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.

Nurturing God’s Temple

I once found myself trapped in the whirlwind of a sedentary lifestyle and not nurturing God’s temple. Long hours at a desk, unhealthy eating habits, and lack of exercise took their toll on my physical and mental well-being. I was constantly fatigued and prone to illness. My self-confidence waned.

During this time, I stumbled upon Paul’s words: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your bodies. They resonated deeply within me and changed the trajectory of my life. Our bodies are sacred, not merely vessels for our own desires. They are dwelling places for the Holy Spirit. God has entrusted us with these physical temples, and our responsibility is to honor Him by caring for them.

Our health is not a matter of vanity or personal preference but a spiritual calling. When we neglect our bodies, we diminish our capacity to fulfill God’s purpose for our lives. Then our physical well-being affects our spiritual and emotional well-being and impacts our relationships, productivity, and overall satisfaction.

God wants us to live abundant lives filled with vitality and joy. Our bodies are a precious gift, and we should be good stewards of this gift. Nurturing our health involves intentional diet, exercise, rest, and stress-management choices. By prioritizing our physical well-being, we create fertile ground for spiritual growth, enabling us to serve God and others with renewed strength and energy.

We should regularly reevaluate our approach to health and commit to honor God with our bodies. We can start by incorporating small, manageable changes into our daily routines. Choosing nourishing foods that fuel our bodies. Engaging in regular physical activity that brings us joy. Prioritizing sufficient rest. Important too, is seeking balance in all areas of our lives, ensuring that stress does not overwhelm us.

Caring for our health is not selfish but rather an act of worship. When we prioritize our well-being, we align ourselves with God’s desire for us to live abundant and purposeful lives. Embrace this divine invitation to nurture the temple of God within you and experience the transformative power it brings to every aspect of your existence. Let your body become a beacon of God’s light that radiates His love and empowers you to fulfill your unique calling.

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Taking Care of Anger

I could have done better.

Two different companies share my office space. Tara is the first person someone sees when they enter our office. She sorts all the mail. One day, I noticed a package on her desk for my supervisor. Since Tara was at lunch, I picked it up and put it on my supervisor’s desk. Later in the day, Tara was upset because I had not let her put it on the supervisor’s desk. This, in turn, upset me.

About a month later, I saw the mail person at the door and signed for a package. I passed by Tara’s desk, and she glared at me. I told her the package was for my supervisor. Feeling stressed from the previous incident, I mumbled “back off” under my breath. Tara heard me and jumped on my case. I called the company owner and immediately explained the situation. I wanted him to listen to my side of the story to avoid misunderstanding.

When you are angry, do not sin, and be sure to stop being angry before the end of the day. Do not give the Devil a way to defeat you. Looking at this Scripture made me realize I had not taken care of my anger by the end of the day. When this happened the first time, I should have called the owner and explained the situation. Had I pursued peace as God says, I might have avoided the second incident with Tara.

Be sure to take care of your anger before the end of the day.

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Renewing the Mind

“What’s on your mind?”

This question pops up on my computer. Some days, I must look for my mind. I may have lost it a time or two, but it’s primarily right where it should be in my head and on my shoulders, with a neck in between. Heads should be kept cool, especially when things get hot. I tried dipping mine in the pool once, but my hair turned green.

I remember Mom saying, “Don’t waste that.”

She recycled everything—reused plastic containers and bottles, paper towels, and aluminum foil. Nothing got tossed before it was mended, patched, and altered. Fabric got saved in the rag bag for quilting.

Waste not, want not. The most crucial thing one might waste is a mind. We see many people who turn to substances, seeking to ease their minds. Artificial peace? That’s a sure way to lose it. Their temporary relief is just that. Temporary. Confusion, fear, lies, and uncertainty plague this world. Temporary relief is not enough. Who needs a pickled mind?

As Paul says, the best way to have a sound mind is to practice renewing it. God’s Word is a treasure that nothing else can offer. The better question is not, “What’s on your mind?” but “What’s on God’s mind?”

I open the pages of the Bible and find comfort, mercy, and peace. And the best part is, this is an eternal source of soundness. God promises renewal of the spirit, soul, and physical body. No substance can accomplish that.

How can you renew your mind?

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Our Inward Self

Not long after I turned thirty, I noticed a slight deterioration in my body.

Lengthy walks caused achy, cracking knees. I became more near-sighted. My body was stiff each morning, making daily stretching a sudden necessity. “I feel like I’m getting old!” I exclaimed to my seventy-two-year-old dad one day on the phone. The comment made him chuckle and exclaim, “Just you wait, kid!”

Despite the most valiant efforts to stay young, strong, and healthy, our bodies weaken. They tire and scar. Eventually, our strength and flesh will fail altogether, and our physical selves will perish. Our inward man, on the other hand, isn’t subjected to the same corrosion that we endure physically. Instead, we can renew, transform, and strengthen our inward, spiritual lives daily through Christ.

As we seek to better know, emulate, and follow Christ through prayer, Bible study, and fellowship with other followers of Christ, we make a crucial investment in our spiritual health and strengthen and revitalize ourselves daily.

The truth, hope, and eternal life we carry in our hearts are immune to the deterioration our physical bodies endure. As we remain affixed to the giver of life, our inward person remains secure and flourishing.

Although our physical bodies will fail, we can remain confident that the truth and hope of salvation we hold inside is secure. The Lord is our strength and our portion forever.

How can you strengthen your inward self?

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Serve like the Son

I have always struggled with pride, so to serve like the Son was difficult.

Sometimes, I genuinely thought I was better than others and that my wants and needs were more important. As a result, I didn’t care for others and their emotions and needs. I was rude, mean, and hurtful. I made crude jokes and ignored what was important to other people. I injured relationships that have still not healed. Simply put, I was an arrogant bully.

However, as I sought to be like Jesus, the greatest and most humble servant of all, the Lord reminded me there is no room for pride. Thankfully, He opened my eyes to the hurt I had caused others and graciously humbled me. It is still something I am uprooting with God’s grace, but as a follower of Jesus, I know I should be a humble servant just as He was.

One thing about Jesus that intrigues me is his humility, especially in His servanthood. Jesus is God and, therefore, deserves honor, praise, and glory. Yet the Creator of all things came down in the form of His creation to serve His creation.

I can barely comprehend Jesus’ humility because of how great His act was. Jesus, who is everything, made Himself nothing by becoming a servant. Servanthood involves humility. If we seek to imitate Jesus, we must humble ourselves and serve others. Jesus’ humility and service for us was more significant than anything we could ever do. All we can do is walk in His footsteps with humility and thankfulness.

The Lord will provide us with many service opportunities, whether in the church, a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter, or our neighborhood. No matter how small the service, it is never insignificant. Humility means considering others’ needs more significant than our own and serving them.

Who can you think of that you could serve? Ask God how you can be His servant.

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Do Not Be Afraid

A good friend was recently diagnosed with stomach cancer that had already spread.

Her treatment involved chemotherapy, surgery, and then more chemotherapy. A few hours after I received this news, a close friend called to say he was struggling professionally. A door closed for him at his current position, leaving him with an uncertain future.

Both friends faced navigating unchartered territory. Both used the word scared when conversing with me. Fear is a normal human reaction. I shared God’s words to Joshua with them.

Of all the commands God gives in the Bible, “Do not be afraid” is used most frequently. This command appears in this particular section of Scripture more than in any other place and relates to the time when the Israelites wandered for forty years in the wilderness as they made their way to the Promised Land. God always gave specific instructions to them, knowing fear would spring up in their hearts. And He included this phrase in every direction.

After forty years, God called Joshua with these words. Joshua may have been frightened, but he trusted God’s words as he led the people into battle. And he became a strong and courageous leader.

Like Joshua, God may charge us with a difficult situation—a wrong diagnosis, job loss, a parenting crisis, the loss of a marriage, or the death of a loved one. We can memorize and repeat this verse often to help us proceed with faith, strength, and courage.

God will give us the strength we need to face each day. He will strengthen us as we move forward, holding us firmly. He will never let us go.

When new situations come into your life, what is your first reaction? Be encouraged and run to the Father, who knows and sees you.

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The Cancer Walk

I walked the cancer walk.

My hair would fall out. The nurse said it would happen soon after the chemo treatments started. I wondered if I would have a perfect round head or a dented and gnarly one. It didn’t matter what I thought; it would happen soon. The experts suggested I shave my head. This would be less traumatic.

I made my appointment at the wig store. When I walked through the rows of different-colored long hair and short, spiky hairstyles, I realized this could be an opportunity. Perhaps I could re-live my teenage days with waist-long hair. Probably not. Maybe my husband would prefer a temporary blonde? Probably not. I tried on every wig that looked of interest. My husband and I laughed at the results that most provided.

Finally, I settled for one much like my hair but nicer in color and thickness. The next step was slipping behind a privacy curtain and shaving my head. My husband video-recorded it at my request. I wanted to share this journey with those around me.

I did what Paul said all believers could. I was not letting fear get in my way. My head was carefully and gently shaved. The wig was fitted, and I entered the world with confidence that this journey was not the final one—just another one I would walk with Christ.

My stage-four cancer came and went. The journey lasted less than a year. But my journey with Christ was strengthened for a lifetime.

Later, I had the opportunity to give a living testimony to other stage-four cancer patients. I told them about the storm. That it had a beginning and an end. Jesus was there through it all.

We can pray to the Father and ask Him to walk with us, strengthening us to do everything.

What steps can you take when you feel your strength has failed?

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Lens Wipes for the Heart

Before turning on the coffee pot every morning, I stumble into the restroom.

There, a package of lens wipes for glasses sits on the vanity. They remind me to clean my glasses thoroughly.

The oils of my skin and the raindrops and mist from the Seattle weather smudge my lenses. Then I can’t see through the perfect, clear glass. My vision clouds like the Pacific Northwest sky, creating a smudgy film. Everything appears dark and dreary—especially when gloom saturates the sky and pours into my soul.

But when I notice the lens wipes, my mind sometimes shifts to another lens: the lens of my heart. Then I ask myself, Are you looking through smudgy lenses of fear, self-pity, or comparison? Or are you seeing how truly blessed you are?

Suddenly, my thoughts turn back to the truth. Over 75 percent of the world lives on less than two dollars daily. Mothers and fathers watch their children die a slow death because they lack clean water. They struggle to find a few bites to offer their little ones. They would do anything to eat even one small bite of the chicken I’ve eaten for the past two days.

As I ponder these profound realities, I’m reminded to clean my glasses—not only on my head but also on my heart. Am I choosing to look through the glasses of gratitude or letting my circumstances smudge my attitude?

Just as I wouldn’t think of leaving the house without brushing my teeth or applying deodorant, I try to remember to sanitize my heart lens daily—sometimes several times.

Remember to choose the gift of gratitude and remember how blessed you are.

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Certain Identification

Once, I had a type of cancer. After successful surgery, I had a month of radiation treatment to ensure my complete recovery. This meant visiting a local clinic every weekday, checking in at the front desk, and accompanying the technician to the treatment room. 

The staff members were cordial. Since I was there regularly, we got to know each other quite well. They patiently answered my questions and concerns, and our conversations were warm.

But what was interesting was that the technician had the same question every day: “What is your date of birth?” 

I wasn’t a stranger to them, yet they always asked the same question. Why? Because hospital regulations required it to make sure they treated the right person. No matter how well they knew me, they still had to ask. Soon, it became amusing and even a joke.

Yet that’s something I never have to fear with God. As the psalmist says in our passage, He has searched and known me. He’s completely familiar with everything about me—my whims, futile attempts to serve Him, and numerous failures. In fact, there’s nothing God doesn’t know about me because He created me. And since He has, there’s a certain identification.

How can you receive comfort from knowing God knows you?

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Joyful Praise Overcomes

The onslaught of nastiness just keeps on coming, but joyful praise overcomes.

Friends getting the dreadful news of cancer and other diseases. Family members and friends succumbing to accidents and Alzheimer’s. People losing jobs and homes. Political stances generating protests and riots. Close friends ending relationships because of opposing views. The things posted on Facebook and other social media are alarming and appalling. I could go on with the list, but even these few statements are disheartening.

I saw the video a friend with a recent diagnosis of cancer posted on Facebook. From her hospital bed, she lifted her beautiful, full-bodied voice in the unmistakable tune and words of “Amazing Grace.” Over the months, as she endured painful treatment, setbacks, and a dire prognosis, her posts continued with words of praise to God and thankfulness for the love and prayers surrounding her.

Although I pray for God’s healing in her body, I have no doubt He has already brought healing to her soul. Like Habakkuk, she found a way to be joyful in the God of her salvation, no matter the calamity. 

How good it is to meet with other believers and praise God with songs and hymns. On occasion, a church might lack someone to lead worship songs, and the only other option is live streaming or musical accompaniment on tape. Even then, we can lift our voices in worship. Through hardship and tears, the joyful sound overcomes.

Lift your voice in praise to the God of your salvation, even when you’re going through the onslaught.

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One Step at a Time

I did it. One step at a time.

Although I once was an avid runner, I had abandoned running many years ago. Fear and excuses prevented me from lacing up my sneakers despite my desire to run again.

I’m too tired. Running just seems too hard. I’m too busy. I’ll start tomorrow. I’m too out of shape. What will people think of me if they see me struggling? It’s too embarrassing!

Eventually, growing tired of my excuses, I concluded I had to start where I was to get back into the athletic condition I desired. That day, I ran. Although I didn’t run far, fast, or long, I ran. A few days later, I ran again. And again. And again.

Slowly but surely, I noticed growing strength and endurance in my body. I am still far from being in great running shape, but I know I am headed in the right direction. It reminded me that change of all kinds happens one step at a time.

If it’s reading our Bible, we can start with just three minutes a day. Perhaps we want to become a more grateful person? We can end our day by verbalizing three things we’re thankful for. Maybe we want to be a more loving person? We can look for one opportunity to compliment, encourage, or bless someone else every single day.

Paul says the hour has come for us to wake from our slumber. The time to move forward is now.

What is one area of your life you’ve been longing to change? Take that first step today. God will meet you where you’re at and help bring you where you’re called.

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Always Rejoice

It may not seem realistic for God to tell us always to rejoice.

A highly intelligent young man had been miraculously protected and blessed by the Lord. He came from a broken home where a prescription-addicted mother had raised him. But he understood his dependency on the Lord.

Later, despite little formal education after high school, he became the co-owner of a prosperous company. His personal relationship with Jesus produced a beautifully spirited man. Then, both of his children declared they were living a lifestyle he disapproved of.

He had a choice between what the Bible said and what the current humanistic philosophy promoted.

Unfortunately, he emotionally justified his children’s behavior by saying their choice was not a lifestyle, but who they were. He rejected what the Bible declared and moved away from believing it.

In turn, his parents sorrowed over his decision, but they remembered the Bible says nothing in this world can separate God’s children from God’s love in Christ Jesus. They realized their adult son was not their responsibility any longer. He had to answer to the Lord as they did. Still, they prayed he would return to the Lord as they trusted in God’s promises.

Attempting to live with our emotions and weaknesses—always to rejoice—is difficult. We live in a fast-paced, over-materialistic world that is increasingly losing contact with God’s teachings. Yet God can help us rejoice always, regardless of our circumstances.

Look for the joy, even in dire situations.

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The Body of Christ

While reading one of my favorite magazines, Reader’s Digest, I came across a sweet story about a mom and dad who had difficulty getting their four-year-old daughter to sleep in her bed. Each night, the parents attempted to convince the child that God watched over her and that she would be okay in her room alone.

One night, just as they thought they’d been successful, the mother felt a tap on her shoulder and heard a soft voice, “Mommy, I know God’s in there with me, but I need someone with skin.”

I often feel like that little child, alone in the dark. While I know God is always with me and watches over me, I sometimes need someone with skin. I believe the body of Christ performs this function, as Paul describes: Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. Our spiritual gifts can provide huge benefits to others. 

God encourages us to bring our problems to Him, but sharing our troubles with other believers is also comforting. I always draw on the strength of the Lord in times of need. But I’ve also learned the wonderful privilege of counsel from fellow believers. It is healing and encouraging for someone to listen to my words and acknowledge my feelings.

Do you lean on the faith of others? How can you be more thankful for the gift of another child of God whom you can touch and see?

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Zealous for Obedience

Once in my life, I experienced real need and had to choose to become dependent on a specific source of food that could help.

In my heart, I felt it was wrong to go that way, but it seemed almost impossible to eat without the help. Inevitably, I cut back on the food I ate and fasted more often. By doing so, I felt better and drew closer to God.

We all want to be more faithful in our walk with God, but we may not always consider what that means.

Without faith, it is impossible to please God. We must believe He exists and will reward those who diligently seek Him. Daniel knew what that meant. He lived in the courts of the king of Babylon but chose not to defile himself with the king’s food. Instead, he obeyed God’s dietary laws for the nation of Israel and honored God with His choices.

As a result, God gave Daniel and his friends—Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—wisdom, knowledge, and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. He also gave Daniel the ability to interpret dreams and solve complex problems.

Sometimes, we find ourselves in difficult situations where we don’t know how to honor God without sacrificing something that may seem beneficial. At the same time, this thing is sinful or morally compromising. We may worry or fret over how our obedience will pan out.

Rest assured. God is faithful and rewards those who obey Him. The reward may not come as we expect or in the way we thought was right. Yet, God rewards those who follow Him and keep His commandments. We may be surprised at how God rewards our obedience. Don’t be afraid or discouraged. Rather, be zealous for the fear of the Lord.

What are some ways you can be zealous to obey God?

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Ducking and Weaving

Had I left on time, none of what happened next would have mattered.

I backed out of our driveway two minutes later than I had intended and headed to meet my husband for lunch. The main road to his place of employment is four-lane, so I figured I could “duck and weave” my way along and make up the time I’d missed. Imagine my upset when I got behind a slow-driving truck in the left (fast) lane. As soon as it was safe, I slipped into the right lane, determined to pass, but just as I gained distance between myself and the truck, it turned. The car that had been behind me drove up and moved forward.

Had I simply been patient, I would have been exactly where I wanted to be. Instead, I was farther behind.

God’s Word is clear on the virtue of patience, that longsuffering ability to tolerate things that often aggravate and frustrate us. In the end, I had to laugh at myself. Despite my best efforts to beat the clock, I’d only made myself later still. Sometimes, we must go with the flow and accept things as they are. Those two minutes were not a crisis, but my impatience made me later and could have caused an accident.

I eased into the left lane behind the car that had been behind me, then took a breath and thanked God for His unique way of teaching—and His patience with this child.

How has God recently taught you the virtue of patience?

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Mighty Woman of Valor

Doctors considered surgery for three different medical issues I experienced. Plus, I faced a four-hour daunting nerve test. Fears and dark images assailed me. Was I a mighty woman of valor?

“I know you’ll do fine, Lauri,” a wise friend said.

She did not promise it would be easy. Instead, she expressed confidence in my ability to cope well, no matter what.

Having always viewed myself as the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz, I wondered what caused her to believe in me. I concluded she knew my faith—and the God in whom I put that faith.

Her words reminded me of Gideon. Cowering in a secret threshing spot and hiding from the Midianites, Gideon was greeted by God’s angel.

Did Gideon have to suppress laughter? He knew he had done nothing to demonstrate valor. But God knew that if Gideon would show faith and obey His instructions, he could be used to win an important victory over those powerful Midianites and later become his nation’s leader.

Gideon pulled himself up out of that hiding place and accomplished both, despite weak faith at first. God believed in Gideon—in what he could become. And He believes in us, too.

As she left the abbey to work for the von Trapp family, Maria, in The Sound of Music, sang, “I have confidence in confidence alone . . . I have confidence in me!”

The lilting Richard Rodgers song worked for a character in a movie, but not so much in real life. Healthy self-confidence is fine, but placing our confidence in God gives believers bravery.

During those troublesome weeks, my enemy was not a foreboding army but anxiety. However, God stomped on my fear and brought me through. When it came time for that painful medical test, I thought of Gideon.

None of the three surgeries proved necessary. That outcome was wonderful. But even more incredible was that God challenged my faith in Him. I had grown stronger.

What are some ways you can lean on God when you feel weak? Together, you and He will do valiantly. 

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An Unforsaking Friend

Some things make us spiritually weak, and others trip us up and interrupt our pursuit of strong faith. Abandonment, fear, and discouragement top the list.

As a child, I experienced all three on one Saturday afternoon. I went to work with my dad in a large manufacturing plant. The place was closed for the weekend. I wanted to explore but was too little to wander around alone, so Dad asked a co-worker to show me the cool stuff.

The deeper we moved into the stadium-sized plant, the more fearful I became. I felt as if Dad had abandoned me with this stranger. I thought I would never find my way back, adding discouragement to my feelings.

Suddenly, Dad appeared. I wondered how. But it didn’t matter. My fear dissipated, and I happily followed him, hand in hand, back to the office without a care. When my father led the way, I had nothing to fear. I trusted him no matter how dark, dirty, or noisy things became.

Deuteronomy 31:8-9 says nothing about our heavenly Father taking us out of fearful situations, but instead promises we will not be alone or put into the hands of a stranger. The one we know and trust leads us by the hand. We don’t have to fear, for He will not abandon us.

Our Scripture is one of the most incredible guarantees in the Bible. God, the sovereign Creator of the universe, will lead us and never leave us. Our part is striving to know Him better through the Word and trusting Him more. God should never be a stranger to us.

Three of the biggest joy-stealers are fear, discouragement, and abandonment. But the promise of the personal presence of Jesus can halt them all. Thinking of Christ as a loving, committed friend is never irreverent. Our heavenly Father is indeed a friend to sinners.

How can you know this unforsaking friend better?

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Keeping the Holidays Holy

Although our church was small, we did our best at keeping the holidays holy.

Toward the end of October, our small church’s bulletin fills with announcements. First comes our Fall Festival. For whatever reason, they never followed the trunk-or-treat trend. We can argue over whether we should celebrate certain holidays—or certain aspects of some holidays—but we love getting together, having a meal, taking the kids—and some adults—on a hayride, and having games for the kids.

Around the same time, we start our Shoebox push. We provide boxes and info pamphlets and encourage people to fill as many as possible for needy children around the world. Most of all, we remind them that literature about how to know Christ will accompany every shoebox. We also show videos on Sunday mornings so they can witness firsthand the difference these shoeboxes make. Our little congregation of thirty typically exceeds fifty boxes.

Next comes our annual Thanksgiving meal, where we gather around the table to enjoy good food and company.

Depending on when Christmas comes, we typically begin Advent around the first of December. No, we’re not a Catholic church—and my dear old dad would probably never have observed it in his church—but I enjoy lighting the various candles each Sunday and reflecting on their meaning.

Around the middle of December, our children perform their play. The production is short and sweet since we only have a handful of children. Sometimes, adults must step in to help them.

When our church Christmas meal is over, our busyness ends, and so do most of the announcements in the bulletin.

Although busy, I love the holiday season because it allows me to reflect on the holy. In October, I remember the harvest season and the times when farmers and their families depended on a good harvest to make it through the winter and to the next planting season.

Thanksgiving reminds me of the Pilgrims and our country’s heritage. I would have loved to have been there when they invited their Native American neighbors to a food feast.

But of all the holidays, Christmas reigns the highest. On this day—whether Jesus was born in December or not matters not—we celebrate the birth of our Savior, God’s gift to humanity. God’s solution to our sin. God’s ultimate offer of forgiveness. The shepherds and the magi are excellent examples of how we should respond to this baby King. We should praise him and offer him our best.

So, whatever your traditions during the holidays, keep the holy in them.

How can you keep the holy in your holidays?

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Oatmeal for Dinner

The strains of Thomas the Tank Engine floated into the kitchen. Empty Tupperware and toy dishes littered the floor. My preschool-aged son and my toddler had been cooking, and I was too tired to clean up their mess. My husband called from work. He wouldn’t be home until late. The evening stretched before me with no end in sight.

I perused the pantry contents. It didn’t take long. Spaghetti noodles, a box of mashed potatoes, some saltines, a couple of pudding boxes, and a large round canister.  

The prospects in the refrigerator weren’t much better. We ate the leftovers for lunch. I could make PB&J sandwiches, but then remembered we’d had toast for breakfast and no bread or peanut butter remained. I opened the tub of butter and cringed at the toddler-sized tooth marks.

When I shut the refrigerator, a small hand touched my leg. My curly-haired preschooler smiled at me. His brother followed and lifted his arms. I picked him up and kissed his soft cheek, inhaling his sweet scent and the faint aroma of butter.

“How about oatmeal for dinner?” I asked.

“Roast.” My oldest picked up a bowl from the floor and placed it on his head. He smiled up at me. “Gramma’s roast.”

The toddler squirmed, and I set him on the floor. He picked up another bowl and placed it on his head, laughing. “Pa.”

They loved visiting their grandparents, who lived nearby.

My older son twirled in a circle and chanted, “Gramma, Pa. Gramma, Pa.”

Loading the boys into the car, I hoped my in-laws wouldn’t mind an unexpected visit. We had plenty of month left, but not much money. I had come to the end of myself and my resources.

When we come to the end of ourselves and our resources, God is always ready to step in and provide. Sometimes, our in-laws cook a grilled cheese or a Sunday afternoon roast. At other times, it may be an encouraging word or a phone call.

I’m not sure what we ate for dinner, but I remember God provided something for us, just as He always does.

What are some ways God has provided for you? 

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God's Strength

Climbing a rock wall is exhausting.

Years ago, I bouldered at a rock gym in Pennsylvania. For me, exercise was too repetitive unless it engaged my mind. On occasional visits, I attacked the artificial rock wall with little warmup, scrambling up and crawling sideways on my fingers and toes. Fifteen minutes in, my forearms quivered and all but gave out. I left the gym proud of what I could do without a harness.

On one visit, I decided to go higher. Strapped into a harness, I climbed, conscious of how I looked to the belayer on the ground. I thought I was doing an okay job. The belayer, however, was not impressed.

“Use your legs!” he shouted.

“Okay!” I responded, realizing I was placing my toes.

After a few seconds, he repeated, “Use your legs. You’re not using your legs.”

I reached the top and stretched to ring the bell. Back on the ground, the belayer asked if I wanted to go again. I declined and showed him my shivering arms.

“Your legs,” he answered, “are much stronger than your arms. You’re relying on the strength of your arms. You’ll tire out quickly if you do that.”

That made sense. Although I assented, I still could not translate leg motion into action.

As a follower of Christ, God has shown me this is how I approach everything. I attack difficult things as I attacked that rock wall: relying on my limited strength to climb and succeeding, only to be wiped out.

God does not want us to rely on our own strength. When faced with obstacles, we should fear God, humble ourselves, and ask Him for direction instead of climbing on our own strength and then asking Him to bless our weak attempts.

If we rely on God when we face challenges, He will give us all the strength we need.

How can you give your challenges to the Lord and allow Him to strengthen you?  

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The Last Headache

Although I’ve known this Bible verse since I was a child, the words “neither shall there be any more pain” failed to grab my attention until physical pain bombarded me later in life—typical of young people, I suppose. Now that I’ve experienced chronic pain, I rivet on this promise.

On a particularly rough day, I told God, “Please, just take me to heaven!” He will, but at His appointed time. In the meantime, I seek relief, but it appears I will be stuck with a measure of pain.

And so will many others—whether it be wrenching headaches, spasming backaches, needle-like foot agony, or piercing hip distress. It. Just. Hurts.

This devotion is not intended as a pity party, but I admit, I am weary of it all and fed up with trying this and that. Drained from endeavoring to cope while putting on a show of bravery. Exhausted from pushing through. Tired of explaining to others why I can’t do this or that right now—or any more at all. Tired of biting my tongue as I defy adding “chronic complaining” to my list of chronic this and chronic that.

One day, however, I realized something. One wonderful day, I will experience my last headache. And so will all of us. God will remove the fill-in-the-blank chronic pains we endure if we have received Jesus Christ as our Savior and inherited heaven as our forever home. These pains that we cannot rid ourselves of on earth will end.

When self-pity tempts me, I pray God will help me to worship Him. He is worthy and promises heaven despite my unworthiness. Until then, He is present and pours comfort, strength, and joy into me. I can’t whine and worship at the same time.

The idea that pain will be gone one day is beyond appealing; it is heavenly. Just closing my eyes and trying to imagine that is difficult. But I believe it, nonetheless.

How does hearing “neither shall there be any more pain” make you feel? 

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On Solid Ground

The sunlight peering through my window awakened me. A bright and sunny day always makes me smile.

However, some seasons in life feel as if a dark cloud hovers overhead, casting a shadow on the brightest of days. Falling into a depressed state of mind is easy because of the burdens we carry—such as financial difficulties, the weariness from years of pain from an undiagnosed health issue, an unfulfilling job, estranged relationships, marital problems, or prayers that remain unanswered. These and other concerns can make us feel as if we are standing on shaky ground.

I thought of the words found in a popular hymn: “On Christ, the solid rock, I stand.” We can rely on Jesus Christ to be our firm foundation, and we will not be shaken. He is our solid ground, rock, refuge, and rescuer in time of need. We can depend on Him to be our anchor. He will hold us securely when the storms of life seem difficult to withstand. We can trust Him to carry us when we don’t think we can face another day.

Life is filled with uncertainties, but be encouraged. Jesus Christ is greater than any problem, circumstance, or situation. When issues seem too much to bear, we can pray, praise, and give thanks. God is always there and promises never to leave us. Keep the faith, and look for the glimmer of light, brighter days, and footing on solid ground.

Whom will you call when you feel as if you are standing on shaky ground?

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Gentle at Heart

We can read daily headlines and see news of shock, horror, disbelief, disease, wars, disaster, or calamity—man-made and natural. How we seek to escape from the trauma and dire circumstances of life.

The harshness of this world is a stark contrast to the life of our Lord Jesus, who was so gentle at heart in words and demeanor. At all times, He was a gentle man who was tender and sensitive to the pain and suffering of the people He met. Jesus grieved deeply for their sufferings and often mended their bodies and spirits on the spot.

The Lord bids us to come to Him. He will carry our burdens, whether they are internal or external. A yoked pair of oxen can carry tremendous loads. When we yoke with Jesus, He will do the heavy lifting.

Jesus promises us rest and peace. The Lord offers a gentle way of life as we remain centered in Him. A well-rested body, mind, and spirit will experience peace.

But we must choose to lay down our burdens of fear, trembling, and stress. God is with us every step of the journey and will teach us to trust in Him if we allow Him.

Rather than turning our attention to the most shocking news of the day, we can choose the gentler way of following Jesus. Even when storms rage, He takes us by the hand and leads us safely through. On the other side of the storm, we live victoriously and enjoy a gentler way of life as God intended. My shoulders feel lighter already.

How can you have a gentler heart and life?  

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God's Buffet

My wife and I once took a cruise. I wanted to experience the endless food buffets I had heard about but was disappointed when they were not the epicurean delight I had imagined.  

My wife will testify that I am in a constant state of hunger. I’m unsure why, but I yearn for that satisfying feeling of a full-enough stomach. It’s that feeling of needing nothing and being complacent. Everything is in its place, and all is well.

People listened to Jesus as He taught from the mountain because they felt empty, lost, and oppressed. Some of the wealthy and a few government officials were hungry too.

Searching for meaning and identifying God’s role and will in our lives gives us the focus to satisfy our hunger and thirst. Living a life dedicated to the One who created us gives us purpose, motivation, and satisfaction. He created us to glorify Him through our thoughts and actions because this is right. Doing this satisfies us. And we discover all this in the buffet of God’s Word.

When we commit our lives to God and fill up on His Word, we experience a fullness of joy—the satisfaction of being content and the start of living to follow His will for us. Our love for God and His Word grows into sharing with others what brings us joy. We might not explicitly tell someone about our happiness, but our mere countenance and behavior sing loudly.

Today, try the all-you-can-eat buffet of God’s Word. Every Scripture applies to our lives in one way or another. We will become full and know what righteousness is. God will stuff us with His knowledge, which will quench our thirst with living water.

What are some ways you can eat from God’s buffet? 

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Steps of Faith

I wouldn’t have wavered if I could have seen what God planned for me when I took my first steps of faith.

I remember sitting in a waiting room for the longest time—writing, editing, pitching, drafting, and waiting to see if my work made any impact and what the fruit would be. I felt a constant push and pull about whether certain things would pay off. I wondered how any of this would come together for my good.

Looking back now, I realize God’s protection and steadfast love were there throughout the process, reminding me not to doubt Him. I had to take some steps of faith—some of which weren’t comfortable—but they were all a part of God’s glorious plan for my life to bring glory to His holy name. Even if I didn’t understand the outcome, reflecting on such things and obeying God’s voice reminded me of God’s goodness and faithfulness to fulfill His promises in due season.

Steps of faith are like that. God calls us to take an action step. We can obey or disobey, but we reap what we choose. Even if we only see a small part of what’s happening, God’s sovereignty helps us trust Him, even if we don’t understand the full scope of His work.

Has God called you to step out in faith while in the waiting room? Are you unsure of the outcome? Trust God through it all and delight in Him.

What are some steps of faith you should take? 

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Give It to God

When our son turned two, my wife and I began teaching him to do some tasks independently.

He takes his trash to the garbage can and puts away his books. On Sundays, when the congregation brings their offering to the front and puts it in the basket, I hand him money, and he gleefully runs up and puts it in.

His grandma attends church with us and has a ready supply of treats. One day, he finished his fruit snacks, promptly walked to the front of the auditorium, and dropped his wrapper in the offering basket.

My son might not know the difference between a trash can and an offering basket, but in some ways, he understands letting go better than I do. He saw something he didn’t need anymore and was happy to hand it to God. He didn’t worry about whether he’d need that empty wrapper later any more than a sparrow worries about the future or a lily worries about tomorrow’s outfit. Our son didn’t focus on who watched or what they thought, as I did. And once he threw the wrapper in, it was gone from his mind—no regrets.

As for me, I’m not so quick to hand things over to God. I decided to give up social media for a time. I initially looked at it more as a big sacrifice I was undertaking to impress God. But after I eliminated it, I realized how much it had grown into an addiction and a crutch. Giving it up wasn’t presenting God with a pure, unadulterated sacrifice. I was throwing my trash in the offering.

When we feel weighed down, stressed out, or overburdened, we can stop and look at what’s in our hands and hearts. Is it something we need to carry around, or does it belong in God’s hands? And if you see an exasperated father fishing around suspiciously in the offering plate at your next church service, please extend him some grace. You never know what someone else is going through.

What are some ways you can give to God? 

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Choose to Rejoice

The sign in front of a small local church read, This is the day that the Lord has made. Don’t mess it up.

At first, I chuckled. But then, in seriousness, wondered how often my attitude might have messed up a wonderful day the Lord made for me. 

How many times have I missed a glorious sunrise because I grumbled about my schedule for the day? How often have I overlooked a beautiful sunset for the same reason? How often have I messed up things because someone in my life—a friend or family member—didn’t do it “my way”? Even once is too often. Every day is a day the Lord has made, so we should rejoice and be glad in it.

Today, I choose to focus on all that He has done for me, offered me, and even challenged me with. I choose to remember His love—the love He has shared with me through the laughter and tears of friends and family. Love that He has shared with me through sermons, hymns, and prayers from my years of faith in Him.

God shows us love daily through His majestic creation. Just look at the world surrounding us—the blue sky, the grass, the trees, the fields, the flowers, and the animals. His love and beauty surround us.

This is the day the Lord has made. Choose to rejoice and find His hand at work as He pours His love into your life and the lives of those you love. Choose to celebrate.

What are some ways you can celebrate each day?  

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Be Box

I have a “Be Box” for fear, doubt, and worry.

I write words that describe my feelings on a piece of paper. Then, physically and metaphorically, I give them to God by putting them in the box and surrendering them in prayer. This box holds words I’ve written during many different stages of life: when I was uncertain, when I searched, and when I was heartbroken, worried, afraid, and hopeless. I’ve written about significant life moments or changes and what some might consider trivial things. I continue adding to the box, and each time I add a word, I re-read every one of them.

I’ve learned over the years that God’s faithfulness has no match. He is always at work, even when it doesn’t feel or look like it.

Every time I read the words, I’m brought to tears. But every time, I smile at the bigness, lovingkindness, and unfathomable grace of God. He sees the words I write on these tiny pieces of paper in this small box. And He sees them and knows them as if they were written on His heart. Yes, He has answered every one of them in full. Usually not in ways I expected, but always in ways that were much better than I had ever hoped.

When we question God’s goodness, faithfulness, or love, we can know He sees the words we write in our confusion. He hears the words we whisper in the dark. He knows the cries of our hearts through our tears. And He cares. How sovereign and good He is that He does not leave us to ourselves to figure things out. 

What are some ways you hand your fears to God? He really does have it all worked out.

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Good News

The surgeon smiled in a poor attempt to mask the bad news. Something had gone terribly wrong during the ten-hour operation. He didn’t have good news.

“Mrs. Hughes,” he said with evident sorrow, “we nicked the nerve while scraping spurs from your vertebrae. We remain hopeful, but you may not be able to walk again.”

With tears streaming, I prayed Psalm 23. It became a mantra to get me through each day, and I felt God’s peace by doing so. Focusing on Him prevented me from fully comprehending how this mistake would change my life . . . forever.

I experienced a miracle of healing but not immediately. After years of hard work and physical therapy, I learned to walk again with a cane and leg brace or by leaning on my husband. But pain like a thousand tiny needles on fire pierced my feet every second of the day.

Twenty years have passed since I received that bad news. The good news is that the gospel had penetrated my heart years before that botched surgery. God saved me by His grace. That same grace sustained me through many dark hours.

God has poured His grace on me because of my pain and suffering. My faith and prayer life grew stronger. Unable to work, I invested in various ministries and Bible study. Then I found remote work as a job coach with a company that brings new hope to people with disabilities by offering them training, coaching, and job placement.

By God’s grace, I have experienced salvation and know God can use adverse circumstances to do the good works He has planned for us.

If you have been traumatized by tragic circumstances, take heart. God will use your situation for your blessing and His glory. And that’s good news. 

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Nourishment for My Soul

Lord, here I am devouring Your Word like someone eating a meal in a hurry. I’m not even taking the time to notice the spices and seasoning in the dish. Just busy inhaling as much as I can while my mind races toward the day’s next scheduled event. Please forgive me, Lord. You offered it, and I devoured it entirely in my haste. I don’t remember any of what I read.

Sometimes we can read the Bible just to check it off our list of things to do. God wants us to slow down and savor what He says to us. I have found myself running out the door toward whatever the day holds—a mug of coffee in hand and an apple in my pocket. In my haste, I miss the little moments: the “I love you” from my spouse, the wagging of the dog’s tail because he’s happy to see me, and the wonderful smells of the coffee I poured.

When I hurry through the Word, I miss God’s voice—His direction for the day and the reminder He loves me and wants the best for me. I pray for God to help me slow down, breathe in the aroma of His goodness, and savor every word that proceeds from His mouth. I want to dissect and notice the flavors of what He gives me daily. I want to see how His Word applies and directs me presently. I need more than just words on paper; I need nourishment for my soul.

Is your to-do list keeping you from spending quality time with God? Ask God to show you how to prioritize your day better so you can seek Him and wait for His voice. 

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The Gray In-Between

“If you’re not growing, you’re dying.”

My husband said this to me one night, and I have pondered how everything is not always black and white. There’s a whole lot of in-between.

I am uncomfortable in this gray, undefined space. I realized this when I killed my most prized plant: a new, large Rhododendron bush. I was so proud when I planted it one spring day. But as fall and then early winter came, the plant looked dreadful. So, I did what any nature lover would do: yanked it out of the ground.

I was at peace about putting my poor bush out of its misery—knowing it was in a nursery high in the sky—until I noticed the house by the park with rows of dreadful-looking Rhododendrons. What had I done?

Sure enough, when spring arrived, those rows of dreadful bushes popped out sweet little buds, reminding me of my complete lack of faith in the process happening within this living thing. Then again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing to be reminded of. But back to the if-it-isn’t-growing-it’s-dying thing. A lot was going on in the life of that beautiful plant that I couldn’t see. It was far from death.

When the Lord asks us to wait for Him, He asks for our trust in His timing and purpose.

Life is filled with challenges, hiccups, strains, and detours. Every Easter I am reminded of the ultimate act of trust in the unseen. Imagine how Jesus’ followers felt during the last week of His life. He foretold things to come, but since the dreadfulness and darkness of Good Friday was in full effect, it must have been nearly impossible for His followers to rely on the promises they heard. But three days later, everything made sense.

When things are different or seem at a complete stop, remember God is good. He is working out much in the quiet gray space in-between. Looking back at my own life, I believe this is where God’s creativity and love deeply thrive. He’s asking us to trust, hold on a bit longer, and wait for all He holds on the other side.

How can you better adjust to the gray in-between? 

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Missed Expectations

He’s not my type.

How often had I said that as a single adult? He’s too tall. He’s too short. He isn’t into sports. My list of criteria for a spouse was specific, and it seemed difficult to keep an open mind if a person’s attributes deviated from the list. Someone, a Christian of course, on the order of the Ken and Barbie doll fame would do.

Needless to say, expectations can be a bit unrealistic at times.

Enter the Son of God. Jesus was easy to overlook. In fact, many of the religious leaders and Jewish people did overlook Him. He couldn’t possibly be the One they waited for because He didn’t fit their criteria.

Jesus came as a baby, not a stately figure within the current ranks. His plan involved a band of twelve ordinary men, not the religious council. He succumbed to death on a cross, not exactly a military hero. This couldn’t be the anticipated deliverer or Messiah.

I understand all too well what it’s like to hold to missed expectations as I anticipated meeting my spouse. I had a game plan. First, I thought I would find my husband at a Christian college. Not there, but God did engage me in a new understanding of the whole body of Christ. Next, I figured I would meet the “one” in seminary. However, the intrigue of intellectual stimulation did not materialize into a Mrs. Degree. Not to worry. I certainly would meet my soul mate on the mission field. Instead, it was the African people who stole my heart.

I eventually opened my eyes to a man I had met twenty-five years earlier at a local church event. Much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, I had misplaced my expectations. I kept looking ahead and missing what was right in front of me. We have now been married for eleven years.

The hymn “Open My Eyes” sets the right mindset for believers. The first verse challenges us to see the glimpses of truth God has for us. The anticipated One has come. We can stop overlooking Him and discover Him in all His glory in the inspired words of Scripture.

How can you do a better job of establishing your expectations? 

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I’d worked at it for the better part of thirty minutes. My arms shook, and sweat soaked me under the blaze of the Florida sun. I was weary.

The job? Taming my overgrown wax myrtle hedge. I used an electric hedge trimmer and had a long extension cord. But they were like David’s pebbles in the face of my personal Goliath. Still, my five-foot-five-inch body leaned and stretched atop a five-foot ladder, whacking away at the seven-foot hedge. I would conquer this chore.

After what felt more like hours, I shaped the scruffy shrub back into tidy, rounded lines and climbed down. Arms still vibrating from the trimmer’s power, I stared at the bush and sucked in a deep, satisfied breath. Then I looked around me. Leavings of my efforts littered the ground. I wiped my forehead and sighed—still more work.

How often do we stop in the middle of our journey and look at our lives, relationship with God and others, and think, Still more work? Tired, if not exhausted, by our efforts, we can’t help but wonder if all the labor is worth it. And the hard truth is, sometimes it isn’t.

But even if we’re doing God’s work, like serving in the church’s daycare or leading a Bible study, we can get caught up in the do more and be more of our culture. We forget striving and straining aren’t a part of God’s calling for our lives. His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.

The next time you feel weary, worn out, or even burned out, take a moment to chat with God. Ask Him to remind you of the work He called you to do, not what you chose. See if the two align. His answer might surprise you.

What are some ways you can avoid weariness? 

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Limping Through Life, Dancing Through Eternity

Bumps and bruises come with the territory when you’re a kid.

Although I’ve never broken a bone, I did have my share of scrapes and falls, resulting in thirty stitches on one occasion and bandages on numerous others. Sometimes, these injuries were repercussions of my foolishness, but a few were because family and friends didn’t understand the cause-and-effect issue. Silly choices where I, a little girl without a single athletic gene in her body, tried to be a gymnast, which imposed lingering neck and back problems.

When we fail to consider our actions’ consequences, danger comes along on the journey. But there are emotional and spiritual injuries that grab us as well. For me, abuse in multiple forms allowed depression and anxiety to set in, which only worsened when those issues were not examined and healed.

As a kid, I remember thinking that when I became an adult, those hurts wouldn’t matter. I discovered that being an adult didn’t change what had happened in the past. The sinful behaviors done to me and by me had long-reaching effects. Being a follower of Jesus now doesn’t change what occurred, but it does change my future.

At a time when my depression brought me to my lowest—and I wept in despair—a friend stepped in, put her arms around me, and said, “The Lord is telling me you need to hear these words: ‘I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.’”

It was as if she threw me a lifeline as the dark waters swirled. The struggle to stay afloat continued, but finally, I had something to hang on to as I pursued the healing God supplied through Christian counseling.

Years later, I remember my friend speaking those words over me, and I see how the Lord has given back to me what I lost—my joy. Back on safe ground, I may still limp through this life, but I will dance in eternity.

Have you experienced God’s healing? It’s there for you. Reach out for it, and I’ll meet you at the dance.

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The Uphill Climb

Recently, God and I have been getting together frequently in the middle of the night.

Darkness is the Enemy’s territory. It is where the waves of doubt and shame threaten to stifle out all I know to be true about God. I hear the whispers, “Is God really fighting for you, or are you doing this on your own again?” Or “When is it that you will actually follow Him wholeheartedly?” So, God and I have a secret meeting while the rest of the world sleeps.

The Lord said to Joshua, "Do not fear them, because I have given them into your hand; not one of them shall stand before you." So Joshua came upon them suddenly, [surprising them] by marching [uphill] all night from Gilgal . . . There has not been a day like that before it or after it, when the Lord listened to (heeded) the voice of a man; for the Lord was fighting for Israel. These verses describe one of the most miraculous victories in the Bible. God made the sun stand still for twenty-four hours so the Israelites could win. I got so caught up in the miracle that I almost missed what came before it.

The Lord told Joshua, “Do not fear,” and then Joshua marched uphill all night. That intrigued me, maybe because it was dark outside—but mostly because it matched precisely how my heart felt.

Sometimes we feel as if the journey God has called us on is taking us uphill all night. Perhaps Joshua questioned himself in the darkness whenever he tripped on a branch or hit a rock. I like to think he did.

The important part is not the doubts but the response. One foot in front of the other. No turning back. Slowly stumbling uphill in the darkness. Joshua’s doubts did not stop him from moving forward. Despite the treacherous climb, his perseverance brought deliverance in a way Israel had never seen before or since.

There in the darkness, I heard a whisper: “Just because your heart is climbing uphill all night does not mean I am not fighting for you, nor does it mean that you have strayed off the path. So keep climbing because a victory awaits.”

Fellow climbers, I pass on these words to you: “Just keep climbing, for victory awaits!”

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The Eyes Have It

Danger! Go!

Instantly, a dozen sparrows from around the backyard feeder headed for the trees and disappeared. They orchestrated their departure to perfection. Was a hawk lurching in the neighbor's yard? Whatever it was, they were alarmed. The predator, however, would have been hard-pressed to find the one bird he had keyed into from afar. So, as a group, they flew in perfect synchrony away from danger.

The simple display of the sparrows flying away in unison reminds us how important it is for Christians to stick together. Knowing this makes us less vulnerable. The Enemy will never miss the chance to lead us into greater isolation. 

As children of God, God has built us for community. It seems to be an innate instinct within the animal world as well. With technological advances, however, humans have created an alternative to the exhortation in Hebrews. Online church is very popular. And long after churches have reopened their doors, a significant percentage of churchgoers still choose to worship from home. 

One day as I was visiting with a woman in a small African village, I sat in silence as she carried on her daily chores. I spoke a sentence occasionally, but my grasp of the language was far from literate. I felt awkward every time I opened my mouth. Yet at the end of the visit, she told me what a lovely visit it had been because I had honored her with my physical presence.

What would happen in our churches if we had the same attitude as those in this small African village? What if, when we looked face-to-face with someone, we saw their presence as a gift?

The interaction of fellow believers promises God's presence and protection. God says that where two or three gather in His name, He is in their midst. So, whether it's a small group meeting in a home or connecting with a friend over coffee, the eyes have it. The appeal in Scripture is clear that meeting together as believers is imperative.

How can you place greater importance on meeting together with others?

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When the Morning Comes

Glenden had been married about a year when she became sick in December of 1948.

Glenden’s illness started as a cold, but she worsened and was eventually diagnosed with pneumonia. Because she was pregnant, the doctor admitted her to the hospital for treatment.

Being well-loved, Glenden received many visits from her husband, parents, and siblings. Mary Catherine, Glenden’s younger sister, remembers being six years old the evening she and her mother went to the hospital. Glenden’s mother sat by her bed, held her hand, and prayed for God to heal her daughter and unborn grandchild on earth or in heaven. She prayed for God’s will in her daughter’s life.

As Mary Catherine and her mother left the hospital room that night, she said the following to Glenden: “I’ll see you in the morning.” Mary Catherine thought, Oh boy, she’s coming home.

Later that night, after everyone had gone home, Glenden died. Mary Catherine said, “It was years later when I realized Momma was talking about the resurrection.” At twenty-four, Glenden had gone home to her Savior.

Death is a natural part of life. However, being a believer means we put our hope in Jesus, the one who was raised from the dead. We don’t know how many days we have on this earth, so we should make the most of each day.

Tonight, when you go to bed, take a few moments to pray for forgiveness, for the people you love, for the people who hate you, and for God to answer your prayers. 

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Character Beats Cologne

Character beats cologne every time. 

I still remember two of my classmates from high school. Edward came from a poor family but one with a reputation for being honest, hardworking, and caring. Joey originated from a wealthy family who owned a business in town, lived in luxury, and flaunted their wealth. Joey was primarily known for wearing expensive cologne.

Edward and Joey died within a year of each other. People remembered Edward for his character but Joey for his cologne. People enjoyed having Edward as a good friend, but Joey was good for smell only.

Sometimes people confuse their priorities and prioritize earning a living rather than making a life. As a result, building wealth becomes more important than building character.

Having a good name means having good character and then behaving accordingly so we can earn a reputation for being honest, hardworking, and caring—regardless of our social status. Only the wealthy could usually afford precious ointment—an ancient aromatic cologne.

But the end comes to both the one with a good name and the expensive cologne. The death of the one with the good name is better than his birth because, although born with nothing, he earned a reputation for showing goodness and kindness. On the other hand, the one who lived selfishly and in luxury will be remembered only for his expensive and smelly perfume.

Some still flaunt their wealth to get everyone’s attention, while others quietly build good character and an impressive reputation. They impact lives for Christ that others will remember long after they are gone.

How can others know you from your character, not your cologne?

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A Three-Letter Word

“What on earth do fig trees, olive oil, sheep, and cattle have to do with me in modern American society?” I asked myself.

Fig tree not blossoming? Long-held expectations have been dashed. No fruit on the vines? Efforts and prayers don’t lead to the hoped-for results. No olive oil or food? At times, I become keenly aware of what’s missing in my life. Being cut off from the fold? Sometimes I feel isolated from others and deem myself unprotected. No herd? Something I thought I held safely suddenly disappears.

Rather than lasering on disappointments, I can opt for joy and rely on God. He will be my strength—plus a bonus promise for nimble and sure feet. A wonderful blessing as I walk on with Him step by step.

But it all hinges on me focusing on the three-letter word “yet.” Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.

Choose to rejoice in God today and turn away from self-pity. He will strengthen and guide you as you trust Him. 

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Love Yourself

“Love yourself” is a command we often break.

When we make a mistake, we speak down to ourselves and are harder on ourselves than anyone else. We call ourselves names and doubt every promise God has given. We condemn ourselves for sins God has long erased, seeing ourselves as the person in the past, not the new creature God has created. If others saw how we treat ourselves, I am sure they’d pass on that kind of love.

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” As I read this verse, I prayed that I would love my family as I love myself. But then God showed me the love I give myself, and I wasn’t sure I wanted that same love for others.

God wants us to see ourselves as He does. Our view changes when we see ourselves as forgiven, loved unconditionally by God, and made into new creatures with the power of the Holy Spirit. This view brings a new love of self.

Flight instructors tell us that if an emergency arises, we should put our masks on first before we help others. We can’t help them if we gasp for air. Similarly, we can’t adequately love those around us if we don’t love ourselves.

Reflecting on our self-thoughts and writing a few words describing how we see ourselves is a good practice. Next, we should reflect on how God sees us if they aren’t positive. Then we can cross out the negative words and replace them with God’s loving words.

How can you replace the Enemy’s negative self-talk with positive Scripture? 

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Worry and Fear

My mother was a professional at two things: worry and fear. 

I’m good at worrying too because I learned from the best. I’ve worried about many things in my life: death of family members, accidents, failure, and long-term illness.

A few years ago, I woke up with a strange feeling in my head, and when I tried to stand, I couldn’t. I felt nauseous but could not walk to the bathroom. After a trip to the hospital, the doctor informed me I had experienced a brain bleed and would need intubation. As a nurse, I knew about the procedure and wasn’t excited. I asked the doctor to give me something so I would not be awake. That was the last thing I knew until I awoke with the tube in my throat the next day.

Had someone asked me a week before this event if I would be afraid to wake with a tube in my throat, I would have shouted yes. But when it happened, I had no fear. It was uncomfortable, but I felt at peace.

The dictionary defines worry as tormenting ourselves with or suffering from disturbing thoughts. My definition is a fear that God doesn’t know what He is doing. But how foolish to think the God of all creation can’t figure out how to help us when we need Him.

Jesus doesn’t want us to waste time with worry and fear. When He and the disciples were in a storm on the Sea of Galilee, He didn’t say, Don’t be afraid because your boat is strong. You know what to do. Or this storm isn’t so bad. Instead, He told them not to be afraid because He was there.

The Bible never tells us to worry. Worry can’t add a single hour to our lives, give us words when needed, make someone well, or change the outcome of a situation. Only God can do any and everything, but worry stands in the way of God’s peace.

What are some ways you can better deal with worry and fear? 

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Tumbling Act

My tumbling act down three concrete steps wasn’t part of my vacation plans.

A week’s visit to my sister’s home included an afternoon hot tub session at our brother’s house. After that relaxing soak, I headed towel-wrapped and barefoot to our mother’s apartment across the courtyard to change into dry clothes. The Pacific Northwest in springtime means algae everywhere, even on concrete. Wet feet on slimy algae-covered concrete created an accident waiting to happen.

Suddenly, my feet slipped out from under me at the top of the stairs leading to Mom’s apartment. Without thinking, I tucked my chin into my chest, held tightly to my towel, and did a 360-degree roll, coming to rest at the bottom of the three steps.

Family members hurried to my side. Other than a large contusion on my upper left leg, a small lump on my lower right arm, and a bad shake-up, I fared well. Yes, I shed a few tears. After all, concrete is hard, and this hurt—not to mention the embarrassment.

After a warm shower and a muscle relaxer, I rested in my sister’s recliner, distracting myself with a perusal of Facebook and posting about my tumbling act. Then, seeing a private message awaiting me from a long-time friend, I clicked to read it.

She had not heard about my accident but asked if I was okay. The previous night she’d awakened in the wee hours feeling the need to pray—but for whom? My name came to mind, so she prayed.

I replied, “That’s why those angels surrounded me as I tumbled down the stairs.” I considered her petitioning heaven as a preventative measure. Perhaps an angel gave me a gentle nudge to tuck my chin so I could protect my head. And maybe, the angel arms wrapped me tighter than that towel I clung to, preventing broken bones.

When the Holy Spirit prompts us to pray, He has a reason. How can you better listen to the Spirit’s promptings?  

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Open-Book Test

I considered myself a pretty good student in high school—at least above average. But when it came time for a test, that was an entirely  different story.

No matter how hard I studied or how many answers I memorized, my brain went blank when the test was placed before me, as if I had never studied at all. Whenever a teacher announced a pop quiz, my body threatened to have an anxiety attack. Oh, how I envied all those who seemed to never study yet still made good grades.

Then came the day for an important history exam that counted 50 percent of our final grade. My mind went into panic mode, knowing this would not turn out well. I thought about asking the teacher for an open-book test but knew he’d never agree. So, I did the only thing I could think of—I cheated. The first and only time in all my school years.

I wrote some notes on tiny pieces of paper and tried my best to hide them under the test. I don’t know if the teacher actually saw my notes, but he kept his eye on me almost the entire class period. I couldn’t even peek at the answers. I barely passed the exam. I waited for the ax to fall. To get yelled at or lectured. To be chastised and humiliated in front of the whole class.

The teacher never said a word about my cheating, but he knew—and he knew that I knew he knew. I was so embarrassed to face him afterward and would have dropped the class if it had been an option. I barely made it to the end of the school year. And from that point forward, I never even thought about cheating again. Ever.

God’s classroom is altogether different. He asks a lot questions and periodically gives us an unexpected pop quiz. But His methods and motives are far different. He wants us to pass. To do well. To learn and grow. To mature in our faith. And He makes it simple by always giving us that longed-for open-book test. Every part of Scripture is God-breathed. It shows us the truth, exposes our rebellion, corrects our mistakes, and trains us to live God’s way.

Jesus has already given us the answers. When the questions come, all we have to do is open our Bible and allow Him to guide us to the truth.

Are you ready for God’s open-book test?

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God's Guaranteed Promises

Part of living is discovering that some people or companies are trustworthy, and others are not.

Once, we decided our solar cooling system was insufficient for meeting our electrical needs since we had moved to Surprise, AZ. When we installed the system, we lived in the Seattle, Washington, area during the summer months. But in Arizona, we needed more solar panels on our roof.

Much to our surprise, the company that had promised to install more panels when and if we found ourselves living full-time in Arizona had gone out of business in the area and could not install what they promised. Yet they still held the contract, and we had to pay them. Initially, we made a mistake when we did not get their promise in writing.

This sad little story reminds us of the difference between God’s promises and people’s. God is just; people sometimes aren’t.

God does not go out of business. He is eternal, faithful, and righteous. His promises have a lasting guarantee. He meant it when He said He would never leave or forsake any of His children. So we can have confidence, even on our deathbeds.

The Lord is our Shepherd. Our confidence proceeds from the relationship with the Holy One, who said heaven and earth would pass away, but His words would remain forever.

God’s Word, our manual for living, is not a package of trail mix where we choose what we like and reject what we don’t. Instead, it is our bread of life, a complete manna to partake of daily—one full of God’s guaranteed promises.

Share God’s dependable promises. They have written eternal guarantees.

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Grieving Loss

I lose everything.

I’ve lost hearing aids, eyeglasses, umbrellas, shoes, coats, and even my favorite kitchen knife. When I travel, I take a large bag and drop my valuables into it to avoid losing them.

Losing stuff isn’t so bad because I can usually replace it. But it got a bit more serious when I started losing parts of my body. At age thirty-six, I had colon cancer, and the doctor removed part of my colon. No big deal, you might think. No one can tell I’m missing part of my alimentary canal, but I know. Trust me.

In 1999, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, so I lost one breast. The doctor removed the other one the following year just to be safe. Adjusting to a flat chest was challenging. Even with corrective surgery, it isn’t me. I grieved that loss, but life moved on.

In 2018, I had a brain bleed into the part of my brain that controls balance and mobility. With surgery, I lost part of my brain. With therapy and time, I learned to walk and use my computer again, but I was left with poor balance.

I will keep losing things, but one thing I will never lose is Jesus’ presence. He even promised our troubles shape and prepare us for a glory that far outweighs anything we endure on earth. Satan can use our problems to make us feel sorry for ourselves and blame God. But if God gives only good gifts, our task is to ask Him how we can use our troubles for His glory.

We must grieve our losses, no matter what kind, but these troubles are momentary. They do not last into eternity. We choose whether to become bitter or draw closer to Christ.

When you suffer loss, draw close to the One who heals all our diseases and lifts our troubles.

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A Punch to the Nose

I wasn’t expecting a punch to the nose.

My husband and I own and operate a small martial arts studio. We enjoy working with every student, especially our sons. Each one has trained with us at some point. 

One evening, I paired up with ten-year-old Andrew for a round of sparring. Students circled as Andy and I danced back and forth, egging each other on. Laughter filled the air.

Being a bit more experienced, I figured I’d take it easy on my son. So, while sparring, I offered encouragement as well as instruction. I reminded him about using his hands and feet and, most importantly, keeping his guard up.

Deciding a little more pressure might challenge him, I moved in with a flurry of front kicks. Andy blocked them, but then it happened—a well-placed punch right to my nose. The crowd gasped collectively as Andy’s hand flew over his mouth. “I’m so sorry, Mom, but you dropped your guard.”

Playing around and being over-confident, I had dropped my hands and walked right into the punch. My sore nose recovered in short order. My pride, not so much. What I thought would be a learning experience for my son turned out to be a much greater learning experience for me.

Physically, I gleaned a critical lesson, but God desired I grasp a more valuable spiritual one.  

I pondered the many times in life when I had dropped my guard. Too often, I allowed pride to deceive me into thinking I could handle certain situations or play around the edge of some sin while maintaining proper boundaries.

An unguarded heart has no protection. It leaves room for the Enemy to deliver a sucker punch more devastating than a sore nose. How we watch over our hearts affects all areas of our lives.

Is there an unguarded area of your heart? If so, confess it and ask God to give you the wisdom to protect your heart. Then, get back in the ring with your guard up. 

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Offering a Hallelujah

Offering a hallelujah isn’t always easy, especially when bad news comes on top of bad news and hopes we’ve built are crushed once again.

I remember the final day when I lost the love of my life. The days that followed included crying, praying, begging, and more crying for God to help me understand and quit hurting.

I also remember a night when I sat down after a long day at the hospital with little to no good news, and I heard a song with the word hallelujah. The song talked of wanting to see God, to be with Him. I’d never listened to the words this way before.

But how, Lord? How can I praise You and sing hallelujah when my world is falling apart? I thought.  

Perhaps we remember the first time that warm, tingly feeling flooded our bodies during worship time with Jesus. On a Sunday morning as we listened to “Amazing Grace.” We felt a closeness that only could have been Jesus. Maybe it was when something happened and God answered our prayer. Shouting “hallelujah” was easy.

But what about the times when bad things happened, prayers were unanswered, dreams were shattered, and our lives were never the same again? We struggle to feel God’s presence. How do we find the hallelujah in those times? It’s easier to cry, scream, and beg than pray and shout hallelujah.

But God hears us in those times as well. He knows us and wants us to lean on Him and call on His name. So yes, we can offer a hallelujah even in sad and terrifying times.

If you’re in a hard season, praise God. Call on Him to come alongside you. He will meet you there and carry you. Offer a hallelujah. Praise Him even when it hurts to breathe. 

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Speak Truth and Love

I have always been short . . . you know, the one placed on the front row in the class pictures who can never reach anything on the high shelves.

For me, truth is admitting I am shorter than most individuals. But sometimes, the truth is not always presented most lovingly. For example, telling someone they are fat or ugly may be accurate, but it isn’t loving. Avoiding hard statements because we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings may be loving, but sometimes, people need to hear the truth.

In Ephesians, God provides a beautiful balance between the two concepts of truth and love. Both are equally important if we want to grow in our relationship with Jesus and other believers. The church gets stronger when everyone does their part in love. 

Our relationships become authentic, purposeful, and impactful when we develop this beautiful but complex balance. We must speak the truth to others, but lovingly and honestly, so they will receive our truth. It is the balance of a scale.  

We must only look past our social media pages or the news to find how drastically we have skewed God’s balance. So many opinions fly around social media and the news that we have lost the concepts of truth and love.

God wants us to speak the truth in a loving manner that helps us grow closer to Jesus and encourages those with whom we do life. So before you click send or post or open your mouth, ask, is it true and is it loving? If the answers are yes to both, proceed.

How can you do a better job of speaking the truth?

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Clinging to the Rock

I love how God best teaches me when I’m doing the most mundane task.

This happened once as I pulled weeds. Since it had rained so much and the ground was soft, I thought it would be a good time to weed my flower bed. I say this as if I’ve ever had flowers in it. Unfortunately, I do not have a green thumb and can’t keep a succulent alive. But the Lord taught me two valuable lessons that day.

First, God does the backbreaking work of weeding in our hearts. Mine especially. Weeds of discontentment, anger, resentment, complaining, fear, worry, and unkindness. I could go on. God doesn’t leave us in our sins and watch us struggle. He is in the thick of it with us—interceding, strengthening, equipping, convicting, and changing us. He wants more for us than for us to let the world’s ways overrun our hearts. As difficult and uncomfortable as it may be, God has a masterpiece in mind, and He’s working to sanctify us until the day He calls us home.

Second, life’s storms can strengthen or weaken our roots. When the rain and winds of life rage endlessly, I can let them uproot me, or I can dig deeper and hold tighter to the solid Rock.  

When storms come your way, view them as an opportunity to cling to the Rock that is higher than you.

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Know Your Friends

“Know thyself” is a famous saying among philosophers, but it is equally important to know your friends.

In seventh grade, I was the third best in my class, but in the eighth grade, a boy suddenly ingratiated himself in my little group of friends. We were a competitive lot. This guy gradually took my place. I didn’t study him, find his purpose for becoming my friend, or learn his agenda. But when I dropped three times over, I understood why he had joined us.

Amid the storm, the shipmaster and crew inquired about Jonah’s origin. They were minutes from death and had thrown their merchandise overboard, but the storm never ceased. So, finally, they asked Jonah about his origin and identity.

We should discover the identity of those with whom we live life. Then, when we do, we can move ahead with confidence in them.

Once, Jesus was also in a storm with His disciples. We see a unique juxtaposition between that event and Jonah’s experience. The disciples trusted Christ and each other, but Jonah’s mates didn’t trust him. We don’t have to cast lots when we know our friends.

Are you on a journey with strangers you thought were your friends? Find out about those with whom you spend time. Then pray for God to send the right people to you as friends. 

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The Law of Sowing and Reaping

As a teacher, I once took a course to add driver’s education to my teaching certificate. We were taught never to look directly over the right or left fender because it caused over-correction. Instead, we were instructed to focus down the road, which would eliminate weaving back and forth.

Keeping our eyes on our final destination can also benefit our spiritual walk. Just as there are two types of sowing, there are also two kinds of reaping. One type leads to death, while the other leads to eternal life.

The problem is that we often view the law from a worldly perspective rather than an eternal one. We can give love and receive hate in this world. We can give, and people only continue to take. We can forgive, and the people we have forgiven continue to showcase our sins. Sowing and reaping do not always happen in real-time, but in God’s time. Sometimes, reaping does occur in this world, but often it may not until we are in heaven.

Galatians 6:9 warns us, “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (NASB). Unfortunately, when we view sowing and reaping as cause and effect, we lose heart and tire of doing good if we do not reap immediately. Then we begin sowing to the flesh, which is always a downward trajectory.

You may be weary of well-doing. I’ve been there, done that. But it is always too soon to quit. God has promised that in time, we will receive our reward. Some will reap in this world while others will do so in the next, but it will be even more glorious if it is in heaven.

How can you keep discouragement away while you sow and reap?

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Fear on the Interstate

I had never experienced such fear on the interstate.

On the morning of January 2011, we left our home in our old blue pickup truck and headed for Knoxville, Tennessee. Anthony, our oldest son, was scheduled to audition that morning. Overnight, the weather had turned, and snow fell. As we got on the interstate, we saw how bad the weather was. The snow fell so hard that seeing was difficult. We witnessed many accidents that day.

One accident I remember well. A truck that passed us soon began doing donuts in the middle of the interstate. Cars and trucks that followed had to maneuver around the truck to avoid getting hit.

As our truck neared this spinning donut, I felt fear as I had never felt before. The fear of hitting the spinning truck. The fear of my husband and children being injured or killed. The fear of our truck causing other accidents.

Suddenly. the truck stopped spinning and slid off the interstate into the median. With just seconds to spare, our truck’s bumper missed the spinning truck. Thankfully, the truck stopped gently in the median, and the driver was uninjured.

Joy filled my heart as we realized God had protected us from an accident. Although the other driver had wrecked, he was alive and well. Later that morning, we arrived safely for the audition.

When David wrote about fear, he knew what it felt like to be afraid. As a shepherd boy, he killed bears and lions to protect his father’s animals.

Fear can also lead us in a different direction. Think about David the shepherd boy later becoming king. Even King David cried out to God for help. God doesn’t want us to live our lives in fear. Sometimes, He uses that fear to prepare us for greater things.

What can you do to drive away your fears?  

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Cleaning Little Feet

My mama's cleaning little feet reminds me to serve others.

“Linda, Wanda. Come inside, girls. Time to get cleaned up for bed,” Mama called from the porch.

“But, Mama, we already had our bath,” I whined.

“Yes, but you went back outside to play afterward. What if something happens during the night, and we must rush out of the house? I don’t want my girls running out with dirty feet. What would the neighbors think?”

The sweet, clean scent of Ivory soap takes me back to thoughts of Mama and those warm summer evenings. At ages six and four, Wanda and I seldom wore shoes. Living in the country, we loved to run with bare feet. But at bedtime, Mama insisted we have clean feet.

I stood on the commode lid in our small half bath next to our bedroom, putting one foot at a time into the warm, sudsy water Mama had prepared in the sink. I watched her hands as she gently turned the Ivory soap over in the washcloth until it had enough soap to suit her. She took each foot in her hand and washed up to my knee. Next, Mama lifted Wanda onto the commode lid and repeated the process.

By this time, our eyes were heavy. Finally, Mama helped us into our pretty pajamas and tucked us into bed with a prayer and a kiss.

My mama’s love showed a servant’s heart. I’m sure she was tired at the end of her day—and we could have gone to bed with dirty little feet—but that was not what our mama wanted for her newly adopted little girls. We were God’s gift. She treasured her time with us, even at bedtime.

We didn’t realize it then, but Mama taught us how to love God, to make prayer time an essential part of our lives, and to know we could trust God for our future. Mama’s servant heart reflected Christ and has always reminded me of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. That one simple act has moved me to love and serve others.

Having a servant’s heart means helping others in love and not expecting anything in return.

What legacy are you leaving for your children and grandchildren?  

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Calling on God’s Name

I have been calling on God’s name for years, and He has answered my prayers.

One of the first big things I prayed for was to finish high school at Jefferson High. I had moved to the east side of town during my junior year and needed a transfer to attend JHS. Both principals signed my transfer. In theory, this might not mean much, but to me, it did. I was a young Christian and believed finishing high school at Jefferson would help me emotionally.

I have also called on the Lord’s name about finances, and the Lord has helped me with them. I work for a small company, and the owner does whatever he can to assist me. The Lord has also reduced my expenses by helping me find better deals on things like car insurance.

The Lord listens to us. Although He doesn’t automatically give us what we want, He will provide us with things He knows are best for us. Praying about my finances didn’t mean God would give me a million dollars. But what He will do is give me enough to survive. He may also prevent costly things from going wrong.

Call on God’s name. He will listen. Then trust Him to give you what is best for you.

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No One Beats Death

Death is a real problem because no one beats it. Some countries have exemptions from military service in some instances. In the battle with death, no exemptions exist.

Death is our greatest enemy. We have been fighting our war with death since the beginning but have made no advance. We are no closer to defeating it than when we started. When Adam and Eve sinned in the beginning, death was the penalty for their sin. The guilt and condemnation of their sin were passed to all their descendants.

Death is separation, not annihilation. The body dies, but the spirit goes to another condition of existence—heaven or hell. At death, we leave family and friends behind, but we’re joined with others who have previously gone to our new destination.

We meet death by appointment, but we do not make the appointment and then determine when we will die. God alone decides.

If we had power over our spirits, we would have power over death. But no one has that power. The spirit of our loved ones slips through our arms as we hold them while they breathe their final breath.

Making a pact with Satan or wickedness will not deliver us from death. The only one who conquered death was Jesus Christ. He shares His victory over death with all who believe in Him for salvation.

We must all face death. Will you face yours alone or with Jesus Christ?

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An Uncomplicated Life

The adage “when it rains, it pours” seems to ring true . . . at least in my life. 

Overwhelmed by everything coming at me all at once—ailments, appointments, deadlines, family issues, expenses—I recently had a meltdown filled with tears and a full-blown pity party. I tried to plan (if you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans), but it proved futile. My life seemed too complicated to navigate through the days ahead. 

I finally turned it all over to the Lord as I struggled to regain peace. When would I ever stop worrying and trying to fix everything right now?

The answer came in Jesus Calling. Sarah Young writes:

Stop trying to work things out before their times have come. Accept the limitations of living one day at a time. When something comes to your attention, ask Me whether or not it is part of today’s agenda. If it isn’t, release it into my care and go on about today’s duties. When you follow this practice, there will be a beautiful simplicity about your life: a time for everything, and everything in its time.

A life lived close to Me is not complicated or cluttered. When your focus is on My presence, many things that once troubled you lose their power over you. Though the world around you is messy and confusing, remember that I have overcome the world. I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. ~Jesus

Is it possible to live an uncomplicated life filled with peace? Absolutely. When we take one day at a time—refusing to worry about tomorrow—living close to Him and staying focused on His presence, we can live that life of beautiful simplicity.

Sounds good to me. At this stage of my life, I don’t have time for drama and the tyranny of the urgent. I just need more of Jesus. How about you?

What are some ways you can uncomplicate your life?

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Feeling like Job

I was feeling like Job.

My husband, Tom, lost a thirteen-year battle with cancer. He was the light of my life. Suddenly, darkness and emptiness enveloped me. I struggled just to function. Two months later, my mother died suddenly at the age of eighty-nine. Two months after that, my income was slashed in half. And just a short time later, my health began deteriorating. My life was a shell of what it had been.

I felt God had stripped my whole life away, leaving me with nothing to hold on to. I wasn’t mad at God, but I sure didn’t trust Him.

But God wasn’t finished with me.

My daughter and family moved in with me. I now had voices and laughter where silence had been. This blessing softened my heart toward God, and I began searching for answers.

Suffering is not a popular subject for most Christians. We either feel entitled to a life of sunshine and roses, or we believe God is punishing us by allowing bad things to happen in our lives.

God may have several reasons why He allows suffering. We don’t always see the plans He has for us behind our hurt. Our suffering may benefit those around us. Only when we’ve been through a trial ourselves can we understand the troubles of others. Our suffering may also prove that God’s grace is all we need, as in Job’s case.

I had looked to people and circumstances to be my rock and refuge. Instead, God wanted me to look to Him for my security, identity, and strength. He took everything away from me so I could see His grace was sufficient.

My life isn’t perfect now, but I have a sweetness and closeness in my relationship with my heavenly Father that I didn’t before. And He’s taken the pieces of my broken heart and put them back together.

What steps can you take when you’re feeling like Job?

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A Quiet Life

I love a quiet life.

All is still. No noise. Just five minutes of this is peace seldom enjoyed yet so valuable. However, unless we live on an ideal and deserted island, the noise of living surrounds us in everything from the neighbor’s cranked stereo system to the various noises of strife on the news, social media, and daily routines.

Although I value quietness and privacy, apartment complexes offer neither. More than once, noise interrupted a night’s sleep and bitterness set in. I felt more like a prisoner in Alcatraz than the king of my castle. But God got my attention one day and moved me to pray for each person in the complex. Now, I am concentrating less on them and more on the business and work God has placed before me. Though not easy, a quiet life is beginning, despite the noise around me.

A better world awaits the Christian who lives a quiet life under the gentle yoke of our Savior. Paul says we enter this life by minding our business and working at it.

Our propensity is to waste God’s time, meddling in our neighbor’s business rather than minding our own. We tend toward the hammock instead of the harvest to which God calls us to work. Yet if we go against our sinful nature and sow these two actions, we reap respect and independence—two enduring parts of a quiet life.

If you have lost your focus and the various noises of life are consuming you, you are not alone. I understand. But we can have that quiet life, even amid a noisy world, because Jesus makes the impossible possible.

What steps can you take to have a quieter life?

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A Divine Pardon

Mercy is like receiving a divine pardon for a death sentence.

Several years ago, I understood God’s mercy through an intense experience. Following a severe stroke and embolisms in both lungs, I spent four days as a blank corpus, during which time doctors inserted six-inch needles into me without painkillers. The first faint thought I heard was, “Do not be afraid of dying. I have conquered death, and I will never forsake you.”

Once I submitted to my Shepherd, I slowly returned to moving and thinking. But honestly, I did not want to leave the bright, beautiful love and stillness where I had been.

My doctor later told me something I will never forget: “Bob, you have been given a divine pardon to a death sentence. Enjoy yourself.”

We are drowning in attitudes and behaviors that God’s holiness must exclude from His presence, and judgment day may be only a breath away. God designs His mercy for those who believe in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. His payment on the cross was the propitiation—or satisfying payment—for our sins.

God the Father is the Father of mercy and all comfort. Therefore, any comfort with divinely satisfying quality comes directly from Almighty God.

The average life is spent living horizontally—believing that comparing ourselves to other people’s virtue provides adequate morality. God’s opinion differs and reveals that we must live a vertical life in which we discover that following the Creator’s opinions provides a life infused with mercy and comfort.

The compassionate Father of mercies and God of comfort provides insight and healing to be shared with others.

Don’t trust in good works to find God’s acceptance. Jesus Christ is the only path to the heavenly Father, the source of mercy and comfort.

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Becoming God's Hands and Feet

Becoming God’s hands and feet can challenge us.

When I was in my late twenties and working for a medical equipment company, I was given an ambitious goal that entailed urging research scientists to meet an aggressive schedule for releasing documentation.

I had long lobbied for and received permission to attend a dog lab, where dogs humanely underwent surgeries to ensure that varieties of medical equipment would perform as expected upon humans.

Near the end of the operation, the doctor and his nurse were called away for an emergency. The senior research scientist tried to close the incision but got sick instead. Another scientist tried, but nearly fainted. Finally, I got the nerve to speak up.

“Several summers ago, I did control surgeries on mice for a cancer research project. I believe I can complete the operation and close the incision. Do you approve?”

They approved. I successfully sutured the incision, and the dog lived. As a result, the scientists no longer saw me as an annoying low-level planner-buyer. Instead, they now perceived me as one of them. We succeeded together when I explained the goals and offered to take the paperwork back and forth for signatures, saving them work.

We must become what is necessary for those within our sphere of influence. In some cases, we may already be that person and need only to adjust their perception of us.

As we pray, God will reveal the needs of those around us and how we can help them. Perhaps a spouse needs some extra help around the house. Maybe you know some students who would appreciate homework assistance or a listening ear. Your coworkers may lack confidence and need someone to encourage them. Or maybe a friend needs to hear the Good News that Jesus died for them, and they can become a child of God?

How can you become God’s hands and feet to other?

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Invite God In

I needed to invite God in.

When I received the news of my brother-in-law’s passing, I was devastated for me, our family, his immediate family, and my sister.

As I watched them lovingly exchange their vows on their wedding day, never could I have imagined this outcome. I thought, God, why did it have to end like this?

After reminding myself to return to the Bible—the blueprint for us to navigate all the seasons of life—I came across this verse: I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. These words reminded me that our loving God never planned for us to experience loss, tragedy, pain, and suffering. Instead, these things came when sin entered the world. Likewise, these words reminded me that all the love and joy my sister and brother-in-law experienced was God’s incredible act of love toward them despite living in this fallen world.

As I renewed my mind, I gained a new perspective. Even in a world filled with tragedy, trouble, despair, and challenges, God makes room for us to have moments of love, peace, and countless blessings. He also allows us to experience permanent joy and peace in eternity when we accept Jesus as our Savior.

We are never left hopeless if we consistently and purposely bring God into every circumstance. Just as God’s potential was realized in my sister’s marriage, God’s potential can be experienced in loss and adversity when we bring Him into the center of it.

No one enjoys loss or pain, but we will experience troubles in some form. The goal is not to fall into a fatalistic mindset that makes us feel our efforts are useless. Rather, we hope to remain even more committed to being good stewards and caretakers of all God has blessed us with. A further goal entails opening our hearts and inviting God in when loss or challenges come so that He may help us, guide us, and sustain us.

How can you invite God into your troubling times?  

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Healing in the Father's Hand

The only real healing is the healing in the Father’s hand.

I’ve heard it repeatedly: Time will heal. Who are they kidding? My heart was shattered the day my father left this earth, and it will remain torn until my Creator calls me home. Every fiber in my body yearns to feel his gentle touch, my mind wants to hear his voice one last time, and I can smell his familiar scent. I will never forget my father.

Tears stream down my cheeks when I think of him, and the pain sticks around like a permanent marker on a poster board. It stings like a knife cutting through my flesh. I feel as if my lungs are being ripped from my chest.

I often wonder why God plucked him from this earth at such a young age. Why did he battle such a horrific disease? After all, he was a mighty warrior who loved life and his family. I cry out to God, but I hear only deafening silence.

God loves me so much that He will not allow my broken pieces to stay where they fall. He will not give up on me in this season of my life. Although my deepest cracks of pain are too deep for me to handle on my own, God wipes my tears, walks me through this time of sadness, and holds my hand through all my rough days. God never gives a time frame for my healing and grieving. In the meantime, I make good use of my time as I patiently wait on the Lord.

Time does not numb our senses or bury our hurts. But most importantly, we are not alone when we hurt. God wants us to trust Him. He will walk us through the valley. God’s presence, not time, will bring us comfort.

How can you find healing in the comfort of the Father’s hand?

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As Innocent as the Sky

I finally realized I was as innocent as the sky.

When I was in college, I struggled with guilt. Various sins repeatedly caught me, crushing me with their weight. Dejected, I sometimes walked across campus and looked at the innocence of the clouds, the trees, and the sky.

The sky especially captured my attention, vacillating from cozy fog to bright blue celebration to a world-hugging blanket. As I stared up, I thought about the innocence of God’s creation.

God, I wish I were like Your creation. I wish I didn’t have a mind and body that craved sin. I wish I could daily shine Your glory clearly, innocently, and jubilantly.

Many years later, I am walking outside again, looking at the sky, the trees, and the beauty of God’s creation. I still struggle with many of the same sins I faced back then. Yet God has impressed a new truth on me—a truth that’s actually the oldest truth I know. But somehow, this truth always feels fresh and touches me to my marrow—the truth of His gospel.

My burden of guilt rolled into that tomb with Jesus. He bore it on the cross and paid for it with His lifeblood. When He took my sin, He gave me His righteousness in return. I am made right with Him—whole, complete, and perfect.

God’s still working on me, and I long for the day when I’ll enjoy a resurrected body that’s free from any urge to sin.

But my guilt is gone. All traces of God’s anger and displeasure at how I’ve disobeyed Him and mistreated His creation are gone—rolled into that tomb and dead with my Savior. And when He arose, I did too—new, clean, whole, and as innocent as the sky, the clouds, and the wind.

In Christ, we are all beautiful, clean, and as innocent as the sky. What are some ways you can let what Christ has done relieve your guilt?

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Growing Young Versus Old

Growing young versus old challenges everyone.

Lately, I feel my body getting older. I love to exercise, and my stopping point used to be exhaustion, but now I worry about injury and take things slower. Getting older comes with new issues and concerns, but I would not trade youth for what I have now.

My faith has increased, as have my years. My relationship with God has grown stronger, and understanding His ways has changed how I live. As a result, I have a broader perspective and new vitality in my thinking.

God’s love has given me more love for others and the ability to let go of things that once entangled me, like being easily offended or focusing on the negative. As a result, I forgive more easily and approach things with more understanding. Instead of being defined by my circumstances or accomplishments, I find my confidence as a child of God. Rather than striving to make a name for myself, I surrender to making God known. Choosing to live God’s way provides new energy for life and satisfaction I have not found anywhere else.

God gives us hope and purpose in every season of life. No matter what we experience, we can progressively grow stronger inwardly when we keep our eyes on Him.

I have a first-thing-in-the-morning routine that keeps me connected. Along with reading God’s Word, I sit in silence. This helps me hear God’s voice and focus on His greater plan. There are many ways to spend time with God, such as reading His Word, praying, and spending time in nature—far from the distractions of the day. I have one friend who regularly listens to worship music and sings on His way to work.

Even if we can’t grow younger physically, we can develop more spiritual muscle and joy in our lives when we focus on being a part of God’s plan. God is so good. He even makes getting older a beautiful thing to look forward to.

What are some ways you can maintain your perspective as you age?

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What we are anchored in proves essential.

Early one morning while sitting on the edge of my bed, putting on my shoes in preparation for a meeting with a client, the wooden hangers in the closet started banging together. A 5.6 earthquake rolled through, rattling the room and hangers as I sat on the seventeenth floor of a hotel in San Francisco.

At that moment, I knew my earthly anchor was not working. Adrenaline-infused fright manifested itself in “goose bumps” and trembling steps as I rushed out the door and into the hallway. I looked at the atrium, and remarkably, people seemed calm. I wasn’t.

Earth is something we feel secure about, but when it wobbles and cracks, disorientation and fear can overwhelm us. Earthly anchors are undependable.

But God gives us a promise, a reassurance of His permanent essence, and the unchanging nature of His purpose anchors our souls.

Daily, we wake to the news of recession, depression, war, food shortages, and other losses. Finding joy in our day-to-day activities and relationships proves next to impossible. But God’s promises do not change.

King David liked to say God was his rock and fortress. We, too, can have that experience and enjoy that serenity by trusting in God’s promises.

What things can you try that will anchor your hope in the promise that God will be your rock and fortress?

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The Power of a Single Act

The power of a single act can amaze us.

When I was little and bullied at school because we were poor, I went to my mother. After a few minutes on her lap and her embrace, all was right with the world again.

Paul speaks about the first man, Adam, and the last Adam, Jesus Christ. Both, through a single act, played a vital role in shaping human history. Each man’s act was a reaction to God’s revealed will. And we will feel the impact of their single act throughout eternity.

The first Adam disobeyed God, bringing sin and death into the world by his disobedience. The consequences of this disobedience entail alienation, suffering, and eternal loss if our sins are not forgiven.

Adam’s act of disobedience separated him from God. As a result, all his descendants are now born with a sinful nature, isolated from a holy God. Humanly speaking, nothing could have reversed this sinful act and its consequences.

But then Jesus came to show God’s love. By His single act of obedience, He countermanded Adam’s disobedient act forever. Jesus’ self-sacrifice and death on Calvary paid in full the debt we owed a holy God.

Through faith in Christ, God will deliver us from the power of sin and its consequences. God makes us His children, we receive His nature and Spirit, and He promises us a home in heaven. God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us through faith. Adam’s act imparted sin and death, but Christ’s act imparts righteousness and eternal life to all who receive Him.

God gives us a choice. We can remain under the condemnation of Adam’s act, or we can accept Christ and rest in His finished work on Calvary.

Have you realized the power of a single act of belief?

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The Words of Our Mouths

The words of our mouths have powerful effects—good and bad.

The smile on ten-year-old Janet’s face evidenced her excitement. A girl in the neighborhood had invited her to an informal party her youth group was having, and Janet anticipated a fun time. But when the church bus arrived, the driver met Janet outside and told her she couldn’t go to the party because she and her family were not Christians.

Janet sobbed and headed back toward her house. Seeing Janet’s tears, the driver stopped her and told her she could go this one time, but not again. Janet sat alone while the other kids laughed and sang. She cried on the way to the party and during her time there.

Many years passed before Janet ventured into a church again. The incident had made her feel unwanted. However, Janet finally became a Christian when she reached her thirties. With her salvation came healing from her sad childhood memories.

Today, Janet lives a joy-filled life and has many friends. She knows she is wanted, and God uses her in various ways to share His love.

Many years after the bus incident, Janet learned the bus driver suffered from the after-effects of a stroke. He was in a nursing home and unable to speak. Janet visited him, touched his hand, and told him how his words had affected her. Then she told him she had forgiven him long ago and prayed for him.

The man had not realized the effect of his words and was touched when Janet prayed for him. He grasped her hand and squeezed it to let her know he was sorry for his unkind words.

Sharing God’s love is a responsibility and a privilege. Jesus told us to let our lights shine before others so they could see our good works and then praise our Father in heaven. 

Let’s remember to let our lives shine before others. Who needs your light today?

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Beyond the Ordinary

The auction house art appraiser at the charity event looked up to see a young woman approach with something beyond the ordinary. 

“I got this at a garage sale,” she said, offering the appraiser a small bronze figure of a woman in flowing garments. She mentioned the sculptor’s name, then added, “I’m afraid I don’t know much about him.”

But the appraiser knew the name and related the creator and the statue’s background. “Actually, this man completed only a few pieces, so we don’t see much of his work. Recently, we sold one not as fine as yours for $20,000, but I think this one is worth about $100,000.”

The owner’s mouth dropped open as she pointed to it with a trembling finger. “I had no idea,” she stammered. “We use it as a doorstop!”

Most ordinary things don’t turn out to be priceless, but to God, that’s exactly how He regards us. We tend to think of ourselves as average or at least ordinary—not anything unique or priceless—but God sees us differently.

God sees us as precious, special, and valuable—someone who’s a part of His family because we’ve believed in His Son. Because of that relationship, He has designed a particular plan for us, along with His provision and guidance to help us carry it out. The whole process is called grace—and that in itself is priceless.

How can you view yourself as beyond the ordinary?

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When God Did Something New

I sat on the sofa and reminisced about when God did something new.

I reflected on how my life had played out. I had graduated from the University of London and anticipated starting my next life chapter. I longed to get a job, get married, and have children. I longed for the perfect life. But I never knew how different it would turn out.

Then I remembered the period when I felt lost and hopeless. I was married and two months postpartum when I said no to the emotional abuse.

My reminiscing soon turned into overthinking, and I knew I had to come out of it. I knew God had moved me to a better place. He was on my side. Suddenly, I remembered the Scripture where God declared He was doing something new.

The Scripture encouraged me, and I thanked God for His love. I looked ahead to the new life—the new opportunities I would soon experience and the overflowing presence of the peace of God that flowed in my house every single day. I held my head high.

God has promised us something new. He has vowed to make a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. And He wants us to perceive it.

While our minds often take us back in time to places we might not want to go, we need to remember God’s promises. We should be ready to experience something new, and we do that by telling our minds we are moving forward, no matter what.

Think about God doing something new in your life and be encouraged that it will indeed happen.

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Invite God into Christmas

Nutcracker. Candy canes. Red felt stockings. Scrooge. Iced sugar cookies. Glittering trees. Shopping. Some of us see, smell, taste, hear, and feel Christmas, while others do not. Holiday nostalgia depends on personal experience, but when we invite God into Christmas, perspective can change.

My favorite childhood Christmas season resulted from a massive ice storm that hit our small town a few weeks before Christmas Day. A glittering layer of ice encased each limb and slender twig on the bare trees. The concrete-hard ground didn’t yield to our snow boots as my brother and I crunched our way to friends’ homes. Cars and semi-trucks inched along the country backroads and county highways. And to our great delight, school was canceled. However, all plans related to Christmas halted as well: bake sales, choir practices, play rehearsals, parties, and band performances.

With no electricity, we lit lanterns. With no heat, we placed warmed rocks from the fireplace at the bottom of the bed for our cold feet. Neighbors shared food and water. We played board games by candlelight.

And Christmas Day? It came quietly, as the first Christmas did when Jesus was born in a lonely manger. No pomp or pageantry . . . just peace. And it was lovely. I don’t remember our family’s food selection for Christmas dinner, but we were together.

Paul offers a summary of Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. As our redeemer, Jesus allows us to be forgiven and adopted into God’s family. Further, the Spirit prompts us to call the Creator of the universe “Daddy” (Abba). There’s more. When we’re God’s child through faith in Jesus Christ, He promises to give us an inheritance. Whatever our family of origin looks like, Jesus Christ offers us a new family and eternal treasures.

Christmas nostalgia can weigh us down like a heavy blanket. Even good memories can sadden us when we think of those we’ve lost to death or distance. Is it time for a new perspective on the baby born in Bethlehem?

As you read the Bible and learn about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let God show you how Christmas preparations and celebrations can shine in the present, rather than be enshrined in the past.

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One Gift Made a Difference

Mother sent us off to Sunday school on a Sunday morning, the day before Christmas.

At this church, a missionary read the Christmas story from the book of Isaiah. She read about the Savior God promised and then eventually sent to the world.

In the corner of the church stood the most beautiful tree I had ever seen. A white display, nine feet tall, and covered with gigantic bulbs of every color, shape, and size. Long icicles glittered from the top to the bottom of the tree as bright electrical lights shined on them. The missionary was from New York, and I assumed that’s where she had gotten this beautiful tree. I could not take my eyes off it, so I sat there and gazed at the decorations while I listened to her read from the Bible.

Stacks of gifts wrapped in white paper with red ribbons were piled underneath the tree. At the end of the service, the missionary passed out the gifts and gave a roll of candy to each child. She had a gift for every child who had been to church at least once during the year.

My brother and I brought our gifts home to our humble little pine Christmas tree—the one my elder brother had chopped down two days before and dragged from the top of the mountain. He set it up in a bucket of dirt in front of the window in the room next to the living room.

My younger brother had already opened his gift from Sunday school. But I placed my gift underneath our homemade sapling and waited for Christmas day. Now there was one gift under the tree. And that one gift made a big difference. I was so happy that I skipped through the house all day.

There is another gift that has made a difference—not only for me but also for all who will receive it. Our heavenly Father sent that gift when Jesus stepped out of eternity. At the cross, He poured out His life so we could have life. Now, we have an opportunity to become the children of God and inherit eternal life with Him. That gift has made a difference to a dark and broken world.

Have you received God’s most precious gift?

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Speak Tenderly

You’re the scum of the earth,” yelled pensioner Mr. Horner as he pressed his fist against my face.  

I was thirteen years old. Mr. Horner phoned the police after I’d smashed one of his front house windows—a prank with an apple that went wrong. He threatened to kill me. But the police officer cautioned him not to use violence.  

Rarely will someone speak tenderly to us when our actions create trouble. Instead, whenever we do something wrong, we’re usually called out, yelled at, and shouted down.

The nation of Israel sometimes created trouble for God. But did God scream, shout, or yell at everyone? No. God told the prophet Hosea that He would speak tenderly to their hearts.  

To speak to the heart is a carefrontation—a conversation done in a caring and loving manner. The world underestimates the extraordinary grace and unconditional love that God heaps upon us.

The Holy Spirit is affectionate and will speak tenderly and lovingly to our hearts. Jesus is caring and will speak tenderly and lovingly to our souls. The Father is also loving. He will speak tenderly through our prayers.

Be open-minded and willing to listen to God’s compassionate voice. His tender words will come to you through Scripture and the Spirit.

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Tithe Your Talents

For a while one morning, I mentored a graduate I had tutored.

I advised her to project a vision of herself at the end of the year. She wanted to work for herself and develop her business by gaining more clients. Her goal would be difficult during a pandemic economy, where people were reining in spending.

After our coffee, I thought about my vision. I am retired, just not tired. I project myself as a writer of blogs and a Christian devotion author from the land of Down Under. So, I must practice, submit articles, and let any talent I have for writing shine God’s light across the veil to websites. This way, I can glorify the Lord in heaven while on earth.

Doing this is one way I interpret Jesus’ instruction to let my light shine. We all have our distinct talents. Everyone, especially believers, can project a vision for themselves. We can tithe our talents to light up our loved ones, ourselves, and our faith community.

We can reach out to those who may not believe by sharing the light of true love and blessings. They might turn to God. The task I gave my graduate was a good exercise: projecting a vision of ourselves, acknowledging our talents, tithing our light, and sharing God’s great glory. I believe the best of humanity is yet to be if we would all believe.

What are some ways you can tithe your talents?

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Worthy of Love

Of course I could sweep and cry.

The floor wasn’t sweeping itself just because my heart ached. What was heavier that day than any other being married to an addict? I don’t know, but I do know I was ready for a divorce. My heart was done with the constant financial, emotional, and spiritual drains my husband put on our family. Yet I knew God had other thoughts—He hated divorce.

I cried, “God, will You still love me if I divorce my husband?” As clear as anything I’ve ever heard, He said, “I love you. I have always loved you. I loved you when you were a sinner, and I will always love you.” I stopped and sobbed. Peace and well-being flooded me. God loved me. The truth sunk into my heart like never before. And He promised to keep loving me.

God’s love for me came before I chose to follow Him. How could He love me less after I gave my life to Him? He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.

Remarkably, I sometimes still question God’s love. I feel unworthy. I try earning His love with good deeds. Then He reminds me that He loved me when I was still a sinner. It isn’t my worthiness that made Him love me then or now. He loves His children, and I am most surely His child.

I didn’t divorce my husband, but not because I thought God would stop loving me. Somehow, God’s love sustained me through twenty-five more years until He took my husband home.

God’s love has the power to sustain each of us. We can walk with Him, knowing His love is perfect, although ours is not. His love reached out to us while we were sinners.

Are you feeling unworthy of God’s love? God loved you first while you were still in your sins. Rejoice in His great love for you.

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God Has Dirty Hands

Spreading peat moss is messy, especially in New Mexico’s spring winds.

When I finish, I have a carpet of dirt coating my hands and crammed underneath my fingernails. Seeing my hands like that reminds me of a pair of hands from my childhood.

Kari was my best friend, and her dad was a mechanic. His hands were caked in grime when he came home after ten hours of fighting with tires and grease. He scrubbed them diligently, but the skin folds and nails never came clean.

My hands were grubby because I had done thirty minutes of gardening. But his hands were dirty even many years later because he worked hard. My work took effort, but his job required dedication. My afternoon in the garden was purposeful, but his daily duties impacted lives, including his family.

In life, God’s hands are like Kari’s father’s hands. God’s hands aren’t a little dirty from reaching to earth once every decade or century. They are always dirty because He constantly works in our messed-up lives. He is busy not just removing the yucky stuff but also using it. God grows us in the stickiest situations and through the most challenging people. He has specific goals for us and our character.

Every day in numerous ways, God’s hands are hard at work. And every day is a fresh opportunity for us to invite Him to continue His good work in our lives. Every mundane task and day-to-day trial stretches before us as a chance for God to conform us to the image of His Son.

In what ways are you letting God dirty His hands in your life?

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Resting on a Rock

Once or twice a year, my husband’s uncle drove from his Indiana home to a northwestern desert.

He said he needed to get away from everything . . . to spend some time just sitting on a rock. He usually combined his trips with mission work and meeting various needs in the area. First, however, he withdrew to his rock to clear his mind and calm his spirit from the stresses of everyday life.

Whether he intentionally followed Jesus’ example or simply recognized his personal need for solitude, my husband’s uncle never said. Either way, his actions demonstrated Jesus’s pattern during His time on earth.

Jesus’ life was indeed full. He ministered to hurting crowds through healing, feeding, and teaching. He offered unconditional love and touched the untouchables, as He demonstrated to the man with leprosy. He ate with the outcasts, which challenged the status quo. Yet with all that interaction, Jesus regularly withdrew from everyone and everything for time alone with His Father.

We need that same renewal—that same release from day-to-day stress. If we go non-stop, we deplete our energy and become no good to ourselves or anyone else. Personal time with God, our Rock, restores our energy and prepares us for another day of loving obedience to our Father.

Are you burdened by life’s demands and wonder how you can continue? Find your place of rest. Go there often for one-on-one time with God. Your never-failing Father in heaven remains ready to meet with you in solitude and give you the strength you need for whatever lies ahead.

What steps can you take to incorporate rest into your schedule?

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At age seventeen, Joni Eareckson Tada was injured in an accident and severed her spinal cord.

Joni became a quadriplegic. Imagine not being able to scratch your nose or dry your tears. That sounds minor, but it could be miserable, and from her point of view, it was. Then imagine being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of your life and not being able to walk or use your limbs.

Joni told her story on the John Angerberg Show. During all her sufferings, she formed a global ministry called “Joni and Friends.” She could have done something else, but she chose to give God the glory and help others who suffered.

While she recuperated in the hospital after her accident, she read many Bible verses about suffering and tried to understand why God allowed someone to suffer so much.

But Joni experienced God in an extraordinary way. In a way that she would not have had she never been injured. She believes God is still with a suffering person even if He doesn’t heal them after they have prayed for healing.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is filled with accounts about the saints of old and the many hardships and trials they suffered for the kingdom of God. Despite all their suffering, they kept their faith. Christ suffered more than any other person when He hung on the cross. For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. Paul encourages us through this verse.

Many Christians ask the same questions as Joni and wonder why they don’t experience immediate healing when they pray. God cares about our sufferings, whether they are small or great, and He will be with us because He is Immanuel (God with us). He will walk by our side, making the discomfort more bearable.

Take a moment to thank God for being with you during your times of suffering.

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Stuck in the Ditch

You don’t find a person lying in the ditch on just any day, but this was my day.

As I slowed down, I saw a man lying under a motorcycle. I knew he needed help, but I hesitated. What if there was a terrible injury? Would my son stay in the car while I intervened? What if a car hit me while I tried to help?

I thought through the situation and came up with a plan. I turned on my flashers and instructed my son not to leave the car. I crossed the road with my cell phone in hand. The man was alert. He had spun out and was now pinned with his feet under the handlebars. I lifted the bike enough so that he could slide free. He assured me he was fine and could get back on the road. I returned to my car and headed toward the school.

I never imagined I would live out my own Good Samaritan story. People all around us are stuck in circumstances and need help. Jesus told this story so that we would become aware of these needs and then let compassion compel us to intervene.

God invites us to join Him as He works in people around us. Our job is to be sensitive so we’ll hear when the Holy Spirit brings an individual to our minds. We can also ask God to reveal how we can partner with Him and minister to that person.

We could pack bags with self-care items to share with the homeless. Or invite that struggling coworker to lunch. We could offer to babysit for a single mom who needs a night off. Hurting people fill the ditches around us.

What are some ways you can respond to God’s invitation?

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Is Singleness a Calling?

I have been single for over half my life—not out of choice but because God hasn’t brought anyone into my life.

I have prayed and wondered why. I have asked all the questions but to no avail. We all have callings on our lives—pastors and teachers—so why not singleness?

As a single, my first thoughts are of pure devotion to God. I don’t have to share my time with anyone else. I am committed to doing God’s kingdom work and ministry. I have more time for Bible study, volunteer work, retreats, and prayer with no one to interrupt me. Marriage requires balancing our time between all we do, which means we have less time for some things related to God’s kingdom because we are doing spouse duties.

God is a single person’s spouse. He is the head of our home, the spiritual leader, the one on whom we can depend. He is our all because we have no one else. Our love for Him grows deeper with each passing day. He becomes our best friend, the one in whom we can confide. He is our provider, and no one else can replace Him—not even a spouse.

Paul instructs us to live as God has called us and not attempt to do otherwise. When we take matters into our hands, we often mess things up and get out of God’s will.

Has God called you to singleness? Or perhaps He has called you to wait for His timing for a mate.

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The Manna Menu

I once worked for Youth with a Mission in Kona, Hawaii.

In a time of financial testing, food services devised a low-cost meal we called the manna menu that consisted of lentil stew and pumpernickel bread. We ate this meal for lunch and supper for about a month. It tasted suitable for the first few days, but eating any food repetitively deadens the palette. Also, this dish had gastrointestinal side effects.

Some of our leaders felt God had pulled the purse strings on the ministry because we were showing selfishness over our meals. Some at the front of the line took too much food while some at the end did not get enough. God used finances to get our attention.

Eventually, God released the finances, and we went off the manna menu. Occasionally, some still took more food than they needed at mealtime. Finally, someone would say, “Remember the manna menu.” That cured our selfishness, at least for a while. We instituted a manna memorial meal regularly so we would not forget.

God’s people remembered the good food they ate in Egypt but forgot the price they paid for it: slavery and ill-treatment.

We, too, often have selective memory. We remember the good but forget the bad.

God’s provision for us is not always fun and games. God has a reason for everything He does. Manna was plain, ordinary, and repetitive, but God’s people learned to live on what they needed, not wanted. They discovered we don’t live by bread alone but by every word from God’s mouth.

Are things that you enjoyed before salvation tempting you? Are you remembering the good but forgetting the bad? 

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The Rock

I stepped onto the familiar Wexford beach and headed straight for the rocks.

These would provide a comfortable resting place. I didn’t wonder if they would be there; I knew they would—just as they had been on every previous visit over the years. I sat, breathed in the sea air, listened to the gulls circling overhead, and took in my surroundings.

Seasons had passed since my last visit, and things had changed in the small cove. The sand was almost completely covered by clumps of seaweed, tossed there by the waves. The new shells which lay by the water’s edge beckoned me to collect them. Pieces of driftwood lay strewn on the higher sands, waiting for a creative eye to spot them, bring them home, and transform them into pieces of art.

So much can change physically on a beach between visits, but the rocks remain the same. The rains of adversity don’t cause them to crumble. The winds of torment do not knock them over. The angry crashing waves do not pull them out to deep waters. The high tides visit but cause no damage, and the intense heat of the sun relentlessly beating down does not scorch them.

At times in our lives, we face high tides, big waves, gale-force winds, storms, and heat from fiery trials. When the Lord is my Rock and when I have built my life on Him as my foundation, I don’t fear—not the torrential rains or the winds whistling around me. I don’t dread the sight of high waves on the horizon or cringe at frightening forecasts.

When the Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, I can take refuge in Him from the storms raging around me. He’s my shield against the winds pushing against me, He is the horn of my salvation, and He is my stronghold. I might come through the storm fixing my windblown hair and drying off the raindrops, but Christ my solid rock has come through unchanged and unscathed.

Are you depending on God as your Rock when the storms come?

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Do You Have Clear Vision?

As someone who has worn glasses since age six and undergone two corneal transplants, my eyesight is very important to me.

As a writer and editor, I depend on clear vision to help me do my job and fulfill my calling. For me, this requires frequent visits to the ophthalmologist, steroid drops to keep my new corneas healthy (and prevent rejection), and sunglasses to protect my permanently dilated eyes.

Sometimes my lenses get dirty, so I have to remember to keep them clean. Occasionally, the lenses will shift (or rotate) slightly, throwing my vision off. Or the frames will bend a bit. That’s when I know it’s time to get my glasses adjusted by a professional.

It’s the same with my spiritual eyes. They must remain clean and pure. They must be protected from the cares of this world and the lies and manipulation of the Enemy. From time to time they must be adjusted by a professional—the Holy Spirit—in order to regain my discernment and bring my focus back to where it should always be . . . on the Lord.

To make it through this journey of life, we need to depend on our natural senses without neglecting our spiritual senses. Our daily prayer should be, Lord, give me eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to understand. Help me see things from Your perspective and follow Your lead. Help me to keep my mind, my heart, and my eyes on You alone.

Then we can say along with Isaiah, “My eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

How’s your spiritual vision?

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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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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 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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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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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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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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“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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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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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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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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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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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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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. 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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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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"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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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.

(Photo courtesy of Martin Wiles.)

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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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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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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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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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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?

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net and Stuart Miles.)

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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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