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.


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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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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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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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)

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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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)

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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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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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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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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“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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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.

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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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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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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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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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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.

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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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Soft and Comfy

I was an object at rest—and wanted to remain that way.

Legs stretched out and feet propped up, I parked in front of the television on a warm summer evening, channel-flipping impulsively. Naturally, I purposefully placed a tall glass of ice tea and a bowl of nuts within easy reach.

But this particular evening was unlike previous nights. An uneasiness piqued my curiosity—a sensation strong enough to distract my stare away from the television screen. 

I attributed the uneasiness to the tailwinds of the Holy Spirit’s nudging again. It was suggestive of the winds that rushed through the upper room at Pentecost, penetrating the hearts of the disciples … after which they boldly proclaimed the gospel.

This prompting reminded me my life had become too soft and comfy. I claimed to be a Christian, but I wondered if I’d honestly answered Christ’s call to be a true disciple through my commitment to Him. Something hindered me. I feared the cost associated with being a disciple.

I loved my wife, children, gadgets, and channel-flicking. Yes, I loved my own life and the many extras—more than God. The thought of losing the life I had put together for myself and my family threatened me.

Being a true disciple necessitates some self-denial. For the devoted disciple, the path to union with Christ calls for the cross—the cross that comes from following Him daily and faithfully. Only when we deny our life for Christ’s will do we discover the abundant life in Christ.

God calls us to love Him more than others, including our family and friends. But this doesn’t means we must diminish the love we have for the people in our lives. On the contrary, the grace we’ve received from each act of self-denial for Him, whether big or small, makes it possible to live more fully for God and to love others even more.

Do something for God that makes you uncomfortable.

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One of my favorite things to do is to walk at night and look up at the moon.

I always thank God for the beauty of the moon when the sky is clear and the moon is full. A less than full moon reveals the stars in the night sky as a reminder of how awesome God is. If you live where there are few lights, the number of stars you see are beautiful. The moon and the stars are still there when the sky is cloudy.

The creation account may be a section of Scripture we don’t think about much. In six days, God created the lights, the waters, the land, the plants, the trees, the animals, and the stars.

God made everything in nature for us to enjoy: plants, flowers, birds, and animals. He then rested from His creation on the seventh day (Genesis 2:3). He decided this day would be holy and set apart from the other days. In the future, He would call this day the Sabbath. This day would have its own commandment: Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy (Exodus 20:8).

We need to plan rest time into our schedule . . . to put a big R on a few future calendar dates so we are home on that day or evening.

Resting can include walking in the park, reading a book, going to a movie with a friend, taking a nap, reading the Bible, or spending quiet time in prayer. Give yourself some rest and follow God’s example.

During this coming week, put a little rest time into your schedule.

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What Does Your Heart Say?

Some people are great talkers; some are great walkers. Many people talk a good game but have never stepped onto the field of play. A talker boasts great exploits; a walker’s actions speak for themselves. Talkers are usually unpredictable, erratic, superficial, and short-term while walkers are consistent, steady, deep, and long-term. Talkers avoid or resist the storms of life. Walkers embrace their storms as God’s refining transformation.

Before committing or trusting yourself to another person—whether it is dating, marriage, business, or any other relationship—get to know their heart. Talkers can bluff their way through for a while, but walkers are consistently honest from day one. A leopard cannot change its spots (Jeremiah 13:23) no matter how loudly it roars.

The heart is different than a perception or projection. A person’s heart is their lifestyle—habits, mannerisms, passions, characteristics, haunts, vices, standards, morals, priorities, preferences, convictions.

To truly know someone’s heart requires a significant time investment. It involves listening to what is said and unsaid as well as observing their lifestyle. When assessing (not judging) the person as a whole, keep in mind that the fruit confirms the tree (Matthew 7:20).

We can apply the same principles to God. To truly know His heart requires quality, quiet time with Him—reading His Word and listening for His gentle whisper. Absorb and apply what He says but avoid and disregard what He does not say. Over time, you will see His heart even while not fully understanding what He is doing. Seeing and sensing His heart encourages us to trust Him.

Make sure your heart aligns with what you want people to believe about you.

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He Restores My Soul

Early in the morning, the first thing the shepherd in biblical times did was to look into the sky for buzzards. When he saw one or more circling in the air, he feared one of his sheep was in trouble.

When a sheep stumbles and loses balance, it often cannot get up again. It is then called a cast sheep. If the shepherd doesn’t get to it in time, it may die. When the shepherd finally finds the cast sheep, he picks it up and rubs the legs to restore circulation. Then it can rejoin the flock. This is called restoration.

In Psalm 23, David wrote about what he experienced so often in his young life: restoring sheep.

In our Christian living, we too often stumble and fall. Sometimes it is almost impossible to regain our strength and balance. We may feel devastated. Yet Jesus Himself assures us He is our Good Shepherd who watches over His own. He will be our help in trouble. Realizing He is there to restore us brings comfort.

When you feel helpless, when thoughts trouble your mind, or when you feel cast down, ask God to restore your soul. Then thank Him for being your Good Shepherd.

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The Volume Button for a Noisy World

I wear a title in my family, AKA “noise manager.” So, I send out memos, audible and text, to my people requesting they make adjustments to the loudness. Turn down the television. Please lower your voice. Your music’s too loud.

But sometimes I misplace my own remote control in life. When I find myself smack dab in the middle of the world’s noise—among the clamor and racket—I search for an escape. I even want to run away. But where do I go? How can I rise above the noise?

There’s so much noise tugging at my heart these days, twirling in my head. The loudness of it all suffocates the quiet. A gazillion shouting voices. And the words spill out on social media. Rhetoric screams on every street corner suggesting solutions, answers, and opinions.

Like the thump of concert speakers, the world’s rhythm is loud. A rumbling echo replaces the noiseless calm. It spins me into a restless state. And I want to send a memo out to the world. Wishing to do a little shouting of my own from the sidelines. Enough already! Be quiet!

It causes me to search for a volume button to the world . . . to life. If I could just find it and turn the decimals down to nothing—no sound, only hush. Maybe the quiet and calm would come. A stillness my spirit desperately needs. Silence, I want to feel it in my bones.

Christ relayed the importance of a quiet place to His closest followers. After Christ sent the apostles out for ministry work, they came back with a mission report. Still, the crowds pressed in, never leaving them alone. Then Jesus suggested they go off by themselves to a quiet place.

The demands of life often rob us of quiet and soul-restoring time with Jesus Christ. Whether it’s the hustle and bustle of our work day; home life with kids, family, and ministry; or socializing online, Christ calls us to “rest awhile.”

Spend time alone with Christ. It’s the volume button to turn down a noisy world.

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Be You

We don’t cheer for an apple tree that bears apples. It’s an apple tree; that’s what it does.

Some apples have worms in them, and others spoil because they are left on the tree too long. That doesn’t make the apple tree a failure. The apple tree doesn’t worry about what happens to the fruit it produces. It just keeps producing fruit.

I once dreamed of standing on a big stage in front of crowds of women and sharing the truths of God’s Word. I thought I would be successful and feel good about myself. And God would be impressed with what I was doing for Him.

I didn’t understand what Paul taught. My worth isn’t based on what I do, but who I am. God created each of us in His image—unique and one of a kind. One day, we will stand in the light of His presence. I imagine the room will be so bright, but not the kind of light that makes us squint or gives us a headache. More like a summer sun that fills us with the realization of how God sees us: valuable and precious.

When we give our actions to the world to judge, we set ourselves up for heartache. Crowds turn and fame flees. People’s opinions are just that ... opinions. We don’t need to give them the power to judge our worth based on what we do.

Beauty doesn’t have to be recognized for it to be beautiful. Edgar Allan Poe and Vincent van Gogh both died as failures in their own eyes and the eyes of their peers, but they weren’t. We can release our gifts to the world like dandelion seeds blowing in the wind and be content with wherever the wind takes them.  

I don’t need crowds to make me feel worthy. My Father loves me. My value and worth aren’t dependent on what I do, but rather on being fearfully and wonderfully handmade by the King of kings and the Lord of lords.

You were created to do what no one else on this earth can do. Be who you were made to be.

Don’t give others the power to define your success. 

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God: Giver, Taker, or Both?

God gives bountiful blessings and favor; yet, He also removes.

When a child disobeys or throws a tantrum, they may end up in time out. Should the behavior or attentiveness not improve, the parents may remove some privileges or favors (toy, television, electronic games). Is their response uncaring, mean, or abusive? Of course not. They are lovingly molding the child’s character toward acceptable behavior.

Job lost everything in one day but then remarked, “The Lord gave, the Lord has taken away.” Far from a nonchalant, flippant comment, the words reflect strength of character and trust in God’s sovereign control while enduring adverse and painful circumstances.

Aside from unexplained events that occur according to God’s sovereign time and plan, we also know He casts away the desire of the wicked (Proverbs 10:3) but grants the desire of the righteous (Proverbs 10:24). He removes mirth, gladness, and the merriment of weddings (Jeremiah 16:9). He removes and grants favor in response to our disobedience or obedience to His moral standard and life instruction.

However, God is also intimately involved in peeling away not only His favor and benefits but also every crutch, every reliance, every sense of normalcy, and everything that keeps us from obeying and following Him. When I insist on rebelling against or ignoring His moral standard, He begins removing the needs, comforts, and pleasures to which I have grown accustomed. Just as He did in Jeremiah’s time.

In Isaiah 3:1-2, God warned that the result of continued wickedness and rebellion against Him would result in the removal of reserves (stored supplies), provisions (food and water), safety, defense, justice, spiritual insight, future prosperity, wisdom, counsel, experience, integrity, and entertainment.

God also lovingly transforms us to call us to Himself and make us more like Him. When we follow and obey, He grants favor. Should we choose to thumb our nose at Him, He begins a loving removal process to motivate a behavioral and mindset change. With our full attention and genuine desire to follow, His blessings flow anew.

Learn to enjoy God’s giving and taking. He has your best at heart.

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Our Only Sanctuary

We all have places, things, and people who are like sanctuaries to us. 

My friend and I decided to walk a nature trail at our local state park, a place of beauty and peace. We had not gone too far before we found the trail roped off. Refusing to be deterred, we went under the rope and continued, expecting to find a couple of broken boards or small trees down from the recent hurricane.

As we ventured further on the trail, we found it much harder to travel than we expected. The bridge was out in places, large trees were down, and so much debris covered the trail that we couldn’t even tell where the trail was. We got scraped, constantly had to watch our feet for debris and hidden snakes, and even heard a loud, unexplained noise. Our usual sanctuary turned into a place of great fear. 

We are supposed to feel safe with our families and friends. We should feel relaxed in our homes, jobs, and churches. But what happens when we don’t? The people we love the most can turn their backs on us. Homes, jobs, and churches can turn into places of deception and fear. Sanctuaries can become places of dread.

The only true sanctuary we have is in God. He is unchanging. We should never place our value on what other people think or the world’s standards. Our true identity is being a child of the King.

Even in the darkest places in our lives, we do not have to worry that God will turn us away. He tells us He will be with us even as we pass through waters or through the fire. We will not be swept away or burned.

When your sanctuary feels violated—and your friends seem more like foes—remember God is always there. It may seem dark, but it’s just because He’s passing by. Eventually, when the storm is over, you will be able to see He was there all the time.

Don’t try to find your sanctuary in the world.  

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Nip on the Ankles

The stubborn cow would not budge and refused to move through the race when prodded. We finally sent in the trained cattle dog who nipped her ankles just enough to jolt her out of her fear.

The cattle were yarded the previous day for drafting. It was time to wean last year’s calves and separate the steers for fattening. The draft race was narrow. One person stood on the rails at the drafting gate. As the owner made the selection and the cattle moved through, the gate swung either left or right. The breeding cows went straight.

Once the holding yards on both sides filled, the cattle moved into larger yards, finally being driven to their designated paddocks. Later in the year, another draft would select those steers fattened for market.

Working with cattle reflects the seasons in our lives. We each have a purpose. Fresh freedom in God awaits us, but we are often reluctant to move onto our next stage in life. If we obey God’s voice rather than hesitate, things will go well. If we do not obey and walk in our own way, we will go backwards.

Our new season may require leaving the safety of what we have known: parents, locations, church families, ministries, or jobs. We may need to build new relationships or make new alignments for new assignments. Just as calves wean from their mother’s milk and security, we must be willing to obey God’s voice.

God may cause a nip on our ankles by removing a crutch to prod us into our next phase. He does not want us to get stuck in fear. He wants us to go forward.

Choose this day to go forward, accepting the direction of God’s Holy Spirit.

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A Mirror Image

Her harsh words horrified me.

My friend speaks her mind with abandon. Her emotions are raw and ready when things don't work her way. I assume anyone this sensitive is equally sensitive to others, but her need for justice is self-focused. In the moment, the who or why of a circumstance doesn't matter.

In the midst of preparation for an event, my friend burst into the room I had worked tirelessly on to organize details so others could enjoy themselves. But as I finished, in stormed my friend. She screamed about my failure to label the entrance, forcing her to walk farther than she planned on sore feet. Literally in my face, her spit assaulted me with every word.

For me, it was the breaking point to an exhausting day. I burst into tears. But despite my shock, I apologized. With her injustice corrected, she made an innocent remark: "You're obviously having a bad day too. Has something gone wrong?" She didn't connect her screaming to my tears—or recognize her need for a humble response.

Our point of view, when centered on our needs alone, can cause us to miss the bigger picture. We fail to notice the hardships of people or learn from how they endure. My feelings were hurt, and her approach was awful, but I understood a greater lesson. I had to excuse her behavior. She in fact was in pain, and I should have prepared better by putting out a sign. 

Months later, she needed a friend and came to my house in tears. She had endured the wrath of her in-laws yet again. As she wept, I kept silent, and God did an amazing thing. He held up a mirror. She saw how she treated other people and experienced the demoralizing effect. God humbled her.

God empowers us for special moments. She remembered screaming at me and was surprised I didn't snap back. Her behavior reminded me to exercise patience and humility when I'm inconvenienced. The sting of harsh words directed at her, caused her to think twice about how she speaks to others. What lessons we learn when we wait on God.

The next time conflict arises, show grace. Understand people who lash out are hurting themselves. Your restraint allows God to work in His time.

Be patient in the midst of your next trial and see how the Lord works. 

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Hustle for That Muscle

Laziness is the habit of resting before we get tired.

No one is better than me at resting before they get tired. I see the buff athletes on television and think I could look like that if I wanted to. But it wouldn’t be fair to look like them and be handsome at the same time. (At least this is what I tell myself.)

We lift weights and train to build our muscles, but Paul wonders why we neglect our spiritual muscles. Working out takes repetition and consistency. When we hit the plateau, we choose heavier weights.

I like to work smart, not hard. If I want to know the easiest way to do something, I ask a lazy person. If my problem is lying, I’m not spending enough time working on the telling-the-truth muscle. If I spend money indiscriminately and can’t figure out how to stop, I’m not working on the saving muscle. And if I can’t stop thinking lustful thoughts, I need to work on the purity muscle.

When we don’t work our good muscles often enough, they become weak. Working our muscles makes them stronger, but I must choose which muscle I want to work out.

Ask the heavenly Father to remove anything from you that is not of Him and to replace it with everything He holds dear. Lift something heavier. Give more. Serve in a new area. Spend more time with your spouse or your kids.

Work out the good muscles in your spiritual life so you can be stronger for Christ.

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God's Word Promises Results

Living for many years in a Muslim society, I sometimes experienced feelings of hopelessness and disappointment because of so little response to the gospel. During such times, I refocused on what was important in God’s eyes: faithfulness in teaching His Word and in obedience.

I heard about a promise God gave to a colleague in another city. Before she retired, a thousand would come to know Him from her teaching. I prayed, “Lord, let it happen here also.”

The greatest blessing of my career was leading a Bible study for eight to twelve Muslim students and friends. After reading a portion of Scripture, I asked factual questions to ensure they understood the passage. Then I asked them thought-provoking questions. Two of them continued through all four gospels. I was also encouraged when one of the participants, who immigrated to Australia, sent us a message telling how he missed the Bible study and was seeking a similar group.

Although no one openly decided to follow Jesus, some said they were there to think and evaluate. Others declared they were seeking and wanted to know what Christians believe from a Christian. I clung to God’s promise that His Word would not return void but would accomplish what He sent it to do.

Sometimes when we point the way to Jesus to a friend or loved one, we don’t see a response. God wants us to be an obedient and faithful teacher, even when results are not visible. God promises He will bring results in His timing.

Don’t despair. Nothing you do for God is ever wasted.

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I Needed to Be by Myself

I had been given a divine reprieve to a death sentence. “Enjoy it. It’s a miracle,” the doctors said.

My loving wife said, “Honey, you are cutting yourself off from the Holy Spirit’s comfort and healing hands. Our friends at church miss you and want to hug you and share their love with you.”

I thought, Look at me, I should be by myself.

Tears came to my eyes because I was different. But my gentle wife still looked at me through eyes of love. I had been home from the hospital for a few weeks after a two-month sequence that included blood spitting pneumonia, a massive stroke, and extensive pulmonary embolisms in both lungs.  

I wasn’t doing much at enjoying myself as the physicians suggested. I felt more like a damaged vegetable and something you wouldn’t take home from the market. My wife felt I was isolating myself too much, but I felt better being alone and passively watching television.

My angel—having watched me for several weeks after I came home from the hospital—wouldn’t give up. She laid my head on her lap, and I felt Jesus’ warm presence as I had in the Valley of Death. He said, “It is all right my son; I cried too.” As my wife kissed my face, His love filled my broken heart with peace and gratitude.

God’s injured children need different degrees of isolation as a part of recovering from trauma. Whether divorce, death, or disease, time to heal is necessary. But isolation that cuts a person off from the Lord’s healing hands is a scheme of the Devil.

Jesus tells His sheep to “Come unto Me you who are burdened and heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). We also need the Holy Spirit’s healing love that flows through the touch and prayers of God’s children. And we can’t get our strength back without the words found in the Bread of Life.

Bring your broken and lonely heart to Jesus and His children. Allow them to touch you. You will find the love and confidence you have lost. Proactive love imparts the cure when you don’t seek isolation or your own desire.

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Without Their Love

“The world is going to hell in a handbasket.” My dad walked to the television and switched the channel. “All the news wants to show you is the body count. They forget about the love laying on the battleground.”

The thick of the Vietnam War news coverage forced Dad to relive his own WWII hand-to-hand combat experiences. “Nobody looks at the sacrifice of love those boys made.” Tears filled his eyes. “Without their love, this country would be nothing.”

Paul nailed the definition of what love is and what it isn’t. Be it the love for a spouse, a child, or a friend . . . or the massive love of laying down your life for those you love. He made it clear that regardless of the talents, gifts, or possessions we have, we are nothing without love.

In other words, love is the basis of everything. God gave His son to die for us. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is. He could have left us to our sin and eternity without Him, but God wants us all in eternity. In that knowledge, He gave us Jesus, because without love, we are nothing. I give my gratitude and praise for His sacrifice.

February 14 seems to focus on the love for our spouses or significant others. Children give paper valentines with little understanding of what it means to “give love.” Help them understand what it means to freely give love.

Dad was right. We forget the love that lies dead on the battlefield.

Jesus told us there is no greater love than that of one who lays down his life for a friend. This Valentine’s Day, by all means, show love to your spouse, children, and friends. But I encourage you to send a love letter to the family of a fallen soldier. Without that kind of love, this country would be nothing.

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Dealing with Change

Change in life is inevitable; it must come.

Change is said to be the only thing in this world that is constant. It is usually not easy to accept or adapt to, and we can experience change in different aspects of our life. We may change our name, our location, our business, or our mindset. Change can also mean repenting from our sins and accepting Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform us by renewing our mind.

We learn to deal with any change in life because our parents experienced change, dealt with it, and succeeded.

Abraham’s name was changed from Abram to Abraham (father of many nations) even when he had no child. God instructed him to leave his father’s house, and he did. He wasn’t afraid of the unknown.

To deal with change, we have to encourage ourselves with the Word of God and trust Him because He is faithful, just, and upright. We can plan our course, but God determines our steps. Change is not easy to accept but when it comes, face it head on and don’t depend on addictive substances to help you cope.

Do not to be afraid in the face of change. God is with you, and He will cause you to prosper. Deal with change; don’t let it deal with you.

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The Danger of Isolation

Six months ago, I began recovering from a massive stroke.

The attending physician said my recovery was a miracle, due to the severity of the massive clot he removed from my groin. One physician called my survival “a divine reprieve to a death sentence.” Another said, “Bob, you have experienced a miracle. I fill out death certificates all the time for each of the traumas you have experienced, and you had them all in sequence.” He referred to a month of pneumonia that had turned into “blood-spitting pneumonia,” the stroke, and then the invasive pulmonary embolisms in both lungs.

Things are quiet when your heart, lungs, and hearing stop. I experienced Psalm 23’s valley of death. Reading this psalm is quite different from experiencing the words. Mine was a wonderful, peaceful quiet I didn’t want to come back from. But Jesus had other plans—one of which was for me to testify about what is waiting for each of His sheep. Death is nothing to be afraid of. Jesus has conquered death and has gone to prepare a place for us.

If Jesus takes us through a tragedy—whether divorce, death of a loved one, or medical trauma—isolation is part of the recovery from the tragedy. But we can’t stay there. We must live with a new reality, one which must be survived with a pro-active acceptance. Otherwise, we will live grieving from the point of the tragedy in the past and not the present. Our time of recovery must be spent in the arms of Jesus.

Stepping out in faith with Jesus by coming to His open loving arms is assisted by quoting over and over what He has promised: “Come to me you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). When we cry with hopelessness and pain, we feel Him say, “It is alright my son, I cried too.”

If you isolate yourself in the land of suffering, you accept one of the devil’s schemes. Bring your broken heart to Jesus’ loving arms, and you will find the love and confidence you have lost.

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Give Willingly

“But Lord, it’s all I have!”

I didn’t say it aloud, but God clearly heard my objection. I was thirty, single, and living frugally. I knew without a doubt God wanted me to put my last ten dollars in the offering plate. It wasn’t much, but it was all I had—and payday was still a week away.

As the music played and the ushers neared, the Holy Spirit’s prompting grew stronger. With an, “Okay, Lord, I’m trusting you,” I let go of the money.

One day, Jesus and His disciples watched a poor widow drop two small coins in the treasury. Though others had given more, Jesus commended her.  

God may never ask us to give our last penny, but whatever He asks, giving it cheerfully invites His blessings. The gift’s size is immaterial. He asks us to give out of obedience and faith. Then He asks us to trust Him to provide our needs—especially when giving defies all financial reason.

Two days after I gave all I had, God unexpectedly sent me three times as much—far more than I needed.

The return on our gifts won’t always be immediate or tangible, but Jesus makes this promise: “Give, and it will be given to you. They will pour into your lap a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over. For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return” (Luke 6:38).

Give willingly. Give faithfully. Trust God to supply all your needs according to His riches in glory. 

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Before The Fall

The towering spruce reached the sky and decorated my lawn for more than eight years.

One day, I noticed a slight bend in the tree’s stance. Weeks later, the spruce no longer filled the sky but exposed its roots. I begged the tree man, “Can’t you do anything to save the tree?” His reply, “Too far gone. The roots aren’t grounded anymore. It’s dying from the inside out.” For an agreed price, my beautiful tree became firewood. Perhaps I could have acted quicker to save my tree.

The experience pushed me to question my Christian walk. Do I ignore my Christian brother or sister as they begin to lean? Or even my own tilting? I knew dealing with the tree would cost me—so I ignored it.

Evaluating choices is a daily battle. Watching an inappropriate movie or laughing at an off-colored joke. Bad decisions weaken my stance and push me further from my Christian foundation. Sometimes I’m afraid of confronting a friend or family member by saying, “Hey, you are leaning.” But there are consequences of not acting quicker. I must also accept the message of others if they tell me I’m leaning. Nourishing our souls with God’s written Word is the only way we can survive the winds of life.

Value God’s approval more than you do the world’s approval.

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Valuing God's Instructions

Mama asked me to be particular about the older people around me. I was instructed to always offer my seat to an older person and never stand idle when they needed help. Like the Rechabites, I have obeyed that instruction for many years.

Generations upon generations of Rechabites had learned about the instructions of their forefather and pledged to live by them. They lived only in tents and did not plant seeds, have vineyards, or drink wine. They did not ask questions or argue that doing so wouldn’t be feasible. They just obeyed.

Although the Rechabites saw everyone around them owning land and acquiring wealth, they overcame the temptation to disobey their father’s instructions. They didn’t obey his directions to gain attention, and God saw the quality of their obedience. His children, the Israelites, on the other hand, did the exact opposite.

Obeying the rules of men and the norms of the world comes easy. Obeying God’s instructions, however, is a struggle either because we don’t trust Him and feel it’s too difficult or because we have held on to them as truth.

We can learn from the Rechabites’ example and give God Almighty our devotion and total submission. During our time of fellowship with Him, we must consciously and cautiously view the word of God as instructions, not suggestions. His directives were given out of love and lead us to the truth which always sets us free.

Test every instruction by God’s Word, and be ready to nullify them when necessary.

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Smelling the Roses

Legendary sportscaster, Vince Scully, once said, “God gave us memories so we could have roses in December.”

Life is about thorns and roses—the bad and good things we experience. We live in a fallen world. People are not perfect. Even the elect of Christ are not faultless, so we can’t be too judgmental on each other.

In any relationship, good and not so good things happen. Memories are about our life experiences. We do not have control over what happens to us, but we do have influence—at least in part—in what we remember. We can choose to forgive and move on or hold on to the negative. Jesus did not wait for us to become good. He died for us even while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). Seeking God’s forgiveness and yet refusing to forgive others reveals how little we understand the extent of our forgiveness.

Remembering the cross of Christ puts everything in perspective in our Christian experience. We need the roses and the thorns. That beautiful flower grows out of a stem that has barbs. Our journey to spiritual maturity—to the mountain of delights—often goes through the valley of despair. Even Jesus himself learned obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).

When others mistreat you—and your life feels dark and bleak like the weather in December—think about what Christ did for you on that tree. Then wake-up and smell the roses. 

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Traveling Light

Packing luggage and traveling by plane is an art.

My brother, who travels for a living, can take a trip to Switzerland, Japan, Brazil, or anywhere else for a week with one carry-on bag and his brief case—thanks to his experience and knowledge. This allows him to travel without the hassle of waiting in long lines at check in or baggage claims. He’s learned he doesn’t need a lot of extra clothing and personal belongings because they weigh him down and keep him from moving with ease through airports and hotels.

We should do the same in life. Travel light. But many of us don’t, due to the extra baggage we carry. I’m sure my brother had to go through a process of deciding which items he needed the most when packing that one carry-on bag. And we need to do the same.

We can carry jealousy, anger, and worry on our shoulders. Or we can carry grudges towards others, compare ourselves to others, or compete with others. And let’s not forget how shame and worry can ease their way in like that favorite shirt you know you won’t need on your trip but still want to take for comfort.

Sometimes the things we carry become a badge of honor we think we deserve. Why it wasn’t our fault we were hurt, misunderstood, or overlooked. We adopt a victim mentality, thinking we deserve to feel the way we do, so we walk around carrying more than God ever intended.

Maybe it’s time to decide what we need today and leave the heavy burdens behind. Just as my brother is able to move through airports and hotels with ease by traveling light, we can move through our days with the same ease.

Do with your burdens what the psalmist said: “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He shall sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).

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O Come Let Us Adore Him

The Christmas season is soon approaching. Amid the activity, getting caught up with preparations and festivities is easy. So is going to great lengths to find just the right gift to demonstrate our love.

The wise men made a diligent search to find the long-awaited Messiah. Upon seeing the star which rested over the place where Jesus lived, “they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.” What superlatives. They experienced sheer joy in the presence of the Savior. When the Magi came to the place where Jesus was staying with Mary and Joseph, “they fell to the ground and worshiped Him.”

I wonder what that moment was like. The star shining in the night sky … wise men traveling a great distance bearing gifts. What a sight it must have been. They took great pains to find Jesus, because they wanted to present tokens of their love.

The birth of the Savior should stir in us a holy pause. God sent His one and only Son into the world to rescue us. That thought should fill us with unspeakable joy and cause us to fall prostrate in worship of Christ our King.

Jesus Christ is worthy of our worship. The Magi understood His worth—evidenced by the gifts they gave Him. In the bustle of this Christmas season, take time to demonstrate your love to Christ and to ponder His majesty.

Bow down in worship. Kneel before the LORD your Maker.

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Give Thanks

During the month of November, I scrolled through Facebook and was inundated with “I am thankful” posts. They were beautiful, encouraging—but short-lived. So far in December, they are few and far between, and by January they will probably be extinct.

The fact that it’s difficult to acknowledge and appreciate blessings on a regular basis throughout the year is disappointing. But I’m as much a culprit as anyone else.

As the holidays come and then leave, I will understand the pressure that comes with paying the Christmas bills. When the school year begins, continues, and then ends, I understand the pressure of keeping children on task. I understand the frustration of homework, projects, and parent-teacher conferences. After summer ebbs on, I understand the guilt of not having a family vacation.

Giving thanks amidst the piles of bills, the worry of success, and the guilt of being good enough is difficult. Life overwhelms us. We spend our days trying to keep our heads above water, but we are still directed to give thanks in all circumstances. Doing so is God’s will.

Giving thanks is not just for November—or when it is easy. God’s wants our thanks when times are good and when they aren’t. He is present in both cases.

As we examine our positions in life, let’s hone in on the blessings and give thanks for even the smallest portions. Satan thrives on misconception and enjoys obscuring the positive and exaggerating the negative so that we believe we have nothing to be thankful for.

Regardless of what season you find yourself in, give thanks to the One who carries you through your days and lays your path. Give thanks in all circumstances, especially when it’s difficult. 

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We Need God's Forgiveness

The English teacher reneged on the agreement to take the first general class, and I was called upon to teach the course.

The call was unexpected. Ordinarily, subjects like biology, chemistry, physics, and agriculture are my area of interest. Thankfully, my experience as a journalist paid off. The manager of the establishment upheld my teaching after the lecture. The students did as well, but not verbally. I read it on their faces. A drama played out in the middle of the period.

After giving out my techniques for making As in the subject, we touched on past university entrance exam questions. As the whole quizzical class cascaded, I gave a good account of myself without generating ripples—until we got to a question dealing with stress pattern. The answer to the question was hotly debated, which warranted a student to check my answer in her dictionary.

Minutes later, a voice reverberated, “Tutor!” The student carried a copy of the dictionary towards me, pointing to how the word was transcribed. “Mistakes are made,” I said in defense. I looked regretful, yet I kept blame at arm’s length and couldn't admit I had personally failed.

Some mistakes are just mistakes, driving us in the wrong direction. Mistakes such as forgetting to set a timer and burning dinner or miscalculating a checkbook balance. But then there are the deliberate deeds that go far beyond. God calls those sins.

Aaron avoided personal responsibility when the people—while in the desert—built a golden calf to worship. He might as well have muttered, “Mistakes are made.”

Blaming someone else rather than admitting our own failings is easier. Equally dangerous is trying to minimize our sin by calling it a mistake instead of acknowledging its true nature.

When we take responsibility by acknowledging and confessing our sin, the One who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Take God up on His offer of forgiveness. 

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Help, Lord!

I had completed ten each of body-strengthening exercises on the fitness equipment near the high school track, but couldn’t figure out how to get up.

My Healthy Hearts women’s group were there together, but we were not high schoolers.

And there I was, lying on a bench with two hydraulic levers above me that I had been pushing up and pulling down. After an hour of sweaty exercise, I was ready to get up—but couldn’t.

The bench was narrow with no room for me to push up with my arms. I tried pulling down on the levers, but when my shoulders reached their level my legs wiggled all over the place. I collapsed on the skinny bench. I tried again. Same results.

Our trainer, Cailin—affectionately known as "TL" for Torture Leader—had gone to the track to pick up her cooler of water and was unaware of my dilemma. The other ladies had gathered at the far end of the fitness area. My only solution was to cry for help. I used that one helpful word: "Help!" I didn't need to explain my dilemma; I just needed to cry out.

My cry worked. Ladies spun around in alarm and rushed toward me. Sweet Anna was the first to arrive. She bent forward, stuck out her two hands, and grasped mine—pulling me up to a seated position. We all laughed as my muddle became evident and my rescue was accomplished. 

Our vigilant heavenly Father is on the ready to grasp our hands and pull us up, too. We only need to recognize our helplessness, know His nearness, and use that one helpful word: "Help!" He knows our dilemma. He will bend down, extend His everlasting arms, and pull us up.

Cry out to God. He’s always ready to help.

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No Need for the Address

An ambulance’s siren pierced the quiet of our rural community.

I later visited with Pete—our newest neighbor—to find out about his father-in-law’s condition following the emergency transport. Joe—our rural community’s volunteer fire chief—told Pete the EMTs called him as they drove the twelve miles to our community. He told them, “Don’t give me an address. Just give me the name.” Joe knows every person living in our small area. He led the ambulance driver right to the door of Pete’s father-in-law.

I told Peter how Joe’s personal knowledge of those living in our farming community had made a difference for my family. A few years ago, Joe pulled up, parked on the crest of our hill, and let his emergency lights illuminate the night sky. Minutes later, the emergency vehicle pulled in to transport my father. What a comfort Joe’s appearance on a scary scene was to me.

God knows those who have been saved by the blood of Jesus. Their names are familiar. No emergency arises but what He knows exactly where we are and how to help us. His knowledge about us gives us security during the tumultuous moments in our lives. We have no need to fear.

We have the confidence of God’s presence after we become His children—no matter how terrifying or serious the situation. As our volunteer fire chief’s arrival brought a sense of support and encouragement, we can be assured the One who rescued us from our sins by His Son’s sacrifice will be by our side no matter how dire the condition.

Rest in the fact that God knows your name, where you are, and what you need. 

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Perfect Timing

Unbeknownst to me, a perfect part-time job was on the way.

As I crunched the numbers in my checkbook once more, I looked at the balance as if it would magically be much larger than it was two seconds earlier. It wasn’t.

“No worries,” I said to myself. The idea of supplementing my husband's income through a part-time job seemed like the best course of action.

In the meantime, my husband and I applied for a mortgage loan modification which would significantly lower our payments. As we clutched hope, we resolved to believe God regardless of our dubious feelings. Often, we felt like cliff-hangers who refused to acknowledge precarious attempts at climbing a mountain. We spoke only about the faithfulness of God, knowing He would make a way for us.

In January 2014, I began working part-time as a hospice social worker. In May 2015, our mortgage was reduced to almost half of the original payment. During this period, believing God without doubting and verbalizing our thankfulness for His continued faithfulness opened the door for God to answer our prayers. Faith became the anchor we held onto as we waited for God to work out the details.

When the challenges of life overwhelm us, only faith lifts us up and away from fear and worry. Our faith-filled words foster the demonstration of who God is: faithful. Believers trust God and then ignite their faith in Him by the words they speak.

Speak words of faith and watch what God does. 

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Keeping Our Minds on Track

I still remember when I first let a curse word fly out of my mouth. I called a little girl a bad word right to her face, and I still regret it. I couldn’t explain to my parents then why I did it, but I have since realized it was because I was thinking those bad words long before I said them.

Filtering our thoughts through the truth of God’s Word is important. Keeping our minds filled with positive things is a biblical mandate. Paul tells us to be transformed by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2) and to bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

According to the writer of Proverbs, words begin with thoughts. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21 KJV). Everything in our lives can be traced back to our thoughts. Thoughts lead to beliefs, then to actions, then to habits, and finally to a lifestyle.  

The Greek word for “think” in Philippians 4:8 means “to reckon, consider, or ponder.” Doing so is to reason deeply—to ponder a long time about these good things, not to do a quick soundbite. This thinking is taking time to meditate and mull them over—something lost in modern Christianity.

We should constantly evaluate what we’re allowing to take up residence in our minds. Ask yourself if what you’re watching, listening to, reading, or meditating on is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, virtuous, praiseworthy, and worthy to be repeated.  If not, get rid of it. 

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The Misunderstanding

The doctor’s words came in a panic over the long distance phone call, “You have hepatitis.”

When I received an invitation to speak and minister in East Africa, my preparation included vaccinations. I had visited the doctor on another matter, and he wanted blood tests taken. He was a specialist from Sydney, 600 kilometres away. When I heard his voice on the phone, it startled me. The blood test results caused quite a stir in the laboratory.

As I gathered my thoughts. I remembered the typhoid and hepatitis injection I had taken several weeks before. When I told him, his sigh of relief was audible over the phone.

In Acts 17:11, we read the reason why the Bereans understood more than the people of Thessalonica. They examined the Scriptures daily. The people from Thessalonica were not following what the Word said and caused strife.

Without the right information, we can misunderstand situations. This is why God has given us a life manual: His Word. It provides the right information so we are able to make good choices. By reading the Word daily, we are able to hear God’s voice and His instructions. When situations we don’t understand come across our path, we can rely on His Word to lead us to the truth.

Once I was able to explain why hepatitis showed up in the blood test, the doctor was set free from any concerns for my health. In the same way, once we consult the Word, we gain knowledge and understanding—producing God’s wisdom in us so we are able to make right choices and live holy lives.

Make time to examine the Scriptures daily. Devotionals are one way to keep you on track with God’s truth. Share what you learn from them with others.

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The Spark of Life

Sitting in my backyard having breakfast, I watched the mountain breeze stir my palm trees.

The diversity of life was amazing. Hummingbirds scaring their competition away from the feeding jars, and a large tropical blackbird taking his morning spa in the bird bath. Then, honey bees appeared and took morning sips from the cascading fountain next to our breakfast table. Both the birds and the bees had the spark of life.

Hardly able to continue eating my pancakes and bacon, I paused—trying to understand this discovery. Humans are one breath away from death. Our physical spark of life will immediately disappear when we take the last breath. All of what is physically living is here, then it is not.

My heart craved to know what the spark of life was, where it came from, and what happens to it. The Bibles’ clarity says Jesus has provided and maintains the spark of life: “All things were made by Him, and without Him nothing has been made that has been made. In Him was life” (John 1:3-4, 14). Jesus also sustains life: “Who being the brightness of His glory, and the expressed image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power . . .” (Hebrews 1:3).

John 3:16 reveals that Almighty God’s eternal loving life gives an everlasting spark of life to those who believe in what Jesus did on the cross. Confession of our sins and turning away from them allows Jesus to step in with His Word and Spirit. His coming gives unending life to our immaterial spirit. What a joy to be given life abundantly at our second-birth birthday party.

Our hearts are a bonfire where the living sparks of the Spirit lay dormant, waiting for the Father’s breath. Ask Him daily to blow on your spark of life so you can experience and share the Holy Spirit’s fire.   

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Power in Words

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

What a lie! The words we speak for better or worse will come to pass. Words elevate or destroy. Almost everything in life is contingent on words. Words are as useful as an oasis in the middle of a desert when used properly. 

If a friend loses a loved one, our words may be the only consolation for their broken spirit. The lonely elderly man who doesn’t have any loved ones would give the world to hear loving words. Words can instill hope, encouragement, and order in ways that otherwise would be impossible.

Solomon frequently sought out “good and acceptable” words (Ecclesiastes 12:10).

Words can also destroy if misused. Belittling, gossip, slander, lying, and complaining are ways death is produced by words. When we use our words in these ways, we not only hurt people’s feelings, we also speak those horrible words into existence.

The creation is an example of how powerful words are. The detailed seven-day account explains how God created a different aspect of life on a daily basis through the power of His words.

Through words the contents of the heart are revealed. “A good person brings forth out of his mouth that which is good, and the evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil” (Luke 6:45).

Many will deny the Lord and be doomed to an eternity in hell over words. “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Mathew 12:36). This includes fussing, cussing, gossip, lies, false accusations, complaining, and every other useless word.

There is power in words. Use yours for good, not evil. 

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But Afterwards

When on vacation, charging things to your room is an easy, stress-free luxury. No need to carry cash, credit cards, or even your wallet. Simply say, “Please charge this to my room.”

But afterward …

My wife and I recently enjoyed vacationing on one of Hawaii’s beautiful islands. Our resort offered extravagant amenities along with the pampering expected in such a setting. One such amenity was charging everything to our room–dining, shopping, tours, and excursions. Whatever we bought on the resort property could be charged to our room.

The carefree ability to charge things to the room clouded the “but afterward” of getting the bill when we checked out. Fortunately, we are financially responsible, and our final bill was what we anticipated. However, I’ve heard horror stories of giddy spending sprees ending abruptly when faced with a staggering, unexpected bill.

With a career in banking, I understand the benefits and consequences associated with easy access to charging—especially using credit cards. If managed responsibly, the convenience comes in handy. If not, the consequences can be damaging for years to come. Prudent foresight removes the regret of hindsight.

One of Steven Covey’s mantras is, “Begin with the end in mind.” Jesus encouraged first counting the cost before starting an endeavor.

Living life with a long-term “but afterward” approach seems more prudent than a carefree, spendthrift, short-term orientation. Willfully choosing to touch a hot stove brings pain and possibly a scar. Our God-given freedom to choose doesn’t save us from the results. All the more reason to make wise, unregrettable choices.

Even when we think we know how something will end or believe we will get our desired outcome, Solomon warns, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 16:25).

Align your desires and choices with God’s moral standards so you won’t be left staring at a “but afterward” bill too high to pay.

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The Joy of Living in Jesus' Love

Careless driving, rising tempers, and foul language are a source of traffic fights among some taxi and minibus drivers in our city of Benin, Nigeria.

One traffic incident I witnessed took a different turn. A bus was almost hit by a careless taxi driver. I expected the bus driver to get angry and yell at the other driver, but he didn’t. The bus driver relaxed his stern face and smiled broadly at the guilty-looking taxi driver. And the smile worked wonders. With a raised hand, the taxi driver apologized, smiled back, and moved away—the tension diffused.

A smile has a fascinating effect on our brain chemistry. As a biochemistry graduate, I understand smiling releases brain chemicals called endorphins, which have a relaxing physiological effect. Not only can a smile diffuse a tense situation, but it can also diffuse tension within us. Our emotions affect us as well as others.

The Bible teaches us to “get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another” (Ephesians 4:31–32).

When anger, tension, or bitterness threaten our relationship with the Lord and with others, remember that “a cheerful heart is good medicine”—good medicine for our own joy and well-being.

Remember how you feel when you are angry or have an argument with someone. Then imagine how next time you could wield cheerfulness instead. 

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Growth When Transplanted

One week had passed since I transplanted the tender tomato plants.

Every day I checked on them, eager to see them thicken and shoot up tall and strong. To my disappointment, their tender stalks leaned as though they were too tired to stand. Their thin green leaves curled and sagged. They looked pitiful and ruined.

Despite appearances, growth was happening. Growth at the roots . . . beyond sight. The young plants had been uprooted and placed in new soil. The change set their growth back, but only temporarily. Their work was intense and critical and had to do with roots, not leaves or fruit. 

We often struggle with setbacks when we leave one soil and are planted in another. When we change jobs, become parents, are struck with illness, lose a loved one to death, leave a ministry, retire, or any number of life-changing circumstances.  

When we find ourselves in new and challenging circumstances, we want to learn, adapt, and flourish. Instead, every day feels new, uncomfortable. We’re completely out of our element, and this is scary. We feel like we won’t make it.

When I think of those tomato plants and their struggle, I’m encouraged. It’s okay to struggle and not have fully grown fruit in my life. It’s okay not to know what to do or how to feel when my mom has cancer or when my friend dies or when relationships fall apart.

Confusion, fear, and doubt will come. My leaves will curl and my stem weaken. I’ll need to rest. In that exhaustion, my roots will find their strength and life in Jesus who revives my soul. He is the one who restores, refreshes, and renews. Whatever soil I’m in, as long as my roots are reaching for Him, I will thrive where I’m planted and fruit will come.

If you’ve been transplanted to new soil, give yourself grace for the transition. Trust that God is still working in you and in your circumstance. Let your roots grow deep in Him.

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Moses Was Shocked

What or whom we are controlled by will determine how we live and what people think of us.

The story of a burning bush that would not be consumed is one of the most striking word pictures painted by God’s Spirit. It graphically reveals that Almighty God can burn and yet not consume, if He so wishes. The bush is also a graphic picture representing both God and His children. Believers have the Holy Spirit and God’s inspired Word living within them. Jeremiah said, “His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it in, and I could not” (20:9).

Failing to release the divine living in our soul allows the body to ignite fleshly lusts. The smoldering fleshly cinders that are always at war with the Holy Spirit will gain control. We will either release the Spirit’s fire or release our lustful nature sparks. If you’ve ever exploded in wrath or had temptation take control, you are your own best example of the war between the Spirit and the flesh.

But the heat from the Spirit’s fire will quickly overcome its restraints, leaving only the ashes of disappointment. God’s children must allow the Spirit’s holiness to control their lustful fleshly tendencies and the Word of God to master their lives.

I learned later in life that Christians should constantly share love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control or they will experience lives that ooze the foul odors of their flesh.

As believers, we have God’s divine fire living in the core of our personalities. If we fail to share God’s holy love with those around us, we will break into imitation love—which is self-centered and lustful. When we don’t release the fire of God, we release the lusts of the flesh—which are non-discriminate, over-reactive, and self-centered. With the Spirit and the flesh, it is an either/or situation.

Release the fruit of the Spirit in your life, and you will be shocked at what God will do through you. 

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You Have My Attention, Lord

God has a sense of humor when it comes to getting my attention.

On my way to church one Sunday, a song on the radio spoke of being free and without chains. The guest speaker that morning read from John 8:31-36 about how the truth makes us free and breaks the chains. 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. That was my word from God for the day, but I wondered what it meant specifically.

That afternoon, my husband and I got into a heated discussion about a certain person and situation. He said, “You’re carrying an offense.”

His conclusion was the last thing I wanted to hear.  I disagreed—loudly—telling him he was wrong. I assured him my offense had been dealt with and put behind me.

Then why did I get so angry? I asked myself. Why did I lash out at the person who loves me and was only trying to help me? I wrestled with these questions the rest of the day.

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.

Taking on an offense can be so subtle we hardly realize it. Even when we think we’ve forgiven someone, it’s easy to ignore the root of bitterness embedding itself in our heart. That bitterness taunts us, raising its ugly head every time the offending person’s name is mentioned.

The Bible says Great peace have they which love thy law, and nothing shall offend them.

Seriously? Nothing? That’s a tall order, but I’ve learned God never instructs us to do anything He doesn’t give us the power to accomplish.

As I spent time in God’s presence, He revealed negative attitudes 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 holding me down. I gained a different perspective—a godly perspective.

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

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A Rose among Thorns

Thorns hurt, but roses heal relationships; aid in physical, mental, and emotional health; and beautify boring barren lawns.

Walking among rose bushes before they bloom, we see leaves, but our eyes often drift to the thorns. But once the plants bud and blossom, the flowers capture our attention. Although outnumbered by thorns, the beauty of the flowers stands out, prominently displayed for all to see, smell, and enjoy. We use rose petals for decoration, food, tea, salves, and nutritional supplements.

Jesus, the perfect example of one who stood out from the crowd—a rose among thorns—valued others more than Himself. He endured mental, emotional, and physical thorns for our sake. And He offers to replace our ugliness with beauty, our hate with love, our guilt with forgiveness, and our sin with cleansing.

Like roses and Jesus, God wants us to stand out in the crowd, to heal rather than hurt, and to focus on the clothing of God’s Spirit rather than the latest designer labels. We can reflect God in both speech and behavior and allow others to see the confidence possible through a personal relationship with God. We can value people more than possessions.

Believers are different. We wear the sweet fragrance of God’s love and have accepted the challenge to share God’s life-changing message. Standing out involves making alternate plans when invited to questionable activities, feeding on God’s Word rather than the world’s garbage, and choosing materials, movies, music, and Internet sources that display and encourage godly thoughts and motives.

Refusing to put people down by mocking and spreading rumors also helps us stand out. Instead, we can encourage others by standing up for them, complimenting them, and refusing to say anything negative about them. Like the beauty of a rose, we can bring out the best in others. When peers look like they’ve lost their last friend, we can offer friendship. When they obviously need help, we can interrupt our personal plans to lend a hand. If they don’t know Jesus, we can introduce them to Him.

Let’s choose to follow Jesus’ example and live as roses among thorns.

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Not the Boss of Me

Dosed with excitement because a friend had a Fitbit, I bought one—thrilled to get my 10,000 steps and track my sleep. At first, it served me well. I increased my activity, walked more, went to bed earlier, and hoped for a healthier self.

Quickly, however, this servant became the boss of me. I left family on Thanksgiving to walk alone in the chilly darkness to get my 10,000 steps. I ran in place just to eek out those last 300 steps, missing the mark by just a few as the clock struck midnight. I became obsessed. 

Things worsened when I found there was a community I could compete with. I spent my days keeping track of the top person. The day I realized it was no longer serving me, but had become my master, was life-giving. It wasn't about my Fitbit, but my heart. I recalled a quote by John Seymour, "Emotions are excellent servants, but tyrannical masters."  

Anger, fear, sadness, and happiness are good servants. Anger allows us to act for justice and right wrongs. Fear warns of impending trouble. Sadness processes our heartache. Happiness invites celebration of blessings. But each is a terrible master. Rage causes harm, anxiety cripples, depression paralyzes, and the pursuit of happiness can destroy.

Most things make wonderful servants, but horrible masters. And I know they aren’t limited to emotions or Fitbits. Food, money, shopping, social media, power, medicine, exercise, just to name a few, can do the same.

I am not opposed to my Fitbit. It sits proudly on my wrist and some days still manages to be my boss. The problem doesn't lie in the technology, but in me.

When I sense the "take over," I consider who’s my boss. Is the thing or emotion my servant or am I the one in chains? Who is serving whom? My heart quickly reminds me of the great and loving Master who never makes me a slave, but calls me a friend and a daughter.

If something that started as a wonderful servant has become your tyrannical master, talk to God or share your struggle with a trusted friend. 

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The Reward of Desperation

Desperation cannot be silenced.

When we are desperate, no situation or person can stop us from seeking relief. Not a crowd, like the one that tried to crowd out the woman who had an issue of blood and was trying to get to Jesus (Mark 5). Not a priest, like the one who accused Hannah of being drunk when she was praying for God to give her a child (1 Samuel 1).

Desperate means “sad, having deep despair, having little or no hope; done with all your strength with little hope of succeeding on our own.” Realizing we cannot do something on our own is what leads us to the reward of desperation.

To be desperate for God is to be in a place of little or no personal strength so that we come to rely on God’s strength. Paul said when he was weak that God was strong. We have the tendency to deal with stuff on our own as long as we can without asking for help, thinking “we got this.” But we don’t. We are dropping it all because of our stubborn need to be self-sufficient. 

Despite those who told him not to bother Jesus, Bartimaeus cried out to Him. David, one of the strongest warriors, cried out desperately to God. He understood his deliverance came from God. Desperation caused Hannah to give her child back to the Lord, the child she was desperate for. Jesus found complete surrender in His desperate plea, “not My will but Yours.”

Desperation causes us to be persistent and relentless in our pursuit of relief. But surrender comes when we finally understand we are created to need God. Surrendering to God’s will—regardless of the price—brings the relief we are looking for—and that surrender brings the Father’s heart running to our rescue.

No one experiences the reward of desperation until the cry of desperation creates a place of total surrender, bringing the reward of the Lord’s pleasure.

If you’re desperate, you are in good company. Cry out to God in complete surrender. 

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Are We There Yet?

The job of every child under the age of ten who is traveling on vacation is to ask the question, “Are we there yet?” No training required. The question comes naturally.

When riding with my young grandchildren on long trips, they repeatedly ask, “Are we there yet?” I enjoy teasing them by saying, “Yes, we are there. We just forgot to tell you.” Of course, they groan at my answer, recognizing it is just a silly response to their silly question.

Adults may not ask such obvious questions on road trips, but as children of God traveling through life we do ask “Why does sickness, war, and evil exist?” Expecting near perfect conditions in this world is like children asking if they have arrived yet. Just as it takes time to get from here to there on road trips, it is only reasonable to expect less than perfect conditions on the way to heaven. We are not there yet.

Scripture is clear about our earthly journey. We will endure trials of all kinds, and life will eventually end in physical death. It is part of the human experience. Navigating road trips has been enhanced by GPS systems. If we follow the suggested course, it sends back information that helps us reach our destination with confidence.

As Christians—because of Jesus Christ—we have been given His GPS—God’s Holy Spirit—to help us navigate our way through this world. One day, with patience and perseverance we will reach heaven. God has guaranteed it.

Follow God’s Spirit, and arrive at God’s intended destination for you. 

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Living God's Dreams

No career excited me as much as the prospect of writing novels for a living.

God placed the dream of becoming a writer in my heart when I was fourteen. And He wanted me to be a Christian writer, not a famous secular novelist. During those years, I learned God’s dreams were different from mine. Much different, as it turned out.

While working on my bachelor’s degree, I convinced myself I was born to be an English professor. I decided I didn’t want children—they’d force me to put myself second.

Within six years of graduating from college, I had two children. God wanted me to be a momma. I learned the hard way God didn’t want me to be a professor either. Graduate school was a colossal disappointment.

Sometimes I resent God asking me to let my dreams die in order to live His dreams. It’s hard to silence the voice that says there’s no higher goal than making myself happy. But one of the many reasons I love God is because He doesn’t strike me down when I’m angry. He lets me vent and then gently reminds me He knows best. I’m certain obeying God holds greater blessings than chasing my own ambition.

I know God’s dreams and thoughts for me are higher than my own. The God who imagined the universe is fully capable of directing me toward my place in it.

In the end, obedience is what counts. When I stand before Jesus, I want Him to be pleased with how I used my time on earth.

Live God’s dream, not your own. 

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Breakout Fish

It felt good.

Finally, I had some time to look through my computer and do a thorough clean up. Items that were no longer needed went to the recycle bin, then off into cyberspace.

Looking through my saved photos and images, I was arrested by an image of a fishbowl full of little fish. Next to it was a larger bowl with only clear water. One fish was leaping from the crowded bowl into the clear fresh water of the larger bowl.

Many thoughts flashed through my mind. Thoughts of time to break out from the crowd. Time to look for bigger opportunities. Time to seek clear fresh water of the Holy Spirit. Time to be brave and trust God to lead me to the right place.

Sometimes we are so engrossed in where we are, we become locked in place, filling up valuable space where others might grow. We become inactive, surrounded by the influence that has grown cold towards the things of God.

Recognizing the challenge to take action, I moved when God said move—taking a leap towards a brighter future and trusting God all the way. God did not come with a safety net, scoop me up, and lift me into the new role. I had to take a step of faith. Now, I’m swimming free in a new situation.

Perhaps the place you have been has become so comfortable that you can no longer move. Maybe it’s been a long time since you took a leap of faith to new horizons. Change whatever God is asking you to change so you can move where He is calling you to go. 

Step forward in faith and trust God.

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Holding My Father's Hands

Beth, Belinda, Susan and I sang some of Daddy’s favorite hymns and songs in four-part harmony. He trained his girls to perform just as his mother had taught him and his sister to perform for Vaudeville. He played the piano and we sang even before our eyes were level with the ivory keys.

No longer able to join in with his eloquent tenor, Daddy gazed up at me from his bed, a hint of a smile on his lips. Trembling, he reached for me, and with a raspy voice whispered, "Hold my hand."

I enfolded his boney cool hand in mine. He gripped my fingers, staring at me through fear-filled, glazed eyes. I wondered what terrors flooded his heart and mind. I smiled at him and stroked the thin, pale hand that once danced across the ivory keys of the piano.

Our heavenly Father is the I Am. We can trust Him. He says we don’t need to fear or be dismayed because He is with us. He promises never to leave us. He is all-powerful and able and willing to strengthen us and hold us up.

I knew my heavenly Father could bring peace and comfort to Daddy. I drew comfort and strength in knowing God cradled Daddy in His warm embrace.

Finding assurance in another of Dad’s favorite hymns, I crooned to him as my sisters softly joined me. The words of truth blanketed Daddy, his eyes closed, and his grip loosened on my fingers. The Father’s loving presence replaced Daddy’s fears with peace. Holding God’s hand, Daddy’s spirit left his frail body and flew away to a new home on the celestial shore.

Regardless of what you’re going through, God is with you and will strengthen and help you. Place your trust in His love and faithfulness, and you will live and rest in His peace. The I Am is with you.

Allow God to hold you up with His righteous right hand and bring you peace.

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Routines: Help or Hindrance?

I giggled as I visualized what motorists saw as they passed my parents’ house.

I sat atop my parents’ riding lawn mower while my dad tried his best to direct me in the “way I should go.” His arm motions went one way, my steering the other. I looked like a new pilot trying to park a jet. After many stops to ask Dad for directions, I finally finished. Dad and I both smiled. It was an adventurous afternoon to say the least.

What popped into my mind while pondering my mowing escapade was the word routine. Routines are a daily part of our lives whether we realize it or not. My dad, after years of mowing his lawn, had his routine down pat. He’d learned how to mow in the shortest amount of time and maximize the best use of fuel. He’d tightened the turns, cut the gaps, and knew where he wanted to go next.

Daniel had a routine for praying. I also have routines. One is my morning quiet time with God. I read from two or three devotionals (usually in the same order), and then I go to my reading plan on my phone. Finally, I turn the computer on and read a couple of online devotions. If I’m participating in a Bible study, that lesson comes at the end. 

Yet while doing my routine reading about God and Jesus, I must be careful my mind doesn’t flip to autopilot. There are many mornings my thoughts wander aimlessly and need a little coaxing to get back on track. Re-engaging my thoughts usually means re-reading the last couple of paragraphs. If I can’t refocus my direction, then my routine has become a hindrance.

Changing up the order of my morning study routine helps, but I still must be cautious of falling back into complacency and becoming comfortable with the routine.

When challenged with routine complacency, ask God to help you stay focused and engaged with Him during your study time. This will keep your routine from becoming a hindrance.

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Take God at His Word

Though strict, the orthodontist’s guidelines would spare my daughter trouble, time, and expense.

To avoid broken wires and extra treatment time, the orthodontist listed foods my daughter shouldn’t eat. She willingly accepted his instructions. She avoided gum, popcorn, and sticky candy. But as she talked with friends, they told her, “You can chew gum and eat popcorn. I do and nothing has happened to my braces.”

The more she spoke with others, the more she felt like the only one following the rules.  Eventually, the doubters wore her down, and she announced, “I’ve decided to chew gum.”

I couldn’t blame her. I, too, struggle to consistently carry out instructions. I read God’s Word and resolve to follow His guidelines for living. But within a short time, the media, friends, and fellow believers influence my thinking. Before I know it, I’m questioning the truth I believed when I read the Bible.

The serpent’s first action was to make Eve question what God had said. He made her feel he knew what was best for her. Even though Eve knew what God had said, she was unprepared for questioning.

Knowing this can help us be ready for questions, beginning with, “Did God really say . . .?”  When we hear them, we can respond with a gentle but firm, “Yes.” 

God has our best interests in mind and gives us rules not only to glorify Him but also to help us lead fulfilling, peaceful lives. Staying true to His guidelines spares us pain and costly consequences.

Read God’s Word and resolve to follow it. When you hear someone challenge it, don’t be surprised. Instead, repeat the Scripture kindly, remember God is completely trustworthy, and stand strong in your faith. 

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Knowledge Without Wisdom

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Wisdom is the loving use of what we know, but it’s possible to say right things in the wrong way or to speak true sayings at an improper time or place.   

Job’s friends lacked the understanding of how to apply truth to his suffering. They may have been more concerned about being right than helping their friend. Many of the things his counselors said were true but did not apply to Job.

The Devil knows the Word of God and is not shy about using it on us out of context. Just because something is true, doesn’t mean it’s right to say.

Elihu and his friends made the mistake we often make. They assumed life is a mere cause and effect relationship. Since Job was suffering, he was being punished for his wrongdoings. The book of Job teaches us life is not that simple. Bad things happen to good people. In Job's case, he suffered for his righteousness.

Elihu claims he only tells the truth and has great knowledge. Anytime we think we have a corner on the truth, it shows our ignorance. If we think we’re wise, we’re probably not. The smartest thing Elihu could have done would have been to talk less and listen more. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Better to remain silent and be thought to be a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

There is a sign hanging on many public school walls that reads, “Knowledge is Power.”  While true, it’s also true that knowledge alone is dangerous. Before knowledge, we need virtue (2 Peter 1:5). 

If we speak to people with our heads instead of our hearts, it is like pouring vinegar on a wound. Knowledge without wisdom, like truth without grace, never heals the hurting. 

Lovingly apply your knowledge to those in pain.

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Forgiving Boo Boo

I opened the back door and stopped in my tracks.

“What on earth?” came from my mouth at a rather high decibel level. It looked as if an F5 tornado had swept through our house, leaving it in shambles. Tiny pieces of paper, branches, leaves, DVD boxes, and shoes littered three rooms. Standing still and surveying the damage, I saw my ninety-pound Newfoundland, Boo Boo, sitting pretty and proud. I wanted to scream, “Look what you did!” but I couldn’t.

My heart melted, a smile crept across my face, and she ran toward me. As I stooped down to pet her, I realized how much I loved her. We had left her out of her crate to test her maturity level and discovered it was not what we had hoped for. Left on her own, she made unwise choices. This did not lessen my love for her or cause me to decide she was not worth keeping. I knew she needed more training. We would try again.

Our heavenly Father does the same with us. He is full of mercy and compassion. He may not be happy with our decisions, but He loves us enough to let us grow, make our own decisions, and hopefully learn from them.

If you, like Boo, have done something the world feels is deserving of punishment, turn it over to God and experience the grace and mercy of your heavenly Father.

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Let It Ache

Anguish. I know the feeling well. Since I was betrayed, it has been my constant companion for months. I ache for what I lost.

Betrayal hurts worse than anything else. It aches in my spirit and body, throbbing when I wake up and just before I fall asleep. The ache almost has an identity as it moans for attention and healing. My only source of strength comes from the Holy Spirit.

I am completely powerless to heal the ache. It exists and will not extinguish without supernatural intercession. Sometimes, I obsess over how to snuff the smoldering coals that fuel the ache. Some of the embers are self-inflected … anger fuels the fire.

I am in the process of forgiving this person. God convicted me that anger is wrong and urged me to let Him give me relief from anger. He will help me, even if I can’t perceive it or have any idea when the ache will stop throbbing—as the psalmist didn’t.

Searing aches can be transformed from darkness to radiance by God’s power. He is able to make something glorious from suffering, which draws me into deeper understanding of His will. He fills the anguish with healing and love. That has to sustain me for now. Suffering produces perseverance, character, and hope (Romans 5:3-4 NIV), so I am letting the ache burn rather than try to suppress it.

Painful times draw me into God’s presence far more often than happy ones. God is always present, even in anguish and desperation, and understands how deep my wounds are. He urges me to depend on His Holy Spirit to lead me moment by moment.

Turn to God in your pain. He will suffer beside you when you ache.

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It Gets Better

“Are you sure you want to clean toilets?”

My wife’s voice reverberated in my ears as I sprayed the toilet bowl cleaner into the urinal at my job. This wasn’t the place I envisioned for myself as I walked across the graduation stage at Thomas Road Baptist Church on the campus of Liberty University. Yet there I stood in the middle of the men’s room, holding a toilet bowl cleaner in one hand and a terry cloth in the other—miserable over the way life was playing out. I wondered where God’s favor was and where His promises of abundance were.

We’ve all felt our life is at a standstill at one time or another. God has called you to run your own business, but you wake up every day and ride a bus to a maintenance job where you clean windows, pull trash, and scrub toilets—barely earning enough money to pay the bills. God has deposited a seed of distinction in you, but that promise of eminence can seem far away.

Sometimes we forget God is the reason we have what we have. We forget about the blessings that come from above and focus on the things we don’t have or on the things we want because others have them. Our joy can wane when we focus on things that don’t concern God.

The enemy deceives us by making us think the place we are today is the place we’ll always be. Through prayer, I’ve discovered becoming disgruntled with the ugly days of life does no good. God is faithful to fulfill His promises. He knows the places He wants us to go, and He designates pit stops designed to improve and strengthen our character.

This season of life may feel arduous and may not be going according to plans. But God will not allow suffering needlessly. Better is the end of a thing than its beginning. My heart wasn’t into cleaning toilets, but that day standing in the men’s room I knew God’s plan was still being put into motion for my life.

Stay with the Lord. Put forth the fruit of faith, increase in the knowledge of God, and work in accordance with His glorious might. Christ is your example, and God rewards His faithful children for diligently working for Him.  

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The Right Frequency

A click of a switch. “Come in, base one.”  No answer. Several more times I repeated this with the same result. I could feel myself getting testy inside.

We were driving across the paddock following the rutted wheel tracks, the constant static from the two-way radio coming from between the front seats. We were out looking for stray cows which had not made the branding roundup. The scrub was thick. Hills and rocks stood in our way. We stopped to check in with the homestead base.

Then my passenger said, “Are you on the right frequency?” After checking, I switched to another setting and made contact.

We were able to get directions from base. The overhead spotters had found the errant cattle in a slight ravine on the other side of the hills. We wove our four-by-four vehicle through bushland to locate them. From there we were able to move them in the right direction. Then the riders on horseback picked them up to drive them towards home base for branding.

If we’re honest with ourselves and God, we’re sometimes disappointed in Him. A sense of false rejection, feeling unloved and unacceptable to God. We believe He has let us down for not giving us what we want in the time we expected. We become testy when our way forward becomes impeded.

Sometimes, we misunderstand His Word and His promises—believing we will never be good enough for Him. The acid of hurt and disappointment builds up and develops into anger. The pain from these misplaced feelings has to surface so we can restore our relationship with Him.

How we deal with disappointments will depend upon how secure we are in God’s love in our heart. When these negative emotions surface, we are relying on our own emotions in our soul. 

Instead, we need to listen to the voice of God in our spirit and in our heart. We need to tune into God through the right frequency. Then the way becomes clear to hear God’s voice and follow His directions for our life. 

If you’re lost or heading in the wrong direction, change frequencies so you can hear God’s voice.

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The Promise for Your Affliction

Staring out the window—sick child in my arms—I count the days.

Twenty two days have passed since illness struck our home and relentlessly unleashed its fury on each member of our household. And twenty two days have passed since we lived free from fevers and antibiotics. It seems this virus won’t let go.

My head throbs with the ache of countless nights without sleep, and my body aches with the remnants of the fever that refuses to break. Through it all, I’ve done my best to be the rock of stability and comfort my family’s needs. Watching layers of altostratus clouds linger like a blanket over the goldenrod field outside the window, I cry for God to bring the comfort I desperately desire.

My deepest desire is for healing from this sickness. I find myself searching the heart of God for a promise to embrace in the midst of this suffering. But which promise do I claim when the provision is slow in coming? Or when the healing doesn’t come?

Three geese pass, flying low outside the window. They cut through the clouds like a beacon sent to remind me of my three-in-one God. They remind me that the God of the Trinity is a God of relationship. When He seems slow in fulfilling His promises, when healing doesn’t come, or when provision lingers, He gives a better promise.

The better promise is the promise to never leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). This is the promise to which I cling in my affliction. Though the suffering may last, God promises to stick with me through it. His presence is the greatest comfort of all.

If there is a place in your life where it seems God isn’t showing up, or if you’re waiting on Him to provide, protect, heal, or redeem, a day is coming when He will fulfill each of those desires.  Until then, He promises to stick with you.

Let God’s presence be enough for you.

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The Forbidden Delectable

I vowed not to miss church.

Vacationing with my family in Hong Kong, I made it my goal not to miss Sunday church service. I checked with the locals, and they suggested a church that wasn’t too far from the place I was staying.

I strolled onto the main thoroughfare Sunday morning. The mass of locals who were in search of their morning cup of tea swept me along. It was only seven-thirty, but I was already withering from the simmering heat and drenching humidity. The clatter of woks and savory aromas of freshly prepared wonton soup and pan-fried noodles shifted my taste buds into overdrive.

A tea house with the caption “Air Conditioning” grabbed my attention. I slipped inside and plopped down at one of the dining tables to bathe in the coolness. What a mistake. The Dim Sum peddlers in their shimmering aluminum food carts swarmed me—parading steaming shark fin soup, assorted dumplings, and elaborately decorated desserts around me like a well-choreographed musical.

Before long, my taste buds were screaming for a dumpling. I said to myself I would attend church later. Later never came, and God was nowhere to be found. I knew sitting down for Dim Sum wasn’t bad in itself, but I was allowing worldly temptations to distract me from God.

Just like Adam and Eve in the garden, I gave in to what I wanted to do. I took whatever I saw and allowed my body to have whatever it wanted—which was to taste the forbidden dumpling. I wasn’t seeking God first.

This was a sobering reminder of my weakness. If I continued down this road, allowing self-centered wants to govern my actions, God would soon become nothing more than a faint memory. The only way back was to make God first and trust He would provide everything that was good for me.

As I moved from me-first to God-first, I discovered an abundance of God’s grace that supplied the power to resist the temptations crossing my path. I was no longer an easy prey to the “tea houses” of my life that beckoned me to abandon God for whatever I unwisely wanted.

Don’t let the forbidden delectables keep you from putting God first. 

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That's Why There's Chocolate and Vanilla

One of my husband’s favorite sayings is, "That's why there's chocolate and vanilla."

We're all different. We don't like the same things, whether it’s ice cream, clothes, or worship styles. I realized how true that is the last time I shopped for clothes. As I flipped through hangers on the racks, I thought some of the items were really cute, but not for me. There were other items about which I thought, Really? And then there were the clothes that were just what I was looking for. Sort of like Goldilocks and the three bears.

Thinking about the variety of clothing caused me to consider the variety of worship styles in churches. Some aren't for me; some are. Just as others’ clothing styles are not my concern, someone else’s worship style should not be my concern either.

Jesus told the woman at the well that the time and place of worship wasn’t important. Whether someone raises their hands or not during worship is not for me to decide. Nor is whether they kneel or stand when they pray or how they position their head, hands, or eyes. Neither should I decide the songs sung or the music played. What I should decide is to make sure I worship God with my whole heart and please Him alone.

There are some things we should consider when it comes to worshiping God. Such as if our worship glorifies God, if it honors Him above all others, and if we are coming before Him with humble hearts and acknowledging Him as the author of our salvation.

What are things you believe should be considered when worshiping God?

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Staying Positive in a Negative World

We’ve all seen them—those people who smile through the worst storm, encourage others when life kicks them in the teeth, and always respond, “Great,” when asked, “How are you?”

First, let’s clarify one issue. Remaining positive does not mean we never have a bad day or that we never question God. Listen to Job: I cry out to You, God, but You do not answer; I stand up, but You merely look at me (Job 30:20). Job was definitely having a bad day. In fact, a string of bad days. We can expect those too.

During his miserable moments, Job took his concerns directly to God. Let’s be honest in our prayers. If we’re angry, we should tell God. If we’re depressed, let’s say so. God already knows anyway. This step frees us of pent-up emotions and creates an open flow of communication. We hear God better when we’re not trying to mask our feelings.

Job waited for God’s answer—easier said than done. As believers, we can say with Job, I will wait for my renewal to come (Job 14:14). Whether considering tomorrow or eternity, God has us covered.

Job listened to God’s answer once he received it—a simple task that’s easy to fail in. Imagine God saying to Job in chapter 38 and following “Just who do you think you are?” Why do we moan and groan for answers, yet ignore them when they come? Job responds to God in chapter 42, verse 3, Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.  Let’s join in that declaration.

Job also embraced God’s love and promises. When everyone deserts us, God remains. When everything fails, God succeeds. When life gets us down, God picks us up. When we lose all hope, God offers hope. When conflict surrounds us, God grants us peace. We may not receive all our answers during this life, but we can rest securely knowing that God reigns now and eternally.    

Remember God’s faithfulness, and remain positive in a negative world.

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The Proof of Love

One loving action can change an individual’s course for the better. 

The search for love is seen in every aspect of society. We encounter people searching for love and acceptance. People crave affection and approval in a world they are desperately trying to understand.

We all seek love, but especially the perfect love John describes. We are proof God exists as well as living proof of His powerful love. When we take the time to help a person in need, God works through us to help another person.

The proof of God’s perfect love is hidden in the hearts of the righteous and revealed in their selfless actions. We all have the ability to do good or bad in our everyday actions. When we choose the righteous actions of the Father, we choose to display His love to the world. Immorality holds love captive. When we choose to display love as the Father does, we break the cycle of impurity swirling around us like a bad storm.

When the Lord loves us, He changes our whole being and transforms our lives. We are set free from sin and death in our new lives, become heirs of the promise, and become rich in love and kindness. When the Lord’s perfect love invades our space, our thoughts and actions become more like His.

A simple display of God’s love to a neighbor can transform that person’s life. One kind act can derail hate and violence. We alone cannot solve the world problems, but we who are in Christ have the power of change within our hearts.

Ponder what it would feel like to be hungry, cold, scared, desperate, depressed, lonely, suicidal, or lost. You might stop the cycle of self-destruction in one person’s life and prove to them that God does exist. The simplest gesture is the most powerful in God’s eyes.

The next time you see a person with a need, think about the opportunity before you.  

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The Grace of Pain

I never understood Paul’s statement about a thorn in the flesh until February 26, 2014. As my family grieved over losing my granddaughter, I learned lessons about grace through the journey of pain. 

Most don’t consider pain an act of God’s grace but rather a curse. As with everything else, it is about perspective. If we are teachable, the most painful circumstances can be the grace of God at work on our behalf. Being conformed to the image of Christ involves suffering. If we want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection, we must participate in His suffering. 

Paul outlines three valuable lessons about grace and pain in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. First, pain keeps us dependent on God’s grace. Second, pain makes us aware of our weakness so God’s strength can be seen in us. Finally, pain keeps us from becoming filled with pride. 

The grace of pain comes in many forms. For some, physical pain and suffering are chronic. For others, pain is a broken marriage, a wayward child, the loss of a loved one, or the struggle with depression and anxiety.

Regardless of pain’s avenue, there should be only one destination: the foot of the cross. This is where we decide God will be glorified. With the decision to trust God, pain becomes an act of His grace.

Pain teaches us dependency, perseverance, and blind trust in God. Pain causes our roots to go deeper than before, making us stronger. It establishes our belief that God is trustworthy with His plans and callings for us. Pain makes us like a mighty oak planted by streams of living water.

As peculiar as it may seem, there is something sweet about the grace of pain. When the seasons end, we almost miss them. Maybe not the pain itself but the immeasurable grace poured out through the unfathomable love and intimacy of God.

Let your focus become God’s grace and the pain His purpose. Then arise with a quiet confidence in His strength. No person or situation can remove the grace of pain.

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Cosmic Bullying

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”

Ask the parents of a cyberbullying victim if that’s true. No doubt you’ve seen news accounts of this troubling trend that has become commonplace among pre-teens and teenagers. What used to take place in the cafeteria and playground has now spread to the digital world as cyber bullies use the internet and smart phones to harass and humiliate their victims. Cyberbullying can be so vicious that some youngsters are driven to suicide.

As horrible as cyberbullying is, “cosmic bullying” is even more dangerous. This happens when Satan taunts and attacks God’s children. He does it through the everyday annoyances, conflicts, and temptations of life, but he and his demons seem to amplify their efforts when we step out to serve God. But we have victory through Jesus Christ.

Satan often makes it appear that people are the problem, but God’s Word tells us otherwise: For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

Earlier this year, a few ladies from my church and I prepared to lead a women’s Bible study. The topic was spiritual warfare and how to effectively use the armor of God. Not surprisingly, the enemy went to work. Shortly after our first planning meeting, one of the ladies was rushed to the hospital with a painful bout of kidney stones. Another had a flare-up of stomach problems. One of the others was struck with a cough, fever, and chills. So predictable.

Satan’s bullying did not catch us by surprise, nor did it catch God by surprise. The Lord enabled us to proceed with the Bible study classes. They were well received, and we were blessed with a powerful object lesson on prayer and persevering in the midst of spiritual warfare.

The Word of God tells us to be alert, because the enemy is on the prowl like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Use the weapons God has given you and claim the victory that is yours in Christ.

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Warfare with Words

When thinking of warfare, guns, tanks, bombs, grenades, and missiles normally come to mind.

But David, the young shepherd, faced the giant Goliath with only a sling and five smooth stones. Nine-feet tall and clad in heavy armor, Goliath must have been a scary sight. When Goliath saw David approaching unarmed, he assumed the victory was his. What the giant didn’t know was that David had a secret weapon: the name of the Lord. Only one stone was required for David to kill Goliath with a shot to the forehead.

As the psalmist believed God trained his hands for war and his fingers for battle, so writers have powerful weapons of warfare most people don’t think of: five fingers on each hand. Ten times the one slingshot David had. And with the Lord at our side, we too can fight giant battles.

Many desperate people need to hear the salvation message of why Jesus came. But they won’t hear if we don’t tell them.

By continually filling our minds and hearts with God’s Word, we have the perfect ammunition needed for our fingers to compose a variety of powerful messages with which we can share the gospel repeatedly.

Keep your fingers in warfare mode by writing often. If just one person is touched by your words, your time has been well spent. Try some different methods this year with your God-given weapons of warfare. Submit one of your messages to a publication you have never sent to before.  Post an article or poem on Facebook or Twitter. Send a letter to the editor of a local newspaper.

Your words can make a difference.

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The Struggle for Acceptance

Investments in the body can only bring little profit because it is perishing every day.   

Our society struggles for acceptance. We compare ourselves to those around us and struggle to emulate the celebrities we see paraded on television as a symbol of perfection. This comparison makes us want to improve our outward appearance, but the Bible has something to say about superficial appearances.

Physical exercise only has a slight benefit, but the pursuit of the Lord profits all things in our lives. The world weighs value in the outward appearance and the pursuit of such things. The Lord weighs our value in Christ and the understanding of Him in all aspects of our life.

Our value is not weighed in how many times we go to the gym or our ability to develop a six pack. The value of who we are is rooted in the immeasurable love of the Lord. Bodily exercise can only bring temporary satisfaction, but the hunger of the soul cries for more than what the body can offer.

Our soul hungers for the understanding of the Lord and the vigorous pursuit of Him. We must build our acceptance of the value of the Lord and pursue Him before we seek anything else.  Being healthy is a righteous pursuit, but to rely on our own strength to get us through life is foolishness in God’s eyes.

The Lord sees us in the measurement of weight not stature. Goliath was a giant while David was a small young man. In the natural realm, Goliath’s strength would have been envied by those around him, but God weighed David differently. God had invested in David’s soul. Even though his outward appearance was weak compared to the giant, David was the stronger one in the battle.

The Lord uses our weaknesses for His ultimate glory. Our outward appearance has nothing to do with our destiny or our inner strength. People will judge our outward appearance, but God has already granted us righteousness in our soul. Our investment must be in the soul first because the soul is the only thing in us that will live forever.

You are righteous, holy, redeemed, qualified, satisfied, and perfectly loved by the Lord. Pursue God and find out for yourself.  

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How to Change the World

I was half-asleep and not expecting a late-night discussion on the probabilities of life in outer space. 

My son surprised me by asking if there was life on other planets. Things do lie beyond the limits of our knowledge, and I have wondered if outer space runs out. The world is a big place, and our tiny planet in our little solar system seems insignificant when compared to the incredible vastness surrounding it.

We may sometimes feel that way about our longing to make a difference in the world. The world is a big place, and we can feel insignificant in it too. But we are God’s handiwork. 

The microcosm in which we live is our world. It consists of the places we inhabit and the people we encounter. Wherever on this planet that may be, God placed us here on purpose. Choosing to make a difference right here and now is a choice to embrace that purpose. Doing so is high-impact living.

And God has paved the road. All we need to do is step onto it and start walking. Two simple steps will help begin the journey.

First, choose a high-impact life—here and now. Fully embrace the place and season where you are. Learn to love the people God has placed around you—especially the difficult ones. God will help you do it.

Second, increase your impact by investing in missions. Giving removes the borders from our lives and allows us to touch people on the other side of the globe while we are learning to live intentionally where we are.

Once we get started, there will be no stopping us. In the words of Bilbo Baggins: “You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no telling where you might be swept off to.”

So go ahead. Be swept off your feet. God has plans for the beautiful journey of your life. They may involve struggle, pain, and cost, but they will bring joy, fulfillment, and great reward.

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Show Your Weakness

Admitting weakness leaves us vulnerable and uncomfortable—a place we generally don’t like to be.

In 1984, there was a popular phrase from the Dry Idea deodorant commercials: “Never let them see you sweat.” The message was that we should never let our nerves, insecurities, or weaknesses show. We should always act strong and in control, even if we don’t feel it.

I was reminded of this commercial as I read Paul’s words to the Corinthians. He advises that we show our weaknesses—the opposite of what society says.

While it might not be advisable with everyone we meet, confessing our weakness to God is the best thing we can do. Being vulnerable with Him is a safe place to be. In that helpless, defenseless open place, we let our guard down and accept His help.

“Never let them see you sweat” thinking keeps us dependent on our own limited strength, but admitting weakness allows us to look past ourselves. When we get out of our own way, then we can better see God’s strength. And His strength has no limits.

Relying on my own strength and trying not to show weakness keeps me self-focused and pulls me away from God, but admitting where I am weak draws me closer to Him. When I’m closest to Him, I can draw from His unlimited strength.

Pause and examine who you’re listening to: society or Paul. God’s strength is limitless. He offers it to us, but we can’t draw from it without admitting our weakness.

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Unseen Wind

I couldn’t see the wind, but I could feel its effect.

I frequently pass a giant sycamore tree when walking. There is a unique music to the rustling of its leaves, whether a light breeze or a strong wind is blowing. As I recently approached the corner where I begin to hear its song, it seemed I was hearing the rush of creek water. Paying more attention to the sound, I realized it was the wind blowing through the leaves of the large sycamore tree.

The mysterious line between visible and invisible revealed the evidence of the unseen wind. My hair whipping around my face felt the effect as the wind grew stronger.

Our invisible God is a greater invisible mystery. I can’t see Him, but I feel His effects. His life and His Spirit have been breathed into me. He has changed me. His invisible work in my life is like the wind I can’t see but that I know is there.

Yes, I believe in a God I can’t see. I believe in the salvation that is mine because I have accepted His free gift of salvation and eternal life by grace through faith in His Son Jesus Christ. I believe in the invisible regenerating work He did that made me a new creation.

There are many unseen factors in the Christian walk, all evidence of an unseen God who is lived out in my life every day. The effects of God in my life are just as real as the wind blowing through my hair and through the leaves of the giant sycamore tree. This is the life of faith.

Let the unseen God change your life. 

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He Overcame for You

I’m a worrier … a chicken.

Folks who know me will tell you I err on the side of caution because I worry. I’m not sure why. As a child, I was always fearful. My fears were unwarranted. Still, I was afraid. Being brave was hard.

It doesn’t surprise me that through the years God has allowed me to be placed in situations where I was forced to overcome my fear and simply trust. That’s God. He does this so He can grow us.

From the fears of a little child, to watching my adult children go through life issues I didn’t think they—or I—could survive, there was always fear. So when the MRI tech latched my head and chest tightly to a table and slid me into the machine’s chamber, I knew fear would push me to the brink.

The tech peered through the eye slot. “You okay?” He patted my shoulder and assured me I’d be fine. The machine started. I closed my eyes and remembered, Be strong and of good courage for I am with you. Take heart, I’ve overcome the world for you.

God knows this child all too well, and He’d been preparing me long in advance for this moment. Through a Bible study, I’d gleaned Scriptures and promises that fit my situation perfectly. He wanted me to have peace through this ordeal.

Jesus knew the trouble, pain, and anxiety He was about to face. He tried to gently forewarn His disciples that trouble would come. They would grieve for Him, but they couldn’t get their heads around what Jesus was preparing them for. He’d said these things repeatedly, but it wasn’t until this last time that the disciples finally understood. I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace … I have overcome the world.

The world makes every effort to strike fear into us. It uses our vulnerabilities to bring us down to its level. But we have the advantage. We have the truth that Jesus overcame the world. There is no need for us to fear.

When fear grasps hold—attempting to choke the hope out of you—remember the promise. Remember what Jesus has already done. He overcame the world … for you.

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How Soon We Forget

What hard heads. What idiots. They forgot God’s promises, floundered around in the wilderness for forty years, and most never made it to the land flowing with milk and honey.

The children of Israel forgot how God delivered them from bondage, rained manna from heaven, and kept them healthy and safe during their long journey. He showed them the glory of His provision, protection, and presence. But fear got the best of them, and they tried to take matters into their own hands.

It didn’t work. I wonder what they were thinking.

The truth is we can tsk, tsk, tsk all day thinking shame on them, but we often repeat their behavior. It’s certainly true in my case. Sometimes spiritual amnesia gets the best of me.

When I look back on the ways God has blessed me and all the promises He has faithfully fulfilled, there are too many to name. Counting my blessings one by one, as the song says, would take me from now throughout eternity.

Still, I often struggle in the midst of a storm or trial that life throws my way, easily forgetting God’s love and faithfulness. I think the reason—just like with the Israelites—is fear.

The Bible says fear involves torment. If you’ve ever dealt with fear, you know it robs us of peace. It steals our joy, shakes our foundation, tells us God doesn’t care, and prompts us to fix our problem. Fear causes us to panic and grasp for control instead of keeping our minds and hearts fixed on the One who has the power and all the answers we need.

The antidote for fear is love—God’s perfect love—where there is the absence of fear, doubt, anxiety, dread, and worry.

The next time fear comes knocking, allow God’s perfect love to drive it away. And never forget all the wonderful things He has done for you. Betcha can’t count them all.

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5 Steps to Productive Labor

The process of childbirth is called labor for good reason: it is hard and painful work. 

As a young soon-to-be mom, I was terrified of needles so close to my spine so I chose natural childbirth. Going into labor through the natural process unprepared will lead a woman to tense, scream, close her eyes, and fight against her body. But the prepared mom goes into labor working with her body.

The spiritual labor process also has an unprepared and a prepared way. If we are unprepared, we will fight against God’s will, but if we’re prepared we will work with God’s will.

There are things we can do to ensure productive spiritual labor.

Preparation. Good nutrition, rest, water, and practice are a must for effective labor.  When laboring spiritually, we must nourish ourselves daily in God’s Word and be refreshed by His Spirit.

Fasting. Fasting is a good way to create an “emptiness” on the inside to make room for the work of God within us.

Strategy. We must have a birth plan. We cannot wait until the middle of labor to learn how to do something. Labor rarely goes as we plan. Like breathing patterns, prayer ruts are easy to fall into. Prayer has many facets. We can step out of the norm and pray a different way—with thanking, declaring God’s promises, asking, or crying out. Changing positions in labor speeds the process. Sometimes, we must change our prayer position too.

Focal Point. In the labor process, the worst thing is to focus on the pain, which only increases it. A focal point—a place “outside the body,” works to pull us out of ourselves.  Vision is our spiritual focal point, keeps us focused on the end of the process, and renews our hope. At the point of pushing, it is easy to hold our breath and close our eyes instead of looking for a sign of the baby’s appearing.

Labor Coach. A labor coach keeps mom on track, reminding her time is short and encouraging her. We should never go through spiritual labor alone. We need friends to hold up our arms during the process.

Think of a few things you can do that will lead to productive spiritual labor. 

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The Pages of Life

Electronic books make having lots of reading material available with the touch of a finger.

While the owner of an eBook can carry volumes in the weight of a few ounces, nothing replaces the feel of a hard cover or paperback in the hand. I enjoy the texture of the pages as they are turned and the smell of the ink on the paper as a story comes to life.

Books can last for years and be read over and over by different people. As the book is passed down in libraries or borrowed from individuals, a little of the reader stays with that book. Names, phone numbers, and addresses mingle with the story when the stroke of a pen takes ownership of the prized possession. Sometimes little notes that give a glimpse of the personality of the book’s owner are inscribed inside the publication.

As the parchment ages, the distinctive smell of an old book can’t be erased. The tome has absorbed from those who have held the volume in their hands, and maybe some of the dust collected on the top when in a dormant stage has added to the character. Colors can fade and scratches and dings can mar the cover, but those are all things that make each book individual and valuable.

Humans are stories on the earth. As we age, our pages crinkle and yellow. Sometimes we are in a dormant season of life, but we still have a place and purpose on the shelf. We may have the smell of an old book—but only because the years have left some scars and dents.  

As a child of God, our place is in the library of heaven. When we are taken off the shelf of our present existence, we will have new leafs and covers. The fragrance of eternity will replace the smell of age.

Don’t despair because of the worn surfaces of your soul. Rejoice because those pages are valuable and tell your story like no one else can.

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The Handler

The lead ewe stood stock still, occasionally stamping one foot on the ground. The Border collie did not flinch. 

I knew who would win this stare down. I had seen it many times in the paddock or in the stock yards. The Border collie was well trained. The ewe was all bluff.

Once the game was over, the ewe led the flock of sheep through the open gate, the dog trailing quietly behind, gently nudging the stragglers until all were through and the gate secure. Then she trotted over, sat at her handler’s feet, and waited patiently for her pat and praise.

Even when I was distracted and forgot to acknowledge a job well done, I could still rely on her to fulfil her role. She was faithful and trustworthy, eager to obey and quick to respond to commands. She knew she was loved, and pleasing her master seemed praise enough.

So often, we try to be like the lead ewe. God directs us in the way we should go, but we play a bluff game. We try to be boss for a while, stamp our feet, and stare down God’s directive. Then we finally give in when we realize God has the Holy Spirit, like a dog handler, lovingly watching our every move—ready to redirect or discipline if necessary.

Good sheep dogs take time to develop and mature and so do fully committed disciples of Jesus. God wants us to be well trained by His Word in the things of life. This takes time. Time spent with Him, reading and meditating, practicing what His Word tells us to do until we are obedient, disciplined, and useful in His service. Maturity is simply knowing we have pleased the Master.

Being a trustworthy servant will lead to being a friend of God, and that is something to cherish. Imagine the look of pleasure and love on Father God’s face when He looks at you and affirms a job well done. 

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Never had a game evoked such fear in me.

As a middle schooler, I was weak, shy, and non-athletic. I dreaded physical education class—mainly because of one game: dodgeball.

I was always the last one picked when the team captains made their choices. Skinny, freckled-faced, glasses. Nothing that would make them want me on their team. I made sure to stand behind everyone else when the balls started whizzing by, but eventually I was exposed. It was then I began using my shield.

Getting hit on the torso or below the waist was bearable, but a hit in the head could be tragic. Mom had strictly instructed me to guard my glasses with my life. She and Dad could not afford to replace them. As the balls made their aim at me, I shielded my head with my arms and hands. 

As a teenager, I tortured my two younger brothers with the same game by lining them up on the edge of our open carport and throwing balls at them. They, too, used their arms and hands as shields, but doing so didn’t stop them from cascading from the ledge to the ground below when they were hit.

David was a warrior and very familiar with a shield. While he didn’t use one against Goliath—the giant he fought—he did in many battles after that as he protected his nation against their enemies.

Thousands of years into the future, the apostle Paul would say faith is the believer’s shield. As my hands shielded me from slams by the dodgeballs, so my faith shields me from the darts of my soul’s enemy. When I believed in and accepted Christ as my Savior, God gave me the righteousness of Christ. Though I take many hits in life, that body armor of righteousness—along with my shield of faith—keeps me from being defeated.

Faith helps me move forward, even when I can’t see the way. Faith prompts me to obey God’s plan, even when it appears illogical. Faith keeps me determined in my walk with the Lord, even when I sometimes want to give up. Faith shields me from persistent and uncontrollable doubt, anger, frustration, anxiety, worry, depression, and fear.

God gives all His children a shield. Take yours, so you can fight life’s battle with a guarantee of success.

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Fisher of Men

Peter was a fisher of men—but not initially.   

The apostle tops my list of outstanding Bible characters. God transformed this ordinary fisherman into a dynamic leader of the early church. The folly and humanness in his early life make him a saint that’s relatable and one we can learn from.

Peter was a man of contradictions. He was impulsive and strong-willed, yet capable of great love and loyalty. He left everything he had to follow Jesus. When something needed to be said, he said it—but was quick to blurt out words before thinking. A man of faith, he was both courageous and fearful.

Once, Peter left a boat and walked on water to go to Jesus. When he saw the wind, he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink. He cried out for help, and Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. Christ rebuked him gently for doubting. 

Peter was the first disciple to confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16:16). He boasted he would never forsake Jesus, but in an hour of crisis after Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied even knowing Him. When Peter realized what he had done, he wept bitterly.

Yet Peter’s story doesn’t end in failure. Jesus loved him, forgave him, and restored him. On the day of Pentecost, Peter preached boldly, and 3,000 people were converted. The simple fisherman became a mighty fisher of men. Persecution followed, but Peter rejoiced that he was counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s sake.

If you have experienced failure, remember God can use it for your good by bringing you to a deeper trust in Him. There may be consequences to face, but failure can be a stepping stone to future success.  

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Storing up Treasures

Going through the belongings of a loved one who has gone to be with Jesus can be uncomfortable.

When I married my husband, I became part of his family. We lived next door to his parents and grandmother, Olivia, who lived with them. Olivia had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s and could no longer live alone. She had a small room at my in-laws with a few pieces of her own furniture and belongings.

Her home sat empty until she died. Then it was necessary to sell the home. As we loaded up boxes and sorted through her belongings, an overwhelming sense of sadness flooded me. This lady and her husband had worked years to pay for this house and provide a home for their family. Most of her belongings would be sold or packed away in an attic. No one wanted them. Someone else would be using Olivia’s things, and someone else would be living in this home she had worked to pay for and to make comfortable for her family. I felt such grief.

I realized what was bothering me. I was putting myself in Olivia’s place. The same could happen when I got old. God allowed me to wallow for a little while on these thoughts. Then He brought a Scripture to my mind that gave me perspective.

Passing down memories to your children in the form of earthly treasures isn’t sinful. The sin comes in leading a life devoted to this while neglecting storing up treasures in heaven. I had the wrong perspective. The same thing will happen any time we take our eyes off of Jesus.

I am happy someone is making use of the things that meant something to Olivia. She was a godly woman. I have no doubt she is in heaven enjoying God’s riches, and I don’t believe she misses her china. Her legacy was the example she set for her family and the obedience she gave to God.

Leave a legacy for your family that provides an example of storing treasures in heaven. 

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Our Expectations of God

There are moments when I expect God to act, but He doesn’t.

Sometimes I’ve wanted God to take revenge on a bully I faced. At other times, I’ve wanted Him to give me power like Moses so those around me can respect me. None of that came to pass. I experienced the opposite.

Once, I needed God to meet a financial project. I called people I knew. Most of them promised to help, and I was thrilled God was at work. The disappointment arrived when none of them followed through. I was devastated because God did not work through my expectations. Just when I was about to give up, God met my need through an anonymous means. That’s when I realized God’s ways aren’t my ways.

We want God to take care of our mess while we are on the verge of making another one. We want God to make life easy for us so we won't have to worry about anything, but we are still in a fallen world. Some of us want God to answer those who hurt us with immeasurable pain, but God is love.

I must understand God limits our activities on earth. While we think about growing old and having millions of dollars, God thinks about helping us win millions of souls. Our thoughts will always go contrary to God's thoughts. He thinks about eternal things, but we think about earthly things.

Aligning our expectation with God's is important. To know what God expects from us, we need to spend time in prayer, read the Word, and gather with other believers. God will not work according to our time and season. We must align our time and thoughts with His.

Submit your expectations to God, and allow Him to be your focus.

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The Fish in the Sky

Spectacular sunbeams, like delicate strands of golden silk, showered my sister’s neighborhood.

I was headed to my first Bible study. I quickly dismissed the possibility it was a sign from God. Immediately a thought instructed me, “Look at the hole.” I followed the golden strands upward into the clouds. The hole was a perfect cutout of the Jesus fish. God had plucked out a crisp fish-shaped hole in a billowing cloud as white as the purest cotton.

It was a sign. There was no mistaking the fish in the sky for a random cloud formation. God was pleased that I was going to study the Bible. 

God is delighted when we study His Word. Through study, we can be sanctified and set apart as holy by His truth. The Holy Spirit uses truth to teach, reminding us Jesus is the same today as He was when He walked the earth. He is still capable of all kinds of signs and wonders. God longs to show us the magnitude of His love, and He uses Scripture to speak to us and draw us into an intimate relationship with Him.

In our study, we find God’s truth transforms the way we think—a key to setting us apart from the world. When we begin to think differently, we want to act differently—allowing God to take control. We have access to His help.  

Devotions are great, but the power that transforms awaits us through Bible study. Take time to study His Word. Spend time developing your relationship with a God who longs for your presence with Him.

Fill yourself with God’s truth and watch the amazing transformation begin.   

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A Penny's Worth of Love

I was feeling emotions I’d not felt in years, sad and painful memories that wrapped me in a cocoon of sorrow. 

I had just finished reading a book about a little girl who was abused by a neighbor. It brought back memories I thought I’d put to rest. Funny how a few words on a page can cause thoughts of abandon to take you where you were many years before—with the shame and sorrow it contained.

In the book, the little girl found a wheat penny embedded in the blacktop of a parking lot.  She dug it out, held it in her hand, and then imagined herself in the palm of God’s hand—safe and warm as the penny was in hers. 

Getting groceries was next on my list, and I drove foggy-headed to the little market in our small country town. As I paid, I looked into the bowl of pennies sitting by the cash register for people who might be a few cents short. My breath caught in my throat and an unexpected smile covered my face. A wheat penny sat on top. I picked it up and held it in my hand. It felt warm.

On the way home, I held the penny because I knew God had put it there so I would know how much He loves me. He wanted me to realize I was safe in His hand—far away from the painful memories of the past.

Today the penny sits on my windowsill above the sink so I’ll never forget God’s kindness. No matter how far into shame and pain I find myself, He’s there showing His mighty love in little ways.

Notice the tiny things God does for you every day.

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Are You Ready?

It never fails. I hear the same question every year: “Are you ready for Christmas?”

Seems like a simple question. Maybe it’s the same as a friendly “How are you?” to which we dutifully answer, “I’m fine, how are you?” It’s just something we do.

Last year I paid closer attention to how many times the question came up. It started right after Thanksgiving and kept repeating itself until right before Christmas Eve. I began to analyze the words and tried to figure out what the asker was really trying to find out. Perhaps they were asking if my shopping was finished or if I had put up my Christmas tree and decorations. Maybe they were wondering if I had nailed down family plans, Christmas dinner, or holiday travel.

After all my analyzing, I wondered if I truly was ready. Had I made a place in the busyness for the Christ of Christmas? Was I quick to let others know that He is the real reason for the season? Was I was prepared to kneel before the babe in the manger, acknowledging Him as Savior and Lord?

Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines ready as “being prepared mentally or physically for some experience or action—to plan in advance, work out the details, and get into a proper state of mind.”

Maybe that’s the ultimate answer: a proper state of mind. I love the song that talks about needing more Christmas all year long. It’s a wonderful, magical time of year, but the real magic—the real Spirit of Christmas—is the supernatural, life-giving presence of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Once we invite Him in, He promises to be with us always—24/7, 365 days of the year, and then for all eternity. We can celebrate Him every single day and not have to wait until the calendar says it’s time to pull out all the stops.

I love Christmas—the sights, sounds, and smells. But I especially love the One whose birthday we celebrate … the One who gave His all so we might gain everything. “Are you ready?” has taken on new meaning for me.

The next time someone asks if you’re ready for Christmas, say confidently, “Yes, I’m always ready. Are you?”

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Never Too Young and Never Too Old

As an empty nester experiencing the realities of the aging process, I am encouraged by a lesson I learned from the Christmas story.

Details I love about the Christmas story concern the young virgin girl, Mary, and an elderly couple, Elizabeth and Zachariah—who have never had children because Elizabeth is barren. Mary is too young to possess the special kind of qualities that would merit God’s glorious favor.  Much older Elizabeth was at the point in life where she had no expectation that God would do something powerful and life-changing.

Yet God miraculously blessed Mary with the birth of Jesus, and He blessed Elizabeth and Zachariah with the birth of John the Baptist.

What spoke to me from these stories in Luke 1 is that our age does not matter. We are never too young or too old to experience God’s work in our lives. I have heard people say they are too young or too old for God to use them. I have even heard some older people say, “Maybe God is finished with me.”

Age is not a qualifier, and it does not disqualify us. Age also does not excuse us. Regardless of our age and circumstances, we should be open to what God is doing. If we are breathing, we are a vessel God can use. What an honor that God wants to work in and through us.

God’s desire is for us to surrender our whole life to Him—every aspect and every stage of life. When He calls us to a work He wants to do in our lives, we should answer “Yes,” as Mary did. “Then Mary said, ‘Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word’” (Luke 1:38).

God is not looking for someone who is the “right age.” He is looking for someone whose heart has the right answer to His call. 

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Pray for Your Pastor

The typo caught my attention and tickled my funny bone. It described the Old Testament prophet Enoch as “a holy and uptight man.”

After I stopped chuckling, I nodded my head. Yup, how true of a man of God. I’d been a pastor’s wife for thirty-four years. Not only did I know my husband’s heart and mind well, but I also had known many pastors and missionaries. The description could be said of most of them. They were indeed holy and uptight.

While these lovely servants have many blessings from the Lord and from those they serve, they also receive a good bit of criticism from people who have hidden agendas and unnamed expectations.

My husband was often teased about his one-day-a-week job. One day a week, my eye. His responsibilities had no end, and he took them seriously. Every morning, he had to pick and choose from a list of meetings, home and hospital visits, and counseling appointments—as well as find time for study and prayer. Then he had to carve out time with his family and for himself—which he did by walking in the woods or grubbing in the garden.

I remember one troubled church we served where I was critical of the elders. One day during my devotion, I was reminded by the Spirit that I spent more time putting them down than I did praying for them. They immediately went on my prayer list. My attitude began to change as I consistently brought them before the Father by name.

Our godly leaders need our prayers, support, and encouragement. Take time to send your pastor, his wife, or a missionary family a note to let them know you are thinking of and praying for them. If you hear someone criticize them, speak a word of support or choose to step out of the conversation.

Pray today for your holy and uptight leaders. They will be blessed—and so will you.

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Passport Dilemma

The money cupboard was bare. 

Finances were available in my home bank, but I couldn’t access them from the missionary base overseas. My passport was expiring. Even though my duration to stay was confirmed, my financial situation looked dismally uncooperative.

Many short-term missionaries slept around me, and it was a challenge to remain silent about my dilemma. It was time to trust God to come through. By an act of faith, I had made an appointment with the consulate to renew my passport the next day. Surprisingly, I fell asleep and experienced total peace. God usually knows something I don’t.

Awakening fresh and ready to go—and after a quick prayer—I swung my legs over the side of the bed. As I did, my hand touched the small bedside table. I felt something that wasn’t there the night before: a stack of money.

Underneath the money, I found a small hastily written card. It read, “As we were leaving for our flight home early this morning, Father God told us to gather all our note money and give it to you. We did not know if you have a need but He does.”

Even though believers supplied the finance, the gift came from the Father in heaven. This is why the apostle Paul said, My God will meet all your needs. Then when he said, according to his glorious riches, Paul was stating God had an abundant supply and was more than able to provide.

Often in life, we don’t know what to do, and there seems no solution in sight. But God knows. He is looking out for our needs, wanting us to trust Him to be there for us—to bring an answer. He is never late, seldom early, but always on time.

If you’re struggling with a financial situation beyond your control, don’t be anxious and worried. And don’t try to solve the dilemma yourself. Trust Father God instead.

Lean on God’s provision. He is more than capable to meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

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Thanks to God

The Pilgrims who survived the first year in Plymouth were grateful for their neighbors.

Without the help of the Wampanoag Tribe, the Pilgrims would not have lived through their first winter. English speaking Squanto befriended the weary travelers and the next spring taught them vital gardening skills. Chief Massasoit allied with the Pilgrims and provided the extra food the colony needed for the first few years.

Fast forward with me. On my way to indulge in a manicure, the red warning light on the gas gauge lit up. I swerved into the station to fill up and drove past a man standing beside his van. He held a cardboard sign that read, “Out of work. Need food.” A woman leaned from the passenger seat while two little girls sat in the back.

From the other side of the gas pump, a man called to the sign holder, “Hey, buddy, come over here and I’ll fill your tank.” This gentleman’s influence prompted me to help. Then another truck pulled alongside the van. Before the family left, they had cash, a full tank, and bags of groceries.

When Jesus sat with Peter and asked him to feed his lambs, there were no qualifiers. Jesus didn’t say feed the lambs if they prove they’re needy … or as long as you feel safe. He said, “Feed my lambs.”

Squanto, Massasoit, and the Wampanoag Tribe helped a group of strangers—teaching and supplementing their food until they were independent. A stranger passed through my territory, and God presented an opportunity for me.

Opportunities to give to faceless causes come every day through mail, phone calls, and television. Pray you’ll recognize the opportunities God has planned for you.

Experience the joy and contentment that come from giving.

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A Personal Sacrifice

Jesus knew my name as He hung on the cross.

My eyes burned as tears filled my eyes. I struggled to focus on the road, daydreaming as I traveled a road I’d driven hundreds of times before. The truth that Jesus knew my name washed over me like the warmth of the sun’s rays breaking from behind a cloud. I had come face-to-face with my Lord. The fact of Jesus’ love was no longer a religious teaching, but an inescapable truth that He was my personal Savior. I could imagine Christ, the gatekeeper, calling my name—His voice traveling thousands of years to reach my ears.

Jesus, fully man yet fully God, knew each of our names as He hung on the cross. He calls us by name and longs for us to follow Him. His desire is for us to know Him intimately so we are hope-filled and moved to teach others about His love.

Just like daydreaming while driving a familiar route, fight to stay alert and focused while on this journey. Read Scripture with the Holy Spirit’s help to renew your mind. Your faith doesn’t have to become mundane. God’s Word is alive and active. Allow it to refresh you. Let the truth that Jesus knows you and calls you by name shake you free from your autopilot faith.

Hear Christ call your name and follow Him daily by saying, Here am I Lord. May your unfailing love cover me. Remind me, Lord, to seek your guidance, and give me a longing to do your will.

Let God protect you from the wolves of routine, familiarity, and boredom.

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Trust God's Plans

I rested on the exam table, held my husband’s hand, and waited for the results.

The ultrasound technician squirted warm gel on my stomach and began moving the wand. My husband and I waited to hear whether our next baby would be a boy or a girl.

“Dad, sit down!” she said “Do multiples run in your family?”

“Twins?” my husband answered.

“No, not twins. I believe there are three babies,” she answered.

“Triplets?” my husband and I both said in unison.

Our family would grow from three to six children. We laughed, cried, panicked, and prayed over the next several days as the news sank in. God had a plan for our family, and it was far different than we had imagined. We had no choice but to move forward and trust He would equip us for the journey.

Jesus revealed God’s plan to His closest friends prior to His following through with it. The news that He would be rejected, suffer, die, and rise again after three days was difficult for the disciples to accept and understand. But the suffering and pain He went through were planned since creation by His Father in heaven. Jesus accepted this plan so we could have eternal life with Him in heaven.

We have time and the Bible to help us understand Jesus’s sacrifice today, but this was a new and scary concept for the disciples. When Jesus reveals his plans to us, we can respond with denial, reluctance, fear, and arguments, like the disciples. Or we can trust and obey, knowing our trustworthy God has a plan for us. We don’t always understand what Jesus reveals, but we know He sees the big picture.

Rest assured the God who made such a great sacrifice knows what’s best for you. 

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Building with Green Wood

Growing up in a carpenter union president’s home, I heard many interesting stories about building construction. The one about green wood is my favorite. 

Some of Dad’s chief enemies were non-union builders who used materials a union builder would never use. In one large tract of houses, he found a carpenter’s horror story. When the builder framed the more than 200 houses, he used green (not dried) two by fours. The sheetrock was nailed on the cheaper green studs, and the houses were then nailed up and completed.

Summer in Fresno came with its usual 100 degree plus temperatures and dried out the green wood. All of the initial good-looking houses—which people now lived in—had interior walls that looked like the wavy mirrors at a side-show. Dad was somewhat glad for the free publicity for buying union homes, but since the Lord had recently changed his heart, he also felt sorry for the people.

Growing up in my father and grandfather’s world of construction—and becoming a carpenter myself for three years—I didn’t know much except the construction approach to life. Then I started reading the Bible and was attracted to the fact that Jesus was a carpenter. I read about the master carpenter, Noah, and also about the building of the Tower of Babel—as well as many other accounts.

One of my favorite construction pieces was about building a house on sand—something no experienced carpenter would do—and about the predictable results. Only a dummy would build a house without a proper foundation.

Jesus is the rock I want to build my life on every day, I thought. My house will be secure as I watch this confused world try to live on a slippery slope. I often think the devil is also a builder—one who specializes in deceiving buyers into purchasing buildings that look good on the outside but have black mold hiding in the walls.

As you build your life, don’t pay the consequences of not using proper building materials.

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Grasping after the Wind

It’s much better to dwell on what you have rather than on what you don’t have. Doing otherwise can lead to a life-long journey of trying to grasp something you can never obtain.

The famous commentator Matthew Henry once said, “People who are always content even if they have very little are much happier than people who are always craving more even if they have much.”

Dreams can be powerful things. God often gives them to people—and they’re strong motivators, but we must make sure they’re from God and not from our own imagination. 

Dwelling on what we don’t have is a recipe for frustration and discontentment. God often gives us more, but it’s usually never enough when fixated on what we lack. A wealthy man once replied, “Just a little more,” when asked how much money was enough.

Taking a vow of poverty isn’t the solution either. We usually exchange one craving for other, giving up earthly pleasures but replacing them with striving after personal piety. This substitutes one fleshly pursuit for another.

Finding fulfillment in anything but God is like pursuing a mirage. It looks good from a distance, but when you get there, it’s gone—and you find yourself grasping after the wind.

Find satisfaction in what you have—not in the fantasy of what you don’t possess.

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Does the Sign or Shepherd Matter?

I waited for a sign from God about my calling for a long time.

I joke that God would need to use neon lights or drop my calling into my lap. Unless it was obvious, I’d probably miss it. So I spent three years praying the same prayer repeatedly, wondering if God heard me and thinking if I was in deep connection with Him, the calling should be pronounced.

I tried to see only what I wanted to see, thinking I knew best—wanting to know the whole plan instead of being obedient in the small things He sent my way. I thought if it was His will for me, it would be easy and have minimal risk.

How I respond to the sign—rather than the sign itself, is the bigger deal. My calling isn’t about me, but God. He is more concerned about my growth and dependence on Him than on my comfort. His purpose matters more than my plan.

When I think I need a sign, following certain tips aligns me with God’s will. I spend daily devotional time with Him, slowing down so I can accept the small steps He sends my way. When I get frustrated, I accept that I need more growing rather than thinking it’s not my calling.

Meeting with God keeps me from making mistakes and having mishaps. I know He has me right where He wants me. It might not be where I think I should be, but He is Jehovah Rohi. God is my Shepherd and knows what is best for me—along with the calling that fits me to a “T.”

Press on, press through, and focus on the Shepherd.

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A Sprinkle of Salt

Salt on an ice cream cone is not on my list of Top Ten Favorite Foods.

My sister-in-law, Chris, and I walked across the hot plaza parking lot to a McDonald’s. She had an ice cream cone in mind. The clerk was sullen and gave us no eye contact when we ordered. But I noticed the unusual name on her tag—something like Denisethia.

I tried to pronounce her name and asked if I was correct. I received a mere nod. Then I commented on how pretty it was and received a hint of a smile. Still no eye contact.

I laughed and asked, “Do people have a hard time spelling your name?” She was more verbal but still sullen.

“Oh, yes,” she replied, “I gave up a long time ago on anyone getting it right.”

I told her we had named our daughter Ann Elyse and, as a youth, she had kept a plastic box with strips of paper, recording the different ways people had spelled it.

Finally the clerk was engaged. Standing at the ice cream dispenser, she looked over her shoulder at me and said, “That’s a pretty name. How do you spell it?”

When I told her, she said, “No hyphen?”

“No hyphen,” I replied.

“Pretty name. Where did you get it?”

Now she was at the counter, handing Chris her cone and looking right at us.

“We got it from a movie that God used to turn us around to Him,” I replied as I circled my finger 360 degrees. Her face lit up and we got a big smile. Salt sprinkled … demeanor changed … 360 degrees.

She said a friendly “Good-bye” as we left the shop.

I smiled, thinking, “Good-bye means ‘God be with you.’” And I prayed, “God be with you, Denisethia.”

Paul tells us to sprinkle our conversation with salt. Sometimes that seasoning may fall in an unanticipated spot. But the results of this seasoning are left to the work of the gentle Holy Chef.

Sprinkle some salt today.

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Grace Happens

Busted! I knew he was coming after me as soon as I saw him turn on the flashing lights and pull up behind my car.

Although the cruise control had kept me close to the speed limit for most of the trip, I somehow managed to fly by the state trooper, traveling fifteen miles over the speed limit.

“Ma’am, do you know how fast you were going? May I see your driver’s license and registration?”

It’s interesting how simple questions can cause a near heart attack. We both knew I was guilty. Waiting in my car for the officer to write the ticket, I prayed, cried, and almost vomited. I was without excuse. The longer he delayed, the lower my spirits sank.

When he finally returned, I could hardly believe my ears. “I’m going to cut you a break and give you a warning. Drive carefully now.”

I didn’t deserve the grace the officer gave me that day. I should have gotten a hefty fine. But his words didn’t go unheeded. The safest driver on Interstate 80 that afternoon was me. When the cruise control kicked off and the speedometer creeped up, I slowed down. I had no desire to get stopped again, and wanted to be safe. But what motivated me was the state trooper giving me a second chance. Even though he would never know, I wanted to “live out” my gratitude.

Grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness. Laws are necessary, but the law can’t change us. It keeps us in line and protects us. Grace, however, moves from the inside out. It’s fueled by gratefulness. We don’t want to let down the One who “cut us a break.” Not if we know how guilty we are. Tim Keller says grace becomes electrifying as we see the true depths of our flaws.

Thank God none of us are receiving what we deserve.

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Pushing Red Buttons

I stood in front of the public showers at the state campground waiting for my nine-year-old son.

When West finally stepped out twenty minutes later, I asked him what had taken so long.

“I didn’t know how to get the shower started,” he replied.

“You just push the red button,” I told him.

“I know, Mom. Somebody finally showed me what to do, but I didn’t want to push it. Bad things always happen when you push the red button.”

After regaining my composure, I considered my son’s dilemma. West feared pushing the red button would cause disaster, but doing so was necessary to get a fresh, clean body that would be ready for a day of adventure.

Fear can keep us from taking steps. Even when God’s leading is clear, we are often immobilized by fear of the unknown and a certainty we know better than He does. We spend more time considering possible catastrophes lurking around corners than moving forward in faith—counting on God’s grace to bless and even pick us up when we fall.

Perhaps your unknown is something big, like accepting a new job opportunity or saying yes to a ministry that pushes you out of your comfort zone. Maybe your anxiety involves a smaller challenge, such as following God’s nudging to invite a new neighbor over for coffee or joining a Zumba class to move toward a healthier lifestyle.

Whatever the unknown, our tendency toward fear and self protection does not come from God. He instructs us not to fear, but to move forward in boldness while counting on His help.

Don’t avoid the red buttons or waste years considering every possible scenario. Ask God to hold your hand and help you push them.

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Moving On

For the good of her baby, she moved on with her life.

My friend, Joan, chose to move on after a heartbreaking period in her life. She had become pregnant while single, and the baby’s father had deserted her. Unable to provide a home and necessities for her baby, she made the difficult decision to put her son up for adoption. He was adopted by a financially comfortable couple.

Jacob was married to sisters, Leah and Rachel. Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife, and he favored her over Leah. As Rachel gave birth to her second son, she died in the birthing process. Jacob was left to grieve for the woman he had loved.

After a time of mourning, Jacob moved on by leaving the place where Rachel’s life had ended and moving to another land. After Jacob chose to move on, God continued to guide him throughout his life. He became the father of twelve sons and was blessed with a long life. 

You may have been forced to move on when your spouse died, leaving you alone after many years of marriage. Or perhaps the comfortable home where your children were born and grew up became too large. Silence echoed through each empty room, and you made the hard decision to move to a smaller home or an assisted-living apartment.

Several years after Joan surrendered her son for adoption, she became a Christian. Today, she is a senior citizen and a vibrant Christian.

When we must make difficult decisions to move on, God will guide us in our life’s adjustments if we surrender our will to Him and allow Him to guide us. Jeremiah 29:11 reads, “For I know the plans I have for you”, declares the Lord, “plans to give you hope and a future.”

Trust God’s leading in all of your moving-on times.  

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Get a Grip

Self-control was the last thing I wanted to exercise. My hackles were up, and my mouth was ready to spill all the toxic contents in my heart—something that’s happened more times than I care to remember.

Self-control and patience are probably the least favorite and least talked about fruits of the Spirit. We want the rest—love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness—but we fail to acknowledge our need for the two that hold all the others together, causing them to work according to God’s plan. They’re like bookends that keep the rest firmly in place.

The problem comes when we want to live our life without parameters, doing things our way instead of God’s way. This generally produces a life ruled by emotions. I’ve heard it said that the mark of true spiritual maturity is a life characterized by discipline—not impulse.

The Greek word for self-control (egkrateia) means to have command or mastery over one’s own behavior. One author says it comes from another word that means “to grip.”

I’ve learned the hard way that we have to get a grip on spending habits, overeating, and any unhealthy addictions. We need to get a grip on our thought life, the words that come out of our mouth, and our attitude toward others. Whatever causes us to stumble and keeps us from pleasing the Lord needs reining in. This happens by seeking the Lord, saturating ourselves with His Word, and exercising patience and self-control … and it all begins with a decision.

Getting a grip sounds like a difficult task, but it’s doable because God gives us the tools we need for victory in our daily Christian walk.

If you’re tired of living a life ruled by impulse and emotion, maybe it’s time to get a grip.

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Unexpected Calling

I never planned on being a mother.

Though I now have F-O-U-R children, I remember asking my husband before our marriage ceremony, “Are you SUUUUURE you’re okay with not having children?” Five years later, God showed us He had other plans. Of all people to choose to be a mother, I was sure there was some mistake. God must have been confused.

Gideon probably thought the same thing. While threshing wheat in a winepress, an angel of the Lord told Gideon he would “strike down all the Midianites.” He even saluted him as “mighty warrior.” But Gideon was a farmer. Oops. Gideon may have laughed, but God was sincere. Gideon felt the need to remind God, “But my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least of my family.” The lowest of the low in terms of athletic feats and expectations. The underdog.   

But God was not confused.  He told Gideon he would be successful, not because of his traits or abilities but because “I will be with you.” I’m sure Gideon felt overwhelmed and confused. He had a lot to learn in a short amount of time. But in God’s time and in God’s fashion, He supplied Gideon’s needs.

Like Gideon, I asked the Lord many times if there was a mixup. “Why me?” I wasn’t organized, and I didn’t feel I was a nurturing person. I didn’t desire the calling being prepared before me.

Sometimes the task God has before us seems daunting—a weird fit—one we might never choose. But God doesn’t see how man sees. He sees a king in a shepherd, a queen in an orphan, a mighty warrior in a lowly farmer, and a mother in an independent woman.  The calling God has for us might look nothing like our current role or situation, but it is still His call.

When doubts arise, look no further than God’s promise to be with you. 

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Come Out of the Closet

She’d been in the closet for five years. Now she was coming out.

Collecting old picture frames with photos of unknown dead people is a hobby my wife doesn’t particularly appreciate. She does love the old frames with the ornate handiwork and will gladly replace the dead person with a modern piece of art.

This particular closet dweller hung on my office wall for three years, eyes following everyone who looked at her regardless of where they stood. Then we moved to our current residence, and my wife said, “No dead people hanging on our walls—except in your office.” But my dead girl with the roving eyes wasn’t even allowed there. I convinced my wife not to sell her. Instead, she stuck her in a closet.

One day when I came home from work, I found my girl leaning against a bookshelf. My wife had cleaned the closet in my study.

“Why is my dead girl picture out of the closet?” I asked.

“I have a place on the wall you can hang her.” And she did. Now as I walk in every morning, her wandering eyes greet me. I’m glad she got to come out of the closet.

Jesus doesn’t like closet dwellers either. He wants our lights—our good deeds, to shine brightly before others. Putting a light under a cover or shielding it only dims the light or extinguishes it altogether.

The light I have as a believer is my testimony of what Christ has done in my life, as well as how I act out daily the difference He has made. I don’t have to preach a sermon to tell others what He has done. Because of the snippet-world technology has created, I need to shorten my testimony to the bare essentials so I can share it in a minute or two.

But what I say isn’t nearly as important as what others see. Words mean little without actions to back them. God gives me numerous opportunities to act out my faith in practical ways. And I’ll see them if I ask Him to give me a gentle nudge when He sends them my way.

Don’t hide your faith. Come out of the closet.

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Acceptance and Love

Rejection is painful.

Rejection from someone is common: a parent, friend, sibling, coworker, or significant other. The experience can create feelings of inadequacy, insecurity, and even anger.

But God promises nothing can come between us and Him. 

Imagine the worst thing you have done—the thing you are most ashamed of. Not even our deepest, most humiliating secrets can cause a loving God to reject us. We have security in knowing that no matter what, He will always accept us.

Now, imagine a time when you felt secure, comfortable, and worry free. You felt you could rest peacefully and know everything would be fine. The safest place we can imagine on earth does not compare to the acceptance and love we can feel from our Father in heaven.

We have the confidence that nothing can separate us from God’s love. Not our bad choices, other people, or anything in all creation. He will never reject, but always accept. He will never walk away, but always walk beside. He gives us security and safety. All He asks is that we trust and accept Him.

Let go of the rejections you have felt in this life, and put your trust in God’s promise of acceptance and love.

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Discipleship Looks Different for Everyone

Spiritual mentoring looks different for everyone.

My younger brother surrendered his life to the Lord a year ago. God ignited a spiritual awakening in him after he suffered a personal catastrophic event. Since then, he has been growing in Christ.

Periodically, he calls me from Indiana with questions from the Bible. These conversations are exciting, especially since I’ve been the sole believer in my immediate family for thirty years. At the same time, his questions challenge me. Some I can answer, but others I can’t because I still don’t understand some things in the Bible myself.

After one of our iron-sharpening-iron conversations, it dawned on me that I was discipling my brother over the phone. I was discipled by a pastor’s wife. For me, discipleship entailed weekly meetings where a structured Bible study taught me the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

Jesus charged His followers to make disciples of all nations. Jesus’ original followers were to find anyone who would listen and then share His love, forgiveness, grace, and truth. They were also to teach the new converts how to obey His commands.

Jesus left the logistics of “discipling” open to interpretation. While discipling in ancient Israel involved meeting with a Rabbi for structured teaching times, discipling today can involve formal and informal teaching. A structured time of Bible study or a casual conversation over a cup of coffee—or over the phone.

We are discipling when we teach others about Jesus Christ, help them learn His ways, point them in the direction of true righteousness and holiness, and encourage them to walk worthy of the gospel.

Experience the joy of discipling others—however you choose to do it.

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Above the Clouds

An overnight storm left its overcast, gloomy skies, making my drive to the airport rainy and messy.

Upon arriving at the airport, I waited for an eternity trying to get through security. Missing my flight would be the icing on the cake for this “beautiful” day. The gloomy weather, coupled with my long wait, put me in an awful mood. I was still grumpy when I finally boarded the plane. The seat was by the window, and I could see the ground crew waving their orange cones as the plane was pushed from the gate.

After taxiing in the rain, the pilot finally announced we were next in line for takeoff. The engine’s thrust hurtled us down the runway and pushed me back into my seat. Since it amazes me how something so earthbound can take such a heavenly flight, I strained my neck to look out the window. I saw the dark clouds blanketing everything. Raindrops streamed across the window obscuring my view.

Then the plane broke through the clouds, and brilliant sunlight reflecting on the dazzling white clouds almost blinded me. These were the same clouds that looked menacing and depressing from below.

Life’s storms can roll in, bringing gloomy skies that surround us. From our earthbound perspective, hope seems lost. We become discouraged, depressed, and sometimes grumpy. But above the clouds awaits a fresh, bright outlook. The sun is shining.

My experience was a divine reminder. No matter how large my problems seem, no matter how insurmountable the task, no matter how bleak the future appears, I'm only seeing the bottom half of the clouds.

When Jesus said, “Lift up your eyes,” He was telling us to get a different perspective. He wants us to view things as He sees them and to trust Him with our cares and troubles. From His viewpoint, though the storms rage in your life, the sun is still shining. He is still in control, and the clouds will pass.

Learn to see things from God’s perspective: above the clouds where things look differently.

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Star Numbers

Believing random chance is responsible for life on earth is beyond the amount of faith I possess.

Reading a book on the origin of human intelligence by James Rollins, I discovered some mathematical and biological information that caused a brief dip into my graduate statistic courses I took while earning my PH.D. Rollins made these items so practical and interesting that I wondered whether or not random chance was a fantasy.

The numbers 37 and 73 are “mirrored prime numbers.” They were called “star numbers” by mathematician Kircher. He used “gematria” (a Babylonian numerology system adopted by the Hebrews) when interpreting numbers used in the Bible and decided 37 was fundamental to understanding the Scriptures. He found if you convert the Hebrew word for “wisdom” into its cabalistic equivalent, you get the numerical value of 37.

If you take Genesis’ first line and convert it to cabalistic numbers you get 2,701 which are the mirrored primes multiplied together (2701=37 times 73). These are “Star numbers.” Such a discovery seems beyond pure statistical chance.

Nearly all life on earth uses DNA as its coding material, but there is a code within that code—one beyond mutation. It’s the complex rules that govern how DNA produces proteins. Recently, a set of symmetries was discovered buried in that code—a pattern based on the multiples of 37. Also, the atomic mass of the 20 amino acids that make up our bodies is a multiple of 37. The odds of that pattern emerging by random chance have been calculated as one out of a decillion—1 followed by 33 zeros. Another interesting fact is that the human body’s normal temperature is 37 degrees Celsius.

Further, during a total solar eclipse of the Moon, the Moon fits exactly over the surface of the Sun. This happens because the Moon is 400 times smaller than the Sun while sitting 1/400th of the distance between the Earth and the Moon. The current Big Whack Theory can’t explain these precise figures.

Intelligent design seems to be a logical conclusion for the existence of life on earth and is the reality behind any invention people can evidence.

Let God’s Word teach you where life came from and what’s its purpose is. 

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I drift. Up at six a.m. to pray, I acknowledge the Lord and thank Him for the day. But as I begin to lay concerns at His feet, I find my mind on events that happened yesterday, ten years ago, or on things I have to do today. “Focus!” I warn myself, pulling my mind back from the drift.

The Drifters topped the musical listening chart in the 1960s. With the Drifters, I drifted “Under the Boardwalk” or “Up on the Roof.” I liked the few mental minutes of checking out of the important things to a sandy beach away from the crowds and close to the clouds.

The Drifters planted in me a desire to put the world and its issues behind and drift off. That tendency spilled over into my spiritual life. The drift took over my daily activities too. My list of “must-dos” for the day is honed and intentional: read my Bible, call someone I’ve been avoiding, clean the front closet, spend more than ten minutes with the Lord, mind my mouth, write a few pages of that book I’ve been meaning to write. But my living drifts from what I want or should do.

Then I read about God, the ultimate antithesis of drifting. He has had a plan since the beginning of time. He is unmoved by circumstances and concentrates on those He created and loves. Every bit of God wants every bit of us. His plan hinges on the death of His Son, Jesus, and He never driftes. God focuses on loving, forgiving, dying, and conquering death through His Son’s resurrection.

God’s eyes, ears, and attention are toward you. Don’t drift from Him. 

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Hiding in Plain Sight

“Ready or not, here I come!” yelled my granddaughter as she uncovered her eyes and set out to find her two brothers and me. Silently, I squatted behind the Barbie playhouse.

Seconds earlier, her three-year-old brother ran to the same play area behind the couch. Spotting the Fisher Price kitchen set, he opened the oven door on the left and started to crawl in. Realizing he was not going to fit, he twisted his body sideways and attempted to squeeze through the stove into the side below the sink. With a couple of seconds to spare, he opened the door and peered out from under the sink; his legs and bottom sticking out the opposite side. 

I muffled a soft giggle. My grandson looked up and saw me watching. His face lit up and a smile emerged just as his sister finished counting and announced she was on her way to find us. He stood quietly, grinning at me, eyes sparkling, thinking because part of him was hidden inside the stove that the rest of him would not be seen. As his sister bounded onto the couch and looked over the edge, she spotted her brother. “I found you!” she squealed, eliciting a shriek of laughter from her brother.

As I considered the scene, I laughed at its absurdity. I’m just like my grandson when I attempt to hide myself or my actions, thinking no one will see me. Yet all the while, God is watching and knows what I’m doing all the time.

The choices I make not only affect me but may also affect others and my relationship with God. My actions and choices should honor God, not make Him sad. He is a loving Father and wants what’s best for me.

Make sure you’re ready when God announces, “Ready or not, here I come!” 

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In Case of Fire

Fire Prevention! Caution! Danger! Each word signals a warning about the peril of fire.

Natural fires have claimed the lives of countless individuals and caused great loss, changing some lives permanently. Fire can be a harmful, evil, and destructive enemy.

When the Bible speaks of fire, it does so for spiritual purposes. God used fire to lead Moses and the children of Israel during the night as they traveled through the wilderness. Peter spoke of fiery trials that test our character: hardships, death, and illnesses.

Fire is also a purifying method God uses to make us more like Jesus. The biblical analogy refers to a blacksmith who first hammers steel and then melts it to liquid gold. A process that requires scrapping off the dross which rises to the top. God also sends His fire through situations and the conviction of the Holy Spirit to cleanse and purify our hearts and minds.

As we experience the heat of God’s fire, we should not worry or fret. It’s simply God’s precautionary measure to make us more like Jesus. He’s burning up those things that aren’t like Him. Actions and mindsets ingrained from our sinful nature. Useless things which bear no fruit.  God’s fire does a great work for His glory. 

Don’t be afraid to ask God to send His fire in your life.

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Have a Plan and Finish It

Today it’s called multi-tasking. Recently, the media coined a phrase, “super-tasking.” Usually, that means you’re a high achiever—able to begin and do many tasks at once. Sounds like too many cowboys in the corral to me.

Many obstacles frame our path every day. Being busy is one thing, but being busy without a goal to achieve is another. Many days, I’ve sat and wondered about my situation and my family’s future. But only when I rise up and take hold of the job at hand, do I ever accomplish my goal. There is a saying I learned a long time ago, “If you want to get something done, ask a busy person.” Over the years, I have seen that statement in action. Many people may say to you, “I’ll help,” but they never show up when it is actually time to work.

To a cowboy, multi-tasking is ridin’ and ropin.’ Christ’s work was finished on the cross. Death was defeated, and sin no longer rules our lives. The price was paid whether you accept it or not. The job for you to finish is to take His gift of salvation and put it to work in your life daily. As you finish this dance called life, you will be greeted by your heavenly Father who will say, “Your work is finished. Well done my good and faithful partner. Enter into my house and receive your rest.”

Find out what God’s plan is for you, and then finish it. 

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Taking God at His Word

Three months into my new job, I was overwhelmed.

The fast pace demanded by my new job, as well as the long hours, took its toll on me. More than I could live with. I considered leaving but didn’t have another source of income—nor the energy to look for another job. So I prayed, asking God to show me whether He wanted me to stay or go. And if He wanted me to go, I needed to know where.

He told me to leave work and move near my family. They lived across the country. Really God?  You want me to move? I asked. I kept praying but heard no answer from Him. I called my family and told them what He’d said. Their reaction confirmed I should go. I’d have a place to stay.

With no job, friends, or church in South Carolina, I didn’t know what would happen, but I stepped out on faith. Less than a year later, I’d discover why God moved me. I needed my family’s support and care when medical problems arose that changed my life forever. God knew that would happen. He put the details in place so that when I needed them, we could weather the storm together.  

If you think God is calling you to do something—even if you’re nervous, trust Him and step out on faith. God knows your future, and He’ll show you His plan as you walk with Him one step at a time. 

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Water Bottle Lesson

Could I really learn a lesson from a landfill?

We live in the Adirondack Mountains in the midst of beautiful pine and birch trees, and in a quaint town with little traffic. We have everything we need in our town: a drugstore, clinic, library, grocery store, and the best hairdresser I’ve ever had. But we have to fend for ourselves in some areas. Like collecting our trash and recyclables and taking them to the town landfill.

Since moving here two years ago, I’ve followed the list of rules given to us when we first arrived. Different items go in different bags. Glass jars need to be washed out, and plastic bottles need to be rinsed and have the labels removed. I don’t mind the rinsing, but getting the labels off is a pain. I must have taken five hundred labels off our water and Diet Coke bottles (not to mention my husband’s Mountain Dew bottles).

Then one day my husband came home from the landfill and said, “Shar, you don’t have to take the labels off the bottles.”

“What?” I asked. “Who said?”

“Tom. He laughed when I told him how frustrated you get with those labels. He said they take them off. It’s part of their job, I guess.”

“Are you sure?” I asked, not quite believing this good news. “The list says I’m supposed to do it.”

“That’s what Tom said—and he’s the boss.”

At first I felt guilty, throwing the bottles into the recycle bin without removing the labels. After all, I had to earn my right to the landfill, didn’t I? But after a while, I enjoyed the fact that I didn’t have to earn it. It was like an unexpected, unreciprocated gift.

Having someone else remove the labels made me think of the gift God gave us—but not nearly reaching its magnitude. He gave His Son and exchanged our sins for His righteousness—the gift of being whiter than snow, even though we didn’t have to do a thing to deserve it. Our faith in receiving the gift was all that was needed.

Receive God’s free gift and get a wonderful, freeing feeling.

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Walking with the Supernatural

While our lives aren’t always fairy tales with happy endings, we can believe the supernatural is working all around us.

Fairy tales and fantasy. In both, the main characters face an overwhelming task or obstacle, one that would seemingly lead to their demise. But just when it appears all is lost, a supernatural event occurs. The straw is spun into gold, the magical kiss awakens the sleeping beauty, or the goose lays a golden egg.

Instead of viewing conflicts and pitfalls as paths to our ultimate ruin, we can embrace them as opportunities for God to step in and save. In 2 Peter 2:5-8, we read about two supernatural acts God performed: the flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. But Peter is quick to remind us that in the midst of terror, God miraculously delivered His people.

God instructed Noah to build the ark, and He allowed Lot to escape Sodom and Gomorrah. In other Scriptures, we read that He closed lions’ mouths, parted the Red Sea, saved believers from the flames, caused the blind to see, and raised people from the dead. The supernatural was alive then and still is today.

When we walk with God, we acknowledge He holds the power to save us from the storms of life. We can have faith that the trials we are facing are not the end. Where our limits end, God begins. The same God who provided miraculous plot twists in the Bible is longing for us to hand over our stories for Him to write.

Hand God the pen, and let him author the next chapter of your life. Who knows where His plot will take you.

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Living with Riches

Should my wife and I jump in our car and speed away from luxury?

Recently my wife and I celebrated our anniversary in Mexico. We were staying at the Mayan Palace Resort in Rocky Point, Mexico, but had been blessed to receive an unexpected upgrade to the Grand Mayan section of this luxurious resort. We were happy campers.

Standing on the balcony of our fourth floor suite looking over the valley the resort owns, I also looked down on their several-mile-long private beach. I was thankful but also concerned about what I had read in my red-letter edition Bible the night before. Jesus had said it was possible for the comforts a person receives during this life to be their portion of comforts.

I began to calm down a bit when I remembered that any verse taken out of context is a pretext. Thinking over the context of Luke 6—and perusing other verses in God’s Word about blessings—made me feel better.

I knew the path to salvation was found in John 3:16, so the issue wasn’t being saved by being a flagellant. (They beat themselves to gain God’s favor.) However, Jesus did say we needed to guard against greed because even when we have abundance, our life does not consist in our possessions. Yet all good gifts come from God, and thankfulness should rule in our hearts and minds.

Feeling better as I began to experience balance, I told my wife about my thoughts as we walked on the beach and picked up shells that are normally only found in shell shops. We understood that good gifts are a natural thing from our heavenly Father. He is love, and love gives naturally.

Perhaps the key word in the issue of prosperity—or the lack of—is contentment. Paul learned to be content in whatever condition he found himself. Abiding in our relationship with Jesus and knowing our Father knows best, answers the question of prosperity.

Chose humble thankfulness, and cancel pride, jealousy, and materialism.

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Recipe for Living in Love

Of all the recipes available, one stands out among the rest.

Since June is the month of marriages—according to Hallmark and your local florist—it’s a good time to turn to God’s Word for guidance for living in love the way He intends. Whether we are newly in love or experiencing fifty years of love as I am, we all need to learn to love the way God taught us.

Second only to writing about Jesus’ love, cooking is my passion.  For those of you who need a specific recipe to follow, God knew your need. 

Add two heaping cups of Patience

Two hearts full of Kindness

Two hands Rejoicing in the Truth, (not delighting in Evil)

Two cups of Generosity, (without any Envy, Boasting, or Rudeness)

One large dish of Unselfishness, (not easily Angered, keeping no Records).

Always mix in several quarts of Protection, Trust, Hope, Perseverance.

Spread over your entire lifetime.

Bake in the Joy of our Lord.

Serve to everyone you meet.

If we need direction in a love relationship, God is ready to give it. If the road is rocky after the honeymoon is over, God wants to travel it with you. There are no storms in our love relationships too big for God to calm, soothe, and enrich if we turn to Him. He wrote you a love letter…your Bible…a personal message from Him to you.

Follow God’s recipe for love, and bask in the wonders of living.

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Out-smarted by a Donkey

When God speaks through someone who appears ill-prepared or uneducated, take note.

Balaam was intent on following his own path. God had already told him that he should not go to Balak to curse Israel. Although he responded properly at first, Balak’s messengers persisted. The enemy does not always take our first refusal as final. Balaam continued to ask the Lord if he should go with Balak. The Lord finally agreed, but just because God permits us to do something doesn’t mean He sanctions it. Sometimes He says, “If you want to make a fool of yourself, go ahead.”

God demonstrated His displeasure over Balaam’s actions by sending an angel to block his path. Though Balaam was a great seer of God, he could not see what his donkey could. Ambition and greed always blind us to spiritual realities. The donkey resisted passing the sword-wielding angel, which only made Balaam angry. Often our hindrances are God’s way of protecting us.

Balaam’s anger was a sign of pride and independence. He boasted that he was a man whose eyes had been opened, but God used an animal notorious for its stupidity to speak to him. Of course, God delights in using the foolish things to confuse the wise. God can send His message through whatever type of messenger He chooses, but arrogance always diminishes our spiritual perception.

God often uses unusual things to speak to people. He may be trying to teach you through a donkey.

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Identity Theft

“Congratulations on turning sixty-five!”

I stared in disbelief at the letter I had just received from a life insurance company. Sixty-five? That’s decades away. I laughed, tossing it in the trash. A few weeks later, an invitation to an informational dinner hosted by an assisted living community arrived. Then a letter regarding my alleged upcoming sixty-fifth birthday. Each was from a different source. I began to wonder, Has someone stolen my identity?

I looked closely at the intended recipient. It was addressed to me, but with my maiden name. Memories flooded back. Fifteen years ago, when I was single, my identity was stolen. Months passed before I unraveled the mess and cleared my name. Could this senior citizen mistake be somehow related?

Protecting one’s identity is of great importance, and mine was in question. A similar crisis exists in the spiritual realm for every believer. Our enemy, called “the accuser,” is constantly telling us lies about our identity. He wants us to believe we aren’t really that different from our old selves apart from Christ. He loves to remind us of past sins and present sin struggles. His web of deception can easily entangle us if we believe his lies.

Just as I am neither sixty-five nor single, I am also not the same person I was without Jesus. When the Holy Spirit takes up residence in a believer, He breathes life into a formerly dead spirit. He breaks the chains of addictive sin, adopts us into His family, and calls us beloved. He forgives every sin and begins a transforming work that He is faithful to complete.

God alone defines our identity. Just as identity theft damages its victims, so believing Satan’s lies about our identity causes us to miss the riches of God’s work in us. Victorious Christian living and intimacy with Christ hinge upon knowing and believing the truth. When we know this truth, astounding freedom is our reality.

What lies are you believing about your identity? Read God’s Word and take note of how He defines you. 

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Thirst for Truth

When truth is defined as what the largest number of people believe and who can outshout others and repeat lies to control the message, the result is distrust of leadership.

God’s character and words are unchanging. Long ago, God chose Israel, delivering them from bondage in Egypt and living among them for forty years in the wilderness. He supplied them with food and water and kept His promises to them, but they wanted to associate with neighboring heathens. Their actions brought God’s judgment. For seventy years, Babylonian kings held them captive until God moved a Persian king named Cyrus to let a remnant return to Jerusalem.

When the exiles arrived in the Promised Land, they saw their city burned and dusty. Ezra, one of their leaders, wanted to rebuild the temple and reinstate sacrificial worship. Nehemiah arrived fifty to sixty years later and rebuilt Jerusalem’s walls.

Both Ezra and Nehemiah led great revivals. The people gathered in the street before the Water Gate where Ezra stood on a pulpit and read the Law of Moses. When he opened the scroll, the people stood and blessed the Lord. Ezra brought understanding to their minds, and God’s truth came down like rain on parched soil.

Ezra’s hearers hadn’t been able to practice their religion in a foreign land and had thirsty souls. The returning exiles were from different generations. The elderly missed Solomon’s magnificent temple. Perhaps the young had heard stories of Israel’s past, but they never saw Jerusalem’s glory days.

God is the “fountain of living waters.” The truth of His Law satisfies thirsty souls. Truth touched the exiles’ hearts and washed them. Fasting brought confession of sin. They wept and worshipped the true God, and then kept the Feast of Tabernacles for seven days.

God is gracious, merciful, and the source of all truth. Come and drink of the water of life.

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He Heals the Broken Hearted

Rejection is the greatest emotional pain we can experience.

We fear that the ones we love the most will face rejection, but what happens when we are the ones who are thrown to the side and discarded. The emotional trauma that comes from losing approval or being betrayed is a pain we all fear. But how does God view rejection and hurt in our lives?

As a pastor, I have experienced betrayal and hurt in my ministry—sometimes from those closest to me. People fill a void of loneliness in our lives, so we allow them to see us in our most vulnerable state—without the charade of perfection we normally put on. We allow them into our thoughts and ideas. Then without warning, the hurt of judgment and rejection comes and leaves a gaping hole.   

To be discarded is to experience a similar suffering as Jesus. The Lord, however, gives restoration and peace. He was crucified by His own people and doubted by His own family. Rejection from family and friends was a pain the Lord felt before us. Only He can restore our hearts and rehabilitate us with His perfect love.

Whenever I’ve been hurt, God has restored my ability to love and trust people. The only requirement is giving Him our hurts in exchange for His love. People often hurt us because they have unhealed wounds of rejection themselves. Stopping the cycle involves giving our hurts to God and seeing beyond the person’s actions. 

We are special to the Lord, and He wants us emotionally and spiritually secure. Hurt will find us all, but the hurt doesn’t have to leave a permanent imprint on our souls.

Allow the Lord to restore your heart today by giving Him your hurt in exchange for His love.  

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A Community of Love

Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop. I can still hear the lazy gate of horses’ hooves clicking evenly against the worn pavement just beyond the door of the one-room school house where I taught.

Although it has been over fifteen years, on a warm spring afternoon, my mind can be transported back in an instant to the quiet classroom at the end of a school day. Curtains flutter around open windows, tickled by a soft breeze as it enters the room. Beams of sunlight splash across wooden desks lined up in rows. The pungent smell of surrounding farms permeates the air. Children’s laughter beckons as they play in their yards among colorful gardens and clotheslines. Peace and contentment reside in my heart.

Several years ago, I had the unique experience of teaching in an Amish school even though I was not Amish. In looking back, I believe God purposely placed me in this position among these foreign people to teach me about His love. He knew I would go through a divorce and face some of the most painful and difficult times in my life. During those heart-wrenching days, the Amish led by example and showed me God’s love repeatedly. Even though I was an outsider in their community, they treated me kindly and loved me just the same.

Through those years, I learned that sometimes we don’t always know what lies ahead. And, sometimes, we don’t always know what is going on in someone else’s life. Yet God calls us to love others as ourselves and treat others with kindness. He calls us to accept those who are not like us and to be His hands and feet to them. God calls us to a life of servanthood. 

Whatever your circumstance, be God’s example. Radiate His love to everyone you meet. You never know. You may be the glimpse of God that makes a difference in someone’s life.

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Uniquely You

Both boys are filled with a bundle of potential, but they will never be cookie-cutter images of each another.

One eleven-year-old relative plans, organizes, and sticks with his agenda. Everything has a place, and everything should stay in its place. His father used to rearrange his toys just to catch his reaction. On the other hand, his eight-year-old brother sees no problem with a bit of disorder. As long as he has a good time, who cares? Thus, their parents encourage each to excel in his particular way.

When Jesus called Peter and John to follow Him, their personalities also fell at opposite extremes. Jesus transformed the impulsive, rough-around-the-edges Peter, who denied Him three times, into a powerful evangelist. Peter boldly proclaimed the gospel and gave his life for it. The more introspective and humble John became a writer who exposed false teachers and provided hope to persecuted believers while exiled for his faith.

As Jesus prepared Peter for future ministry and martyrdom, Peter asked about John’s future. Jesus politely, but firmly, told Peter to mind his own business. Jesus would take care of John.

That message remains equally relevant today. Rather than trying to run someone else’s life or imitate their ministry, we need to focus on God’s purpose for our individual lives. To each of us, Jesus says, “You must follow me.” We do so in our own way, according to our God-given talents, abilities, and personalities.

Our challenge is to respect and support one another, work with one another, acknowledge God’s control in our lives and the lives of others, and allow God to mold us into the unique individuals we were created to be.

Be your unique self and allow others to do so as well.

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You Wrecked My Whole Day

When something bad happens, it can take over and hold us hostage.

My daughter, Mickey, was in second grade when some kids in her class were mean to her. She developed an attitude, and if anything slightly irritating happened she would say, “Ah, now you wrecked my whole day.” From then on, she convinced herself that nothing good would happen that day. Every morning she woke up with a beautiful smile and positive attitude, but her attitude could turn upside down because we were out of a certain cereal or because she couldn’t find her favorite tee shirt. Getting her back to seeing the positive parts of the day was difficult.

Unpleasant circumstances can make it hard to concentrate as well as affect our mood, our interactions with others, and our reactions to whatever is going on around us. We can go into self-destruct mode. We worry, want to give up, eat the wrong things, argue or fight, and might turn to medications or alcohol to ease the hurt. None of these reactions are positive. Neither is the wreck-your-whole-day attitude.

What can we do when something upsets our peace? First, don’t let it get to you by internalizing the problem with worry and anger.

Second, remember bad things happen. Deal with the negatives. When someone hit my car, I had to get it fixed, but I was grateful I had insurance to cover it. When trouble comes, be aware of negative reactions that don’t resolve the situation, and remember that God doesn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.

Finally, don’t give up. Take action and move forward—even if you have to take baby steps. As long as you’re moving in the right direction, you will make progress and turn the challenge into a lesson. Make a conscious choice not to let that negative thing take over. Instead, focus on dealing with the issue and move on.

No matter what happens, be sure to remain aware of the blessings and positive things in your life. Remember that nothing is impossible with God. Control your responses and don’t let anything steal your joy. 

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Road Rage

Fists, feet, keys, and knives were frequently used to retaliate against the perceived violator.

As a new police detective many years ago, my first assignment was to handle crimes related to road rage. I was amazed by how many people became indignant following minor traffic faux pas.

My older brother pastors a large church and once had a minor blunder with another motorist who gave him the full bird salute—middle finger extended with the others bowing in prayer hoping to avoid a fight. When the antagonized driver realized he had “flipped off” his pastor, he took his sinful self to another house of worship and was never seen again.

I thought of this incident recently while on a long-distance bicycle ride. Most drivers are very courteous, even fearful of getting too close lest I become a hood ornament. But while crossing an intersection, a man in a hurry cut me off. As I hit my brakes to avoid the collision, he waved his hands apologetically. I returned the wave and smiled, trying to communicate a phrase from the late Los Angeles Lakers basketball broadcaster, Chick Hearn, “No harm, no foul.”

While courtesy on the road differs from hospitality in the home, the principle is the same. I have no reason to doubt a literal interpretation of this verse. If that is the case, how many times have I demonstrated kindness—or mean spiritedness, to one of God’s cherubs?

If we claim to be followers of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—should prevail. It will consistently triumph when we water our soul with the Word and fertilize our faith with the fullness of the Holy Spirit.

Ask God to help you till your heart’s soil so you can be light in a dark world—even during moments of road rage.

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Understanding Anxiety and Depression

Telling a depressed person to stop being depressed is like telling someone who is shot to stop bleeding. 

I suffer from bi-polar depression, but hesitate to admit it because of the stigma associated with mental illness and because Christians often misunderstand it. Depression and other illnesses are not the same as character defects or spiritual disorders. Nor do they result from a lack of faith.

Like the thorn that afflicted the apostle Paul, depression is a common tormenting illness. In a congregation of 500, 140 may suffer from anxiety or depression. Numerous biblical characters experienced it—among them Elijah, Jeremiah, and Jonah.

Depression is usually caused by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Magnetic resonance imaging can show the differences in the mood centers of the brain of depressed patients. 

Symptoms of depression often include: persistent sad feelings, feeling of hopelessness, irritability, loss of interest in enjoyable activities, difficulty concentrating and remembering details, making decisions, insomnia or over-sleeping, overeating or appetite loss, suicidal thoughts, and aches, pains, headaches, or digestive problems that do not ease with treatment.

People who suffer from a number of these symptoms over a two-week period should visit a medical doctor. As a patient, I’ve found visiting my doctor for a physical check-up to be helpful. Sometimes viruses or thyroid issues can produce depressive symptoms. Rule these issues out.

If you are diagnosed with clinical depression, medications may help.  My medications have generally taken a few weeks to reach a therapeutic level. If one medication does not work, others can be taken. Don’t give up. I have also found psychotherapy effective. One type, “cognitive behavior therapy,” is often used in managing symptoms. Medication and psychotherapy give depression a “one-two” punch, and for many the depression will go into remission.

With God’s grace and peace, your anxiety and depression can be managed. 

Prayer: Whatever our weaknesses, gracious heavenly Father, may they be used for your glory.

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Pruning Grapes

Recently, I visited a beautiful estate garden and learned how workers trim their grapevines.

Pruning grapevines requires tiny sharp manicure scissors. A plaque detailed the intricate process. Cutting off the branches that bore no fruit wasn’t enough. The workers went further and delicately pruned each cluster of grapes. When the grapes were still small and green, they measured the ideal spacing between each of the tiny orbs. Then they used the scissors to carefully cut away individual grapes in each cluster so the remaining fruit could grow large and luscious.

The owner of the vineyard was wealthier than most of us could imagine. Such exacting work required extravagant wealth.  

I then noticed how the workers carefully protected each tiny morsel that would eventually be displayed at the master’s feast. There was nothing inherently wrong with the grapes that were cut away, but they were a hindrance to the best.

Our Father in heaven is richer than a wealthy tycoon. He owns all of creation. He loves us passionately and knows every intimate detail of our lives. He knows exactly what we need to fulfill His purposes, and we can trust Him completely. We are safe under His watchful care.

Usually, I think of God’s pruning work in my life as only about cutting away the clearly bad fruit and dead weight. But sometimes, even things like health and security—things that appear good to me—are tenderly trimmed by the Master’s perfect, loving hand.

God wants us to trust Him even when it hurts to let go of what we think is good enough. Allow God to remove the good for what is best, and rejoice that He is lovingly preparing you for the feast to come. 

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Sammy's Skateboard

He wanted a Hobie—the Cadillac of skateboards in its day.

Sammy rode down the hill on his skateboard, hair blowing in the wind—a huge smile on his face. I encountered Sammy’s family when I lived in Hawaii in the 1970s. A family who taught me the value of giving God thanks in all things.

Sammy’s mother was a single mom with three children. She struggled financially to make ends meet, so there was little money to buy Sammy a skateboard. This didn’t keep Sammy from dreaming. He wanted a skateboard of his own, and not just any skateboard.

One day, a church family gave Sammy a skateboard. It was old, a bit worn, and not a Hobie. But a skateboard nonetheless. Sammy was grateful. One afternoon, Sammy rode his skateboard down the hill by his house but managed to get separated from his skateboard. The board traveled down the hill without him—straight into a storm sewer. Sammy was horrified. The skateboard wasn’t new, but it was all he had. With no way to get to the skateboard, he came home, forcing back tears. How could God could give him a skateboard and then take it away?

His mom called the city utilities department and explained her dilemma. “Can you send someone to retrieve the skateboard?”

A worker soon arrived, removed the manhole cover, and descended into the drain sewer on his ladder. Within minutes, he returned, holding the skateboard. Sammy and his mom were delighted. They watched as the worker descended into the sewer a second time, only to return grasping a virtually brand-new skateboard—a Hobie.  

“Until someone else claims it, I guess it's yours.”  The utility worker smiled and handed Sammy the skateboard.

God provides for us in the most unique ways. For you, it may not be a new skateboard, but when you place your needs before Him—when you pray believing, God will supply your need. Our problem lies in thanksgiving. Rarely do we take time to offer thanks to our Father who so sweetly notices even the smallest things.

Paul commands us to give thanks—and rightfully so. When God provides, remember His blessings and give thanks.

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Calming the Storm

Spending winters on the gorgeous island of Sanibel, off Florida’s gulf coast, is one of our blessings that brings peace and refreshment.

I watch as the angry sea throws its violent waves at the shore—circling, churning, screaming in rage. Each thrust digs deeper into the ocean floor, dislodging and pitching sea inhabitants far from their nests. Far from their peaceful environment, they are tangled by shredded sea fauna. 

The waters today are much different than yesterday when gentle breezes kissed our cheeks. But we are fortunate to have shelter…to be protected from the storm’s natural wrath…to be living in the shadow of the Most High God. 

Life is similar to the sea—quiet and serene one moment but then suddenly churning, disrupting, and thrashing. We live in a fallen world where evil lets its waters roar and flood us with fear and uncertainty. Where can we go when the storms rage and our hearts bleed? 

According to the psalmist, whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. God is the believer’s refuge and shelter. He is the One who saves us from the fowler’s snare and deadly pestilence. Jesus demonstrated God’s power by calming the stormy seas when His disciples thought the end was near.

Bask in the warmth and breeze on life’s beach, reading God’s Word. Be confident that when those waves crest and roll, God is only a page or a prayer away. Let Jesus quiet your heart. 

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Hold On for the Ride

With his big strong arms and long strides, he’d lean forward, pulling me up the gravel driveway in a wagon piled high with toys. “Hold on! Here we go,” he’d warn.

As a child, I loved to pile my favorite dolls and stuffed animals into my little red wagon, plop myself in the middle of them, and charm my father into pulling me. It was more fun than pushing or pulling someone myself.

The ride was bumpy, but it only added to the adventure. When he turned at the end of the driveway, I’d squeal, “Faster, Daddy, faster!” Then, with the breeze brushing my face, I’d open my mouth wide and say, “Ahh—,” just so I could hear the vibration of my voice as the wagon bounced over the gravel.

The fun always ended too soon―much faster than when I was the one doing the pushing or pulling.

When was the last time you were simply along for the ride? There are times when God requires us to participate in our circumstances, asking us to draw upon His strength as we push or pull through. At other times, He tells us to relax in the process and wait on His timing.

Positioning myself in the presence of my Father through journaling helps me discern my role as I travel through rocky situations. As I write out my concerns and lift them up to God, He reminds me of His love and of how my trials pale in comparison to His unmatched ability to carry my load and pull me through.

Curl up in the middle of God’s presence, pile your troubles on His broad shoulders, and wait for the Holy Spirit’s gentle tug on your heart. Then—hold on. Your Father’s making the turn.

“Faster, Daddy, Faster!”

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Vying for Position

The trees had not finished undressing when my part of the world turned upside down and shook like a giant snow globe. Snowflakes floated everywhere, gliding to the earth and frosting it like a cake—chocolate with thick, white icing. Colorful leaves dropped atop the snow like decorative candy sprinkles. The sun peered over the horizon sending forth her first rays to illuminate the trees. Covered in ice, they glistened like sparkling chandeliers in the early morning sun.

All day long, the seasons vied for position. Fall struggled to stand its ground while winter marched forth with a vengeance. Within a few days, the air would warm, and winter would retreat for a little while longer before fall gave way, completely surrendering to winter’s command. But for this day, winter remained ruthless, not giving fall an inch.

Watching the struggle unfold, I wondered: What is vying for position in my life? Is it earthly matters or spiritual? Am I focused on something I cannot change, or praying about something I can? Do I fill the hours God has given me with thoughts and activities that are pleasing to Him? Or do I allow demons to creep in and camp, taking up residence in my mind? How much time do I spend with God compared to daily activities? 

For me, these questions are sobering. I mean well, but in my humanness, I get pulled in the opposite direction from where I truly want to go. Satan knows me intricately and is proficient at sending distractions, pulling me quickly off course. Despite my good intentions, I never seem able to take control and find my way back.

It is comforting to know the apostle Paul, a great leader in the early church, struggled with the same tug-of-war. In Romans, Paul says the answer is that Jesus Christ can and does set the contradictions of my life right. Paul assures us Jesus understands our humanness and came to make things right.

So the next time something vies for position in your life, stop. Take a deep breath and regroup. Fix your eyes on Jesus. Let Him lead the way. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pippalou.)

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False Alarms

A few months ago, I received a letter from a government agency stating that I owed more than $3,000. I was flabbergasted. But in the face of the shock, God wrapped me in His peace. Then He led me to take action: gather all the documents related to what the agency said had caused the presumed shortfall and respond.

Several weeks later, I received two letters from the agency. The first stated they had received my reply and supporting documentation, and that they would contact me within sixty days. The second letter—dated a week after the first—reported “We’re pleased to tell you that the information you provided resolved the issue in question, and our inquiry is now closed.” Above that sentence was written “Amount due: $0.00.”

I dropped to my knees and thanked God, realizing He had a lesson for me in the situation. How many people receive erroneous bills each year and simply pay them because they want to make the situation go away? Similarly, how often do we hide in fear or crumble under the devil’s attacks against us instead of turning to the Lord and wielding our God-given armor?

The psalmist’s lament in Psalm 10 about a physical enemy aptly describes our spiritual adversary’s attacks against us. He threatens, lies, and terrorizes. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless when he strikes. But instead of being a pushover, I’m asking God to help me push back—not in my strength but in Christ’s.

When apparent threats and difficulties around you swirl, remember many are merely false alarms—deception from the one God calls the father of lies. Live boldly and confidently in Christ, knowing that He is greater than those who are in the world. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ronnieb.)

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Jelly-filled Doughnuts

Although running out of powdered-sugar-covered jelly-filled doughnuts may not rank at the top of the list of importance for most, for my 7th grade homeroom, it certainly did.

Our lunch period was the last of three, and while there was plenty of food available in the cafeteria when we arrived, they were always out of what we wanted most: powdered-sugar-covered jelly-filled doughnuts.

It was after our Student Council representative gave her weekly report one day that the cry went up, "We want more jelly doughnuts!"

At first, it was rather humorous. To actually believe we bottom-of-the-rung 7th graders would have our complaints heard and addressed because we wanted more doughnuts? Seriously?

In meeting after meeting, Gabby presented our request for more jelly doughnuts to the Student Council, until finally ... we had more doughnuts. The cafeteria didn't purchase extra. They just took what they had and set aside one third for first lunch, one third for second, and one third for third—us.

Thinking about these doughnuts made me think about a story in the Bible. Jesus and His disciples were in the Tyre and Sidon region when a Canaanite woman approached them. She cried out for Jesus to have mercy on her because her daughter was demon-possessed.

Christ's rather startling response was that He came only to the lost sheep of Israel. Taking the children's bread and tosssing it to their puppies wasn’t right. The woman agreed, but added that even puppies eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table. Jesus commended the woman for her great faith and granted her request.

Now back to the jelly-filled doughnuts. At the beginning of that school year, the cafeteria ladies placed all the doughnuts out before first lunch began. When the doughnuts were gone, they were gone. Leaving none for our third lunch group.

Gabby presented our requests to the powers that be, asking that they include us in the doughnut distribution. Her persistence—and that of the boys in our homeroom who kept requesting, guaranteed we would share in the children's bread.

Jesus came to seek and to save all who are lost—not merely the first ones to the table. What are we doing to make sure everyone has enough jelly filled donuts?

Share His word.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kakisky.)

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Ministers Have Problems Too

A minister and his wife were plodding through a heartbreaking period, trying to cope with a rebellious daughter. Her history: running away from home and associating with addicts. 

The problem was affecting the other children in the family, and at times frustrations threatened to overwhelm the parents. They kept the concern to themselves, fearing what people would think. One evening during a prayer meeting, the minister decided he’d share his heartache with those present. He began by saying that ministers sometimes have troubles they can’t handle. When a member of the congregation heard this, he replied, “I don’t want to hear about it. I don’t like to think ministers have problems. It destroys their image.”

The minister changed the direction of the conversation and locked his anguish into a closet in his heart. In a group where he should have been able to share what he and his wife were going through, he only heard a door slamming shut.

Most ministers do not want to be placed upon a pedestal. They know they have faults and realize they need to allow the Lord to work in their lives. They want to be treated as friends, not as someone who is unreachable and out of touch with reality.

How do we react to our minister? Do we allow him or her to be human, to share problems if they choose, and to have the freedom to share their needs as other members of the congregation enjoy?

Galatians teaches us to carry each other’s burdens. Christian leaders need our prayers, our help, and our willingness to listen. After all, ministers have problems too. Let your church leadership know you are supporting them. Lend an ear, and share the compassion of Christ.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and and dr._evil.)

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Finding Relationship Radar

When I sit in my work chair—laptop in place, at least one cat insists on sitting on my knees. Any time I move my hand toward the handle that tilts the chair down, she immediately jumps to the ground before the chair even moves. She knows that move means I am getting up, so she must go down—voluntarily or not.

The cats, in fact, are attuned to many of my small motions and habits. Walking into the living room in the morning means they'll get food. An outstretched finger means, “Don't scratch that!” and a hand on their paw means “Put those claws in now.” One knows with uncanny accuracy what motions precede me walking out or in the door—since he hopes to make an escape outdoors during those seconds of time.

Pets study us. They follow our motions, and watch and listen to every nuance of their beloved “parent.” Pets align themselves so closely to our lives they know as soon as we make the slightest move where we are going or what we will be doing. They have relationship radar. That helps me understand what Paul is getting at when he suggests we will know the will of God.

Is there some Magic 8 Ball method we can employ to know God's will? People seem to want that. It would make decisions-making so easy. Paul offers a more difficult but much more rewarding method. Get close to God. Watch Him. Listen to Him. Know Him so well you can anticipate where He's going and follow along. Recognize the slightest hint that the Holy Spirit wind is blowing in a particular direction.

Knowing God’s will comes not from fortune telling games but from consistent scripture reading and passionate prayer. It involves renewing one's mind and offering oneself in service every single day. It takes a long period of companionship, not a hurried prayer of, “God, I really need to know Your will for me in this situation.”

If you sit in God's lap long enough, you learn to know when He's going to move.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cheriedurbin.)

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The Round Table

In 1971, during a sociology class on a military base in Spain, my professor asked, “What is the one thing that all Spaniards have in their home?” The answer was a round dining room table. It seems the Spanish are a very social people. If you sit at anything other than a round table, there will be those you cannot see or speak with. The professor also mentioned that children were encouraged to participate in conversation. It’s how they learn to be sociable.

All these years later, I find myself looking at where the pastor stands in our church to give his sermons. It’s behind and encircling a round table that is about forty inches in diameter and stands about four feet high. There is also a chair of appropriate height so he may sit if he so desires.

Matthew’s twenty-sixth chapter takes place at the time of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Christ instituted the communion by breaking bread and drinking from a common vessel with the disciples. He gathered eleven friends and one enemy in a place where they spoke to each other and celebrated a feast together. He started this procedure so that, generations later, we still stop and consider what it means to remember what Christ did for us.

Today I found a new relationship between God and me. For the first time, I saw Jesus sitting in that chair at the round table. He invites everyone—man, woman, or child—to come to the table and remember that He sees each of them and desires to commune without reservation. Your pastor may stand behind a podium or walk the floor in front of the congregation, but the inference is the same. We’re invited to the table Jesus sets before us. We should gladly take, eat, and drink what is offered to us every Sunday, not just during communion.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Penywise.)

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The Exact Same

Recently, a young man lived with us. He bought his own non-stick skillet for cooking because he didn't like my skillet. Not that there wasn't good reason. My skillet was promoted as non-stick, but it lied. We frequently scraped food off our "non-stick" skillet.

Once his skillet made its appearance, mine disappeared into the bottom drawer. His shiny red skillet was the one that lived on the stove top for easy access.

Then he left and took his shiny red pan with him, leaving us to our bigger but definitely not better pan. After scraping food off my own "non-stick" skillet, I headed to the store and purchased a skillet exactly like his. I was not tempted to choose a cheaper version, though there were several perky red ones on the shelf. Experience made me not trust what pretty packaging promoted. After cooking with his shiny red winner, I only wanted an exact representation.

Have you ever experienced that in a deeper sense or had higher expectations for a relationship than the other party involved?  When that happens, it's natural to be skeptical with the whole trust issue. 

When our spiritual trust meter takes a disappointing hit, we have a hard time believing in or trusting God. "Yeah, right!" we say. "This happened and now I'm supposed to trust someone I can't even see?" Perhaps hurt prevents you from drawing close to God. But if we open our hearts to know God, what we experience will be like the real, shiny red pan. When He manifests Himself to us, we will never desire a substitute again.

Maybe you've known God for a long time or maybe the idea of God and Jesus Christ being the same person is a revelation. If you read the gospels with an open heart, you will discover who Jesus is. Then you will know the exact truth about who God is and what He's done for you.

He's far more important to your life than a shiny red pan. Open up His book and read.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and shebaduhkitty.)

(For more devotions, visit us at www.christiandevotions.us.) 

I Owe You

A friend sent me a text recently, asking me to do her a favor. And with a busy schedule (as we all have), I simply replied to her in my head. Forgetting to actually send her a reply, I was face-to-face with her a few days later. The moment I saw her, it instantly triggered the thought of my shortcoming. I was reminded I owed her a reply and a favor. I did what any self-respecting friend would do: I hid and acted busy at church to avoid a sticky situation. Silly, I know, but it seemed logical at the time.

Have you ever owed anyone anything? It seems that once you owe someone something, all you can do is think of your debt whenever you see them.

Sometimes this is what we do in our attitude toward God. But that is not His best for us. Instead of always being reminded of our sin when we think of God, we can remember He wishes for us to see His mercy and grace. I cannot have a healthy relationship with my heavenly Father if I do not understand I owe Him a debt I could never repay. It’s important to grasp the fact Jesus was my absurd overpayment for that debt. . . all of my debts. And any time I feel guilt for something I did wrong, I can bring that to Jesus and thank Him for making me clean.

Hebrews 10 gives us a clearer understanding of this concept when we realize it was God’s will for the sacrifice of Jesus to make us holy. . .and holy forever. Now that is good news.

I challenge you to change how you perceive your debt to God. He already knows your inadequacies, and we can never really “surprise” God with our actions. So start seeing Him as your loving father.

Thank you, Jesus, for taking the debt of my sin and paying what I could never repay. Amen.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Are You Broken This Christmas?

Money was tight that first Christmas.

So tight that when we bought an artificial tree for $30 and it went on sale the following week, we stuffed it back in the box and returned it. By the time we’d made our way to the garden center, the sales clerk had hauled back the tree we’d just returned, and we bought it again—for $10 less. We bought three bags of red and white satin ornaments with the difference. Unfortunately, even though the tree wasn’t very big, the bags of cheap balls didn’t go very far.

The next day we were grocery shopping when a bin of ornaments caught my eye. The sign read Four for $1, which sounded too good to be true. As I examined each bagged wooden ornament, I saw why they were so cheap—they were all broken. A little girl on skis lacked a pole, a mouse dressed to look like a Wise Man was missing the red ball on his nose, and a bear on a rocking horse needed a wheel.

“They’re all broken,” I said, dismissing them and moving on.

“But all the parts are there,” my husband replied, looking closer, “I think I can fix them.”

“That’s too much work. They’re not worth it.”

“I’d like to try. I think I love them.”

And fix them he did. With painstaking care and incredible patience, he glued each broken part, even creatively improvising when the pieces were too damaged to be restored. When the glue was dry, he hung them on the tree among the satin balls.

“See,” he said with a smile, “I told you I could fix them.”

Since that first Christmas, we’ve added many ornaments to our tree. We replaced the satin balls long ago, but every year we continue to hang the little wooden ornaments. They remind us of how far we’ve come, how blessed we are, and what God did for us on the very first Christmas.

Like the ornaments in the bin, we were practically worthless. Broken and discarded, we weren’t much to look at, but God took pity on us.

“I think I can fix them,” He said. “I’d like to try. I love them.”

And with painstaking care and incredible patience, He applied the blood of Jesus to every broken part, even creatively improvising when parts of us were too damaged to be restored. And then He added us to His family tree and smiled.

“See,” He said, “I told you I could fix them.”

What’s your story this Christmas? Has God repaired what was broken and placed you in His family tree? Do you know Him as your Savior? If you do, rejoice. If you don’t, invite Him into your heart today.

You’ve lived broken long enough. It’s time to let God make you whole.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and greyerbaby.)

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Christmas' Perfect Gift

Her perfect Christmas gifts became an anticipated tradition.

As a middle-schooler, my daughter began making handspun Christmas gifts for me. One year a converted cassette tape holder with childhood memorabilia. Another year, a frame with two pictures of us along with the poem, “My Daddy’s Hand.” Then a shadow box housing a picture from our trek on the Appalachian Trail, a small rock, and a Bible verse that read; The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock, in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the strength of my salvation, and my stronghold II Samuel 22:2-3. Perhaps my favorite was the homemade booklet made of construction paper and entitled, “What Hiking Means to Me.”  During college, when her life grew busy, the gifts stopped, but as her life settled, the gifts resumed.

Perhaps what the wise men brought to the boy child Jesus didn’t appear to be perfect gifts, but for a future king they were appropriate. Gold suited kings and would certainly help a poor family finance future trips to Egypt and Nazareth. Frankincense was fit for deity, which Jesus was. Myrrh was a spice appropriate for a person who was going to die. He would in a few brief years.

I look forward to my daughter’s perfect Christmas gifts each year. More importantly, I must consider what should be my perfect gift to the Savior who has given His life for me. My gifts should not only be presented at Christmas but offered throughout the year. The gifts He craves from me are undivided loyalty and love that I extend to others from my heart, soul, and mind. I may not have metals and spices, but I can give a cup of cold water in His name.

What gift can you give Jesus this Christmas season?

(Photo courtesy of mandmwiles.)

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5 Successes of Failure

The chain clanked against the plate glass as I snapped the padlock in place. The doors were locked. The church was closed.

As Chair of the Leadership Team, it happened on my watch. I didn’t single-handedly sink the ship, but even so it hurt. I’d failed.

Failure is a bully, always trying to make you less than you are. But God makes us more than we should ever be. With God, failure becomes success.

Below are a few of the successes I gained through my failure. Perhaps they will help you when the time comes.



If you don’t know your true friends going into a crisis, you will by the time you come out. Their support will prove you wrong when you know you can’t go any further. They never count the cost of being counted with you. (Proverbs 18:24)


Failure isn’t the end. It’s the beginning. You are now free. You can start again (only smarter) or start something brand new that’s even more awesome. Welcome to “Your Dream, Version 2.0.”  (Ephesians 2:10)


You’ll want to quit. Don’t. The will to walk through the flames of tomorrow is forged in the furnace of today.  (James 1:2-4)


Sometimes we need to be reminded it’s not about us. It’s about our mission. The only failure in life that matters is failure to keep on Mission. (Matthew 28:18-20)


You’ve stood toe to toe with the bully and survived. Now you know failure’s secret—it isn’t as tough as it wants you to believe. You don’t have to be afraid of it. The only fear you now have is the fear of not trying. Congratulations, you’re a world changer.  (John 14:27)

Yes, I failed—thank God. Now I’m ready for what He wants me to do next. When Christ came as a baby, it was a success. God incarnate came to earth. His death might be considered a failure, but when He rose again, what a success! This Christmas season, rejoice in the failure. From failure comes great success.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and lyns.)

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Christmas Grace

Christmas is the season for anxiety. Credit cards are maxed out, checking accounts are drained into the red, and all in the name of spreading joy and cheer.

Stores proudly display signs adorned with sparkly letters and the word Believe. Are we supposed to believe that the money tree will finally sprout in our backyard? Or maybe we’re supposed to believe in the power of expensive Christmas gifts. The truth of the matter is, in the midst of the season’s hustle and bustle, many of us have forgotten the meaning of Christmas. We’ve forgotten what we should really believe in.

Christmas is a time to believe in the power of God’s amazing grace—a baby born in a stable on Christmas day so you and I may have eternal life. That’s far more valuable than any overpriced sweater or pair of shoes. That’s a gift that keeps giving all year round, and it doesn’t cost us a dime.

That gift. That joy. That baby in the manger is what Christmas is all about. That’s the cheer we should be spreading.

As you wait in line for your festive peppermint mocha, tell someone about the reason for the season. As you swipe your credit card for what seems like the hundredth time, remember the physical gifts only mean so much. As you watch your kids, your spouse, and your family unwrap their presents on Christmas morning, remember paper scattered on the floor will only last for the day. But the baby who was born to save you? That’s something to be excited about. He is someone you can believe in.

But the best part is that Jesus isn’t just a Christmas gift. His love is something you can believe in 365 days of the year. He gave you eternal life for free. And that’s a gift worth celebrating.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and orchid.)

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God Speaks Your Language

My husband walked a narrow, sand road in the African bush, our enormous Great Dane frolicking beside him. As they turned to go home, Carl noticed a small girl heading toward them. Panic showed through her huge brown eyes, turning her into a little pillar of fear unable to move or speak.

The child stared at the towering man and his lion-sized dog. They were so large and unfamiliar. So unlike her, the small and scared one. Was it safe to approach them?

Carl spoke gently to the frightened child. The terror in her eyes changed to joyful wonder, and she started walking again, moving closer rather than running away.

The difference? Carl spoke her language. In words she understood, he kindly told the little darling, “All is well. You are safe.”

Shepherds in the fields that first Christmas night were also frozen by fear. They didn’t expect to be surrounded by the towering glory of God, and they weren’t at all comfortable with a sky full of angels. The messenger of God spoke kindly to them, in their own language—the language of stables, feeding troughs, babies, and a long-promised Savior. Things they understood. The message was good news that turned their fear to wonder. Off they hurried to find the divine infant, God they could approach.

Sometimes I fear God’s bigness and righteousness. Unlike me—the small, scarred and scared one, He is greater and bigger. Do I dare approach Him? Yes. God speaks to me kindly and in a language I understand. He speaks through the person of Jesus who came to earth small but overcame death. The one who still carries scars and gives songs. My fear turns to wonder, and I move closer to Him.

To the Magi, God spoke of a King. To the shepherds of a barn and a baby. To me, of scars and songs. He speaks your language too, whatever it may be. Listen and approach in wonder.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kakisky.)

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Keep It Moving

Procrastination is one of the Devil’s favorite habits. Here I am with this great idea, but not knowing how to execute it has caused a delay. Once I put it off, I feel as if the enemy is trying to fill my head with negativity and doubt. But once I start moving and learning more about what I need to accomplish, positivity kicks in and I can see the vision more clearly.

I’ve learned that in order to keep the Devil from filling my head with doubt, I need to bury myself in the Word, memorize His Word, and quote those Scriptures. Then I do something every day that propels me forward into my project until its completion.

Proverbs 13 reminds us a lazy person’s appetite is never filled. But when we are diligent,  we are fully satisfied. The Devil knows the Word very well. If he can fill our heads with fear and doubt, he knows we will grow tired. That distracts us from our goal.

A great keyword here is diligent. Even though the enemy may whisper doubt in our minds, we must continue to keep moving forward if we want to reach what God has for us.

Do you have a goal you want to reach but procrastination is holding you back? Defeat the enemy’s tactics by digging into God’s Word. Quote Scriptures out loud to drive away fear and doubt. Let him know you know the Word too and its power against him. He has no choice but to flee. Keep working daily to reach your mark, and you will accomplish your goals. Remember, we can trust in the Lord because His word says, “The desires of the diligent are fully satisfied.”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jerjones.)

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Master of the House

I am the master of two beautiful, black German Shepherds. I have raised and trained them from pups, showered them with love and affection, and watched out for their best interests. I feed them what they need, not what they can wildly devour. I bathe and groom them for their health and welfare.

Mako and Maya have inside privileges at my house. Because of this, they tend to follow me everywhere. Regardless of my location, they are nearby, ready to serve and play as I command.

When I see them recline at my feet and then jump to follow as I move, I often think, What a picture of servitude. Then I wonder, Do I follow my Master with the same loyalty and devotion?

“No one can serve two masters,” proclaimed Jesus, “for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Different translations use the word mammon or wealth in lieu of the word money. In essence, love of possessions can hinder your relationship with Christ.

Is it possible that most of the American Christian culture is in denial? We denounce the belief that we have an unhealthy devotion to something, yet remove it from our lives and we’re lost or crushed.

There is a surefire test that can determine the real master in your life. Examine where you spend your disposable time and income. I know this can be revealing and painful. I’ve been there.

Disposable time? Income? What is that? When your heart is aligned with God’s, He can help you discern between fruitful activity verses mind-numbing entertainment. Start with the TV and time surfing the web. More often than not, the time is present if we manage the events with a critical eye for productive usefulness.

Be brave. Take this test. It will help you analyze and reconnect with the One who desires to be the Master of your house. It’s a freewill choice that God has given us.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and whereverIam.)

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Why Worry

“Why worry when we can pray?”

Those were the last words Marian Woosley said to every visitor. Although she spent her final years in a nursing home, she never lost her sparkle. Regardless of the day’s difficulties or the topic discussed, she always smiled as she reminded us of worry’s dead end and prayer’s promises.

She suffered numerous health issues, lost her husband twenty years before, and could no longer remain home. Yet she radiated peace and joy. The reflection of Jesus’ love in her life was like a magnet that drew all ages to her. She loved playing her keyboard while others sang along. The seventh and eighth-grade girls’ Bible study class I teach visited her occasionally. One Christmas we gave her a large-print hymn book, as the small print grew increasingly difficult for her to read. She gave us far more by loving us and showing us how to live well regardless of our circumstances.

Mrs. Woosley’s friends and family repeated her favorite words to one another as we celebrated her ninety-plus years of life and entry into the presence of her Lord. A choir member recalled her asking him to sing “The Rainbow Song, Chuck Milhuff’s The Brush.”  She loved its message and wanted others to hear it too. So he sang that when we give the paintbrush of our lives to Jesus, He takes our messes, dips them in a rainbow, and signs our price has been paid. Mrs. Woosley gave her paintbrush to Jesus a long time ago and took everything to Him in prayer.

The pastor’s message of comfort revolved around Mrs. Woosley’s philosophy of prayer over worry. A grandson concluded the service with Psalm 121, their family’s psalm before any journey. The impact of her legacy of faith grew more evident through that powerful farewell prayer by those who knew her best and loved her most.

What burdens do you carry today? Follow Mrs. Woosley’s example: prayer over worry.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Not Fair

As a high school teacher, I quickly became deaf to the oh-so-common complaint, "It's not fair!"  I did my best to be fair, but it simply wasn't possible to accomplish fairness in every situation. My mantra became "life is not fair, but what matters most is not the unfairness, but what we do after that." They never liked that answer.

I don't like it either, especially the older I get. I don't like it that my metabolism has slowed, making it harder than ever for weight to come off.  I don't like it that it takes more exercise, not less, to stay in shape. I really don't like it that my face is sprouting all sorts of annoying black hair in places I can't easily see.  It's not fair.

When I catch myself having this reaction—and it happens regularly—I am reminded of what I used to tell my students. No, it's not fair, but now what do I do?

It's like the student who didn't want to do an assignment because it was hard, so he told his teacher he had dyslexia. She gently replied, "Okay,. I get it. You have a learning disability. But the assignment is still there and needs to be done, so what do you do now?"   

What do we do when it's not fair? It's easy to quit and employ whatever excuse applies to the moment. But that's the easy way out, the path of least resistance. We will never reach the goal or attain our dreams if we allow the obstacle of  "not fair" to stop us. 

Whether it's a mountain or an anthill, we have to move beyond it—even if we can't see ahead, even if it feels all wrong, and especially if everybody else says it's not fair. We must persevere because it's the path to our dreams.

Do you have a big "not fair" standing in your way? Only our perfect Lord is fair. However, He is willing to give us the strength we need to work through any situation with grace.   

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jppi.)

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The Nailmaker

One spring morning, two thousand years ago, an orange sun peeked over my neighbor’s buildings as Dionysius, Captain of the Roman guard, entered my shop. He stood before me, breathing heavily from his long hike. His body odor and breath stunk.

“I need three strong, extra-long spikes,” he snarled. “A man who calls himself the Son of God will hang from your nails this Friday on Golgotha Hill. We don’t want him to fall off––do we?” he said with a grin that exposed missing teeth and hateful bloodshot eyes. His bald head glistened with sweat.

I am what you call today, a blacksmith. With Jehovah as my guide, I use my gift of metalworking daily. Nails are a specialty of mine. When you handle one of my spikes, you sense quality. As I labored, my fire would not go out or the nails would crumble.

When the captain came Friday morning and I could not deliver, he placed his helmet on my wooden table and beat me bloody.

“I’m sorry,” I said through swollen lips. “I can’t make the nails that will pierce Jesus.”

“I’ll get someone else.” Dionysius glowered. He turned and stepped out the door of my shop, smacking his head on the lentil.

Thank you, Father, for the gift of work and also for the failure to produce the nails that would hold Jesus to a cross.

I’ll never forget that Friday. The sky turned black from the sixth to the ninth hour. My tools shook on the walls as thunder and lightning struck.

But Sunday exploded with a rush of sunlight. Mary Magdalene burst through the shop entrance. Peter and John dashed by. Mary raved, “Come, see the tomb where they laid the Son of God! It’s empty! It’s true we serve a risen Lord. I saw Him!”

The day He passed by my shop, I asked Him to touch my wounded head and face. Look, no more cuts or bruises.

Christ took on our sin. All of it … that we might be saved. Fall before Him and accept His gift.

(Photo courtes of morguefile and jclomek.)

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Outside the Crate

Patches had been a breeder dog for four years when we rescued her. For weeks, she sat in her crate, shrinking into its corners whenever we tried to coax her out. Food, toys, soft words—nothing could convince our little sheltie her new home was not a continuation of the terrors she had known.

It took time and patience, but Patches eventually learned that those all-powerful creatures outside her safe crate wanted only to love and care for her, not harm her. She came out of her crate and entered our lives.

When the serpent tempted Adam and Eve, he planted the first seeds of doubt in that God—the Creator with whom they walked—who wanted only the best for them. He craftily manipulated them to think—maybe God is trying to keep something from me. Maybe I shouldn't trust Him to know what I need.

We are heirs to this distrust. Like Patches, I cringe at risks and unknowns when I have no certainty of a safe path. Too often, I react with dread and fear if I feel God reaching into my safe crate and wanting to pull me toward life with Him. I don't know what's out there, and I do know it might hurt.

We can't predict what may happen to us “out there.” We do know, however, the word of the One who calls us out. We know it's an offer of life more amazing and full than we can fantasize about. It's an offer of the very thing we lost in the Garden—life in its fullest and a relationship with the One who knows every detail of each person he formed.

What did our new dog know outside of her plastic walls? Nothing. Once outside, anyone could see the sillyness of believing that 6-foot-square space was more fulfilling than the entire house and yard at her disposal.

God offers no promises we will remain safe. Quite the opposite—He promises the world out here is rough and difficult. He also promises life to anyone who takes His hand and crawls out.

What illusion of safety and satisfaction do you cling to today? God waits—holding a hand toward our cage and peering in with eyes of love, until we decide to abandon our boxes and enter life.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hamia.)

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Rest Awhile

The smell of applewood bacon met me at the door.

The automatic glass doors of the beach hideaway slid open, and I inhaled deeply. The aroma of that morning’s buffet breakfast still permeated the air. My stomach growled even though I had just eaten. Between the comforting smell, the relaxed atmosphere, and the memories of past stays, it felt like home.

I checked into my room and collapsed on the bed. The sound of waves crashing ashore slowly faded as sleep wrapped me in her warm embrace.

Early the following morning, I hurried downstairs for breakfast. The dining area faced the ocean through wall-to-floor windows. I started the day watching God raise the sun from its nightly slumber while I feasted on scrambled eggs, bacon, and southern fried potatoes.

My solo vacation getaway was long overdue. The frustrations of life and weariness of daily struggles had caught up with me. I was exhausted and needed time away to rest, regroup, and renew my focus.

Jesus knew the demands of a busy schedule. As He and His disciples mingled with people in that hot, dry Middle Eastern climate, it took its toll on them spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and physically. That’s why He called them aside to a quiet place for a much-needed rest. Away from the clamoring crowds seeking loaves and fishes. Away from the sick needing healing. Away from the hurting who longed for His compassion. Away from the important to focus on the critical.

It is tempting to view ourselves as hardened soldiers in the fight. After all, we are told to “endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” So we plod wearily on, not realizing we’re losing our competitive advantage. Spiritual battles cannot be fought well with wearied minds, souls, and bodies. In his book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey reminds us to “sharpen the saw.”  Meaning, we must take time to regain our edge to be effective in our work.

So, take some time for you—away from the important demands of your life. Schedule time away where you can be alone with God to watch His wonder and hear His whispers. It will be time well spent.

For now, pass the bacon and scoot over—you’re blocking my view of the sunrise.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jamierodriguez37.)

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“I’m sorry, God,” I whispered as I nursed my baby to a slumber sleep. “I admit, lately I have not focused on you as much as I