven. Not that being driven isn’t a good thing, but my focus relied on what I alone had to do to meet my goals. I didn’t see the big picture of my life as God does. I thought my wisdom was enough.

That’s why I think Job says “advanced years should teach wisdom.” Many of us think we are wise when we are young, but we don’t have enough life experience to know what we don’t know.

Although I’m still driven, I have learned to trust God with the driving direction in my life. Doing so required much practice—and I still don’t do it perfectly every time. God knows what I don’t know. In God’s infinite wisdom, He sees how it all works together. My human wisdom sees a limited view of God’s plan and my place in it.

As I age, I’ve learned we can receive far more peace trusting God’s wisdom rather than our own incomplete wisdom. We don’t have to wait for old age and wrinkles before we ask for that kind of wisdom.

Meanwhile, on my mom’s and my advice, remember to moisturize your neck. Ignoring good advice may lead to a prematurely wrinkled neck such as the one I see in the mirror.

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Hope for the Dead

Everyone will experience a loved one’s death.

In my life, I have experienced a few funerals for people close to me. My father’s father passed away two years ago. My grandpa had a painful and slow death from Alzheimer’s and skin cancer. Even though we knew his death was coming, the news of his passing was hard, especially for my father. Thankfully, my grandfather knew the Lord.

However, several of my family members do not know the Lord. Countless people who deny the Lord worry about death and hold many regrets. Nonbelievers think, What will happen when I die, or, Will I ever see my dead family members again? As Christians, we have hope our relatives who have accepted Jesus will be in heaven with us.

If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. I think Paul wrote this verse because it comforts believers whose Christian relatives have died. The verse is also a wake-up call for others.

While we are alive, we must show the love of Jesus to those who need His love. Countless believers are unaware some of their relatives are not following the Lord. No believer wants to arrive at the doorsteps of heaven and have the Father ask, “What have you done for the kingdom of God?” No one wants to have the guilt of not knowing if a family member is going to heaven.

Share your faith with an unbelieving family member. Even if they reject the invitation to become a believer, you have planted a seed in their life that may one day produce fruit.

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Who's Your Friend?

Nationally, people move on average twelve times during their lifetime. If the average lifespan is eighty-five, people move every seven years. I’ve relocated thirty times. I should be two hundred and forty years old.

Throughout life, we gather friends. Some stay close; others drop off when we move. When we find a close friend, we often put trust in them. But often friends disregard this honor and fail to follow through in times of our deepest need. Sometimes, we conjure a need because of some emotional response we experience. At other times, we need physical assistance to get something done. Our trust requires people to do what they say they’ll do. When they fail to show up, we can be devastated. Our countenance falls or the project doesn’t get done. We sink, maybe into depression.

Why we put such trust in someone’s promise reflects our naiveté about the human condition. Some folks extend this trust because their nature doesn’t want to believe the opposite. Then there are those who no longer extend any trust because of constant betrayal.

God, the friend who sticks closer than a brother, made a promise thousands of years ago that the Messiah would come. But what if God hadn’t fulfilled that promise? Would we have become jaded and walked away from Him? What if our sin condition prevented us from understanding the Messiah had already come?

We don’t have to wonder about God’s promise to send the Messiah. He has already come. And not only did God fulfill this great promise with Jesus, but Jesus also accepted the challenge. Jesus didn’t have to die on the cross. He had the power and the authority to remove Himself. He thought about it, but then did as His Father directed. He made a way for every human to gain dominion over evil.

Jesus is the friend who sticks closer than a brother. He arose from the pit to declare the salvation of all people. It’s a promise God continues to keep. If you have been slighted by too many friends, take a moment to consider how good and just God is. He’s as close to us as we get to Him.

Raise a holy hand and reach out to God. He’ll be there. That’s His promise.

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Unangelic Angel

His little halo tilted on his head—and he scowled.

I looked up at my three-year-old son, who was supposed to be an angel in our church’s Christmas presentation. He folded his arms tightly. All the other angels acted angelically and sang sweetly. He had told me earlier he didn’t want to wear the angel wings, but I strongly insisted. I wanted to frame a picture of him in a precious angel costume.

My stomach dropped as something caught his interest. He left his place to explore the baptismal font, then lifted the top and plunged his hand in. I wanted to die of mortification. I was the parent of that child—for all the world to see.

This moment reminded me of why parents should humble themselves as children. A child shouldn’t always do what he wants. He needs help and guidance from a parent, but sometimes he strays. Following directions is difficult when you don’t want to do what a parent asks.

Parents usually know what is best for their child, but we need humility and should play the game “Follow the Leader” instead of doing what we want. A little childlike trust in our heavenly Father might be a better direction than the path we have chosen—which may not be suitable for us in the long run.

I wonder if God sometimes looks at me and says, “I am the parent of that child.” Thank goodness, we have a Father who gives us every resource we need to follow Him. And we can be confident He welcomes us when we do.

What can you do to better follow your heavenly Father’s direction?

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God's Lifetime Is Forever

Some could no longer remember.

As we sang “How great Thou art!” at the nursing home, I saw that some of my friends could no longer remember where they were or how they had come to live there. A few had forgotten their children's names, and one or two, even their own names. But as we sang that familiar hymn, most had no trouble remembering the words as we lifted our voices in praise.

As the last notes faded away, I realized that what really matters is not how smart we are, how much money we have in the bank, or where we live—but how much we matter to God.

God has given us His promise to carry us not only during our years of beauty and youth but also through our white hair and failing memory.

God’s love is an eternal and unchanging commitment from Him. Even when everyone else forgets, He will still care for us. He has promised to carry us for a lifetime, and His lifetime is forever.

No matter your age or circumstances, remember God will carry you.

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Satisfied

When someone questioned me about my health, I was tempted to complain.

Compared to others, it seemed as though God had given me the challenge of less-than-perfect health. Rather than thank Him, I wanted to grumble, hoping for sympathy from my listeners.

The same spirit of dissatisfaction confronts me every time I turn on the television and am bombarded with advertisers wanting me to buy something. Something that will make me younger, thinner, and more agile—in other words, happy. Presently, a new cell phone and fitness tracker lead the technology “must-have” list.

Dissatisfaction comes when we compare ourselves with others, thinking we are better and deserve more. Instead, we rarely ponder we are mere recipients of God’s grace and providence. As beggars, we should thank God for everything that comes our way.

Jesus warned His followers that they would experience suffering for His sake. Paul underwent a series of beatings and stonings, as well as unfair imprisonment. Yet Paul did not whine about his mistreatment because he compared it to Jesus’. That brought Paul contentment in all God sent his way. He could humbly praise God for the good things in his life.

Contentment is learned in both the bad and good times of life. It starts with a close walk with God, brought about by our recognition of complete dependence upon Him. He stands in the way of anything that does not advance His transformative plan in our lives. Contentment asks the question, “How can I praise God now?” rather than “How can I ask God to change my situation?”

Only God’s grace can change our selfish, stubborn nature into one which recognizes our need for resting on Him. Only then can we be truly satisfied.

Ask God to show you how to be satisfied in all circumstances.

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Redemption Out of Nothing

I love the movie I Can Only Imagine.

The movie shows how the song with the same name originated. While growing up, Bart, the songwriter, was abused by his dad, but God later brought restoration between them.

One scene shows Bart and his dad sitting and talking. Bart's dad comments on how he knows why Bart likes to fix things—to make something out of nothing. He remembered there was a word for that and asked his son what the word was. Bart told him the word was redemption.   

What Bart said to his dad reflects what Jesus said. Redemption is what Passion Week—the week of Jesus’ death and resurrection—is all about. Jesus died and rose again to make something out of nothing, which we were. I had a pastor who put it this way: "We all came out of Adam's old trash pile." 

We are important to God. He loves us more than anyone else ever could. When we mess up—when we feel that “oh my” feeling—all we have to do is repent and move on. That uneasy feeling we get when we sin or do things that displease God is a sign we need to confess. All God wants us to do is ask Jesus into our hearts.

If you don’t know Jesus, pray this prayer: Dear Lord Jesus, I believe You died on the cross for my sins. I believe You rose again the third day. Come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior. Help me turn from my sin. In Jesus' name, amen.

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Phones and Needles

Needles often bring queasiness.  

The queasiness happens because the vagus nerve reacts and restricts oxygen to the brain. And shifting focus to something else is difficult when the nurse enters the room and aims the sharp implement at our lifeblood.

My dog is dead, my dog is dead. Doesn’t work. I wonder how many presidents I can name, working backward from present day. Not working either. That lady with the half-smile and short brown hair will soon stab my vein. Her gloved hand carries a needle so thin and so precise I can’t think of anything else. Kids are even worse. They scream bloody murder and need seven nurses to hold them down. God bless nurses and pediatricians after a full day of this.

But one day, a strange thing happened. Our two-year-old needed another shot. My wife and I entered the exam room and handed our son an iPhone. He loves a particular car game app and thinks it’s him playing it and not the demo.

Against all odds, the app numbed him more than lidocaine and was more arresting than the needle. With mouths open, we watched the needle jab our little man’s arm, but this time he didn’t so much as blink. He was playing the car game. Like a drug, like a charm, I thought. Suddenly, I didn’t know whether to thank Silicon Valley or renounce it.

Jesus gives a warning. Life gives us too much to overcome or forget—to become numb to. So we seek things to dull the pain … to help us forget bitter times. Modern technology is amazing, but we must be careful not to numb our old anxieties with new intoxicants or let the gadgets own us.

God gives a slope. Between a gentle sip of sherry and being laid out on the floor. Between occasionally checking email and being shackled to the screen. Knowing when enough is enough isn’t easy, so we have words spoken from the lover of our souls: “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down.”

Don’t let the things of life weigh you down. Make a plan of prevention.

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Obedience Training

I was the proud owner of a golden retriever.

Goldie came to me as a five-month-old puppy, but as he grew into an adult dog, taking him for walks challenged me. An eighty-five-pound woman was no match for an eighty-five-pound golden retriever who decided he wanted to take her for a walk. Which end of the leash he or I was on didn’t matter.

I enrolled Goldie in a six-week dog obedience course at the local park every Wednesday evening—perfect for cool summer evenings. The first week, we learned the rudiments of leash holding and voice modulating and were assigned weekly homework that reviewed the commands and routines.

During the first week, I spent twenty minutes a day getting Goldie accustomed to the leash with me in command. The second and third week, we worked twenty minutes a day for four days. By the fourth week, Goldie only received fifteen minutes of practice for three days. At every class session, he performed perfectly. I was proud of my dog. The fifth week had only two home practice sessions, and the sixth week was the graduation test. I was sure Goldie would pass.

On graduation day, we did a practice run of all the commands. All dogs were commanded to “down and stay” while each owner took their dog through the paces. I waited with full confidence that Goldie would step up and strut his stuff.

When I commanded him to “heel,” he stayed on the ground and looked at me. I commanded with authority and pulled on the leash. He didn’t budge. What’s with this dog! I finally persuaded him to move a few feet, but then he went into the “down” position again. We failed the test. Since Goldie had limited practice obeying his master’s voice, he followed what the other dogs were doing rather than the commands of his master.

Becoming a disciple of Christ takes practice so we can learn to hear His voice and obey His commands. When a test comes, we can do what we see other Christians do—which might be right or wrong—or we can obey our Master’s voice.

Think of one way you can better train yourself to obey God’s voice. 

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Basking in the Sonlight

The majority of Americans are Vitamin D deficient.

Vitamin D is a vital nutrient that helps our cells function properly. While found in some foods, the main source is from sunlight. We simply do not spend enough time outdoors soaking up the sun’s nutrient.  

This calls to mind another deficiency: lack of Sonlight. We don’t spend enough time soaking up the Son’s light. Just as our cells react to a Vitamin D deficiency, our lives react to the deficiency of Jesus’ presence and God’s Word. Our lives can be chaotic and our daily circumstances can overwhelm us, but if we spend time soaking up Jesus, these circumstances will not be as bad as they may appear. His presence gives clarity, peace, and hope to tackle any of the day’s challenges.

Jesus is the light of the world. A walk with Him brings life. If we follow Him, He will cast out darkness from our life and shed light on what truly matters. Just like the sun, a tremendous warmth resides in the presence of the Lord. We only need to seek Him to find it.

To overcome the darkness in the world, we need our daily dose of the Son’s light. This fuels our bodies and our spirits. Read the gospels, and listen for Jesus to speak. He wants a relationship with you and wants you to walk in the light.

Determine what areas of your life need to be illuminated. Then seek out Jesus’ presence. He will radiate within your life.

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Late? Wait!

I hate to be late!

The email from a church staff member said the prayer event started at 9:30 a.m. As my husband and I got ready, he mentioned that his group leader said it started at 9 a.m. We scurried, arriving about ten minutes after nine. His info was correct. The prayer event had already begun. Our groups met in separate rooms, so off my husband went.

I walked into my meeting room and looked for a seat, feeling that all eyes were on me. On top of that, I’d invited a friend, telling her 9:30 as well. My friend wasn’t familiar with the church building and would have trouble finding our room. I placed my coat and purse on a chair and, taking my phone with me, went to the lobby to wait for her.

With tears of embarrassment and annoyance threatening, I sat on a bench and asked God why He had let this happen. In a few minutes, the woman who had greeted us at the door came to see if I was okay. Trying to be pleasant, but still upset, I explained about the email with the wrong information and how it had made me feel less valued…unwanted…unimportant.

Years ago, I’d experienced an exclusion—a wound this circumstance now poked. The woman asked who sent the email, saying she hoped it had not been her since that was usually one of her duties. Not having met before, I asked her name and then she asked to see the email. I pulled it up on my phone. Sure enough, she had sent it. Her heartfelt apologies led to a conversation between us that did much to heal my wound.

We prayed together, and I told her I believed God had willed the mistake in her email. Doing so had allowed Him an opportunity to reveal an area in my heart that needed healing. And we both acquired a new friend. God had worked all things together for my good.

Maybe God is looking to heal some areas in your life too. He might even use someone’s unintentional mistake to do that.

When annoyances arise, ask God to help you recognize His will.

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Learning How to Fall

I once built monkey bars for my boys.

Carter, my oldest, could hardly wait to try them out. He nervously climbed up the ladder, grabbed the first bar, and reached for the second. Then fear set in. He kicked his feet and begged for someone to catch him. We told him to calm down and relax his legs so they would hang straight down. He needed them closer to the ground so he could turn loose and fall without hurting himself.

He finally let go, but he did not fall gracefully. Instead, he landed on his arm and wanted to quit. I told him he wasn’t going to quit until he could stop being afraid of falling. After several nervous episodes and less than graceful landings, he learned to extend his legs, relax, and fall so that he landed on his feet.

Navigating life is a lot like navigating monkey bars. We will be tempted. We will fall, but we can’t be afraid of falling. Falling is where we learn humility, experience weakness, and realize we need God and the other people He places in our lives. It’s the place where we become aware of our limits, put new safeguards in place, and experience the passageway of perseverance. Often, falling is where we gain the definition for the rest of our life.

God doesn’t want us to fear the fall. Rather, He wants us not to let the fall define the course of our lives. We can get up, run the race, and try again. After a while, the falls will lessen, and we’ll make it all the way across the monkey bars.

If your fall is bigger than you can handle alone, seek help. Attend an AA or NA meeting. Join a Celebrate Recovery group. Find a counselor, church, or support group. 

Whatever you do, don’t give up. Victory awaits on the other side.

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Easy Listener

When driving through a snow storm or rush hour traffic, I turn on an easy-listening radio station.

The soothing sound of the melodies calms my nerves. Now, if you asked my sons who was the easy listener they wanted to talk to when they were in trouble, they would say their mom. She was the easy-listening station in our family. Nancy wasn’t easy on them, but she made them feel welcome to tell her their problems. She was easy to entreat.

James says we need to ask God for wisdom—and that includes being easy to entreat.

Sometimes, we don’t make others feel welcome to share their troubles with us because we don’t believe God will listen to ours. But the amazing truth is that God welcomes us when we come with problems—or even just small stuff we struggle with.

God never asks us to do anything He hasn’t already done Himself. Entreating Him is easy. He is willing to listen and ready to teach us to be easy listeners to others when they are in need.

Ask God to help you be an easy listener.

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Trading Two Things

Flaws keep me humble.

I can think of several things about myself I’d like to change, but I’ll narrow them down to two: under-eye bags and fear of the unknown. For me, these traits have been both physically and emotionally disturbing through the years. Can you relate? Perhaps two things of your own have already come to mind.

My eye-bags remind me of my heritage. They mean family and lineage trump looks any day. Fears draw me closer to God, which is exactly where God wants me. These things are a part of what makes me, me, and God can use them for His glory.

I imagine Jesus didn’t like everything about His life either. He certainly wasn’t outwardly attractive. Paintings may depict a handsome man, but the Bible says otherwise. He must have had His share of heartache too, such as being despised and rejected by people almost everywhere He went. That couldn’t have been easy.

Jesus took His burdens to the Father, as He did on this one occasion when He prayed before His arrest and crucifixion. On what had to be the worst day of His life, Jesus prayed two things: “take this cup” and “not My will, but Yours be done.” A paraphrase might read, “God, please don’t make Me endure this, but, either way, I trust You.” And His suffering accomplished eternal salvation for all who confess and believe.

In order to possess true beauty—the incorruptible kind, which is precious in God’s sight—we must reflect Jesus. We do that by following His example and by trusting and obeying when circumstances are not as we plan. Doing so brings contentment.

You are God’s masterpiece—created for a specific purpose. What a great reminder when we look in the mirror. All of us have things we’d like to change about ourselves or our lives. But these imperfections might actually be a blessing and used to glorify the Father.

Ask God to make two of your imperfections shine for His glory.

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Joining God's Victory Parade

I settled onto the couch with the TV remote in hand.

Since I had the flu and an entire season of a television drama at my fingertips, I justified “just one more show.” One more turned into a whole marathon. With the first streaks of dawn, I went to bed. However, closing my eyelids only created a new canvas for scenes. The characters continued to play out in my sleep. Impassioned actors rehearsed their lines and paraded across the stage of my dreams.

I wish I was as passionate about my life work. I want to fight for what’s good, right, and just. I want to make a difference in my world. Yet most days as a caregiver, I am consumed with tasks that feel mundane and unimportant.

When I talk to the Lord about my need for exciting and grandiose things, He doesn’t seem impressed. Instead, He reminds me of the satisfaction of a heart attitude that is right, puts my best foot forward with joy, and finds ways to make life better for those around my table—each and every day.

Maybe my parade is a victory lap around a clean kitchen or a happy dance when another load of laundry is done. Or maybe it’s a welcoming heart and a compassionate smile.

Today, I’ll let my victory parade start with Christ at the head of the processional. And filled with gratitude, I know it will be enough.

Everyone loves a parade. Ask God to change your perspective about the parade He’s put you in.

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Mental Exercise

The crossword clue was “inexcusable.”

I inserted “unacceptable.” It fit with the correct number of letters. But as I tried to complete the other clues, it did not fit well at all.

Looking up the solution so I could continue with my mental exercise, I discovered the answer was “unforgiveable.” That word did not occur to me since God’s Word only describes one thing as unforgiveable: blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. All other sins, errors, slip ups, iniquities, and transgressions are forgivable by a loving God.

If I had persisted, I would never have completed the puzzle.

Sometimes, we see something our way, and it isn’t until we allow Father God to teach us through His Holy Spirit that we are able to think as He thinks and move on in life.

Listen for the nudging of the Holy Spirit, and do not quench what He is saying as He speaks the Father’s heart to you.

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No Good Leg to Stand On

I once underwent replacement surgery for both knees.

Hours of physical therapy followed my surgery. As I oscillated back and forth from one leg to the other, I frequently heard my physical therapist say, “That’s because you have no good leg to stand on.” She challenged me because many of her patients had had only one knee replaced and would compensate with the one that had not required surgery.

I often thought about balancing on a good leg while doing rehab on the bad one. I envisioned how I might be able to walk with minimal difficulty and be able to reach things that required the strength of at least one leg.

I also wonder how often I have thought I could accomplish God’s will for my life under my own effort. I have the idea that I still have one good leg to please God with and believe I can accomplish His purposes without His power. I hobble my way through life seeking to walk the Christian walk.

Paul thought he could become righteous through his own efforts. Only when he had a face-to-face encounter with God did he realize that was impossible. Just as it is impossible to please God by our own efforts before we become a child of God, so it is also impossible to do so after we become God’s child. Even though we are saved, we cannot be good enough to please God.

We must admit we do not have a “good leg to stand on.” All that God allows us to do for Him is by His grace alone. The Holy Spirit gives us strength to want to please and serve God.

Recognize your weaknesses and remember you are dependent on God’s grace moment by moment and step by step.

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The Image of Beauty

The mirror was my enemy.

Signs of aging caused the insecurities I had about my looks to intensify. Drooping skin, sagging eyes, changing skin texture. All these things disconcerted me. I ventured out in public no more than necessary.

I had been accustomed to people telling me how beautiful my skin was or how pretty I was. Cosmetic sales ladies clamored for the chance to demonstrate their products. Now when I walked into a department store, none of them noticed me. My self-worth plummeted. Alone and divorced, my hopes of ever finding someone greatly diminished. No one looked at me. And the mirror told why.

Experiencing mild depression, I withdrew from the beautiful fellowship I had with the Lord. Was I angry at Him? Did I blame Him for the cruelty of Mother Nature? At times, I think so, but I thank Him for loving me so much that He never left me.

Being the loving God He is, He drew me back to Himself and reminded me that true beauty lies within. I didn’t need to worry about whether someone would ever love me. He wanted me to focus on Him and His love, allowing Him to develop the beauty within for whatever purpose He had for my life.

Peter reminds us that Satan tries to focus us on the externals: fancy nails, makeup, body shape, hairstyles. He wants us to believe our self-image rides on how we feel about our physical beauty. As a result, we neglect what is important: developing the inner beauty that is more precious to God. The kind of beauty that changes lives and impacts the world for Christ.

Now when I look in the mirror, I see myself through the eyes of God’s love, His delight, and His perspective on beauty. I no longer feel unattractive. The light of His beauty shines through me as I re-engage with the world around me.

The mirror is once again my friend—not because of what I see, but because of the value I now ascribe to the image staring back at me. A beauty that deepens as I draw closer to the Lord.

Find your beauty on the inside through your relationship with a God who loves you for whom He created you to be.

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Prosthetic Faith

“I need to have my foot amputated.”

Tom calmly explained that his achy heel harbored a treatment-resistant bone cancer. Soon my friend endured the painful process of surgery, stump care, regaining his strength, and relearning to walk.

As Tom waited for his prosthesis, I wondered what encouragement I could offer. He and his wife trusted Christ implicitly. What could I say that would truly make a difference? I prayed for a word of knowledge from the Lord. It came from Luke 17.

Jesus warned His apostles about upcoming temptations and what to do when they came. Interestingly, the apostles didn’t ask Jesus for strength to withstand the trials. They asked Him to increase their faith.

The Greek word for “increase” (prosthesemi) means to “join together for a purpose; to lay beside or ‘annex’ something to reach a goal.” That’s exactly what Tom’s prosthetic foot would do for him: join to his leg below the knee so he could walk again. Not coincidentally, the Greek word is the root for our English word, “prosthesis.”

The apostles essentially asked Jesus to give them a prosthesis for their faith. I shared this with Tom who considered it great encouragement and used it as a conversation starter for sharing the gospel with friends and hospital staff.

For now, only God and Tom know what eternal seeds he sowed with his words. Tom went to heaven two years later.

Tom’s life reminds us to ask for “prosthetic faith.” We can’t engineer or add to our faith. We must ask God to do it for us. Nor is prosthetic faith a one-and-done type of faith. We continually need to ask God to enlarge our faith. Lay more tracks. Annex more footage. Add to what’s there so we can reach the goal of fulfilling God’s plans for us.

Dwight L. Moody said true faith was weakness leaning on God’s strength. Tom walked that out—literally. When he first learned to use his prosthesis, he was too weak to lean his full weight on it. But as his strength grew, his faith in his ability to walk again did too. Soon, he was back to taking short hikes with his wife.

As our faith grows, we will be fully persuaded that we can walk with strength and confidence the path God lays out for us.

Ask God to give you prosthetic faith.

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Someone Is at the Door

“Come on buddy, wake up!” my son said as he shook his head and lightly tapped the horn at the entrance to the retirement community where he worked.

To get to the office, he just needed to stop and show identification, but that day the guard was so busy talking on his phone that he didn’t notice my son and me sitting outside. When he heard the horn, he looked up, hit the control to open the gate, and then went right back to his conversation as we drove in.

Jesus said He was the door to heaven, but He gave us the wonderful opportunity to be His doormen.

Sometimes, we in the church can be a little like the guard. A new visitor shows up on Sunday, but we are so busy that we just hurry by with a polite nod as we head out the door with our friends. We sometimes even avoid eye contact because they look a little different. In our rush, we fail to consider that maybe Jesus led them to our church so we could talk to them and lead them to Him.

Almost every day, God brings someone to our gate. Ask yourself, “What can I do to be ready to welcome others and to open the gate and let them in to see Jesus?”

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The Mail Carrier

I thought it would be easy to navigate my way to the expressway from my new job. I was wrong.

The neighborhood was unfamiliar, and a few street signs were missing. The only sure landmark I had was a child’s soccer ball left in a yard. After passing the ball three times, I pulled my car to the side of the road, wiped sweat from my palms, and prayed, “God, please direct me. I want to go home.”

Suddenly, a mail carrier who was making his rounds made a U-Turn. “Ma’am, what address are you trying to find?” he asked.

“I’m looking for I-95.”

He gave directions, and I went on my way, confident I could find the expressway. But I passed through another intersection with missing street signs. Was that where I was supposed to turn? This time, I did a U-Turn, found my soccer ball landmark, and stopped. The mail carrier’s reflection appeared in my rearview mirror.

“Still looking?” he asked, pulling beside me.

I nodded, trying to hide my flushed face.

“Wait here. I have these letters to deliver, and I’ll be back.”

As promised, he returned and then led me to the highway. Sure enough, the intersection with the missing signs was where I was supposed to turn. I can still see the carrier tipping his hat as I boarded the expressway.

In each of the 176 verses of Psalm 119, the psalmist encourages us to incorporate the truths of God’s Word into everyday living.

Sometimes, navigating decisions in life is like driving with missing street signs. God understands we need help, so He provides His Word. When I commit God’s Word to memory, I can be as confident as the mail carrier who had the streets on his route memorized. I’m guessing he also knew the residents by their first names, as well as the child who owned the soccer ball. Just as the mail carrier led me to the expressway, God’s Word gives us directions that are safe and reliable.

Ask God to help you know His Word intimately so it will become your sure guide.

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Unlock the New Creation

The once new creations were no more.

The deadbolts and doorknobs were in place when I moved into the duplex years ago, but the shine was gone and the metal discolored. One by one, the locks stopped working. The key either wouldn’t insert fully into the slots or was so difficult to turn that I feared the key would break.

Months passed, and eventually the key would barely insert into the slot anymore. I struggled until I slid home, and I could get into the house. Ten minutes standing in one-hundred-degree heat with the sun bearing down on me and groceries piled in plastic bags at my feet was enough. The skin on my fingers and thumb was torn, and a puncture wound from wrestling and shoving the metal key dotted my hand. Time was up. I had to replace the doorknob.

The next day, I left my home unlocked and prayed over the duplex before I drove away to work. Like other neighborhoods, crime has increased since I moved into the area. My car had been broken into, ordered items had been stolen from the doorstep and out of the mailbox, porch furniture was gone, and even my American flag had been swiped. I asked God to wrap my home with His guardian angels and to keep all evil from my belongings.

I also asked God for the ability to change the lock. I was afraid I couldn’t do it, yet it only took seven minutes to remove the old doorknob and install the new. I knew my own abilities weren’t adequate, but with God, everything is possible—even changing a doorknob.

Like my doorknobs and deadbolts, we start out shiny. But as life happens, we discolor. One day, we realize our rust covering is sin, which separates us from God. Nothing we can do or say can erase the filth we have become. Only by looking to the Son of God and by believing in His death and resurrection can we unlock the door to our salvation. Accepting His gift creates a relationship with the Almighty God. The old creation leaves. The new creation arrives.

Thank God that you are forgiven and clean because of Christ.

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Dreaming of Christmas

How things have changed since that first Christmas.

Our dreams, our wishes, and our expectations have nothing to do with the actual events of that day.

When you dream about Christmas, what smells come to mind? Live Christmas trees, cookies in the oven, cinnamon and nutmeg in Wassail, turkey and dressing, hot apple pie. Yule logs burning send the aroma of sweet smoke into the air.

When you close your eyes and dream about Christmas, what do you see? Children laughing, lights on the tree, houses decorated inside and out, presents and wrapping paper, ribbons and bows, Christmas cards. And of course, snow and snowmen with mittens.

When you dream about Christmas, what do you hear? Children laughing as well as children crying from overdoing and over-stimulation. Burl Ives singing “Frosty the Snowman,” Gene Autry singing “Rudolph,” and somebody singing “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” We still hear carols, but mainly at church.

What were the aromas that met Mary that first Christmas night? Stinky bodies (many people were in Bethlehem and there were not enough bathing facilities), a stable that needed cleaning (since the inn keeper was too busy to get it done before the young couple was given their room for the night), and damp hay.

What did Mary see? Dirty animals, a young, loving but frightened husband, a bed of straw, and rags in which to wrap her beautiful newborn baby.

She heard the braying of the beasts, the noise of the people from the inn, the crying of the babe, the heartbeat of her husband, the singing of the angels, and the adoration of the shepherds.

God observed then, as He observes now. He watched as His only Son—the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace, the Savior of the World—was born in a stable. He watches now as we celebrate. And He always smiles through His tears at our feeble attempts to make Christmas what it really is.

This year, let’s celebrate His birth—truly celebrate His birth. Let’s change our dreams, wishes, and expectations so that we have a true celebration of the birth of the Son of God.

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Rescue in Rest

Research shows the body interprets lack of sleep or poor sleeping habits as stressors. Cortisol levels rise and metabolism slows–increasing the risk for weight gain.

Until recently, I never took seriously the concept of Sabbath rest. While transitioning from a lengthy period of rest, due to burn-out, I knew I could not approach life as I once did or I’d end up with the same result. Now I do as much as I can during the week, within particular time frames.

I stop working at a certain time daily, so that I don’t have 100 “thinking tabs” open when I go to bed. I take breaks during my work day, and Saturdays are flexible, split between tasks and pursuits. On Sundays, I do no work-related activities. I also don’t regale in social media so that my mind rests too. Though challenging to implement, these lifestyle changes have positively impacted my start to a new week.

If the Creator of the universe thought it important to rest and recuperate in between working, what makes us think we’re indestructible? As I once heard explained, “God spent six days using His breath for creation, but He used the seventh day to take a breath.”

Since we are made in God’s image, we are designed to have periods of rest too. I am fascinated by how we ensure our electronic devices never run out of battery power, but we don’t enforce the same discipline in recharging our own batteries. Sabbath rest is not a gift we give God but a commandment and gift He gives us, enabling us to refresh, to be ready, and to focus on what lies ahead.

If you feel guilty about resting, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give you peace and direction in your intentional rest choices.

Reflect on ways you can incorporate more opportunities for rest in your life.

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Spiritual Junk Food

I love Peanut M&M’s, but I never buy them.

One handful of these gems leads to “just a few more,” and before I know it, I’ve eaten the whole bag. Oh, I can rationalize that they’re not that bad for me because the peanuts contain protein. But the nutrition label tells the truth: ten-plus grams of fat in a vending machine size bag.

Other junk foods, like potato chips and chocolate chip cookies, have a similar effect on me. I always intend to eat only one cookie or just a few chips, but my hand reaches into the container every time I pass it. And that lack of self-discipline means banning those temptations from my house.

When Paul told the Corinthians that “everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things” he referred to athletes who avoid unwholesome foods and activities while they train. But I can broaden “all things” into anything that hinders my public testimony to others or my private relationship with Christ.

Some Bible versions translate the word temperate as “self-control” or “strict training.” Paul emphasizes that representing Christ and His gospel requires sacrifice. Most of us realize that avoiding harmful activities like immorality and bitterness is necessary, but what about things we view as harmless or even healthful?

Dried fruit or veggie chips aren’t unhealthy foods; however, if I consume too many of those foods and neglect protein and vegetables, then I’m not maintaining a healthy diet. Similarly, spiritual junk food can include Christian books, charitable works, and inspirational music if I use them as substitutes for studying my Bible or praying.

Just as I must control my physical diet by keeping certain foods out of my house, I may also need to keep certain activities out of my life—not because they’re wrong, but because I can’t control my intake.

If we want to be healthy, spiritually fit Christians, we’ll ask the Holy Spirit to give us self-control, even in the harmless areas of our lives. We’ll want to be temperate in all things so that God will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” when we reach the finish line of life.

Take time this week to inventory your spiritual junk food. What activities or habits keep you from ingesting the spiritual protein of Bible study and prayer?

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Who is My Neighbor?

When the biscuits and meat platter disappeared from the dining room table, Mary Elizabeth wondered what was up.

It was the 1930s, and the Great Depression had robbed countless men of their livelihood. Many left home, hopped on boxcars, and traveled from farm to orchard seeking work. The child of a caring minister, my mother later reflected on how often these men found their way to her back door for a handout.

“Turn no one away,” was my grandfather’s directive as he helped his children grasp the enormity of their suffering and exhorted them to show kindness to anyone in need. Perhaps that explains my mom’s affection for Johnny.

With his mop of tousled hair, Johnny bounced up our driveway on his motor bike, the sidecar filled with household items. He wore a jaunty smile and spoke with a lisp. Only a few moments of conversation revealed Johnny was not quite right. I observed with interest the kind way Momma talked with him as with a friend. And she always made a purchase, no matter how small.

Things are different now. Homeless men no longer come for handouts, and the Johnnys of this world are not selling kitchen gadgets door to door. Most people don’t even know their neighbors, much less their sufferings. And what of the beggar at the stop light? Is he truly in need, or am I supporting his addiction—or worse, his business? Loving our neighbor is complicated.

But do changing times relieve us of Christ’s command to love our neighbor? As I type this devotion, I am reminded of a single-parent family nearby. Their yard is not kept, and the children’s clothes are worn. Are they hungry? In need of friendship or practical aid? As I ponder these questions, I remember that Jesus knows the condition of every heart and the pathway of healing.

If you are wondering who your neighbor is and how to help them, join me in this prayer: Loving Father, awaken my heart to the needs of those around me. Give me Your wisdom and compassion that I might know how to best love others with Your extravagant love.

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Those Dishonest Landlords

They lied to me.

My landlords told me I could stay in my apartment without renovation. I found out that never was an option. I had lived in rental housing all my adult life, but this was the first time landlords had treated me this way. I had a difficult time forgiving them, because my whole world changed suddenly. After twelve years in a place that felt like home, I had forty days to find a new place to live.  

The Bible commands us to forgive those who hurt us. When we do, the Father will forgive us. I think the Lord wants us to take forgiveness seriously, so we won’t become bitter and hostile people. That meant I needed to forgive my former landlords.  

A month before I moved out. I got up early each morning, stood across the street, and asked the Lord to help me forgive my landlords.  I also prayed that they would find the Lord. I believe through prayer God can change my heart. I hope He also changes their hearts.  

Time has a way of healing our wounds.  Because I asked the Lord for help, I hope someday I will be able to let go of what my landlords did to me.

When someone hurts you, ask the Lord for help and pray for your enemies. It might just start the healing process.

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Heavenly Hydration

Water makes up about seventy percent of the human body.

I once disliked drinking water. Then I read an article emphasizing the benefits and seriously thought about how something so copiously available could have such a huge impact on my health. I prayed for God to help me crave more water.

Just as we need actual water for our bodies to survive, we also require spiritual water for our faith to flourish. God desires for us to seek Him in all we do, just as the psalmist did. God wants us to submerge ourselves into His living water.

Water aids digestion, cleanses the kidneys, flushes out toxins, keeps joints lubricated, promotes healthy skin, and regulates body temperature. We need to consume more water than usual when we are battling ill health (fever, diarrhea, vomiting), when the weather is warmer than usual, and when we are engaged in physical activity.

We need spiritual water when we are fighting spiritual battles, experiencing a challenging season in life, and facing exhaustion from everyday battles.

God answered my prayer. I am now so accustomed to drinking water that I cannot leave home without a bottle of it. Nor can I function well if I don’t get my regular dose of spiritual nourishment. As we become consistent and intentional in seeking God, we will thirst less for secular things.

If you don’t like the taste of water, try flavoring it naturally with orange slices, strawberries, mint, or cucumber. If you find spending time with God a bit tedious, reconsider your Bible version, watch video downloads, or listen to podcasts relating to the Scripture verses you find challenging to understand.

Promise yourself that you will drink both physical and spiritual water.

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Stop, Pray, and Listen

Every morning I walk around my neighborhood.

I talk with God about my struggles and questions for that day. In those minutes of silence I find a place of calm, but when I return home a crowd of details demands my immediate answers. Under the pressure, I often forget to stop and listen for what God wants. Too often, my desire to hurry overwhelms me. But when I remember to make those anxious details take a back seat to God’s voice, I discover hearing Him is not so difficult at all.

The psalmist says God is always speaking. So why is it so difficult for me to hear?

The lines from the hymn, “This is My Father’s World,” remind me that God speaks to me in the rustling grass—and everywhere.

Our greatest problem is not that God is silent, but that we often don’t stop long enough to listen to what He says. God wants us to tune our ears to hear Him and remember to stop, pray, and listen.

Think of one way you can slow down so you can listen to God.

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Automatic Assistance

While attempting to move a large box, I knocked a stack of boards down.

When they hit my unprotected foot, my whole body reacted to the pain. At that moment, my body had one unified thought: HELP! My brain forgot about what I’d been doing; my hands immediately reached for some alternative support; my right leg automatically lifted the bruised, throbbing foot from the floor to relieve the pressure; and my left leg instinctively absorbed the extra weight. Even my vision went black for a few moments as my body responded to the injury.

I hobbled to the freezer and assembled a makeshift ice pack with some ice cubes and a plastic bag. Then I shuffled to a nearby recliner to prop my foot up for a while. Not one member of my physical body complained about the schedule adjustment. Every part of me focused on tending to the injured member.

The experience made me think about the body of Christ and its reaction to the injury of one of its members. Do I respond to another person with as much effort and concentration as I responded to my injured foot? Are we quick to adjust our schedules and offer assistance when someone is blindsided by tragedy or suffers the consequences of ignorance or foolishness?

Paul reminded the Corinthians that even though the body of Christ has many members, it should function as one unit—each member equally valuable and vital to the whole. Therefore, when one person suffers, we should seek to alleviate that suffering so that the whole body will soon be able to function again at full capacity.

My physical body took a while to recover from my carelessness. My left leg and foot compensated for the weakness and pain that my right foot experienced. Eventually, the workload was evenly distributed again, but for a few weeks my right foot needed extra care and consideration.

When our brothers and sisters in Christ undergo a season of weakness and pain, God calls us to bear their workload with compassion and without complaint. Our reaction to their suffering should be as instinctive as my reaction to my injured foot.

Think of someone who is suffering. Then assist them.

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Guidebook or God's Book?

The guidebook for tourists advised travelers to ignore beggars. Sometimes, it warned, they were actually pick-pockets who distracted and robbed do-gooders.

While traveling in Spain, I maintained my habit of reading the Bible daily. The first morning in Barcelona, I read the account of Peter and the beggar. Great story, but I failed to see how it applied to me. So I closed my Bible, went out sight-seeing, and passed by at least two beggar women without even remembering what I’d read.

The next day, I reread the passage and felt the Holy Spirit pinch. I confessed my self-centeredness and devised a simple plan for the next opportunity.

On a street busy with foot traffic, I saw a clean-cut middle-aged man sitting in a doorway with a sign that read, I have problems. Help me. He looked defeated. I stooped to his level and, using my barely-adequate Spanish, asked him what the problems were. He said he was sick and unemployed. I asked his name. After I dropped a few euros in his can, I told Antonio I would pray for him in Jesus’ name.

I walked away convinced God had caused our paths to cross. God’s Book had shown me that when Peter met a beggar he gave what he could.

Not ten minutes later, another man, rumpled and needing a shave, approached me. He also said he needed help and introduced himself as Antonio. Really, Lord? He looked as if drinking might be his biggest problem, and I didn’t want to be generous. I briefly pretended I didn’t speak Spanish, but the Holy Spirit prodded again. I promised to pray for him in Jesus’ name and shared more euros.

My encounters with the Antonios reminded me that daily Bible reading isn’t just an item on a to-do list. When God opened my mind and heart to His Word, I found I could give what I had—a little Spanish, a few euros, and a faithful prayer in Jesus’ name.

Ask God to show you how He wants you to obey Him today. Maybe He’ll send you an Antonio.

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A Man Became Pregnant

I learned while a prison minister that people can become pregnant and go to prison.

That pregnancy comes before birth is obvious. What is not so obvious is that men can get pregnant too. God explains in His Word that there are two types of pregnancies: physical and spiritual.

Very pregnant women are hard to miss. So are those who are exceedingly pregnant with a sin child because the lusts of the flesh ooze from their actions. These are spiritually ugly people. And things only get worse once they give birth to their sin-child. Their offspring include felonies, wrath, broken homes, and loss of self-respect. When we choose to submit to the lusts of our flesh, we go through a painful pregnancy and are seldom proud of what we give birth to.

James says we are dragged away. A number of things can strongly entice and take control of us: the sexually attractiveness of a seductive woman, strong drink, perversion, lust, and money.

After being dragged away by our own lusts and letting them possess us, we conceive. Or in modern terms, the lust “knocks us up” or makes us pregnant. Then comes a pregnancy in which our personalities are controlled more and more by the growing needs of this sin child, which we give birth to.

Sin then grows and brings forth death. Death in the Bible often refers to separation. This full-term sin-child, malicious as it is, kills our dreams and produces pain and suffering for us and those we love. This state of death eats our resources—emotionally, financially, and spiritually—to support its new growing life. Death’s developing cancer demands space to grow and is selfish by nature.

Ask the Lord to help you walk in the Spirit of God so the lusts of the flesh will not gain control.

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Strength

Climbing walls in gymnasiums, cliffs along riverbanks, and mountains in the Eastern and Western United States all build strength, confidence, and endurance.

Usha, a five-foot crisis intervention specialist, served at the sobering-up unit of the Syracuse Rescue Mission. For decades, she exhibited the boldness of a lioness. She once approached a six-foot 250-pound addict who reeked of alcohol and said in love, “You need Jesus. You need to get sober.” Many listened. But many didn’t and walked out into the dark, cold night looking for drugs.

Usha got her strength and joy from her relationship with Jesus Christ, just as the aforementioned activities will also bring the same. Usha knew the heavenly host would protect her and keep her joyful. 

True joy comes from a deep relationship with God’s Son, Jesus Christ. A time-tested axiom that has proven true and keeps joy flowing is discovered in the acrostic JOY: Jesus first, others second, and yourself last.

The challenge is to keep moving forward joyfully. This can be done by continuous prayer and by reading, studying, and meditating on God’s Word. Hundreds of promises fill Scripture, many of which are capable of bringing great joy and strength to us. We can do all sorts of activities to build confidence, but if we don’t have a pure heart, our strength and joy will wane thin.

Mountains will always appear in our lives: education, family issues, relationships, enemies, and work projects. God, however, will supply the strength to press on joyfully.

God Almighty is your ultimate resource for everything you need. Let Him be your All in All.

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Breakfast of Champions

Every morning I prepare breakfast for our dogs.

I rotate between doggies, feeding them morsels from a designated fork. Occasionally, one will rise. If I say, “Sit,” the dog listens, but only if I preface this with their name. Otherwise, they assume I’m talking to another pack member. Our senior pooch stomps during the entire breakfast. She wants to make sure I notice her. The youngest gal takes each morsel with gusto, and the youngest male snorts between bites. Theirs is a breakfast fit for champions.

As I fixed coffee one morning and reflected on my fur babies’ morning antics, I decided it was time I had a breakfast fit for a champion. I chose this verse and nibbled on it all day: Delight thyself also in the LORD. I wanted to digest it slowly so God’s goodness could seep into every cell of my being.

By the end of the day, I was ready for another morsel. On and on I nibbled, eating the Word as a champion’s breakfast. God’s Word applies to the spiritual as well as to the natural realm. His words are so kind. His thoughts toward me outnumber the grains of sand on a beach. 

Sometimes I find myself thinking, Are You calling my name, Lord? I try to trust His promises to me, but when problems spill like cornflakes hitting the kitchen floor and I’m scrambling to pick up the crumbs, doubts creep in.

God wants us to receive the goodness He speaks about us. He loves us, and the banqueting table the Lord prepares for us is filled with juicy morsels. Pull up a comfy chair, scooch up to the table, pick up your fork, and dine. We are God’s champion.

Ask God to help you dine with delight at His banquet table.

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Joy Amidst Sorrow

The day was both a sad, heart-wrenching day and a heart-bursting joyful day.

How can everything seem normal one minute and then, with the ring of a phone, my world become so sad? The phone call asked me to pray for Stephen, a dear friend. He had been missing in Tel Aviv for twelve hours. He failed to meet his travel group to begin their journey into the Holy Land—a trip he had sacrificially saved, planned, and prayed for.

After a twelve-hour search of his hotel and grounds, Stephen’s body was found in a stairwell, his luggage strewn around him, and a large gash on his forehead. He was gone from this earth.

Stephen loved the Lord with all his heart. He had grieved for three years since the death of his beloved wife of forty years who had fought a valiant battle with cancer. He and his four adult children clung to Paul’s promise: Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. Stephen begged God to draw him closer to Jesus on this trip-of-a-lifetime, but that was where the Lord called Stephen to his heavenly home.

Sometimes, our plans are not God’s plans, and yet it seems as though Stephen’s prayers were answered. The church sanctuary filled with more than five hundred people who came from all over the country to celebrate Stephen’s life. They came because they wanted to remember him as a kind son, funny brother, devoted husband, loving father, doting grandfather, good and sometimes quirky friend, co-worker, carpenter, emergency room nurse, prayer warrior, Bible teacher, and generous and giving man. Christians and non-Christians alike shared how his life had impacted their lives.

God—who is always in control—gave us joy by giving us Stephen for a time. Now, he is in heaven for eternity where we will one day be reunited.

Commit to living your life to reflect Jesus as Stephen did.

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Best Friend

Occasionally, someone hugs me and says, “You’re my best friend.” This suggests I have made them my best friend.

Through the years, I have lived in many cities in several different states. The first thing I did after settling in was to pray, “Help me find a new friend, God. Someone I can trust, do things with, talk to. Someone who comes in on the same beam as I. Most of all, Lord, I pray she will be a Christian friend.” 

God answered my prayer each time, and I have good friends in many states. But these women were not necessarily my best friends.

Ten-year-old Elena once said, “You’re my mother’s best friend.” I giggled when her mother chimed in and said, “Oh, Betty is best friends with everyone.”   

It made me curious. I looked up best in Webster’s Dictionary and learned it means “excelling all others, the utmost.” Not only people, but also things. Hmmm. How can I have more than one best friend—someone who means more to me than any of my other buddies? And how can I possibly be a best friend to more than one person?

Even newspapers get in on the best friend game. One determined pets are our best friends. Now, I like my two dogs. A lot. (I like most of my friends even more.) But do any of these come first in my life? Would I give up my life for them? Would the dogs or my friends do so for me? Afraid not.

Only one person always puts me first: Jesus. He always remembers my birthday and loved me before I was born. More importantly, He gave up His life for me. But not just for me. He gave it up for you as well.              

Jesus is the one we can all call our best friend. Make Him yours.  

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Spinning Thoughts

Twenty thousand feet in the air, and I had hours with nothing to do but think.

A middle-age man beside me engrossed himself in a newspaper. The beautiful young blonde in front of me looked out the window. People around me contented themselves with reading or taking naps. I, too, appeared calm, but if the others on the plane could have seen my mind, it would have looked like a gerbil running in a never-ending circle.

The same troubling thoughts ran over and over in my mind. Problems at work, unanswered prayers, health issues, and financial burdens piled up and tackled my thoughts. My mind wasn’t experiencing God’s peace.

As I shifted my weight in my seat, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Philippians 4:8. I felt as if He was calling me to take action, giving me “homework” to redirect my thoughts. I took out a piece of paper and listed things that were true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and praiseworthy.

It took most of the flight to make my list, and I soon found myself contentedly gazing out the window. I wasn’t restless any longer, and although the circumstances that troubled me had not changed, I was changed. The Spirit of God had taken hold of my hand thousands of feet in the air and ushered me into a calm and peaceful place. The gerbil wheel stopped.

If we obey this Scripture in Philippians, we will have the mind of Christ instead of a restless mind. Renewing our mind by “thinking on these things” instead of our own clamoring thoughts enables us to hear God’s voice more clearly.

Make a list of things you know are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Then think on those things. Your mind will be renewed as you remember all the marvelous things God has done for you.

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Prayers for Bessie

Before sunrise, Pastor Troy unlocked the doors of Countryside Church. It was his custom to pray for the people before they arrived. He touched the back of the pew where Bessie customarily sat.

“Father God, I lift Bessie to you,” he said.

Outside, the sun crested as congregants arrived. Bessie had asked Sue to keep a secret. “The pastor visited a liquor store,” she said as she lifted an empty whiskey bottle from the trash.

Pastor Troy glanced out the window. “Lord, I’m not worried about the tale she’ll spin. The bottle is in the church trash because I gave Buster a ride home. I’ll gladly help him again,” he said.

The pastor had read where God invited Job to pray for three fickle friends. Job stood at the crossroads. His prayers could make a difference in the course of their lives, and this gave Pastor Troy the fortitude to pray for Bessie.

As he prayed for Bessie, his perspective changed. He now saw Bessie as broken, but reachable. He didn’t see any changes yet, but he knew love would win. He also remembered the words Stephen prayed as the crowd stoned him, “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60b). He recalled that Paul (Saul) had participated. Because of Stephen’s dying prayer, Paul repented and became the most prolific Bible writer. Then he thought of Jesus’ dying prayer, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34b). While Jesus’ enemies gambled for His clothing, He chose to extend forgiveness.

“Father, forgive Bessie too,” Pastor Troy prayed as he brushed away a tear. He hoped his prayers could help rewrite Bessie’s story. He moved to the next pew section—praying blessings on all who came to Sunday service, calling in salvations, healings, marital restoration, and family unity.

Then, walking toward the door, he prayed, “Father God, help me make Jesus’ story real to every person You permit me to minister to. Help me to share Your Son’s gift of salvation.”

He swung the church doors wide. “Welcome!” he said, greeting each person with a hardy handshake. He knew a secret he longed for Bessie to learn: God’s love transforms rivals into friends.

Ask God to show you people who need your prayers.

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Shame, Shame, Shame

“Shame, shame, shame.”

My parents and grandparents said the words to me. The words meant I had broken one of their rules. Even as a young child, which is when I normally heard this, I knew what it meant.

As I got older, the three words didn’t bring the same response as they did when I was younger and wanted to please everyone. The larger problem related to God’s rules, which my parents’ and grandparents’ rules supposedly mimicked. If I broke their rules, I was guilty of infringing upon God’s principles.

But I also experienced another type of shame: shame over my body. To say the least, I hated it. Skinny. Bony. And if that wasn’t enough, I had to get ugly glasses while in elementary school.

Paul says anyone who believes in Christ should never be put to shame.

Shame comes in two varieties: misplaced and rightly placed. One bad, the other good. If I do the opposite of what Paul says—feel ashamed—I experience misplaced shame. I should never be ashamed of who I am in Christ. Nor should I ever refrain from telling others through my actions and words that I belong to Him.

Misplaced shame also shows up when I try to improve on how God made me and who He made me to be. He gave me my body and my personality. What others think is, on one hand, important, but, on the other hand, not so important. I’m here to please God, not others. When I fail to accept that, along with the gifts God has given me, I feel shame when I shouldn’t.

Rightly placed shame entails recognizing I am what the Bible says: a sinner in need of forgiveness. I should feel ashamed that I’ve failed God. The good news is that God made a way out of that shame. Through believing in His Son, I can experience forgiveness and release from condemnation, knowing Christ has paid for all my sins. Daily confession of my failures and sins keeps me on good terms with God.

Satan wants us to continually beat ourselves up, making us think we are no good, getting us to think God can never use us. If he convinces us, we’re defeated, and God won’t be able to use us.

Don’t let the wrong type of shame lead you to a life of misery.

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Vitamin Gratitude

Research shows living a life of gratitude benefits the mind and body by improving mood and anxiety levels, improving sleep, and bolstering problem-solving abilities.

In 2017, I started living an intentionally thankful life. I obtained an empty glass jar, and every week I wrote down things I was thankful for in that week, then placed the note in the jar. On New Year’s Eve, I read all of my gratitude notes. I felt so overwhelmed by how God had blessed me that year—in ways I had completely forgotten.

Maintaining an attitude of gratitude is one way we honor God. Just as we sometimes take vitamin supplements to give our bodies an extra boost, so we should also praise God as a way to enhance our spiritual health. While it’s easy to feel grateful during the good times, more often than not, a grateful heart is what gets us through the difficult times.

Cognitive neuroscientist, Dr. Caroline Leaf, suggests that thanksgiving, praise, and worship decrease negative thoughts in the brain. A profound suggestion.

Consider writing down a few things you are thankful for. Then praise God for them. Paste them on your refrigerator, bathroom mirror, or in your car (anywhere you can see them) as a reminder of God’s continued faithfulness to you.

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Breaking Down

In frustration or tiredness, I sometimes snap at someone with a snarky comment.

One morning at Home Depot—after working an overnight shift at the hospital—I shuffled endlessly through the vast aisles trying to find a simple list of five items. I had stopped at the customer service desk on my way in to get a list of aisle numbers for my shopping list. However, the clerk gave me the wrong directions.

In the paint department—frustrated and tired and trying desperately to locate cheesecloth—I sternly asked the lady at the counter to call a manager to help me. She told me she was occupied, and I retorted, “Well, that’s why I asked you to call a manager.” Not my finest hour.

Some can relate. Some have more self-control or are filled with a deeper sense of peace, but on occasion my reaction overtakes what I know I should do.

God offers an alternative through Paul’s letter to the Colossians when he says to do everything in the name of Jesus. The verse summarizes the call on our lives to be the most Christ-like humans possible.

What we say matters as much as what we do. Paul gives both equal weight. Often, we speak without thinking, tell crass jokes, participate in gossip, curse, and offer commitments we don’t work to keep without batting an eye.

All we speak should be said in the name of Jesus. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t laugh or that we need to preach every time we open our mouths. But we should practice awareness of the words we choose to say and how they affect others.

We can be too prideful or busy to put accolades where they rightly belong: with God. Slowing down and taking time to thank God for opportunities, people, and abilities creates space for gratitude to blossom.

We need to give thanks in all circumstances, even when we grapple to stay afloat or control our emotions. Cultivating an attitude of thanks helps alleviate struggles by removing our eyes from ourselves and reminding us of God’s power and grace.

Remember, you are the light of Christ in the world. Speak and act in His name.

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Waiting Patiently on the Divine

As a Corp Member during my one-year mandatory youth service at Igbokoda in Ondo State, I told a story.

A pastor married, but his wife could not conceive. After a time, the pastor could wait no longer and married another wife. Much to his chagrin, his former wife and the new one conceived at the same time. He discovered double trouble because of his impatience.

We are God’s people and should not be lazy in whatever we do for Him, especially when serving. We also have to be patient with God. Patience is the cord that binds us with God, who always regards our helpless estate. When we face difficult moments, we should view God as our anchor and be ready to be hospitable, not retaliating when others offend us.

God is a great and patient Father with everyone. He has not dealt with us according to our sins. Had He, He would have destroyed the whole world long ago as a result of our various offences. God is patient and wants us to be patient with Him—and with others. When we tolerate one another, we can live at peace.

God’s delays are not denials of our requests. Wait patiently on God. He will never forsake you.

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You're an Original

Doppelganger: an apparition or double of a living person.

Some say everyone has an exact look-alike somewhere in this world. I’ve seen a few of these doppelgangers myself. My husband, for instance, has been mistaken many times for a famous country singer. (Thankfully, he has yet to accommodate their request for an autograph or for him to sing.)

Most movie and TV stars have doubles—people who can pass for them with no questions asked. But no matter how much a person may favor someone else—even identical twins—the truth is we’re all originals. No fakes, phonies, or counterfeits. We are, as the psalmist says, fearfully and wonderfully made. Paul even refers to us as God’s masterpiece.

The Bible tells us God is love. He is also creativity in its fullest measure. My grandmother used to say, “We might be cut from the same cloth as someone else, but even that piece of cloth has different colors, textures, and thread patterns.”

God knew what He was doing when He fashioned us in our mother’s womb. He makes no mistakes. There’s not another individual on the face of the earth who has your exact smile, dimples, laugh, or shape of your eyes and nose. No one has the same fingerprints. And no one sees or values things in the same way as you.

Whether we’re short or tall, have curly hair or straight, are athletic or musical, God lovingly fashioned us and gave us unique attributes that belong to us alone. He gave us life and breath for a purpose, most of all for His glory and pleasure.

Embrace God’s handiwork, and don’t compare yourself to anyone. And never take yourself for granted—your appearance, giftedness, interests, passions, strengths, weaknesses, creativity, hopes, dreams, and even the desires of your heart. There is no one like you. Never has been and never will be. You are unique. Special. One of a kind.

Never forget that you are God’s original.

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Herbal Healing

“It’s so nice and cool,” my classmate said.

When I was seven, one of my classmates came over to play. She had numerous patches of dry flaky skin on her legs and arms and constantly scratched them. My grandmother noticed, plucked a thick green leaf from a plant in her garden, and rubbed the gel-like substance from the leaf onto my classmate’s itchy skin patches.

As I explored ways to use food as medicine in my personal life, I realized the plant my grandmother used was aloe vera. Because of its soothing and anti-inflammatory properties, it is often used to treat certain abrasions, burns, skin irritations, and other ailments.

As the psalmist shows, people in the biblical era used herbs for physical healing, purification, spiritual cleansing, cosmetics. Examples include hyssop for ceremonial cleansing and purification, frankincense as an ingredient in incense and as an astringent, myrrh as perfume or as a salve in the purification of the dead, and garlic to kill parasites, keep the body warm, and increase virility.

Though I am grateful God blessed medical professionals with incredible knowledge to assist us in healing, I am awestruck that He intentionally created certain plants to heal nations. One of my favourite herbs to keep on hand is mint. I add a few leaves to a cup of boiled water and drink it as a tea. It’s a delight when I have indigestion, stomach cramps, or excessive flatulence. A friend of mine uses tea tree oil diluted in water to fight off mildew in her home.

Think of some of God’s natural medicines that you can use in your home.

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God Is So Good

During my quiet time, I thanked God for keeping me healthy and injury-free.

My salary is just above minimum wage, so I can’t afford health insurance and haven’t seen my primary care physician in two years.

Less than six hours after my prayer, I fractured my right pinky finger—my dominant hand. I almost passed out from the pain. Who knew that a tiny bone could hurt so much? My finger immediately swelled and bruised. I knew if I went to an urgent care center, I’d have to pay for medical treatment. They’d take x-rays, then apply a splint. What else is there to do for a broken finger?

I went to Wal-Mart and bought a splint and tape for $4.71, which God provided. Earlier that day, I’d been slipped a $20 bill by a friend. Had God not led that woman to give me money, I wouldn’t have had any funds to purchase the splint and tape.

My response to God for allowing me to break my finger was not what it should have been. I was angry. Disappointed. He knows my situation. I’m a caregiver for an elderly woman, and God knows I can’t miss work—no work, no pay. I told Him He had failed me. Right after I’d thanked Him for keeping me unhurt. I felt as if He had slapped me in the face.

The following morning, I awoke with a childhood song in my head, “God Is So Good.” I told God that song was wrong. He had not been good to me. It kept playing and made me examine the situation from a different perspective. If I had to break a bone, breaking a pinky bone was probably the best bone to break.

God knew I’d break my finger—nothing surprises Him. He arranged the situation so I could take care of myself and continue to work. He paid for my supplies.

Life is hard. There are trials and tribulations. Jesus said to expect them. He also said He would never leave us nor forsake us. He was with me before I fractured my finger. He was with me while it healed. He will always be with me. Forever. His promise.

Never doubt God’s promise that He is good.

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Mom's Never-Failing Gift

With a mixture of excitement and uncertainty, I looked forward to campus life.

I had settled into my dorm room, survived the first few weeks of life away from home, and established a routine for classes and study.

My parents had instilled in me the habit of a daily devotional time, so I opened my Bible for a few moments alone with God. As I turned the pages, a previously unnoticed scrap of paper caught my attention. A one-by-two-inch, 16-line poem lay before me. Although signed Mom, I would have known the source without her signature. The lower right edge pointed toward the first Bible verse my mother taught me: “Don’t be defeated by evil, but defeat evil with good” (Romans 12:21).

I’ve never known anyone else to claim Romans 12:21 as their first memory verse. However, it has served me well. When tempted, both as a child and a teen, the verse often came to mind. If someone hurt me and I wanted to get even, it told me not to. If I went along with a misguided crowd, I learned such activity created a void in my life, separating me from what I knew was right and leaving me guilt-ridden and ready to return to God’s goodness. The verse offered clear guidance and kept me out of a world of trouble.

The temptations of adulthood differ in some ways from those of earlier years, but those differences make them no less appealing. Fudging on time sheets, taking shortcuts on assignments, giving less than my best at work. Everyone else does it, so why not? Smear the name of those who smear mine, show disrespect to those who fail to respect me, mistreat those who mistreat me. Nope. The verse says otherwise.

Regardless of my age, Romans 12:21 holds true. Giving evil for evil, following a wayward crowd, or yielding to temptation always make matters worse. Only good triumphs over evil.

Yet we can’t get good enough on our own. That’s why Jesus came. He died on the cross for our evil, and He covers it with His righteousness—His goodness—when we accept Him as Savior and Lord.

Allow Romans 12:21 to guide your life as well. You will never regret it.

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The Last Time I Saw Him

In the late nineties, my dad divorced my stepmom and left town.

I thought I would never see my dad again, but in 2013, I was reunited with my him after a fifteen-year absence. He was in his eighties. After that, I tried to see him as much as I could. Doing so was difficult because he lived six hours away. Every time I went for a visit, I wondered if it would be the last time I’d see him alive.

On Memorial Day weekend of 2017, I went to visit Dad at a nursing home. He was there for rehabilitation after hip replacement surgery. He was in a bad mood because he wanted to go home. When I left, I bent down, looked into his eyes, and tearfully said, “Dad, I love you”—then turned around and left.

On Father’s Day, I called Dad and wished him well. That would be the last time I ever heard his voice. Around 3:30 in the morning on July 26, 2017, he died. A week earlier, he had told my stepmom he felt he would not make it to his birthday.

I can’t be certain, but I think Dad sensed he was about to head to his heavenly home. He knew he was right, and Jesus was ready.

Our earthly lives will end someday—either when we die or when Jesus returns. Being ready is important since we don’t know the day of our death or Jesus’ return.

Be ready to meet Jesus. If you haven’t, ask Him into your heart.

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Butterfly Wings

Dried tears were still visible to the eagle eyes of this mother.

Taunts from socially superior middle-school kids again, I presumed. Waiting quietly for the first word to fall, my mother’s heart raged. She had sat alone at lunch again. Rejected.

We cannot pick up our children’s crosses. God created their cross for them. Their unique attributes and obstacles—some to endure, some to overcome, and some to count as pure joy. These obstacles and attributes blend to create the masterpiece they are. We cannot interrupt the process of them “becoming” to reduce our own pain.

I anguish over my children’s struggles—messy, painful, and seemingly without purpose. Surely, the Lord would want me to fix this, I think. But His answer is, “No, this is for them to conquer.” I languish in my pain and allow joy to be stolen from me.

I once heard a butterfly story. A cocooned butterfly must wiggle, strive, and bite its way through the cocoon, squeezing itself out millimeter by millimeter. As its wings slowly unfold, they dry. Seeing the pain and slow progress, someone pulled the butterfly out to save it. The butterfly’s wings never fully developed, and it could not fly. Its wings were a fourth of the size of God’s design. The slow, painful process of emerging from the cocoon develops the butterfly’s wings and allows for flight.

We cannot ease our children’s development. If we want our children to be disciples of Christ, we must surrender our attempts to carry their crosses.  

Ask God to help you stop easing your children’s pain. Instead, pray for Him to give them the strength to bear their crosses so they can develop butterfly wings.

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Fighting from Victory

“Florida, here we come!”

Looking forward to trading our coats and boots for T-shirts and sandals, three friends and I gathered at the airport for a much-anticipated vacation. As we chatted, I noticed one of them was hoarse. She explained she hadn’t been feeling well during the past couple of days, but added something inspirational: “But I refuse to let the devil take this blessing from me.”

Throughout the trip, she struggled with a bad cough and nasal congestion, but all of us fought against the Enemy’s attack with prayer. Although she had to sit out a couple of activities to rest, she was able to enjoy the fellowship and beauty of God’s creation. What she declared at the outset of our trip came to pass: the Devil did not take God’s blessing from her.

When a health challenge hits, some Christians forget that health and strength belong to them as part of the salvation package Jesus has provided. He cares for our spiritual and physical state as Matthew relates. When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: “He took up our infirmities and bore our diseases” (8:16-17).

No matter what challenge we face—financial difficulties, family problems, work issues—we’re fighting from victory rather than for victory. Our victories result from spiritual weapons, but they can also include natural ones such as medical professionals, biblically-based financial planning, and wise Christian counselors. When David faced Goliath, he fought in the name of the LORD Almighty, but he also brought the natural tools of five smooth stones and a slingshot.

The full armor God gives us doesn’t include a single piece that covers our backs, because He doesn’t intend for us to run from battles, but to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

Fight from the victory you already have, rather than for victory.  

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A Jealous God

Late comedian Rodney Dangerfield gave an example of jealousy during one of his stand-up comedic routines. “My wife’s jealously is getting ridiculous. The other day she looked at my calendar and wanted to know who May was.”

Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. This Scripture speaks of God in anthropomorphic fashion by using a human example to describe an aspect of God’s character. But how can God be jealous?

Jealousy for God is not envy or a desire for something He does not or cannot possess. In this context, jealousy means God is a protector of His name and reputation. He admonishes us to put away all other gods that compete for our attention. Nothing should be on the throne of our heart except God. He is like a husband who lovingly demands fidelity from his spouse, as any sensible husband does.  

God is not recklessly jealous, as Rodney Dangerfield described his wife as being. Our Lord loves us so much that He wants us for Himself and demands nothing less. He displayed this level of commitment by sacrificing Himself on the cross to pay for our sins (Romans 5:8).

Take a moment to thank God that He is jealous for you. Then ask Him to give you the same type of love for Him.

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The Competitive Edge

I grew up in a competitive environment.

I strived to have the best grades, have the best attendance in church, and learn the most verses for Sunday school. Then I went to a college where competitiveness was part of the culture. Everything—grades, sports, cars—was a competition between groups.

With that kind of background, I viewed the Christian life as one characterized by competition as well. Who couldn’t empathize with James and John for wanting to be top dogs in Jesus’ kingdom (Mark 10:36)? Peter and the others were probably just as mad because they did not get to ask the question first (Luke 9:46). Jesus took the wind out of their sails by telling them that the one who wished to be the greatest would have to serve everyone else.

But who wants to serve, unless it is in tennis or volleyball? Serving wasn’t on my bucket list of things to do.

Like everything else, God taught me about my selfishness. His patience, along with a forbearing wife and two sons, helped me learn to serve. One of the key things in being a servant is asking the one you want to serve what they really want. And Jesus was the supreme example because He knew what we needed and served even when it cost Him everything (Philippians 2:5-8).

The secret of serving is doing the opposite of what we naturally want to do: placing the desires of others ahead of our own and looking for opportunities to serve without calling attention to ourselves.

Imagine our world if we all competed in serving others?

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Each New Sunrise

Early morning was his time—and the porch was his place.

I didn’t understand why my grandfather arose at five in the morning. After all, he was a full-time farmer, had no place to be at any particular time, and hired out most of his work. But when I spent time with him and my grandmother, I discovered why.

He rolled out of bed, put on the same pants he had worn the day before, and headed for the kitchen. He fixed a cup of instant coffee (Sanka, I believe), smoked a cigarette or two, and headed for the wraparound porch—the side facing east. Although darkness still enveloped the surrounding fields and forests, he waited patiently. 

One morning, I arose at the same time. He wanted to know why. I made up an excuse. When he sauntered onto the porch, I followed. As shapes began to appear, I saw why he came. The sky turned an orange hue. An array of colors captured the clouds. And then it appeared. The sun peeked over the pines that surrounded the fields. That’s what he waited for.

Once the sun topped the trees, my grandfather got up and went about his business. He wasn’t an overly religious man, but I believe he knew God authored each new day—as did the psalmist. And every day, the psalmist rejoiced.

My grandfather’s morning routine reminded me that God controls nature. He began the world through acts of creation, and He still controls it. Sin causes nature to do things God probably never intended—such as form natural disasters that take lives and property. But God can turn the hurricane, tsunami, or tornado if He chooses.

Beginning and ending my day with thanks for a new day is proper. Since God made the day, He must have things for us to do within it. Through prayer and attention to His indwelling Spirit, we discover what they are. Every day provides an opportunity to serve Him by serving others, to use the gifts He’s given, to care for the world He’s created, and to prepare ourselves for the eternity He has waiting for us.

Don’t let your emotions or circumstances ruin each new day God creates. God controls both, and He can help you rejoice, regardless of what the day brings. 

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Craving an Answer

A chocolate craving ambushed me as I sat in the waiting room at Jiffy Lube.

We wrestled for a few minutes, but it attacked at the most vulnerable time of my day, mid-afternoon. In defeat, I slinked to the vending machine, inserted my quarters into the slot, and waited for a Snickers bar to drop. It didn’t. I glanced behind me and then banged on the glass. Nothing. I grabbed the sides of the machine and shook it. Unbelievable! I fumed as I headed toward the receptionist.

“I’m sorry,” she said, sliding my refund across the counter. “We’ve had a lot of trouble with that machine lately.” The craving howled inside my stomach as I shuffled back to my seat.

Sometimes I approach prayer as I approached that vending machine. An urgent situation arises. I slide my request toward God and expect immediate results. If an answer doesn’t drop down quickly, I complain, “Where’s my answer, God?”

However, God isn’t a vending machine, and prayer isn’t the coin that operates His will. Prayer is a doorway through which I can enter God’s presence and wait for Him to speak. Paul said, “present your requests,” not “demand an answer.” He didn’t mention God granting the requests either. The response we can expect from God is peace—a calm assurance that He will do what He knows is best.

Why does He respond with peace? Paul says God’s peace will guard our hearts. Guard is a military term that refers to soldiers assigned to prevent invasion or protect civilians.

Peace strengthens our confidence in God’s ability to prevent enemies from defeating us—enemies like discouragement, fear, and bitterness. His peace also protects us from making rash decisions and harmful choices. We may not understand why God doesn’t dispense the solutions we desire, but His Word assures us God’s peace “transcends all understanding.”

I banged on the vending machine because I assumed I could compel it to fulfill my desires. Have you been banging on the window of heaven, trying to force the answer you desire to drop? Lower your fist and extend your palms in humble expectation.

Let God fill your hands with His peace and your mouth with thanksgiving.

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Why Wait

Contrary to my expectations, the first three days of recovery were extremely painful.

Not long ago, I had eye surgery. When I called the surgeon to ask if the pain was normal, he informed me it was common. I just had to wait out the healing process. Now this may come as a surprise, but I hate to wait.

But the discomfort I felt paled in comparison to the grief and emotional pain the followers of Jesus felt. The women who had come with him from Galilee followed and saw the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and ointments. On the Sabbath they rested according to the commandment. I was intrigued when I came across this often overlooked verse. With all they had seen and with all the fears swirling about them, they chose to wait and to rest.

When we have been through pain and feel the pressure to do something, the fastest way to heal is simply to wait on God. If we will trust Him, He will quietly knit back together what has been wounded and scarred. 

Ask God to help you remember He is preparing you for what can come only by waiting for the miracle of the third day.

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Heavenly Triggers

I married a widower with no children.

After three years of marriage with no children—natural or adopted—I was desperate to be a mommy. Having people tell me why they thought I was barren didn’t help. As an introvert, this only depressed me.

After visiting a new mother and her precious baby one Sunday, my anxiety became severe. That night, I wrestled with the clashing emotions of acceptance of my childlessness or storming heaven with my plea. I tossed all night, and on Monday morning I dropped to the floor, crying out to God about my barrenness.

When I had exhausted my tears, I reached for my Bible and turned to the Psalms—the place I normally go when life becomes complicated. And God’s Word did not disappoint. I got a hint of dynamic hope for us to become parents.

I grabbed that glimpse and did not let go. My confidence wavered at times when I saw a pregnant woman or a baby, but eventually a heavenly thought flitted through my mind: “Why not use the pregnant women and babies as triggers to praise the Lord for what He is doing and is going to do?”

I latched on to this heavenly thought and praised God for three months until my appointment with the OBGYN. Some days, I praised Him all day. If I dreamed about babies, and I often did, I praised the Lord when I awoke. After all, didn’t the Psalms exhort me to praise Him? Five times to be exact, even from sunup until sundown.  

I determined to praise God no matter the outcome of my tests, but I was stunned when the OBGYN said I was pregnant. Such conflicting emotions. To think God made me to be a joyful mother of children. I was humbled.

When we need something from God, He will give us heavenly triggers to remind us to praise His name. Even our aches and pains are triggers to praise Him.

What heavenly triggers do you need God to send to you?

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Letters

Letters. How old fashioned can you get? Why send letters when you can email or text? Not to mention posting on social media?

Believe it or not, letters are more personal. My first letter was from my grandparents when I was six, and I was excited the day I got it. I could hardly wait to rip open the envelop. And I won’t tell you about my first love letter.

The day came when my sons wrote me their first letters. They were simple and in the language of the country from where we adopted them. But they were sincere expressions of their feelings. They understood we had adopted them and that they were ours for keeps. While I am not that sentimental, I still keep those letters as reminders of where we have been.

I am sure the readers of the New Testament letters felt the same. The authors of these letters, (Paul, Peter, and John primarily), wrote to encourage believers in their faith. In many cases, Christians endured suffering because they did not conform to Roman paganism. Those letters reminded the readers of God’s grace, mercy, and peace and were so precious that the churches often circulated them among themselves to share the encouragement.

But the proof of the letters’ preciousness was shown by how often they were copied and because they were saved for over 2,000 years. People saw the value of sharing them with future generations. Now, we have them in the New Testament.

Rather than looking at these letters as something boring, ancient, and dusty, we should get excited when we read them, even though we may be accustomed to reading thirty-second emails or ten-second posts.

I finally realized there was a passion in these letters I couldn’t find in a short blurb online. Now, I am back to reading these letters in one sitting and enjoying every moment. They have become intimate and personal, just as they were always intended to be.

Don’t neglect reading God’s love letters to you.

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Many More Things

As I washed dishes, I listened to the Audio NKJV Bible, a dramatized version of the Old Testament.

My mind traced the new realization of how greatly King David messed up. How far he wandered from that close relationship reflected in so many psalms. And I considered how I’d stepped off the path to follow my wisdom, not God’s. Umpteen times. But my thoughts felt more comfortable focusing on King David’s folly.

I’d known about some of King David’s follies, but not the extent of them. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! This verse says God would have added to David many more things, so I thought I’d ask of the giver, confident the asking would produce an answer. Even prevent error. In King David’s case, a gross coupling of sins.

Imperfection has a way of clinging to shadows and unlit corners of memory. Avoiding awareness is the easy road, but thinking this will solve the problem is a lie. Already, my thoughts wrestled with the question of how my obedience could have altered my life. Refocusing on King David became impossible, for I recalled my misadventures: wayward comments and thoughts, prickling judgments, speeding (just a wee bit), seeking answers to problems, or goal planning from friends or myself and not Father God.

Confronting my inconsistent attempts to follow the Lord struck the realization that all my good intentions, false starts, and deliberate followings of my desires for stuff, attention, and acceptance missed the mark and grieved the Holy Spirit.

The key that unlocked the trap of wayward wanderings for King David and myself seemed too good to be true and much easier than either of us deserved. Accepting God’s forgiveness—the kind of forgiveness that causes Satan to cringe when we know and embrace God’s unconditional grace with wholehearted willingness—softens our judgmental tendencies.

We have no need to allow our willful lapses of focus to entertain Satan. Choosing to do everything, even the mundane tasks of dishes and dusting with God’s perfect presence, will tether our will to His loveliness. Simplicity and satisfaction are available to us all, if we choose Jesus.

Find your fullness of joy in God’s presence.

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The Power of Friendship

“Brady” was a familiar name in our house.

My daughter Samantha had complained about his teasing for months. According to her, Brady was the biggest troublemaker in the classroom. He had even been suspended a few times. Both of Brady's parents were deployed in the military, leaving various relatives to shift Brady from house to house.

According to Samantha, he had no friends and didn't deserve any.

Every time she complained about him, I would say, “He needs a friend. He wouldn't be so unkind if he had a friend to play with him.”

And each time, she replied, "I'll never be his friend."

“If you don't want to be his friend, then pray for him,” I said, ending each conversation.

And each time we repeated this exchange, I said a silent prayer: Lord, please send Brady a friend he can keep. Amen.

One day, Samantha stepped off the school bus and presented me with a perfectly folded lime green crane. She had struggled with making paper cranes for a week. Her trash can held a pile of multi-colored paper squares, crumpled in frustration.

“Brady showed me how to make these at recess.” She handed me the crane proudly. “And he didn't make fun of me at all today.”

After homework, she spent the evening cutting paper squares for her new friend Brady.

Friendship is a gift from the Lord. He designed all of us to need each other and to love each other as Jesus loves us. Just as Jesus lay down his life for His friends, He calls us to do the same. This is the greatest love.

Everyone needs a friend. Perhaps the lady who sits alone at church or in the cafeteria at work. Or the widower next door who might enjoy an invite for coffee. Make time for these new friends in your life.

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

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Stopped in My Tracks

One minute I strode up the rocky and remote access road behind our high school, and the next I lay sprawled on the ground.

One slip on a rock, one misstep, and in one second this happy walker morphed into a casualty of exercise. I didn’t know it then, but my hip was broken. I lay on the ground, wondering if I could get up.

Pulling myself to a standing position, I looked around. At least fifty yards separated me from the nearest paved street. Tall weeds and brush surrounded me. How could anyone spot me from here? I took a few steps. Although painful, I could walk, so I limped to the nearest road. As Providence would have it, I spotted a recycling truck just I sited the street.

A man shouted, “Do you need help?”

I waved my hand and hollered, “Yes!”

Two men ran through waist-high weeds to reach me. They shouldered my arms, walked me to the road’s edge, and sat me on an overturned recycling bin. I phoned my husband.

After calling our doctor, I shuffled into the emergency room, leaning on a cane, while my husband parked the car. X-rays showed I had fractured my femur. A technician sat me in a wheelchair and rolled me into a room. Just before nurses poked, prodded, and drew blood, our doctor called. “You’re going to need surgery,” he said.  

My mind hit the wall. A stumble in the road had stopped my marathon of plans.

We often make plans without thought of what our lives will look like tomorrow. James says our lives are like a vanishing vapor.

My plans were. We had to cancel a tropical vacation, and I had to miss a conference. Three months of recovery lay ahead, and physical therapy replaced long walks.

Although God did not cause my accident, He turned a mishap into a marvel. God is always faithful to give us His plans when we seek Him. I had been busy doing things for Him. Now I could sit at His feet and listen. My accomplishments took a backseat to my relationship with Him.

When making your plans, keep God’s will in mind and know that plans can change.

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Watching

I don’t know the love of a parent.

I wasn’t raised by my birth parents. My parental figure made it clear that “she didn’t have to love me. I wasn’t her child.” Neither am I a parent myself.

The parent-child bond has eluded me all my life—and probably will continue to. However, I have witnessed parental love in action. It was beautiful and agonizing at the same time.

The purest kind of heavenly love the human heart can experience is the moment parents see their much-anticipated baby. We can gaze upon a newborn—born with a bent towards disobedience, rebellion, and self-centeredness—with indescribable and forgiving love. Then spend years raising them, watching over them, and instructing them through blood, sweat, and tears.

God feels the same about us. We are His children … His masterpieces. His love for us is indescribable, and His gaze is always on us. He teaches and instructs us in the way we should go. He comforts us in our sorrow and pours blood, sweat, and tears over us. The difference in earthly parental love and God’s love is that God does not need us to love Him in return.

Regardless of what we’ve done to displease God, He still loves and accepts us as we are and continues to desire our love for Him. He has seen all we have done—the good and the bad—and remains by our side. He even made a way for us to come to Him through Jesus.

Perhaps you’ve never known the love of a parent or felt that parent-child bond and have an empty place in your heart—a deep void no human can fill. God can fill that crevasse. He has watched you all your life and knows how deep your hurt is.  

Go to God with all you are. He will embrace you as a parent embraces their precious newborn child.

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The Shape of Snow

Mid-January in the north witnessed blowing snow all day.

The sodden oak leaves in the front yard disappeared. With nowhere to go, we enjoyed the storm from inside the warmth and shelter of our home.

The snow depth caused the two roof lines outside my office window to meld into one. I could see the garden’s raised beds in the backyard. They looked like a stretch of white, wide-wale corduroy. The features of the pond were softly sculpted. The icicles wore fuzzy wool coats, and my winter decorations on the front porch were a laughable loss.

I had been reflecting on the verse in Isaiah, which talks about color change. But this winter morning, I thought in terms of shape change. The sharp angles of roof lines and tree branches have all been softened and sculpted by layer upon delicate layer of snow. The hard concrete bench by the pond has been upholstered with a velvet cushion. The thorny raspberry bushes wear ermine collars.

In the same way, the patient work of the Holy Spirit softens the sharp edges of my irritability, critical attitudes, and selfishness. He produces kindness, forbearance, and love in place of hard-edged sins.

Beauty in place of brittleness. Sculpting in place of sharpness. And I’m grateful.

Let God teach you to sense His Spirit’s work in softening your rough edges.

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Seed Pods

Our native frangipani tree was dying.

We planted the tree twenty years ago. A slow grower and out of its tropical comfort zone, it struggled through flood, gale force winds, hail, disease, and excessive heat. As a self-pruner, we annually observed it shedding its branches to make new growth. Each spring, new luscious green leaves and hundreds of flowers appeared. The fragrance gave us great delight.

But this last summer’s heatwave lasted two months, weakening the trunk and giving fuel to a disease which attacked and took hold. We awoke one morning to a carpet of yellow leaves on the grass—signs of rapid death to an old faithful.

My husband gathered the seed pods and researched how to grow one for the future. We learned it takes two months for a seed to germinate. During this time, it prepares for whatever the future may hold for it as a tree. Hope rose in my heart. Perhaps in time, we would once again enjoy the fragrant flowers.  It will be a blessing if our next tree inherits the strength of its parent.

When I first realized our tree was dying, a sad grief washed over my soul. Then the Lord began to show me understanding. This tree has shown us how we need to live, trusting God to see us through trials as He builds strength of character in us.

I am grateful for the length of time we enjoyed our tree. Even in death, our frangipani tree has left a legacy of perfect seeds of hope. Sometimes there are things in our lives we need to allow to die. The next spiritual season needs space and time to germinate in our hearts.

Letting go may be painful, and waiting for the next season challenging, but God is faithful. He will see you through to the next chapter of your life as you trust and obey Him.

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Getting Back into the Boat

My mother was only sixty two when she died of breast cancer.

Mom’s passing left me feeling as if I had been run over by a truck. The years struggling to rebuild our relationship, the prayers, and the conversations were suddenly over. I felt as if I were locked in a room with barely enough air to breathe. I sleepwalked through months of guilt and regret for what had never been.

This seemingly insignificant verse from Matthew’s gospel held a promise for me I had overlooked until I desperately needed it. And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.

I had often thought about God challenging me as He challenged Peter to get out of the boat. At other times I had been comforted knowing that just as Jesus reached out His hand to save Peter He would take my hand in the middle of a crisis.

But it was just as important for me to learn that Jesus wanted to help me back into the boat and restore calm when this storm passed. I do not know how it happened, but gradually light began shining in the dark places of my heart. I woke up to find that though I might never understand the why behind the pain, knowing God knew was enough

Sometimes we struggle to see God as more than just challenging or rescuing us. What a wonderful surprise awaits when we realize He is also delighted to help us back into the boat and calm our winds.

When the storms of life rage—and you feel as if you are drowning—get back into the boat.

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The Open Bottle That Wasn’t

For a number of years, I attended a Christian music festival in Wilmer, Minnesota.

As I returned from the concert to my home in Richfield on one Saturday night, a policeman pulled me over in the town of Atwater for unsafe passing. He told me it was illegal to pass in town. I looked up the statute written on the ticket, but it didn’t say anything about passing.

I decided to contest the ticket. I went to court, and the judge recommended I get the officer’s notes that were written on the back of the ticket. As a result, they tried to charge me with having an open bottle in my car. My mom was an alcoholic. I had decided I would never drink and had not been drinking that night. Neither had I been at an event where alcohol was served.

My attorney recommended I talk to the officer who wrote the citation. I told the officer about my mom, and he realized he had confused me with someone else. Thankfully, he had the charges dropped.

King Nebuchadnezzar tried to burn Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, but an angel of the Lord stood with them. I felt as if the officer was burning me.

In life, we will walk through fires and trials. The Lord got me through this difficulty, and He will do the same for you.

Trust God to see you through life’s trials and misunderstandings.

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Stewarding the King's Treasury

Staring at my budget, I often wonder what I can do to create something out of nothing.

House maintenance seems to stay two steps ahead of raises, and if I encounter a miraculous stroke of good fortune, mishap follows—biting at its heels. I desire to steward everything God entrusts to me, but to bring order to the chaos, I need something to work with. Good intentions are not recognized as legal tender for paying bills.

Mulling this over one day, the answer hit me: stewardship is a matter of wisely allocating the resources to fulfill God’s needs—not mine. We do not steward what belongs to us but what is entrusted to us for safekeeping on behalf of the one who owns it. Every penny the Lord places under our control belongs to Him and comes with His purpose assigned to it. If we seek the Lord to know that purpose and then faithfully execute His plan, the Lord will see to the details of our personal business.

God entrusts His resources to us so that as His stewards we have everything we need to execute His good work. The bank account may not look impressive, but we steward the immeasurable resources of the King. At the same time, God uses His limitless treasury to sustain us. If we seek God’s purpose for everything we have—right down to the last cent—then we can rest assured the Lord will take care of all of our needs.

God stewards our lives. Steward His kingdom.

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Transformed

"Look Grammie. Look what these cars can do!" shouted our four-year-old grandson one morning.

We loved babysitting our youngest grandson two days a week. One of his favorite playtime activities involved cars called "Transformers," which Grammie and Pa knew nothing about—until he showed us.

As we sat and played with him one morning, he dragged out his bin of special cars. We raced with a blue, yellow, and red one. We had fun racing the cars along the carpet road. All of a sudden, with just a few twists of different parts of the car, he changed his car into a Transformer Warrior. Now it was battle time.

Several months later, while reading in the book of 2 Corinthians 3:18, my mind flipped back to our Transformer play time with our grandson when the owner of the car—be it the red, yellow or blue one—could twist certain parts of the car and transform it into a Transformer Warrior.   

God is our owner when we invite Jesus into our lives. He forgives our sins and begins the process of transforming us into His image. We become a new creation. Through the twists and changes He makes in our lives, we become reflections of His love.

Over time, we realize our attitudes and thoughts have changed. Perhaps, we no longer snap back at people who irritate us, we forgive easier because Jesus has forgiven us,  or we see ourselves reflecting more of His love and grace to those we encounter.

This transformation provides us with strength to fight off the lies and snares of the devil. Our owner fits us with the spiritual armor needed to stand strong in His strength. He also molds us into warriors in His army and empowers us so that when the enemy tries to steal and destroy what God has done in us, the victory will be ours through Christ.

Let God transform you into the warrior He wants you to be.

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PLS

A young man moved hundreds of miles away from home. He wanted not only to go to college but also to find out what God had to say about things.

He chose a small private school that had a good reputation for accurate study of the manual for life: the Bible. Not wanting to be a pastor, he still thought he’d learn what the Bible said about God’s opinions and then figure life out from there. He was determined and stubborn. His dad, a construction man, had always said, “Give me a stubborn boy anytime as they are the only ones who have a chance of surviving.” 

One day he learned a life-changing verse: 2 Timothy 1:7. The verse made him feel he was getting somewhere. It seemed God was telling people not to be afraid but to live the way He made them when He saved them. God gives His children three special gifts when He makes them a new creation: power, love, and a sound mind. And He desires that each of His children live out these gifts.

From then on, when the young man thought about how he was to live, these letters, PLS, came to mind. Later, he learned that only by yielding to the Spirit of God could his second-birth birthday gifts operate in harmony. He experienced a slow and painful growth process for a long time, yet he stubbornly kept going, sometimes through the sorrow and tears of failure. He learned balancing each quality was God’s desire for how believers should live.

Release each day what God has given His children: power, love, and a sound mind. Even in the face of paralyzing fear, let PLS be your slogan as you stop being anxious and claim what you have been given.

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Lust for Power

The large semi rolled along the highway in front of me. On the tailgate, I read, “If you can’t slow down, smile as you go under.”

An onerous warning to slow down and travel at a safe distance. Yet not all drivers are able to control their lust for power behind the wheel.

When Joseph was seventeen, he foolishly shared a dream he had with his older brothers. Jacob, his father, had previously given him a special varicoloured cloak which caused jealousy among his siblings. When Joseph told them they would bow down to him one day as interpreted in his dream, the siblings’ hatred increased.

At that age Joseph could not control himself. The consequences were dire. He was thrown  into a pit and then sold as a slave to the Egyptians. There he alternated between periods of time in power, time in prison, and time in power again.

When his family suffered famine in their land, they travelled to Egypt to obtain food. They did not recognise Joseph, but he knew who they were. Joseph had an opportunity to take revenge and to exert power over his family, but after weeping over the encounter, he controlled himself and served them a meal.

Joseph could have gloated and reminded them of his dream. But he didn’t. He slowed down and responded in the nature of God’s goodness.

In many areas of our lives we, too, have the choice to heed warnings from the Lord and to control our tongue and actions. When we hear a still, small voice saying slow down, it would be wise to do so.

Whether it’s speeding or controlling a lust for power, you will live longer and please your heavenly Father if you don’t do either.

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Lessons from a Leaf Blower and Fallen Leaves

How like fallen leaves we are.

While working in the yard one blustery autumn weekend, I blew the fallen leaves from the driveway of our home. Most of them fluttered away with the first pass of the blast from the leaf blower. Other more stubborn leaves flitted into the air and settled back to where they originally lay. After several arcing blasts, I noticed some leaves didn’t move at all. Their edges were near the blower’s air flow and nestled closely to the ground. The blower’s air aerodynamically blew over them. To clear them from the driveway, I had to take a different angle to get past their shaped resistance.

The Holy Spirit blows across our lives to clean and transform our landscapes. In His ever-transforming work, He speaks His truth and clears the clutter. Some of us respond quickly to His initial puffs. Others require second or third passes before responding to His intensifying nudges. Then there are some of us who remain resistant until He moves in such a way that engages us in what He is trying to do.

God’s Spirit speaks truth in a world of deception, convicts hearts set on self-destruction, and transforms those He indwells—propelling the willing into their God-appointed destinies. As our Helper and Comforter, He walks beside us, encouraging and orchestrating events.

Just as the leaves on the driveway, we all have different responses. However, just as my intention was to have a clean driveway, God’s ultimate purpose will prevail. He offers us the privilege to partner with Him in His work. But before we can serve Him, we must be pliable inwardly—immediately responding, never resisting, never quenching His efforts.

Yielding to God’s Spirit involves trusting Him to work all things in our lives for good. Our resistance is simply holding on to what is not good.

Lift the edges of your life’s leaves, and allow the wind of God’s Spirit to launch you as He wills.

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The Value of Ordinary People

At the infamous Millennium Hotel in St. Louis, Charlton is the doorman who adjusts his workday and evening shifts to accommodate the daily arrival of business travelers. Maurice works a part-time job as the nighttime neighborhood security guard in Cordova, Tennessee, a quiet Memphis suburb. And if you need a soothing manicure, Blair is the esthetician to visit at a popular Maryland mall.

I’ve met and come to know these young, energetic millennials during work travel and in my local comings and goings. They are great at what they do and represent America’s finest. These young people live a regular life without a great deal of flair or pretense. They are courageous, confident, kind, smart, and exude the influence of a good teacher. Each of them exemplifies similar characteristics of being a follower of Christ.

Many ordinary facts about the life of Jesus, we don’t usually hear about in our Sunday sermon. For example, Jesus never traveled over 200 miles from His birthplace. He never went to college or wrote a book. In today’s world, He would be labeled as an ordinary man much like the apostles Paul and John. But it was the influence Jesus had on His disciples that made them undeniably recognized as men worthy to be called followers of Christ.

For the Christian, being born ordinary is one of the best gifts for a fulfilling life as described in scriptural passages. The Scriptures clearly teach how the power of the Holy Spirit transforms ordinary into extraordinary.  

Just think of the extraordinary value my young friends bring to the world. Hotel guests are greeted with welcoming hospitality by the doorman. Neighbors feel secure by the attentive security guard who watches over the community as it sleeps during the night. Mall shoppers are comforted by a friendly, skilled man with a holistic approach to keeping hands pretty for the special one who will hold them.

Through His unconditional love, Jesus taught the world about the value of ordinary people by being an extraordinary Savior.

Make your ordinary life extraordinary … with Christ.

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Hope in Sorrow

My heart raced. I didn’t know how to respond.

A friend asked me to watch the movie I Can Only Imagine. I hated the song. Ten years ago, another good friend was brutally murdered. She was young, beautiful, and a solid Christian. They played the song at her funeral.

I decided to watch the movie to work through my lingering pain. I sobbed during the song and relived the hurt of letting go. My good friend’s mother had lost her husband earlier that year and now her only daughter. She encouraged the 600 funeral attendees to get right with God because they never knew when their time would come. My friend’s life honored God, even in her death.

God reminded me I don’t sorrow as those with no hope. I would see my friend again. During the song, God gave me a vision of her dancing before Him. Someday we’d dance before Him together. She just has a head start.

There is more than this life, and we have hope beyond the grave. This world is not our home. We look forward to heaven when we won’t have to say goodbye. Although we have troubles, Christ has conquered death. One day, He will make all things new and wipe away all our tears.

Maybe you’ve lost someone you loved—well before their time—and you are hurting. You don’t have to carry the hurt anymore. Take it to Jesus and ask Him to show you His perspective. If that person knew Jesus, you have hope to see them again. If they didn’t know Jesus, use the reminder to spur you to share Christ with a lost and dying world.

Let God help you find hope, even in sorrow.

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God Knew My Heart

I came home from a painful meeting.

My parents were about to get a divorce. My dad would eventually leave town. A short time after I got home, a friend from church called about some sound-system-related issues. He gave me support at a time when I needed it.

A few years later, I received a call I never expected. A good friend of mine was a missionary in Albania, and his grandma was phoning with the news of his death. I was especially troubled since he had just been given a clean bill of health a few weeks before he returned to the mission field. A short time later, a family member called, and I was able to pour out my heart about the loss of my friend.

At both times, the Lord knew I was hurting and needed to talk to someone. As Paul relates, the Lords knows what is on our minds and hearts and can bring people across our paths at just the right time when we need a lift. 

Remember, God knows what you need and when you need it. Trust Him.

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Uprooting Sin's Seedlings

I’m a tree lover.

In every home I’ve lived in as an adult, I have planted trees, shrubs, and bushes of some kind. I once watched two small pines grow from seedlings in the forested area behind my backyard, just twenty feet from the house.

Initially, I thought they were cute—two small seedlings braving the elements, standing out alone—so I let them be. As years passed, I admired their beauty as they cradled snow on their branches, waved defiantly at passing windstorms, and continued their upward spurt. After all, they were mine.

They grew straight and tall on their own, doing what pine trees do. Seeds became embedded, put down roots, and grew in their environment. I did nothing but leave them alone and watch them grow. Until this year.

The pines were twenty feet tall with trunk diameters approximating ten inches and were sturdy trees that threatened my home. The soil’s incline enabled them to sprout, yet did not afford the depth necessary for sturdy roots. Their height put them within reach of the house if a storm toppled them. So, in the interest of safety to my home, I cut them down. But the job was much larger and took longer than if I would have simply uprooted them as seedlings.

As I cut them down, lopped off the branches, and buzzed the trunks into two-foot sections, I thought of how sin is much like those two pine trees. Sin always finds fertile ground in any unprotected area of life. I can choose to toy with the sinful pleasures I excuse, justify, or tolerate—allowing them to become rooted. But soon enough, sin will threaten to destroy anything precious or valuable such as family, reputation, career, or testimony.

Just as I initially admired those cute and adorable seedlings, sin in the beginning feels appealing and harmless. An innocent fantasy, extra-marital flirting, curse word, gossip, or any other sinful behavior not immediately repented of and forsaken will grow in influence and impact. What is tolerated is perpetuated—and eventually encroaches and threatens. We reap what we sow, as Paul says.

Uproot the seedlings of sin before they threaten your life.

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The Clear Glass Mosaic

The day was  "blah." An Ecclesiastes, chapter one kind of day. Emotions crept up, and I felt purposeless—as if my purposes weren't meaningful enough, although I knew this wasn't true.

I stood in the kitchen waiting for my frozen dinner to finish in the microwave when a favorite possession caught my eye: a piece of artwork in a wooden frame. The artwork was an image of a bluebird on a branch and was made out of different shaped and sized pieces of clear glass held together with grout. My husband bought the mosaic for me at a craft fair—after I had admired it but talked myself out of buying it.

The piece hangs from a little chain on a hook underneath my cabinet and lies flat against the wall. I studied it, then looked up at the half circle window near the top of the vaulted ceiling in my kitchen.

I wonder if it could go up there? That would be pretty.

On a whim, I stood on the window seat and reached for the spot, but I was too short. I went to the garage, got a step ladder, lugged it into the house, positioned it in front of the window, and climbed to the top. Nowhere close.

I held the artwork in various places near the window—imagining a different home for it, since my original idea had failed. Testing it out over the window valance, I said aloud, "No, that won't work. It's made to let the light shine through."

There it was—the lesson. The entire episode of my standing in the window seat and dragging a step ladder from the garage, when I had only intended to warm my lunch, was for me to receive a message about my own purpose—the same message Jesus gave years ago. I’m made to the let the light shine through.

I cried. My ho-hum, feeling good-for-nothing day was transformed. Just as a clear glass mosaic is more beautiful when the sunlight pours through it, I live with purpose when I show those around me how beautiful life is with the love of Christ. Even if I don't feel like I'm doing a good job, that's my purpose. It's every believer’s purpose.

Your life isn't meaningless. You are made to let God’s light shine through.

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Christmas Tree Lot

Only two trees stood beneath the lights.

During the second week of December, my husband and I, along with our son, went to our favorite lot to choose a Christmas tree. Patches of snow covered the gravel drive. Rows of white light bulbs were strung along a rope hung over the lot. We saw only two trees.

The tree lot owner shrugged. “I don’t blame you if you want a better-looking tree. The big competitors reserved all the trees last year, and the small vendors didn’t stand a chance.” He pointed to the trees—one squatty and uneven and the other scraggly and skinny.

We bought one of the disfigured trees. Once we trimmed our Christmas tree, the scraggly fir wasn’t storybook perfect, but acceptable.

As I sat beside our scraggly tree reading my Bible, I read about Jesus’s life on earth. After only three years into His ministry, Jesus was arrested by the government officials, having been persuaded by the town priests and elders. Pilate couldn’t find any wrong in Him and offered to trade Jesus for the criminal, Barabbas. The people insisted on Jesus’ crucifixion and chose to release Barabbas. The prophet Isaiah predicted the attitude of people toward Jesus: despised, rejected, a man of suffering and pain.

Are you feeling despised? Rejected by a co-worker or by someone you love? Are you listening to someone who’s cutting you with words? Do you believe your own self-loathing? Our tree reminded me of how Jesus takes our flaws and imperfections and transforms us into an acceptable member of His family.

No matter what people say, Jesus doesn’t see us as unfit. He sees our potential. We are worthy, acceptable, and useful.

How can you show your thankfulness for God’s Christmas gift to you.

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The Virtue of Advent

Advent is a journey—the voyage toward celebrating virtue and the only one who was ever fully virtuous.

Advent is inspired by hope that lifts our eyes and beckons our steps. It is reassured by peace that claims communion and restoration along the way. It is rewarded with joy that springs from the vulnerability of living good and bad days. Beneath it all, Advent is love, the source of all virtue.

Both virtue and vice have a starting line. For vice that place is pride. The mother whose influence lives in all other sin. Envy, wrath, greed, sloth, lust, and gluttony are all born out of self-worship. They perpetuate and encourage self-love.

John says God is love (1 John 4), which is why love is considered the opposite of pride. Love engulfs us along with all else and in the process truly magnifies our souls, as it did Mary’s. It gives birth and new life and is the Creator’s masterpiece.

At its core, love cries out for existence. Love affirms being. It sounds simple but saying, “I’m glad you are here,” pretty much covers the spectrum. If I’m glad you are here and I affirm your existence, then you do not exist for me. I cannot pour wrath on you, envy you, lust over you, or take from you. Love says, “I celebrate your life!” 

In creation God said, “I want you to be!” In creation God said, “I love you!” Our own limitations separated us from returning the gesture. So God built a bridge. He came to us in the birth of a child who was fully virtuous. Advent means God existed—among us and within us, so that we can be.

Let your soul magnify the Lord this Advent season.

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Glory Beyond the Ashes

God can change even the worst things into beauty.

When I visited Iceland, my tour guide drove the group by the volcano, Eyjafjallajökull, which erupted in 2010. He explained the hardships the farmers endured trying to salvage their crops, which were covered by ash. The sheep usually roamed the hills, but had to remain indoors so they wouldn’t inhale the smoke. Iceland had suffered during the economic crisis in 2008 and hadn’t recovered by 2010. The immediate repercussions seemed insurmountable.

For those who survived the initial turmoil, the volcano brought good in the long run. By blanketing the ground, the ash made it fertile. Also, the locals believe the volcano put Iceland on the map. Tourism skyrocketed.

God turned something as tragic as a volcanic eruption into something good for Iceland. Those ashes were recreated into beauty.

God does the same in our lives. Sometimes our dreams seem to go up in smoke as we struggle. We suffer loss we don’t understand. But God doesn’t waste our pain. He transforms it into something more glorious than its original state. He builds spiritual endurance in us during the dark times that He can use for His purposes in the good times. Often, no other way exists to obtain that strength other than by going through the fire.

If you have had your dreams explode and your life turned into ashes, ask God how He wants to use these times for His glory. He has plans to use the darkness as a backdrop to better display the light of His kingdom’s work.

Ask the Lord to bring beauty from the ashes of your life.

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Searching the Scriptures

Years ago, I met a lady who challenged my beliefs.

I became a Christian when I was nine years old and read my Bible daily, but I read the Bible through the glasses of what I believed at the time. When I looked up Scriptures this lady quoted in a way that seemed foreign to me, I noticed she was right. Confused about the Scriptures I could quote, I searched them for what the Bible said.

Soon, I noticed that some things I had been taught were not what God taught. I began reading my Bible in a new way. I looked for what the Bible actually said about certain subjects. I read to find out if what I had believed and had been taught were true.

I also stopped reading chapters and started looking at how things fit together from Genesis to Revelation. I found out Scripture interprets Scripture. Some seem to contradict each other, but if we search with an open heart and mind, we will soon find what God’s Word is teaching throughout the Bible about any given subject.

Every religion and every denomination thinks they have it right, so how do we know what we believe is right? We do what the Bereans did. We search the Scriptures to see if the things are so. When we search with the intent to find out what God’s Word truly teaches—and if our beliefs line up from Genesis to Revelation—we will learn.

Because I am convinced that no one believes everything exactly the way God’s Word teaches, we all have something to learn. It is not just about reading the Bible, but about searching for what God says, thinks, and feels about all subjects that affect our lives.

Search the Scriptures to see if the things you have believed and have been taught are true.

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Forgiving the Robber

I knew what the authorities wanted me to do, but I also knew what God wanted.

During Ramadan, the holy month of fasting for Muslims, Palestinian families get together to share a meal in a different home each evening. As a single woman, I was adopted by at least three families, so I never lacked for a place to break the fast. I fasted with my Muslim friends and also spent much time praying for them.

One evening after iftar (the meal breaking the fast), I returned to my apartment to discover my laptop and printer had been stolen. I went upstairs to my landlord’s family and told them about the missing items. Their younger son said he had seen a blue car and a young man—who was the son of one of my good friends—leaving our building with a big package.

My landlord insisted we go to the police station and file a report. He told the police officers our suspicions. They questioned the young man about what he had witnessed and wrote a report. It didn’t take them long to locate the thief. He confessed he had stolen money from me, in addition to the computer and printer.

About midnight, my doorbell rang. At my door was the young man’s mother and one of her cousins. Crying loudly in great anguish, she begged me not to press charges. She and her cousin promised to return everything the next morning.

Even though I felt betrayed, I knew Christ’s words about forgiveness applied to me. The authorities wanted me to press charges, but I knew what God would do. Forgiveness was the best choice.

Never forget that God has given you the grace to forgive.

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Eyes That Do Not Fail

I threw my hands up in frustration, in near tears, as I sat at the eye doctor’s office trying to put contact lenses on my eyeballs for the first time.

For more than thirty minutes, his assistant worked with me without any success. After reading that storytellers and speakers should avoid wearing glasses so that any communication done with the eyes can be clearly seen, I was determined to get contacts.

I left the doctor’s office embarrassed by both my tears and my failure. I was given a set of trial lenses to bring home to practice getting in and out of my eyes. After a month of attempts, I was no closer to succeeding. Occasionally, I’d get one contact in and then have to call my husband to get it out. Eight-year-olds can put in contacts. Why couldn’t I? I succumbed to the idea that it must be true—you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

The optometrist told me contacts aren’t for everyone. He was right. As much as I tried … as much as I wanted them … I learned they weren’t for me. Surrendering, I got pretty purple glasses instead.

Accepting that we’re becoming an old dog is difficult. None of us like getting older. We all want to maintain the energy, strength, abilities, and looks of our prime years. But the truth remains: we are getting older.

The apostle Paul tells us not to lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly we are being renewed day by day. No matter how old we get or how frail our bodies may become, God provides us with spiritual eyes that will never fail. They are found in the heart of believers.

If you want to see Jesus, open the eyes of your heart.

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The Valley of Death

My first trick-or-treat experience was with my cousins.

My cousins chose to go to a haunted house, because my uncle knew the people putting it on. When we entered the house, it was dark. I could hear sounds of screaming in the background. Every way I looked, evil, demon-looking creatures stretched out their hands towards me. I screamed bloody murder and tears filled my eyes. I was terrified.

My Uncle Robert reached down, picked me up, and carried me out, telling those creatures to back off. He was getting me out of there. In Uncle Robert’s arms I felt safe, because when he said to move, those creatures backed off and moved out of his way. He carried me safely through and nothing bothered me.

We all walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and it does not have to be physical death. It can be any overwhelming circumstance causing us deep pain where the presence of evil is reaching out its hand to destroy us.

However, we have a heavenly Father who can reach down and carry us through the shadow of death. We don’t have to fear because our Father is with us. When He tells the demons and darkness to get out of His way, they will always obey His voice.

If you are walking in the valley of death today—and you fear because of the things your eyes see, your ears hear, and your heart feels—remember your heavenly Father walks with you. He will lead you through every situation.

When you see the shadows, trust that your Father will keep you safe.

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Beauty and Duty

The handle is normally what catches a buyer’s eye. 

As an amateur knife maker, I know a lot of time is spent on finding, fitting, and finishing the material that will become the handle of a hand-crafted knife. Although the handle may be what gets noticed first, if the blade is missing or is dulled down, the knife cannot properly perform its intended purpose. 

Among the thousands of gold and silver items that were taken from the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, twenty-nine knives were listed. These knives must have had beautiful handles—probably made of gold and silver. These knives were not meant to be admired for their beauty only; they were used in the sacrificial offerings made by the priests—the offerings that foreshadowed the sacrificial death of Jesus for our sins.

Many verses in the Bible speak about love, peace, and unity—which are loved by most people. These verses could be thought of as the handle on those knives. They catch the eye and are pleasing to us as we swoon at their beauty and praise the Lord for them. 

Other verses resemble the blade. They tell us of sinful things we face. They tell how it looks and sounds to be holy as God is holy. These verses tell us what God’s everlasting righteousness looks like, no matter what the age or culture we live in may say.

When God says something is sinful, it will always be considered sinful in His eyes—even though such talk cuts at people and is often rejected as old-fashioned, out of style, and hurtful.

Beautiful … and not so beautiful … verses never go out of style. Nor do the ones that call us to rid our lives of sin.

The beauty of a knife’s handle and the sharpness of the blade work hand-in-hand. The same is true concerning the divinely inspired words of our loving God and Savior.

Adore the beauty of God’s Word, but never forget your duty to obey.

(Photo courtesy of Martin Wiles.)

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Flowers, Berries, and Tadpoles

I joined a social networking site, kicking and screaming all the way.

Okay, perhaps not that extreme, but I dragged my feet for months while others urged me to join their cyber world. I doubted I could spare another minute. Plus, I had enough security questions to keep a help desk tied up for weeks.

International university students we informally adopted finally wore me down. I have to admit I love reconnecting with family, friends, and former students. A cousin whose family visited us every summer when we were children chose a flower bloom for her profile picture. I asked if she recalled the hours we spent picking flowers and blackberries. She added her memories of catching tadpoles in puddles.

Our selective memories temporarily deleted thorns on the berry vines, snakes in the weeds and water, and some of history’s worst cases of poison ivy. Nor did we mention family illnesses, disappointments, and death.

The inevitable difficulties of life surround us. They always have and always will in this world. Yet God promises better days ahead for those who follow Him.

In God’s new creation, time won’t matter. Concerns about schedules and whether we can squeeze in another activity will disappear. We will rest securely in the care of our all-knowing God. Issues of privacy will become irrelevant, as God will abolish all threats. Everyone in heaven will be our friend and on the same page with the same purpose. The fallout from differences of opinion—gone. Uncertainty if we measure up—gone. Attempts at one-upmanship—gone. Worries over what’s mine and what’s theirs—gone. Ethnic, racial, and other social differences—banished forever.

No thorns, no briers, no weeds, and no poison ivy. None of this life’s irritations will raise their ugly heads again. We will walk in perpetual peace with God and will have no concerns about what lies ahead or what has happened in the past. We will never face another virus, medical or virtual. Illnesses, disappointments, and death will never again mar the landscape of our lives.

We may not know the when and how of God’s new creation, but that’s okay. God does. Dare to rest in the assurance of God’s eternal promises.

(Photo courtesy of Martin Wiles.)

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The Postcard

It was only a postcard, but to me it was a treasure.

The yellowed envelope said Nora on the outside, but the inside is what fascinated me the most. On the front of the postcard was a small pocket made of thin fabric with a blue cross and flowers embroidered on it. Folded neatly into the pocket was a tiny lace handkerchief. On the back was a message written to my grandmother from a soldier named Mack who had sent it from Paris during WWI in 1917.

I displayed the postcard on a shelf in a guest room, along with other antiques my grandmother gave me. It was my favorite room in the house because it held cherished items. Then my guest room became a bedroom and a nursery to my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson while they built their new home.

One day while rocking my grandson, I noticed the postcard was gone. I figured it had fallen to the floor and was under the changing table, but I didn’t bother to look. A few days later, I decided to retrieve the postcard and return it to its rightful place. I looked under the changing table. No postcard. I panicked and looked everywhere. After an exhaustive search, I concluded it had fallen into the trash and had been thrown away.

My heart sank. I wanted to cry. I could never replace that postcard. It was a lost piece of history. I whispered a tearful prayer to God, “Oh God, it’s gone. Help me to respond in an honoring way. I’m so disappointed.” Then God reminded me of my eternal treasures. My faith in Christ has afforded me a new nature, freedom from sin, forgiveness, and a future in heaven. The list goes on and on.

Paul knew all the endless treasures we receive in Christ and understood the importance of focusing on them.

Forgetting what we have in Christ and letting this life become our focus is easy. We often don’t think about our eternal treasures. But we need to.

Don’t forget to be grateful for what the gospel grants you: true treasures that will never be lost or thrown away.

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A Refreshing Pause

A feathered family captured our hearts and altered our reactions.

Driving out of town, we stopped on a busy road to let a family of geese have the right of way. I don't know how this pause affected those in the cars behind us, but it became a welcome interruption for us.

My initial reaction was "oh, no"—calculating the delay. But the little family waddling across the road soon mesmerized me. Mother goose moved her stragglers along with her beak, as if she were conscious they were holding up traffic. Stately papa goose stood ready to do whatever was needed to help his family arrive safely on the other side. We worried as one gosling struggled at the road’s edge and two others battled the curb. Papa goose went to the rescue and lifted them with his beak. These parents were not about to leave any family member behind but waited until everyone made it over the curb and onto the grass on the other side.

The psalmist invites us to be still and know that God is God. Embedded in God's creation is an inherent need to love and care for others. We are often overloaded with personal attacks, disrespect, and disregard for others, but the little goose family reminded us how it should be. We should do everything we can to help people we know and love get safely to where they need to be. Even a goose knows that.

They also made us pay attention to what was happening at the moment. We are plagued with distractions that steal our focus. A great deal has been written on mindfulness—focusing on what is happening in the present moment. Whether watching a sunset, taking in a majestic thunderstorm, or talking with a spouse, daughter, son, friend, or grandchild, life is enriched by focusing on that moment. Not wanting to run over nine geese forced me to see what was happening in front of me. I was blessed as I watched that little family swagger across the busy road, but I was also reminded to be attentive to others.

Pausing offers an opportunity to inhale grace and exhale gratitude. It impacts our experiences with God too.

Ask God to help you respond often to His invitation to pause.

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Hiding from God

As soon as the counting began, he ran into the next room and plastered himself face down on the floor, in full view of anyone entering the room.

My nephew loved to play Hide-n-Seek when he was three years old. To his young mind, he was well-hidden while lying on the floor. Because he could not see his seeker, he thought his seeker could not see him.

The psalmist David relished the idea of an omniscient Lord. He praised God for knowing his every move and thought. He welcomed the familiarity of a close relationship.

My nephew’s childlike view reflects our own attempts to avoid a close relationship with God. Like Adam and Eve when they sinned against God, we often rationalize our actions and believe God cannot find us or see our indiscretions. We struggle alone with seemingly impossible situations when God offers us unlimited possibilities.

Like Jonah, when God calls us to complete a task, we often run in the opposite direction, hide beneath a sea of distractions, or give excuses for our insubordination. We think we are well-hidden.

Rather than fleeing, we should find comfort in knowing God is always near. He understands our comings and goings, even when our paths steer us away from Him. In the words of Corrie ten Boom, if we stop “wrestling” and start “nestling,” we will find rest in the nearness of God.

My nephew, a few years older now, still enjoys playing Hide-n-Seek with his younger cousins. Because he has grown in wisdom and faith, he now has a more mature understanding of both God and himself.

As you grow in your relationship with Christ, focus on His nearness and His understanding of you as His child. Walk daily knowing He is by your side.

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My Satisfaction

“I want it!”

Late one night in Walmart, a high-pitched scream filled the air. Loud wailing ensued, and I came face-to-face with a small child languishing on the floor and two exasperated parents trying to regain control of the situation.

My heart went out to them as they tried to console an overly-tired child. I know how it feels to lose control. To want your children to behave when they have other thoughts in mind. To try to make things at work go a certain way and then watch as they go every other way but the way you wanted. Facing health issues we have no control over is also difficult. Control is something we rarely have.

But I also understand the child’s desire for something he wants. Sometimes I want another piece of chocolate cake, a new car, or even someone to love me. My wants can be strong. To the Lord, my whining and complaining may mimic the small child’s temper tantrum.

God has all the riches in the world, so why doesn’t He just give me what I want?

Because He is much wiser than I am.

God gives me what I need, and He protects me from things I want that may not be good for me. I want a piece of chocolate cake, but He gives me strength to resist temptation. I want to control my life, but He teaches me to trust Him. He fills me with His Holy Spirit and shows me He can be a greater satisfaction than anything here on earth. And when I learn to trust Him for what I need, He will surprise me and bless me with things I want. It’s all about priorities.

Make the Lord your priority, and He will meet every need you have.

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If Mercy Ended

I dreamed I was in heaven, and it was a most dreadful day.

God’s mercy had come to an end. He changed His mind regarding the sins I had committed against Him. His anger flared, and His patience wore thin. He reconsidered and decided that He should have punished me instead of pardoning me.

After years of indescribable bliss in heaven, God remembered all the bad I had done and how I had once treated Him when I lived on earth. He decided I had had enough joy. It was time for me to be punished with the rest. After all, He punished the rebellious angels and cast them out of heaven—and they were once perfect. My heart sank with great dread.

Then I remembered His mercy endures forever, and His forgiveness starts and ends with His cross. He doesn’t change. I remembered He is eternal. The payment for my sins was forever. God will never change His mind. He told me my sins are removed as far as the east is from the west.

God will never cast us away. His mercy lasts forever, because He punished His Son in our place. God’s justice has been satisfied forever.

Once you’ve been accepted by God, don’t fear that His mercy will end.

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Recognize the Voice

When I go to the front door and yell, “Girls, come in. Supper is ready,” my two girls are the only ones who come.

Many neighborhood girls gather in my yard to play with my two daughters. I love every girl and have cleaned up their scrapes and cuts. I have taken them water on hot summer days.

But when I call my girls in for supper, the other girls keep playing. Or when I go to the door and tell my girls to come do their homework or take a bath, mine are the only ones who walk through the door. Also, if I walk outside and say, “Girls, get into the car. We are going to the store,” my girls are the only two who get into my car.

Although many girls are in the yard—and although I never mention any names—my daughters know my voice and follow me. They know mom is calling.

In the same way, when God calls with instructions, His children hear and follow. If we don’t get up and follow, we are probably not His children. Children are under the authority of their parents, and they submit to their voices. The girls that do not submit to my calls are not my children.

While all of God’s children disobey sometimes, we don’t make a habit of disobeying. My girls don’t always want to come in when I call and have kept playing. Then I have to go outside after them. After correcting them, they come in the next time I call.

Examine and be honest with yourself. Follow God’s voice when He calls. If you’re not following, repent of your sin and begin following Him today.

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Divine Help

I stood along the sidewalk with those holding signs and shouting words of encouragement.

I once had the opportunity to be in New York City during the New York City Marathon. Bystanders watched as someone they knew ran by. Their words of encouragement were helpful and appreciated, but that’s as far as their assistance could go.

As we run the race of life, we have a supporter who is able and willing to help us in whatever way we need it. Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.The verse’s progression is beautiful and comforting.

Sometimes, we may only need encouragement, and God sends the right verse to our minds. At other times, we may need a helping hand, and God brings things or people into or out of our situation according to His wisdom. At still other times, we are at the end of all other helps. God comes and takes hold of us, supporting us as we put the entirety of our weight and burden on Him.

Whatever the breadth or depth of help we need, we don’t have to fear. Our heavenly Father knows the exact spot to meet us. He also has the perfect degree of assistance we need.

God–the Highest and the Holiest—knows exactly where you are and what you need. Rather than fear, trust Him.  

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Lessons from Eggs and Eggshells

Eggshells and scrambled eggs are a horrible combination.

While making breakfast, I cracked three eggs and poured their contents into the frying pan. As I tossed the final eggshell into the trash, an interesting thought struck me. Before cracking the shell and spilling the actual egg white and yoke, the shell is a valuable and inseparable part of the egg. It safeguards and delivers the egg. Without it, the egg becomes a slimy mess, probably unsafe for eating. However, after cracked, the shell becomes disposable. When its purpose is accomplished, separation becomes necessary.

In life, everything serves a purpose. The box delivering a gift. Our bodies upon release of our spirits. Even friends along the journey, while joined in purpose, are indispensable. But once their purpose is accomplished, God may move them to separate journeys. Some friends help us through struggles while others cause them. Some friends stick by us through thick and thin while others sever relationships over petty arguments or disagreements.

Aside from questioning motives, faithfulness, and character, understanding how God sovereignly uses every instance of life for His ultimate purpose is vital. He lifts one up while putting another down. He brings people into our lives and removes others. Sometimes, He forcefully loosens our grasp on those things and people He knows no longer serve His purpose—or our long-term good. But if we approach such scenarios with an egg and eggshell mentality, we soon realize keeping an empty eggshell is pointless. It has served its purpose. Time to let go and move on.

This should not encourage a frivolous or callous approach toward friendships or a devaluation of the people in our lives. Letting go reinforces a recognition of God's sovereign control. He allows eggs and eggshells to coexist until such time as the egg moves on while the eggshell does not. He calls some people to journeys with forks of separation in the road.

Crunching an overlooked piece of eggshell in my scrambled eggs emphasizes the need for clean separation when necessary. However, such separation should occur with discernment and without discord, dissension, or disrespect.

Thank God for the eggs in your life, but have courage to discard the eggshells.

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Squash the Gnats

He felt like my friend, buzzing next to me as I sauntered along the two-and-a-half mile loop around my neighborhood.

When I started my morning prayer walk, a tiny gnat followed me. About halfway through my walk, ten new gnat friends joined him. They were slightly distracting while I tried to talk to God but nothing I couldn’t handle. By the last half mile, hundreds of gnats surrounded me. I tried swatting at them and walking through low-hanging tree branches to divert them. I sniffed myself. Defeated, I finally ran home like a crazy person with my eyes only half open while flailing my arms in the air.

As I crashed on my couch, relieved to be out of the chaos, God convicted me. The gnats were like the small distractions in my life. One gnat didn’t seem so bad—even like my buddy. A few gnats were annoying but nothing I couldn’t push through. A whole swarm of gnats, though, drove me insane.

Since I was also surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses to the faith, I knew it was time to take a good look at my life and decide what insignificant things I needed to cut out. Things that robbed me of my time and detoured me from God’s plan.

The list was long: binge-watching new television shows, excessive use of social media, worry over the future, anxiety about the past, and ministries I had not been called to but took on anyway.

God wants us to stop focusing on the gnats and letting them control our life. He wants us to return our gaze to His priorities. Though miniscule, gnats are joy and peace killers.

Decide on some things you can rid yourself of that cause chaos and stress. Run the race God has chosen specifically for you. Squash the gnats, and let God take you on a wild adventure.

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Desperate

Suddenly, he scampered up the taller, stronger trunk in the center … and jumped.

Easter morning dawned more in sad reflection than in a glorious celebration. Lately there have been too many “why” questions … too many reasons to give up. How painless it would be to surrender to the crushes in life.

My tears mingled with the bubbles in the sink as the words of Michael W. Smith’s “Breathe” hung in the atmosphere. I longed for more of God’s life and breath in me. I had allowed recent heartbreak to steal the joy of His promises. These words jolted me into examining my desperation level.

A desperate squirrel raced up a small tree near my kitchen window. His idea was to jump to the bird feeder about six feet from the tree, exactly as he had done the day before. He didn't know the feeder had been moved two feet to prevent that possibility from happening again.

This feisty tree climber recognized something different, and I could sense his nervous calculations. I counted the times he scaled the tree, observed the distance, scampered down and then up, and switched to another limb. He prayed. (You’ve watched a spiritual squirrel stand with folded paws as if praying.) More than a dozen times, he made this trip—up and down, more frantic each time.

Then, “splash!” He landed hard on the ground, missing his goal by twelve inches. But that didn’t stop him. For an hour he repeated his obsessive climbs and jumps, each time falling short. I had to abandon this scene for church, but now more encouraged. If a squirrel can try such an impossible feat over and over, surely I can walk through my trial.

David encourages us at a time when he feared for his life. Hiding in a cave from Saul, David was not ashamed to cry out to the Lord for mercy, for refuge. I cry too. Before the Lord. Trusting it "is He who knows my way, when my spirit grows faint within me."

Dark, muddled life circumstances can blind us momentarily—blocking the sunshine, hiding the reality of God's promises, sending us to a cave prison. Our hearts may be breaking, but, like the determined squirrel, we should continually seek God through the pain.

With God’s help, keep jumping.

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Intercession

I tired of feeling sympathy for the people around me who were going through difficult moments.

Incapable of offering a solution, I usually told them how sorry I was and left them with comforting words. Days passed, and I forgot about the issue until I saw them again. However, I knew something was wrong with the way I reacted to their situations.

If only there was a way I could offer more help, I would be glad. The Holy Spirit reminded me of times when I asked for assistance from other capable persons when I needed help. I could do the same thing for people around me. Even though I didn’t personally know of any person who could help them, I knew someone powerful enough to deal with any problem. I decided to go before God persistently to ask for help on their behalf.

I finally understood what intercession meant: coming regularly before the only One who is capable, powerful, and willing to help me help those who need my assistance. I know the Lord delights in intercession because His word urges us to intercede.

Interceding for people is a way of sharing in the challenges they face beyond offering comforting words. Jesus taught this principle of prayer by telling about a man who asked for bread from a neighbour who wanted to feed his guest (Luke 11: 5-8).

We should relate to God the burdens others carry and ask Him in faith to intervene in their situation. We shouldn't forget to also go before Him to thank and praise Him when He comes to the aid of our family and friends.

Intercede regularly for others.

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Mirror Image

I once enrolled in an online iPhone photography course. Besides receiving instructions from experienced iPhone photographers on how to capture and edit remarkable photos, students were invited to join a Facebook community of their peers and participate in constructive critiques.

While on vacation last summer, I captured a crystal-clear image of a yellow house reflected in the canal. When I edited the photo, I cropped the majority of the land portion of the house to emphasize the outstanding reflection. I received favorable comments whenever I posted my photo online, but I also received comments stating I should have included the source of the reflection in the photo—the house itself. One comment especially resonated with me. “The reflection is the hero, but without the source, it’s not as powerful.”

Many houses reflected in the canal that evening, but the element that made this one outstanding was the angle of the sun. I snapped the photo during the golden hour—the last hour before sunset—the hour when the sun’s rays bring ordinary objects to life with a golden glow. The water mirrored the house above it, but without its remarkable light source, the photo would’ve lost its impact.

God created us in His image, but we were born into a fallen world and possess a sinful nature. If we confess our sin and invite Jesus to be our Savior, He forgives us. From that moment forward, as we devote time to Bible study and prayer, our lives take on the characteristics of Christ. The more time we invest, the more we grow spiritually—and the more accurate the reflection of Christ in us becomes.

The mirrored image of the yellow house caught my attention that evening, but when my eyes moved upward, I saw the actual house. This made me think about how others respond when they see the image of Christ in me. Do their eyes travel upward to the origin of the reflection—the light of Jesus Christ?

We either mirror the characteristics of our heavenly Father or those of a fallen world. The image we reflect may be the hero, but without Christ as our light source, it loses its power.

Ask God to let the likeness of Christ in you inspire others to look heavenward and see your Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Unclean

Leprosy. The word makes me cringe. The medical community considers leprosy contagious, but only mildly so.

Recently, our pastor spoke on this passage: Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him. Although familiar to me, the Scripture rekindled my curiosity. What more do we know about this man? Someone had to know his name, where he came from, whether or not he was married and had children, what he’d done for a living, how old he was when stricken by the disease, and whether he had friends or was totally abandoned.

Luke, a follower of Christ and a physician, records a graphic piece of information: the man was covered or full of leprosy. End-stage leprosy in today’s terms. With his obvious decomposing body, death was imminent.

Jesus performed approximately six miracles prior to encountering this leper. Possibly, a friend told the man Jesus was nearby. More than likely, he overheard conversations between those passing by on the other side of the road. Lepers could not come within six feet of other humans, and no one went near a leper. But Jesus did.

After extensive research, I found no other information on this man. Not a word, not a peep. Nothing. I read again the four-verse exchange between a diseased and dying man and his healer. What had I missed? There wasn’t one new piece of information about this leper before or after his encounter with Jesus.

Jesus touched the leper. He became ceremonially unclean in the eyes of the law so this leper could become clean—and so you and I can be clean. My focus was wrong. I missed the relevant information.

Just as He did then, Jesus walks among us now. If we ask, He will touch and cleanse us just as He did the leper. As He stretched out His hands on the cross, Jesus provided cleaning for us, once and for all.

If you haven’t done so already, ask Jesus to cleanse you.

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Restraint Is Not a Weakness

Journalism has long been regarded as an important force in government, so vital to the functioning of a democracy that it has been portrayed as an integral component.

Democracy requires informed citizens. No governing body can expect to operate well without knowledge of the issues on which it rules—and rule by the people means they should be informed.

The cries and yelling of the media have little or no desired fruitage. Most of us hope for good government. We vote, we serve, and we speak out for causes we believe are fair and just. But political solutions remain powerless to change the condition of our hearts.

Many of Jesus’ followers anticipated a Messiah who would bring a vigorous political response to Rome and its heavy-handed oppression. Peter was no exception. When Roman soldiers came to arrest Christ, Peter drew his sword and took a swing at the head of the high priest’s servant, lopping off his ear in the process.

Jesus halted Peter’s one-man war, saying, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Hours later, Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders” (v. 36).

The Lord’s restraint, as His life hung in the balance, is astonishing when we ponder the scope of His mission. On a future day, He will lead the armies of heaven into battle. John wrote, “With justice he judges and wages war” (Revelation 19:11).

As Jesus endured the ordeal of His arrest, trial, and crucifixion, He kept His Father’s will in view. By embracing death on the cross, He set in motion a chain of events that transforms hearts. And in the process, our Strong Conqueror defeated death itself.

When needed, be willing to exercise restraint and follow the voice of truth—God’s words in the Bible—even when it contradicts your personal preferences.

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God’s Signal

We only use ten percent of our brain.

Myths like these we’ve heard since we were old enough to understand we weren’t as smart as others. The implication is we could be smarter if we’d only dig deeper into our brain cells. Science has pretty much destroyed this concept by its use of scans to show virtually every part of the brain functions most of the time, with the exception of when we sleep.

If we learn how the brain sends signals to wiggle our toes, change the direction of our steps, or re-wire when we suffer a brain injury, we’ll find out there is no hard-wiring. The nerves transmitting the signals are not one continuous strand, like what we think of as wire. Nerves are short sections of cells with gaps called synapses. These contain neurotransmitters, which are the real reason neurons communicate brain instructions to our body parts.

As you read this devotion, your brain gathers the info and then sends a bunch of signals through your mind, all without a single solid nerve “wire.” Somewhat like a series of radio towers bouncing info across the land.

Paul wrote Romans to encourage Christians to continually refresh their minds—especially by reviewing and living the instructions given to them. He knows there’s a gap between God in heaven and saints on earth. That gap can short circuit and cause us to return to our old ways. Yet there’s a connection impossible to understand until we accept the miracle of the Creator. God not only established our physical brain and nervous system, He also gave the spiritual design of the Holy Spirit, our helper.

Like the synapses with their neurotransmitters, the Holy Spirit resides within us to make the connection to God. We simply must follow the edification by Paul to renew our mind by reading the Scriptures and letting God into the depths of our brain. He’s already established the higher order of humans in the world’s realm of intelligence. He’s waiting for us to believe it, and Him.

Ask God to help you pay attention to His signals.

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Building Lasting Treasure

The sun bore down on us, but we dug deep into the sand.

My niece, nephew, and I filled our buckets, dumping them into a bigger pile. When the pile grew large enough, we used special molds and shovels to shape the sand—creating watch towers for soldiers to stand guard, filling a moat with fictitious alligators, and building a drawbridge, all things needed to keep us safe. When finished, we stood back and admired how strong and safe our castle looked. No enemy would dare try to conquer it.

Later that night, our family walked across the cool sand toward our sandcastle. As we neared it, we noticed it was halfway under water. The tide—the one element of attack we forgot to prepare for—had destroyed the towers, moat, and drawbridge.  

Jesus said the same would happen to treasures stored on earth. We often spend time building our financial portfolios, sustaining our spiritual life, and training our children to walk in the ways of the Lord. Then the one thing we didn’t prepare for comes like an enemy threatening to steal in an instant everything we’ve built: a medical crisis, a hurtful action, an addiction.  

Don’t build sandcastles that crumble once difficulties hit. Store your treasures in heaven by building relationships, forgiving others, and loving the unlovable. Invest in treasures that the tides of life won’t sweep away.

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The Right Foundation

The girl’s tee shirt read, Jesus is coming … Look busy …

Many of us do. We attend church, teach Sunday school, work in children’s church, go on mission trips, and visit the sick or those in prison. We send money to feed the homeless, misplaced veterans, persecuted Christians, or maybe the blind. And every one of these things is needful and good.

But sometimes I try to work my way into God’s forgiveness and grace, forgetting His forgiveness can’t be earned or His grace bought. I try to work my way into God’s grace and into heaven by being good and keeping busy doing good things. God says my righteousness is like filthy rags.

Only one way exists to claim God’s forgiveness and receive His grace: Jesus. He is the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father but by Him.  

No matter how hard I work—or how many good deeds I do—these things will not work. Only by asking for forgiveness of my sins and accepting Jesus as my Lord and Savior can I be saved, forgiven, and filled with God’s holy grace. Faith without works is dead. Only by making sure I have allowed Jesus’ forgiveness and mercy into my heart can I be certain I am serving Jesus and not trying to buy my way into heaven.

God knows our hearts. If we accept His wondrous grace and forgiveness, we will spend eternity with Jesus. Serving Him with forgiveness in our hearts, we will be able to sing of His wondrous love, grace, and glory.

Make sure you have laid the right foundation.

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Unexpected Rain Showers

The sky turned ominously dark. Shades of blue and purple spread across the horizon, transforming a beautiful summer day into an unexpected storm.  

Such is life in the Carolinas during the summer. Storms can either be welcomed when they squelch the heat or cursed when they ruin summer fun. I appreciated this storm and watched with curiosity as creatures big and small scurried for shelter.

To my surprise, a tiny female hummingbird perched in front of me. The rain poured, but the little bird just sat—unaffected by the fierce storm raging around her. After a few moments, she raised her beak high into the air, puffed out her chest, spread her wings and flapped them in rapid bursts, enjoying a rain-induced bath.

As I watched the little bird relishing each raindrop, a thought struck me. All the other creatures had hidden from the storm, but the little hummer saw it as an opportunity. 

We tend to view life's trials and troubles like storms. We see them brewing on the horizon and immediately run and hide, doing our best to weather the storm and praying it doesn't do lasting damage. We wish for sunny days and see storms as a hindrance.

Instead, we should view storms as the hummingbird did, seeing them as beneficial and as opportunities for cleansing and renewal. Sometimes, God sends storms to test us, train us, cleanse us, and empower us. God can even use storms of our own making—or storms that come because we live in a broken world—for our benefit. 

Storms bring power, cleansing, and rebirth if we perceive them correctly, recognize their source, and trust the One who controls them. God already knows the storm, and He already knows His plans for you. Like the hummingbird, you can appreciate the storm with joy and thanksgiving.

When was the last time you played in a rainstorm? Let God use one to cleanse and renew you.

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Know God More

Imagine a co-worker saying her best friend lives just down the street.

“What is she like?” you ask.

“I don’t know, I never talk to her.”

You are perplexed. “But I thought you said she was your best friend in the world? How can she be your best friend if you never talk to her?”

“We talked once three years ago. I decided she would be my best friend, and I haven’t forgotten her. We had a great time that day.” She chuckles and then walks away.

Inconceivable, yet we can do the same thing with the Lord if we make a profession of faith but never talk to Him.  

Moses talked to God. God was fed up with the whiney, idol-worshiping Israelites. He told Moses to accompany those stiff-necked people without Him. You would think the man who didn’t want to speak for God to the Egyptian Pharaoh would have obeyed. But Moses told God he didn’t want to go without Him. He even made another request: “Now show me your glory.”

These last years have been hard years. Years when I have strayed. Doubted. Disobeyed. But recently, I’ve experienced renewed fellowship, faith, and obedience. I’ve copied Moses’ prayer. I have asked to know God, for Him to go with me, and for Him to show me His glory.

Prayer is talking with God and getting to know Him. Moses spoke face-to-face with God as a friend. And seeing God’s glory? I see it in how He answers—above and beyond anything I could ask or even comprehend. This is because He knows all, controls all, and works all things for my good and His glory.

So take the plunge. Tell God you want to know Him more, to experience His presence, and to see His glory. Begin and end each day with prayer—and be amazed.

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Legacy

Tonight is the wedding of her son to a sweet, Texas gal.

The mother of the groom pulls a black velvet box from her dresser. With misty eyes, she opens the lid and fingers her family heirloom. Her dad bought the exquisite aquamarine in South America for her mom decades earlier. A dozen diamonds encircle the sparkling jewel. This fourteen-karat gold ring dazzles anyone’s eye.

To her, though, the ring is more than a glittering piece of adornment. It is a legacy passed to her from her parents. As she slips the teal blue gem onto her fourth finger, she treasures the tapestry of memories of her parents. They are a part of this memorable night. They role-modeled for forty-seven years the beauty of love, the strength of faithfulness, and the power of commitment. Wearing her family ring reminds this matriarch of her parent’s invaluable gift of godly character and strong integrity—a legacy surpassing any real estate or financial package. 

Psalm 78:4 commands us to tell the next generation about the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and His wonders. When we share our faith with our loved ones, they will put their trust in God. The remaining sixty-four verses describe the results of people who did not trust in the Lord. They became stubborn and rebellious. God became angry with them, His fire broke out, and His wrath arose. 

As a grandparent, I desire to pass on a godly inheritance to my descendents. Everyone leaves a legacy, but the question is what kind? Families live in a turbulent world full of terrorism, materialism, and faithlessness. Grandparents have a high calling from God to pass a life-changing legacy of faith in God to our grandchildren. 

A distant voice calls, reminding the mother it is time for the wedding. Squaring her shoulders, she walks out of the room and into the night. Shining from her hand is the brilliant reminder of her family legacy, both received and ready to pass.

Leave a godly legacy for those who follow you.    

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Addicted to Worry

It was the last situation on my mind as I drifted off to sleep and the first one that filled my consciousness when I awoke.

Worry. The ultimate thief.

The Bible tells us not to be anxious about anything. Seriously? Nothing? Most of us find that next to impossible.

One writer says most Christians step out of bed and immediately reach for their backpack filled with anxiety. Then they walk around, loaded down with the weight of the world, unaware of the many harmful effects.

Worry is a terrible habit that doesn’t solve a single problem. It drains our energy and leaves us in a state of unrest, stealing our peace, joy, and hope. Worry leads to fear and can affect our health and our relationships.

Some people even become anxious when they have nothing to worry about. It can become an addiction.

I heard the statment recently that worry is illegal in the kingdom of God. So, what’s the answer? These are the things that have worked in my life:

  • Staying in constant communication with God.
  • Praising and being thankful instead of complaining and constantly rehashing the problems.
  • Speaking God’s promises instead of my own negative thoughts.
  • Keeping my focus on Him rather than my problems.
  • Trusting Him no matter what, knowing He is working all things together for my good.
  • Letting go of every situation I can’t fix or control.
  • Casting all my care on Him, and then walking in the peace that surpasses human comprehension.

Worrying less means praying more. But it’s a choice. God doesn’t want us to stop caring, He just wants us to trust Him for the outcome.

Are you willing to trust God and stop worrying?

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Make Much of Him

Prevalent in our culture is the need for notoriety.

Many have come to believe bigger is better . . . that personality and gifting trump the virtues God esteems. But Jesus says whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Baptist. Ouch. I don’t know of many who want to play second fiddle, let alone be least.

John the Baptist understood his role was to pave the road for Christ, not to create a name for himself or a following for his ministry. He said he was unworthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals. Jesus stated that John the Baptist was the greatest man born to a woman. It seems John had a right estimation of himself and understood what it meant to decrease.

When we think less of ourselves and make much of Christ, He increases. When we become intentional about proclaiming His greatness and purpose, God is exalted. And when He is lifted up, He draws others to Himself.

Scripture is replete with the theme of exalting God and His purposes above our own. And it’s interesting to see what happens when we do.

In 2 Chronicles chapter one, Solomon was installed as king over Israel. God then asked what He could give him. Solomon asked for wisdom and understanding so he could govern God’s people rightly—not for riches, fame, or wealth. In return, God not only granted him the wisdom and knowledge he requested but also blessed him with riches, wealth, and honor. Solomon sought God’s glory, not his own.

We are placed on earth to know God and make Him known. When we become intimate with God and taste of His goodness, we should tell others to “taste and see that the Lord is good” also.

Make it your goal to make much of God and to seek His glory above your own. When you do, only the fragrance of Jesus will remain, even if your name is never remembered.

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Rewards of Faith in Action

Rags are not worth much. Cut into pieces, they can polish silver or clean up messes. Their end, however, is the trash.

The rags in this story had a unique use: comfort. They helped save a prophet’s life.

Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet,” mourned because of his country’s behavior. He proclaimed dire consequences for those disobeying God’s commandments and practicing idolatry. Jeremiah predicted “Jerusalem will fall, and Judah will be captured by a foreign land.” People hated his messages, but his words were God’s words.

The first deportation to Babylon had already occurred. King Zedekiah disliked Jeremiah’s news that he would go into captivity also. He confined the prophet to his palace court prison. However, this king was not an effective ruler. Evil princes did a daring capture of Jeremiah, taking him from the palace to the dungeon of a scribe’s house. These men abused Jeremiah. The king commanded the princes to release Jeremiah, but he was powerless over the wicked men. They cast Jeremiah into another dungeon void of drinking water, and he sank into the mire—a certain death.

An Ethiopian eunuch from the king’s household named Ebedmelech ran to the Benjamin gate where he sat and begged the king to save the emaciated, dehydrated prophet. He had an escape plan: “Take thirty of my servants to rescue Jeremiah.”

After telling Jeremiah to put old clothes and rags under his armpits before placing the ropes around him, the line of servants took deep breaths and pulled hard on the ropes until Jeremiah was free.

Thinking about my own suffering and recent prayers to my heavenly Father, I was touched by God’s intervention for Jeremiah. Every person’s life has struggles or things that frighten them. Encouraging words comfort, but a friend who shares the burden is better. Doing kind deeds can lighten suffering.

Love should drive our faith into action through recognizing the struggles of others. I observe, investigate the facts, pray for direction, and then intervene by doing what God puts on my mind and heart.

Find ways to put your faith into action. When you bless others, God will bless you.

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Goodwill Donations and Forgiveness

“You look like you’re only twenty five!”

Startled, I gasped, “Excuse me?”

The attendant shot back as he inched closer to the open car window, “You look twenty five.”

“That’s kind of you. Thank you,” I replied.

My daily beauty routine floated through my mind like a soft-flowing feather. Focused on my mission, I looked ahead to survey the big truck in front of me.

A Goodwill donation tax receipt coming towards me through the car window interrupted my thoughts. “This is for your taxes.”

Moving my little car up to the large donation truck, the next greeter quipped, “You look twenty five!”

Then, out of nowhere, I heard, “What’s your secret?”

Prompted by the inquiry, the words, “Forgiveness means we’re filled with peace and our strength increases,” tumbled out of my mouth.

Forgiveness is the best anti-aging formula available. It has amazing powers and can reverse the signs of grievances. Forgiveness smooths out the fine lines of bitterness and depression. The formula is made up of relinquishing any right for revenge, and includes the finest grades of peace, joy, and immeasurable strength. It is available to all who wish to continue on their merry way and fulfill their purpose for living. Forgiveness is not recommended for those who have extensive demands of retribution in exchange for intentional harm, as it only works when applied with a primer of grace. 

After continued use of this miraculous anti-aging formula, the consumer can expect radical results. A commonplace remark in consumer reviews, for those who have consistently applied this product to their hearts, is their ongoing physical and spiritual rejuvenation. Consumers give this product five stars. The formula boosts their understanding of God’s love and mercy. Furthermore, scientific testing of the product on both controlled and experimental groups validates the extreme increase of peace in the consumer’s life. Please note that these results vary based on the measure of grace the consumer uses. I recommend the kind of grace that incorporates suspended judgment and underserved lovingkindness as the premier primer for this product.

Forgiveness—available yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Don’t wait. Consider applying your own endless supply today. Your heart will thank you.

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When Life's not Good

“Life is good.”

We hear people say it. The phrase appears on retail items like t-shirts or framed quotes. And the words roll off our tongues and scatter across our devices. It takes the spotlight when our online friend or family member has a new boyfriend, pet, car, or house.

Perhaps the words are in order when we land the ideal job, get a promotion, win a contest, receive good news on medical tests, or get anything that makes us feel on top of the world. But what about when life’s not good? I’ve never been a fan of the phrase and here’s why. Merriam-Webster’s definition of good is “The pleasant things that happen to people.”

I want pleasant things to happen to me. I’m betting you do too. Some days those things come my way, and I’m on cloud nine. On other days, life’s pleasant things stay far away. Maybe they go on vacation or visit my neighbor. Or the good things in life happen to all those friends on social media but not to me.

As Christians, our hope for good lies in God’s identity and character. He’s a good Father with a never-changing nature. The Lord overflows with love, goodness, mercy, hope, peace, joy, compassion, patience, and kindness. The things that matter and set levels above “pleasant.”

When life’s not good, I shift my focus from “Life is good” to “God is good.” Good is who God is. Life changes. God and His goodness never do.

God has plans for our good, brings good from all things, and offers hope for good in our future. When we say, hear, or see the phrase, Life is good, we should remember life can’t be counted on. Sometimes life turns out not so good. When it does, we can still count on good from God—goodness not of this world.

Root your expectations in God, not in things of this life.

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Pleasant Surprise

Patience is a virtue that escapes me on most days.

I've struggled with impatience since childhood. I went through a phase where I couldn't wait to open gifts, especially on Christmas day. Like a budding art theft, I crafted a plan to uncover the contents of a gift the moment one with my name on it materialized.

Timing was crucial, and—with just the right touch—I learned to delicately unwrap the colorful ribbon and paper to reveal the treasure inside. I was so good at it that I could unveil a gift, wrap it back with the same wrapping and tape, and no one was the wiser. Mission accomplished, but surprise ruined!

It only took a few times to realize I was stealing my own joy and that my impatience wasn't a good idea after all. Who wants to open gifts that you already know the contents of and pretend to be surprised?  

Waiting is hard and often doesn't make sense, but the Bible says God is good to those who do. He is a perfect Father and gives the best gifts. We miss His blessings and His best when we are impatient and allow our “me-first-now mentality” to get in the way.

Some things in life are worth the wait: blessings and gifts that should be opened at just the right time and not rushed.

There are no shortages of opportunities to wait. Waiting for good news, waiting for the weekend, waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right, waiting for a promotion, waiting for a pregnancy, and waiting for things to change and get better.

If we realize the true source of goodness in our lives and begin to practice patience, then it will start growing naturally as a response to our acceptance that God is in control. He can be trusted, and His timing is always perfect.   

Waiting won’t be so difficult when we stop and consider the source and then believe God may be working to select and wrap the most perfect gift for us—one that took serious time and energy to create.  

Wait patiently for God. He always gives the best gifts. Don't ruin the surprise.

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Craving God

My dog craved being outside and active more than anything else.

I woke up one Saturday morning feeling tired and lazy. I knew I would enjoy a nice run if I went outside, but I had a hard time making myself go out the door. My dog, on the other hand, stood at the door, begging me to take him. As I drank coffee, trying to summon my desire to leave, he looked at me with those puppy dog eyes, attempting to hurry me out the door.

My life is often a series of craving the wrong things. I have had seasons where I have craved money, recognition, and approval more than the things of God. I have used food, exercise, other people, and material things to feed my inner pains instead of turning to Him. It’s okay to want to do things and have things, but we should only crave God.

I should crave God and His word the way my dog craves going for a run. I need to focus on Him, letting Him dominate my thoughts and actions. I need to be passionate about His word and read and meditate on it. His presence inside of me filters my words and actions. 

God gave us the ability to crave so we would crave Him. When we crave money, food, recognition, other people, drugs and alcohol, entertainment, sex, or anything else more than we crave Him, we will never have peace, joy, or happiness. I enjoy running, spending time with those I love, working, shopping, and eating, but I was made to crave only God.

Ask God to help you crave Him more than you do anything else. 

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When Faith Doesn't Move the Mountain

It definitely wasn’t the image I wanted to portray.

I sent my husband Tom to pick up the cakes I’d pre-ordered for the book launch party for the book I’d just written, The Immanuel Quilt. When he returned, I noticed the bakery had made a mistake. Instead of the cakes having photos of the book, they displayed images of my business card. It’s what every girl wants, right? A cake covered in whipped cream advertising her name and number.  

I expected two-hundred people to celebrate with me. Only forty did. What made me think so many would come? At one point, I’d even thought the venue was too small. I believed because I’d seen God’s works and come to expect the miraculous.

Jesus never once said, “Oh, ye of too much faith,” but He offered several warnings about too little faith.

Perhaps there’s been a time when you expected a miracle from God. A time when you showed mighty faith and believed your fervent prayers could move the mountain—only to learn they wouldn’t. You had faith a better job was coming, your marriage would be restored, or even your loved one would be healed. But it didn’t happen.

Disappointments are golden opportunities—a gift from God—to get to know Him better. We either believe He is over all things or that He’s not. He can allow the miraculous or withhold it. We have to accept His authority.

We should always want our words and actions to display the image of God we hope to portray—one of Christ living within us.

The next time faith doesn’t move your mountain and disappointments arise, keep trusting God and letting His image shine through. 

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Get Understanding

Alcoholism death rates are at an all-time high.

Knowing that drinking is accompanied by a risk of organ damage and death, many drinkers admit alcohol is their favorite device to help them deal with stress, grief, worries, relaxation, and pressure. They refuse to sacrifice it for a sober lifestyle.

We all have our favorite things in life: foods, vacation spots, TV shows, and people. The thought of giving up one of these can be unimaginable. Being asked to walk away from a treasure we hold dear to our hearts could make us say a few choice words unspoken for years. How dare anyone ask us to give up a favorite entrée or habit, a sentimental relationship, or a favorite pastime? If they cared about us they would not ask.

How could it please God to sacrifice what He loves so much: His only begotten Son? When I was fourteen, the Lord told me, “Anything you love, learn to let it go.” I now realize certain requirements have to be met to do this. It is impossible to give up anything . . . to sacrifice . . . without understanding the love of God.  

According to Christ’s example, we should be pleased to sacrifice our only. Like our Father, we should give up the now and focus on the later, which cannot be done from a selfish outlook, but is greatly rewarding. Once we understand Jesus equips us with more fulfillment than this world—and once we understand the significance of the cross—we can sacrifice anything.  

It pleased God to sacrifice His one and only. If His Son, why not your ____? People find many reasons for not sacrificing: fear, confusion, self-worth, competence, tradition, and trust. Understanding and believing what God has done communicates to us the strength we need to alter these beliefs. This helps us sacrifice our only coat, our only meal, our only five minutes, our only hearts.

In all your getting, get understanding.

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God Blesses Us

“How are you today, Pauline?” my co-worker asked as we passed each other by the copy machine.

“Better than I deserve,” I shot back.

Some think I am weird. Others build up my self-image with phrases like, You deserve good, Pauline. You’re a good person.

But I know better. I understand God found me, Christ died for me, and I live my life in His strength. So when I read of God’s blessings in His Word, I take notice.

In Psalm 67, the writer names how God blesses us: His face shines upon us, He judges uprightly, He guides the nations, and He causes the earth to yield its produce.

If you have ever witnessed the face of a new grandmother staring at her grandchild, you can picture that as God’s face shining on you and me. He guides the nations and is sovereign over the world. Even though it doesn’t seem that way to me, I trust God’s Word and trust Him to guide the nations. And produce? I live on a farm and have tasted the best tomatoes ever. It all comes from His hand. Those are some pretty heavy blessings.

God blesses us to make His way known, so people will praise Him, and so that all the earth may fear Him.

But I wonder if I’m making God’s way known to others, or if I’m too busy with this world and more excited about football than sharing the gospel? Or if I’m living a life of grateful thanksgiving and praise or being like Miriam in the Old Testament who was inflicted with leprosy because she grumbled. I can share the gospel by being clear that we are all sinners and need a savior, or sugarcoat it.

Answering my co-workers in the way I do reminds me of my blessings and my opportunity to bless others.

Make a resolution to meditate on God’s blessings and share them with others. You just might make hanging out at the copy machine more interesting. 

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Help Me Be Willing

During a meeting at church, an elderly member expressed the need for transportation to a doctor’s appointment. Although she spoke for an extended time about her problem, no one volunteered to take her, including me.

This woman had a notorious reputation for being a nonstop talker. Those attending the meeting were well aware of this. During the time she spoke, the quiet voice of God’s Spirit nudged me to volunteer. But along with the others, I remained silent. After I went home from the meeting, I continued to feel conviction.

Every morning I pray that I may be a helper, a blessing, and an encourager to others. I had been given an opportunity, but failed to take advantage of it. Now God reminded me of my prayers.

I determined to contact the woman the next day and offer to take her to her appointment. After making that decision, I felt God’s peace. God wanted to see if I was willing to help others as I asked to in my prayers or if I was simply repeating words.

When we pray about meeting the needs of others, we must also ask God to help us be willing. In 2 Corinthians 9:7, Paul says God loves a cheerful giver. This not only applies to the gift of material possessions, but also to the gift of our time, energies, and abilities.

When you feel the probing finger of God touching your heart as He did mine, don’t respond with a “No!” Ask Him to help you become more willing to reach out to others.

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20/20 Vision

One day without warning, my vision was normal and the next, something was wrong . . . very wrong.

At first, I thought the flashes of light came from a passing school bus in the early dawn, but before long I realized the flashes originated from within my right eye, along with a few floaters. Before I could find my way into the ophthalmologist's chair, my vision diminished.

Apprehension darkened my outlook. I had to see well . . . to write, to drive, to work, to help my daughters, to maintain my independence. Fear gnawed at the edges of my trust in the faithful God whom I love.

For the first time, I could empathize with my late husband's concerns about failing vision after a TBI left him with serious eye issues. Not that I didn't sympathize, but now I understood. I wished I could tell him so.

Hagar was a servant girl lost in the wilderness centuries ago. Yet she drew confidence from the God who saw her.   

Despite my jumbled thoughts and emotions, I thanked God I could see today . . . the brightening brilliance of a sunrise and the soft glow of sunset, crimson and golden leaves against a sapphire sky, sparkly snow gracing every branch and bush, greedy sparrows at my feeders, and photos of my daughters and grandsons. The ordinary became extra-ordinary!

I also became acutely aware of the "sight" words we use every day. Words like look, see, view, watch, and focus. Tears slipped down my cheeks at church when we sang "Be Thou My Vision.” Passages of Scripture leaped off the page. Stories of Jesus healing the blind, verses urging us to look to Jesus as our example, and promises that we will someday see Him face to face.   

After five weeks, my eye became stable. Using a protocol to strengthen my vision and support eye health, I'm guardedly optimistic . . . and still more grateful than ever.

What we have trouble seeing in our present circumstances may have little to do with our physical vision. Our way often seems cloudy and uncertain, but God’s vision is always 20/20. He sees with clarity and understanding, both near and far.

Trust God’s vision even when yours is blurry. 

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Keeping Our Neighborhoods Safe

I awakened with New York City weighing heavily on my spirit.

I walk almost every day, and although I don’t live in a metropolitan area, geography and socio-economic status don’t limit evil. A rash of recent car break-ins have troubled my neighborhood. Many residents have installed special lighting, and one neighbor organized a Crime Watch meeting at a nearby church.

Car break-ins are only a nuisance compared to the carnage New York City experienced recently. On a crisp autumn day, an evil man in a truck mowed down innocent people out for a walk, a run, or a bike ride. Both incidents prove we need greater security.  

When fearful thoughts trouble my spirit, I take them to God. So that’s what I did. As I walked the streets of my neighborhood early one morning, I prayed, and God spoke. He brought to mind a Bible verse I’d studied that week.

In Psalm 122:6, God calls His people to pray for the peace of their holy city. While no one’s ever called Lexington, South Carolina, a holy city, the principle still applies. Praying regularly for our city’s peace, and, on a smaller scale, the neighborhoods in which we live, is biblical. God uses our prayers to spread His protective covering over our homes and our streets.

On this morning, as I walked the two streets and seven cul-de-sacs of my neighborhood, I prayed and asked God to keep our neighborhood safe from anyone who would harm us. I prayed a blessing over each family, inviting God to make Himself real to them and to meet their needs. I petitioned Him to strengthen the faith of the believers who live here and embolden them to share their faith with others. And I asked Him to bless and use us to minister in His name.

Today, as you drive or walk through the streets of your neighborhood—instead of listening to music or mindlessly daydreaming—spend a few minutes praying. Doing so could make all the difference.

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Don't Leave Them Waiting

“Can I have fifty cents?” asked my daughter.

“What for?” I said.

She pointed out the living room window to three sweaty children from our neighborhood who sat at their lemonade stand waiting for customers.

“They must be very hot out there,” I said. 

“That’s why I want to buy some lemonade right away. I remember waiting for people to buy it from me,” she said, smiling.

I handed her two quarters, and she skipped out the door. Her simple gesture reminded me of Jesus’ words, Love your neighbor as yourself.

Opportunities abound every day to love people. If I think about the way I want to be treated and ask God for direction as I consider others’ needs, I will find plenty of people to love.  

Think of someone in your family, your work place, or your community who could benefit from your kindness. Whether it is a relative, a co-worker, or a neighbor, don’t leave them waiting.

Ask God to show you someone in need, and share His love with them today.  

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The Foolishness of Faith

I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of looking foolish.

When we live for the approval of others—instead of God—it makes us hesitate when He asks us to step outside our comfort zone to do something we’ve never done before. Why? Because we fear ridicule and rejection. People can be unforgiving and even cruel—especially when we mess up.

But the Scriptures give us many examples of people who were willing to obey God, no matter how foolish it looked in the eyes of men.

Think about Noah. He spent 120 years building the first boat when no one had ever seen or even heard of rain.

Sarah was promised a child at the age of ninety. Can you imagine all the snickering going on behind her back?

David boldly confronted Goliath—a giant that none of the mighty warriors were willing to face—with only a slingshot and a few stones.

And what about Joshua? He led an army around the mighty walls of Jericho and then had them shout and blow trumpets to destroy the city. Can’t you just hear the laughs and sneers coming from inside those walls … at least until they began to crumble?

The Bible tells us God uses the weak and foolish things of the world to shame those who are wise and strong in their own eyes. We’re also told it is impossible to please Him without faith. When God wants to work through us and asks us to step out into unknown territory, our response should be complete and absolute obedience.

But what if no one agrees or understands? What if we look foolish? Look at the outcome for Noah, Sarah, David, and Joshua. Through their faith and obedience—and their willingness to look foolish in the eyes of men—God accomplished His divine plan and purpose.

He can and will do the same through you and me. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength (1 Corinthians 1:25 NIV).

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Holding on . . . But to What?

I remember the moment my car died—and I had no way of making extra money to pay bills.

I used my car as a transport service for people, which provided a significant amount of supplemental income. But in a moment, it was taken away. I was furious. I hoped the battery was dead—or possibly another cheaper part I could replace myself. I tried to start the car, but to no avail.  

I had the car towed to a mechanic who told me the news I dreaded: “Yeah, you need the engine rebuilt.” At the moment, I was furious with God. I remember sitting in my wife’s car and screaming, “God, how can you do this? I can barely afford to pay my bills, and now You take away a huge part of my income?”

James says, “… be happy for when the way is rough, your patience has a chance to grow.” Easier said than done.

Maybe you’ve asked God the same thing I did. Perhaps it wasn’t your car dying. Maybe you did not get the promotion or raise you expected, or maybe you were fired from your job.

We all go through times when the ground is removed from under our feet. We can respond in one of two ways: yell and curse God or do what James said. To do as James instructs, we must have a mindset change.

After I finished cursing God for taking my car, He let me know my heart was far from Him. I was more obsessed with material things than I was with Him. Sometimes, God takes away those things we hold so that we will hold Him dearer.

Instead of cursing God, try thanking Him. Be happy He took things from you so He could bring you closer to Him.

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Straightening out a Messy Life

Regardless of how much you take on a trip, you have a choice about how to pack it. 

I have a friend who over-packs for every trip. She’s not sure what she needs, so she takes it all. I, on the other hand, pack as little as possible. I choose versatile pieces of clothing and solid colors that go with anything. Khaki, black, and brown are the staple colors of my traveling wardrobe. My friend, however, has been known to pack three pairs of flip-flops for one trip. When we meet up at the same location, I’m amazed at her enormous suitcase, and she’s astounded at my little duffle bag.

If you fold everything neatly, you won’t get as much into your bag. But if you’re willing to roll and squish your clothing, you can get more in the same amount of space. It’s messy—and things could wrinkle—but you’ve got more stuff.

Our relationship with God is similar. If I want my life filled with God, it might look messy. When I’m crammed full of Jesus, the choices I make sometimes don’t make sense to others. I can control my life and make everything look neat and tidy, or I can let God overflow and let go of my desire to impress others and to look like I have everything together.

God’s paths might be confusing or might cause others to look askance at me. And I’d rather have my life in orderly stacks I can understand and control. But having more of God is more important than having a life that looks pretty to others.

Make an effort today to let go of control—even if the result looks messier than you’d like—so you can be filled with the power, justice, and might of the Holy Spirit.

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Sharing the Gospel

During court proceedings, witnesses are more important than onlookers or spectators. They are active participants who help determine a case’s outcome.

Witnesses play an important part in the legal process. In a criminal case, what a person says and how they say it can keep an innocent person from going to jail or ensure that a guilty person is not freed to commit new crimes. In a civil lawsuit, a person’s testimony will not usually send anyone to jail, but it can significantly affect fundamental legal rights.

The same is true of our witness for Christ. Like John, we are active participants in a matter of absolute importance: the truth of Jesus’s death and resurrection.

When John the Baptist told people about Jesus, the light of the world, he declared his knowledge of Jesus. And John the disciple, who recorded the events, testified about his experience with Jesus: “We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The apostle Paul elaborated on this idea when he told young Timothy, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Timothy 2:2).

Christians have been summoned before the courtroom of the world. We are not spectators but active participants. We testify to the truth about Jesus’s death and resurrection. John the Baptist was a voice calling in the desert. Our voices can be heard in our workplace, neighborhood, and church, and among family and friends. We are active witnesses telling others about the reality of Jesus in our lives.

Think of some creative ways you can share the gospel.

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Only God Knows

For six long years, one storm after another hit me. I was strong spiritually, but my mental state reached a climax. I wondered when the storms would let up . . . when I would see the beautiful colors of the fall season change in my life.

When I thought I was going to have a breakdown, I learned about God’s faithfulness. God’s Spirit led me to a quote by Charles Stanley: “Often God demonstrates His faithfulness in adversity by providing for us what we need to survive. He does not change our painful circumstances. He sustains us through them.” That’s when I learned God is faithful in all the seasons we go through by providing us with everything we need.

The phrase microwave society has some truth to it. We want it right now, but when we put our own efforts into trying to make something happen that’s out of God’s divine timing, the result can be loss of spiritual benefits.

God has made everything appropriate in its time—including the natural changing of the seasons and the spiritual seasons in our lives. He doesn’t move like a tortoise or drag His feet like us, but He is faithful in His own divine timing.

Life’s many circumstances that God has purposed are always appropriate seasons. They give us the opportunity to grow spiritually and allow His faithfulness to shine.

No matter what appointed season you’re in, know it has a purpose. God will not allow you to be consumed while you are in the season of testing. His compassions fail not. They are new every morning, and His faithfulness is great.

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Solving the Unsolvable

My faith and health-conscious habits were not enough to shield me from surgery.

I knew the Lord would be with me during the surgery and after, but when a complication arose that pushed my hospital recovery into the seventh day, hope waned. Even my surgeon seemed at a loss to know what to do to help me.

When a candy striper walked into my hospital room, he called her to my bedside, explained my situation briefly, and then asked, “What would you prescribe if she were your patient?” I thought he was joking. I couldn’t believe he would take the advice of a teenage non-medical volunteer. But within the hour, and twice more that day, I found myself relaxing in a tub of hot water, just as she had suggested. The first two times in the tub truly relaxed me and lifted my spirits, but when I stepped into the hot water bath for the third time late that evening, the presence and peace of the Holy Spirit filled the room, immediately flooding my body, mind, and spirit with God’s nearly tangible healing rays.

I’ve always believed God uses only the most talented, educated, and highly esteemed people in this world to usher in His will and plan. Yet on this day, he touched me through a teenage girl who was totally unaware she was being used of the Lord to bring healing to my body, mind, and spirit.

By God’s Word, He has not changed. He is sovereign and is not a respecter of persons. He who ordains strength out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants can use anyone to accomplish His work, even babes and nursing infants. The One who filled the young shepherd David with strength to slay Goliath and chose a young virgin girl to birth the Son of God often brings His will to pass through unsuspecting individuals.

If you have a seemingly unsolvable problem, call out to Jesus. He’ll make a way where there seems to be no way. If you want to be used of God to draw others to Him, call out His name and give your everyday life and words to Him. He’ll use them to bring encouragement and hope to the hopeless.

Let God use you to help solve what appears unsolvable. 

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Are We There Yet?

I want to be successful in my ministry without effort or discomfort, to be a giant of faith without a fight. I struggle against circumstances, self, and external enemies. I totter on the brink of obedience while yearning for heaven. Like a small child in the backseat, I whine, “Are we there yet?”

Death seemed imminent, yet Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were willing to give their lives rather than worship—or even pretend to worship—something other than the One true God. The heat from the fiery furnace was so fierce it killed the men who threw them into the fire. Even so, God protected and saved them without burns or even the smell of smoke.

We cheer this one test of faith but forget Scripture hints at a myriad of experiences they endured. The three boys had been ripped from their homeland. Their rich, privileged, influential families were murdered. They were neutered, probably sexually abused, and forced to serve the conquerors who had done this to them. Even after the fiery furnace, they had daily choices to make about how they felt, served, forgave, trusted, and obeyed.

Salvation in Christ is not a free pass out of situations that seem too hot: chronic pain, loss of loved ones, traumatic experiences, and unjust circumstances. Your fiery furnaces and fears may be different than mine, but to all who demand we serve them you can say, “God is able to save us out of the fire of our problems. If He doesn’t, He will walk us through. Even if we die, we will serve nothing except our God.”

Ask God to strengthen you with His Holy Spirit so you can endure and be bold. 

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Our Heart's Content

Finding contentment in life is a battle we've all fought.

The natural tendency of our heart is to seek and find rest. But how do we know where to find that rest? Suppose a love for money motivates our heart's contentment. Or a pursuit of power, fame, or lust dictates the peace in our life. 

Judas Iscariot—one of the original disciples of Christ—loved money, and doing so left his heart empty. After he betrayed Jesus to the Sanhedrin for thirty silver coins, he was left with a guilty and restless soul. His subsequent suicide reveals his heart’s content—or lack thereof. 

Hebrews 13:5 tells us where to find our heart's content: in the Lord. We shouldn’t be greedy, but be content with what we have. And we can because of an eternal promise. God has proclaimed, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

The desires of our heart are temporal and fleeting—here one day and gone the next. Put your hope in God’s eternal promise. True contentment will be experienced when our heart's desires rest in the Lord. 

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God Remembered Noah

I felt lost in murkiness and could not unearth God. I listened closely to His guidance and followed Him obediently. Yet that path had surprisingly and abruptly come to a halt. I was shocked and numbed. God seemed silent.

Noah must have experienced these sensations as he, his family, and the animals tossed about on titanic waves. With his sea legs, he performed his daily chores in this tipsy box. But where was God? When he was building the ark, God’s instructions were frequent and precise. Now, God had been silent for 150 days as the boat rocked on the waters. Where were His gentle instructions, soft whispers, and reassuring comfort?

God was there, observing Noah inside the ark. He had made a covenant with Noah and would keep it. He remembered Noah and relationally gravitated toward him in a loving and tactile way. Not only did God remember Noah, but He also remembered those surrounding Noah: the animals. He saw Noah obediently feeding the animals, caring for his family, and possibly questioning his future after the flood. God acted upon his observance of Noah and the flood and funneled a wind so the floodwaters would dwindle.

God was also present in my mute world at the end of my crisis. He observed me in my day-to-day activities, and—as He remembered Noah—He remembered me. Gradually, His gentle breeze of comfort and peace surrounded me.

When we feel alone and forgotten, God’s silence can be deafening. Nevertheless, He is there as He was with Noah. He knows our perplexing circumstances, so He hovers, shelters, and eternally remembers us. In His perfect timing, He will direct a merciful wind to calm and satisfy our needs.

Believe God remembers you, regardless of your storm.

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Waiting on the Perfect Gift

My youngest granddaughter tore into the colorful paper and ripped it to shreds to see what was inside.

This four-year-old was expecting the special doll she had requested. It almost broke my heart to watch her eyes narrow and her shoulders slump in disappointment when she saw the clothes inside the box. She didn’t say a word, but she didn’t have to. Her countenance and body language said it all. She simply looked around the room at each face, then dropped her little head to hide the tears.

Before her emotions escalated out of control, I placed another box in her hand. She raised her head and gazed at me expectantly, her hope restored. This time she slowly pulled the paper away as if afraid to be let down again. When her eyes rested on the doll she had specifically asked for, she jumped up, danced around, and squealed in delight.

Watching her reaction on this particular Christmas day made me wonder how many times God has given me a gift and watched as my countenance fell because of my disappointment. Maybe the gift wasn’t spcifically what I had asked for or wanted. Did I break His heart with my reaction?

What I’ve learned over a lifetime of serving God is that He always knows what’s best for us and exactly what we need. The good news is He also promises to give us the desires of our heart when we delight in Him. But sometimes we must wait. He is the giver of all good gifts, and His gifts are always delivered right on time—His time. And they are most definitely worth waiting for.

During this Christmas season, step away from the busyness of the holiday, and spend some time with Jesus—the greatest gift of all time. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart (Psalm 37:4 NIV).

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Jesus, the Best Counselor

Some time had passed since I heard from Sarah, a friend I pray for often.

Then I watched a movie I thought Sarah might find interesting. I sent her the information through Messenger. A few minutes later, she called and told me she was feeling miserable. The man she had been dating for years cheated on her. She felt betrayed, angry, and frustrated. She had seen a Christian counselor twice but could not fall asleep at night.

“How did the counselor help you?” I asked.

“He asked me to write down what my left brain told me so my logical sense could persuade my emotion on my right brain to forget about this lousy man. But I’m not in the mood to write it now.” She sighed.

“I may not be a licensed counselor, but I believe God, your Creator, knows your heart more than any human. Would you like me to pray for you and ask Jesus to help you?” I wanted to point Sarah to Jesus, her ultimate comforter.

“Why does this happen to me?” Sarah asked.

“Only God knows. But one thing Jesus wants to assure you is that God loves you,” I replied.

The child Jesus was sent by His heavenly Father to carry our sin debt to the cross. He is the ruler of the kingdom of God. And He is the best counselor because He understands our suffering through bearing our burdens daily.

Jesus proves Himself to be the mighty One who can calm the storm in your heart with His gift of peace.

If you’re struggling, instead of trying to grab any plank to let yourself float above the roaring ocean of trouble, cry out to God for help.

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A Fishy Tale

The fish disappeared again.

My husband’s youngest son and wife are raising three young boys and a baby daughter. To supplement their income, Kevin nurtures a vegetable garden. He has also developed a hydroponic system of fish tanks which produce run-off water for fertilizer.

One morning, he checked on the fish and found them on the bottom of their tank—bloated, dead, and useless. Discovering a reason for the mishap took a while. His sons, wanting to help their Dad, had taken some bread and fed the fish.

Hearing this part of the fishy tale, I reflected on how often I have tried to help Father God with His business, only to bring trouble upon myself and others. Then I remembered the Israelites as they came out of Egypt and wandered in the desert for forty years. God rained down manna for them to eat, but they were not satisfied. They wanted more—just like the greedy fish.

But the story has a sequel. One morning, Kevin saw only two of the large number of fish he had purchased to replace the lost ones. He knew the boys weren’t at fault. He had explained the habits of fish to overeat so the previous disaster wouldn’t repeat itself.

Not knowing the mystery of the disappearing fish, he purchased more to supplement the second loss. Later, as he cleaned out the overflow tanks, he discovered the second lot of fish alive. They had squeezed through the connecting pipes and escaped.

Once again, I thought of the Israelites. They wanted to return to Egypt and complained about the way Moses was leading them—just like the fish that escaped the confines of their tank. They crawled through narrow pipes to another world where they could have died without the proper food.

The fishy tale and the Israelites behaviour mirror our own lives. Learning not to complain and accepting what God provides is a lifetime lesson. God knows what He is doing, and He has the best in store for us when we trust and wait upon Him.

Trust God to give you what you need. 

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Staying Afloat

I don’t have a bucket list, but if I did, I could mark off one item: my first hot air balloon ride.

My previous plans to ride a hot air balloon fell through due to stormy weather, but taking the ride was worth the wait. Not only did I experience the thrill, I also helped hold the balloon in place while the burner filled the envelope with hot air. I also assisted in folding the envelope and placing it in the basket once the ride was over.

Although most of us identify hot air balloons by their colorful fabric envelopes and baskets, the balloon won’t work without the burner—the force behind the hot air. As we soared over trees, fields, and people, the balloon owner fired the burner from time to time—keeping us airborne and stable.

The ride, combined with the activities before and after, reinforced the truth of Jesus’ lesson on love in Matthew 22:34-40. In contrast to the Pharisees’ focus on appearances, legal wrangling (sometimes to their own advantage), and status quo, Jesus directed their attention to love. Everything we do as Jesus’ followers revolves around the force of love.

Like the Pharisees, we can be in the right place and project the right look, but we get nowhere without love. Love for God and one another fires our spiritual lives, gets us going, and keeps us going. It unfolds God’s power and directs our attitudes, speech, and actions. After our life’s ride ends, the love that filled us continues to soar through the lives we touched on our journey.

Allow God to fill you with the power of His love today and every day. Only then can you know and share true love—a love that keeps you afloat on picture-perfect days and in the worst of storms.

(Originally appeared in Reflections (volume 24, 2014), Smyth and Helwys Publishing.)

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In This Moment

I say, “We are in this moment,” numerous times each day.

As a planner, I appreciate my daughter’s desire to know what’s going to happen next, but her incessant questioning depletes my reservoir of patience. From the moment her eyes open, she desires to know the reasons for our every move and proceeds to repeat and verify them throughout the day.

I imagine I had similar tendencies as a child, allowing my worry to dictate my thoughts.But as a parent, it’s my goal to ease the anxieties by encouraging focus on the current moment. More importantly, it is my desire to instill the knowledge that God will care for us and provide all we need.

Jesus tells us to examine the birds of the sky and the grass of the field. Our heavenly Father cares for them. Aren’t we more valuable? His Word reminds us our Father knows our needs. If we seek His kingdom and righteousness first, He will give these things to us.

Each day brings enough trouble of its own, so don’t worry about tomorrow. Satan endorses your worries and capitalizes on your doubt, distracting you from the beauty and blessings surrounding you.

When your mind wanders towards worry, remind yourself to live in the moment and let tomorrow worry about itself. 

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Steady On!

“The truck came in hot, hit the gravel, and jack-knifed to a stop.” 

Those were the words of a professional truck driver describing his use of a runaway truck ramp. Like big rigs rolling fast on long, steep hills—managing the pressure of loads so heavy their brakes glow red in the night—we can feel equally pressured managing life’s demands. Add the unpredicted pressures of job loss, health issues, children in trouble, or a week—like the one I had—with a string of household appliances and technical equipment going out one after the other, and  you can end up longing for a runaway truck ramp.

According to James, every good thing God wants to infuse into our lives comes through growing our ability to remain steadfast under pressure. But the greater the pressure, the more I long for a way out from under it. I want to run . . . to quit . . . to throw in the towel and bail. Feeling that way is normal. We’re allowed to scream and cry, but we are rarely allowed to give up.

It’s been said the worst decisions you’ll ever make in life are quitter decisions. God has given us the ability to remain, as my British friends say, steady on through really tough times and growing through them. Our best decisions will be the ones God enables us to make—the ones where we stay bolted in place when the trials are pressing down the hardest but we refuse to walk away.

Nothing is ever out of control when God is in control. Keep trusting Him and quit longing for runaway truck ramps. Nothing can jack-knife you to a stop. Steady on!

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In the Shadow of The Cross

“There should be no super heroes in the pulpit, but each one should stand behind the cross,” the pastor said.

In anything we do in the Lord’s name, we should stand in the shadow of the cross. To rise up in our own beauty, talent, or knowledge takes honor from our Lord.

When we sing, preach, play music, or do anything else in a church service, it should enhance God’s kingdom, bring souls to Him, and encourage our listeners. We give our best, but it isn’t a performance; it’s done to lead the congregation to honor and worship Him. The attention belongs to Christ alone.

When we do everything according to biblical standards—in the work place, on the athletic field, or in our homes—the Scripture says to do it in Christ’s name. We can do everything on our jobs to get the next promotion, but getting ahead shouldn’t be more important than revealing Christ to our co-workers.

It feels good when others notice and applaud our upright deeds or achievements for God. But when I take their praise unto myself and into my heart, I choose to stand in the limelight instead of standing in the shadow of Jesus and all He has done.

Allowing our deeds to draw people closer to God shines the glory on Him. Others will know love comes from God through us to them. We are not the source of the gospel’s light. We reflect the light of Christ. We are not setting ourselves up on a pedestal in spirituality, goodness, or ability. Christ is the One who paid the price for the salvation of all. Any honor should be His alone.

When I hear someone sing a solo or preach a message, I want to see Jesus. I desire to feel His Spirit flowing through them to me.

Jesus is worthy to be lifted up by leaders and followers alike. Stand in the shadow of the cross.

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The Aroma of Christ

Surfing the Internet, I came across a story about someone's experiences as a visitor in a small village in Dover, England.

“Sitting outside a café one afternoon enjoying a cup of tea, she became aware of a beautiful scent. Rita asked a waiter where it was coming from and was told it was the people she could see passing by. Most of the villagers were employed at a nearby perfume factory. As they walked home, they carried the fragrance that permeated their clothes out into the street.”

What a beautiful image of the Christian life. The story gave flesh and blood to Paul’s words: But thank God! He . . . uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Believers are the aroma of Christ, spreading His fragrance everywhere. Paul uses the image of a king returning from battle—his soldiers and captives in tow—wafting the smell of celebratory incense in the air while declaring the king’s greatness.

We spread the aroma of Christ in two ways: through our words—by telling others about the One who is beautiful and loving—and through our lives—by doing deeds of Christlike sacrifice (Ephesians. 5:1-2). While not everyone will appreciate our divine fragrance, it brings life to many.

Rita, the main character in the story, caught a scent and was driven to seek its source. As we follow Jesus, we too become permeated with His fragrance and then carry His aroma to the streets through our words and deeds.

Ask God to make you a carrier and communicator of His beauty to the people in your home, office, and neighborhood.

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Made Right

The tantrums of a six-year-old have interesting dynamics.

Sometimes, the tantrum is over something ridiculous—like the wrong color sock in the basket. At other times, one is left trying to insert logic into an overly emotional situation. Without fail, they leave us breathless, exhausted, and, on occasion, flabbergasted.

Such was one of my daughter’s recent tantrums. I was nothing short of stunned when she screamed, “Jesus didn’t make me the right kid.” In that moment, my heart broke for what she had not yet realized: she was perfectly and wonderfully made.

The Bible reminds us that God knows us. From our every thought to the words unspoken on our tongue, He knows. God created our innermost being and knit us together in our mothers’ wombs. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by His wonderful works. 

When things aren’t going our way, the Devil loves to encourage our insecurities. He takes pride in planting doubt and fostering the “I’m not made right” attitude. Don’t allow the Devil to capitalize on your tantrum. Seek confirmation from the One who knows the depth of your soul.

Thank God for making you a beautiful, perfect child of the King. Even in times of turmoil, highlight the beauty of your uniqueness and your flaws. Spend your days knowing you are “made right.”

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No Condemnation

The lady whirled around and yelled at my son.

I was at the movie theatre with my kids. My son was kicking the back of her seat. She was loud. I sat a few rows back and heard her—as did the rest of the people in the theater. If her life was anything like mine, I’ll bet she was looking forward to a couple of peaceful hours in a movie theater instead of being cooped up at home with her kids. When she got to the theater and got everyone situated, I’m sure the last thing she wanted was to deal with some kid kicking her chair.

At first, I was angry. Who does she think she is, yelling at my kid? Simultaneously, I was embarrassed. My son was annoying someone, but she had just screamed at him in a theater full of people.

Honestly, that ugly feeling of shame and condemnation washed over me too. Would all those people in the theater think I was a terrible mom because my son was kicking the back of someone’s seat? 

Moms beating up on themselves when one of their children misbehaves is common. Going down the road of self-condemnation is easy. In times like this, I need to pretend as if I’m not me and tell myself what I would tell someone else in the same situation: Everyone’s kid misbehaves at one time or another. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom.

I might even quote Romans 8:1: “Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” and remind the person Jesus died so we no longer have to live under a cloud of condemnation and shame.

If I believe that for other people, I have to believe it for myself. God doesn’t want us living under a cloud of shame. He loves us and wants us to bring our failings and embarrassing moments to Him so He can provide comfort and peace. 

Don’t live a life of shame. Give it to God. 

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Grace, Grace, God's Grace

Such grace as the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost can give. The light of the One. Life in Him.

When reading the passage inside the pages of John, I came across a desperate individual. A woman who chose to step away from decency—not only from the Pharisees laws but also from Elohim, the great and mighty authority over Israel.

We don’t know what lured her away from the coveted acceptance that the boundaries of law and tradition provided—and it really doesn’t matter. We all slip up when we think, say, and behave in ways that offend the God of grace.

Observing the men who dragged this woman from the center of her sin, to expose her with such harsh and deadly intent, catches my breath. Makes me pause with what? Fear of such extreme authority?

They made several mistakes. Some of which were groomed inside them for years, from example, and from expectations from others and themselves. They’d not shown grace because that would have challenged their traditions. Graciousness, an unknown face among their powerful connections. They’d manipulated people’s opinions and expectations for years. This is what they knew. Now, when they came before Jesus, they tested and tried to trip Him up.

But the test backfired. All because Jesus emulated grace and love that was strange to this people—though they were the barriers of His message. His love was genuine, heartfelt, and full of authority. He wrote in the dirt, and the Pharisees still peppered Him with questions. I believe their attention stuck on their anger and motivation to stir Him.

Jesus stood and said those profound words that even some modern day sinners may recall, “Let he who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” I believe He did so to draw their attention to what He would write next. Even one stone was too great a burden for them to heft and toss in light of the truth Jesus wrote before them.

Though they walked away, probably angry and feeling like failures, He touched them with grace that provided the choice to leave—this woman, their sin, and their horrific tradition that had always been necessary. Until He who embodied grace and life walked among them. Their eyes were muddied with traditions and power-seeking, so they saw a problem and not their solution, their grace=bearing Lord. 

Be like Christ. Choose grace.

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Dissolving Insecurity

I felt secure as a child because God blessed me with a loving, supportive family, but I’ve struggled with insecurity since I was a teenager.

When I was in junior high, I was promoted to a class filled with overachieving, critical teens. One girl seemed to revel in chipping away at my self-esteem. In hindsight, I think she was jealous of me—but the damage remains.

God has given me success. He blessed me with the talent to play the trumpet. In marching, concert, and jazz bands, I was a soloist from tenth through twelfth grade. People still tell me I play well in my church’s praise band. He anoints my lips to play the trumpet and honor Him with music.

God also opened the door to the Christian writing world and compels me to write. He hounds me until I get to work—then writes through me. I unlock my heart, submit my work, and let God handle the results.

Regardless of how much encouragement I receive, I still don’t believe in myself. Nor do I see myself as a gifted writer or trumpet player. I simply do what God tells me to do. God, in turn, blesses me with a sense of quiet trust when I use my talents to do the good works to which He has called me.

Daunting though it may be, approaching life without self-confidence is what God inspires me to do. He wants me to feel secure in His will—not mine—and rewards me with a deep sense of peace when I obey Him.

Obedience dissolves insecurity. The Holy Spirit takes over when we submit to God’s will for our lives. Believing I’m obeying the Holy Spirit—rather than writing and playing music to bolster my self-confidence—is essential for me.

We don’t have to believe in ourselves. We can simply trust that God is ministering through us and will use the talents He gives us to touch and encourage others who yearn for what God alone can provide: security. 

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God Has No Grandchildren

“My granny is a saint,” the young man said as we chatted. I had just met him and was somewhat uncomfortable in his presence.

My granddaughter met me at Dairy Queen for our Blizzard; Jonah tagged along. “A good friend. He’s always showing up,” Amanda said. I told my husband later that I felt something wasn’t right about him following her. He called her his Bella.

Little did we know that in a few weeks he would be arrested for murder. The detective informed Amanda’s parents he had stalked her, but she was naive and didn’t realize it. The detective said the young man had many pictures of Amanda from childhood until recently on his social media page.

The night of the shooting, a small group of young people were hanging out at Jonah’s home. Someone passed around a gun. Amanda’s stalker grabbed the gun and pointed it at her. She threw up her hand and said, “Get that away from me.” He pointed it at another young man and pulled the trigger. They all saw it happen.

We didn’t know if this high school stalker really was a Christian or not.  He had a praying grandmother, but that didn’t mean he had a personal relationship with God. It doesn’t work that way.

If you had a praying grandmother you are blessed. Both Timothy’s mother and grandmother had faith in Christ. The Apostle Paul believed Timothy was a believer too. He was following in his family’s faith.

My own grandmother prayed for her seven children and no doubt for her numerous grandchildren. After she moved out of the Tennessee hollows, she didn’t miss many opportunities to be at church services. 

Though she and my mother prayed for me, I had to make a personal decision to follow Christ. Each generation, each individual, must personally come to his own commitment.

I can teach my grandchildren about God, live a godly life before them, and urge them to accept Christ as their Savior, but they don’t become Christians because Mamaw is one.

God has no grandchildren. He only has children. Even though we inherit ideas and values from our parents and grandparents, we are each responsible for our own faith in Jesus Christ. Choose to be God’s child. 

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Quit Choking On Conflict

If you’re a people pleaser like me, you’d probably rather eat bugs than employ confrontation as a healthy means to resolve a conflict. But sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed. 

Several things help me “cowboy up” and face a confrontation when there’s no other way out. One, I remember I’m not equipped to live in a minefield. I’m a pretty skilled dancer when it comes to tippy-toeing around difficult situations. But when I find myself feeling the pain of too many hours “en pointe,” I know it’s time to untie the laces, put on the shoes God’s issued with my full set of armor, and speak the truth in love.

Unresolved conflict casts a long shadow. It touches every area of my life. Until I confront the situation or person, I’m held prisoner by its looming presence. God never meant for me to live that way. Facing the conflict may be scary, but He has promised to be with me, strengthen me, and see me through to accomplish what He has called me to do.

Second, I remember confronting conflict is worth the risk. It’s true I need to pick my battles.  Confronting someone over an annoying habit–like popping Juicy Fruit gum—isn’t worth risking a friendship over. But a conversation about something that vexes my spirit—like the constant badmouthing of another person or the spreading of gossip—makes the risk of confrontation worthwhile.

The apostle Paul once asked, “Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16). That’s a hard question, but one true friendship can endure and bounce back from.

Third, I confront conflict immediately. If I wait too long after I’ve been upset or hurt by someone to confront the issue, I have a tendency to stuff the emotions, to forget the incident, and to hope the other person wasn’t really as upset and ugly as I remember them being. The problem is, the problem won’t be any easier to deal with later.

Don’t bottle the anger, frustration, hurt, and disappointment of conflict—letting it ferment like a bottle of champagne. We all know what happens when the cork finally pops. Instead, count to ten, take a deep breath, straighten your glasses, and, as calmly and unemotionally as possible, say what needs to be said right then and there.

Don’t choke on conflict. Confront it and clear the air. 

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Lunch with a Friend

My friend moved away, and we lost track of each other.

When my friend moved back, she moved to the other side of town. After many delays, we met for lunch at a halfway point so that each of us only had to drive forty minutes. After we were seated and sipping our iced tea, I asked, “How are you doing?” Her “fine” didn’t sound fine at all.

My friend’s voice trembled, and tears welled up in her eyes. I knew something was wrong. As she began to spell out a difficult situation in their family, she also shared how she hadn’t told anyone. She was afraid of what others would think.

She admitted that holding her situation in made the stress harder to bear, but finally realized she needed to open up and talk. “When we don’t share our burdens, we end up adding burden to burden,” she said.

Not sharing our burdens with others because we think it is too much for them to handle adds a new burden to our existing burden. God made His family to come alongside hurting people and help them through the hard times.

A part of God’s plan is to carry us through the difficult times and out of the valley. Our friends help us carry life’s burdens so we don’t have to face them alone.

My friend thanked me for being a safe place to unload her burden, and I said it was the least I could do. I assured her I would pray for her family. She relaxed and began eating and enjoying our time together. Her burden felt lighter since she had shared it with a friend.

Be willing to listen to those who need to share a burden. 

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Lessons from Driving

My husband gasped. “Get back in your lane!”

I was twenty-four when I received my driver’s license. Not long after, I was driving on a two-lane road as my husband sat beside me. The car in front of me moved slowly, so I decided to pass. A car started around me at the same time I attempted to pass the car in front of me. I didn’t realize I needed to look in the rearview mirror before passing.

The first driving lesson I learned was that a driver needs to check that mirror frequently to drive safely. But in our spiritual growth, spending too much time looking back at mistakes and things we cannot change can be injurious. Jesus said so.  

Another lesson I learned was to stay on the right road. While driving one day, I was tired and looking forward to getting home—but not fully concentrating on my driving. The semi in front of my car slowed and began pulling off the highway.

Like playing “follow the leader,” I pulled off the road too but soon realized he was pulling into a truck stop. Embarrassed, I pulled back onto the right road.  Jesus warned about leaving the right road to travel on roads leading to destruction. 

My driving has improved with experience. The same can be said of my years of living. I have learned to avoid looking backward and living in the past. I’ve also learned not to take detours when doing so will lead to the wrong road.

Perhaps you have spent too much time looking backward, thinking about what might have been. Maybe you’ve taken a wrong road that led to nowhere. Or you may know someone who has left the narrow road of Christian living to travel on a detour that leads to a dead end marked “Road closed.”

With Jesus Christ, there is always an invitation to get on the right road and experience a personal relationship with Him. Take the right road. 

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The Death of Unbelief

He was eighty-five years old and still had not received his promised inheritance.

Caleb asked for the land that belonged to the descendants of Anak. They were giants who had put fear and unbelief into the hearts of Israel—except for Joshua and Caleb. The fulfillment of God’s promise would not be complete if Caleb did not conquer this part of the land. Unbelief would also remain in Israel.

The hill country was the place that led the ten spies to give a bad report. All the spies, except Joshua and Caleb, said, “We even saw giants there, the descendants of Anak. Next to them we felt like grasshoppers, and that’s what they thought too” (Numbers 13:33 NLT). Unbelief made them small in their own eyes.

Joshua had captured the city of Hebron, except for the mountainous areas. These were considered unconquerable—too fortified for any man to take—but not for God. Caleb could have taken the lowland and lived securely off the fruits of someone else’s conquests, but he said, “Give me the hill country” (v. 12). 

If Caleb could not take what God wanted to give him, he would take nothing. It was all about the integrity of God’s promises. Caleb knew that what God had promised He would do. If God said it was his, then that settled it—whether he was forty or eighty-five years old.

Repeatedly, God said He was giving His people the land, but they had to fight for it. We like to think about receiving our land, but not about having to fight for it. In taking our inheritance, the battle is between faith and unbelief. And the battleground is mainly in your mind.

If God has spoken to you, take the inheritance He is giving you and put to death unbelief. 

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The Power of Prayer

Our team focused on one of the poorest areas in Costa Rica: Tirrasses.

Trash littered the streets. Stray dogs with sunken stomachs wandered around, showcasing their rib cages. The park didn't boast playground equipment. Instead, the park was a hill that was once a city dump but was now covered with dirt and grass, leaving the children a grassy paradise. The children collected cardboard boxes from nearby dumpsters and slid down the hill. Homes were constructed of cinder block with rusty tin roofs.

In the midst of this, Horacio and his wife believed there was room for Jesus in the form of a Bible school. Attached to the side of the building was a drug house. Any supplies left would be stolen by morning. Our first task was to secure the Bible school.

As we worked, we couldn't help but notice the hustle and bustle next door. Around a hundred people visited the house in a single day to get their next fix. Some were quick and discreet. Others weren’t. With sunken, blood-shot eyes, they sauntered and swayed down the middle of the street and hollered at the house. Our group prayed fervently for the drug house to disband or move elsewhere.

Progression continued. We painted cheerful colors on the outside of the building, played with the kids, and showed as much love as we could. In turn, the proprietors of the business next door decided to relocate down the street. We were elated.

After we departed, disappointing news came. The drug dealers had returned. Horacio was unshaken though and focused on the growth of the Bible school.

June came and our youth mission group headed to Costa Rica. They went to the same Bible school and witnessed the same activity next door. During their work, chaos erupted. The police swarmed the house and busted the dealers inside. Our group was terrified. Horacio calmly gathered them and told them not to fear. God was answering the prayers the adult mission group had prayed for months prior.

Tears stung my eyes and goose bumps popped up as I listened to the youth missionaries tell the story. God had a time for everything. He had heard our prayers and answered them in His perfect timing.

Let God teach you to trust His perfect timing. 

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Finding Strength and Peace in God's Grace

I had done it again. My overachieving personality caused me to push my schedule to the brink of my sanity and capability.

Stressed and overwhelmed, I snapped at my family and spun my wheels rather than completing the items on my to-do list. As I worked to tweak, change, and reschedule my plans, I asked myself if there was a better way to manage my time. God brought this Scripture to mind: But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

God’s grace is more than enough to handle any problem. His unmerited favor is beautiful, life-changing, and sufficient. Trying to go through life on our own and resorting to our own solutions rather than seeking God’s power is tempting, but God’s grace is sufficient for all our needs.

I blinked back tears as I reflected on the last few days, recalling how I had tried to handle them without seeking God’s help. We have a piece of sacred art in our home that shows the beauty of the cross. As I began to pray, I looked to the wall where it hangs and thanked God for His grace. My attitude changed as I shifted my thoughts from what I could accomplish to what God could do through me.

What God can do through us is what truly matters. On my own, I can check items off my to-do list, but only through God’s power can I accomplish anything of eternal significance. His power shines in my weakness, giving me strength to see it through.

When you are struggling with something that should be turned over to God in prayer, or when you need the joy that comes from resting in the grace He freely gives, take a moment to write or memorize 2 Corinthians 12:9 as a reminder of God’s sufficient grace. Our loving Father is equipped to handle our needs while refining us in a way that draws us closer to Him.

Find your rest and strength in God’s amazing grace.

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Lost in the Mountains

I hopped in the car and set out for a breezy mountain drive.

With all my friends at work and boredom setting in, the snow-covered peaks beckoned me. As I meandered through twisting passes and hugged each curve, I sang along with the radio. But soon every mountain looked alike. I hadn’t noticed the sun dipping in the sky.

This spontaneous adventure pre-dated GPS and cell phones, so my location remained a mystery. Since my lemon of a car leaked oil, I feared the oil would drain completely, causing the car to seize. Being stranded somewhere in the Colorado Rockies at night—vulnerable to a bobcat attack—did not sound fun.

I pulled over, opened the hood, and checked the oil dipstick. Since only a speck of oil showed on the stick, I hoped the next town was near. As panic welled up inside me, I sent up a quick prayer and rounded a bend.

Twenty minutes later, the road led to a town with a gas station and a Sonic fast-food restaurant. I breathed a sigh of relief, grabbed a soggy hamburger, dumped a few quarts of oil into my car, and begged the cashier for directions back to Denver. When I arrived home after dark, I flopped onto my cozy bed and thanked God for safety.

Generally, I like to know my whereabouts and where to go next. I enjoy comfort and ease. But sometimes I feel lost in the mountains. On stressful days, I perceive the oil draining out of me.

Job reassures us that God sees our every move. He never wonders about where we wander to. He allows our directional challenges and car troubles to refine us. Just as fire melts gold in order to drain off impurities, God allows trials to skim off our sin. While not fun, the resulting “gold” in our lives shines.

Rest assured that even when we have gone astray, God pinpoints our location. Our struggles do not surprise Him.

The next time you feel lost or drained, remember this: God uses your challenges to turn you into gold. 

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Taming Life's Lions

The lion tamer—by using his intellect—controls a bigger, stronger, faster, and more aggressive animal.

A commencement speaker stressed the value of a good education—a common topic for graduates. He also spoke about lions and their tamers. Not so common. Then he tied his thoughts together with a question: “Who holds more power, the lion or the man? The lion is bigger, stronger, runs faster, and wins more fights. But, who has the other jumping through hoops?”

Like the lion tamer, we can use and develop the resources at our disposal, we can reach for the higher functioning of God’s best, or we can allow our baser instincts—our lions—to control us. Our choices affect us and those we influence.

We can disregard other’s needs and desires, or we can demonstrate respect for family, friends, and acquaintances—acknowledging their God-given worth. We can lie, cheat, and steal—continually looking out for number one, or we can choose the high road—living with integrity and accepting only what rightfully belongs to us.

We can destroy others with actions and words, or we can avoid gossip, slander, and any potential harm. We can spend our lives accumulating wealth, titles, and power that end at our death or possibly sooner, or we can invest in a life of service to God and others that pays dividends long after we leave this world.

We can follow the party crowd—indulging in every whim and eventually paying the price of addictions, ruined relationships, health issues, and lost potential, or we can take care of the one and only self God gave us.

We can ignore God’s offer of love, forgiveness, and holy living—enjoying a brief stint of self-centered fun followed by an eternity separated from our only source of joy—or we can honor God by giving our all to the One who gave Himself for us. By doing so, we gain a joy-filled life now, regardless of circumstances, followed by an eternity of unimaginable blessings.

Remain alert and vigilant to Satan’s temptations. Tame your lions and spread the word. God calls you to be your best.

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Battlefield Attire

Although the alarm clock continually buzzed for what seemed like forever, I could not wake up on that rainy Monday.

My right foot slowly pushed back the covers to test the severity of the chilly room temperature. Brrr, I thought, while continuing to roll over for a quick and final snooze. The alarm clock was set to my regular talk radio show that was now blaring with news reports which immediately got my attention.

Domestic and international terrorism, continued and declining recession, and dangerous road rage causing gridlock traffic were media headlines flooding the airwaves with negative vibes. Just as the morning had gotten off to a bad start, the phone rang incessantly. Friends and relatives were blaming and complaining about everything.

I finally managed to stand and walk around my house. But by the time I left the bathroom to get dressed, I felt beaten and worn down. “Why would anyone call me to argue in the morning?” I murmured to myself. The answer to that question was lodged in my short-term memory from the previous night’s Bible study lesson. The answer was from God’s instruction to Joshua.

When the ruckus of the day began, I remember feeling confused and overloaded—but not discouraged. Taking the advice of the apostle Paul given to the saints at Ephesus, I chose a second layer of battlefield attire to accompany my standard business work clothes. Rather than selecting a particular outfit or wearing my favorite Anne Klein shoes, I put on the whole armor of God.

By the time I finished dressing, I felt clad with the breastplate of righteousness. My feet were shod with the gospel of peace. My upper body was covered by the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. And my entire body, mind, and soul were protected by the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.   

Several years have passed since that harrowing, rainy morning with its chock-filled sleepiness and unwanted distractions. Fortunately, it was an awakening experience to the power sources available, but often underutilized, through a relationship with Christ. Through His indwelling Spirit, I was able to stand in an uncertain world where I was faced with negativity.   

Life’s challenges can be conquered when you are clothed in Christ.

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Even if You Don't

At times, pain and suffering feel as if they take over our minds, bodies, and spirits.

A popular Christian song contains the phrase, “even if You don’t.” When faced with trials and tribulations, we cry out to our Father in heaven to rescue us from the things we’re experiencing. None of us want to go through problems.

Scripture says God will never leave or forsake us. He walks through the valley of the shadow of death with us when circumstances are overwhelming.

Despite reading verses that say God is with us, understanding why we’re experiencing illness, job loss, divorce, estrangement from our children, and death of loved ones is difficult. Sometimes, it’s almost all we can do to face another day – even another moment.

God’s love and mercy hold us during the moments when we cannot lift our heads. He promises His faithfulness when we doubt, His lovingkindness when we struggle, His grace when we’re angry, and His forgiveness when we seek our own paths.

Even when God permits painful trials and tribulations to enter our lives, our hope is in Yeshua, the Messiah, the Son of God. Our hope is for eternal life in heaven with Him who sits at the right hand of God. Nothing can separate us from the love of the one who created us.

When you cannot stand, let God’s arms cradle you close to His heart. When life is more than you can handle, hang on to Yeshua. He will get you through what you could not survive on your own. 

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Don't Know Much about Electricity

I appeared to have aced all sections on electricity and its applications, but I didn't have a working knowledge of electricity.

My neighbor and my brother-in-law both expressed concern about a low-hanging electrical wire above the back porch of my mother's farm house. The task to contact the electrician for scheduling the repair fell to me. From middle school through college, I earned high marks in science courses. Even though much of my coursework was rigorous and demanding, I found myself saying to my brother-in-law, "Write me a script on what to say about this wire."

Often, this is true in our lives. We know about God. We may even have the jargon of the rituals down, but we don’t have a relationship with the God of the universe through His Son Jesus. Jesus’ heart, spirit, and Word don’t affect our decisions, affections, and purpose for living.

Job knew God intimately, but God allowed Satan to use adversity to try to turn Job away from his Redeemer. Job questioned the lack of response from God when immense adversity befell him—even though he had served God faithfully. Finally, Job admitted his initial reaction was like my understanding of electricity. He had heard of God, but in the end Job received first-hand experience of God’s power.

Being a believer means embracing Jesus as the only way of having our sins forgiven and being made right with God. As a forgiven child of God, a continual prayerful study of God's Word can counteract the tendency to do religion by rote. Instead, a daily study of the Scriptures provides the backdrop for an ongoing understanding of who God is and how He desires to work in our lives.

Maybe I can muddle by on my lack of knowledge about electricity, but, like Job, I need an intimate understanding of Jesus to permeate my daily life.

Don’t only search the Bible for knowledge but also to see the clear way to come to Jesus in faith. Then obey Him in every aspect of your existence.

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No Part of Our Lives Is Hidden

A properly positioned surveillance camera projected our dealings to the CEO. 

The experiences during my Students' Industrial Work Experience Scheme (SIWES) are filled with mixed feelings. I was often monitored by someone who, from the comfort of his swivel chair, called the office in the event of any shenanigan. I felt caged and unfree. I questioned why someone should not have their privacy.

My eyebrows were further raised when I heard the startling news that an international research company discovered 245 million surveillance cameras were installed worldwide and that the number was growing by fifteen percent annually. Millions of people with smartphones also capture daily images, ranging from birthday parties to bank robberies. Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks help take the need for snapshots to skyrocketing heights.

Whether we applaud the increased security or denounce the diminished privacy, we live in a global, cameras-everywhere society.

The author of Hebrews says that in our relationship with God we experience a far greater level of exposure and accountability than anything surveillance cameras might see. His Word—like a sharp, two-edged sword—penetrates to the deepest level of our being where it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).

Because Jesus our Savior experienced our weaknesses and temptations but did not sin, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (vv. 15-16).

Don’t fear God. You will find grace when you come to Him.

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A Rolling Stop

A young engaged couple tried to beat the train with their car. They were both killed.

We live on the edge of a town facing mountains across a railway line. Railroad crossings are to the left and right of our street. Growing up, the train was our major mode of transportation. Old restored stations fascinate me, so I cherish God’s wisdom in helping us choose our home.

When we bought the place, friends said they would never live near the tracks. The noise of trains would bother them. In our rural area, passenger trains pass through once daily, but freight trains pass several times, carrying grain or coal.

There is something comforting about the train’s movements. When I am able, I take walks towards the mountains. To do so, I have to pass over one of the crossings. Both are marked with warning signs. One even has a large red stop sign.

Rarely do I witness a vehicle come to a full stop and the driver look and listen, checking both ways. Most drivers do a rolling stop. Knowing how irregularly the freight trains move through, I want to shout a warning. Then I realize if all the signs and road markings don’t stop a driver, one word from me would have little effect.

Human life is precious to our heavenly Father, whether we know Him or not. He loved everyone enough to allow His Son Jesus to die for all. Sometimes, we are in a risk-it hurry mode and prefer to make a rolling stop through life rather than heed God’s Word. The stop signs in the Word are for our benefit. The word listen appears over and over. Gods knows us to the core.

Impatience might drive us to take a rolling stop, but in the process we may lose our life. Take the time and heed God's words of warning. Stop, look, and listen.

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Faith and the Basement

Who would have thought faith could be formed in a basement.

The house where my children grew up had a finished basement. My husband’s workshop was housed there for nearly thirty-five years. The basement became the place where anything needing repair went. Whether a broken lamp, a bookcase, or a toy, my engineer husband took it downstairs. When it came back upstairs, it was whole again.

One day, while having a conversation with my six-year-old son about the things his dad took to the basement to repair, he said, “If I broke my arm, Daddy could take me to the basement and fix it.” The innocence and faith of children. They are trusting and have faith in their parents.

This is the kind of faith God wants Christians to have—total trust in Jesus. Luke chapter eighteen says we must become like children to enter the kingdom of God. Just as my son trusted in his earthly father, we must trust our heavenly Father with everything.

Regardless of our age, we should maintain childlike faith in God, which comes from putting our trust in Him.

Pray for God to help you focus on Him in a childlike way, realizing your dependence on Him for everything.

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A Text from Jesus

I became lonely as I walked in the La Push rain forest in Washington State.

The stillness of a rain forest, when a person is deep inside, is like a blanket wrapped around the shoulders. Looking up, I saw brown squirrels walking quietly on moss-covered limbs. On the branches, tiny droplets hung and then dropped on my upturned face.

Being alone in a vast forest wrapped in suffocating silence does things to people. They shrink into themselves, feeling afraid and small. Or they grow as they open up to the immensity around them. A bit timidly, I watched a Steller Jay fly from branch to branch above my head. He was at home in the forest—not lonely.

Opening up my heart and mind to the immensity around me, I received a text from Jesus. He said, “Come to Me.” It was nice to hear from Him.

Recently, our daughter-in-law came to visit us in Surprise, Arizona, and I remembered my walking in the rain forests of Washington State. She taught me a valuable lesson about the immensity of Almighty God.

As we were having dinner, I mentioned my experience at La Push. Our daughter had chosen to spend her birthday with us. She needed a break from the rain of Seattle. Our son had graciously offered her a break from the kids and weather. She had done the same for him when he wanted to get away from building homes in the rain and fly to Hawaii with a couple of his friends.

At dinner, I mentioned how I had felt so small in the rain forest and how I had started to draw into myself. She replied, “I feel that is a natural reaction. As a C.P.A., when I was in training at the university, I often drew into math when I felt overwhelmed by immensity. I felt I could always find the answer there if I tried hard enough.”

She continued, “People are like horses with blinders on to keep them from being frightened and overwhelmed by the immensity of Almighty God.” Her statement is powerful and so true.

My daughter is right—as I was in answering the text from Jesus. He was the answer to my loneliness when I was in the rain forest. He will be the answer to any problem you face as well.

When Jesus texts, answer. 

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The Fountain of Youth

Since Adam and Eve were driven from the Garden of Eden, aging has been a plague, and mankind has sought the secret of youth.

Many historical figures explored waters thought to have healing and restoring properties. Alexander the Great was said to have found a “river of paradise” in the fourth century B.C. Some Europeans believed the mythical King Prester John had a kingdom with a fountain of youth and river of gold. The most famous of the youth seekers was Juan Ponce de Leon who, according to legend, found a fountain of youth close to St. Augustine, Florida.

Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park in St. Augustine has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900s. A cemetery and Spanish mission dating back to 1565 have been discovered near the park’s site. How ironic that a cemetery would be placed near a fountain flowing with youthful, life-giving water. If only the legend were true, bones wouldn’t be lying nearby.

During the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus proclaimed if anyone wanted living water they should come to Him. After centuries of law weighing heavily on the Jew’s souls, the significance of the sacrifice during the feast was lost to many. It had merely become a ritual instead of a shadow of what was to come. The promises of the Messiah would take away their burdens, yet when He stood before them they didn’t recognize Him.

When Jesus offered living water to the woman at the well, her soul was refreshed. She knew a miracle had taken place in her life, and she ran to tell the news. After being filled with the Holy Spirit, believers watched living water pour out of them on the Day of Pentecost. A flood of salvations birthed the church.

Many still seek youthfulness in the wrong place, hoping a new technology or miracle drug will reverse the aging process. But only the living water from the true fountain of youth will give us eternal life.

The invitation is open for you to come and drink.

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Vessels of Clay

Imagine yourself in a desperate situation deprived from the life-giving element of water.

You desperately seek to quench your thirst by finding a vessel full of water. The splendor of the vessel is meaningless because you are seeking to quench your thirst by the water the vessel holds. The vessel is simply the medium to quench your desperate situation.

We are vessels used by the Lord to impart the living water of the Lord to desperate people around us. We can get so consumed with our outward presentation that we don’t seek to be filled with the Lord ourselves.

The fullness of the Lord is what people are seeking in our testimonies. The vessel apart from the water is of no use to anyone. But a vessel full of water is a life-giving element used to save many. By the same token, the water without the vessel falls to the ground. The vessel and water work hand in hand as a tool to those who thirst. The vessel is not greater than the life-giving water, but the vessel is a part of the relationship.

We are joint heirs with Christ, and apart from Him we are of little use to the world around us. In the relationship with the Lord, we are a vital part of the call to the Great Commission. We are united in Him for great things, and we have been refurbished to receive and give His love. We can get so caught up on the outward that we fail to see the importance of the transformation going on inside of us.

When we are full of Christ, we can pour out His unconditional love and purpose to those who are dying from sin. You will never feel perfect or ever achieve perfection in the body on earth, but the Lord is filling the cracks in your vessel and creating depth within your soul for great things. The pain and discomfort is only a temporary feeling compared to the glory that will be revealed in your testimony. 

You are saved by God’s mighty grace and have been perfected by His love. You are a beautiful vessel ready to be used by the Lord to affect the world around you. 

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Front Yard or Back?

Now that the danger of frost has past, I’m thinking about the care of my front and back yards and debating between pine straw and mulch.

I was thinking about using less expensive pine straw in the back and mulch in the front, but the man who would help with my project discouraged me. “It’s not going to look as nice in your yard for the money you’d save,” he cautioned. So I arranged to have mulch in both places. The yard’s appearance improved, but called for color.

As I walked through a plant nursery, I evaluated the types and colors of flowers. I calculated the expense of purchasing the right flowers and the right amount. I’m the only person who sees my backyard from my office, screened porch, and sunroom, I thought. Other people see the front yard, not my fenced-in back yard. 

So, I decided to forego the expense and settled on a brilliant fuchsia impatiens planter for my front porch and three containers of petunias to use in parts of the front yard. Meanwhile, my back yard was devoid of color.

I pondered today’s Scripture as I thought about my decision and related it to my heart: For as he thinks in his heart, so is he. We often take great effort to maintain our “front yards.” That image—what people see—looks attractive. But my backyard? Well, it doesn’t always resemble the front yard. I sometimes try to hide what’s there.

How we maintain our front and back yards takes caution. We can go through the motions of service because we’re pressured to participate. Our personal motives may not be genuine. We can wear a smile, pretending all is well, while our hearts hurt. We can give the right answers, but still have doubts about faith.

Maintaining our personal yards can be costly. Wise counsel often leads us to make hard decisions that will benefit us and others. It takes time to search the Scriptures, pray, and see what the Lord wants us to become and do. Changes may be uncomfortable and perhaps costly.

Living genuinely and maintaining front and back yards is only possible when we care for our hearts. It’s worth the time and investment and the color will be vibrant. And I went back to the nursery and bought colorful flowers for my backyard too.

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Unexpected Joy

The look on Andrew’s face was priceless.

When Andrew spotted the cardboard hamburger box in my hand, a smile erupted from ear to ear. “Thank you so much!” he exclaimed.

As I handed him the box, he lifted his right hand and slapped me a high five. I couldn’t help but smile. It’s amazing what a cheeseburger with just ketchup will do for a person.

Earlier that week while at work, a customer called with a problem. They were in a jam because they hadn’t ordered enough material for their contractor. They needed additional material quickly so the contractor could complete his job. Our typical turnaround time for what they needed was two days. 

Since I knew they were in a bind, I called Andrew—the floor supervisor. Even though the prognosis looked grim, he asked a couple of questions and started on the order while I entered it into the computer. Then Andrew worked his magic. In less than one hour, he personally delivered the completed order to shipping in time to freight out the same day.

When Andrew called to tell me the order was on its way, he jokingly chided, “I’ll take a cheeseburger with just ketchup.”

I laughed. What a small request for such a monumental undertaking. 

Actions like these set people apart. The supervisor could have complained, but he didn’t. He knew timing was critical, so he went the extra mile to help the customer.

Jesus commands us to go the extra mile (Matthew 5:41). It should be our way of life. Instead of balking, we should treat others with kindness—even our enemies. My co-worker’s actions exemplified Jesus’ teachings. When I showed up a couple days later with his just-ketchup cheeseburger, the surprise and unexpected joy was apparent in the smile that exploded across his face.

If we live our life in accordance with Jesus’ teaching, God will bless us with unexpected joys that make doing so worthwhile. Decide today to go the extra mile. Find joy in living a life of obedience.

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Love May Grow

I’m ready to come out of the closet.

I am an unabashed, album-carrying member of the Karen Carpenter fan club, and I have been since the mid 1970s. There, I said it. Every time Karen opened her mouth, it was like honey poured onto a hot biscuit. The music she produced during her short life lives on in those who will never forget her rich voice. Sadly, Karen never experienced the love she sang about.

Love is a difficult creature to find, much less to trap. Tracking this elusive prey is challenging. Hollywood’s version of love is a grand illusion built upon a house of cards. Emotions are the caboose on the train, not its engine. There is a source more reliable than feelings, emotions, and moods.

In Proverbs, love is described as a fountain—but only after three other sources of water are mentioned. A cistern is nothing more than a hole in the ground for the purpose of collecting rainwater. Wells must be dug (notice the hard work involved). Springs bubble out of the earth.

The writer pronounces the blessedness of the fountain. A man should rejoice in the wife of his youth. He is older now. The varying depths of each water source and the sequential order involved in the building of a love relationship are important facts. Love never begins with a fountain relationship, but with a rudimentary hole in the ground called a cistern.

Karen and I have been married thirty six years. Although we have gotten to the point where we are enjoying a fountain-like experience, there are still days when I find myself digging in the dirt to collect rainwater.

As a couple, stay in the fight. You are sharing life together, and it gets messy. Keep your sense of humor and enjoy the mess together. Get your shovel out and dig for water. Love will grow. 

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Sunny Side Up

Something caught my eye, and I stopped to stare.

I was sitting in a medical clinic waiting room, flipping through a gardening magazine. There on a full-page spread was the image of a magnificent Australian gordonia tree.  I was familiar with gardenias, but this was spelled gordonia.

A carpet of flowers lay beneath the deep green foliage of the five meter dome-shaped canopy. The single white flowers displayed a cluster of yellow stamens in the center of each bloom. The flowers all lay sunny side up. The journalist had made a point of this phenomena. Even after vigorous breezes, they always land facing sunny side up. The colloquial term used was the “fried egg tree.”

Allowing my mind to drift back to my first visit to the USA, I had ordered breakfast in a Californian restaurant. The waitress asked if I wanted my eggs sunny side up. Being an Australian, I had never heard the expression. Upon inquiring, the girl explained it meant the yellow yolks would face up on the plate.

The words the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians crept through my musing. At first I could not discern the correlation. Then the doctor called me into his office. As I rose from the seat, I realized how much calmer I was than when I first entered the waiting room. 

My heart was full of wonder. The comfort of the Holy Spirit was assuring me I would land sunny side up from this current physical trial. It was as if He were saying if the flowers and eggs could land sunny side up after such shaking and baking, then I could too.

Being open to the voice of God throughout our day can bring surprising light and life into any situation. Take a moment to listen today.

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If Teacups Could Talk

Teacups are like women.

I have a collection of teacups in my dining room that has spilled over into my kitchen and bedrooms. Most of the cups are beautiful, dainty, gold trimmed, and fine porcelain china. But I rarely use them. While I rarely notice the cups, one day they reminded me of women.

I have a friend who posts everything about her perfect life, and I slither to the floor as I recall my not-so-perfect life. This rare teacup sits in all her glory, a beauty to behold. Its worth hasn’t been tested by fire, or maybe her flaws are hidden.

Next, there's the hardworking girl whom everyone likes. She's not ashamed of who she is. She’s beautiful in her own way, and she’s smart and simple. The girl-next-door kind of quality. Her beauty comes because she knows her purpose, like transferware cups. They are sturdy and dependable and have character, if you look closely at their detail. Most people don't take time to look past the simplicity of this cup—or this girl—but she's worth a second look.

The last cup in my collection is beautiful and fragile. She's been through the fire and survived. Chips and cracks on her frame reveal years of use, yet she still has purpose. She was created to hold hot liquid, to be held in the hands of another. Her flowers, though faded, still bear the mark of her creator. If she could talk, she would tell stories of love and loss, of little girl’s tea parties and weddings, and of late night worries over sick babies.

There is also One who is faithful to go through the fire with us. I like to think I have come from sturdy stock, but sometimes I'm so fragile the only things holding me together are the flowers imprinted on the cup. During those times, my Savior gently picks up the cup and says, "This one's mine. I'll hold her today."

You may be as fragile as the last cup, but don't give up. You've come through the fire and you have purpose. God wants to add you to His collection. He'll handle you with care.

Let God fill your cup. It will always be full and running over.

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Come to a Place of Peace

Although God’s grace is transforming me, I’m not great at communicating.

I don't like talking about things—especially problems or obstacles I face. I once had a "can do it alone" mentality. Maybe that's why when I faced a problem that even seemed above me I believed I could handle it myself. The truth was I could never handle it all by myself—but I tried because I believed I could. 

With a huge burden on my shoulders and a stubborn attitude, I would refuse to talk to anybody about it. Slowly but surely, the burden began to magnify, causing me sleepless nights and at times a changing disposition. I had no peace.

Jesus’ words came like a cold drink of water to a thirsty soul—a soul crying out for help. I believe Jesus is saying when we are faced with a burden—one we may not feel like discussing with those around us, that we have a Father who is saying "Come." He is ready to listen.

Not only does God listen, He also replaces. He replaces the burden with something much lighter and easier to bear. We do not have to be crushed any longer by our burdens. In Him, we have the peace we have been searching for. 

When things in life weigh you down and cause you sleepless nights, respond to Jesus' invitation to “Come.” Receive the peace He is offering freely. 

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River of God

I love a majestic flowing river with cascading waterfalls and misting showers as it powers its way downstream. But as much as I enjoy their thrilling power and soothing beauty, earthly rivers cannot compare to the river of God.

The psalmist David said the river of God is full of water. It is never dry, can never be dammed up or diverted, and is not affected by drought. God’s river flows at His discretion and according to His purpose. In it is fullness, abundance, satisfaction, and fulfillment. Each day, I swim in its reservoir of grace, plunge in its waves of forgiveness, float on its currents of love, bathe in its ripples of mercy, rest in its chilling peace, and drink from its refreshing flow.

Jesus said He is the Living Water that becomes a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life in whomever believes on Him. He also said the Holy Spirit would flow out of every believers’ heart like rivers of living water.

As I drink freely and fully from God’s river, it not only infuses me with its refreshing, everlasting life, but it also becomes a conduit of His likeness flowing in and through me. At my best, I share His river with others, but at my worst I can’t dam or divert it. I am only parched, withered, and weary when I refuse its moisture or wander from its oasis.

John saw a pure river of water of life—as clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. The heavenly throne is the fountain head of God’s magnificent, life-giving river. It flows from Him to us, never from us to Him. We are encouraged to drink from this heavenly wellspring.

When our spirits wither from the dry, scorching winds of life’s adversity, spiritual oppression, and sin’s wilderness, God’s river is our refreshing restoration. God promises to pour water on him who is thirsty. Only His river can quench our deepest and driest thirst; only His water can heal and restore.

If you are thirsty, or if your life is barren and dry, the invitation stands: “Let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

God’s abundant, ever-flowing river awaits your refreshing plunge.

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In Love with Jesus

My email read, "It's a wonderful thing to be in love with Jesus and to know you are loved by Jesus."

Last night, I shared an email with some friends. Afterwards, the Holy Spirit quickened me to look again at the words I had written. Sounded simple enough.

I think that was the first time I've ever said I was "in love" with Jesus. It took me by surprise. I knew the Holy Spirit wanted to say something more to me through what I had written.

When asked what the greatest command was, Jesus said to love Him with all one’s heart, soul, and mind.

Many people love Jesus as a friend, provider, healer, king, and Savior. But being "in love" with Jesus as our Bridegroom, to whom we have given our whole heart and soul, is a different story. I have found that’s a deeper and more intimate level. 

On this level, we can't get enough of Jesus, can’t spend enough time with Him, can’t talk enough with Him, and can’t learn enough about Him. We want to know more about Jesus, His character, His ways, and His thinking—just as we do with anybody we’re in love with.

Fall more and more in love with Jesus—your Bridegroom—every day. Delight in Him and in His presence. 

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Relationships Are like Gardens

A pastor’s wife with destroyed eyes came into my practice. She felt her husband didn’t love her anymore. They were strangers living together. They had lost all ability to be intimate.

My heart went out to her as she told her story. I wondered how things had gotten to this point. One thing I noticed from the start was her tone of voice. She sounded like chalk being scraped across a blackboard. Sitting on my hands to keep from putting my fingers into my ears, I tried to look concerned. She felt love was forever, no matter what. She was correct that God’s love is eternal but didn’t understand man’s love is limited by frailty.

Many of God’s children lack a sense of responsivity that grows from not understanding relationships are like gardens—and we are their keepers. A guaranteed way to lose a marriage and other relationships is found in this verse: See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled. Roots of bitterness can spring up overnight.

Weed control is a major part of any lasting and successful relationship. Bitter seeds grow plants with bitter—and sometimes fatal—fruit. Faces that eat bitter fruit are sour and unhappy. Going to sleep angry or resentful can result in a snappy remark or demanding expectation the next morning. Smiles and happiness that come from being friends are replaced by energy from competitors expressing their frustrations.

If Satan could speak through Peter’s mouth (Matthew 16:23), he can speak through ours. The emotions seen in our eyes will often determine how our words and behavior are taken. Hurt eyes can minimize the sting of harsh words on an understanding heart. Burning, cold, or cruel eyes make these words seem true.

After helping this pastor’s wife watch her tongue and listen to the tone she used, her husband came in one day and told me something I’ve never forgotten: “You’ve fixed her, doctor.”

Pay attention to weed control in your gardens. You will be glad you did. 

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Man in the Mirror

An intense drama was played out on Wednesday, June 2, 2010 at Comerica Park in Detroit when the Detroit Tigers met the Cleveland Indians.

Armando Galarraga almost became the twenty-first pitcher in Major League history to throw a perfect game. But his bid for that game ended one out short when first base umpire Jim Joyce incorrectly ruled that Indians’ batter Jason Donald reached first base safely. Joyce admitted he erred on what would have been the final out in Detroit, apologizing to Galarraga and hugging him after the Tiger’s win. He then took to the field the next day in tears.

In a classy gesture—meant to show the world the Tigers had moved on from the Wednesday night before—Manager Jim Leyland had Galarraga take the line-up card to Joyce at home-plate. Joyce was emotional. After a brief exchange of line-up cards, he patted Galarraga’s shoulder.

In another classy gesture, Galarraga’s said, “Nobody’s perfect … I have a lot of respect for the man. It takes a lot to say you’re sorry.”

Paul speaks of integrity in his work—a ministry empowered by God and the Holy Spirit’s presence—even though calamities, imprisonments, physical sufferings, and slander followed him.

It’s safe to assume none of us will ever endure what the apostle endured. Yet, in spite of human weakness, his ministry reflected God’s power—illuminating the gospel by his response to suffering and opposition.

The only way we can truly represent Christ with honor and integrity in our words and actions is by reliance on God’s power, through study of the Scriptures, and with the Holy Spirit’s guidance. Believers must consider whether actions hinder or honor our Abba Father. What God says about our representation of Him matters.

We have a daunting, sacred trust, but we can access the same power available to Paul. God’s grace can enable us to extend that same grace to others. We all stand for something, and we should want our stand for Christ to be beautiful, not grimy. It costs to be salt and light.

Rely on the Word—with the Holy Spirit’s guidance—so you can honor being made in the image of God. The world is watching.

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Standing Still, Reaching Out

“So, what did you think?” I heard a voice say.  

I turned around and looked up at a tall, middle-aged gentleman who had friendly eyes and a warm smile. He, other movie-goers, and I were making our way from the theater to the lobby after seeing a riveting film.

“It was excellent!” I said. Then I remarked on how well the director and producers had adapted the original Broadway production for the film version.

“Would you like to have a cup of coffee?” he asked.

There were several café tables in the theater lobby that were a perfect place for a quick coffee and an impromptu movie review. But I had already planned to take advantage of the unseasonably mild winter day and walk a few laps at a nearby park. So, I politely declined his invitation. We chatted a few seconds more and then went our separate ways.

Days later, I wondered if that might have been a “divine interruption” – an opportunity from God to reach out to someone who was in need of a little encouragement and conversation. I may never know.

A blind beggar named Bartimaeus interrupted Jesus as He, His disciples, and a large crowd departed Jericho. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem – and, ultimately, to the cross – yet He “stood still” and met the need of this persistent, faith-filled man.

The frenetic pace of life and our dependence on digital communications and social media can blind us to the people around us who long for face-to-face interaction, even if it’s only a fifteen-minute coffee chat after a movie, before work, or following a church service.

As followers of Christ, we’re called to be sensitive to the people He sends across our paths and to be willing to interrupt our plans, stand still, and find out how we can bless them.

I hope the next time something like the movie theater episode occurs I’ll offer up a quick prayer and ask, “What do You want me to do here, Lord?” instead of focusing on my schedule.

Don’t let the busyness of life keep you from standing still and reaching out. 

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A Plate of Locust and Wild Honey Dip

After reading through the book of Matthew and about John the Baptist’s diet, I decided I’d try a plate of locust and wild honey dip daily.

I hear people talk about eating healthy, changing their diets, and having a diet regime. Doing those things sounded cool and made a lot of sense because they were deliberate actions to move into a healthier lifestyle. Then I thought about the locust and wild honey dip. I didn’t think it was such a good idea in the beginning. Surely there was another choice. How would it taste, and how could I bring myself to eat it?

I put a hold on that thought and began to think through how John managed to eat it. I believe he was fed with all the delicious foods available to his parents as he grew up. He had tasted and eaten foods such as bread, chicken, beef, and milk. I wondered how he could change his diet, forgoing those foods for locust and wild honey.

John had to decide to change his diet and stick to it. He, like everyone else, fasted from all other foods, focused on the benefits he would derive from his choice, and resisted every temptation until locust and wild honey was all he desired. I’m sure most people didn’t understand why he chose to eat those foods, and he was probably viewed as a weird and ignorant person.

Choosing a life of purity and holiness is like deciding to stick to a diet of locust and wild honey. People may see me differently or make fun of me, but I look to the One I serve and to the eternal benefit awaiting me when I stick to this choice. Eating it didn’t taste so pleasant before, but God is graciously bringing me to the point where it’s all I desire.

Despite the temptation to go along with the demands of the world, choose what will lead to holiness and purity. 

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Rise!

The things I encounter benefit others as well as myself. 

I have seen dry seasons and abundant seasons in my ministry.  I have lived in many different areas of the country, but every place had the same variables for success and failure. In the most desperate situations I have encountered, my actions determined the outcome. The Lord is capable of all things, but we must choose to see through the eyes of faith or the eyes of fear.

God took Ezekiel to the valley of dry bones to show him a dry and dead season. Then He asked Ezekiel if the bones could live. The bones represented the condition of Israel, but the dry bones are anything in our lives that feels dry and dead. God wanted Ezekiel to take action in the dead and dry condition of the situation and told him, Prophesy to these bones and say to them, “Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!”

God knew the dry bones would live again, but He wanted to use a vessel to bring them back to life. The Lord wants to use you to speak life back into your situation. He also wants you to determine your future by His Word. You have the power of change within your heart, and out of the abundance of the heart the mouth echoes.

The Word of God is a tool against the circumstances in our lives. God did not touch the bones, but He used Ezekiel to speak the Word of life to them. In some of the hardest situations of my ministry, the Word of God was my comfort and defense. When every voice around me spoke defeat, His Word was my constant support. Your confidence in God will determine your action.

God’s Word fills our heart with faith, but faith without action is not faith at all. His Word gives you every tool you need. Every victory has been articulated in His Word. His Word is your strength and victory.

Rise today in your confidence in God, and go take your mountain in faith. Become an example of God’s faithfulness.

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Under the Oceans with the Storms of Life

“The pains of life are inescapable, but the virtues of love are more powerful.” The emotional, tear-jerking film, The Pursuit of Happyness, starring Will Smith, portrays a character who had to go through many hardships before reaching happiness and is a familiar portrait of what this life paints.

Given time to recollect our memories through our past pain, we would notice the details of worry the conscious mind delivers. Most people have heard, “the pursuit of happiness,” but who wants to hear, “the pursuit of pain.” 

The psalmist expresses clearly that our days should be preserved by taking each one into consideration. In so doing, we gain wisdom to apply all we learn. Our days are preserved by the memories we obtain through the passing of time. It is not only the best seasons of life that we should hold dear but also the painful moments. No one enjoys recalling painful experiences, but through them we learn from our mistakes so that the next day we live can be numbered with more purposeful intention than the day before.

Human pain can be emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual. The moments of our pain can seem like an eternity. What God sees as short-lived, the human mind sees as long-term. But those who are bought by the precious blood of the Lamb have no reason to fret. We have the greatest artist who will project the virtues of His love in these painful moments. 

God’s indescribable glory is often hidden in the storms of life which seem to drown us beneath the waters of no escape. His glory may seem like an enigma at times, but pain sheds light on it. Through pain, we understand that we seldom have control over circumstances. There is more intimacy involved in holding God’s hand during those moments. 

If God intervened miraculously every time we had pain, we wouldn’t benefit from His love. We would also miss the enlightenment of His proverbial wisdom.

Let God teach you to commune deeply with Him, even if takes pain to take you to another level of intimacy.

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Mile Nineteen

The marathon race was my most accomplished physical feat. It was also my most challenging—26.2 miles from start to finish.

As a runner, I experienced the exhilaration of pushing through the desire to stop and give up and the joy of how it felt to finish the race. But the nineteenth mile was where I had to decide to finish the race or throw in the towel. I was depleted of energy, both physically and mentally. My only hope for continuing was to stay focused on the finish line. Nothing else mattered. Not the car that almost hit me or the pulled muscle that happened at mile twelve or the loneliness. Feelings of discouragement and despair threatened to overtake me.

Hoping I had not veered off course, I rounded the corner and saw the masses gathered to cheer on the runners as they crossed the finish line. The sound of silence I had experienced for miles was broken with shouts of encouragement, whistles, and clapping. At that moment, renewed strength poured over me in a way I had never experienced. I would have crawled across that beautiful finish line. 

Today, I am running another race called life. While I know it is a gift from God to journey through this world, the natural elements associated with being here can challenge the fittest among us. Sickness, broken relationships, and financial downturns are but a few of the possible potholes we might encounter along the way.

With the majority of years of living behind me, it feels like “mile nineteen”—having experienced the farewell to my life-mate of forty-six years, along with several other losses and challenges in both body and heart.

God doesn’t promise a carefree existence. Rather, He tells us we will experience trials and suffering along the way. He also says that in His Son, Jesus Christ, we have “overcome the world” (1 John 5:4-5 NIV).

Don’t be fooled by the silence that suggests you are alone or lost without hope. The victory has been won by Jesus. If you feel as if you cannot take another step, trust and know He will carry you over the finish line.

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Design Measurements

Reading the measurements of a structure suddenly became overwhelming as my fingers flipped the pages.

God’s desire for perfection and holiness haven’t changed. If the God of the Israelites is the God of Christians—unchanging in manner and desires—we must not miss this.

As I read these verses in Ezekiel, I realized how these measurements are related to our lives. Out of the lips of God came detailed temple measurements and positions—instructions obeyed completely in putting up God’s dwelling place.

The life embedded in our bodies has been pledged to God and ceases to be molded clay and breath forming the core of our existence. It is a dwelling place for God. Since God never changes, His desire for perfection hasn’t changed. He still requires us to follow detailed measurements in this new temple. These measurements are no more in cubits but in deeds, words, motives, desires, and thoughts.

The law of the temple has and will always be holiness. The core building materials of our temple are faith, salvation, and the Holy Spirit. The temple gate should be made of love and peace along with chambers of mercy, forgiveness, and kindness. The roofing should be made of truth with blocks of humility, perseverance, and prayer. In this temple, anger is measured as highly as murder and lust as heavy as adultery.

Thinking through this, I realized God had given us these “measurements” in the Bible. I began to see how beautiful a temple He wants us to be—not by our might but by His grace. I began to have a yearning to live by His measurements, not mine or the world’s, never trying to reduce the specification to suit myself.

I wondered how this was going to be possible as I knelt before my bed with my eyes closed and uttered the words, “How can I, Lord?” But in the quietness, whispering into my heart were the words, “You have Me. Let Me build you into My desired temple one day at a time.”

Let God build you into a holy temple that will please Him. 

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The Beautiful Conclusion

Hidden deep within the secrets of nature, our Creator reveals the keys to life.

A leaf’s life cycle reflects our own lives as the leaf breaks forth from its bud and artistically displays its beauty. The leaf is not birthed to take from the tree but to give back life to the tree that gave it its existence.  

The tree supports the leaf with nourishment so the leaf can proudly display its design to the world around it. As the season changes, the tree cuts its nourishment to the leaf—which then begins the process of death. The leaf displays the beauty of color as it fades into its conclusion of life. We begin to see a different dimension to the leaf—a beauty that captures the eye and paints the landscapes of our beautiful country.

Our life cycle follows a similar path. We are born into a loving family and live our lives giving and receiving from their support. We experience different moments which define our paths and cultivate our outward image to the world. We, too, experience death, but there is a beauty to our conclusion in this life. 

As we fade into eternity, we display a beauty hidden deep within our souls. When we die, the beauty of our lives is revealed in the ones we loved the most. The memories of past experiences come back to life, and the seeds of wisdom we planted in the people around us finally come into harvest. Words and memories that seemed empty in the moment of conception now bring forth a wonderful reflection of the life lost. 

The beauty of death for the redeemed is that we leave behind seeds of hope. Life is a cycle of memories and emotions. The most beautiful part of a leaf is its death. The most beautiful part of our lives is the memories we leave behind for our loved ones.

Nature reveals the hidden thoughts of God, exposes the beauty of our lives, and is designed by its Creator to give life and consume death. Life and death exist in the same space in nature. Death is the beautiful conclusion that gives birth to a new beginning.

Let your life be a beautiful display of God’s love as you fade into the eternal love of the Lord.  

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A Time for Everything

Those dogs of mine! They’re at it again, barking like crazy and racing along the backyard fence.

Every so often, another dog escapes from his yard and runs back and forth in the alley behind our five-foot-high wooden fence, tempting my dogs, Uber and Bear, to “Come and get me if you can.” After repeated calls, my dogs return—exhausted and limping.

“You guys are too old to run so much,” I say. (They are in their middle-teen dog years. This makes them about equal to my senior citizen age.)

But I understand. Aging hits and you can’t do what you once did. It happened to me the other night when we seniors rode the church van to attend the Brass Band concert in Silverton, Colorado. Our drive took one and a half hours between mountain heights and canyon depths. God’s creation filled me with awe, but the crumbly edges by the white lines next to the drop off into the canyon left me breathless.

The drive was worth every minute though. The rousing music of the concert became an exclamation point, matching the mountain grandeur. A stop for ice cream on the way home put a period to a super day.

By 10 p.m., I yawned and headed for bed. I woke up shivering at 3:30 a.m. I couldn’t stop shaking. After a miserable hour, I staggered to the bathroom and put on my flannel winter robe, then slept until 10 a.m. and dozed the rest of the day.

Face it, my body said. You can’t do and go as you once did. Hereafter I may have to listen to CDs from former concerts. Looks like a full day of activity may be too much for a 92-year-old lady.

So does God want me to sit around and do nothing? Well, maybe I will sit more, but if so, I’ll sit at the computer and write. Devotions, articles, and prayers can still be a part of my life. After all, God has given me these extra years, and what better way than to fill them for Him.

Don’t let age hinder your work for God.  

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Following God's Guidance

"Can you write the word sand for me, please?"

I looked at the result, somewhat puzzled. Connor wrote bench.

"Can you read to me what you've just written?"

Slowly moving his finger from one letter to the next, he said each sound out loud, “B-e-n-c h.”

"Okay, now say the word.”

“Sand,” Connor said, smiling at me and looking proud of himself.

As Connor’s teacher, the incident nearly gave me a heart attack. It had an aura of innocence and purity about it. Connor desperately wanted to make me happy.

Not so with adults. When the Holy Spirit whispers something in our ear, we go deaf if we don't like the message. We continue to write our own autobiography that's full of "us" and has little from God in it.

Paul challenges weak discipleship. He wants to see a change in Christ-followers—in their way of life, attitude, and character.

Christ's disciples develop a new character that resists the craving for power and pleasure, one that involves a pure mind guided by truth. This comes naturally when one puts off the worldly self and puts on Christ's identity.

Just keep listening. God wants us to hear and respond to His every word. 

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Not My Kind of Response

I’m sure I wouldn’t have reacted to the situation in the same way.

Had I been in Daniel’s situation, I would have had a pity party or tried to figure out all the different ways to show how upset I was. His country had been destroyed. As a son of Judah, he was taken to serve in the kingdom of the one who caused all his pain. And God allowed it.

Yet amid this tragedy, Daniel’s reaction was amazing. He was willing to please God despite his situation. The situation did not cause him to shift or redefine his focus from God. I am sure I would have had my focus on God, but it would have been on questioning Him rather than pleasing Him. That shouldn't be the case, however tough the situation.

God always has a purpose and a plan, no matter how bad the situation might be. His plans are to glorify Himself, and the fact that I am involved means I am part of the plan. God will glorify Himself through people who are willing to stand for and trust Him. It is better to walk into the unknown with the One who knows all things and into the worst situation with the One who has the power to turn things around—bringing the best out of the worst.

God is also faithful, and He will grant the strength to go through every situation. He will never leave us. Situations shouldn’t change our identity with God but rather open us up for God to make our identity known through the situation. He wants the best for us more than we want the best for ourselves.

You are where God needs you to be, whether you want to be or not. Everything is going to fall into place while you watch your struggles turn into giggles.

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Supper Satisfaction

I sized up the smaller portions on my plate. I wanted to grumble about what I couldn’t have, but the verses I’d read wouldn’t let me.

I stared at the plate of food in front of me: a single chicken leg, a baked potato, and a forest of broccoli. I normally ate twice that amount and often returned for seconds, but there would be no seconds today. I needed to lose weight for my health, but was finding it difficult to buckle down and make the changes. I’d spent an hour scouring the Bible for diet encouragement, but no one in the Bible was trying to lose weight. Passages that mentioned food were usually about God providing it and people being grateful for it.

Although there was less food on my plate, my plate was full. There was also plenty of food in the refrigerator and in the pantry—so much food that I had been able to eat and eat until my extra-large pants had grown uncomfortably tight.

I set aside my groaning, thanked God for His provision, and took a bite. Delicious. I ate slowly, savoring the textures and flavors and thanking God for taste buds and spices. I felt more satisfied at the end of that meal than I normally did with a plate heaped high.

Focusing on what I can’t or don’t have leaves me feeling empty and discontent. When I focus on what I do have and thank God for it, my outlook on life changes. Gratitude breeds satisfaction. I think that’s why we’re told repeatedly to thank the Lord. God provides for our needs, but He knows we’ll never be content with His provision unless we take time to thank Him.

If you’re dissatisfied with an area of your life, take a few minutes to thank God for what He’s provided—even if it doesn’t feel like enough. Gratitude makes a small portion look plentiful. 

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Renewing the Mind

If we don't renew our minds, sadness, sorrow, worry, anxiety, and anger will invade our thoughts.

I'm on chemotherapy for the third time, hoping it will restore my hearing to what it was before. After more than four years of treatment for brain tumors due to NF2, I lose more of my hearing and balance with each episode. When I had my hearing tested a few months ago, I was shocked to see how much loss I’d had in one year. If I lose that same amount in the future, I will be deaf—a fact that discourages me.

Time and again, I need reminding that renewing my mind is something I should do continuously. If I don't, I’ll start to believe the Devil's lies. Lies that tell me God doesn't love me or I wouldn't be going through this situation … that I’m alone in my struggles … that I should accept my situation because it's not going to get better.

The more I dwell on the negative—on how helpless I am or how bad the world is—the more negative I become. Before I know it, I've lost the peace and joy that is my spiritual birthright.

It's up to us to not listen to those lies and to keep our focus on how good God is, how much He loves us, and how He has a good plan for us no matter what our circumstances are. But how do I renew my mind?

By reading and studying God's Word. Of course, there are other things such as going to church, praying, being thankful, and praising God. But reading, studying, and believing God's Word are surely the best ways.

Renewing our mind will also keep us in a good place spiritually, but it does more than that. As we renew our minds, we will know God's will for us.

Time spent in God’s Word is never wasted. Make it a daily practice to renew your mind. 

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Are You Searching for Presents or Presence?

Exhaustion had hit, replacing the joy of Christmas with anxiety.

It was the Saturday before Christmas. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, surrounded with mountains of presents still to wrap—not to mention the long list of to-dos still waiting to be done. I knew it was my job to make sure my family had a memorable Christmas—focused on Jesus—but I just couldn’t see how to make that happen.

Somewhere along the path from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I’d lost my focus. Everywhere I looked, the season seemed shallow and meaningless. If I couldn’t find God in the season, how was I going to make sure my three boys found Him?

All I could do was pray. It wasn’t even a good prayer—more just a cry for help. Almost before I said amen, our oldest son—an energetic seven-year-old, knocked on my door. “Can we all go Christmas light looking tonight, please?”

I mentally groaned. Something else to do. Not exactly an answer to prayer. I slipped out of my room, making sure I kept him from seeing the presents. “I don’t think so. I have too much to do.”

“Please?” He drew the word out, and his two little brothers joined in chorus, bringing their dad in from the living room.

I didn’t want to disappoint them, and maybe if they were out of the house I could play catch up. “Maybe your dad can take you without me?” I turned pleading eyes to my husband.

“No, we want all of us to go!” The boys weren’t buying into the idea.

My husband put a comforting arm around me and leaned to whisper into my ear. “I’ll help you later. This is important.” He turned to the boys. “I think it’s a wonderful idea, and we’ll all go, even your mom.”

We did go that night, the five of us crowded into our ancient mini van. As we drove around, I listened to the excited exclamations of my boys and realized God had answered my prayer. He’d shown me that what needed to get done would get done, but the true meaning of Christmas wasn’t found in presents, but in presence.

Let the presence of God and others bring you joy this Christmas. 

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March of the Talking Goodies

From November to New Year’s Day, we face an onslaught of delectable goodies. By the first week of January, many of us are bloated, lethargic, and several pounds heavier.

About the same time every year, calorie-laden holiday treats talk to us. “Have another slice,” calls the pumpkin pie. “Go for some more,” beckons the chestnut stuffing. “Pour it on,” urges the gravy boat.

Food plays such a central role in our lives because God made it that way. Even the fall of mankind resulted from disobedience over food. The first request in The Lord’s Prayer is for “our daily bread.” One of Jesus’ most famous miracles involved multiplying a little boy’s lunch to provide a feast for thousands. And the Book of Revelation talks about a glorious banquet: the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.

No doubt about it, food is a gift from God. But when we misuse this gift, it can create problems. Many Christians struggle with preventable diseases that hinder them from fulfilling their God-given purposes: enjoying their families, fully participating in Christian fellowship, and pursuing their hobbies and interests.

One of my friends has type two diabetes and recently began a health and fitness regimen that is producing great results. She has lost weight and inches and looks radiant. She has a heart for serving God and people and is determined to improve her health so she can fulfill God’s calling on her life.

This year, let’s use the excessive feasting during the holidays as a wakeup call. Instead of indulging in every decadent temptation that calls our name, let’s choose to enjoy them moderately while loading up on the healthy options.

Our bodies—and how we treat them—matter to God. Rather than going for the second piece of pecan pie, “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

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You Just Gotta Have It

The Christmas season makes its appearance earlier each year.

During the Christmas season, we’re inundated with email bargains and glossy newspaper circulars informing us of the “lowest prices of the season.” Photos with bold print shout “You just gotta have it.” Some of the gadgets and gifts look fun. Others are items we never knew about or thought we wanted. Some are super expensive and would crack any reasonable budget. And somewhere in the ad is a “must have” item for any gift list. Now an idea has been planted in our minds.

The characters in the Christmas story had their “must haves.” With an idea planted in his mind, King Herod wanted to know where the King of the Jews had been born and sent the magi to find out. The wise men began their search and knew they “must have” the One who offered hope. Once they saw the star, they were overjoyed. They had to have Jesus. Something special had happened. The newborn stranger in the stable was the Messiah proclaimed by the prophets. Their response to His greatness was worship.

We’re distracted and follow many things during the holidays: shopping, festivities, stress, difficult relationships. Make a list of what you “must have.” Choose activities that give real joy. Let your list point out how to reduce stress and establish new priorities. This year, have a renewed focus. Look at the star that points to the Savior, and follow to worship Him.

This Christmas season, be overjoyed with the good news that came from a Bethlehem stable—a Savior who came to save you from your sins.  

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Living Our Christmas Joy

Jessica sat at the back of the church.

Christmas Eve had arrived, and the place was rockin’. The organ bellowed the familiar “Joy to the World” to pews packed with smiling folks singing their loudest. But when the service was over and the crowd filed out—anxious to begin their celebrations, Jessica didn’t move.

Pastor Tom sat next to her in the empty sanctuary and listened. “Just believe in Jesus. Isaiah told us the Messiah was coming, and here He is. We can prove it to the world. Just believe.” 

“But I’m not filled with joy, so what good does believing do?” Jessica’s sobs echoed on the dark, wooden walls.

“It seems Paul thinks there’s something else involved,” said the pastor. “He tells us to follow God’s will, pray continually, give thanks for everything, and decide to be joyful. Our prayers, studies, and devotional time with Him are where we feel His joy.”

Our hearts control our whole being by pumping life blood throughout our bodies—even into our brains so we can make decisions. We can decide to believe. What’s in our hearts is who we are. When we align our hearts with the heart of our Lord Jesus, something new pumps through our bodies. Something pure and clean—good perfect blood. That good blood shapes us to be who we are for God.

As we celebrate the birth of our Lord in a manger, be ready for a joyous life-changing Christmas transfusion. Without the manger and the cross, we can’t believe. Without the manger and the cross, we cannot be cleansed to love and forgive others. We can’t even know our God.

Let Christmas change you. Believe and pray a bit more. Let your heart swell with the heart of Jesus in you. Let others see someone different because of the manger.

Give Jesus your heart. Then let others see Him in you so they can know you believe. 

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Laundry Room Lessons

Everything looked perfect and sparkling after a day of cleaning.

With a flip of the switch, the gas logs in the fireplace added a touch of warmth. As I stood back and made a mental check to be sure everything was in place for my small group meeting, my eyes shifted to the closed door. If they only knew what that room looked like, I chuckled. I had stuffed a step ladder in the laundry room near some bins of Christmas decorations. A basket overflowed with laundry, stacks of magazines were on the dryer, and a large picture frame lay across the washer. Stuffed, stacked, and messy—all hidden from my guests.

David was in a messy place. Stuffed with memories of his haunting sin with Bathsheba, he became stacked with grief over his transgression. But he confessed and pleaded with the Lord for forgiveness. He was a man after God’s own heart, and God was gracious and merciful to forgive. David knew what God could do for him, and he earnestly prayed, “Create in me a pure heart, O God and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10).

My laundry room was an object lesson of messy things. I asked God to reveal my shortcomings, slips, and weaknesses—maybe even characteristics I justify but behaviors and attitudes He calls sin. Like the flip of the switch that illuminated my room, I asked the Holy Spirit to illumine my attitudes and behaviors that weren’t pleasing to Him.

God’s promise holds: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). We can walk today with a fresh start and leave the door open with nothing to hide.

Ask the Lord to illuminate your mind and heart to the things in your life that have been stuffed and stacked and might be a little messy.

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Priorities - Finding Number One

No more school.

I had alphabet soup after my name, and I thought I had closed the book on formal education. Yet I wanted to pursue a Bible certificate. Great opportunities abounded, but my life felt limited. I needed to know the best way to prioritize.

I found the answer in the story of Martha and Mary, two sisters from Bethany who invited Jesus to their home. When He arrived in town with His disciples, Jesus was welcomed by Martha into her home. She immediately started on her number one priority: preparing a big meal. Mary sat down at the feet of Jesus and listened to His every word. 

Martha became so disturbed at the injustice of her sister not helping that she interrupted Jesus to get His opinion about the matter. She wanted Jesus to agree with her and tell Mary to get up and help.

With His response to Martha, Jesus chiseled a timeless truth into the bedrock of His gospel.  Although Martha was doing something good, Jesus helped her realize there was something more important.

Learning priorities is a difficult task. Every day, we choose to fill our time with chores, daily routines, and great opportunities—many of which we believe are good works of service to God. But if we focus more on activities than on the God we serve, we may miss the treasure He wants us to have—friendship with Him.    

Studying for a Bible degree or other great opportunities may not be the best choices in God’s eyes—and may even be distractions from the better plans He has for us. He alone knows our tomorrows.

Take time to sit at the feet of Jesus and learn what’s most important to Him. 

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The Least Among Us

The church is not a social organization with all sorts of cliques and a pecking order mentality; it is just the opposite

God has designed the Body of Christ so that those we might regard as less honorable receive extra care and honor—a place where the first shall be last and the last first. The parts of the body that appear weakest and unimportant are the most necessary.

The church often values people by their function, not their intrinsic value. People are not valuable because of what they can do but because they are made in God’s image and bought with a price—God’s only Son.

Honoring the least among us is crucial because they are the most important. Though sometimes unnoticed or unrecognized, they are needed to keep the body functioning as designed. Doing so is also the way God promotes unity.

When all members care for each other equally, harmony in God's family occurs. Affirming all God’s people happens when we realize there are no big or little people in the Body of Christ—just sinners in need of grace. The land is level at the foot of the cross.

Jesus spent more time with three of His followers than with His other disciples. The time given to them did not indicate heightened value. It was about function, training them as future leaders in the kingdom. In any church, ministry, or Christian organization, our love for the least among us is a measurement of how much we love Christ. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me” (Matthew 25:40 NLT).

Follow Jesus’ example; honor the least among you.

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Stop, Drop, and Roll

“Stop, drop, and roll” are basic safety instructions taught to emergency service providers when encountering a victim who is on fire.

When someone has caught on fire, halting movement is imperative since it restricts fanning the flames. Dropping to the ground allows the body to roll against another surface to suffocate and extinguish the flames.

Sometimes we can feel as if we’re symbolically ablaze. The same process—stop, drop, and role—can be implemented in our spiritual life, whether seeking God or engaging in warfare with Satan.

Stop what you’re doing and see what the Bible says. The Bible does not address every problem encountered, but it is filled with godly values and principles that are revealed by the Almighty. Proverbs in the Old Testament or James in the New Testament are good places to begin. Each book is filled with wisdom.

Drop to your knees in prayer, asking God for guidance. While there is no requirement to pray from a kneeling position, I find myself praying in this manner when I feel pitiful or praiseworthy. Doing so demonstrates humility, while petitioning God for answers and direction.

Roll your thoughts by a mentor or wise counselor. Seeking wisdom from a mature follower of Christ is modeled throughout Scripture. Moses mentored Joshua. Nathan mentored David. Elijah mentored Elisha. Jesus mentored all the apostles—but with greater intensity focused on Peter, James, and John. Barnabas mentored Paul who in turn mentored Silas, Timothy, Titus, and many others. Paul wrote most of the New Testament. Barnabas also mentored John Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark. Without Barnabas, the New Testament would look different.  

As you absorb biblical truth, open yourself to God’s direction. Having it reinforced by mature followers of Christ brings things into sharper focus. The circumstances might not get easier, but the outcome will likely be aligned with God’s will.

There is no better way to dwell in God’s shelter or abide in His shadow than to stop, drop, and roll. 

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God's Hugs

I called 911 and then stood by the door and listened to the fireman say, “He’s been gone for a long time.” He can’t be dead, I thought.

After the initial shock at my husband’s death, I returned to my work as an elementary school principal to stave off my grief. My morning quiet time became more important as each Bible passage encouraged me to keep moving forward.

As I read Romans 8:15 one morning—“You have received a spirit of adoption, as sons, by which we cry Abba! Father”— I felt the need for a hug. I wasn’t expecting a hand from the air. I just needed reassurance God saw me. I prayed, “Lord, since I know Winston is not coming back, I need a hug from You.”  

As I prepared to take my morning shower, the thought came, “Look for God’s hugs today.” While doing my morning duties, I heard a page, “Mrs. Newton, please report immediately to the bus zone.” Usually not a good sign. It’s too early for trouble. School hasn’t even geared up for the day, I mused

The bus monitor pointed me to the last bus. When I reached the bus, the driver bounded off to greet me. Encircling me in her arms, she gave me a long bear hug. I hadn’t seen this former church member in several years. She was substituting on this bus run.

Wiping the tears from my eyes, I told her how I had asked God for a hug. “You brought me a hug by special delivery,” I said. Then I learned that at 6 a.m. Marsha decided to pick this route so she could see me. The time she picked her route was almost the precise time I told God I needed a hug.

It is reassuring to know God hears us and answers our prayers when we call on Him.

If you need a hug, ask God, He’ll be glad to provide one. 

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Bursting with Flavor

A brisk walk can be more refreshing than a nap.

Feeling drained of energy, I decided on an afternoon jaunt to wake up my brain. Starting with great intentions, I broke away from the car, only to end up on the nearest park bench. The weather stimulated all my senses. I wondered how such a beautiful day could follow the night's violent storm. The sky was brilliant, and the air was clean—filled with activity and sound. I squinted up to catch the birds in song. What I beheld was the beauty of the tree.

A Weeping Cherry was in full bloom, bringing loveliness to the area. In the beauty of this tree, I noticed a gap—a void where a branch should have been. I looked around and spotted a severed limb, drying on the ground. It still had flowers and green showed at the break. But eventually it would dry up and die, separated from its source of life.

I pondered how our fragile lives are similar. We have a natural void within our souls—a yearning from the core, for connection. When our relationship with Christ is not right, we can't walk in the fullness of the life He offers. Sometimes the break is subtle, beginning with a small crack and increasing until finally it snaps. As we wander from the truth, we become desensitized to the things of Christ and can't produce the fruit that makes us lovely.

John 15:5 offers a lifestyle leading to fullness we all can experience. He is the vine—the main lifeline on which we thrive. Growing up, our neighbor had a grapevine. It was thick and strong enough to bear the weight of every hanging cluster. Connected, those clusters developed from scrawny limbs and became branches bearing plump grapes that would burst with flavor and nourishment. Other branches broke off the main, leaving the cluster to rot and smell.

We must purpose to remain in Christ through prayer, study, and church involvement. In this way, we grow to maturity as part of His cluster. When we take our eyes off the vine, we disconnect from the Branch who gives us life. Circumstances can easily draw us away.

Live your life in abundance with Christ as the root. Apart from Him, you can do nothing.

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Keep God First

Considered the wisest man who ever lived, he failed to take his own advice and failed.  

King Solomon’s life had great beginnings. The young king of Israel was humble, and his heart was devoted and surrendered to God. One night, he had a dream.

God said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

Solomon replied, “Give me wisdom and an understanding heart to judge the people.”

Pleased with Solomon’s request, God not only gave him wisdom and understanding but riches and honor as well.

King Solomon was wealthier and wiser than any other king. During his forty-year reign, Israel reached the pinnacle of power and wealth. He built the first temple in Jerusalem and overlaid the interior with pure gold. He built cities, ships, and a magnificent royal palace. He was a superb statesman who expanded commercial trade with the surrounding nations.

But beneath the glory and splendor of Solomon’s reign, serious problems surfaced. He loved many foreign women. God had warned him not to intermarry with them, but he disobeyed. His heart was divided, and he didn’t follow God fully as his father David had. When he was old, he allowed his wives to turn his heart away from God and toward false gods.  

In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon reflected on his life. His earthly pursuits left him unfulfilled, and his life had no meaning. After gaining everything he wanted, he declared it all meaningless. He concluded that what matters in life is fearing God and keeping His commandments.  

Almost 3,000 years have passed since King Solomon wrote the book of Proverbs, yet his practical wisdom is still applicable today. His life sends a powerful message. We must guard our hearts and keep God first. We were created to know God, and the things of this world cannot fill that space in our hearts.

Find your lasting peace and fulfillment in Christ alone. 

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Fighting with Gravity

Thank God for gravity. Without it, we’d all be floating in the air like helium-filled balloons.

Lately, I’m having my own personal battle with gravity. It seems to be taking over my body from my eyelids to the skin that is supposed to cover my knees … and everything in between. Maybe that’s why people in certain countries have a daily practice of standing on their head for a certain period of time. Perhaps that little exercise shifts everything back into proper position.

In America, there are creams, wraps, injections, and even surgery to take care of these sagging body parts. Sometimes these procedures help, other times not so much. I had a full body wrap several years ago that promised to tighten my skin and take off the pounds. The pounds stayed firmly in place, and my skin was more wrinkled than ever.

Mother Nature, Father Time—and gravity—always seem to have the upper hand. Even though there are areas I would like to “fix” if I could, I have a feeling there would always be something else I’d want to change.

The problem is my self-consciousness, especially about what I can’t correct. I will never be taller than 5’2,” and my hair will always be naturally curly—with an attitude. I won’t go into the other problem areas I’d like to change; I’ll just say I’ve learned the only way to become less self-conscious is to become more God-conscious.

Christ in me is the hope of glory. Christ in me—the One who gave His life and loves me unconditionally … just as I am. In fact, I was His idea. He created me … just as I am. He has a wonderful plan and purpose for my life that no one else can fulfill. And He is preparing an eternal home … just for me.

When I look at this life from God’s perspective, I realize it’s time to stop fighting “what is” and look forward to the day when gravity loses its hold and I rise to meet the Lord.

Are you ready for the day when the law of gravity will be broken?

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Silence

Silence is golden—except on an elevator.

There must be an unwritten rule somewhere that prohibits talking in elevators. An uneasy, awkward silence laughs its haunting cry as each rider stares straight ahead at his or her reflection in the elevator doors or as they absentmindedly gaze at the floor. There is also the silly dance where each person nervously shifts from one foot to the other.

Aside from the awkward elevator rides, silence can be a beautiful thing. It can be restorative—a time of quiet introspection to meditate on God’s Word, gather our thoughts, or refresh our minds. Such silence can bring God’s peace as He promises us His perfect peace if our minds remain on Him.

But silence can also be a spiritual battlefield. When we quiet ourselves from the distractions of our daily routine and responsibilities, instead of a quiet moment of peace, the mind can be a place of intense scrutiny and torment. Regrets, reliving past failures, remembering past hurts, accusing voices, and mind games can all clamor for our attention. Satan usually assails our quiet times, thinking his voice is then the loudest.

Part of God’s righteousness is His peace. The effect of His peace is quietness and confidence forever. When we shelter ourselves in His righteousness, we have peace with God. Everyone makes mistakes, experiences failure, or lapses in moral judgment. This is why true peace does not come from our righteousness. It comes from the righteousness of God, appropriated through Jesus Christ.

As we remind ourselves that Christ’s righteousness lets us stand in His presence, we are comforted with His peace. When the past rears its ugly head or regrets yell their nasty reminders, quiet them with His forgiveness and righteousness.

Rest your mind in God’s righteousness today. Allow His quietness and confidence to renew your mind. Let His Spirit whisper softly to your heart as He calms, comforts, and transforms you.

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