A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Spirit & Heart

Where your heart is, there is where your treasure lays. Our hearts guide our emotion and decisions. Unless God is the center of the heart, things are askew. Allowing the Spirit into the matters of the heart promises the faithfulness of Jesus in our lives.

Awaken Your Hunger

As I tossed and turned underneath the covers, I couldn’t silence my stomach screaming for nourishment.

But as days turned to weeks, my intense hunger dissipated. Initially, I was perplexed at such an outcome, considering my need for food had not been met. Eventually, I realized my stomach and body had compensated for the lack, cueing the internal alert for hunger to cease. 

I believe our walk with Christ can parallel the above. When I was baptized as a young girl, I remember the pure excitement and fervor I carried for weeks afterward. Toting around my purple backpack Bible with a cross around my neck, I made sure everyone knew I was a Christian. In time, the zeal faded. Rather than standing up for Jesus, I hid and acted as though I had never met Him.

In our world today, my pattern is not uncommon. We often become complacent and chained to routine. Religion becomes just a box to check off so we feel good about ourselves. Or we become reluctant to gain more knowledge or grow in intimacy with God.

In Scripture, we find the Lord commanding the opposite. The word “seek” is found over two hundred times in Scripture. In this context, the Hebrew word, baqash, means to pursue, search, or devote fully to something or someone. As a verb, the word requires action with no limitations or age requirements.

In a practical sense, seeking the Lord is diving into His Word and studying to find examples and answers to model our lives after. It is prayer. We can talk to God like we would a friend—anywhere or anytime. It is also plugging into and regularly fellowshipping with a community of believers.

This list is not exclusive, but regardless of our approach, we must view pursuing Christ as a priority, not a half-hearted effort. Once we awaken our hunger, it cannot be silenced or ignored.

Pray that your hunger pains will continue to grow for the Lord and His Word.

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The Greatest Treasure

“Come see what I found.”

My cousin possessed a great imagination. He had to. He lived in the country in a time before technological advances had produced games and other things that now keep children indoors for hours on end. He had already discovered rolls of player piano music stuffed in boxes in my grandmother’s dusty attic—a place we rarely traversed because of the rickety stairway leading up to it.

Now, he wanted me to see something else he’d discovered. As our grandmother busied herself with cooking, we sneaked to the “front room,” a room she really didn’t like us to visit. We were mischievous boys always looking for devilment—and she knew it.

Quietly, my cousin lifted the top of the old, converted player piano and showed me a quart-sized Mason jar resting on top of the piano guts. I asked what it was. Instead of telling me, he carefully removed the jar, unscrewed the top, and removed the handkerchief my grandmother had stuffed inside.

As he gently unrolled the handkerchief, my eyes bulged, and my heart pounded. Inside were twenties, tens, and fives. Money, we later discovered, our grandmother had saved from selling fish to the neighbors.

My grandmother possessed a treasure only she knew about—or so she thought. Jesus also told a story about a treasure—one a man discovered hidden in a field. Keeping his find a secret, he sold everything he had and bought the field.

Jesus compares the treasure to the kingdom of heaven—the treasure we inherit when we recognize our sinfulness and run to the Savior.

But God doesn’t want us to keep His treasure to ourselves. The man who purchased the field did. My grandmother did. My cousin and I did. God wants us to share our wealth. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was enough to forgive the sins of humanity, and God wants everyone to enjoy His treasure.

Jesus said we should be willing to give up everything for this precious treasure He offers. Whatever keeps us from enjoying it isn’t worth our time and effort.

Have you discovered life’s greatest treasure? If so, tell someone about it.

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The Inescapable War

Lunch was almost ready in Wilmer McLean’s Virginia home in 1861 when a shell from the nearby battle of Bull Run suddenly dropped into the kitchen chimney, splattering the family meal.

Hours later, the house was shelled into destruction. Seeking peace away from any future battles, McLean moved his family to the distant Virginia community of Appomattox.

Four years later, in April 1865, a pair of soldiers appeared at the McLean house, seeking a place where Confederate General Robert E. Lee and Union General Ulysses S. Grant could sign the imminent surrender documents.  

McLean reluctantly agreed, and the generals soon arrived, each with an entourage, to finalize the war in the front parlor. When the signatories were gone, so was the furniture—confiscated by visitors as souvenirs. Each of the two tables used to sign the documents ended up in museums.

Wilmer McLean couldn’t seem to escape an inescapable war. Although I’m not trying to avoid a war, sometimes I have ongoing, troublesome problems that seem as inescapable. And that’s because I’ve failed to let God show me His plans for the situation, making possible solutions seem ethereal.

My problem might be any number of things, but whatever it is, if I don’t get God’s input, then I end up being worried, anxious, and fearful. Subsequently, as I continue to ignore the Lord, forgetting everything and succumbing to my misery becomes tempting.

Paul tells his readers to press on and to pursue the prize, which is knowing Christ. If I’m to do that, then I must turn back to God, learn, and follow His plans for me. If sin is involved, then He’ll forgive me, guide me, and provide for me so I can resume my spiritual journey to recommence my work for Him.

What steps do you need to take to escape your war?

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Harden Not Your Hearts

Like an old ’57 Chevy, one of my valves was shot.

Some years ago, I had heart surgery. For a year or so, I tired more than a person should. It took a while for my doctor to get me to the right specialist who diagnosed the problem. In addition to the valve, I also had some clogged arteries, which he fixed at the same time.

Since this surgery, I now find the phrase “harden not your hearts” a moving meditation phrase. The concept of not hardening our hearts shows up as many as fifteen times in Scripture. A heart is a soft vibrating organ. But if it hardens, it cannot function.

We can harden our hearts in many ways. During my lifetime, I have found at times a hardening of my heart toward meditative prayer. I found myself making it through the day on a couple of recitations of the Lord’s Prayer and one or two other prayers. I didn’t want to turn my heart toward God. I needed to exercise my spiritual heart to get it vibrating and back in the spirit of meditation.

We can also spend less time in spiritual relationships. Perhaps we have hastened the hardening process by negative thoughts about a person. Before we are aware of it, we are not spending time on our relationship with God. Our heart has petrified in this area.

Fortunately, God gives us the ability to reverse this process. I believe we can feel that hardening of the heart when it takes place. We realize we are not the loving person we should be. We have become blah, selfish, or lazy.

Hardening is a gradual process, but one day, we find we have hardened our hearts—and it is our fault.

God made your heart to love. Exercise it so your prayer arteries won’t clog.

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Does Anyone Love Me?

We all want to be accepted and loved, but sometimes we don’t receive it.

In grade school, I was often picked on, leaving me feeling rejected, unloved, and even hated. Hoping I had left all of this pain behind in grade school, I discovered I was wrong. I remember one job I held where I experienced the same type of rejection from co-workers as I did in school. 

When I was fourteen years old, my mom got into the car one day and committed suicide. My dad re-married. Seventeen years later, he left my home state after he divorced my stepmom. Other than stepfamily, I don’t have family on my mom's side or my dad's side to rely on. I am in my mid-fifties, but haven’t found a woman to love me and be my wife. 

All these incidents have shaken my world and made me feel unloved. Sadly, in this fallen world, selfishness and other sins often get in the way of love and relationships. Sin, rejection, and conflict can turn our love cold and dull, but not Jesus' love.

When Jesus died, He was betrayed, whipped, and nailed to the cross with something similar to heavy spikes. He knows how it feels to be rejected, unloved, and hated.

Nevertheless, out of love for us, Jesus took on immense hatred from others and died for our sins. Now, we can spend eternity with Him if we simply accept Him into our hearts. When we go to heaven, we will live in a world where sin won’t get in the way of love.

If you haven’t, accept Jesus’ love and ask Him into your heart.

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Call Ruth and see how she is doing.

The thought kept going through my mind. I sensed the Lord’s prompting to call an elderly woman from my church. So, I wrote her name on my to-do list. On the bottom of my to-do list. Yes, I would call Ruth, but I needed to do other things first. Eventually, evening arrived. I was tired and decided it was too late to call her. I would do it tomorrow.

When the Lord prompts me to do something, I seldom say “No.” Quite often, however, I say “Later.” But many times, later never comes.

In the gospels, Jesus called Peter and Andrew to leave their homes and their livelihood and follow Him. They did not wait until they caught a few more fish or until they said goodbye to the neighbors. They didn’t tell Jesus they would follow Him later. The Scriptures say they immediately stood up, left their nets, and followed Him.

How often I think of procrastination as a trivial thing. But the Lord who deserves our obedience also deserves immediate obedience. 

Why is it that I so often procrastinate in obeying the Lord? Often, I want to be in control of my time and priorities. I am a list maker, and I don’t like my well-orchestrated plans interrupted. I forget my time is in His hands, and that He has the right to reorder my priorities.  My response should be “Yes, Lord,” followed by immediate obedience.

Ask God to give you a surrendered will that obeys immediately.

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He Is Joyful in Your Labor

Our phone rang not thirty minutes after two of our teenage sons loaded into the truck to run a few errands.

“I was following the boys across the river bridge, and a cigarette flew out the window and landed on my car. I thought you’d like to know.”

Very few rush to tell us good things about our children, rather it’s the opposite. If there is an issue, folks race to inform us of their misgivings forcing us to wonder if our children do anything other than rabble-rousing. Was our parenting labor in vain? A worthless effort that has only managed to produce unruly children? Of course not, but the negativity of man leans first to what is wrong rather than what is right. Perhaps this is a foothold of the evil one—a way he can instill chaos and frustration into our hearts.

John, in this letter to Gaius—a traveling companion, a fellow believer, and a respected teacher—immediately offered a compliment. He shared that he had no greater joy than to hear his children were walking in the truth. What a compliment, both for John and Gaius, to know that those they labored and invested their time into remained staunch in their beliefs in Christ.

When we labor hard on a project or even in our families, it’s nice to know others see the good. Especially when it comes to our children. The time we invest in them is valuable. The validation from others brings us joy. God is equally pleased when His children remain strong in their relationships with Him. He delights in our efforts to be the children He longs for us to be.

We knew and still know, our children are far from perfect, but it doesn’t mean they are bad men. Still, it would have been nice to have heard our friend say, “Your son is a good driver” instead. We addressed the issue, but praising them would have been so much sweeter.

When others try to stifle the joy we have in Christ by pointing out those minute failures, do not dismay. Hold strong to the purity of Christ. Remain in His Word and pray for His guidance in your understanding.

The Father is joyful at your faithful labor.

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Our Provider

When I was a little girl, my parents weren’t well-off.

I never went without, but I didn’t grow up in the lap of luxury either. One thing my mother taught me was not to worry because the Lord would provide. And He always did. No matter how tight the finances were, we always had enough.

The shepherds of David’s time cared for every need of their sheep. They provided lush pastures, cool streams of water, and protection from danger.

The heavenly Father is our Shepherd who provides for all our needs. God will liberally supply our every need according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. Thank goodness He doesn’t do it according to our bank balance. In case we’re feeling a bit doubtful, God assures us that if we rely on Him, we will not be disappointed. He will not let us down. No matter what the need, He will provide.

We should not set our hopes on the uncertainty of possessions, but rather on God who richly and ceaselessly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Our Father wants to provide for our needs and give us things purely for enjoyment. Isn’t that just like a true father?

Our Father knows what we need before we ask Him. We have no reason to worry or be anxious about food, clothing, or any other needs we may have. Instead, we should seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all those other things will be given to us.

I have carried my childhood lessons with me throughout my life, tackling the challenges of almost twenty years of marriage and raising three children on one average wage. The Lord, my Shepherd, has supported me just as He promised. I can still say, “I have all that I need.”

Are you trusting God to provide all you need?

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For many, old stuff is just junk. Things nobody wants. But to a collector, junk is potential.

A collector stops at nearly every thrift store, rummage sale, or auction looking for just the right item to advance his collection. Perhaps he collects paintings, or jewelry, or priceless glassware. Scanning the shelves, alert for the item he seeks, his pulse quickens with excitement when he sees it. Examining the treasure, he overlooks the cracks, stains, or dust. He knows how to clean, polish, and restore. Hugging the special find, he gladly pays the purchase price, for he grasps the true value of the item.

Jesus is a collector of people. He finds us in the dust and ruts of our sin. His eyes sparkle with delight as He heals our brokenness and claims us as one of His own. Having paid the extravagant price, He redeems us with His blood. He washes us in the waters of baptism and records our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life. He sands the rough edges, removes our stains with His righteousness, and uses our scars to remind us where we’ve been and who He is to us.

Although the collector may display his priceless find in a frame, behind a glass window, or on a shelf, Jesus chooses to give us new purpose. He blesses us with gifts and talents, then surrounds us with people who need our help. In our daily devotions, He whispers an idea, the plan He has for us. He equips us for ministries large or small and sends us out into the world to share His love with others.

You are a treasure—a special delight to God. Have you heard His whisper in your heart? How will He use you today? Let Him use your feeble efforts to further His kingdom and honor Him.

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You Are Valuable

The young woman swiped her eyes, smearing mascara across her cheeks.

“You have worth. Your life is valuable.” A kind man stretched out his hand to help her stand. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and gently placed it in her hand. “Things seem hard, but the Father knows your needs. Let me help you inside the shelter.”

With that, he guided the woman into the shelter and the presence of a minister. Two women joined the pastor and welcomed the young girl.

“Let’s get you cleaned up and get some food in you. Then we can figure out how best to help you.”

The young girl smiled as the man who’d freely helped her waved goodbye. “Remember, you are valuable in God’s eyes.”

The evil one seeks to tear us down mentally. We look for the physical attacks, almost expect them, but for one reason or another, our eyes are blinded to the mental attacks that rain down on us. Satan works, not from a standpoint of our strengths, for he cannot compare to them, but from our weaknesses where he needles his way into our minds. Attacking our self-confidence is easy because as humans, our mental well-being is vulnerable. We become easy targets when we question our self-worth to our Father and our friends.

Jesus seemed burdened by the worry of those He preached to in this passage. He recognized their fear. It was a tumultuous time for believers. His reassurance to the people was not a promise that things would be easy but rather a reminder of whom the people should fear, and whom they should depend upon.

Picture the gentleness of the Savior as He walked among the people. Take in His desire to calm the fear, and grasp hold of the reassurance He gave that day. What good is it to fear one who can simply take our life but do nothing else? Fear the one who can cast us into hell. Don’t worry. God knows every part of us. If He finds value in the sparrows, imagine how much more value He finds in us.

The Father loves His children, and, although we know this as believers, we tend to lose sight of how He cares for us. He doesn’t want to lose one soul. God allows us the freedom to choose to love Him. His love for us is strong and our value in His eyes is beyond our understanding.

Never question your value in God’s eyes.

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Under Chicken Wings

When I was a little boy, my parents told me the true story of a farmer whose farm burned down.

The farmer looked at what had happened. He saw something lying on the ground, but he didn’t know what it was. He kicked it, and, when he did, a bunch of hens ran from under the mother hen’s wings.

Jesus told the Jews something similar in this verse: How often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings but ye would not. He wanted them to receive Him as their Messiah and Savior, not only as a political ruler. Yet He died for the whole world to protect us from the fires of eternal punishment.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem when He said the words above. He weeps over lost souls today who reject Him. He not only wants to protect us from the eternal consequences of sin in the life to come but also to shield us from bad things that happen when we choose to live a life of sin in the present.

Even if we’ve strayed from Him and gotten ourselves into a life of sin by doing things that have caused us pain and heartache, He weeps for us and wants to bring us back to Himself. As He was patient and longsuffering with the nation of Israel, He is patient with us because He wants none to be lost.

If you need to repent of something, ask God to forgive you and to help you refrain from doing it again in the future.

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The Big Turn Off

Some have been accused of having selective hearing.

Many husbands have been diagnosed with this condition. The pant of a buck at one hundred yards is loud and clear, while a call for assistance from the kitchen finds many men deaf. What’s at work here is not an intermittent physical malady but a listening filter.

Our minds and hearts tune in or ignore sounds. These noises might not always be measured in decibels but can harden our hearts. We allow the drumbeat of our world to drown out God’s message.

It seems bizarre yet amazing that Samuel heard God calling him. We often say God has spoken to us through the Bible, an inspired song, or an insightful sermon, but rarely have we asserted that God spoke audibly. Some have probably asked God, politely, of course, to speak out loud, but history and experience tell us aural messages from our Maker are a rare occurrence.

Oh, that we could step into the quiet and filter out the cacophony of clatter that fills our world. It seems our efforts toward quiet are characterized more by baffling noise with more noise.

Congregational worship is not sound-dependent. We need to bring back quiet moments to our congregational worship. Faith-family worship is when we gather before God with humble hearts, and the world switch is turned to the off position.

We don’t have to seek the Samuel-event, just the Samuel-condition. Too often, we approach worship with the frivolous clamor of this world still echoing in our minds and hearts. Congregational worship is not an attempt to drown out the world as much as it is pointing to the one speaking. God is speaking to each one of us. Our task is to stop and listen.

Worship is the family of God sitting at His table and turning the things of this world off while we dine.

Ask God to help you turn off the unnecessary so you can worship Him.

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Love in a New Dimension

We respond to new things differently.

How we respond depends on what we’re responding to. A new season of our favorite TV show. A new book by our favorite author. A new college course to teach. A new restaurant nearby. A new company policy. New eyeglasses. A new commute to work.

How about a new commandment?  

Alone with His disciples, Jesus had much to tell them before He returned to heaven. “My children, I will be with you only a little longer … where I am going, you cannot come. In my place, my Father will give you another comforter to be with you forever. I will not leave you as orphans.”

He also said, “I’m about to give you a new command.”

Say what, Jesus? Another commandment? Don’t we have enough already?

“Here it is, fellas. You are to love each other.”

No offense, Jesus, but love isn’t exactly new. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself” is as old as Moses.

“Okay, fellas, here’s what’s new. You are to love each other the same way I have loved you. In fact, from now on, the sign that you belong to Me will be My love in you for each other.”

Jesus provided Himself as the embodiment and the standard of divine love. He prepared His followers for love in a new dimension—namely, Christian love. His disciples were to love each other, not merely as Jewish neighbors, but as Christians.

Old Testament scholar, Christopher Wright, spells out what this love entails: “When we love one another as Christians, it crosses all our differences and barriers. It’s more than sentimental feelings of being nice. It shows itself in practical, down-to-earth caring, providing, helping, encouraging, and supporting one another, even when it costs a lot or hurts a lot to do so. This love brings people together who would otherwise hate, hurt, and even kill one another.”

No one can see God as He is, yet everyone can see Him in the new dimension of Christian love. Same love, new dimension. Down-to-earth and strikingly visible.

Ask God to help you make love in a new dimension happen.

(Christopher Wright, Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit: Growing in Christlikeness (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2017), 24.)

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I clipped unmercifully at the evergreen plants in the pot sitting on the patio.

The plants were overgrown and needed major pruning. They resented it. For weeks, they continued to drop brown needles onto the tile floor and look as though they were dead and didn't intend to flourish again.

Weeks passed before I saw new budding. Still sparsely clad in the brown of mourning, they offered me hope with a slither of green. I was relieved. I thought they may not live, but now they brought forth new life. The pruning worked.

I've been pruned before—so much that I didn't want to revive my life. In retrospect, I realize I was overgrown with the desires and wants of this life. The brown, dead needles that stunted any spiritual growth had embedded into the branches of my life, zapping all nourishment necessary for growth.

A major pruning was the only alternative. God did that. I didn't like it, and I appeared dead for a long time. I felt stripped and barren of all I had known in my life.

Eventually, without realizing it, signs of new life sprouted. My life took on a green color. The Word of God became my nourishment as God watered and fed me with His promises.

I didn't prune or water myself. I didn't want to. But the Pruner saw the need and rid me of the dead life that existed. What a joyous event when my branches sprung forth with exuberant life. The buds became full foliage, and the beauty of my soul belonged to Him.

How could I have possibly survived without His pruning?  

If the Pruner sees the need, let Him prune you.  

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Confess Don't Bury

She can’t help it. Burying is in her nature.

Our small chihuahua-terrier mix is a house dog, but she still wants to do what an outside dog does when given a bone. We occasionally buy her bones she can chew on for a while—bones that will clean her teeth. After giving her the bone, she stands in the middle of the floor and whines. Without me asking, I know what she is saying: “Let me outside so I can bury my bone. Don’t you know that’s what dogs do?”

When I don’t acknowledge her request, she resorts to other measures. She hides the bone inside. Perhaps between the couch cushions or under the blankets in her kennel. Maybe behind a piece of furniture. Some place she knows but I don’t. Days later, she may appear with the bone in her mouth. They last a long time—but only because she hides them.

Burying is also typical human behavior. God’s people in the Old Testament did it. I’ve done it. And many other people have too. We don’t generally air our dirty laundry, especially if it’s something that happened long ago or something that might keep us from getting a job, getting a promotion, entering a relationship, or…getting closer to God.

The trouble with burying sin—in whatever form we try—is that it messes up life. If I bury unforgiveness, anger, selfishness, guilt, or sexual immorality, they have a way of uncovering themselves in ugly psychological, social, or emotional episodes. Not only do they mess up my life, they also mess up my relationship with others—especially with God.

Confession means to have the same mind. So whatever God thinks about sin or my decisions, I should think the same thing. When I confess, I recognize my need for help—and from Someone who has the power to give it. I’m not perfect. I need a Savior. Everyone does.

And when I confess daily, it keeps the lines of communication open between me and God, which is important for healthy living. Confession keeps things above board while burying keeps them…well…buried.

Don’t take on animal behavior by burying what needs to come out in the open. God knows anyway. Let Him know you know by daily confessing your sins and failures to Him.

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Great to Be a Christian

While I worshipped online at home one morning, I realized the little birds in the garden were chirping.

So was I. Because it’s great to be a Christian, I was chirpy as usual. I can follow Jesus. It is not always easy to be a Christian, but it is a challenge with benefits. People threw a lot of rocks at Jesus, and still do, yet He shines for His followers.

Believers can face each day with optimism. I believe God exists, the Word of God is true, and that following Jesus is the way for each of us. As I read my Bible, I turn often to this verse, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” This is Jesus’ message to all of us. In the Bible, I can find wisdom. Jesus’ wisdom helps me make better decisions and guides me through each day.

Following Jesus gives me direction, adding to my resilience to manage daily routines. God wants us to follow in the steps of Jesus in our humble, human way. Doing so may not be easy, but if we keep going, the blessings of our Lord will keep flowing.

Are you waking up chirpy because you are glad to be a Christian?  

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At six in the morning, the stars shone brightly in the cloudless sky.

An older woman put on her robe, stepped onto her porch, and looked up at the stars. She heard the sound of traffic a few blocks away as workers began their morning commute. Many miles away, a farmer stepped outside his barn and paused to look at the magnificence of the starry night. He heard the sound of a rooster crowing. Further away, a young woman in the mountains stepped into her backyard, beheld the beauty of the morning sky, and heard the gentle sound of a nearby stream.

God’s handiwork is evident to all: city dwellers, rural dwellers, and mountain dwellers alike. People in North America, Africa, and any other continent can see it. It is a gift of beauty, available to rich and poor alike.

The psalmist states that the heavens, including the stars, declare God’s glory. It is hard to imagine anyone gazing at a starry sky and not feeling a sense of awe. The beauty is evident to all. It speaks of a Creator whose masterpiece leaves us speechless.

The psalmist also says the heavens are God’s handiwork. When I think of handiwork, I picture a woman knitting. Her fingers move deftly while she carries on a conversation or watches television. For an experienced knitter, the handiwork is effortless. The psalmist gives us an image of God placing the stars in the sky as effortlessly as a knitter completes a row of stitches.

Perhaps God hung stars because He wanted to remind us of His presence. To give the early riser a reason to pause before rushing into the day. To see a magnificent image and to stand in awe of a Creator who effortlessly placed the stars in the sky.

Take time to pause and praise our magnificent Creator.

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God Sees You

I woke up today, and I felt small and insignificant.

My mood happened when I fell into the trap of comparing myself to others. I doubt I am the only one who does this. Others might also feel small, insignificant, and maybe even invisible sometimes. I have felt all of those at one time or another.

But I reminded myself that the Bible tells me otherwise. I have read how God worked in the lives of insignificant and invisible people in a mighty way. I could easily think of five whom God moved from a place of insignificance to a position of great ranking.

David was invisible, but God handpicked him while a young shepherd and anointed him as the king of Israel.

Joseph was invisible while falsely imprisoned—until his appointed time when God promoted him to second in command to Pharoah in Egypt. God used him to save the people from famine.

Moses was invisible, feeling defeated and finished on the backside of the desert, until God burned a holy bush and called him to free His people.

Nehemiah was invisible during his captivity as a cupbearer for King Artaxerxes, but God enabled him to lead in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem.

Gideon was invisible as he hid—threshing wheat in a wine press. Yet the angel of the Lord appeared and called him a mighty warrior. God gave him an unconventional victory in battle with only three hundred men.

Recalling the accounts of these men assured me God sees us. We are not invisible to Him. But if we feel that way, we can remind ourselves about David, Joseph, Moses, Nehemiah, and Gideon. Let their stories tell you what they told me. We are not insignificant, and we are not invisible.

God sees you, and He has amazing plans He wants to work in your life.

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The Sea of Stagnant Waters

When I was ten, I drank stagnant water.

For a couple of years, our family lived in a farmhouse with a cistern on the back porch. A tanker truck from town filled it with water when the level was low. The truck driver removed the big concrete lid, and my little brother and I peered down into the deep round shaft. Once, we saw a dead rat floating in the tank. This was the water we consumed.

I became ill. The doctor gave my mom instructions after several visits to his office: “Get your water tested.” The analysis revealed our water was unfit for human consumption.

I have also been through periods of stagnant spiritual living. My Bible readings were dull, my prayers listless, and my meditation and worship monotonous. God was patient and loving with me and said, “Get your water tested.” I realized my consumption of stagnant water robbed me of the joy of my salvation.

I confessed my boredom and lack of enthusiasm for Christ. He put an end to my apathetic condition by pointing me to a new Bible study, prayer group, book, music, art, and mission. Suddenly, I gained a new understanding of Scriptures I had read many times before. Or He opened a different door for His work. In God’s green pastures, my stagnant soul was renewed by His water of mercy, grace, and love.

The difference between fresh water and stagnant water is monumental. Once our family started drinking fresh water at the farmhouse, my health improved. When I allow God to change my perspective, I drink from His clear-flowing fountain. My spiritual health improves, and my joy is complete.

If you feel somewhat stagnant spiritually, get your water tested.

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Living in Faith

As I parked at the grocery store, a young mother, father, and their three little ones stood on the corner with a cardboard sign that read, “Out of work. Please help.”

While I shopped, I purchased extra food and treats to give to the family. But as I drove past the corner, they were gone. I drove around looking for them for a few minutes but never saw them again.

I asked God why He would put it on my heart to help those people but then not provide the opportunity. I realized it was my will, not His. God doesn’t expect us to assist every homeless person we see or every needy beggar on the street corner. Yet we should always be willing and ready.

We live in different times than when the Bible was written. Sadly, in our world, scammers who wear ragged clothing and ask for money get into their cars and drive to nice homes at the end of the day. They’re nothing more than con artists. Why anyone would choose that difficult and humiliating way of life over honest hard work is beyond me. But they detract from the truly needy, the injured war veteran, and the mentally disabled who cannot find work and are forced to beg to survive.

When we’re living in faith, the Holy Spirit moves us to do what is right and just and to care for those in need. When we keep our side of the street clean and our hearts in tune with God’s desires, we desire what He desires. He prompts; we act.

The next time you see someone in need, ask God for guidance. If you are living in faith, you will hear and obey.

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Perfect Love Drives Out Fear

When I first met the Lord as a teenager, many fears plagued me.

I struggled with feelings of inferiority and low self-esteem. But once I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, a new dynamic entered my life. I experienced the love of the Father. The Holy Spirit ministered to me through His Word, His Presence, and His people. The fears that once shaped me lost their power over me.

As I grew in my relationship with God, I also grew in faith and confidence. Today, I am still tempted, at times, to fear when circumstances arise, but I have learned to offer my troubles to God and allow Him to shower me with His love. His love makes me strong, and His love will make anyone strong.

God's love is perfect, and His perfect love drives away fear. Fear is a spirit. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind. This promise is for us. We don't have to live with fear.

Fear debilitates and destroys. But with the Lord in our lives, we can win the victory over timidity. We can allow His love to set us free. It may take time. It did for me. I found it helpful to meditate on Scriptures that speak about God's love. Our Lord's truth brings deliverance and freedom.

If you struggle with fear of any kind, invite the Lord into your situation. As you draw near to Him, He will draw near to you. Meditate on Scriptures that speak of the love of God. His perfect love will surely drive away your fears.

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Priming the Pump

Priming a pump is important.

I grew up in a rural community in South Carolina. One of my favorite parts of the week was visiting my paternal grandfather after church. Mom and I would leave church on a hot Sunday afternoon after hours of Sunday school and worship and drive down a long dirt road toward my granddad’s house.

My grandfather often sat on his porch, sometimes entertaining other men from the neighborhood. In my Sunday best, consisting of some sort of frilly dress, lace socks, and shiny patent leather shoes, I’d sit with my grandad and chat about my week.

Every so often, I’d venture out back to his old pump. My dad had taught me how to prime the pump if I ever wanted water. The key was that the previous person who got water had to leave some water in the cup. That way, the next person could pour a little water in to get more water out.

Finding an empty cup meant going inside Grandad’s house to locate some water for priming. We knew water was in the well—ample water. We knew we could get what was available, but we had to put something in to get something out.  

During prolonged periods of anxiety, uncertainty, grief, and expectation, I wonder how frequently we find an empty cup. How often do we run on empty, only to show up for others with nothing to prime our pump. Nothing for our worship time, our family, our friends, or the believers and seekers we walk alongside.

Sometimes, we are faced with challenging seasons and no concept of when these seasons will end. As my days run long and my hours few, I am reminded that to replenish myself or anyone else, I must have something in my cup. So, I anchor my days in prayer. I engage in healthy and heart-fueled community. I meditate on God’s words day and night so that when He presents me with an opportunity, I am equipped and replenished … ready and available to prime the pump.

Make it your prayer that the water that comes from your well nourishes those you serve, fills them to overflowing with the light of Christ, and fuels their desire to grow closer to God.

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Cherish the Time

The alert lit up my phone like fireworks on a dark night.

Seconds later, I heard the announcement: “Faculty and students, we are now under a severe weather alert.”

Quickly, we teachers herded our students into the hallways and into their learned positions: kneeling and heads covered with a book.

Keeping students quiet always proves a task. At their age, they think they’re invincible and that a tornado could never hit our school. What they didn’t know, but discovered later, was that one touched down near our location.

Time dragged. We rotated between the hunched-down position and the sitting-on-our-rears position. Wave after wave of severe storms rolled through. At one point, we stopped releasing students. Those picking up students either had to remain in their vehicles or come inside.

One grandparent decided to shelter inside with his granddaughter, one of my seventh-grade students. When the administrative assistant told him we were not releasing students, he said, “I know. I just wanted to be with her.”

As I monitored my students, I watched this older gentleman call his granddaughter from her tribe of students. They moved to a different spot and sat on the floor. As we waited out the storms, he looked at her graded papers and congratulated her on her good grades. Who knew? That might have been the final conversation they would have.

Looking on, I realized this grandpa wasn’t much older than me. And had any of my grandchildren been present, I would have done the same thing.

Life has a way of getting busy, and we have a way of getting bogged down in selfish pursuits with little value. Temporary pleasures. Momentary enjoyments. No lasting value. James says life is like a vapor or morning fog. Life dissipates quickly … often too quickly.

God gives us just enough time to value the most important things: loving Him, loving our family, and loving others. Anything else becomes icing on the cake or a distraction that removes our focus from more important things.

Cherish your time by loving God, your family, and others.

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The All-Consuming Fire of Jealousy

Imagine a band of aspiring adventurers seeking to overcome a terrible evil in a cave with a dungeon inside.

A dangerous dragon lurks, guarding hordes of treasure, and the princess waits to swoon over her knight in shining armor. “Oh, my champion has arrived!” You know, the usual.

But two different races resided within the fellowship. One, a noble-born elf, and the other, a proud prince of a dwarven king. Many a battle, they fought. Many glorious songs were sung about this adventurous duo. The goblins and orcs were but mere foot soldiers compared to their might and deadly skill in the art of war.

When the time came to divvy the treasure and divide the plunder, the elf and the dwarf bickered and complained over who should receive the favor of the human princess. The elf craved the appraisal from the princess for his elegance and beauty, while the dwarf desired to honor his father by bringing gratitude to the king. Through long and sustained bitter quarreling, the dwarf tackled the elf and knocked him off his feet.

Envy and jealousy are terrible things. Envy is a bitter root and malicious poison that suffers no rivals. However, jealousy is an unyielding thing.

Our heavenly Father loves and cares for us deeply. He suffers no rivals when it comes to our attention. Nor will He tolerate adversaries for His bride, the church. This can cause us to stumble at times in more ways than we can think of.

It’s an amazing thing how much our heavenly Father loves us, and how His jealousy reflects certain things that come up in our lives.

Regardless of whether we’re going on an adventure, staying home with a good book, enjoying warm food near a fire, or just cozying up, we can discern types of jealousy in our lives and how to understand not being knocked over—or knocking someone else over in the process.

Don’t let jealousy knock you out of God’s plan.

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I stood there, trumpet in hand, mouth drier than the Sahara, perspiration making me look like a drowning victim.

I was certain I was going to throw up. At age fourteen, I had voluntarily agreed to participate in a music festival where a professional musician would rate my performance. Anxiety reigned supreme.

Anxiety manifests itself in many ways, and countless things can cause it. I have experienced it, seen it, and known people who struggle with it. I have dubbed it the “what-if syndrome.” From possibly flunking a test to imagining the loss of our job or spouse, the what-if we entertain can ruin a beautiful day. Our minds seem to push us forward into fearful events, and we live there instead of in the present.

Jesus' teaching in Luke's twelfth chapter is devoted to anxiety. He teaches us that God's love for us exceeds His care for birds and flowers. He teaches about what lasts and what doesn't. God's care for our souls is greater than His maintenance of creation.

Faith family worship is a step across a threshold from the temporal to a close encounter with the eternal. It is turning away from the sickening dread of what might happen to the hope and joy of what is to come. Faith family worship challenges the notion that calamity is just around the corner and reminds us our Creator is in control.

Our worship with fellow believers reminds us we are not alone in our fears and our obsession with angst. We not only learn coping skills, but we also mix with overcomers who gather at the throne of mercy to celebrate God’s unconditional love and care. The encouragement and hope shared with fellow believers moves our attention from what if to the joy of what will be.

The anxiety battle, as with any of our suffering, can be a life-long struggle. God does not always cure us of our temporary maladies or erase the consequences of living in a fallen world, but He does promise His presence and tender mercies through it all.

Let your worship exchange desperation for hope.

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Sadder Day

I laughed at her sweetly spoken and crudely written words.

On an Easter Sunday morning, before breaking into small groups, the youth of our church viewed a stick-people video narrated by children. The children described events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion on Friday. Most of their comments fit what we typically expect: Jesus’ love, ministry, and cruel death, as well as the people’s reactions. Yet one stood out from the others. A little girl called the day following the crucifixion, Sadder Day.

I doubt I’ll ever forget the little girl’s words. What an on-target description, simple yet profound. Never has our world known a sadder day. Following Friday’s events, reality hit hard. Jesus died. Joseph and Nicodemus buried him. The disciples disappeared. Jesus’ mother and all His followers mourned. Sin reigned…or so it seemed.

However, the children’s narration did not stop there. The sadness of Sadder Day did. On Sunday, the women who planned to anoint Jesus’ buried body found an empty tomb. An angel told them Jesus was not there. He had risen from the dead. Later, Jesus appeared to them and others before His ascension back into heaven. According to Jesus’ commission before leaving them, His formerly sad and fearful followers boldly proclaimed Jesus’ defeat of sin and death.

That same story and commission lives on through the lives of Jesus’ followers today. We all have sadder days. Nevertheless, if we embrace the Easter message and allow its truth to permeate our lives, we know those days will pass. Jesus’ victory and message become ours to live and to share.

With childlike enthusiasm, embrace and then declare the triumph of love over hate, peace over conflict, hope over despair, and joy over sadness.

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Dumping the Fine Dust of Sin

While vacuuming one day, I noticed the vacuum container was full.

Being a dutiful husband, I took on the nasty task of emptying it. Dust specks danced freely as I dumped the contents into the trash. Thinking the job was done, I resumed my housework. Yet something was still wrong. It was not cleaning as deeply as I wanted.

Upon further inspection, I could see that fine dust still clogged the system. To consider the cleaning job complete by emptying the main contents and continuing to vacuum would be futile. I could go through the motions, yet truly clean nothing.

God’s Spirit used this setting to whisper a spiritual truth. It is easy to avoid or ask forgiveness for my large or readily recognizable sins. And yet the fine dust remains and continues clogging up a deeper spiritual life.

Fine dust represents those hidden, protected, excused, or ignored areas, actions, and mindsets. I may have grown so accustomed to or comfortable with them that I don’t readily see them. Close friends may be able to point out such blind spots. However, most often, such intimate scrutiny involves the searchlight of the Holy Spirit. The psalmist recognized this need by asking God to keep him from presumptuous and hidden (even pampered) sins.

When I humbly surrender and open myself before God, He reveals my fine dust. Then it becomes a matter of personal repentance and willingness to change. I must lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares me and allow God to dump my fine dust. Only in this way can I go deeper with Him on the path to Christlikeness. In addition to God’s ongoing searchlight and my willing submission to Him, there still remains my desire to honor Him in all I say and do.

Let the words of your mouth and the meditation of Your heart be acceptable in God’s sight.

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Shallow Waters

A new friend and I met at a local coffee shop.

She was an experienced writer, so I picked her brain.

“Just start writing. Take small, baby steps,” she offered. “You don’t have to publish a book or do anything grandiose. The Spirit will guide you in what He wants you to write.”

Only scratching the surface, I acclimated to the waters before I dived into the depths of God’s plans for my writing. I walked along the beach of His stories, stuck my toes in, and enjoyed the wonder of His words.

“No hurry, no rush,” echoed in my mind like rhythmic, gentle waves on the shore. Sometimes it felt as if a tidal wave had washed over me—full force, knocking me off my feet, dragging me away in the undertow.

Fifteen years ago, I accepted the call in my heart to become a Christian writer. Naïve and a little foolish at the time, I dove in and almost drowned. Like Moses taking matters into his own hands, I jumped the gun. Nothing happened. I was dead in the water—confused and frustrated. But my waiting time prepared me for what was ahead. 

I am encouraged that God doesn’t change. He lives in the shallows as well as in the deep. His plans and purposes are perfect and will always stand. I am His pen, His keyboard, His instrument, a speck of dust in His vast universe of time and space, sustained by amazing grace.

Make a commitment to spend time diving deeper into God’s love, His words, and His plans.

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A Woman of God

I read this verse in my Bible and wondered how I could become a woman of God. In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, but temperate and trustworthy in everything. 

When I turned sixty years old, I included this wish in my bucket list. But first came the pre-Corona days. I re-joined my local church and made some new friends in my awesome community of God. I had worshipped there before, but my health conditions or simple inertia prevented me from participating as I should have.

Then, Covid-19 hit. Now, I make silent prayers and devotions. I am sure God understands that all humans struggle at times with things that hold us back, whether it is health or domestic situations.

I found one step to developing my soul as a woman of God was to offer a morning offering to God. I woke up, so I thanked God. The sun rose, and dawn took away the veil of darkness from my blinded eyes—the windows of my soul. I said, “Good morning, Jesus!”

A woman of God should be herself—calm and smiling and praying to be blessed by grace. But it is hard sometimes not to give in to the temptation of gossiping or giving others labels. Sometimes I think negative thoughts about others but carry on as normal. A woman can have a pretty face but an ugly heart. A woman of God will smile calmly and turn the other cheek, walking humbly in her devotion to Jesus.

But no one is a perfect Christian woman. I am sure God understands our temptations to gossip, feel envy, or assign negative labels. As the old saying says, “Loose lips sink ships.”

On such occasions, I find it best to maintain peace in my heart and home. Then I can go to bed at night, considering that a woman of God had a peaceful day and nothing happened. Peace pleases God. And I can say, “Good night, Jesus. Please bless me with Your grace.”

I am still working on being a woman of God. Are you?

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Through God’s Eyes

I watch in silent horror as the glass slips through my greasy fingers and plummets to the tile floor.

All awareness ceases for a second, although the crashing awakens me. Not only my mother’s glass dish, carrying the recipe and expensive ingredients I perfected for weeks, but also my failure. Shards of glass and meatloaf sprawl all over the floor, the refrigerator, the trashcan, me, and somehow even my hair.

Why is it I can’t seem to do anything, right? I am ugly. I am dumb. I am a failure.

Whether this scene is familiar or not, we all have days (sometimes weeks or months) where our shortcomings seem magnified. Maybe we compare ourselves to the neighbor with a fancy car or sleek figure. Maybe we try to appease our parents or the world. Or maybe we are our own worst enemy, as it is with me. Regardless of the motive, we all have scripts in our mind. But we can change the narrative.

Samuel went to the house of Jesse to figure out who the anointed king would be but learned an important lesson about looking at people through God’s eyes.

Rather than an outcast, God says I am chosen. I am not too dirty or unworthy. God says I am holy. I am loved—but not contingent upon any standards. The world says I am ugly, but God says I am beautiful, fearfully and wonderfully made. Science and people say I am an accident, but God has a purpose for me. I am not too broken. I am God’s masterpiece.

Rather than a shifting foundation based on the dollar amount in the bank or numbers on the scale—or even people who mean well, yet are still sinners—God is the same. Yesterday, today, and forever.

Life would be different if we thought and saw ourselves and the world the way God sees. It won’t happen overnight, although it's time to silence the Enemy and open the first page of the story He’s writing. The story of our lives.

Let God help you see yourself through His eyes.

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On Guard

My spirits soared as I cruised down the interstate on a long-anticipated weekend trip.

The year 2020 had been difficult, and I needed a break. Singing along to a CD of my favorite hymns, I relaxed and let my mind wander as I drove.

Life was good—at least until I glanced in my rearview mirror. My heart sank as blue lights flashed atop a patrol car, rapidly approaching from behind. Pulling over, I realized I was now a lawbreaker…a speeder. I had not intentionally broken the law; I was simply daydreaming and not paying attention while driving. Intentional or not, the result was the same: a hefty ticket.

Traveling the road of the Christian life often brings similar results. While there are no posted speed limits, the Bible does give expected standards for behavior. Distracted by our daily lives, we sometimes fail to pay attention to God’s laws. We do not set out to sin, but somehow we do. Inattention causes our downfall. Sin is sin whether inadvertent or intentional.

Paul instructed the Corinthian believers to be on their guard. Christians today would do well to heed his directions also. But when should we be on guard? Paul did not limit his instruction to a specific time or activity.

We must carefully observe God’s standards all the time. Without paying constant attention, we run the risk of committing sin. And the consequences of sin are far worse than receiving a speeding ticket.

Ask God to help you stay on guard.

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Singing from the Highest Branch

I love taking early morning walks as an extension of my quiet time with God.

I especially enjoy watching and photographing the different birds as they begin their day. Some stand by the pond fishing while others peck at the ground, searching for their breakfast. Although Florida is famous for its flamingos, cranes, and pelicans, our state bird is the mockingbird. They are plentiful, boisterous, and vocal.

One day as I neared home, I spotted a mockingbird standing on the highest twig of a little tree in my neighbor’s yard. He belted his song with all his might. I often see this particular bird near my house, but regardless of the weather, he never quits singing.

As I listened to his chorus, I remembered I had sometimes sung a different tune. Complaining had too often dulled the melody I shared. Sometimes, harsh notes of selfishness caused others to cover their ears because of the shrill notes that poured from my lips.

The little mockingbird reminded me that if I start the day with praise, then God will fill my song with peace and joy. And I, too, will want to find the highest branch to sing my song for God.

Ask God to forgive you for the days when you cheeped and tweeted only about yourself. Then thank Him for sending music teachers with wings to teach you how to sing God’s praises again.

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Millie's Plastic Bags

Millie has a habit.

Millie stuffs plastic grocery bags into other grocery bags and then places those bags into more plastic bags until she acquires bundles of bags within bags. These bundles hang in the kitchen, in the laundry room, in the linen closet, in the garage, and under every sink in the house.

One day I confronted Millie about her obsession. She gave an endless list of reasons why they must stay within easy reach. The luxury of grabbing a bag at a moment’s notice must bring comfort to Millie. It’s a security thing, I guess. Why worry about running out of bags when you don’t need to? After removing all but one bundle of bags in the house and suffering repercussions from it for days, I decided never to bring up the subject again.

Millie’s picturesque manner of storing bags gave me reason to notice an identical pattern I display with my need for God’s Word—and why I must hide so many Scripture verses in my heart because of their practical uses. I like to keep them within easy reach, just in case the moment warrants attention from God’s Word.

Some verses find their way into specific compartments of my life, and I will often add another verse to the existing supply. This practice of adding verses gives me immediate access to the truths I need to fill my heart. It’s a security thing I guess, needing the assurance that God’s Word is within easy reach.

Arm yourself with truth from God’s Word so you can move forward through every trauma you face.

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Goodbye, Holy Kiss

The legacy of the pandemic of 2020 remains to be seen.

The deepest wounds from this worldwide blight are lost lives, but the post-pandemic societal stains may arrive later. Just as wars and trauma afflict us with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), this catastrophic event left its mark. The new buzz word, social distancing, may have long-lasting effects on how we relate to one another. Before the pandemic, we didn't know our neighbors. During the pandemic, we took an additional step away from each other.

Churches were challenged with balancing the loving community of God's family and the safety of social distancing. I cannot remember a time when I did not greet a friend or stranger with a firm, warm handshake. Many of us are huggers. We share a warm embrace in times of joy, sorrow, or special recognition.

Some still practice the holy kiss Paul speaks about. Before the pandemic isolation, a good friend kissed my cheek. I will never forget it. In that moment, time stopped, and I could feel a blessing ripple through my soul. I experienced thanksgiving, love, care, and unconditional acceptance all at once. Every time I am in the presence of this godly man, I recall when he gently cradled my head in his hands and kissed my forehead. The memory always brings humble tears.

Some question whether we will heal from this pandemic or whether the fear of suffering will keep us apart for a generation. The church has always had an opportunity to show the world Christ's love, and we still have that opportunity.

I am not suggesting we be reckless and unsafe but rather find ways to take the lead in healing a world that has been wounded by a pandemic. The God who is within us can lead us in overcoming this tragedy.

We may lose the holy kiss, but our love from God can still overflow to those we serve. Why not let yours?

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Clothing Connection

Strolling down the beach early one evening, I spied groups of people clustered near the water’s edge and along the sand dunes.

No one would have considered them typical beachgoers. They were not clad in bathing suits, toting sand pails, or carrying beach towels. Instead, these immaculately groomed individuals wore fashionable casual attire and were dressed alike in similar colors and styles of clothing.      

As the sun began to set, the light dawned on me. These atypical beachgoers had gathered on the sand to take family photos. Family units were easily discerned with a single glance because their clothing screamed their family connection.

Christians are members of God’s family. We may not physically resemble one another, but, like the families on the beach, we should be clothed alike. Although we do not have color-coordinated outfits, we all have put on Jesus.

Paul emphasized that a Christian’s choice of what to do is not discretionary. He commanded, not suggested, that God’s family members wear Jesus. 

While Jesus is not a piece of clothing, we symbolically wear Him by living as He would. Jesus was the physical embodiment of God’s love, and He acted in a loving manner when He cared for the sick, the hurting, and the socially outcast. We resemble Him when we assist those in physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual need.

Conform yourself to God’s image so others will have no doubt You belong to His family.

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What Can You Do?

“And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” - John F. Kennedy

On January 20, 1961, a United States Supreme Court clerk held a large Fitzgerald family Bible and swore in John Fitzgerald Kennedy as the 35th President of the United States of America. Deep snow, along with sunshine, provided an awe-inspiring background for the speech, which Kennedy delivered from the east front of the Capitol. Challenges of the Cold War no doubt contributed to the attendance of more than 20,000 people who braved 20-degree temperatures to hear the speech.

The audience was national and international. Kennedy not only wanted to inspire the nation but also to express his hope for peace in a world marching toward the escalation of nuclear weapons and possible nuclear warfare.

Within his speech came the quote he is still remembered for. One we need to hear again in our age where we have raised a generation who thinks life entitles them to the best, regardless of their efforts.

The writer of Hebrews never says we deserve the rewards or blessings God promises to give us for our service to Him; he merely says God will not forget what we do for others. And serving others is exactly what Kennedy challenged Americans and the world to do.

God measures greatness not by how many serve us—the world’s measuring stick—but by how many we serve. The opportunities to achieve this greatness through acts of kindness abound. And we don’t have to have pleasant circumstances to decide whether we’ll serve. During trying times—a pandemic and a fledgling economy among them—we can do things to relieve the hurt of others and to promote peaceful relationships in our family, community, country, and world.

Whether or not others repay our kindness is immaterial. We serve because God has served us most mercifully by allowing His Son to pay our sin debt. Having been released from condemnation, God frees us to be the serving hands and feet He created us to be.

Ask God to show you what you can do for others. He’ll be glad to oblige.

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The Ready Ear

Back when office fax machines were common, my desk once sat across from such a device.

Occasionally, the fax machine interrupted my concentration. Since fax machines incorporated telephones, the process began when the phone rang to indicate an incoming document. This was followed by clicking, whirring, and beeping as our machine connected with the machine on the other end. A grinding sound followed as the machine produced the incoming piece of paper.

But sometimes, when the phone rang, it wasn’t another machine but an actual person who had mistakenly called the fax number. “Hello? Hello?” the caller would say. When only a mechanical noise responded, the caller realized it was a mistake and hung up. 

One time, this didn’t work because it wasn’t a person on the other end but a telemarketing robot. I heard, “Hello, my name is Lisa,” and the fax machine responded with “Beep! Beep!”

“I’m calling from the XYZ Insurance Company,” Lisa continued. Since there was no connection from another machine, the fax machine continued to seek the signal with “Beep! Beep! Beep!” 

Lisa continued, “We can save you money on your coverage.”

“Beep! Beep!”

In short, one machine tried to communicate with another. Modern electronics have made personal communication easier, but if no ready ear hears or no one responds, all we have is noise.

This is the opposite of what happens when we pray. When praying, we are in direct contact with God’s ready ear. He also has a perfect response waiting. And of course, no noise exists.

Personal difficulties can make us anxious, but we can seek answers, encouragement, and hope from God. Our connection with Him is direct—no interference as with a fax machine. We also have an added advantage. When we pray, God is there to hear and respond. We’ll never encounter voicemail.

Do you have a ready ear?

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On the Winning Team

Yes, my football team won!

Of course, COVID required social distancing, so there was no crowd at the game—only at home. I was thrilled. Smiles all around as folks headed off to bed. Good win. Great team effort. I pondered in my room. We won. For me, it was like cheering for Jesus.

But what did I win? Faith. Faith helps me overcome setbacks, keeps me strong, and pushes me to play on. It encourages me in my daily Christian living as I cheer for Team Jesus. Just like my football team, I win against the odds.

Faith in Team Jesus helps me achieve my dreams and other terrific things. If I practice my faith and focus on the Divine, I will not miss out on true love. I am loyal to Team Jesus, just as I am to my football team, which I have supported most of my adult life.

My faith leads me home and saves my soul—and will do the same for anyone. Faith is a gift from a loving God who never gives up on anyone. In the past, I have sometimes turned away from God’s team, but I have always returned, believing Team Jesus would bless me with grace.

Faith that leads to salvation is a blessing. We receive faith through humble worship of an awesome God who is head coach of Team Jesus. This makes us winners like my football team. The fans and coach were all happy.

Team Jesus is always evolving with different game plans. Currently, for many believers, the game plan is online or mass media worship at home. But I believe miracles can happen. Our flag is in the bag. Those on Team Jesus will win by spreading the good news of true love. 

Are you on the winning team?

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The Buddy System

On a Saturday, my contractor tore into me.

I was the unsuspecting target of his tumultuous tirade—yelling, demanding answers he had already been given on the detailed design, accusing me of falsehoods, manipulating, turning the tables, pouting, shaming, bullying. He finished by giving me the silent treatment and more, all within the span of five minutes. His attack left me reeling and bewildered.

Thankfully, I had a friend over at the time. Her presence bolstered my shaky soul, keeping me from melting in fear or bawling like a baby. Borrowing courage from her easy demeanor and gathering strength from her “no-dog-in-the-hunt” position stabilized me. Whether she knew it or not, she helped me carry my burden.

I calmly engaged my contractor and attempted to work out the dicey situation. After a few minutes, we talked through the tangle. Things were tense, but his decibel level returned to a near normal range. Still, the edge on his words and terse delivery were weighty. My friend interjected, valuing his craftsmanship while gently offering another perspective. She moderated with grace and honored him as an individual.

My friend was present again when the contractor arrived on Monday morning. His humble acknowledgment of being out of control and responding with old behaviors cleared the air. His admission brought instant reconciliation, evaporating the residual tension in my heart. When he said he recognized how much he needed God, tears brimmed in my eyes. Most guys hate to see women cry, so I forced the faucet tightly and let out a hearty, “Hallelujah!” instead.

I thanked the contractor for his apology, then added how blessed I was by the declaration of his need for God. A need, I assured him, I required as well. Daily.

Doing life together is a profound blessing. Having my friend present during the mess … and then the miraculous …made the entire incident holy. Her willingness to engage was like someone dashing in to help carry a one hundred pound suitcase. By grabbing a part of the burden, she lifted the weight that threatened to crush me.

Now I watch for opportunities to lighten someone else’s load. Whether it is a word of encouragement, a listening ear, or a hand with their struggle, I want to do for others what my friend did for me.

Will you join me and purpose to lighten someone’s load this week?

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The Gift

We received more than we gave.

The season of giving had arrived. My wife and I had experienced a better year financially than we had in quite some time. Meaning we had a little left over.

As the time approached when our church would issue my annual Christmas bonus, my wife asked, “Could we take one hundred of your bonus check and give it to the worship leader?”

Our worship leader was a good friend. He and his wife had faithfully led our music program for almost a year. Our church had a small congregation with no extra to pay any other staff, so our friend had served for free.

“Sure,” I said. A quick call to our treasurer lessened my bonus by one hundred dollars. My wife and I agreed to keep our plan a secret. We wanted to see the surprise on his face when he received the check from the church.

Meanwhile, the last week of school before Christmas break arrived. Teachers who had joined the Secret Santa group busily revealed our identity. As I checked the teacher’s lounge one last time for my gift and to see whom my Secret Santa had been, I found a small card tucked inside my mailbox. On the inside was a handwritten Bible verse, reminding me that God takes care of those who serve him. No name, but I was sure it came from my Secret Santa.

But that wasn’t all. Folded over was a crisp one-hundred-dollar bill. I smiled. And teared up as I took a photo and sent it to my wife. “Is that a real one-hundred-dollar bill?” she asked.

The following Sunday, the church treasurer handed out salary checks and Christmas bonuses. My wife and I waited patiently to see our friend’s surprise. We smiled as he smiled. But we smiled even bigger when I opened my bonus check and discovered two hundred more dollars than I expected.

Once again, I learned what my parents, my grandparents, and other believers had told me: “You can’t outgive God.” Which is exactly what Jesus teaches. Enough said.

When God prompts you to give, give. He will always return as much or more than you have given. And you’ll never be able to trump the feeling you’ll get.

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A tourist strolled with friends through a charming village in France.

As she walked, she glimpsed a chubby baby in his mother’s arms. What a cute little one, she thought. She gave him a friendly smile and received a big toothless grin in return. There they were. She was black and American; he was white and French. Yet they experienced a warm and wonderful connection that superseded race and nationality.

The shocking killings of several African Americans in the spring of 2020 sparked renewed calls for racial equality, equity, and justice in the United States and around the globe. Many efforts are underway in government, businesses, education, and elsewhere to generate a deeper understanding of racism—along with ways to eradicate it. Ultimately, enduring change requires a spiritual solution.

All of humanity descends from one person, and everyone is created in the image and likeness of God. Hating and mistreating someone because of their race dishonors God.

Christians can play a pivotal role in the journey to justice, equality, and mutual respect when we model the unity and love Jesus instructed us to display. The night before His crucifixion, Jesus prayed for His disciples, as well as for all who would believe in Him through their word. Sadly, the church still has a way to go before we see oneness flourishing.

What would happen if every Christian tried to build bridges? Learning about both the historical context and present-day realities of racism would be a good place to start. Additionally, connecting with coworkers, neighbors, and fellow believers from different races can demystify differences and generate meaningful dialogue. Doing so will require getting out of our comfort zones. But any momentary discomfort will honor the One who made us from one and to be one.

Honor God by loving all people.

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Sighing in Worship

A sigh. The cleansing breath that comes along from time to time and sometimes accompanies a time of stress or exasperation.

Researchers have identified sighing as a deep breath roughly twice the size of our regular breathing pattern. A sigh can be brought on by stress, anxiety, fear, or frustration. Sighing is a reset for our breathing pattern that puts us back into a healthier breathing rhythm.

Psalm 51 is a sighing psalm. David struggles to regain his spiritual respiratory equilibrium. A serious lapse in his commitment to God had damaged his pursuit of God’s heart. He couldn’t get the mistake out of his head. He had been a screw-up all his life. He knew better than to do what he had done. He wanted to experience gladness and joy again. He didn’t want God to give up on him. But David realized he could do nothing to regain his footing.

We can all identify with David. We have reached the end of ourselves and our home remedies, and we sigh.  Our salves aren’t healing us, and we release what sounds like our last breath. Frustrations and exhaustion have slowed us, and we possess no ready answer but to let out a wordless breath of air. We are signaling God that we are out of strength.

Part of corporate worship is sighing—going beyond the traditional view of confession. Spiritual sighing, just like the physical respiratory act, is a collective reset. In the final verses of the psalm, David turns his attention to the congregation of Israel. His journey from despair has taken him from a lone view of his sin to a healing unity of his people.

Go ahead and let out a sigh in your worship—whether you’re alone or with other believers.

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The After-Christmas Blues

I feel like a balloon losing air and slowly wilting away.

The decorations have been put away. The tree has been recycled. No more presents await opening. The fun and laughter of sharing with family and friends is over, and all is back to normal. But what is normal?

Take a minute to reflect on why we celebrated. Remember the Babe we welcomed once again into our hearts—Jesus, the Son of God, born of a virgin, fulfilling prophecies. He does not fade into the background, only to be brought to mind again at Easter.

No Christmas blues should exist for the child of God—only excitement and anticipation of the future and of knowing the Lord more intimately. Our Christmas celebration may be over, but a New Year of adventure, walking with the Prince of Peace, lies ahead.

We should want to be found watching at God’s gates, celebrating our new life in Him, and listening for Him to speak through His Word. We should treasure every opportunity He gives to draw Him closer to our hearts.

During this New Year, let’s allow our new normal to become “watching at His gates” every day. Let’s take time to worship and to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, by feeding on the manna from heaven, the Word of God.

Thank God that you can celebrate His love, goodness, and mercy all year long.

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A Miraculous Christmas Package

From Mary’s earthly perspective, her question appeared reasonable.

Gabriel, the angel God sent to Mary, gave her God’s message. Mary’s first reply to the angel was one sentence. It’s no wonder Mary would have had a question for the angel who gave her such an impossible message. And with her question, she went straight to the heart of the matter.

Many times, looking into the face of the impossible, we question God in circumstances where we feel out of control. I wonder if God ever becomes amused at us when we talk to Him from our human frailty? We want to be in control of our daily comings and goings.

But God knows the beginning and the ending of our lives. He has a plan for us, and we’re foolish to try to develop a Plan B. Plan B will bring us trouble and heartache if it is not in the will of God.

God had a plan for bringing His Son to earth. He favored Mary and chose her to give birth to Jesus. Gabriel further explained God’s planned miracle to Mary and concluded by telling her, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.”

When we believe God’s Word, we will celebrate the miracle of Christmas with reverence. We will rejoice in awe over the birth of God’s Son—a beautiful miraculous Christmas package sent to earth by our heavenly Father.

Take the opportunity this Christmas season to believe God’s Word. Celebrate the miracle of Christmas: the birth of Jesus.

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My Hard Job

My pastor talks about believers having to do hard things.

His words make me think about how I have had to do a lot of hard things in life. But I am no one special. Everyone has to do hard things. At my first job, we had bad equipment, which made it difficult for me to work. The company did not want to spend money on getting new equipment. In my current job, I do something no one wants to do. Prior to my employment, they had trouble keeping the position filled.

Then I started doing street evangelism, which is something few Christians want to do. Preaching on the street can be tough. When I mention Jesus, people tend to move away from me. Seeing people reject Jesus saddens me because I want to make a difference. Jesus also became sad when people rejected Him to His face and when He died on the cross.

We all must do difficult things in life, whether on the job or witnessing on the streets. I’ve experienced times when I did not know how I would make it. I get discouraged when things get hard, but I try to remember that God’s grace is sufficient. He gives me the strength to do the rough things in life. If I ask, He will give me the power to cope with the hard job. He can take my weak body and give me physical, emotional, and spiritual strength to do what He wants.

Rely on God’s power to help you do the hard jobs in life.

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The Light in the Window

“It’s a great painting,” Joe told his artist friend, Mike, “but it seems so dark and dismal. Can you make it more cheerful?”

The two friends were examining Mike’s latest painting in his country cottage series. While Joe liked the painting, he felt something was missing. Mike’s cottages were usually banked with colorful flowers, but this was a winter scene. Snow packed around the walls, icicles clung to the eaves, and dark angular forms of trees—their branches draped with show—roamed in the background. The cottage windows were dark and shadowy. The only sign someone might live in the cottage was the thin plume of smoke wafting from the stone chimney. 

“Something cheerful?” Mike asked. 

Joe was honest. “Yes, it seems too gloomy.”  

Mike nodded slowly, cocked his head, picked up his palette and brush, and applied a yellowish gold hue to the windows of the house. Now, it seemed lamplight reflected from the windows and shone on the snow, changing a dismal dreary scene filled with murky shadows into welcoming cordiality. The added light changed the painting entirely.

Such is what happened when Christ arrived in the world. With the light of His presence, He came into a depressing and dreary world laden with evil and misery. As He did, He displaced the darkness and replaced it with His personal luminosity. Now, His light shines into every aspect of our lives and then out to a suffering world.

 Let the light of Christ in you dispel the darkness around you.

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A Stepping Stone

My sister Judy and I were at a membership-only warehouse club when the doors opened.

We moved quickly through the aisles, checking items off the list. The cart was nearly full by the time we got to the checkout. Judy hurriedly unloaded the groceries onto the counter. She was almost finished when the clerk said, “This register is closing, would you please move over there to that one?”

I wondered why she didn’t say that before we had the cart almost empty. Most of us would have lost patience, but this day was particularly trying for Judy. Kevin, her young husband, was at the end-of-life stage, and his sister was staying with him. Judy had bottled up her fears and emotions to make the trip to the store, knowing it had to be done. But it would take little to break open the bottle.

Her face flooded with emotion as she tried to suppress the outburst lying close to the surface. She grabbed items, threw them back into the cart, proceeded to the next counter, and roughly unloaded them. Her anger was palpable. I wanted to explain her reaction to the clerk, who was anxious to get us checked out. She can’t know what Judy is going through, I thought.

That was a telling day for me. I want to view everyone I meet as someone who needs understanding, no matter their reaction to things. I can’t know what they’re going through, but many wounded and fearful souls surround us.

I want to be a stepping stone, not a stumbling block. I plan to remember that whomever I come in contact with, I am a living, breathing expression of Christ. I am made in His image, and I will live as such.

Look for opportunities today to reflect the love of Jesus to a hurting soul.  

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What's on the Inside?

The massive oak tree lay strewn across the lawn of the stately house. 

The night before, a vicious windstorm brought down what looked like a healthy tree. However, the inside told another story. For years, the stricken and wounded tree had kept its deadly secret hidden from human eyes. Internally, it was rotting away, eaten by disease or some other slow-moving virulent insect force. Now, its inner secret was exposed for all to see. The tree seemed to interrogate me, so I stopped to take pictures.

I wondered if my life was like that tree. I may look strong on the outside, but on the inside I could be hollow and eaten away. What eats away at my insides? Have I let bitterness over a small slight get to me? Am I carrying around childhood memories of school or home that I have never confronted? Sure, I’ve been blessed with a great family, friends, and a wonderful career, yet here I am. Have I truly forgiven, or do tentacles of unforgiveness still decay on the inside, burrowed deeply within my emotional core?

I must check to make sure my insides are not rotting away. If someone sent a camera to my emotional core, I don’t want them to be shocked at what is happening there.

God wants our heart, emotions, and mind to be free of the decay of any form of bitterness or malice.

Ask God to help you to be as healthy internally as you appear on the outside.

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The Cup

"Just throw it away," my daughter said after I discovered my grandson’s sippy cup of milk in one of his buckets.

Theo hadn't been to our house for a few days, so that cup had plenty of time to create a science project. You can imagine what was inside. I considered my daughter's suggestion and was tempted to throw the cup away and pull out another one. But then I thought, This is a good cup. It just happened to be the victim of negligence. I had raised four kids, so this was not a first for me.  

Before opening the cup, I held my head far away so I wouldn’t smell the aroma it was sure to bring. With hot water running and tools in hand, I tackled the mess.

As I worked, I thought of how that cup symbolized life and how we often get lost in the chaos. We become stuck in our own little bucket, ignoring or forgetting about our problems—problems that have no option but to sit and sour.

For those who have dealt with sippy cups, we know all the holes and spaces in which liquids can seep. Likewise, our lives have holes and spaces, and, if allowed, our mess will seep into each one.

I once had a pretty big mess inside me. Feeling alone and rejected, I came to a point where Christ was my only hope. As I reached up to Him, He pulled me out of my bucket and washed me clean. He can do the same for everyone who asks. No matter how difficult a mess we create, God will never toss us away. He will go to the dirtiest and most difficult places to make us clean. 

If you’re in a mess, reach out to Christ. The blood of Jesus will make you clean.

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Jesus, I Trust in You

As a caregiver for a geriatric, I sometimes have tough days.

But that attitude is no good. I hop in bed and turn it over to Jesus, thinking, Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus can assist me through anything. At the end of any day, bad or good, I can say I made it because of Him.

I am a witness that Jesus can make things better. He always knows exactly what I am going through. All I must do is pray, ask for His help, and turn to a page in my Bible to find comfort. No one needs to be alone.

Jesus can bring us peace. I have learned peace is found in prayer…calm peace from Jesus…long after my time in prayer ends. He is the Prince of Peace.

When we turn our day over to Jesus—our guide on the side—each day will be calmer and clearer. We will be more inspired to follow the path and example set by our Lord and Savior. 

Take time each day to pause and pray for inner peace and calm. Thank Jesus for always being there for you. Say each day, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

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The Hurdler

The long-legged child with a stumpy, almost pudgy body dreamed of being a hurdler.

She lay in bed at night and imagined jumping over each hurdle with one swift fling into the air. She also envisioned pumping as she ran hard and free to the next hurdle.

As the years passed and the young girl grew into a tall, lanky but awkward teenager, the dream of becoming a hurdler faded into oblivion when it became clear she was not athletic.

Fast forward several decades. With another birthday in only a few days, the woman pondered over the life hurdle she had just surmounted—thanking God for another victory and another fruitful ending to a challenging situation.

Suddenly, a childhood memory flashed into her aging brain. She remembered her young childhood daydream and realized the Holy Spirit was cheering her on through a life race one hurdle after another. She was fulfilling her dream.

Never lose sight of a God-given dream or goal. God will make it happen in His time and in His way.

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How to Extend Your Life

“Is it possible to extend your life?”

People ask this question over and over in different forms each day. Some try to extend their lives by eating certain foods. Others follow an extreme exercise program. Still others accept self-help courses and books. Misguided faith can also give false assurance of longevity.

I knew of a church that believed God’s children would live to 150 if they had enough faith, which several of our friends claimed to have. Pointing out to them that God’s promises do not include such an expectation proved futile. Mentioning great Christians—who had excellent faith, such as Billy Graham, but who did not live to that age—only caused them to firmly claim their faith made them sure they’d live that long. My old carpenter father would have called this “blind faith.”

In contrast, these verses objectively reveal a child of God can add to their life by an obedient heart. Let your heart keep my commandments: For length of days and years of life, and peace they will add to you. Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck.

Kindness and truth, when on display in our lives and written on our hearts, are reflections of wisdom, which enables a long life and prosperity. However, prosperity comes in different forms since our heavenly Father knows what is best for each of us. Spiritual prosperity is eternal; material prosperity is temporal.

Obeying God Almighty is never a dry intellectual exercise of religious duty when there’s heart involvement. Jesus said the first and greatest commandment is  to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.

Learn how to extend your life by claiming God’s promises as you open your heart to the Spirit of God. Then, ask God to help you never think your mind is more important than your heart of love.

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I enjoy woodworking, especially using hand tools.

The way a hand tool does its job is incredibly satisfying. To achieve this result requires a sharp blade. A hand plane’s iron will cleave through a thin ribbon of wood, leaving a finish smooth enough to shine.  

The process of honing an iron starts with coarse stones and progresses to finer grits. No matter the grit or method, the applied angle friction must remain identical. Doing it incorrectly dulls the blade even more, making it more useless than before. When this happens, it takes longer to bring the iron back into working condition.

Sometimes tools are neglected for months, years, or decades. Restoring them can take hours, but those tools are almost never without hope of restoration.

People are similar. We need others to hone us. Sometimes, that involves a progression of people who can smooth our rough edges. At other times, we may stray far from God, and the road back is long.

Hope abounds for each of us if we are willing to submit to correction and guidance with a humble spirit. Belonging to a community is essential. Mentors are a vital part of our walk with Christ.  

If honed enough, planed iron will reflect like a mirror. And when we become polished, we’ll reflect Jesus Christ. As we grow sharper in Christ, we’ll receive opportunities to mentor others—guiding them with the same care, love, and wisdom a master carpenter uses. The sharper we become—individually and as a community—the more effective we will perform the tasks God lays before us.

Let God sharpen you so you can spread the gospel of Jesus Christ by being a shining light on a hill.

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When We Trust

“I know it’s tough. We just have to trust.”

The sweet little checkout gal was trying hard to make the best of an awkward situation.

“Trust in what?” the customer snapped. “A crazy president?” she asked and tossed a popular “fake-news” magazine on the counter.

The customer was two ahead of me in the checkout, and reaching her to comment was impossible, short of crawling over two buggies. The clerk smiled, avoiding any further comment.

That’s when it really hit me just how lost our world is. Those who believe are far outnumbered by those who don’t, but this lady’s comment really drove home the lost and hopelessness of the world.

Isaiah tried diligently to remind the people not to lose hope. He established the praise of God’s coming kingdom. Trust, he said. Trust for God is your eternal hope—your rock. He worked hard to tell a waning people their trust in the Lord was vital. Isaiah knew God never let His people down, nor did His love ever falter for them. If he could only make that clear, they would see hope.

We live in a scary time, but honestly, every “time” has its issues that grab at us and encourage us to doubt. Trust is hard. Hard because we’re a stubborn people who think we have control over every situation—like cancer, heart attacks, or COVID. When our trust is laid firmly in mankind, we are surely set up to fail, for people are imperfect. The only place our trust is secure is in the hands of God.

Begin your day on your knees. Pray for the healing of a lost world. Live out your trust in a God who does not fail. Let the world see through you that trust in God sustains. He is without a doubt, our rock and redeemer. Through your actions, others will see the peace you are afforded through your trust in Christ, and when the worlds sees, they will wonder and want. Then and only then, when they want, will they receive.

Be the servant who trusts, waits, and believes, for God is faithful when we trust.

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Lean on Me

I grew up on a farm where hard work was the norm.

The summer sun drew sweat, and the sweat drew bees. Muscles cramped, and chores seemed endless. When we needed a break, we often leaned against the closest fence. It propped us up while we drank cold water, wiped our faces, and wondered how much longer until quitting time. We didn’t always have a fence for propping, but it surely did help when we did.

Just like those fences, good friends support us during trying times. We can depend on them to always be there–firm, steadfast, secure.

That’s what Aaron and Hur did for Moses. When Moses grew weary, they held up his hands so he “remained steady till sunset.” They stayed with him, never wavering, until he completed his task of making sure the Israelites were victorious.

Examples like these—along with other men and women of the Bible—prompt me to ask if I allow others to lean on me when they’re weak. As God’s family, we can offer a place for people to catch their breath before they move on, provide a moment of respite when they think their task will never end, and resolve to prop one another up when life gets tough.

As Aaron and Hur did for Moses, and as the Holy Spirit does for all who place their faith in Jesus, let’s be there to prop one another up when life gets tough.

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Candles in the Dark

Her idea was great.

My friend Laura wanted to host a neighborhood social and have a craft project for her neighbors. I volunteered to teach candle making since I had the supplies. All we lacked was heat to melt the wax and power to plug in the glue gun.

The day arrived and we were excited—until I received an early morning call from Laura. “We have no power.”

Storms had affected the power lines in Laura’s area. We decided to proceed anyway, hoping for a quick repair. Thankfully, her stove was gas, but with no power, we had to work in the dark.

I commented, “This is a good lesson for why we need candles—to shine light in the darkness.”

As I looked at the candles around the room, I witnessed a soft glow of light in a dark place. To see what we were doing, we had to get near the light.

As believers, we must be that glowing light of Christ wherever we go. We have the promise from Jesus that we will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life. We may have to enter dark places in our schools, places of employment, communities, governments, or even family events, but our light will shine in those places. We can be that light because Jesus is our power source.

Extending love and kindness to those around us, no matter where we are, lets Jesus shine life-giving light into the lives of others.

If you are in a dark time, know there is light for you. His name is Jesus—the Light of the world—and He will light your path.

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Cast and Faith

A professional angler named Mark taught me the difference between surf fishing in the Atlantic and cane pole fishing on the banks of our small Kentucky pond.  

Mark plunged a large metal spike into the sand, cast a thick weighted line into the surf, and slid the pole into the spike. He returned to his chair and waited, eyes trained on the high, thin end of his pole.  

Day after day I watched him. Cast and wait. Cast and wait. Soon, the rhythm in my mind turned to cast and faith, cast and faith. The phrase applied to everything in my life at that season—parenting, writing, ministry. Forever casting. Forever waiting. When would I land a catch? When would I see the goodness of the Lord?

On day three, Mark’s faith was made sight. The pole bent until it nearly doubled. He catapulted from the chair and grabbed the pole. For the next fifty-five minutes, he reeled and rested. After a time, he handed the pole to me. To me!

“Here, I wantcha tah feel that.” He puffed, the strain showing in his tattooed shoulders and the tendons in his neck.

“What if I lose it?”

“Then yah lose it.”

I white-knuckled the pole, tucked it hard against my thigh, and followed his instructions. Fear and exhilaration coursed through my body—not a long stretch of time, but enough.

Right before he took the pole, he asked, “Do yah feel that?”

I nodded and thought, This is like fishing for men—like parenting, writing, ministry.

On the beach that day, we reeled in a black-tipped reef shark, snapped a few pictures, and then released it back to the ocean. In my heart, all those buckets that seemed so empty were filled with more than fish. They were filled with the promise of God’s goodness, no matter the catch.  

When you look across the waters of your ministry, consider the potential of those depths. Then, choose to cast and faith.

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What Do You Want?

Their job was to give me instructions.

My eight-year-old students crowded around a worktable loaded with ingredients for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“Put the peanut butter on the bread,” said the first student. I plonked the unopened jar in the middle of the loaf, denting it.

“No! You have to take the peanut butter out of the jar,” several said while others giggled.

I scooped the peanut butter out of the jar and smeared it on the bread bag. “Mrs. Glover! Not like that.” They laughed.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked.

“Take the bread out of the bag and spread the peanut butter on the bread.”

I took out a piece of bread and smeared peanut butter on one side.

“Now the jelly,” one student said.  

As I reached for the jar, another said, “No, use a knife and get the jelly out of the jar.”

“We have to tell her exactly what we want her to do,” said another.

Now that they understood good directions are not general but specific, I sent them back to their desks to write out step-by-step instructions.

A pair of blind beggars heard Jesus approach and loudly called out to him: “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!”

The crowd told the beggars to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder. Their request was general: “Have mercy.” They may have thought that was enough instruction, but Jesus wanted more from them. When Jesus asked what they wanted, they answered, “We want our sight.” Jesus touched their eyes, and they immediately received their sight and followed Him.

The passage reveals several important elements of prayer. First, when in need, seize the opportunity to ask Jesus for help. Don’t put it off, and don’t assume things will work themselves out. Second, don’t be dissuaded by the crush of voices in your mind—discouraging and dismissive voices that say you’ve already asked and shouldn’t ask again. Third, be specific. The God who created us is asking what we want Him to do. Finally, wait with faith.

What do you want Jesus to do for you today? Croak out your prayer, ignore the naysaying voices, and tell Him what you need. He will act for your good.

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And we thought the 60s were hard.

Social injustice, riots, folks burning flags (or bras), people injured or killed. These things raged in the 60s, and it’s the same today. Writer and philosopher, George Santayana, coined the phrase, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Truth, indeed.

In an ultra-sensitive society, every word we speak, every ounce of history lost, drives an offensive sliver of wood under someone’s fingernail. Yet here we are—allowing our past to be forgotten again—and we’re spiraling back into the same mistakes. The hurtful words one person screams are retaliated by the angry words of another. It would seem we face a lose-lose situation.

God frequently reminded His children not to forget He’d brought them from bondage. He told them to remember His commands and what He’d done to provide for them. God reminded them because He knew how easily people could fall into making the same mistakes again. When He told His people to impress His commands on their children, to talk about them, and to bind them on their foreheads, it was an effort to help them remember not only their blessings but also their mistakes. It was an effort to prevent history from repeating itself.

Remembering the loving kindness and the discipline of God helps us step over the mistakes into new and safer pathways. God’s love never waivers, even when our selfishness takes us to places we could avoid. The prayers we raise before the Lord for protection and peace in this time of upheaval can easily be stifled in the face of controversy—lost in the failure to remember our past. We must remember the mighty power and faithfulness of the Lord our God.

In a time when things are difficult and others are easily offended…remember. Remember to show forgiveness. Give understanding. Speak love. Never forget who you are in Christ.

Remember to be the light Christ asked you to be, even during hardship.

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Smelling Good

The smell took me back.

Until my wife came along, I used bar soap. She was a liquid soap user. Liquid soaps were not mass-produced for domestic use until the 1980s when Minnetonka Corporation of Minnesota released its Softsoap. 

One day, while visiting a local grocery store, I walked to the pharmacy department. Sure enough, they sat on the shelf as I remembered. Three bars of Ivory soap packaged together. I picked them up and circulated them beneath my nose. The fragrance transported me back to a time when I was a young boy taking baths. I would run the bathwater, jump in, wet the washrag, and look for the bar of soap. Ivory soap. The one with the clean smell. And best of all, I could find it in my dirty water because it floated. Remembering the good ole days, I bought the soap and began using it again. I also put bars in soap dishes in our kitchen and bathrooms.

Amazing what smells can do. For Isaac, it identified his son—or so he thought. Prior to his death, when the time came for Isaac to give his final blessing to his firstborn, he told Esau to kill some wild game, prepare it, and bring it to him. He would eat it and bless him. But Jacob, the younger brother—and a trickster—dressed as his brother, prepared game, and took it to his father. Blindness initially confused Isaac, but the smell of the outdoors convinced him it was Esau.

Smell is also important with spiritual living. Whether I smell clean because I just bathed with Ivory soap or whether I smell raunchy because I just helped give shots to hogs living in a muddy smelly pen, isn’t the issue.

My actions, words, and attitudes determine my spiritual smell—regardless of my hygiene. And when they align with God’s Word, people will smell a wonderful aroma coming from me. I may not be in style when it comes to clothes—and I might not have the latest and greatest play toys—but others will get a good smell from being around me. Not with their noses, but with their eyes and ears. They will smell Jesus. And after all, that’s what Jesus said His followers are supposed to do: smell good.

How are you smelling to others—and, more importantly, to God?

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As a young child, I began comparing myself to others.

I grew up thinking I was less-than. Low self-esteem and shyness followed me. Comparisons made me feel inferior, and I dealt with the hurt the best way a child can: I pulled inward.

L. Ron Hubbard said, “We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people.” Is it any wonder I felt less-than? I allowed other people to rob me of myself. Throughout my teen years, God mystified me. I tried to be a good person but failed. Then I heard the voice of a preacher who brought the Word to life in simple words and phrases that pointed me to Christ.

I accepted Christ and resolved to follow Him. My new life was better because I realized my Creator valued me and loved me as no other. This new way of living was exciting. I discovered ancient truths. However, it was a constant battle of either reading and accepting God’s Word or indulging my childhood views. After an indepth study of God’s Word, I realized He did not create me to listen to opinions—nor did He want me putting myself down. He created me to listen to Him. His voice. The Voice.

I have learned I can retire to my closet sanctuary without any technological devices. Without the outside turmoil interrupting the connection with my best friend, my time with God is sweet. Our time includes reading His Word, worshipping as I sing, praising Him for who He is, and listening to the still, small voice of my heavenly Father who loves, revives, encourages, and guides me daily.

God is in the business of bringing new beginnings. He is the friend who will never let us down.

Do you yearn for a conversation with God? He is waiting to hear your voice.

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A New Routine

Covid-19 interrupted our daily routines.

Full-time employees became stay-at-home parents. Some waited for unemployment benefits. Many waited for the next batch of frozen chicken at the grocery store. But all of us waited for the pandemic to pass so we could return to our previous monotonous, yet desirable, old routines of normalcy.

As a healthcare worker, I had to spend two weeks saying goodnight to my daughter via FaceTime because of quarantine restrictions and a Covid-19 exposure. Bedtime used to be a battle of the wills, but it turned into a battle of heartache as I longed for another goodnight kiss.

While a sense of panic and uncertainly loomed over my household, I remembered how the routines of the twelve disciples were interrupted. A tax collector stopped collecting, fishermen stopped fishing, and a Pharisee stopped hunting Christians. They were suddenly called to stop their normal routines and begin new ones.

And their new routines changed the world. Once they followed Jesus, they never looked back. They didn’t wish they could start collecting taxes again, they didn’t long to go fishing, and Paul certainly never wished he could return to persecuting Christians. They had faith their lives had been changed for good—and for a purpose. They fully relied on Jesus.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, God still had a plan—a plan to change the world. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. He was here at the beginning of creation, and He will be here after the pandemic passes.

Why not thank God for your new routine instead of praying for the return of the old one? Maybe these new routines will change how you perceive life—and perhaps even change the world.

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Under Attack

I didn’t expect problems, but suddenly I was under attack.

As I pulled weeds around my tree, angry yellow jackets surrounded me and stung me eight times. I had entered their territory, and they didn’t like the invasion. I determined the weeds would have to stay. I didn’t care to face that enemy again.

Christians face another kind of enemy: Satan. At times, he acts as yellow jackets do. We are not aware of his presence until he springs on us. That’s why Peter warns us to be alert for his prowling. He compares Satan to a lion who stalks its prey quietly because it wants to catch the victim unaware. Not until the beast is ready to pounce does it roar. Then, it is too late for the prey. They have no escape from the power of the destroyer.

We are offered effective ways to prevent Satan’s attack. We can read the Bible and attain the knowledge we need. When temptation comes, we can do as Jesus Christ did during His forty days and nights of temptation by Satan in the wilderness: quote Scripture.

Just as I plan to avoid the tree until the yellow jackets are gone, so we can take a giant step in resisting Satan’s attacks by avoiding places and things we know are contrary to God’s plans for our lives. We can also ask for help in resisting temptations and for the strength to stand firm in Jesus Christ.

Get prepared to fight the sudden attacks of Satan.

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The God Who Provides

God’s supply always meets our reasonable demands.

Covid-19 was upon us, and stores everywhere had empty shelves. People sought wipes and disinfectant sprays as if they were precious jewels. The problem was not about supply, but demand.

My daughter and son-in-law live in New York City. During the pandemic, my son-in-law went to Costco to get a few things—toilet paper among them. He left his cart with his toilet paper in it for a few moments. When he returned, the toilet paper had disappeared. Whoever took it must have believed the demand would exceed the supply. Because of the panic over the Coronavirus, the stealer was probably right.

Moses told the Israelites not to keep any of the manna God sent until morning. Some did anyway, but maggots infested it, it had a terrible smell, and it was no good. Moses was angry. We can learn a lot from the Bible about how God taught His people to deal with supply and demand.

The people’s disobedience came from two sources. First, they did not believe God. They had to take more than they needed just in case God couldn’t or wouldn’t provide daily. Second, they were self-centered. They believed they deserved more than their fair share, which always breeds resentment.

In times of national distress, people stockpile, bringing about an imbalance between supply and demand. Some have too much while others have too little. God has a better plan: trusting Him. As Christians, we should have called our actions what they were. Panic mentality is unbelief in the faithfulness of God.

Make a choice to believe that Jehovah-Jireh, the God who provides, will always supply your reasonable demands.

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The Good China

Many have something elegant they keep on reserve for a special occasion.

For some, it’s a particular piece of clothing or jewelry. For me, it was the good china. My husband and I disagreed about this constantly. He wondered what the point was of having such dishes if we never used them. My logical response was that it was for a special occasion. But I have come to realize that life itself is the special occasion. Every moment we experience is cause for celebration.

Jesus put it all on the line for us, even laying down His own life. He did not do this so we would live within margins. He did this so we could live life in abundance and to the fullest. If we are always waiting for the special occasion to arrive, we miss out on the gift of today. The Enemy is aware of this and tries to steal our joy by creating chaos and confusion in our life. But our joy should not be stored up, only to be used on special occasions. Joy and gratitude should be the dish we serve daily.

Today is a gift. We can live each day to the fullest as Jesus desires, starting each day with a grateful heart and making the choice to choose joy, regardless of the circumstances. We can use the good china because we are alive in Jesus Christ.

Choose joy today through Jesus Christ, and live life to the fullest.

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How's My Driving?

Four lanes of highway, but that wasn’t enough.

The semi-truck came alarmingly close to me as we both navigated a curve. Then, he crossed into my lane and veered onto the rumble strip on the right-hand shoulder. He seemed determined to stay in front of me, so I let off the gas to give him some room. As he pulled ahead, I saw a sticker on the back of his rig that read, How’s my driving? The sticker also had an 800 number to report unsafe drivers to the corporate headquarters. The trucker represented the company whose logo was painted on the side of the trailer. The corporation’s name and reputation were on the line far more than the man in the driver’s seat.

Early in Jesus’ ministry, people noticed He was different. He spoke with authority and knowledge, making it clear His authority came from His Father who sent Him. Jesus involved Himself in the lives of people and pointed out He was only doing what His Father did. Jesus was more concerned with relieving suffering than following conventional practices. He healed on the Sabbath, revealed lies with truth, and challenged authority. When the Jewish leaders questioned Him, He said the works He did bore witness to whom He was and to the Father who sent Him.

As Christians, we represent Christ by all we do and say. The world is watching how we navigate the curves to see whether we veer off course or whether we graciously correct when we hit the rumble strips.

The Christian life isn’t about getting to a final destination. It’s about how we travel the road along the way. We must always remember we aren’t alone on the road. People see how we drive and know whose name we claim to represent.

How’s your driving?

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Silver Cross

Christmas 1995 had come and gone. Tax season was in full swing in the little CPA firm in Birmingham, Alabama, where I worked.

New tax preparation software stole family time. I continued to lead a weekly Bible study at my church that I had led for three years. A handful of women faithfully attended the class, usually with small children underfoot. My own offspring played with their school assignments in the back of the classroom. But interest dwindled. Why should I continue to lead this study? I thought. 

That Christmas I had wanted a silver cross on a long, silver chain. Everyone I saw wore one–friends at church, co-workers, strangers on the street. But every time I had the urge to buy one, I sensed God telling me to hold back. 

One morning while at work, I received a phone call. A woman in the Bible study wanted to meet. We did, and in my office, she poured out her heart, her pain, her struggles, and her confessions. We cried, prayed, and laughed together.

As she stood to leave, she reached into her purse, drew out a small gray pouch, and said, “God told me this morning to give this to you. I’m not sure why. I bought it in Mexico last summer while traveling with my husband, put it in my dresser drawer when we got home, and forgot about it. This morning God put it on my mind to give it to you.”

She placed the small gift in my hands, and I heard my heavenly Father whisper, “I love you. I am all you need.” I pulled out the most beautiful silver cross I had ever seen … simple and perfect. Tears streamed down my face.

We often try to satisfy our desires on our own, only to miss the perfect gift God has for us—Himself. God puts the desires in our heart so He can fill them and amaze us with His personal, powerful love. 

I thought obedience would bring blessings but missed the most precious jewel: a closer relationship with God. We are instruments of blessings, designed to bless in ways we’ll never understand.

Follow Jesus on this exciting “blessing” adventure.

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Be a Blessing

In hope of saving a few dollars on doors and windows, a friend took me bargain shopping in her hometown.

I purposely wore my Celebrate Recovery shirt, hoping I would connect with a curious conversationalist. The phrase on the back of the shirt read, Where I am going is more important than where I have been.

With little success finding bargains, we began the trek home—by way of Chick-fil-A. As we stood to the side and waited on our food, one of the employees commented on my shirt. She shared about her church and her favorite purple shirt that contained a Scripture about being blessed. As we talked, she got emotional and explained that since her stroke she cries at the drop of a hat.

Her tears were beautiful, not superficial or from a place of sadness. Those tears were droplets of praise and blessing. Thanksgiving and joy leaked from the corners of her eyes with every word. She shared about her faith in God and a recent mission trip. She talked about Lydia, the seller of purple fabric in the Bible and how they had the same name. Purple had become her favorite color as a result of learning about Lydia.

As we wrapped up the conversation, she told us her job was an opportunity to be a blessing to her customers every single day. Be a blessing. Every. Single. Day. She could have become a recluse after her stroke and bottled insecure thoughts. She could have simply done her job and restocked items and refilled drinks. But in the chaos of her responsibility, she chose to see the people she serves, connect with them—even when many of them were disconnected—and bless them without expectation.

What a powerful reminder. No matter our age, health, occupation, or background, we can magnify the name of Jesus everywhere we go. We can be a blessing to those we encounter. Such a simple goal that can change someone else’s life.

Be a blessing. Every. Single. Day.

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Jesus Prays for Us

I was broken.

My first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. My husband didn’t know how to help me, and neither did I. I couldn’t imagine ever feeling happy again. Even prayer seemed too hard. Little did I know my best Friend prayed for me.

Soldiers bound Jesus and took Him to stand trial. Peter was terrified. What would he do next? When a girl shouted, “He was with Him!” Peter denied it. Two others said, “You are one of them!” Still, he denied knowing Jesus.

Suddenly, a rooster crowed. Bound and accused, Jesus looked into Peter’s eyes. Jesus’ earlier words flooded Peter’s memory. Peter was overwhelmed with sorrow, repented, turned back to Jesus, and became a great evangelist for the Lord.

Jesus knew Peter would deny Him, yet He prayed for him. We are no different or less loved than Peter. Jesus prays for us too. Jesus is omniscient. How can the One who knows all be disappointed in us? We would have to surprise Him for that to happen.

Christ knows what we will do before we do it and yet still prays for us. When we undergo trials or storms in life, Jesus prays for our faith to hold fast. If we struggle to believe His promises, He prays for us to stand firm. When grief and sadness overcome us, Jesus lifts us up in prayer.

Take comfort—even if you have denied Jesus, He prays for you.

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In my mind’s eye I can see her running toward third base—her chubby three-year-old legs pushing her little body forward, her arms reaching upward and outward, her smile beaming.

Why? Her Mama was the third base coach. With laughter, they met at the base—Mama kissing her as the three-year-old was swept into her arms. Precious memory. Irreplaceable

I am grateful for memories. God created our minds to remember the wonderful things He has given us.

God has provided memory gifts during my lifetime: holding my three beautiful newborns; watching a full moon on the ocean; seeing waves crash at my feet like neon lights; and visiting Bar Harbor, Maine, while two of our granddaughters were there on internships. I never want to lose the memories from my past.

More importantly is our ability to create new memories in the time allotted to us on earth. Making new memories is a gift. So is being with people we love, having fun, sharing grief, laughing, crying, sharing our talents, hugging, smiling, or writing a note that lets someone know they are an important part of our life.

God has things in store for us, our friends, and our family. He wants us to step out of our comfort zones, reach out to someone, and make a memory for us and them.

Think of a few things you can share with others to build memories. Then, give thanks to the Lord as you remember His works.

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From Senseless to Sane

I did it … went from sane to senseless and back to sane again.

As a young boy, I never questioned the rules my parents, grandparents, or other authority figures dished out. If they said, “Don’t lie,” I didn’t lie. If they said, “Don’t steal,” I didn’t steal. But when preadolescence hit, things changed. I questioned what authority figures said. No longer did I accept the dos and don’ts at face value. Rather, I critically evaluated the rules, wondering whether they were right or not. Something inside me rose, making me want to disobey many of the rules I had previously obeyed.

Then something strange happened when I became a young adult. My sanity returned. Suddenly, the rules made sense again, and I wanted to obey them … at least, most of them. Some of my parents’ rules I discarded. They were legalistic and didn’t align with my interpretation of God’s rules. But most I kept because they did align. I pulled a “Nebbie.”

Nebuchadnezzar was ruler of the great kingdom of Babylon, but pride got the best of him. He went from sane to senseless because he imagined he had built his kingdom. For a period, God let him live like an animal to show him differently. When Nebbie came to his senses, God restored the kingdom to him.

I made some of the same mistakes old Nebbie did. When I chose to rebel and go my own way, I did so because I forgot to whom I was responsible. Nebbie thought he was in charge. God showed him otherwise. Even though Nebbie wasn’t a God worshiper, God still controlled his rule over Babylon. After all, God is omnipotent and sovereign.

Nebbie also forgot his sole purpose in life was to obey what God had planned, not what he wanted to do. I forgot that for eight years too. When I remembered life entailed obeying God with my entire being, my sanity returned like ole Nebbie’s.

Leaving God out—or relegating Him to a position other than number one—is insanity. Giving Him first place makes sense.

Examine your priorities. If you’ve gone from sane to senseless, God can bring you back to your senses.  

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Visitor, Resident, or Master

We frequently invite people over for dinner.

We love their company and enjoy hearing their life adventures. After three or four hours, they leave. On special occasions, such as family birthdays or Thanksgiving, they usually stay longer—sometimes all day—but they eventually leave by nightfall.

When our son was a senior in high school, he had a buddy who at eighteen had to leave home because his parents were divorced, and there was turmoil in the home. We invited this young man to live with us so he could at least graduate from high school before going out on his own. He became a resident in our home. We offered him a room of his own and meals. He lived in the atmosphere of our home. He had to abide by our rules and lifestyle—no alcohol, drugs, or obscene language—and he had to attend school regularly.

As God was with the children of Israel, so my husband and I are the masters of our home. We decide on the furnishings, what color to paint the rooms, and when, who, or what can come in. As masters over the house, we are also responsible for repairs, cleaning, and activities.

When we only invite Jesus into our lives as a visitor, He becomes a guest for us to enjoy for a limited time. Then, He leaves at our bidding. When Jesus is a resident, He lives in us, but is still under our lifestyle choice. He can participate with us, but we hold the keys. When we make Him Master of our lives, we give Him authority to make changes as we cooperate. He can rearrange the furniture, decide what needs to be removed, keep things clean, and even decide who or what can come in. This requires a leap of trust.

Make Jesus the Master of your life, and give Him permission to make changes in you.

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Astounding Forgiveness

As the truck driver maneuvered his truck into the turning lane, he glanced at traffic around him.

A young girl steered her car into the lane beside him. Watching her, he could see she didn’t know what lane she needed. She bobbed her head left, then right. She was in the wrong lane. Quickly, she pressed the car’s accelerator, slid in front of his semi, and then hit her brakes.

With no place to go, the truck driver knew he’d have to jackknife his truck if he didn’t want to kill the girl and her friends. A split second passed as he skidded toward the ditch, feeling the truck breaking and rolling. He awakened to a hospital bed and multiple injuries, some serious.

As he lay in a bed, the door opened. The young girl from the car entered. Hesitantly, she stepped forward. “I’m sorry … I’m so sorry. Can you ever forgive me?” Her tear-filled eyes begged for forgiveness.

“Honey, I forgave you as soon as you pulled in front of me. God knew I didn’t want to hurt you, so He gave me wisdom to jackknife my truck. I am glad you are alive.”

“I’m glad you’re alive too.” Stepping to the bed, she hugged him.

With serious injuries, the truck driver gave up a life he enjoyed for a young girl he didn’t know.

Jesus knows each of us by name. He loves so much that He willingly gave His life for us. But Jesus is more than just a good man. He is God and offers forgiveness for our sins. Whatever we need forgiveness for, He will forgive if we ask sincerely.

Do you need to give or to receive forgiveness?

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Honor Them

At seventeen, and too young, Dad lied to join the Army.

Within months he’d found himself a gunnery sergeant leading men through hand-to-hand combat with the Japanese. Blown off a hill by a mortar and then later shot through the neck by a sniper, Dad knew his decision to serve could take his life. Still he chose to serve.

My brother, a Naval veteran, rubbed his fingers around the rough wool collar of Dad’s uniform as he began to recount what few choice memories Dad shared of his time in the Pacific Theatre. Neither of us expected such a wave of emotion. The decision to move Mom into assisted living brought the task of emptying her house contents into storage. When I reached into the far corner of the closet and pulled out Dad’s Army greens, we were taken back. Dad had survived WWII, but he couldn’t outlive cancer.

Jesus knew full well that those who chose to follow Him would also be in danger. He clearly expressed that to His disciples many times. Even in His warnings, He offered the encouragement of the promises of God. Their service…their being a servant…would not go unnoticed by the Father. God would honor them. Any one of Jesus’ inner circle could have walked away at any time, yet they chose to follow. Chose to serve. Chose a life that could easily be snuffed out because of their faith.

In a time when the service of our military men and women seems so unappreciated, these faithful servants choose to stand guard over a selfish people. Like the disciples who walked with Jesus, they understand their lives are in danger and that their service could take the life they cherish.

Choosing to follow Christ is a decision placed before us all. Our lives may not be in danger in this country due to our faith, but there are lives elsewhere who suffer the ultimate price to be His servant.

On this Memorial Day weekend, be intentional to recognize our men and women of the military. Remember also, those individuals who fight an equally hard battle to be God’s servants. Remind them their sacrifice is not wasted. Honor them for God will surely do the same.

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Finding Healing and Completeness

Some people are like broken dolls who need returning to the toy factory—so brokenhearted from their mess-ups that their spirits are crushed.

For most of my life, I battled eating disorders and major depression, which made me feel like a broken doll. So broken that the toy factory probably would have tossed me aside, believing I wasn’t worth their time. Thankfully, I found healing and completeness in Christ’s mercy.

The Amplified Bible version of Psalm 34:18 uses the phrase “contrite in heart, truly sorry for their sin” to define “crushed in spirit.” When we’re truly sorry for how we’ve grieved our heavenly Father, we can experience peace—knowing He’ll do whatever it takes to make us right with Him. God understands our crushing discouragement and shame. No matter what else we’re dealing with, life is more crushing when shame and turmoil join the mix.

We can ask God to show us how He sees our sin … how He can hate our sin but still love us. We can ask Him to help us despise our sin as much as He despises it and accept His love and mercy as freely as He gives it. Rather than dwelling on the mess we’ve made, we will feel less broken if we ask God to help us make things right with those we’ve hurt with our sinful choices. And more healing will come if we pray for those who are also brokenhearted because of our choices.

Life can be hard, especially if we try to live without supportive people and without God. I can relate to the shame that comes from living in ways that dishonor God. I know how the Enemy uses shame to keep us from those we need to be around—especially those at church. Each of us has our own set of circumstances and face painful or embarrassing consequences for the choices we have made.

Regardless of how broken your situation is, go to God. Express sorrow for your sins and receive healing through His gentle and powerful nearness.

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Do You Want to Be Well?

Some people project a cloud of negativity like Pigpen’s cloud of filth in the Charlie Brown cartoon.

I watched Winnie the Pooh as a kid. Whenever Winnie or any of the other characters met Eeyore, the sad-sack donkey, the donkey always complained. When anyone said “Good morning,” Eeyore responded, “If it is a good morning, which I doubt.” When he got a new tail, he said, “Sure is a cheerful color. Guess I’ll have to get used to it.”

When Jesus asked the paralytic if he wanted to be well, the man responded, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” You would think his answer would have been “YES, I want to be made well!” Instead, he made excuses for his condition, which he had suffered for thirty-eight years. His condition had become a part of his identity. He depended on it to beg alms, and I’m not sure he wanted Jesus to cure him.

We’ve all known people who are difficult to be around because they complain about their health, finances, job, family, or any number of other things. The human experience is difficult. We do suffer physical and emotional pain. Falling into self-pity and complaining is easy.

I recently read Corrie ten Boom’s classic book, The Hiding Place. The Nazis sent Corrie and her sister Betsie to a concentration camp in Ravensbruck, Germany. They lived in cramped bunks shared by up to five women. Fleas infested the barracks. The guards wouldn’t even come in. The sisters’ existence was miserable, but rather than complain, they thanked God for the fleas. The guards wouldn’t find their smuggled Bibles, and many other women heard the Bible because the women lived in such confined quarters. Tragically, Betsie died in that camp, but she died thankful.

We have a choice. We can grumble or give thanks in all circumstances. If we look for God’s grace, we will find it. The ten Boom sisters found it in a concentration camp and in the fleas that drove out the guards.

Complaining doesn’t change anything. Ask God for a grateful heart so He can use you.  

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Watch the Bubbles

As my car crawled along the automated car wash track, my thoughts drifted to the past.

My husband and I often took our children through the car wash for the express purpose of playing, “Watch the Bubbles.”

“Daddy, my bubble is racing yours,” our son would say.

“Mine is turning swishy circles,” our daughter would say.

I stroked my silver-steaked hair and prayed, “God, my children are grown, so why do I still want to watch bubbles?”  

For God’s pleasure, and for ours, He creates. He invents the science behind what makes car wash bubbles fascinating to watch, but He doesn’t stop there. He creates snails with stripes and bushes with glitter dots. He makes a dove’s feathers sing as she takes flight. He fashions the honeybee’s wings to interlock like a zipper during flight. God is a masterful creator, and He wants us to enjoy His creation the way He does. But there’s more …

Father God loves His people so much He gave them the innate ability to create. He made us in His image. Only after God created humans did He say, “It is very good” (Genesis 1:31b KJV). Paul records the works we are created to accomplish with God’s empowerment, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10 KJV). The Heavenly Father loves us so much He sings over us. Zechariah said, “The LORD thy God, in the midst of thee, is mighty … he will joy over thee with singing” (3:11).

If we are loved by our Creator so much that He sings over us, then we should enjoy the world He has created and praise Him for the ability He places within us to accomplish the works He has ordained us to do.

Take some time to praise God for being your heavenly Daddy who has uniquely created you.

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Kindergarten Science

Kindergarten Science is often a beautiful lesson in God’s love.

My kindergarteners and I discussed how, within temperature variations, substances undergo reversible changes—such as with water freezing and then thawing. But with other substances, irreversible modifications occur—like our experiment on little pumpkins.

Prior to cooking, the small pumpkins were hard and could not be molded by my kindergarteners’ hands. Yet after heating them from the inside out, they became easy to squash—an irreversible change. They would never be raw pumpkins again. We squished the pumpkins into pieces, then chatted about our actions and words.

Our actions and words cannot be taken back—somewhat like the love of Christ. When Christ sheds His love into our hearts, He makes a permanent mark on our souls. We are His forever. Nothing can alter the Father’s unchanging love.

If we consider how God’s passion molds us, then we can see that the tests and trials of life—the heating up process—change us for the better. Many times, the Potter puts us into the fire to help us become more squishable and usable for His glory. And while this may not always be welcomed by our hard-shelled, inflexible, decorative-only selves, the trials are necessary if we want to become more like Jesus. Once He alters us with the warmth of His ardor and grace, we are never the same.

God loves us with an everlasting love. If we believe the powerful truth about His unchanging hand of grace and devotion, then it will make a difference in our lives. What began as a lesson for my kindergarteners ended as a lesson for their teacher.

Thank God for His fixed love for you—and for His willingness to leave you unchanged.  

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Yes, God Will

As I reflect on the challenges of the previous year, I am grateful God sustained me and I have peace.

I am also painfully aware that across town my cousin received the heart-wrenching news his twenty-eight-year-old son had overdosed. The weight of that revelation breaks my heart. I know my cousin isn’t alone in his pain. The widower bumps into himself in the home he once shared with his wife, and people battle cancer constantly. Suffering is inevitable—a part of living … the part I wish I could eradicate with the wave of a wand. But that’s not how it works.

Suffering has purpose. It enlarges the capacity of our hearts, making us human and giving us the ability to comfort others in their affliction. And when we view our pain and loss through the lens of Scripture, we gain a clearer perspective of this transitory life. Death is not the end.

This Scripture reminds us a glorious day will come when God—not an angel or one of the prophets—will wipe away every tear we have shed. Death will lose its sting, and we will no longer experience grief or anguish. This promise fills my tired heart with great hope and expectancy.

In God’s presence, we gain strength for life’s journey and are filled with a sense of hope. God will sustain us. Yes, He will.

When times of pain come, look to God, the only true Source of comfort.

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I May Be Homeless

Because of my learning disabilities and financial mistakes, one of my greatest fears is becoming homeless.

This fear gripped me one night as I drove down a street and saw a man sleeping in sub-zero temperatures on a metal grate. Another time, I saw a homeless mom and dad with their two small children, spending the night at a twenty-four-hour laundromat. What frightens me more is remembering what my dad told me as a child: “If you don’t get better grades, you will be a dishwasher for the rest of your life.

Despite my difficulties, I found the Lord as a child. Yet some people with large incomes don’t see their need for the Lord. They don’t realize their material wealth won't get them into heaven. Meanwhile, I may lose the roof over my head, but I know I have a home in heaven.

The angels will throw them into the blazing furnace, where the people will cry and grind their teeth with pain. Then the good people will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let those with ears use them and listen. This verse tells about the punishment for those who reject Jesus as their Savior. I would rather be homeless on earth than be rejected from heaven. On earth, fixing the homeless problem is possible, but if we die without Jesus in our heart, we’re out of luck and headed for a lake of fire. Once eternity begins, we can’t remedy the situation or change our location.

If you haven’t asked Jesus into your heart, do it today. You never know when death might call.

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Like a Turtle

The little box turtle crept across the four-lane highway, attempting to reach the other side.

I watched him crawl across the second lane and believe he reached the grassy median. But I have no idea whether he completed his journey. That turtle faced the oncoming traffic to fight his way across what must have looked like a vast expanse to him.

Too many times in my life I've faced four-lane highways. I've either had to summon courage or chicken out. So did God's servant Joshua. As the predecessor of Moses, God called Joshua to fill some big shoes. Moses had groomed him and encouraged him, yet Joshua didn't always get it right.

Despite Joshua’s failed attempts at going for the win on his own, God continued to call him to be strong and courageous. When he obeyed, miracles happened. As Joshua chose to listen to God and put on his courage and strength, he led the Israelites into the Promised Land and the walls of Jericho fell. With courage and strength given by God, Joshua moved his people forward.

God gave Joshua three directives: be strong and courageous, be obedient to God, and continually read and study the Bible, God's formula for success. Maybe not the world's way, but God's way. Our Father wants us to be brave, pray, listen, and study His Word. Then we can tap into the courage and strength He offers. God is with us as we journey the vast expanse called life. He will not leave us—if we embrace Him.

Make it a habit to seek God’s courage and strength every day.

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By Our Love

I invited her to Starbucks so I could apologize.

The lady had shown up unexpectedly at a Christmas party for a ministry in which she wasn’t involved. I only spoke a few words to her, mostly talking with other people. Later, while reading my Bible, God convicted me of my bad attitude, so I decided to make amends.

Apparently, she had not noticed my rudeness until I said something. Instead of forgiving me, she laid out a long list of complaints. The coffee acid burned my stomach. My efforts to reconcile had backfired.

The next day at work, I couldn’t focus. Words swam on my computer as I saw her accusations replay on the movie screen in my mind. Why couldn’t I be nicer? I felt abysmal. A colleague noticed tears cruising down my cheeks and asked what had happened. I told her how I had asked for forgiveness from someone and received a tongue-lashing instead. She tried to console me, telling me I wasn’t a monster. In time, God healed my wound.

Months later, the same woman needed help with moving, so I volunteered. When I told my coworker, she was shocked. Why would I help someone who had been so nasty to me? It made no sense. I told her I would want people to help me move, so I needed to serve others. My associate couldn’t understand. Why show love to your enemies? She recommended I ignore the request and hope someone else would assist.

I remembered Jesus’ words that His followers should show love. Doing so helped my coworker see something different in me than she saw in the world. She recognized my love for others. I told her God had forgiven me of much worse. I could forgive someone who had hurt me. I could share God’s love when I had none of my own to give.

The world cries out for vengeance. When we choose to love—when we would rather hate—God gets the glory. Giving undeserved love seems illogical and separates us from nonbelievers, but they will know we are Christians by our love.

Let your life display Christ’s love to everyone, even when it’s difficult.

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Can We Do It Alone?

My friend’s young daughter wanted to do it by herself.

I left the bathroom after all my efforts to help her proved futile. When I came back, I found her out of the tub, clinging to her towel and watching the tub fill up with hot steaming water. She had quickly stepped out when hot water gushed out. She did it herself all right, but in the process almost messed up the bathroom, hurt herself, and failed to do what she wanted to do by herself. She stood there, too embarrassed to ask me for help.

Thinking about this episode during the day, I couldn’t help but laugh. She was much like me. I leave God out of most things, claiming I can do it by myself and end up ruining things.

The kind of relationship between the Father and the Son is the type we should have with God as His children. Jesus is God, but He did not do anything apart from God.

We need to acknowledge we can do nothing without God. We need His counsel and help—and not only when we run out of options, but more importantly, when we think we know what is best. We need to make His Word our rule for life because only in our obedience to His Word can we find strength to do what He expects.

The Son does only what He sees the Father doing, and we should too. The Word of God is the way to see what the Father expects. One sure way to know we are not leaving God out is to do what His Word says.

Don’t try to do life alone. Include God.

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Burden Bearer

“You need a baby ring sling,” I said.

My neighbor runs a daycare. She has a sweet baby to tend, but often Zoey is quite fussy and wants to be held. My friend holds her, but doing so ties her hands. One day when I visited Amy, she said, “I can’t fold laundry, I can’t do dishes, and I can’t mop.”

That weekend I made her a baby sling and delivered it Monday morning. We worked at putting it on correctly. I did a trial run while she held Zoey, and then Amy slipped it on, and I helped her put Zoey into the sling and get her comfortably secure.

Suddenly, two grown women danced around the kitchen with jubilation. Amy threw her hands in the air and sang, “I’m free!” Zoey rested against Amy’s chest and fell asleep shortly thereafter. Not only were Amy’s hands free, but the sling also distributed the child’s weight and made Amy’s back less stressed.

I reflected on that happy event during my devotions the next morning, thinking about how my Shepherd King wraps His loving arms around me and carries my burdens. He is my sling.

I read a story once about a man who trudged along a country road with a heavy burden on his back. A farmer came by with a horse and wagon, slowed, and asked the man if he would like a ride to town. The tired fellow gladly accepted and hoisted himself onto the back of the wagon.

After a while, the farmer glanced back and noticed the man still had the burden on his back. He shouted, “Why don’t you take off your pack and rest?”

His passenger replied, “Oh, no, sir. You’ve been so kind to give me a lift. I wouldn’t think of asking you to carry my backpack too.”

Kind of silly, but sometimes we do the same. The Lord promises to carry our burdens, but we often hang on to them. Peter tells us to cast all our cares on Him, because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). By faith, I plan to let God be my burden bearer.

How can you do a better job of letting God carry your burdens?

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Martha, Martha

Am I a Mary or a Martha? I would say I'm both.

These sisters intrigue me. Sometimes, I'm a Martha, serving others—especially during family events or holidays. Then during the wintry days of January, all I want to do is sit at Jesus' feet and be a Mary.

Since the Bible teaches balance, what’s the balance between these two sisters’ actions? Why did Jesus rebuke the sister who served him fish on a platter with figs? And why did He refuse to tell her sister to help?

Luke gives us a glimpse into this family who loved Jesus and supported His ministry. They hosted many gatherings in their home for Jesus and His followers. On this occasion, Jesus is brought into a family squabble when one sister gets upset with the other.

My imagination sees Martha clanging pottery in the kitchen, trying to get Mary’s attention. Or giving her looks behind the Lord’s back that could kill. Finally, Martha, with her hand on her hip, tells Jesus to tell her sister, who’s sitting at His feet, to help her.

I’ve been there. Hosting a party or holiday dinner, getting in over my head, and then expecting my husband to help me get it done before our guests arrived. He sat without a care in the world, watching television and oblivious to the cloth napkins that needed to be ironed and the ring in the guest bathroom toilet.

But I finally learned: I created my own work. I’m not saying husbands or children shouldn’t help; I’m just saying they don’t have to rescue us from ourselves. That’s why Jesus scolded Martha. He lovingly tells her she is fussing and fuming to get everything perfect and exhausting herself over matters that will pass away. Jesus loved them both, but Mary chose the good part: yearning to cultivate a relationship with Jesus.

We don’t have to be a Mary or a Martha. We can be both at the same time by serving others with love and joy that result from the peace in our heart that passes all understanding.

Why not serve like Martha and love like Mary?

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Glass Completely Full

The warning light on the dashboard glared at me like a red-eyed monster.

“Check charging system,” it ordered. What? I’d had my car serviced the week before in preparation for my road trip. Being hundreds of miles from home with bad weather threatening was not the time for car trouble.

Fortunately, I was at a gas station when the ominous warning appeared and not barreling down the interstate. I could give full attention to my predicament. And it was a predicament. I would have to get back on the interstate and drive forty-five minutes to the nearest dealer.

Less than an hour later and with a sigh of relief, I pulled into the dealer’s service center. The technician said my alternator was dead. I had barely escaped having to be towed. Whew! A replacement part was in stock and could be installed immediately. I was back on the road in no time.

Jesus warned about the inevitable dangers and troubles in this world. But He also made clear He had overcome the world.

When Jesus is in our life, our glass is full. He’s with us before, during, and after trouble. He’s better than roadside assistance. Isn’t that the kind of coverage we all need? Me? I’m a believer. I see the glass as completely full.

A glass half-empty person or a non-believer would see the negative in my experience. They’d say, “You asked God for safe travel, and you were on the verge of breaking down on the interstate.” A glass half-full person would note a silver lining in the situation. They’d say, “Well, God didn’t save you from trouble, but He did keep it from being as bad as it could have been.”

Ask God to help you see your trials as a glass half full, not half empty.

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Rescuing Chelsea

Sunday afternoon is my favorite time of the week.

After playing the piano for the weekly worship service, I relax and read. While on our dock with a library book one day, I sensed my husband’s footsteps rapidly approaching. He handed me his heavy binoculars and inquired, “What do you see out there?”

One hundred yards from shore, a dog swam in circles, struggling to keep its head above water and fighting for its life. Jeff ran for the keys to his fishing boat while I lowered the boat-lift. I stood at the end of the dock and watched through the binoculars as his boat slowly approached the drowning dog.

Jeff leaned over, lifted the exhausted animal to freedom, and gently placed it into his boat. Our neighbor’s blind dog, Chelsea, had escaped from the pen several hours before, wandered down to the dock, and fell into the water. 

I am thankful Jeff spotted the helpless dog in trouble and was able to rescue her in the nick of time. And that he did what God told His people of old to do. A command that still applies. A few days later, he received a thank-you note. Chelsea had recovered and was doing well.

How often do we wander from our pen and fall into the water—blind and unable to escape? Like Chelsea, we are at the mercy of our heavenly Father who always comes to our rescue, oftentimes in the form of neighbors, friends, or family.

I thank my heavenly Father for the many times He has rescued me. I hope you will too.  

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The Moment Jesus Changed Everything

I have a secret: I’ve spent my entire life trying to make people like me.

I want others to think I’m brilliant, kind, funny, and wise. I spend hours overthinking a joke I told. I try to agree with the people I talk with. And honestly, sometimes I even attempt to say things that will make my friends have conversations with other people about how great I am.

Why? Because I’m constantly fighting a voice inside of me that says, “You’re not enough.” I use approval from others as a way to argue with that voice. But anytime I don’t measure up, the voice comes back even stronger. “See? Told you.” That’s why I find the way Jesus loved the “unlovable” profound.

Zacchaeus was a tax collector—someone everyone hated because he stole money from people. People hated him so much that when Jesus came to town no one would even let Zacchaeus get by them so he could see Jesus. Since Zacchaeus was short, he had to climb a tree to see Jesus.

This was the guy Jesus chose to spend time with. He loved Zacchaeus even when no one else did. He chose to stay at Zacchaeus’s house over all the “better” people’s houses.

And what happened? Zacchaeus said, “Here and now, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

The free love of Jesus touched Zacchaeus’ heart powerfully and instantly. Jesus’s actions were so powerful for him—and for us—because we’re not used to free love. Jesus offered Zacchaeus acceptance, and without him having to perform to get it. He was wanted, regardless of how short he was, how hated he was, or how dishonest he was.

I have a hard time grasping the concept of free love too. But the way Jesus loves me unconditionally is releasing me of my need to perform—no matter how often I don’t measure up. And that makes me want to be a better person. Not out of fear, but out of the realization that I am enough. Simply because I am His.

Move through this week knowing you are enough.

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A Spritual Inhaler

As I prepared to return from a missionary trip to Malaysia, I watched a beautiful young high school girl die in her parent’s arms. She had lost her asthma inhaler.

Shame and guilt can also be life threatening if not treated properly.

Because we cannot forget anything unless there is organic damage, we are often at odds with the way God treats our sin. The memory of past sins, especially the more gross ones, can return and produce bad symptoms in our lives. These often pictorial memories resemble reliving bad choices. 

When painful—and sometimes disgusting—memories plague our heart and vision, we must open our emotions to what God Almighty has revealed about His treatment of our sin’s condition.

“Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow … if you consent and obey, you will eat the best of the land.” Breathing in the emotional content of the Word—such as this verse in Isaiah—mimics breathing in heavens’ clean air and is like using a spiritual inhaler.

Carrying the following verses, which also represent God’s instruction on how He handles sin, gives us a spiritual emergency inhaler to use when guilt chokes us:

“I have wiped out your transgressions like a thick cloud, and your sins like a heavy mist. Your sins have been wiped away as the morning mist” (Isaiah 44:22).

“Be of a good cheer son, your sins are forgiven” (Matthew 9:2).

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

“In this is love, not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:30).

Carry your emergency spiritual inhaler to use against sin and its reoccurrence so you can experience the abundant life Jesus came to give.

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Defining Hell

I once watched a YouTube video about co-housing. I watched to find out what co-housing was. During the video, someone said co-housing wasn't for everybody. He also mentioned that for some people, decision making with a group might be their definition of hell.

If only hell were a hardship of decision making. Our world today loves to sugarcoat the reality of belief. In a time when everything must gently give us what we want without stepping on toes, the reality of hell is too hurtful. After all, who wants to end up there? Or worse, some believe it’s just a story in the Bible.

The rich man discovered the truth of what hell was and pleaded for a touch of water to cool his agony. It was a sad awakening and one that, once given the sentence, is irrevocable. Worse than the torment is the eternal separation from God. No longer is there a lifeline to hope.

Heaven and hell are opposites, both yielding eternality. God has made a place for us—a place where we can bask in the glory of God. The pathway is clear as to how we reach for this reward: repentance, accepting Christ, and living a life as best we can of fruitfulness in the Word. It’s about faithfulness, belief, and love—even when love hurts—and knowing we have the assurance of God’s forgiveness.

God doesn’t long to lose any of His children. He waits for us to bond with Him through a relationship that can’t be matched by earthly pleasure. Spend time in His Word. Study to understand the great joys found in Christ, but do not be deceived that there is no punishment for sin. Instead, seek the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

Feed your soul by reading the Bible, finding a Bible-believing church, giving back to God, and praying daily.  

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A Lesson in Love

My first day as a volunteer tutor at an after-school program didn’t go as I expected.

I expected children playfully running down the street, bursting through the door, and releasing energy pent up from a full day at school. I expected to help with reading and math and play games like Sorry and Uno.

I did not expect a petite girl in a wheelchair who spoke only a few words. She wasn’t there for the homework help I was prepared to provide. She wanted my constant attention, but I didn’t know how to interact with her. I felt disappointed, inadequate, and guilty. I called my daughter, a special education teacher. She assured me I was just overwhelmed with an unexpected and unfamiliar situation. Her advice: “Ask Jesus to help you see her and appreciate her the way He does.”

The next week, the little girl and I sat on the floor and rolled a ball back and forth. The ball went wild and took wacky bounces. She laughed as we retrieved it from around corners and under furnishings. Her laugh was infectious, and, as I laughed with her, I fell in love with her. We had weeks of fun together until it was time for me to say goodbye.

When God sent Samuel to anoint a new king, He instructed Samuel not to choose according to physical appearances but by what was in a man’s heart. As I spent time getting to know this spunky girl with a spark in her eyes, I saw her joyful spirit. Everything we did together was fresh and fun and made her laugh.

I volunteered because God put helping children on my heart, but He hadn’t put me there to tutor. I was there to love one little girl. And she was there to give me a lesson in love.

Don’t judge the people you meet today by their appearances. Get to know them through their hearts.

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Always Hungry

Even too much of a good thing can turn bad…and my hunger did.

Once I lost my baby fat, I slimmed down, became as skinny as a rail, and stayed that way throughout school and into my young adult years. A good thing because my appetite raged.

In those years, my eating was more unhealthy than healthy. I loved junk food. Around forty, things changed—but not my appetite. No longer could I eat as much as I wanted, or what I wanted, without it affecting the scales and my waistline.

My two oldest grandsons are just as I was. Throughout the day, we hear, “Meme (or Pop), I’m hungry.” We feed them. Thirty minutes later, we hear their request again. At this point, both remain as skinny as I once was, and their mother still is. Yet, the day will probably come when too much of a good thing will be bad for them, too.

But when it comes to righteousness, or right living, too much of it can never be unhealthy. Jesus said those who hunger after right things will be happy. Living right satisfies, but it’s not the norm. Since we’re born with a sinful nature, we naturally hunger after unhealthy things—and not food, although we could throw that in the mix.

When we accept the offer of Christ’s forgiveness for our sins, He makes us right in position—but that doesn’t mean we’ll always act right in practice. And we often don’t, despite our best efforts. Hungering for right living, however, focuses us in the right direction.

Staying close to God through prayer, Bible study, meditation, fellowship with other believers, and reading good books keep us hungry for the right things. By hearing and seeing God’s instructions in print and through example, we’ll be challenged to hunger after God things, not worldly things.

Not developing an appetite for sinful things also proves beneficial, as does staying away from people and things we know are weaknesses for us and will tempt us. Good friends hold us accountable.

A healthy fear of God helps, too—not fearing He will zap us every time we mess up, but reverencing Him for who He is, for the power He possesses, and for the love He has shown to purchase our salvation.

Develop a good hunger…but for the right things.

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Is Your Forgiveness Conditional?

“I’ll forgive her when she apologizes … and not before!”

A statement like that is usually born out of the heat of the moment or a long, festering period of anger and resentment. Even though it’s totally understandable, it’s not healthy or scriptural.

If Jesus had waited on all those who persecuted, tormented, and crucified Him to come and confess their wrongdoing, there would be no forgiveness. Jesus responded in love and in accordance to His Father’s Word.

The truth is, people need love and forgiveness the most when they deserve it the least—even you and me. When Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” He was teaching us that the ability to pardon the sins of others is an act of faith and sheer obedience. It’s not conditional or based on the response of the offender. In fact, it’s not for their benefit … it’s for ours.

God tells us to forgive so He will forgive us. And when you assume the posture of prayer, remember that it’s not all asking. If you have anything against someone, forgive—only then will your heavenly Father be inclined to also wipe your slate clean of sins (Mark 11:25 MSG).

If your forgive-o-meter shows you are putting conditions and unrealistic expectations on others, or if you’re having trouble getting past a painful or frustrating situation, think about all God has done for you. Think about the sacrifice Jesus made so all your sins could be washed away by His shed blood. Remember the things God has forgiven you for.

God shows each of us love and forgiveness the most when we deserve it the least, and He expects us to do the same.

Are you willing?

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The Price Is Right

Do you remember Bob Barker—and originally Johnny Olson—calling contestants by name and telling them to come on down because they were the next contestants on The Price is Right? 

When I was young, I remember the Christmas showcase for the viewers at home. Although I wasn't old enough to be a contestant, I wanted to win all those prizes—except the trip to France. Momma helped me, and I bid in Dad's name.

Several weeks before Christmas—while I was staying with a great aunt—I watched the show to see if I had won. I didn't, and I was so disappointed. My parents had gone to a contest where the host said they had won something. But to get it, they had to buy a condo or some kind of vacation spot.

The prize my parents had won was either a car or a grill. I hoped for the car. We didn’t get it. We got the grill. Daddy said we had gotten what we needed.

Sometimes, God does give us the desires of our heart—like the used motor home we bought many years later. But mostly, He supplies our needs. He blessed us with not only one but also two used motor homes—both of which were very nice.

We need to know the difference between our needs and wants. If a child gets everything they want, they will become a spoiled-rotten brat.

Pray and ask God to help you be content, even when He doesn't give you what you want or when you want it.

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Harassment or Opportunity?

By 11:00 a.m., four invasions from dubious, uninvited sources had occurred.

What was it I was just praying about? My patience was already strained as I listened to the message from the most recent invader: “Return this call immediately. If you do not, we will suspend your Social Security number.”

Righteous indignation sparked. Okay, you want me to phone right back? I will gladly call and tell you exactly what I think.

When the fake Social Security man answered, my rant began. “How dare you … terrifying innocent people … scammers and liars … abusing the elderly …”

Just as feistily, he retorted, “Why did you call if you thought it was a scam, and who told you to call?”

“God did!” I spat back.

Two thoughts in succession flashed in my mind. God is probably not backing up this call and—wait a minute—this is a God-call! 

My heart instantly softened, and compassion flowed. “Don’t you know Jesus has a better plan for your life? He made you for a purpose. He’s given you special gifts and has a job suited just for you? One where you won’t have to lie. One you can be proud of.”

As I continued speaking, he mumbled at regular intervals. “Yes, ma’am … You’re right … I know … Thank you …”

Sensing his hunger, I spoke on about Jesus’ mercy and love and then somehow found the boldness to ask if he wanted to invite Jesus into his life. When he said “Yes,” I don’t know who was more amazed. I had the privilege of leading him to Christ.

What started as a frustrating day turned into a glorious one once I discerned the heart of God and what He was doing. I wondered how many moments like this I had missed. Is that ringing phone harassment or opportunity for me to proclaim the gospel? Is the grocery stop just a mundane duty for me, or does God have someone He wants me to reach?

Ask God to help you see moments of harassment as opportunities.

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When You Have Nothing Else to Give

The adage “shop ’til you drop” takes on a whole new meaning during the holiday season.

The Christmas season begins well before Thanksgiving when we’re busy putting up our fall decorations, baking pumpkin pies, and picking out the perfect turkey with all the trimmings. Then we put away the pumpkins and scarecrows and pull out the good ol’ red and green. We plan our Christmas dinner, put our cards in the mail, and stress over the perfect gift for everyone on our list. It can be utterly exhausting.

We spend, spend, spend—time, money, and effort—until we have nothing else to give. We feel completely bankrupt when we should be full of the Christmas spirit, letting it spill out on everyone around us.

A few years ago—on a bright, sunny December day—I stood in amazement as a man loudly berated a salesclerk in a local drugstore because the store did not have what he was looking for. He was rude, obnoxious, and completely out of line. The clerk took it like a trouper. She remained calm and never argued with the man, but I could read the hurt and embarrassment on her face.

When the man stormed away in a huff, muttering under his breath, I patted the clerk on her shoulder and apologized for the man’s behavior. I gave her my best smile and assured her she had done nothing wrong. The hurt vanished from her eyes, and she returned my smile.

A smile is an amazing gift. It’s universal, easily accessible, and understandable even to an infant. It can break through the hardest or most wounded heart. A sign in a large department store reads, Smile! Spoil the day for some grouch! (I wish I had smiled at the man in the drugstore.)

With all Job went through, he said, I will forget my complaint. I will put off my sad face and wear a smile. When the holiday rush has taken its toll … when you’ve gone the proverbial last mile and feel as if you have nothing else to give … do as Job did and offer the best gift of all: a smile. It will brighten someone’s day, and it just might make you feel a bit better too.

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Are You Ready?

Many signs await us.

Some signs catch our attention while others escape us. We pay attention to approaching clouds, announcing a sudden rainstorm. When driving, we watch for someone in front of us turning unexpectedly or pulling off a side street. When a ball rolls into the street, we look for the child chasing it. And think of how vigilant we become when a child faces illness. Just as the people of Noah's time did not look for signs to explain why he was building an ark, we might miss sudden brake lights in front of us.  

With Christmas approaching, we often hear "Are you ready?" and we know the question pertains to our Christmas preparations. We make cookies, breads, pies, and candies. Our refrigerators and pantries nearly explode with food. For Christmas dinner, we time the cooking of each dish, ensuring we serve them at the right temperature and appropriate time. We clean our homes, anticipating family visits. We clothe guest beds with crisp sheets and stock guest bathrooms with dryer-fresh towels and washcloths. We trim the Christmas tree and decorate our homes. We clear snow from driveways and sidewalks, making the paths to our homes safe.

Carving out time for Netflix, binging to understand the highly advertised season finale of a favorite TV show, and reading about the latest scandal on Facebook seem easy. All the while, the Word which tells of Jesus’ return quietly sits on our bedside table or bookshelf. Often, we don’t open, investigate, analyze, and explore the signs it gives of Jesus’ return.

Matthew warns us to prepare for the return of the "Son of Man." This entails considering the signs, making preparations, studying the Word, and changing our daily focus.

Be as diligent in watching for the signs of Jesus’ return as you are in preparing for the Christmas celebration.

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When God's Not Looking

When we’re looking, she’s a perfect little angel, but when we’re not…

Our six-month-old Chihuahua mix was kennel trained when we got her, so when we left the house—and at night—we put her in what she was accustomed to. She didn’t yelp, and we didn’t have to worry about her getting into trouble.

But I hate putting a dog in a kennel or on a chain, so after she reached nine months of age—and had shown herself capable of behaving when we were gone—my wife and I began leaving her out while we went on various outings. She did well. Until she turned one year old. Suddenly, her well-behaved nature while we absent from the house changed.

Her favorite misbehavior involved digging through the trash can. We put it up. Then she chewed up my wife’s box of Milk Duds. That almost equaled a federal offense. Finally, she pulled my basket full of pens and highlighters from the table beside my chair. In doing so, she broke the final straw. Back in the kennel when we left the house.

Soft heart that I am, I gave her one final chance after punishing her. We left for a short trip to Mom’s. When we returned, she had pulled trash from our large garbage can. She had exhausted her chances. She had to learn to behave whether we were looking or not.

Jonah must have thought as our dog did. When God told him to preach to people he hated, he ran, thinking God wouldn’t see his act of disobedience once he left the land of Israel. He discovered his error when God sent a large fish to swallow him. 

Our dog waits until we’re not looking to misbehave, but God is always looking. Jonah discovered leaving his homeland didn’t leave God. God is everywhere. Though the Bible doesn’t use the word, it does evidence the concept of omnipresence.

Although God always sees our behavior, He’s not sitting in heaven waiting for us to misbehave so He can squash us. He has principles, commands, and expectations, but His nature is love. He disciplines when we go astray, but that is exactly why He disciplines. His love demands He keep us on the right track so we can enjoy the best life He has to offer.

Remember, God watches over you constantly—because He loves you.

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Hope for the Future

I’ve experienced times when hope was gone. Times when I feared the future, lost my faith, questioned God, and struggled over which way to go or what to do. I needed direction, but none came. 

I was raised in the Catholic Church but hadn’t been to church for years. I decided to give Mass another try. Little did I know my life would be forever changed that Sunday morning.

God had positioned a couple two rows ahead of me. Everyone else at Mass had their heads down and silently prayed. Not this couple. They radiated joy. So much so that I approached them after the service and asked them what was so funny. The woman loudly said, “Praise the Lord.”

I wanted to run, thinking I had hit on some weirdos. But she turned out to be so kind, and she answered all my questions. She went on and on about Jesus and how much He loves us … how there was a new life waiting. Jesus waited for us to ask Him to come into our life.

I still left there with many unanswered questions, but I knew in my heart I didn’t have what she had: peace and joy.

Does all this work? Yes. I was alone and in deep distress, as was the psalmist. But the Lord showered me with His mercy as soon as I turned to Him.

Sometimes, we’re lonely, afraid, and confused and can’t see that the best is just around the corner. Our circumstances are dark. We want to give up. God wants us to keep moving forward, one step at a time.

No matter what your circumstances are, keep moving. God is with you.

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The Transforming Power of Forgiveness

We’re often not openhanded with forgiveness.

Several years ago, lies were told about me, and the pain was deep. The individual eventually sought my forgiveness. Although I told them I forgave them, inwardly I struggled to walk in obedience to God’s Word. I knew what I should do, but carrying it out was difficult.  

Months passed before I saw them again. Instantly, I tensed. I clung to the offense like a comfortable robe. Only I didn’t know it was dirty. As I considered my conduct, I realized I was behaving like a child who had been caught mistreating their sibling. I knew what my Father expected, but I hadn’t yet forgiven them in my heart.

Peter thought himself charitable, but Jesus demonstrated that true forgiveness, like His love, has no limit.

Having read the narrative hundreds of times, I reasoned that if I were repeatedly wronged, the severing of the relationship would soon follow. But when we’re earnestly pursuing God, He will show us when we’re in error.

During my season of struggling to forgive, God taught me that the temptation to relive the pain would resurface. When it did, I had to choose to forgive every time. God isn’t satisfied with mere words; He probes our heart and engineers our circumstances until we finally release the offense.

We are prone to withhold forgiveness until we feel ready—or the offender shows remorse. We say, “I’m praying and asking God to help me forgive.” That sounds correct, but it isn’t theologically accurate. The truth is, forgiving someone is an act of obedience, not a feeling.

We’ve all been wounded. Through these experiences, God transforms us, making us a clearer reflection of Himself. The process isn’t painless, but the rewards of obeying and doing things His way far outweigh the unwelcome cycle of pain.

When we recall all God has forgiven, we’ll be less inclined to keep a record of injustices. His forgiveness should cause us to be more charitable with our own.

I’ve since offered forgiveness in keeping with God’s Word. But it is a daily decision.

Strive to extend forgiveness, and allow God to remove the sting of the offense committed against you. When you do, you’ll walk unencumbered by the sin that easily entangles.

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The doorman stood in my way.

He would not allow any more people in. Some tried to rush him, but his actions held them back. He was hired for this job and knew how many people the elevator could carry.

Waiting for the next ride up gave me a few moments to reflect on the number of times God had placed a doorstop before me. I had to learn I could not force my way through a crack in the door. Sometimes, I had to let go of burdens I was carrying. Perhaps it was a toxic relationship I needed to tell goodbye or a habitual sin the Holy Spirit kept talking to me about.

God has used many methods to place a doorstop in my way. I have learned the Word of God provides many dos and don’ts, especially in the book of Proverbs. The words of Jesus in the gospels have provided wisdom. The writings of Paul in his letters to believers have produced warnings. The Holy Spirit has nudged me to stop as He brings a no-go zone to my attention. Wise counsel has alerted me to facts I was not aware of. Close friends have reminded me of what happened the last time I tried to force a door open.

Learning to respect God's doorstops in my life means acknowledging the sovereignty of God—sometimes painful, but it has grown my faith.  A doorstop, like an elevator operator, has purpose. Waiting in patience for the door before us to open can reap huge benefits. Jesus will let us know when it is a safe time to enter through His open door, as He told the apostle John.

When Father God opens a door, He will never cause us to compromise or contradict His Word. We can trust Him as we respond to His call to come, to go through, or to come up higher.

Ask God for the faith to walk through the open doors He provides for you.

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No Deposit, No Return

They lay alongside the roadside, waiting for someone to pick them up and return them.

Before manufactures of soda packaged their product in aluminum or plastic, they placed it glass. And on the bottle, they stamped the words, “Return for Deposit.” Retailers, and then customers, who bought the product paid a small deposit—three to five cents. If customers returned the bottle to any retailer, the retailer would return the deposit to them.

My cousin, who lived in the country, always looked for ways to make money. When I spent time with him during the summers, I joined in his escapades. One involved picking up bottles. From his house to the nearest small town was one mile. He took one side of the road, and I took the other. By the time, we reached town, both of us had found a few bottles. We took them to Bert’s farm store, and he gave us five cents per bottle.

For various reasons, bottle production almost faded away, and aluminum and plastic took over. Some manufacturers later returned to putting a limited amount of their product in bottles, but the “Return for Deposit” was missing. Now, the bottles say “No Deposit No Return.” The best I can do is recycle them.

Manufacturing companies stamped their names on their products so the bottle got back to the right place. According to Paul, God does the same. When we trust Christ as our Savior, God places an identifying mark in us: the Holy Spirit. He’s a person and a part of the Holy Trinity, along with the Father and the Son.

The good news is that God won’t take back what He’s deposited, such as retailers and manufacturers once did. In the Old Testament, God gave His Spirit intermittently, when He had a special job for someone to do. But after Pentecost and the birth of the Church, God gave the Spirit permanently to His children.

Great advantages come with having God’s Spirit: perfect guidance for all circumstances, perfect wisdom for every decision, strength for any mission God sends us on, perfect peace—regardless of the pain or dire straits we encounter—and life as we could never experience if we didn’t have the Spirit.

Don’t waste the value of what God has deposited in you. Let the power of God’s Spirit lead you to the life He has planned for you.

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National Repentance Is Divine

Many years ago, I did not understand the difference between going to church and being born again.

But then I heard the undiluted message of Pastor Paul Rika of the Holiness Revival Movement. The Lord convicted me, and I surrendered my life to Christ. Genuine repentance became my lot.

God says if we call on Him in repentance, not go back to our sinful ways, and humble ourselves before Him in prayer, He will hear us and make our lands good so we can enjoy their benefits. This involves total repentance and living in holiness, righteousness, and pursuit of peace with all people.

God wants all nations to repent and follow Him. He is a holy and a righteous Father who wants us to live in the same way. Sin angers Him, and He does not want us involved in sinful living. When we fall into sin, He wants us to call on Him for help and plead for His mercy.

The only way for God to hear nations and allow them to enjoy the good of the land is for them to put an end to murder, fraudulent engagement, kidnapping, sexual imperialism, terrorism, and idolatry. We must hand over our lives to the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the soon coming King.

Remember that genuine repentance averts disaster and produces healing that leads to rest.

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A Light Shining in the Darkness

The troubled girl sat across the desk from me in my law office.

She was in a dark place: homeless, without transportation, in a toxic relationship with her mother, and separated from her young daughter whom the state had removed from her care. Now she was unexpectedly pregnant.

We discussed her life and current situation at length. She wanted to provide her baby with a stable and loving home—something she had never experienced. Therefore, she planned an adoptive placement.

“Miss Alice,” she asked, “would you come to the hospital to do the adoption paperwork with me?” Then she made a heart-breaking statement. “Other than my grandmother, you are the only person who has ever been nice to me in my life.”

I had never met this girl before. What could I possibly have in common with her grandmother? Then I remembered the girl telling me her grandmother had taken her to church when she was young. That was it. The grandmother and I were both Christians.

The tabernacle’s lamps shone brightly. Years later, Jesus said His followers were the light of the world.

As Christians, neither the girl’s grandmother nor I can light up the entire world. But in caring about this girl, we lit up the area in front of us where she was. She recognized God’s light in her place of darkness and was drawn to it.

Like the tabernacle’s lampstand, each of us is placed in a specific location for a specific purpose and should shine the light of God’s love into the darkness around us.

Ask God to put people in your path who need to see His light. Then, light up their darkness.

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Giving a Monkey a Light Bulb

If there were an organization called Rascally Monkeys Anonymous, Mimi would be its poster child.

Mimi, a pet ring-tail capuchin, ruled my friend’s home throughout the 1950s. This energetic monkey was the strong-willed, creative, hyperactive problem-child in this family of eight—the one whose inherent naughtiness could not be blamed on either side of the family.

Her antics included flooding the bathroom and living room carpet with cascading water, swinging from chandeliers while cradling raw eggs, tossing bright-colored packages into the grocery cart, and shaming the next door bully-dog with her screeching and stick flailing. Her repertoire could fill volumes.

But Mimi, being half-smart, taught me one lesson I’ll never forget. She knew the light bulb in her outdoor cage was the source of warmth on chilly nights. Smart. So every night, she unscrewed the warm bulb, wrapped it in her blanket, and held it closely. The warmth lasted about as long as you could say, “Not smart.”

Mimi herself cut off the source of her comfort. The family had to put a cage around the bulb so it could stay plugged in and keep her warm.

If we’re honest, we may find we’re a bit like Mimi at times—those times when we acknowledge that the Lord is our Source, yet remove ourselves from Him and try to go it alone. The times when we walk by our Bible on our way to look for self-help books, or when we forego prayer time and instead pour our problems out to a friend with a willing ear.

Books and friends are important, but when trials hit, we don’t want to be half-smart, embracing something that’s been removed from the source. We want to be plugged in to the ultimate Source of wisdom, truth, and strength.

Whenever you find your life in a power-shortage, think of Mimi and turn to the Source.

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The Power of Kindness

One Monday morning, I faced a co-worker under stress.

She could choose anyone as a target to hit with her anger, but since she and I shared an office, she chose me. I sat paralyzed as words of frustration came out of her mouth. I offered help several times and talked to her about her attitude, but nothing seemed to stop her rude behavior.

This Monday, however, differed. The first thing I thought about was this verse and a sermon on kindness I had heard the day before. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. I felt compassion for her as I remembered the sermon.

During that day and the following ones, I showed kindness toward my co-worker—even though she was still under pressure and acting rudely toward others. Showing kindness requires daily prayer—which is a spiritual exercise—and engaging in spiritual warfare. But it’s worth it.

What’s interesting is that having compassion and acting in kindness toward someone else changes us. Peace takes over when we give space for the Holy Spirit to guide us. It also makes us look more like Jesus.

Make up your mind to show compassion to someone who needs to feel it.

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Living Open-Handedly

One after another they came.

The men knocked on our door and asked for a drink of water. Nothing more. Just a drink of water. Dad would settle them under the shade tree and bring them a drink, a plate of food, and a few dollars.

Our home was in a modest strip of houses across the street from the railroad yard. The travelers never approached any of the other houses on our street. They came so frequently to ours that we believed our home had somehow been marked as a safe place to rest and refresh.

When railroad security tightened, the men did not stop coming. The weary travelers showed up in old trucks and asked if there was work instead of water. It was a different kind of sameness. A continuing theme.

As with the other travelers, Daddy gave these a drink, leftovers, and a few dollars, too. While they ate, he pointed them to where they might find an odd job. This strange activity continued even after he retired—and with my mom two states away. Man after man found Daddy. Helping travelers was Daddy’s gift, and that was how he used his generosity to refresh others.

My father lived a consistent lifestyle of intentional, open-handed generosity. He wanted to bless and to be blessed by his Creator. I watched Daddy fill his mornings with Bible study and his afternoons with naps for the long, hard evening's work ahead. He never went a day without opening God's Word or using his hands to repair something. He had learned to be content in whatever circumstance he found himself. Moreover, he wished the same for others.

I have spent a lifetime watching consistent Christian kindness, but it took me years to understand that Daddy’s was an existence of great contentment based on this strong biblical truth.

Why not release your grip and live open-handedly? Then watch what God will do.

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Search Me

My daughter appeared and disappeared in a blink of an eye.

As a toddler, my daughter walked around the house wearing sunglasses and a hat. She thought if she covered her face and head, I could not see her. When she did not come after I called, I usually found her wearing her sunglasses and hat and playing with her dolls.

“Sweet Pea, why didn’t you answer me?” I asked.

“You no see me. I no see you,” was her reply.

Or if she did something wrong, on went the sunglasses and hat, thinking I could not see her holding the empty cup as milk spilled from the counter. When she needed some cuddles and love though, off went the magical accessories and into my lap she snuggled.

Just as I searched for my daughter and knew what she was up to, God searches for us and knows our heart. It’s a scary thought to have someone, let alone God, search us and know all of our ugly, so we hide out of shame and guilt.

People yearn for others to see them—to give witness to their story, joy, and pain. Yet the fear of intimacy and the fear of people knowing the real us keeps us from making connections … keeps us from taking off the sunglasses and hat so people can see the real us. So we go about our days with our walls up and masks on trying to be invisible.

The God of the universe knows us because we are made in His image. He knows our innermost thoughts, and He still offers grace. God designed us to be in authentic community with Him and others. He created us to be seen, but sin and lies tell us the opposite. They tell us if God searched us, He would not like what He saw. Or if He knew the real us, the one behind the glasses and hat, He would run the other way, taking His gifts of grace and forgiveness with Him. God knows our flaws and imperfections and still wants to be with us for eternity.

Let God search you so you can better know Him. Take off the sunglasses and hat so He can see the face of His child—flaws and all.

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Another Blunder

The supervisor kept a record.

Early in my career, my supervisor required all trainees to follow a strict set of standards. During the review of our work, he jagged his finger at our errors and highlighted them with his red marking pen. Even with nothing said, I still heard a snarl amid the strokes of his red pen.

It seemed he documented our mistakes in a special log book for posterity. The blunder log—as we employees called it—added to the pressure we already carried. The prevention of any slip-ups was more important to our supervisor than our personal growth and success. We focused on staying clear of mistakes at the expense of our personal development.   

Unlike the supervisor, God does not tally our mistakes in a special log book or ensnare us with guilt and shame. Instead, He gives us a special measure of encouragement, offers us a new beginning, and promises to remember our sins no more. He also takes a personal interest in the vocation He calls us to fulfill.   

God is our example for caring with forgiveness and compassion—an example we ought not to ignore. He wants us to display a similar level of consideration that He has demonstrated to us. One where we boost each other and serve as a source of encouragement. To continue the good work God portions out, we all need reassurance … and for someone to pick us up after we fall.

We can thank God for not keeping a special log book of our mistakes—and also for the safe place in Him that permits us to learn from our mishaps without fear. His ongoing support gives us self-confidence to push on, especially when we find it difficult to do so on our own.

Bless those around you by not keeping a log of their blunders.

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Let's Get Down

I regarded my friend’s comment about her sister contemplating to marry a man who did not believe in Jesus.

Apparently, all efforts to talk her out of it were futile. After the conversation, however, it didn’t seem right to do nothing, so I decided to take it to the Lord.

A great deal of information comes to us through the people we meet and the conversations we have. Ignoring the information and doing nothing with it is easy, but great intercession can be born and great miracles seen if we take note of the things we hear and see.

When God told Abraham about His plan to see if the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah was true, Abraham could have just considered it as information. Instead, he talked to God about saving some of those people. When we go before God and present our petitions, things change.

God’s reaction to Abraham’s petition also shows that God desires for us to intercede. He is ready to listen, to grant our heart’s desires, and to grant our petitions, but we must see the urgency of the situations around us. Abraham couldn’t live with the thought of people being destroyed.

We have a God who is great and powerful and able to redeem lives if we will take the time to get down on our knees for their sake, with the confident hope in what Jesus has done for the world.

Ask God to grant you a yearning to intercede for others.

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God's Goodness

I’ve been grappling with God’s goodness lately.

Not the “let me massage your feet” variety—dinner with friends, an encouraging email, an answered prayer—blessings I immediately recognize and embrace. No. I’ve been wrestling with the “looks like I’ll have to amputate” goodness. The kind that pierces my spirit—a friend’s betrayal, the loss of a job, an emphatic “no” to a prayer request. Wounds that disable me and send me scurrying for shelter.

God’s definition of goodness is so different than mine that I often don’t recognize it. In my dictionary, goodness generates smiles, laughter, and relaxation. Goodness prompts me to say, “Wow! I’m so glad to be God’s child. He’s so good to me.”

But God’s goodness is much more complex than that. His goodness is always focused on eternity—preparing me for heaven, purifying me so that I look just like Jesus when I walk through heaven’s gates. That’s the reason His goodness looks like badness sometimes.

Think of a surgeon’s relationship to a patient. If the patient’s foot is so infected that it cannot be healed, the surgeon’s brand of goodness requires amputation—pain, loss, excruciating therapy, and a new normal.

That’s what God’s goodness mandates for us sometimes—amputating infectious passions, habits, and philosophies that threaten our spiritual wellbeing. Allowing God to cut out my prideful actions, my judgmental attitudes, and my self-centered habits is essential. But extremely painful.

Paul told the Romans that despising God’s goodness was indicative of a hardened, rebellious heart. To despise something is to scorn it, to trample it underfoot, to consider it worthless. How do I respond when God says to me, “Looks like we’ll have to amputate”? Do I trust Him, confident that He’s doing what’s best for me? Or do I scorn His diagnosis and refuse to let Him operate?

One of the clearest indications that my relationship with God is healthy is my response to His goodness. Both varieties. Foot massages and amputations.

What does God’s goodness look like in your life? How are you responding to it?

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Hard Labor

I’m a DIYer. Was one long before the official DIY became a thing.

My parents raised me to be innovative, trainable, and determined. If I needed to do a project, it was a given to simply learn how to accomplish the task. To say I’m grateful for that training would be an understatement. Thanks to my parents, I’ve been able to take on projects with an “I can do this attitude.”

We needed a wooden patio over our sidewalk, so I figured out how to make this happen. As the Labor Day weekend began, my husband and I offered to help our friend, Dave, dismantle his deck. We needed some wood to build a small patio and he needed help removing his deck , so it worked out for both of us. He had help and we got wood. Tim showed up early ready to roll. What was so wonderful was that two additional friends showed up to help. It was hot. Miserably hot. But the guys dismantled the deck while I moved the wood out of the way.

We labored. We served. It was hard work, but it was wonderful to spend time as a servant. There was laughter, sweat, and a few grunts along the way. As tired as we were, by the end of the day, the joy of being a servant blessed us.

Jesus served. His labor was not always physical work, but it certainly was a labor. Hard labor. His purpose for coming to this sinful world was to serve. Jesus changed the face of the law by teaching the gentle way of service and love. On the cross, He labored the hardest that any man could labor. He carried the sin of the world. Who of us can be that type of servant?

As we celebrate Labor Day, remember the greatest labor of love given to you. Take time to become a servant. It doesn’t have to be hard work. It can simply be gentle kindness. After all, Jesus did the work, long before we were born.

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We are all familiar with penalties in sports—but we tend to forget about them in other facets of life.

I watched a lot of soccer games as my sons grew up. Both of them liked to play midfield or offense, so they usually ran up and down the field. Hearing the referee call them out for a penalty, such as being offsides, was normal. They were unhappy when called for a foul but learned there were consequences for breaking the rules.

The talk one year was about the “no-call” penalty in the NFC title game between New Orleans and Los Angeles. We heard endless stories about how the Los Angeles team won on a technicality when the referees did not call a penalty for pass interference. As with any penalty, people pick sides.

One of the most significant outcomes of people sinning was the penalty attached to it: death, physical and spiritual. Yet we still hope for the best and rationalize that if we are good enough we will escape the results of our sin. All the while, we regret our actions and thoughts and wonder if God can use us.

Try as we might, we cannot overcome the outcome God has assessed. It is impossible by ourselves to become right with God. That is why we celebrate how God satisfied our punishment by sending His Son to pay it, even though there was a righteous penalty attached to our disobedience.

Salvation becomes ours when we confess our sins. We no longer need to fear the penalty accompanying our breaking of God’s commandments. Christ’s death removed the consequences of our sin forever.

Rejoice that you can get back in the game without regret, knowing you have been sent there by the Coach.

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Hands and Feet

Homeless people wander the streets of the greater Houston, Texas, area.

Many carry signs that read, Will work for food, Hungry, Need help, and Will work for beer. Others don’t carry signs, but stand at intersections near the freeways that snake through and around town or walk up and down concrete medians asking for handouts. Their clothes are dirty, ill-fitting, and inadequate for bad weather. Their hair is unkempt and their skin darkened by the grit the city produces.

I’ve never given money, but I have driven to the closest fast food place, bought something, and taken it to the person asking for help. I’ve only had a few people start to turn me down, but when I said, “If you don’t want it …” they accepted it.

As a hospice nurse, I never had time to stop for a meal. I packed easily-managed snacks and sliced fruit in a small insulated cooler so I could grab something as I drove between patients’ houses.

One evening on my way home, I saw an elderly man on a street corner by the interstate. I rolled down my window. He hurried over. I handed him the only thing I had left: a granola bar. He gave me a wide smile that showed no teeth. I said, “Oh, no! I’m sorry.”

He shook his head. “That’s okay. I’ll suck on it until it’s soft. Thank you.”

As Christ-followers, we ask God when He’s going to take care of poverty, illness, homelessness, and violence. “Somebody needs to do something” is our cry. My sister asks, “How can you tell someone to pull themselves up by their boot straps when they don’t have any boots?”

We can’t do everything, but we can do something. I’m not in a position to purchase meals as I once did. But I do know a small thing—a smile, a compliment—can change someone’s day. It costs nothing to be nice.

We are the answer to who and when. Me and you. Right now. Think of one way you can be Jesus’ hands and feet.

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I discovered I exhibit certain behavior when discussing finances.

I feel hurt inside and get teary-eyed. Since there was no cause for the tears, my behavior was unusual. I knew something on the subconscious level was happening. Eventually, I stopped and asked, “What is causing this?” A memory came.

When I was a young girl, I learned that I may not have been wanted because I was “another mouth to feed” and money was scarce. Thank heavens, the thought of my non-existence was opposed by one of my birth parents. So, here I am.

Just as Eve faced consequences for disobeying God, so the consequences of my knowledge have impacted me negatively my entire life—even though I wasn’t fully aware of it. I knew I experienced anxiety around the topic of finances, even when it involved another person. The lack of funds or the inability to give or contribute financially to others was equal to being unworthy or being a failure. And there is the root of it: unworthy in the eyes of those who matter.

The bad news is that I am now fifty years old, and the deeply hidden, false feeling of unworthiness has had many years to intertwine itself around my heart like a briar patch in a neglected lot. The good news is that I am much wiser about handling misguided, deeply-rooted negative thoughts. Now, my goal is to uproot this thorny invasion and cultivate a healthy, true mindset about my worth as it relates to money.

We may have bad memories in the deep, dark recesses of our mind that we are not aware of—except  for their manifestation in particular behavioral patterns. When these behavior patterns emerge, we must ask, “What is causing this?” Getting to the roots of these thorny memories helps us weed out the bad lies and cultivate the beautiful, colorful truth in its place.

Don’t let bad memories ruin your good thoughts.

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Space Camp and the Judgment Seat

I watched the movie, which was based on a true story about special needs children.

The movie starred a man who had worked for years in a school for such children and wanted to treat them normally. He thought about different ways he might put dreams in their minds—dreams of fitting into society instead of being thrown away. These children had behavioral problems too. When necessary, he used disciplinary actions so the children couldn’t do as they pleased.

One day, he thought about the Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. After many setbacks, he was able to take the students there. At the end of the camp, several ordinary schools, along with two special needs schools, held a competition for awards. The Space Camp school placed third.

A surprise award was given to the person who had “the stuff." One boy—who had thought he couldn't lead—won this award based on his attitude in leadership. After officials presented him the certificate, he cut it up and gave a piece to each of his classmates.

I was reminded of the Judgment Seat of Christ. As Christians, we will stand before Christ to be rewarded or not rewarded for what we did in our Christian walk—such as serving each other in love as this boy did. One thing Christ will base our rewards on will be our attitude—whether or not our service was done for the Lord or for us. 

Ask God to prepare you to appear before the Judgment Seat by helping you to serve Him with unselfish motives.

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Is Somebody Knocking?

I pressed the doorbell and waited. I hit it again. No response. I knocked. Three times—with a wait in between.

I needed to tell my friend something important. I was in the neighborhood, so I thought I'd stop by and tell her face-to-face instead of calling. Through the window, I saw the lights on, so I knocked again—louder this time. Still, no answer. The door wasn't locked, but I didn’t want to enter without an invitation. Why didn’t she come to the door? If she heard me, why didn't she answer? I tired of waiting and left. Later, she told me she was home but unaware I was at the door.

Jesus stands at the door of our hearts, waiting for us to answer. He won’t enter without our permission. Like my friend, some people just don’t realize He is there. Others hear the knock and choose not to answer. But Jesus doesn’t give up and go away as I did. He continues to knock and wait for as long as it takes to get our attention—until we invite Him in.

Perhaps you know someone who has heard the knock but not answered. Or someone who has not heard Him knocking. God wants us to reach out and encourage them to open the door so they can have the "peace which surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

If you haven’t opened the door for Jesus, why not do it now?

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The Hope Box

It was one of those days. A humdinger of a day.

All three of my kids caused me angst, and, as a single mom, I had nowhere to turn. I went into my bedroom and closed the door, but that was no escape from the turmoil I felt. I was overwhelmed. Tears flowed as I slumped to the floor.

I can’t do this, I thought. It’s too hard to do alone. I have failed them as a mom. My kids are lacking the strong arm of a father, and I am weary. I’m not tough enough to finish the journey. I want to give up. Let them do whatever they want because I am tired of fighting for right choices.

I sighed and looked at the bookshelf. One of my trinket boxes had the word Hope written on the side. I knew that’s what I had lost. As I stared at the box, I realized I would never have seen hope if I hadn’t sat on the floor where it was eye-level. The Lord knew exactly what I needed and led me to it.

“You’re right, Lord. I have lost my hope.” I dried my tears and opened my Bible to Isaiah 41:10. The words were a balm to my soul. I had forgotten that He is God and controls everything. I had allowed myself to focus on my circumstances, and it brought me down to a place of despair. Yet He was quick to come to my aid. He pointed me to hope, knowing the ultimate source was is in Jesus.

The Lord always strengthens me when I have nothing left. I can trust Him to give me what I need every moment of my day. And when I forget, He puts a hope box in plain sight to remind me.

When life becomes overwhelming, take a step back and see where you are looking—at your circumstances or to the Lord.

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No Fear

We romped and stomped with no fear.

Danger lurks on a farm, but my cousin and I ignored it when we were young. We played often in my grandfather’s barns. Barns where he kept farm implements, crops, and tools. Barns where snakes and wasps hid. We threw clods of dirt at wasp nests and watched as the angry insects swirled about seeking their enemy.

We mulled around in the hog pens, making spears from chinaberry trees and throwing them at the hogs. If not spears, we picked up large dirt clods and used them. Any of these hogs could have mauled us with little effort.

Occasionally, our grandfather would allow us to drive his small red tractor across the fields. I sat on the wheelbarrow while my cousin drove. I could have easily fallen off and had one of the large tires crush me. Death surely would have waited.

And we loved guns and hunting. We spent long hours in the woods by ourselves with no adult supervision. We could have accidentally shot ourselves or each other. My cousin and I enjoyed our escapades around the farm and never worried about danger. We were invincible.

Paul had no fear either, though he had reason to. Those who disagreed with his “salvation by faith alone” message hounded his steps. He was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, jailed, and bitten by a poisonous snake. Yet he didn’t fear.

Fear is a natural reaction to dangerous situations. God created the fight-or-flight mechanism in us. He expects us to use our heads and avoid known dangerous situations and people. But some danger is imperceptible and unavoidable.

God doesn’t want us living in a permanent state of fear. If we do, we’ll never go anywhere, do anything, or take any risks. Our world is a scary place, especially since numerous terrorists now circulate about. The only way to avoid crowds is to stay at home.

Just as we trust God to keep our salvation secure, we must also believe He will keep us safe. Nothing enters our lives without first passing through His perfect or permissive will. Either way, He is in control. And He promises to bring good from it all, though the good may be further down the road—and often is.

God is sovereign. Trust your life into His hands so you can live without fear.

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Purpose People

“I buried one today,” the message read. A blunt statement, accompanied by an image of the burial.

The email came from a Kenyan pastor and brought the sad news that one of his HIV sufferers, a new believer in Jesus Christ, had died. Thanks to his work and the work of his church people, this woman has moved on into heaven. But there are still so many more who pass on without having the assurance of eternity in heaven.

From such a distance in Australia, I can do little, other than pray and encourage this pastor. Perhaps a word from the Lord may lift his spirits to keep on serving the Lord according to his calling.

I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. This psalm provides one of the keys for understanding God’s purpose. Our days on earth are numbered, and God wants to fulfill every purpose He has for us.

Everyone who believes in Jesus has a purpose to fulfil on this earth. It may not be as devastating as this pastor’s role, but whatever our purpose, we must discover it and let our choices and actions reflect it.

God is ever willing to hear our cry for understanding of our purpose if we are willing to respond in obedient faith to serve Him wherever and whenever He calls us.

If you already know what God is calling you to do, step into your purpose today.

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Going the Wrong Way

Thinking matters.

Thinking is the ability to objectively weigh information and make reasonable judgments. According to Alison Doyle, “Employers want job candidates who can evaluate a situation using logical thought to come up with the best solution. Someone with critical thinking skills can be trusted to make decisions on his or her own and does not need constant handholding.” No wonder virtually all industries consider thinking acumen as one of the top skills for potential employees.

Modern culture and the church place a great deal of emphasis on passion and zeal. According to our passage, passions which are not filtered through careful reflection and thought cause us to take the wrong paths in life.

Some levels of life are complex and warrant careful analysis. Whom should I marry? Should I go to college? If so, where? Why? What are my natural skills and abilities? 

Growing disciples develop their thinking capacity so they can “destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God and …take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:4-5 NIV).

Thinking about the great truths of God and considering how they impact the daily decisions of our life and our family are essential. Cultivating our minds and passions is also important.

Be a “thinking” Christian as well as a “feeling” Christian so that you might go the right way. Ask God to help you use your mind and emotions to serve Him and others better.

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A God-Full Day

Occasionally, my to-do lists backfire.

I tend to crank out to-do lists in the morning when I feel fresh, inspired, and ambitious. They litter my desk. To-Do Today, Mentoring Prep, Writing Projects, Trip Prep, and so on. I thrive on productivity. When I finish something, it feels good to cross it off a list.

But our strengths can also be weaknesses. Because I’m driven to go, do, and accomplish, lists can overwhelm me. I feel pulled in too many directions—my mind scattered like the lists on my desk. It’s difficult to focus. So, I open my Bible and pray, “Calm me, Lord. Quiet my noisy thoughts so I can hear your heart.”

When I read Paul’s words to Timothy, God’s Spirit opened my understanding. I was placing importance on unimportant things. Getting stuff done should take a back seat to a more important work: heart work.

Until our hearts are right, our actions are simply noisy godless chatter. But when we draw near to God’s heart, our hearts transform as we begin thinking His thoughts. Our spirits still in His peace. Priorities change. Everything looks different.

The voice which says Unless you accomplish, you’re worthless is silenced. I feel loved, accepted, and embraced by a God who cares for my heart. I no longer need to conquer a list to feel good about myself. Everything I do—even vacuuming—becomes holy work. Jesus is with me. 

This noisy world distracts. Apart from Christ, our days devolve into godless chatter. We drift further from our God. 

Paul E. Miller wrote, “If you try to seize the day, the day will eventually break you. Seize the corner of his garment and don't let go until he blesses you. He will reshape the day.”

When you’re pulled in many directions, stretched thin, and overwhelmed, remember heart before action. Draw near to Jesus. Avoid godless chatter. Make it a God-full day.

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Modern Man’s Road

I call my wife Jane Jetson when I see her talk to the watch on her wrist.

Our electronics have advanced quicker than a nanosecond. Yoda would say, “Progressive we have become.” We want the new. What about mankind, or the man or woman who holds those savvy devices? Are we more modern? Has human nature improved?

Oprah says, “When you know better, you do better.” James, the brother of Jesus said, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17). C.S. Lewis was an atheist before God changed him. Most know him through the movie series, Chronicles of Narnia.

In the 1952 classic, Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote: "We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

Lewis’ wisdom still speaks from the grave. Instead of a taking a quicker route through our issues or junk, maybe we need to stop and turn around. The word repent is an ancient word. In modern lingo, it means to make a 180-degree turn. That’s how we progress spiritually.

The prophet Jeremiah, known for his moodiness, offers decisive advice: “This is what the Lord says: Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls. But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.” 

January shouldn’t be the only month we take a hard look at ourselves to see where our soul lives. Sometimes, we avoid going where we see. We attend church and put on our church face, but afterward return to our old selves. We never bridge the truth we have heard into our personal lives.

Make up your mind to listen to the right voice and act on it. 

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Oh, dear Jesus,

My life has been shattered into a million pieces. I am emotionally defeated. I feel as if I’m fading into nothingness, drifting into the abyss. Help me, Jesus. I can barely hold on. I need to know You still love me. Do You still care?

My child,

Nothing you can ever say or do will diminish My love for you. You are My special child. Never doubt My love. Imagine your life as a mosaic, uniquely fashioned by broken pieces of glass. These broken pieces were once beautiful. But when they were broken, they were deemed useless. Presumed to have no purpose, they were thrown into the trash and forgotten.

You may think this describes you. There have been many hard, painful circumstances—like the broken pieces or the shattered glass—that have made up your life. But I say to you, be at peace, My child. I, the Master Artist, quietly bend down to pick up the broken pieces. I place them perfectly into the art I am creating to make you an original piece of art.

Don’t ask Me what I am making or tell Me how to create. Don’t say that My mosaic is too jagged over here or that there should be more color over there. Only I have the master plan.  Your job is to stay yielded in My hands and remember the great love I have for you. The kind of love that never fails. Today is the day we will begin again.

Allow God to love and restore you.

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Rough Waters

A branch violently whipped in and out of a screaming stream, bursting with flood waters.

The storm the night before was relentless. The branch, still attached to the tree, survived the night. It’s curious how those leaves didn’t get stripped off and carried away … lost forever.

I am a rape survivor. One day, I found myself in a mental storm that lasted for years. The raging torrents of life almost stripped me clean of my sanity and carried me away into the dark deluge. But I planted myself beside the Living Water and grew deep roots.

The one who trusts in the Lord has deep roots. It takes faith and courage to trust in a God we cannot see with our eyes or touch with our hands. Streams of water aren’t always calm. We experience rough waters. Sometimes, they last for a night; sometimes they last for years. However long they last, God will see us through them.

Life can be like that branch. We get caught up in the turmoil of life, get battered and bruised, and hang on for dear life. But if we are planted firmly with deep roots, we can hang on, endure, and not wither.

You may be a single parent working a full-time job and furthering your education for a better future for you and your kids. Your rough waters may be struggling through your studies. You may be an artist, frustrated that you can’t transfer the vision in your head onto the canvas. Or perhaps you’re an athlete just shy of your personal goals. Trust in the Lord and keep studying, honing the craft, and practicing while giving it your all. In due season, the fruits of your labor will come.

In whatever form the success comes, don’t give up even when the streams get rough. Plant yourself near the stream of Living Water and you will not wither.

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Remember Me

A hush washed over the crowd like a gentle ocean wave.

We leaned through the people, toward the oncoming parade to see what caused the sudden quiet. A color guard marched past. We were amazed that it consisted of two WWII vets and even a Marine from the Korean War, but what changed us in a moment was an Army vet slowly lumbering a step behind, dragging his rifle, eyes fixed on the ground. He wore his fatigues and a leather jacket that harbored red embroidered words, VIET NAM. Beneath the letters, boots and a helmet lying at the foot of a white cross.

Actions are louder than words, and his spoke with great clarity. Broken and sad, the vet marched in memory of his forgotten, fallen friends, reminding everyone of a group of men who’d given their all and yet were shunned.

Christ knew what awaited Him as His days wound down. He understood what it was like to be shunned, to feel a lack of appreciation. Jesus wanted to set a memorial in place that exemplified His Father’s love. He broke the bread and told them, “Do this to remember me.”

That was the important thing … remembrance of Christ, His sacrifice, and the gift that came from it. The ministry of Christ wouldn’t be forgotten. He willingly stepped into the throngs of torture and death to save us. That brought us salvation, redemption, and the promise of eternity.

I can’t watch a veteran pass without tears rising to the surface. It takes my breath to think that without hesitation these men and women stand in the gap to protect me. I rarely let a vet pass without thanking them for all they have done, be it at the airport or the grocery store. For those who have given it all—it’s right and fair we remember their sacrifice, just as we remember the ultimate sacrifice made by God’s only Son.

This Memorial Day, remember the soldiers who willingly sacrificed all they had so we might be free. Then go to your knees and give thanks for the ultimate sacrifice that brings us eternal life.

“Do this in remembrance of me.” ~ Jesus Christ

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Fret Not

James Naismith was almost thirty years old when he left an athletic director position at McGill University in Montreal.

Naismith was responsible for teaching physical education at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was assigned the task of creating an athletic re-direction for his young athletes during the cold and harsh winters of New England, but he rallied to the task and created a game called basketball.

Do not fret because of evildoers, Be not envious toward wrongdoers. This psalm is well-known and contrasts the way of the righteous with the way of the wicked. Three times in the first eight verses we read “fret not,” which is the Hebraic word charah and denotes a burning and kindling.

Charah in this context can be translated worry. The passage indicates that the righteous behave differently than the wicked—who are consumed with worries and anxieties. Instead of worrying, the righteous trust in the Lord, delight in Him, commit their lives to Him, and rest in Him.  

Our lives can be less stressful when we practice what the Scriptures teach. Our diversions will not lead to creating a game like basketball, as Dr. Naismith did, but they will make life more meaningful. What a welcome re-direction to worry.

Ask God to help you trust, delight, commit, and rest in Him.

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Penned for a Purpose

He had all the room he needed, but it wasn’t enough.

I lounged on my grandparents’ wraparound porch in Vance, SC, enjoying a summer afternoon and looking out over the open fields and forests that surrounded their home. In his earlier years, my grandfather had raised cows, but now he kept hogs. His hog pens encompassed acres of land. Enough that any pig should have been satisfied.

As I relaxed, I noticed one swine saunter to the fence, insert his long snout under the bottom, raise it up, and slither underneath. I hollered for my grandfather, who quickly corralled the wayward animal. But I wondered why the hog wanted to get out. He had more than enough space. What made him want to enter a field much smaller than the one in which he was penned.

My grandfather put his hogs in a pen for a reason. Had he not, they would have wandered into fields where he had crops planted or run into a nearby highway and risked death. But they didn’t appreciate his efforts. They wanted what they shouldn’t have.

Paul had a similar problem. He didn’t say humans have an animal nature, but we do share at least one common characteristic: we want what God says we can’t have. Paul didn’t understand himself, just as I didn’t understand the hog’s actions.

I admit I’ve experienced Paul’s dilemma. God says, “Don’t do _____,” and that’s exactly what I want to do. The pen restricted, but the hog wanted the restriction removed.

God’s boundaries have purpose. He doesn’t give the “Thou shalt not’s” to make our lives miserable. Just as parents and teachers have a purpose in setting boundaries for children—and just as Pappy had a purpose in erecting a fence—so God has reasons for restricting our behavior. Love is always His purpose for whatever pens He pens us in.

God knows danger lurks beyond the fences He erects. For the hog, it could have been death. For me, it might be sins that would ruin my testimony and my effectiveness in God’s service, habits that would eat away at my health, or unwise decisions that would take me down a path God doesn’t want me to walk.

God pens us for a purpose. Respect the boundaries and know He builds them out of love.

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The Wrong Voice

I was confused. I had missed the turn, but I kept following the blue truck.

The signs indicated I was not where I should be, but I kept going for several miles. The dark blue truck looked like my husband’s. When it turned into a business center. I turned too.

Then I squealed. I braked. Moaning, I hung up the phone. I had followed the wrong truck. I could not believe I had done such a thing. I would never intentionally forsake my husband for someone else.

My husband and I often leave one vehicle with a daughter fifty miles away for her use when she needs a second set of wheels. My phone rang near the appropriate turn, so I didn’t notice my husband taking the correct turn. I kept pursuing a similar truck—same color, same model—leading me where I wasn’t meant to go.

Tearfully, I called my husband. I heard his compassion and concern: “Stay where you are. I’ll be right there.”

A simple diversion derailed me. How many times have I found myself in the wrong place at the wrong time because I heard another voice, followed another opinion, turned my eyes and heart away even though I knew the signs were not quite right.

But when I cry out, “Oh, my Lord, I have gone in the wrong direction,” He whispers, “Wait, I am coming.”

God knows and loves you. Listen for His whisper when you listen to the wrong voice.

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No 1 Relationship

My senior friend settled into the dementia ward well.

I stopped at her room door and asked if I could come in. She recognized me, called me by name, and with a slight smile said, “Yes.”

Our years of friendship didn’t require much talking. Her hearing is gone, and her memory is fading. I read promises of God from the Word to her and we prayed. Somehow, she always knows when to say, “Amen.” Then we just sit, and I stroke her arm as she snoozes.

My mind drifts to the times when we were so excited to share what the Lord was doing in our lives. We encouraged each other through trials. She counselled me when I needed it. Her favourite comment was, “Trust Jesus. He knows the way.” Now just being together is enough.

Jesus waits for us to visit with Him too. Sometimes just being together is enough. At other times, He has so much He wants to tell us. He knows our future. He wants to know how we are, how we are feeling, and what we are doing. He knows who we are and wants to recognize us, call us by name, and welcome us into His presence. Often, we are too busy or tired to spend time with Him. We may even doubt He values us.

In Luke’s story, Jesus confirms a woman’s right to be a disciple. He chats with Martha as she serves Him in her home. He speaks to Mary, Martha’s sister, who is sitting at His feet listening to His words.

Jesus teaches us all a lesson through this encounter. Serving Him is not as important as visiting with Him and listening to His words.

Allow God’s Spirit to woo you into His presence. Your relationship with Jesus is the most important relationship you will ever have.  

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Few things are as nerve wracking as deciding if my presence is desired whenever I enter a new environment.

Whether it’s visiting a new Sunday school class or a neighbor, I want to please people with my presence. I’m not saying they have to throw me a party or bake a cake, but a warm smile—along with sincere and friendly greetings—goes a long way on the welcome wagon.

When I travel, one of the things that determines how much I enjoy that place and will want to visit again is how friendly the people are and how welcomed I feel.

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. I love the ESV’s translation of this verse because it uses welcome where other translations use receive or accept. Jesus didn’t just accept or receive me. He welcomed me. I picture Him throwing the door open wide and grabbing me up in a hug of pure joy, as if I were making a long overdue visit.

This verse instructs about our relationships with others. Jews should welcome Gentiles, and Gentiles the Jews. The strong should welcome the weak, and the weak the strong. The coffee lovers should welcome the tea drinkers, and the tea drinkers the coffee lovers. The contemporary worship music lovers should welcome the singers of old hymns, and the singers of old hymns the contemporary music lovers.

Sadly, some don’t feel welcomed at church. Not knowing whether we’re in place where we are wanted is nerve wracking. And a steeple on the roof or a cross on the wall doesn’t communicate welcome. Their presence may testify that everyone should be welcomed, but they lack the ability to generate the feeling of being welcomed.

The word welcome makes me feel wanted, not just tolerated. It tells me someone is delighted to see me and that my presence brings joy. And that someone is Christ. God doesn’t receive us begrudgingly into His kingdom; He welcomes us.

Let Jesus fling open wide the doors of your heart so you can welcome newcomers into your church, your neighborhood, your communities, and everywhere else.

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The Girdle

As I mull over the times I have had to put on a girdle to decrease my flamboyant figure, I laugh.

Why do I laugh? Maybe because I have never enjoyed wearing one. I normally buy a size too big because I hate any form of bondage. Clothing is not exempt. I also laugh because I normally deceive no one. With or without the girdle, I cannot hide the fact that the girdle does not seem to change my appearance.

When God told Jeremiah to hide the girdle he wore against his body, Jeremiah did not question God, but obeyed. Jeremiah hid the girdle in the cleft of the Euphrates River. The children of Israel had not obeyed God’s authority, and God used the girdle as an example of what would become of them.

Later, God instructed Jeremiah to recover the garment. It was soiled and filthy, just like the Israelites. Their sin and disobedience had brought bondage. Jeremiah, taking the girdle to a far-off place, represented the Israelites being taken into bondage by Babylon.

Our sin does not deceive anyone, just as my girdle does not really hide anything. The bondage from the girdle makes me uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the Israelites were in for a big surprise: seventy years in captivity.

Sometimes, a sin holds us captive. A girdle stored away in some drawer that needs to be thrown out because it is worn out and no longer fits. God’s Spirit is the one who tells us to get rid of the girdle, which does us no good. The girdle … the sin … is uncomfortable and serves no purpose for God.

Why not retire the girdle altogether and walk daily with God? Let God free you from the heavy weight of sin’s bondage.

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Shelters can be a welcome sight.

The Appalachian Trail—which extends from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine—is a two-thousand-mile trail sprinkled with shelters. Some who thru-hike the trail don’t even carry a tent but depend on the shelters to protect them from the elements and provide a place to sleep, relax, read, wash clothes, and do other necessary things.

While their construction styles vary, all shelters have at least three sides. But the missing side allows snow and rain to blow in during storms, predators—such as bears and raccoons—to enter at will, and cold and heat to penetrate. Still, sleeping in a shelter is better than lying on the ground during the cold months or during inclement weather.

I’ve slept in a few of the shelters. One thing they’re not is comfortable. They provide what is necessary, but no creature comforts. While better than nothing, they don’t compare with a plush home. After all, those who stay there are backpacking and want to rough it in the wild.

The psalmist knew a thing or two about shelters. He didn’t find his shelter in a three-sided structure, but in the Lord. As a lad, he was an outside person who tended sheep. Later, as a young man, he lived in the wilderness in caves while running from a jealous king.

As a shelter, God protects us from sin and its dangers. When we ask, He forgives our sin and restores us to a right relationship with Him. Forgiveness shelters us from the eternal consequences of rejecting Him. God also promises not to let temptations get so intense that we can’t walk away from them with His help.

God shelters us through life’s disappointments—and they are many. He won’t take them all away—they may have a place in His plan for us—but He’ll shield us from the damaging emotional effects if we turn to Him instead of other things.

God also shelters us through periods of brokenness. When we’ve lost a job, a child, a spouse, our reputation, our peace, our friends. He gives a peace that surpasses our understanding.

Unlike the Appalachian Trail shelters, God’s shelter is fully enclosed, warm, peaceful, and always available. Run there often.

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Divine Descent

At last! There it was!

My eyes widened with delight as I grabbed the small package in my mailbox. Its diminutive size belied the wealth of information it held the key to unlock. I carried the package inside and opened it. The instructions said I was to give a saliva sample to be returned for DNA testing. While spit is not thrilling, the thought of learning the details about my heritage and finding relatives I did not know was exhilarating. Since I have a fair complexion, red hair, and freckles, I thought I was of Irish descent. But I wanted to know for sure about my roots.

Roots were important to the ancient Jews as well. They did not have the scientific ability to do DNA testing, but they kept detailed records of who begat whom. Luke 3 traces Jesus’ lineage through many generations, starting with Joseph and going back to the beginning—Father God, our Creator.

Jesus’ lineage was important because His descent confirmed Old Testament prophesies about the Messiah who was to be of royal David’s line and from the tribe of Judah. Jesus’ lineage showed His dual descent. He was born of man—to Joseph’s wife, Mary. He was also the son of the Most High God, born to a virgin whom the Holy Spirit had come over. Jesus was divine, yet He was fully human.

Physical and behavioral similarities, as well as our DNA, confirm our relationship with our ancestors. Jesus looked like His Father, God. He told His disciples that by seeing Him they had seen the Father. Jesus reflected the essence and character of God. His actions, including His miracles, proved the Father-Son connection and His divine descent.

God is also our heavenly Father. We need to honor our relationship with Him by evidencing our family connection on a daily basis through our words and deeds. If our lives are rooted in God, no DNA test will be required to establish we are His descendants.

Make it a point to reflect God’s image in you daily.

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Listen to the Spirit

I had an ache inside my chest. It was hunger.

While my wife attended a class on, “How to Know When the Holy Spirit Is Speaking to You,” she suddenly left the hiking group when she heard the Spirit whisper, “Go home and check on Bob.” When she walked into the house, she watched me have a life-ending stroke. If she had not hungered for the Spirit more than the pleasure of her hiking in our beautiful Arizona morning, I wouldn’t be here today. I know, because several of my attending physicians have told me.

My wife taught me to pay attention when the Spirit of God moves in whispers and touches hearts. When I feel the ache that feels like a hunger, I go to the Word for manna from my Lord’s hand.

Several passages have helped me walk closer to Jesus—among them, the present one. I learned Jesus is several things to each child of God. Following are the lessons I learned.  

  • Abide in Jesus as our wisdom, for the Father made Him our wisdom. He is the revelation of all God is and has for His children. When I need wisdom, I go to Jesus.
  • Abide in Jesus as our righteousness. If I want better character, I must yield to the Spirit of God to reproduce what is in Jesus. I can’t do it on my own.
  • Abide in Jesus as our sanctification. We can experience His power to make us holy in spirit, soul, and body. We can’t become more holy without Jesus.
  • Abide in Jesus as our redemption. We must live as people who are heirs of heaven’s eternal riches. We are rich kids born into wealth.

Our relationship with Jesus contains everything I need to live today and to live eternally when I graduate from life’s struggles. In heaven’s rent-free eternal retirement community, we’ll find a completeness that is presently only seen dimly.

Ask God to help you listen to His Spirit.

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Go Deep

She was a cutter.

Little scars laced her arms and torso. A tapestry of pain hewn with every slice and nick. The most difficult case I had experienced. Years of abuse and negative self-talk programmed her for pain.

“When I cut, it takes my focus off the pain inside me,” she said. I couldn’t comprehend.

Emma had endured forty-plus years of abuse. She was desperate to change and to heal, and she believed it could happen. I knew the power of God could do just that, but we had a lot of work to do.

What happened to Emma was a horrible series of conditioning since childhood. Everything lovely and innocent was taken from her. The abuser ritually repeated words designed to emotionally enslave, and she believed those words. Eventually, she felt “hopeless and unlovable.”  

Today, Emma thrives, living life to the fullest and enjoying the love of a husband, children, and grandchildren. She’s no longer plagued by the horrors of her past. It wasn’t an easy journey, but bit by bit she clawed her way out of her excruciating agony.

God’s Word cuts deep with glorious cleansing and renewing action. His Word cuts through the enemy’s lies. His Word heals, renews, and rebuilds.

We all have pain from our past. We all handle it differently: pills, alcohol, drugs, sex, theft, manipulation, deception, lies, over-shopping, over-working. The degree of pain runs the whole spectrum, as does the coping mechanisms we choose. Our pain may not be the same as Emma’s, but pain is pain. It hurts. It’s relevant.

If you are hurting or plagued by memories that send you into your own personal abyss leaving you feeling alone, hopeless, or unlovable, change is possible. God’s Word is alive and powerful and can dig deeply into your troubles and rescue you.

Go deep into God’s Word, and experience the healing you search for.

Name changed to protect privacy.

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The Witness of a Coin

Witnessing for Christ does not always involve fiery, passionate pleas for conversion.

A friend of mine maintains a supply of gospel coins embossed with a decorative cross on one side and Mark 10:27 imprinted on the other. For years, he has given them to people he meets. A waitress at the local restaurant, a bagger at the grocery store, or a forlorn stranger sitting on a park bench. However God leads, he shares these coins. Quite often, his kind gesture opens opportunities to engage in discussion about spiritual matters or an offer to pray for each individual.

Jesus encouraged His followers to let His light shine through them as they interacted with people. Far from implying we should put on a spiritual show or constantly “be on our game,” doing this means demonstrating Christlikeness. We will never live perfectly on this earth, but we can live each day surrendered to His influence.

As children of God, we bear the family resemblance. We shine His light. We exhibit His love. We carry His cross. Light needs no discussion to shine. Love needs no proclamation to be seen or shared. Christ’s cross needs no burdensome obligation because His yoke is easy and His burden is light. As earthly children do not have to expend energy to look like their parents, believers shouldn’t have to make extra effort to resemble their heavenly Father.

Instead of complicating our witness or avoiding the sharing of our faith, we are wise to live each day under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit, the expectancy of Christ’s return, and the overflow of God’s love in our hearts. To do so unleashes the energy of heaven as we become the hands and feet of Jesus.

There is no pressure to save the lost world—just the call to hear and heed our Shepherd’s voice. Scripture tells us to go and lift up Jesus. That also includes the simple act of passing out gospel coins with a message of hope.

Shine your light to others.

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Sustaining Love

My mom knows me best.

One thing I love about Mom is that she can read my thoughts simply by a facial expression. When I get home and I am too tired to hang out, she doesn’t press for details but lets me get my rest. She never holds my grumpiness against me. Even when she or I do something upsetting, she is willing to rectify it and move on. I know when I am ready to talk that she will listen with ears and arms open wide because her love for me runs deeply.

Our heavenly Father is the same. Jesus knows our heart better than anyone and still loves us. Every mistake, He forgives, and every tear, He catches in the palm of His hand. He has seen us at our worst and still reaches His arms out to guide us in every season of life.  He is the best listener we could ask for, and He knows us more intimately than we realize. No one will ever love us the same way. His love is forgiving, redeeming, thankful, unearned, powerful, and merciful—even though we are nothing but sinners.  

We need to love others the same way. Even when they are brutal, we can respond in love, just as Jesus did. Our heavenly Father longs for us to be like Him: forgiving, peaceful, and encouraging. Be a light to a dark world in the various relationships you nurture in your life. Ministry can be born in relationship.

God’s love is enough to sustain you. Rest in it.

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Good News from the Dead

One spring day when our boys were small, I brought home a turtle I had found on the road.

They excitedly helped as we made up a box with a water dish, grass, and stones. But our turtle wanted nothing to do with his new home. He never drank the water, nor ate a single piece of bread. Each day he grew weaker, until by the end of the week he lay motionless. We felt the best thing was to return him to the swamp where he could spend his final days in peace.

Though we explained that Mr. Turtle was sick and needed to be set free, our boys were sad over his leaving. I parked the car and carefully took him out of his box. I walked a few paces into the woods and placed Mr. Turtle onto the mossy ground. At first He remained motionless, but then slowly he eased his feet out of the shell until his claws touched the ground. He poked out his head, stood up, and clambered down the hill as fast as his turtle legs could carry him. We burst out in relieved laughter.

Two thousand years ago when Jesus walked up Calvary's hill destined for death, His disciples felt just as we do. When they saw a huge stone rolled over the entrance to His tomb, they gave up hope and went into a room, locking the door behind them. But when things seemed darkest, on the morning of the third day, Jesus sat up, put one foot and then the other on the ground, and walked into the day so that all of us who believe in Him could follow. 

All of us have sometimes felt imprisoned by fear, bitterness, or pain—just like Mr. Turtle in his box. It seems as if it would be much easier to pull back into our shell and give up, but because Jesus got up, we can put one foot in front of the other.

Don’t let fear, bitterness, or pain keep you imprisoned. With God’s help, you can come out of your shell.  

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Love God, Love People

The hashtag #LGLP is everywhere these days. It’s catchy and cool, and many Christians are using it on social media. But does it really do justice to the text it is supposed to represent?

Saying we love God and people is easy. But love is such a generic word. Without some qualifiers, the saying could mean I love God as much as I love my dog, apple pie, or a Starbucks latte on a crisp autumn morning. But the truth is, I do not love my dog or those other things the way Jesus says I am to love God.

And people? Well, I mostly love people, except the guy who cut me off on the freeway and the teenager who drives through my neighborhood with his music turned up loud. I definitely don’t love them like I love myself.

If Jesus meant the above kind of love, He would have said just that. But three of the gospels record Him saying much more. Jesus spells out the quality of love we should have for God and for people. We are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. With every fiber of our being, every thought that crosses our mind, and every ounce of our strength, we should love the Lord. That’s a deep, all-encompassing love.

Jesus says I am to love my neighbor as much as I love myself. I once had a woman say to me, “Well, that’s not hard. I hate myself.” Ouch. That’s not a quality kind of love for either herself or her neighbor.

The reality for all of us is that we do love ourselves, and we prove it every time someone says something that offends us. We will defend ourselves, we’ll see our point of view as the right one, and we’ll often go on the attack. But we rarely love those close to us as much as we love ourselves, much less our neighbor.

Examine the quality of your own love for the Lord and others. Then commit to learning to love the way Jesus commands.

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The Eye of the Storm

During Hurricane Florence, the news reports dominated the television.

In one news clip, the reporter could hardly remain upright because of the wind. Within thirty minutes, the same reporter stood in relative calm with the sun breaking through the clouds. The news correspondent was in the eye of the storm.

This is similar to walking with God. Everything seems to fall apart around us. We experience emotional turmoil, yet deep down, we have a sense of calm or well-being. We should not feel this way, but we do. We experience what the Bible calls “God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand.”

Sometimes, disappointments, discouragement, financial issues, or relationship problems surround us. God has a way of giving us peace that we cannot understand in the midst of the storm.

But why do we sometimes feel this peace and at other times do not? Part of the answer comes in the previous verse (v.6). Paul says we are to pray with thanksgiving.

Praying with thanksgiving shows we believe God is the same in good times and in difficult ones. It reveals that we know He is still in control. He can alter the situation, change us in it, or do some of both. We can pray and fret at the same time. God does not cause all our circumstances, but He does allow them.

When we are in trying times, we should remember the lyrics of Ryan Stevenson's song, "Eye of the Storm." In the storm and in the war, God remained in control and guarded his soul. God was his anchor, and God’s love surrounded him.

Accept God’s sovereign will, and you will have peace in the eye of the storm.

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Heed the Warnings

Late frosts weren’t unusual in my warm southern climate.

This particular spring, however, had been unusually pleasant. All the green thumbs couldn’t wait to put aside winter’s dullness and enjoy the beauty of bright blossoms.                                            

On this balmy March day, temperatures danced into the 70s and 80s. Breezes hummed through trees as buds swelled, ready to burst into bloom. Eager gardeners scurried to set out early tomato plants. Flower beds blossomed with colorful flowers taken from greenhouses and nurseries.

Then I heard the weather forecaster warn, “Expect freezing temperatures before morning.” Two cold fronts approached and would plummet temperatures into the 40s with bitter cold sweeping in during the night.

Some ambitious gardeners heard the forecast and prepared their tender seedlings. They dashed about, covering sensitive vegetation and bracing themselves and their new plants for one last winter hurrah. Many gardeners did not. By morning, snow blanketed the ground—the only snow that winter. Tomato plants of the unprepared succumbed to the drastic shock. Delicate flowering plants peeked frozen heads through their unwanted cover of snow.

I thought how these weather predictions reflect the warning God’s Word reveals about the return of Christ. Many hear, yet fail to believe biblical prophecy. Jesus’ disciples asked Him what to expect before His second coming. He warned of false claims and many events to occur. Today, as more and more clues appear, few heed the signs.

Although temperatures plummeted that March night as forecasted, Christ’s arrival will come unexpectedly. No one knows the day or hour, but when He returns, He will judge the world with fairness. Prepared believers will rejoice, but the unprepared will have no second chance.

God wants everyone prepared for Christ’s return. Be willing to warn others to be ready.

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The Rewards of Obedience

After praying for a year for the chance to write professionally, God led me to write a column for my local weekly newspaper.

One morning I received an email from my sister-in-law’s mother who alerted me to this opportunity. I have now been writing for Community News for ten years. I had no idea God would give me the opportunity to write Christian material in a secular newspaper. It’s been a gift to encourage both friends and strangers through my column. When people tell me they enjoy and look forward to my column, I’m encouraged and humbled.

Another surprising bit of guidance resulted from a conversation with my therapist. She suggested I seek work cleaning houses. I’d been praying for months for a way to earn more money. Within a few weeks of our conversation, I started cleaning a neighbor’s house. It’s not glamourous, but it’s honest work, and I thank God for the extra income.

Leading music during Vacation Bible School, teaching children’s Sunday school classes, and playing my trumpet in my church’s praise ensemble are other ways I serve God. I never expected to receive these responsibilities, but I’ve been blessed by each one. When I run into a child I haven’t seen since last year’s VBS and her eyes light up, that’s my reward. The shock on a Sunday school student’s face when he, the son of dairy farmers, understands Jesus lay in a feeding trough and was found by shepherds warms my heart. Seeing smiles on the faces of my church family after playing my trumpet during offertory also encourages me.

God directs us toward His purposes. And sometimes His will surprises us. We never know where we will find joy in God’s service, but He gives us a sense of satisfaction when we serve Him, because we are obedient. And obedience is a reward in itself.

Obey God, and see what He gives you to do.

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You’re Fired!

“What are you doing here? I understand you've been fired.”

My heart skipped a few beats, and my mind raced. What?

About the time I realized a real termination wouldn't have been handled in such a manner, my boss continued. "You’re not, of course, but that was the rumor going around.”

It took a few conversations, but I was able to trace the full story, which was not meant as anything mean-spirited. When a co-worker grew annoyed with an intern’s nosiness during a private conversation he was having with someone else, he said the first thing that popped into his head: I’d been let go the day before. He then recanted, admitting the joke.

His confession fell on deaf ears. On Monday morning, the intern asked other co-workers if they'd heard the news. That set off a firestorm, leading to a check of my Facebook status to see if I had mentioned the incident, a glance into my office looking for signs of a quick exit, and a consultation with my boss. A few moments later, I arrived at work, and my boss entered my office with the above-mentioned pronouncement.

Guarding our tongues is something we all struggle with. The choices are not always as obvious as whether to speak angry words, wallow in prideful boasting, or spread rumors. Sometimes it appears as innocent as a shared prayer request. When done without permission, gossip results. Thank God I wasn't fired ... but the power of the tongue to wreak havoc was clear.

We’ve all uttered words we wish we could take back. Once they’re spoken, the damage is done. It’s then necessary to make amends and seek forgiveness. The tongue has the power to build up or destroy.

Choose words daily that help and heal.

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When Life Gives You Frizz

I awoke for church one morning, flipped on the bathroom light, looked in the mirror, and beheld—the great cloud of witnesses perched atop my head.

Ordinarily, my hair tends to share my rather straight-laced if unpolished personality. But that morning, every kink and curl had taken on a life of its own, witnessing to the infinite creativity of God’s colorful character. But then I thought, When life gives you frizz, embrace it.

We spend so much time and energy trying to tame our circumstances, sculpting them to conform to our vision. We operate out of an innate need to maintain control, because when life plays out the way we expect it to, we feel secure. But God, as Isaiah said, is doing something new.

In truth, if our faith cannot see the fullness of God’s kingdom already manifested in the world today, then we need God to do the unexpected in our lives. In our limited vision, the desert probably does not have a river running through it. Yet we need that river in the midst of life’s dry seasons. And who would not appreciate a road in the wilderness when the trials overcome us and we cannot see the way out?

If we want God’s best, we must embrace the new in life by putting away the sculpting gel and hairspray, taking what God gives us and finding our personal expression in it.

So, what became of my Sunday morning frizz?  I curled the rest of my hair to match it and went on to have a gloriously quirky day with God. You can do the same.

Ask God to help you trust and surrender to Him and to embrace the new things in life even when they do not fit your vision.

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No Insignificant People

During our beach vacation in Hilton Head, South Carolina, my husband became ill.

I took him to the ER. They performed diagnostic tests and then ordered an ambulance to transport him to MUSC in Charleston. We arrived at three in the morning. Surgery was scheduled for noon to repair a hiatal hernia that bulged to dangerous proportions.

By seven that evening, I looked as if I had come off a windy beach, had a middle-of-the-night ride to keep up with an ambulance, and had been awake for about forty-five hours.

A kind nurse told me I could shower on the third floor and that I should see the concierge. When I arrived, no one was at the desk. I walked the empty halls looking for someone. A petite woman came through the door pushing two full trash cans.  

“What do you need, honey?” she asked, coming toward me.

Fighting tears, I said, “I need a shower, and I’m looking for the concierge.”

She touched my shoulder and turned me around. “She’s gone for the day, but let’s get you some towels. We’re gonna take care of you.” With her arm wrapped around my shoulder, we walked to a linen closet. “What else do you need?”

I didn’t even think of saying soap, shampoo, a toothbrush. All I could think of was my dirty, windswept hair. “I need a comb.”

“We’ll get you a comb, but here’s the thing. We still need to see a concierge. There’s one on the fourth floor.”

She could have pointed me to the elevator. Instead, she stayed with me, leaving her abandoned trash cans. Upstairs, we found the concierge, who opened a bag with small travel sizes of everything I needed. My cleaning lady friend walked me back downstairs and to the guest showers. She did what Jesus instructed all of His children to do.  

I’m fine now, and so is my husband. And life is back to normal.

The cleaning lady wasn’t a doctor or nurse. She wasn’t a social worker or administrative assistant. She wasn’t even the concierge. She was an ordinary cleaning lady who went the extra mile to serve. But to me, she was much more.

God has a history of using seemingly insignificant people to help others. Tell Him you’ll be one.

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A Baby for Christmas

Rarely did Santa bring Mom what she wanted for Christmas, but this particular Christmas he did.

Mom and her sister grew up daughters of a dirt-poor farmer who attempted to eke out a living from the sandy soil near Vance, South Carolina. My granddaddy repeatedly reminded Mom and her sister how lean times were. But one Christmas was different.

Every Christmas, Mom’s family gathered with other families from the community and converged on Gerizim United Methodist Church to await Santa’s arrival. All the children sat on Santa’s bulging lap and told him what they wanted for Christmas.

Year after year, Mom’s Christmas wish was the same: a baby doll. All her friends had at least one. She couldn’t understand why her father couldn’t scrape together enough money to get her one too. 

“What’s your name little girl,” Santa whispered.


“And what would you like Santa to bring you for Christmas?” 

“I want a baby doll.”

“Have you been a good little girl?” Santa queried.

“Oh yes.”

Surely this would be the year Santa would grant the wish she had made so many times before. When the first rays of Christmas morning peeked through her bedroom window on Christmas morning, little Elsie jumped up and made her way to the Christmas tree. There it was. A box that seemed the right size for a baby doll, wrapped in paper a poor farmer’s wife would use.

She tore into the paper and could hardly believe what she saw. Santa had granted her wish. A beautiful small baby doll lay in the box. It was all she had ever wanted but never received. She couldn’t wait to play with it. Why not turn the box into a stroller, she imagined. And she did. After carefully cutting two holes in the box, she inserted a cord and instantly had a stroller. It was the only year Mom received a doll baby.

Just as one doll baby made a tremendous difference in my mother’s life, so did a real child who was born to Mary and Joseph. He brought joy to shepherds living in the fields, to wise men living afar, and to people worldwide.

Jesus’ birth has changed the lives of millions of people and continues to do so. He was God’s ultimate Christmas present to the world.

Never underestimate the potential of even the smallest of gifts. 

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Prince of Peace

Among other beautiful names the prophets gave Jesus was Prince of Peace.

Throughout the Bible, the words perfect and perfection are used to refer to God and Jesus Christ: God is perfect, His work is perfect, His way is perfect, and God’s law is perfect. Living in a world of imperfection, why wouldn’t we trust in a God of perfection?

After Jesus was crucified and before He ascended into heaven, He promised to leave the people a peace that surpassed all understanding. Further in the Scripture, Isaiah says God will keep us in perfect peace if we trust Him and if our mind stays on Him.

Some call the Bible God’s rule book. If so, we can be assured the things He sets out in His Word are for our good. Scripture says God will give us peace if we believe in Him and obey Him.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines peace as “a quiet and calm state of mind; harmony in personal relations; freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts or emotions; a state of tranquility or quiet.” The dictionary gives the following words as synonyms and ones related to peace: calmness, heartsease, peacefulness, placidity, sereneness, serenity, content, contentment, ease, comfort, consolation, relief, solace, quietude, and repose.

My favorite is heartsease—peace of mind. We use the term heartbroken and say our heart is heavy and troubled. To have burdens lifted from our heart and gain peace of mind is no small miracle. Peace can be ours if we trust in God.

This season, when we commemorate Jesus’ birth, is an appropriate time to affirm or reaffirm our trust in God and claim His perfect peace.

Thank God for the perfect peace that comes from trusting in Him.

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Word for the Year

Several years ago, a good friend introduced me to the concept of choosing a “word for the year”—a word to live by. Sometimes it is a goal, a challenge, or even a one word mantra.

The idea sounded great to me. I prayed and asked God for my word for the year, and I clearly heard him say, “jump.” That’s a fun first word. Since I am a producer, I am constantly planning, and spontaneous is an ugly word to me. I interpreted jump to be the antithesis of planning. I vowed to say yes to as many offers as I was extended that year, to experience things I had never experienced, to jump at opportunities. What followed was one of the most memorable years of my life.

The next year, I heard the word risk and fervently prayed God would change it to peace. He did not, and it was one of my most challenging years professionally and personally. Being the good Father He is, reward followed on year three. In my year of reward, I found a church home after many years of searching, as well as many other blessings.

Year four brought the word fly. I was confused as to the meaning of this and prayed for confirmation that fly was my word for the year. As I opened my eyes after the prayer, a bird flew by the window. Coincidence I thought. I continued to pray for weeks, always hearing the same word. Then a couple days into the new year, I stood in line at a craft store, and when I looked down at the counter, a little stone with the word fly on it stared back at me. I settled that fly was my word. It took almost the entire year to decipher the code, but, in the end, I realized that was a year where God brought people by my side who lifted me up and helped carry my burdens.

In each year since, some words came clearly and others more difficult, but God has always supplied a word for me, and the word has always been right.

In the next weeks, ask God for your word for the year, and watch something truly beautiful unfold.

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Exhausted, But Still in Pursuit

I’m exhausted. Or, as we say in the South, worn slap out.

When life hurtles along just outside the parameters of our capacity, we can feel that way. When we try our best to prioritize life events, create an orderly schedule, and strategically organize our days—life can still be too much.

Trying to fit Christian service or ministry opportunities around full-time employment, household responsibilities, weekend chores, and expected family and social interactions can be overwhelming. Things start to slip or we become uncharacteristically cranky, and then guilt sets in as we internalize how we mismanaged our time or do not have time to serve God. Yet, we persist, wearily trying to juggle everything, hoping to find relief soon.

Gideon knows exactly how we feel. After God reduced his army from 32,000 to 300, Gideon faced the formidable task of battling an enemy numbering 125,000. Obviously, fighting with the initial army would have made things much easier—and certainly less stressful for each warrior. Yet the entire burden fell to the remaining 300.

God orchestrated the battle to deliver His promised victory. However, after an overnight raid with pitchers and torches, along with chasing the enemy from the primary battlefield just south of Nazareth all the way to the Jordan River, Gideon and his men were exhausted. And when they stopped for food, they were refused—twice. But they continued and eventually eliminated the enemy. Exhausted, but still in pursuit. Worn out, but not giving up.

When life becomes too hectic, here’s some reminders:

  • The overall battle is the Lord’s (1 Samuel 17:47).
  • Don’t give up. You will reap in due time (Galatians 6:9).
  • Be still and watch how God sovereignly orchestrates His victory (2 Chronicles 20:17).
  • Don’t run ahead or lag behind—simply follow and wait on the Lord (Psalm 27:14).
  • Take the necessary time to rest (Mark 6:31).
  • Rejoice always and pray unceasingly (Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  • Remember, your service is for God, not for men (Romans 12:1).

This life can be tiring, nerve wracking, and frustrating. Though exhausted, stick to the fight and continue the pursuit. God’s high calling and ultimate approval await: “Well done, faithful servant. Enter into My rest.”

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Just yesterday, they were in the land of the living, but someone took them all away.

As the years pass and the end of our journey draws near, we recall those dreams of yesterday. If we could capture them, we would keep them forever.

We knew many people who walked this earth once, and it seems like yesterday they were here with us. Now, they’re gone—the great and the small, the kings and the poorest of people.  

Life is like a puff of smoke or a mist that vanishes quickly. We wish we could stop time, but it’s not possible, no matter how hard we try. I wish I could tell you about yesterday, but you probably wouldn’t listen. We live like we will be forever in this place, but we will cast a glance at our life and grasp it ever tightly as it slips away.

Then a day we thought was still far away comes. Someone comes for us too. And we will only be remembered until yesterday is gone—when even those with memories of us are taken away too.

God cries for us to hear His voice … to remember the path He has shown us. He wants us to seek the narrow gate and not rebel against Him. He wants to show us what is true. We don’t really pass away, but are in a moment taken away.

The day my eyes grow dim and my breathing ends, be assured that Someone came and took me away. It was the King of Kings who left His throne to suffer and die in my place, and it seems like just yesterday that He said He would come back for me.

Are you ready for God to come and take you away?

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Shark Sheets

November is National Adoption Month, and many churches celebrate Orphan Sunday. Orphan Sunday or Stand Sunday is a day to focus on foster care and adoption throughout the world.

This month has become even more important to me since adopting my son from foster care a little over three years ago. Since becoming his father, I have learned more about how my heavenly Father loves me than I ever understood before.

We who accept Jesus are all adopted sons and daughters. It is through Jesus that we become children of God.

God will go to the greatest lengths to make you His child. He is a Rescuer. He will fight the Devil for your very soul, not because of what you can do, what you look like, or how much money you have, but because you are His.

I had to fight for my son too. When I applied to be his dad, I was rejected. Boone’s last two placements before me were single men, and both adoption plans failed. My son’s social workers rejected me because they didn’t want this to happen a third time. But in my heart I knew he was mine.

I asked my social worker if I could write a letter pleading my case. Though she had never heard of that being done before, she allowed it and sent the letter by email. In the email, I explained my plans for this child’s future and how I would not allow him to grow up believing all the ugly things that had been said about him by the world. I ended with the line, “I already have his shark sheets waiting.” His profile had listed how much he loved sharks.

I was called in for an interview the next day and told, “No one has fought for this child his entire life, and you are fighting for him without even meeting him.” He arrived in our home two days later and is forever my son.

You belong to God, and He will do anything for you. Lift your eyes to Him. He already has your shark sheets waiting.

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The Gathering

The annual gathering happened two days before Thanksgiving.

Each year, the churches in the small town where I pastored gathered for a community Thanksgiving service. Different churches hosted the event, and pastors rotated preaching. A time of fellowship and food followed. But then we went home, often not seeing one another again until we had our annual community Easter celebration.

In spite of the brevity of the event—and the fact that we wouldn’t see one another for months—I eagerly awaited this gathering each year. Thanksgiving tops the list of my favorite holidays, and spending a few moments of it with people from different races, nationalities, and social levels makes it more enjoyable.

Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. I don’t know in what season of the year Paul wrote this command, but he knew nothing about a Thanksgiving holiday. He didn’t need one. He had learned contentment … thankfulness … in all circumstances. And God’s will is for every believer to realize the same.

When I experience these community events at Thanksgiving and Easter, I imagine they mirror heaven. A place where race, nationality, wealth, mistakes, emotional states, and age will no longer separate God’s people. A day when the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., will finally come true: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

But the gathering is about more than the mixture and the breaking down of barriers. The lives of all gathered are peppered by a myriad of conditions. Regardless, we lift our voices to the God who controls our circumstances and to the One whom we believe involves Himself in all of our situations. Our voices blend as we praise Him through song. They sync as we say “Amen” to the truths heard from His Word.

The Thanksgiving season gives us the opportunity to remember God’s plan is always best—regardless of the path we must follow to realize it. God doesn’t expect us to be happy about tragedy and heartache, but we can have contentment in trying situations when we remember He’s in control, has our best interests at heart, and controls the intensity and time of our travels.

Celebrate Thanksgiving by gathering with others and thanking God collectively.

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When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

When reading these verses, some may flash to an old-time monster movie where the mummy lunges forward with their arms held out and their gait awkward because of the wrappings.

Like a mummy, we often stumble after God has set us free—from eternal death, from sin, from old habits, from mistakes. But sometimes we let the trappings of the old still wrap around us when we have been made new.

Our second, third, or sixtieth chance fails because we don’t take off the bindings of our sin. We feel fresh in our hearts, our eyes are bright, and we trod off like a toddler just learning to walk.

Jesus unbinds us, but when we return to the pigpen, we get dirty again. We tire of battling the same sinful behavior we have carried for years—or maybe decades. Jesus wants this done once and for all. His death made it possible; now we just have to give it over.

Examine what leads to sin in your life: people, places, things, the past. Excise them before you step into your new and improved future.

Getting rid of a sin can be like unwrapping a healed wound. It takes more than one step. Make a list of your sins. Call upon the blood of Jesus to cleanse you as you pray them aloud, blow them away, and breathe in new life.

One by one, hand your sins to Christ and break what binds you.

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God's Purpose Prevails

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.” - Winnie the Pooh. 

Children have no idea how profound these words are, yet I inscribed them in a goodbye letter to a little boy who forever changed my heart. I adopted my first son from foster care, and when a second little boy arrived 18 months later, I knew I would adopt him too. Because of his situation, I didn’t have to worry about him returning to his birth parents, and I had promised God a child would never enter my home that I didn’t commit to for the rest of my life. Yet, I didn’t know I would only be his daddy for 14 months.

The year he was with us was brutal. Such unbelievable trauma to work through. So many layers of every kind of abuse. I aged, and every day I tried to teach him everything he had missed. Then at the same time his adoption papers were being readied, he walked over to my chair and said, “Daddy, I don’t want you to cry, but I think I am supposed to have a mommy and a daddy.” Those words revealed the Creator’s grander plan.

We often harbor the unknown until a flash makes it crystal clear. I prayed for a larger confirmation than I had ever prayed for in my life—a dream, writing on the wall, a burning bush. That night, I dreamed my little boy went to live with someone else, and peace claimed my heart.

If we knew what tomorrow held, I don’t think any of us could handle it. God blesses us with breadcrumbs that lead the way until our eyes adjust to the light of His path.

Had I known the outcome, I would have lived those 14 months differently. God knew that child needed me to treat him as if he would be my son forever. I could not have done so with future knowledge. Even as I wailed, clinging to my prayer bench, I knew this had always been the perfect plan.

As you mourn and wish things could be different, believe each moment is exactly as the Lord requires.

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Blowing Bubbles with Jesus

Bubbles. That’s just what we need here.

I was on a tight schedule. A friend’s husband and daughter were over to pick up our dining room set before another family delivered the set they were giving us. They were expected; three-year-old Alianna was not. When she was introduced to me, she pirouetted, revealing the flair of both her skirt and her personality—definitely a bubbles kind of girl.

I retrieved two bottles of bubbles from our front closet. While her mom and grandfather wrestled the furniture into their van, my new friend and I blew bubbles, laughing as they danced on a soft breeze and popped on the grass, bushes, and our outstretched hands.

But one didn’t pop. “Look, Alianna,” I exclaimed, “that bubble is going to Jesus.”

As Alianna tracked the rising bubble with widening eyes, she made a joyful little bounce and rose up on her tippy-toes as if she might float to heaven with it. “Goin’ ta Jesus!” she echoed. Together, we watched that bubble float out of sight.

Jesus loves children, so He must love bubbles, I thought. Then I got an image of Jesus blowing bubbles down on us from His throne above—with His own pink, plastic wand. Seeing Jesus’ smile and bright eyes, I felt in my heart His delight in joining our fun.  

One day, Jesus’ disciples asked Him to identify who was the greatest in His kingdom. Jesus drew a little child into their midst to teach them that greatness in the kingdom of God is more about delight than achievement. When Jesus unexpectedly placed little Alianna into my day, my spirit rose along with the bubbles … and our laughter above my worries and agenda.

Let Jesus interrupt your agenda and exchange importance for delight. Have some fun together. Maybe even blow bubbles. Let the child He draws into His arms be you.

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Ruby lived on a hill, tended her flowers, and was my grandmother. She couldn’t drive a car, and she never wrote a poem, but the pages of her Bible were worn thin from constant use.

I was barely a month from my sixteenth birthday, and Mamaw and I had plans to burn rubber. I think we both had waited for years for the freedom to go and do as we would like, together. Then on December 7, the doctors pronounced that her life would end in six months. Cancer.

I wallowed in the stages of grief for the first few months. Then one day after school, I sat at her kitchen table and screamed, “You’re going to die, and you’re acting like nothing is wrong!”

Mamaw clicked the stove button, led me into the living room, and reclined on the couch. The smell of dinner carried through her little home as she told me why I had never seen her cry about her death sentence. I thought in all our years together I knew every story about this woman, but she was saving the best for last.

Almost forty years ago, a different set of doctors told a young mother of four that pancreatic cancer would take her life in less than a year. And I’m pretty sure she didn’t cry back then either. She marched home and looked up the story of Hezekiah. This simple woman pointed to the then firm pages of 2 Kings and asked for the same gift as Hezekiah had. King Hezekiah was mortally ill, but he petitioned the Lord for more time. And the Lord granted him fifteen more years.

Ruby asked the Lord to prolong her life until her children were old enough to take care of themselves. And like Hezekiah, God heard her prayer. Not only did she get another fifteen years, she also got decades more until she met her grandchildren. And as my bitter tears blurred the sight of her, my grandmother said, “How could I cry a single tear when He has given me more than I asked for?”

As you mourn your loved one, concentrate on the parts of them that live on in you. Don’t allow the wisdom of their life to be robbed by the temporary grave. Hold tightly to their stories of bravery, love, and obedience, and know they are still with you.

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Shatter Point

The week was tough, and the night found me clinging to a big ottoman in my living room floor, sobbing. 

I was having one of those days where the past rears its ugly head and reminds you how thin the time is between yesterday and today. Bronchitis, a sinus infection, a new career. Stress about finances and friends not showing up when you need them. Not being the father I strive to be and having a hard time comparing myself to the Father I have in Jesus. I was breaking down.

I felt God’s Almighty hands twist and ring me to the point of damp dry. I pictured Him molding the clay with more pressure than I have ever felt. I saw broken shards of glass splinter in new formation. That’s when I understood. With a new dimension of the refiner’s fire and more water smoothing the rough stones, I was being pressed on every side. Almost breaking.

God knows my shatter point, and He takes me to the exact degree before I break. The place where I become something new. And He specializes in all things new.

God uses our rough times to sharpen us, define us, and make us who He longs for us to be. Only a Master’s hands know my breaking point and understand where my submission is imminent. Through my re-Creator’s expertise, I become a new creation.

And when God has reworked me for a time, thanksgiving rolls over me like the warm winds of a summer storm right before the rain. He washes over me, and I hear His whispers. “This is what I have been working on. If you want to dream new dreams and fly to heights, you must let Me turn that coal into a diamond.”

I’m stronger now—better than I was. The wounds miraculously healed, but God had to knead the dough. He had to take me to the point right before I gave up. He took me to the place where I gave in. But further down the road. Closer to the prize. I arose from my sobbing, prostrate position and breathed fresh air.

God knows the road He asks us to walk. He never promised it would be easy, but He promised He would always be there. And He is. Again and again. Welcome His artistry.

Let God make you new.

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The Cross

Some sing about it, others tattoo it on their bodies, and still others wear it as a fashion statement. Our graveyards are adorned with them, as are mountains, hilltops, churches, and homes. Our culture has a fascination with displaying them in all their forms.  

The Cross. During Roman rule, it served as a symbol of derision and guilt—a form of capital punishment where the guilty met their fate. How ironic that the very thing the enemy used to instill fear in the hearts of everyone now stands as a symbol of hope for a hurting world.

From the perspective of those who followed Christ to the cross, that moment must have seemed like an unmitigated disaster. Any hope they had for a restored kingdom vanished. They didn’t know Christ’s death would make them righteous and whole. They didn’t understand that the events unfolding before them were God’s doing. That Christ’s death would ensure His message of hope, and everlasting life would reach Judaea, the entire Roman Empire, and ultimately, the world.

Christ purchased eternal life for us. He bore the weight of our sin so we wouldn’t have to. As I reflect on all the cross represents, I am overwhelmed and humbled. Because He suffered in our stead, we have healing and peace. Our hearts, once stained with sin, have been washed of guilt and shame. We serve a wonderful Savior, a mighty God.

What the enemy intended for evil, God uses for good. I am thankful to God for the gift of salvation and for redeeming us from the curse of the law. “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV).

The next time you see a cross, remember that the peace and salvation you now experience came at a great price. Then, humbly worship Christ.

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Experience God’s Peace

We are embarking on another journey.

After closing our home to foster care after our fourth adoption, we decided to reopen our home once again to foster children, offering them a safe place of love during the tumultuous time in their lives. We have agreed to welcome children from infancy to two years old and are excited about where God will take us.

But I’m nervous too. I worry about the logistics of adding a fifth child to our already rambunctious crew. I worry about the logistics of scheduling, work, and appointments—the things I can’t prepare for beforehand … the things I have to trust will work out when the time comes.

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God's peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. Paul’s words remind me not to worry … about anything. Instead, I need to pray about everything, telling God what I need and thanking Him for all He has done. Then I’ll experience His peace.

In theory, the verses seem to say we’re to tell God what we need and then not worry. But theory doesn’t always translate well into reality. We tend to tell God what we need, but then hold on to it, clinging with worry instead of releasing it with faith.

When we allow God to take on our worries, we experience His peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. The feeling of knowing we’re taken care of, and the thoughts that come with believing everything will be okay, is just a portion of the peace we receive through God.

God listens to our pleas and praises and aches to fill us with His peace. When your heart turns to worry, turn your mind to God.

Lift up your worries, and let them go as you tell God what you need, reveling in the perfect peace that comes with His promise to take care of you.

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Weighing Motives

Giving with our hand but not our heart is possible.

We can feel pretty good about the things we do, but we often do not understand why we do what we do. 

In my job, we often share workloads. When one person’s caseload is down, others are often asked to share their cases to keep that person working. Once, I was asked and gave away several cases. I did not want to lose them, but for the good of the project, I knew this was what I should do.

Once, I had medical bills and extra financial expenses that wiped out the funds I had put away for a rainy day. At the same time, the bottom dropped out of my workload. I was told there were some cases available for me to work, but then they were given to someone else.

I felt sorry for myself. I had given up my cases, but when I had a need, nothing was there for me.  If I had not given up my cases, I might not have been in this dilemma. I was on a downward spiral.

Until one morning when this verse hit me between the eyes. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, But the Lord weighs the motives. God weighed my motives and found them wanting. What I had given with my hand, I now took back in my heart.

The universe does not revolve around me. God’s sovereign choices include my needs, but are not exclusive to them. Someone may have needed the cases more than me. Or God in His infinite wisdom assigned the work without regard to my need.

God has the right to choose as He pleases. God forgave me, but I thought and concluded before I saw it from His perspective. Purity of motive may only come when we first have the humility to admit we do not have it.

Develop a habit of weighing your motives.

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Where did they come from? Did someone get up in the night? I wondered.

Whew! With the kitchen finally clean—I don't like waking up to a dirty kitchen—I flopped into bed, tired from a busy day of working outside.

Waking up the next morning to the aroma of coffee wafting into my room, I got up, walked to the kitchen, headed to the coffee pot, and glanced at the kitchen counter. Imagine my surprise when a stream of sunshine, beaming across my kitchen counter, revealed several smudges and finger prints on the counter.

Grumbling under my breath as I poured coffee into my favorite mug, I wondered how many times I thought I had cleaned up  the messes of my life, only to discover I didn't do such a good job. I left smudges and fingerprints on my heart that only the Holy Spirit's light could illuminate.

The psalmist asked God to create a clean heart in him. We, too, may act as if everything is okay on the outside, but God looks on the heart. When He nudges me about something—forgiving someone, revealing the truth, or apologizing to a spouse, roommate, or child—I need to do as He says, not as I think. When I don't, the smudges remain.

Such as the time when I said something harsh to my husband and the Lord convicted me. I apologized to the Lord during my prayer time but did not apologize to my husband. One day, the Lord nudged me to forgive my husband. By obeying, I erased the smudge on my heart.

Every time I see sunlight shining on my counters, I remember the fingerprint lesson and the importance of keeping my heart clean.

When God shines His light on the fingerprints or smudges in your life, ask Him to do what the psalmist did: Create in me a clean heart, O Lord, and renew a right spirit within me.

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Who is Your Moral Support?

“Sometimes I feel like my prayers stop at the ceiling, but that’s enough about my situation. What about you?”

The ache in my friend’s words dug deeply into my heart. We pray together, and I wanted to be her support system. Still, God held the reins tightly and forced her to wait on His timing. Waiting is sometimes as gruesome as fighting the battle.

Despite our love for Christ, we often find ourselves feeling God is not in tune with us. Prayer after prayer rises from the depths of our hearts, and it seems to no avail. Does He even hear our pleas? It’s easy to blame God or accuse Him of turning His back on us when the truth is He never does. If we were truly honest, we’d admit when God doesn’t answer within the time frame we deem fit, then it’s easier to accuse Him of ignoring us. This just gives Satan the toehold he needs to instill discouragement and frustration, even hurt and anger. Yet, God is faithful despite our weaknesses and worry.

Nehemiah stepped into the unknown when he asked the king to allow him to rebuild the city of his ancestors. It was enough to approach the king, but trusting God’s faithfulness was difficult as well. With the king’s blessing, Nehemiah began the daunting task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. They met their share of conflict, so his men divided. Half worked while the remainder stood guard with weapons strapped on their sides. For Nehemiah’s workers, those who stood guard were the support system. The prayers. The protectors.

I certainly don’t have all the answers for my friend as she wades through the daily muck searching for needed guidance and answers, but I can be the half who stands guard over her, faithfully praying, offering encouragement, and supporting her. My faithfulness as her support gives her hope and encouragement. It strengthens her. Everyone needs that unwavering support from God and our friends.

Seek after those who need your prayer support. Tell those people you’ll be faithful to guard over them. You may very well be rebuilding a broken wall. When you prayerfully defend those who struggle, you too will feel the joys of God’s answers as well.

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Father Knows Best

Rarely have I valued the hard times more than the enjoyable times.

It was somewhat of a shock when I learned about the potential of the Father’s chastening (or child training) during the last year while going through what my attending physician described as “a reprieve to a death sentence.” Then he told me to enjoy it. I must confess, this is a commentary on my lack of spiritual maturity.

Many Christians can testify that the best times in their lives have not been the most pleasurable times, but rather the times they walked one painful step at a time holding Jesus’ loving hand. In His presence, they found more than they imagined possible.

Difficult times are proof that believers are loved: “The Lord chastens those that He loves” (Hebrews 12:6).

Contrary to human reasoning, Spirit-controlled believers often feel blessed and thankful for the refining pain of earthly tragedies. They have learned their Lord’s love and presence are often easier to experience when the things of this world grow dim. Knowing it is because of His love that they are being taught, they cling to Jesus.

I have learned the hard way that our Father knows best. Our faith must be tested, our pain is partially in our hands, and our peace comes from our relationship with Jesus.

Don’t shy away from the sorrow and pain of the hard times of life. Put your trust and love in Jesus, and you will be blessed.

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The Heart of It

My parents always sliced a watermelon when I was young. 

We kids would grab a slice, sit on the porch together, and begin a seed-spitting competition. Definitely a happy childhood memory. At some point, when I became an adult and paid for my own watermelons, I decided scooping watermelon into a dish was my preferred way to eat it. Slices were too messy.

Once, while we were staying with my in-laws, I bought a watermelon and helped myself to some in my usual way. Later that evening, my father-in-law took the foil off the partially eaten watermelon sitting in the fridge and with great shock asked, "Who took the heart right out of the watermelon?"

I said, "Umm … me." I realized too late he was old-school and thought scooping the heart out of a watermelon was the wrong way to eat it. He might be right.

The heart—the pure heart—is the best part. When it's gone, the rest of the watermelon is not quite the same. It's still good, but it gets more distasteful the further you get from the heart and the closer you get to the bitter rind. What's left gets thrown out.

Sometimes, we do the same in life. We take the best part and leave the rest. I guess it's human nature. We give of ourselves until we have nothing left—taking care of our homes, families, spouses, and jobs. Then we walk around feeling empty because the heart is gone. That's a tough place to be. Empty, numb, and sometimes bitter.

When we get so far from the heart of things, we just want to get the sweetness of life back—to get back to the heart of it all. If asked, God will create a new spirit in us. He gives the best part instead of taking it.

When we have nothing left, and it seems all the good parts have been scooped out, God fills us up again—to overflowing.

God never fails. Trust Him.

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Where True Beauty Lies

“I was just trying to get pretty for you.”

My wife is a beautiful brunette, but for the past several years she has been highlighting her brunette hair with blonde streaks. The last time she had her hair colored, something happened. Since we didn’t have the funds for her to get her hair colored and highlighted, she chose to have it colored … blonde.  

As the beautician applied the chemical, my wife felt a burning sensation. When she got home, she looked in the mirror and saw that her scalp in the back was red. Things got worse. She developed headaches, then a tender scalp, and finally puss pockets.  

A week after the coloring, she took a picture and sent it to our daughter-in-law, who’s a nurse. The verdict? Infection. So my wife paid a visit to the local urgent care center where the doctor prescribed an antibiotic.

When my wife called to tell me the verdict, I said, “The next time you want to get pretty for me, just stay the way you are.”

Peter told first-century women not to go overboard with outward beauty, but to care for their inner beauty. Still good advice—for men too.

I’m glad folks don’t face the world looking as they do when they first get out of bed—myself included. We wouldn’t look as we normally do, nor would we smell the same—at least not our breath. Outward grooming and good hygiene are important, but they are just that, outward.

What we do to dress up our outsides might impress others for a while—the boss, the boyfriend, the girlfriend, the wife or husband, the best friend—but it won’t last. Eventually, those we try to impress with our outward looks will see the inside through our actions and attitudes.

I’ve known some people who were gorgeous or handsome on the outside, but ugly on the inside. Their words or actions made them that way. We can’t hide forever what’s on the inside. It will color our lifestyle.

While tending to the outside is important, caring for the inside is more so. When we are in a right relationship with God, our inner beauty will shine through, and this is the light God wants others to see more than our outward appearance.

Make sure your inner beauty is the true beauty others see.

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He Will Not Let You Slip

The steps were skinny. Skinny as in . . . not even the length of your foot. I can’t tell you the times I’ve fallen because the steps were so thin. Even the dog’s feet flew out from under him. If it weren’t so bad, I’d say it was funny. That is, until . . . my son, Cameron, took a horrible fall.

It was terrible. My husband was at the top of the stairs, grabbing at him and missing. I was at the bottom, trying to catch him. Yet nothing we did could prevent his socked feet from sailing waist high into the air, his flipping twice, or his temple slamming against the banister before he hit the floor.

My heart stopped as I looked at my ten-year-old son, lying lifeless at my feet. I dialed the doctor, who immediately told me swelling could be internal. “Rouse him and get to the hospital now.”

The writer of the Psalms reminds us God is faithful. As a shepherd, he needed sure footing to prevent slips and tumbles as he cared for his sheep. Deeper yet, David understood how the Father never spiritually let him slip. Rather, He watched over him–never sleeping.

And that, friends, is comforting. Just knowing God has us. He’s always there to catch us. His presence doesn’t prevent life from happening, but it does mean, despite the trials, God never lets us slip away from Him.

No matter how my husband and I tried, we couldn’t keep Cameron’s feet from slipping. The fear we faced as he lay in the hospital was terrifying. After hours at the ER and tons of prayer, we were finally able to take our son home. He had a nasty headache, but he came out fine. We began the search for someone who could rebuild our staircase so no one else would fall–a task in and of itself.

Sometimes we can’t prevent a fall, but when we face those slip ups, it’s nice to know our Savior stands firmly beneath us to break our fall. When you feel your feet sliding, dig your heels into trust and know God is with you. He will not let you fall.

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As a second-grade teacher, I teach about the four seasons. My students discuss the seasonal activities and the characteristics of each, such as warmer weather, snow, or changing leaf color. In each one, transformations occur.

In biblical terms, season is an appointed time. Solomon writes in Ecclesiastes that to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (3:1). The seasons may change, but God's promises to us do not.

Sometimes we may be discouraged or in a dry season. However, the seasons of our life will change every time we use our faith. Galatians 6:9 says, Let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. Seasons involve a shift, and each time there's a shift in the atmosphere, we have to activate our faith.

I thought of an acronym for season: S.H.I.F.T., which stands for Surrender to Him in Faith Today.  We can surrender to God because our times and life affairs are in His hands. In our verse, the word times means seasons, causes, affairs, and events of our life.

God of my life is one of the names for God that focuses on His relationships with His people. He is the God of our life. We can be at peace and know He controls our future. All we have to do is activate our faith and surrender to Him in faith. 

Make the following confession: My times and my future are in God’s hands. He is the God of my life. I choose to surrender to Him in faith today. The seasons may change, but God’s promises to me will not.

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New Glasses

The eye doctor clicked the machine. “Better or worse?” Another click, another line of blurry letters. “Better or worse?” We agreed on the best option, and he wrote a prescription.

When my new glasses arrived, I looked like a bobble-head doll as I adapted to progressive bifocals. The lenses darkened outdoors—another new feature. They helped on bright days, but indoor rooms took on a dim and somber note until the glasses readjusted.

These new bells and whistles are useful, but my vision still isn't perfect. Spiritually speaking, it's often poor. I squint to understand a friend's situation, but it's clear to God's 20/20 vision. My soul's myopia blurs perspective in my own life, but God sees the complete picture.

As a child, I imagined what Father God looked like. My mental picture didn't show Him wearing glasses, but my adult imagination added them. Of course, His vision is perfect with or without glasses. The lenses are clear, not darkened. They have one feature: they're tinted red at great cost.

Paul says we see dimly now, but the moment we accept Christ's gift of salvation, our heavenly Father sees us through rose-colored glasses. That idiom for a positive viewpoint reminds me our Father is eternally optimistic about us—our future, no matter how dimly we see it, and our past, no matter how flecked with dirt. All because we said yes to Jesus who said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” John 8:12 (ESV).

Our eyes may need corrective lenses and our spiritual vision might squint at darkened glass, but when you can't see life clearly, focus on the good news proclaimed throughout Scripture. We're seen through the lens of everlasting love. Our future's so bright we need shades.

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God Is Patient

While struggling with infertility, I was anything but patient.

I wanted a baby. I did not understand why it was not happening—or why God placed such a desire in my heart yet wasn’t making my dream come true. I was frustrated and embedded in my selfish ambitions. My eyes were not turned to God, and I did not listen to His quiet voice trying to guide me. He simply wasn’t moving quickly enough.

Peter reminds us the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient, not wanting anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance.

God was not moving too slowly for me; He was waiting for me to listen to His calling and set my selfish desires aside. And He would have continued to wait for me.

We are often derailed by the need for instant gratification and by Satan probing us to immediate response. We dwell in our selfish ambitions and allow Satan to nurture our discontent when we really need to pull the weeds, clean the garden, and prepare our hearts for our waiting Father.

God will continue to wait as we find our way because He is a patient Father. His desires for us are beyond our imagination, and we are the ones who lose when we leave Him waiting. When impatience pierces our heart and we feel as if God is moving too slowly, we should remember He is not slow in keeping His promises, but is patiently waiting for us.    

If you find yourself thinking God is too slow, take a step back and examine your heart, your desires, and your path. As you are waiting on Him, He is waiting for you.

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Mending the Bond

In a favorite movie, the princess hates the things her mother tells her she must do to become a real princess.

Her mother insists she act, eat, behave, and listen as a princess. But the princess wants to go her own way and do her own thing. She wishes her mother would listen. Finally, a witch casts a spell on her mom that the princess hopes will allow her freedom. After feeding her mother the cake with the spell, her mother becomes a bear.

Never is any of this the princess’s fault, but the witch’s. Wanting her mother to return to herself, the princess and her mother consult the witch. The witch informs the princess she must mend the bond between herself and her mother or her mother will become a real bear inside and out.

Desperately trying to save her mother, the princess finally admits, “This is all my fault. I’m so sorry. I love you.”  Her tearful confession saves her mother.

God wants to mend the bond between Him and me. He doesn’t ask me to walk my own way or do my own thing. Some of what I could do would not be good for me. He knows that sometimes I want my own way even if it leads in the wrong direction. Like the princess’s mother, God wants the best for me and wants me to act like His child and follow His lead.

God asks me to listen, read His word, and tell others about His wondrous love. He asks me to help others find a place for Jesus in their hearts. Then like the princess—who saw the error of her ways, mended the bond with her mother, asked for forgiveness, and lived happily ever after—we can live cheerfully forever with our God.

There is no time like the present to mend the bond between you and God.

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Loving the Enemy

She was a nursing home resident who was only visited by loved ones on the first and fifteenth of each month.

Her niece came at noon and her grandson at three in the afternoon. They’d speak to her—one of the sweetest people you’d ever meet—with hateful aggression, which made her cry more times than not. After every visit, she’d give them a tight hug, whisper “I love you,” and place money in their back pockets. I don’t remember her name, but their actions angered me. Such a giving person emptying unmerited kindness without being refilled. I saw the resident as a victim. I was wrong.

We all know people who only come around when they need a favor. The ones you hear from when their car is low on gas or they need a babysitter on Friday night. The ones who stop by when they need a shoulder to cry on or who want words of encouragement because their marriage is being tested.

Luke says God gives generously without regret or in spite of our failures and inability to repay. He commands us to do the same.  

We are created in God’s image and are servants, not victims. To say, “I don’t want to be needed,” equals to, “I don’t want to serve.” God’s purpose is for us to lean on each other. He wants us to rethink what it means to be used and try to look at servanthood from His perspective. In His eyes, we are more than conquerors.

Worrying about someone taking advantage of our kindness isn’t important. Our Father makes sure ill-willed intentions are revealed in due season. Our talents, gifts, achievements, and strengths were not given exclusively to us but for us to get them to the people who need them. The same goes for our weaknesses and failures. He made us so we would need each other.

Rejoice when others are doing well, but help them when they’re not—regardless of who they are.

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Remembering Vicky

“You’re the last person the customer will see before they leave the store. You need to make a good impression,” the grocery store manager said. His words rang true twenty years later.

I met Vicky on a train. She was a sixty-year-old Philippine woman with a lot of stress, both at work and at home. Her husband had dementia. What started the conversation were questions I had asked about a book she was reading. At first, my conversation wasn’t spiritual, but I later brought Jesus into our discussion.

I gave Vicky a few tracts that pertained to her situation and one which contained the Gospel of John. Every day I got on the train, she was reading the tracts. In August, a friend of hers told me Vicky had lost her job. Several months later, I asked her how Vicky was doing. She told me she had passed away.

The day I found out she was fired, the Christian radio station played two salvation-themed songs in a row. I felt as if the Lord told me, “Good job, Ken.” I may have been the last person to share the gospel with Vicky.

Talking about Jesus can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Because Jesus wants other followers, we need to do what this verse says: So go and make followers of all people in the world.  I can only hope because of my chat with Vicky that she asked Jesus into her heart, that she became a Christian, and that I’ll see her in heaven.

Don’t be afraid to tell others about Jesus. You could be the last person to share with them before they die.

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Speak Up

She allowed the boys to go play with the sendoff, “Let’s just play nicely together!”

A friend’s six-year-old daughter was at an indoor play park when she came across a little girl who was upset. In comforting her, she learned some boys had called her the “dummy girl.” Not one to leave a situation unresolved, she called the boys over and asked them to have a seat. She then told them their actions hurt, and, since she was the oldest in the situation, they must listen to her,

My friend’s daughter has embraced a valuable lesson detailed in Proverbs 31: speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves, as well as for the rights of the destitute. Also, to speak up and judge fairly and to defend the rights of the poor and needy. Although the other child at the park was not poor and needy, she was in need.

As Christians, our responsibility is to stand up for others who are unable to speak for themselves and to embrace those in need, cloaking them in the love and grace Jesus gives us.

My friend’s daughter did not resort to anger or fists, which is the first line of defense we often use. Instead, she spoke calmly and judged fairly. She provided grace, love, and forgiveness and was a beacon of God’s love and design for relationships.

As we traverse life, we will encounter many situations that need our voice. Situations of people in need where we may be the single person who speaks up on their behalf.

Speak up, judge fairly, and be a living example of God’s grace.

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Have you ever been so tired you yelled for everyone to be quiet?

Maybe you’ve banged on the wall and bellowed for the party animal next door to keep it down or hollered at noisy roommates so you could study. If you’re a parent, and you’re honest, you’ve probably raised your voice a time or two, calling for quiet. 

Yelling at people is not a good idea, but when we’re tired, Jesus gets it. In His human nature, He needed silence—and rest—just like we do. Once He fell asleep in a boat, and when a storm came up that scared His friends into thinking they were about to die, He woke up and yelled at the wind and waves to knock it off.  

Jesus wasn’t afraid of the wind and waves. He created them and had authority over them. In this particular instance, He calmed a storm. At other times, He calms us during the storm. He knows our fears, cares about us, and has the power to calm the anxious thoughts of our heart and mind.

If you’re going through a rough time, look up. Ask the One who calmed the sea to intervene on your behalf and say “Quiet! Be still!” to the raging circumstances surrounding your life. He’s right there with you in the rocky boat. He’s not asleep, and He won’t let you sink.

Ask God to give you the physical, mental, and emotional peace you need during difficult times.

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Trusting in Desperate Times

On May 11, 2014, a mother jumped three stories from a burning building to save her infant son.

The mother was bold, uncompromising. She had no consciousness of height, depth, or self. She didn’t care how her clothes and hair looked, or who was watching. On a normal day, fire is hot and consuming. The jump alone could have killed them. However, this fire and height were just obstacles separating this mother and child from life.

Jesus encountered a desperate woman. One who had tried everything, but nothing worked. So she went to Jesus.

What is it about desperation? We ride high on Monday but low on Tuesday. When riding high, there are things we wouldn’t say or do. People who aren’t desperate are sophisticated, safe, and self-satisfied. Yet in desperate times when we are riding low, we go the distance. We will ask for anything or go anywhere. Who has time to be classy when the building is burning?

In desperation, we empty our bank accounts, seek advice from everyone, and get worse. When we’re desperate, we’ll do anything to alleviate extreme need. Desperation kills foolish pride, cockiness, and shame. In times of desperation, no one cares about gossip. Rather, we find a sense of urgency and look for any small reason to hope. We find the characteristics God intended for us to have in the first place: the willingness to cry out and trust Him. Maybe these moments sprout up to birth such urgency.

We should always expect and be ready for affliction. Whether we are distressed or in peace, we need to live with a desperate attitude. Desperation will defy isolation, consequences, complacency, and self-centeredness. It transforms hardened hearts.

Neither should we wait for desperate times before we display a heart hungry for the Lord. Be desperate for God’s love regardless of whether you ride high or low. Seek daily and desperately the everlasting grace of the Lord.

Live every day persevering to be filled with God’s calmness, courage, and confidence.

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When God's Not Looking

When we’re looking, she’s a perfect little angel, but when we’re not…

Our six-month-old Chihuahua mix was kennel trained when we got her, so when we left the house—and at night—we put her in what she was accustomed to. She didn’t yelp, and we didn’t have to worry about her getting into trouble.

But I hate putting a dog in a kennel or on a chain, so after she reached nine months of age—and had shown herself capable of behaving when we were gone—my wife and I began leaving her out while we went on various outings. She did well. Until she turned one year old. Suddenly, her well-behaved nature while we absent from the house changed.

Her favorite misbehavior involved digging through the trash can. We put it up. Then she chewed up my wife’s box of Milk Duds. That almost equaled a federal offense. Finally, she pulled my basketful of pens and highlighters from the table beside my chair. In doing so, she broke the final straw. Back in the kennel when we left the house.

Soft heart that I am, I gave her one final chance after punishing her. We left for a short trip to Mom’s. When we returned, she had pulled trash from our large garbage can. She had exhausted her chances. She had to learn to behave whether we were looking or not.

Jonah must have thought as our dog did. When God told him to preach to people he hated, he ran, thinking God wouldn’t see his act of disobedience once he left the land of Israel. He discovered his error when God sent a large fish to swallow him. 

Our dog waits until we’re not looking to misbehave, but God is always looking. Jonah discovered leaving his homeland didn’t leave God. God is everywhere. Though the Bible doesn’t use the word, it does evidence the concept of omnipresence.

Although God always sees our behavior, He’s not sitting in heaven waiting for us to misbehave so He can squash us. He has principles, commands, and expectations, but His nature is love. He disciplines when we go astray, but that is exactly why He disciplines. His love demands He keep us on the right track so we can enjoy the best life He has to offer.

Remember, God watches over you constantly—because He loves you.

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Running to Win

My failure was on display for everyone to see.

When I was in elementary school, we had to run in physical education class. I always hated those days, because I was so slow and because we had to run in front of the class.

When we moved to Florida and I changed schools, it was even worse. We didn’t have a gym, so P.E. was outside—which meant running was there too. If you’ve never lived in Florida, I will tell you why this was bad. Sand. Running on a wooden floor was hard enough, but running in sand was more difficult.

I’ve never considered myself a runner, so when Paul mentions running in a race, I cringe a little. He says only one receives the prize. I’m thinking that wouldn’t be me. But Paul says to run in such a way that we may obtain it.

Life and our walk with God is like a race. If we plan to obtain the prize, we must run in such a way that we win. Paul knows we’re not all athletes, so he’s not telling us to run a literal race. What he is saying is that we need to live our lives in such a way that we can obtain the prize at the end.

Although our salvation isn’t based on works, we do have a responsibility to live according to the Word’s principles. The race of life may be a one-hundred-meter dash for some and a marathon for others. Regardless of which one it is, we should want to live in such a way that God will say to us in the end, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Lay aside the sin that weighs you down and run hard after God. A part of the prize is walking with Him and being close to Him. Nothing can take that from you.

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The Power of the Word

A number of years ago in Palo Alto, California, this verse was put to the test when Pastor Ray Stedman used it to change his community.

The zoning board held a hearing on a proposal to add a liquor store to a strip mall located between a church and a high school. Citizens expressed their outrage, citing the need to protect the city’s youth from such a store’s temptation. The owner of the store testified that if the students wanted alcohol they would get it, even if his store was located further away.   

Pastor Stedman remained quiet during the testimony, but the crowd wanted to know his opinion. He walked up to address the zoning board and opened his Bible to Luke 17:1-2.

As he read the words aloud, a hush fell over the crowd. “He said to His disciples, ‘It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.’”

Without comment, Pastor Stedman walked back to his seat. After a few moments of silence, the liquor store owner stood up and withdrew his application.

On that day, the Word was living, active, and sharper than the arguments of man. It was powerful enough to strike at the heart of those at the meeting.

All too often we forget to look at the Word of God as more than just a Good Book. It is a sword in the hands of the righteous.

The next time you are faced with a conflict, pray and ask God to equip you with the raw power of His Word.

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Help My Unbelief

When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, I believed God could and would heal me from stage four Lymphoma.

The cancer eventually spread to my brain and thyroid. Even if God didn’t heal me, I knew I belonged to Him and that He was my Savior and Lord. After thyroid surgery, I spent months taking strong chemo and enduring weeks of whole brain radiation.

Often I thought of the father who brought his son to Jesus for healing. An evil spirit possessed the boy. The man had asked the disciples to heal him, but they couldn’t. When the evil spirit seized the boy again, the father asked Jesus for help. Jesus told him anything was possible if he believed. That’s when he told Jesus he believed, but needed help with unbelief.

Like the boy’s father, I’ve said, “Lord, I’m like that little boy’s dad. I believe You have all power, and I believe You can heal me. If there is any unbelief in me, please help my unbelief.”

In November 2013, my doctor said, “You have no cancer in your body.” God has healed me—not because of anything I have or have not done—but because He chose to bring healing. I am now committed to telling others what God has done.

One day I will breathe my last breath and be ushered into the presence of God, because Jesus is my Savior and Lord. That will be my ultimate healing. I will spend eternity with Jesus in my heavenly home.

We can have abundant joy even during difficult days if we depend on God. The things we try to avoid and fight against—tribulation, sickness, and suffering—are the very things that produce abundant joy in us. During these times, we must depend on the Lord more than usual.

Ask Jesus to help you with your unbelief.

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Miss Fix-It

It’s always been an issue. Maybe it comes from being a recovering perfectionist.

As soon as a problem arises, my brain goes into fix-it mode. My tendency is to turn the situation upside down and inside out, then analyze it from every possible angle and play out every conceivable scenario. I mentally go down the checklist of what ifs. My grandmother used to say, “You’re worrying that problem to death. Leave it alone.”

It’s exhausting. But the worst part is—most of the time—I’m unable to fix anything.

One day during my morning devotions, I read these words in Jesus Calling by Sarah Young: “Problems are part of life. They are inescapable, woven into the very fabric of this fallen world. You tend to go into problem-solving mode all too readily, acting as if you have the capacity to fix everything. This is a habitual response, so automatic that it bypasses your conscious thinking. Not only does this habit frustrate you, it also distances you from Me.” ~Jesus

Ouch! If you’re like me, the last thing you want is distance between you and the Lord. For us fixers, the answer lies in realizing our limitations and not allowing ourselves to get weighed down with situations and circumstances we’re not responsible for and not equipped to handle.

God is the ultimate fixer—the great problem solver. He knows the end from the beginning and everything in between. He sees the bigger picture, is aware of and concerned about whatever concerns us, and is always working all things together for our good. In other words, He can handle it.

Got a problem? Give it to Him.

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Ask and You Shall Receive

I often find myself confronting a red-faced child, wondering what in the world I did to cause such upset. Their outburst concludes with a desperate plea for something I had no idea they wanted. Wasted time and energy spent being upset because they never asked.

Whether it be fear, trepidation, or pride, we have all found ourselves in a situation where we hesitated to ask for what we want or need. Being told no is often harder on our egos than not knowing at all. We are our own worst enemies, and we effectively place roadblocks in the path of God’s blessings.

Jesus reminds us of how we sell God short when we don’t ask for what we want and need. If we ask, it will be given to us. If we seek, we will find. And if we knock, the door will be opened. Our heavenly Father will give even better gifts than a parent.

Just as a parent takes joy in giving to their children, our heavenly Father does the same. We need simply to ask. The Devil fills our head and hearts with lies as he manipulates our waiting time to feel like wasted time. Satan encourages our doubts in asking and exacerbates our disappointment when we don’t receive exactly what we asked for.

Satan enjoys building roadblocks. Send him on a detour! Remind yourself God’s Word promises good gifts. If that gift is not what you’re expecting, know God has something far better in store than what you could possibly imagine.

The next time you are hesitant to ask God to fulfill a need or want, fall to your knees and do so with confidence. God promises to deliver good gifts. Be a gracious receiver clothed in trust and faithfulness. 

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The Semi's Low Tire

Reuniting with a former student brightened my day.

A semi-tractor trailer stopped as I returned from feeding cattle. The driver had been in my classroom during his third-grade year. He provided an update on his family and his tight schedule of hauling soybeans harvested from our rural area. We chatted about one low tire on the trailer. No big deal—even though it was fully loaded. He told me he knew the other tires could carry the load.

That semi-tractor trailer bore a strong comparison with the church. Frequently, I have heard a person tell how her friends lifted her family up in prayer during a difficult time. Another person related how food was brought to their family’s home by fellow church members during a time of need. Several individuals expressed how a note of encouragement arrived exactly on the day it was most needed.

Scripture refers to the church as a body. When a body part suffers injury, the rest of the body seems to respond to ensure the body’s functions continue as normal as possible. A body remains sturdy and stalwart only as each individual part is strong and supports the other weaker body parts.

With compassionate actions, Christians should support those in their flock who are hurting. When we sense a sister or brother in Christ is struggling, they should know we are praying for them. Fellow believers should be uplifted by our sharing of Scripture and words of hope. Those who are mourning must feel the comfort of the Lord flowing from His heart through us.

Ask God to use you to raise up those who feel flattened by the circumstances of life. 

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Poor Stewardship

People come in two categories in the mountains of New York: those who embrace the cold and snow and those who don’t. Those who don’t tend to stay inside.

Negative numbers on the outside thermometer encourage people to turn the inside thermostat up. When they turn the dial, the heating oil company loves them more. At the same time, some people can’t afford a median-priced home, let alone a fuel bill.

Facts printed indicate ninety percent of all goods created in the world end up in the hands of Americans, who make up ten per cent of the world population. Things like skis, snowshoes, snowmobiles, and high-tech winter clothing make up a significant part of those statistics around New York. But some children still wear sneakers and a light jacket in the cold weather. Plenty of poor people still remain in the United States.

One church in New York runs a clothing giveaway and another deals with groceries. Whether it’s within our borders or anywhere around the world, Americans give—if they’re able to.

Jesus tells us we will always have the poor with us. It is up to us to determine when and how to assist them. Perhaps the American’s Christian foundation supplies the grace for us not only to know who the poor are but also to show them mercy. On the other hand, God’s grace may be missing in this age.

When the occasion arises, fill the need rather than perusing the checkbook first. Jesus says, “…whenever you wish…” but if your funds aren’t in order, wishing won’t get it done.

Place your assets under better stewardship so you can have the ability to help “whenever you wish.”

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From His Hand

My husband and I drove to a buffet restaurant in town. Our two children in tow, we were led to our table where the waitress informed us we could “help ourselves.” As parents, we did our best to teach our children manners, but since restaurants were not a usual part of our family meal experiences, we were not prepared for our children’s actions once they realized they could take a plate and “help themselves.”

They ran greedily past the salad bar, past the servings of vegetables, past the meat-carving station, and straight to the dessert buffet. Before I could reach them, their little hands had touched dozens of cookies, cakes, and cream puffs. Their plates were piled high before I could intervene. My little daughter looked up at me with wide eyes and offered her explanation, “But I was hungry!”

I don’t remember all I told her, but I do know we helped ourselves to another plate of nourishing food before touching those desserts. I struggled to explain why things that might not always taste as delightful as a cream puff could be good for them. My children longed only for the sugary goodness meant to be partaken of sparingly only after ingesting the nutrition their growing bodies desperately needed.

Like my children with desserts, I have yearned for good from God—but not trouble. I have run toward comfort, not holiness. I would bypass the hard days that would make me strong and grow me up in the Lord. I gripe and complain at the slightest hint of a trial, questioning God when faced with pain or adversity.

God has already proven He will care for us. All that touches our lives is carefully measured and poured out from His sovereign but loving hand. We don’t have to doubt Him when the spoonful we swallow tastes strange or bitter on our tongue. His purpose and will for our lives is perfect. And at the end of our faithfully-run journey, a spread of sweet blessing awaits us.

Gladly receive whatever God sends your way. 

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Broken and Repurposed

We don’t have to look far to see people’s brokenness, often in our own homes.   

I had an antique stained-glass window broken during flood cleanup. I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out, so I put it away until I was ready to deal with it. At this moment, someone has cut off the sharp edges, it has been mounted on a board to protect from further damage, and an artist is writing the names of my grandchildren on it for display in the same spot it hung as a decorative window.

If you have ever cleaned up broken glass, you understand it is a hazardous task. In most cases, a person would carefully discard it, but not all shattered glass is meant to be thrown out.

Some broken things are precious to us, just as broken and shattered people are precious to God—as He showed to Jeremiah through his visit to the potter’s house.

Most broken people know they are broken—and often believe they have been so spoiled that they are of no use to God. What’s the point of even trying? We don’t have to throw them away. Condemnation has already done that and keeps them from rising up and trying again (Proverbs 24:16).

But God sees usefulness in each of us, and the gifts and purposes He gives are irrevocable. Broken or not, He will repurpose us for His glory.

An unbroken glass is beautiful and reflects light clearly, but one that is broken and repurposed reflects light in entirely different ways. The cracks and edges divert light into dissimilar places just as rocks in a stream deter water.

Perhaps you know a broken soul. Maybe it’s you. God is not finished with you. In fact, now that you are in pieces, you can become that vessel for His special purpose.

Don’t let brokenness spoil your work for God. 

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In Prayer

Sometimes we simply need to seek peace.

It has been one year since my first brain surgery. One year ago, when I couldn’t walk a straight line or hear over the internal sounds of my heartbeat, blood pumping, and footsteps. My world was so noisy, and I longed for peace and quiet.

Drilling into my head wasn’t the answer I sought. After all, God can just snap His fingers and fix things, but that wasn’t His plan. He needed me to walk a different path. He wanted to groom me for something that, well . . . is truly yet to be seen.

My prayer became pleas for protection, healing, and … peace. I wanted quiet. And if God needed me to hear that still small voice, it was impossible through all the noise.

Jesus secluded Himself at times. He felt and longed for quiet. In the thick of His ministry, thousands swamped Him, pleading for a touch of His healing. Physically and mentally, He grew weary and retreated alone to spend time in prayer with His Father. We don’t know the prayers Jesus offered up during those times. Perhaps for His compassion to remain intact, for physical strength, or for peace and quiet. But we know He needed to renew and recharge from the cries of the afflicted.

When Jesus took time to teach us prayer, the simplicity of His words were etched in our hearts. His prayer became our prayer–the one we go to when we cannot find the words. I’ve spoken that prayer hundreds of times, but this time I brought a healing and weary body to the feet of Christ. He’d protected, healed much—not all, but much—and as I sought out the peace and quiet I longed for, my prayer was,

Give me this day, Lord, my portion of bread. Please, in your mercy, forgive my sins and guide me to forgive others–even when it’s hard. Protect me from Satan and the things he entices me toward. For You, O mighty God . . . You are holy. May I be teachable and acceptant of your will in my life, especially when I do not understand the path You have me on. For, Lord God, this is YOUR kingdom from now into eternity. Amen. And Amen. (Reworded)

Take time to re-read the prayer Jesus taught, and then rewrite it to fit the cry of your own heart. He will hear and answer.

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Talk to Me

On a beautiful, sun-filled Arizona morning, I walked into my backyard, which was surrounded by palm trees. My peace of mind over their safety had been robbed.

I read that morning how voracious beetles were eating the famous palm trees of Pasadena California. I feared they might be planning a trip over the mountains to the northern Phoenix valley in Arizona. If they determined to make the trip, I knew the farms and agriculture surrounding our house would not stop their invasion.

Strangely, I heard, “Talk to Me.” Since I have had three life-threatening medical experiences during the last year—including a massive stroke—I wondered if I had more damage than I was aware of. I remembered these verses, Whatsoever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it, and realized what I was hearing might be the Lord trying to get my attention.

These verses set me free by saying “whatsoever,” so I talked to Jesus about the palm trees. Feeling much better, I realized I often don’t talk to my Lord Jesus about everyday life as I would to a good friend. I was afraid to bother Him with small things. He is so important and deals with such significant things. I didn’t want to impose.

Then I realized He loves me and wants to hear what is bothering me in everyday life, even if it is only beetles. Talking to Jesus about life’s small things, instead of going first to my own thoughts and solutions, turns my life into a Psalm 23 life.

I learned if God’s children will freely and spontaneously talk to Jesus as to a good friend—and leave with Him what tightens them up—they will learn what prayer really is. “Stop talking to yourself so much and talk to Jesus about everyday life” came to mind. If you follow that simple prescription, you will find a recipe for satisfaction.

Talk to the Lord as to a loving friend. He wants to hear your needs and what’s going on in your life.

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Acting as Diotrephes

Gabbie was in a tough situation.

Della asked Gabbie not to entertain, speak, or act kindly to Ryan. He had hurt her by ignoring her and using harsh words when she confronted him. Gabbie was not only asked to act rude to show her disapproval for what Ryan had done to Della but also not to forgive him. Gabbie wasn’t happy about how Ryan had acted, but she wasn’t ready to react in an ungodly way. Torn between pleasing her best friend and God, she decided not to imitate Della—even though it might threaten their friendship.

Diotrephes was a man who did not always agree with John’s words and did his best to stand against him. He wasn’t enthused about receiving other Christians who travelled across different countries to share the gospel. Nor did he keep this view to himself. He ensured other people treated them likewise.

We often act similarly. Acting out of frustration or anger, as Della did, or imitating her actions if we are in Gabbie’s shoes is easy. Either way, we should consider our actions and ensure they are in accordance with God’s expectations.

Our reactions towards unpleasant situations shouldn’t involve encouraging others to disobey God. Instead of getting others to act in ungodly ways, we should act out of love. We should also be careful to please God by imitating Jesus, not the ungodly actions of people around us—even if doing so is more convenient.

Imitate Christ, and encourage others to do so as well. 

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A Climb Without a View

It was the fourth hour of the hike that did me in.

The final quarter-mile to the summit stretched upward, paved with skewed boulders on an endless incline. Sides cramping, heels tingling with the continuous scrape of broken skin, I trudged up the mountainside.

My heart thudded as I climbed the final steps toward the looming fire tower. The treetops thinned and the air cooled. Panting for breath, I turned to take in the infamous view that boasted a vantage of four states. Nothing was there but chalky clouds.

Scaling the tower steps, I peered through the open windows. Gauzy tendrils of clouds flitted past me. I couldn’t see anything. I stomped down the stairs and surveyed the descent before me. What was the point of all that work and all that pain to see nothing but haze? Even worse, it wasn’t over. Six miles down the mountain awaited me.

James urges us in James 1:4, “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” I certainly wasn’t being mature as I pouted my way down the mountainside, but when I reached the bottom, something happened.

I looked back and saw the mountain I had climbed. My legs were stiff and burning, an aching reminder of the labor my body had just performed.  No, I hadn’t been rewarded for my efforts, but muscles had ripped so they could grow. I was strengthened by the exercise as I persevered.

I now see how much this resembles life. We travel rocky terrain at different points, and it can be difficult to understand the purpose without a tangible resolution.

When God lets us face trials in life, He is doing something inside us that is mostly invisible. We are being changed—strengthened through adversity. We are being built up in Him so we can be better tools for His kingdom work. The tangible evidence comes with time as we face new challenges and are better able to persevere.

Trust God in the adversity. When He is done with you, you will lack nothing. 

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Suffering's Lessons

Never had I been sick for so long.

Sickness stuck to me this winter. Sinusitis hit the day after school dismissed for Christmas vacation. I persevered through the holidays, feeling horrible. When nothing worked, I made a doctor’s appointment. He gave the antibiotic, and I was better within one week.

Two weeks later, the same sickness returned. Between sick people at church and sick kids at school, I stood no change. Lysol, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes seemed unable to kill the monster.

Thinking my doctor might give me a second round of antibiotics since I had recently been ill, I returned. No such luck. “You probably had the flu,” he remarked, “but you’re past the seventy-two-hour window where medicine will help. Tough it out.”

Fortunately, my wife discovered a round of steroids the doctor had previously prescribed for her back. “Take these,” said Dr. Michelle. I did, and within two days, I felt better. (Men should always listen to their wives.)

Spring can’t come quickly enough. Suffering has worn me down—in body and in spirit. Paul had something to say about physical suffering, the kind that comes from standing up for Christ. It produces patience, character, and hope.

Physical suffering, whether from illness or from my stand for Christ, helps me identify with others. Because I have been sick so much this winter, I sympathize with others I know who have dealt with seasonal illnesses.  

Suffering grows faith and trust. Doctors prescribe medicines, which hopefully will heal. But trusting in the ultimate healer gives me peace and comfort. If He wants, He can do instantly what medicine takes days or weeks to accomplish. As I wait on Him, my faith and trust increase.

Times of suffering also help us appreciate the times of health and peace. The times when our bodies are well and no one is persecuting us for our faith, whether physically or emotionally.

Paul and many first-century Christians suffered for the just cause: their faith in Christ. Still they rejoiced. When we suffer for a similar reason, we should rejoice too. Jesus said we should.

When you suffer in your body, either from physical illnesses or because you stand for Christ, don’t waste the opportunity to learn from it.

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Right-Lane Driving

Knuckles white, veins throbbing in my forehead, tension headache mounting, I merge onto the highway.

Driving in Dallas—or any metro area—offers constant challenges. Drivers rarely give the courtesy of a turn signal or allow others room to change lanes. So, who could blame me for taking every advantage of the HOV lane?

The High Occupancy Vehicle (or carpool) lane permits vehicles with two or more occupants to travel separated from the rest of the highway’s traffic. While many use the lane to drive faster—due to less congestion—the lane offers me the solace of not dealing with other drivers. Since I’m a stay-at-home dad and constantly have my three-year-old with me, I’m allowed to use this lane for all my highway driving. But too quickly I came to believe I was special because I could use this lane. My sin was privilege (pride).

Driving in the HOV lane might not be your source of pride, but we all suffer from this sin in some way. For some, it’s pride over material wealth, intelligence, attractiveness, or humility. For others, it’s pride in traits we believe make us better than the rest of humanity—or at least the people we know.

In his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul addresses the sin of pride, reminding us that while we might think more of ourselves than we think of others, we all share the same identity in Christ. He encourages his readers to look to him, as they do to Christ, for their role model of behavior. Although he specifically addressed rivalries within the church, we can apply this same truth in our dealings with other people.

I’ve taken to driving only in the most frustrating lane: the right lane. This is my attempt at growing in Christ’s sanctification of me and dealing with pride. Through this, God teaches me patience, perseverance, and love for my fellow person.

Think of some steps you can take to deal with pride.

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Holding on--until You Can’t

I kept my eyes glued on Jake as his dad retrieved him from the water. 

As my daughter and son-in-law started the pontoon to take my ten-year-old grandson, Jake, tubing, I leaned back in the seat, soaking up the warm sunshine. Matt drove, Hayley watched for other boats, and I watched Jake. We started from a calm inlet. Jake was on his knees and not holding on. When we entered the larger lake section, the waves picked up, causing Jake to grab the handles.

Soon, waves from several boats caused the tube to bump hard. Jake laid on his stomach. The next wave hit so hard that his feet flew higher than his head. Still, he hung on tightly, laughing as the bumpy ride sprayed him with water.

We all cheered. Then Matt turned the boat, and a large wave caused the tube to go air born. Jake was tossed into the lake. 

As I watched, Hayley asked, ‘Is he okay?” 

“He’s great.”  I answered. 

Jake bobbed in the lake—not anxious but relaxed in his life jacket and waiting for his father to rescue him.

Like Jake, the psalmist knew he could rely on God, his heavenly Father, to watch out for him. If things got bumpy, He would spot what was going on. And if real trouble came, He would rescue him.

Life carries us through bumpy waters—sometimes knocking us off our feet. But we have a spotter who watches and comes to our aid.

When uncertainties come or difficult decisions have to be made, hanging on to our faith is difficult. We want to grab hold of worry and fear, but doing so isn’t what God wants. He wants us to approach Him in prayer and rest in comfort as He comes to our aid.

Hold on to God for your safety and protection.

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A Lesson from Carl Lee

Some people would describe me as an animal lover. I live in the country, and, through the years, people have abandoned dogs and cats in front of my house. Several of those animals became permanent residents. All have been given loving care, but a few became special. They have not only been my four-legged friends, but they have also been my teachers.

Twice a day I give my dogs treats, which they look forward to with eagerness. One day as I handed them the treats, I wanted Carl Lee—one of my favorites—to look at me as I talked to him.

“Carl Lee, would you please look at me? Look at my face, not what’s in my hand.”

But his thoughts were focused only on the treats and his anticipation in receiving them. 

That’s how I am with God at times. He blesses me with so many good things, and often that’s where my focus lies. Like Carl Lee, my eyes are on God’s hands and what He’s holding out to give me. I don’t place my attention on God Himself and praise Him for who He is.

I love Carl Lee and wish he would show more love to me because of who I am, not because of the gifts I give. Even though that may never happen, I’ll continue giving him loving care—just as God will continue loving me even when I look to what He holds in His hands instead of what He offers from his heart.

God gives gifts willingly and freely because He loves us. Don’t be like Carl Lee, looking to see what He holds. Rather, look into His face and see His eyes of love.

(As told to Normal Mezoe by Ruth Q.)

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The Unshakable Shepherd Boy

Giants aren’t prone to surrender, they are not typically passive, and they often seem impossible to defeat. 

But one giant met his match. Many of us remember the account of David and Goliath. The young boy defeated Goliath, and the enemies of Israel fled. Against all odds, the little shepherd slew a battle-hardened warrior. David had faith God would give him victory over the Philistine who mocked the armies of Israel. We read this account and marvel at David’s amazing faith. He trusted the Lord so much that a miracle followed. 

David’s faith was more potent than we have figured. Israel’s outlook was bleak. Goliath had taunted Israel for over a month. None of Saul’s men would face him down. Their hopes rested on the shoulders of a ruddy shepherd boy.

The Philistines laughed when David began to march toward them. Goliath, in all his pride, was insulted. David received no respect from his enemy. But the armies of Israel did not believe in David either. He had no moral support from his own people. King Saul told him he could never win. Goliath had been killing longer than David had been living. But David ran toward him anyway. David trusted God, even though the enemy ridiculed him. He trusted God, even when his own people doubted him.

David had the kind of mountain-moving, giant-slaying faith we should walk in daily—the kind of faith that sees us through any storm. We must trust and obey God in the face of adversity. And we must trust and obey Him even when our own people don’t believe in us.

Ask God to give you unshakable faith.    

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The Big Switch

He soared to the top of music recording charts, but one incident changed his life.

Tony Fontane was a popular American recording artist during the 1940’s and 1950’s. Born in Michigan, he was the son of a railroad worker who had converted to Christianity and moved his family to North Dakota where he operated a mission and lived in poverty. Living in poverty to do God’s work led Tony to hate religion. But he loved singing. Eventually, his passion for music led to him flourishing in the business. He even celebrated his notoriety by appearing on several television shows.

Life for Fontane changed on September 3, 1957. After finishing a television rehearsal, he headed for his California home, but never made it. Another driver ran a red light and plowed into his sports car. Rescue workers labored for several hours to extricate him. They rushed him to a hospital where he remained in a coma for thirty days.

Fontane later wrote that it was while he was in this coma that God appeared to him in a vision and gave him one more chance. And he took it. He made a big switch by turning from his atheism to Christianity and beginning a career in gospel music—refusing to sing anything else. Because William Morris Agency brought a lawsuit against him for breach of contract, Fontane lost everything. But he actually gained it all when he made the switch.

Anyone who chooses Christ gains everything as well—at least spiritually. My old things passed away at nine years of age—not totally in practice, but completely in God’s sight when He clothed me with His Son’s righteousness. He gave me a new nature with fresh wants, desires, and ambitions. Although I still face trials and temptations, I am no longer after what the world offers: the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. I simply hunger to be obedient to Him . . . completely . . . even if it costs me everything.

A healthy relationship with Jesus Christ is the best way to begin a New Year. One where we love Him with our entire heart and show it through our actions, attitudes, and words. One where we involve Him in every detail of our life’s journey.

If you haven’t made the big switch, now is the best time.

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Jesus in a Coffee Shop

Stilted parts of their conversations drifted my way: Guess what? Really? She didn’t! I can only pray for you.

I was sitting in a coffee shop sipping my favorite Chai brew. While waiting on a friend to join me, I observed couples and small groups seated on high stools, conversing in happy, friendly voices.

But wait. I just heard someone offering to pray for another person. And in a coffee shop. As I glanced their way, I saw a man talking unabashedly to another. I wasn’t privy to the rest of their conversation, and I didn’t know why the one needed prayer. I only knew a child of God was praying over coffee with someone else. Knowing I had just become a guest, I watched as they bowed their heads. Then I let my silent prayer join in.

God wants us to pray for one another because we are all His children. When we do, it binds us together in a supernatural way. It also invites Jesus to join us, to guide us, and to heal us. Prayer keeps us humble. Confessing our sins to each other reminds us of our humanity and imperfections. 

I love family reunions because they are a break from the stress of life. A time to hug on, laugh with, listen to, and lift up each other. Prayer is a family reunion with other Christian believers. Through it, we rejoice in the good, feel compassion in the not-so-good, and are cleansed from our sins by the forgiving power of Christ.

Prayer doesn’t require anything special besides a concern for one another. No appointment is needed. No costly bill for you to pay. No bad-tasting medicine to force down. Just a willing heart. 

As you travel through your day, be alert and keep your eyes open. Someone needs your prayers—at work, at a ball game, at home, or even in a coffee shop.

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All Things New

It was only yesterday when I strained to keep my eyes open just to watch that ball drop in New York City. Now here I am, 11:55 p.m.–waiting for the same thing again.

When I was a child, time dragged. January 1 came and the count down for Christmas began with carefully scoping out the newest toys. Things like Slinkys, bicycles, and Easy Bake Ovens. It seemed like time went into slow motion as we scoured the Sears catalog.

Time slowed a lot as a kid. Like when my feet were cold and I longed for spring. Or when the end of the school year was only a month away. Even when the sun took its time warming the creek so we could bear diving our fingers into the icy waters in search of crawdads. Then it grew slower when November rolled around and Christmas approached.

It sped up after I passed fifty, when the harsh realization my children are really grown happened. Now January comes, and, by Christmas day, I’m still feeling like it was months prior.

I suppose it’s the season of life I’m in. Maybe it was season of life Paul was in as well. From Saul to Paul, he realized just what it meant to have life in Christ. After all, no one had made a bigger change in their life than Paul. He understood what it meant to have the “old” taken and the “new” arrive. Paul went from murderer to holy peace maker.

Being new in Christ comes slowly for us humans. We like to hang on to the past and dwell there, never loosening our grip on what once was. The truth is, when we take on a Christian life, “new” washes over us like a tidal wave, and, if we are faithful, it continues to wash over us daily–hard, fast, and fresh.

In Christ the new has arrived and the old . . . well . . . it’s history. And this is how it should be.

When you enter into the New Year, don’t let time drag you down. Grasp hold of the new Christ has given you and say goodbye to the old. Look forward to each new day, each new opportunity, each new breath. This is how it should be.

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He Never Fails

Utter chaos. That was all I saw on television.

My stomach twisted as the special news report spit out images of screaming people, gunfire, and destruction. Yet another terrorist attack on innocent people.

I pulled a blanket tightly around my face and peered over the edge. I just wanted this to all stop. My eyes shifted to our newly erected Christmas tree. The lights twinkled as the tree rotated, bringing into view precious ornaments—each with a story. Each with a memory. Why can’t things be like they used to be? No one should have to suffer at Christmas.

Mary must have thought the same as her life shifted with the news of a pregnancy that could get her killed. Her forthcoming marriage now in danger … and what about Joseph? What if he said no, rejected her? She’d been chosen by the Almighty as the vessel to bring the Savior into the world. Who in their right mind would believe that?

The angel who delivered this miraculous news to young Mary reassured her even the impossible would be possible. She need not be afraid. So Mary gave up her fear and turned her trust to the Father. She sang His praises, even though she knew her life would be shear chaos. Mary found peace in the promise from the angel … unfailing words.

Imagine the joy and the fear Mary must have felt. Chosen by God to bring His son into the world. The long awaited Messiah being born to a peasant. Even in her limited knowledge, this was certainly not what Israel expected. A simple birth to a simpler servant.

Mary never seemed to find rest as she reared the Son of God. Threats on His life, the oddity of His childhood faithfulness, the determination to teach in a world that refused to believe. His sacrifice. Yet in the promise that God’s Word would never fail, Christ came, died, and rose again.

The chaos the world faces today isn’t much different than when Jesus walked the dusty paths of Judea. Sin still wreaks havoc. Death and destruction still take front and center. Yet, in the wake of it all, God’s words never fail. His hand still covers us. God still cares for His people. He is the unchanging, unmovable, unstoppable King.

As you enjoy Christmas today, don’t think of the mess in the world. Be like Mary. Redirect your faith to the One who promises His Word will never fail. There is where you will find peace on earth.

From the staff and writers of ChristianDevotions.us and Christian Devotions Ministries,

may God shower you with His love, gift you with His faithfulness,

and cover you with His peace. Merry Christmas.

Eddie Jones and Cindy Sproles, cofounders of Christian Devotions Ministries

Martin Wiles, editor, and Andrea Merrell, associate editor

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Bleating Sheep

God uses various ways to communicate.

He’ll use a still, small voice, dreams, an angel, or a prophet to speak in our language. Many times we ignore His message, but He continues to love us. He’d like us to listen and obey, and He is pleased when we respond. 

In the American Patriot Bible, the word bleating shows up one time. Samuel went to King Saul to deliver a message from God: “You’re fired!”

Within the context, Saul states he has done as the Lord directed in destroying the Amalekites—but he brings back their king. He makes excuses for why his followers gathered the best sheep and goats and oxen from a battle where they were commanded to destroy an entire people, their goods, and their chattel. Samuel wasn’t impressed. The bleating sheep told a tale of guilt.

God expected Saul to do everything as commanded. Samuel spoke clearly to Saul. Regardless of the intent, the bleating sheep made the rebellious act clear.

In the course of life, we receive many messages and a few telegrams detailing God’s plans. If our ears are not attuned—or if our fingers plug our ears or denial stops the spiritual communication—the will of God will lie dormant around us.

Our part may be small, so God gives us other opportunities to show our sensitivity to Him. Sometimes we give the appearance of doing His will, but the baggage we bring back tells a different tale. We not only miss the blessing but also stand in danger of losing our position in the kingdom.

When we fail to do what God commands, the evidence drowns out the voice of God. Israel would have seen great wonders if Saul had listened.

Listen to God for specific direction, not the bleating-sheep-speaking guilt. Refocus your mind on God. He’ll bless you far beyond what the sheep represent.

(Photo courtesy of pixaby.)

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Three Digs Ya'll

“Three digs, y’all! Big water ahead!”   

Our family of seven positioned ourselves in the yellow inflatable raft, paddles in hand. Listening to our guide, Mitch, we practiced paddling in the calm waters near the landing. I was confident we’d spend a beautiful day on the Upper Pigeon River. 

But as we approached the first rapids, I wasn’t so sure. The twists and turns around the protruding rocks created doubt about our family bonding experience. I prayed for safety and still waters.

Perched in the back, Mitch’s voice carried above the raging waves. He spoke boldly and without hesitation. He knew the lay of the land and could read the conditions of the rapids and make choices to steer our craft safely. My confidence in his ability grew, as did my trust.  

Four more obstacles loomed in the big water ahead. The swirls of white water rushed across the treacherous rocks. We held our breath and paddled “three hard digs” upon Mitch’s command. Again and again, he shouted instructions on when and how to paddle. We knew his voice from our practice.

We laughed as we glided safely past the last rock. By trusting Mitch’s knowledge and acting upon his commands, we lifted our paddles together in an overhead “high-five” to celebrate.  

In life, rising tides and crashing waves interrupt our calm seas. Seeking God in the still moments equips us to hear Him during life’s obstacles. Even when God’s voice seems muffled, He communicates through His Word. Our all-knowing Guide always provides direction. We paddle by listening to His voice, obeying His commands, and lifting our high-fives of praise.

God knows what lies ahead and how to navigate your situation. With the Holy Spirit as your Guide, “Your own ears will hear Him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left.”   

Whether you’re facing still or stormy waters, tune in to God’s voice.

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Crazy for the Lord

Crazy has many definitions.

Rational people define crazy as someone who is mentally deranged and uses means that are apart from the normal way of reasoning.

However, one definition of crazy that stood out to me was “extremely enthusiastic.” The word fan is short for fanatic. I am a big sports fan and have been extremely enthusiastic about my team and the outcome of a game. My wife might label me crazy, but I’ve never considered myself an intense fan who borders on mental derangement due to a game’s outcome.

Perceptions about life and the Lord vary from one person to the next. We value different things and have diverse moral compasses about values. But one common ground we all have is Jesus Christ. Christians are all saved by His blood and given redemption through the cross. This is something I’m crazy about.

Because I have been set free from sin and death, I am extremely enthusiastic about telling people how much the Lord loves them. The outcome of a game will not affect my life, but the outcome of the cross touches our lives in a great way.

You have the ability to be excited about this great gift, because it never grows old or fades away.  This gift never loses its value or breaks your heart. It’s a free gift, wrapped in Jesus Christ and given in extreme love. Jesus is passionate about you. A person does not die for something they aren’t crazy about.

If the Lord is thrilled about us, we can be impassioned about Him. Don’t be afraid to be crazy for the Lord. He is crazy about you. 

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Conforming to Christ

“You’ve changed.”

Her tone held an accusatory bite—perhaps meant to justify the growing distance between us. Or maybe to put the blame on me. Regardless, I was devastated.

At first, the thought made me remorseful. After all, it was costing me a twenty-five-year friendship, a friendship that had survived marriages, children, and multiple moves. As I thought about it, God reminded me change is a good thing—a godly thing.

If we do what has God called us to do—imitate Christ, renew our minds, put the old self to death, and walk forward in our new life—we will change. And the people around us will notice, especially those who don’t follow Christ.

I didn't intentionally offend my friend. I quietly and respectfully lived out my faith in front of her--answering her questions and showing her a loving Savior. She walked forward without Christ; I continued with Him. When things fell apart, I tried to find out what went wrong and make amends. It didn’t work. At some point, as God changed me, my faith became her stumbling block, and she walked away.

Following Christ comes at a temporal cost, but the eternal rewards are far greater. That’s what motivated Paul to say, “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8 NASB).

Faith won’t always ruin a friendship and is often the inroad to bring a friend to faith. However, the time may come when we must choose between compromising to preserve a friendship and pursuing Christ at all costs.

Ask God for the strength to faithfully follow Him. Then watch as He slowly conforms you to the image of Christ.

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Peace in Life's Storms

Another unexpected hospital admission. I had to decide whether to stay or go on a planned retreat. The decision was tough, but I felt the nudge to go.

I stood on the beach on a nice chilly January morning, reflecting on this current storm and all the other storms my family had experienced during the last two years. I needed time alone to rest without family—time to pray and seek God’s help for my loved one’s health.  

As I watched the wind blow and the waves rise and fall, I thought about the disciples who found themselves in a storm carrying waves that threatened to sink their boat. They were terrified. Jesus was in the boat with them, but He was sleeping. The disciples woke Him and asked if He cared that they would drown.

Jesus spoke to the wind: “Quiet! Be still!” Immediately, the wind died down and the sea calmed. Then Jesus asked the disciples, “Why are you so afraid, do you still have no faith?” When they saw what Jesus did, they asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and waves obey him!” 

This story brought a new sense of comfort that Jesus was in this storm with my family. I was not sure how this health storm would be resolved, but standing on the beach I felt a renewed calm and peace. I whispered a silent prayer, “Lord, open my eyes to see your armies of deliverance.”

Not long after I returned home, my loved one was discharged from the hospital. The Lord stilled another storm. In the presence of Jehovah, the waves of trouble collapse and storms subside as we trust in Him.

The storms will come and go, but God is omnipresent. He is the Prince of peace in the storms of life. Trust Him with your storm.

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Jesus, Our Comfort

I remember one day when my husband distressed me. He had dementia, which made him aggressive and troublesome. Everything seemed to go wrong. My patience failed. To top things off, I forgot to turn the bathtub off, and water flooded the room.  

I settled down and prayed, “Thank you, Lord, that you are with me in all this turmoil. You are my strength and comfort.” Peace entered my spirit. I got a mop and sopped up the water. I felt the Lord helping me. The circumstances were the same, but joy flooded my soul.

Jesus knows and understands our burdens, anxieties, and weaknesses. He, too, faced all kinds of trials when He walked on earth. He wants us to turn to Him when we are overwhelmed with everyday concerns and need His peace and comfort. His presence is always near, and He is ready to help. Just saying His name pleases Him.

The next time you need the Lord’s comfort, call on Him and thank Him for all He allows in your life circumstances. 

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Is it Evident?

Bad company corrupts good character, but the opposite is also true: good company promotes good character.

After healing a lame man, Peter and John were questioned by the Sanhedrin who wanted to understand by what power they were operating. After all, these were ordinary men, not men of noble pedigree or influence. The fact that they spoke with such authority and were able to heal, confounded the religious elite.

But these men had been with Jesus, the One who possessed all wisdom and power. For three years, they witnessed His miracles, His mercies, and His compassion. Keeping company with Jesus had quite an influence on their lives.

What the religious leaders did not understand was that these men had been commissioned and empowered by Jesus. There was nothing they could do or say that would stand in the way of God’s calling. Before ascending to heaven, Jesus instructed His disciples to wait for the promised Holy Spirit and told them they would be clothed with power from on high. This is what the religious leaders noticed. These men had been filled with God’s Spirit, and God’s Spirit transformed them from ordinary individuals to people of courage and power.

As we spend time in God’s presence, Christ transforms our nature, replacing it with His own. When we ask, He fills us with His power, making us more gentle, loving, and compassionate.

Let it be evident in your interaction with others that you have been with Jesus. 

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The Marauding Herd and Mundane Tasks

As I stood on the highest hill in the pasture, I saw our cattle herd grazing in our neighbor’s pasture.

With a heavy heart, I drove the old pickup toward Mother’s farm house. As I maneuvered the paths in the pasture, I prayed, telling God I was trusting Him. Our neighbor was “brokering” the fence building and told me not to worry. But much to my dismay, our cattle had stepped over the broken fence between our pastures. The errant bovines foraged where they weren’t supposed to. Even if I could call them back on Mother’s side of the fence, what would prevent them from going back?

I had hauled off old fence posts that morning. Stopping at the area that would soon be mowed for hay, I loaded pruned limbs that had to be taken off. It seemed a misuse of time to haul off discarded branches when our cows were in the wrong place, consuming the neighbor’s grass.

Often, we get in a holding pattern, waiting for something of great consequence to be resolved, yet feeling powerless to impact the situation. Internally, we realize we have necessary obligations with our family, work, and daily living.

Believing a few facts is essential for our peace and uninterrupted worship of our Lord. God is engineering His plan behind the scenes of our situation. Nothing is out of His control. His timing remains impeccable, and He is working all things for our good.

One of the greatest signs of our resting in God’s plan and His working is to do the seemingly commonplace tasks without wringing our hands and worrying. We focus on our Savior, conscientiously and cheerfully doing the repetitive but required routine and leaving what we can’t do to Him.

Do the mundane things of life with the joy of the Lord. 

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God Knows

God knew me in my mother’s room before I was born.

As a child, I wondered how I could be in my mother’s room without her knowing I was there. Until, ta-da, I arrived as my parents’ daughter. I remember looking under mom’s bed, pushing things aside in her closet, trying to locate the place I was hidden until God delivered me. I never found it. But I did find dust bunnies, a sock without a match, and a rumpled sunhat with a wilted bow. I heard things like, “What are you doing in there?” and “Get out from under that bed!”

After I grew up, I realized the word was womb, not room. The God who created everything knew me before I was a twinkle in my mama’s eye. God knew whom I would become throughout my lifetime: daughter, sister, friend, nurse, caregiver. He knew the paths I would walk: valleys, plateaus, mountaintops.

God knew when I would follow His path and when I would decide to travel my own trails, when I’d curl up in His arms and when I’d push Him away because things weren’t going my way. He knew when I would stand, when I would fall, when I would crawl on bloodied hands and knees, and when I would lie face down in the dirt and cry. God knew when I would hold my arms up and be ready for Him to rescue me and when I would have fire in my soul to reach out to those who needed to hear of His phenomenal love and gift of eternal life.

God knows us in our mother’s wombs before we are born. We will never be a secret to Him. He knows our thoughts before we think them. He meets our needs the way He thinks best. We are intimately known and eternally loved beyond measure by our Father in heaven.

Thank God for loving you just the way you are. 

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Why Should God Wake You?

I often wonder why God should give me another day.

Every evening, I pray to God. Before ending my prayer, I ask God to preserve my life and grant me long life. I expect to wake up in the morning. I use the word expect, because my day is usually planned before it’s here. But then I wonder why I want God to wake me up.

I believe Paul thought through this because he knew and talked about what each choice meant to him and why he would prefer one or the other.

We know to live is Christ, but understanding what that means is challenging. Possible answers are so we can live in love and obedience to God one more day, so people can see God through our lives one more time, so we can glorify God through our planned activities for the day, or so we can tell one more person about Christ and love the people around us.

Less worthy options for waking up are so we can live our dreams, pursue our goals, enjoy the pleasures of the earth, and show the world how intelligent, famous, and wealthy we are. Deep within our hearts, we know our desire to have one more day often has little to do with living for God. We want to wake up so we can live for ourselves with a pinch of God here and there.

We are created to worship and bring pleasure to God and should wake up each morning with the intention of living as Christ would live. Our loving God desires to give us another day so we can understand His truths and experience more of Him. When we do this, we will renew our minds, appreciate God for His kindness, and live everyday more meaningfully.

Let Christ be the reason you live for each new day. 

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Acting on Impulse

As my wife checked out with our groceries and staples, I peered at a price tag and contemplated a decision.

I’ve always been an impatient type. Extra money stirs an itch. On this occasion, I wanted a new computer and one that was more compact. Sam’s wholesale company had one on sale. 

I ambled up to my wife with a long face. “They have one for less than two hundred dollars.”

“Well, buy it,” she replied.

I had her approval, but I hesitated. I’d never owned a Chromebook before. But impatience and desire took over. I made the purchase. Soon after, I discovered I’d acted on impulse without doing the necessary investigation. Most of what I do at school and church and with my writing requires Microsoft Word. Chromebook didn’t support it. 

Two weeks after acting on impulse, I bought another computer that suited my needs. I advertised my Chromebook on Facebook. Fortunately, it sold it quickly—and without losing money.

Esau acted on impulse too. He enjoyed hunting and had just returned from a hunting trip when he smelled the luscious stew his momma-boy brother was cooking. In haste, he traded his rights as the oldest child for a bowl of stew. Later, he hated his brother for stealing his birthright, yet he couldn’t do anything about his loss—but stew.

When I want something badly enough, rationalization comes easily—convincing myself I need this particular thing … persuading myself spending money I don’t have is acceptable. Sometimes the pressure to buy isn’t internal, but external. Other people have what I want, and they encourage me to get it also.  

I failed to do the most important thing before making my purchase: consult God. I didn’t have to get on my knees—or even close my eyes—but I could have prayed at the sales counter and asked His opinion. He can check my spirit and prick it one way or the other. Though I didn’t pray, I felt the prick—and ignored it.

Making purchases based on biblical principles is also essential. Am I spending money I don’t need to spend? Does owning this thing conflict with my testimony as a believer? Is making the purchase going to lead me into unnecessary debt?

God is more than able to give us wisdom for every purchase we make. Consult Him so you won’t act on impulse—and later regret it.

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Hiding Among the Baggage

I have had times in my ministry when I should have spoken out, but didn’t. Someone else could do it better than I. Thinking silence is golden justified my quietness. But the color was a little more yellow than gold. 

At other times, God prompted me to do acts of service, but others were better able to do the task. I decided I would serve in the background and help them. Honorable in some cases, but it was not real service or humility in other cases. It was an inverted form of pride. I focused on what I could or could not do instead of what God could do through me.

Samuel was going to anoint Saul as King of Israel. Saul was “head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land,” yet he hid among the baggage. Perhaps, he felt small in his own eyes—as I have.

Samuel explained God’s plans to Saul. Saul then tested his anointing and prophesied among the prophets. His friends said, “What has happened to the son of Kish?” But upon Saul’s public revealing, they found him hiding among the baggage. 

If God says you can do it, saying you can’t is never humility, but timidity and stupidity.  Contradicting God is never smart.

If you feel small in your own eyes, remember you’re often not what you think you are—or what others think you are. You are always what God says you are. If God has called you to do something and says you can do it, don’t hide among the baggage.

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And Stuff

“We already know Jesus loves us and stuff,” my daughter shouted from the back seat.

We were on our way home from a birthday party where she had a small taste of a bounce house and was eager to get back on it. I thwarted her plans by reminding her we would be going to church the next morning rather than heading outside to bounce.

She didn’t feel church was necessary since Jesus loved her . . . and stuff. Her innocent proclamation was actually very powerful. We often allow the “and stuff” of our relationship with God to become a second thought. Although Jesus does love us, He also wants a relationship with us. He desires that we sink into His Word and fully explore the dimensions of a relationship with Him. 

While God’s love covers us, it’s the “and stuff” that carries us through the troubles of our days. His unending grace, constant presence, and perfect plans are all part of the “and stuff” that my daughter has yet to fully grasp.

As you revel over how much Jesus loves you, dive into His Word and discover just how much other stuff there is.

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Encouragement for the Lonely

After investing in the life of a younger believer for almost a decade, I was hurt when she decided to turn away from the Lord and also reject my friendship.

Our journey had taken us over many hills and through numerous valleys. I was sure we’d walk through life as friends and fellow seekers of Christ. Her decision to abandon her faith and turn from our friendship was heartbreaking. I questioned whether the years of investing in her life had been a waste. The pain of losing the friendship was deep.

Most of us—like the psalmist—have experienced the desolation of a friend’s hurt. We have wrestled with the sense of feeling alone in the world. A friend turns away in betrayal, a marriage falls apart, a child leaves with no promise of returning. We find ourselves alone and misunderstood. The emptiness is devastating, and the pain of unwarranted scorn leaves us isolated and hurt.

Jesus never promised life for believers would be easy. In fact, He promised trouble for all who walk through this broken world. But there is good news. He promised He would never turn away or abandon us. He also reminded us that He had overcome the world.

Though we find ourselves alone and hurting, God never leaves us. He is the ultimate comforter, keeper, and companion. Whenever you’re feeling misunderstood, left out, or lonely, take heart. God sees your pain. He understands, and He is your defender and advocate. He will never leave you. 

Lean into God’s love. Trust Him to guide you and shine light on the path in front of you.

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Mercy and Grace

Imagine our world if we showed mercy and grace.

As a noun, mercy mean compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone when it is within our power to punish or harm.

God showed mercy by sending His Son when He could have used His power to punish a nation of people who had turned their backs on Him—and would have been justified in doing so. But out of love, He chose a different route—a route of mercy.

Grace as a noun is God’s free and unmerited favor manifested in saving sinners and bestowing blessings on them.

Grace is when God—out of mercy—sent His only Son . . . the one perfect human . . . a man full of goodness and love to suffer on a cross and die an unimaginable death for those who deserved punishment. The most beautiful example of grace was Jesus sacrificing His perfect life for our imperfect lives so we could experience freedom and salvation.

Jesus showed mercy to Judas by allowing him to spend the last supper in His presence, even though Judas' heart had already changed to betray him. Jesus had the right and the power to send him away and separate Himself from this traitor. Grace was Jesus washing His disciples’ feet in the final hours before His death.

For those who have chosen to follow Christ, mercy is a wife choosing to forgive her husband after he betrays her trust and seeks love outside their home. She decides to stay with him and give him another chance. Grace is that same wife surprising her husband with a vow-renewal ceremony to show she is willing to recommit to him and her marriage, regardless of his mistakes.

Mercy is when parents forgive their unreachable teenage child for their bad attitude and for the unclean room. Grace is cleaning their child’s room and leaving him a note that lets their child know how deep and unconditional their love for him is—just like Jesus’ love for them.

Think of ways you can channel the grace and mercy Jesus has shown you. 

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When the Battle Rages

“It’s a battle. I’m being attacked and I can’t find the strength to stand.”

Bea leaned against the car window and sighed. She was tired. Lost. Spent. And I was at a loss for the right words.

“What do you do when you’re trying to be obedient, but it’s like God has forgotten you? I study my Bible, pray . . . I worship. Where is God in this?”

It’s a question we’ve all asked, especially when we know we are doing our best to be the individual God wants us to be. There’s no denial we’re all sinners. No excuses. When trying spiritual times fall over us, we cry out—“What more Lord?”

Jehoshaphat faced the wrath of three kingdoms, and he wondered what on earth had caused this. What would he do? He did all he knew to do. He called the people together and they prayed. And prayed. And prayed. Until God sent Jahaziel, to reassure them . . . this was not their battle. It was God’s and God had already won.

Facing spiritual hardship is hard. It’s harder to understand why—when we are doing our best to be obedient—we must suffer through battles. The spiritual battle roars in the heavens, but it’s God’s battle and He never loses. When the war slips through the cracks and falls on us, our faith and trust in Him are vital. Just as Jehoshaphat called the people of Israel together to pray—so should we. Pray and remember the battle is not ours. It belongs to God. Stand firm. Steadfast. Faithful. And God will keep His promises.

It’s cliché to say hardships build our character—both earthly and spiritually—but it’s true. In our despair, we lash out to God and ask why? WHY? Still, His ways are greater than ours. When we do the only thing we know to do—go to our knees and remain there—then God can do what He does best: win the battle.

When you are spent from the battle that rages around you, kneel and pray. God has already fought and won.

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Hearing loss occurs for many reasons, loud noises chief among them.

In the 1960s, Vox manufactured the Super Beatle Amplifier. This device produced huge volume, and the Beatles used multiple units of them when they performed at Yankee Stadium. Back then, dancing in front of these amplifiers at local school gyms injured many adolescents’ ears.

Because of the anatomy of the inner ear, hearing does not return once you suffer loud noise damage. In older life, communication with children who have high-pitched voices becomes impossible. With a fan or refrigeration unit running in the background, listening is difficult at best.

Hearing aids assist in overcoming some of these woes, but not all of them. The aids require batteries to operate and batteries die at inopportune moments. They must be replaced to restore communication.

Faith also suffers without hearing. Preachers speak words undecipherable to the hearing impaired, whether it’s because of physical limitations or spiritual ones. Communicating with God requires good hearing. Since He speaks in a small voice, any worldly distraction—like noises generated by Satan’s work—eliminates the ability to hear God.

Our faith suffers if we continue to listen to the noise. Things like secular comedy TV shows, gossip at the water fountain, pornography on the computer, and the simple lack of reading Scripture contribute to disrupted communication with God.

Unlike hearing aids that only offer some restoration of the sense, God’s forgiveness restores our ability to hear Him. Regenerate your faith and obtain the advantage of hearing God’s voice by going back to the Bible.

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Praying with Daisies

Little drops of sunshine. That’s what they are.

I’ve loved daisies since I was a little girl snuggling inside the giant crevice of an elm tree–my secret place. The place I chose to create imaginary friends and wonderful adventures.

At the base of the big elm grew a pod of beautiful daisies. Keeping bugs away and water near their roots was a chore, but I managed. When they bloomed, I could have sworn the sun glistened off their yellow centers.

I learned to pray hidden away in the big elm. Basically an only child (my brother, twelve years older and grown), I found the friendship of God early on.

“How do I pray? I’m just a kid.”

Just talk to Me and watch the daisies. Each day you pray, you’ll see them grow. When they bloom, so will your heart.

“My heart will bloom?

You’ll be tempted to pick the buds before they bloom. You’ll want to take them home and put them in water. But if you are strong and wait, joy will come.

Daily, I cared for the daisies and talked to God. He was right. When I saw the buds emerge, I wanted to pick them. The temptation to pluck the buds was strong. I wanted to take the flowers home, but I heard the whisper in my heart. Wait. Let them bloom.

When Jesus returned to His disciples after praying in Gethsemane, He found them sleeping. All He’d ask them to do was stay awake—watch with Him—but they gave in to the desires of the flesh and slept. He warned them if they would only watch and pray, they would not fall into temptation.

Our intentions are good. We mean to do what’s asked by God, but we fail miserably. Temptation wins. I learned a valuable lesson watching the daisies bloom. Watching taught me to pray and wait for His will. 

All my prayers haven’t been answered the way I’d hoped, and then, there’s those times I’ve fallen into temptation. But for the times I’ve waited for the daisies to bloom, amazing things have come. 

Stand firm in your prayer life even when it’s hard. Wait until the daisies bloom. Your reward is strength and joy in Christ.

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Waiting for Perfect

I'm afraid of growing old alone.

As my single friends shared their fears and dating frustrations with me, I often wondered if I would grow old alone.  

The difference was . . . I did not date. I was a bit shy but had done everything right by Christian standards. All I had to do was wait for the perfect man to walk into my life. He never did, but God had other plans.

One by one, my friends married. I became restless. God, what is wrong with me? Since I was a little girl, I had dreamed of a future with a husband and children. The fear of growing old without that haunted me more every day.

Then God asked the unthinkable: If you never married, would I be enough for you?

The question disturbed me. Not marry? Live alone? Is God really enough? After months of struggling with the answer, I knelt before God. As I prayed, a part of myself died: “Yes, God, if I never marry, you alone are enough.”

My surrender was all God needed. He wanted my deepest hopes and desires, my dreams for a future, my everything. Although I had lived according to God’s Word, I had not aligned my deepest desires with God’s heart.

The key to being a living sacrifice is to become empty—to place everything at God’s feet. Only then can He fill your life with His hope, His plans, and His future. My fear separated me from a key part of God. Once I allowed Him to take everything, I felt safe and secure. God held my future in His hands.

Within a few months, I met a man who was not perfect. A divorced father of two grown children, he was broken but determined to serve God and help others who were broken. Two years later, he became my husband.

Turn every area of your life over to God. He is waiting patiently for you to give yourself wholly and completely to Him so He can transform you from the inside out. 

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Hope and the Future

Life is hard, confusing, and tragic. It hurts. I often feel overwhelmed—as if I’m shoveling snow in a blizzard. As hard as I try, I can’t get a handle on it. 

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." This is my verse. The verse I cling to when life doesn’t make sense. I need this verse. I need to know God has a plan for my life—a good plan as He did for the nation of Israel. I need to know I have hope and a future. I need to know God has more for me.

When I’m in the middle of the unknown and awful, all I can do is hold on and hope for something better, something more, such as healing, restoration, hope, and a future.

Making sense of circumstances can be difficult. Knowing what to say to the mother whose three-year-old has cancer. Or the parents whose child is missing. Knowing how to comfort those who watch their children starve to death in corners of the world we rarely see. I search the horizon and I can’t see their hope or future.

Our fallen, broken world has trouble. This side of eternity there is illness, poverty, broken bridges, and death. Our hope frequently lies in the unseen—what waits beyond the horizon. Often, my faith—or lack thereof—boils down to believing God has plans for me as well as answering a simple question: “But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).

When trouble comes and life goes sideways, I must believe God’s promises. I must trust and believe He is who He says He is. Sometimes I question and doubt. Sometimes I get mad and think God is asleep at the wheel. At other times, my doubt and unbelief leave me alone, and I wander in a painfully dry and dusty desert.

But God loves me still. When I lay down my burdens and trust Him, I get what I need—hope for my future. It’s not easy or magic. Sometimes it’s moment by painful moment.

God, your loving Father, will never leave you hopeless. His love never fails. He can restore what the locusts have eaten.

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Falsely Accused

I walked into a small room filled with angry people, thinking I was there to support a friend. The next thing I knew, a finger was pointed at my face, and an accuser shouted, “Just who do you think you are?”

My hands flew up in front of me, and my response was “Whoa, whoa, whoa … what in the world are you talking about?”

From that point on, the meeting hit a downward spiral. Lies bounced around the room like rubber balls with a life of their own. At one point, my accuser tried to hit me. Thankfully, someone stepped between us as I silently begged God to come to my rescue.

Being falsely accused is no picnic. But what should we do when it happens?

Every time Jesus faced the religious firing squad, He remained silent. He didn’t get angry or emotional, try to dispute the accusations, or explain His words and actions. He had been about His Father’s business and knew He had done no wrong. When the Devil challenged Him, He replied each time with, “It is written ...”

Remaining calm and confident when fingers are pointed in your face and hateful words are hurled at you from every direction—especially from people you thought were your friends—is difficult. Our flesh demands reaction while our spirit whispers peace. Our carnal nature cries out for us to stand our ground and fight back, while the Holy Spirit within us says, “I’ve got this.”

My experience—which I affectionately refer to as “the bashing”—happened many years ago, and the memories fade a little more with each passing decade. God was with me that day, just as He’s been with me since—and always will be. He fought the battle for me, and like the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace, I came out without even the smell of smoke.

I learned a lot from that experience—especially about forgiveness, trust, self-control, and preserving my integrity in the midst of an angry mob.

When people come against you, call on the Lord. He will give you the words to speak and fill you with His peace.

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Culling Cuckaburrows

Pulling cuckaburrows was a new experience for me in farm life.

Visiting my maternal grandparents on the farm was always enjoyable. Every day was a new adventure, doing things I never experienced in the city. Along with my cousin, we’d pile into my grandfather’s blue Chevy truck and head to the farm.

As my grandfather rode down the dirt roads dividing the fields of cotton, he pointed out cuckaburrows. Like many other words my grandparents used, this one isn’t in the dictionary. These invaders were thorny weeds that often grew alongside the cotton. They were easy to spot as they matured. And when my grandfather did, he’d send my grandmother, my cousin, and me into the fields to pull them up. 

“Be careful not to pull up the cotton,” he’d caution. Sometimes this was precarious because they grew so closely together.

Jesus once said something similar when asked if weeds should be pulled from the wheat field. Unlike my grandfather, He said to leave them until the harvest time. Then they would be separated into their respective places.

Like the tares of Jesus’ day, these weeds represented things that shouldn’t be in the cotton field. If left alone, they would take over, preventing the cotton plant from growing and producing as my grandfather intended.

My cuckaburrows represent things that shouldn’t be in my life. Left there, they will stunt my spiritual growth or even keep me from Christ initially. Sinful choices and sinful relationships invite thorns into my life. Some aren’t sinful; they merely interfere with my service to Christ. Like my grandfather, Christ tells me to pull them up.

Ridding my life of prickly invaders takes intentional effort. I could have looked at them in the cotton field all day long, but they would never have gone away. I had to leave the truck, walk into the field, and remove them. Cuckaburrows interfere with my being the salt and light Jesus wants me to be in this world. Spiritual disciplines spread poison on them.

Ask God to show you your cuckaburrows. Then pull them up so you can be successful in your work for Him.

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Fear-of-God Living

Forest Gump’s mama said, “Life is like a box of chocolates.”

I tend to think of life as like a trophy case. A trophy case in which I place all the important things: family, career, hobbies, and God. I love my family and do what I must to provide for them. I’ve worked hard at various jobs. When I have free time, hobbies restore my physical and mental health. And then there’s God who gets the first-fruits of my time and energy.

Up before my family and making their breakfast, my day as a stay-at-home dad starts early. Struggling with the kids at bedtime, my day ends late. In between breakfast and bedtime, I spend three to four hours in the parade of minivans and SUVs picking up and dropping off my son at school, caring for my three-year-old daughter, and trying to accomplish some of the never-ending duties: washing dishes, doing laundry, and picking up toys. Things that make it difficult to focus on the eternal picture rather than the minutia of daily life.

Proverb 31 defines the characteristics of a good wife. The proverb is filled with enculturated, gendered statements such as “She’s like a trading ship that sails to faraway places.” But a set of virtues sits behind the proverb. Virtues like trustworthiness, generosity, organization, beauty, and charm. All of which apply equally to men and women.

The writer touts the traits as desirable, yet shows the fleeting nature of beauty and charm in opposition to the more desirable virtue: living in the fear of God. Beauty and charm, which are representative of the entire list of human traits—including those not listed—are placed in their proper relative position as supportive roles.

Fear-of-God living entails honoring God. Our behaviors can either honor God or be exercised in our own vanities. Thoughtfully navigating our days is important. In the moment, when we are disciplining kids or having a disagreement with loved ones, we need to focus on doing all we do in ways that honor our Savior. We need to ensure all our trophies point to the one that reads “1st Place Servant of Christ.”

Make fear-of-God living your daily goal. 

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The Promotion of Love

The love of the Lord is a promotion from death to life and from bondage to freedom. 

The greatest gift to humanity was the perfect love of God through Jesus Christ. Jesus expressed the love of the Father by His obedience to pain and death for our promotion to eternal life. We were promoted by God’s love to a place we could not attain because of our propensity for error.

God’s perfect love removes all fear from our consciences and removes all penalty of wrong doing. Perfect love never takes anything from us because it only seeks to add to our self-worth, which allows us to walk freely from the imperfect love of this world.

We all have been tainted by imperfect love, but God’s love is sweet to the lips and edifying to the soul. We were promoted to a place of satisfaction and peace by the singular act of perfect love by Jesus Christ on the cross.

The great thing about God’s love is that we can now express this perfection of the soul to our neighbors. Kindness is a great act, but love coupled with kindness is a taste of perfection from the Lord. It is giving someone a promotion in their self-worth by simply expressing the unconditional love you have felt from the Lord in your own experiences.

The Lord created us to be vessels of the gospel. The purpose of the vessel is to serve a need in someone else. An empty vessel does no good, but a full vessel quenches the thirst of many. The love of the Lord overwhelms us with His grace, so that we can fill others with the same grace we have experienced.

To love your neighbor as yourself is to wish the same blessings on someone else that God has given you. When Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor, He was saying we would have more love from Him than we could ever contain for ourselves.

The next time you see someone down in their lives, love them as you love yourself, and you will promote them to a place where they can see Christ’s reflection of perfection staring at them through your actions. 

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Free Indeed

Darkness was quietly tiptoeing in as I sat on the swing in my back yard.  Across the street, miniature booms and loud pops filled the air as youngsters celebrated on the eve of Independence Day. Colorful sparkles of shimmering light exploded in the air and then disappeared into the darkness.

Once again, Americans were visibly and audibly celebrating their freedom. We are bountifully blessed to live in this beautiful land of the free. We have much to celebrate.

Christians, living in America, are doubly blessed. Not only do we live in this great country, but we are also endowed with the true freedom that knowing Jesus Christ as Savior brings. In Christ, we are free to grow and to become all that His love encourages us to be.

As we pause to thank God for our country’s freedom, let us remember to praise Him for His freedom that can never be taken from us.

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Are You Hungry?

I was enjoying breakfast when God showed up.

Halfway through my store-brand yogurt mixed with fresh blueberries, God floated a question across my mind: Are you hungry? 

I replied, “Of course I’m hungry. That’s why I’m having breakfast.”

He then floored me with, No, are you truly hungry or are you just eating? That’s when our discussion morphed into a monologue, and I tried to keep up.

When we’re not really hungry, we approach food as optional. We develop a choosy, disinterested mindset. If we do find something to eat, we pick at it and often leave leftovers behind.

A hungry or starving person has no doubt about his hunger. He has to eat. Hunger pangs make him intentional. When he finds a food source, he devours it. He may even eat things that normally aren’t at the top of his menu selections—and eat them at places he never thought he’d go. Only food satisfies a truly hungry person. Real hunger makes us behave in strange, yet passionate and intentional ways.

Now back to my conversation with God. Jesus said those who hungered and thirsted for righteousness would be filled. But the secret is hungering for it—not picking and choosing as we aimlessly wander up and down God’s spiritual buffet. Nothing else quenches our craving. Our appetite is only for Him and His delicacies.

When I hunger for God and His righteousness, my attitude and actions change. I prioritize specific time with Him. I crave His insight, conviction, and direction. I devour those things He offers that I normally wouldn’t accept. Like David, my heart pants for Him. Like Mary, I want to sit in His presence. Like Paul, I set my affections on things above. And like Jesus, I invite others to God’ feast.

Ask God to help you never settle for the unhealthy fast food of the world and its alluring distractions.

God, give us spiritual hunger pangs that drive us to the banquet hall of Your Word. Grant us the intentional desire to feast in Your presence. Quench our insatiable hunger with only Yourself.

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Love like God

Love is a verb. It requires choice and action.

The Bible tells us to love as God has loved us. God is love, love comes from God, and those who are loving and kind show they belong to God. If a person isn't loving and kind, it shows they don’t know God or belong to Him.

But it isn’t only about our love for God. It’s also about His love for us. God's love sent Jesus into this wicked world to make a way for us to have eternal life through His death, burial, and resurrection. Since God loved us that much, we ought to love each other.

God is the source of our love, not us. Those who accept Jesus have access to His love through the power of His Holy Spirit living in them.

The Spirit helps us bite our tongue and speak the truth in love instead of lashing out against others. He helps us be patient with those who irritate us, seek justice instead of our own personal glory, and see others as worthy of love and respect. He also keeps us from being jealous, boastful, proud, rude, irritable, self-seeking, mean-spirited, hateful, retaliatory, short-tempered, and plain obnoxious.

Choose to love others, and let them see God’s love through you. 

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Lee's New Hearts

My daughter, Cathy, and her husband, Lee, had been married for less than five years when Lee began to have serious heart problems.  

While Lee was in the hospital, I felt the Holy Spirit silently speaking and telling me to talk to him about salvation. I prayed for the right words to share. Lee seemed close to making a decision, but it was time to leave. I held his hands and prayed with him. Later, my minister visited Lee and led him to accept Christ as his Lord and Savior. 

Lee was excited to be a Christian. When he was able to leave the hospital, he and Cathy attended our church where he planned to publicly announce his decision. However, toward the end of the service, he had an attack and stopped breathing for a while. An ambulance was called and Lee was rushed to the hospital. As our family followed the ambulance, our church members prayed. It was an anxious time as we waited for a diagnosis.

Eventually, Lee was admitted to a large hospital in a distant city and put on a list for a heart transplant. Meanwhile, doctors surgically implanted a mechanical heart to keep his heart beating.

Finally, a donor heart became available. Late one night, Lee was prepared for surgery. As our family sat in the waiting room throughout the night and early morning, we prayed. After many hours of waiting, we were told the surgery was a success and Lee’s donor heart was beating normally.

Philippians 4:6 tells us to pray in everything. We had done that through the months. Now it was time to offer our thanksgiving. Our family gathered in a circle and praised God for the miracle. Not only did Lee have a new spiritual heart, he also had a new physical heart and the possibility of renewed life.

Our prayers are not always answered with yes, but even when we receive a no or a wait a while, we can still offer God our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.

Learn to thank God in all circumstances. 

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Choosing to Love Others

I don’t want to go on the Ferris wheel of crazy with unhealthy people and patterns.   

Over the years, I’ve worked hard to become emotionally healthier and to learn what hurts cause hang ups and why I do some of the things I do. In the process of allowing God to heal me, I now desire healthy people and relationships. I used to embrace the crazy because I understood it. It felt familiar. But the down side of crazy is drama, disappointment, and hurt. So I stay away from people and situations which aren’t good for me.

Recently, God reminded me of a Scripture that caused me to rethink my avoidance policy. He showed me that by shutting certain people out, I was loving those who love me and greeting only “my own people.”  The challenge Jesus gives is to love the unlovable, the difficult, and those who challenge me personally. 

I don’t think it’s biblical to continue relationships that harm us or which are seriously unhealthy and toxic. I’m talking about relationships with those who aren’t nice, who leave me out, or who talk behind my back. Such people I avoid. To love or not to love is my choice, and God lets me choose.

One day, I chose to be loving when I didn’t feel like it, when I didn’t want to. I felt like a hypocrite. I told the Lord, “I wish this was genuine. I wish I was doing this loving thing because I actually felt loving toward this person. I wish You would change me and make me more loving.”

The Lord impressed on me that this was how I become more loving. It starts with a choice. In choosing to be loving when I don’t feel like it, He uses that to change me. It didn’t matter that my feelings didn’t match my actions. What mattered was me giving up me (avoiding the person altogether) and choosing God and His way. I felt better. As if I had made progress. 

Making the choice to love others is what transformation is all about. While the transformation may sometimes be instant, most of the time it isn’t. Usually, it’s a step-by-step process where I trade my ways for God’s ways, making each choice one day at a time.

Choose to love someone who is unlovable. 

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Lest We Forget

Forgetting can be a horrible thing … especially if it’s something I need to remember.

While teaching at a local Christian school, I annually chaperoned the eighth-grade trip to Washington, DC. Memorials were high on the list of things to visit since they were constructed to help future generations remember a person or event.

The Korean War Memorial fascinated me. The artist focused on the number thirty-eight. Thirty eight was the number of the parallel dividing North and South Korea and also the number of months the war dragged on. But trying to place thirty-eight life-size soldiers on a plot of land that would only accommodate nineteen was a problem.

The solution was a reflective wall. When looking at the wall, thirty-eight soldiers are seen trudging through terrain representative of Korea instead of the actual nineteen present. Problem solved. Statement made.

Memorial Day is the day when Americans remember military personnel who have died while serving their country. The holiday originated as Decoration Day and was established by a group of Union veterans. Eventually, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions were merged into one and celebrated together.

God also likes memorials and warns His people repeatedly not to forget Him or the things He has done for them. In Israel’s history, delivering them from four hundred years of Egyptian slavery needed remembering. For Christians, the big unforgettable deliverance came through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

For years I’ve worn Christian paraphernalia—mainly crosses. Since I got in on the tail end of the hippie movement, wearing jewelry came naturally. From necklaces with crosses to watches, bracelets, key rings, and shirts with the same, I’ve worn it all.

Although jewelry and other clothing articles with Christian symbols can make good witnessing and conversation starters—as well as good memorials—my lifestyle is a better memorial to the difference Christ has made in me. Symbols mean little without actions, attitudes, and words to back them up. Just as America’s war memorials would mean nothing if we cast aside our love for freedom and our appreciation for those who bought it.

Americans remember their military dead with a holiday. Let your life be a Christian memorial that shows others what Christ has done for you.

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My Back Yard

Seeing my family through God's eyes and not just my own is a beautiful sight.

My husband and I are different. They say opposites attract, but I wouldn't say our differences are attractive. I am full speed ahead while my husband goes his own speed. I am a morning person; he is a mid-morning person. I eat in a hurry while he savors his food. As small as these differences seem, they drive us crazy sometimes.

How we treat others compared to how we treat each other is different too. A friendship could never have the same value as a marriage. Yet a friend’s differences from my own are endearing. The traits I don’t adore, I work hard to accept. Instead of retaliating, if a friend does something to aggravate me, I work hard to show them love by turning the other cheek or being slow to anger. I want to be an example of Christ.

Yet when my husband aggravates me, I snap at him, reviewing his mistakes and pointing out exactly where he went astray. I rarely turn the other cheek. Instead, he has learned I can hold a grudge.

Then it hit me. I was not setting an example I wanted my family or others to follow. I was not only impatient with my husband but also impatient with my children. In some ways, I was the least Christlike with the people I loved the most. I wanted my girls to grow up and know without a doubt Christ's love for them. I wanted my husband's relationship with Christ to deepen and strengthen. I realized my actions could either help or hinder that process.

I still get frustrated when my husband wakes up mid-morning, and I can get frazzled with the everyday demands that come with being a mom. But I have made a conscious decision to love my family the way God loves me, and I have seen significant changes at home: extended patience, an accepting and forgiving heart, and, most importantly, a whole lot of love.

Some of the most important witnessing we do can be in our own back yard. Showing Christ's love in our actions and in our responses to challenges that arise in our marriages and families can be instrumental in the relationship our families build with God.

Show God’s love in your own backyard. 

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God's Law Is Love

Rules are rules. When we do not follow the rules or when we break the law, punitive and painful consequences follow.

Personal experience has taught me this lesson in the times when I have received a ticket for speeding. Fortunately, these experiences have only hurt my pocketbook and my pride.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “O Holy Night.” Though the writer speaks of God’s law as love and His gospel as peace, I’ve never focused on the phrase or on the idea of love being God’s law.

Love appears 558 times in the New International Version of the Bible. It is significant, and God says love is His command. Loving others isn’t always easy. The prickly neighbor who has only complaints, the family member who insists on having his or her way, or the co-worker who takes advantage of your kindness by leaving the office early, knowing you will take care of things. Only a few examples of love being challenging.

Paul tells how important love is when he writes, “If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2 NIV). And Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 NIV).

If God had limited His love to only those who were worthy, no one would qualify. He expects us to show this same love to each other. It is not about being easy or deserved. Love is important because it originated with God.

Love everyone. Doing so is God’s command.

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A New Purpose

A biochemist now into journalism? How strange.

That has been the response of some who hear about my current job as a pressman. I doused their amazement with the excuse that the job is temporary, pending the completion of my graduate internship program. They also questioned my initial decision to study science since I love writing. "You would have made a good student in arts," they suggest. Life can be dynamic.

Simon and his friends were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. Fishing was a major industry with a connected attractive social status. Jealously holding on to such a craft required wisdom.

Then Jesus arrived and called them to follow Him. He gave them a new purpose. No longer would they fish for fish. They would now fish for people.

With this new purpose, they were taught and trained by Jesus. After His ascension, they would be used by God to capture the hearts of people with the message of the cross and the resurrection.

Today, we follow in their steps as we share the good news of Christ’s love and salvation. This doesn’t mean everyone has to become a full-time minister. Nor do we have to leave our jobs, children, spouses, and loved ones to carry a Bible and rally around a city in search of souls. While being a wandering preacher isn’t out of the options, innumerable "fish" abound in the classroom, workplace, and on the playground.

We are challenged to resist the temptation to make our work the defining element of who we are. Instead, we can see it as a benchmark to reach neighboring souls with God's love. 

Let your life declare and exhibit God’s love which can change the lives, purposes, and eternal destinies of others.

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The Beauty on the Cross

Ordinary people don’t win beauty contests.

Each year many beauty pageants are conducted with hopeful contestants vying for a prized crown. From the cradle to college, girls groom themselves, work on talent competitions, and perfect their platforms with aspirations of being declared the most beautiful of them all.

Jesus came to earth in appearance as an ordinary man. He was not the Mr. Universe of His day.  The population thought of Him as the son of Joseph. He grew up with other Jewish children, attended synagogue with the men, and worked with tools in the carpenter shop. To all in Nazareth, He was as ordinary as they were—until the day He walked into the Jordan River and asked John to baptize Him. He had always been the perfect Son of God, but until the Holy Spirit descended upon Him, He had blended in with the population.

This ordinary man became the extraordinary prophet, Messiah, and deliverer of Israel. Without anyone’s awareness, God had been grooming Him from the cradle to the college of the wilderness for the pageant of the universe. This one wasn’t judged by physical beauty, but by the act of human sacrifice. Humility, love, and righteousness were the qualifications, and His platform was redemption for all mankind.

The runway He walked was the Via Dolorosa. The crown was made of thorns, not diamonds, and His scepter was a reed. A robe of purple was draped around His bloody shoulders by soldiers who mocked Him. The garment adhered to the tender flesh of His scourged back.

No newspapers broadcast His winning smile to admirers. Instead, He received slaps and spittle upon His face. The mutilated body of this ordinary man won the beauty contest of the universe because He wasn’t ordinary. Despite His appearance, the glory within burst forth and the ugliness of sin was conquered.

Our ordinary life becomes extraordinary because the Beauty on the cross became too ugly to behold.

Share in the prize by surrendering your life to Christ. 

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Hunting Ghosts

Finding ghost crabs on the beach at night requires a powerful flashlight.

By day, North Carolina’s sandy shores are filled with people enjoying the sunshine and the ocean’s waves. At night, everything’s dark and quiet. The true beach-dwellers slip out of their holes and scuttle toward the water. Hit with a powerful light, the ghost crabs flee—either toward the surf or back into their burrows. On most nights, you see only a few, but our Creator sees each one. Just as He sees each one of us.

In Genesis 16, an Egyptian slave named Hagar fled from her mistress. Pregnant and friendless, she walked through a wilderness filled with pain. Grieving for her lost comfortable life, Hagar felt isolated and unloved—until God called her by name.

Even a slave girl’s tears matter to the Lord. Encountering the angel changed Hagar forever. He spoke words of life and hope into her aching heart. I love the name Hagar gives to the Almighty: “You are the God who sees me.”

God is the One who cares. He is the One who loves me when I feel defeated, crushed, and broken. He is the One who walks with me in my darkest hours.

We live in a society where people aren’t highly valued. Old folks languish in nursing homes—lonely and unloved and with few visitors. Unwanted babies are aborted. Spouses are kicked to the curb and replaced with someone new. Rampant cyber-bullying makes teenagers feel despised by their peers. Even pre-teens battle depression and suicidal thoughts.

Life in the world has gotten incredibly tough lately. But let me give you a word of encouragement. Jesus our Redeemer sees you and He knows you by name. You may be an “insignificant little crab” to anyone else, but not to Him.

Like Hagar, rejoice and be comforted because you serve the One who sees you.

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Watch and Pray

The house has quieted after a busy day, and you’ve finally set aside time to pray. Suddenly, the phone rings, disrupting the quiet. You find yourself back in your car and out the door again. It seems every time you purpose to pray, a need arises. Duty calls.

Then He said to them, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me." In this account, we see the humanity of Christ on full display. Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane praying to the Father in His hour of greatest need. He was deeply sorrowful—to the point of death, and rightfully so. He was preparing to bear the iniquity of us all.

Jesus asks His disciples to keep watch with Him. It seems like a relatively simple request, yet they could not. Upon returning, He discovers them fast asleep.

It’s stunning that Christ—the perfect Lamb of God without sin to confess—would sense His need for communion with the Father. If there were anyone who might be able to discharge His duty without prayer, surely it would have been Jesus. Yet He prayed.

Our own lives are often overtaken with other matters. Prayer is neglected because we’re prone to fill our days with lesser things—neglecting the one thing our Lord emphasized the most: our need to commune with the Father. The reasons for our neglect are often legitimate. Our days are rife with activity from sunrise to sundown.

But we need to give careful consideration to Jesus’ words. God hasn’t changed. He is still looking for those who will watch and pray. Christ instructed us to ask, seek, and knock. Not to watch us perform some exercise in futility but because He fully intends to answer.

Quiet yourself and carve out time to pray. When you do, you’ll experience oneness with the Father.

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The Impossible

Your back is against the wall. Every possible solution has been calculated, and there seems to be no way out. Then, like a candle in the darkness, God’s light illuminates the path. It was there all along. The human effort had blocked the brilliance through which the light could shine.

A close friend once asked me to do something publicly that I knew would conflict with my Christian values. By refusing, I knew there was the danger of appearing sanctimonious to those who do not share the same values. I tried everything I could—including stalling—but my friend kept pressing.

Crawling into bed late one night, I asked the Lord to show me how He would resolve the dilemma. Opening my eyes the next morning, I knew the answer as if were written on the wall of my mind. Nothing had ever been so clear. God not only supplied what I needed, but He also provided a way for my friend to feel completely affirmed. As Jesus promised, God gave me the words to say and the wisdom to respond.

Watching God in action is nothing short of a miracle. This is not to say everything on our wish list will be granted in the process, but our heavenly Father loves knocking our proverbial socks off when it comes to doing what we perceive as the impossible. We recognize His handiwork when nothing else makes sense.

If you find yourself in the valley of no-way-out, stop struggling and start praying. Our Father knows all of the exits, and, for His glory, He will show them to you.

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God's Chosen Servants

God uses ordinary people with hearts inclined toward Him.

One Sunday, I was asked to speak at a small church near my home in Virginia. I was greeted by a man who let me into the building. In small churches, you often have a pastor who does the preaching and the teaching and then an elder or deacon who does everything else. As I sat at the back of the church reviewing my sermon notes, the man went about making the coffee and setting out the snacks. Then he took a small broom and a dustpan and swept between the chairs.

As I watched this man, I wondered who was more valuable, him or me. The answer was neither. We had equal value, just a different function. Then I asked the Lord who was most pleasing to Him. The answer to the second question came quicker than the first. The one who does their part of the service with the greatest amount of love in their heart for God.  

We all want to be significant, and we’re all important in our Creator’s eyes. The problem is that we often seek our worth through man’s eyes. Sometimes we confuse value and function. We do not get value from what we do; we bring value to our work. Each individual has intrinsic value before God. 

Billy Graham and Pat Roberson have a greater function in the body of Christ than I do. In some areas, they have greater privilege. Jesus gave Peter, James, and John greater access to Himself, not because He valued them more but because they would have a more significant role in the Kingdom of God. He loved all His disciples equally. Our love for Christ is what impresses the Father.

The next time you walk past someone setting up chairs in your church, take notice. You may have missed an opportunity to interact with one of God’s chosen servants.

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Standing Out

Social media has proven that having a public platform is popular for the vast majority of people.

Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram keep even those in the most remote places in touch. Sometimes the exposure is invasive and undesired. For many, however, being front and center in the public arena is not only desirable but sought after. Addiction is not an overstatement when expressing how some view the importance of staying connected. It would also appear that brazenness has replaced good manners, and speaking aloud every thought has replaced good judgment, respect, and civility.

In writing to Timothy, Paul instructs his young protégé to be courageous when speaking to and teaching other Christians—regardless of age, theirs or his. Like the social media of his day, Paul lists the various opportunities where Timothy can make an impact on those around him. He instructs him to “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.”

We set an example for those around us. We may not participate in the current media choices, but we still have a platform. Unless I am a hermit, wherever I go and whatever I do, others watch and listen.

But do not confuse brazenness with courage. The first is to be careless while the second is to be bold when speaking truth. As a wise person once told me, “Don’t do or say anything you would regret reading on the front page of the morning newspaper.” Let’s take it a step further. Say and do nothing except what is pleasing and edifying to God. He is present with us always.

Let your faith cause you to stand out in the crowd. 

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Hearts Like Ice

Ice cubes are a wonderful invention. Until, that is, they rebelliously band together into a solid, rock-hard block.

At work, our icemaker empties the ice cubes into a freezer bin. Occasionally, the cubes melt slightly and then refreeze into a hard, abstract ice sculpture. Chipping at fused ice cubes—trying to break off two or three for your drink—requires an ice pick, a strong arm, and lots of patience. It’s easier to dump the block of ice in the sink and wait for the icemaker to start dropping new cubes. So that’s what I do.

But there’s an easier way to break up this rock-hard, ice sculpture. Simply turn on the tap. Cold water drills holes in the ice. Brute force is unnecessary. The running water melts the toughest ice block away in minutes.

The Bible speaks of hearts hardened by sin. Sometimes we get discouraged when we pray for a loved one’s salvation or for a Christian whose heart is hard in a certain area. Our emotions tell us, “They’re never going to change. What’s the use of praying?” Despair drains us, washing away our hope. We don’t have the energy to keep praying.

I once prayed for a Christian friend’s hard heart. Suddenly, I stopped. I realized I didn’t believe my own prayers. My faith tank was empty. Stunned, I cried out to God for help, “Lord, I don’t have any faith for this.” Immediately, I saw a mental image of tap water melting ice in a sink. New faith flowed into me as I pictured the hardness in my friend’s heart being melted.  

I have faith the Holy Spirit can melt an ice-encased heart—a heart that’s cold and indifferent to God. The Lord changes people’s hearts all the time. God’s work on earth—redemption, salvation, repentance—is all about changing hearts. It’s His specialty.

So don’t despair if nothing seems to happen when you pray. You can’t see it, but as you pray, the Holy Spirit’s life-giving water is flowing. The ice is cracking and starting to melt. The Lord is thawing and softening that person’s heart.

Pray for someone you know who has a hard heart. Then watch as God’s Spirit melts their hard heart. 

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Faith Moves Forward

I was afraid to submit. Not to my husband, but to a publisher!

Since my children were grown and more independent—giving me more freedom to pursue my passion—I wanted to get back into freelance writing. But the thought of submitting anything scared me. I didn’t know if my article, blog, or devotion would be accepted and published. I feared rejection. In my sinfulness, I wanted a guarantee first.

Unfortunately, I was walking by “sight,” wanting confirmation before I stepped out and did what God was calling me to do. Faith doesn’t work that way. In its purest form, faith is the simple act of moving forward—one step at a time, with no guarantees. It is stepping out without knowing if the thing you’re being called to do will be done.

I can only imagine how Abraham felt when God called him to leave Ur for a foreign land that was hundreds of miles away. Or how Noah felt when God called him to build a magnificent boat and gather a menagerie of animals. Or how Rahab felt when she took a giant risk and hid two Israelite spies.

None of them were given any guarantees that the thing they did would come out right in the end. Yet each one moved forward, trusted God, and walked by faith.

God does not always give His children guarantees beforehand. He wants us to trust Him explicitly. And in stepping out, He blesses us. Because He is faithful, He brings about the thing which He promised.

Trust your heavenly Father. Move forward in faith without any guarantees. And watch in amazement as He blesses you beyond what you could ever ask or imagine.

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Putting Problems in God's Hands

Once there was a sick king who realized his only remedy was to eat a porridge prepared with Lopet.

Lopet was a unique bird found in the Labyrinth. So the king summoned his detectives, Jerry and John, and promised a reward of marrying the princess if they found the animal.

John was more clever and shrewd than Jerry. He knew about a great labyrinth of tunnels under the forest. On entering, he saw Mr. Mole, but John was very shy and private. He said nothing to Mole about why he was there and kept looking for the prized Lopet.

Jerry was also a great detective. Before long, he too arrived at the labyrinth. He was not a bit shy, and the first thing he did was ask Mole—a hunter in the tunnel—if he knew where the Lopet was. Mole was pleased to lead Jerry to the bird. Hunting for Lopet and getting acquainted with his hideout had been Mole’s profession for years.

Jerry found the Lopet, took him to the king, and collected his reward. John, who had been watching all this, learned a lot. From then on, he never allowed shyness to undo his good work. This approach soon made him the best detective in the court.

Sometimes, the toughest thing about feelings and problems is sharing them with others. Sharing our feelings helps us when our feelings are good and when they aren't so good. Sharing also helps us get closer to people we care about and who care about us. God knows where our feelings and problems hide out and wants us to share them with Him and others.

Let God teach you how to share your feelings and problems with others as well as listen when others share with you. 

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Let the Redeemed Say So

He says so:

New Year’s Eve exploded into a full-scale riot in my sixty-man jail pod. 

I’m not sure how it started, but suddenly there was fighting. Shanks (homemade knives) came out. People were sliced and cut. Blood was everywhere. I climbed to my upper bunk and put my back against the corner, holding tight to my own uniquely crafted weapon. I eyed my opened cell door and prayed.

I couldn’t remember how long I had been in jail. After my arrest, I shut down—withdrew into myself, communicating only when necessary. I ate sporadically. I quit shaving. From the top of my head to the bottom of my beard, I was physically a mess. It was summer and hot when I was arrested, but then it’s always hot in Florida.

Christmas was pretty much a non-event in jail. Alone on my bunk, I had read the Christmas story in Luke from a little New Testament that fit in the palm of my hand. The story I had read since childhood rang familiar, but some of the elements seemed to strike a chord beyond the words.

For the first time, I was actually reading, pondering, and considering the words. They touched my heart in ways more significant than ever before. I began to realize the stories I had heard since my early years in Sunday school—and Jesus’ words, Come to me all you who are weary—were things I had never contemplated enough. Again and again, Jesus tells us to “come” to Him. I read through the four gospels several times until the life of Jesus simply stuck in my mind and heart.

The madness raged outside my cell. I cried to the Lord, pleading for Jesus to “come to me.” And He did. My body tensed at the sound erupting near my doorway. Startled by the loud noise of a grinding metal door closing me in, my soul was covered by relief. The correction officers had responded to the riot and were storming the pod.

Safe for the moment, I pulled a blanket over my head to hide the tears. God's love delivered me once again from my distress. His peace flowed through me. The words I had spent the last week planting in my heart suddenly sprouted. I belong to Him. Redeemed.

May all of us who have been redeemed of the Lord say so.

~ Kevin Spencer


She says so:

“End this God. Bring me peace.”

I quietly spoke those words as light filtered through a beautiful stained glass window above my head. I had sat alone in churches before, but this December afternoon was different. In the silence of that sanctuary, I had a rare moment of clarity. Life, as I was living it, could not continue.

I didn't know Jesus back then, but I did talk to God sometimes. As I prayed, I somehow knew He understood I needed the craziness in my life to end. But I didn’t know how difficult that “end” would be.

A few weeks later, I was in jail in solitary confinement. As I eased onto the edge of a metal cot, I remembered that previous afternoon. “God! What on earth were you thinking? This is not peace.” In the days leading up to my arrest, anger became an acid burning through my veins. I was numb to all pain and unconcerned about the consequences of my actions. I was falling hard and unaware God had already sent the Prince of Peace to catch me. 

I came to realize we serve a most unusual God, and sometimes He answers our prayers in a most unusual way. God knew I needed to stop running. He knew what it would take and how long. And He knew who to send.

I was locked away for a month before I finally agreed to allow a woman to minister to me. The guards opened a small tray slot, located on the lower half of my cell door, so we could talk. I wasn’t ready to hear about Jesus. But as I kneeled down to peer through the small hole, I realized how ready I was to have a conversation with another human being—no matter what it was about.  

Months later, I fell to my knees again on that same concrete floor and asked Jesus Christ to be the leader of my life. It changed everything. The freedom I had fought for suddenly became less important to me. For the first time in my life, I knew a different kind of freedom. I knew I was a redeemed child of God. 

For the rest of our lives, may we continue to say so.

~ Patricia Lefler

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Measuring Our Worth

Kidnapping is a lucrative business.

I come from a region of Africa where kidnapping entails stealing a person and keeping them in a secret place, along with demanding a ransom for their release. The volume of ransom is determined by the caliber of the detainee. While a commoner might only bring one hundred thousand dollars, the rich and affluent could bring more than one hundred million.

Kidnapping took a deeper dimension with the abduction of schoolgirls. As many as two hundred girls were abducted from their boarding school by heavily armed Islamists who arrived in trucks, vans, and buses. The group wanted to institute an Islamic caliphate in the country and was opposed to western-style modern education—which they claim lures people away from the teachings of Islam.

The sect began to target schools, killing myriads of students. They broke into schools, pretending to be guards and telling the girls to get out and come with them. In their innocence and with their impressionable mindset, the students—who were in their final year of secondary school—obliged and were kidnapped.

The scale of rescue efforts was unprecedented. Nationwide prayers and fasting were made. The kidnappings sparked an international outcry, with global protests held against the perceived slow response of the government. The federal government spent more than $1.2 million on the case.

But God went to a greater extent than the federal government to redeem humankind. His efforts shock me. Through the death of His only Son on the cross, the Father paid the price to rescue us from our sin.

God loved us so much He gave His Son to die on the cross. He then raised Him from the dead to ransom and rescue us. That is what you are worth to Him.

When you want to measure your worth, measure it by what God did for you through Jesus Christ. 

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Keep an Eternal Perspective

Wet socks. That’s the reason I cried.

I’d been backpacking for three days in the rain on an adventure course, and was awakened while it was still dark to put on yesterday’s cold, wet clothes. I couldn’t help but cry from the misery of my present circumstances. Even worse, I didn’t know when our trip would end or when the rain would stop.

No matter what difficult circumstances we’re facing or how unordinary and just plain boring our lives may seem, we can rejoice knowing these are only temporary situations. Heaven has no pain or boredom, and our earthly lives are but a speck in the scheme of eternity.

Perhaps an even greater comfort than knowing our troubles are temporary is knowing we can benefit from them. God uses every trial—no matter how seemingly insignificant or mundane—to produce for us a greater eternal glory.

God uses our hard times to sanctify us. That means the Spirit of God is working in us to make us more like Jesus Christ. We should greatly rejoice that the power of God Himself is at work within the depths of our soul, creating meaningful beauty from our ugly ashes.

With this great knowledge, we can place our attention on the unseen. Instead of focusing on our financial troubles, we can focus on the trust in God they are producing in us. With our difficult co-workers and classmates, we can focus on the patience and forgiveness we are learning.

Each suffering and every difficulty is creating an even greater unseen work within us. Look beyond your circumstances, and find contentment in Christ. He holds eternity in His hands.

Let’s take our gaze off our circumstances, and stay fixed on the One who can create purpose from our pain.

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Thanks for Everything

“Thank you for the world so sweet;
Thank you for the food we eat;
Thank you for the birds that sing;
Thank you, God, for everything. ”

I prayed Edith Rutter-Leatham’s, “A Child’s Grace,” many times when I was small. Only recently did I pay close attention to the last five words: “Thank you, God, for everything.” Everything.

Thanking God when I’m hurt, when I’m disappointed, when someone I love faces illness or death, when I face them myself, and when God says “No” or “Later” is difficult.

Often, I don’t thank God. Looking back, I see how those hurts left physical or emotional scars. Yet they also increased my awareness of suffering around me and how God can minister through me. Disappointments helped me distinguish between selfish desires and legitimate needs. Illness and other life storms heightened my appreciation for every moment and for the support of family, friends, and a Savior who died for me.

Paul experienced the extremes of life. Sometimes he lived with more than enough. At other times, he lived in great want. He knew good health, and he knew the ravages of illness. He lived through times of safety, and he lived through shipwrecks, persecution, and beatings. He enjoyed freedom of movement, and he endured life in chains. Whatever his circumstances, Paul praised God and shared God’s message of salvation.

We can do the same. God walks with us and carries us through our ups and downs. Because of God’s never-failing presence, we can—like Paul with a genuinely grateful heart—Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NIV).

Ask God to help you give thanks in all circumstances. 

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What You Do Is Important

I struggle sometimes with feeling as if I’m not doing anything important—or that what I do doesn’t matter.

When reading these verses from Isaiah, "But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose,”  I think: Me too. That’s how I feel. I wonder what my work amounts to and question my purpose. I see the accomplishments of other women, and it leads to feelings of discouragement … even wanting to give up.

Comparing myself to someone else, I lose sight of what I have to do—what God has called me to do. In my sight, it seems insignificant, like so much less than what someone else is doing—so small. But in God’s sight, no task is small. I have to remind myself that what He calls me to is important—no matter the size or outcome.

Whether you’re parenting one child or a dozen, writing for one reader or 100, ministering to one person or a roomful, it is important. Even when we feel we have nothing left to give, God has all we need, and He will work through us for His purpose and His Kingdom. Where we see no purpose, God sees great purpose.

Isaiah’s time and strength were not wasted. God knew the work Isaiah was doing, and Isaiah trusted God with the results. He did the work God called him to and left the outcome in God’s hands.

The same is true for us. Our time and energy are not wasted, even if we can’t see the effects of our labor. Like Isaiah, we can do the work and trust the rest is in God’s hands.

You may never know if someone was touched by something you said or did, but God knows. And that’s all that matters.

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The Song of a Faithful Man

The house looked as if it were willing to give itself over to the constant urging of gravity. 

Not far from my childhood home of Onekama, Michigan, was a lonely snow-covered road which passed by a dilapidated farmhouse. In this home lived a remarkable man who left a permanent dent in my heart.

Bill Brown was married to an unappreciative woman and had a disrespectful son. They owned no vehicle and lived on Social Security. He often trudged several miles to the store in the snow to purchase a meager number of rations. His clothing never seemed to change.

I met Bill because my family picked him up every Sunday morning and evening for church. My dad owned a 1976 Jeep CJ-7, which wasn’t the best vehicle for hitchhikers. But Bill voluntarily squeezed into the backseat. This uneducated, smelly old man with few teeth left in his constant smile would then sing the only song he cared to know: “The Lily of the Valley.”

For two years, Bill endured hunger, bitter cold, spousal contempt for his beliefs, and disrespect from his son. Yet he sang on. I was only seven years old but could see there was something special about him.

As a young child, I shared something in common with Bill. We both loved Jesus and referred to Him as our Savior. Whenever I hear this beautiful song, I choke up. But my greatest memory isn't Bill’s inability to carry a tune; it’s the living fire in his eyes. He showed me how to be content in the love of Jesus, no matter my lot in life.

I sometimes catch myself feeling sorry for myself and complaining about how things don't seem fair. Then embarrassment sets in, and I remember Bill—a man who truly understood the promise of Jesus to never leave or forsake us. He may have been hungry, cold, and unloved by mankind, yet he thrived on all he needed from his first love: Jesus.

We moved away after two years, and I never learned what became of Bill Brown. But I look forward to arriving in heaven and having him meet me. I want to tell him what an impact he had on a young boy.

Tell someone today how much they impact you. 

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Standing Firm

Standing is easier when we are on the peaks.

Your son forgets to tell you he has band practice, and you’ve raced home from a meeting to pick him up from school. Your boss is difficult, and the deadline on the project is looming overhead. Beyond that, your finances are a mess—putting stress on your marriage of more than twenty years.

A variation of these scenarios plays out in many lives. For some, the circumstances are more difficult—an ailing parent, a child that has spun out of control.

The Christian life is marked with peaks and valleys. The valley is challenging because we don’t have a proper vantage point. Things seem obscure. However, the true test of our character is brought forth when we continue to stand in the valley. But the challenge is knowing how to maintain our patience in the midst of trying circumstances.

Being patient means being able to remain calm when waiting for a long period of time or when dealing with difficulty. Although the meaning is not hard to comprehend, the application requires more than mere mental understanding. I often tell my children, it’s not what we know, but what we do with what we know.

God’s Word tells us to be patient and stand firm because the Lord’s coming is near. If you’re anything like me, you often lose sight of this truth, especially when you’re hard pressed and threatened by troubles.  We’re called to do two things when facing difficulty: be patient and stand firm.

Standing firm is defined as being in an upright position with all of your weight on your feet. As we place our full weight on the Word of God, He causes us to stand firm beneath the weight of our struggles. And while we’re standing, it’s critical to remind ourselves that the Lord’s coming is near. This truth should compel us to stand because He will return to take us home.

We can stand because God stands beside us, providing strength when we feel like we cannot stand a moment longer. There is no power that can withstand Him who is the Lord of Hosts.

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God's Immeasurable Goodness

At 9:30 one summer morning, I tugged open the kitchen window blinds hoping to see sunshine.

Mist lingered in the atmosphere as it had for most of the past two weeks. Disappointed, I pointed my chin toward heaven and prayed, “Father, cheer me up today and let the sun shine brightly this morning—if only for ten minutes. I thank you in Jesus’ name. Amen.”

Thirty minutes later, I sauntered to the kitchen and poured myself another cup of tea. As I sipped my tea, I crossed to the kitchen window, tugged open the blinds, and witnessed a thrilling view. The mist had vanished and the sun commanded the sky. “Thank you, Father,” I whispered. Even more astounding was that the sun beamed for three hours until the rain fell again.

We often pray for less than we desire because we think our circumstances are too impossible to achieve all we want. In his closing prayer to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul exhorts us not to set boundaries on God’s goodness. He is powerful and has unlimited resources to go beyond what we ask or imagine.

Our Lord waits for us to come to Him (Isaiah 30:18) and see His splendor and power. When we experience them, we grow in faith and draw closer to Him. We ask in faith and expect God to grant it—even if it seems impossible. We ask for healing for our feeble bodies, for protection from our enemies, and for resources to start or grow our ministries. When we set our expectations high, we glorify God.

God is greater than our problems and can bring sunshine into our dark, impossible situations. He is willing to give us good things when we ask and is faithful to do what He says. His immeasurable goodness flows when we ask within His will.

Experience the fullness of God’s infinite goodness. Instead of asking for ten minutes of sunshine, ask for the entire day.

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Childlike Faith

My grandson once asked me the “T” question: “Granddad, what is the trinity?” 

Noah’s inquiry taught me a lot about childlike faith. When he was younger, I often kept him while his mother worked. He loved to put together jigsaw puzzles. While completing these puzzles, I talked to him about God. I must have used the “T” word in one conversation.

Noah’s inquisitive little mind went into action, and he asked that dreaded question. I took a deep breath and started to explain the essence of God. After I finished my explanation, he said, “So you are saying God is one person, but that He is also three persons.”

I said, “Yes.”

He paused to ponder and said, “OK.” Then he proceeded to put the next piece in the puzzle.

Noah’s demeanor said the question was answered … no need to talk further … let’s get on with the puzzle.

What made it easy for Noah to accept this truth was that he didn’t believe his granddad would lie to him. He did not understand how what I told him could be true, but he trusted the one who told him.

The integrity of the one making a promise validates its legitimacy. God’s character is the basis of every word spoken in the Bible. He is good, kind, just, trustworthy, and does not lie.

Many desire to enter the Kingdom of God, but the door into this realm is and has always been through childlike faith. Great minds have sought to understand the unsearchable riches of Christ, but without this simple faith, their intellect has proven a hindrance.

A little child taught me what Jesus meant when He said, “For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children.”

Don’t try to understand everything about God; just have childlike faith. 

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Zinnias of Conviction

Morning coffee, a rocking chair at the window with a view of the kaleidoscope of colors, and all is forgiven—all is well.

The fifty-foot line of zinnias shouted, “Repent!” A shameful joy to behold. Pride said, “These are lowly common flowers. Their stalks and leaves are rough and scratchy, their flowers have no smell, and they are just papery—not exquisite or exotic.” But they are cutting flowers and can be easily dried. Yet still, they are not the magazine elites—although I once saw a feature with them in front of a white picket fence, and it was impressive.

When sweet memories of my Aunt Rena came floating through, I saw her flowers and her with the garden hose, watering a beautiful, colorful mass of zinnias in her flower bed. How I loved her pretty flowers.  

Repentance was brought on by memories of my aunt, and I bought zinnia seeds, bricked a fifty-foot water break, plowed up a twelve-inch strip along it, and planted my seeds. Some white picket edging pieces on the back side of the flower bed topped off the vision. I watered and watched, I worried and repented again for my snobby attitude, I apologized to the seedlings, and they grew. They bloomed and brought butterflies, they brought a great splash of color, and I hoped Aunt Rena was pleased.  

The Lord’s mercies are new each day, and forgiveness always awaits our repentance. He gives a clean heart and clear eyes to see His beauty and inhale its peace when we lay down our prideful attitudes.

Let the zinnias of conviction in your life give you a fresh look.

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What's Your Christmas Mind-Set?

Mary was an ordinary teenager living in a nondescript village when the angel Gabriel arrived on her doorstep with an extraordinary message: “You have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son … the Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:30-31).

Mary’s initial reaction to her angelic visitor and his message was fear. Luke 1:29 says she was “greatly troubled.” Gabriel sensed that fear and said, “Do not be afraid” (v. 30). In other words, “Don’t worry, Mary. God’s got this.”

Perhaps God delivered Mary from her fear immediately—before she told her parents, Joseph, or her friends about Gabriel’s stunning announcement. In her prayer of praise that Luke records in verses 46-55, Mary expressed no fear.

In that prayer, Mary says her spirit was full of joy: “For the Mighty One has done great things for me” (vv. 46, 49). She could’ve been drowning in shame and depression. Although Gabriel said the Holy Spirit had come upon Mary, many people probably didn’t believe that—before or after Jesus’ birth. (Consider John 8:41.) Rumors may have spread throughout Nazareth when people learned Mary was pregnant. Insults may have been hurled her way as she walked down the street.

People may have thrown shame on Mary, but her prayer confirms her unshakeable trust in God. She chose to magnify Him and celebrate His goodness regardless of what circumstances indicated or people said.

To magnify is to praise someone so highly that others honor that individual with greater esteem. Think of the times you’ve praised the services of a doctor, a mechanic, or a plumber when someone has asked you for a reference. That was Mary’s desire—to motivate others to esteem and praise the merciful, powerful, attentive God who had honored His promise to send a deliverer.

You may not feel like celebrating Christmas this year because fear or shame has ensnared you. Maybe a loved one has died, a job has been ripped from your grasp, or false accusations have destroyed your reputation. Perhaps you simply dread spending another holiday season alone.

Learn from Mary. Refuse to focus on what is wrong and what could go wrong. Wait confidently for God to extend His mercy and perform mighty deeds on your behalf. His hand of blessing is upon you, and He can deliver you. Choose to magnify the Lord.

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The Wedding Band Challenge

Music mirrors life.

On Labor Day afternoon, I broke out the sunscreen, inserted the earbuds, and listened to  iTunes as I enjoyed the poolside.

A well-known theme quickly developed in the music. Men sing about finding love with their eyes—enjoying bikini tops, tan legs, and cotton dresses. Women find love through the heart—singing about roses, candles, and letters.

Eventually, love leads to the altar. The music continues as newlyweds become unalterable, making each less attractive as the eyes and heart become discontent. The wedding rings slip from the fingers and find their way to a bathroom drawer.

I've been married to the same woman for thirty-three years. We experienced four good years, followed by six trying ones—due to sin in my life--and now a twenty-three-year winning streak. As a result of our public story, we've provided a lot of counseling.

I've discovered wedding rings are easily removed when things get routine or frosty. I've heard every imaginable reason, but I have seen ring fingers remain bare even when the band was removed for a legitimate reason.

A ring not only symbolizes wedding vows but also offers non-verbal communication—such as "I'm happily married," or "I'm unavailable." 

When the ring is permanently removed, it shouts a disheartening message to the spouse that commitment is contingent or sidelined altogether. It tells onlookers you’re a free agent if the price is right.

I live near Austin, home of the Texas Longhorns. After an opening season defeat of Notre Dame, university paraphernalia came out en-masse. I saw more UT shirts, shorts, and hats after the victory than during the previous losing season. Pride was restored. “Hook ‘em horns” was the celebration chant.

People tend to wait for a feeling to re-engage—a feeling that may or may not appear. Men and women of virtue remain emotionally connected despite their feelings. Positive actions are a good way to help feelings of affection resurface so victories are won.

If you’re married, value your vows and respect the symbolism found in the ring. If you need to remove it for a legitimate reason, make it temporary. Take the “Wedding Band Challenge.”

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The Scent of Sin

While Papa completed his chores, Kaleb played in the dust and muck where cattle roam.

Our five-year-old grandson was “helping” his grandfather work in the barn and cattle lot. He prowled. He sat. He dug. He threw dirt into the air. He immersed himself in the filth and fun of living on a farm.

Later, Kaleb’s great-grandma invited him to visit. Papa said he could go but warned her Kaleb might need to clean up first. She failed to heed his warning.

After a great time of playing, hugging, and snacking in the house, Kaleb returned to Papa, and great-grandma lay down for a nap. As soon as her eyes closed, her nose began to twitch. What is that smell? she wondered. Looking around and sniffing again, she realized her little stinker had left some of his barnyard aroma behind.

Great-grandma did not prowl in the barnyard. She did not sit or dig in it. She did not throw dirt in the air or play in the dust or muck in any way. Yet Kaleb’s odor clung to her. By brushing against his dirt and acquiring a bit of his residue, his smell became hers.

We can do the same with sin. We may not immerse ourselves in evil, but we brush up against it occasionally. We try just a little, thinking no one will notice and no harm will be done. But our moral lapses leave us with sin’s foul odor.

Adults tell children to be careful where they go and what they do. We need to heed our own warning and ask our heavenly Father to cleanse us completely and to guard us against anything that deters us from accomplishing His perfect will.

Avoid every scent of sin. Let your life be a sweet smelling offering to God. 

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Hearing Voices

When I was a teenager, I heard voices.

“Let’s get drunk,” said the first voice. The 1970s were in full force. Drinking seemed to be a way of life, so I agreed. And since this voice represented acceptance by my peers, I justified my listening.

“Let’s do some dope.” I listened again—though I was a little frightened this time. I agreed to the Mary Jane, but nothing more.

“Do you want a smoke?” the voice continued. I did, and for the next ten years I kept listening to that voice.

Listening to the wrong voices hindered my walk with the Lord and kept me in chains when I could have been free. David was the anointed king and needed a central location for his capital. His sights were on Jerusalem. Trouble was, the Jebusites weren’t interested in giving it up. When he approached the walled city, they told him he’d never get in. But he did because he listened to a more powerful voice.

Training my ears to listen to the right voices is essential for good spiritual health. Many voices vie for my attention—most of them attempting to lead me down paths taking me further from God.

God’s voice comes through the inner presence of His Spirit and will always agree with what is taught in the Bible. Being familiar with the teachings therein is vital if I’m to hear the right voice. Listening takes a power I don’t have in myself, but a power God gives so I don’t succumb to the wrong voice. When Eve listened to Satan, she questioned God’s directive, launching her into a fall where she never recovered.

Voices of discouragement are rife—as they were in David’s day. Finding friends and acquaintances who will encourage me is important if I’m to make respectable spiritual decisions. I can find them through social media outlets, at churches, in small groups, and through good authors. These voices remind me who I am in Christ: a new creation, a masterpiece in the
making, a child of God who has worth and has been accepted into His family, an overcomer of unhealthy habits, addictions, and social mores. These voices will encourage me to seek God’s guidance in every decision I make.

Hearing voices is acceptable; just make sure you listen to the appropriate ones.

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Rejoice Always

It wasn’t necessarily the words that were offensive, but the timing.   

You notice the oddest things during suffering. Physical touch or a simple hug are like a balm to your soul. Exuberant joys and deep pains come in waves. You crave the sounds and sights of nature. And sometimes things you never noticed before get on your nerves like the beeping of an empty IV bag … ot the lack of grace from a stranger.

During my chemo rounds, something bothered me that hadn’t before: the phrase, “Praise the Lord!” Everyone (myself included) would say it every time we got news we wanted to hear. We said it when the doctors said there were no more signs of cancer. Yet when my friends’ scans came back with a different result, there was silence.

David, a man after God’s own heart, understood this. His baby became ill. David fasted in sackcloth for days. Despite what he wanted—despite what he fasted and longed for, he did not withhold his praise when God’s answer was “No.” He did a “Praise the Lord” when he received news of the child’s death. He did not let bad news thwart the praise God deserved but gave it even in his storm.

God’s hand isn’t less able to save when we get news we weren’t desiring. Silence can be a reflection of our shock or a pout because God is not giving us what we want.

My family started a new tradition. When we get good news we say, “Praise the Lord!” But when we get bad news, we say the same. Doing so has had surprising results. Those three little words remind us God is God and we are not. Things may not be going the way we would like, but everything is going to be okay because God is still on the throne. This is not all there is.

All good and perfect gifts come from God. Praise Him in the good and in the bad.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Don't Quit!

If you plant tomatoes, you don’t harvest habanero peppers.

The law of the harvest never fails. You always reap what you sow. That can be a good thing and a not so good thing—depending on the seeds you’ve sown. 

Right now it’s a good thing since it’s the end of the harvest. Nearly all of the tomatoes are gone from the garden, and the number of peaches at our roadside stand gets fewer each day. It’s my last chance to put summer in jars.

As I peel, pit, cut, and preserve, I’m thankful I didn’t quit gardening in the heat of July when I was weary of weeding and watering. Now I will be rewarded with summer tomatoes in February’s chili. 

The same law applies in my spiritual life. In due season, the good seed of God’s Word and the prayers I’ve sown in the lives of others will reap a bountiful harvest and fruit of the Holy Spirit.

But sometimes the season between sowing and reaping seems long and hard. As we pray through the season of heated rebellion in the lives of our loved ones, we can grow weary and be tempted to give up.

If that is how you’re feeling, take heart and don’t quit. You’re not alone. God hears your prayers, counts your tears, and—though you may not be able to see it right now—is on the move.

Buy a jar of garden fresh tomatoes, put it in the pantry as a reminder not to quit, and keep on believing a harvest of good is coming.    

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Turning on the Light

I was ready for bed after traveling all day to visit my family.

Unable to find the flashlight in my parents’ basement, I turned off the overhead light and headed back to the pullout couch. Darkness surrounded me, engulfing me so tightly I lost my way. I stopped. The basement was furnished with several tables and chairs and had two cement support poles, but no nightlight. Like a blindfolded child playing Pin the Tail on the Donkey, I shuffled slowly toward what I hoped would be the couch wondering how I could have become this disoriented in just a few seconds.

I felt the table, but knew one cement pole was nearby. My arm stretched in front of me, reaching for anything solid. I missed the pole. Taking one more step, my body straddled the pole. I laughed as I rubbed my head. The experience taught me an important lesson: I need to turn on the light to find my way. 

Too many times, we underestimate our need for the light of God’s Word. We hurry into the day, trying to see the way, only to find we are engulfed in darkness. Psalm 119 reminds us God’s Word is the light we need. He will help us find our way no matter how dark it is.

Resist the urge to rush ahead without turning on the light. Flip on the switch of your heart by reading His Word, and trust Him to light your way. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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A Moment in Time

He stopped and knelt beside the little girl, took her hand in his, and spoke softly.

Several years ago, my seven-year-old granddaughter, Ashley, and our family went to see a live performance of the life of Christ. During intermission, the man playing Jesus walked up and down the narrow aisles and spoke to different ones as he passed. He stopped by Ashley and looked directly into her eyes. Ashley's eyes were glued to his as a look of love and complete acceptance covered her face.

We watched him continue down the aisle, touching many and talking with others. I turned to my granddaughter, took her into my arms, and said in a quiet voice. "Ashley, Jesus talked to you honey."

"Oh, no," she replied with eyes full of complete reverence. "That was God, Gramma." 

My heart skipped a beat and the lump in my throat was as big as a fist. She was right. Jesus is God incarnate. God took on flesh and came to earth as a human being to die on a cross of disgrace to give us grace and life eternal.

Ashley had no doubt she and the man in the linen robes and dusty sandals were the only two in that crowded room where more a thousand people had come to witness something so few understand.

Jesus still walks among us today and speaks to us daily. Listen to what He has to say.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Choosing a Side

We have become tolerant of so much in our society.

People are suffering through homelessness, mental illness, abuse, and other injustices. God hates these things. Standing by and watching them go on around us without action is unacceptable. Nor should we ignore them or become desensitized to them. We need to pray about these situations and step in to stop them. 

When David says he hates what God hates, he is taking a stand against those who are against God. He is choosing what side he is on—God’s side, and he is pledging his devotion to Him. I want my heart to break for the things that break God’s heart, and I want to hate the things God hates. I want to see things of this world as God sees them, so I can trust Him to guide me in what is right.

As believers, we should not ignore the things going on around us that displease God—even if they are considered common. We should serve, pray, and follow God’s lead on how to stand up against the things He hates. We are on His side, and He is on ours.

Ask God to help you see things as He sees them. Then ask Him to guide you in the proper way to stand up against what is wrong. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Be an Encourager

The need for encouragement and a true sense of self-worth is one of the greatest threats facing the world.

Typically, I would not have given much thought to the value of being encouraged by someone or the liberating power a kind word can bring, but this week has been an epiphany. I’ve had many close friends come to me with various heartaches and struggles—some so traumatic I was left without words to soothe them. All I could do was listen and try to empathize with their situation.

Since I’m a chatter box, I rarely run out of words to say to someone who is in pain or dealing with a life circumstance, but this week was different. Telling someone who has a life-threating illness to be positive because life works itself out is difficult. As is telling someone who is losing everything they own because of a job loss to trust there are plenty of jobs on the market. Encouraging someone in need goes deeper than positive affirmation along with a call to be strong and endure the ride.

God wants me to help those in need and encourage those who are broken. Walking out that call begins with this dynamic Scripture: This is my command; be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go. All believers have the God of the universe walking with them through every trial and dark place. There is no need to fear.

Instead of trying to fix your friends, family, or loved ones with positive statements or false claims of hope, encourage them by reminding them about God’s love and how He will never leave or forsake them. Be the example of God’s love and encouragement by walking hand in hand with others through their pain. You can become a walking encourager by showing others God’s unwavering love and commitment to them by your actions.

Ask the Lord to show you how to encourage someone who may be shattered by life. Then watch as the Lord uses you to heal and lift up those who have lost hope. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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The God Package

There was truth in my typo.

I work part-time as an assistant to an insurance agent. Not only do I help clients with their insurance needs, but I also create marketing pieces to help generate more business. This is a fun aspect of my job because it taps into my creative side.

Our agency offers two packages to help electricians with their business insurance needs: The Gold Package and The Platinum Package. Each offers different coverages.

As I proofread one of my marketing creations, I noticed a typo. Instead of typing The Gold Package, I had typed “The God Package—which offers 30-plus upgrades in coverages, at no additional cost.” My boss and I had a good laugh. After correcting the typo and putting the finishing touches on the piece, I mailed it out.

But the typo contained truth. God does offer salvation as a gift. His gift of salvation is a “package” of His unfailing forgiveness, everlasting love, and never-ending mercy and grace. This package also comes with unlimited coverage.

There are no limits to the provisions and protection God provides. His children are fully covered. And the best part is that it comes with no additional cost. It’s free to anyone who will appropriate it through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Accept God’s Package, and experience His forgiveness and unlimited goodness.

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Make it Your Ambition to Be Small

When God leads us to a season of success in any area, we must be cautious.

Long before man was created, Lucifer was one of the heavenly archangels who had the responsibility of leading the angels to worship God. But Lucifer (or Satan) became enamored with his beauty. He attributed his gifting and calling to himself and no longer gave glory to the One who rightfully deserved it. Then he was corrupted and fell to the earth, where he now roams.

We can fall into the same insidious and evil sin Satan embraced: pride. If we’re not careful, we will attribute our ability to stand in victory to our own doing—a dangerous thing. Pride comes before a fall, so taking heed lest we plummet to the ground from our high place without a safety net is important.

When we remain humble, the Lord’s grace abounds in our lives. He gives grace to the humble but opposes the proud. We are to clothe ourselves with humility—a highly attractive attribute to God. Jesus Himself was meek and lowly of heart, so we should make it our ambition to be small in our own estimation and give all the glory to the Lord. 

Taking inventory of our lives and asking the Lord to show us any area where pride may have taken a foothold is crucial. Humbling ourselves before the Lord allows us to be secure in our hearts as we depend upon Jesus. Humility puts us in the place where the Lord will lift us up in His timing and in His way.

When God showers us with His grace, let's remember to give Him all the glory. Such an attitude pleases our Father. If we embrace humility, we will find that God's grace surrounds us like a strong summer breeze. 

God will enable us to stand when we kneel before our Master in meekness and humility.   

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Rings of Love

Before saying “Hello” to the flight attendants, I lay my hand on the plane and ask God for protection.

Occasionally when boarding a plane, I linger at the entrance a few seconds and wonder if anyone notices my routine. On my last trip home, I stared out the window while thoughts of God’s love consumed my mind. As we soared through the sky, I noticed a shadow of our 747 jet in the clouds. What awed me was our plane had a large rainbow ring around it. For me, this was God saying, “Don’t worry, I heard you.” I smiled and thanked Him for His protection.

God wants us to know He will always protect us from hurt and harm. We just need to have faith He hears our prayers. The enemy will try to put fear in our minds, but that’s when we go to God’s Word to defeat anything he throws our way. The second part of the verse reminds me of the beautiful rings around the plane. God reassured me He heard my prayer and was watching over my life.

Now, more than ever, it is important that we ask God for constant covering over our lives and families. Even if you’re traveling to a store five minutes away, ask God for protection. Then believe it is done.

God hears your prayers for protection, and He will give you peace beyond understanding.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Stop Wishing for Something Better

If you’re grumbling, you’re probably not thankful for your job.

My husband and I own a business and have several employees. Most of them are hard workers and are grateful for their jobs. We’re always willing to reward them with bonuses and pay raises.

However, we do have some employees who periodically complain about their jobs, hoping a better one will come along. This can become a burden to us as owners. We aren’t enticed to give nice raises and bonuses to employees who grumble while working for us.

Many employees seem to grumble about their jobs daily, wishing something better would come along. Putting our efforts into tending the job we have and protecting our employer's interest with joy and thankfulness helps us see fruitful rewards where we are.

Work like the company belongs to you. When you do, God promises you will be rewarded. We are better off working vigorously at the job we have instead of grumbling about it and wishing for something better.

Work hard and protect your job. Then watch as God rewards you where you are.

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Confront Doubt

Never turn away in the darkness from what God has revealed to you in the light. A pastor shared this twenty-five years ago, and I still depend on its truth.

We all struggle with doubt. It arises from circumstances, people, and Satan. While natural to doubt, it's dangerous to allow doubts to encroach on productivity, cloud judgment, or thwart our spiritual journey. Unexamined doubt distracts us from our course. Even worse, it can spread its poison to others.

God has an important job for us that involves the people He has placed in our path. Our influence can help someone who’s on a road of doubt. A hub sends spokes out to steady a bike wheel, and God can send direct lines from us to others.

Asaph models how to handle doubts in Psalm 73. He confronts God about why bad things happen to good people and why good things happen to bad people. The arrogant seem to get ahead. It's enough to make a wise man doubt. As verse 9 states, “Their mouths are set against Heaven and their tongues strut the earth.” But God does notice.

Our understanding comes as Asaph's did when we enter God’s sanctuary. He recognized he was acting in ignorance and doubt. The NIV translation uses the term brute beast and conveys the idea of an unintelligent animal caring only about his comfort and physical needs. We are capable of far more. 

When we are embittered or tempted to doubt, we can entrust it to God. He guides us with good counsel and reassures us of His presence and strength. This life will hold its share of defeats—and even devoted persons may doubt God in times of crises. But retaining unhealthy attitudes can lead to dangerous thinking while confronting our doubts will make us stronger.

Open up and be honest with God about your doubts. Remember He is in control of all things. 

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Labor in God

I shed a few momma tears today. It's difficult when you have a child with a disability … hard on the heart.

Our son has worked hard to be the best he can be. He's worked twenty years at a local grocery store, rarely missing a day. Recently, they mentioned a possible new position for him in an upcoming expansion. He was thrilled they asked, but it dealt with money, and he knows numbers and counting are both something he cannot manage.

"Mom, I thanked them for the opportunity. I was honored they asked, but I can't count so good. So I passed,” he said.

I told him how proud I was of him. First, that he'd thought through the invitation and weighed the pros and cons. Second, that he realized the sum of a disability does not equal the sum of who he is. And finally, that he was so darned polite about it.

He smiled real big and said, "It's good, Mom. I'm happy."

It was all I could do to keep clear eyes until he crawled out of the car. But when the door shut, my momma heart began to bleed. I cried all the way to work, hurting for my boy. He works so hard. Every effort is deliberate and determined, but there are things his disability simply will not allow.

Paul worked diligently to spread the Word of God. Sometimes his efforts were accepted, and at others times they got him tossed into prison. Still, his efforts to do his best for the kingdom never ceased. He knew God would never let his work be in vain. Even when it seemed that way.

Disabilities aren't fair. They're dealt to us without invitation, but it's how we manage them that sets the bar. Our son is a shining example of God’s love. He takes his work as a bagger seriously. If you know him, you'll find such nobility. Yeah … that's the word. Nobility. Our disabled child is a child of the King, born of nobility. Gifted from above. He doesn't fit the mold of the world, but you wait until heaven. He'll be counting every head entering the gates and letting God know right up front if a lamb is missing.

Our son’s diligent work does not go unnoticed by his employer or the customers he loves so much. And God blesses him.

Put your best work forward for the Kingdom, and God will never let it be in vain.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Sell Them on eBay

As the worn-out proverb goes, when life gives you lemons, sell them on eBay.

In 1886 Dr. John S. Pemberton created a “brain tonic” to cure headaches and hangovers. Unfortunately, the Atlanta pharmacist’s concoction of cocaine, cocoa leaves, kola nuts, and fruit syrup didn’t sell well. According to tradition, Dr. Pemberton discovered some stock boys had added club soda to the brain tonic for a refreshing—and apparently, recreational—drink. However, Asa D. Chandler is credited with carbonating Pemberton’s unsuccessful elixir in 1892 to create what is now known as Coca-Cola … which, incidentally, no longer contains cocaine.

In 1968 Dr. Spence Silver, a research scientist, searched for new ways to improve the adhesive that 3M used for its many kinds of tape, including Scotch Tape. By accident, he discovered an adhesive that formed itself into tiny spheres the diameter of a paper fiber. Because they made only partial contact, they didn’t stick very strongly when coated onto tape backings. The company dubbed it a failure. Five years later, Art Fry, a new-product development researcher, heard Silver talking about his adhesive. Fry had always been frustrated with scrap paper bookmarks that kept falling out of his church choir hymnal and realized that Silver’s adhesive could make a wonderfully reliable bookmark. Soon 3M was producing paper tapes and labels which became known as the ubiquitous Post-it Notes.

In 1980 I had a dream job—working in my denomination’s youth department with some of the smartest and funniest people I have ever known. I looked forward to going to work each day to edit a teen magazine called Wind. Six months into the job, the general board cut the department’s budget in half, and half of us lost our jobs. The night of the announcement, my wife and I had planned to go out to dinner and a concert. I called Lois and told her about the devastating news, but also said, “Let’s still go out to dinner and the concert to celebrate. This looks absolutely horrible, but I’ve got to believe that someday we’ll look back on this as a great career move.” It did turn out to be a great career move. I started freelancing for other departments at the denominational headquarters.

But there are far worse things than losing a job. Heather Gemmen suffered through what is arguably the worst thing that can happen to a woman. At home, with her two small children sleeping in the next room, she was brutally raped by a knife-wielding stranger. She spent the next year being tested for possible AIDS. And seemingly worse, discovered she was carrying her attacker’s child. But through the pregnancy, the “all clear” on her AIDS tests, her husband leaving her, and raising the girl, Heather has been instrumental in bringing hope to other rape survivors. Her honest yet hopeful book, Startling Beauty, offers comfort to millions of women on national talk and news shows.

So how can I profit from this truckload of lemons on my front porch? It’s probably not financial gain, although Dr. Pemberton’s failed brain tonic has sold quite well as a soft drink. I’m still up to my neck in lemons, but I believe I’m seeing perseverance, character, and hope emerging from the fruit market of my life.

When you’re facing lemons, think of a possible benefit that can grow out of your situation. Let hope help you persevere, and perhaps consider how much you can get for this lemon on eBay.

(Used by permission of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.)

(Photo courtesy of morguefile.)

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Knock, Knock - Who's There?

I refused to open the door to Jesus.

For years, I not only heard knocks on the door of my heart but also felt them. I misinterpreted those thumps, believing they were school studies, a career, and community work. Those activities became my focus, and I dismissed any need for a spiritual life. But the knocks continued.

The painting, The Light of the World by William Holman Hunt, is a beautiful illustration of Revelation 3:20. Jesus is knocking on a door that’s overgrown with weeds. The house has been neglected. It is dark and uninviting. Jesus’ lantern offers the only light. Despite the house’s unwelcome appearance, Jesus knocks on the door, prays, and waits for the heart-owner to open the door.

Mr. Hunt captures the truth—that Jesus can enter your heart, but only after you open the door and invite Him in. Jesus won’t force His way into your life. He can’t.  Like the house in Hunt’s painting, your heart doesn’t have an external doorknob.

During my life before Jesus, my heart was choking with vines and weeds. But Jesus’ reaction was to knock and pray without ceasing. His knocks were polite but firm. He didn’t beg or shout. Despite His promises and prayers, I couldn’t let Him in. What would He think about my sinfulness? I knew He would be mad at me and would list my wrongs in chronological order.

After years of peeking through the window and wishing He would go away, I finally opened the door. Joy filled my heart that day. Jesus wasn’t mad at me. He didn’t recite an inventory of my mistakes. Rather, He sat down and said, “I love you.” The peace that overcame me was a delicate whisper which passed over my heart and evaporated years of frustration, confusion, and anxiety.

When Jesus knocks on your heart’s door, He prays you will open the door and invite Him into your life. He offers love, not criticism. So go ahead and open the door.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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We're All Like Barnabas

“Come quick, Tom, Barnabas has eaten another chicken!”

We flew down the front porch steps as our rescue dog hunkered away. For the present, our dwindling number of teenage chicks are parked outside our front porch for their protection. But our dog keeps eating them.

We wonder what would have happened had we ignored the four-pound stray puppy with a twisted leg. I know we’d be richer. We would have also gotten more done last summer if we wouldn’t have had to chase him and our standard poodle, Sam, all over the county.

Finally, we invested in a wireless fence. Sam didn’t go off the porch for a week after he got zapped, but Barnabas seemed to ignore it. Soon, he began to disappear with the other country dogs. At first it was just a few hours, but then hours stretched into days and then a week. It left an empty space in our home and hearts. Bring Barnabas home, Lord, I prayed one night.

“Pauline, Barnabas is back, but he’s in bad shape.” We threw our puppy in the shower which ran red with blood and filled with loose fur. He looked as if something had chewed him to death.

Barnabas lost his fur, was sliced to the bone in several places, and had lost several pounds. Yet he lived. And now he’s eating our chicks. On days I’m fed up with him, I think about me.

I wandered for several years. It’s a miracle I’m still alive. After I stopped running, I hunkered back to the Lord. He didn’t scold me or discipline me. He patched my wounds and spoke soothing words to me about His faithful love.

After all of His care, I still wander. Other pastures look better, and the grass is greener somewhere else. Sin is exciting—for a time. And then it beats you up. At least it does me. But then there is God’s grace. Supernatural. Sustaining. Enormous.

When I was little, my daddy and I sang the song about the wandering sheep and how the Great Shepherd would go looking for the one who ran away. I’m glad.

If you’re wandering, go home. It’s better there. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Power in Life's Storms

When we have no power source—or the wrong source, we suffer.

Under the weight of one particular ice storm, tree limbs, fences, and utility lines fell. Thousands lost heat, water, lights, and access to outside communication. Debris blocked driveways and roads. A fortunate few escaped, and some had power restored within hours. Others waited days or weeks. A small number lost their lives from hypothermia, traffic accidents, fires, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Failing to connect with God’s power brings greater loss. When life snows us under with the burdens of daily living, God walks with us, offering peace, comfort, and joy. When those burdens multiply with unexpected tragedies—disease, relationship issues, job losses, layoffs, addictions, and more—God provides solace for the moment and hope for the future.

God responds when we need someone to listen and when no one else seems to care. He sees, hears, and abides with unfailing compassion. The clutter of commitments can block progress in any direction, and we wonder how to dig our way out. God guides with words from the Bible and His indwelling Holy Spirit, reminding us about what matters most and what needs to go.

And after our physical strength wanes and we look death in the face, we can claim victory through the power of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of His return. Everyone encounters storms and interruptions of life, but no one has to face them alone.

Depend on God’s never-failing power when you face the storms of life. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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The Bible Tells Me So

“Who is this Jesus, anyway? Why do you bother with Him?”

I looked the asker in the eye and answered, “Life is so short, my friend. With Jesus, my life has no end.” 

In disbelief, he laughed, “Oh, really? How can you know that?”

Quoting a childhood song, I smiled and answered, “The Bible tells me so!”                                                                                                       

I’m not just a Christian because I was raised in church, attended Sunday school, or went to church on Christmas and Easter. I’m a Christian because I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Jesus is God, so when Jesus speaks, God speaks. And Jesus said, The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work (John 14:10). Jesus’ promise is God’s promise.

When God speaks, I want to hear what He says. I want to hear Him tell me how to love that annoying co-worker, how to forgive that loved one who has pierced my heart, which path to take, and for whom to pray. When I gave my life to Jesus and accepted His forgiveness, I had to make commitments in my thinking. The main one was that the Bible is God’s Word.

The Bible is a compass directing our lives. We have the answers to the mysteries of life through our faith. God has something to say every day, whether through a devotion, a verse in the Bible we read, or during a quiet time with Him. He is anxious to hear from us. 

I find a new fullness and clarity in my day when I check in with God before I do anything else. Feeling the affirmation of His love through devotions and fellowship with other Christian women puts a peace and confidence in my heart.

When others ask you how you can know you’re a Christian, tell them because the Bible tells you so. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Am I Not Still There?

Closing my eyes, expressions of praise and thanksgiving spilled from my mouth to my Creator.

Unable to sleep, I crawled out of bed early one morning and tiptoed downstairs to the kitchen. As I walked past the breakfast nook window, I stopped to view a beautiful sight. The full moon shone like a marquee—puffs of big white clouds highlighting its beauty. Mountains in the background completed the picture.  

God truly is an artist. His morning strokes of beauty remind me of His eternal presence and give me a special gift to start my day. This particular picture shouted love. But when I opened my eyes, shock stole my peaceful thoughts. The moon was gone. During my moments of praise, fog had enveloped the scene.

In that moment, I heard a whisper, “Is it not still there?”

The question, like an invasion of privacy, begged a response. “Yes,” I said to myself, “the moon is still there. I just can’t see it anymore.” 

God reminded me how often my walk with Him resembles that scene. When His presence resonates within me and directs me, I enjoy shining moments. At other times, I cry, “Where are you? I need You to show me the way. I can’t do this alone.”

When I go through struggles and see no visible answers to my prayers, I’m reminded of that morning scene and the soft whisper, “Am I not still there?” and of my reply, “Yes, You are still near me.”

Leave your concerns in God’s capable hands. He is always near. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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If Trees Could Talk

Supermarket produce can’t compare to the taste of freshly picked fruit.

My dad grew fruit trees for years. Every spring, in order to grow the best and biggest fruit, he pruned the trees, removing branches that needed to go. Had those trees been able to talk, they might have said, “No, not again! It hurts too much. Can’t you leave us the way we are? Please, not that limb. That’s my favorite.” Nevertheless, Dad proceeded with the task.

After pruning each tree, Dad inspected his work. Regardless of how drastic his actions, he usually found more limbs that needed pruning. Some years I thought he would kill a tree or two with those finishing touches. They looked so bare, stripped of all but a basic outline of their former selves.

Yet each tree soon filled out again—more beautiful than ever. Blooms appeared everywhere. Rather than scarce, knotty fruit, he harvested large, tasty apples, pears, peaches, and cherries.

Left to themselves, the fruit trees’ harvest would have been minimal and of poor quality. But my dad knew what they needed. He forced them to produce a bumper crop of the biggest and best fruit year after year.

Imagine the trees’ subsequent expressions of gratitude: “Thank you. The pain was worth it. We’re glad you didn’t leave us like we were. Look what we produced because of the tough choices you made.”

When God prunes our dead spiritual weight, we often kick and scream. It hurts, and we don’t like it. He also trims the less productive, making room for untapped abilities to emerge. While we’d rather hang on to the comfortable ways of our past, God knows the familiar—like a worn out pair of gardening shoes—needs to be replaced.

Much good comes from our pain. Years from now, the seeds from our fruit will continue to multiply through harvests of their own—just as the master gardener planned.

Learn to enjoy God’s work so you can grow stronger, blossom, and bear fruit like never before.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Pressing On

Trying to stumble through the mundaneness of the winter months, I became aware of my need for motivation.

Life can be routines mixed with pleasurable moments but also has the tendency to be fleeting. Recently, I discovered beauty in the dullness of this season in my life. My family transitioned churches and communities and moved into our new home on New Year’s Eve. We ushered in the New Year by searching through clutter, hoping to find bedding so we could enjoy a restful conclusion to our busy day.

While unpacking, I found myself searching for meaning. Though I was candidating and unanimously voted into the church and was feeling great about the situation, relocating is always hard. You worry about your children acclimating to a new school and wonder how you will fit into this new opportunity. The celebration was over and I was feeling underwhelmed—lost.

My routine was gone and friendships were now referred to in the past tense. Though I had no desire to move forward, I had to find strength in a season where everything was in hibernation.

The term “press on” came to mind.  Paul talked about pressing towards the goal in his life. I realized I was on a journey too, but my spot was a transition that did not indicate the journey. Journeys aren’t defined by one moment or experience. They are defined by the total experiences of the steps we take in life.

We have to press towards our goals and aspirations. While there will be seasons of mundaneness mixed with extraordinary pleasures, the totality of these experiences make the journey. If you feel stuck in a similar position, remember winter gives way to spring just as night gives way to morning. 

Keep going; you will find your purpose in this journey. 

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Prepare to Defend

“We are flying on an overbooked flight. If you are willing to give up your 8 a.m. seat for a later flight, please see us at the desk.” The announcement rang through the airport P.A. No one in the waiting area raised a brow.

Again, the flight supervisor made an announcement. “As you can see, we have 22 new Naval Academy graduates with us today. Thank you ladies and gentlemen for your service. Again, if anyone is willing to give up their 8 a.m. seat for a later flight, please see us at the desk.”

The waiting area at the gate erupted in cheers and applause for the 22 graduates, but not one person offered to give up their 8 a.m. seat.

I stood and gazed down the line of new recruits. “Excuse me, are all these recruits needing seats?”

The woman at the desk nodded. “They’ve been called up immediately. We have to get them to Charleston by evening.”

“I’m in no hurry. I’m happy to hand over my seat.” The attendant at the counter thanked me and asked me to wait.

“I’m not sure we can shuffle this many seats,” she whispered to her associate. It sounded like an odd situation. I’ve flown from Chicago numerous times when boot camp has ended and soldiers get their orders. I’ve never known them to be required to travel as a group. The attendant made a third announcement. Still no response.

I found my seat in the waiting area next to a young recruit and, after chatting with him, learned the recruits were heading to officer’s school. During this high alert time, the government wanted them traveling as a group for their safety.

Their safety? It suddenly occurred to me what a serious state our nation was in when our new officer trainees had to be protected themselves.

“What made you join the military?” I asked.

“I wanted to be someone who made a difference, ma’am. I want to prepare to defend this country. I had a mind to go to college, but the Lord impressed on me this need.”

“Thank you for protecting me and my family.”  I jotted down a promise from Psalms and handed it to him. “You keep this close.” He smiled, stuffing my business card with the Scripture into his wallet.

David gave us such hope in his writings. Throughout the Psalms, he reminds us of the promises of a faithful and loving God. He held tight to his personal experiences, knowing God protected him and kept him from harm—watched over him. The hope found in this promise gave David a little extra boost. For us, it’s hope.

The flight miraculously had enough seating. I’m not sure how. No one else stepped forward to give up a seat, but God is God. Seating has never been an issue for Him. As we deplaned in Atlanta, the officer trainee stopped next to me. He smiled, patted his wallet, and walked away.

I’ll never see that young man again, but the opportunity to offer him a promise went into his wallet that day. I’m grateful for his service and for the service of the thousands of men and women who sacrifice for “one nation under God …”

Pray for our military, for their safety, and for this nation. Be grateful for our freedom, and be prepared to defend it.

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Wants and Needs

Focusing on what we don’t have can make being thankful for what we have more difficult.

When my daughter was two years old, we went grocery shopping. As we went up and down each aisle, she reached out for a toy or pretty package. “I want that,” she said. After telling her no several times, I finally pointed to one particular item and said, “You may want that, but you don’t need that.” On the next aisle, she reached out for yet another enticing article. “I need that,” she said.

When we ask our heavenly Father to meet our needs, it may seem we’re hearing no more than yes. Of course, it might be because we have trouble understanding the difference between our wants and needs.

Having a roof over our head, enough food to eat, a secure job, money in the bank, and a working car are all good. So is being healthy and having a family and friends who love and care about us. If we can claim these among our blessings, praise God.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking those things are needed. What we need is God’s love and forgiveness, love for others, and growth in our understanding of who God is and what He wants us to do with our life. We need to take our eyes off our wants and remember to thank and praise God for all the good things He has done for us.

Many years have passed since my daughter got her first lesson about the difference between wants and needs, and she still struggles with the concept. So do I.

Stop what you’re doing every day and “Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103:2 NIV).

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Be Diligent and Courageous

John Wayne said, “Courage is being scared to death, but saddlin’ up anyway.”

Many have stood in the face of challenges that have been brought on by the economy. Some have felt as if they had the wherewithal to face down a charging horse, stand in an arena with an agitated bull, and pick themselves up after getting thrown to the ground from atop a saddle. But some of life’s challenges can cause us to lose our cool and fail in relationships too.

Jack Sorenson, the western artist and cowboy greeting card artist for Leanin’ Tree, put it this way, “I didn’t have the guts to become an artist; I just had the ignorance … I figured, God gave me this talent, and I was afraid of facing Him one day if I didn’t use it.”

Courage comes at a time when we must press on despite the circumstances. Diligence is the unwavering effort to accomplish the task at hand. Luke 16:10 tells us if we are faithful with little, we will be faithful with much. For the Lord to work in our lives, we must allow Him to take control. The thought is scary, and many never trust in anything besides their abilities.

God gave His Son so we could communicate with our Creator. To stand in the presence of a Holy God requires confidence that we have a way to approach Him. Allowing Christ to have first place in our life lets us approach Him and be near to Him at all times.

God wants to know us. Let Him know what scares you, what makes you happy, and what your dreams and goals are. If there are obstacles that prevent us from entering His presence (sin), we need to confess and ask for forgiveness.

Be a hero of the faith, and have the courage to stand for Christ in spite of political beliefs or world opinion.

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We live in a world where defeat is lurking around the corner, waiting for an opportunity to pounce.  

As a cheerleader in high school, it was my job to spur on the players and spectators by yelling and encouraging everyone to get excited about emerging from the competition as victors. As with most competitive sports, however, victory didn’t always pan out, and the bus ride back home was a long one.

Although we begin each morning with a blank slate of possibilities, we are not always in control of the events we encounter because we share time and space with others. While glorious when I can put my head on the pillow at the end of the day feeling victorious, many times I end the day feeling defeated because of my choices and attitudes.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. This verse is filled with encouraging truth. The writer tells us to hold on unswervingly. When challenges come—and they will—we are to hold on to the hope we profess. Like a boxer in the ring, we should be steady and focused. Our motivation to endure the inevitable blows of hardship is in the assurance, For he who promised is faithful.  God has already won the victory through Jesus Christ on the cross and at the open tomb. Nothing is too difficult for Him.

Now for my favorite part as a cheerleader. I pray until Jesus returns that we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Make your bus ride home joyful, knowing your God is faithful.

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Night Chorus

The pungent smell of wet earth greeted me when I opened the door.

As I stepped from my car onto the wet pavement, I glanced down, being careful not to squash the long, bulging, brown creatures inching their way toward the edge. The saturated ground had flooded their holes with muddy water and coaxed them out in droves.

Down the street, the neighbor’s dog barked at the sound of the car door closing. In the distance, the faint sound of a coyote's howl drifted through the damp night air. An owl's melancholy "hoot hoot" occasionally punctuated the evening serenade.

Winter's snow had melted early, filling ponds to overflowing. The milder temperatures warmed the water, enticing millions of frogs to gather and chirp their spring song repertoire throughout the night and into the early morning hours before finally closing their eyes in slumber. Their cacophony of voices brought back childhood memories of summer evenings lying in bed with the windows open, listening to the sounds of twilight.

God's creation sings constantly. If you still yourself long enough, you can hear its song—especially at night after the hurried world of people clocks out and goes home. Why not join me in seeking out these tranquil sounds?

Spend some time appreciating nature's chorus.

Dear God, You delight our senses with the melody of creation. May we take pleasure in those sounds and rest long enough to hear them. Amen.

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Lest We Forget

Forgetting what one needs or wants terribly to remember is a horrible thing.

I once chaperoned an eighth grade trip to Washington, DC. Memorials are always high on the list of things to visit because they are constructed to help future generations remember a particular person or event.

While not the most popular, the most interesting memorial for me was the Korean War Memorial. The artist majored on the number thirty-eight. Thirty eight was the number of the parallel that divided North and South Korea. It was also the number of months affected by the war. A problem arose, however, when trying to place thirty-eight life-size soldiers on the designated plot of land which had only enough room for nineteen. The artist decided to design a reflective wall. When looking at the wall, thirty-eight soldiers are seen trudging through terrain representative of Korea instead of the actual nineteen there. Problem solved. Statement made.

Memorial Day is the day when Americans remember military personnel who have died while serving their country. The holiday originated as Decoration Day and was established by a group of Union veterans. Eventually, competing Union and Confederate holiday traditions were merged into one and celebrated together.

God also likes memorials and warns His people repeatedly not to forget Him or the things He has done for them. In Israel’s history, delivering them from 400 years of Egyptian slavery needed remembering. For Christians, the big unforgettable deliverance is Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.

For years, I’ve worn paraphernalia with Christian symbols on them—mainly the cross. Since I got in on the tail end of the hippie movement, wearing jewelry came naturally. From necklaces with crosses to watches, bracelets, key rings, and shirts with the same, I’ve worn it all—with the exception of earrings. Needles never attracted me.

While jewelry and other clothing articles with Christian symbols can make good witnessing and conversation starters, my actual lifestyle is a better memorial to the difference Christ has made in me. Symbols mean little without actions, attitudes, and words to back them up. Just as America’s war memorials would mean nothing if we cast aside our love for freedom and our appreciation for those who bought it.

Americans remember their military dead with a holiday. Build something that will help others remember what Christ has done for you.

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Freezing Time

Wouldn’t it be nice if time could be frozen?

Kathy called her daughter and complained, “Someone stole my alarm clock.”

Her daughter laughed loudly.“Mom, that alarm clock is so old no one would steal it. You’ve simply misplaced it.” 

“Okay, fine, I’ll look for it.”

Kathy searched for it most of the morning. Finally, when her stomach growled, she decided it was time for lunch. Making her way into the kitchen, she opened the fridge where her eyes locked on a familiar object. On the bottom shelf sat her alarm clock. She didn’t remember putting the clock in the fridge, but she knew only she could have done it.

When she told me, we laughed. Some other friends asked if she was trying to freeze time. Their remarks made me wonder how many times I’ve wished I could have frozen time.

I thought of times when I should have frozen my words and never let them escape. Or when I’ve cringed while watching others struggle with growing older.

As my children grow and mature, I find myself wanting to freeze them back in time. I want more time to laugh with them and teach them about God’s wondrous love. I want to freeze them again as children when it was easy for them to believe and trust God. When they didn’t wonder if God had forgotten or abandoned them.

I would also like to freeze my life in the moments when I can feel God so near that His love overflows my heart. And when trials come, I’d like to freeze time and return to the moments when I could feel God carrying me.

While it’s impossible to freeze time, I can know God has walked with me in the past and will in the future. In my heart, I feel His love cover me, freezing me in time as He holds me in His everlasting embrace.

Let God hold you in His arms. There you can face your fears, shortcomings, and future—whatever it might hold. 

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Shedding the Justice Chip

I have what I affectionately refer to as a large “justice chip.”

My justice chip is sensitive to wrong-doing and can flare up at a moment’s notice. While there are times when this chip has been warranted and even beneficial, most of the time it is nothing more than judgment and jealousy in disguise. A moment of selfishness where I lose sight of empathy and compassion and instead focus on the ways I am right or have been wronged. A bitter seed that flourishes with every minor injustice. Ultimately, this self-righteous justice chip keeps me from fully loving others.

According to Peter, I must love before I can fully obey. The words, “Now that,” are present focused and allude to an action which occurs after something else. Peter is speaking to believers, and there is an assumption that they are already living out God’s word—a supposition that they are obeying God’s commands and are free to have true love for others.

Love cannot come before obedience. Like those early believers, I need to obey God’s truth first. Obedience will help purify my soul and shed sinful habits. Then I can love in the way God intended.

When I feel tempted to polish off and righteously don my justice chip, I say a prayer to help me submit every thought to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). My thoughts can take me into valleys and negative places where the enemy is waiting to pounce. Eventually, my thoughts will become actions if I don’t lean on God to tame them. And actions fueled by jealousy, judgment, or blame are never beneficial.

I also need to make sure I do nothing from selfish ambition, while considering others better than myself (Philippians 2:3). When I do this, my natural instincts to feed my justice chip with jealousy and judgment slowly slip away.

Accept the Spirit’s power to fill you with empathy, compassion, and love.

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Dissolving Doubt

“Stop! You’re not going to make it.”

“It’s okay,” my husband said as he struggled to push the refrigerator through the door.”

“But the rug is buckled. There’s no way you can get over it,” I argued, watching as the rug buckled more with each push. In my mind, there was no possible way to get the large appliance past the obstacle.

To my “It’s not going to work,” he said patiently, “Step back. I know what I’m doing.”

How many times have I—in so many words—said the same thing to God? “Stop! This is not working. I’m not going to make it. Let’s try Plan B.”

The good news is that whenever my doubt takes over, the Lord patiently whispers, “Step back. I’ve got this. I know what I’m doing.”

When things look impossible in the natural realm, that’s when God does His best work. He steps in and supernaturally takes care of the problem. He’s the God of all power (omnipotent), all knowledge (omniscient), and unlimited creativity. He always makes a way when there seems to be no way. He takes the foolish things of the world to confound the wise. He also says, For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.

When I finally listened to my husband and stepped back, he methodically brought the refrigerator through the door without a hitch. He knew exactly what he was doing, even when I could not see or understand.

In the same way, when I step back and allow God to take control, He shows me He knows exactly what He’s doing, even when I don’t get it. He dissolves my doubts. That’s what faith and trust is all about.

Are you dealing with doubt? Take a step back and let God go to work.

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Try Looking Up

I have a voyeur squirrel that loves to plaster himself against my skylight.

Almost every morning, I hear little paws scurrying up the shingles of my roof as soon as I turn my bathroom light on. Then I look up to see a squirrel peering down into my private life. I don’t understand the attraction. This crazy squirrel should be off somewhere gathering nuts and minding his own business instead of wasting his time watching me go about mine.

I also don’t understand why we often focus on the problems of others instead of working to repair our own. Yet we seem eager—even thirsty—to view the sensational lives of the latest celebrity or reality show hero.

Busying ourselves with productive things is better than spending too much time scrolling through media posts, watching reality shows, crushing candy, or engaging in other mindless activities. Gazing upward toward spiritual things is also better than focusing our attention downward on life’s iniquities.

Songwriter Helen Lemmel, in her song “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus,” encourages us to turn to Jesus when we are weary and troubled. Doing this is better than adding to our misery by focusing on and finding pleasure from the troubles of others.

Happiness doesn’t have to be elusive. By turning our eyes toward God and our hearts toward others, we’ll discover lives that are fuller, richer, and happier. Help, strength, and peace come from God.

I still don’t know what my crazy squirrel is thinking when he’s looking down into my skylight. Is he staking his claim or just avoiding the realities of his own life by peering into mine? Either way, I think he and the rest of us should try looking up instead.

Turn your eyes up to the Lord and find the help you need.

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A Time To Let Go

If only real life was like the movies where someone’s bad behavior is turned around by another person who just won’t give up on them.

When I was dealing with my former husband’s alcoholic behavior, I went to Al-Anon meetings—a place for families to recover from the effects of living with alcoholism. There, I began to understand it is impossible to “fix” other people or make them change. I accepted that I am powerless to control others or stop them from doing destructive things should they choose to continue doing them.

We all strive to fulfill the ideal of biblical love that “never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” But if we are hanging on to a toxic relationship that habitually damages our mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being, it may be time to look closely at what is driving our choice to stay connected.

Sometimes we hold on to what's not working out of fear. If we let go, we will lose control, the other person will fail, and we will be blamed. At other times, we stay close because it’s what other people expect us to do. Or it may be that we keep coming back for more because we fear the unknown. What would life really be like without our troublemaker in the mix? 

In time, I discovered the freedom of detachment with love. Detachment—letting go—means caring enough about someone to allow them to learn from their mistakes. As I refused to continue taking responsibility for my husband’s choices and stopped covering up for him by lying and making excuses, he was positioned to face and deal with the natural consequences of his behavior.

I wasn’t giving up; I was stepping aside so God could work in his life. From a distance, I continued praying, never lost faith, and remained hopeful for a bounce-back and a change of heart that only God could bring about. Letting go was hard, but it was the best thing to do. There is a time to hold on and another to let go.

When God prompts you to let go, let go.  

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The process of purchasing a first home can be daunting.

All three of my children are interested in purchasing their first home. There are so many things to consider. How many bedrooms will they need? How much are the property taxes in the school district?  

Before they can select the home they would like to buy, there’s a little matter of arranging the financing. Of course, it’s not a little matter at all. There are hoops to jump through. Every aspect of your personal financial life is picked apart: timely bill payments, income, credit scores, and debt verses income ratio.

All of the above issues must be addressed before you hear the magic word, “approved.” The responsibility of being able to qualify for approval rests on us. We are the ones who have to do all the right things and avoid making mistakes. Poor choices can cause the past to haunt you for years.

I have made plenty of poor choices during my lifetime. I’ve done the wrong thing, said the wrong thing, or focused on the wrong thing. And some of those actions had long-lasting repercussions. Some of the repercussions were the result of personal sin. I have owed God a great debt for the sin that has crept into my life.

But the amazing thing is that the forgiveness for my sin has already been pre-approved. God has no hoops for me to jump through to be accepted into His family. Jesus Christ has paid all my debts by His death on the cross for the ungodly. We are pre-approved because of His love. All we have to do is recognize our need for His gift and accept the forgiveness He offers.

Through the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, we have been pre-approved for acceptance by God.  

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Confronting the Jericho Walls

Jericho walls can show up in various shapes and sizes.

When the Promised Land’s kings heard about God's miracles, their hearts “melted in fear” as the Israelites advanced toward their land. The residents of Jericho decided to lock themselves in and the Israelites out.

I've encountered a few Jerichos, and you probably have too. Perhaps your workplace is a Jericho walled with personal agendas, power plays, and turf wars. Maybe you've seen the walls at church. Faced with a godly challenge, frightened Christians may forget they don't own the church. Up go the walls, and the gates slam shut. Perhaps it's closer to home in a relationship. Someone's heart—melting in fear, shuts you out. Or your fearful heart could be shutting out that someone. Either way, walls enclose hearts and bar gates.

According to Jesus, the truth sets believers free. One truth is that wall-building, gate-slamming fear is a lie. It whispers the Lord isn't trustworthy, and that He can't heal our broken hearts or redeem our personal agendas. Centuries ago, God miraculously delivered those former slaves and led them to freedom. It took the Israelites two generations to release their distrust and fear. We can do it today. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Ask God for marching orders around your Jericho wall. Whatever you wall is, it's a squatter on the Promised Land, and it will crumble when the real owner shows up.

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The Making of a Country Song

“Sadie is howling, whining, and acting like a crazy female.”

Autumn colors reflected in a fishing pond beside the quaint cabin. A family getaway for four in the mountains of Tennessee. In the trip planning, paw marks indicated a pet-friendly rental cabin. The foursome included me and my husband along with Sadie, a female dachshund and Big-T, a male pug.

Sadie does not like new adventures or riding in a vehicle. She is a homebody (home-dog). She relentlessly paced in the backseat, whining with displeasure. After arriving, she anxiously refused to eat for hours.

Each night we put the dogs in their own crates with cozy bedding. Sleeping quarters we call “your house” brought from home. Surely, the familiar would calm.

Sadie’s howling started the first night. Big-T (the pug) would eventually join in with whimpering, “What’s wrong with her? Maybe I don’t like it here either.” We took turns getting up, scolding her, tapping the crate, and saying, “No! Go to sleep Sadie!” Each time, the tapping became more forceful with sleep deprivation.

It brought back memories of getting up with our children as infants. No scolding or forceful tapping. Only feeding, holding, and rocking with lullabies. And sleep deprivation.

We never allow the dogs to sleep on our bed at home, so unless we became desperate, it was not an option. We did not want to start a habit away from home that would be hard to break later.

Our daughter checked in with me by phone text. As I typed the message about howling, whining, and acting like a crazy female, I thought the words were fitting lyrics for a country song. Some country songs are about dogs and crazy females. We have friends who are country artists, although we never pitched the idea.

As Christians, earth is our temporary home. One day we will travel to a heavenly home where we will spend eternity. This fallen world and unfamiliar surroundings can make us anxious, nervous, crazy, and whiny.

Christ speaks words of peace to us. Never scolding, but softly tapping on our hearts, gently whispering, “Hush child and rest in me.” God is living among us; let His love calm all your fears.

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Looking to the Future, Remembering the Past

As I examined the struggling African violet, it suddenly slipped from my hands, sending dirt in all directions. 

Although I had been a Christian for many years, my growth—like the violet, was stunted until I experienced a crisis. As with the little plant, my roots were torn from their safe surroundings, my world was changed overnight, and my life was broken into many pieces.

Just as I cleaned all the bits of dirt from my kitchen and placed them back into the flower pot, so God has placed each of my pieces lovingly and perfectly back into their proper place and molded me into a fresh and new vessel. Now I have begun to grow and bloom as never before.

Occasionally, we need to have our roots shaken and branches pruned so God can perform the miracle of spiritual growth in our lives. My crisis was having a husband of twenty-seven years leave me for another woman. The months and years since then have been times of spiritual growth, intermingled with dealing with other crises which included financial needs and health concerns.

When my faith weakens and anxieties threaten to tear at my peace and shred my joy, I remember my past. While living in the past or dwelling on what might have been isn’t wise, it is helpful to reflect on our pasts and remember the way God walked with us through the heartaches, cares, and concerns of life.

Recalling how God met my needs—sometimes in unexpected ways, is encouraging. He didn’t always take away my problems, but He walked with me through them. As I live my life, I have confidence that God will walk with me today and in the future as He has in the past.

Even when your roots are shaken, know they are firmly rooted in the soil of God’s love.

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Don't Cry

I ran into Judy in a corridor at church one Sunday morning and was giving her a hug when a friend interrupted our conversation and said, “I’m praying for you, Judy.”

Judy had been widowed three months earlier. We talked about how she was doing and the mounds of paperwork she was sorting through.

“Thank you, I need prayer,” Judy responded, as her eyes filled with tears.

“Oh, don’t cry. Let’s not have tears,” her friend said as she patted Judy’s shoulder.

I’m not sure if I kept a straight face or looked appalled, but I wanted to cheer for Judy as she answered, “No, I need to cry.”

Clearly uncomfortable, the woman walked away and said, “Well, I’m praying for you.”

I turned to Judy and said, “Cry all you need.”

I appreciated Judy’s boldness to set the record straight. Grief tears are necessary and normal. Tears of grief are different from tears we shed when we peel an onion or are exposed to irritants. They contain healing chemicals.

Jesus wept at the news of his friend Lazarus’ death. Jesus is also referred to in Scripture as a Man of Sorrows. Our tears are so important to God that He stores them in a bottle and records every one. He knows we need to cry and expects that we will. He designed us to cry as a part of our healing.

Watching your friend cry may be awkward, but can you step away from your discomfort and affirm their need to shed tears?

Crying is a part of grief journeys. View your tears as God’s gracious provision. 

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Trust His Timing

When prayers are delayed, anxiety and worry can follow quickly.

Most Christians have something they are praying about and are eagerly awaiting God’s answer for. When time passes and the requests remain unanswered, faith and patience are put to the test.

It is easy to identify with the prophet Habakkuk, who grew weary in waiting for God to answer his prayers.

God hears our prayers and answers them according to His sovereign will and timing. Though we may not understand why the answers are sometimes delayed, we must trust that God loves us and will give what is best. God wants to bless His children and glorify Himself through them.

God possesses infinite wisdom and knowledge and knows what we need and when we need it. We can trust His perfect timing. Apparent delays can change suddenly in our favor and for His glory, but He is in control and will bring His perfect will to pass.

God is good to those who wait and is faithful in keeping His promises. Our time is put to good use when He exercises our faith, increases our endurance, and brings us to a new level of strength and confidence in Him.

The way we wait is a significant factor. We can fret and be unhappy, or we can place our trust in Jesus and enjoy life while we wait. Drawing close to Jesus through prayer, praise, and thanksgiving will keep our hearts filled with joy while we wait.

Waiting on God is never a waste of time. Make the choice to lay your burdens at the cross and trust God’s timing.

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Lord, Am I Thankful?

Sometimes, enough is never enough.

I sat in the tax office, holding my breath. My first time filing as single instead of head of household. My fourth year as a small business owner where I had more expenses than income.

Two hours earlier, I had told God I would be thankful regardless of what happened. Thankful for the roof over my head, the car I recently paid off, and the means to visit my daughter—whom I’d only seen twice in the past year, since she had married and moved out of state.

Yes, God. I trust You. As long as I don’t have to pay any taxes, I initially told Him. Then I boldly changed it: As long as the filing fees are paid for. I could trust God to take care of filing, couldn’t I? I could trust Him with anything, right?

When I realized both of my prayers were answered, I took it a step further. Enough to pay some bills. Put food on the table. Gas in the car. Surely God will bless these selfless needs, won’t He?

The answer came. I was getting a refund. Enough to pay myself back for the plane ticket. And also enough to pay the car registration, renew my business license, and fix a lock at the house.

He’d answered my prayers and then some. But it wasn’t enough. I selfishly wanted more. I got in my car and drove away, feeling ashamed.

I remembered the Bible verse about the man who believed Christ could heal his son and who asked Jesus to remove his doubt. I changed the words believe and unbelief to thankful and thanklessness and repeated them continually. God, I am so thankful. You hear me. You help me. Thank you.  

Professing to God that you trust Him—along with asking Him to help you with that trust—is easy and possible. God will hear us, help us, and honor our attempts.

What obstacles keep you from moving closer to God? Give them to Him, and ask Him to close the gap. Then be ready to claim His blessings when He does.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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When God Gives Extra Time

What could I do with an extra day?

Almost every four years, an extra day is added to February. More than 2,000 years ago, Roman general Julius Caesar introduced Leap Year into the Roman world, which at that time used the Julian calendar. Every year that was divisible by four was classified a Leap Year. This practice produced too many Leap Years but wasn’t corrected until the introduction of the Gregorian calendar.

Leap Years are necessary to sync the Gregorian calendar with the earth’s revolutions around the sun. The earth requires 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 46 seconds to make one revolution. Since the Gregorian calendar year only has 365 days, failing to add one day every four years would mean losing six hours annually and a total of 24 days over 100 years.

Joshua needed some extra time—a Leap Year. Daylight was waning, and he hadn’t finished defeating God’s enemies. He decided to pray and ask God for more time. God answered by allowing the sun to stand still.

I’ve often wished for more than an extra day. A few more hours in every day would do nicely.

Joshua’s reason for needing extra time was admirable; mine doesn’t always fall into the same category. I suppose when God gives extra time, I need to reflect on why I have it. Is it because I’m lazy? Are there things I should do? Does God have plans I’m not following? Does He want me to rest?

Of course, the opposite may also be true. God might withhold extra time because I’m not using His allotted time judiciously. Jesus tells several parables demonstrating the necessity of using wisely what God has given, along with warning about what can happen when I don’t.

Leap Year gives me an extra day for meditation—and perhaps action. A day that won’t surface for another four years. A day to meditate on some crucial questions: “What have I done with Jesus?” and “What am I doing for Him?” A day to contemplate His goodness in spite of my badness as well as His undeserved unconditional love and forgiveness, even when I don’t meet His expectations.

Leap Year re-aligns the calendar with the earth’s rotation, preventing the loss of time. Taking advantage of the extra time God gives can re-align priorities, decisions, relationships, and life in general.

Use Leap Year’s extra day to take a leap of faith.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and quicksandala.)

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Don't You Understand

Six years ago, the Lord directed my husband to take a job transfer. This required a move with only four weeks’ notice – precious little time to prep our home of eleven years. However, without hesitation, we rented a home in the new location while continuing to pay the mortgage. We acted in faith, and the Lord provided. Our home sold in three months in spite of the economy taking a downward spiral.

When my husband neared retirement, the Lord impressed on our hearts to move to our childhood city to be near family. Once again, we found ourselves paying a mortgage on an empty home while paying rent in a new location. As before, the economy plummeted. Over the past six months, we’ve had two failed contracts. Recently, we entered a new contract, yet three times we received requests to extend the closing date for various reasons. I admit—I have questioned our Lord like the disciples did.

The disciples traveled the countryside with the Messiah. Twice they witnessed the miracle of Jesus multiplying a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish to feed thousands. Later, when traveling on a boat, they realized that they had just one loaf of bread left.

Hearing the disciple’s conversation, Jesus warned them to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod.

The disciples asked, “Is it because we have no bread?”

I can imagine Jesus releasing a sigh when He asked, “And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of fragments did you take up?”


“Also, when I broke the seven for the four thousand, how many large baskets full of fragments did you take up?”

The disciples responded, “Seven.”

How quickly the disciples forgot what Jesus was capable of doing. Didn’t they understand that if Jesus could feed thousands He was able to feed those few with Him on the boat?

Why have I been fretting? Just as Jesus was in the boat with the disciples, He is in my current house transaction. I must remember that the Lord sold our home the first time; therefore, He will do it again.

Don’t you understand?

Recall the miracles the Lord has done for you. Write them down. Then recognize that He has met your needs before and will do it again.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DodgertonSkillhause.)

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He Heals the Brokenhearted

The greatest fear a parent has for their child is them being rejected.

We fear rejection for the ones we love the most, but what happens when we are the ones who are thrown to the side and discarded. The greatest emotional pain we can experience is rejection. The emotional trauma from losing approval and being betrayed is a pain we all fear in our lives. But how does God view rejection and hurt in our lives?

As a pastor, I have experienced betrayal and hurt in my ministry. Sometimes the greatest hurt can come from the people closest to our hearts. We let people in to fill the loneliness in our lives, allowing them to see us at our most valuable state. Our guards are lowered, and we allow others to see us without the charade of perfection we put on for most people. We get connected and we allow them into our thoughts and ideas. Then without warning, the hurt of judgement and rejection comes into our heart and leaves a deep and gaping hole. This is an emotional trauma we all experience at one point in our individual development.

The Lord is one of restoration and of peace. To be discarded is to experience a similar suffering as Jesus suffered in His life. He was crucified by His own people and even doubted by His own family. Rejection from family or friends is a pain the Lord felt before you. The restoration of your heart is in Him, and your rehabilitation is in His perfect love.

I have been tremendously hurt in my life and my restoration came from God’s love. He restored my ability to love and trust people. He will heal your broken heart and bandage your wounds. The only requirement is giving Him your hurt in exchange for His love. People will hurt us because they have unhealed wounds of rejection themselves. Stopping the cycle requires giving your hurt to God and seeing beyond the person’s actions. 

You are very special to the Lord, and He wants you emotionally and spiritually secure. Hurt finds us all, but the hurt doesn’t have to leave permanent imprints on our souls. Allow the Lord to restore your heart today by giving Him your hurt in exchange for His love. 

Look beyond the rejection and see your value safely secured in God’s passion for you. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hotblack.)

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We Are Each Unique

I wish I would have known God had a special purpose for my life when I was growing up. I had a good personality and made friends easily, but I had low self-esteem and spent too much time comparing myself to others. I didn’t know I was special in God’s eyes and that loving myself was a command from God. If we don’t love ourselves, we can’t love others.

It’s a shame that we don’t hear more often that in God’s eyes each one of us is special. We are unique—one of a kind. We’re not meant to be like anyone else.

Our looks, talents, and abilities are gifts from God and designed for a specific purpose. The problem is that many of us make our own plans without consulting God. When we do that, we miss out on discovering the path God has specifically designed for us and we often burn out.

Once we make a decision to seek God first for direction and align ourselves with Him, He will guide and equip us as He did for the people in the Bible.

When God approached Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and many others with jobs for them to do, they often made excuses for why they couldn’t accomplish what God asked. Some felt unqualified, others thought the job was too big, and some felt they were too old. They pictured obstacles. God saw potential. When they stepped out in faith and did as God asked, He used them in mighty ways.

God wants us to take risks and with faith conquer feelings of self doubt. Past experiences should not stop us from moving ahead. The world equates success with high-powered jobs, large sums of money, big homes, and fancy vacations. God equates success with walking in His footsteps—doing  things that have eternal merit.

We can’t take anything with us when we leave this world, but we can be sure of where we’re going if we invite Jesus into our lives.

Take an inventory of your schedule. How much time did you invest this past month on temporary goals and how much on eternal goals? Positions and possessions play a large part in life, but a relationship with God and connections with people are the best investment.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Adityaram.)

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Unless the Lord Builds

I recently had a day on my job that was an exercise in futility. I executed a change in my work schedule I thought would be productive. I worked longer and harder than usual but accomplished even less than I did on most days. When God is not working with us we actually labor in vain.

The next morning part of my daily reading was Psalm 127. God is always right on time. Reading this passage I realized why my efforts the previous day were so futile. I tried to build the house without His help.  Sometimes there's a very fine line between diligence and striving. God wants His people to be diligent. But God exhorts us not to strive. He tells us to stop striving, believe, and know He is God.

The pertinent point is how to distinguish between hard work and nervous effort? It’s simply the one accompanied by peace. That particular day God tried to give me a sign: restlessness in my spirit. Peace is referred to as the barometer of the soul. It’s the indicator of how well our efforts are aligning with God's will. It is not the absence of struggle but the presence of calm or tranquilly in our daily battles. Our Heavenly Father is concerned about His children's daily life, and peace is the compass that guides us.

The pivotal question is whether we believe God wants to take care of us in the mundane aspects of our lives. The Bible says,  “Faith without works is dead.” But some of us practice that as work without faith. Maybe I should have taken a few moments alone with God and asked Him why I was so restless that day. 

When we feel that compulsion to work longer days, sometimes we should just shorten our workday and retire early. This may be the most diligent, obedient, and productive thing to do. For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep (Psalm 127:2c).

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and imelenchon.)

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New Beginnings

My very first experience in ministry was starting a little church called “New Beginnings” in my hometown. The impact of that first church plant has impacted my life and ministry throughout the years—the significance revealed in little ways as I pursued greater things. Reflecting back, I know the fruit of wisdom comes from the new beginning birthed from that experience.

I was twenty-seven years old when I started this chapter in my life. My wife and I had two young children. The church was a sacrifice from the beginning. We were living entirely off the income from the church, which was very new. Our income was up and down the first year. I was excited to begin this new chapter, but I began to think I had made a mistake in my decision.

New beginnings are not always the rosy picture we paint in our minds. I often compare this experience to child birth.  The process is painful, full of fear and excitement. Oftentimes it harbors ugly, unexpected conditions. The end result is a new mother holding her child while forgetting the pain it took to bring that life into the world. Our new beginnings can be painful processes that produce great upheaval in our lives. They bring uncertainty and fears to the surface, but God has a plan through the process.

I was scared to fail—afraid the church would fold under my leadership. It was very young and fragile, just like a new born baby. I grew in strength and confidence through that first year just as a mother grows in confidence and strength through her first year of motherhood. Just as a child grows up, so fear and insecurity will eventually fade as we grow through our fears.

The Lord will not simply take away our fears without faith. He wants to create stability in us. New beginnings are not always what we picture. God sees beyond our fleshly desires for short-term pleasure. When we call to the Lord for help in our distress, He cradles our fears with His perfect love—the perfect love that overcomes fear. Still we must first face the fear in His love to see beyond our mental block.

I overcame my insecurity in that first year of ministry. The church is strong today and a permanent reminder of God’s love and faithfulness. New beginnings are not neat and free from obstacles. New chapters release us into a great future, but we must first overcome the fear of the unknown. We must push through the pain while putting our destiny in God’s arms.

Stand strong in this New Year and expect great things for the future. Remember, your future is always guaranteed in the Lord and in His faithfulness!   

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and singhajay.)

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When my friend Joy shared that she and her husband were expecting their second child, I celebrated with her.  However, early in her pregnancy, Joy began to experience complications, and her doctor discovered the baby had “water in the brain.” They contemplated draining the fluid but reconsidered because it would put both the baby and the mother in danger. All Joy could do was pray for a miracle. 

Many joined with Joy and spent the next several months praying and pleading with God for mercy. But at eight months, her precious baby stopped breathing. It was emotionally devastating. Two days later, we buried baby Zion in a casket the size of a shoebox. We cried as we bid Zion farewell. Joy wailed and refused to be comforted because Zion was no more.

The next several months were marked with emotional turmoil. I tried to support Joy. I sat with her but felt helpless to comfort her. I tried to help her nurse her body as she recovered from childbirth, a birth to a child she could neither see nor hold.

Seasons have come and gone, but I still think of Joy’s season of life like it happened yesterday. God has carried Joy and her family through their season of loss and grief, and while they will never forget the sadness of this season, they have continued to trust and hold onto God. 

Psalm 66 reminds us there are seasons when our faith will be tested. My friend Joy now tells me her affliction made her stronger. Just as a good refiner never leaves the crucible—closely monitoring the heat from the fire—as he cleans and purifies the precious silver metal, God too never leaves our side as we go through the sorrows of life. Our faith is refined and strengthened under His watchful eye. When we reflect on our season of testing in this light, we then see God’s power and love. 

You may be going through a testing season and feel it is too great to bear. God will carry you through your pain and sorrow. I pray that, like Joy, you will see how He purified you like silver and showed you the depth of His power and love.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and erdenebayar.)

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The Sacker Saved the Eggs

I was chatting with the checker and sacker at the local grocery store in our small town. The sacker, a new employee, carefully placed my groceries in the bags. I said, “Oh, I can carry the eggs and bread since I want to put them in the passenger’s seat for their safety.”

I initiated the transfer, only to experience the sensation of the bag falling from my hand. Much to my relief, the diligent sacker was still holding tightly to the sack that held the eggs and bread.

Circumstances or relationships seem to shove us, reeling and clutching unsuccessfully at the particles in the air to regain our stability. Yet, as God’s children, we feel the undergirding of His strength and grace. We have His Word as a basis for His presence continually being with us.

Do we recognize His rescuing intervention in our lives or do we focus on the falling sensation during those heart-wrenching situations? Or the oxygen-sapping blows that hit us some days, knocking us off balance in our emotional and spiritual walk? If we focus on our calamity or difficulty, then we miss the comforting awareness of realizing we are safe in His gentle care, no matter how hard the force of Satan’s attack.

Just as I realized how the sacker preserved the eggs, I know by faith, God will not let me fall. Trust what His Word states when Jude wrote He is “able to keep you from falling.”

Look for the reassuring, cradling catch of your Heavenly Father when you feel the terrifying sense of falling. He will be there for you, and you will see His powerful intervention if you use your eyes of faith to see Him. Then make the choice to rest in the arms of your loving Lord.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and erdenebayar.)

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Pruning Grapes

I recently visited a beautiful estate garden and learned how they trimmed their grapevines. They used manicure scissors. Tiny, sharp, manicure scissors.

I love how this Scripture describes the pruning God does in our lives: This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. I wanted to learn why these gardeners did it so precisely.

There was a plaque that detailed the intricate process. It wasn’t enough for them to simply cut off the branches that bore no fruit. They went beyond that to delicately prune each single cluster of grapes. When the grapes were still small and green, the workers precisely measured the ideal spacing between each of those tiny orbs. Then they used those tiny manicure scissors to carefully cut away individual grapes in each cluster so the remaining fruit could grow large and luscious.

The first thing I realized was the extravagant wealth that could afford such exacting work. The owner of those grapevines was wealthier than most of us can even imagine.

The second thing I realized was that they carefully protected each tiny morsel that would eventually be displayed at the master’s feast. There was nothing inherently wrong with the grapes that were cut away, but they were a hindrance to the best.

Our Father in heaven is far greater than a wealthy tycoon. He owns all of creation; His wealth is beyond measure. He loves us passionately and knows every intimate detail of our lives. He knows exactly what we need to fulfill His purposes, and we can trust Him completely. We are safe under His watchful care.

Usually, I think of God’s pruning work in my life as only being about cutting away the clearly bad fruit and dead weight. But sometimes, even things like health and security that appear good to me are tenderly trimmed away by the Master’s perfect and loving hand.

God wants us to trust Him even when it hurts to let go of what we think is “good enough.” Allow God to remove the good for what is best, and rejoice that He is preparing us in love for the feast that is yet to come! 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and auttiedot.)

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A Lesson from Mary

“Beth, I think you need to call 9-1-1, and do it now!”

We had only been home for about thirty minutes from my husband’s outpatient neck/spine surgery when he realized his chest pains were not going away. After a ride in an ambulance, x-rays, lab work, a heart cath, quadruple by-pass surgery, and ten days in the hospital, my mind was in overdrive. It wasn’t until it was all over that I was able to ponder all that had happened.

The Scriptures say that after the shepherds visited the stable where Mary gave birth to Jesus, she treasured all the things she had been through and pondered them in her heart. The Merriam-Webster dictionary lists a few definitions for the word ponder, but the definition that seems to best suit what Mary was doing at that time is “to think or consider, especially quietly, soberly, and deeply.”

She had a lot to think about and consider quietly, soberly, and deeply. In my mind’s eye, I can see her nestling in the hay, holding the Savior of the world, and thinking about all the events that had taken place:

The unexpected visit from an angel.
The fear that Joseph wouldn’t want to marry her because she was pregnant.
The news of an upcoming trip to Bethlehem.
The timing of the trip.
The disappointment that there wasn’t a place for her to stay and deliver her baby.
Having her first child away from home.
The surprise visit from the shepherds.
The story the shepherds told about the angels appearing to them.

Mary had a lot to ponder, but those memories that were tucked away in her heart must have helped her over the years, even when her son Jesus, God’s Son, was dying on the cross for the sins of the world.

Have you ever had something happen in your life, good or bad, that kept you so consumed and busy that it wasn’t until after things settled that you had time to process what had taken place? May we all learn a lesson from Mary and take time to stop and place special things in our hearts to be treasured and pondered. Why? To remind us of how much God loves us and that He’s always with us, no matter what we go through. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and octaviolopez.)

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Christmas Treat

My Pomeranian, Rigel, always jumps up the minute I go to my office and set my cup of coffee on the side table. He sits close to me with front arms and paws on the windowsill and looks out while I read aloud from the Bible and devotional book and pray.

This Christmas morning, as I sat on the big overstuffed chair, my tabby cat, Sabby, jumped up into my lap, closer than usual to Rigel. Fortunately, my rescue dog is well-trained and “stays” when I say so. Just as we three were settled and I had begun reading the Bible, the phone rang. Suspecting who it was, I rose to go to the bedroom for the phone. The cat jumped to the floor. The dog followed on my heels.

As my daughter, her husband, and their thirteen-year-old son began singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” I held the phone between the two animals. They moved away in opposite directions. I laughed, enjoying the frivolity.

After “Merry Christmas” and “I love you” from each side, I settled in again on the chair, my heart cheerful. I thought about the plans for the day. On Christmas Eve, some of my family had gone to a worship service at church. This afternoon, some of the family would come and we would have finger foods and watch the movie, Star of Bethlehem. Later, other family members would come and we’d have the turkey I’d cook and all the trimmings they’d bring. We would laugh and fight over Dirty Santa, play our Alphabet Gift game, and exchange presents.

I thought of what I’d taught my children when they were growing up: that we show our love to each other by giving—whether it’s an expensive gift or a handmade card—because God showed His love to us by giving.

I looked at my pets who had returned to sit with me as I continued with my devotions for the day, which included the Bible’s Christmas story of Jesus’ birth. I thought about Rigel and Sabby and how I believe they love me, but so often I feel they just try to please me to get a treat.

That led me to think about how my actions appear to God. Am I always asking Him for treats? He’s given me the greatest treat—Jesus coming, living, dying, and resurrecting for my sins so I can have inner peace on earth and an eternal home in heaven.

So this Christmas morning, I decided to do what my daughter and her family had done for me. They had wished me a Merry Christmas and told me they loved me. So during my prayer time, I did not ask for anything nor tell God what treats I wanted. Instead, I thanked Him for what He has already given, wished God and Jesus a Merry Christmas, and told Jesus I hoped He had a Happy Birthday celebration.

What better present could we have than what God has already given? The gift is here. We just need to accept it. What a Christmas (and forever) treat!

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hotdogcoolcat.)

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Mary Did We Know?

We don’t know what Mary was thinking when the angel announced an outrageous proposition. Perhaps . . .

“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

The teenaged girl recoiled from the voice that seemed to speak out from nowhere. Trembling fingers steadied the newly-filled water jug atop her head as her heart raced and her body stiffened. She squinted into the shaded alley of adobe buildings of Nazareth.

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.”

Troubled thoughts whirled, but any words were pasted to her now dry mouth. Who is this man that he should speak to me? And how does he know my name?

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Mary felt her knees weaken as she took another step backward and stationed the water jug as a guard between herself and the stranger. She had been taught since a young girl that respectable men do not speak to women in public. And now this man was speaking of things that should not be spoken of at all. She tried to collect her thoughts. I must defend my honor against this rude and disrespectful man!

“How will this be,” she managed to utter, “since I am a virgin?” She had kept herself pure for her future husband, and now she was betrothed to Joseph, the craftsman. They would be married within the year, and it was of most importance to remain a virgin until her wedding night.

But rather than be rebuffed, the stranger continued. “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth, your relative, is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

She fought to reason through these troubling words. Surely this prophecy could not be of God. The long-promised Messiah is to be born of royalty—in Bethlehem. And who would believe a woman could have a child without being with a man. This would bring unholy shame upon my family. It could cause my betrothed to have me put away or, worse, to order me stoned to death. And my child would be despised and rejected by all men.

But, surprisingly, she found herself considering this outrageous proposition. Perhaps, if this could wait until Joseph and I are married, then the child would have the protection of marriage—and he would not bear the scorn and condemnation of the world.

The stranger said nothing; his silence only emphasizing his troubling words: “For no word from God will ever fail.”

The silence seemed to stretch into eternity. Mary closed her eyes and found herself speaking as if hearing the words herself for the first time. “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

When she opened her eyes, the stranger was gone. And she pondered these things in her heart.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile.)

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More, Better, Newer

The signs of the season begin beckoning in October: “pre-holiday sale,” “30% off on flat screen TVs,” “buy one toy, get another half off.” By early November, the Christmas shopping season is in full throttle. I confess I can get caught up in the commercialism. I love buying gifts for my family and friends while strolling glittery aisles and humming Christmas tunes. But along the way, I’ll try on a cute pair of shoes or check out a cool gadget. By the end of December, I’ve bought myself a bunch of new stuff I really didn’t need.

The lure of “more” swirls around us all year, but it intensifies during the Christmas season. Jesus spoke often about keeping our focus on matters of eternal value rather than on temporary things. It’s ironic we seem to ignore that command more easily during the season in which we celebrate His birth.

How often does maintaining and acquiring possessions tie us down to a job that’s slowly eating away at the soul, or to a work schedule that encroaches on our time with God and our loved ones? What deeply meaningful service could we give to God’s kingdom if we had fewer monetary obligations? And what beautiful dreams might we be able to pursue?

Time for a change in the coming new year. Lord, help us to downsize our lifestyles so You can supersize our lives.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Earl53.)

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Why, Lord?

“Lord, I just don’t understand.”

I’ve found myself making this statement a lot lately. I don’t understand this crazy weather or the ridiculous dreams that invade my sleep. I don’t understand why people are so cruel and vindictive, or the reason such a young man died so tragically. And I really don’t understand why my friend keeps going back to her abusive husband.

Why? Why? Why?

Questions bombard us from every angle, especially if we’re in tune with the national news. What I’ve learned is that we can either worry and fret or go to the one infallible source of truth—God’s Word. 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart . . .

The problem with trusting is that we’ve been let down and disappointed so many times, it’s hard to place our faith in someone—sometimes even God.

And lean not on your own understanding . . .

We spend far too much time depending on our own understanding. We try to analyze and rationalize everything to death. If we can’t figure it out—and fix it—we get frustrated. If we’re not careful, worry sets in and we lose hope.

Trust in the Lord is a tall order, especially when we’re instructed to do it with our whole heart—no questions asked—no matter what the circumstances might be. God tells us His ways are not our ways. They are so much higher and greater than anything we can see, feel, or comprehend. In other words, He sees the big picture. He knows the end from the beginning and everything in between. He is the One who brings order to chaos, makes beauty out of ashes, and has a time and purpose for everything under heaven.

He is the One I can turn to when nothing makes sense. I don’t have to understand. All I have to do is trust.

How about you?

(Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net.)

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Stay Focused on the Example

Rarely do I mow my lawn without being reminded of a hard lesson I learned years ago. I was hired by a local farmer to plow his field because I knew how to drive a tractor. I had driven a tractor like his, but never to work a field.

The farmer came to check my work when I was less than halfway finished plowing his field. He nearly blew a gasket. My rows undulated across the ground instead of being straight lines. I had tried hard to make them straight, but I could not make it happen. I felt beat up and embarrassed. When I plowed my undulated rows, the work I had done was useless. Part of the soil did not get turned; part was turned more than once. This created uneven ground and soil not ready for the next step of preparation.

Once the man calmed down, he told me the secret to keeping the lines straight: focus on an object on the opposite side of the field. Don’t take your eyes off of it, and drive straight for it. I was amazed how it worked and how easy it was.

I still use that technique as I mow my lawn. When I am aware of what I am doing, I remember that lesson from years ago. I am also reminded of Jesus’ word to His disciples that no one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is worthy of the kingdom. Our walk with Christ is much like plowing our field. Without keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus and walking straight for Him, our walk will begin to swing left and right—not breaking up the fallow ground in our hearts, and not accomplishing the work He plans for us. Sometimes we can become so far off course that it’s hard to get back in line.

Rather than beating yourself up over it, thank Jesus for His mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Then use it all as a reminder to keep your eyes fixed on Him.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ronnieb.)

(For more devotions, visit us at www.christiandevotions.us.)

God's in Tune

Growing up, my radios were quite different than they are today. The digital world—not to mention satellites—changed everything. Now, I simply punch the scan button, and the radio automatically advances to the next available station.

For many years, I had to manually tune a radio to a particular station. Stations would advertise their call numbers. Finding it required turning a knob and advancing to those numbers. Though the numbers were displayed on the dial, they were in separated increments. I knew when I was close, but I could never know I had arrived until I heard a station. Even then, I couldn’t be sure it was the right one until I heard the announcer broadcast the call numbers. Delicately turning the knob was necessary to arrive at just the right station.

Digital numbers make it easy to know I’ve tuned in to the correct station. Knowing I’m tuned into God’s plan is nice as well. Gideon needed to know he was. He was sure God had instructed him to defeat Israel’s enemies, the Midianites. When God instructed him to do it with only 300 warriors, he was concerned he might have tuned in to the wrong station. Traipsing into the enemy’s camp one night and hearing a dream about a loaf of bread, convinced him he had the right station. God was dialed in to his dilemma.

Knowing God is dialed in to our concerns makes life easier and more peaceful, and peace is one of the fruits of the Spirit God says should hang from our life trees. But it’s not a peace only experienced when circumstances are in our favor. This peace hangs around when things are going our way—or not. Gideon uncovered it in a dream.

We can live with confidence and peace when we remember God is tuned in to our needs. Nothing escapes Him, and He often gives us little clues—as He did Gideon, that He’s aware of our circumstances.

Tune your heart directly to God where you’ll hear loud and clear that He knows your plight and is ready to speak peace and wisdom into your situations. 

(Photo courtesy of mandmwiles.)

(For more devotions, visit us at www.christiandevotions.us.)