A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Spirit & Mind

Focusing our minds on Christ. . .studying His word, drawing tight into a relationship that is unbreakable. This is when His Spirit lives in our minds helping us keep our eyes focused only on Him.

Room Temperature

I enjoy a good cup of coffee to start my day. That first sip makes me say, “Ahhh.” Who would have thought someone could run water over crushed beans and get that kind of enjoyment?

I discovered I like my coffee iced in the summertime when it is so hot here in the South. It cools me off but still gives me that refreshment and eye-opening I need in the mornings. During the fall and winter months, however, I prefer my coffee hot. A good cup of hot coffee warms me from the inside out. Plus, if I have a sore throat or a cold, the heat from the coffee helps.

One morning, I was talking with my sister and forgot about my coffee. When I remembered it, the coffee was room temperature and quite disgusting. I like my coffee ice-cold or hot, but room temperature or lukewarm is unappetizing. It reminded me of Jesus’ words to the church at Laodicea.

Jesus is talking to Christians who are going through the motions but not really sold out for Him. They are not all-in for Christ and His mission, so they attend church and maybe talk the talk, but they are just checking and marking their to-do list. Some treat the church as a social gathering instead of a place for training and equipping. They are more concerned with this world than with the next and with their personal comfort than doing anything for the kingdom. Appearances are more important to them than the substance of their Christian walk. Lukewarm Christians don’t give their best to God.

We all struggle with lukewarm seasons where we find ourselves going through the motions but with no real substance to our Christian walk. These seasons, however, should be only temporary and not a way of life. Our overall walk with God should demonstrate a life of full surrender to Jesus our Lord.

Make sure your temperature for Jesus is hot, not lukewarm.

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Starts and Ends

My friend was thinking about me and came over with a lovely cup of hot coffee. She wanted her old educator to listen to her. I told her to pray and not to worry. Grace woke us up today, so it is up to us to sprinkle kindness along the way. The Christian days we share do start and will one day end with Jesus.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here. I reflected on this verse. It was a new day. The verse meant that no one walked down any lonesome road alone. Jesus never leaves our side; He wants to hold our hands forever.

As believers, we trust in Jesus’ miracle healings and teachings. We worship the greatest healer and teacher in human history. Our days should start and end with Jesus. Daily, I sit here and ask how I can serve the Lord.

Personally, I aim to inspire belief with kindness and positivity. Perseverance should be our middle name. If we all do this, our faith will stand strong. Let’s pray and reflect on our blessings. Begin and end each day with Jesus.  

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Slaying Our Giants

As a small child, I loved the story of David and Goliath.

That was partly because, despite being the older daughter, I was the shrimp in our family. Therefore, identifying with David came easily. Additionally, our family typically cheered for the underdog in any challenging situation. Since we lived in the country and enjoyed outdoor life, my dad also made me a slingshot. However, berries from dogwood trees provided my only ammunition.

Later, I understood in greater detail how God worked through David to achieve a higher purpose than simply defeating a giant. David’s life demonstrated clearly that God can use anyone. From shepherd boy to king. From obscurity to prominence. From smallest to greatest. God took the little David had to offer and used it to change the world during David’s lifetime and beyond.

As with David, when God directs and we follow, we receive everything we need for the battles before us. Not only that, but we also complete our most significant work when we recognize our weaknesses and rely entirely on God’s power. On the other hand, when we tackle problems in our own strength, we usually end up like Goliath—flat on our face.

Our giants may be far different from David’s, but they remain no less challenging. Poverty, prejudice, crime, abuse, illiteracy, and a multitude of wrongs surround us. The tasks appear impossible. But if we choose one battle at a time under the leadership of the Lord, we, too, can slay some mighty giants.

Exchange your weakness for God’s strength and watch God work through you to slay your giants.

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Making A Mug

One sweltering day in August, we toured the town of Salado with some friends.

Downtown Salado is small, with a main street, some shops, a couple of restaurants, and a candy/gelato shop. But not far from the street is a glass-blowing place. We checked it out and found the shop full of vases, bowls, and cups. They were colored blue, orange, red, and green. We admired them and then got the chance to watch the craftsmen work.

We crowded on the metal benches and observed as one of the two men worked on a glowing red-orange lump on the end of a long tube. He heated it and then rolled the tube on a table nearby. He repeated this several times, but the lump didn't change much. The other man held up a glass mug and said his friend was making that.

I wondered how that blob could turn into a mug. Then the craftsman rolled the lump in some colored beads, rolled it a little more, and blew into the other end. The glob expanded and stretched until it was hollow. After the man touched it up and added a handle, it actually looked like a mug.

We’re useless when God first begins His work on us. Even as He shapes and molds us, it seems we're not making any progress—until He adds his finishing touches and we see how far we've come.

As God forms us into a useable person, we might wonder what He's doing. It feels as if He's doing a lot of unnecessary rolling and causing us needless pain. We may even fight against it. But maybe we're supposed to sit back and see what He's doing. Perhaps while He's forming us, He wants us to be still before Him and be confident in Him. But when He's done with us, we can accomplish much for Him and His kingdom.

How can you be more submissive to God’s molding of you?

(Photo courtesy of pixabay and sabinevanerp.)

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Heaven, Coyotes, and Me

The NextDoor post focused on the threat coyotes pose to our community and neighborhood. More than a neighborly heads-up, it called us to action with meetings and megaphones. The writer proposed the predators should be trapped and relocated.

I found myself siding with the coyotes. After all, weren’t we the ones intruding on their habitat? My home is at the southernmost tip of a peninsula in Florida, where new development runs rampant. More allies than adversaries, it seemed we and the coyotes shared common ground.

Coyotes are part of my everyday landscape. Their yips announce the full moon each month, and I return their vacant stares from a distance as I leave church. We practice a delicate détente. Turns out I’m more at peace with coyotes as neighbors than I am with the encroaching development that displaces families, businesses, and wildlife.

Nearby shopping centers and businesses that have served my community for many years are raised to new life as condos, apartment complexes, and storage centers. While I value familiarity in this season of my life, progress gobbles up precious memories, leaving a trail of loss and longing in its wake. It’s disorienting.  

But God’s Word brings comfort, reminding me this world is not my permanent home. We are created for forever. God has planted eternity in our hearts and given us the promise of heaven. And what a promise it is.

Paul writes in the book of Corinthians that heaven is beyond anything we could dare to dream or believe. The wolf will lie with the lamb, and I imagine I will frolic with the coyotes.

Heaven waits to welcome all who believe in the one God has sent. Theologians call it the divine exchange: God’s saving grace for our sins. We have all missed the mark. None of us is righteous—not even one.

But God loved us in our sins and made a way for us to be with Him forever. Jesus is that way. His sacrifice raises us to new life in Him on earth and with Him in eternity. With God, a promise made is a promise kept.

Ensure you believe in the one God sent to pay for your sins.

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Pray Bigger

I welcome each brand-new day as the golden-haired dawn draws back the veil of darkness.

We all hope to have a feel-good day of renewed positive energy. To me, God is like the sunrise—unfailing and reliable. The wings of dawn approach. It is like drawing back our human darkness as Jesus approaches in our prayers.

How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. This psalm seemed apt for the day as I read the Holy Word. At certain stages, I have taken refuge in the shadow of our great God’s wings. I kept on praying. These days, thanks be to God, my life is all quiet on the Western front and quiet on the eastern seaboard of this lucky land.  

To me and each follower of Christ, nothing is wrong with praying for God to grant us a peaceful refuge. We should all pray bigger—for more holiness in our world, greater faith, and God’s wings to soar over the younger people we raise or educate. I still do this as a tutor.

We can pray that Jesus appears to every generation ahead in their prayers and that they would have more compassion for the vulnerable. We can keep praying for solutions for the issues that confront them. Any prayer with good intentions is good.

Like our Lord Jesus, we must dream and pray bigger, as He taught us. Even if times get tough, God’s steadfast love will never fail us. Pray bigger. 

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Hide-and-Seek

“Who wants to play hide-and-seek?”

“I do.”

“Okay, you hide, and I’ll seek. Close your eyes. No peeking. Count to ten. No cheating.”

As a child, one of my favorite games I played at school and home was hide-and-seek. It’s not limited to athletes. It’s a game that invites all who want to come and play. The only requirement was to be the first to find the best hiding place. The joy of childhood. Living carefree.

God wants to play hide-and-seek with His children too. He wants us to come and play in a childlike way. To live free from worry and anxiety. Our big brother Jesus gives the cure for anxiety: take no thought for your life what you eat, drink, or wear. Jesus knows our Father and His righteousness and how the kingdom operates.  

Jesus doesn’t want us to worry about the burdens and cares of provision, protection, and preservation. Taking thought on these things is what causes anxiety. He knows what we need and promises to supply it. Anxiety causes us to be distracted, distraught, and dismayed.

The remedy for anxiety isn’t a magic pill but a daily process of striving to be right with God—believing God. God wants to save and deliver us from all our fear, doubt, worry, and unbelief. When we make the kingdom of God and His righteousness our aim, we are right with God. The issues of life are real, but so is the Word of God. God gives us the choice to have righteousness, peace, and joy. Kingdom victory—as children who live, laugh, love, and play hide-and-seek.

Decide to draw closer to God so you can live free of worry and anxiety. 

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Kaboom

The woman was torn. Commitment to Christ or to her old, unsaved friends? Everyone wondered if she would make the right choice and burn those bridges.

Bridges to the past can be dangerous to our spiritual health. Negative influences that keep us looking back and longing for the pleasures of sin—and keep our focus away from the Lord—must be destroyed.

In Ephesians, we read, In your anger, do not sin . . . do not give the devil a foothold. But this Scripture refers to more than just anger. When we refuse to get rid of those links to the past—people and things that try to pull us away from God—we leave the path unguarded and wide open for the Enemy to advance. Those links can lead back to the wrong type of friends, alcohol or drug abuse, or any number of destructive behaviors.

So, how do we burn those bridges? With the Word of God, prayer, and rejection of those bridges. To repent means to feel deep regret, change our mindset, and to do a 180. To turn around and go the opposite way. To walk away from those habits and sins that can harm us and those around us. When we become new creations in Christ, everything becomes new. The old must go.

My friend made the right choice. She cut off communication with the old crowd and walked away from all the harmful influences in her life.

Won’t you do the same? If you have bridges that need to be destroyed, pull out the powerful, life-changing Word of God and put it to work. Kaboom!

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The Master Key to Multiplication

"Benjamin," my dad shouted, "can I have your watch back?"

It remains vivid in my memory as if it happened yesterday. My dad, who had previously gifted me a beautiful watch, suddenly decided to reclaim it. I had eagerly anticipated owning that watch for quite some time, so I was bewildered when he took it back. Perplexed, I left his room, only to be summoned back later for an explanation.

My dad pointed out that I hadn't uttered a word of gratitude upon receiving the gift. He emphasized the importance of always expressing gratitude whenever someone bestows something upon me. According to him, a simple "Thank you" acknowledges the giver's generosity and encourages them to continue doing kind acts for me. This valuable lesson taught me the significance of expressing gratitude whenever I receive something.

We may sometimes fail to receive more from God because we neglect to thank Him for the blessings He has already given us. Like the story of the nine lepers who failed to express gratitude after being healed, many Christians overlook the power of giving thanks.

We may remember when we went above and beyond for someone and how we felt when they never acknowledged our efforts with a simple "Thank you." Our motivation to continue helping that person probably diminished significantly.

Lack of gratitude has a profound impact on God. It sometimes hinders His desire to do more for us simply because we fail to express gratitude. Jesus understood the secret power of thanksgiving, which enabled Him to perform the miracle of multiplying five loaves of bread and two fish to feed a crowd of five thousand plus. Although what He had seemed inadequate compared to the need, He received an abundance through the power of thanksgiving.

Consider your current needs and make a conscious decision to thank God for what you already have instead of focusing on your lack. You will witness multiplication in that specific area that exceeds your expectations.

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Call to Holiness

I watched almost every episode of the original Star Trek and the one that followed, Star Trek: The Next Generation. Captain Picard replaced Captain Kirk. With that replacement, he introduced a new one-liner command for his crew. As the USS Enterprise assumed new missions, Captain Picard gave the crew orders for that mission in one episode after another. During those episodes, the crew waited with enthusiastic anticipation for him to execute the order with, “Make it so.” Those on board rendered obedience, and off they went on a fresh adventure.

Similarly, when God declared Jerusalem holy through the prophet Joel’s prophecy, God’s authoritative word acted as the only basis. He declared His own “Make it so.” Before modern times, Jerusalem consisted of craggy rocks, large ugly boulders, and uneven terrain. For many observers, it seemed rugged and unholy. However, Joel referred to it as holy because God said so.

Holy means to set apart or sanctify. What God declares always comes true. Holiness arises from and encompasses His nature. He revealed His holiness to sinful people, showing desperate sinfulness and a fatal future for humanity. But for those He calls to Himself, He sets aside and grants grace to trust His word for salvation.

While God sanctifies through His power and Spirit, He also commands holy living. Through His grace, He also empowers believers to live holy lives. He guarantees holiness through the indwelling Spirit and also accomplishes what He guarantees. He exerts authority and power toward personal holiness and eternal life. He makes it so.

His declaration and power provide for our hope and assure our salvation. Jesus became God’s Mediator and Redeemer for setting the believer apart for God. For that reason, we owe Him complete allegiance and obedience.

God began the process of making you holy through His call. He will sanctify you as you battle against sin, Satan, the world’s allures, and doubt. He assures your eternal destiny by making it so.

How can you demonstrate daily your call to holiness? 

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For Whom Are You Praying?

I had no idea I had been praying for him for almost nine years when I met him. I had prayed for his relationship with the Lord, faithfulness to his wife, and integrity. I had prayed for his ability to provide for his family, not knowing he was already a business owner. I had prayed for his relationship with his daughter, having no clue he would be Daddy to six of them.

Our families became friends and overlapped in ministry and life, so I prayed specifically for their mama as she homeschooled, their finances as they raised a large family and served their community through their business, and their relationships as the children grew, matured, and bickered as siblings do. I prayed for the salvation of their daughters.

Understanding dawned one night when my son said, “Mom, I think Becky is the one.”

God had answered my prayers for this known-only-to-God family and gave me a front-row seat to His mercy and grace. He had supplied my soon-to-be daughter-in-love with parents who loved Jesus. Her daddy led and served their family and loved them well. Her mama was gentle, kind, and thoughtful. Becky loved Jesus, and her foundation for a life with Jacob was firm.

Praying for all people is pretty specific in its generalities. We do not know all people, but some we do not know will affect our families and lives. We should pray for world leaders and those who have authority over us, but praying for all people also means those who influence my family’s future. Future in-laws, future employers, and future spiritual leaders. Asking God to raise leaders who love Him, families who follow Him, and employment opportunities is part of interceding on behalf of our children. Praying for God’s protection and blessing for those who will become family is part of loving those who already are family.

Abundant blessings await us when God reveals whom we have faithfully lifted to Him. Think of people known only to God for whom you can pray.

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Over the Fence

As Jane scanned her carefully tended lawn and flower garden, she realized something wasn’t right.

After a few moments, she realized she couldn’t see blooms on the flowering vine she’d planted beside the fence. Masses of green leaves hung on the vine as it draped itself up and over the fence, but no flowers appeared. This frustrated Jane since she looked forward to seeing the colorful blooms.                 

“Hey, Jane!”

Recognizing the voice of her friendly neighbor, Joe, Jane turned and saw him standing at the nearby often-used gate between their properties.

“I thought you were over here,” he said. “Say, my wife sure has enjoyed the flowers you have on our side of the fence. She’s had to stay in bed since the surgery and can see them from her room.” Jane’s confused pause was evident. “Yeah, sure cheered her up. Come look.”

When Jane stepped through the gate to the other side, she saw them. Numerous blossoms from her vine spilled over the top of the fence and down to the ground on her neighbor’s side—flowers unseen from her side but evident on his.

Sometimes, this happens in my spiritual life. Perhaps I briefly smile while listening to a friend share a problem. Or maybe I start a new area of service. But no matter what I do, it could benefit someone else I’ll never know about. 

Actually, I don’t have to know. Yet in God’s plans for me, there’s an implication. I must be aware of possible unseen effects of what I do as I serve God. As Jane learned, an unconscious action may have an unknown and eternal impact.

What service might you perform over the fence? After all, Jesus said to let our lights shine.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay and TheOtherKev.)

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Live with Expectation

We all live with expectation.

A hummingbird’s heart beats 1,260 times per minute, and their wings beat fifty to eighty times per second. When resting, they take 250 breaths per second. That’s astonishing.

My husband and I looked at each other for the one-hundredth time and said, “Why didn’t we know this?”

We both enjoy documentaries and books, which often surprise us with new information about the world. Hummingbirds have a particular fascination for us. Multiple species visit our garden, taking nectar from flowers we planted to attract them. Their iridescent feathers flash in the sun as they dart about, and we watch with awe. One bright green one drinks from the tangerine flowers while another darts into the lavender ones hanging from a vine. As we follow their busy flight, we wonder about their unlikely miraculous little bodies. Another surprise—they only exist in the New World. The Spanish explorers called them “flying jewels.”

Learning about creation fills us with delight, and today’s scientists keep adding to our wonder. The latest pictures from the James Webb telescope come to mind.

When God spoke to Job, he never explained suffering; He simply pointed out amazing facts about things He had made. He set Job’s life in the context of a complex world, giving him humility and admiration for the marvels of God’s creativity. The more understanding we gain of God’s creation, the deeper our joy.

God is a great engineer, author, artist, sculptor, and musician. We’ll never finish learning from all He does, but any understanding we gain adds to our appreciation.

An expectant heart that learns something daily and shares it with others can live aware of the miraculous. Even in times of suffering, wisdom and understanding bring a bright new perspective of joy.

Learn to live each day with expectation.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay and Veronika_Andrews.)

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We Met a Wealthy Man

Byron Pulsifer wrote, “Wealth is not measured in dollars and cents but instead is measured in caring, kindness, and the appreciation and admiration of others who you meet and deal with in everyday life.”

This was illustrated to my husband and me when we paid a nominal fee to visit a luxurious historic hotel on Mackinac Island. The world of afternoon tea, horse-drawn carriages, and white rockers on an expansive porch charmed us on floor one. Then we boarded an elevator and headed to four. When we stopped at two, a couple pushed their way on.

We heard a woman’s voice from behind: “We’re very sorry, but we don’t think you’ll fit. We have someone in a wheelchair back here.”

The two did not budge. I repeated her words, thinking they had not heard.

“We are on, and we are not getting off this elevator. We are staying at this hotel,” the man declared, his voice dripping with anger and sarcasm. The hotel’s visitor maps we all held in our hands revealed we were not overnight guests.

His remark implied he could afford to stay at this hotel while we could not. He was annoyed that outliers would enter an enclave for the rich and famous. As he disembarked on his floor, he loudly told us that he had stayed at this hotel for thirty years—one final dig to ensure we understood his superiority.

Later, I told my husband, “If that’s how people act when they are super rich, then my prayer is, ‘Lord, please protect me from ever becoming that rich. I’d rather be a person of modest means who is kind to people.’”

Having thought it over, I’d like to add, “Lord, thank You for all You’ve given me, and help me remember it’s only by Your gracious provision. Finally, God, help me always to show respect and humility to everyone.”

In his song “Give Thanks,” songwriter Henry Smith encouraged the weak to say they were strong and the poor to say they were rich. Because of what the Lord has done, we can give thanks with a grateful heart. 

Sometimes, the poor are rich, and the rich are poor.

Perhaps you’d like to pray that you will show kindness, humility, and respect to all.

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Being a Servant

I found myself being a servant.

My husband fell once and injured his leg badly enough to need help with everything for three months. He could not stand or bear weight, get into the shower, or safely climb the many steps in our house. I was suddenly the servant in our home. I discovered that servants don’t always get thanked for what they do, nor do they get to choose a convenient time to do a task. Servants just do their job.

Perhaps we have volunteered for a job at church and couldn’t understand why everyone did not praise or love our work. Or, we thought we were doing an excellent job, but someone else took credit for the success.

A servant is not a household member, nor do they get a voice in choosing the job. A servant doesn’t have the privilege of receiving praise. It’s nice when it happens, but a servant isn’t praised by his master for performing his duty.

Servanthood is not popular, so why should we consider it a Christian virtue? The Bible says Jesus became a servant, doing what the Father told Him to do.

It’s humbling to realize the King of Glory took the form of a servant for sinful people so that we could live with Him forever. This perfect One did not ask for praise or attention but taught us to be servants by following His example. He even washed His disciples’ feet.

We can get our feelings hurt when we don’t receive praise for a job well done at church or in our homes, but as a servant, God will praise us with a “well done, good and faithful servant.” And that will be more glorious than anything we receive on earth.

How can you do a better job of being a servant?

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I’m Not a Puppy

We once had a fun family outing to an amusement park: two mamas, six grandchildren, and two grandparents.

We were laden down with a couple of strollers, diaper bags, picnic lunch food, and lots of water bottles. We mostly stayed together, but when we split up from time to time for the different kinds of rides, we invoked our divide-and-conquer plan.

And this Nana was ready—always mindful of safety, wondering children, and crowded places. I had placed my children’s leash at the bottom of one of the strollers. So, when my three-year-old granddaughter and I separated from the others for a restroom break, I placed the Velcro hand wrap around Amara’s little wrist and clutched the other end to begin our trek.

“Let’s go,” I said. 

But Amara stopped dead in her tracks. With her feisty spirit, she replied, “I’m not a puppy!”

After stifling my chuckles, I explained the purpose of the safety leash, and we went on our way.

Amara’s self-assurance to advocate for herself and her confidence in her identity as a child, not a puppy, can speak volumes to us as Christians. Are we advocating for ourselves with confidence that we belong to Jesus so that others know our identity?

Our identity as Christ followers includes being treasured children of God. We are loved, chosen, and redeemed. We are members of His body, the church. If we’re walking around defeated, demoralized, and depressed, we are experiencing a mistaken identity. Maybe our spiritual facial recognition is not working. Let’s not get waylaid in the ways of the world where a false identity is triggered.

In what ways do you proclaim your identity in Christ daily?

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The Weight of Honesty

Once, a mighty king sought the employment of a great warrior to aid him in the battles for his kingdom.

The king knew the whereabouts of the warrior's missing sister and knew the warrior wanted to rescue her. So, the king brought the warrior into his royal court. After some discussion, the two made an agreement. The warrior would fill the request of whatever the king would ask. In return, the king would give the warrior the information he desired.

The king continually sent the warrior out to do his dirty work, but covertly sent spies to sabotage the warrior’s effort so that he would never completely fulfill the task. After some time, the warrior became suspicious because he had never had a problem like this in the past.

On one particular attempt, the warrior caught the king's saboteurs and forced them to tell the truth. The king had the man’s sister the entire time. He used the warrior as his pawn. Filled with rage, the warrior dethroned the treacherous king, released his sister from the royal dungeon, and established his authority as ruler over the land.

The Lord hates differing weights and differing measures. And how we use our words matters to Him. Scripture has a theme that the Lord has a higher standard for those who lead in religious and secular positions. Additionally, the punishment for their sins is much greater.

God expects much more from those who lead His flock. He wants us to lead by example. Leaders must also show impartiality, judge fairly, and honor the Lord with their words.

Do your best to ensure your words and deeds are honest. Seek out the word of the Lord, and delight yourselves in Him.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay and Peggy_Marco.)

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Count Your Blessings

One Sunday morning, Beverly and I played a captivating piano-organ duet of the well-loved hymn, “Count Your Blessings.”

The stanzas rolled around in my brain in the following days, nudging me to pay attention to all the wonderful ways God continually pours Himself through me.

One, two, three. My feeble brain counts everything, including footsteps. I reset thermostat controls from odd to even numbers. I write dates in the margins of my Bible when I read a section or verse. Why did God create us to count?

Numbers matter to God. In fact, there is an entire book of the Bible entitled Numbers. Here, God directs His people, His work of genius, to be accounted for in an orderly fashion. He gave us numbering systems to help classify the chaos surrounding us.

The Bible is divided into neatly numbered chapters and verses. Its sixty-six books were initially written differently. Translators created the segments and divisions, organizing God’s Word so readers could understand and count them more easily.

As an accountant, I spent my professional hours documenting the existence and depreciation of my company’s assets (blessings). As a musician, I count the beats in a measure, the measures in a score, and the pages of a piece—all musical blessings. 

You are blessed to be a blessing. Count your gifts and give them back to God. You can never thank Him enough for His provisions.

 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay and marybettiniblank.)

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Two Little Hearts on Valentine's Day

February 14 brings out many feelings in people.

Valentine’s Day is a day to express love and affection to that special person. We give everything from heart-shaped cards and chocolate candy to flowers and romantic dinners. Some even give marriage proposals.

For me, it evokes memories from childhood. Growing up, my dad always bought Mom flowers, a large heart-shaped box of Whitman sampler chocolates, and a beautiful card. My sister and I always got a smaller heart-shaped box of chocolates with Charlie Brown on the cover. I still remember how special I felt because we got a box of chocolates.

Dad’s example of a father’s love was even more beautiful since he grew up without his father. While my grandmother was pregnant with my daddy, her husband died. However, my grandmother, who was a true believer in God and a born-again Christian, raised my daddy to love Jesus. She read to him from the Bible and told him stories of Noah and the flood and Adam and Eve and taught him what it was like to be truly loved—just as God loves His children.

John was part of Jesus’ inner circle and often called the “apostle of love.” He knew firsthand how it felt to be loved by Jesus.

When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we become a part of God’s kingdom and one of His children. God loved us first, and John was passionate about that truth. He referred to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved.”

Regardless of whether we grew up with a loving father, we can still experience true love from God our Savior. When we do, we open our hearts to a love that lasts for eternity.

Would you consider becoming a part of God’s family? If you already are, what do you enjoy about being in His family?

(Photo courtesy of pixabay and JillWellington.)

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Fearless

Sometimes we feel we’re not king of the world material.

We have strengths and weaknesses. We can become fearful regardless of how hard we try. We feel lost, hopeless, and incapable of handling life’s toughest challenges alone.

In 2 Kings, King Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion was nearly global. He was the closest in human history to being king of the world. He thought himself to be a god and worthy of worship. He believed he was unbeatable, yet the Lord brought him to a humiliating realization (Daniel 4:25–35). He was no match for the power of God.

The psalmist reminds us of our three weapons to fight against fear and despair: light, salvation, and a stronghold.

First, salvation means victory is secure. When we despair, we can remind ourselves that God is at our side in the battle. He is our already victor. We will win because he is our salvation. Although we must fight the battle, victory is secure in Christ. This is a great comfort when we fear.

Second, God is our light. Truths unseen by an unbelieving world are manifested to us through our redemption. God gives us the light to know and discern the truth about our Savior. Because of new life in Christ, we know, understand, and believe His promises, particularly that we have nothing to fear. What a great truth to defeat fear.

Third, our stronghold is a divine shield that surrounds us. A spiritual fortress protects us. It does not prevent our participation in the battle but protects us from destruction. When we feel consumed by hardship, defeated, and utterly powerless, remember that as a redeemed child of God, we remain within the strongest hold of God. We have nothing to fear.

“Lord of hosts” appears 261 times in Scripture. The title means the Lord has the entire angelic force at His command. This is the stronghold.

God equips us to defeat fear when we feel the heat of battle, regardless of what it is. He is our salvation, light, and stronghold.

How can you live a fearless life?

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Beyond What the Eyes Can See

During the winter, I traveled two hours away with friends to an event. We decided not to stay overnight because of the ominous weather forecast. As we started our return trip home, the snow started sooner than expected and soon obstructed our view of the road.

My friend’s husband not only had to drive at night but also had to maneuver blizzard-like conditions. I am sure he stressed about driving, keeping his riders safe, and dealing with an anxious wife—who helped him navigate the snow-covered road and defrosted the windows. He was familiar with the route but still found it difficult to see the road. Thankfully, we made it home safely and felt relieved.

Periodically, navigating life can be difficult, and life does not always make sense. We face unforeseen situations. We make plans about the future—plans that are often voided or altered. It appears as if everything has moved beyond what our eyes can see.

We benefitted because our driver was familiar with the road, which enabled him to drive through the snowstorm. We can also be thankful we have Jesus Christ, who teaches us to walk by faith, not sight. We can trust Him to direct our paths so that we can keep moving even when we cannot see what is ahead. Our confidence should be in Him, the author of our lives, who knows the beginning and the end and only wants what is best for us. What a blessing.

We do not have to be discouraged or feel anxious when making decisions or deciding on which path to take. A relationship with Jesus Christ teaches us to trust and believe in His Word and promises. We can pray and experience an open and intimate dialogue with Him. We also have the gift of the Holy Spirit. We are well-equipped and never alone. Jesus always walks with us.

Trust God to help you walk by faith, not sight.

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Don’t Be Foolish

I experienced a situation similar to the foolish bridesmaids. 

My church hosted a wild game dinner. I had never attended one and struggled over whether to attend because it cost twenty-five dollars. I called the week of the event but couldn’t get in. I was like the foolish bridesmaids. I had the chance to attend, but I blew it.

I thought about the five foolish bridesmaids. We will not enter heaven if we don’t know Jesus when we die. The truth is, if they have a wild game dinner next year, I could make up for my mistake. But when we die, no second chances come. Instead, we spend eternity in the lake of fire called hell.

Today is the day of salvation. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, many people walked into the Twin Towers in New York City, thinking it would be a typical day. They did not know it would be their last day.

Turn to Jesus today. Don’t be like the foolish bridesmaids.

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Mosh Pits for Jesus

I once witnessed a room full of children and adults enjoying what was rightfully named Easter Jam—an activity with games, music, and skits to remind others about the real meaning of Easter.

The program began with a youth welcoming everyone and leading in a game. then continued with a dance party. As the music started, half of the room stood and danced all over the room, making sure to flail about with laughter. The other half, not so much. They didn’t move much at all. Some were shy. Others unsure or scared.

So often, Sunday mornings in worship are like this. Like the children at the dance party, we’re scared to move. We don’t know what to do. We don’t think about letting God’s Spirit move us as the music plays and we sing words of praise. Instead, we think back to when we got into trouble at church for misbehaving, me included.

Look at it from God’s perspective. As He watches from above, does He think, “Oh good, there stands all my little soldiers in rows half-heartedly singing?” I hope not. Are we afraid of God’s Spirit? Or are we too shy to share our excitement for another week?

I’m not advocating jumping pews, pulling a hammy, or causing more ruckus than respect. But think about how much we enjoy a concert. We sing loudly and don’t care what the person beside us thinks as we sport our t-shirts and wave our arms excitedly.

We don’t need mosh pits for Jesus on Sunday mornings, but we could let our guard down some and be a little less prim and proper with God. What would happen if we let ourselves be more vulnerable and see what God’s Spirit will do?

How can you enter more into the worship experience?

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Uplifting Speech

I was startled to discover a children’s clothing line in my store called OMG. As I put the colorful socks on the shelf, I pondered what I had seen and heard recently.

The depravity of language that abounds in Western societies today must appall God. Here He is, the Creator of our magnificent universe and designer of our remarkable, intelligent cells, yet we mock him. OMG (“O my God”) has become a glib slight on God’s name, a common text comment, and now even a clothing line designed to poke fun, not to call on the Almighty.

Paul warned us in his letter to the Galatians that God cannot be mocked and that we will reap what we sow. Someday, we will give an account to God for our careless words. So, these warnings redirect me toward a gentle discipline of heart and words.

What a beautiful gift we have, the living Spirit of Christ indwelling us, always ready to inspire our speech. Let’s tuck our hands firmly into Jesus’ hands and walk with Him, seeking to please Him rather than to conform to others.

I’ve noticed that mockery walks with fault-finding. Under God’s guidance, I’m learning to respond to mocking complaints with reflections of thanksgiving, to dark language with comfort and good listening, and to anger with forgiveness. I think of how Jesus tamed wild, abusive spirits with His words, and I invite Him to teach me to be His ambassador here similarly.

Let’s cultivate speech that brings light and offers new mindsets to those who have slid into foul waters with their mouths. Our words are powerful seeds sown into the minds and hearts of others.

What are some steps you can take to develop more uplifting speech?

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God at Work

Many years ago at a small Christian college, a popular elderly professor became so frail he could no longer maintain his big home. However, he was anxious to continue teaching, so the college and his friends found a solution.

They created an apartment for him in a vacant and unused section of the top floor of the main building where he could access his classes by an elevator. He also had frequent visitors to check on him and see to his needs. He was quite content in this situation,

However, some students were still concerned. When they asked the professor if he was lonely, he smiled, cocked his head, and said, “Not really. My only neighbor above me is God. He’s busy but He’s quiet.”

As Jesus said, God is at work in the world and our lives. But we may only become aware of how He works when we’re not looking for it. As the professor put it, the Lord is busy but quiet.

We might experience this when we see how God works as He guides us into new service areas. He might introduce us to a person who needs our encouragement or support. Or maybe it’s an experience that will help us learn to trust God more. And since God does it so quietly, we don’t recognize His presence until we look back and see His perfect planning.

God is always at work in our lives for our benefit and His glory.

What are some ways you have seen God work in your life?

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The Interview

I should leave, I thought as I waited in the lobby of a large corporate company.

I was minutes away from interviewing for my first job after college. As my sweaty hands shook, I heard my heart pounding, the vibrations ringing in my ears. To me, a twenty-two-year-old college graduate, this interview was everything. My whole life hinged on this moment—or so it seemed.

“Dan?”

“That’s me,” I said with a quivering voice.

Two of the most confident men I had ever been in the presence of led me to a conference room. And here I was, scared out of my mind, thinking I might faint at any moment. We sat, and the person who did most of the talking dialed Matt, another team member.

My throat quickly dried as I answered their questions, and I could no longer get any words out. I tried to ask for a glass of water but couldn’t. The next thing I knew, they were all laughing hysterically. One yelled into the speakerphone, “Matty! He can’t even talk!” That did not end up being my first job out of college.

With the amount of unknown that engulfs human life, getting anxious and fearful is easy. However, God has reminded us daily to let go of our fears.

God is all-knowing, but He also realizes we are not. This message is repeated throughout Scripture because God knew anxiety would riddle our hearts. But when we present our requests to God, His peace covers our hearts and minds. We can find this peace in some of the most difficult, heart-wrenching situations. That’s why Paul says this peace “transcends all understanding.”

I did end up getting a job during the summer after graduation. I look back on that botched interview and think, What was I so worried about back then? This will be the same question we’ll ask ourselves when we’re dwelling in the kingdom, looking back on this short blip of time we had on earth.

I encourage you not to be anxious about anything. If something causes stress and anxiety, present it to God through gratitude, prayer, and petition. He will clothe you with His calming peace.

What keeps you from experiencing God’s peace?

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The Grand Entrance

The king of pop made the grand entrance of all time.

In January 1993, Michael Jackson performed the half-time show of Superbowl 27. After James Earl Jones introduced Jackson, Jackson shot out of the top of the Jumbo-Tron, danced on top of the giant screen, and then shot out of the other Jumbo-Tron and danced on top of that screen.

Next, the camera panned to the stage in the middle of the football field, and Jackson exploded from the floor. Fire and smoke appeared, and the crowd screamed. For ninety-three seconds, Jackson stood on stage without moving a muscle. Then, he slowly turned his head and took off his sunglasses. A guitar squealed, the drums rumbled, and the biggest show in television history began.

For most superstars, making an entrance is almost as important as the performance. The entry is carefully choreographed, and every step is planned and practiced. The superstar makes their first impression.

But have we ever thought about the entrance of the King of kings? James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, announced Michael Jackson. But Jesus was announced by an angel sent by God. Being introduced by an angel was impressive, but it got better. A heavenly army joined him, and they all praised God. What an entrance!

To praise means to speak of God’s excellence. Some people believe the angels weren’t talking but singing praises to God. Whether they were speaking or singing isn’t the question. The real question is how it sounded. Was it like the bass guitar at a concert, rumbling in our guts? Did the shepherds feel it rattle deep in their bones? Did the shepherds hear the angels proclaim Messiah was born, or did they feel the angels proclaim His birth? Regardless, it had to be a remarkable entrance.

The Messiah—the Savior of the world, God in the flesh—stepped out of eternity and into time. The Creator entered His creation. He deserved more than a heavenly host. He warranted the world stopping and falling to their faces as they wept because they were near Him.

Christ is coming again, and the entire world will know when He does. He will make a grand entrance of monumental proportions.

How are you preparing for the Messiah’s grand entrance? 

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Lessons on Change from Five Pretty Blouses

Five pretty blouses taunt me whenever I hang fresh laundry in my closet.

The blouses taunt me because they should have been given away a couple of years (and several pounds) ago. I had hoped to drop a bit of weight and wear them once more as I did when I worked. I should have already passed them on to someone who needed them. Instead, they hang in my closet. I hate admitting to myself that I still need them. I need them because they are a part of what once was.

So much has changed over the last few years. First, the surgery that led me to an earlier-than-planned retirement. I wasn’t ready to leave a career I had loved for decades. Then, within a year, we sold our home and moved out of state. The changes left me wondering, What in the world do I do now in a new location and at this new phase of life? It has sometimes felt like a barren desert instead of the new adventure I had hoped for.

It was no accident when I turned to the Bible for comfort that I found God’s word to Isaiah: “Behold I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

When I read this, God reminded me that He would indeed show me how to navigate this new life phase, which doesn’t include fitting into those five blouses or going to work each day. My part is to wait and trust. Believe me, I find that to be a challenging job. But I know God has been faithful in the past and will be in the present and future.

We all struggle at times with the many changes life can bring. During those times, we can hold fast to our loving God and remind ourselves to trust Him to show us the way on our new paths. He will supply streams of refreshment along the journey.

As for me, I think I will start by folding those five pretty blouses and placing them on the give-away pile. Who knows? Maybe I will find a few more things to add to it.

What lessons has God taught you through change? 

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Making Faces

Seashells + low tide + driftwood = contentment.

Living in the Pacific Northwest within a few miles of Puget Sound is a blessing. One of my happy places is a beach, any beach, with plenty of seashells and driftwood. Add the time of day when it’s low tide and I’m tickled to be there.

My favorite activity is gathering shells, stones, sticks, and anything else the tide has deposited. But not for taking home with me. No, I like to make faces at the seaside—sometimes on the sand, sometimes on a big piece of driftwood, and sometimes on a large rock. Oh, the interesting portraits (for lack of a better word) I have created using open bivalve shells for eyes, a barnacle-covered pebble for a nose, seaweed for hair, and a crooked stick or broken shell for a mouth. Then I can rearrange them for a variety of expressions. The beach speaks.

I said I don’t take them home with me, but, in a sense, I do. I pull out my smartphone and snap pictures of each portrait. After I develop the photos, I use them on greeting cards.

Jesus spent time on the beach. After all, He called fishermen to follow Him. Did He pick up shells and rocks to admire and appreciate? We don’t know, but for me, doing this is a refreshing way to focus on what God provides rather than on struggling to have more possessions, status, or admiration.

I’m not rich, but I don’t lack necessary things. Still, finding what God provides for my enjoyment beyond the necessary brings contentment to my soul. Not everyone has a beach they can easily access, but God provides every area with ways to enjoy the environment He created.

What simple activity can you think of that will help you find contentment in Christ?

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Community

The English poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

As I reflected on Paul’s encouraging letter to the Roman church, I thought of a loving, vibrant community. In this chapter, Paul gives wonderful advice about belonging to an endearing community where each person is validated.

In community, we have times of rejoicing, grief, joy—such as birthdays, weddings, or graduations—and sadness—such as death, illness, and separation. Polar opposites.

We must think of others and live in harmony because we are in a community. As John Donne said, we are not an “entity of itself.” We are part of what should be a caring community. We must do our part to make our communities loving ones. We can’t alienate ourselves from others but should use opportunities to become involved. As much as possible, we should do good to others, especially the poor and ostracized. We should not let our economic, educational, political, or social status make us proud, unable, or unwilling to reach out and down to help others.

When we think of others first, we can rejoice when they rejoice and be happy for them. Our world has so much hurt, so we need to be empathetic. We can show up for people in times of happiness and sadness. If we cannot be there physically, we can text, call, or send a card or gift.

We are not an island but a part of a community. We are a link in the chain. When we’re not present, the chain is broken and becomes weaker.

Someone needs you to be there for them. Will you? What are some ways you can be? 

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Giving Thanks

One night as I lay in bed, I thought, Well, nothing bad happened in my little corner of the world today. It was a slow news day in a slow news town. Just the way I like it. Thank You, Jesus.

I can pray and thank Jesus. There is nothing wrong with thanking our Lord or praying with other Christians. We are all praying for future peace and prosperity in our world. We are the old ones now. We pray for faith for all the young ones. They are the church of tomorrow. Even if it is faith at home for many, no one prays alone. I thank You, Jesus.  

As I paused to reflect before I turned off my lamp, I thanked the Lord for teaching us how to pray. Jesus does not need an iPhone to wake us or bless us with His divine grace. I thank You, Jesus.

Some Christians may feel a bit defensive, but we can all be warriors for peace. A truly good heart is often difficult to find, but Jesus is our role model to be good and kind. I thank You, Jesus.

In the same way, I can lie in my bed and think of the many others in faith on earth. We are all keeping well, and I pray that continues. Silently, I thank Jesus for the great job He performed. His sacrifice was to build our church.
Thank God that He is good and gave us Jesus. I hope to do a great job for my church. I thank You, Jesus.

What are some things you can thank Jesus for? 

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Creator and Sustainer

Few pray as fervently as an IT worker about to go on vacation. The computer systems that run our world seem to work reliably, with only the occasional bug. But people must work tirelessly behind the scenes to keep the whole thing going. If the system falls apart, so does the IT technician’s vacation. Hence the prayer.

When I hear God referred to as the creator and sustainer of the universe, I think of the tireless efforts of an IT tech. The earth is a complex system designed to support human life, and every few years, we discover another way in which that system could collapse. There’s not a discipline of science that doubts all life on earth will be extinguished; it’s just a question of what will get us and when. Will it be an asteroid impact, a new disease, or something we haven’t discovered? Maybe we’ll end up doing it ourselves.

Yet life goes on. I usually think of miracles as things like sudden healing or inspired words of prophecy. But more and more, I’m concluding that everything is a miracle. A hero saving the world at the last minute isn’t just reserved for stories. It happens more reliably in reality than in fiction. No matter how bad things have gotten here on earth and how certain the doom, the day is saved, and the story goes on repeatedly.

The only explanation I can think of is that the author of this world’s story isn’t ready to end things just yet. If a website running smoothly proves that someone is working to keep things running, how much more is a working universe a testament to God’s miraculous provision?

The more I understand how fragile things are, the more I see the miraculous in everything since every word that proceeds from the mouth of God holds the world together. If it weren’t for God’s creation, nothing would exist. If it weren’t for God’s sustaining, everything would fall apart. And that inspires me to see God’s miraculous provision at work in everything, from the grand operation of the cosmos to every small event in my life.

What are some ways you see God’s miraculous provision? 

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When God Whistles

Sounds abound that get our attention.

Through my open window, an almost obnoxious noise heralds summer’s end: honking geese. As I traipse across the crosswalk, I hear chirping as the number counts down and reminds me to hurry before the traffic light changes. Watching from the sidelines, I see my grandson scurry across the soccer field, responding to the coach’s screeching whistle. My children knew dinner was ready decades ago when I clanged an old copper bell. My smartphone’s reminder app now chimes, calling my attention to a task on the list. When the timer on the oven beeps, I’d better grab the potholder quickly if I don’t want the cake to burn. And did I hear the automatic garage door opener grinding? If so, I’m eager to welcome my husband home.

Although I’m not a great whistler, occasionally, a song rises inside me, and I feel the need to put my lips together and blow. I’ve always admired those who’ve mastered the art of the piercing whistle that summons everyone’s attention.

Sounds that direct, forewarn, and remind us of incomplete tasks surround us. Just as a flock of sheep responds to the piercing whistle of their shepherd, we must give our attention to the whistle that comes from the LORD.

God’s whistle signals He has redeemed those who hear it. Does He put His lips together and blow? No. Instead, we open His Word, and the Holy Spirit blows a quiet whistle as we read it, allowing us to respond to God’s call to follow Him and bring along others.

How can you put your lips together and signal others to follow Christ?

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Are You Walking in Freedom?

Sometimes I can’t help but laugh at the way God sets things up when He wants to get my attention.

One day, on my way to church, I listened to a song on the radio that spoke of being free. The line that jumped out at me was “there are no chains on me.”

When I got to church, the guest speaker read from John about how the truth makes us free. “Freedom,” he said, “releases you into your calling and destiny.”

When the service was over and I got back into my car, there was another song on the radio about … you guessed it … being set free.

Free. The word from God for the day, but I wondered what it meant for me specifically.

I tried to remember all the things that had held me captive in the past—chains that kept me in bondage. Rejection and verbal abuse caused low self-esteem and turned me into a people-pleaser. There were deep wounds inflicted by cruel words and situations out of my control. Anger became a stronghold. Even though God had lovingly delivered me from the pain of my past, there seemed to be more chains to be broken.

The next morning when I opened my devotional book, the title of the devotion was “God Wants to Set You Free.” Okay, God. I get it. It’s obvious we have work to do.

As I spent time in God’s presence, He revealed negative attitudes and offences that needed to be dealt with. As I confessed my sin, He once again forgave me, cleansed my heart, and renewed my spirit and soul. He washed me clean and set me free from the unseen chains that were holding me down.

Sometimes we don’t realize how much bondage we’re in until we’re delivered and looking at things from the other side with a different perspective—a godly perspective.

Freedom is a wonderful gift. Allow God to set you free today.

 

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The Dilemma of Decisions

I heard the uncertainty in my friend’s voice and watched as she fidgeted with her napkin. “I just want to do the right thing,” she said, “—whatever God wants me to do.”

The dilemma of decisions.

As Christians, we all want to make the right decision—to do God’s will. But sometimes, knowing God’s will is difficult, especially when choosing between two good things.

I’ve often wished God would tell me what to do, send me an email with instructions, or show me a sign in the sky, but He never has. God doesn’t operate that way because we wouldn’t have to trust Him if He did.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “If God told me to do something, I’d do it. I trust Him.”

Well, maybe we would do something if God told us what to do, but that’s not trust. That’s obedience. Trust means doing something without knowing the outcome because we trust the person rather than the result. Trust is built on relationship.

That’s why the Israelites could cross the Jordan River and enter the Promised Land. God told Joshua to direct the priests who carried the ark of the covenant to go ahead of the people and step into the Jordan River so the people could cross. The water was at flood stage, which could have swept the priests away in a moment. The situation was uncertain, but they trusted God. Sure enough, the water stopped when they stepped into the river—but not a moment before.

That’s the way it is with trust. We must act before we see the result. The Enemy wants us to be paralyzed when we decide, afraid of missing God’s plan if we choose one path. But if no sin is involved and we truly seek God, we can move forward in trust. God’s will is more of a journey than a destination, and, often, we simply must walk to find it.

Thankfully, we have a God who is trustworthy. Even if we’re unsure of the situation, we can be sure of His sovereignty.

What’s stopping you from stepping into the water when making decisions?

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Facing the Darkness

My wife and I once found ourselves facing the darkness—a situation where we would have welcomed a lamp for our feet.

When we arrived late for a performance of the Nutcracker ballet, a young usher dutifully led us upstairs to our seats in the gallery. But instead of staying with us and shining his flashlight on the steps down to our row, our trusty leader kept going, leaving us in the dark. In the inky blackness, we grasped the aisle’s center railing and eased our feet forward on the carpet to the edge of each step. Several slide-steps later, we caught up with him and found our seats.      

Psalm 119 has 176 verses. If we surveyed people’s top ten favorites, today’s text would sail through the cut easily. In a few simple words, the writer announces a profound truth that has echoed across the ages and around the globe: God and His Word can be trusted, even in the darkest hour.

Life is a journey where God notes the short view (my feet) and the long view (my path). Each of us is on a journey, and the Lord takes a personal interest in what is happening to us. Our world is a dark place, spiritually speaking. But we can go into the darkness, knowing the light of God’s Word will not fail us. As we cling to God, He will guide us around every twist and turn and through every rough patch.   

With such a magnificent and powerful resource, how can we not be prepared to face the darkness? Sadly, many have turned away from God’s light, preferring the artificial glimmer of worldly wisdom.

The psalmist gives the key to success a few verses farther down: “My heart is set on keeping your decrees to the very end” (119:112). Our lives have no room for complacency. The better we understand sin and Satan’s darkness, the more fervently we cling to God’s light.

How can you prepare to face the darkness? 

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Tested

God’s testing was no easy thing.

I was tested . . . and tested deeply . . . through want and need, through long delays and denials with shut doors and times where I doubted God’s sovereign plan and will for my life. Yet as I pressed forward into the Lord and trusted Him, I found the strength to push through, even when the pressure seemed at its worst.

We will all be tested in our walk with God. Joseph, Moses, and Job were. The king had Daniel thrown into the lion’s den, and the three Hebrews faced the rage of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and were tossed into the fiery furnace. Even Jesus, the Messiah, faced testing but won through His victory on the cross.

Yet for each one, God’s glorious and miraculous hand ushered them into the very thing God bid them to claim. Did they struggle and wrestle with the flesh as we all do? Absolutely. Even Christ suffered the same weaknesses as us, yet He did not sin. Christ now serves as our High Priest in the presence of God, empathizing with our weaknesses. Those who were tested trusted God but, at times, wrestled with doubt.

The Lord’s ways are mysterious and sovereign and beyond our comprehension. May we, despite all the schemes of flesh and blood and the Devil’s wiles, not lose heart because of our circumstances. Instead, we must trust in the promises of the Lord God. The things that propose to destroy us often become the instruments of exaltation in the hands of our God.

Will you shrink back and doubt the promises of the Most High God, or will you trust that He is working all things for your good and His glory?

What are some ways you can trust God through times of testing? 

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Ever-Increasing Light

Sunrises fascinate me, probably because I have experienced so few of them as a night owl. When I was fourteen, I set my alarm to see one. Lovely, I thought as I bolted back into bed.

I only recall setting the alarm to see a sunrise one other time. My husband and I were encouraged not to miss the sunrise at Haleakala National Park on Maui in Hawaii. So, we borrowed hotel blankets and joined hundreds of people at the chilly volcano summit, above the clouds at seven thousand feet.

The blazing orb popping over the horizon was a bit of a letdown, and most people left within five minutes. We decided to hang around and were wowed. Over the next thirty minutes, gold, lavender, and pink streaks appeared gradually. This proverb describes what we observed that day: The ways of right-living people glow with light; the longer they live, the brighter they shine.

The proverb’s analogy refers to the progressive period between dawn and full daylight. Hebrew scholars believe Solomon intended to convey the concept of progression—a gradual spiritual and personal development.

Scripture teaches we should not stay the same but grow spiritually. MacLarens Expositions says, “The intention is that every Christian life should be a life of increasing luster.”

I’ve never thought of myself as giving off luster, which means sheen, glow, or radiance. I have tried the makeup that makes such claims, but I doubt I glowed.

By nature, I do not gleam with unselfishness—especially before my first cup of coffee. However, luster involves a soft light, often from a reflective surface. So perhaps through God’s enabling, I can reflect Jesus.

For me, growth would mean more kind acts. My generosity needs improvement. Better sensitive consideration of others would be good. Multiplying the times I offer to help. Being ready to lend a listening ear. Trusting Christ consistently, hoping my peace and joy draw others to Him.

Is your light ever-increasing? Have you grown spiritually since last year at this time? What can you do to increase your glow for Christ toward others?

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Honoring God’s Word

Brother George stands while the rest of the congregation sits. By doing so, he is honoring God’s Word.

I lead communion at my church. When I read the biblical reference that prepares us to partake of communion, I always admire Brother George. We know him as our walking Bible. He often has his Bible open and a Scripture verse for the moment. Almost every church has a Brother George. We need more like him.

Ezra read from the Book of the Law from early morning to midday. As he did, the people of Israel showed honor and respect for God’s Word by giving it their undivided attention. So should we.

Sometimes I let other things, such as reading my favorite periodical or scrolling through social media, trump God’s message through the Bible. But the Bible gives food for our spirit. Having a Bible and not reading it is like having a gift card for a gourmet restaurant and not using it. Doing so shows we do not believe the food is that good, but we will never know until we try it.

The most enduring legacy we can leave is our hunger for God’s Word. The lasting image of our lives will be us in our quiet place, feasting on God’s Word.

Make a plan to honor God’s Word daily. 

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Teatime with Jesus

During my twenties, I developed a taste for hot tea.

I quickly learned I should soak the tea bag or leaves for at least three minutes, or it wouldn’t be worth drinking. If I rushed the steeping, it was disappointingly flavorless. The peppermint, peach, or chai taste I wanted was missing.

Any health benefits were also in absentia. Many teas contain antioxidants, nutrients, and bioactive substances. And if I wanted an energy boost, cutting short the steeping time resulted in minimal caffeine.

I once attended a church-sponsored breakfast for women who worked outside the home. One of the speakers gave us a homemade bookmark. The bookmark incorporated the threads and paper labels from actual tea bags. Her point? We were busy and might be tempted to rush the time we spent with God to rush to work or a meeting. When we did, it was like drinking weak tea.

Several of these bookmarks still populate my home, meaning I am frequently reminded of the speaker’s lesson that morning.

Weak tea is slang for something which is particularly underwhelming. So, instead of a powerful message from the Lord that stirs my spirit to deep thought or makes my heart sing, I hurry off, immediately leaving behind what I just read.

Instead of getting strength or guidance, I receive something pale and unfulfilling. If I don’t hear God, if the Bible lacks oomph, if others express excitement about their Christian walk and I don’t feel much zeal, it could be my failing to steep that teabag.

A friend once told me, “I found out that grabbing my phone and reading one Bible verse doesn’t really cut it.” While I don’t always accomplish this, my goal in setting aside quiet time is to allow enough time for God to speak to me, for me to talk to Him, and for His Word to soak in.

If you are rushing your time with Jesus, add five minutes to your quiet time this week and then ten the next. Then go for a refreshing, healthy cup of tea and savor it.

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Life-Giving Blood

Recently, I cheerfully and willingly volunteered to donate a precious gift—my blood—to someone I will likely never know.

As I watched that rich, red, life-sustaining substance flow, I thought of an object lesson. The blood reminded me of what flowed from Emmanuel’s veins. 

Fully aware of the process before me, a harmless prick punctured me—not a nail, thorns, or spear as happened to my Lord. After being welcomed and thanked for my donation, I lay comfortably and relaxed as the nurse treated me with care and dignity.

Our Lord Jesus, however, was neither welcomed nor thanked for His blood. Yet He fulfilled the reason why He was born. He was fully aware of what was ahead of Him. He knew from the beginning the perfect plan of His Father God: that He would shed His innocent blood for the sins of the entire world.

God miraculously answered Jesus’ call for help when He raised Jesus from the dead. But not before Jesus’ gruesome encounter. God laid that enormous burden of sin upon Him. What love. What sacrifice.

Jesus was not pampered for His task. No one offered Him a cold drink of water or juice. Instead, Jesus met His volunteer task with physical, emotional, and spiritual agony. He had experienced the traumatic—hunger, thirst, betrayal, loneliness, beatings, mocking, disrespect, and humiliation. Nevertheless, because of His love, He endured the cross. His unfailing love for us bore all the above and then death by the most tortuous means—typically reserved for criminals.

Thoughts of Jesus’ blood moved me to thanksgiving, praise, and passionate prayer for those desperately needing a Savior. A high price has been paid. All that is required now is acknowledging and admitting our need, believing, and receiving God’s gift.

Have you received Jesus’ life-giving blood? 

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Defining the Gospel

For years I was confused about defining the gospel.

I once spoke to someone I thought knew more about the Bible than I did. He said “gospel” meant “good news,” not how to be saved. This definition confused me. As a young Christian trying to understand God’s opinions, I had heard I was to preach the gospel, meaning lead people to salvation.

I did not receive much help clearing things up when I started studying Greek and learned that the word for gospel was euaggelion, which meant “good news.” The active forms of this word mean “to preach the good news.”

This understanding still did not answer my question since I knew of at least two usages of the word: the gospel of salvation and the good news about a believer’s relationship with Jesus.

Finally, I came across a clear passage declaring the gospel of salvation. Through Paul’s words, I knew what the Spirit preached through the apostles: that people are saved through the gospel of salvation.

This understanding freed my heart to study what the other good news was. The good news about Jesus is that He is the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus Himself is everything we need to have a relationship with God.

The gospel of salvation we must believe entails acknowledging the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, who is the complete and satisfying payment for our sins.

After accepting the good news, we enter a personal relationship with the One who became God incarnate, our blessed Lord Jesus Christ, without whom we can do nothing.  

Accept Jesus, the divine best friend of all who receive His payment for their sin. 

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Healthy Bonds

Early one morning as I cooked, I flipped through the television, looking for something to watch.

As I did, I landed on a documentary about the life of bees. By this time, I had tired of flipping through each station, so I left the documentary on and re-focused on preparing my meal.

The narrator described how a hive of honeybees consists of thousands of bees. He then told how each honeybee had a job contributing to the hive’s success. From cleaning the hive to building the honeycomb, pollen packing, attending to the queen bee, and more, each bee in this dynamic relationship bond contributed, sacrificed, and offered its best to the hive’s success.

I could not help but think about how the bees’ activities can apply to human relationships. Whether with family, friends, or work peers, we must provide our God-given best to support the growth and progress of those we bond with. As members of Christ’s body, with Christ as our head, we are equally called to edify each person and give them the loving, constructive feedback necessary to fulfill their God-given role.

Many of us have witnessed dynamics that fall short of healthy relational bonds, but we all must ensure that the body of Christ can function in unity to fulfill God’s purpose.

What are some things you can do to maintain healthy bonds that support unity, growth, and the progress of those you connect with?  

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Love like the Father

For many years, I struggled with feeling loved by God.

Instead of seeing God as the loving Father He is, I saw Him as angry and condemning, especially when I messed up or sinned. I remember many nights when I lay in my room—exhausted from school, trying to keep up with my prayers and Bible reading, and feeling alone and empty. I wanted to talk to God but felt ashamed because I hadn’t read my Bible and I had sinned. I simply could not fathom that God would want anything to do with me.

Because of this, I struggled to have a relationship with God, to love others, and to love myself. But these feelings of loneliness and condemnation changed when God reminded me of His love. His love overcame me and my shame and reminded me of who I am in Christ—a child of God. And having been loved, I can show people the love God shows me.

Ultimately, we love others and God because He loved us first. Even before we put our faith in Him, He showed us love. The greatest example of God’s love for us was when Jesus laid down His life for us on the cross so that our old life of sin and shame could be removed forever. He gives us new life in Christ.

Because God loves us, we should love other people. God is love. All that He does is loving. As His children, we should love as He loved us first. Loving others can look like many different things: being patient, forgiving, and humble.

How has God shown you His love, and how can you show this love to all people?

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Interruptions

“Excuse me, teachers and students, but . . .” A few moments later, “I’m sorry, but . . .”

Interruptions.

As a teacher, I’m accustomed to them. Each day at the beginning of second period, our classes are interrupted so we can say the Pledge of Allegiance and then listen to announcements. Often, someone will send in a late announcement, or the office assistant will forget to make one, making it necessary for her to interrupt again.

Then, of course, our marketing manager loves to interrupt my class. She loves how I have my class decorated, so she often uses it as an example class for prospective families she guides on tours of the school. And then we have the student being dismissed early because they are sick or play sports and have an away game. They need to come in to get their phone. 

Finally, we have study hall. The last period of the day. The time when a host of students enters to ask me about homework assignments they neglected to write down or about assignments they don’t understand. All in all, my typical days are one long string of interruptions.

Then again, interruptions are a part of life. Even Jesus faced them. As He was on His way to heal the daughter of a synagogue ruler, a woman who had experienced a medical issue for twelve years stopped Him in his tracks with a touch. Now we might wonder how Jesus detected this one touch when others thronged Him, touching and brushing against Him.

Well, Jesus lived on a divine timetable and with spiritual sensitivity. Unlike the other touches happening simultaneously, He knew this was a heavenly-Father-sent touch. So, He stopped and healed her—a miracle within another miracle.

How Jesus operated day in and day out is the same way we should. We can live with the same spiritual sensitivity. We define interruptions as those things that change our schedules, alter our plans, or jumble our circumstances.

But nothing happens in our lives that the Father does filter through His hands. That being said, we experience no interruptions—just divine appointments. What appears as an interruption to us is heaven-sent. Living with spiritual sensitivity enables us to realize this and react differently than if we had an alternate perspective.

Interruptions are opportunities for God to do something in our lives or for us to do something in someone else’s life. Don’t miss what God sends because you think it’s an interruption.

How can you see interruptions in a different light?

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Untie My Heart

The day we waited for had arrived.

Blue skies and a gentle breeze enhanced the excitement as I loaded my four young sons and their new kites into our van. Finally, kite flying time was here. I knew an excellent spot for our adventure, a short drive away. Upon arriving, the boys tumbled over each other, grabbing their kites and making a mad dash for the field.

I caught my youngest just in time. Four-year-old Ethan might have trouble holding onto his kite string. So, I made a loop and slipped it around his wrist, giving it an extra tug to ensure it was secure. He raced to catch up to his brothers.

Before long, four kites soared on the heights as the boys laughed. My heart smiled. This was the perfect day. Then it happened.

An unexpected gust of wind tugged at the kites, and the loop on Ethan’s wrist slipped off. His kite really soared then. I knew he would be heartbroken, but he cheered and jumped joyfully. “Look, Mommy. It’s free. Now it can fly everywhere!”

That evening, as I settled in to read my devotion, I came across this verse in Psalms. At the end of verse eleven, I read, “Untie my heart to fear Your name.” That seemed odd, so I reread it aloud: “Unite my heart to fear Your name.”

Laughing at my mistake, I thought back to our kite misadventure. I realized my heart is often tied to things like worry, doubt, insecurity, or sin. Being tied to those things keeps me from experiencing the freedom a united heart brings. I thanked God for the practical lesson and asked Him to show me any ungodly thing that tied up my heart.

Perhaps your heart is tied to something, keeping you from experiencing absolute freedom in Christ? Ask the Holy Spirit for a fresh gust of truth to blow across your heart and untie it so you can soar with Him.

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The Acceptance List

“I’m sorry, ma’am, your name isn’t on the contact list, so I can’t answer your questions.” That’s what the receptionist at the nursing home said when I called to ask about my auntie.

Unfortunately, I failed to make the acceptance list.

I protested. “But she was my favorite babysitter. She changed my diapers. She was my mom’s best friend. She told stories at my mom’s funeral and made us all laugh and cry.”

“Sorry, ma’am. You’re not on the list. You’ll have to call a family member.”

“But . . .”

The receptionist hung up. I sighed. Not on Auntie’s list. Well, I did live two thousand miles away from her and couldn’t do anything in case of an emergency. But not being included still stung.

Jesus gives seventy-two of His disciples the bigger picture. They had just returned from successful missionary trips to places where Jesus Himself would soon preach. They reported that even demons had obeyed them in Jesus’ name. But Jesus lifts their eyes to a greater reality—one that transcended earthly triumphs and achievements. “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Maybe our names have appeared on exclusive lists, enabling us access to a coveted place. Perhaps we were admitted to backstage, a limited autograph signing, or the “plus one” at a red carpet event. Maybe we were taking a bow, signing our names, or gliding down the red carpet amid the cameras’ flashing lights.

But more likely, we’ve never achieved public acclaim or been on any list which opened the door for a select few. The greatest admittance is the one granted by the Son of God who has the authority to let us enter heaven. No matter our status in this world, we can have an eternal home by faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Come to Jesus by faith and ask Him to forgive your sins. He is waiting to add your name to the heavenly list.

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The Best Counselor

Various things come to mind when we use the word counseling or counselor.

The most common counseling is clinical. The kind where a person sits across from a professional and reveals their inner self. The type not for the faint of heart.   

In its original setting, our text announces the birth of a Prince in the royal line of David—the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth—and gives Him a list of titles that boggle the imagination. According to the NIV Study Bible, this Wonderful Counselor and Son of David will conduct a royal program to astound the world.

The gospels do not call Jesus a counselor, but Jesus does refer to the coming of another Comforter or Helper. This Counselor is the Holy Spirit, meaning Jesus’s ministry included counseling.

Jesus manifested all the marks of a great counselor. He cared for people, listened to them, and returned them to the source of their mental and emotional disorders for resolution.   

Jesus did this for impetuous Peter. While Peter warmed himself at a fire in the high priest’s palace courtyard, some bystanders recognized him as a follower of Jesus. Afraid for his life, Peter denied Jesus. Then, realizing he had violated his promise to stick by his Lord even to death, Peter stole away in the dark—a broken man. After the resurrection, however, Jesus took him aside, confronted him gently, and removed his agony.                

Typically, we reveal our inner self only to a select few. But Jesus waits for us to include Him. He wants to become our favorite therapist to confront, expose, reveal, and heal us.  

In what ways can you take your pain to the best Counselor? 

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A Lit Lamp

A lit lamp beats an unlit one any day.

I love fall. I relish the leaves dancing in the air as I drive down a quiet road. The sights remind me we’ll soon embark on a new season—the old has passed. But I don’t enjoy the shorter daylight hours. Darkness affects my vision and causes me to curb outings.

Aaron was Moses’ brother and a Levitical priest. Moses instructed Aaron to set up seven lamps so their light could shine forward. Aaron obeyed.

This light had a purpose: to provide light where none existed. The light symbolized God’s presence among His people. Aaron placed the lamps so that each gave light for others to see. God had set His people apart to shine into the darkness of their world.

Similarly, Jesus tells us to let our lights shine so others can see our good works and glorify the Father in heaven. Although we can hide our lights, we shouldn’t. God wants us to shine them precisely where He has placed us. When we don’t, we fail to serve His purposes for us.

What are some ways you can shine God’s light?

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The Miracle Workers

The mourners saw firsthand that we, the miracle workers, were mortal just like them.

The missionary staff proceeded down the dusty road from the hospital to the burial site, following the infant’s wooden coffin. We had done everything to save her. Hundreds of Ethiopians from the Waleta tribe lined each side of the procession, heads bowed and weeping. Dr. Adolf, my mentor, had snatched many of them from death.

Our powers were limited, despite the amazing results of skillful medical and surgical care. Sometimes, patients or their relatives fell before Dr. Adolf in grateful worship. But of course the famous doctor always corrected their behavior and reminded them to glorify God alone.

I ran ahead of the procession to help lower the coffin into the newly excavated grave. Looking back, I saw the grieving missionary parents following. Then came the nursing staff in spotless white. They wiped the tears away discretely, hardly making a sound. In the back were the paramedics—known as “dressers”—that we had trained as assistants. They had grown accustomed to witnessing our daily miracles.

As we lowered the coffin, I thought, That could be me. Almost daily, I stuck myself with a surgical needle as I assisted Dr. Adolf in our make-shift operating theater. We knew lethal viral diseases lurked in the bush. As the coffin rested in the grave, a dark shroud descended into my consciousness. Would I get out of this alive or be buried in this wild country, unknown to my friends and relatives?

Then the Lord refreshed me with David’s psalm from the wilderness in a time of trouble. He refers to God’s steadfast love as his refuge—so stabilizing he could say it is better than life itself.

Believing God is in complete control, I walked the daily tightrope of only one needle stick between life and death. Every day, we all live on this razor-thin margin. But like David, we can bless God’s name and lift our hands to Him, even in the most dangerous environments.

How can you show others that you trust God with every day of your life? 

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Looking Through Life's Lenses

Memories. They often begin by looking through life’s lenses.

My mind drifts back to my childhood, growing up on a farm. Cool spring days, heading out with my daddy to check on the tobacco fields, and early mornings with delicious smells wafting through the house as Mama prepared the daily meals.

Many of my memories have been a joyful place, like looking in a scrapbook and finding those smiles staring back from a scene that makes me happy. Most of us have those memories locked safely away. Every time we recall one, we feel as if we have looked through a camera’s lens—focusing on people, places, and things that take us to a happy time and place.

But what do we do when our happy memories become fewer than the sad ones that take over and cloud our happy? These new memories that hurt so much, yet ones we must remember because we cannot bear life without some memory of that time, place, or person. 

How can I be thankful for sad times? I wonder. How can I be grateful for the day I knew I would never see my husband again on this side of heaven? With so much pain in my heart and grief such as I had never known, I cried to God and begged Him to hold me and help me find the memories I needed to make it from day to day.

Sometimes, we lose that person who completes us—a best friend, a child, or someone or something that has been a part of our life so long we can’t fathom what a memory looks like without them.

These terribly sad seasons of life are real and life-changing. They are a part of our lives we will never forget. I am learning through this season that God is the only one who can help me see my memories in a new way through my life’s lens. I ask Him to give me the ability to be thankful for every moment lived, every moment shared, and every moment celebrated.

Remembering is a part of our life’s journey. Thank God for every memory and a new way of seeing through your life’s lens. 

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Teaching with Chicken Feathers

Dense fog covered the field as lazy cattle chewed their cud.

The small elementary school on the other side of the fence filled up with children, big and small. Kira, Wyatt, and Travis jumped out of their school buses, gave the PE teacher a big high five, and headed straight to homeroom. Second-grade music came first, and Kira couldn’t wait. She had barely sat down on her carpet square before proudly whipping out a white chicken feather for everyone to see. Sharing her excitement, the music teacher asked if she liked to eat eggs.

“Yes,” Kira replied, “I love scrambled eggs!”

Wyatt attended school in the suburbs before moving to the country. He quickly announced that he didn’t like eggs because eating them meant killing tiny baby chicks.

Travis, who frequently visited his grandparents’ farm, knew Wyatt needed consolation. So, in one big breath, Travis exclaimed, “Only roosters and hens that are married can have baby chicks, so if your chicken isn’t married, you can eat the eggs—there can’t be any baby chicks.”

Moses told the Israelites to teach God’s law to their children. The word diligently means to give proper attention to or give a good measure of care to the task. In other words, he commanded them to provoke healthy and healing conversations about God’s requirements as many times during the day as possible.

When we do this with the children in our care, we honor God by teaching the difference between God’s truths and the world’s lies. Someone in Travis’s family used a hen house to teach God’s design for procreation, and the eight-year-old remembered it well.

What humorous and loving ways can you use to hone the moral compass of the children God places in your sphere of influence?

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God's Puzzle Pieces

Peter puzzled over God’s puzzle pieces.

Twenty-eight puzzles down, boxed up, and put away, I was a little cocky . . . overly confident. Most of the puzzles my husband and I construct are not too demanding. But number twenty-nine was a bear. We puzzled over the puzzle.

The generally accepted rules of puzzle assembly are that every piece has a pre-cut spot, and most pieces need neighbors to make sense and form a picture. They rarely stand alone.

But like Peter, we are sometimes puzzled by God’s puzzle pieces. We think the next best steps are in front of us, but then something feels out of place. Peter expected Jesus’ body to be in the tomb, but it wasn’t.

Life is like a giant, living puzzle. Each day presents a new chapter in God’s story and is ready to be assembled. Although life’s pieces often don’t seem to fit, our heavenly Father gently places them perfectly into the developing scene.

A phone call, text, or email fits into one corner. An unexpected meeting with a friend in the produce aisle fits into another. A casual supper with family or friends fills the center.

One day, my shirt sleeve accidentally flicked a puzzle piece to the floor. I got down on my hands and knees to search. Nothing. As I rose, my finger brushed against the missing piece. God reminded me He is with us even in the scattered puzzle pieces, whether literal or figurative.

Trust God to help you put the pieces of your day in their proper places so that you can create a new masterpiece for His glory. 

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Why I Believe

One afternoon, I had some quiet time, so I prayed and thought about why I believe.

It was a cold, grey winter day. I noticed passersby wandering to a nearby store. They wore their hoodies, reminding me of the hooded cloak we see in the images of Jesus.

I reflected on Jesus’ love and wondered why I believed. As I enjoyed the solitude, I concluded that my belief in Christ is a blessing. Our faith exists for any person on earth. None of us own it. My faith began when I first heard about God’s grace.

What Paul wrote can explain how the mystery of faith holds true for me and any Christian. Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 

Our faith in the love of Jesus shows us grace. Because of this, I can remain a calm, smiling, and helpful person—a problem solver. I like to assist others in any way I can and aim to keep on giving. I pray for the strength to perform God’s work because I believe Jesus still lights the world.

Faith endows us all with the gifts of grace, love, blessings, and hope. That is why I believe.

Have you thought about why you believe?  

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Picking Apart God's Will

My husband and I own a renovation business. He went through a four-year carpentry apprenticeship program early in his career, and with a forty-year history in building, he knows his stuff and holds high standards for his work. The responses from satisfied clients speak to his efforts.

Occasionally, a customer gets in their own way and slows the project. Once, my husband applied an adhesive to a homeowner’s kitchen cabinetry—one that requires three days to set. But the homeowner picked at the veneer the first day, and it came off. They then protested about what they considered poor quality.

Sometimes, the client objects that the work doesn’t look nice. The homeowner doesn’t know the work is not done—and can’t do it—but they try to fix what they think is wrong, which costs them more. The finished remodel, however, is beyond their imagination.

As Christ-followers, we tend to get in the way when God renovates our souls. His method might require that we own up to our part in a misunderstanding, acknowledge an addiction, or ask for help with something beyond our capabilities.

Instead of being patient, we protest, pick apart God’s ways, and then don’t understand when we end up paying more for it. Our human minds can’t comprehend or envision the result. But God knows what He is doing with us.

When you do not understand God’s vision or methods for you, remember to trust Him.

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If, but, and Why

Sometimes we pray, “Lord, if You want me . . .”

     to change jobs

     to buy this car

     to go to this school

     to teach this class

“… tell me, please. Let me know Your will. Fill me with Your peace. I want to follow You. I can’t do this without You.”

Standing at the crossroads, we need direction. Anxiety and fear fill our hearts. The unknown makes us emotionally wring our hands. We cry out to the One with all the answers. We worry. We experience angst.

Then one day, God’s peace covers us, and He provides an answer. Getting out of the boat, we walk on water because He said to. As we begin our trek, our hearts sing, “God, thank You for Your provision. For your answer.”

Taking a little skip and hop on the water, we continue. “I trust Your hand, Holy Father. Only You could do this.” Two more big steps. “I am excited to see where You lead. Your great love humbles me.”

But off to the side, we hear fear calling our name. Taking our eyes from the Lord, worry and second guesses crowd our minds. Certainty oozes from our hearts, drips from our fingertips, and weakens our knees. Did He really say what we thought He said? Maybe we imagined the call to come. “But God . . .”

All those doubts and worries, everything but Him, press down on our heads until the waterline reaches our neck. Then, before we disappear in the sea of self, we remember Him. We cry out, and He lifts us from the depths. Why did we doubt? Once again, we have eyes only for Him, but it’s too late.

Like Peter, we can let doubt keep us from walking on water with Jesus. Don’t miss what God has for you. Fasten onto His gaze and don’t look down.

What steps will help you with the ifs, buts, and whys?

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The Man in the Sky

The day wasn’t unusual for the two aspiring Maasai warriors living in the bleak planes of Tanzania—a place dotted with volcanic cinder cones, thorn bushes, and acacia trees.

They awakened each day at the opening of a boma, a large circular enclosure where animals rested safely at night from predators. The first task was to take the sheep, goats, and cows beyond the horizon for water, then find suitable pastures for the day.

Afterward, with animals safe in the boma, the two squatted for friendly banter around a campfire to recount the day, sometimes punctuated by a lion encounter or rogue elephants. Since their father was away working in the tanzanite mines at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, an uncle’s watchful eye always seemed present to correct any deviant behavior.

That night, Leskary, the oldest, was unusually silent and distracted. Baraka sensed his playful spirit was gone.

“I know something terrible must have happened. Why won’t you tell me? Aren’t we best friends,” Baraka pleaded.

“If I tell you, you won’t believe me anyway,” Leskary replied, tossing some sticks into the flickering fire.

After a long pause, Leskary suddenly blurted out in a broken, trembling voice, “I was looking into the sky when a man appeared floating in the air, dressed in shining cloth. He said, ‘Follow Me, and I will always be with you.’ Then He disappeared. What shall we do?”

Baraka, pointing toward a dilapidated shed with a lone cross on the roof, replied, “Maybe we should go to church and listen to the preacher.”

Leskary shivered, thinking of the scorn and laughter Maasai men express toward women and children who attend preaching and prayer during the week. Besides, his uncle would beat them because Maasai men don’t do such things, despite the occasional begging of the women.

“What would our friends think of us?”

Are we willing to obey despite what others think? Jesus calls us to radical discipleship, and our love for Him should transcend all other human relationships. Never be ashamed to tell others about God and His Word.

Ask God to show you how to seize opportunities to tell others about Him.

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Helping the Least

I love to shop in thrift stores, but one day I found myself helping the least as I did.

While in the parking lot of the Goodwill Store, a homeless man approached me and asked me to buy his lunch, saying he had not eaten in several days and was hungry. He was tall and thin and looked tired and sad. I told him I’d be happy to buy his lunch.

We walked next door to a Sonic Drive-In and browsed the menu board for something he wanted. Moments later, a manager stepped outside to help us. We probably looked strange to him since we were not in a car.

The homeless man humbly asked for a hamburger, French fries, and soda. I paid for his meal and waited with him for his food to arrive. After several minutes, the manager returned with a tray loaded with food for the homeless man. The manager was kind and directed the homeless man to a nearby table.

The manager and the homeless man thanked me for buying the lunch. But I was the one who felt blessed to provide something for “the least of these.” It really does feel better to give than to receive.

When we think of the least, it could be a single mother who needs gas money or anyone hungry, sick, or imprisoned. Yet these are the ones Jesus said to care for.

We can help by volunteering to serve a meal at a shelter or donating money, clothing, and food to agencies that provide for the homeless. We can check in on our neighbors and the elderly in our communities and help them as needed. And we can always pray for God’s people. When we help the least, we see the face of God.

What are some ways you can help the least?

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The Thin Line Between Life and Death

The sun was warm through the car’s sunroof, and the breeze stirred my hair. It seemed like an ideal autumn day for a drive, but the morning’s tranquility didn’t last long.

A blaring horn split the air, and an out-of-control car came around the corner, veering into our lane. My husband’s reflexes kicked in, and he swerved to avoid the careening vehicle—narrowly avoiding driving into the river that bordered the road on the right side.

My heart felt as if it would explode. I could barely catch my breath, even after we continued down the country road. I glanced at Craig. He took a ragged breath, glanced upward, and said reverently, “Thank you, Lord, for preserving us from that accident.”

How fine is the line between life and death, heaven and earth? Google tells us the double yellow line in roads is approximately fifteen inches thin.

Author Timothy Pina said, “There’s a thin line between life and death. It’s God’s grace that shows us how fragile we are.”

We understand that fragility. A pickup truck crossed the double yellow line and hit our friend’s motorcycle head-on. He spent two weeks balancing on the tightrope between heaven and earth and has a long road of recovery ahead of him.

How should we live if a thin line exists between life and death? Should we live in fear, or does another way exist? An accident, or even a near-miss, frightens us, but we don’t need to spend every moment looking over our shoulders for threats.

We can live in the Lord, having committed our lives to Him. Then we can purpose to honor Jesus with our lives, whether by life or death.

Have you contemplated living with Jesus now? Your decision will place you on one side or the other of the thin line between eternity with Him or apart from Him.

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Protected by God's Sword

For two hours, Abel encircled our home, holding his Bible high and claiming he was protected by God’s sword.

The sky was pitch black, allowing myriad stars to put on their dazzling display. No fireworks could compare to this night sky. Streetlights did not exist in the small African village where darkness ushered in quietness.

But one evening around midnight, that quietness was disrupted. Our night watchman alerted us to suspicious noises coming from beyond the courtyard. We also knew Abel carried no weapons, so we were concerned for his safety.

We were unsettled, so we prayed. Was it possible the odds were in Abel’s favor, even though he appeared outnumbered? He knew God was on his side, so he claimed the promise of Ephesians 6:17. The Bible was his weapon. He was not defenseless.

Abel’s faith was displayed as bright as the stars shone in the heavens that night. Then at two in the morning, he let us know the commotion had passed. All was calm once again.

The next day, we learned from eyewitnesses that armed robberies had occurred on our street that night, but God spared our home. Testimony from one of the suspects indicated how the robbers seemingly froze outside our courtyard. They saw a “wall of white” extending above our five-foot fence. We believe the angels of heaven outnumbered them in response to Abel’s prayers and faith.

As missionaries, we received years of formal training, yet Abel taught us an invaluable lesson we never forgot on that night. He took God at His Word.

The resources of heaven are always at our disposal. God’s Word is listed as an essential piece of armor that protects us against the evil one. Yet simply waving it in the air like some magic ritual is not the key. Faith is. We must know what God has specifically promised and then proclaim it, aloud if possible.

God is dependable, and the outcome of any situation will serve His purposes for our lives.

Activate the Sword of the Spirit through faith today.

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Come Home

Mom always welcomes me when I come home. 

My mom and I live on opposite ends of the East Coast. We don’t see each other as often as we’d like. When I go home after a long absence, I apologize that it’s been so long. I’ve not been as faithful as I should to keep in touch. But I can always count on hearing, “It’s okay. You’re here now. I love you.” I had come home. The shimmer in her eyes and tender words tell me she’s glad I’m there.

Luke records the story of the Prodigal Son, where we see the overwhelming love of the father when his lost child comes home.

Bible parables are meant as messages from God to His children. Here, Jesus paints a picture of our heavenly Father’s love for us. He is thrilled when we come back to Him. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been; He rejoices each time. Our Father whispers, “It’s okay, my child. You’re here now. I love you.” If we could look into His eyes, we would see the wealth of His love for us.

Do you know how much your heavenly Father longs for you to come to Him—how He rejoices whenever you take time to talk with Him? Make time each day to spend some time in His presence. Let Him remind you how precious you are to Him.

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Memorizing Scripture Is Vital

“Seminaries are cemeteries.”

When I was a seminary graduate student, I often heard this comment from different sources and felt it was unfair. After all, such programs usually require taking Greek and Hebrew courses. In addition to the foreign language requirements, I took systematic theology and other graduate-level subjects.

Many years later, I learned there was some truth to the comment. The reason was a failure to require students to memorize verses word for word consistently.

Some are born with the inability to memorize, or they have had organic damage from an accident. In these cases, the Spirit can open hearts to what He desires to be known emotionally. When a believer doesn’t know how to pray about something, the Spirit groans the unexpressed desires to God’s throne. This process illustrates the compassion of our heavenly Father.

Any Biblical training needs to encourage hiding God’s words in our hearts. Studying God’s Word should be an open book and heart experience. We don’t live on bread alone but on every word that comes from God’s mouth.

No printed Bibles existed in the Old Testament period since the printing press had not been invented. God’s Word was passed on by memorization. We should memorize God’s Word as much as the Old Testament believers did. A healthy diet should include the heartfelt quoting of God’s Word.

What plan can you develop to memorize God’s Word?

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The Power of Composure

The power of composure adorned her.

Every quarter we celebrate accomplishments with a party at work. Events centering around the chosen theme—such as a luau, walks in Paris, or superhero power—take up most of the meeting. The highlight is the announcement of the employee of the quarter. The senior staff chooses each winner based not on numbers but on the unique contribution the winner brings to our team.

As we awaited the newest honoree, I discussed with other co-workers who might win. We also recalled the previous winner, who’d accepted the accolade with extreme fanfare that extended to days after the party.

But this time, an employee known for staying calm during high-pressure circumstances won. We hadn’t expected her to win. Although her picture and name adorned a plaque at work, she barely spoke about it afterward.

Paul wrote this verse because others talked badly about him. He was away in another country, but word had reached him that others boasted about things he couldn’t do. Paul seemed more than a bit upset and ready to challenge them, but had he had the opportunity for a face-off, his demeanor and grace would have won others over.

My co-workers quiet acceptance reminded me of how Jesus maintained the same composure while others prodded Him to heal them. Jesus freed many from the oppression of illness, but He consistently asked those He healed not to tell others. His response was part protection, part humility, and part of His Father’s plans.

I try to remember my accomplishments come not from me but from the empowering strength God provides through the Holy Spirit. The power comes through how we respond to situations. Setting an example for others to follow, as Jesus did, is a positive response. The power we have to influence others in truth and humility is important.  

What can you learn from Jesus and Paul about the power of composure?

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Follow My Bliss

I shall follow my bliss as long as I have legs to stand on.

Dawn arrived again. I was up and, as usual, practiced my attitude of gratitude. My family, friends, and I woke up with our glad pants on. God woke me up for a reason. He gives me the strength to fight my daily battles.

As I meditated on the beauty of the morning, I read this verse and thought about my blessings: Blessed is the people of whom this is true; blessed is the people of whom God is the Lord! I aimed to be a positive example of my approach to kindness. Showing it is cool and builds up my core strength as a humble Christian.

My next task was to send a text to a friend. “Have a beautiful day with bells on.”

Friends empower each other. We can share our positive prayers for healing solutions to global issues. These include praying for peace, overcoming racism and discrimination, and improving the global economy.

God empowers each of us with faith in our Lord Jesus. He is a devoted companion. We can develop thanks for the blessings we have today. Following Christ can be like living in a palace of faith right now in our hearts and souls. Happiness is our Christian power.

What are some ways you can live a happier life?   

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Serve the Children

I was honored to lead and train the children’s leaders and forge a new path to serve the children.

Bible Study Fellowship met Wednesday mornings at Shades Mountain Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. I was the secretary, maintaining membership rolls and assisting with class administration.

Then my husband came home from work one day and announced, “You need to get a job.” Three years of being a stay-at-home mom skidded to an abrupt halt. No more Newcomers’ Club, bridge, tennis, or school volunteering. I returned to the world of checks and balances.

That didn’t stop me from participating in BSF. I joined the evening women’s group at my church, Briarwood Presbyterian. The leaders considered starting a program for students and children of attendees.

I felt the nudge of the Spirit. God led me to this verse in my hotel room at a BSF retreat: I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth. I shared it with my leader and was appointed the new Children’s Director for the women’s evening class.

It is an honor to courageously point others, especially the younger generations, to Jesus. God calls us to make this place and time joyful for those around us and those coming after us—no matter how dim the future may seem. Everything lies in His hands.

We change, our plans change, and our roles change, but God never does. His truth will stand forever.

How is God calling you to serve the young and old in His kingdom?

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The End of the Curse

My friend once underwent a work-required physical and was handed a perfect bill of health. Two months later, he began to feel weak. Not long after, he was buried. Never could I have imagined the pain that tore at my heart. I grieved. But as I grieved, I turned to my faith and reminded myself that someday I would experience the end of the curse.

The curse began in the beginning. With full warning of the consequences, Adam and Eve chose to disbelieve God and rebel. Because of that rebellion, joy became regret. Thorns ravaged the soil, and death ushered in separation and sorrow.

In my imagination, I can almost see Adam and Eve grieving over the death of Abel and still blaming each other for listening to the serpent’s lie. The curse had come, but the curse-breaker would also come.

As I grieve over the loss of my friend, I find comfort in the Word of God. I read it often to build my faith, especially the promises in Genesis and Revelation. I love reading about Jesus, the curse-breaker. Someday, there will be no more curse on the earth.

How can you still find joy even while living on a cursed earth?

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Holy Habits

I picked up a new motto recently: Start by starting. It helps me get going on writing. Sometimes that means I pull up a blank screen on my computer and stare at it awhile. Then I give it a file name and walk away. It’s a start, right? But there are also some other habits I need. Holy habits.

In my devotions, I read Jeremiah’s message from the Lord to the king of Judah. There it was again. “If you begin to obey.” Start by starting. Take a step forward. Move it, and don’t look back. Keep moving toward Jesus with your eyes fixed on Him, your spirit guided by the Holy Spirit, and your mind fed by His truth.

But sometimes I need to obey by turning away from a practice. I need to stop by stopping.

I have a bad habit of looking out my second-story window and scornfully laughing at my neighbor’s latest antics. That bad habit is more accurately termed a sin. I do not love my neighbor as Jesus has commanded. Instead, I’m being critical and prideful. I think I’m above whatever they do and have the right to laugh. Wrong.

If I want to stop criticizing my neighbor, I must summon the willpower to obey at once and be done with that nasty habit. I must stop the flow of words when I realize I’m doing it again. So I cut off the words mid-sentence and the scornful laugh mid-chuckle. And I keep stopping the flow until it becomes a holy habit.

Will you adopt my two mottos—start by starting and stop by stopping?

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Blessings Be

Blessings be all around us.

I shared coffee and cake with some older ladies who are supportive friends. We enjoy being kind to each other because it is a part of the blessings in our lives. We didn’t complain or talk about issues—just gave each other smiles and good company. I came home thankful and thought about what blessings be.

We can all note our blessings. I do. I am happy the way I am—not buying heaps of stuff. I am content where I live as a happy camper, enjoying simple pleasures and appreciating God’s blessings of grace.

I read John’s words and thought about ways to share blessings: supporting each other, being kind and peaceful, thanking God for our daily bread, being happy, and treasuring memories. We can all look back and learn from experience. We can turn the page and get over things.

Blessings be, indeed. We can smile and give a word of thanks. We can express gratitude in our daily prayers, thanking the Lord for how far we have come, despite setbacks.

Blessings be if we humbly accept our limitations and do what we can do, not what we cannot. Blessings be as we aim to stay good, walking the mild side of life. Our prayers for grace can make our faith come alive for each of us. 

What blessings can you name and then share?

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Take Your Eyes off the Problem

“Take your eyes off the problem,” God whispered.

The waves rose higher and higher as they rushed toward the shore. I stood at the water’s edge and dug my toes into the sand. The waves threatened to take me under as I fixed my eyes on them—just like the circumstances that had invaded my life.

But as I watched the intimidating wall of water get closer, a strange thing happened. It quickly flattened and rolled up on the sand, its power left in the ocean.

If only my problems could dissipate just as quickly, I thought.

Then I heard a gentle whisper. They can.

Shortly afterward, I read these words by Sarah Young in Jesus Calling: “Circumstances around you are undulating, and there are treacherous-looking waves in the distance. Fix your eyes on Me, the One who never changes. By the time those waves reach you, they will have shrunk to proportions of My design. I am always beside you helping you face today’s waves. The future is a phantom, seeking to spook you. Laugh at the future! Stay close to me.” ~Jesus

Problems come and go, just like the waves, and the Enemy will always make them look bigger than they are. His goal is to get our focus off the Lord so he can steal our peace. But the Word says God will keep in perfect peace all who trust Him and keep their thoughts fixed on Him.

The Message says, “People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, steady on their feet.”

When the waves threaten to take you under, take your eyes off the problem. Turn them toward heaven and trust the Lord to keep you whole and steady.

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Defining Love

Defining love isn’t the easiest thing to do.

A year after my father’s death, I reflected on love. I loved my father, and I know he loved me. Two months after his death, I walked away from an emotionally abusive relationship, where we used the word love but could rarely feel it.

I continued to reflect on love and God’s love for me. I wondered how I knew God loved me. I was instantly reminded that God has shown His love for the world and His church by displaying His love on a wooden cross two thousand years ago.

God reminds us every day when we wake up that He loves us, and the reason we love is that He first loved us. God is divine love, and He initiates love in our hearts and souls.

We should have boldness in our day-to-day life and not be filled with fear or worry because God’s love takes these things away.

God’s love changes our identity, future, and relationships. It affects how we relate to our family, friends, leaders, and teachers. It alters the way we love people around the world.

Today, thank God, who willingly sacrificed His Son to save us all, for His love. Let us soak in the love of our heavenly Father and display it for all to see.

What are some ways you can let others receive the love of God through your words and actions?

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Doing It God's Way

At the moment, doing it God’s way didn’t entice me.

I once cheated myself out of God’s glorious plan for my life when I chose my major in college. I chose medicine because it was cool, and I was smart enough. The only problem was that it wasn’t a part of God’s plan for my life. As it turned out, the major didn’t get accredited at that university, and all my attempts to change to another school were unsuccessful. I had to start all over again after three years and change my major to psychology. I’m a living testimony of making one’s will align with God’s will.

One of the most beautiful things God gave humans is free will. However, as beautiful as this seems, it carries a disadvantage. Without God’s guidance, we are and can do nothing. Trying things our own way might work for a while, but following God’s teachings and instructions always leads to the right path.

God stands ready to instruct and teach us the right way, but we must listen. God will also counsel us. He has His eyes upon us. Therapists or advisors can try, but the Lord’s counsel is the best. No harm can come near us if God’s eye is upon us.

Trying to navigate this world by ourselves comes easy. But we don’t have to do it alone when we have a Father who is willing to help us. One of my favorite names for God is the Ancient of Days. He knows the past and the present. We only visit this world once, so why not cast our burdens on the God who has always been? Letting go of control is difficult, but we must trust God.

God shows us His way through various forms, such as studying His Word, listening to other believers, and obeying the nudges of His Spirit.

What steps can you take that will help you do things God’s way?

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Jesus Is Still Here

I’ve had to learn that Jesus is still here.

While at home one day, a friend came to my screen door.

“You there?” she called.

“Yes, still here,” I responded with a welcoming smile.

I am always glad to see my friends for coffee. Good friends in God are like diamonds: precious. After she left, I reflected. I am still here, and Jesus is still here for us also. 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. This well-known verse reminds me Jesus is still here. His love is precious, and we are all part of the circle of faith.

God loves each of His children. Our faith burns while this world of imperfect humans turns. But because Jesus is still here, not one of us wakes up alone. He is always at our side.

We can pray for God to comfort us with His promise of eternal life. In the meantime, we can aim to live our best Christian life. Our faith in God will keep us strong.

Sometimes life is complicated. But our prayers for each other and the world are more important than overreacting to catty clichés or dramatic prompts. Our peace is like the balm of God’s love. God’s love and our faith remind us that Jesus is still here.

What are some things that remind you Jesus is still here?

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Step-By-Step Faith

One day God showed me a lovely example of how our walk of faith is gradual. Bit by bit. One tiny step at a time.

Colorful stones created a perfectly laid-out path through a beautifully manicured garden, each containing a message. Faith. Hope. Trust. Love. Perseverance. Joy. Peace. Prayer. Blessings. I followed them to the end, where the last one said Keep going, just follow Jesus.

The stones made me smile. They reminded me that walking by faith is a step-by-step process, just like taking a stroll and putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes we make the walk more difficult by rushing ahead, lagging behind, or stumbling over our own feet. At other times, we think we know the better route and take off on our own instead of depending on the Lord—especially when the path seems dark and a little ominous. That’s when we get in trouble.

Many people have a hard time with what they cannot see. But God is pleased when we put our trust in Him. He gives us His Word as a lamp to guide our feet and light our pathway. When we stay in sync with Him, He will ensure we stay on the right track and keep our balance. He will keep us from stumbling or losing our way. All it takes is a little faith—believing God will do what He says He will do.

Promises and blessings fill God’s Word like steppingstones in a garden. Receive them by faith. Take His hand and follow Him . . . step by step. He will never lead you in the wrong direction.

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Sowing Scarecrows

While planting petunias on my garden patio, I watched as my grandson poked something into the dirt.

The arrival of warmer weather had called us outside to play, and we both found the pots of dirt too inviting to resist. To my surprise, he wrestled a button loose from the tattered shirt of a scarecrow adorning his pot, stuck it into the soil, and patted it firmly.

Seeing the surprised look on my face, he shouted, “Look, Nana, I’m planting scarecrows.” We laughed as he patted the dirt. At age three, he grasped the principle of sowing and reaping. Never mind that buttons aren’t seeds, and scarecrows aren’t plants. In his young mind, he understood that if you plant a scarecrow, you’ll get a scarecrow. 

Miles understood at his young age what I sometimes ignore in my older age. The laws of sowing and reaping are evident in my garden. I don’t plant lettuce seeds and expect petunias. But they are not always so clear in my everyday life. Haven’t I sown one thing expecting to reap another? Perhaps not with seeds, but with deeds—attitudes, actions, words. What about the times I’ve sown discord expecting peace? Or indulged an appetite only to find emptiness? And what about the times my closed hands expected generosity?

The laws in my garden are also at work in my life. God makes this clear when He cautions us about sowing and reaping. There was a season in my life when I valued the freedom of going my way above following God’s principles of sowing and reaping. The consequences were painful and far-reaching but taught me the importance of following God’s instruction. I now regard what I once thought was restrictive and punitive as wise counsel and guidance from my heavenly Father.

We honor God with our hearts and actions by following His principles. When we sow according to God’s Word, life takes root and flourishes as we reap the love and favor of an extravagant God. The memory of a summer sowing scarecrows with my grandson is one such blessing.

What type of things are you sowing?

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The War of Opinions

The war of opinions rages in modern society.

Threats came shortly after the Supreme Court decided a football coach had the First Amendment right to pray on the field after a football game. The coach symbolized hatred for those who disagreed with the decision.

Others hated because a secular opinion said expressions of faith were not permitted when discussing the separation of church and state. Anger burned toward those who had a different view. One felt justified to act violently.

The concept of agreeing to disagree has somewhat fallen out of modern conversations. Sadly, many express their opinions like thwarted, spoiled children, which is DDT (Demand, Delay, Threaten).

An essential question is as follows: “Who or what is the trustworthy source of opinions about how we should live life?”

Modern society has accepted what many refer to as secular humanism, and this may now be the most prominent religion. True religion, however, holds opinions about sin and moral issues, including the afterlife. Human ideas come and go—no matter the level of education or a person’s position, making them not objective.

In contrast, God’s opinions are eternal and unchangeable. Jesus said heaven and earth would pass away, but His words are eternal. We need to know objective truth and have an objective quality to our lives. Healthy living come from following what God has revealed in the manual for life, the Bible. Our opinions are only valid when they agree with the sovereign Lord’s.

What steps can you take to align your opinion with God’s?

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Trusting In God

Trusting in God isn’t always simple.

Life has a way of bringing us to unavoidable forks in the road—situations that require weighty decisions. At forty-one, we’ve likely made critical decisions about career, marriage, family, housing, and so on. If we’re sixty-five, we can look back and evaluate the effect of our choices over the long haul and ask the what-if questions.  

The Jerusalemites were at such a fork. They started at the imminent threat of Assyrian invasion. But instead of relying on Yahweh, their politicians allied with Egypt for help. Isaiah warned them not to rely on Egypt, but they wanted to take their chances—to make a deal with death. In reply, God likens Himself to the cornerstone of a foundation. Those who believe in Him and trust His promises don’t have to make panicky decisions.

In the 1930s, most Germans were brainwashed into trying to combine Christianity with nationalism and militarism, thereby equating patriotic sentiments with Christian truth. They exalted their racially pure nation during Hitler’s rule as God’s will for the German people.

But some in the churches resisted. They banded together and drew up the Barmen Declaration (May 29–31, 1934) which said the church’s freedom resided in Jesus Christ, who is Lord of every area of life.

Only one foundation proves reliable for us. Outside of God’s promises, no salvation exists, only destruction. To seek protection and plan without divine direction leads to vulnerability and shame—regardless of our effort and expenditure. The secret to success at life’s forks is not joining our current secular mindset but instead relying on the God who keeps His Word.

How can you live by trusting in God?

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The Meaning of True Love

Not everyone gets the meaning of true love.

One afternoon, while I listened to a friend whine about her husband, I got over it. She looked for problems. Any marriage is a chain of love. So, aiming to be a wise old owl, I suggested she change her complaining. Her husband had his good and bad days, as any person does.

To affirm his good days, my friend and I looked for positives. We discussed some ways she could support the man she loved. She really wanted to continue what was a good relationship—one founded on true love.

I hoped their minor niggles would soon resolve themselves and that her complaining was only a glitch in their love radar.

Christians can all wake up and thank God for loving us first. We all want peace on earth, and we can thank God our faith is alive.

Our Christianity shows us God’s steadfast love. We can show others God is real by nurturing relationships, enhancing friendships, loving pets, tending gardens, or showing kindness to strangers.

We can love because God initially loved us, and still does—feet of clay and all. With prayer, we can stop looking for problems and enhance our chain of love. God first loved us because He wanted us to be happy. That is the meaning of true love.

Have you discovered the meaning of true love?

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Blessed by Obedience

When I was in college, I took a course in computer language.

Our professor observed, “Computers are dumb; they just do what you tell them.” Then he explained the if/then scenario. If we tell the computer to complete the command, then it will follow. The computer obeys these commands if we press a key.

The if/then process is simple to understand but challenging to do, especially as the Bible instructs.

Psalm 119 promises both blessings and blamelessness. How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the Law of the Lord. How blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart. The answer lies within these two verses. If we walk in the Law (conform our lives to Scripture), observe God’s testimonies (obedience), and seek God with all our hearts (forsake worldliness), then we will be blessed and blameless. But this is not easy. Many things keep us from walking and seeking the Lord with all our hearts.

Stubborn independence is one. From the day we are born, we desire our way. We struggle against the authority of parents, siblings, teachers, government, and ultimately, God. We require the care of a gracious God who loves us enough to provide His Word for our direction and growth. He designed us to be governed.

God alo provides a path to blight and guilt for those who do not submit to Him. However, when we obey God’s Word, He blesses us. Even if we feel ruined and guilty, being blessed and blameless is still possible. Obedience is the key.

Blessed does not mean having material rewards. Blessed means being content and complete. It means peace from the confidence we gain when we consistently please God.

Christians cannot rely on self-righteousness. We should walk uprightly and joyously as obedient children, free from the burden of disobedience. If we seek God’s favor, then we must seek Him with all our hearts.

How can you be more obedient and improve your seeking the Lord?

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In the Sixth Month

Imagine for a moment that you are in the throne room of heaven.

You stand upon a sea of glass. A brilliant rainbow surrounds the throne. A thundering voice speaks from the throne, and Gabriel immediately appears. He is the most beautiful creature you have ever seen—an archangel waiting for instructions from the Father.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent Gabriel to Mary’s home in Nazareth. Elizabeth and Mary were relatives. Elizabeth would birth John the Baptist six months before Mary would deliver Jesus.

God’s timing is precise. The event we celebrate in this season of the year was not an afterthought, happenstance, an accident, or even good fortune. God planned this event before He formed the earth. When God first made people, He knew they would need a Savior. And He had already determined that He would let His Son live among us and give His life for us.

At the appropriate and perfect time, God sent his Son to be born of a woman. We have set calendars according to this event. We have mapped out the days, weeks, months, and years by it. But our calendars and annual celebrations sometimes obscure that Christ came in the fullness of time—at the deliberate timing of the heavenly Father.

Gabriel eagerly received the message from God and immediately made a home visit to planet earth. That was the beginning of Mary’s remarkable pilgrimage.

We enter the Advent season knowing that God’s timing is also perfect in our lives.

How can you trust God’s timing for your life?

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Watching for the King's Return

Glancing is not the same as watching.

I once dropped my wife off at the front of a store so she could rush in for a few groceries. She stepped from the car and said, “I left my phone at home, so watch for me.”

I assured her I would, then maneuvered the car into a parking space with a clear view of the front doorway. Eyes riveted on that doorway, I watched intently. Only a few items on the list—in, out, done.

When other cars parked in my line of sight, I moved to a different spot. But each time, I watched that doorway like a hawk. I had promised to watch, and watch I would.

But the “quick run in for a few things” turned into a longer than expected wait. I pulled out my phone and searched the web to leverage my time, carefully holding it high so I could still see the front door area with my peripheral vision. I didn’t want to miss my baby when she stepped from the store. That would be unacceptable.

Checking one site and then another—and scrolling through various posts—my hand grew tired of holding the phone up. I dropped it to my lap, but still kept a wary eye open. Actually, it was more like a prolonged look in between scrolls. Engrossed in some interesting posts, I let my looks get shorter. They soon became occasional glances. What was taking her so long?

In between my prolonged glances, my wife emerged, and I missed her. I allowed the distractions to nullify my promise to watch and be ready as soon as she came out.

Jesus cautioned us to watch for His unscheduled return. And we do want to be faithful to that call. But unfortunately, many interests, influences, and cares of this world distract us. Often, our intense watching decreases to occasional glances when we hear a sermon or read an article about the end times.

May we all renew our pledge to be ready and watching for His return. May our hearts burn with the urgency of the imminency of the event. Nothing else is as urgent or important.

What are some ways you can better prepare yourself for Christ’s return?

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Snowy Day Bird Buffet

Snow showers began early that January morning.

I shuffled to the garage and scooped generous amounts of birdseed into feeders, placing my offerings with eagerness. They may need this today, I thought. Snow—and later, ice—may cover their usual food supply.

I expected dozens of feathered flitters to swoop down and battle over my gift. But nothing. I peeked out my kitchen window once, twice, a dozen times. Then another dozen times.

Late in the afternoon, a dozen tiny grey finches finally appeared, along with a pair of cardinals, and accepted my tasty nutritious birdseed. Snow had fallen most of the day, but that seed had sat untouched for nine hours. Why?

I speculated all day. Are the birds letting fear of larger birds, squirrels, or prowling cats keep them away? Had they studied the yard and worried about the lack of vegetation in which to hide? Or were they simply confident in their ability to take care of themselves?

As they dove into my offerings, my heart warmed. They had allowed me to help them. Perhaps my gift would even mean their survival through the frigid night.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not! When those birds were no-shows for so many hours, I recalled this verse where God, perhaps in a plaintive voice and with a heavy heart, confronted His people’s stubbornness.

The Word of God is flavorful and nourishing, even life-giving. God offers the Bible as one of His gifts, but we sometimes leave it untouched. As I waited for birds to accept my proffered seeds, I imagine God may watch for us to take in the Bible’s food.

Perhaps God also peeks out a window, hoping we remember He offers a listening ear for whatever concerns may plague us. Prayer is another gift we often overlook.

Like those needy little songbirds, show up and dive into God’s Word and prayer. It may be twilight, but you’ll still warm His heart.

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Little Things

“Little things, little things.”

My son’s football coach often used the phrase on his players. He wanted them to focus on the little things they could control. So, during practice, they focused on becoming proficient at doing the small things well: completing the drills, getting physically fit, and knowing the plays, instead of taking shortcuts or worrying about their chance to score the winning touchdown. These little things were the makings of a great team player—one the other teammates could depend on during the game.

That teaching resonated with my husband and me. We put the phrase next to our son’s bed so he could look at it at night—not so much that he would become a great football player but a great man. Becoming a man of integrity is about being faithful to the little things instead of taking the easy way out.

God is interested in the little things—how we live out our faith in our daily choices. Those seemingly small decisions can change our lives. Obedience entails consistency. It demands faithfulness along the journey and steadfastness even when it seems inconsequential. Small choices of obedience lead to significant changes. God transforms us when we bravely decide to live by faith in the little things.

Our integrity matters to God—integrity that shows up in our everyday decisions and actions. We can be kind when we don’t get our way, love others even when it’s hard, and stay faithful to our commitments.

How can you show integrity in your small choices that no one else sees?

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Needing Rest

“When do you sleep?” The question from a church member came when I was needing rest.

My friend knew I taught school full-time, pastored part-time, wrote and freelance edited in my spare time—which often appeared piecemeal throughout the day or in the early morning hours. On top of that, I manage three websites, and, besides that, I have a wife, children, and grandchildren. As Thanksgiving approached, I desperately needed rest.

Teachers at our school long for the Thanksgiving holidays. Only a few days off dot the calendar between Labor Day and Thanksgiving break. By the time the Thanksgiving holidays roll around, my nerves are shot, the kids are anxious, and I need some downtime.

Rest is enjoyable and required for good spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Like many others, I don’t get enough of it, in part because I’m bad about loading too many duties on my plate. Good things, mind you—just too many of them.

The Bible speaks of several types of rest. But the rest these rebellious former slaves would not enter was a different variety. Heaven was its name. They had followed Moses out of Egyptian slavery but repeatedly rebelled against God in the wilderness. Except for a few of them, the entire generation who left Egypt perished in the wilderness because of unbelief. They never experienced the rest of the Promised Land, a foreshadowing of heaven. They only rested in their graves.

God’s ultimate rest is heaven, but if we stubbornly refuse to admit and confess our sins, we won’t ever experience the rest God wants us so desperately to enjoy. Heaven is only for those who repent of their sins and turn in God’s direction.

I look forward to that rest—not that I think we’ll sit around on clouds all day and play our harps. While living on earth is enjoyable, it’s also tiring. The challenges, brokenness, sin, and struggles will overwhelm us.

We can, however, experience God’s rest as we await heaven. Jesus said He gives abundant (restful) life now and in eternity. As we seek, depend upon, and believe in God’s daily guidance and care, we enter His rest—the peace of knowing all is well with our souls because we’re God’s children, and He’s our Savior.

Have you entered God’s rest? His rest is available for all who will simply trust Him—for salvation and for daily peace.

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Leaning on the Holy Spirit

I’m a klutz, and my family loves to tease me about it.

As I strolled through a restaurant parking lot in Washington, DC, I tripped over a curb and clumsily danced in a circle to avoid falling. What a scene.

Walking my hilly neighborhood in the morning is also a struggle. Hearing how I dreaded those intimidating ascents prompted my husband to suggest I try one of his hiking poles. It made a difference to lean on the sturdy metal stick and easily navigate the hills. Walking was fun again.

I gave myself an official set of teal Black Diamond walking sticks one Christmas. I set them at the recommended height and embarked on my maiden voyage. Like a cross-country skier gliding through snow tracks on pavement, I used each pole to help me up and down the steep inclines. Neighbors peered out their windows and exclaimed, “Look. She’s training for the Appalachian Trail!”

The Holy Spirit, my ever-present Trainer, is like my walking sticks. He provides balance and stability in every challenging situation. If I ignore or let go of Him, I will inevitably stumble or trip. Holding on to Jesus is the only way to trek life’s pathways successfully. I plan to grab Jesus’ hand daily, so I can boldly press on with Him.

What are some ways you can lean on the Holy Spirit?

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My Lonely Summer

As I packed boxes that spring, I named the next four months, “My Lonely Summer.”

Moving to a town eight hundred miles away, I braced myself because I would have no friends nearby. Once there, the churches appeared to be on summer break from activities, which would have offered me chances to acquaint myself with new people. I knew empty places would appear, which valued comrades had once filled.

I hatched a plan. My move would be the perfect opportunity to spend more time with God. Unfortunately, self-discipline is not one of my strong suits. I’m the queen of caving to distractions, and procrastination is my middle name. So I asked myself, What if every day, I took a chunk of time and physically reached for my Bible and notebook first? Instead of the dust cloth, the Bible. Instead of the scrapbooking photos, the Bible. Instead of the computer and email, the Bible. Instead of a magazine, the Bible.

I could hear the unpacked boxes, unorganized rooms, and unadorned walls shouting for attention. But I ignored their shouts and listened to God’s quiet voice instead. It worked, but I didn’t become legalistic about it. If I fell off the wagon, I viewed it as a missed opportunity and climbed back on.

Years ago, I had written on a Bible flyleaf, “I look upon it as a wasted day when I have not had a good time over the Word of God.” The thought reminded me to allow regret but not self-recrimination.

I took German Reformer Martin Luther’s advice by taking only a few verses and shaking each one like the branches of a tree until some fruit fell. I chose quality over quantity, not worrying about how many verses or chapters I read. As a result, what I expected to be my lonely summer became a wonderful summer. Additionally, I accomplished an appreciable amount of unpacking, organizing, and decorating.

What an incredible privilege for God to call Abraham His friend simply because he believed God’s Word. It was for me too.

What steps can you take to develop this friendship? Why not start by investing time in God’s Word?

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Spotted and Preserved

“Hurry!” Dad urged little Jimmy. “The smoke’s getting thicker!”

Just moments before, they had arrived at the state park to hike, but now they had to flee a sudden brushfire and run back to the nearby parking lot. The smoke caught them at the top of the bluff above the lot, but they saw their car below. Ordinarily, they would take the path around the ridge, but there was no time. Dad scrambled down, intending for Jimmy to leap to him.

“Jump, I’ll catch you!” Dad called as he lifted his arms and saw the smoke thickening around his terror-stricken son, who stood stiffly.

“Daddy!” he screamed. “I can’t see you.”  

“You don’t need to,” his father called. “I can see you, and that’s all that matters. Jump!”

Just as the churning smoke nearly obliterated his small figure, Jimmy hurled himself down the slope and into his father’s arms. They found their car and drove away.

Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? In this passage, the writer ponders God’s omnipresence—the attribute that allows the Lord to always be with us. As the psalmist says, we can’t escape God’s presence. And we shouldn’t want to, especially when surrounded by the occasional swirls of confusion while on our spiritual journeys. But even if we can’t see God, He can see us.

With omnipresence comes another divine characteristic: omnipotence. This enables God to preserve and provide for us. We can know God’s omnipresence spots us, and His omnipotence keeps us. That’s all that matters.

What assures you of God’s presence and power?

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Smog

Smog engulfed our city overnight.

Ground-clearing fires from a neighboring country sent smoke and ash into the air, and winds blew it hundreds of miles. It didn’t happen overnight, though. Instead, the haze slowly grew over days and weeks.

During the weeks of smog, I learned how easily things can deceive me. Wherever I went, the air around me looked clean. I gazed out my windows to the street or our small yard, and I couldn’t see anything different in the air quality. But when I looked up and outward, away from myself, I saw the brown haze. I was breathing pollutants and toxins even though the air around me seemed normal.

Sin is like pollution. Life seems normal when I compare myself to others around me. But when I look to God, I become aware of sin. Sometimes God helps me refocus by sending someone to reveal the pollution in my life. That’s what happened when God sent Ezra to Jerusalem.

Ezra had been exiled to Babylon. Years later, a new king arose and permitted Ezra to lead a contingent of exiles back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city and temple. After he arrived, Ezra discovered intermarriages between Israelites and idol-worshippers, a flagrant disregard of God’s command. Unfortunately, the remnant of God’s people had tolerated and accepted the sin. They knew it was contrary to God’s command, but it had become a usual way of life.

Ezra confronted their disobedience. He revealed the pollution that had enveloped their community. As a result, the Israelites confessed their sin, turned from it, and renewed their relationship with God.

Eventually, the rainy season in my city cleaned the air of pollution. In the same way, God cleanses us and renews our lives when we confess, repent, and turn back to Him.

Is there smog in your life you need to confess?

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The Best Inheritance

One bumper sticker reads, We are spending our kids’ inheritance.

I have seen this quip on a fancy RV, owned by smiling senior citizens. The humor points to the wisdom of enjoying retirement savings before the bills for assisted living care arrive.

As Christ-followers, we have already received a priceless inheritance, but we also need to think about what we want to pass on when our earthly address changes. As rebellious adopted children of our heavenly Father, we deserve condemnation, but we inherit eternal grace because of our Attorney’s redemptive will. God’s Word reminds us of this.

Psalm 119 defines the purpose and value of God’s Word. The author uses decrees, law, precepts, statutes, commands, promises, and word as synonyms. Throughout this meditation on the Word, the author interweaves comments on his life. His faith in God’s promises did not make earthly hardships disappear nor help sadness make sense.

Reading this chapter reminds us of the importance, power, sufficiency, and blessings the Old and New Testaments provide. Unlike inheriting material possessions that may provide temporary happiness, Scripture is the source of everlasting peace and truth.

Because God’s Word is a joy-giving and treasured inheritance, we should respond to its teachings with obedience and gratitude.

Why not mark or meditate on the joy-producing adjectives in this psalm that describe God’s Word.

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Don't Worry

I once watched a family friendly show on YouTube that I had watched on television when I was little.

The show was about a boy and a pet dolphin. In one episode, the little boy was worried about the dolphin because he hadn’t returned for several days to the ocean waters that the boy’s dad and another man protected. The dolphin finally showed up just as the boy’s dad’s friend had told him he would. Everything turned out okay, although something bad was really in the making.

I can be a worrywart too, so I especially need to apply this verse: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Although I do pray a lot, I probably don’t do a good job of praying about the things that bother me, some of which are none of my business.

We all are tempted to worry, but God said for us to be careful, which means not to worry or be anxious about anything. Rather, through prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, we should let our requests be made known to God. 

God has everything under control, and we should allow Him to have control of every area of our lives.

Don’t worry. Be happy in the Lord.

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Memes and Tweets Versus Real Conversation

Post the pertinent meme. Write the funniest tweet. And whatever you do, get to the point and make it pithy. Otherwise, you’re revealing your age and social media aptitude.

If those are the rules, I’ve lost before I’ve begun. Am I the only one who feels this way? I’m developing Meme Anxiety (MA). Is that a real thing? I don’t know, but MA may show up in the next edition of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) for counselors.

I must face the facts. Other tweeters are invariably funnier and more clever than I am. They hit the punchline while I’m searching for the send button. I raise the white flag on trying to appeal to a few quick seconds of attention span.

I’m thankful the Lord doesn’t limit my conversations with Him. In fact, His attitude is quite the opposite of requiring brevity and social relevance in our talks. He invites me to rejoice at what’s going on, pray all the time, and give thanks for everything. That requires many words.

Obviously, He likes the sound of my voice. If I want to ramble on about the vivid colors in the sunset or how great it was to spend the afternoon with my grandchildren at the zoo, I am welcome to do so in His presence. If I write down a long list of all His blessings to me and read them aloud to Him, He doesn’t mind. If He’s calling His children to rejoice, pray, and be thankful in all circumstances, He must delight in lengthy communications.

Social media is one way of keeping up with the lives of friends and family, but maybe a phone call or coffee together are better avenues. Real conversation is not short, but it is sweet. Fellowship with the Lord and others is cultivated over time as we pray, praise, and rejoice together.

Is there something wonderful happening in your life? Call someone and share the news. It will probably encourage them. Are you struggling with a problem? Pray, then pick up your cell and run through the contact list. Someone can help. Make that call.

Whatever you do, don’t forget to communicate with the Lord.

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Lying in Wait and on the Prowl

I dumped clothes from the laundry basket onto the bed and began sorting.

A minute later, I jumped back with a yelp, pain stinging my toes. Our cat had been sleeping in his spot under our bed. When my bare foot got too close for his liking, he swiped at me. His claws left a scratch but didn’t draw blood. The swipe was a warning, his way of protecting himself without causing me too much harm.

I know he enjoys snoozing in that spot. If I had thought to check under the bed before beginning my work, I would have seen him and been more careful. But I didn’t pay attention and paid a price.

The Enemy does the same thing to us, although he doesn’t issue warnings. Every move he makes is calculated and intended to harm us. He knows our weaknesses and habits, which can make us easy targets for his attacks. Sometimes, his attempts to thwart us are obvious, such as through physical harm or with people who stand against us. At other times, his tactics are more subtle but no less dangerous—like gossip we’re tempted to share or negative thoughts that settle in our minds.

Peter says our Enemy is on the prowl for opportunities for destruction. He is “seeking someone to devour.”

Our primary mode of defense is to remember he could attack us at any time and in any way. Just as I could have avoided getting scratched by thinking to check my cat’s whereabouts, being conscious of Satan’s tactics can help us avoid harm.

We can ask God to show us areas in our lives that might make us easy targets. Then we can ask Him to help us be wary of potential threats and to protect us from potential attacks. Just because the Enemy takes a swipe at us doesn’t mean he has to win.

What are some ways you can be proactive against Satan’s attacks?

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Realistic Faith

A common fallacy views faith and science as diametrically opposite.

Hands-on experience has led some open-minded medical students at Cal Berkley, such as the person I worked with during my graduate studies in the San Francisco Bay area, on a journey of discovery. One night, the student said, “When I was studying for my bachelor of arts degree, I was an atheist. When I was in my master's study, I was an agnostic. But now that I am finishing my doctor’s degree, I am convinced there is a personal God.”

His statement reminded me of what many of the greatest scientists have said. Isaac Newton mentioned that studying science long and deep enough will force a person to believe in God. Albert Einstein stated that the more he studied science, the more he believed in God.

Faith is viewed by many as subjective and emotional, while science is usually viewed as objective and intellectually verifiable. Scientific psychology depends upon statistics and observation. In contrast, realistic faith is personal and grows from proposed truths, ancient manuscripts, archeology, and historical evidence, but does not find its validity in those.

Another fallacy attempts to find intellectual facts that convince the mind and heart to form faith. Faith consents to the possibility that intellectual or materialistic evidence contains mere bits of understanding about creation. Faith includes the mind and will. Realistic faith is a confident belief based upon both observation of surrounding reality and emotional acceptance of the Divine.

Above all, Christian faith is a personal belief in Jesus and His payment for each person’s sins and shortcomings on Calvary because of the Father’s love for this fallen and sorrowful world.

Pray for a realistic faith that grows by your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ and your study of the Bible. 

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The Case of the Missing Bible

Unpacking after a business conference, I discovered an important item was missing. My Bible.

It was irreplaceable. I could deal with losing my bathrobe, but not my Bible. This Bible had occupied a special place by my bed for years. Its pages contained handwritten notes and underlining from personal study, sermons, and Sunday school lessons.          

Unwilling to accept that my Bible was gone forever, I searched. I called the hotel’s housekeeping department to see if they had found it while cleaning my room. Surely my voice conveyed heartbreak and the item’s value. They didn’t have it. Perhaps I had dropped it somewhere between the room and my car. But lost and found didn’t have it either. Next, I called the hotel’s conference coordinator to plead for help finding my missing valuable. Still, no Bible.            

Why God? Why would You allow this precious possession to go MIA? Time spent with God cleared my confusion about this loss. He helped me realize my Bible was His Word. He knew best where it should be. And that place wasn’t in my possession. Someone else needed to receive His Word—be it my Bible or my expressions of faith.                        

This loss allowed me to exhibit my faith when talking with hotel employees. Whoever found my Bible would notice it had been well used by its owner. And the notes and markings on its pages evidenced a desire to learn from those words. Would it spark the finder’s curiosity to read it?                     

The missing Bible remains missing. But I’ve solved the Whodunnit. God. He orchestrated my loss to allow His Word to be disseminated. Perhaps my Bible went to someone needing to learn about Him or a believer who needed encouragement from the notes therein. God can use me or even my possessions to get His Word out to bear fruit. I concluded I was willing to let go of my beloved Bible for that purpose.

What are some ways you can get God’s Word out?

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Imagination

The imagination is a mental power used to embrace the truth or create a lie.

Imagination is defined as “the picturing process of the mind.” Imagination reconstructs our past experiences for us to remember them.

The word is used in the book of Jeremiah more than any other book of the Bible to refer to an evil heart. The wrong use of the imagination by Israel, like those in Noah’s day, led them into sin and brought God’s judgment.

Imagination is a power of the mind given by God. There’s nothing wrong with having an imagination, but how we use it is what matters. We can use it to better ourselves and others, or we can use it for evil and bring our demise.

Things are first created in the imagination before they’re created with the hands. Whether modern inventions or the ancient idols of Israel, they were all first imagined in the mind before they were formed with the hands.

Alternate realities are created with the imagination. We perceive reality through our senses, but when reality does not satisfy us, we visualize the utopia we prefer and live there while denying reality. Creation is the reality created by God—the one great spiritual reality. When we construct a fairyland with grotesque, absurd, and extravagant characteristics which cannot co-exist with the law and order of the universe, we enter the region of fantasy.

Heaven and hell are real places and a reality for untold numbers. With the aid of Scripture, they can be imagined now, but one or the other will become a reality for us one day, based on what we’ve done with Jesus Christ.

For our imagination to serve us well, it must be set apart for godly purposes. The imagination visualizes all that’s said in the Scriptures so that by faith we can embrace it. When we read Scripture and enter into a scene portrayed by a writer, we imagine in our mind the meaning and then realize it spiritually.

Where is your imagination taking you?

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When God Forgets

Things began slipping away . . . things I didn’t want to lose.

Memory. An interesting thing. When I was young, I had no trouble memorizing—anything, or a lot of things. Even in my twenties, I sailed through one college class that required tons of memorizing, earning an A with ease.

Then it happened. In my late thirties, people’s names started to escape me. Then other things. My wife became my memory board. Now, as I age, I exercise my mind, hoping my memory will hang around a little longer.

I also discovered that age isn’t the only thing that affects memory. While attending a training conference for teachers, I took a class on technology, since I teach middle schoolers. I discovered why they couldn’t seem to retain anything. The rapid advance of technology, which makes knowledge available at our fingertips, has shortened the short-term capabilities of our younger generation. They struggle to memorize—or don’t even try—because they don’t have to. If they want to know something, they Google it.

While most things I don’t want to forget, some things I do want God to forget—my sins, in particular. And according to Jeremiah, He will when I ask Him to forgive me.

How God can forget when the Bible pictures Him as omniscient (all-knowing), I don’t understand, nor can I explain. The best I can say is He chooses to forget. For me, age takes care of forgetting. For others, it might be busyness or brain damage. For still others, doing so is a choice.

God wiping our sin slate clean bears importance. If He didn’t, He would still hold us accountable. That would bring His punishment—presently and eternally. But because of what His Son accomplished on Calvary’s cross, God can clothe us in Christ’s righteousness when we come to Him for forgiveness. This involves His forgetting our sins. If He didn’t choose to forget, He couldn’t clothe us this way.

We no longer fear God’s condemnation when we stand in this wonderful position. Instead, he loves us and has accepted us into His family, with all the fringe benefits. His forgetting our sins should prompt us to love others and to do good for them as God has done for us. It should also lead us to stand in daily appreciation to our loving heavenly Father.

Has God forgotten your sins?

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Cared for by God

The phone rang at my desk. My manager wanted to see me right away.

The call sounded unusual. Curious, I strode into his office and sat. He thanked me for my work and proceeded to say the organization had restructured and eliminated my position. He handed me an envelope with a severance package to review, told me to collect my belongings, and sent me home.

I left, stunned. My life revolved around my job. My work required my input. It could not continue without me . . . or so I thought. Once I got home, tears streamed down my face. My daily work routine had shattered. No one from work called to ask about the tasks I had planned to complete. I felt I had no value or worth without my job.

Inwardly, I knew the importance of my relationship with God. Outwardly, I lived for myself. As I poured myself into a new job search, I also reflected on my position as a child of God. I remembered how God values me far more than sparrows.

During the time of Jesus, the poor would buy the least expensive birds for food. The lowest valued coin could buy two sparrows. Jesus told of how God cares for the sparrows, saying that not one sparrow dies without God knowing. God values a person made in His image far more than an inexpensive bird. God knows our great worth.

I felt worthless after losing my job, but God saw me as valuable. I thought my life had ended, but in many ways, it had just begun. In God’s time, He provided a new and better job. With this hard lesson, I hope always to remember how much God cares for me. And I have seen that God will provide for me, even if I lose my job.

What truth can you embrace about the great value God places on you?

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Back to the Basics

During a troubling time with his team, Vince Lombardi, the famous American football coach for the Green Bay Packers, decided he needed to go back to the basics.

Lombardi held up a football in a team meeting and said, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” One of the players, Boyd Dowler, a flake, said, “Coach, could you slow down a bit?”

When we start to stray from the basics of our faith, the tell-tale sign is that we lose our joy. Joy is to our faith as a barometer is to weather. A barometer measures the barometric pressure in the atmosphere. When it drops, a storm is generally brewing. When we begin to lose our joy, it indicates something is going on spiritually that needs our attention.

Christianity is about a relationship with God. It is not about a religious system, but it does take the disciplines of Bible study and prayer to develop that relationship.

The Bible reveals the character of God. We cannot know someone we don’t first understand. Any relationship grows by the time we spend with that person. Our knowledge of God is proportional to our time in His Word.

A relationship does not happen without communication. Prayer is the vehicle God has given us to converse with Him. Prayer is a two-way street—it’s us talking to God and Him speaking with us. A one-way conversation is not communication.

A third discipline is obedience. Jesus’ authentic followers obey His commandments. We must be doers of the Word of God, not just hearers. We can read the Bible and pray, but if we don’t obey God’s Word, we will deceive ourselves and develop a false Christianity.

Have you lost your joy? Go back to the basics of Bible reading, prayer, and obedience. The joy of the Lord will be your strength.

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Transformed

For several years I worked at vacation Bible school. One year, the lessons were illustrated by using the transformer toys, which change as their name shows.

This is also what happens when we’re born again. We’re not the same people, although we certainly aren’t perfect. God helps us to transform instantly in some areas and slower in other areas. One example might be dress. The Lord must deal with us about wearing appropriate clothing. Another area might be relationships. Perhaps some are living together but not married. And then there might be some long-range changes God has to work in our lives.

God changes us as we study His Word, pray, get established in a local church, listen to godly preaching and teaching, and apply what we read and hear.

Every day it is good to ask, “Lord am I changing into someone better and more like You, or am I changing for the worse?

Ask God to help you be more like Him each day.

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Hugs and Hits

As I walked down the hall of the preschool at the church where I worked, I was often amused at some of the placards displayed outside the rooms.

Many of the teachers posted these, headed with a question for the children to answer. One sign was headed News of the Day. The answers included I played with my sister, and We went to Disney World. Another question was more thought-provoking: What are good manners? The responses ranged from the sentimental Good manners are hugs to the unexpected Good manners is saying excuse me when you belch. One child had a logical, but unexpected, answer: Good manners is when you hit someone and then you say, “I’m sorry I hit you.”

Showing courtesy to anyone reflects how God deals with us. His constant loving responses encourage us to treat others the same way, demonstrating the good manners of a loving God.  

The one child’s answer defines a way we can show genuine affection for others. We can use good manners. But why be polite to someone whom we might never see again?

Our passing gesture of consideration or courtesy might influence in a way we never know. Although we might be tempted to be rude or abrupt with others, responding with a gentle word can touch them in ways we could never imagine.

Think of some ways you can give hugs instead of hits.

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The Beginning of a Masterpiece

Many fear dying.

This fear relates to appearing before the bema or judgment seat of Christ. We can assure the fearful that the judgment seat has nothing to do with their sins, but rather with the quality of the service they performed after trusting Christ.

When people ask how they can know this, we can give them a clear answer. Salvation is settled with a personal belief in what Christ has accomplished by His complete and satisfactory payment for our sins.

Someone explained it this way: “The manifestation of the believer’s works is in question. It is most emphatically not a judgment of sins. These have been fully atoned for in the vicarious death of Christ.”

Embarrassment about the possibility of our sins being graphically exposed, as if on a large screen television, comprises another fear some have.

God comforts us in several places in His Word when He tells us He will remember our sins no more. We can also receive comfort by reading how the loving and forgiving father greeted the prodigal son when he returned.

Bema Day will be a hard yet rewarding experience as we come face-to-face with what we have or have not done. Tears of sorrow will flow, yet it is the final molding by the Potter’s hands to prepare us to live eternally in the pure place He has prepared for us.

Each child of God will begin their position of glorifying God as a completed masterpiece, displayed as evidence of the surpassing riches of the grace and kindness of Christ Jesus.

Knowing we will appear before the judgment seat of Christ should prompt us to live godly lives each day.

Are you prepared to stand before God?

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Making the Right Decision

Do you ever worry about making the right decisions?

Something about deciding stresses me out. No matter how small or large the decision, I tend to second-guess myself, leaving me disappointed. I assume I disappoint others around me, too, when I see the frustration on their faces. A simple lunch date could turn into an all-night sleepover if the decision were left up to me. Sigh.

But once we put our faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit becomes our guide. Paul wanted the Galatians to know circumcision held no benefit. They, on the other hand, tried to decide if circumcision would make them more righteous with God. If they chose circumcision, they would choose to put themselves back under the law. Christ had already made them righteous through His blood, but they tried to mix the law with grace.

To live free in Christ, we must run our choices through the filter of grace. If we choose to live in the Spirit of God’s grace, love, and faith, it is almost impossible to make the wrong decisions. When we are indecisive, we can let love make the final decision because love conquers all.

Many decisions may appear inconsequential, but thinking about the following questions before we do can benefit us: Will our decision make an impact for Jesus? Will it unite or divide? Will it point others toward Jesus or away? Will it strengthen our faith or weaken it? Does it shed light or darkness? Will it honor or dishonor our parents?

Ultimately, our decisions point to the love of Jesus and make a difference for heaven. Our Lord uses love to drive all things.

God allows us to make our own decisions for a good reason. He wants us to choose Him over everything. Having the ability to choose is a privilege, but God wants us to cover our decisions in love.

On what basis are you making your decisions?

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Pressure in Our Lives

At one time, I groveled under a lot of pressure.

I was a principal of a school and completing post-graduate work for a superintendent endorsement. I was selling my home in the city after three traumatic incidents: a bullet came through the second floor of my home in my children's rooms, my front fence needed repair after it had been damaged during a police car chase, and my garage needed repair because a young lady tried to run over her boyfriend with her car and ran into my garage instead.

During this time, I was also active in my church. I was a co-facilitator of the youth church and ministry leader for the new members class and youth choir. I also attended monthly meetings for Christian education. When I examined my life, I saw a busy woman under pressure who was not prioritizing her family. That bothered me. I wanted to scream.

When we want to scream at the top of our lungs from life’s pressure, we should call out to God and ask Him to deliver us. God always hears us. He hears our calls, and He desires to deliver us whether it is morning, noon, or night.

After I prayed, the pressure lessened, and my life looked and felt different. By the end of the following year, I had completed my superintendent classes, my family and I were in a new home in the suburbs, and I had transitioned to a new church home. I also spent more time with my family.

When we discover we are under pressure, we need to examine the source. God does not want His children to labor under pressure. Often, pressure overtakes us, and we are not aware of its grasp. We need to determine if the pressure is too much.

Call out to God when the pressure builds in your life. Ask Him either to deliver you or to give you a plan of deliverance.

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Secrets of the Heart

What you see is what you get. But not always in the church.

I once led a discipleship program operated by a well-known mission organization. We often attracted young people, but many of these students were not with us long before we noticed a disconnect between what they said and what they did. They knew all the Christian logo and when and where to use it. They had learned to play the Christian game of saying or doing enough to please their parents or pastor.

Christianity is not about pleasing people but pleasing God. God is not pleased by us externally modifying our actions. He desires internal heart transformation that changes why we do what we do. These changes never come by self-effort alone but by the work of the Holy Spirit.

God does not judge by appearance or what people say, but according to the secret intentions of our hearts. Jesus gave His greatest condemnation to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of His day. They worked tirelessly to keep all the details of the law, but doing so never changed their hearts.

The greatest tragedy of the legalism held by the Pharisees was that they believed their lies about themselves and were blinded to the truth. There are none so blind as those who refuse to see.

The lack of a heart change is also illustrated by the older brother of the prodigal son in Luke 15. When the younger brother received what the older brother thought he deserved, the older brother revealed his true colors. He did not serve his father out of love but because of what he could get from him. His motives were selfish. The older brother did all the right things for all the wrong reasons.

Life has a way of confronting us about the secrets of our hearts. The next time someone gets what you think you deserve, ask the Lord what He is saying to you.

Are you doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons?

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The Master Designer

I love to decorate, paint, and sing.

Creating is my therapy. The thrill of turning an empty canvas into a work of art or creating something out of nothing. Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary. These are some passions God has given me.

As much as I love to decorate, I will not forget how I once decorated the pit of despair I lived in for years. The walls were covered with regret, guilt, shame, and hopelessness. This was my comfort zone ... my isolated pit of misery.

God did not create us to live in misery. He came to set us free from the chains of bondage. We no longer must be held captive by depression, addiction, fear, guilt, or shame. Liberty is found in the amazing grace of a Savior who gave Himself for us.

We can witness the true Decorator and Artist by stepping outside and soaking in the glorious beauty of a sunset. Our Master Designer, our Creator God, paints the sky with colors no words can describe. The majesty of His creation leaves me breathless. He alone is the true Artist.

But our outer appearance should reflect our inner appearance. God is more concerned about the appearance of our heart. When our heart glows with the radiance of His love, we can’t help but radiate the goodness of God. His beauty is indescribable and precious. He is the greatest treasure of all.

Be a reflection of God’s grace. Choose to allow the Master Decorator and Designer to decorate your life with His gifts of grace, love, and mercy. 

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Kris

When Kris was in high school, she stayed busy.

Staying in touch with her was difficult. Then she entered college, where she got even busier, balancing classes and working a part-time job. Kris was once close to the Lord, but her overloaded schedule seemed to have no room for God or church. She drifted. Presently, she has a job that has taken her far away from home. 

Kris has become a workaholic and has anxiety problems. I believe she tried to escape the pain of having a mom with emotional issues by staying so busy that she couldn’t feel or deal with anything. 

I can relate. My mom was an alcoholic and committed suicide when I was fourteen. This created many emotional issues for me. Thankfully, in high school, I went to a group that helped me. I learned I couldn’t run away from my problems. I needed to deal with them.

I know that Kris struggles. Her prayers for her mom were not answered as she hoped. Her mom got worse, which caused Kris to turn away from God and not deal with her emotions. Kris needs to give her worries to the Lord and trust Him. He would take away her anxiety problems, and she would have peace in her heart.

The Lord enabled me to give my worries to Him during difficult times of my life. When we give our worries to Jesus, He will bring peace to our hearts. Depending on the circumstances, He can also take away the problem. God cares for us. We merely need to trust Him.

Ask God to help you give your troubles to Him. 

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My God Is Your God

As I sat and read a Psalm one day, I thought about the passing of an old geriatric.

Over the years, while managing his daily routines, I had made him at least 60,000 cups of tea. Lovely hot cups of tea, just so. I was his tea lady, full of kindness. Nothing wrong with being unselfish and tolerant. It is good and aspiring to show compassion to vulnerable folk.

My God of compassion is every Christian’s God. I have always considered that our true love and happiness start with the grace of God. That is how I understand this part of Psalm 116. All Christians are on a staircase of blessings.

We seniors step up to the plate on our path to God. We can say each day that we awoke and are doing okay, barring all medical catastrophes. God’s good grace wakes us up for a reason. Our faith comes alive by being kind, tolerant, and compassionate to others, including ourselves. God cares about us all because He loves us all.

Yes, I have looked after everyone else. Time today to relax and nurture each grace God has given me. God knows we can’t be perfect. He is a God of compassion and grace.

How can you better experience the graciousness and righteousness of God?

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Living a Capital Life in a Lower-case World

First grade, first day of school, first assignment: copy your name on the board under the teacher’s written example.

First words out of my mouth: “You wrote my name wrong.” First impression: the amused but wise teacher never said. He had printed my name correctly, using both upper and lower-case letters. I knew only capital letters. Yet in my immaturity, I remained certain I was right.

How often do we hang on to what we believe, insisting to the Lord that we, with our limited insight, experience, and resources, hold the answers? We learned this way, thank you very much. We’ll let you know when we need help. And in the process, we miss all God wants to bestow.

The Master Teacher wants to change our name, but far more. God waits to change our lives. We no longer must settle for the bits of knowledge and experience we gain on our own. When we become children of the Master, regardless of life circumstances, we go from ordinary to extraordinary. God transforms us from lonely to never alone. The tempted one becomes forgiven and empowered. The forlorn achieve joy, and the overwhelmed change to overcomers. The Ever Faithful One offers faith. The Source of All Hope extends that hope to all. Our Wonderful Counselor stands ready to direct our lives. And heaven’s Agape Love seeks to make us a reflection of that self-giving nature.

Although I wrote my name in caps in that elementary school scene, our efforts to live in our own strength will always be lower case. Only God writes our names—our lives—in caps.

God offers the best. Never settle for less.

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How to Rise Above Adversity

Adversity. Not a popular subject, especially in these crazy days we’re living in. Most of us try to avoid it at all costs. I know I do.

Adversity entails hard times, misfortune, and sometimes even danger. If not handled correctly, it can create anxiety, fear, and depression. 

Author Chris Tiegreen suggests that whenever we run from it and refuse to face it head-on, we just might miss a tremendous opportunity for change—the God-type-of change. He says: 

Somehow we have to reprogram ourselves—or let God reprogram us—to see adversity as an opportunity to overcome, to see rejection as an opportunity to love someone radically, to see setbacks as one more step toward our destiny. We have to learn to laugh in the face of the Enemy, knowing that everything he throws at a person of faith will backfire. Rejected? Opposed? Snubbed? Maybe. Wounded? No. These things become food for us.

The person who is able to do that becomes invincible. The negative situations of life become things that energize you rather than things that drain you. Every obstacle lifts you higher. Every disease becomes an occasion to heal, every insult becomes a showcase for a response of divine love, every chain becomes a precursor to freedom, every moment of mourning leads to dancing, all the ashes become things of beauty, every cross becomes a redemption story. Weapons raised against you backfire.

Let’s face it. Life is full of adversity on many levels. We live in a fallen, sinful world, and God did not promise us everything would be perfect. But He did promise to be with us. Always. No matter what we face. He offers us His wisdom, His strength, and His peace. He promises to help us when we call on Him.

The best part is He can take any situation the Enemy means for our destruction, turn it around, and work it for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28). The Message says, That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

Rising above adversity is a radical, purposeful lifestyle. It’s a matter of seeing things from God’s perspective and allowing His Word to guide our thoughts, words, and actions. It requires a commitment, but the results are well worth the effort.

Are you ready to rise above?

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Patience: A Word with Meaning

Patience is a word I have feared for years.

I constantly struggled with putting that word into action and living it out in a way that reflects Christ’s example. Recently, as I sat in a half-empty airport terminal for two hours, at a time that I’m normally sleeping, I couldn’t help but reflect on how my patience fluctuates. Sometimes, I can sit, be still, and fully rely on God and His timing. At other times, I constantly look at the clock and wonder, “When? Why not now?”

We all have our spiritual gifts—leading, showing grace, teaching, or anything similar. Many believe being patient is a natural spiritual gift. Although it is in its own way, I believe it is more an act of love than a spiritual gift.  

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. Although this verse is only a piece of the entire chapter—which talks more about love in action—we can see just how important patience is within the first three words of this verse. Love is patient.

When we are patient, we love others. I’ve learned that the easiest way to process my impatience and instead develop my patience is to answer the two questions I asked earlier: When? Why not now? If there is no specific answer, I answer with, “God knows.”

Patience is more than just a word. It’s an action of love toward others and an action of trusting in God. It is something that is not always easy to cultivate. Patience is a process. It develops over time. We don’t have to feel stressed or pressured to immediately fix our patience. Time, practice, and God’s help are the only things that can develop it.

Be patient while developing your patience.

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What's the Hurry?

“Hurry up!” I called frantically to my children as we rushed out the door.

Grabbing my keys and phone, I headed for the car. By the time we reached town, everyone was stressed and cranky—and we still waited twenty minutes for our appointment.

We live in a society that rushes, rushes, rushes. But in reality, what's the hurry? In the grand scheme of things, what is so important that it compels us to exist in perpetual haste? Is all this stuff we strive after worth all the constant anxiety?

The story of Mary and Martha is a good example. Martha was like many of us—running around doing all the work while Mary sat and listened to Jesus. Martha thought working for Jesus was what He expected. She even got a bit indignant with Him and demanded He tell Mary to help—but He didn’t. Jesus saw that Mary had put Him first. If Martha had done the same, He would have been happy to take care of dinner.

We could all learn to say no to a few more things. Often, we stress ourselves out by overbooking our diary and then having to blast through the day from one thing to the next, never appreciating the beauty around us. We become so focused on the next appointment that we miss the little moments of pleasure in the present. Jesus wants us to enjoy our life. When I'm rushed, I don’t.

We all have chores, but we need to maintain balance. It’s good to plan, but I’ve found it helpful to allow time for the unexpected. Spending more time doing things that satisfy and have value weeds out the unnecessary chaos and leads to an enjoyable life from which we won’t need a vacation.

What are some steps you can take to slow down?

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Be an Encourager

I loathe running.

It takes me all day to persuade myself to put on my running shoes, and even then, I grumble through the miles. A friend once told me if I kept at it, I would learn to love running. I’m still waiting.

A couple of years ago, a friend and I signed up for a 5K. This would be my first race, but my friend was a seasoned runner with many races under her belt. At the start, we stayed together, enjoying each other’s company. However, it didn’t take long for my friend to run ahead, keeping to her pace instead of mine.

To my astonishment, my friend would run ahead for a while then turn around and run back to me. Her sole purpose was to encourage me to keep going. I teased her that she probably ran a 10K that day running back and forth. She didn’t worry about her PR or what anyone would say about her slow time. She pushed ahead at her pace while encouraging me to keep going at mine. In the end, my friend celebrated my embarrassing slow time just as much as she would have if I had gotten first place.

Isn’t the Christian walk like that? We are called to run the metaphorical race before us. Some of us are slow, not in shape, or new to the Christian faith. Others have trained for years and are further along in their journey. A few might be running in extreme conditions, just trying to put one foot in front of the other, their pace almost a walk. 

Wherever we are on our journey, God understands and cheers us on. He tells us to encourage one another and build each other up, knowing that living on this earth is difficult. He tells us to run our race but not to forget about the others running beside us. Sometimes, we need the example and encouragement of someone further along in their faith journey.  

In real life, this means we should be an example by leading our families through prayer and church attendance. We can send a card or make a phone call to encourage someone. We can become a mentor or Bible study leader.

Who will you encourage in their journey this week?

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Death: An Event, Not the End

An event is defined as “a thing which arrives, occurs, happens, or takes place on an occasion.”

A funeral is an event. I attended the funeral of my father and mother. They were not there. None of us attend our own funeral. But I knew I would see them again at my death or the Rapture.

We should view death as an event that occurs at an appointed time rather than the final event that ends our existence. All of us know we will die. Sadly, most of us prepare for death as if it were the end of our existence, rather than the event that ends life here and begins life in eternity.

We schedule events and set aside time to attend them. But death is the one event we do not schedule. God appoints it. Death is a condition for existence. It is the portal we go through in which we leave the here and enter the hereafter.

Death is the one event that makes eternity a reality. Death opens our eyes and makes us glad we did believe in Christ or regretful that we didn’t. Death does not terminate life but continues it in a whole new environment, good or bad. Death strips us of everything this world gave us and leaves us with nothing but our character.

For Christians, the day we die is the best day of our lives because we are ushered into the presence of Jesus. For the unsaved, the day is the worst day.

One of the most powerful things that shapes our lives is how we look at death. We can see it as an end or  just an event. For believers, death is an event. Meeting Jesus after our death is our impetus for holy living.

Believe what the Bible says about death. Then prepare for the event and for what comes afterward.

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Taking Out the Trash

November 2021, and the New Orleans area found itself recuperating again from storm damage.

This time it wasn’t high hurricane winds, but storm surge. The storm inundated the flat terrain with six feet of water, putting it level with the top of most first-story windows. Imagine the devastation. It took six weeks for the water to recede and houses to become available for repair. Then imagine the mess.

Ugly stains from all kinds of contaminants discolored everything. What was once a pristine white concrete sidewalk turned into a multicolored mosaic of black, brown, gray, and orange. Although colored and littered with trash, the sidewalk retained a solid footing with no cracks or voids. The sidewalk is like many people’s lives.

The Pharisees questioned the disciples about why they didn’t wash their hands and follow the tradition of their elders? Jesus explained to His disciples that food taken in doesn’t defile a person because it is digested and expelled. Rather, it’s the words we speak from our hearts that defile us.

The world contributes the trash, and we can take it in. What we read, what we watch, and what we participate in can discolor our appearance. We’re defiled on the outside but still a creation of God on the inside. The primary issue isn’t what we’re exposed to but how we react and respond.

If we respond to the world with a filthy mouth, it comes from the heart, not our exterior. All the trash accumulated on the outside doesn’t have to negatively influence our talk or our relationship with others. We may do the work of demolition and restoration in a church suffering from a storm surge, but it’s our words that encourage our heart and the hope of those we come to help.

I have often thought of this sidewalk since the last storm happened. I look at my judgment of others and my responses to worldly appearances. I have a lot to work on. What about you?

Are you reflecting Christ to others?

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Spinning Clay

My life felt as if I were on a potter's wheel, spinning out of control, messy clay flying in all directions.

Desperately, I tried to hold things together, feeling like an utter failure. Then I read this verse, and it spoke to my heart: He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He who holds the entire universe together, who brought order from chaos, has no difficulty holding me together and bringing order from the chaos of my inner world.

I pictured loving hands surrounding the lump of clay that was me. Spinning on the Potter’s wheel, I hadn’t been abandoned. I didn’t have to hold everything together by myself. I could see that God was confidently holding all my parts and pieces. Even as I spun, He formed and shaped me. Not put off by my mess, He tenderly and lovingly used those things I struggled with to mold me into a useful vessel. Hope filled me.

I could almost hear the Lord saying, “Ah, yes, I’ll push a bit here, slide that along there, and squeeze just a little. Yes, that should do it. Beautiful!” 

As I filled my mind and heart with the Word of God, I saw myself change into someone anchored in Scripture, turning there more frequently to find words of life and direction. The more I yielded to God’s ways, the more I learned to trust that He has good plans for me and that He will use the difficulties I face for my good and the good of others.

For me, discovering the depth of God’s love was a game-changer. Joy became my companion, and I spun in delight, not panic. Spinning with joy in His hands, I was filled with His life and light as He shaped me from a mess to a work of art. Such is our Redeemer’s touch.

Do you feel as if life is spinning out of control? Trust God. Lean on Him. He’s got you.

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Mike the Car Salesman

While getting my car fixed at a car dealership, I noticed salesmen “licking their chops” over who was going to pounce on the customer checking out cars in their lot.

Perhaps all of us have faced this situation. When we purchase a car, we may have trouble finding a salesman who is honest and exhibits integrity. Often, instead of putting the customer first, many salesmen may ask, “What can I do to get a person to buy a car?” Unfortunately, car salesmen don’t have a good reputation.

In 200I, while listening to a Christian talk radio station, I heard about Mike, a car salesman. He was a Christian and called a “friend in the car business.” I decided to check him out. I found an honest man who had character and integrity and who was concerned that I find the right car for me, even if I had to buy it at a different dealership. He didn’t play the games that most car salesmen do. In fact, the issue of character was so important to him that he started his own radio show called, “Quest for Character.” 

As a Christian, Mike held on to integrity. He wanted to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord and not be “crooked in his ways.” Even though he faced pressure to sell cars and make money, Mike didn’t worry about money.

As believers, we need to do what is right, even if it costs us financially. It is better to be poor on this earth and have riches in heaven because we did right in the eyes of God. As Christians, we need to have integrity.

Are you willing to do what is right, even if it costs you?

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Love Looks like Something

Late into the night, I replayed the day’s events.

I found it impossible to sleep. Whatever I read and wherever I went, division lingered. I saw it in the world around me, in the church, in my relationships, online, and even at the store.

Experiencing this divisive period in history grieved me. I decided to do something about it, so I prayed. My prayer was simple but heartfelt. I asked God to speak into my heart about what I could do. Ideas came of simple ways I could show people God’s love. By doing this, I could create more unity among the people He placed in my life. I was ready to get started.

We can rise above the divisiveness we see around us by asking God for the grace to create unity by walking in love. The most unifying—and greatest—commandments in the Bible involve love toward God and one another.

We can show love with or without words. Either way, love looks like something. Love can look like writing a prayer to God to forgive the people who have wronged us. Love can look like a mason jar full of fresh-cut flowers we leave on the doorstep of our neighbor’s house—a neighbor who sees life through a different lens than we do.

Our hurting world desperately needs God’s healing touch of love. Walking toward someone in love doesn’t mean we ask the mom of the kid who punched our kid in the face to brunch. We can have healthy boundaries and still choose to love.

But it could look like forgiving the kid and asking God to bless the family. When we choose to walk in love by doing something, we create the unity God desires. When we walk in love, we crumble walls of division and heal wounds.

Be the person who creates unity through love in action. Be someone who brings revival to the chaos and trauma. Break down the walls of division so healing can begin. Activate the power of God’s unifying love, putting love on display to those who need it. Bring unity to the people God has placed in your life by showing love through actions.

What is something you can do that demonstrates love in action?

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Life's Ups and Downs

Activity on the playground quieted.

It was time to pick teams. Two girls surveyed the class, sizing up each classmate's value. I yearned to be chosen, preferably not last. Nonetheless, all other names were called, and one captain resignedly took me. See, I will drop a ball, miss a spike, swing too late, or duck (rather than catch) with the best of them. Children go through clumsy stages, but I felt like the only one who knew that privileged information.

Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.This familiar Scripture caused me to pause. We live in a place where all is conditional, including love. Things must be earned and kept or else risk being lost. High above the sky or in the deepest ocean reference location, but one day, they resonated on another level.

I enjoy sitting on a mountaintop, gleaning the most beautiful perspective, and enjoying a closeness with the Lord. In this spot, hope is renewed, and a fresh vision brings a new level of courage and peace to my soul.

Yet at some moments I feel as if I'm drowning, floundering in the deepest ocean. My faith feels so small and my fear looms large. The unfamiliarity of these surroundings seems unnavigable. These moments bring seasons of growth and personal wrestling to rest.

This I know: I'm held secure in God’s inseparable and unconditional love. Neither place nor attitude will separate me from that. I don't have to earn an audience or demonstrate prowess and perfection. I've been chosen, hand-picked, and loved. Immeasurably. The cross of Christ Jesus, Lord of my life, paved a way for me to know and to journey forward with this truth.

Unconditional love invites us to climb, persevere, and stand on our tiptoes for a better vantage point. Conditional love bows our head, not our knee, and entices us to believe we'll be passed over.

In your walk of ups and downs, do you see God straining to look beyond you to find another who has more to offer? Or do you believe His love will never fail? He who began this work in you is actively bringing it to His envisioned completion.

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Fragrance or Fume

We walked into the house carrying several bags from our quick trip to the store.

Smells of garlic and onion met us, reminders of the dinner we had eaten a few hours earlier. What had smelled delicious as we prepared and ate our food seemed to have multiplied in strength. Now, instead of making my mouth water in anticipation, the smells overpowered my senses.

The things we associate with scents can be personal. A smell can remind us of past events, resurrecting memories ranging from cooking for family celebrations to being enveloped in a loved one’s hug to walking past a neighbor’s flower garden as a child. Our memories tied to some of these smells can bring a nostalgic smile to our face and warmth to our heart. Others are painful and make our eyes sting with unshed tears.

Either way, our reactions are personal. What might smell wonderful to us might smell terrible to someone else. Sometimes our dislike stems from those memories.

The Bible mentions fragrances or aromas numerous times in connection with offerings. Some aromas are sweet fragrances that please God because of the offering they represent. Other aromas offend God, especially those associated with offerings to false gods or offerings given with impure intentions.

The smells from some offerings to God can be better described as offensive or suffocating fumes rather than pleasing fragrances.

Although we no longer burn offerings before God, we’re constantly presenting ourselves to Him through our words, thoughts, and actions. The question is whether the things we’re bringing to God are acceptable, sweet-smelling sacrifices or obnoxious fumes that offend.

Ask God to show you how to live so that all your offerings are acceptable gifts to Him.

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He Noticed a Man

I confess ... I often race through the day.

Often, I don’t look up long enough to see the faces of those Jesus has placed in my path. Regular folks, walking out their own blind-from-birth trials who just need to be noticed. So busy with my life and schedule that I neglect God’s schedule and His purposes for me.

Jesus noticed a man as He walked along the dusty roads of His world. A lonely beggar described as “blind from his birth.”

I’m immediately struck by two points. First, Jesus noticed the man in the first place. Didn’t He have important people to see and places to go? Didn’t the Savior have a Jerusalem daily planner to follow, demons to cast out, or seas to calm?

Second, though this man was challenged by his blindness-from-birth condition and though he was close enough for Jesus to see him, the man remained silent as the Healer walked by. We read nothing of him calling out to Jesus for help. If I were in his shoes, I imagine I would have yelled, pleaded, or begged for Jesus’ attention. Yet he remained silent until Jesus pressed the issue.

Perhaps the blind man’s silence speaks loudly of one who couldn’t bear the possibility of another disappointment. Another emotional roller coaster of dashed hopes. Or maybe he had grown so accustomed and comfortable in his pain that he no longer pursued healing. His pain had become so normal that he settled into it like an old chair. If so, Jesus put His finger on the comfort zone of this man’s painful normalcy and offered him deliverance.

Our Lord takes the time to notice us. To even seek us out when we don’t have the good sense to cry out. He comes to us in all our brokenness—pursuing us, loving us, and putting His finger on our blind-from-birth condition as He initiates the longing for authentic healing and wholeness. 

Have you considered that Jesus notices you?

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Meaningless Without Christ

Raised in a Christian household, I loved and followed God with all my heart throughout my childhood and teenage years.

During college, however, as I traveled to foreign countries and befriended people of other faiths who had just as much confidence in and commitment to their faith as I did mine, confusion crept in.

In a state of doubt and puzzlement, I stopped walking with God. I abandoned my faith altogether. Without my faith, which acted as both the foundation and cornerstone of my life, life lost meaning. Devoid of hope in something greater than myself, my life seemed utterly meaningless.

What was it all for? I wondered. Although I turned to anything and everything to find fulfillment, I remained empty.

Written by King Solomon, the book of Ecclesiastes at times seems like the babbling of an incredibly pessimistic individual as he claims everything from wisdom to folly and pleasure to toil is utterly meaningless. As he observes evil people prospering and good people suffering, he grapples to make sense of it all. Only in the final verses does he draw meaning from a confusing world.

Continuing to hunger for fulfillment in my mid-twenties, I returned to my faith. Admitting to God that I still harbored confusion and doubt, I found God met me where I was. Although my confusion didn’t magically disappear—and some of my unanswered questions remained unanswered—life had meaning again. I was living for something greater than myself.

God has set eternity in our hearts. We all yearn for something greater—something eternal. Without God, Solomon is right. Our hunger will never be satisfied, and life becomes meaningless. Only in turning to Him will our thirst be quenched, and our lives infused with purpose and meaning.

Does life feel empty? Are you hungering for purpose? Present those feelings to God. He will meet you where you are and welcome you with open arms. 

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Yet Praise Him

When we were young, my sister and I often heard older people complaining about what ailed them and said, “I’m never going to be like that when I get old.”

But my sister spent most of her adult life complaining about her many ailments and died at fifty-seven. On another occasion, my heart was heavy as I prayed for a dear friend dealing with a terrible illness.

My circle is filled with friends who have cancer, Crohn’s, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and a host of other debilitating diseases. My constant pain from a botched back surgery twenty years ago that damaged my sciatic nerve seems minimal compared to the suffering of others.

When I focus on the brokenness of this world, I can easily fall into the abyss of despair.

The little boys from across the street knock on our door to see if my husband will come out to play hockey with them. I think of my precious granddaughter, just starting kindergarten, her two-year-old brother who is suddenly talking in full sentences, and my other almost-three-year-old kinetic grandson who climbs like a monkey on everything.

Suddenly, all the weight of my friends in need lifts, and I can breathe again.

James reminds us to consider it all joy when we face trials. Paul tells us we can glory in our sufferings which build perseverance, character, and hope. And the psalmist says our hope is in the One who suffered so we can spend eternity with our Father in heaven.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if medical science would find cures for all our ails and extend our lives without suffering? The good news is this is not our home. This is not our final destination. We are here but a short time in the grand scheme of things.

Let’s not worry about our aches and pains, what we don’t have, or how long we’ll live. Rather, let’s keep our eyes on eternity and live each day for God’s glory, no matter what we face.

Will you praise God, no matter what life brings?

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Waves of Grace

On Thanksgiving 2019, we spent the holiday with our family at a gorgeous beach house in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

This was our first holiday gathering after our youngest daughter, Kristen, passed away. The beach was Kristen’s favorite place. At one time, her dream was to live on the water and be a marine biologist, focusing on the study of sharks. Our entire family has a little “sand in our souls.” While enjoying our getaway, I noticed a sign in front of a nearby house that said, Waves of Grace. At that moment, I knew we were experiencing that perfect and beautiful gift.

Since then, we have visited our favorite vacation spot in Ft Walton, Florida, where we took our girls several times through the years. With each wave as the tide rolls in, I am reminded of how God’s grace has sustained us through the most difficult time of our lives. His grace is sufficient for us because He is our strength in weakness. He has strengthened us, carried us, and met our needs.

Like that special trip to Gulf Shores, God’s grace is a gift. There is nothing we can do to earn it. When we place our faith in Jesus Christ, we are saved by His grace. He continues to shower us with His grace for the rest of our lives. This does not mean our lives will be perfect and trouble-free. We know that’s not the case, but we know when trouble comes, He is with us and is all we need.

As I watch the waves and feel the cool ocean breeze against my skin, I reminisce about building sandcastles, collecting seashells, watching dolphins, and walking with our girls along this beach. I am reminded of God’s grace and His faithfulness through every season of life. I am convinced we can face anything with Him on our side.

Whatever circumstances you find yourself in, trust God, praise Him for His faithfulness, and rest in His free, unmerited, and beautiful waves of grace.

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A Good Heart Is Hard to Find

The geriatric I had kept in his own home for many years was finally taken to a geriatric facility.

The gentleman is now near his eldest daughter and cared for by the appropriate nursing professionals. My friends at church told me I did an amazing job for him and did so with a cheerful heart. A good heart is hard to find, but I have always believed kindness is a blessing.

Now, it is time to take care of me. I will manage as an older lady, making peace with the past. I will continue to be kind to friends and family and to love God with all my heart. These days, there is no turning back.

Any Christian who follows Jesus’ instruction will find that Jesus’ kind heart and prayers for peaceful days are a blessing. As humble Christians, we can keep on praying as long as we can.

We can pray that the world will head into a post-pandemic era, that we dodge the Coronavirus, and that the vaccines are effective. It is a giant task to vaccinate the population of earth and to preserve our peace and faith for the future.

Any Christian can pray to have a good heart, despite our human failings. Maybe a good heart is never hard to find if we seek the blessings of God’s love through the inspiration of Jesus’ kindness as we plan and pray.

We all need kindness, a cheerful heart, and a smile. God’s blessings will see us through. With Jesus beside us, a good heart is never far away.

Ask Jesus to give you a good heart.  

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Delighting in the Lord

I once competed for months at a time in a video game, pushing for the top one percent bracket.

For days and nights, I played game after game, constantly adjusting and improving, sharpening the ax so I could become more successful in what I was doing. I felt discouraged and disheartened each month when I failed to achieve my goal. Then the grind started all over again. One month, I finally hit extremely high in the rankings. I was overjoyed.

The story of Haggai and the Israelites—as they pursued rebuilding the temple and as they felt the Lord’s correction—reminds us of how God wants our heart, not our sacrifices. God wants us to delight in Him. Doing so pleases Him. God’s house was in ruins, but the Israelites still pursued their own will rather than the Lord’s. Yet God’s promise of restoration was renewed because they obeyed.

Sometimes we may need something from God, but nothing we do seems to work. We strive constantly and consistently, only to fail repetitively in our pursuit to achieve it.

God wants to bless us in all we do, but we cannot expect to be blessed if we rebel. We need to obey the Lord and delight in Him alone.

In what ways can you improve your relationship with God? How can you delight in Him above all else and find contentment in Him alone?

Ask God to help you cultivate the Fruit of the Spirit.

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Verifying Scars

In 1803 in New York City, a carpenter named Thomas Hoag disappeared.

Two years later when Hoag’s sister-in-law met a man she claimed was Hoag, he was arrested and charged with family desertion. The man, who said his name was Joseph Parker, was brought to trial where Mrs. Hoag and others testified that he was the missing man, identifying him from a forehead scar.

Despite this, when the judge wanted more proof, another person remembered that the real Hoag had a long scar on the sole of his foot. When the defendant removed his boots and displayed a scar-free foot, that settled the case. Although Hoag never re-surfaced, Parker was cleared.

Thomas, one of Jesus’ disciples, wanted to believe in Jesus’ resurrection, but he still wanted proof. Once he saw Jesus and His crucifixion scars, he got the necessary evidence.  Interestingly, the lack of a scar cleared one man, but the presence of scars identified another—as the resurrected Savior.

I also have soul-tarnishing scars—sins and failures that blemish my relationship with God. Logically, such flaws mean God must reject me as His child because of these stains. But in His grace and mercy, God has provided the resolution: Christ’s sacrifice as illustrated by His scars, an assurance that proves not only does God accept me, but He also encourages me into further service for Him.

Have Christ’s scars healed you?

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Empty Places

All my life, I have struggled with my weight.

I do well for a few months, but then I always get off track. I get bored with diet restrictions or the special foods, or sometimes the stress of life causes my diet to derail. I tend to listen to my head saying, “Feed me,” rather than listening to my stomach. I find myself snacking just because, not out of hunger—feeding a need.

They call my dilemma “head hunger.” Give me a salty snack or some cookies, and I am a happy girl—at least for a little while. Shopping sometimes gives me a little mood boost as well. Retail therapy is definitely a thing. Perhaps the need is deeper than just a simple desire for a snack or a desire for some new shoes.

Just like the woman at the well tried to find satisfaction in relationships, we, too, often try to satisfy ourselves with substitutes. We try to fill our emptiness with food, shopping, relationships, alcohol, or drugs. Jesus told the woman at the well that “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.”

Jesus is the only One who can fill the empty places, so we don’t feel the emptiness of hunger. Only Jesus can truly satisfy a hungry soul. Jesus longs to fill us, so we no longer hunger and thirst for things of this world.

Are you hungry and thirsty for more than the temporary things? Let Jesus fill you with Himself, so you don’t ever need to feel empty again.

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Anxiety: The Weight of Depression

Anxiety brings the weight of depression.

The anxiety in the heart of many young women—who have gone through a divorce and find themselves single mothers with the responsibility of raising their children—is overwhelming.

Depression becomes a heavy, dark oppression as anxiety wears through resolve and assets. Tears and needs are constant, and not enough time exists to get everything done. Darkened shadows beneath eyes become a part of their appearance, which happy thoughts refuse to chase away. Children’s questions such as “Why did daddy go away?” germinate in fractured hearts and grow more self-doubt and anxiety for the future. Depression’s weight robs what little self-respect and buoyancy remain.

Perhaps the most incapacitating quality of depression is that depression is like quicksand, which causes a person to sink further when a person attempts to escape. However, if someone throws a lifeline to the sinking person—and the frightened soul grabs onto and refuses to let go—they will be rescued from the mire.

A person stuck in the mire of depression will not drown if they relax and firmly grasp the Vine that is within reach. Trusting in their relationship with the Lord Jesus, they find hope, and courage begins to fill their frightened heart. It may take a period before they again stand on solid ground, and longer still to clean their muddy clothes by vigorous washing, but they have been saved from a tragic outcome and depression’s dark horizons.

Depression is a strength-robbing parasite that sucks plans and prospects from the souls of the afflicted. Also drained is strength and hope for the future. A blanket of hopelessness makes it almost impossible to hope. Cheer must be a possession before it can be shared with dull-eyed children. Then, along comes a good word from a friend or concerned neighbor, and a broken heart can find a few minutes of joy that provide a reprieve from a world of gloom and hopelessness. Without knowing it, that friend, along with Jesus, is throwing a lifesaving line that keeps a fractured soul from going down for the third time.

Look for those in need and throw lifelines to those who have no strength left.

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Watch Out!

My sister once lost her black belt and could not find it, although she looked everywhere in the house.

One morning, we were all gathered around the kitchen table, waiting for mother to take the biscuits out of the old wood cookstove. My brother got up and went to the living room. Just as he passed through the doorway, something black fell from the top of the door to the floor.

“My belt,” my sister excitedly said.

That was, until it started moving around. My brother heard all the commotion and immediately came and removed the snake from the kitchen.

In Appalachia, there are many snakes: copperheads, rattlers, and blacksnakes. In the summertime, we had to watch where we walked. If we worked in the garden, the first thing we did was part the weeds and look for snakes. If we went to the barn to milk the cow, we looked around for snakes.

Christians must also look out for a spiritual enemy. One that can show up anywhere. In business deals through distrust and fraud. In relationships through disloyalty or deception that ruin friendships and marriages. This enemy waits for a chance to steer us from the life God has called us to live.

Peter warns us about this foe and tells us to prepare ourselves for the tests and trials of life. We do this by saturating our minds with the Word of God and building our faith in Christ—making us stronger and more able to resist anything the Enemy throws at us. We can be strong in the Lord.

Take a moment to thank God for His protection.

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Enough

I love how God speaks to me.

One night I left my office window open, and the wind ruffled the pages of my Bible, which I’d left open after my morning devotion the previous day. A couple of pages folded in on themselves, leading me to look at the right column of the right page where I had highlighted Proverbs 3:5.

As I read a devotion on another morning, I thought about the writing style of the author of Proverbs. No fluff. No pretty words. He directs us to read a specific passage in the Bible, then proceeds to paraphrase, sometimes with a short anecdote, to clarify or magnify the meaning. He ends with a question to ponder in prayer.

It struck me that God’s Word is all we need. When I write devotions, I generally base them on my life experiences, focusing on a current event or mental attitude that has turned me to God for answers. Often, those experiences are hurtful or have colored my view of human life. Writing devotions provides a type of journaling for me.

God’s Word is so simple, honest, and beautiful. Even in the darkest times, the characters God chose to highlight show us that no matter what we go through, or no matter how far we have fallen, His love never fails.

When doubts plague me, when hope is lost, or when I feel like broken people are a hopeless cause, I realize all God has done for me, and I catch a glimpse of His deep love. It’s enough.

That deep love is yours too. Relish it. Bask in it. Find renewed hope in God’s Word. We don’t have to understand everything because God does, and that’s all that matters.

Trust God at His Word. His love is all over it.

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Purge Your Conscience

Preaching in a prison is both rewarding and challenging.

One morning, I found a prisoner from Russia who wanted to be born again. With tears streaming down his face, he stood and confessed something to a group of some one hundred inmates I will never forget. He said he wanted Jesus in his heart, but he had a terrible problem. He could not keep from picturing all the people he had tortured and harmed. Some in the little congregation of long-term incarcerated felons understood what he revealed and nodded their heads.

The depth of pathos shared in the dining room that day felt surrounding and suffocating. I felt unprepared for such an experience.

Tears and broken hearts are no stranger to prison ministry, but such raw overwhelming pain and guilt was rarely seen. I paused and asked the Lord for protection and direction on what to tell this tragic soul who sought salvation.

Our consciences are either clean and clear or full of reoccurring memories that produce pain and self-hatred. Knowing that “the testimonies of our consciences” is a curse or a blessing, I told the crying mountain of a man that nothing can purge our conscience in God’s eyes except claiming the blood that Jesus shed for us on the cross.

Every time scenes of our disgusting and overwhelming past sins flood our mind, we should confess specifically our sins at the feet of Jesus and embrace His cleansing blood. By faith, through almighty God’s grace, we will be cleansed.

Whenever we start drowning in our shame and guilt, we can purge our conscience anew by not fighting the sorrow, but by placing the sorrow in God’s loving hands and leaving it there.

When your conscience is determined to drag you down, remind it that in Christ you are a new creature, washed clean by Jesus’ completely satisfying blood.

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Shade Tree

Growing up, my family had a rather large garden.

At the time, I could have sworn that garden covered five acres, but it was probably closer to a half-acre. Still, that was a good size for a family of seven. During the summer months, we tended the garden early in the mornings while there was still dew on the ground and before the day became too hot and humid.

Gardening required weeding and picking vegetables. The work was hot and sweaty even in the morning hours. Weeding and harvesting were also, at times, back-breaking, even though I was much younger and closer to the ground at that time.

We gardened every year from the time I was young until I reached my mid-teens. I recall standing in the garden picking vegetables in the glare of the sun and wishing I could sit under the shade of one of the trees in our backyard. Then I would be out of the constant glare of the sun and get some reprieve from the heat and discomfort.

We all need comfort and a place of refuge when life is hard. In God’s goodness, He is “a refuge in times of trouble.”

God is our shade tree. He offers protection from the cares of this world. His shade, like a big tree in the backyard, offers a refreshing place to rest. The only thing we have to do is trust that He can and will give us the shade we need.

Wouldn't you like the peace and refreshment that comes from finding refuge in God? He cares for those who trust in Him. Place your trust in Him. He desires to hold you close and shelter you under His shade.

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Treasured

Talk to my grandson for any length of time, and he will tell you about his treasure.

His treasure is a carefully curated collection of stones, fossils, gems, and colorful paper. The objects consume his time as he revisits them daily to admire their beauty and uniqueness. But as much as he loves his finds, Miles loves sharing them with others even more.

On a recent afternoon visit, he presented me with a fossilized gem from his collection and pressed me for details of how I would keep it safe. He wanted to know if I had a treasure box. He tucked the gem into my wallet as I headed home, cautiously optimistic I was up to the task of keeping it safe.

On his next visit to my home, Miles asked to see the gem and my treasure box. We pulled out the black, enamel box that held his gift, and his eyes grew large. We turned the gem over in our hands and noted its characteristics, along with the details of its discovery. What a blessing to have my grandson share his treasure and a bit of himself with me.

God has shared a bit of Himself with us as well. He deposits His Word into our hearts where we can draw from its wisdom, instruction, and encouragement. Not just any words but life-giving words that save, transform, and restore when we allow them to become our foundation, compass, and guide.

Watching Miles immerse himself in his collection prompted me to wonder how God feels about entrusting His Word to my safekeeping. Do I value God’s Word for the treasure it is?  Do I revisit it daily like a child rediscovering the magic of his finds? Have I invited it into every aspect of my life, allowing it to shape and define me? Do I keep it close at hand—ready to share, comfort, and encourage others with?

I caught a glimpse of God in my four-year-old grandson who reminded me that my heart holds the riches of God’s Word. Watching Miles love and safeguard his treasure rekindled the love I have for my gift. Watching him share his treasure encourages me to do the same because treasure is always better when shared.  

What are you doing with God’s treasure?

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Nothing More, Nothing Less

High school history class was a chore.

Remembering dates, facts, and important tidbits the teacher highlighted was not my strength, but I learned a valuable lesson from the first test. I didn’t know the exact answer the teacher looked for on one of the questions, so I included information I did know related to the topic. I thought I would get some credit for what I knew if I added it to my answer. I learned how mistaken I was. My teacher destroyed my grade. Her note to me said, “Answer only what I ask for—nothing more and nothing less.”

Moses tried to teach the Israelites about obedience when he taught them the expectations of following God’s decrees and law. Their first lesson involved adding and subtracting, but it wasn’t a simple first-grade math lesson.

Some of the people tried adding the other nations’ gods and worship practices to their own. God is a jealous God, so that didn’t go well for them. The Lord destroyed everyone who followed the local god, Baal of Peor. Those who followed only the Lord lived.

Obedience is an important lesson. Moses pressed his point by telling the people to be careful to observe God’s decrees and law, to watch themselves closely so they would not forget the things they had seen, and to remember the Lord’s words so they would revere Him. These vital points assist us with total obedience.

The advice of my history teacher—“Answer only what I ask for”—is worth following. Moses said the same thing. When we observe God’s decrees, watch ourselves closely, and remember to obey God’s words precisely, we reap blessings. Rewards may include the peace we desire to have with others, abounding joy, and contentment with our job, home, and life.

Remember, obedience is worth the investment you make.

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Working for My Lord

Nineteen sixty-eight was a cold winter in Eastern Kentucky.

The snow accumulated deeply on the ground. A fellow church member volunteered to come early and build a fire in the stove to let the church warm before the church members arrived.

But as he put wood in the stove and poked the fire, the stovepipe fell. Before he could get those pipes back together, the church filled with smoke. He opened the doors to let the smoke out.

When the members showed up, the smoke was gone, but the church was cold. Soon after the laughter subsided, the pastor’s wife got up and testified: “I would like to stay home all curled up on the couch by the fire on a night like this.” But on the coldest night of the year, the fiery flames of the Holy Spirit found her at this little church, telling the world about Jesus.

Come rain or shine, the early disciples spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. During the three years of Jesus’ ministry, He worked relentlessly to bring us the good news of salvation. He told us just how He felt about the work of His Father when He said foxes had holes, and the birds had nests, but the Son of Man had no place to lay His head. In the cold and the rain, He had a job to do. He suffered as a man. He grew tired and hungry. But He only had one thing on His mind: reconciling the world to God. The whole reason He came to this earth.

Neither the fire builder nor the pastor’s wife received a weekly paycheck for what they did. Their pay could not be added in dollars and cents. Christians are building the kingdom of God—one sinner at a time, one church service at a time. We don’t fret over the paycheck. Our Lord is the keeper of the rewards, and He’s keeping tally.

Thank God for the privilege of serving Him.

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A Different Thanksgiving

Our Thanksgiving gatherings had changed.

I remember them as a child. We gathered at my paternal grandparents’ home first where my grandfather cooked a turkey and a ham, and my grandmother cooked the trimmings. We enjoyed the meal—the adults at the dining room table and the children at the kitchen table. After the feast ended, we traveled twenty miles south where we enjoyed another meal with our other grandparents.

When all the grandparents died—or became too feeble to cook Thanksgiving meals anymore—Mom took over. We three brothers, along with our spouses and children, gathered at her house to enjoy the same kind of feast we had enjoyed at our grandparents’.

Then it happened. Dad died. Divorces and remarriages happened. Parents and grandparents multiplied. Steps were added. The family grew, but in a different and separated way. Then Mom remarried and stopped cooking on Thanksgiving.

One year, my younger brother—who had moved away many years before and normally only came for Christmas—decided to come for Thanksgiving. But the gathering wasn’t what I imagined. I wanted all the family together as they were when I was a child, but most of our family had plans with other family members.

Our Thanksgiving gathering wasn’t what I anticipated. Circumstances sieged against me. But I thanked God for the gathering we had, which is what Paul commanded. We don’t have to thank God for our circumstances, but we can thank Him in them.

We can spout off the typical things people say when asked what they are thankful for—family, friends, a job, good health, a house, a car, God—and I do thank God for those things. But somehow our thanks should go deeper. We should thank God for choosing us as His child and that we had the good sense to say yes when He extended the invitation. His grace is enough.

Our connection with our heavenly Father through Christ helps us give thanks even when the Thanksgivings are different or when they are not what we had hoped for.

This Thanksgiving, ask God to help you show gratefulness.

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Weed or No Weed?

I once visited a historical farm and admired their vegetable garden.

Corn stalks, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, cucumbers, and more filled every available space in neat rows throughout the garden. I turned a corner and noticed at my feet a morning glory plant, boasting its beautiful blue flowers.

Every spring, I attempt to grow these climbing vines. Some years, I even start early and plant them indoors. Other years, I put the seeds right in the ground. I painstakingly tie a cord around the fence for the vines to climb. But usually, my plants do not thrive.

But there at my feet, surrounded by vegetables and with nothing to climb, the little plant bloomed proudly. As I stood there in awe, a pioneer-clad docent informed me it was a weed.

“I’m sorry! What? How is that?” I exclaimed.

She calmly explained. “Anything that doesn’t grow where you want it is a weed.”

As I pondered her words, she dug it up, placed it in a pot, and sent it home with me. I planted it in front of our house under the mailbox so all who walked by could see.

I think about that comment often when I’m gardening. I wonder if there are NO weeds with God. He gave us life at exactly the moment He wanted and created us in His wonderful image. Psalm 139 talks about how God formed our inward parts and knitted us together in our mother’s womb.

We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We were born into the family He chose long before we were a thought in our parents’ minds. He guides us each day when we surrender to Him. I love to think that God has me right where He wants me. It inspires me to bloom and shine right where He plants me.

How about you? Do you know your worth in God’s sight?

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Licking My Wounds

Spike whimpered as he sat beneath the mulberry tree.

He hated his pet cone and could not understand why I had put it on him. His left front paw revealed wounds from a fight with another dog. Spike had managed to dig under the fence around the yard and enter a neighbor’s property. There, he did what dogs do—got into a fight with another dog that attacked him. He yelped and limped home as soon as he was able.

Trying to heal his wounds, I put medicine on the paw, but Spike was not content with this. He wanted to lick his wounds, thinking his way was a better way to heal his paw. That is why I put a pet cone around his head.

As I watched Spike, I realized that I, too, love to lick my wounds. When I am given directions and rules, I resist boundaries, preferring to follow my own heart and do what comes naturally to me because God’s way does not make sense. Rather than admit I have erred, I blame someone else. Then I bear a grudge against them—repeatedly reviewing it in my mind and talking with others about it. When someone suggests a cure such as forgiveness, I push back because I believe I am right and they are wrong.

Eventually, I reach the point where my wounds don’t get better. God restrains me to settle me down so I will listen to Him. If only I had obeyed His instructions every step of the way.

Submission and obedience to God are less painful than the correction He gives when I do not surrender. He warns us that His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.

Is there any area where you refuse to submit to God because it goes against what you think is right?

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The Odds

Just about every day when I open my email, I tap the “Enter Now” button in a sweepstakes message from a popular clearinghouse.

I don’t purchase any products and never buy lottery tickets or gamble in any way—and I know the odds are against me winning. I also know I don’t have any chance if I don’t enter. For just a moment as I hit that digital button, I have a glimmer of hope for fixing my broken-down house, sending missionaries into uncharted places, and doing great things for the Lord.

The world promises to make life better with this politician, that product, or a dream vacation paid for on credit. With all that sparkle flashing on their television screens, the odds of me leading someone to Christ are minimal.

Why would anyone listen to me when the Savior I tell them about doesn’t have a glitzy ad or physical address? He doesn’t sing popular hits or drive a Mercedes. What He offers can’t be measured materially. To attain what Jesus offers requires faith, trust, and patience—none of which the world has in its fast-food bank.

But I know my Redeemer lives. I know what Jesus promises for a hurt and dying world is far greater than anything people can promise. I know God’s Word is true, infallible, and eternal. I know two thousand years is just a breath from God’s perspective, and that the terrible end of this world could come at any time.

So, no matter what the odds are, I share the love of Jesus at every opportunity. Because tapping that spiritual button has far greater rewards than we can imagine. Whoever won a marathon without entering the race? It takes motivation, great faith, a lot of practice, and endurance. Paul told Timothy he had fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.

While the odds may be against you, if you don’t enter the game of sharing the gospel, you can’t win—and neither will others.

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In the Eyes of My Cat

In the eyes of my Tuxedo feline named Fritz, I am his all-in-all.

I am the one who puts yummy morsels in his bowl, protects him from the vacuum cleaner, and opens the curtains so he can lie in the sunbeams. Most of the time, he thinks I'm a wonderful provider, except, of course, when I do something he doesn't like. Then he pouts and follows me around the house, whining pitifully as though he were dying of starvation. To be honest, his attitude toward me often mimics my attitude toward God.

As the psalmist states, our eyes look to the Lord for provision. However, we often like to think of provision as an unending hand-out of yummy morsels.

We don't do well with discipline. We don't like putting others first. And we certainly don't like to (gasp!) fast and pray. Like the spoiled cat, we like things handed to us without any thought of consequences.

Nevertheless, if God wanted us to be fat, self-centered, and asleep all day, He wouldn't have instructed us to wait on Him. Nor would He tell us to trust Him even when it appears He isn't going to respond with a handful of treats. 

Nowadays, whenever I see the stare of irritated disapproval on my cat's upturned face, I am prompted to examine my demeanor toward my heavenly Father. I want my heart to reflect the love of Jesus, not the sentiment of someone who sleeps all day and digs in the houseplants.

In what ways do you need to change your picture of God?

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Reflections

The rain pelted gently outside the window.

Flames danced wildly in the gas furnace, mesmerizing me with their magic spell. A few feet from the gas furnace lay a full-length mirror, beautifully reflecting the skipping flames.    

“Trade places with me,” my fiancé said.

Feeling blissfully content, I resisted the urge to ask why.

“Look at the flames in the mirror.”

I did.

“Now look directly at the flames.”

Again, I did as he suggested. Only now, I saw what he saw.

As I looked at the flames, they appeared to dance in a random, unordered, and spontaneous way. Yet when seeing the flames in the reflection, I saw an ordered pattern. Two different pictures of the same thing.

Life’s situations are not always as they seem. After years of reflection, we can often see the pattern behind the “why” demanded in the rearview of life. God works on a beautifully ordered, perfect tapestry, yet we only see the haphazard, random strokes of thread on the backside.

Even Jesus, God’s Son, asked why He was forsaken by His Father as He hung upon the cross and died a cruel, torturous death.

God had no more forsaken His son on Calvary than when we, adopted sons and daughters in Christ, feel abandoned during our difficult seasons. God is working out bigger plans that require faith in what we cannot see and understand—plans to be revealed in God’s perfect timing.

As we can see the difference in an ordered pattern of reflection, we will grow in our Christian walk to know and trust the divine pattern God has ordained for our lives. The rearview is not meant to hold us captive from present and future opportunities. Yet reflecting on the past can reveal God’s omnipotent design toward a beautiful future.

Are you reflecting on where God wants to take you?

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Flawed

The diamonds were as beautiful as I remembered.

Thousands of years in the making, they sparkled beneath the soft glow of the jeweler’s lamp. The rings, bracelet, and brooch had all belonged to my parents, but I was thinking of selling them.

The appraiser mapped marks on a series of plots as he studied each gem’s unique characteristics. With squiggles covering the plots, I was confident my diamonds were as priceless as the people who had worn them.

But the diamonds weren’t perfect or priceless; they had flaws. Interior imperfections and exterior blemishes such as scratches, cracks, and nicks identified each diamond and also affected their ability to reflect light. These things diminished their clarity and value.

A grading system developed in the 1950s established four factors to describe and classify diamonds: clarity, cut, color, and Carat Weight. Following these GIA guidelines, each diamond’s plot pinpoints the exact location and nature of each characteristic and flaw.

As I studied the plots for each diamond, I imagined what a GIA plot of my life might look like. A chip of resentment here. A deep fissure of anger noted there. Surface scratches of pride and self-sufficiency. Nicks of selfishness throughout. A general cloud of apathy.

My imaginings humbled me and left me thankful that God doesn’t map by imperfections on a graph or identify me by my flaws. God recognizes my sin when He says He knows me intimately, meaning my innermost being and the thoughts and intentions of my heart.

But the story doesn’t end there. God reminds us He will forgive us and cleanse us from unrighteousness if we confess our sins. He will show us mercy and remember our sins and iniquities no more.   

Our sin and flaws don’t diminish our value or God’s love for us. Unlike a diamond that is identified and valued by its flaws, God’s light and love shine through us with divine clarity that reveals we are reclaimed, restored, and redeemed. When God sees us through his lens of grace, he sees the righteousness of Christ—where flawed becomes flawless.

Have you let Christ redeem your flaws?

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When the Mountains Fall into the Sea

Dings. Beeps. Rings.

Many ways exist to communicate news these days. Sometimes, bad news seems to come at us nonstop. I once had a week like that. I turned off my cell phone to take a break, and my landline started ringing. I decided to watch television as an escape, but a breaking news report interrupted my favorite show.

Life has seasons. If we live long enough, we realize there are times of pure joy but also times when big things and small things all seem to go wrong.

Psalm 46 uses the illustration of the mountains being carried into the sea. The psalmist states that even if that happens “we will not fear.” How can anyone not fear if the mountains are falling into the sea? The little word “therefore” gives the answer. We do not have to fear, worry, or despair for one reason only: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

When things go wrong and life changes faster than we can process, one unchanging truth remains: God is our Rock. He will not change. He is strong and mighty and loves us more than we can imagine. He wants us to run to Him. He wants to be our refuge when the storms of life rage—to give us His strength when there is trouble. He is “very present” and wants to help.

Life is hard, and we don’t always know what the future holds. But we know God will always be there waiting for us. All we have to do is run to Him.

In the shelter of God’s presence, you are safe and secure. Count on that promise.

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A Mad-Dash Last-Ditch Effort

For years I prayed for my brother.

My brother was bitter and hated everything associated with God. After a heart attack, he needed emergency surgery, Because he chose not to communicate with family, none of us had the opportunity to make a mad-dash, last-ditch effort to talk to him about salvation. Unfortunately, he died during the operation. Nevertheless, all was not lost.

Judas introduced Jesus to an armed mob with a kiss. We see this as an act of betrayal, but since God is sovereign, He can use any circumstance to accomplish His purposes. I like to speculate that maybe someone in that armed mob had a sister, who for years had been praying for her brother to meet Jesus. Maybe that brother hated God and needed to see Jesus restore the ear of an enemy. Maybe Judas' kiss was God's mad-dash, last-ditch effort to show that brother who Jesus was.

Imagining that God would use Judas to point someone to Jesus might seem far-fetched, but God can introduce the lost to Christ in any way He chooses. As for my brother, I found out later that before he was wheeled into surgery, a Christian youth volunteer felt compelled to speak to him. She minced no words, pointed him to Christ, and prayed with him to receive Jesus.

If you're praying for someone who doesn't know Jesus, don't give up. God doesn't want anyone to perish, and He'll do whatever it takes to introduce them to the life-giving Son of God—even if that means using an unconventional, mad-dash, last-ditch effort.

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Alone or Lonely

In my mid-forties, I lived alone for the first time in my life.

I was an emotional wreck, feeling as though I’d been dumped into a well of hopelessness. The end of a twenty-five-year marriage thrust me from my comfort zone. I left my hometown and the home I had lived in for over twenty years where I’d raised my three children. As I divided personal possessions and keepsakes, I wrote a poem entitled, “But Who Gets the Friends?”

Although I had my family’s support, I often felt alone and had days when despair nearly engulfed me. Loss overwhelmed me.

But with perseverance, I engaged in simple pleasures that might cheer me. Each evening, I set the table for one, although I didn't have much of an appetite. Even when the menu was tomato soup and saltine crackers, I used a pretty placemat with a matching cloth napkin and lit a candle. At first, this was simply a discipline I demanded of myself, but gradually I looked forward to that time of day. I became comfortable with myself.

I learned that being alone doesn’t necessarily mean being lonely. I read God’s Word and devoured Scriptures that nourished and filled me with hope for my future. Gradually, I realized my happiness didn’t rely on relationships with others but my relationship with God Himself. I felt His presence and the pleasure of living with Him.

The future that once looked dim and fading took on new light and shed new hope. God was showing me the way. With time, I knew I wasn't alone. God lived in and with me.

When you feel lonely, find a way to enjoy simple pleasures. Happiness is fleeting, but the joy found in God's presence endures.

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Guarded Gates

A lot of discussion abounds these days about gates, borders, and boundaries.

The discussion takes me back to biblical times. Old Jerusalem’s gates were named for their specific functions: the Fish Gate, the Fountain Gate, and the Horse Gate—to name a few.

Upon their return, after decades in captivity, the Jews posted guards around the clock at each gate during the rebuilding of the city wall. Four gates opened into the temple courtyard in Ezekiel’s vision: North, South, East, and West.

The main gate to God’s temple in my heart is my mind and my brain. As the gatekeeper, I must be diligent, thinking only about good, pure, and holy things. Careless thoughts can easily slip through my mind and into my heart if I don’t halt them at the gate. Whatever settles in my heart will spew out when I am squeezed. So, I have to ask myself, “What is appropriate to allow into my life?” Everything that crosses my thought threshold must be monitored.

I must also guard the smaller gates and keep them secure and in good working order. I have a driving gate, a talking gate, a sleeping gate, an eating and drinking gate, and a gate for everything God leads me to do. He reaches to me and out to others through the gates, which swing both ways.

New gates, old gates, large gates, and small gates all require diligent maintenance. Squeaky floors and creaky doors continually alert us to dangerous creatures prowling around.

Ask God to help you pay close attention to all the activities around your gates. 

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Strength to Persevere

Sometimes we have projects we start but don’t finish. Or maybe our efforts peter out, and we forget or neglect the project—like I do my weedy planter boxes.

This happens to me each spring when the prospect of picking fresh vegetables from our backyard sounds so wonderful. Why wouldn’t I take advantage of the six garden boxes the previous homeowner installed (and no doubt successfully utilized, given the plethora of carefully placed foliage around our yard)?

One year, I only planted lettuce in one box. The days ticked by, and we enjoyed that lettuce until it turned into scraggly, inedible skyscrapers, and my husband mercifully shut off its water supply. What an eyesore they had become, shouting my failure at growing a bountiful garden to the neighbors.

Even I can see I lack perseverance. Although the results of a well-tended garden are marvelous, each year I grow weary of keeping it up in my own strength.

We can go through battles of a lifetime and have no more reserves in our tanks. Perseverance seems impossible. Thankfully, God has an endless supply of strength to give us. Strength to help us make it through our next infertility treatment, round of chemotherapy, or surgery. Strength to forgive our spouse or neighbor. Strength to be confident in the next job interview when we are discouraged by all the rejections.

This is where God’s grace is evident. He will supply His abundant grace so we don’t have to operate in our own strength. Even though our solo efforts can achieve results, we would have to sustain them on our own … forever. How exhausting. That isn’t how God designed us.

God wants so much better for us because He has so much better for us. We cannot avoid all the trials. Our responsibilities need our wholehearted commitment.

When you are weary and want to quit, run to the Father and be filled with His strength and power so you can finish your race well.

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Let It Sink In

The man attended church with his family. He even came to our Bible study and participated in lively conversations. He was a great guy. Generous. Good father and husband. But he wasn’t a believer. We’ll call him Sam.

As we spent more and more time with Sam, we were fascinated to learn how much he knew about the Bible. He studied it constantly, as he said, “looking for loopholes.” He seemed determined to prove to all of us that the Scriptures were “a lot of hooey.”

As time progressed, we had fun watching his well-thought-out plan backfire. As he went about filling his head with Scripture, the Lord was busy working in Sam’s heart. Even though Sam searched with wrong motives, he still searched. And what he found was love and grace that caused all that head knowledge to sink deeply into his heart. Love and grace opened the eyes of Sam’s understanding and kindled a passion in him. He became a powerhouse for the Lord.

Mark (chapter 4) gives us the story of seed (the Word) sown in different types of soil (our heart), each type producing a different result. Since the Word only produces in “good ground,” our friend didn’t realize he was inadvertently sowing his seed and preparing the soil of his heart to receive God’s Word. When the time was right, the Word took root and produced a great harvest.

Don’t be a casual reader of the Bible. Study it. Meditate on it. Sow it into your heart. Ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten you and lead you into the truth. Your life will never be the same.

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My Fifty-fifth Birthday

As I took a shower on my fifty-fifth birthday, I thought about some things.

I thought about my rent continually increasing. I thought buying a home would better control my housing costs. After investigating the issue, I felt discouraged when I realized I couldn’t afford to purchase a home. That letdown caused me to ask the Lord if He cared about and loved me.   

Later that morning, I read my daily Bible reading. For some reason (God), I read the wrong reading for that day. But this verse spoke to me: I have done hard and tiring work, and many times I did not sleep. I have been hungry and thirsty, and many times I have been without food. I have been cold and without clothes. God chose Paul. yet many times he was without food and clothes. After I considered that truth, I read my morning devotion that talked about a girl who endured difficult struggles. She recited Bible verses that reminded her of God’s presence.

Although I read the wrong Scriptures and devotion, they both spoke truth and harmony to me. The Lord heard my cry. He told me I was not the only one who had difficulties. Paul had them as well. I complained, while Paul faced a worse situation. 

God will give us everything we need. We merely need to trust that He will keep a roof over our head and give us a warm bed to sleep in. The Lord always keeps His Word.

Are you trusting the Lord to meet your needs?

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I Came for You

Christmas Eve. I sat alone in my car in the parking lot near the park I had come accustomed to visiting when I had nowhere else to go.

The house on the other side of the street caught my eye. Beautiful Christmas lights hung on the outside. Through the window, I saw people as they talked, laughed, and enjoyed their Christmas Eve. Although I didn’t know them, the sight of a happy family enjoying their Christmas Eve triggered the pain of rejection. Uncontrollable tears cascaded down my face.

Earlier in the year, I had been forced to leave my childhood home and find a way to provide for myself. At eighteen, I had no career or college degree. Through this experience of rejection, I felt as if I wasn’t good enough. No one wanted me. No one cared. I wasn’t important.

Sitting alone in my car on the night before Christmas, I believed the lies. As I sobbed, peace swept over me. A peace I hadn’t felt much of in my life. I heard the Holy Spirit whisper four words: “I came for you.”

As I pondered these words, I pictured baby Jesus coming from heaven and being born to save me and be with me. I sensed what God was saying. He sent His Son Jesus to be with me. He didn’t reject me but accepted me the way I was. Contrary to what rejection told me, I was good enough, wanted, cared for, and important to Him.

The message of God with us still applies. Jesus came to save us, help us, and be with us. He brings light into the dark places of our soul, peace to our hearts when we are desperate, and counsel when we’re triggered by our pain. 
Maybe you’ve experienced rejection as I did. Perhaps you’ve believed the lies that you aren’t good enough, that no one wants you, that no one cares, and that you’re not important. Nothing could be further from the truth.

God came for you. He is with you. And He loves you. You are good enough, you are wanted, you are cared for. You are important to Him.

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Getting Ready

Laughter and joy pervaded the room as the bride-to-be, her friends, and mother prepared for the celebration.

The day the bride had dreamed of since she was a little girl twirling in tutus had arrived. She reflected on the moment her man got down on one knee. Now, after spending months preparing and making dozens of phone calls to arrange the venue and flowers, cake, and decorations, all seemed to be in place. She was becoming a Mrs.

The bride’s best friend added the finishing touches to her make-up while her cousin fixed her hair—her curls bouncing along with her heart. As her mother zipped up the gorgeous dress and placed a string of pearls around her neck, the bride’s radiance was contagious. Each minute felt like days as she anticipated the opening of the wooden doors and the groom’s first look at her. All my life, I have waited for this moment, she thought.

The process of getting ready for a wedding is extraordinary, not only for the wedding couple but also for all others in their lives. Like this preparation for the celebration of a man and woman becoming one, the Lord is getting us ready for life beyond earth in heaven.

Rather than dreading death, we can think of it as a wedding ceremony where we anticipate the doors opening and us walking down the aisle to meet Jesus.

But we should not wait until the last minute to prepare or rely on guests or family members to do everything for us. Just as each wedding is unique in its colors, decorations, people, and timing, our salvation is an individual process with the Lord—a journey that births the most beautiful intimacy.

We are not guaranteed tomorrow, so asking if we are ready for an eternity with God is a good idea.  

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Tapestry

A spool of thread is just a spool of thread until it’s used.

When we string pearls on the right kind of thread, we create beautiful jewelry. With simple floss, we can create garlands of popcorn to brighten a Christmas tree. With a spinning wheel, we can create fabric to make clothing. Craftsmen can weave an intricate tapestry to produce a stunning work of art. Thread can mend or alter clothes in need of repair.

Our bodies are nothing without God’s Spirit. Like thread, we are useless until the Master interweaves His Spirit within us to use us in His design. Embroidered together, we are all threads in the tapestry of His creation. Every thread has its place and purpose in the big picture.

If we could see the amazing pattern of our lives from heaven’s perspective, we would witness a marvelous sight indeed. Who can know the mind of God or His purpose for this network that constitutes the body of Christ? Faith trusts His plan, believing each of us is an important thread in His work.

Imagine what would happen if the threads of the well-known Apocalypse Tapestry were unraveled. Its value would be greatly diminished.

As the body of Christ, every thread is needed for the complete image. The value of the gospel is diminished when members lose faith or stop contributing to fellowship and global outreach.

In a world filled with doubt, fear, and chaos, now more than ever we need to pray, seek the kingdom of God first, and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Our good news does not come from television or social media but resides in every faithful Christian. God weaves us together for His purposes.

Don’t get too caught up in this world. Our stitch in this time is temporary, but every thread counts in God’s masterpiece.

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No Toes in the Road

Melanie’s dad expected his children to obey his orders. But one day, Melanie succumbed to temptation.

Melanie and her two sisters lived in a house beside a busy road. Their father instructed them repeatedly not to go into the road. “If you put one toe on the road, you will be punished!”

As children sometimes do, they didn’t always obey their father. One day, as they played outside, they inched closer to the road. Stephanie, Melanie’s older sister, dared Melanie to put a toe on the road. After looking repeatedly at the house to make sure her father wasn’t watching from the window, Melanie cautiously put one toe on the road.

When she did, the front door slammed and out stomped her angry father. Melanie was disciplined because she had not resisted the temptation of taking her sister’s dare to touch the road.

We often yield to the temptation to do what we know is against our heavenly Father’s will. In the Bible, God tells us how He wants us to live. When we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, His Holy Spirit comes to live within us.

God’s Spirit guides us and warns us when temptation sits on our shoulders, urging us to make wrong choices. The voice of temptation is often subtle and rationalizes that something isn’t bad, even though it conflicts with God’s commands.

Melanie accepted the dare from her older sister, even though she knew it was against her father’s rules. The result was discipline by her father.

We can choose to be like Melanie and ignore our Father’s guidelines, or we can resist the temptation to have our way and instead yield to what God knows is best for us.

Ask God to give you the power to resist all temptations.

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Stripping Bolts in the Darkness

All I managed to do was strip the bolts.

I was trying to change the deflated tires on my hand truck. Inflating them was pointless. They were old and well past their usefulness. A local hardware store advertised tires for a relatively low price. So, I set to work in the garage in the limited space between the two cars. It would be a quick job. Unscrew the bolts, replace the wheels, and screw the bolts back on.

Unfortunately, there was little light to see what I was doing. Regardless, in my blindness, I pinched hard with two vice grips and strained with all my might. When the vice grips kept slipping off, I got angry at whoever put the bolts on so tightly. Who would do such a thing?

When a friend rolled the dolly into the daylight and began working on it with better tools, I immediately saw the problem. What I thought were bolts were the ends of the solid axle. The wheels were held on by one-way retaining washers and push nuts, not bolts. In all my strength and effort, along with blindness and lack of understanding, I managed to scar up the ends of the axles. When we finally removed the washers, we also had to sand down the results of my misguided efforts.

The scene reminded me of how I sometimes try to fix the broken or hurting areas of life without the direct light of God’s Word and the effectual working of the Holy Spirit. No matter how sincerely or passionately I try, I only frustrate myself and create more work by the damage caused by trying to do it in my strength.

But when I have the direct light of God’s Word shining on my situation, God reveals the source, cause, and remedy of the problem. When I look into “the perfect law of liberty,” continue in it, and am not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, God will bless my attempts.

Thank God for His unchanging, enlightening Word. By allowing it to enter our hearts and minds, we are enlightened. Then the Holy Spirit can do His work without stripping our spiritual bolts.

Ask God to enlighten all your situations so that you can see all aspects clearly.

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If You See WORG

Tomatoes, a puzzling metal sign, and a lack of perspective do have something in common.

Rusty was a big friendly man who lived with his dad in a small house that sat on several acres down the road from me. Every spring, Rusty planted a big patch of tomatoes and squash in front of his house between the lawn and the road. And every summer, without fail, he urged me to pick his garden-fresh tomatoes—which I love with great and enduring love—anytime I wanted. So, I did. In appreciation, I would drop off a big loaf of banana bread.

One summer, a metal sign appeared in that garden of wonderfulness. Small drilled holes spelled out the word WORG. The sign puzzled me as I power-walked past his house. But as Rusty could sometimes be a quirky character, I just smiled to myself and kept moving. 

Now, I am a reasonably intelligent person, but it wasn’t until a couple of days later that I realized what the sign said. My problem was perspective. That simple word of encouragement to grow, planted by Rusty in the middle of his vegetables, would make perfect sense to anyone standing on his front porch.

Thinking about this experience, I am embarrassed, but my mind goes to that short statement in Psalm 119:18 to “open my eyes.” It is preceded by verse 15’s declaration, “I will reflect on Your ways.”

When we rush past signs God places in our spiritual field of vision—something that may take some effort to comprehend—we should stop, ponder, and pray for accurate perspective. This may take time, but it is well worth it when His wonderful truths are revealed.

Ask God for perspective so you can GROW.

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The Road Ahead

We live in amazing times.

Technology is rapidly evolving. Almost all the information we need rests at our fingertips.

Before the internet, cell phones, and Google Maps, I kept a local Thomas Guide in the car, along with other numerous maps of places I like to visit. Sometimes, when a map was outdated and new routes hadn’t been added, we had to stop for directions.

Once, I drove nine hours across three states, guided entirely by Google GPS. I appreciate how my Google Girl finds the fastest and shortest routes, although rarely the most direct. This drive made me make many turns every ten to thirty miles. The drive was an adventure in trust, relying on Google’s navigation system to get me safely to my destination.

Too often, we think we know where we’re going and don’t need help. Before we know it, we’re lost without a compass, map, or GPS. We run out of gas and find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, feeling hopeless. That’s when we cry out to God to get us back on track.

The Bible is our road map for life, and we can plug into the Holy Spirit’s GPS at any time. Life takes us on a series of twists and turns where we often don’t see what’s ahead. Through prayer, we can ask for new directions, clarification, and updates. If we’re following the Lord’s route for us, the way will be unobstructed.

When we deviate from the provided route, we may be distracted by the enemy’s diversions. Satan aims to convince us we’ve got it all figured out and don’t need to pray or read the Bible—leading us to frustration, anxiety, and uncertainty. If we seek the Lord and listen for His guiding voice, He’ll take us on an exciting journey with solid directions.

Plug into the heart of God through Scripture. Although you cannot see the road ahead, He’s already been there and mapped it out.

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A Picture of God's Embrace

I settled down to pray in my room at a retreat center.

I replayed in my mind the lyrics I had sung during my one-hour drive. I felt frustrated and confused. Why did so many songs describe the tenderness and comfort of being held by God? I sang the words, but I didn’t share the experience. Were they just nice-sounding words or did people know God’s embrace as more than just a lyrical metaphor?

I worried that maybe Jesus didn’t want to hold me. I took a risk and prayed, “Jesus, I want this to be real for me, but I have no idea how. If I can’t physically see, hear, or touch You, how can I know what it feels like for You to hold me?”

Then I imagined a mother sea otter nestling her pup. I sensed Jesus inviting me to imagine myself in the place of that little pup. I felt the mother otter’s paws wrap snugly around me. The steady rhythm of her heartbeat and the gently rocking waves soothed my ruffled emotions. I heard her soft cooing close to my ears and the noisy calls of seagulls overhead. I tasted the tangy saltiness of the breeze. I felt sheltered—that I belonged. Was this furry embrace the answer to my prayer?

“Jesus, is this how it feels to be held by You?”

“It’s one way, my child.”

“It’s a good way, Jesus. I like it. Thank You for this gift.”

God engaged my imagination to open a door to a tangible experience of His love, holding me close to His heart. I felt His tenderness toward me. God has painted pictures of His faithful love for us throughout His creation: the stars, the mountains, the seas, and even mama otters.

Open your eyes and your heart and receive God’s loving embrace in whatever form He has for you today.

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The Debt Has Been Paid

After ordering our fast food through a microphone, we crept up the line inch by inch.

I complained about how slow the fast food was and about how the order probably wouldn’t be right anyway. I rehearsed how many times I had looked into those paper bags after driving away to find something was missing or not what I had ordered.

Our turn finally arrived, and the food attendant stuck her arm through the fold-out window with bags and condensation-covered drinks. My husband produced money, but the attendant said, “It’s already paid for. The person in the car in front of you paid your bill.”

I felt like a heel. After all the grumbling I had done, someone’s generosity blessed me.

The Bible warns us about grumbling. The Israelites paid a heavy price for it. But despite my complaining, I was blessed because of a person’s generous heart.

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. He was in line before us with a purpose: to pay the debt we owed with the currency of His blood. While we complained, sinned, and murmured against Him, He paid the ticket.

The person who paid for our food was a stranger, yet they paid our bill to the restaurant. If they had known us, they could have refused to pay for our meal because of my complaints. But Jesus knows us. He knows our heart and the sin that needs removal. And He still pays the bill.

We may grumble and complain about life. We sin and get in trouble. We feel like we don’t get what we want when we want it, as I did in the slow fast-food line. We could have refused the food that was already paid for. But it would be unbelievable to refuse a freely given gift.

Redemption was paid in the body of Jesus. Our part is to reach out and receive it from the hands of the Father. Our meal tasted even better because of the blessing that accompanied it.

Taste and see that the Lord is good. Your bill has already been paid.

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Trust with Your Life

“Okay, Alisha, lift your right hand in the air,” one of my physical therapists said one brisk winter morning.   

I had become accustomed to our routine at rehab. My therapists’ requests sometimes seemed impossible, considering the left side of my body had decided to remain asleep due to the stroke I suffered months back. I wondered, How am I going to let go of the strongest limb I have

They assured me of their ability to bear the full weight of my body, but I was not convinced, especially considering I could not sense touch on that side of my body. I could see their hands by my shoulder, as well as bracing my hip and leg, but I still did not feel their touch. 

When it comes to our relationship with God, we cannot see Him in the natural sense. Nor do we always feel as if He is listening, let alone answering. 

The acronym T.A.P. provides a few reasons for why we can trust Him fully.

God’s Word is the source of all Truth. He does not lie, nor do we ever have to worry He will change His mind.

God also walks with us Amidst our joys and trials, rather than waiting until we have it all together or get to the finish line.

God also has the bigger Picture in mind and knows what is best for us.

So rather than white-knuckling our pride or the familiar mat’s underside, we can let go and lean into our amazing God whom we can trust. He is even greater than a therapist or friend and will catch us, without fail, each time.

Don’t merely trust God with one limb, but with your life.

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Sticking to It

Post-it Notes—slips of paper with partial adhesive—came about through a series of small, seemingly unconnected events.

In the early 1960s, scientists for the 3M Company, producers of Scotch Tape, were researching new adhesives. One of them, Spencer Silver, created a substance that stuck only partially, but they dismissed the invention since adhesives should be permanent. Even so, Silver shared his discovery with fellow employees, including chemist Arthur Pryor.

Then came the next incident. One Sunday morning, Pryor, who was a choir director, dropped his hymnal, and a shower of inserted paper bookmarks emerged. As Pryor thought about this scene, the remedy seemed simple: use partially sticky paper. But wasn’t that what Silver had discovered?

The third occurrence came as Fry and his associates applied Silver’s adhesive to paper and distributed it around the company. The marketing department wasn’t interested. Why would people pay extra for scrap paper? Still, many believed the product had great promise, so with further market research, the partial sticky notes were launched and became a national institution.

Joseph forgave his brothers for their cruelty that began a series of events that established him as a high Egyptian official. He realized God had used his ups and downs to preserve his people, the Jews.

We often experience the same in our work for the Lord. We look back and connect seemingly unconnected incidents to realize how they fit together to accomplish what some call a “God-thing.”  Yet when we think about it, with God’s perfect sense of design and timing, we really shouldn’t be surprised.

Think of some things you can change that will make you more likely to stick to it when things get tough.  

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Loyal Members

Some are loyal members of a favorite clothing or food store.

Retailers have learned many of us will develop a loyalty to a brand or store if there is the added value of a bonus or benefit. Businesses track our visits and purchases and reward us for our regular patronage with discounts, sales, and complimentary giveaways.

Unfortunately, this consumer contract spills over into other areas of our lives. Sometimes, we are guilty of translating faithful worship into some sort of bonus program that rewards us because we have been loyal and dedicated in our Christian walk. We feel we should have special treatment or a free pass around hardship and crisis. We should not expect spiritual brownie points for regular, faithful worship.

We sometimes sound immature with our "what did I do to deserve this" attitude. We should not step into Christianity as though we are balancing the books against sins of the past. Accepting grace is a humble step of faith that accepts Jesus' sacrifice.

Next time we are in the pew, we need to thank God for calling us out of darkness into His marvelous light. Our loyalty membership has been paid for on the cross. There is no need for twenty more visits to worship to earn anything. We are the holy adopted children of God. We cannot credit ourselves with great faith; it is wholly attributable to God.

We are loyal members, not proud ones, but ones with humble and grateful hearts. Our rewards program is that we are the children of God, ushered into His presence by the salvation work of Jesus Christ.

Realize more every day what a precious privilege it is to worship God.

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Forgetting the Past

I have trouble remembering things, simple things.

I can’t remember where I placed my keys or what I had for dinner. Interestingly, I have no trouble remembering when someone has offended me. I’m especially adept at recalling words I’ve said in anger, my missteps, and my failures. Here, my memory serves me well.

But we must forget in order to move forward. I am learning to release past wounds into God’s hands because they lose their power there.

Paul outlined his strategy for forgetting the past. Knowing his story, this was no small thing. In making his defense before King Agrippa (Acts 26), Paul recounted the kind of man he was before his encounter with Christ. In recalling his hostility toward Christians, he admitted he relentlessly pursued them, placed many in prison, and readily cast his vote against them as they were put to death.

These are the things Paul chose not to recollect. Why? Because Christ had blotted out his past.

Paul received God’s forgiveness and established the early church with the same passion he once used to pursue it. Did Paul accomplish this by self-effort? No. Christ’s power worked in him.

If Paul could forget his checkered past, we can let go of our grievances and sins. If we don’t, we neglect the higher purpose to which God has called us.

Without God’s power working in us, this strategy will fail. We can avail ourselves of the same power that worked so powerfully in Paul.

If you’re struggling with your past, forget what is behind you.

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When the Journey Is Dark

The dark storm came out of nowhere and culminated in an emotional vortex.

The gloom appeared like an unwanted visitor and poured around like a rainstorm over my spirit. Since the Covid pandemic, a cloud of darkness often hovered over me. I discovered a daily walk through my neighborhood provided a great way to circulate the endorphins and elevate my mood. I met neighbors I didn’t know, reminding me of the importance of relationships.

I long for a closer relationship with Jesus to brighten the twilight. Focusing on Jesus points my eyes upward toward joy and off myself, which leads to despair. I gain hope as I see in Scripture how God meets others in desperate times.

Job is the poster child for depression. When he was at his lowest point, he cried out to God and asked the tough questions. He challenged God to meet him in court and show His justice. Yet Job didn’t lose his faith. In the end, he saw God with a clearer vision. God met Job in the middle of his mess.

And then there was Elijah. Alone in the wilderness, he was overwhelmed and gave way to self-pity, asking God to take his life. God didn’t leave him there but provided the necessities to renew and restore him. Elijah was not shamed but told to put on his big-boy pants. A gentle whisper reminded him he was created and called for a purpose. Revitalized, Elijah ran to join others in the battle.

When darkness overcomes, God understands our pain and hears when we call. He is not indifferent to our suffering but meets us in the middle of our mess. God leads and provides. When we concentrate on Jesus, there is joy and light for the journey.

Let God empower and strengthen you as you travel with Him.

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Memory Bridges

I love the sound of a fishing boat speeding across the lake past our dock or a cruising pontoon filled with people’s laughter as they enjoy a summer sunset.

These sights and sounds remind me of visiting my nanny and granddaddy as a little girl at their home in Gulf Breeze, Florida. Going “across the bay” was a special treat, a step back in time.

My grandparents bought their bay house from a salty old fisherman around 1930 when a ferry transported visitors from Pensacola to Gulf Breeze. Nanny and Granddaddy kept the rustic flavor of the house through the years, adding only a single-window air-conditioning unit to the master bedroom.

Family and friends relished the opportunity to sit on the weathered dock or the screened porch and listen to the sounds of boats skimming across the water. At night, every light on the Bay Bridge sparkled, like a giant diamond necklace strung three miles across Pensacola Bay. With open windows in the front bedroom, the lapping of waves on the sandy shore lulled me and my cousins to sleep. Even now, I can close my eyes, smile, and remember the sounds, sights, tastes, and salt-water smells of my childhood there.

What amazing gifts memories are—bridges transporting our past into our present. God tells us in His Word to remember, to set up altars in our minds to remind us of His goodness.

On some days, my mind tastes my mother’s famous strawberry cake or curried shrimp. Nanny’s delicious “Gaspachee,” a traditional Pensacola salad, was a requested favorite at the annual fish-fry across the bay. Life is a wonderful collection of memories, strung together, continually creating more.

Why not thank your heavenly Father for giving you all the memories that bridge your earthly past to your eternal future?

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Hurtful Hoarding

In 1947, when New York City authorities received a call about a death in a neighborhood home, they knew the location well.

The address was the home of the eccentric, reclusive bachelor brothers, Homer and Langley Collyer. The pair had lived there since the 1920s and were known to have collected massive stacks of various items, especially newspapers.   

At the house, police found the door blocked by stacks of junk. When they finally gained access to remove the accumulation, they found the body of the disabled Homer but saw no sign of Langley.

As they cleared the house, they discovered Langley’s body under piles of junk that had fallen on him. Authorities reasoned that this accident had left Homer alone to die, uncared for. Eventually, 140 tons of junk were removed from the house, the house was demolished, and the site converted into a small park named for the Collyer brothers.

We might call the Collyers “compulsive hoarders.” Many professionals feel this is a mental health issue that describes people who continually accumulate what they consider valuable. This is exactly what we do as spiritual hoarders when we stockpile our thoughts and devices with no thought of God.

For compulsive hoarders, the remedy might entail counseling, but if we’re spiritual hoarders, the solution is for us to release our designs and devises to God and let Him handle our lives. After all, He’s waiting for us to completely trust Him and His purposes as we embrace His promises to sustain us. When we do this, we can store up our treasured thoughts with God, where our true heart will be. And with that done and with God in control, we’re hoarders no more.

What are some steps you can take to avoid hurtful hoarding?

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Our Sanctuary

As I sat on my sunporch on a grey autumn day, I watched the birds flit around our yard.

One could easily mistake our yard for a bird sanctuary. The finches swooped in, showing off their graceful technique as they dived into the window feeder. The chickadees bobbed their heads and watched for predators as they pecked for food. The nuthatches noisily broke open sunflower seeds. The sparrows splashed in the water fountain, and the red cardinals bathed in the pond. All their needs were provided for as they flocked to the haven of our backyard.

So, too, it is with our God. He abundantly provides. He gives us the earth and all it contains to take care of us—not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually as well. God is our refuge and shelter from the storm if we choose to believe. Under His protection, we can enjoy peace, love, and joy.

God provided the birds as solace for me as I watched them during my recovery from a painful shoulder surgery and the long-term effects of the COVID pandemic. Although I’ve suffered from a sense of uselessness, loss of purpose, and physical pain during this time, I found comfort when I rested in God, observed the birds, prayed, and enjoyed what God provided. Experiencing pain daily caused me to press further into God, to take refuge in His presence, His creation, and His peace. His small gifts, like the birds, offered a time for relaxation and meditation on Him and His Word.

With all the turmoil and unrest in our world, we should stop and take shelter under God’s wing. God provided His Son, Jesus Christ, so we can rest in Him. We can engage with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit while feeding from His hand. Contemplating God’s wonderous works can bring us the peace and joy we long for and the pause we need.

Why not stop and listen to a bird’s song or gaze at a beautiful sunset. Let God’s presence surround you. He is everything you need and your true sanctuary.

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Joyful Blessing Is Contagious

I didn’t know it, but my words held power.

My prayer buddy, Kim, once told me her son-in-law, Zack, worked in the same chiropractor clinic to which my son went for treatment. I told her I had met Zack and that he was a nice person. Her reply stunned me. "Now I know you will become a blessing to Zack." 

Why did Kim say that? My first thought was that she was a humble person who always thanked God for what she received, including compliments. Kim was also compassionate and loved to encourage people.

Her words became a driving force that motivated my heart to feel grateful to God. God worked through the Christian staff at this clinic to help my son recover from his back pain. I felt joyful and gave cards written with my prayers of blessing to show my appreciation to the workers at the clinic—plus a little gift.

Solomon said a city is exalted through the blessing of the upright. If one person’s good word can influence and pass blessings to another person, then imagine how a joyful blessing could spread more powerfully to a whole city. 

Jesus came to bless us with His good news of forgiveness and freedom that can reach everyone. Through one person at a time, the whole world can catch His fire of blessing.

The words of our mouths have power. We can choose to speak the truth of blessing in love to lift ourselves, family members, friends, neighbors, strangers, and even enemies.

Why not ask God to sanctify your lips with His truth so that you will speak blessings in love to those who need to come out of the darkness and to Jesus Christ.

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Gold-Plated Christians

I peeped into my jewelry box and noticed that several previously beautiful pieces had lost their shimmering glow.

The pins and necklaces, decorative pieces I once wore to accent an outfit, lay tarnished and unsightly. I would never want to wear them again. Initially, my gold-plated jewelry glistened and looked like substances of value, but their luster had faded. The stress of use wore down the coating to reveal unsightly dull and listless metal below. Even replated, they would never become valued objects.

The book of Job relates his story as a person with integrity and deep commitment to God who fell on hard times through no fault of his own. During a series of events that would break the faithfulness of most, Job never wavered in expressing his innocence. Fair-weather friends challenged him to repent because some hidden sins surely had caused his calamity. Job professed his blamelessness before God who knew his conduct, regardless of accusations against him. When tested, Job resembled pure gold.

How many of us could declare our innocence and describe ourselves as pure as gold? Sometimes we may resemble gold-plated jewelry. We glisten outwardly, but if rubbed a little by earthly temptations, the dull core of human nature and sinful foundation surfaces. Unfortunately, we hear of many prominent church leaders who proclaimed allegiance to God while willingly living a secret life of debauchery.

What is our response when scratched and scuffed by a secular environment? Our witness to a lost and dying world dims when we are only dipped in Christianity like a thin veneer of gold coating. Authenticity starts from the inside, infused layer by layer with Christ Himself. Each tier exhibits Christ’s teachings.

Although we become tarnished with sin, unlike my worn jewelry, we are and will remain persons of value. God wants to restore us to fellowship with Him. While we are all subject to sin, we abide in God’s Word and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to remain as pure within as we appear without.

How are you measuring up to your true identity?

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Ignoring Instruction

Proceeding down the long path to the beach, I strained for my first glimpse of the water.

Before the seashore came into view, my eyes spotted a flagpole at the end of the walkway. A red flag fluttered in the breeze atop it. As a coastal resident, I understood flags are flown to apprise beachgoers of surf conditions. A red flag signifies it’s unsafe to be in the water. Yet as I stepped onto the sand, I observed numerous individuals frolicking in the enticing emerald green waters, despite the flag’s clear warning.

Warnings are helpful, but they are ineffective unless heeded. Those swimmers could not have missed the red flag on the pole towering over the beach. However, they chose to ignore the instructions of those responsible for public safety and to put themselves in harm’s way.

The beach is not the only place where people fail to heed warnings. Wherever we find ourselves—at work, at home, or at a social gathering—we can turn a blind eye to wise words meant to protect us from sinful harm.

God’s instructions are found in the Bible—His instructional manual for our lives. But just like the beachgoers who saw the red flag but ignored it, we can place ourselves at unnecessary risk by ignoring God’s guidance.

Refusing instruction—whether on the beach or at other places—is foolhardy. And doing so is especially unwise when it comes from our loving heavenly Father.

Commit to adhering to God’s instruction and stay clear of peril.

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You Are Not Alone

Loneliness tries to surround us though the pain we experience—broken friendships, death of loved ones, unexpected tragedies.

Sometimes we are alone during the holidays, away from family and friends. But no matter where we are, we are not alone. God sees us and invites us into the largest, safest family gathering in all of history.

Consider all the beauty of this earth—the sky, the lights in the heavens, and the magnificent creatures in the ocean depths. We know these were created by a powerful God who values beauty and excellence. He created them for us to enjoy. Every flower, every tree, every beautiful sunset. These are evidences of His love and nearness to us.

John says a Light has entered our dark world. That Light is Jesus. He created us and knows everything about us. He wants us to trust Him. If we trust in Him, God declares Himself as our Father. Jesus becomes our big brother, and we become part of a large family of believers.

When Jesus died, He took all of our sin and pain on Himself, destroying it on the cross and setting us free. So before we let negative thoughts gain traction in our minds—thoughts from the deceiver and accuser who wants to bring us down—we can turn to our loving Father. We can ask Him to free us from doubts and fears. Through it all, God promises to be near us, giving us peace and community through His indwelling Spirit.

Take up God’s invitation to join His family by asking His forgiveness. Then, rest in His peace.

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Can You Hear Me Now?

Alexander Bell was one of the primary inventors of the telephone.

On March 10, 1876, Bell’s hard work paid off, culminating in the first successful telephone call. One hundred and twenty-six years later, a communication business started an advertising campaign with Paul Marcarelli, known as the “Test Man,” speaking into a cell phone the iconic words, “Can you hear me now?”

God was the first to call out to people. Adam and Eve disobeyed His commandment and instead ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. When they attempted to cover up their disobedience, God showed up and asked where they were. This was akin to Him asking, “Can you hear Me now?” Adam told God he had hidden because he was afraid. 

There was a time in my life when I spent a lot of time hiding. Instead of answering God’s call to enter the ministry, I joined the United States Air Force and was deployed to Okinawa, Japan. I was sure God wouldn't find me there, nor would He call on me. As I reflect on this incident, I realize how silly I was to believe that. The barracks that symbolized my "fig leaf" were in plain sight to God.

God called me out of hiding. Two young men had somehow gotten locked out of the barracks. As soon as I opened the door, they asked if I knew Jesus. That was the moment I realized my fig-leaf barracks could never conceal me from God’s calling. Shortly after, I entered the ministry. I will never regret answering God's call. It's been scary at times, but it’s also been fulfilling.

If we’re hiding from God, He invites us to come back. He already knows our hiding place, and He still wants to deliver us. He is full of mercy and ready to guide us into His best plan for our lives.

When God asks, “Can you hear me?” ask God to help you respond with, “Yes, Lord, I hear You, and I am willing to obey Your call.”

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Weariness

I’m weary. Tired. My heart seems so…empty. But why? My life is good. My family is safe and healthy. Things are good, so why do I feel so weary?

This past year of Covid-19 has taken a toll on us all. Our lives have considerably shifted, and for the first time in over 200 years, we are being told what we can do and what we can’t. Some get defensive, others become submissive, and still others simply walk the path. It has been a year that has mentally, physically, and spiritually sucked us dry.

Our family has traveled the cancer path there and back, successfully. We’ve remained safe from Covid. Our finances remained stable. We have all we need, so why then – do I feel so drained?

Paul knew when he penned his letter to the Galatians, that they too were becoming weary. He reminded the people to gently rebuke wrong, to be careful of temptation, and to test their actions. It was a difficult time, and he could see they needed guidance and encouragement. They needed the umph to continue even when things seemed desolate. Finally, in his encouragement, Paul stated not to become weary in doing good. Good always prevails, so we don’t give up.

Our world seems to be spinning out of control, and our spiritual self fights hard to keep us upright in God’s ways. When all we see physically are the things that try to derail us, our hope tends to wane. We are vulnerable, and the prince of darkness knows that, so he bears down, making every effort to crush our faith and hope.

God is faithful. His promises are true. When we feel ourselves growing weary from the pressures of the world, it’s time to reach out and up – to stretch hard to reconnect to that which Satan tries to separate us from. Paul warned us not to be deceived. More than anything, we, as children of the King, must hold tightly to the nail-scarred hand. Deception is rampant.

When weariness falls over you, remember the strength given to you through the Lamb. Grasp hold. Lift your hands in praise, for God is mighty, and He will not be overcome. Rather, He will be the overcomer.

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Never Look Back

Looking back is never a good thing.

In 1954, Englishman Roger Bannister and Australian John Landy, who were the first two men to break the four-minute mile, met in a race in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. With ninety-seconds remaining in the “Miracle Mile” race and Landy ahead, Landy glanced over his left shoulder to see his opponent's location. At that moment, Bannister surged past Landy on his right side and won the race by eight-tenths of a second. If Landy had not looked back, he would have won the race.

The apostle Paul learned what John Landy had not; that taking our eyes off the prize is never good. What we focus on, we tend to achieve. Paul knew the key to success was to forget the past, both good and bad.

Paul knew he had not achieved or become perfect, but he looked forward to becoming more like Christ. Rarely are we defeated in our faith by today's problems alone, but by dwelling simultaneously on yesterday's failures. We are not designed to multi-task present and past struggles. Looking back on past failures, other than for redemptive purposes, is counterproductive.

If anybody could have rested on past achievements, it was Paul. He had suffered and achieved more than any man alive, yet he knew he must continue striving until he arrived in the presence of Christ in heaven.

Considering past successes can limit our future vision. Every new movement of God has been resisted by the previous one. Good can become the worse enemy of best. John Landy dominated the race until the end when he took his eyes off the prize.

Are you, like Landy, going to lose the race because you are looking back? 

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My Best Friend

I have an awesome best friend.

When I taught religion to my grades of twelve-year-old children, I wondered how to make faith come alive for them. I asked my class to pray as I lit a classroom candle for a best friend who was always by their side. They understood friendship. We all prayed to Jesus, our Brother and Lord.

Now I am older and grayer, with a kind smile, but I still light my morning candle and pray to Jesus, my best friend. I believe no one walks or lives alone. He is my forever best friend. Tough times can test anyone’s faith, but praying to my best friend keeps me strong. I am not too strong, but I have a strong faith and an awesome friend.

Just as when true friends support and encourage each other in good and bad times, so God wants each of us to be happy. So, first thing in the morning, I wake up with a cheerful heart. Then I dress with a smile and practice peace in my heart and then in the home.

One day, if we all did this, there might be peace on earth. A big dream, but then big dreamers like my best friend dream big. By talking to Him, I can receive the blessings which flow to each of us from the divine as I shelter in His love and forgiveness. As I pray, I can share a word or two with my best friend.

As my students did, you, too, can meet my best friend, Jesus.

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No Fear

Long ago, when I was a brand-new believer, I remember walking by the L. A. "River" and experiencing a revelation—one of those moments when God opens our eyes on a deeper level.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, I was familiar with the river, but on this afternoon, I saw it with new eyes. I saw how we had made a concrete wash of the river. I thought about the weight and quantity of concrete that covered the soil and life underneath so the water could run smoothly in all seasons. I thought about how it might have looked after they initially laid the concrete: solid, flat, and desolate, but practical.

Many years later, I could see plant life—lush and large in places, poking its way through the layers of concrete. I found it amazing that a grass blade or a weed seemed more powerful than the tons of a manmade substance designed to suffocate and smooth the life beneath it.

If God’s fallen creation has more power than the work of our hands, how much more does His Word and His kingdom.

We have nothing to fear if we know and love the One who spoke the stars into being. He can bring about His kingdom and His will, even through the most imperfect vessels. Remember those who govern our countries are just men and women—as mortal and broken as any other human beings on the planet. And the ways of people may pass, but the Word of the Lord endures forever.

Regardless of your circumstances, don’t fear.

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The Weaving of Our Lives

When things go sideways, it seems they occur in quick succession.

Several years ago, my dishwasher broke, resulting in water causing extensive damage to our wood floors. Shortly after, our septic tank overflowed, and then a furniture delivery led to a paint job.

Unexpected costs and unforeseen circumstances can deplete us, causing us to feel like everything is against us. I realize these are minor inconveniences compared to life-altering events others may face. I’ve been there too.

The patriarch Jacob experienced his fair share of loss and grief. Some know what it is to lose a child, a spouse, or a lucrative career. Like Jacob, we may wonder why everything is devolving. Does God see? Does He care?

God’s dealings with us may seem harsh, but we must trust His heart. He has a purpose and design in allowing pain. We worry because we can’t see the cross-stitch He weaves from the fabric of our lives. Although we can’t see the pattern, our loving Father masterfully creates something beautiful from the ashes of our lives.

God has a mysterious way of narrowing our circumstances until He has us where He needs us—perfectly still, whether by pain or loss, so that He can work. Little did Jacob know God would use his circumstances to rescue an entire nation. In the end, God redeemed all Jacob had endured. Every ounce of his suffering brought about a greater good for God’s people.

The trials of life are meant to teach us God’s ways. He does not waste pain. Instead, He uses it to make us firm, steadfast, and faithful.

Perhaps you’re wondering why God has allowed adversity in your life. Having walked through trials, I can confidently say, you can trust His heart. He is working all things together for your good. Rest in that truth.

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God's Dreams or Ours

I have had some ups and downs in my service for the Lord.

I once served as a ministry leader and had great hopes and dreams. Not long after I started, I was abruptly taken out of my leadership role. Some years later, I was asked to serve on the board of directors for this ministry. I had to ask myself if I or God owned my dreams. To this day, I serve on this board and get great pleasure in seeing some of the plans I had accomplished through another leader.

David was excited about building the Temple for the Lord, yet he could not build it. The test for David was whether his dream was God’s or his. David seemed to have the same anticipation for seeing his son, Solomon, build the Temple.

Who gets to accomplish the work isn’t important. The point is whether God’s plans are being fulfilled. President Reagan had a plaque on his office wall that read, “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit.” The same applies in Christian service.

Many do not see their dreams fulfilled because they are unwilling to give them up, not because they are not faithful enough. When we give them up, we allow others with a little different skillset to come in and take responsibility—people, who because of their calling and gifting, can take the work to a higher level. Paul reminds us that it’s not important who plants or waters. What’s important is that God brings the increase.

A strange dichotomy exists in the Kingdom of God. If we give something up, we keep it. When we lose it, we find it. If God has the ultimate ownership of our plans and dreams, He has the right and responsibility to decide who and how they are accomplished. It is not about us but Him.

Are your dreams God’s? If so, then they are bigger than you, and He is the only one who can fulfill them.

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Ebenezer in My Pocket

Part of my morning routine entails placing three items in my left pants pocket.

The two coins and a small rubber chicken head are keepsake mementos of three relationships. Just as my wedding ring serves as a reminder of a special promise, these three hidden parts of my daily garb remind me of two special friends and fourteen years of work with the American Red Cross (that's the chicken head, but don't ask.).

People collect or place memorials. We commemorate. Whether a birthday, anniversary, or day of personal loss, we pay tribute in some fashion. This helps keep the priorities of our life in perspective. When I feel that jingle in my pocket, I remember friendships that can't be described in words, and I revisit great stories of my career with the Red Cross. Small things can summon big memories.

Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, "Thus far the Lord has helped us." This Scripture tells the story of a great victory for Israel over their enemy, the Philistines. Israel's preparation was not military training, but rather a return to the pure worship of God. They discarded their idols and gathered for prayer and fasting. God heard their prayers and defeated the Philistines without the people of Israel lifting a finger. It was a miraculous intervention by God, and Samuel marked the spot with a rock he called Ebenezer, which means, “rock of help.” 

Thousands of years later as a young pastor, Robert Robinson penned the hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” which references this passage. Allow me to paraphrase: “It is here we remember that it is by God’s help we have gathered.”

Just as those keepsakes in my pocket help me remember special people and times, the cross commemorates a holy relationship with God and fellow believers. Our worship should always include remembrance. The cross is the memorial that reminds us what was given for our salvation. It is our rock of help—the place we revisit and remember.

Remember that the life-giving sacrifice God has provided is not only for you but also for those with whom you worship. Then, raise your Ebenezer together.

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One Light

“Captain! I'm not sure I can do this! What if I mess up? What about the sandbars and rocks in this channel? What if I get off course in the dark? How will I know before it's too late?”

Those were the frantic words of First Mate Alexander as he steered the ship through Ripside Channel for the first time.

“I once stood exactly where you are. You'll do fine. Besides, I'll be standing right here and won't let you mess up,” the captain replied. “Let me tell you how Ripside Channel got its name,” he continued. “Years ago, so many ships couldn't navigate the channel, so the community folks decided something should be done to help protect their sailors. They decided to place a light on top of a high pole in three places. One right on the beach and the other two spaced further back inland. The trick was to line up all three poles and lights until it looked like only one light. Once they did that, ships could sail safely through the channel.”

One hour later, a deep sense of relief swept over First Mate Alexander as the tugboat lights came into view. He'd successfully navigated Ripside Channel at night. This was one night he'd always remember.

As Christians, we'd do well to follow the captain's advice. We should line up our lives so we only see one light: the Savior, shining like a beacon in our darkness.

Although life's sea has many dangers and disappointments, our Captain has already charted the course and walked in our shoes. If we focus on Him—no matter the severity of the storm—we’re promised safe passage onto that heavenly shore.

Make sure you follow the right light.

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Godly Concern or Worry

When I was little, I rode to school on a bus like many children.

One afternoon, something unusual happened. The bus driver stopped at my usual getting off place, opened the door, and told me I was home. But I knew I wasn’t. Since I didn’t know the place where he stopped, I stayed on the bus.

As we continued to ride, I fell asleep. When I woke up, it seemed as if we’d been riding for a long time. I didn’t care and I wasn’t scared. In my naïve little mind, I was having the time of my life. I felt as if I were on an adventure—one where I didn’t know where I’d wind up.

Back home, however, my parents were scared. I usually got off at a neighbor’s home and waited until one of my parents got home from work. This time, they were both home waiting on me. Daddy called the school and checked to see what was happening.

When the bus driver had dropped off most of the students, he realized I was still on the bus and took me to the neighbor’s house. When I got there, she called my parents to let them know I was okay. Although my parents were scared, they showed true concern instead of worry.

When a situation is our business and we can do something about it, God wants us to pray and do what we can do. Then, He’ll do anything He needs to do. However, if we can’t do anything about it—and if it’s not any of our business—God just wants us to keep our hands off and pray.

My challenge is for all of us to both pray and do what we can to change a situation. And most of all, to trust God to work things out.

Let God teach you the difference between concern and worry.

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Put Up the Sword

While in college, I burned the notebook of a classmate.

This classmate was doing better than I was. Because of what I did, this student couldn’t attend classes for two months. He also missed several exams.

Two years later, I went on a summer vacation. During my vacation, my entire village was flooded. My house and everything in it were destroyed by water and mud. I never wanted to lose my school stuff, and I immediately remembered what I had done to my classmate. The experience was painful for me. I regretted my actions so much that I cried bitterly and asked the Lord to forgive me.

Jesus teaches how we should work on our motives and temper. He calls us to stay away from any vindictive thought or action, no matter the offense. Jesus was ready to die for all sorts of offenses and for the sins of the world.

Many situations challenge us to act. The moment we think of a sword, we never see or think of its immediate consequences. We can “draw a sword” in anger or for retaliation. When we do, we become a terrifying object in the eyes of people around us. A sword has different forms and meaning, such as any dangerous and harmful object. But drawing it shows our desire not to cooperate as God wants us to. The sword can also be a gentle tool or object that we wield with bad intentions.

We need not take revenge because all has been paid for with Jesus’ precious blood. When you’re tempted to draw a sword, trust God instead.

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A Refuge

As my parents celebrated their fortieth wedding anniversary, I traveled down memory lane.

I have pleasant memories from my childhood because my parents were intentional about everything that happened in our house. Home was a refuge. A safe and comfortable place filled with love. And Jesus was there.

I now recognize how blessed I was to have had a safe home. As a kid, I thought my life was just like everyone else’s, but over the years, my eyes were opened. As an adult, I work hard to create that same safe environment in my home. So many children and adults never experience a safe and secure feeling, so I want to make it available to anyone who steps foot inside my house and might need it.

I’ve seen enough to realize that sometimes making home a refuge is not possible. Alcohol, abuse, neglect, and many other factors often infiltrate homes—variables the peacemakers have no control over. I see many who long for their home to be a refuge but can’t figure out how to make it happen.

Joshua challenged the people he led to choose God as their refuge.

Even when making home a refuge seems impossible, we can still choose to let our lives be a refuge for others—a safe space where people feel free to be themselves and take off their masks. We can love well, inviting people into our world rather than pushing them away or making them feel inferior. We can love genuinely, even if it means getting hurt in the process. Showing them Jesus and helping them grow in their walk with the Lord can make a difference in their lives.

Whether it’s our home or ourselves, or maybe a little of both, we can look at our life and think about what needs to change. Perhaps some attitudes need throwing out. Maybe unsafe practices need to be removed. If Jesus isn’t at the center of everything we do, He should be. God will give us the necessary steps to create a refuge for others.

In the middle of this crazy world, be a refuge for the ones around you. It might just change their life.

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Peace

I struggle with anxiety—the “what ifs” of life.

I can fret over some anxious thought for a long time before I remember to talk to the Prince of Peace. On one holiday, I awoke early, anxious and worrying. I had let one of those thoughts in, and it had become a mountain—a storm in my mind. I had forgotten God says not to worry. I tossed and turned—my stomach in knots—before I considered talking to the One who holds all my days in the palm of His hand.

“Lord,” I said, “I am anxious, and I know You can give me Your Peace that is beyond understanding.” And then I worried some more.

I stood on the sea jetty—the water swirling in all directions. The wind blew, and the bright sunshine cast shadows on the choppy sea. Suddenly, I saw a large circle of complete calm in the middle of the turbulent sea. And I heard God speak to my heart. Not audibly, but through His creation. Pacifying me, calming my spirit, and giving me the peace I craved.

“My daughter, that’s what I want for you—complete peace in the midst of the storm.”

A snapshot of truth. A moment in time where everything came into perspective. God had spoken. I would need to draw on this later. God knew where I was and what was coming. He knew exactly what I needed to see and hear to make His Word come alive.

God doesn’t promise to take away our trouble, but He does promise His Peace. Peace is not the absence of problems but the presence of a Person—Jesus.

Before your anxious mind runs away with you, talk to the One who calmed the storm. He delights in giving you His peace.

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Spiderman Shoes and the Tricycle

The last thing on my Christmas list was a Spiderman tricycle and a pair of sneakers.

Although I didn't find the exact trike, I did find a pair of Spiderman shoes that lit up and a small red trike suitable for a two-year-old boy. I didn't even know him, but I knew he had enough drama in his life. He belonged to one of the clients at a ministry I help. We usually don't buy trikes and big-ticket items, but this purchase was in conjunction with one of our partner ministries.

Now for the Christmas spirit part of the story.

As I shopped, I met a couple and their son whom I knew. They asked why I was still shopping, so I explained. The lady opened her pocketbook and said, "We're going to buy that trike for him."

After trying to convince her she didn't have to do that, she agreed with me and said they would do it anyway. Her husband told me I wasn't going to win the argument, so I might as well take the money.

Stuff like that is what makes Christmas for me. It wasn't so much the trike or the shoes, but just knowing somewhere on Christmas morning, a wide-eyed two-year-old would be excited and would ride around the room on his trike with his Spidey shoes flashing. For a little while, all would be right with the world.

Thinking of the joy he would have for a little space of time was a priceless treasure. So was knowing his momma would be deeply touched because someone loved her child that much. I was sure she would eventually realize God loved her and hadn't forgotten where she was or what she needed. 

Little moments like this help us realize we’ve made a difference and given someone a memory for a lifetime—a memory that emphasizes the true meaning of Christmas.

How can you make someone’s Christmas special?

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The Green Pastures of COVID

The scene is idyllic.

Peaceful little sheep resting in green pastures by still waters. A shepherd with his staff nearby. An image that could hang on the wall of any Sunday school classroom.

Imagine a different scene. Two or three sheep try to sneak out of the pasture. Their little sheep brains are certain a better pasture lies ahead. The shepherd chases after the rebellious sheep and brings them back to the pasture. As time passes, more and more sheep become restless and try to leave. In their little sheep brains, they are convinced the shepherd has made a mistake. They have been in this pasture too long. But the wise shepherd brings the wandering sheep back into the fold.

Psalm 23 says the Good Shepherd leads us to green pastures to restore our souls. The Shepherd is wiser than we are. He knows when we need to stop, which pasture is best, and how long we should stay there.

The year 2020 brought an unexpected halt to life as normal. COVID caused devastation and pain. Although the virus itself is not a good thing, I wonder if the Good Shepherd has prepared a green pasture for us in the middle of the Coronavirus. In His wisdom, does He see souls that needs restoration?

Along with the sheep that are attempting to escape are a few others that rest peacefully by the still waters. They gaze lovingly at the Shepherd’s face and enjoy life in the pasture.

Two kinds of sheep graze in the pasture: the restless rebellious sheep and the trusting contented sheep. I wish I could say I spent time during COVID peacefully gazing at the face of the Shepherd. All too often, my little sheep brain believed that this life disruption had dragged on too long.

As my heart began to stray, the wise and loving Shepherd brought me back. And I am thankful. When I stop rebelling and look at His loving face, I know of no other place I would rather be.

Ask God to give you the grace to trust Him even when you don’t understand.

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Like Barn Wood

The task of rummaging through piles of rustic wood thrills me.

My daughter spotted a huge red barn with a sign that screamed, Wood for Sale, so we stopped to explore its content. Stepping over mounds of sawdust and making my way through the dusty sunlight, I spotted pieces of aged wood, begging to be recycled into exquisite pieces of art. 

Each piece of wood holds a story and is never afraid to display what defines its character. As a sixty-six-year-old woman, I see myself in those pieces, realizing my life is a divine project still in the making and continually under the guided hand of my Creator.

With the wood positioned in my saw, I reflected on the progression of steps needed before expecting a showpiece and pondered the parallels to my own life. Something happens during the process of removing the unwelcome layers of corrosion or those stubborn places my heart refuses to yield. Splinters need sanding and embedded nails need removing. So does the stubborn pain that has penetrated deep crevices, making it almost impossible to remove. And worst of all, some wood smells nasty and musty. But I am eager to give my rugged prize possession some TLC and bring its personality to life. 

We often find ourselves in the hands of our loving Father who erases the stains of sin that scraping can’t remove. He dislodges wrong attitudes that contaminate our minds. The saw cutting always hurts, whether it’s our pride or patterns of thought that become excuses to resist change. Eliminating residue from the past means saying goodbye to hopes or dreams we clung to that may have been outside the will of God. My vulnerability is frightful until I remember I am a living example of redemption, evidenced through spiritual transformations and emerging inner beauty.

While I will be forever flawed and incomplete, in the hands of my Savior I am inspired because He sees only His finished masterpiece—a workmanship created in Christ Jesus, who cleansed me by His blood and covered me with the protection of His grace and forgiveness.

Remember your Redeemer lives. He who began a good work in you will be faithful to finish it.

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Old Movies and Our Story

I am a fan of the cinema.

My favorites include the old black and white productions that carried a heavier dose of acting than action. I have viewed several of these movies multiple times and still experience the same suspense, anxiety, fun, or fear—although I have memorized much of the dialogue.

As with those movies, when I reread the Genesis story, I know how it's going to turn out. I know I’ll hear a talking snake and witness a catastrophic end. I find myself standing nearby, helpless and anxious.

I realize the journey through the Genesis story is more profound and revealing than a trip to the movie theater. Adam and Eve were real people who ruined their world and discarded perfection. Suddenly, paradise was lost and their evening walks with God terminated. A relationship we can hardly imagine was torn apart. This is the most tragic story in the Scriptures.

We also know the story of how God redeems His creation from this man-made disaster. Paul reminds us this is our story, but that God's redemption can also be our story.

Like an old movie, we should view the Genesis story again. And before we rush into the Easter story of the resurrection—or even into praise and worship—we need to ponder what we lost and view where we have been. Worship should take our minds and hearts through the spiritual sequel of how God loves and saves us.  

Take a moment to thank God for changing your story.

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Beware of Thistles and Figs

I poured out my heart to the Lord about my pain and sorrow over losing my job.

For two years, I had been ridiculed, overworked, yelled at, and given unfair and false evaluations. Finally, they pushed me out of the job I’d held for eight years. All I could hear were the Lord’s words ringing in my ears, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” One day, I said to the Lord, “Yes they did! They hated me and I hate them. I hope they get the Corona Virus and DIE.” I felt my murderous thoughts were vindicated.

After I finished my diatribe, I continued reading Matthew 7. When I came to verses 16-18, I became perplexed about the meaning. The pain in my heart kept me from understanding what God told me.

I decided to take a walk. A beautiful spring day awaited. Birds sang, bringing me to worship God. I heard Him say, “A heart that produces thistles cannot also produce figs. You cannot be My disciple if your heart is full of hate.” Suddenly, I realized the seriousness of my vengeful thoughts. Each day I refused to forgive those who had harmed me, my heart grew thistles.

These verses brought light into my soul about the condition of my Christian heart. I had demanded justice from the Lord, but justice my way.

Forgiving those who harm us is an act of mercy and lets God execute justice His way, which produces the fruit of repentance. A vengeful heart that hates cannot love at the same time or teach someone a lesson. God’s love and our demonstration of His love changes hearts and produces good fruit.

Repent from hate and forgive now to make room for love. Let God replace all the bad fruit with good fruit.

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Overwhelmed

A life preserver is thrown to those drowning less they sink beneath the waves. God’s Spirit gave Psalm 37 so drowning souls could grab its buoyancy.

When schemes by the evil one and his minions threaten to destroy all we hold dear, our heavenly Father wants us to have something to hold on to as we pass through seemingly impossible times.

The psalm begins with “do not fret” and “trust in the Lord.” Evildoers will wither and fade. During overwhelming times when it seems impossible that things will work out, we can rest in God and keep doing the best we can as we trust in the Lord to bring us through. Quoting and reading this psalm repeatedly will give us a life preserver.    

No matter how dark it seems, we should delight in the Lord. He will give us the desires of our heart. As we rest and wait patiently for Him, He will do it. It may take a while before He frees us from oppression, but He is the only One who knows the big picture.

We should not be angry or wrathful against those who carry out wicked schemes. They will be cut off. The Lord laughs at the evil plots and threats which seem so overwhelming to us. The evil ones and their schemes will vanish like smoke. We will not be left in the power of evil plans.

Our job is to wait on the Lord’s rescue, and it will happen because we have taken refuge in Him. Overwhelming times are survived by a trusting relationship with the Good Shepherd who will protect us and bring us through dark valleys as we take refuge in Him.

When you are overwhelmed, turn to the One who can soothe and protect you.

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Remember When?

“Don’t you remember?”

He didn’t.

Two years had passed since my son and his family visited our home. Finally, the ice melted. After seeing him and his family at a few other family functions, we asked him and our daughter-in-law over for Sunday lunch.

After lunch, we lounged in the living room and told stories. They told of things they had done with their boys—things we had not heard about. I thought, Why not tell him things he and I did when he was younger?

So, I told a story and then asked, “Don’t you remember?” He didn’t. I told another story, asked the same question, and got the same answer. Our daughter-in-law rolled with laughter over stories she’d never heard. Our son laughed at the stories too and over the fact he couldn’t remember the incidents.

When I finished five or six camping and hiking stories, I remarked, “You know, I didn’t remember you going with me, your sister, and your uncle that often, but I guess you went more than I imagined.”

After several more stories, he admitted he remembered only small pieces of some of them. Others, he remembered nothing at all…even after I told him.

Amazing what telling stories can do. Doing so can bring families back together and heal hard feelings. It can also relieve stress and help members remember that, yes, we did spend time together after all.

When our son and daughter-in-law left, we hugged and expressed our love for each other. We hoped it would begin a new era in our relationship. One where past hurts—imagined or real—would slip further into the recesses of our minds and good memories would fill them instead.

According to Paul, Timothy had something to remember. The faith his grandmother had passed to his mother and the faith she, in turn, delivered to him. Now, he lived out his faith in such a way that Paul and others recognized it.

I remember when my father told me of his faith and offered the same faith to me. And I recall when I did the same for my two children. I hope they, too, will pass along the offer to their children. Then, later in life when they ask, “Remember when?” their children will say, “Yes.”

What are some faith stories you can share with your loved ones?

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A Song That Made Me Cry

A lullaby in an old movie called Baby of Mine made me cry.

The words aren't so sad, as best I can remember, but the tune is. One day, I thought of that song and cried. I had asked the Lord to give me something to cry about, but I meant lyrics that would make me cry over the lost. My pastor sometimes reminds us that although people cry over things like animals dying, they often don’t over the lost.  

Instead of the Lord giving me a song about lost people dying and going to hell, He gave me a song about His worthiness as the Lamb of God, because He died on the cross and rose again for us.

Many of the psalms were written with the psalmist telling God in the first part how sad he was. Usually, by the end of the psalm, he thanked God for giving him the victory. In this psalm, the writer tells the wicked to depart from him, for God had heard his weeping. Depart from me all ye workers of iniquity for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping.

I've heard of sad situations in which people have grieved themselves to death. Even if something has happened that was our fault and we can't make it right because the person we need to reconcile with is dead, we can still ask the Lord to help us get over it. We might even need to talk to a pastor or Christian counselor.

Whatever you need to do to move beyond your sorrow, do it. Move on, and ask God to give you your joy and your song back.

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The Two-Lane Road

The world went through a tough time because of COVID-19.

I have a hard time listening to talk radio because it is depressing. There is little good news. All this strife led me to have a vision about driving on a curvy two-lane mountain road. I never knew what was around the next bend or what would happen. 

Such is a picture of life, and, to me, it seems more real today than ever before. There have been times when I didn’t know how I was going to make it. One of the most trying times was when my mom, who was recovering from alcoholism, committed suicide. Another time was when I lost my part-time job and then my rent was increased by two-hundred dollars monthly, forcing me to move.

I don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but God’s power will be made perfect in me. I was a messed-up kid after my mom died, but my dad re-married, and God brought my stepmom, who stepped up to change my life. Because of her, I went to treatment where I dealt with my problems. The day I lost my part-time job, I was offered a full-time position in a career-related field. Moreover, I found a new and better place to live.

God has been faithful to me in the past. In the difficult times I faced, His power and provision have always been there when I needed Him the most. 

Maybe God has done something similar for you. Remembering it is good. As Christians, trusting God's goodness, power, and grace in times past can lead us to peacefully trust His provision for today. His power will be made perfect in us—in our weakness when we need Him the most. 

Ask God to help you trust Him in all situations.

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When the Lights Go Out

Lightning flashed, wind roared, and thunder crashed.

Suddenly, the lights began to flicker, and then it was dark. All of the appliances ceased running, and the house became quiet. Feeling your way around in the darkness, your fingers closed around a flashlight. Switching it on, you discovered it didn’t shine. The batteries were dead. You were able to find a candle, but not a match to light it. The darkness remained.

Pastor Mike knows about life’s darkness. His daughter had gone skiing with two friends. They enjoyed the thrill of flying down the slopes on their skis when suddenly an avalanche hit. The three were buried under snow, and, like candles, their lives were snuffed out.

As Pastor Mike talked with me in my husband’s hospital room, he shared that his daughter had died only three weeks before. Yet he was volunteering in the chaplain’s office, doing what he could to alleviate the pain in other’s lives and bring the light of Jesus into their world.

Sometimes our lives are as black as a storm. We grope our way in the shadows because the light in our lives seems to have faded away. But just as film is developed in a dark room, our faith is developed in the darkness of heartaches and problems. God’s light shines at all times, but we often experience it more fully when our world is enveloped in darkness.

Preparing for storms in the physical world by making sure flashlight batteries and matches for candles are available and in the right location is important. Even more important is being in touch with the Lord so He can guide us through every spiritual, physical, and emotional darkness we encounter.

Allow Jesus Christ to be your light to shine in any darkness you face.

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Who's Telling Whom?

Somehow, I wondered if they knew any family stories.

I remembered the stories my granddaddy had told me. Many of them I had committed to memory. Now that I’m older and the memories are fading, I decided to write some of them down.

My granddaddy’s childhood intrigued me. Almost like stepping back into time. A story somewhat like the Ingles’ on Little House on the Prairie. Except he was in a field, in a small wooden shack with a tin roof, and in a bedroom where a number of siblings also slept.

Most of his stories related to what happened after his daddy died when my granddaddy was a twelve-year-old boy. Tending the farm fell to him, along with an uncle who happened to be married to a woman from my momma’s side of the family. I loved to hear about Uncle Ransom and his mule episodes. 

When my granddaddy left the farm, he went to work at a local ice company. From there, he started delivering milk and later ice cream, which he did until he retired. Since I spent so much time with these grandparents, I have many stories committed to memory. But I wondered if my students did.

Most of my students still had grandparents living—some even a great-grandparents. Thinking they might not know some of the family stories, I made the assignment: a one-and-a-half-page paper telling a family story that happened before their momma birthed them. Sure, I graded for grammatical accuracy, but I was more concerned that they knew the family story.

God was also concerned that His people knew the family story. The story of how He had delivered them from Egyptian slavery, called them as His special people, gave them the Ten Commandments, and gave them the Law. But knowing wasn’t enough. They needed to tell it. Just as we need to today.

My granddaddy’s life told another story his mouth didn’t. By his lifestyle, I knew his parents had taught him to live by God’s standards. He, in turn, taught those standards to his two children and their children—me being one of them. His example impacted me as much as my parents’ did.

So, tell the story in your family—and to others. After all, if you don’t, no one else might. And when the family story isn’t told, future generations forget just how great our God is.

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God Is in Control

The boss asked her to come to the office before she left at five that afternoon.

At 4:55, she made her way down the hall—her palms sweating, her thoughts racing, her mind unsure of the reason for the meeting. She knocked on the door and heard her boss’s deep voice inviting her to come in and take a seat.

“You have been a great asset to our company, but I truly regret to inform you …”

The rest of his words were just a blur of words consisting of layoffs and worldwide pandemic. What she had dreaded might happen was happening. She was unemployed and had three little mouths to feed. With her stomach in knots, she headed home to tell her husband. Her family was already living paycheck to paycheck. She wondered how they would make ends meet.

After the second week of number-crunching and sorting through the classifieds and unpaid bills, her husband came home with a smile on his face. His field of work within the company was going strong. He had been offered a promotion with a large pay increase.

In the blink of an eye, fear and anxiety can overtake us, filling us with desperation and hopelessness. But there is a bigger picture. One we can’t fully see, but one our heavenly Father sees. He knows everything we need before we ask. We may not know the outcome, but He does.

Being a child of God allows the Lord to walk beside us step by step. We mean so much to Him—more than the grass of the fields, the birds of the sky, and the beautiful wildflowers He designed. God cares for His creation, and He will take care of us. Worrying will not add one moment to our lives.

No matter your situation, remember God is in control. Have faith and trust Him. You will never be disappointed.

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Whose Prayer Is This Anyway?

Lonely? Why would anyone seek loneliness?

One morning while sipping my coffee, I happily read from the book of Luke. Then, I reached chapter five where the writer said Jesus often withdrew to lonely places. Wait? As an introvert, I don’t think of my solitude and lonely places as lonely. They are restoring.

So, why did the translators choose the word lonely to describe Jesus’ prayer place? Was it possible the original word had a different meaning?

I discovered lonely was directly translated from the Greek word erémos, meaning wilderness. The word can also be an adjective meaning solitary or desolate. None of the descriptors have to mean lonely. Comforted by my newly discovered information, I was about to move on, but something prompted me to look up the word prayed.

Proseuchomai means to pray. Pros means towards, exchange. Euxomai means to exchange wishes. When the two are combined, the word means, “to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes as He imparts faith.”

Wait a second. God is supposed to answer my prayers, right? Since when am I supposed to pray His prayers? What if He wants something I don’t? I flinched as my flesh reared its ugly and selfish head.

Like many of us, I get caught in the age-old battle of sacrifice and trust versus selfishness and fear. Sometimes the battle is easy, such as agreeing with God’s wishes for someone to be saved. But what about when it comes to what He wants for my life? That’s often a hard-fought choice—a willed crucifixion of my desires—that is sometimes accompanied by kicking, screaming, and denial. Only later do I admit God was spot-on. In my need to be right—to determine my own destiny—I can lose sight of God’s plan.

Thankfully, God has mercy on my humanity. The last and key portion of the definition is “as He imparts faith.” God helps us in our weakness—even in prayer. He meets us and provides faith, confidence, and peace that the sacrifice of our desires for His is the correct choice.

The next time your flesh overruns your prayers, remember to pause, wait for God to impart His faith, and trust He will provide.

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Pain and Patience

My wife was angry at God because her friend just couldn’t get a break.

Another medical disaster had overwhelmed my wife’s friend. A reaction to medication had turned her foot into a dark lifeless-looking appendage. My first thought was that doctors might have to amputate her foot.

I am proud to have a wife with a tender heart instead of one with a self-righteous attitude, such as that of Job’s friends. If a person suffered, Job’s friends were quick to assume that person wasn’t righteous enough. Job called them out about their hard-hearted attitude.

But our friend is a godly handmaiden of the Lord and had not forsaken the fear of the Almighty. Yet, after a lifetime of medical issues, she had this scary reaction—a situation that led my wife to worry and to show brief anger toward God.

God wants us to be honest with our negative feelings and not bury them. But He also wants us to show our belief that He knows best by later confessing our sorrow. When we do, deep trusting prayer for healing takes over, and the peace that passes understanding through Christ our Lord results. God’s prescription for anxiety is given for overwhelming times that we often just cannot cope with—as we witnessed with COVID-19.

Ask God for opportunities to show kindness to your friends who are afflicted.

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The Employer

“What I think is right for me and my family is ethical,” my employer asserted.

At the time, I was a manager and a buyer for a retail outlet. Sometimes, my employer would ask me to do something dishonest. Since it was against the Word of God, I firmly but politely refused. Each time, the employer asked me why. This gave me an opportunity to speak about God’s integrity without accusing my employer of being dishonest.

One day during a staff meeting, my employer brought up the subject of ethics for discussion—although he made it more of a time to mock my stance. I sat silently and allowed the laughter to proceed as we left the gathering.

Later, a fellow employee approached me. She was a struggling believer. She thanked me for standing by the Word of God and, during our break time, allowed me to pray for courage for her to renew her faith in God. She is now back in fellowship with God and growing in her spiritual walk.

The book of Judges records how God appointed three main judges: Deborah, Gideon, and Samson. God hoped the judges would stem the tide of His people’s frequent falling away from truth and would also deliver His people from the hands of those who plundered them.

Deborah was also a prophetess and a courageous warrior. During her rule, the Israelites had great victories. Gideon, at God’s instruction, destroyed the idols of Baal and also had great victories. Samson, although he had great potential, did not reach that potential because of sin and disobedience.

We can choose to be people of integrity like Deborah and Gideon, or we can choose to compromise as Samson did. Our response may affect others more than we realize.

Make up your mind to be a person of integrity.

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Patronizing Platitudes

When I’m going through a difficult time—whether the loss of a loved one, a pandemic, a relationship break-up, or the loss of a job—I want only two things: prayer and empathy.

What I usually get—and sometimes give—are patronizing platitudes. Such as, “It'll be okay.” Are you serious? I don't feel like it's going to be okay. I feel like manure in the rain. Or, “Just trust God. It'll all work out. God's got this.” Easy to say when the person isn’t wearing my shoes. I know God has my best interests at heart—unless I'm an unrepentant axe murderer—and I do trust Him. Speaking to someone as if they don’t isn’t helpful.

Another favorite is “When one door closes, another one opens.” If I'm standing in front of a row of locked doors and don't have a doggone key, that doesn’t comfort me. Nor does, “They're in a better place.” How do we know? Not everyone is going to a better place when they check out of Hotel Terra, so this saying may only be a cup of sweetened vinegar.

“Are you okay?” is another common platitude. If I just got dumped or fired or lost my best friend or my dog died, then I am not the least bit okay. I'm feeling overwhelmed and anxious. It's a fresh wound.

And here’s one more. “It's all part of God's plan. He's got something better for you.” That may be true, but when we’re in quicksand and our faces are going under, we don’t feel that way.

Some better ways to come alongside our friends when they’re under the bus are to ask how we can pray for them, to ask if there is anything we can do for them, and to tell them we are there if they need to talk. And if they want to talk, be quiet and listen.

Provide a feast of empathetic encouragement to others while holding back the patronizing platitudes.

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Who Are You?

So many times when I meet people, the first question they ask after finding out my name is “what do you do?”

My typical response? “I’m a writer and editor.” But there are so many other answers I could give. Teacher. Speaker. Reader. Hallmark junkie. The list could go on and on.

Maybe a better question would be “who are you?” I could say “wife, mother, grandmother, friend.” But rather than finding my identity in my titles, accomplishments, and even passions, I can sum up the answer in one short phrase: I am a beloved daughter of God.

You might be a woman who is a doctor, lawyer, pharmacist, or artist. Maybe you’re a man who is an engineer, architect, or surgeon. You may have a master’s degree or PhD. You may have won numerous awards and received high accolades for your achievements. But the bottom line is this: if we have received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are a son or a daughter of the Most High God. Creator of heaven and earth. The Almighty, Everlasting Father. The Great I Am.

God knows our name. In fact, He has written it in the Lamb’s Book of Life and engraved it on the palm of His hand. He even knows the number of hairs on our head. He has redeemed our life from death and destruction and clothed us with His very own robe of righteousness. He has adopted us into his family and calls us His child.

We should never get caught up in our titles and accomplishments. After all, they won’t mean anything in heaven. Our life is not about what we do but who we are—especially whom we belong to. We are not our own. We have been bought with a price. We are His.

So, who are you? You are a beloved child of God.

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Waiting for the Miracle

Winters where I live often trespass into spring.

One year, we had unusually cold weather, along with heavy spring snow in April. At night, temperatures dropped into the teens, and the highs hovered in the lower thirties. Extended freezing temperatures can upset the botanical balance.

Besides an extended winter, the 2020 COVID-19 season had me feeling like a dusty coat hidden in a dark corner of the closet. So, I took advantage of a day when the sun finally lifted the temperatures. As I walked around my neighborhood, I marveled at the beauty around me in contrast with a young friend who had an oppressive incurable condition. He was overwhelmed with hopeless emotions that seemed to be stuck in a never-ending winter.  

There, poking out amid dormant brown shrubs, stood a garden of bright yellow and white daffodils, surrounded by a field of blue hyacinth. I was surprised and delighted to see they had survived the recent freezes. It seemed like a small miracle.

We suffer at varying degrees—some more than others. At times, we trudge through winter seasons that continue beyond tolerance. When we come out the other side of those difficult times, the joy we feel is like seeing a miraculous spring blossom.

Jesus tells us to be willing to take up our cross daily. He is not asking us to carry a feather. A crucifix is a heavy object, and I imagine the beams He was hung upon were roughhewn wood full of splinters. Picture yourself dragging that up the side of the hill at Golgotha. But the news is not all bad. Jesus didn’t ask us to be crucified on our crosses—simply to carry them.

As I think of and pray for my young friend, I’m encouraged that winter doesn’t last forever and, when we reach the top of our Golgotha, the price of our sin has already been paid. We will arise when Jesus comes again in glory.

In a long season of winter, remember the cross points the way to a future of eternal spring.

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Sincerity

“But they were sincere in their beliefs,” my friend said. “Why would a loving God not allow someone to go to heaven if they were sincere?”

“Because,” I replied, “there are two kinds of sincerity—being sincerely right and being sincerely wrong.” I sensed my friend was confused and thought all kinds of sincerity were acceptable.

Sincerity boils down to the question of truth. I question my GPS and its instructions all the time because I think another or better way of getting to my destination exists. Only after driving an extra thirty minutes am I willing to admit I should have believed its routing.

Eve was convinced eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was sincerely right. After all, it looked good and would make her wise enough to know the difference between good and evil. Duped by Satan, she bit the lie she could be a little smarter and more spiritual. And why not? Satan convinced her God hadn’t really said they would die—a half-truth with eternal effects.

Choosing to be sincerely wrong has consequences for us as well. Jesus reminded His disciples the path leading to heaven was narrow. And Jesus’ announcement that on judgment day people who were not His children would claim to have done miracles in His name—but would be rejected by Him—must have startled many.

Truth is what matters. Truth is what we live for and what we die for. Substitutes for truth are deception. We can be sincere and yet sincerely wrong.

Test your convictions again the unchanging truth of God’s Word, and pray for discernment.

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Dream Car

Picture a new blue bicycle secretly stored in an attic.

Then, imagine a father suggesting his son ask for a new blue bicycle for his birthday. The gift is already given, waiting to be received—described perfectly by the giver so the receiver is prepared to accept it. 

My daughter’s dream car was a Honda. So, I began my search for the perfect car for Libby. One morning, while walking through the parking deck at work, I noticed a co-worker getting out of a pretty white sports car. As we walked together to our offices, I asked about her car. I had never seen one like it before. She had special-ordered it two years before but unfortunately now needed to sell it. Expecting her first child, she needed a family car.

I wondered if my daughter would like it. I took the information about the car, then asked Libby to print out information from the internet on her dream car. Early the next morning, during my devotions, I prayerfully brought out the notes on my co-worker’s car and the sheet Libby had given me. They were the same car, even down to the color. A like-new car at an affordable price.

An answer to prayer for me and a dream come true for my daughter. It was my turn to be a channel of God’s blessings, an instrument to give God’s child a jewel from His hand through me. He put those desires in Libby’s heart so He could fill them perfectly.

Everything belongs to God. Our heavenly Father prepares us for the blessings He already has in store for us: heaven, relationships, jobs, and, yes, even automobiles.

Why not make yourself available to be a clear, clean channel of blessings for God’s glory.

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Time for Others

The elderly woman sat outside the grocery store, fretting and nearly in tears.

“Can I help you?” I asked

“No,” she said through her sobs.

“What is the matter?”

“I called for a taxi to take me home, but I have been waiting for half an hour, and my ice-cream is melting. I only live across the street, but I can’t cross.”

“May I help you across?”

“I can’t carry my groceries!”

“I can drive you there if you tell me where you live.”

“You can’t lift the groceries!”

“Let me try. My car is just a few steps away.”

I picked up her two small bags of groceries and, after putting them into the trunk, helped her into the car. She lived in an apartment complex. I parked the car outside her unit, then retrieved the groceries from the trunk as she led the way to the door.

As I put the groceries on the counter inside the door, she said “Wait” and handed me some money.

“That’s not necessary. It was my pleasure to help. Save it for the next cab ride.”

I was on my lunch hour when all this happened. It was the day before Thanksgiving, and I planned to make a quick stop at the grocery store for few last-minute things. Silly me! I returned to the grocery store to gather my items, even though now my lunch hour was running out and the check-out lines were long.

I looked at my watch and the three people ahead with full carts. I turned suddenly as I felt a tap on my shoulder. A grocery clerk ushered me to another register. I quickly moved as she opened her register. As soon as I laid my purchases on the conveyer belt, she put up her “Lane Closed” sign. I was out in a flash and headed back to the office on time.

Rewards come in many forms. For me, it was time. Normally an hour for lunch would not be enough to do what I intended. I could have easily ignored the woman. But special treatment in the grocery store kicked me to the head of the line. I was rewarded for helping someone.

What are some ways you can make time for others?

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Renewing the Mind

As a pastor, I am surprised by the number of Christians who battle depression.

The first day I was a youth pastor, a young person approached me and said they were having suicidal thoughts. That young person represented a larger portion of the church body that doesn’t realize the power of a renewed mind.

Through the cross, God has positioned us to live a life free from the bondage of sin and death. Through Christ, our lives can be completely transformed by renewing our minds. But before Paul gives us the promise, he shows us the issue. The reason we don’t have a sound mind is because we are not renewing it. Rather, we are conforming to the world.

Paul says there is a pattern to the world around us. If we don’t know it, we will soon discover it when the renewing of our mind causes us to come into conflict with it. When we read what God’s Word says about anxiety, we begin to notice all the anxious thoughts we have. This happens because our minds are coming against the pattern and recognizing it through the power of God’s Word.

Renewing our mind is a daily privilege for every believer. God promises that a renewed mind will fill our life with wisdom and the ability to discover His perfect will for our life.

If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or stress, take heart. God’s Word will set you free.

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Followed by Goodness and Mercy

As a child growing up and going to Sunday school and vacation Bible school, I learned to recite Psalm 23.  

In the intervening years, I’ve read it during happy and sad times. But one morning, the phrase “goodness and mercy” brought a question to mind: Are goodness and mercy still following me? I mean, what’s good about a virus wreaking worldwide havoc? Plus, I’m in that senior age group which is more vulnerable, and I have an underlying health issue.

When I turn my head and look behind me, I call, “Goodness and Mercy, are you still there?” In peaceful times, I felt assured they were with me and had my back. Now that life is out of whack and the waters are turbulent, I wonder if I have faith that the duo still rides shotgun.

In the psalm, there are no qualifiers to the promise. The psalmist says they follow all the days of our lives.

I know goodness and mercy follow because they are two of the many attributes of God. In the rearview mirror of life, I’ve known they followed even when I could not see them. I saw them in God’s provision after my husband passed away suddenly. Goodness and mercy accompanied all through those sad and trying days of intense grief and sorrow. I learned as I moved through the Valley of Death not to live in that valley but to keep moving. While doing their job, the two often had to come up close and push me through that valley. Many other experiences have also shown me they never leave in troubling times.

Today, I still face various crises. When I turn, I see my two friends behind me. They will always follow because God is with me for the duration of my journey on this earth.

Are goodness and mercy following you?

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Influencing like a Mosquito

An old African proverb says, “If you think you’re too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.” I had.

Grandmammy lived on Highway 210 near Vance, SC. During the long sultry summers, staying with her meant raising the windows so air could creep through the screens in her old unairconditioned farmhouse. The only problem was that her screens often had small tears in them—through which mosquitoes swarmed.

Spending a night with Grandmammy meant fighting a battle. Before bedtime, she sprayed the room and around the screens using a can of Raid. Then, as dusk neared, a mosquito truck ambled down the highway, spraying a fog of nose-hair-curling poison.

Despite all these efforts, I heard that all-familiar singing no sooner than I had lain down. Since the room was pitch-black dark, I couldn’t see her. I could only swipe, hoping I’d kill that female who wanted to suck my blood, fertilize her eggs, hatch more of her kind, and make me itch.

So the old African proverb was right. I’d spent the night with mosquitoes, and they had a pervading influence. They can turn a night in a hot room into a nightmare. The spread of their influence causes us to do any number of things to ward off their attack—some of which we may later regret.

But influence doesn’t have to be negative. Wise King Solomon says a friend can sharpen another friend, just as iron sharpens iron.

God gives me the privilege of being a positive influence on one hundred plus middle schoolers five days each week. I don’t take the responsibility lightly. Hopefully, my influence will motivate and encourage them. I also have the privilege of influencing thousands of people worldwide through the writing ministry God has entrusted to me. I don’t take that for granted either.

We all have areas of the world God wants us to sharpen. Just like the mosquito, God wants us to buzz into the areas He has designated for us, influencing the people in our circle in a way that points them to Christ and helps them become more like the person He wants them to be. The ways we can do it are numerous, but God will help us succeed if we ask.

Find your world of influence, and sing through it.

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I'm Not a Duck

As a preschooler, my sister often enjoyed the spotlight from an uncle who lived next door.

Pet names and merciless teasing were the price she paid for his love and attention. For a brief time we had geese on our farm, with babies in abundance. What fun to watch those tiny fluff balls grow. Bright and early one morning, Uncle Lowell greeted Gail with “How’s my duck?”

In no uncertain terms and with her tiny arms crossed, she replied, “I’m not a duck. I’m a gosling.” She knew exactly how she wanted to be identified, and no one would change that.

Uncle Lowell and the other adults laughed. Although I joined their laughter, I also learned a life lesson. That lesson did not take shape immediately, but over time, a deeper understanding formed. Gail saw a gift from God, latched onto that identity, and refused to let go.

If only we maintained that clarity of purpose as believers. A gosling will never be a duck, and Gail will never be anyone but Gail. Both, however, are masterpieces of creation, and God continues to use them for their unique purposes. God desires to do the same for each of us. He has a special plan for our lives and offers us the challenge and the opportunity to find and fulfill our unique plan and purpose.

As a child of God, recognize the wonder of your gift, latch onto your identity, and refuse to allow anything or anyone to alter it.

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One Body

Out of the corner of my eye, I detected movement.

In the grass near the picnic table where my family sat eating, a potato chip ambled away. I blinked, shook my head, and looked again. Sure enough, the salty snack made slow but certain progress across the lawn.

Putting down my sandwich, I alerted my husband and kids. Fascinated, we all jumped up and rushed toward this strange scene. No, I wasn't crazy. The potato chip definitely moved through the blades of grass. Entranced, my children dropped to their knees for a closer view. Aha! The potato chip did not move on its own. An army of ants transported it.

I tried to imagine what the ant that first came across the errant human snack thought. Did he believe he could move the potato chip by himself? Only Super Ant could manage that feat. But this ant connected with fellow ants and worked on a common goal. The body of ants collectively picked up a potato chip many times its size and carried away the desired food prize.

We might feel like an ant when facing daunting tasks in this world. But we do not have to tackle things on our own. As Christians, we are members of a large group—the body of Christ. Acting together with other Christians, we can accomplish things which we could never do alone.

One ant could not pick up a potato chip, but an army of them could. If a body of ants can do that, then Christ's body of believers can lift our world and move it closer to Christ.

Make it your practice to work with others as one body for Christ.  

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Turn on the Light

I couldn’t sleep. I crept out of the messy bedding and grabbed my robe.

Leaving the room, my eyes adjusted to the darkness, but not enough. As I inched my way through the house toward my office, the darkness had no mercy. Bang! I ran into the side of one of the walls in our family room. Walking through the darkness wasn’t wise, but I didn’t want to turn on the lights and disturb my husband.

As I sat in my office, I thought about the many times I walk in the darkness of my own thought life and of this world’s thinking without asking God’s direction. I think or act as if everything will be fine. And for a while, my way seems to work—until it doesn’t, or until I get into trouble. All because I don’t want to disturb others or ask for help.

God spoke clearly that morning. I turned to John’s gospel and found Jesus’ words. God’s Spirit enlightened me. In the dark moments when I am stumbling about and getting hurt, I don’t need to worry about disturbing someone or try to work things out my way. God designed me to ask Him for help in those confusing, frustrating, and painful times. The darkness is meant to take me to the Light.  

Sitting there, I marveled and praised God. In my discomfort of the night, He brought me out of the darkness into joy and revelation. In the darkness, I can see nothing good, but when I give up and stop fighting, God gets my attention and I receive peace, relief, and intimate closeness with Him.

I went back to bed and slept for the rest of the night. Next time I can’t sleep, I will get up and turn on the light because I know God is waiting to speak with me.

Don’t stumble around in the darkness of your own plans by excluding God. Next time you can’t sleep, turn on the light and walk in it. God will show you the way.

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That Fussy Machine

I hate my job.

Some days, processing mail for nine different charities feels tedious—like working on an assembly line. The fussy machine that opens the mail should make life easier, but it won’t take mangled envelopes. And it destroys perfect ones. When those pieces get stuck or destroyed, I may have to open fifty envelopes by hand. Doing so stresses me, takes extra time, and causes me to fall behind. I worry about meeting my quota, which means I’ll be in trouble with my supervisor. Everyone wonders why I’m in a bad mood.

Hating my job forced me to evaluate what is important in life. I once had a job that interfered with my relationship with the Lord. At the time, I thought I had the whole world. I worshipped my job, not the Lord. He took my career away to get my attention so I wouldn’t lose my soul. These days, I spend my time reading the Word and telling people about Jesus. Life is about a relationship with Jesus, not a career.

We can love our careers and have a close relationship with the Lord. Balance is the key. A successful career does not admit us to heaven, but trusting Jesus for salvation does.

Don’t lose your soul over a job.  

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Resisting Spiritual Drag

Even a golf ball can’t resist drag.

Professional golfers drive their balls at speeds of 168 miles per hour on average. As the ball screams through the air and down the fairway, several external pressures slow it down. The weight of the ball and gravity push the ball down. A term used in the study of aerodynamics is “drag”—the resistance that slows an object as it moves through the air. Gravity, weight, and drag cause the ball to land. Friction with the ground, combined with these other forces, cause the ball to bounce, roll, and then stop completely. Golf ball manufacturers constantly try to invent new ways to help the golf ball resist the forces of drag and gravity.  

When we first become Christians, we fly fast—like a golf ball off the face of a driver. We read our Bibles every day, tell others about our faith, and experience answered prayer. But over time, we often experience drag—in the form of trials, unanswered prayer, or scorn and mocking. These forces of resistance can slow our desire for spiritual growth.

But Jesus—God clothed in human flesh—kept increasing in wisdom and stature. He developed mentally and physically. He also devoted Himself to prayer.

If Jesus grew in wisdom, we should too. To do so, we need realistic spiritual goals such as reading our Bible through in a year, journaling our thoughts and prayers, journaling our answered prayers, and memorizing some of the well-known passages of Scripture. We can also serve, look for someone to mentor or someone to mentor us, and post notes around our house that remind us to pray and thank God for His blessings.

God always has work to complete in you. Ask Him to give you a desire to become more like Him every day.

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Find a Need and Fill It

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

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

When a hospital co-worker experienced a long-term illness, I saw her getting weaker. Even after visiting doctors, she had no answer for her illness. She began to miss work. One day I took her a chicken pot pie and drove her to the bank at her request. Later, I said, “Mary, I’ve talked to our emergency room director, and she said if we come to the ER she will make sure a good doctor sees you. Will you go with me?”

“Yes,” she said, “I’ll go.”

“Can I pray with you that the doctors will be able to diagnose your problem?”

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

Mary had recently awakened at 2:00 a.m. in pain. “I knew you were praying for me,” she told me.  

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

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

The Word challenges us to recognize and meet the needs of others as the Proverbs 31 woman did. Quoting Scripture isn’t the only way to entice unbelievers toward salvation. People around us need someone to express God’s love to them.

Mary Crowley, founder of Home Interiors, Inc. had a motto for sales success:  “Find a need and fill it.”

God’s work is similar. Perhaps your neighbor needs a friend or someone to care about their troubles.

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

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Serving and Giving

Every night when it is our children’s bedtime, I lie down with them and my husband reads a few chapters in the Bible until they both fall asleep. 

One night as he read, a certain phrase, “without cost,” caught my attention. I thought about those words. Had I ever done anything for the Lord that cost me something? The phrase confused me. Then I realized the cost could come in many forms, such as ridicule from others or losing a friendship or a relationship. Would I do something that would make me uncomfortable, being shy by nature? Could I turn my back on myself and step out for Him? Would I choose only those things that were easy and didn't cause conflict? Or would I stand up regardless of what it cost me and do what God said?

David was commanded to build an altar for the Lord on Ornan’s threshing floor. David asked Ornan to sell him the threshing floor for the full price, but Ornan was willing to give it to him at no cost. David, however, wouldn’t take it unless it cost him something. David paid the cost for the threshing floor to do what God instructed.

I have often chosen the easy, less costly thing, but I would like to change that. I want to stand and do whatever God leads me to do, regardless of the cost. I may fail miserably, but I plan to pray for courage and strength to walk closer to God.

Ornan was willing to give David what he asked for … and more. People need help in many different ways—material and spiritual—and God wants us to give it.

Commit to serving God and others, no matter the cost.

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The Value of Work

I once led a discipleship training school for a missionary training organization.

On one occasion, we accepted a student from Nigeria who had been a spiritual leader in the church of his country. In his culture, he did not serve others; they served him. We built a two-hour work duty into our daily schedule. When we had a prayer meeting or teaching session, our Nigerian student was one of the first to arrive. But with work-duties, he was difficult to find.

One Saturday, we had a workday where I labored with the students on a dirty job. Coming back from the work detail, the student from Africa looked into my dusty face and said, “Very practical Christianity.” He finally started to get it: Christianity was more readily caught than taught.

When Nehemiah built the wall around Jerusalem, a short statement speaks volumes about the value of work: God rebuked the Tekoite nobles. Matthew Henry said, that “they would not come under the discipline of being obliged to perform this service. They thought that the dignity and liberty of their rank exempted them from getting their hands dirty and serving God.” Evidently, the Tekoites believed specific tasks had more value than others.

Our work has value because God calls us to do it, and we are a person of value doing it. Satisfaction from a job well done is a separate issue from value. We should not seek to get value from our work, but to bring value to it.

The Tekoites philosophy was that we have worth because of what we do. God does not see big or little people. He sees people and majors on why we do what we do, not what we do. Whatever task God calls us to do has great value if we do it for Him, which frees us from the bondage of the Tekoite nobles who looked to people rather than God for acceptance.

Remember, whatever you do has value when God calls you to do it.

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Brain Fog

Strokes and other medical conditions are infamous for producing “Brain Fog”—a condition accurately described by its name.

The brain seemingly sees the surrounding area as being in a dense fog, making it difficult or impossible to drive. After a serious stroke and embolisms in both lungs, my doctor had to certify that my brain fog had become minimal. Unpredictable visits are still a concern.

Medical personnel asked me to describe what happened three years ago when I went over to the other side. I was just a blank body. I didn’t know when staples, six-inch needles, or anything else were inserted into my body. No anesthetic needed. I’ve addressed their requests several times in published articles. “A Divine Pardon to a Death Sentence,” as my attending physician named my journey, produced brain fog.

Recently, the Lord prompted me to describe Brain Fog when it happens to a Christian. I had no idea what to say, so I sat at my computer and prayed. My experience came out in an unexpected poetic description I entitled “Brain Fog.” 

Spacious vistas surrounded me as I sought to see through a fog.
Colors were bright yet muted in my private apprehension.

Sight was full of sparks as I tried to enter a maze.
Holding on to what I believed restored my place.

Faint, yet clearly, life passed by my limited perspective,
As I wondered whether to step out boldly or sit back down.

Unsure of what surrounded, I picked up my staff, becoming three legged.
Strangely, acceptance of the fog brought a sense of being found.

Strife and competition were left behind as peaceful isolation
Became my new chosen reality, accepting a human as mere sand.

Leaving the future to a concerned and loving Shepherd,
The permanence of my brain fog was placed in other hands.

Place your confused thinking processes in the Lord’s hands. By finding the peace that waits for those who come to Him, you will be blessed.

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Nothing Can Separate

On any given Sunday, I might sit by a millionaire or a homeless person.

On one Sunday at my church, I filled the gap between an extremely wealthy businessman and a man transitioning from prison. The worlds of separation for the two were monumental. One man’s position afforded him everything he wanted. The other man’s situation left him destitute and reliant on others to provide for his basic needs. Yet they both sat on either side of me and focused on the same things: worshipping, giving back, and expressing their gratefulness to a loving God.  

I feel privileged to serve a God who lets nothing separate us from Him. No matter what our position in life—wealth, poverty, sickness, or health—we serve a loving God who anxiously awaits us with open arms. Whether we fall away, deny Him, or cling to Him in humbleness, He waits to express a fondness for His creation. The past, present, or future doesn’t change His love, which became sacrificial in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—a sacrifice that forever ends our separation and reveals the ultimate expression of God’s love for His creation.   

Life is full of different experiences and continual transitions. Some of us may find ourselves with it all while others struggle to meet their basic needs. But regardless of what life brings us, we will never be separated from a loving God.

Take a moment to thank God for His unconditional love for you.

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Full Circle

Transition times can be trying.

Friendships change, neighbors come and go, and sometimes life can be lonely. Two of our adult daughters moved to different cities. Another daughter works night shift and plans to move into her own apartment soon. Our home is almost empty of our children for the first time in thirty-three years.

Although I’m not one to be easily discouraged, I’ve felt alone, dejected, and even depressed during this season—until a beautiful young woman showed up. Cheryl is the daughter of close friends who are more like family. They had moved to another state some time ago.

Cheryl’s mom and I spent precious years together watching our children grow. I admired the way our friends raised their precious family. Our families shared summertime trips to amusement parks, birthday celebrations, and ice cream socials at our church after Wednesday AWANA classes.

I reconnected with Cheryl through social media, and we shared our thoughts and hearts again. What I did not know was that Cheryl felt the same special bond. In fact, during this difficult time, she shared how she thought of me as her honorary aunt.

I was blown away, not only by Cheryl’s thoughtful gesture of sharing her heart, but also by God’s answer to my prayer to show me the influence I have had on others. Cheryl shared how our shopping times together shaped her into the woman she is today.

Encouragement like this helps us move through those growing times when we wonder how we can impact other’s lives for good.

Has a friend, neighbor, or teacher influenced your life for the better? Take a moment to contact them and tell them what they mean to you. You’ll be glad you did. 

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Truth of the Heart

The heart monitor indicated a normal heart rhythm, but my patient didn’t have a pulse.

I was a nurse working the night shift in a cardiac unit. While catching up on some charting, a loud solitary snore coming from an elderly woman’s room across the hall startled me. My stomach sank when I found her unresponsive and pulseless. Seeing a perfect heart rhythm dancing across the monitor above her bed, however, confused me.

EA—pulseless electrical activity—explained the contradiction in front of me. The electrical component of my patient’s heart functioned, but the mechanical component didn’t. A lack of oxygen to the cardiac tissue—likely caused by a blockage in a coronary artery—left her heart’s electrical cells firing and communicating properly along the electrical pathways of her heart. But the corresponding muscle cells, deprived of oxygen, couldn’t respond with a contraction.

I faced a harsh reality: looks can deceive. Despite my best efforts, my sweet patient didn’t survive. Since this was the first time I had lost someone under my care, her death was difficult.

Considering that things aren’t always as they seem, the smiling person we encounter may actually be crying inside. Although progress has been made, mental illness still stigmatizes our society. We all know hurting people who live behind joyful-looking masks.

As Christians, I pray we start digging deeper and getting more accurate pictures of people and their needs. Perhaps a check-up on a widowed relative. Or a compliment to or conversation with a stranger while waiting in line. Maybe we could leave a tract with a small season-themed gift for our waitress.

By following the advice of Peter—to extend sympathy and love to others—we can make a major impact in this hurting world. We who know the Prince of Peace can be beacons of His light and instruments that draw others to the Counselor and Great Physician who revives lives and gives life eternal.

What is your heartbeat leading you to do for others?

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Smelled Up

The smell clung to me like a too-tight shirt.

I love a campfire—and evidently many others do too when they camp. I’ve seen people build campfires at campgrounds in the middle of July when the temperatures soared into the nineties and when the humidity approached one hundred percent. Something about camping just isn’t complete without a glowing—and for some, a roaring—campfire.

But one thing I don’t care for is the smell. I’ve cooked on a campfire, roasted marshmallows around one, lounged around one for enjoyment, and hovered near one for heat. Regardless of my purpose, the result was the same: the smell of smoke. When camping, I don’t always bathe every night, so that means getting in my tent smelling like smoke—and smelling the smoke smell all night. For some reason, the odor keeps me awake. Bathing, or dousing myself with cologne, is the only way to diminish the scent.

Not so with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Through an act of trickery by some who didn’t like the three Hebrew men, Nebuchadnezzar the king was forced to throw them into a fiery furnace. But he didn’t watch them disintegrate. Rather, he saw a fourth Man in the fire with them, and he saw them all walking around. When he called for the three to come out, they did—and without the smell of smoke or a singed hair on their bodies.

God wants His children to smell, too. Not a repulsive smell—although it sometimes works out that way—but a pleasant smell. He wants the smell of holiness. This doesn’t mean we must walk around acting emotional or weird. Holiness carries the idea of separation. Separation from all things that displease God, from all things that keep Him from accomplishing His purpose in our life, and from all things that destroy our ability to live life as He planned.

Our smell can repulse or invite. When we smell of love, kindness, joy, peace, patience, forgiveness, goodness, gentleness, and faithfulness, people will want to know why we don’t smell like what they are accustomed to smelling in the world. They’ll be astounded—like the king was—and they’ll want to worship the same God as we do.

What can you do to smell a little better?

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Merge

I was at a complete standstill.

On a recent trip to New York City, I was stuck in traffic outside of a tunnel. Cars traveled in every direction, attempting to merge into the correct lane to enter the tunnel. Tempers flared and horns honked. The entire scene was frantic and chaotic because everyone tried to choose their own path to reach the same destination.

Life is similar. Each of us goes about life in our own lane. We may not even pay attention to the things or people around us. This type of aimless movement leads to a dead end. God reminded me in that moment that I need to merge into His lane in order to avoid chaos in my life.

Scripture says the gate that leads to righteousness and a life that honors God is narrow. Jesus gave us these words out of caution because He knew we would be enticed by many roads. Sadly, only a few will choose their road wisely. But our choice has significance. One road leads to life while the other ends in destruction.

If we are in a lane leading to our own destination, we must lean in and merge into God’s plan for our life. Only then will we find our true purpose and the ultimate reward of heaven. God will send signs, but we must follow His guidance. If the way seems unclear, we can stop and ask Him for directions. He is always there to lead us down the right road.

Determine which lane you are in. If you are in the wrong lane, ask God to guide you into the right one.

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Blessings in Disguise

The adorable green dinosaur peered up at me and said, “Roar!”

In a small voice, my grandson puffed out his chest in pride at the menacing sound he thought he had produced. Then he laughed and asked, “Mimi, did I scare you?”

Liam was absolutely taken with the Halloween dinosaur costume he tried on. Obsessed with dinosaurs, nothing would make my grandson happier than owning a costume to make him look like one. He pranced in front of the mirror in the dressing room of the party store and continued to practice his roar.

Then the unthinkable happened. His mother told him to take off the costume. “No!” he wailed. His protests fell on deaf ears, so Liam fell on the floor and cried, kicked, and screamed.

What my grandson perceived as a disaster was really a blessing in disguise. His mother was not trying to take the dinosaur costume from him. She wanted to take it to the cash register to purchase it. Liam could wear the costume at home and be a dinosaur whenever he liked, but he was too young to grasp what was happening. He merely knew Mom was taking something from him he really wanted.

We may laugh at a young child’s inability to comprehend this situation, but we often react as Liam did? “I love this, God. Don’t make me give it up!” we moan. We don’t consider that an upsetting event might be a necessary part of God’s wonderful plan for us. We get so wrapped up in having to take off our dinosaur costume that we fail to trust the person who asked us to do so.

Parents want good things for their children. Father God has declared that His plan for us is not to bring us harm. Sometimes a blessing ahead may be disguised as a negative current event propelling us to the blessing.

Ask God to help you trust His love and His plan for you.

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Old Guys Come Together

Attending my college class reunion gave me a surprise.

As I walked into the room, people with white hair (or no hair at all) greeted me. In spite of the obvious physical changes, I was surprised to see how little people had otherwise changed.

Christians mixed in with non-Christians, and I was thankful for the witness of their lives over the years. Observing the actions and conversations of the non-Christians made me wonder about how I had or hadn’t changed.

I realized God was working on me in certain areas, but in other areas I still had plenty of room to grow. I thought about the shopping lists of character qualities in the Bible I am supposed to develop. The Bible labels the process as sanctification. Why had I made so little progress?

Little of sanctification results from my own efforts. God puts me in situations and hardships so that I have to rely on His grace. Grace is the antonym of human effort and sufficiency. Life is truly a school of hard knocks. I often resist God’s grace in my responses because I want to feel as though I do things myself.

As I looked around the room, successful men who had lifted themselves up by their own bootstraps surrounded me. Perhaps they did not recognize a day would come when all they had worked for would not suffice in the eyes of a heavenly Father. I decided right then to live the rest of my life growing in God’s grace.

What are some ways you can grow in God’s grace?

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The Church...The Bride

I've never experienced the church like this until Tim became ill.

There have always been love and welcoming arms, but to truly experience the Church Christ envisioned—wow. Doing so is the most amazingly simple, yet complex, thing ever. I liken it to a beehive or an ant colony where every need is seen and nothing goes undone. A month out from surgery, and the worker bees still make their way to our door. Even when we said, “We're good,” the bees said, “Nope, you still need.” And their work continues.

I know Christ is looking down with a huge smile. He must nod in approval as His children do His bidding … listen to His call. It is true and abiding kindness.

When John penned his vision of heaven, he spoke of the church as a bride beautifully dressed and waiting for her husband. What an amazing picture to paint. The church clad in the joyful beauty of a bride, and Christ as her husband. His word picture was the best way he could gather his descriptive thoughts of all the church is. After centuries of preparing for the most exciting day of her life, this bride stood in all her glory waiting to be taken in arms.

We daily experience THE CHURCH at our house as the stream of workers who care and nurture to the glory of the King keep coming. God has put an extremely simple, yet utterly complex plan in place. It’s perfect.

I once spoke to our minister on the phone and said, “We’ve seen the true church at work.”

He sighed into the phone and replied, “And she’s a beautiful bride, isn’t she?”

Indeed, she is. If I were to wonder what it means to be fully loved in Christ, it would be through the actions of His bride as she prepares for her wedding day. Everything has been lovingly cared for and put in place. Her preparations were set in play by her obedience and willingness to do as He bid, as He taught, and as He loved. And it was all “good.” She is ready.

Prepare your heart. Be ready for the day the groom comes for His bride. You will not want to miss the celebration.

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Jesus Loves You

I couldn’t believe the text message. It was nothing like the usual messages from family and friends.

A week earlier, someone texted me from a number I didn’t recognize. I texted back, telling them they had reached a wrong number and thinking that would be the end of it. But I received another message from the same phone number—a vulgar and disgusting message. I thought about what I should do and finally came up with a message I believed was inspired.

I texted: “Wrong number. Jesus loves you.” I wish I could have seen the surprise on the person’s face who texted me when they read my message. Hopefully, it caused the sender to reflect on their lifestyle and created a desire in them to know more about this Jesus who loved them.

Probably most of us have heard “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” The X-rated message didn’t make me happy, but I believe I turned it into something positive. I’m a firm believer in Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

I’ve seen this verse fulfilled in my life many times. I know God can take something bad and turn it into something good for the Christian who commits their life to God. Perhaps God will use the message I sent and point the person to salvation and eternal life.

Use your words and actions to point others to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

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Hit the Delete Button

The typewriter has become a relic. A white elephant. Something that belongs in a museum, much like the old rotary telephones.

Even though some of us cut our typing teeth on these manual monstrosities, we love our PCs and laptops and are not planning to pull our typewriters out of the attic any time soon. We certainly don’t miss carbon paper, erasers, messy ribbons, or starting from scratch when a mistake is beyond correction.

Oh, how we cherish the delete button. Make a typo, hit delete. Change your mind, hit delete.  Need to start all over, hit delete and you suddenly have a fresh, blank page waiting to be filled. 

Wouldn’t it be great if life were that easy? Say the wrong word, hit delete. Hurt someone’s feelings, hit delete. React in anger, hit delete. Need to make a fresh start with a friend or family member? Delete, delete, delete. Maybe we could have our own personal Groundhog Day where we live the day over and over until we get it perfect.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. We have to be careful how we behave, what we say, and how we conduct our lives. The Bible encourages us to think before we speak and to choose our words wisely. 

I’ve learned the hard way that hateful words spoken out of frustration and anger cannot be retrieved. My heart has been broken many times as both the giver and receiver of harsh words. They leave a definite and lasting impression. No matter how much we regret an action, the seed has already been sown. The old adage about sticks and stones is far from true. Words do hurt, and they can cause a lifetime of pain. 

The good news for us is that God does have a delete button. When we mess up and miss the mark, God forgives, cleanses, and forgets. In fact, Colossians says, He erased it all—our sins, our stained soul—he deleted it all and they cannot be retrieved (2:13 TPT).

God wipes the slate clean and gives us the opportunity to start over—again and again and again.  All we have to do is ask. Now, that’s technology at its finest.

Have you asked God to hit the delete button for you? It only takes a split second to say “Lord, forgive me,” so give it a try. You’ll be glad you did.

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Finishing the Race

Some will finish the race well; others will not.

Cliff Young, a sixty-one-year-old farmer from Australia, entered the 544-mile inaugural Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon Race in 1983. He showed up for the race wearing overalls, a white t-shirt, and work boots. The other runners wore promotional running attire. They laughed and made fun of him.

Cliff ran at a deliberate pace. At the end of the first day, he was well behind the pack. What he did not know was that the other runners stopped at the end of the first day and slept for six hours. Cliff kept running.

At the end of the race on the fifth day, no one laughed. Cliff won the race with a ten-hour lead. When asked how he trained for the marathon, he said he had once run for three days straight chasing and herding his sheep. The key to his success was to keep running when the other runners stopped to rest.

The apostle Paul lived well, ran well, and finished well. He instructed his young disciple Timothy to be a soldier and not to get entangled in the affairs of this world (2 Timothy 2:4).

We can learn a lot from Cliff Young. His whole life prepared him for this race. As Christians, preparation is the key to finishing well. Early every morning, when others are asleep, we can rise to feast on God’s Word and bask in His presence. We can have the mindset of a soldier, not a tourist.

God has called us to a battle, not a picnic. We need to put on the armor of God because our conflict is with the enemy of our souls. When others are distracted by the cares of this world, we can get on our knees and pray for a sick and dying world.

Like Cliff Young, when others quit, we must keep running. When the race seems long and hard, fix your eyes on the prize: the Lord Jesus. He is just across the finish line.

Fight the good fight, finish the race, and keep the faith.

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Finding Sweet Silence

The screams were deafening.

My body shook from head to toe from the bass coming through the speakers. A neon sea of people surrounded me. Fireworks in the sky caused the crowd to erupt. I danced, sang, and laughed with my friends as we raced around the music festival we had fled to after school got out for the summer.

I was carefree … or so I thought. I once went to many large concerts, music festivals, and live events. I thought at the time I just had a deep passion for music. Later, I discovered I went for the noise. The noise crowded out the daily doubts I had about myself—fears I couldn’t voice … guilt and regrets I had to keep quiet. I could hear nothing but the music and the people.

Eventually, I realized the concert ends, the crowds leave, and the inner critic picks up again where it left off: They don’t really care about you. You will fail. I can’t believe you did that.

I thought noise would end the voice, but Jesus teaches the secret is actually peace and resting in His presence. Slowing down and finding time to be quiet helps us hear His voice and overtakes the critic. Creating a sacred space with Him. One where we can be ourselves.

When we find this sacred space, we realize Jesus offers unfailing love and forgiveness. A love that takes away the pain of the guilt and regret we feel. He offers kind words such as, You are precious in my sight. He gives encouragement: Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. This is what He wants us to carry through the day, not the voices we create or hear from the world around us.

Take some time this week to put away the smart phone, drive with the music off, and hide the to-do list. Find a place that’s quiet and sacred. Pray about whatever comes to mind, and let the focus of your thoughts shift from you to God.

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My Importance

I sat in my chair, feeling the real truth about my importance.

If I were absolutely truthful, my importance felt like zip, zilch, nada. I had been sick most of the week, and I had sat at home, feeling bad and wondering if anyone missed me.

Most of us overstate our importance. We feel important because we have family, friends, and other people who would miss us if we were gone. But I like to walk in the cemetery. I have found stones with no names because they had disintegrated or were too faint to read. And some stones that are completely readable contain bones that are forgotten. Forgetting doesn’t take long.

We also like to overstate our importance to God. If we weren’t here, who would God have do what we do? I’ve discovered someone can always step in and accomplish the task. So, I guess my real question is “Am I important to God?”

The Bible says I am. And yet this doesn’t give me the sense of importance I desire. As I try to figure out what I am searching for, I search the Bible. Looking through God’s Word causes me to wonder again.

Does it take accomplishing things to make me important? Does loving family and friends define my importance? What about reading God’s Word and obeying as best as I can? Or telling others about God’s love?

As I search for an answer, the only one I can find is that I am important because I am God’s child. That’s it. Nothing else. Nothing more. God tells me if I accept Jesus as my Savior, love God with all my heart, ask forgiveness for my sins, and undergo baptism, that I am His child. And this is the reason I am important to God.

Have you discovered your importance to God?

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Season of Waiting

Wait. Not one of our favorite words, right? Certainly not one of mine.

Unfortunately, waiting is a part of life. I find myself waiting in line at the grocery store, at the bank, and in the drive-thru at a fast-food restaurant. I wait as my call is put on hold. Many times I wait for the check to come in the mail and for that special item to go on sale.

But sometimes the waiting goes deeper and becomes more intense. We find ourselves in a season of transition that creates confusion and ambiguity. It can be quite unsettling as we struggle to decide which direction we should go. We are locked in an area between one point in time and another. This is called liminal space. A threshold. The time between what was and what will be. A place of waiting and not knowing.

For most of us, this place is uncomfortable. But one writer says this liminal space is where all transformation takes place—but only when we learn to wait and let it form us.

The Bible is filled with examples of this liminal space. The Israelites in the desert. Joseph in the pit and then prison. Mary and Joseph as they traveled to Nazareth. The disciples after Jesus was crucified.

Those times of not knowing the next step or what to expect can be some of the most important, life-changing moments for us. Jesus may be asking us as He did the disciples, “Where is your faith?”

So, what are you waiting for? The birth of a child? Your healing? Maybe you’re moving across the country or trying to find that perfect someone. Perhaps you’re praying for a prodigal to come home. Wherever you are on your journey—your season of waiting—know that it did not catch God by surprise. In fact, He may have orchestrated it to mold and shape you, preparing you for your destiny.

You don’t always have to know all the answers or figure everything out for yourself. Trust God … with all your heart. He’s got your back, and He alone will direct your path.

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Fire Buckets

Besides moths and rust, fire also destroys earthly treasures.

Before the Industrial Revolution took hold around the world, firefighting often required communities to band together and pass buckets in what’s known as a bucket brigade. The only way to put the white stuff on the red stuff was hand-to-hand movement of water from the supply to the fire. One or two people couldn’t extinguish an already burning structure.

Our church once used fiber food containers—about one gallon in size—to take the offering. The more I thought about it, the better I liked it. It clearly showed the relationship between a bucket passed, resources gathered, and resources applied to the fires of temptation, loss, and sin that rage in our culture.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ spoke about laying up treasures in heaven. He also gave us the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and numerous other clarifications of God’s intent for us to understand the law and Jesus’ fulfillment of it.

When Jesus spoke of the storehouses, He encouraged community participation. He knew if we didn’t prepare for trouble, the fiery darts of the evil one would set us on fire, and we would be without the means to extinguish ourselves or our community.

Our challenge continues to be thinking long term, especially in today’s world of instant gratification, fast food, and entitlements. What God puts before us includes a plan for when disaster strikes. If we don’t add to the storehouse now, we will look in vain during times of great combustion. Not only will the buckets be empty, but also no community will exist to assist us.

The concept of community and abundance allows us to depend upon our church in times of need. We can put our money in a financial institution, but no one there can react to and bless us like the corporate act of worship when we add our resources to the church collection bucket.

Make sure you put your resources in the right bucket.

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My Record Is Clear

Standing before a judge—knowing you are guilty and that the sentence might be severe—is a scene that plays out in courtrooms around the country every day.

I once received a citation for a traffic violation. I was guilty, but I had what seemed like justifiable reasons. I was prepared to present pictures of the location as evidence supporting my reasons. I also had a copy of my driving record: almost four decades and over twenty-five years of that time as a professional truck driver. That day, I stood, knowing my spotless record had been marred and I had no excuse.

As I look back, I remember the helpless feeling as I stood alone before the judge. I had no defense … and no one to plead my case. I knew I would soon face judgment and sentencing. I hoped for mercy, but expected justice.

That was not the last time I’ll stand guilty before a judge and await judgment. Scripture teaches all will stand before the Lord, the Supreme Judge, when we leave this world. Once again, I won’t have an excuse, and again I’ll seek mercy, knowing I deserve justice.

The difference will be that the Judge will be my Father and His only begotten Son. Jesus will plead my case, telling the Father I am worthy of forgiveness because of the price He paid for my sins on Calvary's cross to buy my pardon.

And once again, my charges will be dismissed. I will lose rewards for things I should have done and didn't do, but I will be spared the penalty for my transgressions. I will receive God’s mercy, and my record will be perfectly clean.

Jesus is the best Advocate. He is the Son of the Judge and always wins His cases because of the sacrifice He made for our sins.

Thank God that in Christ your record is clear.

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Mornings with the Lord

I am not a morning person.

Caffeine is my friend. I drag myself out of bed and struggle to dress in the dark lest the light burn my eyes. I’ve gone to work with mismatched shoes because I fumble for them under my bed by touch. In grad school, my ultimate goal was to lie down again, which meant that if I could rest for sixty seconds I’d return to bed.

But I’ve discovered when I don’t start my day seeking God, the day goes downhill quickly. Once, I was in a rush and skipped my morning Bible reading. The results were disastrous. Management didn’t like the project I presented, and, instead of calmly taking the feedback, I left in a fog. Had I read Psalm 124 that morning as planned, my perspective would have differed. I would have remembered the Lord was on my side. When people rose against me, they wouldn’t swallow me whole. God would protect me.

The psalmist knew the importance of turning his heart heavenward in the morning. When I meditate on Scripture before I face the day, it provides a lens of truth through which to frame my experiences. Once I leave home, the world seeks to overwhelm my mind with information. If I have no filter to sort the onslaught, then everything becomes factual and weighs down my soul.

I have to choose to answer God’s invitation to look to Him in the morning. I try to read a psalm or a proverb each day before work. These books have enough chapters to cover six months, so I read them through twice in a year. Maybe other verses call louder, but the point is that we need to respond to God early. God will help us pull back those sheets and open His Word so we can start the day right.

With Jesus (and a little coffee) you can be ready for whatever comes your way.

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Standing on the Rock

Gripping the steering wheel with clammy hands, I drove slowly down the busy city street.

A thick glossy sheet of ice covered the road. This was the first time I’d driven on ice, and I was stressed. My husband, to whom I had been married for twenty-seven years, had always been the designated driver. But he had left me for a younger woman several months earlier, and now I coped with many new things—driving on ice among them.

At the age of forty-five, I was on my way to the only job I had ever held. Along with learning the many facets of my new job, I was also coping with driving on ice.

Other drivers were impatient with my slow driving and wished to pass me, but couldn’t. Suddenly, my car began sliding, and it seemed I had no power to stop it. As I desperately prayed, I watched my car inch its way toward a mailbox anchored in concrete.

Thankfully, my car stopped inches from the mailbox. I hated the thought of backing the car and getting back onto the busy street, but there was no other choice. When I arrived at work, I unclasped my white knuckles from the steering wheel and whispered a heartfelt prayer of thanksgiving.

We often find ourselves maneuvering on thin ice. Maybe not in a car, but in a situation. The more we struggle, the more we find ourselves sliding out of control. The psalmist reminds us God is our rock and fortress and will lead and guide us.

We can trust God to clear our paths, steady our feet, and put us on His firm foundation: the solid Rock of Jesus Christ.

Make sure you are standing on Jesus Christ, the solid Rock.

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Do Over

Every New Year’s Day, I say Happy Do-Over Day.

I love do-overs. Opportunities to start fresh—perhaps get things right this go around. Making resolutions has never been successful for me. I start out great guns, but before three months have passed, I’m already sulking in my failure. That’s why I prefer to think of the New Year as a do-over. After all, isn’t that what God allows us to do with His amazing love and forgiveness? A second chance. Well, to be truthful, a second, third, fourth ...

God’s love is far more amazing than a new year. It’s the best of the best in do-overs. It warms my heart to know that at the beginning of everything—be it now, past, or in the future—God is the Alpha, the beginning. Even better, He is the Omega, the end. Tell me, how else you can you describe that type of love?

Oh wait—if God is the Alpha, the beginning of all things, then that means He stands at the beginning of my hardships and my bad choices as well. How can that be? Shouldn’t He prevent me from making those bad mistakes or from falling into difficulties?

God is the Alpha and Omega. And yes, He is at the beginning of everything, be it good or bad. But that’s just the thing. He gives us the freedom to choose, to make good choices over bad. Because time has no boundary on Him, He can step into the future and see how a choice will affect us. When it comes to illness or hardship, He’s at the beginning of that too, knowing His plan fully encompasses what is best for us—even if we don’t see the good in the difficulty.

God is always the Alpha and Omega in everything we do. The hard part is submitting to what God wants for us or asking for His forgiveness when we know we’ve made rash or questionable decisions.

It’s really not so bad having the Alpha and Omega on our side. God promises never to turn away from us … to always wait for us. He stands ready to love us unconditionally and to walk with us through a do-over.

Welcome in the New Year with a new attitude. Let God guide you. Let Him afford you a do-over. He will walk with you through every beginning and stand with you in every end.

Happy Do-Over Year.

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He Came

“I don’t know if I’m comin or goin.”

That was something my grandmother frequently said. Usually when she was in a rush. We’d try to interrupt. She’d wave a hand, brush us out of her way, and move on to her next task.

Lately, I’ve found myself repeating those same words. Life has been more than hectic. We’ve hit snags we didn’t anticipate and hardships that make more than an inconvenience. In a time when I am normally very organized, well…I don’t know if I’m coming or going. In the hustle and bustle of gift buying, dinners, and parties, I think I’ve lost site…lost focus. That bothers me more than the upheaval.

This year, I purchased a rotating Christmas tree stand. Not only did it make decorating easy, but once completed, the gentle rotation allowed me to enjoy my entire tree. In the slow turn of the tree, baby Jesus—bundled in swaddling clothes—passed by. Mary and Joseph inched past, Joseph sweetly balancing his pregnant wife on a donkey. And then with another spin, a donkey and a cross turned the other direction. I wondered if Jesus ever pondered whether He was coming or going. His life was surely hectic.

Our king donned a donkey more than once in His lifetime. From the trip to Bethlehem as He neared birth, to exile after birth, and then again at His triumphant entry as King. The Son of God came without hesitation into a world that refused to accept Him. He never waivered in His love, in His goal, or in His affirmation that He was sent for a purpose. Nothing swayed Him. His full attention was in the reassurance we would be saved.

Getting my head around the amazing gift God gave is hard. In Jesus’ birth, there was peace. In His death and resurrection, hope. Now we wait for His return. Jesus always knew the direction He headed, and He never lost sight…despite.

When life keeps you in a tizzy—not knowing if you are coming or going—and when you lose focus of the real reason for Christmas, remember the One who came in your behalf. He came without hesitation. He went without regret. He will come again.

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The Message

Looking forward to his long-awaited marriage, he busied himself, preparing for their life together. He wanted everything perfect for his young bride.

Then came the news. His fiancé was pregnant. He might have expected such behavior from other young women, but never from Mary. Not his Mary. How could she? Didn’t she realize what this could do to their reputations? The village leaders could stone her if they heard. Yet no one would hear such news from him. Instead of disgracing her, he decided to secretly divorce her.

Little did this disappointed groom realize the role God was about to grant him. An angel told Joseph not to fear or doubt, but to trust God. God had everything under control. Joseph was to marry his beloved. She would bear a Son who would save the world. Joseph accepted the divine challenge.

When difficult circumstances arise in our lives, instead of panicking or making our own independent plans, we should listen for God’s divine direction. When people disappoint us, we should treat them with respect in spite of their frailties, rather than choose to withdraw from those relationships. God wants us to seek His guidance in the smallest detail of every decision.

God’s message speaks to us through Jesus’ miraculous conception and birth. Don’t be afraid. Don’t doubt. He has everything under control. Trust Him. Accept the Savior He sent for you. Let go of your shame. Claim the honor Jesus came to bestow. God wants you as His beloved child.

Live in the light of the amazing truth that God's plan and message include you.

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Crayola Colored Buds

The joy I found by stirring the soil and tucking in a bulb surprised me.

I had no idea how much I missed growing a flower garden until I dug my hands into the dirt and planted tulips. When we moved to our new home, I left behind two sizeable flower beds and a few plants growing around the yard. I decided I didn’t have time to tend flowers at our new house. Despite my neglect, peonies, day lilies, touch-me-nots, and a few daffodils bloomed each year. Even though I gave no effort to the existing “garden,” the plants flowered and added color to my day.

Seeing the beautiful shades of Crayola-colored buds reminded me that God dressed the patch in all His glory. He provided sunshine and rain and an amazing photosynthetic process that fed the green stems.

Jesus reminds me not only that God cares for the flowers but also that He cares for me. So why do I worry? God's desire is that I depend on Him and trust Him to provide, just as He does for the flowers. I've learned that every time I trust God instead of worry, He supplies what I need.

Trust God with all your needs. He will provide.

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Divine Decree

I lost my uncle on January 21, 2019.

The burial ceremony was scheduled for March 21-23, 2019. As preparations were ongoing, I prayed. One of the prayers was that rain would not fall for those three days. The rainy season had already started in Delta State, Nigeria.

God honoured and answered my prayer. No rain fell until we had finished the burial and left our hometown, the venue of the interment.

Thou shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee: and the light shall shine upon thy ways. This verse reveals that when we make a declaration as believers, God honors the words of our mouths. He has given us the power to make a decree that helps bring solutions to different circumstances. Jesus is the living Word of God, and when we give a divine pronouncement, He activates it and it goes into action.

God is the principal actor of all decrees and an organizer of all events through His spoken Word. He doesn’t want us to fear, but to use His Word to create positive things by speaking to negative situations and causing them to give way. God likens His words to a fire and a hammer. He wants us to use it to hammer stubborn situations. The Word of God in our mouth is a silver bullet that carries divine weight.

God’s words are effective when we speak them with holiness and righteousness. He has given all believers authority to decree over unpleasant circumstances. As we live in holiness and righteousness, God will make us forces to reckon with. 

Don’t fear speaking God’s power into your negative circumstances.

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From the Fork to the Frying Pan

My granny said more than once that a young bride just might be “jumping from the frying pan into the fire?”

Married at the ripe old age of twenty-six, I thought I knew what I was doing. Greg was heaven-sent, and our home was going to glorify God on a daily basis.

Each evening, I prepared supper for my handsome groom, since his coaching job required that he spend longer days than mine outside of the regular classroom. One evening early in our marriage, I set the table just as my Home Economics teacher, Mrs. Burris, had modeled for me: the knife and spoon on the right side of the plate and the fork on the left.

As I lay the fork next to his plate, I noticed an unusual configuration. How could that be? Our lovely red flatware was a wedding gift, and I knew not one of those forks was supposed to have tines like a corkscrew.

After the hot food was placed on the table and we gave thanks, I asked my husband if he had any idea what was wrong with our new fork. His face, turning a similar shade of red, got a quirky smile as he explained, “I bet that happened when I picked the bubble gum off the bottom of my coaching shoes last night.”

No, I didn’t smack him upside the head with the frying pan. I took a long gulp of my ice water and did just what my granny always said. I thanked God for the loving man I had beside me, even if I did have to teach him the difference between utensils and tools.

We all have faults, and Paul instructs us to forgive others even as Christ has forgiven us.

Sometimes, those with faults are a spouse, a neighbor, or someone we work with. With God’s help, we can be kind and compassionate, just as Jesus has shown each of us His lovingkindness and forgiveness.

Who can you be kind to today?

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Take the Detour

I live on a usually slow and quiet street.

Cars speed by, unaware my neighborhood exists—until nearby construction work or emergencies occur. Construction crews or EMS workers detour vehicles through our neighborhood. The detour often requires more travel time because my road is less traveled, making navigating it a little more complicated.

Like the cars driving through my neighborhood, the Israelites required a detour. God gave Moses directions to guide them through the wilderness. The alternative route seemed wrong; the more direct way would only have taken a few days.

Their long journey resulted in difficulties and hardships, leading to a generation that never saw the Promised Land. Along the way, some lost their faith and others their loved ones. The path with minimal resistance and the shortest distance would have required the least physical stamina, but the perseverance of a long journey served them best spiritually.

God is not concerned about quickness or ease. He wants us to arrive at our destination safely. He knows the shortest route will require less physically, but will lack in spiritual growth.

Spiritual maturity is essential to our faith and keeps us from reverting to our old self and operating in our old ways. This journey teaches us to depend upon God for mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.

The longer route builds endurance and teaches us to persevere through the subsequent obstacles we will face. It teaches us to rely only on our Father’s directions, no matter what we see in front of us. The unfamiliarity requires us to focus solely on Him. The change in direction, as difficult as it may be, leads us to where He wants us.

If God is detouring your current circumstance, follow the new directions.

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Seek God First

The question cut straight to my heart.

I once attended a training session—and had my “spiritual leader” cover blown. As I progressed through a workbook on how to lead small group studies, I came to the topic of life-controlling issues. The question in the book was “What is a life-controlling issue?" The answer was, “Anything we turn to rather than the Lord.”

The answer hurt because, due to circumstances beyond my control, I had been on what I called a “food rampage.” I have always been a stress eater and given myself permission to handle my stress with food. Others use such things as alcohol, drugs, sex, work, sleep, or exercise.  

The prophet Jeremiah says the answer to stress is seeking the Lord with all of our hearts. Never are we told the answer lies in self-chosen stress relievers.

I had to stop my food rampage, admit to myself that my sin was no laughing matter, confess my sin to the Lord, turn my face to the Father, and seek His response. For me, listening is difficult. I am a talker … full of advice. Part of seeking God is reading His Word—words He wrote just for us.

God wants us to confess our stress relievers—the things we turn to before turning to Him. He also wants us to seek Him by spending time renewing our love affair with Him. He is waiting. He is full of forgiveness, mercy, and grace.

Seek God with your whole heart. When you do, you will find Him and all that He is. He promises.

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And the Rain Came

Hiking through the canyon was supposed to be fun.

My wife and I had started out in the sunshine, enjoyed a picnic, and followed the river up the canyon. What we hadn’t anticipated were dark clouds that quickly gathered. We headed back to the trailhead and barely made it to the car before the thunderstorm struck.

Jesus promised His followers they would go through rough times. These times would prove they belonged to Him. I am sure this did not sit well with them—and they probably hoped He would provide a cushion for all that life sent their way. After all, wasn’t He the Messiah? They must have doubted this when the storm assaulted their boat. Instead, they witnessed a new kind of power when Jesus calmed the storm—something none of them expected.

Often, I find my plans interrupted by a storm. In my struggle to be flexible, I discover I can’t control many things that invade my life. I have been conditioned to expect that every part of life should have a fairy tale ending where everyone lives happily ever after.

The secret of weathering the storm is to focus on Jesus rather than the circumstances. God wants us to lean into Him, rather than to demand our rights like spoiled children. Then He will make it possible for us to live supernaturally, despite our situation.

The thunderstorm came, blustered its way through the valley, and left that night. In the meantime, I realized life’s trials have a season, and then they leave.

Remember, God provides the only place of stability when life comes crashing down.

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The Old Lady

All she wanted was help.

The elderly woman had gray hair and rode in a wheelchair. She got on the Metro link at the Brentwood Station and rolled herself into the handicap seat in front of me.

A man with earbuds stood near the door. She asked, “Sir, can you help me? I need help getting off at Civic Center Station.” He didn’t respond, so she asked again. He stared into space and ignored her.

As I watched, the Lord changed my poor attitude. I realized I was being just like the man with the earbuds. When we neared her stop, I told her I would help her. I pressed the intercom button and told the train operator that a lady needed extra time to get off. Once I wheeled her off, I asked the security guard to help her get onto the correct bus. Then, I watched the guard wheel her up the ramp and onto bus plaza.

Jesus refers to helping people—all people at all times. Because of our sinful nature, we tend to put our needs first instead of looking out for others. As Christians, when we are confronted with situations as I was, we should step up and help. All this woman wanted was assistance getting off at her station.

Be willing to stop and help someone. When you do, you show the world Christ’s love.

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When Life Gets Difficult

My grandfather embodied the ideal life.

He married a beautiful woman, had a family, and owned his own home. He dressed impeccably and drove a nice car. On Monday through Friday, he donned a uniform and joined the masses to slaughter cows at the local packing plant. On Sundays, he adorned a three-piece suit, hat, and wing-tipped dress shoes. Going out the door to church, he saturated the air with aftershave lotion and cologne. He was the man who had it all: faith, family, friends, a great job, and good looks.

However, a time came when my grandfather’s life was not as ideal as he had hoped. Life dealt him significant changes and losses. His world turned upside down, and his intimate relationships became disengaged and divided. Life would never be the same for him.

Job was a man who could identify. After losing his family and livelihood, Job stood firm and professed belief in God. Even when his loved ones and friends expressed their dissatisfaction and lack of trust, he held on to his convictions. Job experienced health issues, death, loss of finances, and divided relationships, yet nothing turned him from the love he had for God.

Job understood that having a little or a lot does not affect God’s love for us and should not affect our relationship with Him. Like Job, we have a choice. As life delivers painful blows and turbulent times, we either choose to cling to our faith or walk away.

If we choose faith, we acknowledge that a relationship with the Lord entails more than dressing up and arriving at a building—and that a blessed life is not necessarily one with an overabundance of amenities. We experience the real blessing when we stand firm in our relationship with God—no matter what we face.

When life gets difficult, cling to God.

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Leave Something Behind

In one episode of the TV program, Touched by an Angel, the main angels on the show taught a newbie angel about life on earth. Later, the newbie angel told her assigned human that people “can leave something behind on this earth when they go to heaven.”

Personally, I’ll leave three children, five grandchildren, and at least seven great-grandchildren behind. I’ve passed along some of my special rings to the granddaughters and some personal treasures to the boys too. But mostly, I want to leave something of eternal value.

When Jesus left the earth, He left promises. He also left behind men with whom He had spent countless hours, teaching them about God’s kingdom. He instructed them in prayer, commissioned them to share His message, and also enriched many generations to come.

My husband and I passed along a love for God and His Word to our children, and they have imparted that love to their children. That will make a difference in their world. Our son, Kent, told someone that “Most mornings when we got up for school, Mom was up and had the Bible and other study books lying on the kitchen table as she studied her Sunday school lesson.” I‘ve given my worn-out red and black Bibles to my granddaughter, Amanda. Hopefully, she will treasure the notes in the margins.

While most parents have a will so their children will inherit certain things, many of us will not have great possessions to bequeath.

We can leave peace. Peace is a quality I hope to leave for my family to pass along. A young teen visited our home a few times and said, “Your home is so peaceful.” We didn’t tolerate drama in our home or negative talk about others.  

We can leave an example of giving offerings or to mission causes too. This shows them where our heart and treasure lie.

We can also be intentional about letting our families see us reading the Word, meditating, praying, and sharing God’s truth. My niece’s son said, “If anyone makes it to heaven, it will be my Papaw. He constantly reads his Bible.”

Our families’ future depends on what they believe. Lead by example. Don’t be silent.

Think of creative ways to let your family see what you stand for and how to prepare for their eternal future.

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Walk Withdrawal

I once suffered from walk withdrawal.

Prior to my family and I moving from New Jersey to North Carolina, I was preoccupied with packing, transporting, and unpacking. Consequently, I neglected my daily morning walks.

And it showed. When I woke up in the morning, I was stiffer than usual; when I went to bed at night, it took me longer to fall asleep. My neck seemed stiffer, and my joints seemed tighter. The lack of exercise also affected my mood. I was more lethargic physically and less focused mentally. It was a lose-lose scenario.

A lack of spiritual exercise also adversely affects our lives. When we allow busyness or schedule changes to interfere with our spiritual exercise time, we experience a variety of setbacks. If we neglect prayer and Bible study, our wills stiffen, and we may resist the Spirit’s prompting. Our patience tightens, and we snap at family members, friends, and coworkers. We’re lethargic about God’s faithfulness and goodness to us. We’re less likely to detect temptation and more susceptible to error.

Fortunately, both problems have a simple solution: walking. I’ve experienced walk withdrawal before. I know as soon as I take my morning walk again, I’ll feel much better, both physically and mentally. Sporadic exercise, like climbing up and down stairs as I lug boxes and furniture around, is no substitute for longer outdoor walks, which increase my cardiovascular fitness, enabling my heart to pump blood and oxygen more efficiently.

The same is true in my spiritual life. As soon as I take that extended morning walk with God again, my spiritual health will improve. When I ask the Holy Spirit to speak to me each day as I read my Bible, my will becomes more supple and my attitudes relax. My resistance to sin strengthens, and my desire to please God intensifies. Investing twenty to forty minutes a day in my spiritual cardiovascular fitness increases the patience, love, mercy, and grace the Holy Spirit can pump throughout my life.

God knows our spiritual health depends on a consistent daily walk with Him. That’s probably why the word walk is used over 200 times in the Bible. Like physical fitness, spiritual wellness requires dedication.

Take time each day to check your spiritual fitness level.

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Don't Be a Job's Comforter

She had twisted intestines, which caused her and her parents much suffering.

The little girl’s parents had other children to raise, but had a strong faith in God. Their pastor helped them a lot. One Sunday morning, their pastor preached about life’s storms and said that storms could be a time when we need to see if everything is right between us and God.

After the service, a lady met the mother who had the sick child and told her she should check for sin in her life. The tone of her voice sounded cruel and judgmental. The statement sent the mother plunging, as if down a steep cliff, into a time of deep bitterness toward God. Fortunately, her husband stayed strong in his faith, but the mother stopped attending church.

God eventually healed the little girl, and her mother repented and went back to church. But the same hateful woman was there and criticized her in front of the whole congregation when the mother shared her and her daughter's testimony.

God bragged on Job to the Devil, but neither Job nor his three friends knew it. That's one reason the Devil attacked Job. After using wisdom and keeping their mouths shut for seven days, Job’s three so-called friends started talking and viciously accused Job of having sin in his life. They would've been better off to keep their mouths shut and let Job talk.

Sometimes, the best thing we can do is keep our mouths closed when someone is going through an extreme tragedy. If we say anything at all, it should be, "I love you, and I'm praying for you”—as we put our arms around them.

Ask God for wisdom to know how to be a blessing to someone who's hurting today.

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Living by Luck

She entered the gate, but never made it beyond the bingo tent.

My maternal grandmother rarely ventured far beyond her homestead in Vance, SC, but the Orangeburg County Fair was one place she never missed. My grandfather entered the gate, visited the livestock barn, and then meandered to the Pavilion where he sat, watched people, and waited on my grandmother—who was next door playing bingo.

What the chances were of having a winning card, I’m not sure, but my grandmother counted on the fact she might have it. For hours, she listened as the announcer called out numbers, hoping she could shout, “Bingo.” I’m sure she won a prize occasionally, but bingo wasn’t the only way she lived by luck. Superstitions and old wives’ tales peppered her life’s beliefs. Although she was a woman of faith, she made many a decision based on superstition—what she considered luck. How she reconciled the two in her mind, I never understood.

Fortunately, Mom didn’t adopt her style of living, so the things my grandmother believed became humorous to me and my family. Mom and Dad taught us to live by faith, not superstition or luck.

According to Paul, living by faith is the correct way. After meeting the risen Christ on the Damascus Road, he lived by faith. Prior to that time, he depended on ceremonies and laws to gain God’s approval—which never worked. Now, he relied on faith.

Luck has no part in the believer’s life. I may say, “I’m feeling lucky,” when I play a game, but deep inside I don’t believe in luck. Luck relates to chance, and the Bible doesn’t teach that things happen by chance.

God controls everyone’s life whether they acknowledge or believe it or not. I choose to believe it. Everything entering my life comes from God directly or is filtered through His permissive will. Whether or not I understand the events is immaterial.

God promises to bring good out of all things for those who follow Him. Through the periods of faith-stretching He sends—and through the trials He permits—good erupts. Luck, or chance, doesn’t enter the picture. Rather, He guides events by His loving hand.

Don’t try to live life by something that doesn’t exist. Live by faith in a loving God. 

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I Lost My Marbles

I lost my marbles when I met Jesus.                                                                                                

I’d been collecting marbles throughout my life, dragging them around in huge sacks. They were my greatest successes and disappointments—my biggest struggles, my most harrowing tales. I thought they had value, so I clung to them in hopes of cashing them in someday.

That day came. My health deteriorated. Friends betrayed me. I accrued a tremendous debt—a financial debt I owed to the bank and inner debt that left me feeling bankrupt. I tried making new friends, but they treated me worse than the old ones. I applied to a master’s program in England. I couldn’t afford the visa. I entered a writing competition, submitting the most inspiring story I’d ever written …  my story of how I’d acquired my marbles. I didn’t even get an honorable mention.

“But look how valuable this is,” I said to people as I reached into one of my heavy sacks. “This marble represents the friends who’ve used me. And this.” A different marble. “This represents all the traveling I’ve done. It means I’m knowledgeable and cultured.”

I even showcased my most heart-wrenching tragedies—like the house fire I’d survived and the abusive relationships I’d been in. These marbles were near to my heart, but I began to realize they meant little to other people.

Disillusionment crushed me. I’d been lugging around these marbles, thinking … believing … the world wanted them, that people would give me something in return for them. Things like attention, affirmation, and acceptance. I would’ve settled for a little sympathy, but I got nothing.

Sin carved a path of destruction in my life, putting me in dangerous situations and leading to many hardships. I’d come to be proud of these experiences, calling myself “awesome” and “a survivor.”

But when I met Jesus, He revealed the true nature of this mentality. He wanted my marbles. When I gave my life to Him—my experiences, good and bad, the brokenness from my past, the pride I’d attached to that brokenness—He gave me eternal life.

God promises to carry our burdens. If we burden ourselves with marbles, thinking they give us value, we forget the only One who can redeem us. 

Lose your marbles by giving them to Jesus.

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Three-Billion Letter Babies

“I’m pale. The bags under my eyes are purple. My lips are drawn tight in a straight, thin line.”

A young mother named Hillary Savole wrote these touching words shortly after the birth of her little daughter, Esme.

On May 18, 2019, the Wall Street Journal shared the story of Esme’s birth: “limp, blue, and struggling.” Then they made public a touching story about more than three billion DNA letters that “help determine our basic makeup, from our healthy risks to what we look like.” The paper’s comments were featured on page one, next to Esme’s picture and her story.

I was shocked and thought, Can we even begin to fathom the fact that Almighty God uses more than three billion letters of code to produce each baby? No wonder each baby is unique and special, each having the same need of food, water, and touch, and each having the same potentials, such as creativity and being a child of God.

Each child is a gift of God’s love, even if they have a slightly different code than the average baby. These special ones bring diversity to the world and an illustration of what could be. They are given to people with open hearts and souls whose prayers of concern, love, and trust make the world a better place. Unfortunately, many others take the miraculous for granted and devalue God’s choice in favor of women’s rights.

Without children, our world would be an overly quiet, serious, and boring place with self-centered adults robbing each park of beauty and joy.

Ask God to help you respect what He goes through to produce each baby.

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Hashbrown Casserole Evangelizing

Placing the chilly dish in the hot oven, I envisioned the moment I would pull it out again.

Bubbling edges would surround the tempting, crispy top, and creamy, cheesy, steaming potatoes would fill the center. I’d originally mixed up enough for two casseroles, baking the first one Christmas morning and sticking this one in the freezer for another day. Even though I moved this second one from the freezer to the refrigerator the night before, I couldn’t tell how thawed the center was before baking it.

After starting out with the oven at the same temperature, I decided I might need to watch this casserole more closely. Several minutes later, I smelled the crumbly top, starting to brown. I knew the center couldn’t be hot, so I turned the temperature down and kept baking it. The process was more delicate today than on Christmas morning. I spent more time checking and adjusting until I achieved the desired results.

Some people are like the casserole’s center. God has already softened their hearts and made them ready to receive the gospel while others remain cold to our witnessing attempts. To the latter, too much trying on our part seems to make them crustier toward God’s Word. Reaching them may require turning the heat down and being patient as we continue to love them and pray for God’s softening of their hearts.

Only when God makes a heart ready can we see a heart that was once cold as stone become on fire for the Lord, bubbling over with the love of the Savior, ready to go tempt someone else with the Good News they now harbor in their divinely warmed heart of flesh.

When our heart has been warmed by the Father, it’s time to look for signs of thawing in those around us. Often, it’s through us God chooses to touch those hearts, applying just the right amount of heat at just the right time.

Look for someone whose heart you need to touch.

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Building Grit

My collegiate basketball coach, Coach Temple, had a favorite drill during pre-season conditioning: “the ladders.”

I still dread the thought of them. Ladders are a form of interval training that are divided into two segments of timed, full-court sprints and rest. The sprints increase in frequency and intensity while the rest periods decrease over an extended period. During those rest periods, Coach Temple would remind the team that the ladders built grit. If wanted to win, we needed more grit.

Angela Duckworth, in her powerful book, Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, states that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence.” Grit. We won’t find the word in Strong’s Concordance, but there are several examples of it throughout Scripture.

God did not fill the Bible with stories of people who accomplished supernatural feats but with those who stubbornly rebounded from disappointment, discouragement, and defeat. They doggedly held on to the promises of God despite their circumstances and plight and were filled with an unwavering expectation that God would use them despite their deficiencies. They had grit.

Caleb demonstrated grit when his military recognizance team declared that the odds of conquering the Promised Land were too great: “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we are well able (Numbers 13:30). 

Ruth demonstrated grit when facing poverty and possible death. She told her mother-in-law Naomi, “Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16).

Sometimes, our lives resemble the “ladders.” We face an ever-increasing intensity of trials and problems with only small respites. God could be building grit in us, not because He is a tyrannical coach gleefully enjoying our pain and exertion, but because He is a loving Father who wants us to win.

Don’t shy away when God tries to build grit in you.

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Happy Birthday to Me

It’s my birthday. I celebrate it four times a year. All right, you’re wondering how I celebrate my birthday on a quarterly basis.

It’s simple. My actual day of birth is number 1. When August 21 rolls around, I call my mother and sing happy birthday to her. After all, she birthed me. That’s number 2. Then on Chase and Cameron’s birthday, I lay claim to a third and a fourth birth day.

You may laugh, but it was me who gave birth to those boys. Me who huffed and puffed my way through labor without pain medication or an epidural. It was me who pushed until I thought my head would blow off. So yeah, their birthdays are actually my BIRTH days. I figure I did the work; I earned the celebration.

I tease about my birth experience, but the truth is I only remember the joy of my boys’ entrance into the world. I know there was pain, but I can’t remember how it felt.

Early on in Scripture, God declared to Eve that He would make her pains in childbearing severe. I don’t know a woman alive who would say God didn’t keep that promise. The physical side of carrying a child and then giving birth is nothing short of … well … painful.

But here’s what is so special about our God. In His deep love for us and through His immense forgiveness, He shows us mercy by allowing us to forget the anguish, yet relish in the joy. What a loving Father.

God is a wonderful parent. We still feel the consequence of Eve’s sin … of our own sin … yet we can’t remember how bad it felt. Just that it hurt. Whether it be in childbirth or simply in our daily life, God works in and through us to discipline us. By that same token, in His deep love, He forgets. Only a great Father could have devised such a miraculous love.

Yep … today is my birthday. The real one. The day God told my mother, “It’s time.” And the day He breathed life into me outside of my mother’s womb. I’m grateful. Grateful for my pain of childbirth so I could see the joy in my sons.

When pain rips open your heart, remember the incredible gift God has given—to remember the pain, but forget the anguish.

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Advice That Edifies

I received way too much “friendly advice” from other shoppers on how to handle my children.

I dreaded grocery shopping when my children were young. If my kids cried, women told me how to quiet them. If my daughter chewed on a piece of bagel, unwelcomed advisers pointed out the dangers of choking or the dangers of a high-carbohydrate diet. If my son had a runny nose, grandmothers lectured me on hygiene and germs. Eventually, I started shopping at a different store at low-traffic times just to avoid the avalanche of advice.

The English word advice comes from an old French phrase that means “it seems to me.” Apparently, many people have an it-seems-to-me button that’s permanently stuck in the on position. Another problem is that most of us don’t want to listen to advice. We just want to illuminate other darkened minds with our own seems-to-me brilliance. And thanks to the worldwide web, too much seems-to-me counsel is based on misquoted, fallacious, and even harmful information.

However, God’s advice is never empty, which means never “without effect.” God’s Word is the only counsel I can trust to be totally accurate and beneficial. Following God’s counsel will always bring about good in my life.

How much of the advice that I dispense to friends and family, maybe even a few strangers, is without effect?  Probably more than I think. But if I speak God’s words in a loving, encouraging manner and refrain from adding my own it-seems-to-me commentary, the effectiveness of my counsel increases.

When we speak to others, our goal should be directing their attention to God’s wisdom, not our own.

Find someone whom you can encourage with the powerful promises and timeless truths of God’s Word.

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One Size Fits All

Shopping with a granddaughter, going through racks and racks of sized clothing, we came to a section marked one-size-fits-all. We broke out in laughter. She is petite. I am not. (I would appreciate it if we just left it at that.)

Later though, I thought of a line that read “sin doesn’t come in sizes.” I did a double take then, as I do now, thinking sin is sin, one as bad as the other. Human nature makes us think our sin is worse than someone else’s—no matter what the sin is. Yet sin separates us from God the Father, so sin is sin.

Nor does the gift of God come in different sizes but is a one-size-fits-all. “Lord, forgive me” is all it takes to be forgiven and to be put into the good graces of our Lord. He looks at our hearts, not our sin. His forgiveness is as big as His heart: HUGE And huge love equals huge forgiveness.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean we don’t pay consequences for our sin. Sometimes there are legal consequences, family or relationship consequences, or health consequences. But on God’s end, when we ask for forgiveness, we are forgiven and His forgiveness is perfect. He is ready to work with and for us.

As Christians, we can focus too much on the sin and not the forgiveness—possibly even wallowing in our sin, which might be easier than changing our ways. Lord, I am so terrible. Lord, I have failed you. Lord, I am a rotten piece of humanity. We forget we are created in His image, and that He really wants us to say, “I’m sorry, please forgive me.”

God’s forgiveness reaches to each of us, no matter the sin. He loves us; He forgives us.

The next time you shop with someone you love, remember Jesus’ love is truly a one-size-fits-all.

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Mental Cleansing

JoAnn Carlson said, “The minds of people are so cluttered up with everyday living these days that they don’t, or won’t, take time out for a little prayer—for mental cleansing, just as they take a bath for physical outer cleansing. Both are necessary.” (Forbes Book of Business Quotations, ©1997; pg. 676-677)

Praying parents leave a permanent imprint on their children. I remember a scene from childhood of my father praying. He was a tenant farmer who had dairy herds and fields of grain to care for. He worked from before dawn until well after sunset and made little money. After working eighteen hours or more, he asked God to take his burdens so he could rest. His nightly prayer was comforting when I chanced to hear it and is a treasured memory.

Prayer is easy. God knows all about me. It is my responsibility to tell Him my concerns every day for mental cleansing. He tells me in His Word how to set up my prayer time for success—to prepare a secluded place that is just mine and to close the door to interferences.

Prayer is hard because it requires discipline for me to carve out time and to set boundaries. If I have done my part in preparation, He and I will be able to communicate. He yearns to hear concerns from my heart and my lips each day.

I have found when I am going through a storm, I am drawn to reading the Psalms in the Message translation. I like the wide margins where I can write my anxieties to my heavenly Father. Over time, this way of praying has proven to be a sweet reminder of how He answered prayer and led me through bad days in the past.  

Having a written account of our prayers helps us see how our heavenly Father answers them. Dealing with hindrances that keep us from our cleansing closets is also important.

God craves to hear from you. Make time for Him.

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Your Way or Yahweh

Harvey was fourteen and an orphan.

I recently watched a movie about Harvey. He was on a ship and thought he could do as he pleased. He soon discovered he wasn't going to have his way on this ship.

At the beginning of the movie, he played a prank by pretending to push a man named Incan overboard. He made most of the men on the ship think it was true. They soon discovered it was a joke. The captain warned Harvey that if he did it again, he'd be locked in his cabin. The captain's son tried befriending him but found it was hard to do. The captain's son told Harvey he'd have no friends if he didn't change. Harvey only cared about himself.

Harvey once found himself in a pleasure room where he got high from secondhand smoke. He choked and jumped into the ocean. He was forced to swim to a small boat which the crew used to rescue him.

After being in the school of hard knocks, Harvey learned the value of hard work and how to respect and obey authority, even saying “Yes, Sir” and “No, Sir” and “Yes, Ma'am” and “No, Ma'am.”

Once he had proved to the captain that he was trustworthy and respectful, Harvey was called by name by the captain and trusted with his own boat. Not long after, a storm arose. Harvey's boat capsized. His new friend, along with others, rescued him, but his friend died in the process.

Jesus died so God could be our Father and Jesus could live in us to teach us not to want our own way all the time, but to die daily. At times, we all want our way, but we need to do as Paul said: die daily. We can either have our way or Yahweh’s. Not both.

Choose to make Jesus Lord of your life every day. Not your way, but Yahweh.  

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A Morning with the Father

The urge to leave my desk and go outside into the beautiful Arizona morning overpowered me.

I felt compelled to take Andrew Murray’s, With Christ, with me. Sitting down, I realized a large white dove sat a few feet away under our fountain. He remained still until I finished finding what the Spirit had for me. Then he flew away.

Comments by Murray fit into my recent desire to learn more about God’s Fatherhood. Putting them into my own words, I wrote them down so that I wouldn’t forget.

The words, “Our Father,” mean His children are bound in the most tender relationship known to people. Our heavenly Father is a King and has a Kingdom. His children are royalty, but walk in another king’s kingdom which is surrounded by minions of the dark side.

The King is a loving Father to His children. Fathers judge their children by their efforts, whereas masters judge by results. A father weighs while others only measure. Our clumsy and poor beginnings mean a great deal to Him, even if they mean little to others.

Opening up to my heavenly Father’s Fatherhood helped me realize what type of parent and grandparent I desire to be. I want to be tenderhearted, remembering they are little and only human. I want to be watchful and a good teacher, loving at the core of my relationships. I desire to be a good model of parenthood so they might have a positive view of fatherhood that won’t hinder their relationship with their heavenly Father.

Pray every day for the wisdom to model to your little ones that God is a Father who is loving, tender, and concerned for their well-being.

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What's in Your Wallet?

“That’ll be nineteen dollars and six cents,” the cashier droned.

I opened my wallet and pulled out a ten-dollar bill. “Just a minute,” I said. “I know I have another ten.”

The smartly dressed woman behind me cleared her throat impatiently. Embarrassed, I thumbed through old receipts until I found a crumpled ten-dollar bill. “I’m sorry,” I said as I attempted to flatten the bill between my hands and make it presentable.

“No worries,” the cashier said. “Ten bucks is ten bucks. I don’t care what it looks like.” 

Two bills—one crisp and unwrinkled, the other tattered and missing part of a corner. Both of equal value, yet one seemingly insufficient.

Sometimes I feel like that damaged bill: worn, wrinkled, spent. For years, I’ve tried to prove my value—as a spouse, a parent, an employee, a volunteer. Going, doing, serving. Regardless of how much I do, I always feel as if I’m not enough, but everyone else is perfect.

Like those ten-dollar bills whose value the U.S. government determines, my worth does not lie in my external appearance—how poorly or how well I perform. The Creator of the universe proved my merit two thousand years ago when He paid the ultimate price for me by sacrificing His only Son.  

Economists tell us demand governs the price of anything. God demanded my freedom when He redeemed my life and declared me accepted, loved, forgiven, and purchased for all eternity.

My worn and wrinkled life has value simply because I am God’s child. Nothing I do can compel Him to love me more or less. He loves me because I am His.  

Jesus Christ established your value on the cross when He cried, “It is finished.” If you haven’t, accept the value God has assigned to you.

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Dressed to Impress

I was dressed to impress.

At nineteen, I had been taught that first impressions were important, so I carefully prepared for my first real job interview. Walking into the personnel waiting area in a large department store, I was shocked to see so many applicants.

Already nervous, my hopes for this job went down a few notches. The time ticked by slowly as each candidate was ushered into the Human Resource Director’s office. Each time the door opened, the director shot a quick but curious glance at me. My nerves tightened. It seemed this would be an all-day process. I settled in, glad to have a book and a granola bar in my purse.

After an hour, the director stepped out of her office and motioned for me. Me? I looked to either side. She couldn’t possibly mean me. But she did. She was so impressed with how I presented myself, she gave me the job immediately and dismissed the other candidates.

But I wasn’t ready. Or qualified.

The director gave me the job based on appearance, but my skills and experience—not to mention my work ethic—were sorely lacking. To this day, I think about all the other people in that room who were probably more qualified. I also wonder how they felt when the director chose me over them, without even giving them a chance.

We all know looks can deceive. The adage of not judging a book by its cover is smart advice. Most of the time, we’re wrong. That’s why the Bible tells us not to judge. It also tells us God looks on the heart.

One of my uncles, who passed away many years ago, wore baggy overalls splattered with paint. He had no social skills and looked like a poor dirt farmer. But the man turned out to be extremely wealthy. No one knew—not even his family—until he was gone.

At my young age, I cared far too much what people thought about me. My uncle didn’t care at all.

In reality, God’s opinion is the only one that counts.

God knows you even better than you know yourself and loves you unconditionally. In His eyes, it’s your heart that matters. And for Him, you never have to dress to impress.

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

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God Himself Will Help

“I’m afraid. I can’t do it. I don’t know how.”

Young children are known to exhibit unreasonable fears when faced with new experiences. The world is vast, and they’re unsure of themselves. Thankfully, parents usually assuage their cares.

An expectation exists that by the time we have reached adulthood we would have put away our fears. We’re expected to take on new challenges and go for the gusto. But what if we can’t muster the courage to venture on with a new career, move to a new city, or undertake a new sphere of ministry?

Life has a funny way of confronting us with unexpected challenges—some exciting, others painful. In this passage, God commanded His people not to fear. He Himself would come to their defense. When God gives us a promise, He will fulfill it.

I’ve been uncertain, troubled, and barely able to pray during certain seasons of my life. In those moments, God extended His hand and sustained me.

When faced with a challenge or difficulty, we should not give in to despair, because our Father has pledged to uphold us. When we are weak, He takes our hand in His and leads us to a place of rest and safety. I haven’t mastered not being afraid, but that’s okay because it keeps me nearer to God. I know that whatever I encounter, He is present.

God promises to strengthen, help, and uphold you. Remember, you are never beyond His reach.

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Take Me Away

Flopping on my bed utterly exhausted, I thought, I want to run away.

I could relate to that old commercial with the lady in the bathtub asking the bath soap to take her away. But where could I go? I was too old to join the circus, and it is too noisy there anyway. How about joining a peaceful convent? But I am not Catholic, and I am married. Guess that was not a viable option either. In any event, I was too tired to get up and go somewhere. Instead, I went to bed early and slept for eleven hours. I woke up refreshed and reenergized.

Sometimes we reach the point where life’s activities and obligations wear us down. We struggle to put one foot in front of the other. Then we might feel guilty for feeling unmotivated and not wanting to do anything. My packed agenda of doing God’s work (volunteering for an outreach ministry, organizing a church activity, etc.) should energize me, right? But what if it doesn’t?

Elijah found himself in a similar predicament. He had had enough and wanted to get away from it all. While I wanted to relocate, Elijah prayed to die. Having just triumphed on Mount Carmel in a throwdown with 450 priests of Baal, he found himself exhausted and at the end of his rope.

Elijah and I are both human and do not have an inexhaustible supply of energy, even when we are doing things to give God glory. Sometimes it is necessary to stop and rest. God recognized the need for rest from the beginning when, following creation, He rested on the seventh day and instructed us to observe regular times of rest also.

We are God’s creation, and He expects us to be good to ourselves by taking time for rest and sleep. These behaviors are not laziness, but good stewardship. Elijah can have his broom bush to sleep under, but I will be snoozing on my bed.

Let God take you away for times of rest and relaxation.  

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The Final Challenge

Scoring the test was the last thing on the job description list—the final challenge to see if I qualified for the office manager position at my local church.

Our pastor used a personality test for premarital counseling, and one of the duties was scoring the test. Mastering this task would determine whether or not I qualified for the position. If the scores were wrong, how would the pastor be able to help them?

At first, I had no idea what to do. I read the manual, but most of the material was like rocket-science instructions in a foreign language. The former office manager, now in a new position, had assured me she would train me, but she had limited hours.

Adding to my concerns was the fact that I could not make a mistake. Doing so would skew the score and give a false assessment. I wanted to succeed, so I prayed that God would open my mind to understand the material.

The process was long and tedious, yet there was enough time for training. God used the previous office manager to teach me, and I was able to complete the process and gain confidence in my work.

Looking back, I realize scoring the assessment was not an ultimatum of my fitness for the job but one of many challenges I’d taken since the first day in the office. Each challenge was a small step in building trust in the God who helps me daily.

Like the apostle Paul, we cannot claim anything for ourselves. God alone makes us competent. He provides time, people, resources, understanding—and the ability to trust.

Whatever your challenge, pray for God’s guidance, and trust the One who makes you competent.

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I Always Fail

It seems as if I’ve always had a proficiency at failing.

Failing started when I was in grade school. One subject I had trouble with was math. My teacher’s rule was that if you got more than three problems wrong, you had to correct them until you had them correct. The kids in school also picked on me, telling me I was a dummy. One day, my dad told me if I didn’t get better grades, I would end up as a dishwasher for the rest of my life.

Even as an adult, no matter how hard I try, it seems I am always told by my boss that I am doing something wrong. There are times when I feel people talk down to me as if I am the most ignorant person on earth.

When others tell me these things, I feel as if I am a failure. Thankfully, I realized it doesn’t matter how much I fail by the world’s standards. Jesus died for failures like me. I don’t need to pass an IQ test to earn His love because, like all others, I am saved by grace. All I had to do was ask Jesus into my heart, and I can now spend eternity with Him in heaven.

The world may not give me any grace, but the Lord Jesus does. I can laugh at my failures in this world, because in heaven it won’t matter.

If you feel like a failure, remember God makes successes from the world’s failures. Believe and receive God’s grace today.

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For Whom Did Christ Die?

We love, protect, and give of ourselves to those we care about. We nurture and care for our kids and protect them from any harm and may even give up our own life for them. Giving up our life for someone would be admirable, noble, and brave—but very difficult. In fact, only love could manage the task.

Jesus said there was no greater love than to lay down one’s life for his friends. When God left His throne to come to earth, He came with one purpose: to die and give His life for His lost sheep.

We were not good, admirable people but people who had no power within ourselves to love or obey God. We were His enemies, opposing and despising Him and His authority over us.

Christ came to save the ungodly. My family, spouse, children, and close friends all love me, but how do I feel about those who oppose me and everything I care about? I was this type of person—against God and everything He represents.

Those Christ came to die for did not love Him, yet He loved us. We did not deserve God’s favor, yet were shown great mercy.

Consider often what great love Christ showed in dying for you.

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Let God Ask You Questions

I question God.

My sister’s best friend Jenny died on her 21st birthday when she was hit by a drunk driver. In the short time Jenny was on earth, she accepted everyone and touched many lives with her smile. She had so much life ahead of her.

I asked God, “Why did You take her from this earth so early?” God answered my question with a question: “Do you trust Me, Carly? Do you trust Me that she is in good hands now?”

Jesus asked Peter three times if he loved Him more than others. I believe Jesus knew Peter loved Him, even though Peter would deny Him three times. Jesus wanted to expose Peter’s tendency to go along with the crowd and also forget his first love for God.

God cares about our inquiries, but He answers in the most unexpected ways. He replies to them with more questions for us to ponder. This a part of God’s wisdom. He already knows the answer, but He helps us see other side of situations and exposes our true motives. 

When a mother tells her son not to cross the street unless he looks both ways, but the son doesn’t pay attention because there is an ice cream stand across the street, she knows why he does. She still has compassion and asks for an explanation. The mother does this so the child will know it’s dangerous to cross the street without looking, even if it’s for something tantalizing.

I may never know why Jenny was taken from this life, but I know God always has our best interests at heart. And I know Jenny is in heaven watching over me and my sister.

Don’t be afraid to let God ask you questions.

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Blessed to Bless

A young man in our church was healed when he was a baby. He wasn't supposed to live, but God performed a miracle. Now, he's growing up to be a fine Christian young man.

One way God uses him in our church is through his working with a group of children in a drama team. And he loves it. 

One performance was so good that the pastor asked the group to perform the next week. That second week, all the children told the young man in front of everyone how much they appreciated his work with them. Several—including the young man’s own brother—told him God used him to bring them closer to God.

To hear the young man’s brother say that brought tears to my eyes, because everyone knew the young man shouldn't have been alive. This young teenage boy was blessed to be a blessing, and he is. 

God told Abraham if he obeyed Him he would be a blessing to others. When God blesses us, it's for His glory most of all, and it's also to bless others. It's not all about us, but it's all about blessing others for God.

When God blesses us, we should use those blessings to bless others in a way that glorifies God. That is why God blessed Abraham, and that is why God blesses us.

God may or may not make our name great in this life, but we can still be a blessing to others, even if it's as simple as giving a smile  God can use each of us to make a difference in someone's life. If we use our abilities for His glory, when we stand before Him, our reward will be great and so will our name.

Ask God to make you a blessing.

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Develop a Grateful Heart

“But I don’t have anything to be grateful for,” the woman said. “Look at my life. It’s a mess.”

No amount of talking could convince her otherwise.

When the weight of the universe is heavy on our shoulders, it’s hard to see the good in our life. It’s unnatural. It goes against our carnal nature. But developing a heart that is thankful is a discipline we can learn—if we’re willing.

This is what pastor and author Bob Gass says about a grateful heart.

  • It sees each day as a gift.
     
  • It’s like a magnet sweeping over your day, collecting reasons to be grateful.
  • It thanks God for the miracle of muscles that enable your eyes to read these words and your brain to process them.
     
  • It thanks God for lungs that inhale and exhale eleven thousand liters of air every day.
     
  • It thanks God for a heart that will beat about three billion times in your lifetime and for a brain that’s a veritable electric generator and super computer of power.
     
  • It thanks God for jam on your toast and milk on your cereal. For the blanket that warms you and the joke that delights you. For the thousands of planes that didn’t crash today. For the men who didn’t cheat on their wives and the women who didn’t turn on their men. And the kids who, in spite of unspeakable pressure to dishonor their parents, decided not to.

Gass goes on to say that “rejoicing over the good stuff is what gets you through the hard stuff. Gratitude is an attitude you choose, not a reaction to your circumstances.”

In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. When we develop a grateful heart, we see things from a different perspective. We become joyful, less focused on our circumstances, and more able to reach out to others.

Start today. Turn your negatives into positives. Look for the good stuff. It’s there. As the song says, “Count your many blessings.” I’ll bet if you do, there will be too many to name.

Are you up for the challenge?

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The Art of Discernment

What will I eat? What career will I pursue? What church will I attend?

An enormity of decisions confront us each day. According to researchers at Cornell University, we make approximately 220 decisions each day about food alone (Wansink and Sobal, 2007). The question is whether our decisions are good ones.

The psalmist prayed that he might increase in knowledge and make better decisions.

A key aspect of knowledge is discernment or insight. Discernment is the ability to make perceptions and sharp distinctions where others might not see any at all. Believing in the commandments of Scripture is not enough. By obedience, we let the Scriptures help us make good decisions. And by making good decisions, we gain knowledge.

Discernment is a skill acquired and honed over the course of time. If I reflect on the decisions I made in my twenties and compare them to the decisions I made in my thirties, I can see incremental improvements.

The more time we spend walking with God, the better we will become at demonstrating discernment.

Ask God to teach you good discernment so that you can increase in knowledge and obey Him.

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Striving for Stillness

Listening to my favorite podcast, I pumped my arms and powered down the country road.

Scanning the cornfields that flanked my path, I took in budding oaks that stood sentry over the pastoral scene. I was the queen of multitasking, and this was no exception. Exercising my body on a long walk, I stretched my mind with the day’s topic. Suddenly, I sensed a prompting to remove my ear buds, stop racking my brain, and bask in the sun on my face and the gravel under my feet.

With ear buds stowed in my pocket, a stillness settled over me. A red-winged blackbird flew from a nearby tree and soared overhead, keeping pace with my steps. I felt a loosening in my chest as God spoke to my soul: You don't have to figure everything out. Stop striving. I love you just as you are.

I tasted the salty tears that trailed down my cheeks. This message was a revelation. Even if I never listen to another podcast, read another book, follow another fitness plan, or make another resolution, the Lord loves me. Not because of my intellect or my ability to check items off of my to-do list, but because God created me. My mere existence, like the rolling hills and swath of indigo sky, glorifies my Creator.

We often seek God’s approval in doing and thinking the "right" things, but the truth of Christ’s unconditional affection feels like rain pouring down on a parched spirit. Our busyness can blind us to our soul’s yearning for a quiet place to deeply experience God’s love.

Today, my walks are filled with peace as I silence my own thoughts and, instead, listen for God’s grace in the stillness.

Find a quiet place where you can experience God.

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Unexpected Blessings

I spent several days each week staying with Lee.

My son-in-law suffered four strokes before undergoing a heart transplant. The strokes caused brain damage and other problems. He became an invalid and needed a caregiver while my daughter, Cathy, worked.

At times, staying with Lee frustrated me. He lost his temper and said things such as, “Go home, I don’t like you, and leave me alone!” I realized that wasn’t the real Lee speaking. He would never have said those things if not for the damage to his brain.

One day Lee surprised me by asking, “Do you like me?”

“Yes, Lee, I like you. Do you like me?” I asked.

“Yes, I like you. You’re good to me.”

Our conversation was an unexpected blessing, and I was thankful for the gift of encouragement.

It takes little time and effort to give encouragement to others, and Paul encourages us to do so. A comment to tired cashiers about their speed in scanning or their pleasant attitude can lift weary spirits. We are all capable of giving smiles to those we meet. Smiles are a great encouragement and highly contagious.

One day as I stood in line at a fast food restaurant, a cashier in training waited on me. She was slow and made mistakes. I noticed the responses from the customers waiting in line. “That’s okay,” I heard one man say. “Everyone has to start from the beginning.”

I picked up my food tray and sat at a booth near where the cashier stood. Several times she apologized for mistakes, and each time the customers encouraged her with their replies. By the time I left, the employee had learned to relax and even laugh as she worked. How different her first day on the job would have been if customers had not been understanding.

God will guide us to those who need an unexpected blessing, and He will also give us the words and actions to bring it about.

Make it a point to encourage someone today.

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Curveballs

Cancer. A word no one ever expects to hear. I didn’t. But I’ve heard it twice over the past three years.

The first time came when my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Not a high degree, but cancer is cancer. The radiation did the job. He is now cancer free and doing great.

The second time snuck up on us when the biopsy on my leg came back as skin cancer. Not life-threatening, but still a shock.

Life throws curveballs at us all the time. Those unexpected and unplanned-for events that can change our life in a split second.

In the late 1990s, my year started out traumatic and got progressively worse. After a devastating church situation, a trip to New York resulted in a serious illness with hospitalization and weeks of recovery. Then I had surgery for something totally unrelated to the other illness. In the midst of it all, my teenage son and daughter were drowning in a sea of drug and alcohol addiction. I felt like I was going under with them.

Now, as I look back to this dark time in my life, I clearly see God’s hand of protection and provision. He worked all things together for good by taking what the Enemy meant for evil, turning it around, and bringing growth and blessings into my life. I saw His forgiveness, deliverance, and healing. I experienced His love, grace, and mercy, even though I didn’t recognize it at the time. God restored everything—my health, my joy, my peace, and, best of all, my kids.

Since curveballs are going to happen, the key is in our reaction. When a baseball player is thrown a curveball, he can either duck, swing, or let it smack him in the head and knock him out of the game. Trusting the coach is essential in sports. It’s also essential in life.

The song says, “Life is hard, but God is good.” This is true … all the time … with no exceptions. God didn’t promise our journey would be problem free. He said tests, trials, and tribulations would come. But He promised to be right there with us, making a way of escape. He also tells us to be alert to the lies and schemes of the Enemy.

From now on, I’m watching out for the curveballs and trusting the Coach. Are you?

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God Will Bring Us Through

Ruth was in a large city—six hours from her home. Her work had taken her there for five days, but she was alone, ill, and hurting.

One night, she had an appointment far out in the country. It was dark, and she was in pain as her GPS guided her down a narrow blacktop road. Suddenly, she saw a pickup stopped in the middle of the road. A man began walking to her car, and she was filled with fear. She wondered what he planned to do. Then she noticed that her headlights shone on a deer lying on the side of the road. The man had evidently struck the deer but stayed as the deer tried to rise, then dropped back to the road.

Watching as the deer struggled to get on its feet, Ruth’s pain worsened. She talked to the Lord about what was happening. “Lord, why did I have to see this? You know I’m very ill and in pain.” Ruth prayed for the deer and watched as the deer slowly rose to its feet, looked around, jumped a ditch, and then ran into the darkness.

Ruth said, “I praised God all the way back to the city where I was staying. I felt God showed His compassion for the deer and also encouraged me that I, too, would rise and recover from my illness. I believe the Lord wanted me to see the deer recover so I would be strengthened to make the six-hour trip back to my home. God didn’t take me out of my pain and illness, but He brought me through it.”

Many of us have had similar experiences where we prayed for relief from problems, pain, and heartaches, but it didn’t happen. Instead, as He did for Ruth, God brought us through our trials.

Trust that God’s faithfulness is great, and His love and mercy endure forever.

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Marching Music

During the funeral procession of former President George H. W. Bush, the episcopal church choir sang a favorite hymn from my youthful summer days when I attended vacation bible school.

The lyrics of the familiar hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers,” returned instantly just as I’d sung it so many times as a child. My heart was touched and filled with memories of days gone by when I first considered the hymn as a declaration to march for Christ.

I remember returning home from vacation bible school and singing and marching to the lyrics of this nineteenth century hymn. Sometimes I would march in happiness. Other times I’d march for comfort to replace hurt feelings imposed by a classmate. But the singing and marching, when done together, gave me hope.

Paul encouraged Timothy to be strong in the grace that is found in Christ Jesus. By doing so, Timothy would entrust to faithful believers what he had learned about sharing in the suffering of everyday life. These believers patiently endured evil and hardship in their quest to follow Christ. Suffering taught them obedience, which pleased God.

As a soldier endures much to please the one who enlists him, Christian soldiers have a charge to keep on in their work for the Lord. Each of us can aspire to be good Christian soldiers by acting as Timothy instructed: be sacrificial in our work to please the Lord. endure suffering and hardship, and carry Christ’s banner of victory daily.  

Thinking back to my vacation bible school days, I didn’t know it would result in my enlistment as a young Christian soldier. But it worked for me then—and it works for me now. No matter what I endure, I still sing and march to hymns and Christian music.  

Every Christian has a favorite hymn or song of praise to God. If we endure for Him, we will reign with Him.

Find the inspirational song that stirs your soul, motivates you to march for Christ, and expresses your unconditional love for God in good times and bad.

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Fame

When the Lord is with us, we shouldn’t fear where He may take us.

I used to pray that if something were in my life that took my eyes from the Lord, then I didn’t want it. I’ve seen many people who the Lord took somewhere, and they forgot who got them there.

I will never forget where I came from or whose child I am. I am a child of the most high. Fame doesn’t have to destroy, but if it isn’t handled correctly, it can do great damage.

The Lord was with Joshua, and his fame spread throughout the land. Joshua didn’t fall off the deep end because he had fame.

Fame can bring glory to our heavenly Father, but we have to follow every direction and instruction of the Lord to maintain the right attitude and actions that glorify Him and not ourselves.

Humility plays a large part in whether or not the Lord is able to use us to the greatest degree. Humility keeps our hearts pure before the Lord, and it keeps fame from tainting our spirits.

Whenever you receive accolades, turn the attention back to the Lord and continue to give Him all the praise and glory.

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As Good as His Word

Little Teddy stood in the driveway, tears streaming down his face.

Teddy’s dad had left at the first of the year but promised to take him fishing in the spring. His dad had called on a Monday and told him to be ready to go Saturday at seven in the morning. Now it was 6:55, but no sign of his dad. Had his dad lied, or was something wrong? Teddy couldn't sleep during the night because he was so excited. Just as he was about to go back inside, he heard the familiar rumble of his dad’s truck pulling into the driveway. His dad had kept his word after all.

The importance of being honest cannot be overstated. An old saying says, "A man is only as good as his word." As Joshua neared death, he reminded Israel that God had kept all His promises to them. In spite of the conflicts and their forty years in the wilderness, they were at last in the land of Canaan, which God had promised to them.

God delivers on all of His promises, but some we must wait for and pray about. There are times when situations look impossible and problems insurmountable. God proves He is trustworthy and dependable. Even in those times when we may have grown weak in our faith and discouraged, He keeps His promises.

Others should be able to count on our word. We earn a good name by being trustworthy and dependable. As in our story, it may seem a little thing not to keep our promises, but not doing so may cause hurt that can never be repaired. As godly and faithful Christians, we must be to others what God is to us.

Be as good as your word.   

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Prayer

Many times I’ve hit the panic button instead of going to the Lord in prayer.

Once, our son Jon went through some legal situations that could have gone in his favor or that could have gone a different way that would have left something hanging over his head. Additionally, his court date was on my birthday. I believed the Lord would come through for me, so I didn’t budge in my faith. Sure enough, our son found favor with the judge.

A favorable outcome doesn’t mean I won’t go through more difficulties from time to time, but what’s important is what I do with them.

Praying without ceasing is important, whether it looks as if something is going on or not. Just as the Lord has a plan for us, the enemy likes to throw wrenches. He doesn’t want anything to go smoothly but for things to be so turbulent we can hardly stand it. When we are prayed-up, the enemy can’t catch us off guard.

The Lord can alert us to things through dreams, talking with loved ones, or through nature. We just have to make sure we are listening when He speaks, and He speaks all the time. When we’re prayed up, our stream will flow through to Him. We will always be connected to Him and His direction for our life.

The enemy doesn’t want us to have any connection with the Lord. He wants our relationship with Him to be strained and for us to be frustrated because things aren’t working out—and because we don’t have answers to our questions.

If this is you, don’t focus on the questions you have or how you can get the answers you want. If the Lord wants to give you an answer, He will do it, and He will do it in His time. 

The Lord is thinking about you and cares for you. Knowing this, continue to do what you know to do: pray without ceasing.

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The Blessing

We gathered in the house twice a month for our small group. I often led worship–simple songs to an infinite Savior. Transparency, love, and unity marked our times together. And whenever we worshipped God, His presence filled the room.

Psalm 133 speaks of the importance of fostering unity among those who follow Christ. When we love one another, God commands His blessings to us—as He did with the anointing oil that was poured on Aaron the High Priest’s head. It flowed down his beard and then down his robe.

Aaron wore a breastplate that held twelve stones. Each stone represented one of the tribes of Israel. The stones signified unity among the Israelites, and the oil represented the Holy Spirit.

The Lord wants to bless us and fill us with His Holy Spirit. He does so when we walk in love. The blessings of God come in many forms: peace, healthy relationships, strength, healing, and financial supply, to name a few. The Lord’s blessings do not deliver us from all trouble, but when He places His hand on us, He enables us to go through the trials of life with His grace and ability.

Let go of any grievances you have towards others, and choose to forgive. If you do, you will experience God’s best in all you do.

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God Used a Dream

On our visit to a Bedouin village in the Gaza Strip, a beautiful Bedouin lady, Hana, told us about dreams she had experienced.

In one of those dreams, she saw Jesus. She asked us why Jesus, the son of Mary, would appear to her, a Muslim. My Palestinian friend, Faiza, answered, “Maybe He was preparing you for our visit. He sent us to share with you about who He is.”

We began visiting Hana’s family and sharing Bible stories. Hana and her children compared them to the same stories from the Koran, noting the details that were different. They knew that I, as a Christian, believed the Bible, not the Koran, to be the true Word of God.

After a few months, I shared a passage from Building Bridges by Fuad Elias Accad on the topic, “Does the Koran Support the Crucifixion of Jesus?” Hana listened to all the arguments in support of the crucifixion. She and her children provided details from the Jesus film, which they had seen on Palestinian television. During our discussion, Hana and her husband acknowledged that Jesus died on the cross. Hana also said she believed He died to save people from their sins.

The Bible gives many accounts of God revealing Himself to certain individuals through dreams and visions. I believe God used a dream to communicate with Hana.

It’s easy in our culture to be skeptical about the supernatural revelation of God, but God presents Himself in many ways. The Christian life is characterized by God’s power in our lives through the Holy Spirit.

Pray for God to reveal Himself to your nonbelieving friends and for you to be ready to encourage and help them understand His gospel.

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Love in a Haystack

While I thrive on organization, if the Lord had not permanently affixed my head to my neck, I’d have lost it years ago.

Given the hectic pace of the world—and the myriad of distractions I face on a daily basis—I have been forced to admit I cannot keep track of everything. And once the chaos settles, I am left holding only that upon which I am most focused. I partake of or lose opportunities based on my priorities.

Whatever we don’t prioritize tends to get buried in the haystack of people, issues, and things that we concern ourselves with. And being out of sight, it no longer delivers its intended benefits.

In the days of King Josiah, Israel lost the book of God’s Law under a pile of money in the Temple. Since our culture promotes money as the means to most ends, this probably sounds like suffering we would gladly endure “for the cause.”  But when the survival of Israel hinged upon the people following the terms of that Law, the situation was dire. Israel was not only stockpiling the money instead of using it to perform God’s work for which it was intended, they were also allowing this financial business to take precedence over God’s instruction for life.

Today, we live under God’s law of love—to love God with all that we are and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Yet this love often gets lost in the haystack of financial concerns. Focusing on the American dream, we sacrifice quality relationships to pursue more money for a house, college, and retirement. Or we judge the quality of our relationships on the basis of the financial gain or security they bring us. Perhaps we live and work to achieve our financial goals rather than aiming to achieve our purpose by sharing God’s love with others.

Lay all your dreams and worries at God’s feet, and recommit yourself to the lifestyle of love He intends for you.

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Extraordinary Followers

On June 3, Uganda observes a martyr’s day in memory of people who have died for their faith, especially faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Three million pilgrims attend the event. A few years after their death, the martyrs—who seemed ordinary and unpopular at the time—now influence people by the millions. People, old and young, trek hundreds of miles to honor them.

These martyrs now capture the world’s attention. Had they been esteemed highly by the killers, the martyrs would have been spared.

One historian noted that at the time of the apostles like Peter and Paul, most people respected the emperors and ridiculed the apostles. But years later, the names of the apostles have become household names while the emperors of Rome are almost forgotten.

According to Scripture, there are no ordinary followers of Jesus. Following the Lord Jesus makes great leaders of seemingly ordinary people. When Jesus called the disciples to follow Him, He also called them to a life of significance.

Like the martyrs and the apostles (most of whom also died as martyrs), no Christian is just an ordinary follower of Jesus. Non-Christians might speak lowly of believers with statements such as, “These are mere Christians,” but people’s opinion of our social status in the world should not dissuade us from walking into a Christ-ordained life of influence.

Be thankful that the Father chose you in Christ to influence others. Focus on following Him, for that is the only way to live an extraordinary life. Believe you are unique, as well as a leader of others.

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Reconnecting Flight

“They just kept walking and didn’t know they were lost,” she said.

This was the retelling of how a now-adult nurse and her brother disappeared as children, prompting a town-wide search. This dramatic story I read in the news had a happy ending, and also a second one.

Fifty years later, this nurse treated a patient who, she would learn, was the pilot that found her and her brother. Upon reacquainting themselves, he asked if she remembered the plane that had circled over her. She said yes, and spoke of how honored she was now to help him.

Peter stresses how we are chosen not only to be saved but also to bring about the continuity of service which Christ began. For you were continually wandering like (so many) sheep, but now you have come back to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.This verse gives insight on how this can be done.

Believers can come back and approach Christ as Shepherd, and He will lead in the right direction. We can also approach Him as our Guardian, and He will supply us with the tools needed to do the work.

Like the pilot, God circles over us and saves us, and we should show gratitude to Him.

Honor the Pilot of your soul by helping others.

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A New Toaster

“The toaster is dead,” I told my three small children as I put plates of untoasted bread in front of them.

My heart broke as I saw their disappointed faces staring at their bread. Toast was a food group at our house.

“Can’t we just buy another one?” my son asked.

“We don’t have the money for a new toaster. But let’s ask the Lord for one, and let’s see what He does.” And we did.

I discovered over the next few weeks how much I missed our toaster. Not just the food itself, but the convenience of dropping bread in and watching toast pop up. I even tried making toast in the oven, but we won’t talk about that. I was frustrated and discouraged, but trusted the Lord to teach us something.

I came home one day and found a letter in the mail from a friend I hadn’t heard from in years. Tears filled my eyes as I read the note: “We don’t know why, but we really felt the need to send you $20. We hope it meets a need you have.” That’s exactly what I needed to buy a new toaster. I was even able to buy one with extra wide slots, so we could toast bagels.

As the psalmist proclaimed, the Lord came through for us, met our need, and showed us love all at the same time. If He had replaced the toaster immediately, we would not have realized how much we missed it. The longing for a new toaster made the gift from Him more precious.  

The Lord answers our prayers in His timing and in a way that brings the most benefit to our hearts.

If you are waiting for something from God, trust that He knows the perfect timing to give you the desire of your heart.

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GPS

I had no idea which way to go.

GPS, or Global Positioning System, is the mode of preference for finding directions. While on my job, I once found myself in a rural area of Virginia. Suddenly, I got a message on my phone that said I was no longer connected to the server for my GPS. I had lost the signal from the cell tower which connected my phone to the server. The GPS could no longer pick up the signal from the three satellites that pinpointed my location.

I had no idea how far to drive and when to turn left or right. Fortunately, I had a compass on the dashboard of my car. I had a vague idea of the direction of my next destination and tried to navigate accordingly. Eventually, my phone reestablished connection, and I arrived at my destination.

Similarities and differences appear in how a GPS and God give directions. They are both based on faith. Using the GPS for work, I don’t really know where I am going when I leave other than that I am going to an unfamiliar address. When I reach my objective, I don’t really know where I am. When I arrive home, I do not know where I have been. I do all this by trusting my GPS.

Things with God are similar. If we acknowledge Him by looking to and trusting him, He promises to guide our steps.

Yet the two are different. GPS gives us details of turns, distances, and times of our trip. God’s leading generally gives us an initial direction. The turns are not made known to us until we arrive at them. Due to things God is trying to do in our lives along the way, the time of arrival is often underestimated.

The last difference is the most significant. Unlike GPS, which is not perfect and sometimes gets confused, God never does. Although at times it does seem like we are disconnected, God is always there. He has His own ways to direct our steps, and, unlike GPS, His directions are always perfect.

Acknowledge God in all your ways, and then expect Him to guide your steps.

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Our Stray Dog

If pets can contract human diseases, then our senior dog surely had doggie dementia.

Over the fourteen years that Stella D. Dogg was part of our family, she had many opportunities to escape from our yard. But she didn’t leave us, even when she was young and her hind legs had enough power to clear the fence anytime she liked. We joked, “She knows she has it good with her family.” And she didn’t stray.

But as she aged, Stella started to forget who she was. She didn’t always hear us when we talked to her. She couldn’t see well due to her cataracts, which often caused her to bump into things. One day, she wandered out of our yard and down the street. We called her to come home, but she didn’t seem to recognize us and ran ahead without stopping.

Finally, I yelled “treat” so loudly that it hurt my throat. Stella turned and looked at me. Her ears perked up, and she seemed to remember me. She ran toward me and then followed me home. I knew she recognized me as her master.

The Lord uses the promise of heaven to straighten our paths home to be with Him. If we are willing to follow Him and believe in His Son, Jesus, our eternal reward is to be with Him and live in His kingdom.

Think of someone you know who is starting to lose their memory, hearing, or sight. Help them. Or someone who is losing their faith, perhaps stumbling off the path to heaven. Then help steer this person on the straight path home again.

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Party Mode

The first time my husband tried hearing aids was a disaster.

“I can hear people on the other side of the room, but I can’t hear the person right in front of me,” he complained. “All I get is the distracting background noise.”

After hearing about a new technology, he visited the audiologist to test drive the new model. That night, he pulled a small remote from his pocket. “Look at this! I can change the setting to match my environment.” He demonstrated the button as if I would be able to experience whatever was going on inside his ears. “This one is called party mode. It’s made for restaurants and noisy places. It focuses on what’s right in front of me and filters out the distractions.” His face lit up. “I think I’ll just stay in party mode all the time.”

Jesus and His disciples were guests in Mary and Martha’s home. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet while Martha served. “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself?” Jesus replied to the heart of the issue. “Martha, Martha … you are worried and troubled about many things, but one thing is needed.”

Martha wasn’t overworked from serving. She was worried and troubled, and that had her distracted from the Lord’s presence. Jesus further says, “Mary has chosen that good part, and it will not be taken away from her.” If Mary could choose the good part, then Martha had a choice too.

If only removing distractions were as easy as changing the setting on a hearing aid. With the push of a button we could eliminate dirty dishes, flat tires, and TV commercials. Another press of the button and we’d filter out fear, anxiety, and worry. We could focus on the important things right in front of us: enjoying family, witnessing to a friend, sharing in joys and sorrows, and caring for the vulnerable.

The next time you find yourself worried, troubled, or overcome with distractions, remember Jesus calls us to make a choice. While it may not be as easy as pressing a button, we can choose to focus on His presence, eliminate distractions, and stay in party mode.

Don’t let the distractions of this world keep you from enjoying the party mode.

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Plans Detoured

"Your test results are positive."

One month into my last semester of college, the student health center doctor confirmed my suspicions: I was pregnant. I had planned to graduate and teach a year before starting our family.

We embraced this slight curve in our life journey and announced our first child's impending birth to family and friends. My husband found a full-time job, and I continued doing data entry because there were no openings for a new teacher with a September due date. Our lives unfolded differently than expected, yet we moved forward.

We aren't told of Mary's plans, but we can surmise they included becoming Joseph's wife before starting their family and not giving birth to a child fathered by someone other than her betrothed. Gabriel called her "favored," one graciously chosen by God to bear His son.

Just as God bestowed a miracle upon her relative Elizabeth, He selected Mary to receive a higher miracle: delivering His divine Son. In less time than it takes to decide which dress to wear on a date, Mary progressed from troubled to questioning to accepting God's plan–a plan for an unmarried woman to carry God’s son, even though it meant disgracing her family and jeopardizing her betrothal.

My detour was not as dramatic as Mary's. Mine resulted in changed expectations and postponed dreams, but Mary’s dealt with an unknown future. She recognized she was not in control and put her faith in God to bring everything to the best resolution.

Placing our faith in God leads us in the right direction. By submitting to His will, Mary approached a cliff and continued driving, putting her entire life in God's hands by responding, "I am the Lord's servant … may your word to me be fulfilled."

If God's plans have detoured yours, faithfully accept His plan over yours as Mary did.

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The Shaping of a Life

The clay vase was a wedding gift in 1983—thirty-five years ago—but I enjoy it as much today as I did then. Every time I gaze at it, I am reminded of this verse in Isaiah. But now, O LORD, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our potter; and all we are the work of Your hand. God is our potter, and we are clay in His hands.

Sometimes we don’t think about it this way, but our lives are continually shaped in the hands of a perfect and holy God. When I stop and consider it, I realize there is no better place to be than in God’s hands and in His will. We can trust Him with what He is building out of our lives. We can trust the direction He takes us—even when it isn’t always clear where we are headed. He carefully and intricately molds us into His image, and day by day we grow to look more like Him.

Making the choice to submit ourselves into the hands of the Potter and let Him work in us the plan and purpose He has ordained for our lives is important. If we resist His leading and working, we obstruct and prolong what He knows is best.

God wants us to embrace His work in us. Doing so gives us the privilege of being vessels of honor for Him. The purpose He has for us is for His purpose in the world. As He shapes our lives into the destiny uniquely designed for us, we can rest assured His goal for us is part of His master plan.

The Potter knows precisely what He is doing. Trust Him to shape something beautiful out of your life.

(Photo courtesy of the author.)

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The Most Beautiful Pear

The most beautiful pear I had ever seen lay on top of a bushel basket at the market. No blemishes marred its blushed pink and yellow skin.

When I got the fruit home and bit into it, the rotten core collapsed under my teeth. Mealy and blackened, it smelled and tasted like sour wine inside. Part of it dropped to the pavement with a splat. I wondered how something so beautiful could be so nasty inside.

God made us wonderfully and fearfully, beautiful in our own ways. But a person’s beautiful outsides do not necessarily mean they are of solid character, as Peter reminded his readers.

Some are too full of pride to praise God. Others are full of hatred and sin and have hard-boiled shells, causing them to deny the existence of God. Still others think they are God Himself.

Jesus and His disciples warned about false prophets and false teachers. The Bible tells us of the many times Jesus wrangled with the Pharisees in His day. We need to only read current events to see religious groups who misinterpret God’s Word. False teachers are still here.

Ask God for the wisdom to discern His true teachings from the false ones.

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The Most Beautiful Pear

The most beautiful pear I had ever seen lay on top of a bushel basket at the market. No blemishes marred its blushed pink and yellow skin.

When I got the fruit home and bit into it, the rotten core collapsed under my teeth. Mealy and blackened, it smelled and tasted like sour wine inside. Part of it dropped to the pavement with a splat. I wondered how something so beautiful could be so nasty inside.

God made us wonderfully and fearfully, beautiful in our own ways. But a person’s beautiful outsides do not necessarily mean they are of solid character, as Peter reminded his readers.

Some are too full of pride to praise God. Others are full of hatred and sin and have hard-boiled shells, causing them to deny the existence of God. Still others think they are God Himself.

Jesus and His disciples warned about false prophets and false teachers. The Bible tells us of the many times Jesus wrangled with the Pharisees in His day. We need to only read current events to see religious groups who misinterpret God’s Word. False teachers are still here.

Ask God for the wisdom to discern His true teachings from the false ones.

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Obey the Law

Oh, no! Flashing lights coming up fast from behind! That couldn’t be good.

Carol had been grocery shopping and was returning home on a lightly-traveled road. She was only three miles from her small town when she found herself behind a slow moving farm vehicle.

Carol followed the driver for a while because they were in a no-passing zone. Ordinarily, she followed slow-moving vehicles, sometimes for several miles, until she could legally pass. But she could see several miles ahead and the road was completely clear of other vehicles, so she cautiously passed the machinery.

As she pulled back into her lane, she glanced in the rear-view mirror, saw flashing lights, and quickly pulled over to the side of the road. Evidently, the unmarked police car had been following her for quite a while. She handed the policeman her registration and driver’s license and waited while he checked them.

When he returned, he told her he was only giving her a warning but for her to remember not to pass on a double-yellow line—no matter how slowly the vehicle in front was moving.

Probably, there had been other drivers who zipped around the farm machinery and didn’t suffer the consequence, but Carol was caught in the act of disobeying the law.

She had never passed in a no-passing zone, and she vowed never to do so again. It was a hard lesson to learn, but she learned it well. How do I know the details so clearly? Because the story is mine. Carol is my middle name.

Today’s Scripture tells us that everyone must obey the laws of the land. Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. Even more important to Christians is obeying God’s commands. If we do this, then we will obey the laws of our government, unless they contradict God’s law. Take it from one who knows from experience. It’s best to obey the law.

Be willing to let God’s Holy Spirit guide you to make the right decisions.

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God Sees Beauty, Not Clothes

“Hmm … let’s see … what shall I wear today?”

I don’t know how many times I’ve spoken those words while peering into the closet at hangers stuffed with clothes. I often spend several minutes each morning trying to decide what to wear.

I had never considered the time spent on the process. Deciding what to wear is only one part of it. There is also shopping for clothes, trying on clothes, and buying clothes. Sometimes this can consume a whole afternoon.

So, what drives us to stuff our closet with clothes? And what’s the big deal anyway?

The world of advertising influences our shopping habits and places a huge emphasis on our appearance. Millions of dollars are spent each year on fashion—all revolving around our looking good. But is this important to God?

Jesus speaks to the crowds about this topic in Matthew’s gospel when He draws their attention to the lilies of the field. The lily’s natural beauty far outshines even King Solomon in all his splendor.

Not long ago, a pastor friend of mine started me thinking about the whole clothes dilemma when he wrote, If I am serious about overcoming the world in the area of fashion, I will stop trying to receive pleasure from my clothing purchases and begin to see them instead as performing a necessary function.

This issue comes down to a matter of mindset. If I change my view of clothes and see them as a functionality instead of a status symbol, I’ll spend less time getting dressed and shopping, which frees up more time for me to spend with God.

God desires time spent with Him. He doesn’t care about our outward appearance but looks at our inner beauty instead. In God’s eyes, we are beautifully dressed no matter what we wear.

Let the fashionista in you decide it's time to revamp your closet.

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Be Angry!

If you’re angry, you’re in good company.

Millions Worldwide Trapped in Human Trafficking. 

Armed Teenager Takes Lives of Nine Classmates. 

Opioid Crisis Plunges Thousands of Families into Poverty

Headlines like these leave us shocked and sad. They also make us angry.

In Mark 11, Jesus did what Paul later wrote. Jesus entered the temple in Jerusalem and let His reaction to how people dishonored that holy place demonstrate anger without sin. Although the text doesn’t include the word angry, we can infer by Jesus’ reaction that He was. When they arrived back in Jerusalem, Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the people buying and selling animals for sacrifices. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the chairs of those selling doves, and he stopped everyone from using the Temple as a marketplace (Mark 11:15-16 NLT).

When we see corruption, injustice, or destruction, anger can propel us into action. In 1980, a California mom who’d lost her daughter because of a drunk driver launched a national movement: MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Horror and anger over human trafficking led me to research the topic. I connected with a wonderful Christian anti-human-trafficking organization called A21.  

Anger about a loved one’s health crisis might prompt you to connect with a ministry that has powerful teaching on healing or with an organization that funds medical research. Outrage over domestic violence could lead you to become involved with a local women’s shelter. Or maybe you’re particularly passionate about the plight of refugees or orphans.

Be attuned to anger-inducing moments. They may well be part of your God-given assignment.

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The Master Repairer

“Broken is beautiful,” a friend reassured our small group Bible study.

She then explained the Japanese art of Kintsugi, which uses gold to repair broken pottery. By dusting the cracked pieces with powdered gold, this art form draws attention to its brokenness. The highlighted cracks and flaws become the focal points of the pottery.

“Thus, the brokenness creates the beauty,” she concluded.

The psalmist reminds us of God’s protection even when we are flawed, troubled, or crushed in spirit. His healing hands can pick us up, dust us off, and put us back together again—even better than we were before. We just need to trust in His saving power.

Like the crack in the Liberty Bell, the lean in the Tower of Pisa, the horns on Michelangelo’s “Moses,” our flaws give us character.

The Master Designer maintains complete control of His artwork. He is always ready to fill our cracks, remold us, remake us, and improve our value. Even as wounded vessels, He can deliver us from evil, protect our bodies, and beautify our souls.

Broken artwork repaired by the Kintsugi method results in vessels even more beautiful than a piece of flawless ceramic. A broken person repaired by the gift of God’s goodness and grace results in a beautiful and unbreakable masterpiece.

Allow God to bind up your wounds and repair your cracks. Embrace your brokenness so that others can see God’s beauty within you.

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Follow Directions

“Well, you told me to call if we got lost.”

My mom and stepdad were the recipients of a free time-share week in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Their friend, who owned the time share, was in the hospital and couldn’t use it, so she offered it to them for free. Not having been anywhere recently, they jumped at the offer.

But my mom and stepdad had been having problems each time they go out of town: they get lost. I sent her step-by-step directions. She printed them. My wife sent her turn-by-turn directions from Cherokee, North Carolina, to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. She printed them. We thought we had the bases covered. Surely, they wouldn’t get lost.

When she called, they were going in the wrong direction on Interstate 40. When they got to Cherokee, they got lost again. My wife stayed on the phone with my stepdad until she got them on the road to Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They finally arrived—one hour past check-in time—which meant they had to find yet another place to pick up the key.

My parents listened to the directions we gave, but somehow something was lost in the translation when it came to doing what we said. First-century Christians must have had the same issue. James warned them not to merely hear God’s Word but to obey and do it.

God’s directions have purpose. He didn’t give them to make our lives miserable, but enjoyable. Knowing what’s best for us—whether we think so or not—God instructs us to follow His directions. I don’t always do a good job at that, but every time I go awry, unfavorable consequences follow.

Although God doesn’t enjoy disciplining His children—as a parent doesn’t enjoy disciplining theirs—He will when He knows it’s in our best interest. His disciplinary measures are designed to get us back on the right road—the road we’ve veered from.

As my wife and I were willing to help when Mom called, so God is eager to help us get back on the right road when we’ve taken a wrong one. All we have to do is ask. He’s never too busy to answer our cries for help.

Don’t risk traveling the wrong road in life. Turn to God for directions.

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Neighborly Advice

I’ll never forget her words: “God brings good things out of bad situations.”

As a confused, lonely teenager dealing with my mom’s alcoholism and suicide, I roamed the streets and sometimes stopped at Betty‘s house. She was a committed Christian who ran the Sunday school program at her church.

Betty’s instruction about God bringing good out of bad came to pass when my dad remarried and I gained two stepsisters and a stepbrother—as well as a stepmom who helped me deal with my problems.

Betty’s profound words came true again when I made a mistake at a grocery store where I worked and lost my job. That same day, I was promoted to a full-time job at a cable company.

And there was the time my landlord wanted to raise my rent by two hundred dollars, and I had to find a new place to live. A Christian neighbor helped me find a new place that was only fifty dollars more than I was paying. The move enabled me to cut some of my expenses, which also helped.

Today, I remember how God showed up in my times of need. No crisis, trial, or circumstance is unfixable by the Lord. When Jesus was on earth, He healed the sick and the blind and raised Lazarus from the dead.

When bad things happen to you, God knows what He is doing. He will work it out for your good. Just trust Him. 

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As High as the Heavens

Our minds cannot understand the vastness of our world.

Scientists once believed there were more stars in the universe than grains of sand on earth’s beaches. They now believe there are ten times more stars in our night skies than grains of sand on all the beaches and deserts of the earth. And that only applies to the stars we view through a telescope. There are infinitely more stars in the universe than we can know about.

Our solar system is so vast we cannot see everything in it with the naked eye. Billions of stars reside in our small solar system. And ours is only one of billions of other solar systems, each holding its billions of stars.

Yet, as high as the heavens are above the earth, that’s how immense God’s love is for each one of us who fear (or have a reverent awe) of Him. Even more, He does not love us silently, but reaches out and shows us His love. He speaks to our hearts through a song on the radio or the words of a book. He touches us in simple things like a sunset or encouraging words from a stranger.

We have such busy lives with many distractions. God is waiting for us to stop, look heavenward, and experience His great love for us.

Make time today to look up.

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Boarding the Right Ships

Many words in the English language end with the suffix ship.

I don't know why this is, but I like comparing these words to the many ships we can choose to ride. And we can ride more than one at the same time, figuratively speaking of course.  

Some figurative ships are friendship, courtship, sportsmanship, and worship. Many gospel songs speak of our Christian journey from earth to heaven as riding a ship.

Paul tells Timothy to let no man despise his youth, but for him to ride the example ship for other believers. We should all do this, no matter our age. 

I once read a news story about two high school boys who played baseball on two opposing teams. The boy on one team, who struck out the other boy, went over and hugged him—an act of good sportsmanship. The news report said the hug was a social media sensation.

The boy who won and hugged his friend on the losing team was reared by godly parents who set an example before him. He knew what he did was the right thing to do.

Those of us who are older should set godly examples for youth so they'll want to set godly examples before others. We're all leading someone whether we know it or not, and we should strive to be a good influence. This is leadership.

Our leadership begins with fellowship with Christ at salvation. And this is the most important ship for us to board.

Make sure you board the right ships in life.   

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Grace 101

I decided it was time to give them a practical lesson in grace.

My wife and I used a Bible-based curriculum to homeschool our children, which meant they learned something of the nature and character of God in every lesson.

One day, I prepared tests that would be impossible for them to pass. A few minutes after handing them out, I got feedback: a.k.a. whining about the difficulty of the questions. I told them to try their best and even allowed them to work for the answers by using their textbook. A quick show of hands at the end of class revealed that part 1 of my lesson had been successful. They knew they had failed.

I gave the tests back for review on Monday. Their fears were confirmed when they saw that each had received a failing grade. After a brief discussion, I told them I loved them very much, marked out the with a red pen, and wrote 100 A+ on each test. I asked if it was their effort that had gotten them the 100. They answered, "No." Then I revealed that this test wasn’t about the lesson from their textbook but rather about a lesson from God's Book—specifically about God’s grace for salvation.

We then read Ephesians 2 and Romans 3 to conclude the lesson. We can never do enough to earn salvation. Thankfully, God put a plan in place to redeem us, not through our efforts but through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ—the Lamb of God sent to take away the sin of the world.

We must put aside our attempts to reach God through works and instead lay hold of His grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone for salvation. If your sins have been marked out and covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, you have been freely given a perfect score, which is the righteousness of Christ marked down in place of your failure.

Thank God daily for His amazing grace.

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When the Plan Changes

Life gets rough sometimes. Everything seems great, and then before we know it, life falls apart.

I think that’s how Moses felt as he took a long trip through the desert. He was prince of Egypt, living in comfort and luxury—not a shepherd living in tents. Not only was it a different environment, it was also a life he wasn’t prepared for. He had no shepherding skills.

We sometimes find ourselves in such situations, and it’s difficult to handle it. We either complain about having to be a shepherd or give the excuse that we don’t have what it takes. Our attitude, though difficult, should be to work at whatever God places before us, all the while trusting in His wisdom. God always has a plan.

The only way Moses could know God was for him to leave Egypt. And though life seemed to have ended, the Lord had something greater planned.

We need to trust the Lord and walk that confusing path with our gaze on Jesus. He will propel us to greater heights when we’re faithful with everything He has handed us—however difficult. His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts not our thoughts. But they are always better that our ways and thoughts.

When God changes your plans, follow them faithfully.

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A Tender Heart

“I tried to make him happy.”

My son-in-law left with two of their kids for ball practice, which gave my daughter some one-on-one time with their youngest, Luke. As the two ate dinner, Luke shared his day at daycare. At first he was filled with laughter and smiles. Then he paused, grew quiet, and began to cry. Alarmed, my daughter asked what was wrong. He related how his friend, Brody, had been sad that afternoon.  

“I found his favorite toy and played with him. And the other day at school, a boy was sad because no one shared the ball with him at recess. So the next time I caught the ball, I threw it to him.”

“Luke, you did the right thing. You found a way to make the boys feel as if they had a friend. Sometimes you’ll see sadness in people, and you may not be able to fix it. That’s okay, but you can always pray for those who are sad.”

When my daughter tucked her youngest into bed that night, she listened to his bedtime prayer. Luke asked God to help those two boys not be sad anymore and to help sad people everywhere. My daughter added her own prayer that God would help Luke remain aware of those around him, tender to their needs, and willing to intervene as he is able.

Christ lived a life that demonstrated not only His holiness but also His love and concern for humanity’s needs. Paul taught Timothy the importance of prayer for others and also left a reminder for us.

Take a moment and examine your life. Ask God to help you stay alert to those around you. Pray for people to see God, help them when you can, and be thankful for any opportunities God gives you.

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To Take Up Space

I remember “journaling time” in school.

My first grade teacher gave us students a thin piece of paper with pink and blue lines and a chunky pencil and told us to write something. In fifteen minutes, she would review it. We were allowed to write about anything—a new toy, something that made us sad, what we wanted to be when we grew up. Most days, I loved it. But some days, no good thoughts entered my head. Still, I had to fill that piece of paper. On more than one occasion, my work looked something like the following: I am writing to take up space.
I have to use all the lines, so I am writing these words to take up space on the paper. I can’t think of anything to write about except that I have nothing to write about.


I thought it was a clever way to solve my problem, but I don't think Mrs. Collins agreed.

Sometimes, I still feel that way about writing. I need to write a blog because it’s been a while, yet I don't want to write words just for the sake of writing words. I want them to be meaningful. Now, I pray for guidance and trust that the right words will be there at the "write" time.

I think about those writing assignments often, because it reminds me how I don't want to live. I don't want to live the way I wrote when the inspiration wouldn't come. I don't want to live just to take up space. I want to be more than a consumer of oxygen on this earth. I want to produce something meaningful and beautiful with the resources God has given me.

Just as a finite amount of lines decorate a page and just as pencils eventually become nubs, so our lives are but a mist that is here one moment and gone the next. We must be mindful to make the writing assignment of life more than vain words.

Write a good story. Fill the lines on the page well. Don't live just to take up space between the margins of birth and death. One day, the Teacher will review our work. With His help, may we want Him to discover our best effort.

Knowing life is short, give God your best each day.

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Be Not Anxious

A sudden and unexpected lightning strike to a major power source put the residents of the Big Apple in twenty hours of darkness.

The New York Blackout of 1977 surged with anarchy as rioting spread like a wildfire. Others remained indoors, paralyzed by fear and confusion. Historian David E. Nye believed civilization breaks down, rules are cast out, and orderliness tumbles in the course of an abrupt reality alteration like a black out. I call the alteration a force to adapt to—and no one likes force.

People endure real mental and emotional effects when they experience power outages. These expressions are defined as panic responses. Studies show that during such events many lose the ability to communicate. We imagine horrible things, and some of us get so worked up we even commit horrendous acts of violence due to the resounding stress. When things go black, health and refuge become debatable.

We all face challenges in life that reflect power outages. We experience panic responses, and begin to doubt. Things seem so dark when the lights are suddenly turned off. However, within a second or two, our eyes adjust and things don’t appear so dark after all.

When calamity raids my home, I immediately try to fix it—turn the lights back on. There’s no time to ask questions or point fingers, although most lasting solutions come from understanding the root cause.

The question is whether we want a Band-Aid or a cure? Hurrying to fix problems is greatly associated with aggravating the problem—as in trying to walk in a dark room before our eyes adjust.

God is our refuge and strength. We shouldn’t be anxious to remedy changes, troubles, or tragedies. Neither should we be anxious for anything because the lack of sight produces regrettable moments most of us spend the rest of our lives apologizing for.

Unless Divine intervention says, “Move,” be still and wait for clarity. Waiting may seem hard, but waiting is not impossible. Trust that things will gets better. God is in control, and all things are working on your behalf.

Stand still and know that God created and controls all things.

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God Is My Midwife

God is my midwife.

The Bible depicts God as a fatherly figure, steeped in compassion and power and one who disciplines those He loves. Our creator is a part of everything in the universe.

Soon-to-be fathers have expectancy and determination to be the best they can be when they meet their buddle of joy. But nothing compares to a mother’s love. She understands the pain of going through nine months of pregnancy: morning sickness, sensitive smells, a more holistic diet. A mother is with her baby every step of the way because she has to be. God does the same.

Since God created both male and female, I believe He empathizes with both as the writer of Hebrews implies and is everyone’s mid-wife. God is love, so He is here to help us through every pain we go through.

Everyone is about to experience some blessngs God has promised to deliver on. They are about to give birth to their hopes and dreams. God wants to help us through the struggles we experience when we feel like giving up. Many women, while giving birth, say, “I can’t do this.” But a loved one or a doctor coaches them to continue pushing. God does the same. We aren’t alone. God holds our hand through every sharp pain.

Experience God taking you through the tough seasons so you can feel the blessings of the Lord on the other side.

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Where the Grass is Greener

Traveling down the rural road to my subdivision, I passed a cow pasture sectioned with a barbed wire fence.

Seeing a cow stretching their head through the fence to eat the grass on the other side is common. I chuckle and wonder, Is the grass really greener on the other side? Recently, a calf got through the fence in the quest for something greener, only to realize he wanted back in the pasture. He stood, looking back to where he came from, longing to rejoin the herd.

Luke tells of a man who wanted to follow Jesus. He knew Jesus could provide eternal life and wanted to know how to have it. He had kept many of the commandments, yet Jesus knew something kept the man from giving his heart fully to Him. Jesus tried to tell the man of a place where the grass was greener. It wasn’t found by accumulating material things or by being successful.

As humans, we often yearn for something better or bigger. The material quest entices us to want the newer car, larger house, or higher status. There have been times when I thought true happiness would occur if I could achieve a certain goal, obtain a desired possession, or experience an anticipated event. But when I reached the goal or got the possession, I didn’t have the satisfaction I had hoped for.

Jesus can supply all our needs. Our worth is not measured by what we have or how hard we work. Jesus sees past what many deem valuable and looks straight into our hearts. He knows if we are yearning for the things of heaven or the attractions of the world.

Let the pastures of contentment fill your heart, knowing God will provide everything you need.

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In the Midst

Being together brought joy.

Our brother’s family was home from Germany, where Thomas served in ministry to the military. Dorthy was home from her teaching job at a Christian college in California, and Mom was still with us.

Two things were prominent in the Qualls family. One was that we played table games. Mom was the most competitive. She grabbed the green marbles first when we played the homemade game of Dirty Board (like Aggravation). She thought those were her lucky marbles. She would often roll the dice before the previous person had a chance to move their marbles, and we accused her of cheating.

The second was that our family conversations centered mainly on the Lord. What a joy to share with each other what the Lord was doing in each of our families. When we were all together, we often sensed His presence among us. We wanted our children to know the Lord held a vital place in our family.

Two men walked with Jesus on the Emmaus Road, sharing the recent happenings in Jerusalem. As they talked, Jesus joined them and made Himself known to them. Later, they met with several of Jesus’ disciples and followers in Jerusalem. These two recounted for the others their encounter with the Lord. While they were still talking, Jesus appeared in their midst.  

In times when we feel alone—times of sorrow when we cannot see Jesus—we can know when two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). He is there in the middle.

Sharing our God experiences with other members of our family brings God close. As we speak about Jesus or pray in His name, His presence is present. Share your own testimony of God’s favor and blessings with your family and with others. There will be a time when they remember, and that memory may be just what they need to encourage or strengthen their faith.

Even though Jesus left this earth two thousand years ago, His Word promises He will show up when we come together in His name.

Be ready to feel God’s presence when you gather in His name.

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Devouring Fire

“Do not let the enemy silence you because you’re not perfect.”

I have let the enemy do more than silence me. He has blinded me from seeing a gift from the Holy Spirit. I have struggled with a speech problem since childhood, stumbling over simple words such as chicken and school. I still recall the fear of turning fifteen because I couldn’t say fifteen. I have fallen into the enemy’s trap of believing I couldn’t speak for God. Now I know that isn’t true.

When deleting old computer notes, I ran across the results of a spiritual gift assessment I once took. I scored high in intercessory prayer and faith. At the time of the test, I dismissed the result by believing the results were wrong. My self-talk confirmed I wasn’t qualified. I convinced myself the words I stumbled over as a child still controlled me. So I questioned the minister. He agreed intercessory prayer was my gift. Again, I denied the assessment’s accuracy. I avoided praying aloud.

Sixteen years later, I am a prayer warrior, waking in the middle of the early morning and praying over concerns of strangers, friends, and family. I have prayed in silence for others since I was a child. If I heard an ambulance, I prayed.

The enemy no longer devours me. I take my stand against the devil who prowls around telling me lies that I am not worthy to be called by God. The devil may prowl around, but I focus on the writer in Deuteronomy’s description: “the Lord your God is the one who goes ahead of you like a devouring fire.” 

Stay alert and keep your focus on God. The devil roams, but God goes ahead of you and devours.

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Changing Vision May Require a New Prescription

Seeing clearly gives a different perspective.

I have enjoyed perfect eyesight my entire life. As a child, when on long trips, my family played a game to see who could read the farthest traffic sign—which I most often won. Around my fortieth birthday, I started squinting when reading. Things looked fuzzy up close, so I held them farther away. I could still see clearly miles down the road—but up close and personal, not so much. For an avid reader, this was problematic.

Having super-sensitive eyes, I opted for a cheap pair of reading glasses instead of contacts or Lasik surgery (God forbid!). For whatever reason, even talking about tears made my eyes water. I even struggle with putting drops in my eyes. I bought several pair of reading glasses to strategically position throughout the house. When I forgot where I placed the pair I had been wearing, another was quickly available.

Recently, I reached for the nearest pair of glasses during my quiet time. Oh my. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. The words jumped off the page. I had not seen this clearly since I was a child reading my dad’s large print edition of the Bible. Little did I know, one of the pairs of “similar” reading glasses had some sort of weird magnifiers. I do not wear them all the time, but they come in handy with small print.

Paul assures us there is coming a day when the imperfect, puzzling, cloudy, fuzzy things of life will come into perfect focus. Darkness will flee from the dawning of that bright and glorious day. Negative circumstances, trials, and adversity will reveal their transforming power. Confusing situations and questions will be answered—seemingly conflicting dogma resolved. What caused us to stumble in this life will not exist in the next.

Until that glorious day, we stumble around on earth. However, as Jesus told the disciples at the well with the Samaritan women, we lift up our eyes. Get a different perspective. See things with His spiritual insight. We might be amazed at what we see.

Ask God to help you see the world through His eyes.

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The Tornado

“Lord, what are You doing? Do You care about me?”

Frustrated, I screamed the question one day as I drove from my work as a courier to my Belleville, Illinois, home. I did not move from Minnesota to drive around the St Louis area like a chicken with my head cut off. My career job didn’t work out, and I felt as if the Lord took away my ability. 
 
When I got home, a storm rolled in. I watched the weather on television and sprinted to the door to see what was happening outside. At one point, it was so windy I thought a hurricane had struck.
 
An hour later, a neighbor came home and said, “Look what happened!” He pointed to the missing roof of an apartment building. Remembering my rant a few hours earlier, I felt as if the Lord reminded me that but for His grace that could have been my house.
 
King Saul chased David, and David probably felt as if God didn’t care about him. Just as I thought God didn‘t care about me. But it wasn’t true in either case.
 
I discovered later that a tornado had struck the apartment building. I thought the Lord went deaf, but I guess He protected me, remaining faithful even when my faith was weak.
 
Trust in Jesus no matter what happens. He’ll keep you safe.

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Family Defined

Who is my family?

If I consider biology alone, my family consists of my mother, father, and sister. When I include legal relationships, I add my adopted brother and my husband. Reflecting on emotional ties, my family embraces international students who’ve stayed in our home, plus tried and true friends. Anytime I need extra support in a difficult situation, I immediately turn to my church family. I also recall my Christian brothers and sisters who served as co-laborers on mission trips in various parts of the world.

Many individuals, if honest, admit they have stronger emotional ties with fellow Christians or faithful friends than with their biological family. Birth into the same household does not guarantee mutual love and support. Those blessed with strong, positive relationships on all fronts bask in those multiple ongoing benefits.

A surface reading of Jesus’ statements about His mother and brothers sounds harsh and uncaring. Digging deeper reveals a more profound truth. When Jesus said, “Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother,” He wasn’t renouncing His biological family. Rather, He was declaring the greater connection available to all who become a part of His faith-based family. Discipleship surpasses, but does not necessarily replace, kinship.

In addition, if family seeks to lead us away from God’s service, we must give God priority. Granted, that can be difficult. Yet by demonstrating unconditional love and respect for these individuals, even if we reject their behavior, we may eventually love them into God’s growing family. Then how sweet our relationship will grow.

When we accept and act on God’s will, we become a part of His family and share joy with this kaleidoscope of kin.

Thank God for the privilege of being His child.

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Pennies and Manna

“Pennies from Heaven,” a popular song in the 1930s, describes the gratitude of sunshine and flowers following rain.

In the Old Testament, the Israelites had different rain and pennies: manna. After God parted the Red Sea and delivered the Israelites from Egypt, He fed them in an unusual way through heaven-sent food, an unfamiliar small round seed. His provision included trust for the unfamiliar as well as gathering only what they needed for one day and twice what they needed for the Sabbath. When the Israelites saw it, they were puzzled and asked what it was. The translation of their question is “manna.”

We don’t have pennies or manna falling from heaven today, but God does send provision in our storms. In grief, we receive comfort through His Word and from people who come alongside us. God sends grace as we plough through rough spots and think we can’t take one more step. During difficult financial times, He provides for our needs, not necessarily our wants. When we have doubts and questions, He gives wisdom if we ask. If we are anxious, He reminds us to pray, and God’s peace guards our hearts and minds. Like the Israelites who gathered twice as much on the sixth day, we can trust God to provide our heaven-sent food.

If you need comfort, wisdom, peace, or a specific need met, look to heaven for the small round seed of His personally designed manna. When you do, you will see sunshine and flowers after the rain because you have seen His hand in your life at just the right time.

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It's Not My Battle

I’ll never forget it. The day Dad first opened up about his stint in the Pacific theatre. He never talked about his days in the Army. Ever. Instead, he suffered in silence.

Nightmares, fear, worry. I feel sure all were signs of PTSD. World War II was brutal, and Dad was in the thick of hand-to-hand combat. The recipient of not one, but two, purple hearts, Dad paid a severe price for his country.

Before Dad’s death, we found his medals and framed them. He smiled, hung them on the wall, and never paid them another ounce of attention. Although Dad was proud to serve his country, he could have cared less about the accolades. “Medals don’t mean nothing. I did what I did because I chose to.”

Years after Dad’s death, we found his dress greens perfectly preserved. But perhaps the most impactful find was a 3 x 4 Bible with a metal cover—the corner bent and torn from a sniper’s bullet that tore through Dad’s chest … and the only thing that prevented the bullet from hitting his heart. We listened as Dad described the horrible day, and how he and his men simply prayed God would save them. And He did.

God sent a prophet to tell King Jehoshaphat the battle he would lead his men into was not his battle, but God’s. Better yet—it was already won. When the Israelites arrived to fight, the enemy was dead. They’d fought one another.

Even today, God leads His mighty armies into a spiritual battle in the heavenly realm. Daily, He claims the battles as His own and wins them on our behalf. What a God of protection. What a loving Father.

Our world is a mess, yet daily men and women take the battle in hand for us. They fight on our behalf. Without a second of hesitation, these soldiers step up to the plate protecting a sometimes very ungrateful nation of people.

We are free because of the efforts of those who fight the battle for us. Just as Christ sacrificed Himself for our sin, these men and women sacrifice their lives to be sure our nation remains free.

Today we celebrate our independence. Thank those who willingly serve, and then praise God for the battle He won over death—for you.

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I Will Follow

I was not prepared to be a wife.

For my entire adult life, I had been a career-driven single. Working with mission agencies and churches was my passion. But I also desired to be married and to share the rest of my life with one special person.

Getting married a few months before my fortieth birthday answered my prayer. I was so excited. But nothing could have prepared me for the conversation I had with my new husband on the way home from our honeymoon.

“God has not released me,” he said.  

After losing his job in California during our engagement, he had visited the Carolinas a couple of months before our marriage to test the job market. He was overwhelmed with interviews, but no job offer.

“But we had a deal,” I said.

During our engagement, we agreed that unless he received a job offer we both would return to California where I had a steady full-time job with a large multi-campus church. Returning to North Carolina meant being closer to my family, but quitting the one job between us was not something I wanted to do. No income. No insurance. No security. Part of me longed to dig my heels into the ground and scream, “No.”

I realized I knew nothing about being a wife. One week before our wedding ceremony, our pastor integrated Ruth’s promise into our vows. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. What kind of wife would I be if I turned my back on those words just one week after I promised them?

“But, Lord, I’m scared, very scared.”

Trust me.

The words came softly to my spirit, and I knew the Lord had spoken. Did I really trust Him enough to take this leap of faith? I took some deep, heavy breaths. This was not what I had in mind, but I knew what I had to do. That night, I sat down with my husband and agreed to follow him as he followed God. One step of faith at a time. One day at a time. And God was true to His promise.

Taking a step of faith is often difficult when we are unsure of what lies ahead. Fear often grips us. This is where faith comes in. Faith to trust God at His Word. Faith to believe He won’t leave us. Faith to take one simple step.

God will prove true to His promises to you.

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Prayer as Incense

People in my church call me a prayer warrior.

Their term makes me a little uncomfortable, since it implies engaging in battle. Those in our armed forces fight hard to keep us free. When people apply the term to me, I feel as if they’re misusing it.

But I know what they mean. I fight against the power of Satan when I lift up the needs of others: church members requesting prayer for a lady with cancer or a man who lost his job. Friends asking prayer for their marriages. With strangers, I simply lift their names to God. He already knows their needs.

I also pray for God to keep my immediate and extended family safe, and that He will help them honest. I pray He will protect them from drugs, alcohol, and sexual sin. I also pray for our President, his family, state and federal representatives and senators, as well as world leaders. I pray for their salvation and that God will use them in accordance with His will.

The psalmist describes prayer rising to God as incense—a beautiful image of a pleasant fragrance rising to God’s throne room. I envision Him sitting on an enormous throne with Jesus at His right hand, listening to the prayers of millions of Christians.

God hears each individual’s prayer in whatever language it is offered and then responds in the best way. I believe He answers prayer with one of three words: yes, no, or wait.

I don’t always know the outcome of my intercessory prayers. Sometimes I’ll learn the woman with cancer is in remission, and I praise God. Other times, I’ll learn the man is still looking for work, so I continue lifting him to the Lord. Some marriages heal; others end in divorce. The results are left to God.

Prayer doesn’t need to be complicated or verbose, but heartfelt. Direct your prayers to God in faith, believing He hears and answers.

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The Master Gardener

“Oh, no! Watch out roses. Gene has a shovel.”

My husband enjoys growing rose bushes, but he is an impatient gardener. When the bushes don’t leaf out in spring as soon as he believes they should, he replaces them. One spring was no different. He dug up two bushes and tossed them aside. Upon examining them, I discovered tiny green spots on both bushes and replanted them in a different area.

Through the following weeks, I watched as more areas of the bushes turned green and sprouted tiny leaves. Soon, the bushes would bloom, and I would be rewarded with colorful, fragrant roses.

Sometimes we treat people as my husband does rose bushes. We look at those struggling with addictions or other problems and consider them to be of little worth. “They’ll never amount to anything. Why waste time on them?” we say.

Jesus had a different viewpoint. He told a parable about an impatient owner of a vineyard (Luke 13:6-9). The man waited three years for a fig tree to bear fruit, but it failed to do so. He told the gardener to cut it down, but the overseer pleaded with the owner for more time. The gardener wasn’t ready to give up on the tree. 

Jesus knows the potential deep within the person we might be ready to dismiss as unworthy. He knows if they surrender their lives to Him, they will become vibrantly alive and bloom for the rest of their life. After all, He is the Master Gardener.

Perhaps I need to ask if I’m as concerned about people who have been “thrown away” by society as I was about the rose bushes tossed aside by my husband. What about you?

Help others find the abundant life Jesus offers.

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Jump in with Both Feet

My bare feet climbed the ladder, mortified to back out now.

A jump from the high diving board. Could I pull it off with this secret fear of heights? A public embarrassment to turn around and go the same way I’d arrived—down the ladder. To walk past the people waiting in line as pool-siders gawked behind sunglasses.

My twin sister and I went to a public swimming pool every summer. In middle school, I conjured up enough courage to make oodles of jumps off the low-dive. But now in high school, I desired to brave the high-dive.

Mind you, I didn’t plan a crowd-pleasing-eyebrow-raising dive or backwards flip. Olympian blood never ran through my veins. So why all the fretting and heart thumping? Because it was a first. A new experience. A defining moment in life.

At the bottom of the ladder, my twin and I had engaged in a going first tug-of-war. I reluctantly agreed to go first. And this high-diving-board story ends with an inside celebration to remain impressively cool. Hurray, I did it! Again. And again. We both jumped multiple times.

Honestly, I’ve always preferred the low-dive. I’m a low-dive, low-altitude kind of girl. Yet I accomplished something that day. I moved ahead into new territory and overcame a fear.

There’s another who went first—again and again. Someone we never have to implore to go first.  He’s where going first started. Jesus went first in love, forgiveness, death, and life. He’s our example to love as He first loved us. To make peace by forgiving others as He forgave us first. And to die to our desires as we carry a cross because He died unselfishly bearing His cross.

As Jesus lived, we live—sold-out for our heavenly Father, accomplishing His will on earth. And since Jesus went first, He provides the power for us to face our fears and new adventures.

So, jump in with both feet. Come in from the sidelines, low-diving board, or high-diving board. Ease in from the pool-side ladder, or make your way slip-sliding down the slide. But, by all means, get into the water.

Live life to the fullest. Make a big splash for the One who went first.

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Letting Go of Fear

Fear often leaves us feeling crippled and helpless.

When our boys Brandon and Taylor were young, I remember how excited they’d get when we went to the “big pool.” The big pool meant no more swimming with the babies. Of course, it also meant they would have to get over their fear of swimming in deep water. We watched as they stood at the edge of the pool—little toes squeezed tight to the pebbled concrete—daring to jump in. They feared the unknown.

Kids do not know how deep or cold water is, they just know parents will catch them and keep them safe when they decide to jump. Often, we stand at the edge of life’s pool. We see what lies ahead, and if we can’t reach it or control it we begin to fear. If we give in to fear, it is the same as giving up. We become paralyzed and controlled by it.

We have all been afraid of something: flying in an airplane, swimming in deep waters, speaking in public, or committing to something. We can’t predict what the outcome will be when we participate in these ventures, and we assume the worst will happen before we even begin. You may have passed up a promising career or an important leadership role because you feared failure.

God knew we would be fearful people, but we do not have to be bound by it. He is our way of escape. We settle in life and become complacent by not stepping out and trusting Him for what He wants to accomplish in our life.

After the death of Moses, Joshua had a task set before him. He had all the talents and abilities he needed to accomplish what God called him to do. God told Joshua to be strong and courageous and not to fear. Our heavenly Father doesn’t want us to settle or give in to fear. He is there with outstretched arms, ready to catch us. All we have to do is trust Him and take a leap of faith.   

Name your fears, and ask God to help you conquer them.

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Restoring the Broken

In backyards, garages, and unused barns, treasure hides under old tarps—unseen by everyone except those with a special kind of eyesight.

To a classic car restorer, the moment an owner pulls off a tarp or raises a garage door is exciting. When he finds the remains of a classic car, his eyes light up. His touch becomes gentle. “This must have been one sweet ride. How much do you want for it?” The price is low because the seller sees only a broken-down wreck. The buyer sees hidden beauty and wonderful potential.

After the owner tows the old car back to the shop, a professional team assesses everything wrong: “Transmission’s shot. She’ll need a new engine. Right fender looks good. Have to buff out this rust, though.”

Restoring a ruined car takes time, skill, hard work, and a clear assessment of the damage. But these dreamers are realists. Our Savior is too. When Jesus becomes our owner, He sees all the brokenness and sin in our life clearly—and His eyes light up. He loves restoring us from our empty way of life.

Redemption takes something ruined and restores it to full beauty, function, and purpose. Our Savior is also our Redeemer. Jesus buys us back from Satan’s junkyard. Then like the classic car enthusiast, He gets to work. First comes the honest assessment: “Damaged self-esteem.The mouth leaks gossip.Temper keeps misfiring.” Jesus sees all our faults and sins plainly, yet knows how to heal what’s broken.

Unlike the classic car restorer, Jesus doesn’t work on corroded engines. He works in our heart—but refuses to do any restoration work without our permission. No Christian has ever been healed or set free against their will. The choice is ours.

Sometimes restoration hurts, but the end result is a healed, transformed inner life and a deeper walk with the One who loves us enough to redeem us. 

Let Jesus restore what’s broken in you.

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