A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Spirit & Soul

Spirit and Soul is all about eternity. Life ever after with a God who has prepared a place in advance for us. Dig into the Word. Search out your heart. Contemplate where you will spend eternity. . .then choose to offer your life to God.

No, Never Alone

I sat by my husband’s side and watched the nurses disconnect the ventilator.

The doctor had asked if I wanted to continue with the ventilator or disconnect it. He explained how the ventilator was the only thing keeping my husband alive. Gene had signed a living will, saying he did not want artificial means to keep him alive. I wished to honor his request.

Within ten minutes of removing the ventilator, a nurse checked for Gene’s pulse and respiration. He was gone. Shortly afterwards, a hospital employee came into the room and gave her condolences. I explained that as a Christian, God had always met my needs, and I knew He would continue to do so.

A noticeable silence enveloped the room as the woman stood before me. Then, with tears in her eyes and sorrow in her voice, she said. “I am a Christian also and a single mother of three young children. I am going through some hard times, and I’ve been struggling.”

I assured her God was with her and could be trusted to bring her through whatever she faced at the present time or in the future. I also shared that the Lord doesn’t always take away our trials and heartaches, but that He promises to walk with us through the deepest and darkest valleys. Such periods teach us to let God guide us, as well as help us trust His faithfulness more fully.

The young mother thanked me for sharing and for giving her the encouragement to believe God would provide for her needs if she allowed Him to do so.

If you are a Christian going through a trial and anxiety threatens to overwhelm you, God has promised you are never alone. Perhaps you have never asked Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and to come into your life as your Lord and Savior. What better time than the present to make that decision?  

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The Secret Place

A boy’s personal room acts as his secret place.

A time comes in every boy’s life when he profits by having his own room. In his personal privacy, he sorts out the things of life. He may have an airplane hanging from the ceiling, a large picture of his favorite sports star, or athletic equipment of his choosing.

If he is fortunate to have a wise father, he may ask him for wisdom concerning some issues of life. Maybe he failed at school or at a sport he tried, and his father can help him deal with it.

His secret place is granted by his parents, yet he determines who enters—maybe a close friend, but surely not his siblings. Even his parents knock on his door, asking for permission to enter. Such a place is a valuable tool for his personal development.

Yet a better secret place exists—a perfect one, the dwelling place of the Most High God. This place never closes. He whose eyes roam throughout the earth, searching for those whose hearts are inclined to Him, invites us into His personal presence. And any person can enter that secret place because of need or simply just to be in God’s presence.

Human nature tempts us to resist God’s overtures toward us. Our fleshly nature places desires within us to figure life out by human means. Some feel as if God is angry with them. But God wants us to overcome our reluctance and enter a relationship with Him. He wants to know us on an intimate basis because He longs to see us develop successful and joyful lives. We do this by taking time to learn about Him, studying His Word with an open heart, accepting His truths, and letting His love flood our hearts.

Determine to dwell with the Lord consistently. Then you can say, “God is my refuge and fortress. In Him will I trust.”

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Rolled Away

I looked intently at the pictures.

A friend who had visited Israel showed me photos she’d taken of what was thought to be Christ’s tomb. The tomb was a cave—carved into a hillside and covered with a massive stone disc which rolled into a groove in the ground to cover the opening.

As Mark says, this was the family tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and probably had several ledges inside to place wrapped bodies. This tomb covering worried Mary Magdalene and her companions. How could they move it since it was so massive and heavy?

When they arrived at the tomb, they found God had already solved their problem. They saw an empty tomb—which was God’s purpose all along. That empty tomb gave them confidence and assurance to run with joy to tell the other disciples and to spread the news of the newly risen Savior.

Knowing the tomb was empty means we have an ongoing relationship with a living Savior and that we’re not just trying to follow a set of rules from someone who died a long time ago. The empty tomb is an eternal link with a living individual who continues to surround us with His grace-laden guidance and provision. We have a personal connection now and into eternity. Since our Savior lives, our tomorrows are assured.  

Let the empty tomb give you confidence for living.

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Who Sings Your Praise?

In Africa, I take my adopted daughter to school in a bjaji (a three wheeled tut-tut taxi).

Most days, the drivers are either quiet or make small talk. One day, though, the driver berated Olivia for substandard Swahili. He barked at me for not teaching her the native language.

After school, I said to Olivia, “I’m sorry the driver was so mean to you.”

She looked at me as if I had two heads. Mean to her? Criticism? Accusations? She hadn’t noticed. Her mom fights her battles.

I want that assurance. To be so confident my Dad has this that criticism doesn’t stick. So confident I can drop my silly fear of man tendencies and rest in God’s truths.   

Critics don’t determine our identity. Rather, our Creator, our heavenly Father does. We must choose to allow God’s words to matter more than accusations. We should also obtain our praise from our heavenly Father rather than the hecklers around us.

In Christ, we are complete. Our identity as His child is stronger than the assumptions we often place on ourselves. Criticism loses its power when our worth comes from our Maker. We can be at peace regardless of critical remarks when we remember our heavenly Father fights our battles.

Let God be the one who sings your praise.

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Run to Win

I still remember that hot day on the track when the referee told us to get in position at the starting line.

 

With our feet securely in the blocks and our eyes locked on the path ahead, we waited to hear the loud sound that would permit us to move: “On your mark, get set, POW!” And like horses out the gate, we ran with tunnel vision, steadily moving towards the finish line. As sweat ran down my face and my legs tensed, I ran with determination to reach my goal. 

When the end seemed far away and I felt like giving up, I could hear my coach’s voice saying what he always said to me at every practice: “You can do it,” “Push through it,” “Don’t give up!” His voice reminded me I had what it took to win. Instantly, I kicked into another gear, running with precision in every step. Two hundred meters later, I obtained the prize.

As Christians, we’re also in a race, and Paul instructs us to run to win. This race isn’t won by speed or strength, but with endurance. Everyone who completes the race will receive a prize.

Staying in the race requires training. Like an athlete, we must discipline ourselves, making sure our spirit operates as it should. With consistent study of God’s Word, prayer, fasting, and worship, we train to abstain from all appearances of evil. We train so that we won’t tire out when the race gets tough. Instead, we’ll persevere as we hear the voice of our coach telling us to endure hardness as a good soldier and to fight the good fight of faith. He’ll always be with us. 

Athletes run for a prize that will fade away, but we run for the prize that is eternal in the heavens. With Jesus as our coach, we’ll obtain the prize He has waiting for us at the end. All we must do is listen to His voice. 

Run to win.

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Unexpected Gift

I phoned my friend Betty, a nurse, who lovingly cared for her dying husband, Norm.

For months, he had been confined to the bed, and she had been confined to the house. I asked her if there was anything I could do. “Can you sit with Norm while I buy Christmas gifts for my children and grandchildren? I won’t be gone long,” she asked.  

I paused, realizing I had never met Norm, I thought about the tasks I needed to complete for my own family gatherings. I did not want to refuse my friend’s small request, but offering help was easier than providing it. Yet I felt God nudging me to say yes.

In response to my long pause, she apologized, “I never should have asked you to do this. I know this is a busy time for you.”

“Oh, no,” I said, “I’m glad you did. I can come on Saturday.”

This couple didn’t know it, but they gave me an unexpected gift. It must have been difficult for Betty to ask for assistance, and it must have been difficult for Norm to accept it. Surprisingly, God switched our roles. The receivers became the real givers, and I became the recipient.

Although God loves a cheerful giver, He can patiently use a reluctant giver. I thanked God for His unexpected gifts, which were far more meaningful than the ones I had wished for. My visit, which lasted less than an hour, reminded me of the brevity of life and helped me see what’s important. I can get wrapped up in self and family, neglecting God and others.

What are you wrapped up in? Are you open to God’s redirection?

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Fear Drowns Out Trust

“Please, Mom. You’re always the backseat driver. Stop trying to control things. The driver will eventually get you there.”

The words jolted me. I sat stunned while on a trip with my daughter and her family. A sudden pang of hurt caused me to shut down as I silently stared out the window. Surely, what she’d just said wasn’t true. I wasn’t a control freak. Was I? But in an instant, I realized I was a controller. Maybe not a freak, but a controller for sure. Having plans and controlling made me less fearful.

Shame overwhelmed me. I felt instant heat cover my body. I wanted to disappear, but where would I go? After taking a few deep breaths, I thought about her words, “We’ll eventually get there.” She was telling me to trust them and let go.

In that teachable moment, I realized fear drove my lack of trust. I quickly repented. Doing so opened a doorway toward greater trust in Christ. It also helped me acknowledge my desire to control others. Fear interferes with trust. Hurtful moments can reveal our innermost struggles.

Life with God is similar. We man the wheel with such effort, trying to control our own destinies.  We trek down side streets, into dark alleys, and up one-way streets, attempting to control our situation, the direction of our lives, and the length of time is takes to get there. God asks something different—to let go, to trust Him with our lives, and to give Him ultimate rule.

If we meet God in His Word, pray daily, and let Him be in charge, He will direct our pathway, and we will always be right where He wants.

Don’t be a backseat driver with God. Let Him author your life’s journey and your storms.

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Being There

She was stressed about the Covid-19 pandemic.

I had just met Edna, but prayed with her. After the prayer, she remarked, "I have never had anyone pray for me in that way." I thought she referred to our “social distancing,” but she said, "No, I mean I have never heard someone say my name in a prayer." I was shocked, but managed to share that God knows her name and cares.

Sometimes, when we can’t attend an event with a person, we tell them we will be there in spirit. Or perhaps someone has turned down our offer but promised us their “surrogate spirit.” I can’t separate my spirit from my body and send it to an event. Nor have I ever experienced the presence of “spirit-attendees.” What I have learned is that being there for others is important.

In a dialogue between Jesus and His best friends, He asked them to watch and pray as He prayed. We don't get to hear what His friends said. Matthew may have decided their words were not worth writing down while Jesus' words seemed important enough to share. Matthew does record Jesus' frustration: “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour?”

While praying is an intimate time with our heavenly Father, there are also times when we need the presence, the community, and the sacred attendance of others. While many of us practice a daily, systematic prayer time, we should also cultivate a community prayer time. We are a community of faith.

During this time of world, national, and small-town focus on a virus, national leaders as well as local township leaders are asking for prayer. This is a time for us to hear the prayers of our leaders, as well as our own faith family.

Congregational worship—faith family worship—begins when we learn to share our hearts with one another. When we call out to our heavenly Father and our brothers and sisters in Christ hear us, we build the church. When our world and our communities hear the prayers of the church, we remind them of our one true hope. When they hear their names called out to our Creator, they are confronted with the good news amidst the storm.

Think of someone for whom you can be there.

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Hen in a Woodpile

Not again.

All that hard work, stacking the firewood in a nice neat row. and now it lay on the ground. Not looking forward to the task of restacking it, I put it off for two days. Finally, deciding it was time, I marched out into the cool September evening.

Several minutes into the task, I lifted a chock of wood to find the golden feathers of my favorite hen. Sadness rushed into my heart. She’d been caught beneath the pile. Crushed. I hadn’t even finished mourning the loss of my eight-year-old hen when I saw her body quiver. Hope leapt within me. Was she alive?

Pulling off another piece of wood, I nearly laughed when I saw her pop her head up and look around. I took her from the pile and packed her home. Other than a few ruffled feathers and a slight limp, she appeared to be okay.

Minutes after releasing her from the heavy weight of the wood that lay atop her, my little golden hen limped around the yard and sang. Her song as happy as if she had never suffered under the wood pile for two long days. I imagined she kept telling herself someone would find her. And here she was singing with her feathers standing out in every direction, hobbling across the yard.

Oh, that I were more like her. When life deals me a heavy blow and the weight of the world presses on me. When I feel like giving up. And even after the struggle is over and the storm has passed, and I cannot seem to get my song back. My joy somehow robbed during the long nights as I await rescue. I feel as though I need retribution for the pain I have suffered. But I learned a powerful lesson.

We should be more like the hen in the woodpile. Letting go of the hardships we suffer. Releasing the pain that has stacked upon us unexpectedly.

Ask God to help you find your song again … even after the harshest of storms.

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Worship in a Foreign Place

During the Coronavirus pandemic, life changed.

As we sheltered at home, our entertainment and social devices became our link to friends, churches, and the world. The internet became the conduit to a quasi fellowship of faith. We connected to one another via flat screens, microphones, and speakers.  

Online worship, the new abnormal, became our link to faith-family worship. We gathered around our screens and logged in to watch and listen. Faith families (churches) transformed into a small group of friends. Churches reached out via live streaming and offered a new version of worship that required more imagination and intent than ever before. Members and non-members tuned in to a version of worship they could pause, rewind, or watch later.

Long have we proclaimed the creed that the "church is the people, not the building," yet we kept pouring our resources into brick and mortar rather than people’s souls. The virus challenged our values and stripped bare our worship rituals.  

Stripping away the trappings of modern worship, we explored and implemented a new style of worship so narrowly God-centered that crowds, drums, and orchestras weren’t needed. As beautiful as the pipe organ is that resonates to our bones, we had to dig into the memories of our hearts and minds and awaken our souls to the opportunity of rediscovering worship.

This pandemic afforded us an opportunity similar to Israel's captivity in a strange land. The pandemic taunted us, asking, "How will you worship in these times?"

We must respond with hope and a loud united voice that God is sovereign and nothing separates us from His love. We must sing our songs of hope and praise from our windows and balconies. Our worship must echo in the halls of our hospitals. God's message of good news must emerge from the despair and helplessness we feel.

How will you sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

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Torrential Waves

My husband came home with a corned beef brisket, but without potatoes to go with it—although he had seen a car in the parking lot with a trunk full of potatoes.

Our DNA makes us rise above our circumstances. Some do that by taking all they can get. Others simply adapt. There’s no such thing as life without loss so we adjust as best we can.

Did the Coronavirus take us through a winnowing? Or did nature simply impart a brutal blow? Only God knows. The good news is God is the source of our strength, hope, and endurance. God is with us. Because His Spirit lives in us through the grace of our Savior, we are never alone.

Humans have survived the Spanish flu pandemic, polio outbreaks, smallpox, hurricanes, tsunamis, 911, and countless other crises. And we still manage to deal with pregnancy, birth, broken bones, seasonal illnesses, and natural death right in the middle of other catastrophes.

During this time of quarantine and isolation, we’ve witnessed both selfishness and goodwill. The greed of some has left others in need. Yet there has also been an outpouring of empathetic love between individuals with whom we may not have otherwise connected. To those who act selfishly, we have an opportunity to forgive and give generously to demonstrate the love and mercy of Christ.

In times of trial when we’re weak, we see the strength and goodness others bring to us. This is the power of God at work in His people. Life is a complex pattern of intertwined energies that we cannot begin to fathom. God in His heaven sees it all, and every sparkling droplet of life has its place and purpose in the vast ocean of His universe.

When torrential waves rush in, hold fast to the One who commands them. Trust Him, hope in Him, watch Him, and be amazed by Him.

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Joseph's Other Coat

Bob met with his new pastor and poured out his heart.

Bob was a Christian, fighting to remain true to his wife and his faith, but he had been tempted to have an affair with his secretary. So far, he had not yielded. His sobbing echoed loudly throughout the quiet church. What a relief it was to share the thoughts of his tormented soul with someone who understood.

The story of Joseph’s special coat, given to him by his father, is familiar. Jacob, Joseph’s father, loved Joseph more than any of his other sons. Because Joseph was his favorite, Jacob gave him the one-of-a-kind coat. Eventually, because of burning jealousy, the older brothers sold Joseph into slavery where he became a slave to Potiphar, an official for the Egyptian king.

Joseph was a handsome young man—and Potiphar’s wife noticed. She wanted to have an affair with him, but Joseph was a godly man and rejected her advances. A word picture of the seduction scene is painted when the Bible says, “And she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me,’ and he left his garment in her hand, and fled.” Joseph resisted temptation, but in the process, left his coat behind. His other coat.

Because Joseph obeyed God, he was thrown into prison and held there until, in God’s timing, he was released. Eventually, Joseph became second in command only to Pharaoh.

Temptation to do wrong isn’t sin, but yielding is. When we dwell on a temptation, that thought may become an action, leading to sin. But we have a High Priest who supplies all we need in times of temptation. Jesus understands every weakness we have because He experienced temptation in every way we do, yet without sinning.

When temptation knocks loudly at your door, remember Joseph and his other coat—the one he left behind to avoid sinning. Look to Jesus for help when you are tempted.

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An Answer to Coronavirus

Lying in a hospital’s isolation ward, forbidden to get out of bed, is hard.

I was in the hospital, donned with yellow socks that meant I was forbidden to get out of bed. To make sure, an emergency alarm that screamed if I tried to escape monitored me. That meant even the bathroom was verboten, an embarrassing situation indeed. After seeing if I was faster than my nurses, I learned they must have track shoes as they pounced on me. Of course, they came at me with full face masks that even covered their eyes, making them scarier.

After two days, my first vials of blood came back: one positive and one negative. The masks stayed on. Then, in the second bloodletting both came back negative, and I earned my grey socks, which meant I could get out of bed without being attacked. A great relief since that meant I could access the bathroom. I took little walks around my private room—still dizzy from the effects of dehydration and a septic getting into my bloodstream.

Four days later, I went home—unfortunately with pneumonia from the hospital stay. Seeing my General Practitioner the next day, I was surprised at how worried he appeared. He said a hospital pneumonia that is virulent and can only be treated in a hospital was making its rounds. He immediately gave me a steroid shot and several strong antibiotics and prayed for me. He is a devout Christian with verses on the walls of his office.

Since Coronavirus was still a possibility—and because I’m 80 and have compromised health—many of my family and friends doubled down in prayer for healing and wisdom. I asked my Lord for wisdom from His Word for an answer to our Coronavirus panic. He gave me today’s verse.

Whenever worry and panic overwhelms us, we can trust that our Father knows best and that Jesus will never leave or forsake us.

Ask God to take away your spirit of fear and replace it with a spirit of trust.

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Holy Whispers

“Well, if God is talking, there had better be a Bible in that room!”

The words were spoken in an angry, almost defiant tone. My eyes went wide as I took in the surprised faces around the table at my writers’ group.

Before I took the time to think about a response, the words tumbled out of my mouth: “I personally believe God speaks to us in many different ways—through His Word, other people, situations, books. Even movies and TV shows. But the Bible also says He speaks to us in that still, small voice.”

A couple of enthusiastic amens followed, and then we dropped the subject like a hot potato. We moved on. But the woman’s words stayed with me. How sad when we put God in such a small box that He can only speak to us through the written Word … logos. He wants us to embrace the spoken Word as well … rhema.

Jesus said His sheep hear His voice. God spoke the world into existence, and He didn’t sit back on His throne and stop talking. He desires deep, personal, intimate communion with His children.

How many times have you heard His holy whispers? Go this way, not that way. Call your daughter. Pray for your friend. Make that appointment. Don’t be afraid; I’m with you. Wait, not a wise decision. Some call it a coincidence. Others might say “something told me.” That something is a someone. A loving Father taking care of His own.

Thank God He does not leave us to fend for ourselves. He is always with us and has given us everything that relates to life and godliness, which includes the ability—and the privilege—to hear His voice. He sends His Holy Spirit to live inside us to comfort, teach, correct, and guide.

Learn to be still and quiet your mind so you can hear those holy whispers. Your Father is longing to talk to you.

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Where Wisdom Begins

“Man overboard!”

Our calls to the boat dock went unheeded. What seemed like an unthinkable situation happened before our eyes. Our friend dangled from the side of the boat, unable to pull himself onto the deck. He exhausted himself trying, but nothing could anchor his weight.  

We later learned one important safety feature was missing from that rented pontoon: the drop down ladder. Fuming mad, tired, and embarrassed, the man had read the rental agreement which prohibited swimming from the pontoon. On previous trips, he had done the same thing. With no ladder, however, he was stuck. A lawyer by profession, our friend was humiliated.

All of us have ignored Solomon’s warning and taken shortcuts in life. Some didn't turn out so well. We later felt like fools. Our friend knew the rule … but chose to ignore it. In the end, he attached himself by rope to the front of the boat, and we pulled a humbled person to shore by putting the boat in reverse.

As believers, we often look for ways to get around God's rules. We've read the Bible, sat through Sunday sermons, and worked in the nursery at church. We may have even memorized verses. Yet, if we're honest, doing things God’s way is not always convenient.

A close friend confided in me that her husband, a policeman, often cleared their teenage son of drug charges. He never had to face the consequences of breaking the law. Today, this young men struggles to be a stable role model.

A loving and caring God has put rules in place to form safe boundaries around us. He knows what lies beyond the safety of His watchful care. For our own good, He also allows us to experience the consequences of sin. Decisions based on convenience often lead to dead ends. Letting His Son die for our sins certainly wasn’t convenient for God.

The wisdom of following God's way leads to eternal life. Why not follow His rulebook and experience eternal life?

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Circumcision of the Heart

The bloodcurdling wail pierced the air.

We gave our two-year-old daughter frequent reminders not to climb onto cabinets, but she forgot and placed her little hand on a warm burner. The heat surprised her more than it caused injury. But the experience jogged her future memory more than my repeated warnings not to climb onto the range to reach upper cabinets.

Just as I reinforced safety lessons to my children, God has done the same with His laws. He made a covenant with Abraham and symbolized this covenant by having him circumcise all males in his family—a practice that continued throughout generations. The Jewish nation placed considerable emphasis on circumcision. The act not only sealed the covenant of grace and promises made to Abraham for Israel but also signified redemption through faith for Gentile believers.

Like actions toward many of God’s laws, the Israelites ignored their part of the promise. God sent prophets who cautioned His chosen people about emphasizing physical acts while neglecting the spiritual act of circumcising the spirit.

Generations after Abraham, Jeremiah warned of destruction because of the people’s waywardness. God promised punishment, even though they were physically circumcised. He would destroy their capital city, Jerusalem, and even His holy temple.

The Lord rebuked the nation of Judah because the wise boasted of wisdom, the powerful of their power, and the rich about their riches. He warned them to boast in God alone and to remember that the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love also brings justice and righteousness.

People haven’t changed. Neither has God. Many place wisdom, power, and riches before God. Like disobedient children, we seek what we want and encounter the risk of being burned. God will not accept religious works or secular success over acts of a righteous heart. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, pure thoughts and actions can replace meaningless physical acts of service for a heart that glorifies God.

Give God your circumcised spirit.

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Garbage Balloons

I huffed and pulled at my hair, muttering under my breath.

A neighbor’s kid was at it again: stealing things from my garbage. This time it was still-inflated birthday balloons I had thrown away in a cleaning frenzy. Next time, it might be old undies, personal documents, or an empty ketchup bottle.

Flustered, I stared at the little boy running excitedly with his treasured garbage balloons. He was skipping and laughing as if it was his birthday. All I could think was, “Where’s your boundaries, rapscallion?”

That violated feeling permeated my thinking. Then God reminded me He sees our value—and cares. What if Adonai wanted to care for a seven-year-old trash digger? How can God schedule a divine appointment with a child who was scouring the dump—and show the boy his worth? By meeting him in the dump with my thrown-away balloons, of course.

God meets trash diggers in dumps. He even orchestrated my cleaning day to be right before this boy’s trash-picking day. How kind. I knew I had a choice. I could stay in my boundary-broken anger—with my rights violated and oblivious to the care God was showing one of His struggling canaries—or I could allow God to give me eyes to see beyond the problem and to notice Him in this spectacular and annoying moment. The offense could lead me to hide, licking my wounds like a stray dog on the edge of our dump, or to do something.

God can help us see His eternal perspective through our frustrations. I want eyes to see God intervene in the life of a dumpster boy and a stressed out mom. I saw the boy’s face light up over his new-found treasure, and I smiled with him. I couldn’t be mad at such happiness. I don’t want to hold on to my rights and hurts, but rather to ask for eyes that see joy is lighter than bitterness.

When we see people going through our garbage, we don’t have to wring our hands and pull our hair. Instead, we can say, “My garbage was exposed. People can see my secret weaknesses. God give me eyes to see Your love and Your desire in this awkward moment. I know I am loved.”

Ask God to help you see His goodness in all the awkward moments that today brings.

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Little Bird, Little Bird

A little bird perched on the balcony railing outside my window. 

She coaxed me to stop and pay attention to her and to nature all around. She ranted for a long time. I wish I knew what she said, who she was jibber-jabbering with, and what other birds might be listening. Her chatter sounded urgent … important … but not a pleasant sound.

Suddenly, the bird stopped gabbing and preened herself under each wing. Deliberate flicks of her long beak ruffled her feathers. She shook and flapped her little wings again and again. It was quite a show. She was on stage. Then she stood still, looked around, and started singing—as if seeking a cue from a conductor.  

Her song was lyrical and colorful—but not offensive or urgent like the chattering. Was she singing to God her Creator? Was she singing to the window or to the house? She probably wasn’t singing to me. I expected an audience of her peers to gather on the balcony and perch on chair backs to listen to her sweet solo. None came. Too soon, the little bird ended her song and flew away, searching for another stage. 

I wondered what God’s lesson was for me in that visit from my little feathered friend. I’m surprised I noticed her. Nature bursts around me all day, and I don’t notice. Driving down the highway, I ask myself, “Who will ever see that leaf on that tree or those blades of grass?” 

Nature glorifies God everywhere. I don’t ignore it on purpose, but hesitate to jerk my mind off pressing, temporal things in order to celebrate eternity.

Make an effort to pay attention to God’s glory in your natural surroundings.  

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Building a Wall

One of our children’s workers at church shared an old video, “The Selfish Giant,” with the kids.

The story told about a giant who discovered the village children were sneaking into his garden and playing in the trees and on his open land. He became angry and made them leave. Then he built a wall to keep everyone off his land.

The seasons changed, and winter came. Because of the giant’s angry and selfish heart, winter lingered. He was alone, isolated, bitter, and very cold all the time. Finally, after a long winter, a tiny songbird landed on his window sill. The bird’s song stirred the giant, and he longed for more of the pleasantness.

The children began sneaking into his garden again, but now he wasn’t upset. Every tree they climbed and each place they walked made the winter go away. The giant’s heart softened. He tore down the wall and made his way into the village where he helped others instead of living selfishly behind his self-made wall.

Sometimes, we do as the giant did. We get a burr in our saddle, hide away from the world, and close ourselves up. Winter enters our hearts. We put up emotional walls and block out those who are the joy-bringers and life-givers.

But what I love about the story is the hope. One little songbird pricked the giant’s hardened heart. One invitation. One encouraging comment. One offer of friendship. One simple gesture might be the thing that helps bring the selfish giant we have created out of a winter wasteland and back into the newness of spring.

If we’re the selfish giant closed off and in a constant state of winter, we should step out of the land of winter and take a chance on God and people again. If we’re the songbird, we should sing God’s song of hope, grace, encouragement, and freedom into someone’s cold, winter window. This may be the moment their heart has been waiting for.

What walls do you need to tear down?   

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Feeling Cranky?

Sometimes, we simmer or stew over something and aren’t aware of our anger until we boil over.

I occasionally wonder why I get so angry about some things. Or why someone asks me if I got up on the wrong side of the bed. Our world is filled with electronic overstimulation, multi-tasking, and instantaneous tweets designed for an emotional response—an environment that creates many opportunities to feel cranky and lose our cool.

In my work as a pediatric physical therapist, I encourage moms with cranky and mouthy kids to turn off the screens and send their kids outside into the fresh air. Running, swinging, digging, and imaginative play are healthy and relaxing.

The believers in Colossae had plenty to be angry about: ungrateful bosses, grumpy children, and difficult relationships. Although they didn’t worry about missing a text or what someone said on social media, things were difficult. Despite the harsh conditions, Paul encouraged them to stop complaining and blaming others. His words were clear: rid yourselves of your bad mood, cranky demeanor, and filthy language.

Our bodies are made to move, and we get grumpy when they don’t. Sometimes, for a better frame of mind, we need to turn off the screens, mute the notifications, and go outside. We can walk or putter around the garden. Or just breathe deeply and ask God to reveal the reason we’re cranky. When He shows us, we should pray for His help to release that hurt or fear to Him and let it go. Before we know it, we’ll rid ourselves of our bad moods.

Do whatever it takes to rid your life of a cranky attitude.

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Remember Who You Are

The accident changed my life. I had no warning. Daily, my emotions and pain mess with my strong trust in Christ, and I become overwhelmed.  

So, I decided to take my granddaughter’s advice: chill out and watch one of her favorite movies, Lion King. She was right. I needed a release—a rest from my relentless health matters. God had a message for me. In one moving scene, Mufasa, the lion king, gave his son Simba powerful advice: “Simba, always remember who you are. You are my son …” I knew I had heard a powerful comfort in this new life-altering place. And I remembered.

We might not understand why life suddenly turns into relentless storms or tosses us into chaos, leaving uncertainty at every turn. But I have found God works all things together to help us trust Him and rest in that trust.

Through Mufasa’s words, the Holy Spirit reminded me of who I am in Christ Jesus. Christ bought me with His precious redeeming blood. I am a new creation because Jesus died for my sin and rose to eternal life so I could live with Him forever.

What an inheritance. God has given me His Spirit as a guarantee of that inheritance. He will never leave me. These health challenges and discomforts will pass away when He comes again. His promises never fail. He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion on the day Jesus returns.

Jesus can’t fail us. Even though our body fails and our lives may seem to stand still, the truth stands in every promise. By living in trust moment by moment, we can know that place of peace that passes all understanding. Peace lets us rest, knowing Jesus will supply all we need for today.

Find a promise to comfort or guide you, underline it in your Bible, and ask God to direct you to it the next time you feel overwhelmed.

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When Someone Doesn't Like Us

We know when someone doesn't like us.

Not the “doesn’t like us for a good reason” doesn’t like us, but doesn't like us for what we can’t change—like the color of our eyes. Or that we possess something they don’t have.

Since I was that vulnerable little girl on the playground, running up to other kids on the first day of school to make friends, I have taken longer than most to understand this dynamic. What would I do with that person who had an insidious vibe behind that oh-so-pleasant smile? Assuming I hadn’t done anything to cause it, except for having the eye color I did, I had to learn that God allowed it. Believing this is crucial—especially if that person is a relative, co-worker, teacher, or someone I can’t walk away from.

I eventually learned not to take it personally when someone didn’t like me—but not without a crash course from God regarding one of His great commandments. With each painful experience, God taught me a lesson about tearing down idols.

Anything we put before God is an idol—especially our relationships. And if we are born an extroverted people-person like me, then this can be a slippery slope. I am blessed to have family and friends who love me for who I am. But with my temperament, I could easily get everything I need from people.

God allowed these painful moments when someone didn’t like me to send me running back to Him—where I belonged in the first place. I had the tendency to keep God a close second. His chastisement on this spiritual issue granted me great strides in keeping this commandment, not to mention what it has done for my mental health.

God has wired us for relationships, and beautiful ones at that. But if we insist on having all our needs met by our spouses, children, or acquaintances, then we might waste the opportunity to put God first when He lets that nasty, mean person come along—even that harmless little god on the playground.

When someone doesn’t like you, let it be an opportunity for God to grow you spiritually.

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Better than Flowers

Sometimes, I envy the flower recipients.

My sister’s husband brings her flowers on her birthday and on Valentine’s Day and sometimes for no reason at all. My friend’s fiancé buys her beautiful cards for every occasion. A co-worker boasts that her boyfriend frequently surprises her with little gifts.

I’ve been filled with envy, and sometimes annoyance, that my husband doesn’t make those nice little gestures. He doesn’t even scribble a note for my birthday—but says I should go out and treat myself to something special. If we’re not too busy, we go out for dinner.

One day, I was late for work and dreading the morning ritual of scraping ice off my car’s windshield. I rushed into the biting snow of a Michigan winter and carefully made my way down the slippery driveway. Approaching my vehicle, I noticed my car windows were scraped clean. I jumped into my Chevy, grateful I didn’t have to spend another moment in the blustery wind. In that moment, I realized how often my husband demonstrats his love by doing little things for me—adding oil to my car, putting away the laundry, or starting dinner when I work late. I couldn’t count how many times he’d helped me with chores I disliked.

Some men make extravagant gestures and others do little practical things to show their love. I’d taken for granted all the helpful things my husband does for me. Clearing the snow from my car is better than a bouquet of flowers.

I sometimes take for granted the thousands of gifts God gives me. He provides the fragrance of lilacs in spring, the crunch of leaves underfoot in the fall, and the beauty of fresh snow on the windshield in winter. God gives me family and friends. And although I don’t deserve it, He gave me the gift of His perfect love before I was born.

Remember to thank God not only for the big things but also for the little things He gives you. 

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When We Need God to Forgive…Again

When I’m feeling less than secure in my relationship with my heavenly Father, I picture Him drumming His fingers while I’m praying, wishing I’d hurry up.

In those insecure seasons, I wish I could believe God actually leans in and compassionately listens to every word—especially when I’m seeking His help to overcome a sin or bad habit that has ensnared me.

Although David wrote about physical deliverance from the murderous King Saul, God also stands ready to deliver us from our sin. We can read this verse and picture God actively rescuing us from our ensnarement—that habit we can’t seem to escape.

We all have sins that harass us. We think we have them conquered, only to discover they creep back into our life. At first, only now and then, but later, more often. After a while, we can’t help but wonder if we’re wasting God’s time with our constant “Sorrys” and “I’ll never do it agains.” We’re ashamed of acting disrespectfully to our husbands. Or regret all the nights we lose sleep by watching too much TV—especially those programs we think Jesus would avoid.

We’re desperate to make the New Year a better one, but after praying about our issue ad nauseam, we find it hard to voice a new prayer that will get God’s attention.

Despite our insecurity, we need to approach God and repent. Again. A good prayer is, “Father, I’m drowning in my sin. Hold me. Reach into my thoughts, my will, and my heart and draw out the hate (or whatever sin we’re struggling with) that’s destroying me.”

God commands us to be holy, but He isn’t shouting “Stop sinning! Be holy!” When we repent, He listens to our every word, reaches into our lives—into our messes—and pulls us out of the many waters. As often and as compassionately as we need Him to.

When you mess up, go to God. He’s always there to listen.

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Your Signet Ring

After I became a Christian in 1973, I sensed God had something for me to do.

As I prayed about my calling, the word signet came to mind on numerous occasions. I had no idea what God was saying to me. I looked for the word in the Bible and found God used it to confirm a person’s calling. This piqued my interest and reinforced that God was leading me into ministry. Not long afterward, I joined Youth with a Mission and worked as a missionary for seventeen years.

God called Zerubbabel to a task, and he became like a signet ring on God’s finger. A signet ring represented authority and was used by a king to sign documents or give authenticity to proclamations and edicts. Jesus is the one great signet ring on the Father’s hand. All authority has been given to Him in heaven and on earth.

When God calls us and we obey, we become like a signet ring on the hand of Christ. Christ’s authority rested on submitting His will to the Father’s. Our authorization rests on the subjection of our will to that of Christ’s. Christ wears our ring to accomplish His will, not ours.

Jesus sealed His authority when He chose the Father’s will rather than His own on the cross. In the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Christ confirmed His standing through one momentous event on Mt. Calvary.

Our stance emanates from a series of events where our will becomes progressively subservient to God’s. Our signet ring on the hand of the Father has great authority when our heart’s desire is like that of Jesus in the garden: not my will but Yours.

If God has called you to a task, God has authorized you to act and speak on His behalf.

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His Only Son

With slow steps and emotional pain in his heart, Chaplain Scott, along with the commanding officer, approached the front door of the house.

The chaplain prayed a silent prayer for the right words of comfort as he entered the home. The men introduced themselves to the parents and compassionately informed them their son had been killed in battle. The father fell to his knees in anguish, grabbed Chaplain Scott’s hand, and wailed, “He was my only son!”

The young soldier had been a Christian and spoken openly of his faith. On the night before his death, he had told his fellow soldiers about his trust in Jesus Christ. He was aware of the possibility of meeting death on the battlefield, but he was prepared to die if necessary.

God knows the heartache the father experienced. His only Son was also killed. Jesus Christ was aware as He walked toward Jerusalem that each step took Him closer to death—yet He walked steadfastly onward. “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51). He had come to earth to fulfill His Father’s plan, and He would see it to its completion.

The young man died to preserve his country’s freedom. Jesus Christ died to give the freedom of salvation to all who choose to accept Him as Lord and Savior. God gives each individual free will to make a decision concerning salvation. He longs for us to accept the eternal life His Son died to give, but He does not force His will upon us.

What decision have you made about God’s only Son?

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Jeweled Chicken Sandals

“Mom, I fed the chickens. Here’s your sandals back,” my daughter said.

“Back?” I tried to hide my dismay. “Did you wear the jeweled ones?” The odor rising from the pleather revealed the answer.

“I just borrowed them real quick.”

I glanced at my sandals. As pretty as they were, they now had a designated purpose. I’d use them to fetch eggs or care for my hens. My jeweled sandals were now the purtiest chicken sandals I’d ever owned. They stank. Bad. I dropped the sandals outside and blew my nose.

As unusual as it may seem, I knew my daughter’s quick grab happened for a purpose. It reminded me I am called to holiness. Peter wrote, “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).

This verse reminds me that in the spiritual realm I am called to keep out of the chicken coop. But there’s more. When I see someone trapped in the coop—regardless of their spiritual condition—I need to extend God’s love. When I think of how often I’ve gotten trapped inside the coop—and proceeded to walk wherever I willed until someone extended a hand of mercy to me—I find it easier to extend a helping hand.

The Bible is infallible. Every answer is in the Book, but I am called to have more than head-knowledge. As I cultivate a relationship with Jesus, I become like Him, and He tucks the gift of love inside me. I’ll never arrive this side of heaven, but I know every moment I spend with my Jesus is cleansing.

Every time I wear my jeweled chicken sandals, I am reminded to stay out of the coop, rescue friends in the coop, and stay in love with Jesus.

Ask God to help you live a life that is holy in His sight.

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Joyful Giving

My sister, Dorthy Qualls, gave many years of service in foreign countries in mission work.

Dot once spoke of her visit to West Africa and told how the people there gave freely and with joy even though their contributions were often small.

The act of worship through giving during church services was a beautiful event. The first pew of people on the left led out and around to the back of the congregation and down the center isle to the front, dropping their offering in the basket. Each row followed. They danced, sang, and clapped as they went. The people of Ghana, West Africa, have little to give, but during the churches’ offering time, they believe it is a time to give their praises to the Lord and whatever else they can. Often with no instruments, their clapping is synchronized and beautiful to hear and watch. The ladies’ attire of all the rich colors of the rainbow, with Gele (ge-la) head pieces to match, made the offering time a beautiful and worshipful dance before the Lord.

Young Joash, king of Judah, decided to restore the temple of the Lord. He called the priests and Levites together and instructed them to collect a prescribed tax from the people for the temple repair and restoration. We don’t know if they marched and sang, but they gave gladly to the Lord’s work. No doubt, many longed to see their temple restored and returned to its former glory.

Someone asked me about a television ministry that claimed people who gave large amounts to them would get out of debt. She said, “Larry and I want to get out of debt. Maybe we should give to them. What do you think?”

I sent up a silent prayer and then replied, “If I gave with the thought in mind that I would benefit somehow, what would be my motive for giving?”

She thought for a few seconds, and then her eyes lit up, “I knew it didn’t feel quite right, but now I see. My motive would be…give to get.”

Our gift to the Lord’s work is a gift. Give yours freely and with joy.

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Jesus Is Ubiquitous

God used a single word to help me hear Him and know Him more intimately.

As I threw a quick breakfast together, I thought of a strange word: ubiquitous. I could barely pronounce it. But as I sat down to my oatmeal, I thought of the strange word again. I had never used the word, and had maybe heard it only a few times in my life.  

Leaving my oatmeal, I headed to my computer to Google the definition. Between the kitchen and my office, I forgot the word. I asked Jesus for help. For the third time, the Holy Spirit spoke the word clearly enough that even my ADHD brain retained it. I got cold chills as I read its definition: omnipresent, always with you.

Closing my eyes, I waited for the Spirit. I already knew Jesus was omnipresent, but He wanted me to really know. That night I would receive seemingly hopeless news from family.

Moses also wanted Joshua to know God would be with him as he led the Israelites into the Promised Land. The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

God sent His strength ahead of the news. Jesus knew I would share my experience with the women at my Bible study—women He wanted to encourage with this truth. This same Scripture reminds me that Jesus is fully faithful in my family’s situation and also to me. 

God is always with us no matter what we are doing—or even when we feel alone. Don’t be discouraged or afraid. Talk to Him, share your heart, and listen as you read the Bible. He will give you His comfort and His wisdom.

God’s wisdom and presence are always available. Ask Him to give you ears to hear and sensitivity to feel it.

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Be Still

I doubt I’m alone in occasionally feeling like a mouse on a wheel, running as fast as I can but getting nowhere.

Some nights I fall into bed exhausted with my mind still spinning. How will I get everything done? When will I find time to do it all? When futility peaks, I often realize what’s missing: time alone with God. So I draw away from everything. I slow down and listen to the quiet with God in its midst as He instructs us to do through the psalmist.

As I close my eyes, the tension slowly drains. Shoulders fall, breathing slows, and muscles relax. I lose sight of the stacks of work that cry for my attention. I no longer hear the phone’s rings and pings. The whirling world of obligations fades as I welcome God’s peace.

And I wonder why I keep forgetting to place God first. Why do I become so intent on my plans and my purposes that I fail to give God control? When will I learn to listen, whether through God’s written Word or the Holy Spirit’s gentle whisper?

The following poem came from one such experience.

No e-mail, no IM, no games.
No texting, no TV, no tweets.
No talk, no travel, no phone.
No sports, no music, no books.
No visits, no shopping, no plans.
Just stillness
and quiet
and calm.
Now I hear you, God.

Rather than asking where it all ends, why not ask where it all begins. Close your eyes and mind to the world around you. Allow God to transport you into sacred realms prepared especially for you.

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Where's Nemo?

“We should name him Nemo,” I teased as we lowered our goldfish into the backyard pond. But then, there were those two cute dots on his tail.

“How about Duce?” my husband suggested.

“Perhaps Dos?” I countered.

We decided his name would be Ducy-Dos. We were happy and so was our goldfish, but that changed the day of the accident. As we cleaned the pond, Ducy-Dos tumbled into the pump housing. For weeks, I kept the pump lid off. I placed a net pond-side so I could take decisive action. After three months, I repositioned the lid.

“Don’t give up so fast,” my husband encouraged.

“He's not coming out of there,” I said.

“But we prayed ...”

My husband's words echoed in me like a soft hammer. Why hadn’t I sighted our fish the first day we prayed? Besides, I should’ve been more careful positioning the pump lid.

Then, a lightning storm and subsequent power failure occurred. When the pumps switched off, I raced to the edge of the pond to make sure they would start correctly when electricity was restored.  Listening to the thunder, I thought about Ducy-Dos. My husband’s words echoed in my heart, along with the Scripture that nothing—absolutely nothing—is impossible for a holy God.

Peter’s words echo the same sentiment. I should be able to shew forth the praises of him who hath called … [me] … out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9).

Ducy-Dos, if alive, was in the dark. Wasn’t I as well? I surrendered Ducy-Dos to God and trusted Him to give or to take him at His will. I was at peace even as the rain pelted me, drenching my clothing to my skin. Amazingly, when the pumps re-started, a gulp of water, air, and algae spouted skyward. Ducy-Dos landed splat into my hands, and, by reflex, I grasped onto him tightly.

“Ducy-Dos!” I cried, examining him as if he were a newborn babe. After this, we renamed our goldfish Nemo and thanked God for this unusual answer to prayer.

Never give up on something you've prayed about. God often surprises us by answering our unusual prayers.

Surrender your needs to God. Then, praise Him, even when you're experiencing the storms of life.

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What if I’m Assigned Her Feet?

I was shocked by the meeting’s “ice breaker.”

I walked into our monthly ministry meeting and was asked to have a seat in a row of chairs with two other ladies. Then the foot washing began. A slight panic filled me as I wondered whose feet I would wash. Would it be hers?

I never felt I fit in with the entire group, and no one could deny there was friction between me and her. I looked around, willing to wash so many feet, but not hers. Not long before, she had hurled hurtful, mean words at me. I could still feel the pain. As my feet were washed, God challenged my heart.

With the cross in sight, Jesus humbly served His disciples by kneeling before them and washing their feet. Then He gave them instructions to do the same. His love went past all pain. His love was stronger than the upcoming betrayal or the hurtful words that would be launched at Him as He made His way to the cross.

I had an opportunity to humbly serve another in the ministry, but my damaged heart kept me from fully serving. I was putting stipulations on whom I served. I needed God’s love to fill me, not the pain the person’s words had brought.

Imagine washing the feet of a person who has caused you pain. I had to realize my heart wasn’t the proper place for this pain. It was my responsibility to take this pain to the cross. Whether we are the ones who initiate the hurt or the ones who hold the hurt, that pain belongs at the cross. If it wasn’t for Jesus going to the cross as a humble servant, we would have no place to put our pain.

Surrender any pain you hold, so you can freely and humbly serve.

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The Invitation

“Uncle Martin, would you marry me?”

I knew I was my niece’s second choice, but her first choice was unavailable. My Dad—and her Papa Buddy—had died eleven years prior.

“Of course, I will.”

I didn’t mind being second choice in this case. I was glad she thought enough of her old uncle to ask him. But when my wife and I received the invitation and learned where she and her fiancé planned to marry, our eyes lit up.

That they didn’t plan to marry in a church didn’t surprise me. Not that they had anything against church. The marriage trend just happened to be toward barns and other outdoor settings. Theirs would be held in a ritzy retirement town in the mountains of North Carolina.

And the event would not merely be a one-day affair. The rehearsal would consume one half of a day, the wedding an entire day, and brunch one half of the next day before the new couple took off on their honeymoon. I’ve attended a number of weddings but never such a fancy affair as this. I only hoped I could measure up to the expectations of the gala affair.

Sure enough, the days of the grand event arrived, I passed muster, and everyone had a grand ole time.

As fancy as my niece’s invitation was, God’s outshines it. Jesus compares it to a man who held a great wedding feast, but when his servants scattered about to tell the guests the feast was ready, the guests all made excuses for not coming. So, he sent his servants to get anyone who wanted to come.

God calls the wedding banquet He wants us to attend salvation—choosing to follow Jesus as our Savior. We don’t have to attend, just as I didn’t have to marry my niece and her fiancé. I could have concocted some excuse, but I would have missed out on a majestic occasion—but one that wouldn’t even begin to compare to heaven.

Accepting God’s invitation puts us in good graces with God and prepares us for a life and an eternity such as we could never imagine. An affair extravaganza. An abundant life. Life as it should be. Life as He created us to live. All God requires is that we accept His invitation.

Don’t discard God’s invitation. The feast is one you won’t want to miss.

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Kicked for No Reason

My older brother ran down the stairs, tears streaming from his eyes.

A few seconds later, I descended the stairs, trying to catch him on my three-year-old legs. When my brother and I arrived in the living room, our mom was startled and concerned. She asked my brother what was wrong and why he was crying. My brother mustered an answer through his tears, "Grant hit me for no reason."

Before my mom had a chance to respond, I exclaimed with agitation, "That’s not true! He’s lying! I didn't hit him for no reason. I kicked him for no reason."

When I reflect on that story, I chuckle. But I also feel terrible about the way I treated my brother. He didn't deserve the treatment I gave him.

Jesus highlighted His followers’ tendency to twist God’s Word to justify seeking revenge. Many of Jesus’ followers thought if they were mistreated they should mistreat in return. But Jesus commissioned them to respond in a counter-cultural way … to go above and beyond the expectation. Jesus says if someone steals our shirt or coat, we shouldn’t retaliate. Instead, we should offer them another article of clothing just to break the expectation.

Sometimes we're treated in ways we don't deserve. A friend abandons us, a coworker gossips about us, a family member manipulates us, or a boss undervalues us. Our tendency is to retaliate and to get even with those who mistreat us. Jesus wants us to respond differently … to love without holding anything back.  

When you’re treated in ways you don't deserve, respond with love, not revenge.

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He Loves Me

I have a confession: I like to fix things.

If something’s broken, I’ll tinker with it until I mend it or realize I can’t. But I don’t just want to repair broken objects. I want to take control of my life and fix what I see as flaws. And I am not good at waiting, as someone once pointed out to me. I’m afraid I’m the girl who prays, “God, can you help me, and, by the way, can You do it now?”

God doesn’t work that way, as the psalmist relates. God's timing is seldom the same as what I perceive as the best.

When I attempt to take control, anxiety, selfishness, lack of trust, and a number of other sins creep in and scream at me. They say, You know best. Why wait on God? Just do it. Wrong! God knows my heart, sees my circumstances, and wants the best for me. So why do I doubt and try to hurry through life? Because I choose not to trust the One who made me. Sad but true.

The One who set my life in motion knows the plan for my life. I need to slow down, pray, listen and, yes, wait. God will reveal my future, step by step. That's one of the many things I appreciate about Him. He loves me enough to make plans for me.

Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you as you seek to follow Jesus. Listen for God's voice.

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Spiritual Vision

In less than three years, I went from perfect vision in both eyes to legal blindness.

The thoughts of permanently losing all vision, which seemed inevitable, frightened me. In time, I regained acceptable vision in one eye. But for decades following, I experienced roller-coaster feelings from hope to despair. The uncertainty and frustration devastated and sometimes paralyzed me.

Eyesight isn’t the only vision we can lose. Those feelings of despair also plagued me when church leaders unexpectedly announced discontinuing the outreach programs. Why would they do that? The answer was simple but sad. As a body of believers, we had failed to share the good news of Jesus Christ to those around us. Our vision had become blurred. No longer did we feel a sense of challenge or concern for friends and neighbors.

Jesus described the church at Laodicea, a thriving city of great wealth, as neither hot nor cold. They thought they had everything they needed, but God declared them poor and blind. He urged them to turn from their indifference.

Like those believers, our church body had become self-satisfied, concentrating only on its own needs. The fields were ripe for harvest while we remained blinded and lukewarm toward serving, ministering, and witnessing to those outside our congregation. Because of our inaction, many within our community never heard or learned about eternal life.

Decisions and behaviors identify us as Christians. Unfortunately, in my decades of life, I have met unbelievers who looked and acted more like Jesus’ followers than my fellow believers—or, at times, even me. Just as I had lost my physical sight, we can lose spiritual vision—the ability to see God’s divine purpose for us to go into all the world and share His love and plan of salvation.

Losing one’s eyesight is a terrible thing, but how much worse for Christians to lose spiritual sight.

If you are living a lukewarm life, ask God to empower you as a faithful witness and as a server for the physical and spiritual needs of others.

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Read the Bible

In the Midwest, springtime can be brutal.

One day, hats, coats, and boots are needed. The next, shorts, t-shirts, and flip flops. The wacky weather patterns last for several weeks and can be frustrating.

Meteorologists are in charge of helping us navigate this torturous path. Seven days a week, they spend hours using their knowledge and technology to determine the forecast. Each day, they broadcast their findings. And those who watch or listen leave their homes fully prepared to face what the day may bring.

But in the United States, only around thirty percent of the population watches, reads, or listens to the weather. That leaves a large number who leave their homes ill-prepared for the day’s weather events.

Unfortunately, just as many Christians daily leave their homes without the knowledge and wisdom they need to get through the day. According to a 2009 Barna study, only one-third of adults read their Bible one or more times a week. Just like their non-weather-watching peers, they live unprepared for the challenges they may face.

Without seeking guidance from God’s Word daily, we are left uncovered—like being in a rainstorm with no umbrella. No Scripture to meditate on to walk us through the harshest storms. No words to convey our thankfulness when life is more than we can express.

The Bible is more than a book of words and stories. God gave it as a guide to help us navigate the terrains of life. The Scriptures provide insights which prepare us for any season of life. Why not take some time every day to read your Bible? Doing so will equip you for what lies ahead.

Make a plan to incorporate daily Bible reading into your schedule.

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Divine Regard for the Needy

Schooling with inadequate funds comes with its own peculiar challenges.

Years ago, I was a poor student on campus, and life was not friendly to me then. My pocket money for the month was less than fifty dollars. Out of this little amount, I paid my tithe as a student. During vacation, I engaged in odd jobs for extra finances. As a result of my faithfulness in tithing to God, He saw me through my academics with good results and without experiencing carry over. Each time people gave me money, I valued it, and I have not forgotten what they did for me.

The Word of God says we should show affection to the poor who are always in need and who dwell in our midst.

Anyone who gives to the poor will never go unrewarded. Helping the poor is a worthy cause, and it comes with blessings from above. It is a sacrifice God is well pleased with at all times and a project that can save a soul.

God Almighty is a compassionate God who loves the needy and has positioned different helpers to attend them. Anyone who laughs at the needy laughs at God. God does not want us to close our ears to the cries of the needy. He wants us to help them by seeing them as vulnerable. God cares for everyone, and He does not discriminate. He wants us to do the same.

When we turn down the requests of the needy, or see them as a burden, we need to repent and make our Creator happy by assisting them. The cry of the needy ascends to God faster than the cry of the comfortable.

Do something for a needy person today.

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Where the Spirit of the Lord Is

My husband and I walked our dogs by Grant Lake on the night of the blue moon.

As I followed Olive along the bank, Tim asked me something, but I couldn’t hear him. He pointed at the lake. When I turned toward the inlet, I saw a great blue heron resting and occasionally dipping his head into the water for a drink or for minnows. I watched, fascinated by this ominous bird. As darkness covered day, he blended in with the shadows.

Tim motioned me to where he stood. The moonlight cut in just enough so that the bird remained in view. As we watched, the great bird spread its wings, lifted off, and flew across the lake. The wingspan looked enormous as he drifted over the lake with power and grace.

Like a great blue heron, the Holy Spirit hovered over the water as God created the earth. He accompanied God, just as Jesus did from the beginning.

What a blessing to know God remains close to His people. He moves over the earth in Spirit and dwells in us. The Spirit lives with me every day. He nudges me into service, gives me direction, comforts me when I am down, and rejoices with me when I am blessed.

No matter what the day may bring, the Holy Spirit guides believers. He comforts, leads, and encourages.

Spend time reading the Bible to better understand the Spirit in your life. Pray and ask God to help you recognize the Spirit's voice and nudges.

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Time to Let Go

My wife and I needed a better approach.

With the kids out of the house, we took the plunge and moved to a smaller place. Our move became a real challenge. How are we going to make all the things fit in our new tiny home? I wondered. What should we keep and what should we toss or donate?

I struggled with these questions as I sifted through our stuff. I labeled items “keep” when I no longer needed them. And others items I labeled “toss,” when in fact I needed them. I did not have a clue.

With prayer and some research, I settled on a strategy. I tossed out everything I would never use again, donated items others could use, and kept items needed at the new place—including sentimental items we would enjoy for years to come. 

As Christians, we. too, need a spiritual strategy to toss out the things that push us away from God and to keep the things that pull us toward Him. I put together a spiritual inventory of what I treasured and discovered possessions, people, and activities that affected my life in Christ.

An over-packed schedule, coupled with an exorbitant hunger for the frills of this world, weakens our bond with the One who came to save us. God wants us to avoid the earthly clutter that obstructs our pathway to Him. He celebrates every sacrifice we make to release the things in our lives for His sake. God does not want us lured away by the glitter of city lights and the potpourri of neon signs—the things the world uses to distract us. Christ Jesus is the only true Light we should seek.

Take a spiritual inventory and eliminate anything that obstructs a deeper relationship with Christ.

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Spontaneity

Spontaneous worship and feasting together led to boisterous fellowship.

While on a ministry trip to Cambodia, I was invited to teach an English class on reading and writing to students whose first language was Khmer. Fifteen students met with me every evening for an hour, and this night was the graduation of their first-year studies.

As each student arrived by motorbike, on foot, or by open taxis called Put-Puts, cheers of greetings erupted from those already in the room. As they waited for others to arrive, one student composed a psalm on a scrap of paper. As others read the words, they broke out into an unrestrained song of praise. 

That evening, two students who were unsure of their place in the kingdom accepted Jesus as their Saviour.

Loving Jesus and one another comes from a surrendered and repentant heart which leads others into the kingdom of God.

If you doubt your position with Jesus, take a step of faith and say yes to His offer of salvation today.

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Bah Humbug or Joy to the World

Linda’s stomach churned as she braced for another Christmas family visit.

Mounting anxiety showed in her white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel during the three-hour drive to her parents’ home. She felt obligated to go, but was always ready to leave when she got there.

Yet something was different this time. She didn’t feel anxious. By the end of the day, she enjoyed the aunts, uncles, and cousins. She was even the last one to leave.

Traditionally, Christmas is a family gathering time. We either look forward to it or dread it. The atmosphere we carry determines whether we become paralyzed or joyful. Dreaded family gatherings often exist because of judgment and unforgiveness, but we can rid ourselves of the dread.

We must identify who or what is bugging us. When we forgive someone, it does not mean they were right or that we approve of their behavior. Nor does it mean we must subject ourselves to their hurt again. It means we are willing to let go of the past offense. Forgive Uncle Joe for getting drunk at the last party. Forgive Aunt Bessie for complaining about the food. Forgive the brother who arrived late. If we don’t forgive, we re-live the past offenses and add them to our list of misery.

If we muse about the upcoming event—seeing relatives as stupid jerks or insensitive slaves—we are holding judgment. With judgment over our eyes, we will never see their redeeming value. We contribute to the family chaos and find ourselves equally judged.

God wants us to repent for judging others. Repent of character assassination, either spoken or murmured. Repent of holding hidden unforgiveness. When we do this, we free ourselves to discover new relationships with our family.

For Linda, instead of remembering the things she didn’t like about the family gathering, she prepared by forgiving family members of their offenses against her and repented of her judgements against them. She discovered a new joy of being with family.

God’s plan has always been for the family unit to represent Him. The church is called a family. If we are to represent Jesus in and through our family, we need to forgive them and repent of our own sin against them.

This Christmas, step into a time of celebration through forgiveness.

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Strangers

Within five minutes, a stranger had told me he was seventy-three years old, had cataracts, had lived with type-2 diabetes, and had an upcoming urologist appointment.

This gentleman and I were in an office reception area, waiting to be called for our respective meetings. Although surprised by his transparency, I listened attentively and wished him well.

As I walked through the lobby after my meeting, a teenage girl and her mother approached me. “Do you know the address of this building?” the girl asked in halting English. Apparently, someone had dropped them off for an appointment. Now they were trying to schedule a ridesharing service to pick them up. I told them the address, and they booked their ride.

Later that day, I thought about how much time we spend interacting with strangers. The cashier at the supermarket. Commuters on the train. Joggers in the park. Most of the time, we look past these encounters without a second thought.

Some say we should always be kind because everyone we meet is fighting a battle. What would happen if we offered a quick greeting, made eye contact, and smiled warmly at the strangers we meet? How might that lift a person’s spirit?

Under the Old Covenant, God said, “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 19:34 ESV). How much more should we who are under the New Covenant reach out to strangers and foreigners.

The childhood warning not to talk with strangers has made many fearful of people they don’t know. But Jesus talks about the power of being kind to strangers—and its significance goes far beyond mere benevolence. Jesus says when we feed the hungry, clothe the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned, and show hospitality to strangers, we serve Him and are greatly blessed.

See how many strangers you can engage. A simple smile can make a world of difference to someone who is lonely or hurting.

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Containers of Living Water

He was a “most-likely-to-succeed” type of high school kid—handsome, popular, and a great student.

He was everything I wasn’t (at least according to me). He didn’t have to befriend me. But he did. And in so doing, he became a living example to me of Jesus—at a time when I knew next-to-nothing about Him.

My friend was a carrier of living water. Today I carry that same living water, since I now follow the same Jesus whom he served. I have the same joy, the same peace, and the same sense of purpose he had. Just thinking about it makes me want to pinch myself.

But that’s not all. As followers of the humble Nazarene, we not only carry His living water, but we also carry Him. We take Him with us wherever we go, and the more we’re in communion with Him, the more we splash Him onto the people around us.

I’ll never forget the encounter I had with a manager at work. A gruff but gregarious guy, I saw him limping one day and offered to pray for him. A few days later, he said to me, “Hey Flamberg. I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, but my leg is healed.” 

A few months later, he passed away. I couldn’t help but wonder why since I had prayed for his healing. Then I thought of how my simple act of faith may have paved the way for him to receive Jesus just in the nick of time.

God’s promise to pour out His Spirit in the latter days was not meant only for the “religiously elite.” Rather, it was meant for everyone who surrenders to Him. Joel couldn’t be clearer. God will pour out His Spirit on young and old, male and female, and even all people.

And not only do we get the Spirit poured out onto us, but we also get Him poured into us. We become containers of the living water that is God’s Spirit. We are His anointed ones, sealed with His authority. We become His living tabernacle. That sure beats just being “most likely to succeed.” Even to this day, my friend would heartily agree.

Are you letting God’s Spirit flow through you to others?

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Be Thankful ANYWAY

There are days like today. Days when the monsters of the world step onto my heart and smash it like a bug on the concrete. Days when I am not sure I can stand on weak legs. Yet my heart says to be thankful.

Being thankful in the midst of tragedy, illness, or loss is hard. And tell me this. How exactly are we supposed to wave our arms in the air, in the midst of suffering, and shout Hallelujah?My heart screams in agony as illness grabs those I love. How in heaven’s name do I say, I am thankful?

When the doctor pinned the cancer label on my husband … and then on my best friend … saying thank you was the farthest thing from my mind.

When I cried with another friend over her son’s choices, my heart ached. It tore. We’d once suffered the bad choices of our son. I saw no thankfulness in the pain of watching my child step into the abyss without a rope. Be thankful?

Paul was bent on making the Colossians understand what it meant to walk the higher ground. Set your hearts on things above. Give up those earthly desires. Christ is all in all. He wanted the people to be better and to know greater things existed.

When Paul’s words fell upon the most important challenge—let the peace of Christ rule in your heart…be thankful—he understood what it meant to be thankful. Even as he struggled. He completely got the joy and peace offered through thankfulness. Paul knew, because he lived it. And he was thankful for every moment of every day—good or bad, easy or hard. Through that thankfulness, he received peace. The same peace we can have.

Today is hard. I’m NOT angry at God either. I’m grateful. Thankful. Believe it or not, I’m at peace in the storm. I’m not sure how. Even when I have a moment of weakness, I have peace.

Give Thanksgiving meaning this year. Don’t claim flimsy words of gratitude, but look into your heart and share your thankfulness for the truth in your faith. Hold to the promises of God.

Rejoice in every situation, and know that God holds you firmly in his palm. Be truly thankful.

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The Harvest Is Ready

A group of friends deliberated about how God was going to judge.

Their conversation concerned people who hadn’t heard the gospel. The friends offered different theories and Bible verses to back their claims. But I figured we don’t have the right to ask God that question when we have not bothered to share the gospel. If we are so bothered about God’s judgment, we should tell people about the truth that will set them free.

Jesus left us not only a harvest but also laborers who would work to bring people into the barn.

We have been commissioned to bring in the harvest, which will be lost forever or destroyed if we don’t gather them. The harvest is all around us and ready for reaping. Our disobedience could cost someone their soul.

If we believe in the gospel and the glorious end we are going to have, then we should eagerly tell people about God. God has left us with a harvest. We have the Holy Spirit who empowers us to be witnesses. With His power, we are capable of doing what the Lord requires.

What are you doing about the harvest?

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Remembering God's Words

My mornings are often synonymous with exaggerated emotions.

Sometimes when I wake up, I am hit with thoughts full of worry, fear, anger, and negativity. One morning, I woke up with exaggerated feelings of hopelessness. Disappointment. Feeling as if I'd let down God Himself.

I responded by speaking aloud the truth of who God is. “You are my Redeemer. You are the lover of my soul. You are my healer. You are my peace.”

The women who visited Jesus’ tomb on the first day of the week also felt hopeless. Several days before, they had watched their Lord brutally crucified. But then an angel told them Jesus had risen. Immediately, they remembered Jesus’ words—just as I did on the morning when I felt hopeless.

Why don’t I run into Jesus’ arms more often?  Why do I often choose to deaden my pain by running to the fleeting comfort of this world rather than to God’s eternal Word?  

We all have a part of us that wars with God and is drawn toward whatever our emotions crave: comfort food, entertainment, the twenty-four-hour news cycle.

But when we choose to remember God’s Word … when we run to Him rather than to whatever our flesh desires … we find what our soul craves. Our thoughts line up with eternal reality, and we can douse the fire that rages within us. We can rest in the comfort of God’s presence.

Remember God’s words when your emotions rage, and watch them fall back in line and in love with Him.

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Not for the Praise of Others

On two occasions in one day, God allowed me to use the gifts He has given me.

In the afternoon, I had a phone interview for a Christian radio program. I appreciated telling how God had worked in my life during a crisis—taking a tragedy and working through it to produce good.

That evening, I gave devotions for a mother/daughter meeting. I used an article I had written about my mother and how she had held her faith despite having an illness which affected her memory.

I felt elated about using my gifts and wanted to share the good feelings with my husband. He, however, had worked a twelve-hour shift and was tired. His interest was more in a good night’s rest than in the happy events of my day. Seemingly, he had forgotten about my long-awaited interview.

As I lay in bed, listening to his sleep sounds, I felt sorry for myself. How nice it would be, I thought to myself, to have someone really interested in my writing and speaking. And the “poor me’s” came.

Then, in the form of words from a hymn, God’s Spirit reminded me why He gave me gifts. God’s favor is most important, and He always blesses the good we do.

The next evening when my husband returned from work, one of the first questions he asked was “How was the interview?” and “What questions were asked?” He did care, after all. Perhaps I just needed to surrender my need for praise and recognition.

Shamefully, I acknowledge that God gives His gifts for us to do His work. The praise belongs to Him, not me. Knowing He cares about the things I do enough to bless them should be all the praise I need. My part is doing my best.

Use your gifts and abilities for God’s glory, not your own. 

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Maybe It's Because They Don't Know You

He didn’t expect the response he received.

A rather snobbish minister attempted to educate a roomful of teens on the virtues of living a consistent Christian life. “Many members of the church tell me what a great example of walking with the Lord I am,” he said. A teen raised his hand in response and stated, “Maybe it’s because they don’t know you.” 

The book of Micah condemns two major problems within the church: social injustice and religious hypocrisy. But God also gives the remedy.

Three requirements are necessary for living a life that pleases the Lord. First, we should act “justly.” This does not mean merely talking about justice but actively living a just life in relation to others. Second, we should “love mercy.” The term mercy comes from the Hebrew word, hesed, which means a faithful covenant love. A love that is predictable toward others and does not change based upon circumstances. Finally, we should “walk humbly” with our God. To walk means to live life in a deliberate way … to be careful.

God wants us to carefully live the life He prescribes for us in his Word, which involves examining our lives through the lens of Scripture. We will live justly toward others, love others mercifully, and walk carefully. Don’t be like the pompous minster who thought others saw him as excelling in the Christian life. Let what others see be who you really are.

Ask God to help you act justly in your relationships with others, love others mercifully as God loves you, and live life carefully.

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Washing Away the Shame

I had been shamed by someone very important to me, and I felt deeply hurt.

I asked my friend to pray for me. She opened her prayer by thanking Jesus for His presence with us. Then she thanked Him for me. But her words faded. In my mind, I saw a big glob of dirt resting on my arm and staying there. It seemed to say, “You are dirty and shameful. That is how you deserve to be treated.”

When my friend asked Jesus what He wanted to say to me, a new picture popped into my mind. My brother and I practically lived outside in our backyard when we were little. Mom never fussed at us for being too dirty. At the end of each day, she poured dish soap into our kiddie pool, and we played in the bubbles, never realizing we were taking our baths. Then she hosed us off, wrapped us in towels, and took us inside to get ready for bed.

Jesus spoke to my heart. “Your mom knew the difference between her kids and dirt. I know the difference between my kids and shame. This shame is not you. I can wash it off, just as your mom washed the dirt from you.”

In my heart, I felt the difference between shame and me. The glob of dirt was gone. Jesus held me in His arms. I was clean and free.

Internalizing shame comes easily. The words spoken over us shape our identity, making it essential for us to keep our focus on the words Jesus speaks about us in Scripture. As we let His words wash over us, we can repeat the words of the psalmist.

Whenever you feel smeared by shame, take refuge in Jesus. He knows the difference between you and shame.

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Take Time to Rest

During my training for a one-hundred-mile ultramarathon, I learned the value of rest.

Previously, when I prepared for marathons or triathlons, I worked out six to seven days a week and ran myself into the ground.

I hired a coach for the one-hundred-miler. He didn’t want me working out more than five days a week. If I didn’t get enough rest, my muscles wouldn’t complete the planned workouts. I admit, I panicked.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. This verse highlights the importance of rest. Even God rested on the seventh day, so why do I think I can run full throttle for seven days a week? I can’t, and God is teaching me the importance of personal restoration.

Other than the seventh day, when else should we make it a point to rest? Here are a few areas when added rejuvenation is needed.

1. After a big effort

This was the big one for me last year. After tackling workout after workout while training for a one-hundred-mile ultramarathon, I didn’t feel like pushing through anything (not even grocery shopping). I took a break from running and any exercise which forced me to “dig deep.” I pursued some other goals, but relaxed dramatically on my exercise goals.

2. Stress in other areas of life

Sometimes, we have to cool our jets in one area of life to make room for added stress in another. Work life can affect our physical activity, training can take time away from spiritual pursuits, and sickness can limit our professional time. Focusing on one area of life when it demands the extra attention for the short term is okay. Long-term imbalance, however, can cause wear and tear beyond repair.

3. Attending to the needs of family and friends

Sickness or interpersonal problems of those we love can also require rest as we tend to their needs. Shelving a project or goal temporarily to assist a friend or family member allows us to do what needs to be done. We can always come back to our goals once the situation is resolved.

Building rest into our schedule is important. Rest provides necessary healing and generates new ideas and new perspectives. When we take time to rest, we allow momentum to build as the healing process completes.

Check your schedule to see if it includes rest.

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The Chase

A shout pealed through the quiet morning air.

Deer hunting in the South. The Deep South, that is. Where the swamps rule, and the snakes and alligators grow big. There’s just nothing quite like it.

Dad wouldn’t let me have a 12-guage shotgun until I was fifteen. Prior to that, he gave me a 410-guage—not suitable for shooting deer. When I visited my cousins and grandparents who lived in Vance, South Carolina, I joined them and a host of other men on the Saturday deer hunts.

The men loaded us in the back of the pickup trucks and dropped us off along the roadside or stationed us along the edges of a field. They dropped the dogs off at another point to flush the deer toward us. How they knew the dogs would run the deer our way, I never understood. They just knew the land.

As I stood there on those cold, crisp autumn mornings, I waited to hear the voices of the men and dogs. Chills peppered my spine, and my hands sweated against the cold steel of the gun barrel as I waited, hoping to see a buck and get a shot.

Although I never killed a deer, I enjoyed the chase. My grandfather enjoyed the chase so much that he rarely left his truck. He just sat and listened.

Jesus told about a heavenly chase. One carried out by Him through the person of the Holy Spirit. The chase that occurs because we need chasing. Unlike the deer, we head in the wrong direction every time. Sin pulls us that way, just as instinct takes the deer away from the dogs. Left to ourselves, we’ll keep going the wrong way throughout life and into eternity. Sin causes us to run in the first place and keeps us running thereafter.

God wants to turn us toward Him. Love prompts Him to chase us. Through His Spirit, He convicts and draws—chases—hoping we’ll turn to Him for forgiveness and a better life. He wants no one to perish but all to experience salvation. He wants us to enjoy life as He originally intended. And since I’m a little hard-headed, I’m glad God enjoys a chase too.

Stop running and turn to Him. He’s chasing after you. 

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A Hug Sent from God

Depression tried to set up squatter’s rights in my mind.

When I entered the hospital for surgery, I expected only an overnight stay. Following surgery, however, I developed a large blood clot. Then, my heart went out of rhythm and my lower lungs collapsed. My planned overnight stay became a week. The stress on my mind and body took its toll.

When my daughter, Jean, visited me, the floodgate opened, and the tears rolled down my cheeks. She wrapped me in her loving arms and encouraged me, “Get it out.”

After telling my cousin, Janet, what Jean had done, she exclaimed, “Oh, that’s just what I prayed for. I asked God to reach down and give you a big hug.” God used Jean to answer Janet’s prayer.

The first line in a poem by Annie Johnson Flint reads, “Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today.” Sometimes, we are not willing to be God’s comforting hands because we think we don’t have time.

Colleen was one of those people. She was busy when an inner voice said, “Go visit Bertha.” The experience was so real that she answered, “I will not!” But when the voice nudged her once again, she realized God’s Spirit was speaking, and she obeyed.

Bertha was a lonely older woman who didn’t think anyone cared for her. Colleen was able to assure her this wasn’t true. The following week, Bertha was seriously injured and spent the remainder of her life in a nursing home, unable to communicate because of a brain injury. Colleen was thankful she had obeyed that inner voice and responded by being the hands of Christ.

God wants to use us, but we must be willing to follow His leading. It may be something as simple as giving a smile to a tired cashier or driving a senior citizen to the doctor. Perhaps, like my daughter, God will send us to give encouraging words and a loving hug.

As God comforts you, pass along His love and comfort to others.

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Little Gifts and Blessings

“You gave me these just to hurt me,” cried my five-year-old daughter from the back seat of the car.

My daughter loved for me to bring her little gifts when I picked her up after school. A friend at work often brought me her children’s outgrown clothing or toys, and my daughter came to expect these gifts.

Before I left work one afternoon, I looked for something to take to her—something special from her mama. I found a small bag of potato chips in the vending machine. Although this was not the healthiest of snacks, I knew she liked chips. I didn’t realize she had chapped lips, and the salt made them burn. I hoped to please her with my gift, but she accused me of hurting her.

Sometimes, we act this way with God. He gives us gifts every day, but we overlook them. We forget to thank Him. We get upset with Him for not answering our prayers the way we think He should. But He might be at work designing a gift that may bring us a bigger blessing than we ever imagined. The Lord knows what lies ahead. We need to be thankful and trust He has our best interests at heart.

Many of God’s little blessings are often overlooked. A colorful sunrise or sunset. An invitation from a friend to meet for lunch. A family member who helps us with inside chores or outdoor yard work. A smile from a neighbor. Kind words spoken to our troubled heart.

Little gifts and blessings can impact us in big ways. They’re even better when we share them with others.

Just as I wanted to do something special for my daughter, God desires to bless us because we are His children. We need to remember the little gifts He gives us every day. These blessings remind us of His presence and His love.

Make a list of things you are thankful for.

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Loving Through Suicide

I found the note in the kitchen when I came home from playing.

In the note, my mom said she wanted to commit suicide at the Bloomington Ferry Bridge. Weeks later when my mom didn’t come home, my dad and I rushed to the bridge where we found her car. While sitting in the car waiting for the police to arrive, I heard my dad scream, “Liz, I loved you.” 

At the time, I was fourteen and mad at my mom for disciplining me. She was a recovering alcoholic and had been trying to be a better mother. But my mom was estranged from my dad, and, because of my mom’s drinking, my parents always fought. 

My dad’s actions toward my mother—and mine—were not very loving. My dad could have done more to be a good husband, and I was immature and ungrateful. The ending wasn’t happy. We both failed and will never be able to change that we did not show how much we loved her. 

John says we should love one another, but sometimes we let our anger toward our family get in the way of our love for them. John also says love comes from God. Jesus loved us so much that He took the punishment we deserved when He died on the cross.

I’m sure our disobedience angers Jesus, but He didn’t let His anger over our sin stop Him from dying on the cross.

Don’t let the anger you may feel toward a family member stop you from saying, “I love you.”

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Social Media Feed

Social media can color our minds with images of everyone’s best moments, making it easy to lose sight of what’s important.

I scroll along my social media feeds on my phone during moments of idleness and catch myself thinking, I wish I had a house like that. What a great trip. I wish I was there. I wish my significant other was like that. Viewing our lives through the lens of scarcity instead of through a lens of gratefulness and abundance is easy.

God doesn’t want us envying others or basing our self-worth on how we fare when compared to others.

“Be strong” is a command. God knows troubles abound in life. He knows we will feel fear because of our circumstances. However, He inspires us to be strong in the face of adversity, because He is in our corner. In God we can find the patience, humility, fortitude, and security necessary to prevail.

Collins dictionary says “take heart” means to have more courage or to cheer up. The psalmist teaches us God is good and has our best interests in mind, despite what we may see around us. We need to muster the courage to trust in God and have faith in His plan. God is faithful and loving and will stand by our side.

“All you who hope in the Lord” is an invitation to seek comfort in the Lord. God’s strength and abiding love is available for all of God’s children. As the God of abundance, we are all able to draw from His strength, which has no limit.

In times of trouble, we can put up notecards as reminders to pray first about any issues that crop up or keep a daily or weekly journal directly addressing God. We can take courage while trusting in the character of God by taking quiet time for reflection or by going over the names for God, letting descriptions of His character sink in.

We can also fast from television and social media to help break the hold culture has over our thoughts. Instead, we can devote that time to reading encouraging materials or listening to uplifting music.

Life can throw you a curveball at any time, so let leaning on God—rather than social media—become a habit for you.

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The Cure for Weak Faith

He did wonders no one had ever heard of or done before.

The world saw Him raising the dead, giving sight to the blind, and feeding 5,000 men—plus women and children—with five loaves of bread and two fish. The hungry crowd ate to satisfaction, and twelve full baskets of bread were left over. He exhibited supernatural powers over all evil principalities in the heavenly places. Such deeds kept His followers wondering and marveling among themselves.

Jesus Christ told His followers if their belief was without doubt, they could order mountains to be uprooted, and it would be done. 

As children of God, we are entitled to victory through faith. There is power in our mouths, which belief in our hearts releases. And he who talks of a strong belief talks of faith. Through Christ, God gives us the power to change every situation that doesn’t align with His holy will for us.

God’s children perish because we lack knowledge. With the power God gives us through the name of Jesus Christ, we can dominate and overcome every negative situation. With faith, we can move mountains and displace oceans. To accomplish such, we need a mature and working faith.

A mature faith believes God never fails and will keep His promises. We can claim all of God’s promises. God is whom He says and will do what He says. As our Father, God wants the best for us, which is why we should speak success to every negative situation in our lives.

The best way to cure a weak faith is to act on the Word of God. Remember that God’s words have tremendous power.

Let God cure any weakness in your faith.

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A Little Dirt Hurts

I bought a new power washer and tackled our front walkway.

The walkway didn’t look that dirty, but it was. As I started, a stream of water shot out of the water gun. In one easy sweep, I carved a clean line on the concrete. I couldn’t believe the difference.  

As I looked at the results, I was amazed at what I had accepted as normal. The front walkway of my house was grayed, mossy, dull, and dirty, but I hadn’t noticed because it happened slowly. Over the years, I had come to accept what I saw as normal. I could have gone another fifteen years without washing this sidewalk and never known what was underneath.

I looked at that one square of clean concrete and was proud of my work. Then I saw four more squares to clean. I was soaked, my hand was sore from pulling the trigger, my shoes were dirty from all the loosened dirt, and my back hurt from bending over.

My sidewalk is just one example of the things I ignore or get used to. This overlooking happens in my house, my relationships, my spiritual walk, and even the knowledge of myself.

The Message translation of Psalm 51:2—“Soak out my sins in your laundry”—makes me laugh and cringe all at the same time. Surrendering to God—allowing Him to soak and scrub me and make me clean—is exhausting and consuming. Sometimes it’s painful. It’s a lot of work. Just when I get one area of my life clean, I see more dirt ahead. Sometimes I just want to give up and stop. 

But God loves us, and we should want to soak in His truth, which has the power to cleanse us. 

If you have been cleansed by God’s holy love, take the time to soak in His truth. 

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The Vacuum Needs Help

A whirring sound began when I pushed the start button with the big toe on my right foot.

No need to force the big-sized vacuum with attachments back and forth across the carpet and hardwood floors. The small round machine would do all the work while I took care of other activities.

Happy and content with the vacuum gathering dust balls and potato chip crumbs, I relaxed in my comfy chair and read a book, thankful for not having to bring out the big vacuum.

Two minutes later ... BANG, BANG, BANG. The vacuum was stuck under the couch, trying to release itself by hitting the baseboards in the living room. I no longer heard a quiet whirr. A loud pounding sound now replaced my peace and quiet. The vacuum sounded as if it were calling for help.

God is my refuge and strength, a present help in time of need, but I often wait until something stressful happens before I call out to Him. The day may be peaceful and carefree when out of nowhere an unexpected event occurs. That’s why I need to be in conversation with God at all times, not just during stressful events.

I retrieved the vacuum and turned it off. I waited a while before turning it back on. And sometimes, I bring out the bigger vacuum and have a conversation with God while I am cleaning.

Don’t wait to call out to God or try to handle things on your own before going to Him. God is waiting for a conversation with you.

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It Only Costs a Dime

"Lord, you've got to help me," she cried. "If you're with me and going to help me, let me find a dime. Not a nickel or a penny, only a dime."

Full of desperation and almost out of hope with her head hanging low, she saw it: a shiny silver dime. Just what she asked the Lord for. From that day on, she kept every dime she found. It was her rainbow from the Lord, just as the rainbow following the flood was a sign of God's promise to Noah. Her circumstances didn't change immediately, but God heard and answered.

Soon after her death, her daughter, Connie, strolled out onto the beach. As she sat in her chair and dug her toes into the warm sand after a long winter, she felt something. Leaning forward and putting her fingers into the sand, Connie found her own dime. As she sat back and dug in again, her other foot felt something hard. Again reaching down, she pulled out another dime. Now she had confirmation that God was with her as He had been with her mom.

Sometime later, Connie's son was walking down a sidewalk in another town when a shimmer in the sunlight caught his eye. Looking down, he found a dime. Knowing his grandma and mother's stories, he took a picture of the dime and sent it to his mom. Three generations of God's blessings all because Grandma trusted the Lord.

God stopped the mouths of lions, made fire that didn't burn, and parted seas and rivers. Prophets even called fire down from heaven, so why wouldn't God answer a woman's prayer in that way?

God is in the business of answering prayer. Whatever you need, ask Him.

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God Is Banking on You

I walked into my bank one afternoon … only to receive surprising news.

I wanted to redraw some money from my account, but the teller told me I couldn’t. Distressed, I sought to find out why, only to be told there wasn’t any problem. The machines worked fine, I had a good sum of money in my account, and there was enough cash in the bank to cover my request. They just didn’t want to give me the money. Before I could get furious, the security guard said, “Hello.”

I had imagined this scenario as I walked to the bank, but everything went smoothly. As I walked home, I wondered why such a situation would make me furious. It was because I do the exact same thing to the Lord.

In God’s graciousness, He deposits gifts, talents, wisdom, wealth, grace, and love into my life. But when He comes to get them for the accomplishment of His will, I refuse. I am not willing to give back what He gave me willingly.

Just like banking with a financial institution, God banks with us as well. We are His representatives on earth. He deposits treasures into us that He wants to use for His work.

If we understand this, giving willingly to God when He needs it is easier, as it was for God’s people of old. If we don’t withhold anything from Him, He won’t withhold anything from us. After all, He is not really after the things; He wants our heart.

Remember, your treasure is where your heart is.

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Shivers of Delight

He beat his tail on the ground in a frantic welcome.

My new puppy reclined on top of my Bible with wet, chewed up pieces falling out of his mouth. Crumpled moist pages lay in the spine of the binding. I walked into the room, not sure how I felt about this situation. This puppy was so delighted with my presence that he rolled over with shivers of delight. He earned his name that day. A biblical one, of course. Moses.

I think Job had a teachable spirit. He suggested to his friends that even animals could teach God is the master of all life. Job loved God and was delighted with His presence. He served God with reverence, and God’s favor was on Job. But Job had lots of bad things happen to him. He grew frustrated and impatient when he felt he had done nothing to deserve those bad things.

To some degree, we’ve all felt as Job did about life’s circumstances. Perhaps he felt far away from God’s presence. Maybe God’s word felt all chewed up and in pieces. Job cried out for justice, and God appeared to him. He reminded Job that He created the earth and oversees everything in it. Because of Job’s teachable spirit, his delight in God’s presence returned.

We don’t have to wait for God to walk into a room to delight in His presence. God makes us aware of His presence in other ways. We may not have a tail to wag, but God knows our heart. He wants us to call out to Him as Job did. He is delighted with His masterpieces.

Delight in God’s presence. Remember, you are His masterpiece.

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I Am a Worrywart

I knew I was going to get a speeding ticket when the police officer asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?”

I had been traveling between Minneapolis and Wilber, Nebraska and was concerned about how long it would take to make the trip. I made a few more stops than I anticipated but still made it there before 9 p.m.

That wasn’t the only thing I worried about during this trip. I worried about getting the groceries before the stores closed on Christmas Eve. My sister could tell I was stressed and that made her stressed, but we were finished long before the stores closed.

Earlier in the trip, on my way to Minneapolis from Illinois, I worried about the weather. The forecast changed on a dime, and meteorologists predicted Northern Iowa would get two to four inches of snow. As it turned out, driving through Iowa was no big deal.

I don’t know why I do what Paul says not to do. Worrying can be silly. The ticket brought the problem home to me. Worries are a part of life in a sin-sick world. There will always be something for me to worry about if I choose, but worrying never helps.

The question is what to do when I worry. I need to learn how to pray and to trust God for what I need—then to believe He will provide. No problem is too big or too small for Jesus.

When problems come up, don’t worry. Pray and give thanks.

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Insert Foot

My best new communication move has been the “shut up” technique.

Colossal failures in communication always occur when I fail to consult God. My latest blunder happened when I tried to coerce a person into understanding I was trying to help them. I forced my heart’s intent and motives onto someone who was on a different location than me on the spiritual path. Needless to say, it did not go well.

The Maker of the universe, the One who created the person I failed miserably at communicating with, had some excellent pointers on how that person operated. When I finally sought God’s counsel, He instructed me to shut my mouth, be still, and know He was God. When I let Him be the Lord over both me and the other person—things shifted.

God worked things out of and into our hearts. His gentle pruning needed time to take place and manifest. Once complete, He created a pathway of easy, gentle communication I never could have established on my own. The key was to be silent and wait for His work to be complete—not an easy feat.

By concentrating on being heard so I could get the answers I needed to make decisions for the upcoming mission trip, I missed Paul’s instruction. Never once did I consider that all communication should be a vehicle to distribute blessings.

Hasty words can rocket at people without regard for their hearts. God can help us re-frame our words so they bless all who hear us speak—and not just in times of prayer and love-filled conversations with people we care about but with all people God puts on our path.

Ask God to let the Holy Spirit speak through you without any hindrance and to let your mouth be firmly shut if it serves His purposes.

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Shaken but Not Destroyed

The children waited in anticipation.

One day, I watched a group of children waiting for a butterfly to emerge. They talked about how it would look and how beautiful it would be when it finally opened. Many of them probably didn’t know the challenges a butterfly experiences before it emerges.

The butterfly is a chrysalis before it reaches the final stage. The chrysalis shakes tremendously because they are responding to something they believe is trying to harm them.

Like the chrysalis, Joshua faced a challenge. But he was told, Be strong. Take courage. Don't be intimidated. Don't give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.

We face challenges too. It might be health, family situations, or other circumstances that try to intimidate us. But as the children were with the emerging butterfly, God is with us in the middle of our challenges and won’t let us down. We may have to experience the discomfort of our circumstances—and we may even shake a bit from them—but God will guide us through the process

When we have days that shake us, repeating this Scripture is a good idea. Our day to emerge into the great things God has for us is only a matter of time. If we just keep pushing forward, we’ll become all that God has called us to be. We’ll be a beautiful butterfly for everyone to see.

As you face each day, remember to focus on the great things God has in store for you.

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No Mistakes

Over and over, Mama said the same thing: “Our God makes no mistakes.”

After dinner one evening, Mama—a victim of the hellish disease, Alzheimer’s—was talking. Her conversation was mostly nonsensical prattle—what I called “word salad”—but mixed in with the gibberish was the above statement with an emphasis on the word, “no.” She must’ve said it fifty times.

At first, I scoffed and thought, Yeah, right. Can you hear yourself? I mean, really hear what you’re saying? What about this terrible disease that’s destroying your mind, stealing your memories, and turning everyone you love and who loves you into strangers?

This had to be a mistake. Why would God allow this in our family? Why would He put us through this? To torture my daddy and force him to watch the woman he’d loved for sixty years regress into someone he didn’t know—aging him more than time ever could?

Then the sound of the “light bulb” switching on in my brain made me glance over my shoulder to ensure someone wasn’t flicking a switch.

God spoke to me using my mama’s voice. He can do that. He reminded me that even when things feel hopeless, He is my hope. He’s walking this journey with me, right through the valley shadowed with death. He didn’t do this to Mama. Sin did, just as it is the culprit behind every other bad thing that happens. Yes, He allowed it. And no, I don’t know why, and I may never know. My job is to trust He is working all things—even Alzheimer’s—together for my good and His glory.  

God healed Mama. She’s in heaven now. No more Alzheimer’s spider webs mucking up her new, glorified brain. I look forward to the day she greets me on those golden streets. She’ll smile, hug, and remember me. And we’ll shout together, “Our God makes no mistakes!”

Regardless of what you face, remember God makes no mistakes.

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What We Do for Freedom

His story broke my heart.

I met him at a local park when my boys were tiny. He was leaned back on his elbows, watching his little girl play on the swings. I sat on a blanket spreading peanut butter on bread. I noticed him staring from time to time, and when I finally smiled he turned away. When I called the boys over for lunch, his daughter tagged along.

“Would you like a peanut butter sandwich too?” I asked.

The man quickly jumped to his feet to retrieve his daughter. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Not a problem. I have plenty. You want one too?”

The man smiled and took the sandwich. Dressed in fatigues with holes, I eyed a tattoo that resembled an Army design with three names listed under it: Peterson, Johnson, Tomblinson.

“Nam Veteran?” I asked. “Thanks for your service.”

He stared hard at me before he asked if he could sit.

“My brother was in the Navy. U.S.S. KENNEDY.”

“Da Nang,” he whispered.

“Oh. You saw combat.”

“More than I care to admit. Lost my three buddies there. I couldn’t pull them outta the hole before a bomb hit. I tried.” Tears formed in his eyes.

“Are those your friends?” I asked, pointing to his arm. He nodded. “They were dear friends … brothers?” He nodded again.

“They know you tried. Brothers know. You’re here to tell their stories.”

The man smiled.

“I’d like to hear their stories.”

“What we do for freedom,” he said. “What we do for freedom.”

Freedom always comes with a price. Christ stepped into harm’s way to take the brunt of the consequence for our sin and paid the price. He did it so we would have freedom and no longer be slaves to sin. It was an act of love, freely given.

Tad sacrificed too. He told me their stories. How he dove into harm’s way to save his friends. How they fought to protect our freedom. He, too, freely gave.

This July 4th, take time to offer your love and gratitude to the Christ who broke the chains of sin’s slavery for you. And while you’re at it, offer a prayer of peace and thanksgiving for those who freely serve our country that we might have this freedom.

What they do for freedom! What they do for freedom!

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Pray for Rain

When it rains, it pours.

It’s a good slogan for a salt company, but it was also true in Tennessee one February. The total rainfall for 28 days was 12.55 inches. We felt every wet inch of it. It rained so hard and so often that the creeks overflowed their banks, the rivers crested, the school buses stopped running, and the birds took baths in the street. The yards were so soggy that we had to wear boots to walk to the mailbox, and, if we slipped and fell, we had to wring ourselves out.

Many homes were flooded and families displaced. The abundance of water pouring from the sky overwhelmed people and made them desperate for the touch of sunshine, as thoughts of Noah filled their heads. At one point, I looked out my back door and saw a small creek running along the edge of my yard where no creek had been before. I had always wanted a creek on my property, but not an illegitimate offspring from a too-full water table.

Everyone prayed for the heavens to shut their doors and for the deluge to stop. We longed for a dry spell.

As Christ followers, our prayer should be the exact opposite. We should pray for the dry spell to stop and for the pouring to begin. Paul says God pours His love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Pours … not sprinkles.

God longs to shower us with His love and mercy, and we should pray for a ceaseless outpouring. Not a soggy one—where our spirits are weighed down with stagnant water—but a sparkling stream that moves in the power of love until it splashes out onto others.

If your spirit feels dry and dusty—or if your spirit is absorbing too much of God’s goodness for itself—open the floodgates, and let God’s love pour through you to others. Those around you will be glad you did.

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Kept in Perfect Peace

I love to walk and some days walk over 25,000 steps.

I especially like walking in my neighborhood, using the opportunity as a time of reflection for what is going on in my own life. A time for me to think about my goals and the areas I may have fallen short. But I have to admit, it’s also a time for me to catch up on my emails and respond to some text messages.

We all know how dangerous driving and texting can be. Walking and texting presents some challenges as well. One afternoon, I was responding to text messages. Just as I sent a text, I looked up and saw a snake on the sidewalk just a few steps in front of me. My heart raced. Thankfully, I looked up just in time to avoid a difficult situation. My distraction almost caused a real problem for me.

We often walk into situations that could pose real problems for us simply because we are distracted. Not a snake maybe, but a situation equal to or greater in danger. 

We encounter many distressing circumstances by not focusing on God and His plan for our life, often reacting with hysteria rather than calmness. When we allow ourselves to become consumed with the things of the world, we become apprehensive.

Sure, the world has many problems, but we have a promise from God.  He will keep us in perfect peace if our minds are committed to Him. When we focus on other things and our minds are not committed to God, we will focus on our situations, leading to frustration and anxiety.

If I had kept my mind on walking—taking in the beauty of the afternoon and not become distracted with texting—I would have seen the snake ahead of time. If I had seen it from afar, I would have crossed to the other side of the street and avoided panicking.

When we keep our minds focused on and committed to God, He will show us how to avoid some dangerous situations. But we must focus to listen for God’s voice. Even when we face challenges, the peace of God is promised to those who keep their mind centered on Him.

Ask God to keep you in perfect peace, regardless of your situation.

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Fear, Voices, and Insecurity

I strolled down the beach, minding my own business, when God said, “It’s time.”

Life had taken several unexpected turns. I had been separated and almost divorced; had been financially, physically, and emotionally bankrupt; and had experienced several deaths in my family, including my mom. I was on a journey of healing. God called me to emerge from the pain, to live again, and to encourage others to do the same. Ideas churned. Experiences I had so often trampled down in shame or fear burst in my mind, begging me to share them.

Other voices competed with God’s. “You’re no writer. You’re just a mom, wife, and wannabe housekeeper.” I gathered my resolve and bolstered my confidence by reading a myriad of inspirational books. I felt ready to tackle this mission. But the voices returned. “What if you’re rejected, confronted, challenged, or questioned?”

Satan used my insecurities and fears, attempting to stop God’s work. He feared the outcome of an encouraged and inspired person who no longer listened to his lies.

As I teetered on the fence, God yanked me back into His arms and sent me overwhelming affirmation through friends and strangers, making it undeniable that He had laid this path before me.

Thinking, I’m not good enough, smart enough, or the creative type, or that’s just not who I am is tempting. But who knows us better than the One who knit us together in our mother’s womb? We make it harder on ourselves by listening to the evil one’s lies.

Will we be confronted or questioned? Probably. Satan doesn’t easily give up. However, our Lord will stand firm with us and will not allow us to be overcome, but rather to overcome.

Stop listening to Satan’s deceit and get into God’s perspective. He gave you life to live and enjoy with abundance. Step up and claim His blessings.

Be bold and prayerfully step out in faith to what God is calling you to do.

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Crying in a River

Recently, I talked to a friend on Facebook who lives in Africa.

My friend had posted a picture of his congregation standing in a river, crying together because their pastor had been killed the day before in a traffic accident. They did not know what to do.

I want to share what I told my friend.

“During these ‘only-God-knows-why times,’ remember our Lord is the only One who knows the big picture and what is best. You are in our thoughts and prayers; you are not alone. Our loved one has moved to a beautiful retirement home where he is filled with joy. We miss him and cry warm healing tears, which are a recovery medicine from our blessed Lord. Still, we keep looking up and pressing on in the power of God’s Spirit. Pastor O would wish this for us. We come to You right now, dear Jesus, for You have said, ‘Come to Me, you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.’ Thank You Lord. We place our painful heart in Your loving hands and leave it there. Amen.”

When we lose loved ones who are God’s children, we should remind ourselves that they are not lost. They are found and have made it home.

Whom do you know who is crying and needs comfort from you?

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Embrace Your Season

Three bathing suits and a dress for $15.74.

Was this in the 1950s? No, it was last December off the clearance rack at JC Penney. Why so cheap? Because my treasures were out of season. They would have netted the merchant a couple of hundred dollars a few months earlier. But in early winter, shoppers line up to buy sweaters, coats, and scarfs. Bathing suits aren’t needed when temperatures are below freezing—unless you are crazy enough to do the polar plunge in the Atlantic.

At a wedding, we expect dancing and laughter. My youngest daughter, Rachel, married last month. From the flowers to the music to the colors to the venue, she did a great job of planning her special day—and it was lots of fun.

When someone dies, we expect the opposite. My husband is a pastor and has conducted many funerals. Never once has he seen dancing at a funeral. Instead, it is a time of tears, quietness, and reminiscing.

Last fall, I glanced from my office window and saw hundreds of large black birds congregating on a nearby roof. It was rather eerie. The last time I saw this many birds was when I watched the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, The Birds. The movie responsible for the terror my generation feels when we see a flock of black birds. God has built into these featured creatures when to gather for their flight south for the winter.

Seasons are important to merchants. They are even more critical to believers. We also have seasons—times for laughter and times of sorrow. And yet God created both of these seasons, each for its own purpose.

Whatever season you are in—joy, sorrow, rebuilding, or planting—remember each has its own divine purpose.

Take God along through each season of your life.

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Transformative Hope

Hope is a word we use often. I hope to see you soon. I hope you get better soon. I hope things turn out all right.

We use the word hope to suggest an uncertain, yet desired, outcome. A possibility. But this is not the way God intended for us to understand the concept. The hope we have in Jesus is different from our everyday understanding of the word. The hope we have in God is far from uncertain possibilities and wishful thinking.

God is a God of hope. This hope Paul describes in his letter to the Romans is certain, definite, and unwavering. Our hope that Jesus will return, our hope of redemption, and our hope that God will keep His promises all are certain.

When we understand and believe in the certain hope we have in God, we are transformed. We have hope for daily living and for the future. God’s hope is transformative in our lives and gives us purpose and vision. God longs for us to put our complete trust in Him. Our hope in Him will not be put to shame.

Ask the God of hope to fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him so your hope will overflow—not  because of your own strength, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit.

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Balance

I started my collection of books about balance shortly after I married.

Surely experts could guide my pursuit to do and be everything to everyone. I confess I haven’t completed a single one of those dusty volumes. Who has time to sit down and focus on such a lofty goal when finding balance feels like a lost cause?

Every day was a balancing act of caring for my family, friends, and neighbors, cleaning the house, and performing at work. Somehow, I was supposed to squeeze in time with God and self-care. I was exhausted and overwhelmed before my day began.  

We’re often conditioned to do it all and to succeed in all we do. But if someone has a need and I focus my time and energy on them, should I berate myself at the end of the day if I end up with hotdogs for dinner and didn’t get the toilet scrubbed? The answer is a resounding no.

Such a mindset is not sustainable, and there is no way to force all things to balance. But maybe balance doesn’t exist. Maybe we should stop aiming for something unattainable and focus on what God has given us for our season. With this realization, I discovered freedom.

Life is unpredictable. On some days, we will manage crises. On other days, we need to give ourselves permission to rest and resist the urge to do and go. At other times, we’ll have time to write cards, make calls, and get that walk in.

God gives us perspective and frees us from micromanaged chaos. When we internalize that God is in control and allow Him to manage our schedule, bumps in the road change from obstacles to opportunities to love, encourage, and provide—to be the hands and feet of God. We learn compassion, love, and flexibility when we slow down and are intentional about our relationships. When our hearts seek God, He directs our attention. One day, we’ll look back and see His balance.

Focus on God, and pray for an open heart to accept what He deems important each day. Free yourself from the guilt trips. Rest well at night, knowing God is in control and will do the balancing act for you.

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As Cold as Turkey

I knew from the moment I placed it in the freezer I would do it.

I didn’t question or reason, I just purposed to get it done. It was fertile with the potential of procrastination or disaster … ruin. Nevertheless, I surprised myself with the acceptance and set toward it. If I were to speak spiritually, I’d call it a blessing. If I wanted to speak domestically, I’d say it was something I should, at least, learn to do well. If I were to speak plainly, I’d tell you it was a frozen turkey I’d been given.

After weeks of working around the turkey in the freezer, I decided to move it to the fridge side to thaw. I researched how long it would take before I could begin the cooking. Each time I opened the fridge, I saw it waiting. Finally, the day came. I got the kitchen ready, cut my onion, preheated the oven, and proceeded to cut the plastic which stored this big gem.

I saw a glimmer … shards of ice spiking out from the heart of my bird. Still frozen. Despite my preparation and anticipation, I couldn’t cook a frozen turkey. Well, I could, but the experts say it takes longer, and creating a moist outcome is a bit trickier. Back to the fridge it went.

1 Corinthians 13 is considered the Bible’s chapter of love. In this verse, Paul muses that the greatest things, even the wow-worthy things, are all for naught if he doesn’t do them with love.

As disciples of Christ, we aim to continue the service Jesus acted out for others, and we should. However, His passion should be there also, or the outcome will practically be worthless. We can plan, prepare, announce, and intend. But in the end, it is just cold turkey—nothing that can be palatable or contribute to long-term nourishment.

Let’s consider our plates and ask, Are each of my tasks rooted in genuine love for others? Or am I piling on all I can for a sense of accomplishment and boastfulness or because of guilt?

Follow where God leads, and only do meaningful work through the spirit of His compassion.

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Wrapped in Bitterness

“You’re not my sister!” she screamed at me.

She wears bitterness like a warm, fuzzy blanket. Her smile is not a smile but more like a grimace. Her laugh is not a laugh but a sneer.

I had defied my sister’s wishes in a country where the eldest sibling receives respect … regardless. Years of anger and bitterness came to a finale, and she disowned me. We haven’t spoken in years.

Family can be difficult, especially when others don’t see eye to eye or have different personalities. My older sister and I have different personalities—like oil and water, yet I’ve never stopped desiring a sisterly bond. But how do I get close to a fiery furnace and not get scorched by hot-tempered words?

Talking to someone tightly snuggled in anger and bitterness is difficult. Wisdom deflects from them like armor deflecting arrows. Arguments fly from their mouth like flocks of migrating birds darkening the sky.

Only God can reach a bitter person. Only God’s Word can advise us on how to step into the fire and not be overcome by flames. Sometimes stepping in means stepping out of the way and allowing God to take over. The only one who can pierce a blanket of bitterness is Jesus, the Power of God.

God wants us to be kind, compassionate, and gentle. Remember ... bitter people are hurting people. When bitter people are too volatile to be around, sometimes all we can do is pray and wait patiently for God to slowly unwrap that bitter blanket and cover them with His love.

Trust God to protect you as you minister to bitter people.

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Angels on Duty

A dog nearly mauled my youngest son when he was four years old.

Jonah had been playing in the yard with the neighborhood kids. I poked my head out the door to check on him and noticed him standing on the other side of the yard, frozen in place. His eyes were locked on the scary neighborhood dog running right for him.

This dog was mean, and all the kids knew to stay away from it. That day, it escaped its fenced yard and headed right for my little boy. There was no time to reach him, and I was certain I would see him mauled. Then the strangest thing happened. Just as the dog prepared to pounce, it stopped dead in its tracks and ran off. Not one hair on Jonah’s head was harmed. I know an angel intervened.

God commands His angels to guard His children. Often, they will intervene to keep us from harm. I have believed this for as long as I can remember and proclaimed it countless times as I envisioned the heavenly hosts on assignment.

I have prayed this belief over my husband and children and school busses and cars. I have prayed it at the start of the day as I sent my children on their way and while lying in bed at night as I waited for them to come home.

Praying such a prayer helps us have faith that God heard us and that He's on it. His angels are there as He commands them to be. No situation can occur in our lives that hasn't been approved by Him.

Don’t let fear and worry overtake you. Trust that God has angels on duty surrounding your loved ones and intervening to keep them safe.

Hold on to God’s promise to protect you with His angels, and then let go of fear.

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What's in Your Toolbox?

Everything we do in life needs a tool.

Tools make life easier, as well as improve the quality of life. I don't know much about traditional manly tools, but I can use a hammer, a screwdriver, and pliers if I have to. I'm better when it comes to kitchen tools.

When I painted, I had dozens of brushes and several knives. Each one did something different than the others. And paint. So many types and colors, but that was just the beginning. I combined them and discovered endless possibilities. Doing so took time and experimenting to find the right effect.

No matter what we’re doing, we need the right tools to do the job right. Spiritually speaking, we need the right tools like the wise man if we want to have a strong foundation that cannot be shaken.

The first and foremost tool is the Bible. Building a strong foundation is impossible without God’s Word—the go-to instructional manual for helping build the life God wants for us. If we dig deeper into the toolbox, we find prayer, meditation, the counsel of godly people, praise, worship, and thanksgiving.

Unused tools are worthless. Using them often leads to proficiency. When I painted, it took time and experimentation to find the right combination to create a beautiful picture. The same is true spiritually. What works for one person may not for another.

Work at building a foundation that can’t be shaken.

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Everything to God's Glory

I watched the movie and saw a revival break out in a school in Birmingham, Alabama.

Blacks and whites in the school fought against each other with knives—until a message by a guest speaker led to a revival. Love emerged between the races, and they got along much better. Although they lost a game right after the revival, they realized glorifying God was more important than winning.

So it is with each of us. Paul says we need to glorify God in all we say, think, and do.

Doing so includes how we treat others, how those who have jobs do them, and how we do our school work. It also includes what we say and do when no one but God is watching, as well as what friends we hang out with—although it doesn’t exclude having relationships with friends who aren't believers.

If we have secular jobs, we can witness to our unsaved co-workers and bosses. Our witness will be even more effective if we do an excellent job as we work.

When I was growing up, I sat around a lot and drug my feet instead of doing my school work as fast as I knew I could. Sometimes, I was so heavenly minded that I was no earthly good. That’s never a good witness.

Ask God to help you glorify Him in all you say, think, and do.

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Steadfast

For twenty years, I have been involved with the choir and the praise and worship team.

Many times it seemed I made little difference for the time I invested. I felt like giving up and quitting. Somewhere along the way, I was encouraged to carry on … and I did.

Though it may not appear we are making a difference, we have to trust the Lord and know this is why the Enemy fights us. He wouldn’t mess with us if we didn’t have anything going for ourselves, or if the Lord didn’t have something great for us to do for Him. Remaining steadfast in the face of obstacles and hurdles is something we have to do to live a life of victory.

Once we realize this, it becomes easier to face, maintain, and get the victory in our trials. Steadfastness helps us go through the trials and helps us help others who may need our strength to get through what they’re going through.        

Ask God to help you not to flinch when fear tries to invade the places of victory He has given you. Then thank Him for strengthening you for the journey and for giving you boldness in the face of adversity.  

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Opinions

We were on high alert! 

As my wife and I braced for a visit from our new in-laws, we noticed things around the house that didn’t bother us before. The dinner plates seemed old and dull, the windows didn’t shine brightly enough, and the hardwood floors squeaked at too many places.

We felt certain the small imperfections around the house would be detected by our guests of honor. The saying, “Good appearance makes for a good impression,” bellowed in my head. I was frazzled—especially from the closet-cramming and furniture-shuffling going on.

Even our cherished rose garden we lovingly tilled and pruned the week before became a source of worry. As I sat and gazed at a blossom of white, yellow, and red roses—wondering how I was going to get everything done—it hit me how my life seemed to hinge on the opinions of others.  

The need to hear the voice of approval from colleagues, friends, and even family members consumed my thoughts, which did not leave much room to hear from God. I permitted the words of ordinary people to drown out God’s Word. This troubled me more than I cared to admit.

God does not want us imprisoned by the opinions and criticism of those around us—while forgetting who we are as His children. He wants us to live as the person He brought us into the world to be … where we seek His approval and thoughts more often than not.

God’s opinion should matter most. He is our Shepherd who loves us. In our lives, other people’s views may seem a reliable measuring stick for assessing our successes and failures, but at the end of the day, only God’s opinion is trustworthy. Only in Him are we set free from the grip people may have on us. 

Free yourself from the opinions of others by only seeking the voice of your Shepherd.

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Cockroaches and Light

When the light came on, they scattered—and so did my grandmother.

Pest control companies existed in the 1970s, but Grandmammy refused to call one to deal with her roach problem. She and my grandfather didn’t want to spend money on such trivial matters. And the German cockroach wasn’t the only one invading her home. The Palmetto bug did too. A large bug more grotesque to her than the smaller one.

I watched with amazement at how she controlled her problem. When bedtime arrived, she turned out the lights and we headed for bed. But when she turned off the light switch, she didn’t move, nor did I. We stood in the dark for what seemed like forever.

Then suddenly, she turned the light switch back on. Somehow in the darkness, my grandmother had retrieved a stick broom. When light illuminated the room, roaches ran everywhere—and so did my grandmother, squashing every one she could with the broom. She repeated her actions several times before we retired to bed. I suppose she must have killed enough of them to satisfy her because she never called the exterminating company. And I don’t remember the roaches overrunning the house.

My grandmother’s roaches hated light as much as my grandmother despised them. Jesus said the same about evil. When light is around, it flees for fear of being exposed.

But evil doesn’t always run. Sometimes, it opposes in more than a secretive way. Jesus said His followers would endure persecution, even as He did. In the twenty-first century, the opposition against Christianity is increasing—in subtle and not so subtle ways.

When I choose to dabble in evil ways as a believer, the light of God’s conviction shines on me—and I don’t enjoy it. Yet God has a purpose in sending the guilt. He wants my confession so the relationship we have remains healthy. Instead of running from the light—as the cockroaches did—I need to run to God, or to others who will help me get back on track.

Staying in the light means I receive God’s guidance and wisdom for daily living, that I experience His forgiveness, that I garner encouragement, and that I live a life of abundance.

Don’t run from or oppose God’s light. He places it there for an important purpose.

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The Other Report

In my accounting days, my team delivered a weighty, comprehensive report daily to our upper management. It covered everything pertinent to the financial state of the organization and all that had taken place over the last twenty-four hours. The report was important, necessary, and expected.

We also sent a second report. Being smaller, it was less acknowledged yet still contained relevant information. This smaller report functioned almost as an afterthought. It didn’t even have a name. We just called it the “Other Report.” There were moments where we weren’t even sure who should be responsible for compiling this miscellaneous duty.

Paul writes as though Christ Himself is begging us to lay down our sins at His feet. However big or small, however noticeable or inconspicuous, He is ready to pick them up. In place of sin, He extends righteousness to us—a benefit we have as His children.

It is easy to acknowledge and approach God about our big sins—the ones others see, the ones we feel bad about, the ones that don’t constitute “Christian living.” But what is on our “Other Report”?

With the Holy Spirit’s help, take some time to search your heart. If there are any sinful ways in you, turn them over to God and receive a clean heart only He can create.

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A New Name

As a visiting professor in an Asian country, I asked my students to make place cards so that I could learn their names.

The problem is that many of them came from places where they did not have traditional “first” names, which made learning their names difficult. To make matters worse, I mispronounced several.

Yet, it was clear God knew their names. He did not have to ask who they were because He had chosen them before the foundation of the world to be His children. I was simply learning the names God already knew.

God never struggles with remembering our names. He knew the names of everyone who would believe in Him before He created the world. He delights in hearing His children call on His name. He has given us several different names to call Him in the Old Testament, including His covenant-keeping name, Yahweh. In the New Testament, we know God best by the name of His Son, Jesus.

In addition, God promises to give each of His children a new name in heaven that only He knows. God has the right to rename us because He has adopted us as His children. It will be a personal, intimate name that only He presently is familiar with, and it is based on our perseverance in the faith. He knows our new names and has written them in the book of life.

God knows your name and who you are. When you can’t remember someone’s name, reach out to that person and remind them God loves them by name and you want to as well.

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Barbecue!

Jamie didn’t prepare me in advance for what I was about to see—or taste.

What I witnessed was primitive to say the least. I couldn’t bear the gunshot to the head. Poor little hog. Glad I didn’t name him. I know his family thought I was ridiculous, standing there by the trailer talking to the pig like it was my friend. Little did that poor animal know he would be tomorrow’s lunch. What had I married into? These people were still killing animals as in the old days. I won’t go into all the gory details, but I thought what happened to that pig was inhumane.

Even more disturbing were the things they ate. I would never eat liver pudding again. The next day I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear eating that poor animal, but it turned out to be some of the best barbecue I’d ever had.

Sometimes the things that seem horrible to us are not so bad. In fact, our own misjudgments and attitudes can leave us empty, as the apostle Paul mentions. We say to ourselves, “Oh, I’ll never do that,” and end up the first in line for a big helping of our foot in the mouth. To be honest, I was a little haughty in my approach. I was judging them for killing that hog, when I was being the hypocrite.

Be careful how you judge others. Worry about the speck in your own eye first.

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How Do You Smell?

When I was little, I had a seizure that came with a nauseating smell. Although I didn't have any more seizures until years later, I've occasionally had that sensation of a smell I can't describe.

I had parts of a book for a psychology class read to me while in college. The author said the sense of smell was a spiritual thing and likened it to worship. The author also said smell can't be described without comparing it to something else that has the same or a similar smell.

Paul says we are the smell of life. If we truly please God, we smell the same to other Christians. But we're also the smell of death to those who don't know Christ, or don’t want to know Him. At the end of the verse, Paul asks, "Who is sufficient for these things?" In ourselves, we aren't, but with God's help as we do our part, we can be.

It's humiliating to lose our witness for the Lord. The most embarrassing thing is what it does to God's name. We should live in such a way that unbelievers want to know what's different about us.

Although we can't be perfect, we should strive to be more like Christ so we’re not a stench in people's nostrils. Ruining our witness may turn others away from God.

Ask God to help you be a good witness for Him so you can be a blessing to others and so you won’t smell bad to those who want to know Jesus as their Savior.

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LOVE IS. . .

Love is missing these days. Kinda breaks my heart. I remember as a youngster, my mother constantly quoting Abraham Lincoln.

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

It's frightening that this seems to be the case some 154 years after Lincoln's death. Our world is spinning on frustration, anger, and entitlement. If we don't get our way, we become like little children, kicking and screaming and blaming everyone else. Worse, we become vindictive. We are, just as Lincoln predicted, destroying ourselves.

Our world appears to be teetering on the edge of loveless.

Paul knew better than anyone what a world void of love felt like. After all, he himself was somewhat loveless as he crusaded to kill Christians. When the love of Christ covered his horrible acts of sin and God called him into service, he experienced full and redemptive love. Paul pleaded for his thorn in the flesh to be removed, and though there are several theories on what his ailment was, one cannot help but wonder if he was not haunted by his past deeds. Still, in Paul’s deepest anguish of rejection and pain, he held on to the hope found in the love offered to him through Christ. Paul continually reminded those he taught that without love, we are nothing.

I could have written a sweet story about love in this devotion, but that is not what God laid on my heart. He nudged me to look past the Hallmark holiday and see a world struggling to love and be loved. I love my husband and I certainly will acknowledge him today, but honestly, the thing that weighs heavy on my heart is a world quickly slipping into “loveless.”

Begin with the love of your family. Teach your children that without love, they are nothing. Forgive in love. Encourage love over everything else. After all, Christ did just that. With a single utterance, He could have been swooped away from the clutches of death, but instead, He loved us so much that He withstood the agony and died. For. Us. All because of love.

Love with all you have and with all you are, and be a voice that is heard echoing in a world that so needs love.

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Wounds or Scars

“Mommy, Mommy! God healed the ouchy on my toe!”

My five-year-old son’s excitement could not be contained as he looked at his bare foot, which showed a small scar where the cut had been.

I smiled at him, reveling in the wonder of his innocence. “Yes, God healed your cut, didn’t He?”

He suddenly became serious. “Mommy, God can heal the ouchy on the inside too.”

The profoundness of what he said reached my heart and brought tears to my eyes. I turned away so he wouldn’t see me cry. His father had just left us, and we were now a family of four. His younger sisters were one year old and three months old. The weight of responsibility pressed down on me, and the wounds inside were deep. And yet there was hope in the Lord for all of us.

Over the next year, I spent every moment I could in Scripture. I put my children to bed promptly every night so I could meet with the Lord. I read the Word, studied the Word, talked to the Lord about my deep wounds, and journaled letters to the Lord. Sometimes I simply wept, calling out to Him and giving Him my pain.

Over time, the Lord responded to my pleading heart. He changed me … healed my wounds. He enabled me to put my hope in Him. But more than that, He showed me His unfailing love in real ways.

My wounds have now become scars, just like the one on my son’s toe. They are not forgotten, but they are healed. And now those scars are a testimony of what the Lord has done.

When the wounds run deep, turn to the Lord and put your hope in His unfailing love. He will not disappoint.

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A Healing Pain

I winced as each new needle pressed into my skin.

“Try to relax. We have your best interest in mind,” my physical therapist said, sticking me again. He used a technique called dry needling that was meant to bring relief and healing to my injured hip muscles.

A few weeks before, I’d been living my dream, hiking the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail. Debilitating hip pain left me with little choice but to pause my trip indefinitely to recover. This derailment of my dream caused me to fear and question God’s care for me. Why would He let this happen?

So if you are suffering in a manner that pleases God, keep on doing what is right, and trust your lives to the God who created you, for he will never fail you. This verse reminds us that though we may not understand the reason for our suffering, we can rest in the assurance that God will not leave us alone in our hardships.

I don’t understand all the techniques the physical therapist uses. I find them uncomfortable and painful, but trust he is good at his job and uses the uncomfortable procedures to heal me. Similarly, God allows suffering, using it to refine us and make us spiritually healthy. When His methods don’t make sense, we can choose to trust Him, remembering He’s our Creator and will not fail us.

Looking to the cross, we find a Savior who chose suffering for Himself in order to heal generations of hurting people. Fixing our gaze on a God like this will keep us from doubting His love and care when we find ourselves in the midst of affliction.

The next time you struggle through a difficult season, instead of wondering why you are suffering, stand in wonder of the Creator who cares for you and is faithful to strengthen you through every trial.

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See, Hear, Care, and Go

“Are you going? Are you going? Even if I have to sell my house, I’m going.”

Our pastor had just requested volunteers for an international mission trip. Already committed to another trip within two weeks of that one, my friend remained convinced God called her to both.

How I wish we all shared her enthusiasm for following God’s call. Most of us, however, require a bit more convincing. Like Moses, we hesitate, focusing on our limitations instead of God’s direction.

Day after day, the Israelites labored under Egyptian slave masters, undoubtedly feeling forgotten and hopeless. Nothing had changed for years. Yet God saw their misery. God heard their cries. God cared about their suffering.

The method God chose for freeing the people of Israel included Moses as both messenger and leader. The command to Moses was strong and clear: “Go. I am sending you.”

Moses faced no easy task: confronting Pharaoh, enduring the grumblings of those he helped, and overcoming his own reservations. Any one would be enough to prevent many from moving forward. In spite of Moses’ hesitation, God’s directive never wavered. Go.

That same message holds true for every believer today. God sees, hears, and cares for those held in bondage to sin and suffering. The eternal plan of redemption includes ordinary people taking the message of truth and showing others the way to the promises awaiting them. Inevitably, obstacles occur, whether resistance from the powers that be, impatience from those we serve, or fatigue and frustration. As with Moses, however, God’s command remains. Go.

Yet we never have to go in our own strength. We can lay claim to the same assurance God gave Moses. God will be with us every step of the way.   

See as God sees, hear as God hears, and care as God cares—wherever that may lead you.

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Traveling Partners

They were homeless traveling partners—a Christian and a Satan worshipper.

“I worship Lucifer because the Bible says he was the most beautiful angel. Did you know that?” he asked me.

On this Saturday afternoon, I was dropping off warm clothes, bottled water, and Bibles to whomever I saw on the streets. I found this couple, Michael and Denise, in Washington Square—a spacious park in the midtown area of Kansas City. They said they’d been together since North Carolina.

Michael told me he was a homeless vet, and, while he chatted with me anxiously, Denise took the Bible I offered her and flipped through the pages. She read aloud her favorite verse: Hebrews 9:27.

As she finished reading, I marveled at the nature of their relationship—his beliefs so radically different from hers. There had to be some other reason why she stayed with him. Maybe being on the streets with a protector made her feel more secure. Perhaps she was lonely or scared without someone to talk to.

But what dumbfounded me was the amount of grace she must have extended to him every day. And I wondered how that grace would look for me, the do-gooder Christian out to make a difference in my city.

Solomon says being generous to the poor honors our Maker. But generosity can involve more than handouts. It also extends grace. When a man looks you straight in the eye and says he worships Satan, you can turn and walk away or you can give him his space while embodying the love and mercy of your Lord Jesus Christ.

As we walk through the world, we are representatives of Christ. Jesus said His people are lamps on a stand, giving light to all in the house. That especially includes trying moments when we are faced with beliefs, arguments, and counter positions that hope to undermine what we believe. Those are the moments when we must call on Christ’s strength to help us love others.

No matter what anyone else believes, we can extend them grace, knowing we have God’s truth. We can show generosity to others, either to people we know or to complete strangers, because Christ’s love is in our heart.

Don’t shy away from those who don’t believe as you do. Extend them grace. Christ’s love is in your heart.

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Better than a Car Wash

The text from the young man said he wanted to make some money by washing cars. I could respect that. But he lived kind of far away, so I didn’t confirm anything.

The next morning, he asked me about a meeting place. Then he asked me to buy towels, soap, and a bucket for him to wash my car. Needless to say, I didn’t.

I asked him what he was doing the next day. I needed help with a large social media task—my field of specialty. I would have taught him what to do. I told him I didn’t want or need a car wash, but he was set on giving one.

I told the young man I would pay him more for the social media job than I would for the car wash. Plus, it wouldn’t require him to stand in the hot sun all day. My work would have probably had him working in an air-conditioned place, like a coffee shop.

He gave another unsettling response. He ignored my offer to cancel the car wash. He wanted to do it anyway. Amidst my frustration, I realized something. I treat God the same way.

We can be so set on our ways and what we think that we are unwilling to trust the Lord and follow His ways. He could have something amazing just around the corner … everything set up to perfection. But we ignore it. Like this young man, we look to the Lord with our plans already in motion.

I did feel more compassion after this revelation—although everything became so convoluted that we never did the car wash or social media work. I did get a good glance in the mirror from this young man, and I recognized the need to trust in the Lord. His ways are higher than my ways.

Trust that the Lord always has something better in store for you.

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Thorns and Thistles

Communication is vital and is the give and take of thoughts, emotions, and dreams.

When we shut the door to productive dialogue with a loved one, we cease to disclose our heart. That is dangerous territory. I know. When angry or hurt, misunderstandings abound. Silence is deadly because we’re left to stew in our own thoughts. The moment we stop communicating, we create a wedge. As days pass, the wedge becomes a wall surrounding our heart. The truth is, the predicament we often find ourselves in is usually symptomatic of something more profound.

These attitudes are like thorns and thistles that threaten to overtake our hearts. They choke the life of God’s Spirit, causing us to stop seeking God because we’re too angry to pray—or more concerned about being right than being holy. We become neglectful in our devotion and suffer the consequences. Often, the most critical impact is a departure in our communication with God.

In 2 Chronicles 29, God’s people shut the doors of the portico in the temple of God and put out the lamps. No prayers or burnt offerings were offered. They neglected their worship of God. Although chosen to serve Him, their service had ceased. Communication lines with God had stopped.

This account of God’s dealings with His people gives me hope. As the story unfolds and the people repent of their sin, God reestablishes His purposes and His presence among them.

Letting our lives be a living sacrifice to Him will keep the thorns of anger and misunderstanding from prevailing. In turn, God will reestablish us and heal our hearts and relationships.

Put aside everything that hinders your communication with God so your prayers ascend as incense before Him.

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Thank You, Son

I have thought a lot about our conversation and wanted to share a few additional thoughts with you.

You mentioned it has been bothering you that it is easy for those who have everything to talk about God’s love and blessings, but for those who have nothing—not so much.

I’ve come to understand that each of the Lord’s children have a different road to travel, because our Father knows best and knows what is needed for each of His children. Life is but preparation for heaven’s shores.

One thing that came to me after our talk was that Paul had no family, home, or comforts. He also experienced prison, stoning, and medical problems but declared he had learned to be content in whatever condition he found himself—whether hungry or full. The reason for his contentment was his relationship with Jesus, which overcame all of life’s conditions. He trusted in God’s love and wisdom for what was best for him personally.

One more thing, Son. Hebrews chapter twelve refers to heroes of the faith. Among them were Noah, Abraham, and Sarah. Some of these faith heroes were “sawed in pieces . . . and were destitute,” yet “received a good report through faith.”

The trusting faith that our Father knows best brings me comfort when I think about what these brothers and sisters passed through.

Thank you for sharing, Son. I value your tender heart and willingness to share more than I can say.

When concern overwhelms you, focus on what the Lord suffered on the cross to pay for your sin as He conquered death.

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Joy to the World

The man stood before me and yelled, “All I want is to be happy.”

When he calmed himself, he told me what his concept of being happy was. He described the elusive good life: freedom from any suffering, being prosperous, and seeking personal pleasure with an expectation of constant positive and pleasant emotions. He blamed his wife and children for his unhappiness and, in the process, had lost his family.

Unfortunately, this sense of shallow and false well-being and contentment is fleeting and fickle because it depends on outward circumstances.

Joy is a quality independent of outward circumstances—a deep abiding with God. Joy is part of the nature and the character of God, and, once fully embraced in our spirit and residing in our heart, is permanent. That is why James exhorts us to “consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance” (James 1:2-3).

Nehemiah says the joy of the Lord is our strength. The devil can try to rob us of our happiness but cannot touch our joy. Joy is a state of actual being. It is the merciful kindness by which God exerts His holy influence upon us, turning us to Christ Jesus.

Joy keeps, strengthens, increases faith and knowledge, and kindles our spirits to exercise Christian values. “O send out Your light and Your truth, let them lead me; let them bring me to Your holy hill, and to Your dwelling places. Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy; and upon the lyre I shall praise You, O God, my God” (Psalm 43:3-4).

This Christmas season, draw close to Jesus, and He will draw close to you. Allow the joy of the Father to fill you to overflowing.

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God Appointment

I never thought there'd come a time when I would think about never going to church again.

When I was in my early twenties, I went to a school for the blind and other disabled people. To begin with, it was a lot of fun. But I had too much excitement, wanting to learn too much too fast. Soon, I wasn't doing very well. Then, some other bad things happened to me that I wasn't used to. It was supposed to be a two-year training school, but I stayed only a year and a half.

A few months before I quit, I was so discouraged that for the first time in my life I thought about not going to church—ever again. I told God if I didn't hear from Him that morning, that's exactly what I would do.

Thankfully, I did go to church and did hear from God … twice. The first time made me feel a lot better, but the second time was more special.

During the altar service, a teenage boy whom I barely knew prayed for me. After this, he hugged me and told me I was more of a blessing to him than I would ever know. I was almost in tears. From that day until I left, he was my dearest friend in that church.

As Paul reminds us, all believers belong to one body. And in that body, God gives us many opportunities to influence and serve others.

Don't let anything cause you to miss your God appointments.

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Awestruck at the Falls

We stood in the mist on a wooden walkway, facing the Devil’s Throat at Iguazu Falls, straddling Argentina and Brazil.

“Mucho agua,” I shouted above the thundering cascade to a young stranger in my tour group. (Much water was all the Spanish I could come up with.)

He laughed. “Si, señorita. Mucho agua!”

My words were inadequate to describe Iguazu Falls, one of the natural wonders of the world, where raging waters drop hundreds of feet and shoot mist high into the sky, creating rainbows above the jungle.

My classmate, Marta, and I—on summer break from college in Buenos Aires—had wandered through the park on the Argentine side the day before. My breath was snatched away by the surprising sight of butterflies in neon-blues and  unimaginable combinations of patterns and colors. We spotted bright, noisy parrots in the branches above us. Iguanas stuck out their red tongues. Toucans flew from tree to tree. Spiders wove intricate webs that withstood winds and spray. Amazing views greeted us as we hiked the curving catwalk along the falls.

The next day, Marta was not feeling well and urged me to cross the border to the Brazilian side without her. On the tour bus, I discovered no one else spoke English. That’s why my amazement was reduced to only two words: mucho agua.

The roar of the waters. The heat of the January day. The nearness of the wildlife. And in the midst of it all—wonder. My limited Spanish vocabulary matched the insufficiency of my words to praise the Creator, but my heart was singing joyfully, O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder…

The Bible is packed with references to the beauty of our natural surroundings. The six days of creation described in the first chapter of Genesis. Job. Psalms. Jesus’ teaching referring to birds and flowers. The water of life and the tree of life in the last chapter of Revelation. Our Creator made it all. He is great. And He is over all His creation.

Ever find yourself speechless at a sunset, the delicate design of flowers, bugs, trees, mountains, waterfalls, or people? Ask God to open your eyes and ears to His beauty. Then let your lips worship the Maker.

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Thinking the Right Thoughts

I faced a terminal diagnosis for my infant daughter.

When facing this crisis, I knew I had to be vocal and share what God was doing through it all.

I kept an online journal throughout my pregnancy and beyond to keep friends and family updated on her story. As more and more people followed the journal, I realized God had given me a platform to share about His love. I made it a point to include some truth God highlighted for me in each post. It was my way of giving my baby girl a legacy.

Since that time, I've realized even more the impact this had on me and on my grief during the worst of that storm. Looking back, I realize I established healthy thinking habits. I processed what was in front of me while challenging the temptation to give in to fear, anxiety, defeat, and depression.

When we face painful life circumstances, such as grieving the death of a loved one, we are more susceptible to our spiritual enemy. Making a conscious effort to focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy may not come naturally at first, but incredible value comes when we train ourselves to do so. As a therapist, I've shared this verse with clients as we work to correct unhealthy thinking habits. The negative, fearful, discouraging thoughts will come, but we can choose where our thoughts dwell. Whatever thinking patterns we indulge will be strengthened.

Think about your own struggles, and take a few moments to write down thoughts that leave you fearful or defeated. Then, seek scriptural truths to combat each of those thoughts. Think about what will help you grow from where you are now. You can choose what line of thinking you will indulge.

Be sure your thinking points you back to the peace and love your heavenly Father has for you.

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Grateful for Grace

Time to skirt to the back of the line.

That was always my response when teachers asked, “What are you thankful for this Thanksgiving?”

I’m thankful. Probably more than the “average bear,” but I hated being put on the spot. The things I seemed grateful for were little … insignificant … unimportant to most. When classmates were wielding family, meals, and personal possessions, the things I held dear to my heart were different.

While my family has always been a priority, it was also a given I was thankful for them. But when you sneak to the back of the line, and the fifteen people ahead of you have already said the same thing, your teacher starts to roll her eyes at the lack of thought her students put into being thankful.

There was never a doubt I was grateful for a good home and parents who loved and provided for me. I never knew we had so little. Our family always rejoiced at what we had. It never occurred to me to be anything less.

When my teacher finally worked her way to me, I was forced to answer the question.

“What about you, Cindy?” Mrs. Jackson asked.

“I’m thankful for….”

“Yes, go ahead.”

“I’m thankful for being able to open my eyes today.”

The other children laughed, and I wanted to crawl under the desk. I’m not sure if the courage to continue came from their laughter or from my teacher gently patting my back, but I went on. “I’m thankful for hope. For safety. But more than anything, I’m thankful for grace. It’s the most important.”

My teacher knelt in front of me. “Wow. Those are valuable things. And grace is the most important.” She took my hand and kissed my knuckles. “I’ve just found a new thing to be thankful for.”

Paul was always grateful even in his hardest times, and he never failed to share that. He reminded his friends how they enriched his life through Christ. That genuine joy in grace kept him thankful and happy.

This Thanksgiving, look around at the things that have enriched your life through Christ. I guarantee it will be different than the pat answer you normally give. Me … well, I’m still grateful for His grace. Guess I always will be.

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Attitudes Grow

I have learned wonderful lessons by watching nature.

Before I began paying more attention to nature, I often forgot that God Almighty, in nature, gave another revelation in addition to the Bible.

In Psalm 19, God’s Spirit mentions the revelation in nature before He mentions the revelation in the written Word of God. That shouldn’t be a surprise, because in Romans 1:20 we are told, For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and His divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood by what is made, so they are without excuse. Attitudes grow.

Among the lessons Jesus and the Spirit teach from nature is that a root of bitterness can grow and bother our life in general (Hebrews 12:15). It is easy to understand how bitter seeds can grow and destroy, but what is not commonly understood is that other attitudes can also grow.

A forgiving spirit is not an all-or-nothing thing; it grows or withers. A repentant heart can grow in strength of resolve. Lustful thoughts and feelings can be controlled or rejected more consistently. Thankfulness can be forgotten or embraced more often. Love can intensify or diminish.

Understanding that attitudes can grow causes me to think of an old children’s song that includes the question, “Mary, Mary, how does your garden grow?” Life is a garden, and what seeds we allow to grow in the fertile soils of our hearts determines the quality of the life we will live as well as the fruit we will bear.

We can’t grow attitudes that please God without divine help. We must pray the prayer of a supplicant’s heart: Dear Lord, please help us to be good gardeners as we go through life. Help us to have clean hearts and clean hands so that Your Holy Spirit can grow healing fruit through our lives. Amen.

Let your attitude grow into one that pleases your heavenly Father.

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You Can't Imprison the Word

All my life I've been legally blind because of an undeveloped optic nerve in both eyes.

Although my parents did all they could to raise me and to find help for me, they weren't able to find much assistance when it came to teaching me mobility and other independent living skills. 

Yet God has blessed me with the ability to do many things, such as memorize His Word. When I was in my late teens, I was on a Bible quiz team, and someone wrote an article about that in a Christian magazine. 

Through the Internet, television, and many other means, God is getting His Word around the world. His Word even flies over the bamboo and iron curtains. Some years ago, it broke down one of those curtains: the Berlin Wall. God did this to make sure even more of His Word got into closed countries. 

It matters not where we are or what situation we find ourselves in, the Word of God isn't bound. His Word can reach anyone, Christian and sinner alike. God is everywhere, and He can and will use all of us—whether through prayer, the Internet, or by talking and praying with someone—because He, the Word of God made flesh, isn't bound.

Regardless of your limitation, don't be bitter and discouraged and think you're useless. The Word of God through you isn't bound. 

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It's Warmer Nearer the Heat Source

I would love it if my morning coffee stayed hot. Or at least until I drank it.

The facts of life (and the laws of thermodynamics) tend to agree that we cannot heat something enough for it to stay hot. If someone could invent such a reality, he would be wealthy in an instant—and I would be grateful as I sip my morning coffee without having to rewarm it. But as every morning-hot-coffee-drinker knows, heat dissipates upon removal from the source of heat.

Without constant and intimate contact with God, His Holy Spirit, and His Word, a Christian’s flame also begins to flicker and his passion to wane. To be a shining light in a stormy, threatening world, believers must remain near their spiritual heat source.

Jesus says we must abide (dwell, remain, persevere) in Him just as smaller grapevines must remain attached to the main vine to draw strength, nutrition, viability—and ultimately, to bear fruit. Anything choking or restricting the spiritual supply from the Vine stunts our growth, dims our light, and reduces our effectiveness. The caution is clear: Without Me, you can do nothing. Without Him, we lose our heat.

Believers cannot remain warm apart from our Heat Source. Jesus tells us we are salt and light and are to win the lost and make disciples. We are encouraged to pray without ceasing, to abide in Him, and to set our minds on things above. Yet in the face of our spiritual enemy—as the cares of this world choke our attachment with the Vine and as our spiritual passion subtly erodes—we falter along the way, lose our warmth, and need reheating.

We can avoid the need for reheating by fanning the flames with daily readings in God’s Word, by turning up the heat with constant engagement with His Spirit, and by staying near the Heat Source through a continual awareness of His presence.

So, remove all restrictions choking your spiritual vitality, pull up a chair next to His fire, and absorb His wondrous, perpetual heat. Now, if you will excuse me, my coffee needs reheating.

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Walking with God

Before I met Christ, I understood God to be an omnipotent Judge. I felt the weight of my sin as I cringed before Him. Not until I heard the good news that Jesus died to save me did I begin to know what it is to have a relationship with my loving heavenly Father.

Since the fall, mankind's intimacy with God has diminished. But some drew near to Him in a limited way. Adam and Eve walked with Him in the Garden of Eden. Moses saw His form and heard His voice. David had a special relationship with the Holy One and became a fervent worshiper.

However, the veil of separation between God and humanity was not torn until Christ went to the cross. Those who have accepted the Savior's sacrifice as payment for their sin can now draw near to God.

We can enjoy the same intimacy with God that Adam and Eve experienced before their fall into sin. We can hear His voice and enjoy sweet fellowship with the Master. God gives us access to the Spirit's council, and we can bask in His abiding love.

When we draw near to the Lord, He promises to draw near to us. Rather than taking our Father God for granted, long for intimate communion with Him. He deserves our full attention, and He invites us to walk with Him in the garden of our own hearts.

If you haven’t been doing so, take a daily walk with God.

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Groundhog Day

My cat, Figaro, sat on the back step, peering through the wooden slats. Her golden eyes were wide with attention. Her nose twitched with interest.

As I followed her gaze, I saw a groundhog under the step. Unsure of how far the groundhog would go to protect his space, I whisked Figaro away. Once she was safe in the house, my feelings shifted to elation. The groundhog was sent by God.

One week prior to the groundhog’s appearance, my mom had seen one nearby while walking. We often walk together, but I wasn’t with her that day and was disappointed I’d missed out. Though groundhogs are native to Alaska, in my thirty-one years in the state, I had never seen one up close. So I said a prayer: Lord, please let me see that groundhog.

Though I had to wait, the groundhog eventually emerged from beneath the step. Instead of dashing into the bushes, as I feared he might, he waddled to the flower box. With leathery paws, he pulled a delphinium stalk down to his face and nibbled the blossoms. Against the backdrop of ferns and flowers, the scene was enchanting. He snacked for several minutes, then ambled away as if he hadn’t a care in the world.

Seeing a groundhog might seem mundane, but for me it was an answered prayer. God heard when I asked to see the groundhog and somehow inspired him to pay me a visit. On that warm summer day, God used nature to declare His love, affection, and attention toward me.

The Bible says God hears our voices (Psalm 116:1) and grants the desires of those who fear Him (Psalm 145:19)—even the little desires. He is a good Father, tenderly watching over us, inclining His ear to the stirrings of our hearts.

God wants to delight us and speak to us uniquely and individually. Sometimes He does that through a brilliant sunrise, sometimes through a kind word from a friend, and sometimes through something as simple as a visit from a groundhog.

Believe God cares about your desires. Ask Him for the small, but meaningful. Trust that He hears you, and then look for His answers.

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My Provider

Looking over my calendar of monthly bills, I saw a huge problem.

I needed $2100 more than I had to cover bills. I had no idea how to get that many more bookings for our new Bed and Breakfast—and I needed them quickly. I prayed, but God told me, “If you want guests, you’d better get the cabins cleaned.” I laughed a little, hopped up, and loaded the cleaning supplies.

As I started on the first cabin, the phone rang. A couple booked a three-night stay. Thank you, Lord. I walked back to the cabin and went to work. Halfway through cleaning the second cabin, the phone rang again. Another booking … and then another. Just as I finished cabin number three, the phone rang yet again. Two couples, calling together, booked their stay. 

I couldn’t wait to finish cleaning so I could add up the income of the new bookings. In the three hours it took me to clean the cabins, God sent $2400 in bookings for that month. He provided more than I’d asked. Then it dawned on me I had forgotten to add in groceries and gasoline. He knew more about my needs than I did and provided for them all.

After that day, I continued to talk over the books with God. I’d talk Him through our bookings calendar, and then we’d look over the bill calendar together. Each time, after I showed God my needs, I closed the books and left them with Him. Then I’d go to work to prepare my beautiful place for the guests He would send. 

During those days, God taught me the truth of wise King Solomon’s words. Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and he will make your paths straight. Trusting God didn’t make sense, but doing so didn’t have to. I knew my situation was from God, Jehovah Jireh, who is my Provider. 

Next time you’re going over your calendar of bills—or anything else you’re struggling with—talk with God. Tell Him what you’re up against, close the book, and turn everything over to Him.

Go to work and trust God to be your Provider.

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Try, Try Again

The scenario continued until he struck out. Over and over. Game after game.

Our son, Ashton, stepped up to home plate and held his bat high over his shoulder. He bent his knees and gripped the bat a little tighter. “Go Ashton, you got this!” I yelled from the stands. He waited. The first pitch fired across home plate. He froze in place. “Strike one!” the umpire shouted from behind the plate.

After watching this scene repeatedly, Ashton’s father stepped in. “Hey, buddy, I want to take you to the batting cages to practice. I think it will help if you get used to fast pitches coming in.”

And with that, father and son headed off to practice. After a few stints at the batting cage, Ashton stepped up to the plate. Please, Lord, let him hit the ball this time. As soon as those words rolled off my tongue, I heard the whack as bat met ball and Ashton sped to first base.

I think this is why Paul admonishes us to keep trying, even if we fail the first, second, or third time. Our loving Father will step in and give us the tools to succeed. Then we keep trying until we accomplish what we set out to do.

We often put off doing something because we are afraid of failing. Or we try once or twice, but come up short and quit. God wants us to step out, to try again, and to rest assured He will meet us where we are. He equips each of us to fulfill what He calls us to do.

Go ahead and try again. You never know. The next time you step up to bat, you might hit a home run.

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Your First Thought

It happened again—an explosive temper from one I love.

I do love this person, but the pain remained. I left their presence, but I was walking wounded. I rewound the scene and played it over in my mind. Why, I don’t know. This didn’t need to happen. I sought comfort.

I turned to pizza instead of God and went to one of my favorite pizza places. Sad, I know, but I tend to turn to favorite foods for comfort. Later in the evening, God whispered, “Why didn’t you turn to me for comfort?” I searched for the truth, then replied. “It wasn’t my first thought, God. I’m so sorry! Help me make You my first thought.”

As I took my second step out of the restaurant, a gust of wind blew the box from my hand. After looking both ways to see if anyone was watching, I cleaned up the parking lot. I decided the five-second rule didn’t apply to asphalt. Then I went back in and ordered another pizza. 

My turning to food first, instead of God, made for an expensive medium pizza. Lesson learned ... I hope.

Make God your first thought in tough times, not your last resort.

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Hopeful Future

We thought it would never get here.

Springtime finally arrived. I drove to my home in Bethany Beach. My family and I agree our house on the shores of Delaware is our favorite place. Something about looking out over the ocean, which appears to have no end, offers a sense of serenity that’s hard to find anywhere else. I feel so small by comparison in the vastness of it all, and, yet, not insignificant. All of this is a part of God’s amazing creation. In this place, getting lost in the more profound thoughts of the heart is easy for me—a hopeless romantic and dreamer.

Four years ago, my husband Richard passed away. He loved being on the shore. Not a day goes by that I don’t feel the emptiness caused by his absence. With the passing of time, the void seems to intensify. But also in time comes a sense of peace, rooted in the belief that we will see each other again. When that day arrives, our vision will be through the eyes of God’s infinite glory. No more sickness or bodies ravaged by the environment or the elements of time.

God reminded Jeremiah He had plans for him. I also believe I remain here because God is not finished with me. All power rests in His hands alone. I don’t know what the future holds, but I long to be fully committed to and excited about the gift of life God has given me.

God’s faithfulness controls the oceans. He knows every grain of sand. He also knows you and me. His power is immeasurable, and His promises are trustworthy and overflow with truth. God’s love has no end.

Starting today, trust God with your future.

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A Homogenized Life

During the 1940s and 50s, milkmen delivered fresh milk daily to my family’s doorstep.

As a lad, I was amazed by how the pasteurized quart bottles had cream at the top, which my parents used for their coffee. A middle milk was used for our cereal, and the skim milk we fed to the cats. Once homogenized milk became the fad in the 1960s, I was disappointed because the cream was equally mixed throughout the milk. I had drawn the conclusion that the cream should be separated at the top. I was wrong.

This childhood lesson taught me a valuable principle that has helped me understand life and relate to Jesus. A lesson that has taught me how to obey Paul’s command to let God sanctify me through and through.

I understood that failing to find a balanced life frustrates the life of freedom in Christ, and this binds a person. In another place, Paul tells us to stand fast in the liberty we have in Christ and not to be entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1). God creates a condition of liberty, or freedom, for the whole person: spirit, soul, and body.

Balance is one of the most important words, yet it is one of the hardest things to find. As God’s children, we should pray each day for the ability to accept ourselves as God has designed us—a three-part creature: body, soul, and spirit. Remembering we are human—and that those we minister to are in the same boat—we are more apt to be successful.

We must stand fast in the freedom from bondage Christ has given us by accepting our new self with thanksgiving. We are new creations when we are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5: 17). Almighty God desires each of us to lead a balanced and thankful life. God’s will is for us to give thanks in every situation (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Pray this prayer with me: Dear Lord, thank You for Your designs. Help me to be healthy in my spirit, soul, and body. I need Your Spirit’s assistance in finding the balance of living an integrated and homogenized life. Amen

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Living the Call

She sat on her back porch, crying and wondering what she was going to do.

On March 24, 1997, the husband of a dear friend rolled his tractor and mower over a hillside and trapped himself underneath. With his death, my friend lost her husband, earthly security, and best friend. Although overwhelmed, she refused to buckle. Rather, she resolved she would thrive under God’s care and guidance.

My friend continued her previous church roles and added a new one: American mom to international university students. She flourished, however, in her dedication to volunteer missions. She went and served as often as circumstances allowed. Some trips offered safe, comfortable surroundings while others challenged the heartiest of individuals. Yet, she never wavered, saying instead, “Jesus gave so much for us. It’s time to give back.”

After God miraculously led them out of Egyptian bondage and through the Red Sea, the people of Israel traveled three days without water. When they found water at Marah, they could not drink it because of its bitter taste. As we so often do, they grumbled rather than turning to the one and only all-powerful God or looking for God’s blessing in the midst of the problem. However, when Moses called out to God, God healed the water and the people journeyed on to far greater blessings at Elim.

Ordinary people face daunting obstacles daily. Some crumble under the load while others make the best of circumstances and change our world for the better. My friend chose the latter route.  

We must also choose. We can become bitter, like the water of Marah, and grumble, like the people of Israel, or we can call out to God as Moses did.

God waits to heal, transform, and use you—as He did the desert water.

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The Perceivable God

From the foundation of the world—and in the story of creation itself—the faithful Father’s loving hand is evident.

The Creator set in place all that was needed before He placed man and woman in the garden: air, water, vegetation, animals, and work for their hands. He displayed His compassion and care from the beginning. Yet in looking only at His provision for us, we may miss the point.

God’s purpose was to reveal Himself. Every line of creation, every natural process, and every created thing bears the mark of His invisible attributes. As we study the created, the Creator comes into clearer focus. As science advances in our modern age, we are more without excuse in acknowledging the existence and character of God.

Jesus declared Himself the Light of the World. Light proceeds in a never-ending line that is both visible and invisible. God is similar.

God is also in Scripture. A spoken word holds great power to bring life and encouragement, correction, and conviction. Sound waves, generated by speech, carry great distances, moving around and through obstacles and overcoming them with the force of persistence. If the sound waves are large enough, they can alter the structure of the things they pass through. God is like that.

Scientific study of the created realm reveals many instances of God’s provision for our healing in the things He created—from essential oils and herbal remedies to the simple tree resin known as Baltic Amber.

At times, we may strain to hear a word, a confirmation, the voice of God that seems to be silent. In those times, remember we only have to look around and investigate what He has created. His imprint is there, speaking clearly of who He is and of His faithfulness.

When you feel as if God has abandoned you, look around.

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I Forget to Pray

God and I have a unique communication style.

Because of a difficult past with my health, each morning I wake up and think, Thank you, Lord, for another day! When I lie down at night, my thoughts are the same. The Alpha and Omega has been with me all day, and I want to recognize His presence and His gifts of life.

I want God to know I’m thankful for all He has done through His Son. Without the Holy Trinity, I would be more than lost. So I keep them close—in my heart and on my tongue. I breathe conversation with God every chance I get.

But the one thing I sometimes—often—forget to do is pray. A horrible admission, but one that’s true. I’m so into moments with God that I forget to kneel before Him … to honor His Glory … to ask for His Providence.

Conversation is a wonderful thing, but some moments I need more from my heavenly Father. Those are the moments I remember what He taught through Isaiah: to approach Him with confidence, to give thanks, and to ask. After all, He created me, my heart. And He has given me the desires of my heart as well as a heart that longs for Him.

In those moments when I need more, Abba-Daddy puts His strong hand on my shoulder, pulls me close, and says, “Rest, dear one. It’s okay. Daddy’s got you.”

I hope that I will pray more and that I will use reverence and awe in my everyday, casual conversations with God.

God is always waiting to hear from you. Talk to Him often.

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God's Surprise

I didn’t want to go overseas as a single missionary, but it happened.

I had prayed for a husband, but wanted not my will but the Lord’s will to be done. By the time I was in my fifties, I was content and fulfilled as a single missionary teacher. I had a colleague who said she would get married when she retired. I wondered who would want to get married to an old man after living happily independent and free of family responsibilities. I certainly never would.

After becoming a missionary emeritus, I settled into a retirement community. The first day in exercise class I saw him. I had no idea who he was and felt no attraction. Then out of nowhere, the strangest thought popped into my mind: This is the man you are going to marry.

What a ridiculous thought! Where did that come from? I had no idea what kind of man this stranger was. At this late stage, I had no desire to marry. I pushed that unrealistic thought away and forgot it.

Not until much later, after Ted and I had spent quite a bit of time together, did I remember that crazy thought. God revealed to me how He has created the seasons of our lives and has a purpose for each of those seasons.

This fits the pattern of my life—the way God breaks through to let me know His will and plan. Faith backed up by such strong impressions because He does not want me to doubt His will. This is true for each of His children.

Having a long history of walking daily with a personal God, knowing His heart of love, and experiencing His faithfulness is special. He shows us how He can change our thoughts and bring good into all circumstances.

Through faith, experience God’s surprises each day.

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Our Refuge

Due to a sudden and unexpected lightning strike of a major power source, twenty hours of darkness met residents of the Big Apple.

The New York Blackout of 1977 surged with anarchy as the volume of citizens who rioted rose and spread like wildfire—those who didn’t 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 alteration like a blackout. I call it a force to adapt to, and no one likes force.

People endure mental and emotional effects defined as panic responses when they experience power outages. Studies show many lose the ability to communicate as the clock continues to wind. We imagine horror, and some get so stressed they commit horrendous acts of violence. When things go black, health and refuge become debatable.

Things are dark when the lights are suddenly turned off, but within a second or two, our eyes adjust and things don’t appear that dark after all.

We all face challenges in life that reflect power outages, such as panic responses and doubt. But the psalmist challenges us not to fear because God is our refuge and strength.

When calamity raids my home, I immediately try to fix it by turning 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 often aggravates the situation—such as walking into a dark room before our eyes adjust, causing us to fall. We can’t be anxious to remedy changes, troubles, or tragedy. 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 it is not impossible. Trust that it will get better, that God is in control, and that He is working all things on our behalf.

Stand still and know God created and controls all things—light included.

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A Beautiful Thing

Ministry calls; it always does.

Your in-home Bible study starts in an hour. You’ve prepared all week with careful study and prayer. Throughout the week, there were meetings, family responsibilities, and a visit to a friend in the hospital.

"Leave her alone," said Jesus. "Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me."

This Scripture reminds us we are to take time to pour out our sincere affection on Christ because of all He’s done. Easier said than done. Our hectic schedules and to-do lists seem endless. Getting caught up in doing things—even good things—is easy.

This woman demonstrated love for Christ by offering an extravagant gift. Her offering made little sense to others, but that’s often the case when we linger long in His presence. Christ comes to the woman’s defense, admonishing those who criticized her actions. He reminded them that although it’s important to serve and minister to those in need, it is also important to quiet ourselves long enough to sit at His feet and worship Him.

In Luke 10, Jesus gently corrects Martha after she complained that her sister Mary was doing nothing to help with preparations for their guests. Jesus reminded Martha that Mary had chosen the better thing. Like the woman who lavished Jesus with the costly perfume, Mary sat at our Lord’s feet and gave Him her undivided attention. Both women demonstrated love by choosing to sit at His feet.

Others may think it strange, but there are times when out of genuine gratitude for all Christ has done, we’re compelled to remain at His feet. As I pondered the text, I wondered about the last time I lingered at His feet. I am more like Martha, and it has taken me years to cultivate a heart that willingly chooses to be still. I was also reminded that even good things can get in the way of doing the best things.

Before you rush headlong into the day, take a moment to sit in Jesus’ presence and lavish Him with love. In His estimation, this is a beautiful thing.

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Bloom Where You're Planted

The warmth of the springtime sun awakened life in the garden, causing specks of green to shoot through the dark soil.

In a matter of weeks, healthy flowers would adorn the front garden. Sadly, the vigor of my indoor plants did not match the growth of the outdoor tulips. A Google search provided the solution: my plants needed to be repotted. I also needed to loosen the plant from its soil, scarify the roots, place the plant into fresh soil, and water it well. The repotted plant would grow new roots that could absorb the fresh supply of nutrients in the new soil and would become a healthy plant.

Repotting my indoor plant led me to think about times when God chose to repot me. Moving to a new city turns life upside-down. A firm tap dislodges soil from the once-familiar root ball. Relocation severs old roots. The whole experience feels as if I have been wounded. I turn to His word and listen for His voice—and grow.

Jesus reminds us we have been chosen to go and grow. Sometimes the go means repotting. The scarified roots of my repotted plant must continually seek out the source of water and nutrients in their new soil if the plant is to become healthy. Likewise, we must continually absorb the Word of God and allow the Spirit of God to fill us if we are to mature spiritually.

The going and growing may be uncomfortable, but it produces fruit. Our responsibility isn’t creating the fruit. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should remain. The context of this verse reminds us going and growing is both directed and sustained by God. Jesus chose us and will bring the fruit He desires. When we allow Him to lead us, we will bear fruit as we abide in Him.

Maybe you doubt God’s plan for your move. Be encouraged that He is in control and will sustain you as you feed on His Word. You can bloom where you are planted.

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Our Father's Love

“Oh no! Not again,” I muttered as I steered the dying car to the side of the road.

Dad bought the used car for me after my husband left and took our only vehicle. At that time, I was living in the church parsonage where my husband had been the minister. Ten months before, we’d left our home when he felt called to accept the ministerial position. After he left, the leaders graciously permitted me to live in the parsonage until they called a new minister.

I had never worked outside my home, but now I was being forced to seek employment. God opened the door for a secretarial position at a nonprofit organization fifty miles away. The job paid barely above minimum wage, but I was thankful for it.

I depended on the used car dad had given me so I could drive the five hundred miles each week to and from work. I was thankful for the car, but it seemed every week the car had problems—and some were expensive. I struggled to pay my bills, so I grappled with driving the used car.

Imagine my joy when Dad surprised me with a new car. Driving a car that I knew was safe and dependable was wonderful. Dad didn’t owe me a new car—he’d already helped me in so many ways. His gift was one of love, freely given.

Isn’t that how our heavenly Father provides for our needs? We don’t deserve His blessings, but His gifts are given freely and in abundance, because He loves us with a love that is above and beyond human comprehension.

Be thankful for your Father’s love and for your earthly father’s love.

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On the Way

During a trip to Cincinnati, a twenty-something lady sat beside me on the plane. After a brief response to my greeting, she connected her earphones to her mobile device and put them in her ears. Shortly after takeoff, she added dark glasses to her travel attire and remained plugged in—or should I say out—for the duration of the flight.

I might have been offended had I not been familiar with this hallmark of our day which has rapidly become the norm. I wondered who she was, where she was going, and what her felt need was.

On my next connecting flight, a forty-something lady sat next to me. After our initial greetings, she revealed she was on her way home to offer her final goodbye to her father who’d passed away the day before. For the next hour, we shared portions of our lives, looked at family photos, and agreed to become Facebook friends. As we prepared to depart, she thanked me for the conversation that had kept her grief at bay.

“Ships that pass in the night” is a line from a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem penned over 150 years ago. You’ve probably heard and used this phrase as you’ve brushed shoulders with someone while you were both on the way to your respective places. The metaphor speaks of two sailing vessels that pass in the night and shine their lights to acknowledge one another’s presence. After passing, they slip into the darkness, never to see the other again.

The enemy of this world is a master deceiver. He uses multitudes of devices to create division and separate us from the people God places around us on the way to where we’re going. Satan will stop at nothing to keep us from shining a light into someone’s darkness. Our lights may appear dim. What we do may seem insignificant. But the pure offering of our presence may be all someone needs to keep their flickering flame alive.

Daily, Jesus met the needs of people. Some He met while on the way to the next place. His presence always meant life for their souls.

God places people in your path. On the way, listen to the gentle whisper of His Holy Spirit. Acknowledge someone’s presence with yours. Shine a light into their darkness. Your paths may never cross again.

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Metamorphosis

I had no idea how much change could or would take place.

When I decided to allow Jesus to be Lord of my life, nothing dramatic happened overnight. Let’s just say my view and understanding of God changed. Like Jacob, who wrestled with God and walked away with a permanent limp, I have a few bumps and bruises that remind me of my thirty-five-year-old decision. Make no mistake, struggling or wrestling with God is all part of our human condition—instigated by wanting to have our way. In the conflict, we learn either to trust Him or to fight Him.

Not long after Jesus came into my heart, I saw my shortcomings as never before: judgmental, quick-tempered, unforgiving. After an encounter with a loved one and holding a grudge for a long time, my sweet husband looked at me one day with sadness in his eyes and said, “You are not the person I fell in love with!” His words cut deeply to the core of my problem.

Tears poured down my face. Alone with God, I asked Him to show me how to forgive as He forgives. I couldn’t do it on my own. A few days later, I went to the person with whom I had an issue. I didn’t express my forgiveness for their offense but asked them to please forgive me for mine.

Only God can transform us from the inside out. The only action required is a willingness to be changed. Then, He does the rest. We are a work in progress, but transformation through cooperation is a great place to start. 

Let God begin His work of transformation in you today.

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Cross on the Ceiling

Flat on my back, I was recovering from left hip replacement surgery.

I felt lonely in the darkness in the middle of the night. Suddenly, I opened my eyes and looked at the ceiling. My breath was taken away a bit when I realized what stood out in the gloom: a bright cross above my chest on the ceiling. At first, I blinked my eyes to make sure it was there. Opening my eyes again, it still was.

I looked around to see where it was coming from. Perhaps some hall lights are reflecting it, I thought. I had no one else in the room, so it wasn’t coming from people. A bit frustrated, I couldn’t find any explanation for the cross on my ceiling.

My heart filled with warmth as I yielded to God’s Spirit and talked to my Lord. He had died on the cross and was telling me He was with me in my pain. I lay there in the darkness with my warm heart until I fell asleep. I never saw the cross on the ceiling in my subsequent nights in the hospital, but I was comforted each time I remembered its visit.

When overwhelming pain is your companion, remember your blessed Lord promises never to leave or forsake you. Keep looking up and pressing on in trustful patience.

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Time to Say Yes

When a guy won't stop pursuing you, be harsh and avoid him as much as possible—or not.

That was my “go to” plan during my undergraduate days. I watched as guys gave up on pursuing me, except Ken—Mr. Persistence. All that changed when I received my first and only teddy bear from him as a Valentine’s Day gift. For years, I had watched friends make a big deal about giving gifts to loved ones on the day designated to show love. I couldn’t wait for the day when I would receive a present from the one I loved—particularly a huge, soft teddy bear.

But I didn’t plan on receiving it from the person I despised the most. Though bent on getting rid of Ken, I struggled for several minutes to do so when I realized he had gone the extra mile to get my most-desired present. While many showed love to others who loved them back, he showed love knowing how much I despised him.

My situation was no different from Jesus’. He pursues and shows love to us even when we constantly ignore Him. For many different reasons, we resist Him, knowing He is ready to grant us our most-desired presents that we don't deserve.

I found an awesome friendship in Ken, which I could have lost. Persistence can last only for a period. Don’t ignore the Lord’s offer of eternal life.

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Standing Still

Standing still is hard. It means you’re not moving, and, if you’re a control freak like me, it means you’re not making something happen. Standing still means someone else is in charge.

I’ve never been good at just standing—or sitting—but sometimes that’s all I can do. When I’ve voiced every request and when I’ve banged on the doors of heaven and explained to God in excruciating detail what I want Him to do, all I can do is stand still.

This isn’t a new problem. Scripture is filled with stories of those who didn’t wait, took matters in their own hands, and messed up. So is my life … and yours.

God answers. He moves. But sometimes He doesn’t move until we stop moving. He says His thoughts are not ours, nor are His ways ours (Isaiah 55:8). His way of answering seldom looks the way we think it should. Even while we’re trying to sit or stand still, we try to direct God’s answer. But it doesn’t work.

God promises He’ll answer our prayers because He loves us. Yet that’s not the only reason. He answers our prayers in His time—and in His way—to bring glory to His name.

We control freaks forget, in our ever-failing attempts to run the world, we are not God. Or even God-ish. We aren’t in charge but need to stand still and know God is God.  Occasionally, we only get that message when the problems we’re facing are so out of control we have no choice.  

So stand still. Fight anxiety and panic and trust God is who He says and that He will do what He promises. Your answer is coming.

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Loudspeakers

Everyone in camp could hear it.

At summer Boy Scout camp, a loudspeaker near the parade ground blasted reveille and later broadcasted the day’s special events. Later in life, I realized loudspeakers were trying to get my attention. But most of their agendas countered the best experiences I’d had.

I served in the military in Spain where drugs were readily available. Getting caught meant years in prison. I listened to too many of those voices, but escaped unharmed. How? I’d played basketball in high school and began playing on the military base. I discovered the voices attracting me to drugs countered my real joy: round ball. I stopped listening and started playing.

Elijah wanted God to take him home because of the people’s voices. Not only did Israel drop God’s commandments, they also destroyed altars and killed all the other prophets. They wanted to kill Elijah, and he wanted out.

God presented Elijah with a great calamity in which wind broke mountain rocks, an earthquake happened, and a fire destroyed the remains. God wasn’t in any of these. After this, a still small voice told Elijah how to conquer his enemies.

God communicates in the quiet of our peace. Obtaining that quiet requires doing something different. Those loudspeakers will not rest. Every moment we don’t focus on God’s purpose for our lives exposes us to the voices. As long as we are distracted from the daily renewing of God’s grace, Satan and his minions are happy.

When we attended camp, the loudspeaker held authority. We planned a day of adventure and accomplishment by regarding the truth it broadcast. God’s still, quiet voice is not as easy to comprehend. By focusing more on the Word of God, we can expect Him to come in a quiet moment.

Let God give you direction by eliminating the loudspeakers so you can find your joy.

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Ageless Gems

“You’re still going up the hill, but my mom’s already gone over.”

We laughed at the little girl’s comments, but they reflected her youth-focused mindset. We often overlook the priceless worth of maturity. Preoccupied with wrinkles, gray hair, and bald spots, we fail to recognize the experience, wisdom, and genuine beauty afforded a well-lived life.

Each age comes with built-in benefits. People with more years behind them than ahead experience much during those years. By token of all they’ve learned, easily or from multiple bumps and bruises, we do well to respect them and heed their insights. I can’t imagine my life without the benefits gained from my snow-capped mentors and friends.  

Notwithstanding maturity’s assets, no one but God commands all the answers—and never will. The more mature still have much to learn. Just as they are often overlooked, they may also overlook a wealth of information right before them.

Children and youth, with their enthusiasm and willingness to take risks, uncover possibilities most of us would never choose to unearth. Granted, not all those possibilities work, but neither do all of ours.

Sandwiched between those age extremes are people with time and energy who are often stretched to the limit. The demands of work, church, and community compete with personal and family responsibilities. Making a marriage work or striving to balance life as a single adult can stifle individual needs and desires.

As the older and younger generations both prioritize, juggle, and somehow survive, they remind us to focus on what matters most. Openness to the challenges and contributions of every life stage adds beauty and benefits to life. We all gain from mutual acceptance, understanding, and support.

Thank God for the gems of every age and the opportunity to learn from them all.

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The Power of God's Word

The conviction of Christ followers over the centuries has been that the Bible is a literal representation of the thoughts of Almighty God.

If we believe this, we must take the reading and studying of the Bible seriously. The Bible is life and food for our souls, shedding light and direction upon our path. It corrects, teaches, comforts, heals, builds faith, inspires, motivates, and fills us with the Spirit of God. We will also listen to those who preach and teach from it. 

The Bible is a compilation of sixty-six books, written by authors inspired by God. The Greek meaning of the word “inspiration” is “God-breathed.” Instead of viewing the Bible as just another book, we can approach God’s Word with a sense of awe and wonder. As we apply its teachings, we will grow spiritually and become more like our Maker.

Find a translation you are comfortable with, and approach the Word of God prayerfully, asking the Holy Spirit to teach you and reveal precious truths. Don’t rush, but pause and digest what you are reading, looking for one takeaway. Ask the Lord to help you put into practice a specific commandment. Look for a promise to believe and claim. Above all, enjoy your time with God.

The Bible is a great gift, filled with the breath of God. Reading and studying it will reap great and precious rewards.

If you have not developed a habit of reading the Word daily, begin with ten to fifteen minutes a day.

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If My Bible Disappeared

Driving with my smartphone in my lap, I realized I had reached for it several times to make sure it was still there—as if the phone could walk away.

In that moment, I acknowledged my dependence on the device and confessed, "Oh, I know God is all I need. I could live without electronics as long as I still had Him." But God wasn't done with the teaching moment. And this isn't a devotional about putting your devices ahead of God.

After exploring the idea of living without technology—and convincing myself I could handle it if necessary—I was confronted with some questions: What if I had to live without the Bible? Would I have enough of it hidden away in my heart to be satisfied? Would having John 3:16 and Psalm 23 memorized be enough to satisfy me?

The Bible is God’s method of communication to teach us about Him and to guide us. It is more accessible now than at any other time in history. Knowing I don't appreciate its availability as much as I should, I question how it would affect me if it were taken away. I imagine I would write down every verse of Scripture I know, and pray to remember more. I would probably ask everyone around me what verses they remembered as well.

Although the Lord will preserve His Word, it is good to imagine how life would change if the Bible suddenly vanished and it wasn't here to light our paths. Thankfully, the Holy Spirit can never be taken away from us and will always be our guide. I pray God will continue to speak to me through His Word and that I will treasure it.

Commit Scripture to memory, not for fear the Bible will be taken away, but to allow it to work in your life.

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Hiding from God

I was nervous as I sat through the lectures about human trafficking and trauma.

Hearing stories from young girls whose lives had been changed forever, I wondered why God called me to this ministry. I patiently waited nine months before I received a phone call asking me to mentor a young girl. I spent two days praying and, in the end, turned it down. I had too much on my plate. I was switching jobs, and it was the end of the year. I felt overwhelmed and couldn’t start anything else. My list of excuses went on and on.

When I hung up the phone, God called me out. The truth was I was hiding from being a mentor.  I had taken my own baggage—worry, insecurity, distrust—and inserted it into a relationship that hadn’t even started. I used my baggage as an excuse that I wasn’t good enough for the job.

How many times are we like Saul? We rejoice in a calling God has given us, but when the moment comes to start that journey, we change our minds and hide among our baggage instead of trust God’s call. By doing so, we miss opportunities to work beside God and minister to others.

Whatever baggage you are hiding in, come out. Trust in God to help you fulfill what He has asked you to do.

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Look for the Light

In 1642, theologian Thomas Fuller stated, “The darkest moment is just before sunrise.”

Scientific evidence reveals it is midnight. However, during times of warfare—be it mind, soul, or spirit—the darkest hour is the hour the enemy seems to have an upper hand. With hope lost, we can’t see the sun on the horizon.

The majority of our day is filled with daylight. When you’re hurting, things seem to be more manageable during the day, but night has the darkest hours—and what feels like the longest. If you have been hurt, you know the feeling. You can’t sleep or even see past the night. The nights feel long, exhaustive, and excruciating—taunting us that light is just around the corner. Maybe it’s because night is quieter, nothing is on TV, everyone has gone home, and the phones have stopped ringing. Distractions have ceased.

Light is joy, peace, and victory. Light holds the answers to all the questions we ask in the dark. It may seem easier to deal with pain in the day, but that’s because we clean up, put a smile on, and cover our sorrow with pretty shiny bows. If that doesn’t work, we store our sorrow in a place called avoidance. But at night, those not-so-easy-to-look-upon failures and hurts reveal themselves all at once from the places they hid when the sun beamed high. This can seem unbearable.

Our warfare’s triumph is just before dawn. In dark times we believe night will be followed by more night—that it will never end. But the truth is night will always be followed by morning if you can endure the darkest hour.

Fight to endure the pangs of darkness. Look forward to the light waiting just around the corner—the light that has been in you the whole night.

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Without Love I Am Nothing

Three young men competed as they went through graduate seminary.

Each was an honors student and focused on winning the highest cum laude degree. The student who received the lowest honors degree, the cum laude, was bothered for the rest of his life by the other two earning the higher magna cum laude.

All three went on to serve in equally responsible positions. One served as a foreign missionary to Japan and then as a seminary professor. The second served as a college professor and then as the director of a hospital’s psychological services.

The cum laude served as a college professor and then as the college’s president, yet he never got over being third in the honors competition during seminary. Toward the end of his life, he still felt he had to downgrade his old competitors when talking about them to others.

Worry over gaining knowledge or honors can become too important and pollute relationships. Even all knowledge, without considering others more important than ourselves (Philippians 2:3), is like grasping a handful of bitter sand that may irritate us for the rest of our life.

When David said in Psalm 52 that the only sacrifice God doesn’t despise is a broken and contrite heart, he meant for us to realize a broken spirit is of great value to the tender and loving Lord we serve. This attitude considers others better than itself and also lifts others up.

A humble, loving heart means more to our Lord than any honor we will ever earn, or any service or gift we will ever bring to Him. Without humble love, we are nothing.

Instead of trying to rise above the broken heart you have because of tragic failures you have experienced, walk in the Lord’s presence with a broken and contrite heart and bring Him delight.

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On Guard

It’s easy to be caught off guard by someone or a situation. It’s happened to me countless times. To the point I finally realized God was trying to tell me something about my reactions. 

Even when we are going through life on our best behavior and trying to handle everything in a way that is pleasing to God, we can’t control what others say or do to us. We can only control our own reactions.

I discovered that when I was caught off guard. I reacted more out of my flesh because I was taken aback by what was said to me. I wasn’t expecting it. After I had more time to digest everything, I discovered my reaction was not what I would have liked for it to be. It was kind of like coming up with a really good come back to a smart remark three days later when it didn’t matter anymore.

The main thing I asked myself when God revealed a bad reaction (of mine) to me was "Why did I do that?" Or "Why did I say that?" Sometimes, my answer would simply be "I don't know." 

And God, in all of His wisdom, showed me that my reactions were very revealing. They uncovered a bad place in my heart. An area He saw in me that displeased Him, and I was oblivious until He brought it to my attention. Everything we do flows from our heart . . . especially our reactions to others. 

God is making us like Jesus. When He sees an area that needs work, He points it out. I guess I'm a bit slow—and sometimes it takes a few times for me to pick up on the problem. But we should be thankful He loves us enough to correct us and to show us the areas where we can do better. 

When you’re caught off guard, depend on God to give you wisdom on how to act.

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Testing the Limits

My warnings were numerous; they didn’t listen.

I could identify. When I was their age, I had no interest in school either. These two boys topped my antics though. I didn’t talk in class, I just daydreamed or slept. Nor did I ignore the teacher’s warnings to be quiet.  

One day, my patience wore thin. I told them to see me after class. After talking with them, I informed them they’d serve Lunch-n-Learn. They had their excuses and speeches prepared. “Dad will kill me,” one said. “He’ll take everything away from me.” The other said nothing. He was already in trouble. His mom had scheduled a conference call with another teacher the same day.

The first launched into a speech I’d heard before. “Move me,” he said, “just don’t give me Lunch-n-Learn.” When I showed him the desk up front—the one isolated from everyone else in the class—he offered to sit in other desks, just not that one. “That one or detention,” I said. He took the offer and stomped out.

The psalmist knew people who tested the limits as these two boys did. At times, he was one of those people. He had fallen into various sins and watched others who had as well. Yet he had also experienced God’s patience.

Like these two scamps, I was a rebel for many years. I knew better than to do the sinful things I did. My parents raised me right—and my grandparents reinforced their rules. I rebelled anyway. Doing so seemed more fun. I tested their limits, which parroted God’s limits.

But God showed me patience. He could have punished me in numerous ways, but He let me go my own stubborn way. When I finally got around to asking forgiveness for my sins and failures, He forgave immediately. No acts of penance needed other than my acknowledgment. And He gave me many second chances along the way as I rebelled.

God’s patience and forgiveness didn’t mean the absence of consequences. Sin naturally involves those—sooner or later. I paid the piper in a variety of ways, but doing that had nothing to do with God’s forgiveness. He offered it willingly, even though I tested His limits.

Obedience to God is healthier than testing His limits, but when you fail, He’s always willing to forgive, pick you up, and give you another chance.

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Choose the Good Part

I skipped the second half of the football game to watch moonflowers open in our backyard.

I could’ve set up a video camera during half-time to capture the blooming cycle. A quick dash back to the couch for the second half whistle and a check mark would’ve marked the completion of yet another task. “Multi-task” is my middle name. Even when I watch a football game, duties distract me: laundry, cooking, paying bills, washing dishes. Juggling chores while I’m trying to relax is a badge I wear with pride.

Martha was an intense hostess—so much to do and no one to help her. She probably also worried about her normal household obligations that were going unattended with a guest in the house. She complained to Jesus about Mary’s failure to help out. How could Mary think it appropriate to sit and listen to Jesus when there was food to prepare?

Jesus chastised Martha for juggling tasks rather than listening to Him. Then He praised Mary for realizing that the one necessity in life was to sit at His feet and receive His Word into her heart. Spending time with Jesus was more important than cooking a meal for the Savior. Mary made a wise choice but Martha did not.

That football Saturday, I chose Jesus. I stood still and watched the moonflowers open. With over ten feet of vine stretched across the fence, my eyes feasted on multiple blossoms. Before moonflowers bloom, they are a twisted spiral of green foliage shielding white petals. At dusk, the petals uncurl, reaching east and west like an eagle spreading its wings.

At first I treated my small adventure as an item on my bucket list. But my senses of sight and smell came alive as each flower opened, revealing the silky white center. Standing there surrounded by beauty and a delicious fragrance, Bible verses popped into my head and reminded me of God’s creation, His love, and His promises.

In times of solitude and stillness, God can speak to our hearts, reminding us that spending time with Him goes beyond our quiet time. Being too busy as Martha was causes us to miss out on time with our Savior.

Choose to be kissed by God’s splendor and recharge your relationship with Him.   

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Use Your Words

I made a phone call on the way home from work, pressed the voice command button on the steering wheel, and listened as a computerized voice instructed, “Say a command.” Within seconds, I spoke with my friend. 

I find it amazing how we can make phone calls by just using our voices. This reminds me of God’s powerful voice. Then God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light (Genesis 1:3). He spoke the world and us into being. Jesus Himself is referred to as the Word. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (John1:1, 14).

Our words are powerful. Proverbs 21:23 says, Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from troubles. Perhaps someone has said something to you that felt hurtful. Maybe you’ve heard gossip and repeated it. But then there were those words of encouragement you needed to start a new project, to calm your mind when you were upset, or to let you know someone cared. We cannot erase things already spoken, but we can choose to make our thoughts and words acceptable to God.

I heard a young mother tell her crying four-year-old, “use your words.” We can also use our words. The study of psychology reveals that words powerfully influence our minds. Words originate physically as thoughts—electrical impulses in the brain—or as sound waves detected by the ears. Our words are the tangible precursors of what we make of our lives, how we view ourselves, and how we affect others. In prayer, they are physical signals that are audible to our Creator.

Let your words edify, not hurt … build up, not destroy … and encourage peace, not bring strife. The world has much negativity and darkness in it, yet we have the power to pierce that darkness with the light of our words. We can hold our tongues when we feel like speaking negatively, voicing our concerns instead to God with praise and thankfulness.

Use your words as a strong force for God’s purposes.

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He Loves Me

I remember many summers as a young girl picking daisies along the roadside. As I walked, I pulled the petals from the flower and said, "he loves me, he loves me not," with great hope that when I got to the last petal it would be on “he loves me.”

I'm not sure if this was a popular thing to do all over the world, but it definitely was where I grew up in Shirley, Missouri—if you wanted to find out if someone special might love you.

Looking back, it seems silly because if the last petal ended on “he loves me not,” I’d just grab another daisy and continue pulling petals until I got the answer I wanted: "He loves me." Then I would be happy and content, believing the flower confirmed the love I hoped for from my crush at the time.

As I've gone through life a ways, I have thought several people loved me. I'm sure some truly did, and I'm sure some did not. But how do I really know? Many said, "I love you," and I believed their words, but later realized their actions didn’t line up with what they said.

I do, however, know Someone who loves me, and He proved it with His words and actions. “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 NIV).

God loves us when we’re at our best, but He also loves us when we’re at our worst. You can trust His words and His actions. This kind of love is like no other.

Believe God and know He loves you. 

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Receiving with Love

Although he appeared to know what he was doing, he missed the bus.

The man missed the bus even though the homeless man on the corner shouted, “Hurry, you’re going to miss your bus!” He ignored him. What would he know about my bus, the now deserted man thought? No one cares what the poor man had to say.

Though Jesus was looked upon as unfortunate, He was full of everlasting wealth. He was reduced so that we might be elevated and emptied so we could overflow. His words were not fancy, yet He agitated the scholars. He was the essence of salvation, but because of His worldly position, His people refused their own deliverance. His father was a carpenter. His mother was thought to be unclean. Surely, their son was a nobody. No one ever amounted to prominence from His community.

When I say poor, I mean perceived to be reduced, not thought of having equal or higher status . . . not rich . . . not well off. Even our peers can dismiss the knowledge we possess and have been purposed to share. Possessing a fortune or the highest level of authority doesn’t mean we have good intentions. Nor does being underprivileged denote triviality or ignorance.

Depending on who you are, people may care less about what you have to say. Maybe it’s an ego thing . . .  a know-it-all complex. Take the time to listen to everyone who has something to say: the educated, the not-so-educated, the babbling child, the babbling fool, the drunk, the wayward, and the homeless.

Your path crossing with others is not happenstance. No matter who you are, everyone knows something about something. Something you might not know, were never told, have forgotten, or need reminding.

Listen to others. Don’t deem undeliverable or return to sender what may be important and life-changing knowledge. Receive all of your brothers and sisters with love.

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Hidden Light

On autopilot, I followed the coffee aroma into the dark kitchen.

My foggy brain screeched to a halt, along with my feet. Why was light glowing around the closed doors under the sink? Had a tiny alien spacecraft invaded our cabinet? I eased a door open and blinked when the light flooded out. No aliens. But there sat our big flashlight, hard at work.

One cup of coffee later, the mystery's answer dawned. The afternoon before, my husband fixed something under the sink. As a reminder to check it after dinner, he left the flashlight on and the cabinet doors open. I'd forgotten his plan and shut them. In the brightly-lit kitchen, neither of us gave it another thought.

When I chuckled that afternoon about the mystery light, Jesus' words from Matthew came to mind. Maybe I hadn't hidden a light under a bushel, but I'd definitely hidden that flashlight under the sink.

No harm done. But what about my spiritual light? Believers are called to be the light of the world wherever we are, yet we can hide that light behind the closed doors of me-first. Most of us would disclaim a me-first attitude. After all, God's light does spill out around our life's edges. All too often though, I'm too busy, stressed, or tired to open wide my doors.

This week, wherever you go, find a way to apply the rest of Jesus' lesson: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV). 

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Facing Adversity God's Way

What if my faith isn’t as strong as I think?

The question haunted me in late 2011 and wouldn’t go away, which really confused me. After all, life was good. I’d accomplished a long-time dream of becoming a traditionally published author and had a godly husband to share life with.

Having faith when life is good is easy. In hindsight, I wonder if God wasn’t whispering for me to get ready—the ride was about to get bumpy. And it did. The school district I worked for eliminated my part-time position. A few days later, I was told my husband would need triple by-pass surgery. That was scary, but it was only the beginning.

After developing Bell’s palsy in April, my family doctor insisted I have an MRI—just to be sure everything was okay. After the MRI, I received a phone message. “You have two shadows on your MRI that might be something called a schwannoma.”

Notice the word might. Might sounded good to me, so I ignored the message. A bad idea, but I had a doctor’s appointment in a week or so anyway. When I went to the appointment, I told my doctor I hadn’t followed up on the MRI results.

The following day, the doctor called to tell me I had an appointment with a neurosurgeon the next day at seven a.m. When the doctor calls, you know your life’s about to change—but I had no idea how much.

Sure enough, the MRI showed two schwannomas—also known as acoustic neuromas and almost always benign. Bad news . . . they can’t be ignored. I had a genetic condition called Neurofibromatosis Type 2.

Five years later, I’ve lost all my hearing in my right ear, and the doctors are working to save what’s left of my hearing in the other. My condition causes chronic balance problems, making it difficult to walk—and making it problematic to have the peace Jesus says He gives.

Life has hills and valleys and can be tough whether we are good Christians or not. When adversity comes—and it will—decide to face it in a godly way that will honor God.

Don’t let adversity steal your peace. Trust God to give you peace beyond your comprehension. 

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Check Point

The armed personnel stood on the road—one hand on his assault rifle, the other brandishing a clear stop sign.

We were proceeding into Uganda, having crossed from Kenya earlier. Every few kilometres, police checks or official army checks appeared. The tension in the country was evident.

The officer checked my papers and the driver’s. Then our passenger in the back seat presented his. The official stood back, ushered the two men out of the car, and moved them to the back of the vehicle. I felt no fear, only peace. God was with us. I heard the back of the car open but could not see what happened. I decided to pray.

When the two men returned, we went on our way. After a few moments, they chuckled. The guard wanted money to allow us to proceed with the pretext his wife needed more food for the family. My driver told him he had no money but did have some food for him. 

One hundred copies of God's Word were in the back of the vehicle. My host would decide when and where to distribute them. The guard retrieved a copy when the driver told him his wife would be happy, because the book held the bread of life. The guard was surprised and accepted the gift. 

We often think if we had more money our lives would be better. This is a lie of the world. The Word of God brings life, hope, blessings, and promise to all who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We may never know what impact giving the Word had upon this man’s life and family. But we can be sure God’s Word never goes out without accomplishing what He intended it to. 

If you know someone who needs the Lord, give them a Bible, and allow Father God to bless you in the giving.

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Journey Race

We all run a journey race.

In high school I ran on the track team, but I wasn’t the best runner. I never received a reward for my effort. My brother, on the other hand, had a knack for the sport. In almost every event he competed in, he mounted the winner’s podium at the end of the race.  

The victories my brother achieved came at a cost. He endured countless hours of practice on the track and even more time in the weight room honing his talent. To obtain the prize and be a top athlete, he had to have a superior work ethic.

We don’t know all of the twists and turns that will come our way, but we have to prepare our hearts and minds for them. The apostle Paul reminded the church at Corinth they needed to “run in such a way as to get the prize.”

We need to work hard at running the race God has ordained for us. King Solomon wrote, “For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words” (Ecclesiastes 5:3). To obtain the success we desire in life, we must work hard and develop discipline for the journey. This comes through reading God’s word, applying it to life, and sharing it with His people.

Looking back, I understand my effort on the track was weak. I didn’t have the tenacity to push through the adversity and do my best. Although I didn’t win many races on the track, the most important race is the one leading to eternal life.

God rewards those who walk faithfully with Him. Put forth your best effort in your work for God.  

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Focus Less on the "Why's"

If God is allowing evil things to happen to people, then it means they deserve it.

This assertion is usually made because the person making the statement has seen a couple of people engaging in ungodly acts over a long period of time and then seeing them go through bad situations. But those who see it aren’t ready to offer a helping hand.

Reaching the same conclusion is easy. We often move away from people, ignore them, make fun of them, or boast about how great our lives are. Obadiah’s vision about Edom tells us what God expects from us in such situations. God wasn’t pleased when Edom stood and watched as Israel went through a hard time at the hands of foreigners.

While God allows people to go through difficult times, He is wise and knows the exact reason why they need it. As we see them pass through such times, we are also being tested by this same God on how we would react to a similar situation. We sin when we act in an unloving and ungodly manner toward those who need our help.  

Instead of focusing on the whys of troubling situations, we should focus on the whats. It’s not our place to determine why certain things happen to people but rather to decide what we can do to show love and care to the people going through tough times—no matter what they have done in the past. God expects us to send an encouraging word, show affection, offer a listening ear, and give a helping hand to all. This is what Jesus did.

Don’t focus on the whys of a person’s circumstances. Focus on how you can help them. 

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What Do We Know?

When our first foster son was eight months old, his biological father showed up and sent my household into a tailspin of worry. What could this mean? Why has he arrived now? How could anyone think this was a good idea?

My mind went a mile a minute as I tried to sort through the new information and possibilities. I was sick with dread and questioned the system set in place to keep my son safe. I also questioned the God who sent me on this journey.

I couldn't understand why God orchestrated this reunion. I didn’t stop to take solace in His words that His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor His ways our ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are His thoughts and ways higher than ours. I garner hope through these verses.

At each difficult—sometimes inconceivable—moment, we should hold strong to the promise in these verses. God gives a gentle reminder that though we can’t understand the moment we’re in, we should trust that His thoughts and ways are well beyond our own and best for us.  

Often we think—and believe—we get it more than God. And how often we’re wrong. Satan allows us to wallow in the belief that we know more, but all that does is frustrate us.

Throw frustration aside and instead wallow in the knowledge that God knows more than you could ever imagine. 

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Wal-Mart Theology

Recently, I bumbled through the Wal-Mart in my new, Bible-belt town in an effort to acquire a few odds and ends.

As I paced the front of the store where the women’s clothes are displayed, a bright t-shirt caught my eye. The front of it read, “Where God guides, He provides.”

My brain searched for a Bible verse that would support this textile’s claim. That verse was Isaiah 58:11: “The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

When we step into new and unfamiliar seasons, focusing on the sun-scorched aspects of our circumstances is easy. Feelings of worry, loneliness, or failure dry up our well—making us feel as if our efforts to connect or minister are in vain. Our frames become weak and vulnerable.

Remembering these negative feelings can only gain a foothold in our lives when we forget where our living water comes from is important. When we fail to spend time with God, we fail to spend time being watered and end up in a dry and desolate spiritual climate. Failing to remember who waters our garden leaves us trying to self-water, which is akin to watering a garden with an eyedropper.

Though our current surroundings may be sun-scorched, we have a promise from God that He will provide us with the life giving water our souls need. By spending time remembering and meditating on this promise, God permits living waters to spring up in our lives.

Remember, wherever God guides, He provides.

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Are You Heaven Bound?

The two college students who sat in my dorm room that spring semester night of my junior year of college seemed harmless.

They had no idea that with nine words they’d shot a hole through my wall of false thinking. I was quick to say yes; however, the question they asked would stay with me over the next several days: “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?” I pondered those nine words, “If I died tonight, would I go to heaven?”

Having spent my childhood going to Sunday School, sitting on the family pew during services, and attending VBS, Youth Group, and most church events, I thought I was okay. But was I? None of those things could get me into heaven on their own merit. The only thing that would allow me to say I was heaven bound was if I’d accepted Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It didn’t matter if I was a good person and was brought up going to church. What mattered was if I had a relationship with Jesus. I knew who He was, but I wondered if He knew me?

Jesus loves you so much that He died in your place so that your sins could be forgiven and you could stand before a holy God. I have accepted His gift of salvation—His saving me from my sins. I believe He died and rose again, and that He is in heaven standing up for me when my enemy Satan accuses me. I spend time with Him by reading His words in Scripture, spending time talking to Him in prayer, and listening to His still small voice.

How would those nine words affect you if you were asked, “If you died tonight, would you go to heaven?”

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Words Have Power

“Hey, Shorty.”

“It’s a Munchkin.”

Just two of the many insults I endured growing up. Being only 4’8”, I seemed to attract more attention than I wanted—at least that kind of attention. More than once, I responded with the old adage, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me!”

But it’s so not true. Words have power. We can use them to encourage, to praise, or to do the opposite.

And certainly, God’s Word has power. Jesus knew that, which is why He quoted Scripture during the time in the wilderness when Satan was tempting Him. We all know we need food to live, but Jesus said God’s Word is just as crucial.

God’s Word feeds us and strengthens us. But the power that’s available through God’s Word is only available if we choose to ingest it to begin with. We must read it, study it, know it, apply it, and believe it.

If you want more power in your life, then be more like Jesus. He didn’t wait until He was face-to-face with Satan to learn the Scriptures. He already knew them, and that’s what we should do as well. Then we’ll be ready to face whatever may come.

Make sure the words you use have power. 

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Never Quit Pursuing Jesus

One of my favorite track and field events in Olympic Games is hurdling.

The game entails running and jumping over an obstacle at speed. To win the prize, an athlete reaches a designated finishing point before everyone else—while still maintaining the regulations that hurdlers must run and jump over each hurdle and land on both feet while checking their forward motion.

A series of hurdles are set at measured heights and distances. Failure to clear them—either by passing under them or by intentionally knocking them over—results in disqualification. While accidentally knocking over hurdles isn’t a cause for disqualification, contact with hurdles decreases speed and disrupts a hurdler's technique.

Focusing on the finish line is a technique that leads to efficient hurdling during a race. Paul compared the Christian life to hurdling and admitted he had not yet arrived at the finish line. “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize.” Paul did not look back and allow his past failures to weigh him down with guilt. Nor did he let his present successes make him complacent. He pressed toward the goal of becoming more like Jesus.

We are running this race too. Despite past failures or successes, keep pressing on toward the ultimate goal of becoming more like Jesus. We are not racing for an earthly prize, but for the ultimate reward of enjoying Him forever.

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Isolation, the Worst Enemy

Isolation is a primary source of emotional and mental sorrow.

For years, I betrayed my children by isolating myself when they needed me to play with them. I’m sad when I see the pictures in my heart of them saying, “Daddy come outside and play with me, please.” I answered “No” and went back to my studies or whatever I was thinking about. A more recent example is when I had a stroke and chose not to go to our weekly Bible study, even though my wife said it would be good for me and offered to drive me. I said “No” and choose passivity.

In both cases, I isolated myself from my loving little ones and from my comforting brothers and sisters in Christ. Without knowing it—until the Spirit convicted me—I chose to isolate myself from God’s loving and healing care. I grieve—and now understand isolation is my worst enemy.

Practicing as a professional counselor for many years, I learned there are legitimate reasons for patients needing isolation, and that it is often a part of recovery from medical trauma. If these experiences are not put in a healing context that promotes pro-activity, isolation can easily become a habit that determines the quality of life from that point forward.

Losing a mate to death or divorce is traumatizing, because they have become a part of our self-image. Bonding has become a part of who and what we are. A great sense of loss happens when this bond disappears. A period of recovery—in which we find ourselves and emotionally learn to accept their absence as well as remember what we were before we bonded—is necessary. Our former self will always be alive in our heart. Love never passes away.

Drawing away isolates us from others and, more importantly, from the Holy Spirit’s love and healing. Paul wrote, “It is God which works in you both to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Step out in faith with Jesus. Looking away from your loneliness, fear, and pain is not easy, but it changes things.  Remember, when Peter took his eyes off Jesus, he began to sink.

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The Inclusive Message of Christ

Everywhere I turn, it’s beginning to look more like Christmas. Carols are humming over the airwaves, stores are decked in red and green, and Santa and his elves are peering around every corner.

As a Christ follower, this is the season I celebrate His birth. It’s the time when the God of creation stepped into the world and divided time . . . B.C from A.D. It doesn’t matter that scholars are renaming the divide; we can’t argue who initiated it.

The season is also a time of unprecedented political correctness. It’s no longer Merry Christmas. Instead a chorus of Happy Holidays fills the air. Schools aren’t out for Christmas but close for winter break. It’s not inclusive enough to have a Christmas party—only generalized holiday themed celebrations are lauded for their open-mindedness. Christmas, it’s argued, is only for Christians. It’s too exclusive and leaves people on the outside of the fun.

Everyone seems to have forgotten God came to save the world—the entire world. I don’t think it can get more inclusive than that.

So this year, I’ll be unashamed as I remind everyone I meet that they are included in Christmas. The message isn’t one of exclusivity, but one of love. It’s the season of God’s outstretched arms, encircling a cold world in His loving embrace through the birth of a baby.

Celebrate Christmas’ message of love. 

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Fruitcake Fear

How do you describe a fruitcake? Divine? Disgusting? Flawed?

Across the internet, bloggers want to change the “cake” portion of fruitcake’s name. Several websites claim fruitcake is a rock-hard, pockmarked, dense, stale glob of gunk that only ninety-year-old spinsters eat. Fruitcake is not good.

Actually, I know the secret recipe to a true-to-life, delicious fruitcake. I also know the recipe to a life that comes without feeling like a crazy, jumbled, mixed-up fruitcake all the time. There is a way to live without fear . . . to live with peace and hope. The answer for a better life is in the Bible.

Don’t be afraid of what I’m saying. Even if you’ve been taught Christians are wrong, even if you don’t believe in organized religion, or even if you’re convinced Jesus isn’t real—listen. Christians are flawed human beings like everyone else.

If you’ve watched Christians, you’ve witnessed their failures. The difference is we believe the Bible’s promises of grace, mercy, forgiveness, and hope to manage our daily lives. Christians believe God is going to relieve their weary, sorry souls from this pockmarked, mixed-up, crazy world.

In the meantime—because we know there will always be trouble on this earth—we rely on biblical promises to manage our daily lives. In spite of all this bitter fighting, God’s given us the recipe for eternal peace.

Don’t you want to know how it feels to hope again? God has a purpose for you. God is able to accomplish His purpose through flawed humanity, through you, through me, and through ninety-year-old fruitcake-loving spinsters. Taste and see—open your eyes and see—how good God is.

This Christmas, run to God, not away.

And by the way, the secret for a good fruitcake is never to add any citron. Mix in extra cherries, pineapples, and pecans and you’ll know how good an unflawed fruitcake tastes.

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Sovereign over Struggle

The United States Declaration of Independence lays out three rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

As an American, immersed in a culture preaching the goal of personal pleasure, I feel as if the Lord’s presence should bring only blessing. But God’s ways are not my own. Joseph was stuck in a place of struggle . . . and the Lord was with him.

Although the Bible doesn’t offer specifics on Joseph’s feelings during his time of unjust imprisonment, we do know some details. His wait in a dark place lasted awhile. Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer joined Joseph in prison. After Joseph interpreted their dreams and the cupbearer was set free, two years passed before the cupbearer remembered Joseph and set off a chain of events that led to Joseph’s release.

Joseph later interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and was promoted to a position of great authority in Egypt. But the Lord was with Joseph before the brighter days occurred. During the wait, the Lord sustained him, extending little kindnesses like allowing him to find favor with the head jailer. God gave Joseph productive work to do. Even though Joseph was likely sad and frustrated, the Lord didn’t leave him or forsake him.

When situations seem bleak and hopeless, the Lord is with you if you are His child. His promise is not isolated to a faith giant like Joseph. It extends to all believers. Hebrews 13:5 proclaims, “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’”

If you are struggling with circumstances that don’t look as if they will soon change, remember the Lord is mighty to save—whether that salvation comes in this life or the next. Don’t let your heart be discouraged. Like Joseph, do your best in the situation you find yourself in, and trust the Lord in the wait. He is with you and He isn’t slow.

Praise the Lord for being sovereign over all things. His timing in your life is just right. 

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Evaluating Self

Evaluations are a part of life.

Job evaluations are common. In school, we get evaluated through grades. Movies are evaluated and reviewed with ratings. Baseball players are evaluated with batting averages, runs batted in, and strikeouts. You are now evaluating this devotion. We evaluate, review, and offer opinions on others.

God also wants us to evaluate ourselves. David wanted to make sure nothing in his life was contrary to the life God wanted for him. He says God knows the details of our lives—as well as our thoughts, our plans, and what we will say next. He knows all our ways. There is nowhere we can flee from His presence. He is always with us even when we do not acknowledge His presence.

No matter where we go, God’s hand is there to guide us and hold us fast. He created us and wants to be a part of our lives. His thoughts about us are precious and numerous. If we could count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. God knows and searches our hearts and anxious thoughts.

As we evaluate our lives, God lets us know if anything is in the way of knowing Him better. Sometimes, the evaluation is daily and involves purifying our hearts though confession. At other times, it is ensuring our influence is godly and that we have no idols. Hobbies, friends, relationships, careers, social media, and tech devices can easily steal our focus.

Since God knows us in detail, checking our thoughts is important. So is checking for offensive ways. Choose one area in your life that needs adjusting or changing today.

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Always Thankful

“You’re too thankful!” I wanted to think that was a compliment, but I couldn’t be sure. My friend piled the pieces of the broken dishes in her hands.

“I’m just thankful we weren’t in the way when they fell. We could have been really hurt.”

“There’s nothing to be thankful for. These antique plates are gone.” She slammed the shards into the trash.

I been called a lot of things in my lifetime, but being too thankful was never one. In fact, I wasn’t really sure what my friend meant.

Who hasn’t had rough times? I learned years ago, amid a divorce and being a single parent, I had a lot to be thankful for–despite the hardships. I had my children, breath in my body, a family that loved me. By all due rights, I had plenty to be thankful for.

Paul told of his own hardships–shipwrecked, imprisoned, starved, and fearing for his life. Still he was grateful and thankful for all he did have. He realized the many ways God provided for him as he traveled and ministered. When he was hungry and in prison, folks fed him. When he was shipwrecked, he was saved and safe. There was never a question from where his care came.

I’m pleased to be “too” thankful. Throughout my personal hardships, God has carried me, provided for me, and cared for me. There were times I should have sank to the bottom, but didn’t. Why was that? I’m sure there are lots of reasons, but I’d like to think it’s because I’d prayed faithfully, believed wholeheartedly, and thanked Him for whatever the outcome. After all, God can take anything from weak to strong.

Sometimes being thankful is the hardest thing we can ever attempt to do, but it’s part of the honing process. It’s learning to submit, not to failure, but to a God who is in control. It’s seeing the fruit that comes from the pruning and then being humbled at how God knew our needs and provided.

On this Thanksgiving Day, make thankfulness the first words you speak to the Father who provides you, not with everything you want, but with everything you need. When you seek thankfulness, great strength will come. It’s not an insult to be too thankful. It’s very pleasing to the God who cares for you daily.

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Strongholds

We walked through waist-high grass and a variety of bushes.

The hike through the Alaskan wilderness lived up to its description of “bush-whacking.” In spite of signs of bear activity, our group of twelve set out on a trail that had never experienced the footsteps of human traffic.

I was glad I wore long pants and knee-high boots. Several times, vine-like foliage tangled my legs, threatening to knock me off balance. On one occasion, I deviated from the group and walked to a beautiful, gentle stream. Being distracted by its sight and sound, I failed to see the wet mossy rock. When my rubber boot touched it, I fell to the wet ground—incurring pain to my ego. 

As I walk through this world, I often feel as if I’m “bush-whacking” through both personal and corporate hazards and strongholds. I stumble over thorny and carelessly spoken words—mine and others—that wound and leave scars. It’s difficult to see my way because of the thick forest of the worldview and hardened opinions that demand I follow their path—which often leads even deeper into the darkness of deception. Lovely, inviting distractions try to draw me from the path where God has placed me. Staying focused isn’t easy.

In Alaska, our guide carried bear spray. As we traverse the wilds of this world, our greatest weapon to tear down strongholds is God’s Word. It is not only a “light for our path” but also a compass for our going out and our coming in. 

Depend on God and His Word to help you tear down the strongholds you face. 

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Joint Heirs with Christ

Sometimes an unexpected inheritance from a relative transforms the lives of the recipient. We all wish we could be in the position to get a blessing from a blood relative that could better our lives in the present.

The Bible tells us we are joint heirs with Christ and entitled to a great inheritance. We are not distant relatives to God, but sons of the Father. This concept may be too good to be true, but the Bible teaches we are connected to God through Christ. We have been delivered from all sin through the blood of Jesus and given authority to declare our standing with the Father to all the earth. 

If my earthly father is wealthy, upon his death I will inherit what he declares is mine. When Jesus died, He gave us every right He had with the Father. After He rose again, He gave us right standing on earth with the Father.

The Father has given us Christ’s righteousness and granted us the ultimate inheritance of grace and love. God’s love is abounding and never-ending. Even when we feel as if we have messed up beyond repair, we can call upon our inheritance of grace and love. Nothing can separate us from this great gift. We can live the rest of our lives with the assurance of this promise.

God has promised to take care of our needs and desires through His riches. The next time you feel as if you have no one to turn to for help, remember you are a joint heir with Christ. 

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Purposeful Fatigue

Spending time with God can be exhausting.

When I dedicate time to reading the Bible, listening for God’s voice, and praying, I often feel so drained that I can hardly keep my eyes open. After finishing my devotions, I perk up and feel refreshed. This may be evidence that I’ve spent my time exactly as God intended. The enemy battled me as I prayed and read the Bible, but God was fighting for me.

Labor that occurs in the spiritual realm is mysterious. I don’t see my prayers rising to God’s throne. Nor do I talk with God face-to-face. Instead, I believe God hears my prayers and smiles when I read His word, and I concentrate and listen for God’s voice in my spirit.

Paul said Epaphras wrestled in prayer. Wrestling is an intense sport. Wrestlers grapple with their opponent one-on-one. It’s combat—leaning into your opponent and pushing with all you have. Even when on their back, the wrestler doesn’t quit.

When believers engage in intercessory prayer and Bible study, we wrestle Satan and his fallen angels. Our Enemy uses every tactic he’s perfected to exhaust us.

Devoting daily time to Bible reading and prayer is part of our life’s purpose. But obeying God doesn’t always fill us with bliss. We may feel wiped out afterward—especially when we wrestle with Satan in prayer.

Feeling exhausted after communing with God confirms the value and spiritual impact of our work. If our Enemy is battling our prayers so hard that it drains us, he must view our intercession as a threat. Satan understands that God transforms feeble humans into formidable adversaries when we dedicate time and energy to spiritual work. And while we pray, Jesus prays for us (Hebrews 7:25).

When you feel as if Satan has taken you down, keep on praying and spending time with God—knowing He can and will pin the devil. 

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A Willing Servant

A memorial plaque calls it “the worst sports related air tragedy in United States history.” 

On November 14, 1970, an airplane carrying members and coaches of the Thundering Herd football team from Marshall University crashed into a hill in Huntington, West Virginia. The crash affected the lives of many people and almost led to the discontinuation of the football program.

But the acting university president reconsidered. He named Jack Lengyel as the new head football coach. Lengyel’s task was rebuilding a decimated program and helping a university and a city heal in the process. He took the job because, as he said, “I thought I could help.”

Lengyel’s tenure at Marshall lasted until 1974. During that period, his team compiled a record of nine wins and thirty-three losses. Although he isn’t listed among the greatest college football coaches, he was something far more important to Marshall University. He was willing. Willing to take a job many wouldn’t touch and willing to help a football team, a university, a city, and a group of people who had been devastated by a terrible loss.

God never asks us to be the best at anything. He doesn’t compare our abilities but only asks us to go where He leads when He calls. He asks us to give an ear to those who need to talk, a shoulder to those who need to cry, and a hand to those who cannot help themselves. Through it all, His light shines in a world growing darker and His glory is revealed to those who need the hope only He can provide.

Ask God to show you where He wants you to serve. Then, do it willingly. 

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When I Am Afraid

On May 22, 2017, Salman Ramadan Abedi detonated a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb at the exit of Manchester Arena in Manchester, England. Twenty-three adults and children were killed, and 250 were injured.

Less than two weeks later, seven people were killed and almost fifty injured after a van drove into pedestrians on London Bridge, and attackers stabbed shoppers in Borough Market.

Thankfully, few of us will ever experience a terrorist attack, but less-dramatic events can also make us feel frightened and anxious. These are natural responses during a crisis or a stressful challenge, even for strong Bible-believing Christians.

Being afraid when your spouse is talking about leaving, when you’re about to be interviewed for a must-have job, or when you take that must-pass calculus final is natural. And who wouldn’t fear being bullied at school or contracting a life-threatening disease?

This psalm speaks to me when I struggle with fear. But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you. The words when I am are especially meaningful. They remind me that admitting I’m afraid isn’t the same as confessing a lack of faith. On the contrary, recognizing our fear and being honest with God about our emotions help us admit how much we need Him.

Being afraid doesn’t necessarily mean we’re weak Christians. Life is filled with challenges and causes for anxiety and fear. It’s what we do when we’re afraid that defines our faith.

Putting our trust in God enables us to take the weight of our situation off our shoulders and place it onto His. As we lean on His wisdom, power, and goodness, we’re able to handle life a little better.

We may still experience fear even when we practice putting our trust in God—especially when our circumstances involve those we love. Thankfully, there is no limit to how often we can go to God and say, “Father, I’m really scared. Please help me trust in You.”

When things or people frighten you, place your trust in God. He is more than able to carry your burdens.

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You're a Keeper

“Throw that one back.”

Memories of fishing with my dad lingered in my mind. A girly pre-teen, I refused to bait the hook with worms.

There’s something I quickly learned about fishing—not all fish were keepers. Maybe it’s the sport of fishing to brag you caught a fish and then threw it back. Perhaps a desire to tell a big fish story. The thrill of using your hands to describe that you caught a humdinger. And sometimes the fish caught isn’t the one you want. You keep some; you throw some back.

After my early fishing adventures, I learned there’s keeper-lessons in life. A boyfriend decided another girl made a better catch. Friends didn’t view me as a keeper and went fishing.

I continued to wear the I-must-not-be-a-keeper badge in adulthood. Deceptive inside chatter tried to convince me. You’re in the company lay-off because others performed at a higher level. She stopped reaching out because you’re not her first choice for a friend. See, no one wants to keep you.

Each time someone threw me back in life’s pond, my heart made a note. You’re not a keeper. The enemy hopes we’ll buy the world’s slick-selling guise: “Keep the deserving, throw the others back.”

Unwanted pets become abandoned pets. Children in an orphanage or foster care wait and long for adoptive parents to choose them . . . love them . . . and keep them.

We compare ourselves to the people culture deems as keepers. The mom every kid wants. The picture-perfect wife. A friend who’s best-friend-forever material. All good catches.

But—and this is a monumental but—the Lord consistently reminds me, “Karen, you’re a keeper.” The world shows no mercy to the undeserving. But God’s kind mercy washed my sin-stained soul and chose to hang onto me.

Out of God’s great compassion and loving mercy we’re kept. His unfathomable mercy assures, “I’ve caught a humdinger. You’re the one I searched for and wanted. My prize. You’re my catch of the day. You could never do anything to be thrown back.”   

The merciful Lord Jesus will never, ever let you go.  

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No Other Name

Any name we’ve ever heard, famous or not, becomes a memory.

Someone lives their life, does their thing, and passes on. Their name may show up in a magazine or a history book, but their work is done. Their name may be famous, bring in some bucks, spice up an article, but they have no power. For the most part, their name has lost its authority.

Michael Jackson was the biggest pop star in the late twentieth century. His name was celebrated while he lived and after his death. Elvis Presley’s name is still highly recognized, but Elvis can’t sing any new songs. Everything they did is past tense. We remember these famous people but cannot call on them to help us, sing to us, or lead us spiritually.

Religions scattered throughout the world have honored revered leaders. Sports figures are held in high esteem. Singers, actors, politicians, and musicians have followers. The stars’ names are well-known, and yet they have no more power; they only have a past.

The priests, Sadducees, and others asked the disciples by what name they taught. Peter told them it was Jesus Christ. Then he shared the message of salvation through Jesus’ name.

During Bible times, Jesus claimed His authority by speaking peace to the storm, healing the blind man, and bringing change to lives. His name remains present tense and active. Jesus’ name exhibits the power to heal and the power to change a life and has authority over all creation.

In Acts 2 we are told to repent and be baptized in Jesus’ name to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. In the third chapter, Christ’s disciples—Peter and John—invoked the name of Jesus to heal a man crippled since birth. We continue to call on Jesus’ name—a name that continues to have power for those who believe.

Not every famous person is known by everyone, but some day Christ will be acknowledged by everyone. Every knee will bow at the name of Jesus (Philippians 2:10).

Jesus lives, still offering salvation when we call on His name—a name with a past but one that offers us a future.

Claim the power in the name of Jesus.

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Slivers of Blue Sky

I awoke to a conflicting yet beautiful morning sunrise.

Walking outside to see the skyline in its full expanse, instead of the photo view I had from my couch, I stood in awe. Dark, ominous clouds hung in the sky like threatening bullies. At the same time, thin slivers of blue sky—like streaks of contrast on an artist's canvas—scattered among the darkened rain clouds, trying to push them away. To the left, my eye caught a glimpse of the sun, slowly rising to break through the tall trees and bring the bright hope of sunshine.

I continued staring while I sipped my first cup of coffee. Choices abounded in my mind. Would I focus on the large threatening clouds or on the thin slivers of blue sky pushing through the darkness? Or would I choose to focus on the hope of sunshine?

God speaks in many unexpected ways. The conflict in the skies remind me life can often be like that skyline picture. The dark, ominous clouds remind me of the issues we face in life that try to keep us in despair, depression, sickness, finances, and family issues.

The slivers and streaks of blue sky remind me of the presence of the Holy Spirit. He offers me glimpses of hope and strength in the midst of difficult times. His ability to push away the dark clouds of life encourages me.

The sunshine—hunkered down in the tall green trees, preparing to rise and break through—reminds me of Jesus' words to shine as "lights in the world." His light overcomes whatever darkness I face. Choosing to focus on the light of God's Word renews my strength.  

Every day, choices abound in our lives—physical and spiritual. The morning skyline reminded me that in the midst of looming darkness, we get to choose. What we choose affects our attitudes and reactions throughout the day.

God's Word says we are reflections of Him, and He always walks in the Light. With His help, you can too.

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Hopeful Goodness

Bracing myself for the fall, I gripped the sidebar until my knuckles turned white.

I remember the day well. An amusement park ride, “Free-fall.” The wait in line gave us ample opportunity to watch and ponder the decision to follow through with the adventure. My fear of heights gave way to assurance from college friends. I could do this. They would be with me.

Strapping in with other thrill-seekers and traveling to soaring heights, I could see the entire park from the top. As the sound of an electronic release bellowed behind us, the bottom fell out, dropping us with terrifying speed and force that took my breath. Elated the ride finally came to an end, I unbuckled and resolved for the rest of the day to keep my feet on the ground.

We aren’t always prepared when the bottom drops out of our world. Sometimes we don’t have a warning to strap in, brace ourselves, and tightly grip something—anything. We didn’t even volunteer for the ride.

Life has a way of dropping us with stunning speed and force, taking our breath. And it robs our hope in goodness. If we could just plant our feet back on the ground.

Our heart free-falls, determined never again to be a thrill-seeker. Fear and hopelessness become constant, unwelcome companions. “We’re in this together,” they promise.    

When life isn’t good, we wonder if life will ever be good again. We search for hope—something to grip when everything else has fallen away.

As a pastor’s wife, I’ve had to answer the tough questions: “Why did this happen? Has God abandoned us?” I went on a quest for hope and discovered hope’s power lies in truth: God is good, full of mercy, and steadfast in love—no matter what happens. That’s the place hope rises.

God promises assurance for the adventure. Hope in His goodness: “We’re in this together. Bring me along for the ride. I can see your entire life. My view is from the top. I will be with you.”

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Satisfied

One chose to stay on the farm; the other chose the city life.

When my mom was a junior in high school, she chose to leave her family farm and marry my dad. Her new life took her away from her country upbringing and planted her in cities for the remainder of her life. Mom’s sister married a Navy man but chose to build their home next to her parents and remain on the family farm—a place she stayed until her death.

The old homeplace was sold for a negligent amount—and it seemed the same would happen to my aunt’s home. But her oldest son stepped in and decided he and his wife would make it their retirement home with all the hunting, fishing, and golf he could stand. It’s refreshing to know the home will remain in the family.

I always envied my cousins, growing up with open land all around them. Hunting, fishing, romping through the woods. Having pets wasn’t a problem. Leash laws didn’t exist. Being able to raise chickens, cows, hogs, and anything else they wanted without having to wonder where they’d put them or if the smell would offend the neighbors. They lived a carefree down-to-earth lifestyle.

Because Mom and Dad chose the city life, I had to endure it as well. Though it has its conveniences, I still miss the open land and the perks that come with country living.

I’ve also been known to envy those God is using in ways I wish He’d use me. Paul reminded the early believers that the church was like a body. Each part has a special function, and God fits it together perfectly. When one piece is out of whack, the entire body is affected.

Curbing my jealousy is an ongoing lesson God is teaching me. Instead of envying what He does in other believers’ lives, I enjoy what He’s doing in mine and rejoice in what He’s doing in theirs. I’m not in competition but in cahoots with other believers. Our job is not to fuss and fight but to work together to accomplish God’s work in this world. He gives us unique opportunities and personalities. Even when I share the same gift as another person, I use it differently.

Rather than envying someone else’s gift, use yours to fulfill God’s plan for you.

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The Windmill

My father and the worker were having a violent argument.

The man in his anger grabbed a spanner (wrench) from the workshop and raced over to the windmill near the house. He dropped the tool down the shaft, then threw his kit into the back of his old, beat-up truck and roared down the dirt road towards the front gate to our homestead property.

The windmill blades ceased their reassuring squeaks, and we knew it meant trouble. My father spent days dismantling the shaft mechanism. Finally, at the risk to his own life, he went down the well and retrieved the spanner. He then built a fitted cover to seal off the access to the well while allowing the shaft to continue moving up and down. 

Although I was only ten when this happened, a dream caused me to remember it. In the dream, I saw a windmill in a paddock—a common rural Australian scene. It turned and spun with the gentle wind—drawing water from the well beneath the ground. It was a serene and peaceful scene until a black shadow came across the land and dropped an object down the shaft. The windmill stopped turning and drawing water.

Sometimes we take the presence of the Holy Spirit for granted, just like the working of our windmill. We accept Him as a comfortable rhythm, but we have forgotten to guard our hearts. We leave ourselves open like the entrance to the shaft.

When God tells us to watch over our hearts, He is telling us not to get caught unaware. We need to keep the door of our heart open to allow love and comfort to flow out to others, bringing life and light. We also need to know when to shut things out that stop the refreshing flow of God.

Don’t let anything throw a spanner into your life. Guard your heart so the channel is always open to the heavenly Father but closed to things that would hinder your relationship with Him.  

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Rejoicing When God Isn't Blessing

Little or no harvest is disappointing—especially after diligent and persistent sowing.

Praising and worshiping God is easy when my fruit basket is full. However, a true test of faith is my willingness to express devotion and adoration when harvests are lean.

A main premise of Scripture is that we reap what we sow, but what if my sowing reaps nothing, if prayers for opportunities collide against closed doors, if phone calls and emails are not returned, if rejection letters arrive, or if promotions do not happen. Can I still rejoice without ceasing as Job and say, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Is my faith so resolute to approach the fiery furnace as Daniel’s friends and say, “Even if God doesn’t bless me, I’ll still be faithful to Him?”

These questions challenge me when my spiritual fig trees, vines, and olive trees yield little fruit. As a writer and speaker, equipping and inspiring people energizes me. When my audiences or readers have “Aha” moments, it fuels my passion as a vessel suitable for my Master’s use.

Yet in a season of no harvest, I question if I’ve missed something. When articles are seen by hundreds but “liked” by few, doubt creeps across my mind. When a passionate delivery of a message God has revealed results in the audience staring at me like a mule looking at a new gate, uncertainty grips my heart.

But Habakkuk, Job, and Daniel’s friends beckon me to a deeper walk of faith. Their steadfastness encourages me to remain faithful to the gifts, talents, and skills God has given me—regardless of the results. After all, God didn’t ask us to produce huge harvests but to faithfully distribute the seed He has given us.

Though the battle is tough, stick to the fight. Storm clouds may gather, but grab your deck pillow. And if the harvest seems small, rejoice in the Lord. One day He will say, “Well done, faithful servant.”

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Reach Out and Help

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

When John F. Kennedy became President of the United States in 1961, he made this statement in his inaugural address to the nation, a statement that inspired the country.

Esther was called upon to help others. Through a series of events, she found herself living in the palace and having the king’s ear. She was at the perfect spot to create change to save her people.

By asking a favor of the king, Esther could have risked her life if the favor didn’t please him. At first, she probably thought someone else would stand up to the challenge, but her uncle’s words that she was there for a reason made her think otherwise.

We often ask God what He can do for us, rather than what we can do on His behalf for those in need. God often places us where we can make a difference in someone’s life. Someone who needs to hear about His saving grace. Someone who needs to see you take a stand for what is right in God’s eyes and not man’s.

Even in the midst of our own needs, we can reach out and help others. God has given us unique gifts to strengthen one another. Be the hands and feet in this world that guide others to God.

If you feel the Spirit of God nudging you to act, step out in faith with His leading.

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Creation Cries

I stand in awe at the unending beauty of God’s creation.

A towering evergreen, a tree stump, or a fluttering hummingbird, each tell their own story. As I walk the beaten paths of a state park, I see visitors with cameras in hand documenting their stay. The captured beauty will soon be pasted in a scrapbook or transform a plain wall into a colorful mosaic.

Sadly, the forest tells another story. Visitors who view a healthy tree as firewood. Campers who rush away, forgetting to extinguish the embers. Hikers who mark the trails with liter. Homeless who take shelter among the pines. These narratives are visible to the world, and the pain is felt by many.

Consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The Creation waits in eager expectations for the sons of God to be revealed. I rejoice in these words from Romans and lean into the hope that creation will be liberated from man’s disrespect. Nature will be magnified when we get to heaven, and creation will be free from the hands of our neglect and abuse—free to sing.

We have hope in the message that God will liberate us from the bondage of this earth and that we will stand in awe of a place we can’t imagine. Until God returns, let’s care for this beautiful earth. Be mindful of the discarded gum wrappers and cigarettes butts that dot the land.

Your actions can change the landscape of God’s creation.

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Be Careful What You Taste

Steve, a young newsboy stopped at the home of a customer. The man asked him if he liked honey. Steve wasn’t fond of honey but to be polite told the man he would take a taste.

The customer went into another room, returned carrying a small jar of honey, and said, “That will be twenty-five cents.” The boy dug deeply into his pockets and handed over a quarter—his allowance for the week. Steve thought his customer was offering a free taste of honey, but instead he was asked to purchase something for which he had no desire.

The Scripture tells us to taste and see that the Lord is good, but at times Christians are tempted to taste things God forbids.

Perhaps a movie or something on the internet attracts their interest, but after watching and listening, they feel unclean as though their minds have been polluted with garbage. Then they realize they’ve given something of value for a thing that was worthless to them.

Or a family is torn apart because of an act of adultery. One spouse believed another person would better suit their needs and desires, so they deserted their spouse and family for a taste of forbidden fruit.

Maybe a fatal accident occurs because a drunken driver chose the taste of alcohol over sobriety. Or a young mind is damaged because of drug addiction.

These things happen because someone willingly allowed themselves to taste of the wrong things. After we have tasted what God has to offer, we may find ourselves hungering and thirsting for more of His goodness. Then temptations to sin will lose their allure.

Unlike Steve—who was asked to pay for the honey before he could taste it—God’s salvation and goodness are offered without charge to those who will accept them. Jesus said He came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

Taste the good things that will draw you closer to God. 

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Why Are You Down My Soul?

Though we walk with the Lord, we often find ourselves in despair and desperation from the cares of this life. 

The place is familiar to those who believe in God, because our faith is tested to produce perseverance, character, and hope. This place can be dark and lonely. Fear surrounds us like a conquering army, and our thoughts give no comfort or hope. We lose sight of destination because the shadows of defeat dance around us in our weakest moments.

The thing that brought hope now brings despair. We retreat to find no comfort from the bombardment of dreadful thoughts echoing in our minds. The moment we think all is lost, a voice of hope calls out from the fog of hopelessness, as it did for the psalmist.

The voice comforts me and my soul. It is strong but gentle. The voice brings kindness and grace. In my weakest moments, the voice becomes a picture of my salvation in Christ. My Savior has found me amidst my loneliness and helplessness. My comfort has come from Him, and my hope is renewed in His presence. 

Christ shows me His wounds to remind me He has already won the battle. He puts my hand in His side to show me He was pierced for my victory. His pain is my comfort and His sacrifice is my peace.

Christ points to the sun and tells me it lights my day, but He lights my soul. I turn to find Him, but I cannot see Him anymore. My desperate thoughts rush back, but a still small voice inside my soul reminds me He never left.

When your soul is cast down, get back up with a renewed sense of purpose. God is always with you. Let your soul be strengthened in His love as you rest in His promises. You may not always understand the path, but you can understand He is always with you. 

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The ER Encounter

Fear lurked around the edges of the bed I lay on, ready to pounce. Did I have a brain injury? Would it require surgery?

I had fallen and hit my head on a concrete curb and was now in the emergency room. A nurse had left me in the corridor while she went to check for an empty CAT scan room.

I scanned the area around me. Empty. Cold. I felt alone. Why was the nurse gone so long? The fear edged closer. Then I heard a sound behind me . . . someone approaching. Another patient passed beside me on a stretcher. Wait. She looked familiar.

“Bobbie,” I cried.

Bobbie—a fellow worshiper at the church my husband pastors—turned toward me, and her face expressed the same surprise I felt.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, shocked that we should meet in such a strange place.

She smiled and responded, “Might be a little problem with my heart.”

We extended our hands to each other. “I pray you’re okay,” I said.

“You too.” She squeezed my hand.

The corridor filled with warmth, and the cold drained out. Moments earlier, I felt I had no comfort to give anyone, but when Bobbie appeared, God made His presence known. I found it amazing that even in my fearfulness, God came and showed His strength. God brought us together in that moment to offer His comfort to each other.

Among Paul’s many troubles, he was imprisoned, beaten, shipwrecked, deprived of food, and stoned. Yet he wrote, “We can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). Later, he mentions how much Titus had comforted him when he visited. Even the great apostle needed the consolation of God through His people.

Bobbie and I both received good news that day. I had no brain injury. Only a broken arm. Bobbie was also later released with a good report. We both left with a renewed sense of God’s presence.

In any time of trouble, count on God to provide comfort for you and to comfort others through you.

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Holy Favor

Ralphie’s greatest desire was for a Red Ryder BB gun.

In the popular holiday movie, A Christmas Story, nine-year-old Ralphie leaves hints but all he hears is, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” But that doesn’t stop him. He tries his best to be good and earn enough favor for that coveted BB gun. On one occasion, he slips up and pounds the playground bully into the snow. As expletives are flowing from his tongue, realization suddenly hits and Ralphie knows he has blown it. He sees his dream fading because he messed up. While sucking on a bar of soap as punishment for the verbal faux pas, Ralphie ponders his dilemma. How can he be good enough to get what he wants?

Anyone who remembers waiting for Santa, probably experienced the same emotions. If we wanted our Christmas desires to be met, we better be on Santa’s nice list. But when January rolled around, the struggle to be good left with the dried-up evergreen tree.

Thankfully, favor from God doesn’t come through our actions, nor does He withhold good because of wrongdoing. If He did, we would never be accepted. We would constantly be eating a bar of soap and doing penance. I find the more I try to be good, the more I mess up because I am using my own efforts and not trusting in what Christ has done.

Because of the Baby in the manger, we have been given God’s favor and acceptance. When John saw Jesus walking along the shores of the river, he declared Jesus was the Lamb of God who takes away sin. John was there to prepare the way so men’s hearts would be ready to receive the Savior. John’s message was repentance. Repent, believe, and trust. That’s it.

Once you get the revelation God is not ready to throw lightning bolts at you when you sin, you can turn to the Father and not away from Him. 

Run into God’s loving embrace and receive His holy favor. He waits for you.

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Accepting Others

His unusual haircut set him apart. He looked different. The shaved back side of his head accented the long stringy strands of hair dangling down in front, partially covering his face.

The neatly-dressed, soft-spoken young man stood in front of me in the check-out line. As he placed items on the conveyor belt, the teenage checker spoke rudely to him, but he never uttered any unkind or inappropriate response. She bagged his groceries, and he headed toward the door.

When she began to ring up my groceries, she nodded toward the young man who had preceded me. “I would never allow a child of mine to look like that.” Her voice, with a tinge of superiority, sounded judgmental and disgusted. I wondered what about that young man stirred her ire.

The individuality of his hairstyle contradicted his mild manner. His demeanor suggested he was a good kid. He reminded me of a typical teenager seeking to find his own identity. I smiled. After all, it was only hair.

Yet my heart ached for the young woman who found such disdain. Her naïve attitude bothered me. She had no idea what may confront her in future years. I could only hope it would be no worse than a child with a weird haircut.

Jesus told us not to judge, and He commanded us to love others as we love ourselves. He did not exclude young men with strange hairstyles or those from certain ethnic origins, diverse religious beliefs, or different socioeconomic conditions. Jesus accepted people from all social classes, occupations, cultures, and educational levels.

The checker’s criticism of the young man portrayed the prevalence of discrimination in our world. Like her, we tend to evaluate others based on our value systems and human standards while rejecting those from other cultures, races, or religions. And often those who dress differently or choose body adornment different than ours. If we aren’t careful, our prejudices show.

God loves and accepts the uniqueness of all people. He expects us to do the same.

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Constant Among Change

Tomorrow, there wouldn’t be white sand to sink my toes in or a vibrant blue ocean to take a dip in. The gray interstate would lie ahead as we crossed state lines and returned to our Indiana home.

On the last day of my family’s spring-break vacation, I sat in reflection. I knew there would be wonderful memories that only a vacation could bring, along with a little sadness that the week had ended.

I was on our beach-front balcony reading my Bible as the thoughts of our departure swirled through my mind. Feelings that not only was a vacation ending but that everything else seems to end and change. Our lives are a whirlwind of change.

Every year we grow older. Relationships deepen or weaken, careers change, and new loved ones are given while old ones are taken. We either welcome the changes or avoid them at all costs. I have stayed in unhealthy relationships too long just to avoid change. I have purchased countless health products to avoid the change of my appearance. Time has taught me change is unavoidable and best when embraced.

I felt the familiar peace wash over me as I took my solace in the one thing that never changes: God's love. He isn't fickle. He doesn't love me only when I am at the top of my game—a success in the eyes of the world. He has seen me entrenched in my deepest scandal and loved me the same. He has seen me hopeless and yet thought I was worthy. He has seen me feeling useless and whispered "I made you special for a great purpose. It’s still waiting for you."

Though the scenery may be different, the words in my Bible are the same. God's love hasn't changed. He is the one constant in life that will get us through whatever change the world throws our way.

Embrace and stand firm in God’s Word. Yell "bring on the change" with the confidence that God is standing next to you. He always has and always will. He offers you a promise of constant love and established steps in a world full of change.

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God Fixes Messes

Even at five years old, I knew I’d never be another Monet.

My first attempt at watercolors turned into an exercise in frustration and despair. In my mind, I could see clearly what I wanted to paint, but there was a big difference between what I saw in my head and what came out on paper.

With tears streaming down my face, I tried to get rid of the evidence. But my father walked in as I tried to cram the whole saturated mess into the garbage can.

“Hey, peanut. What are you doing?” he asked as he pulled the sopping paper out and tried to pry it open.

“It’s not right. I made a big mess,” I said in the eloquence of a child.

“Here, let’s have a look.” He managed to tenderly separate the sodden edges and splayed the “artwork” on the table, much to my dismay. “This is lovely!” he exclaimed.

I rubbed my eyes, wondering if we were looking at the same thing.

“Look at the beautiful colors and shapes. The graceful swirls and strokes.”

He took me in his lap. And through his eyes. I began to see my painting in a different light.

When it dried, he hung it on our refrigerator where it maintained a place of honor for many years. I remember standing and staring at it. At first it always looked like a big mess to me, but I learned to look past my initial reactions and see a luminous swirl of color—or a unique shape hidden in the brush strokes.

I never did become much of an artist, but I learned an important lesson that day through my father’s eyes. Things aren’t always as they first appear.

As an adult, when I cry out to God and throw my hands up in despair over the messes I’ve made in my life, my heavenly Father reminds me He isn’t finished with me yet. Even though I often fail, His purpose for me will ultimately be accomplished.

When you find yourself in a desperate situation, look beyond the details of your circumstances to see with the Father’s eyes. God redeems your messes, brings beauty from ashes, and fulfills His purpose for you. 

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Beautiful Feet

My ugly feet embarrassed me.

I never had a passion for shoes. They were nothing more than a covering for my clumsy, dirty feet. I wore them until I could feel the moisture seeping through the holes in my toes. Sandals were not an option.

Several years ago, I traveled overseas as a missionary journalist. I watched people struggle to meet basic needs. Simple acts of kindness made the biggest impact. Tears flowed down a woman’s face as a missionary in Mexico washed her feet and handed her a pair of new shoes. In a slum village in India, a young girl watched me closely from the corner of a shanty. Beneath a burlap dress, her feet were calloused, covered with layers of dirt and sand. I doubt she had ever owned a single pair of shoes.

During a trip to Indonesia, I saw first-hand the damage caused by an Asian tsunami. A cargo ship had crushed more than a dozen shanty homes two miles inland. Just outside the wreckage lay a single toddler’s shoe, covered in mud. My heart crumbled. Tears flowed down my face. My knees sunk into the cracked mud, and my body shook with words I could not find. My previous embarrassment became hideous to me. 

God calls my feet beautiful. They are His vehicle to “bring good news” and “proclaim salvation” to my community and world. How could I devalue His creation so greatly? Every foot is precious. Every toe, valuable. Every person, loved by God and not forgotten.

Often we fail to realize God uses every part of us to take His light into a dark and lonely world, even the parts that embarrass us. Our world may not see us as beautiful or lovely, but God does. The people I’ve met with uncovered, dirty feet reminded me God’s creation is truly beautiful and worthy of His love.

View yourself through God’s eyes, not as culture might see you. True beauty is in the heart of the one who is God’s messenger of good news. 

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Good Comforting

Regardless of where she went, she couldn’t find comfort.

Leah and her husband were never apart. They even volunteered at the same place after they retired. Both appeared to be in good health, so you can imagine Leah’s shock when Jeff stumbled into the doorway from cutting grass and said he wasn’t feeling well. Within minutes, he had slumped over—never to revive[CS1] .

Although months have passed since Jeff’s death, Leah still mourns and suffers from anxiety and depression. She has been to counselors, pastors, and friends, but nothing soothes her pain. She can’t focus and struggles to make it through each day. Leah left her old church, saying she just couldn’t stand to attend without Jeff. She longs for lasting comfort, but can’t find it anywhere.

Job didn’t find comfort with his fair-weather friends either. He had lost almost everything a person could lose and still survive. And worse, God had permitted his woes to prove to Satan that Job would maintain his loyalty despite extreme adversity. The only comfort Job’s friends could muster was telling him he had sinned. Confess and things will get better was their advice. Job, however, had nothing to confess. He maintained his innocence and muddled through his pain and sorrow.

Job’s friends were typical. They thought they had to say something to soothe his grief—so they did. What they said didn’t do the trick nor was it biblically sound. Telling someone God needed another angel or you know how they feel, is hollow comfort. God doesn’t take life to get angels, nor do humans become angels after death. And no two people experience the same episode in similar ways.

Presence in the midst of grief is better than words. Sharing truth from God’s Word can be comforting, but timing is critical. Sit, listen, and let the person cry on your shoulder. When the time is right, they’ll ask, and then you can share words of wisdom they might need to hear. For the moment, silence is golden and practical help is priceless.

Comforting those who are grieving is tricky business. Before you speak or act, ask God for direction and wisdom.

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Surrounded by Enemies

Nothing in my training prepared me for what I was about to endure.

I enjoy working independently—always have. However, in my new position, I had to hire and manage staff, train staff, and market a new program. 

Discernment continually resonated within me. I knew I was in uncharted territory. Morning salutations were often met with contemptuous facial expressions and hostile silence. The onslaught of disrespectful and disdainful words screamed I was surrounded by enemies. These enemies, my staff, resembled wild horses dashing in different directions. Something had to be done. 

My resolution was reading agency policies to the staff—aloud. You can imagine how this played out. The effect was like an unrelenting avalanche. Personalities flared, and attitudes were even worse. There was no place to rest from the constant discord. Nonetheless, I was determined everyone would become a cooperative team.

Slowly, the staff began to work as a group: developing projects and activities and embracing policies that supported the work we were doing. The previous hostile atmosphere was becoming lighthearted and sociable. In the end, the staff learned to work together for a common goal. 

Like the psalmist, in my distress, I prayed to God. I prayed for peace, wisdom, and guidance. I prayed in my home, in my car, and even outside as I walked around my office building. After crying out to God for months, I began to see a change in me. God demonstrated He was not distant, silent, or aloof. He supplied His wisdom during this wearisome ordeal, enabling me to positively influence the staff in the midst of chaos. 

When enemies rattle your emotions, pray for those who spitefully use you. It’s a grueling exercise, but it’s possible to end difficult seasons in peace instead of defeat.

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Housing Hassle

"It's love that makes a house a home."

I told my sister we had the love part of the home, but we needed a house to wrap around it. It looked as though there would be another couple of months before that happened.

Our challenge arose when my husband, Ray, took on a new pastorate that required us to move, but the church didn’t have a parsonage. We needed to buy a house. While we began that lengthy process, Ray and our daughter began his ministry as the guest of a farm couple in the congregation.

I remained 115 miles behind with our son, dog, and cat until we could bring the whole family together under one roof. When our daughter left for college in late summer, our son took her place so he could begin high school in this upstate New York community. I continued to keep the pets company.

We remembered Jesus had said foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man had nowhere to lay His head (Matthew 8:20). We could share in His suffering if we could keep bringing the difficulties of purchasing a house and moving there to Him for help and focus. The words of Psalm 90:1 comforted us: Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations.

We did make it through. It wasn't the easiest summer, necessitating a 230-mile-round-trip commute each weekend so I could worship and spend time with Ray and our son. The day came when I was able to make my last trip with the dog, the cat, and a tank of goldfish. What a jumbled journey.

The Lord of housing was worthy of our trust. We had a fruitful ministry in that community for many years.

If you’re trying to find a job, a college, a house—or if you’re waiting on a closing—trust the Lord of housing. Let Him be your dwelling place while you wait on Him for direction and forward movement.

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Jesus in a Changing World

I don’t know anyone who loves change. Whether it’s sudden, like the loss of a job, or expected, like a child going away to college, change can be difficult, and adjusting to it takes time.

With change comes unknowns and what-ifs. What was normal no longer is, and a new normal has yet to settle in. That’s why I find this short verse reassuring: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. When everything else in life can change in a moment, Jesus doesn’t change. He is our solid foundation in a world of upheaval and unknowns.

Despite whatever change we’re going through, Jesus will be there. Whether or not we reach out to Him is another story. We have the choice to rely on ourselves and our own abilities, but when change comes, it can rock our confidence and leave us anxious and unsettled.

When we rely on Jesus, He is a constant presence when nothing else makes sense. Change doesn’t surprise Him like it does us. It doesn’t mess up His schedule or shake His love for us.

Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He stands firm, and when we keep our focus on Him, He is our lifeline. When we rely on Jesus, He brings peace that doesn’t come from ourselves.

When you’re facing transition and unexpected changes, keep your focus on Jesus—the One who doesn’t change. Rely on Him to get you through, and accept the peace He offers.

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Commit Your Plans to God

We were so excited to be buying a house.

Everything lined up as planned. Our credit scores were high, the VA loan was in place, and our savings was beyond what we needed to negotiate an asking price for the home of our dreams. Everything was perfect … until the news no homebuyer wants to hear arrived. “Another buyer put in a bid ten thousand dollars over the asking price of the home.”

The realtor’s words echoed in my head. How could this happen? I thought we were in negotiations for the home with the bank. Turned out the bank wasn’t interested in our bid any longer. Thoughts of decorations, family gatherings, and game day barbecues were over. So was the thought of that nice, beautiful home.

You may have dealt with a circumstance you didn’t understand. Like me, you laid out your plan and prepared well for this new season, but things didn’t turn out the way you expected. Proverbs 16:3 teaches us to commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.

The verse doesn’t say God will endorse every plan we make. It does imply His blessing over our plans. When we commit our plans to Him, He will establish those plans in His timing and way and bring us to a place of peace and happiness.

On my Christian journey, I’ve learned God knows where the treasures of the earth lie. He knows because He is in control of every circumstance. He wants us to commit our plans to Him. It’s okay to plan ahead—and it’s okay to set goals for our lives—but it’s important to remember we do not know what tomorrow may bring. As we move ahead in obedience, we can only trust God has our best interests at heart.

Embrace the truth of committing your plans to the Lord, and the peace of God will lead you to the place He wants you to be. Then the joy in your heart will be made full with His pleasures forevermore.

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Waiting

God isn’t a stressed-out parent trying to deal with begging and pressure.

I’m bad at waiting. Actually, I hate to wait. I’m a foot-tapping, sighing, oh-my-gosh-I’m-going-to-die-here waiter. When I was a kid, the worst possible answer from my parents was, “Let me think about it.” Or the equally disturbing, “I’ll talk to your father.” Every kid knows that’s the answer that is no answer. It goes nowhere. Parents always forget, and if you remind them they usually say, “I forgot to ask, I’ll let you know.”  

In my faith walk, I’m realizing waiting has purpose. God’s up to something good in my life. But that doesn’t mean I like it. Throughout the Bible, there are stories about waiting. God’s people waited four hundred years to hear from Him, Sarah waited until she was in her nineties to have a child, Noah waited for more than eighty years for a storm, the Israelites waited forty years to enter the Promised Land, and God waited three days to resurrect His Son. 

If I let Him, God does a lot in the space and time I call waiting. Although waiting is painful and difficult and can sometimes feel endless—and there are no guarantees—God grows my trust while I learn to let go and trust Him with the answer. Later, as I look back and see His answer was perfect, it grows my faith. When there seems to be no answer and only silence, God grows my dependence. He lovingly uses waiting to prepare me. He goes before me, and His timing is perfect. He never fails and is always right on time.

I’m learning to express myself to God and remind myself He hears me, loves me, and works all things for my good—even if the outcome isn’t what I hope for. The challenge is to hold on and trust while I’m waiting for the test results to come back, while I’m waiting to have and hold a child, while I’m waiting for my loved one to come home and get sober, while I’m waiting for love, or while I’m waiting for a relationship to be restored. 

Trust, worship, love, and serve God while you wait. And try not to tap your foot.

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Gentleness and Respect

He is another one of those Moonies, I said to myself with disdain.

An Asian-looking man approached me in a parking lot and told me what he believed. His literature indicated he was a follower of Sun Myung Moon who founded the Unification Church and whose beliefs are inconsistent with orthodox Christian doctrine.

Most Christians consider this group a cult. I impatiently waited for him to finish his spiel and then let him have it. I told him in no uncertain terms he was a part of a cult, and I used scriptural proofs to validate my case. I walked away thinking, I guess I told him.

I was pretty sure I had defended the gospel, but for some reason I had a sense of unrest in my spirit. I pondered why I was troubled, and it became apparent I had not come close to dealing with this man with gentleness and respect. I knew what I had to do.

I searched the parking lot until I found the man. As I approached him, he must have been thinking, not this guy again. I told him I had spoken in a way Jesus never would have. Then I asked him to forgive me for my attitude.

In our first encounter, all my theological arguments ran off him like water off of a duck’s back. Moonies are trained to counter my kind of responses. In our second interaction, he was visibly shaken. He had no comeback to a little humility.

We should share the truth with people, but our theological truths need to be validated by love and respect for those to whom we speak. We must be ready to defend the gospel of Christ, but doing so doesn’t give us the right to be harsh or disrespectful to people with different beliefs than ours.

The poet Emerson once said, “What you do speaks so loud, I cannot hear what you say.” That may have been true with the Moonie.

Defend the gospel, but do so with gentleness and respect for the ones you speak to. 

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God's in Charge

God wakes you up for a reason.

There were days when I lay on my bed and cried my eyes out because I felt my life would amount to nothing. I felt so incapable that I wondered how I was ever going to make it. The burden of living with this feeling was removed when these words in Genesis took hold of my heart. Then God said, "Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear," and it was so. 

In the beginning, the earth was like a ball of water, but there was land covered by the water. The land was not called into being as light but was commanded to appear from underneath the waters. On this hidden land, everything that was, is, and will be existed. Trees sprouted, animals were created, and humans were formed. On this earth, life began and still remains.

God knows our potential because He placed it in us and sees us for who we are. He is able to make our lives beautiful and devoid of fear and worry if we’ll place our lives in His hands and trust Him. There are things hidden in us that only God knows and can work with in ways beyond our imagination.

Trying to put the pieces of our lives together will amount to nothing if we put aside the center piece who puts everything into perspective. If we hand everything to God, He will not only lead us into each day but will also build our lives into ones whose impact has no boundaries. At their end, He will look on them and say they have been good. God is in charge and all beautiful things emanate from Him.

Worry less, pray more, trust daily, and smile more. God loves you and everything will fall into place.

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The Story of You

Everybody loves a happy ending.

I was underwhelmed by the conclusion of a movie, causing me to wonder what kind of ending is being written to the story of my life. We have much to do with the writing of our own story. Our daily choices are ink on the pages, and those choices will hopefully add up to beautiful tales of courage, sacrifices, lives well-lived, and people well-loved.

Jehoram, king of Judah, and Tabitha, maker of clothing, were strikingly different. They were separated by centuries, station, and gender. One lived in infamy while the other lived in relative obscurity.  

Jehoram had the potential to make a name for himself, to rule rightly, and to be a blessing to the people he ruled, but he died to no one’s regret. Wives, children, and a kingdom full of subjects, and not one person regretted his death. A sad commentary.

Then we meet Tabitha "who was always doing good and helping the poor” (Acts 9). She became sick and died. The widows of her community gathered, cried, and showed Peter the robes and clothing she had made for them. One after another, they explained how her love had impacted them. Her loss was so unacceptable that Peter raised her from the dead.

Tabitha was a simple woman who devoted her life to Jesus and touched the lives of all around her. Jehoram was a king who devoted his life to himself and touched no one. When their end was written, the tally of their daily choices added up differently.

Tabitha gave. She allowed her schedule to be interrupted for the good of others. She lived the life God had granted her. She didn't wait for the right time or perfect circumstance to make an impact. Jehoram took. He made life about himself. Although he had a platform for large-scale impact, he squandered his opportunity.

Our stories are still being written. How they end is up to us. God can empower us to live in such a way that we’ll hear Him say, "Well done, good and faithful servant" after our earthly chapter has been penned.

Go live your masterpiece!

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My New Life

It was my first Easter Sunday without my husband.

As I looked around the church where my husband and I had worshiped and served together, I saw couples sitting side by side. The scene emphasized the undeniable fact that I was now alone.

This was my husband’s first full-time ministry church. At the age of forty-five, he had given up the highest paying job he’d ever had. But it was in this church that he began having an affair with a young wife who was the mother of two small children. From this church, they sped away in the darkness of midnight.

On that first Easter Sunday without my husband, the sermon was the joyful message of Christ’s resurrection. It was a jubilant proclamation that the grave could not keep Jesus a prisoner. A promise He had risen from the tomb to bring new life to all who would accept His gift. To those who had suffered losses and were mourning, He gave the assurance and the hope of new beginnings.

As I sat alone on that Easter morning, I felt pain and loneliness, but I was also aware of the Lord’s presence. I experienced the joy of His Spirit as I accepted the new life He offered.

I could have stayed home that Easter morning, telling myself it would be too painful to attend the worship service alone.  Had I made that decision, I would have missed the blessing and the joy awaiting me.

If you have experienced the loss of a loved one—either through death or divorce—you can choose to dwell on the memories of the past or you can move forward to the new life Jesus Christ waits to give you.

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Little Elephants, Big Difference

“No matter how old you are, you can still find ways to help.”

That insight belonged to eight-year-old Cee Cee Creech, who raised more than $3,400 in pledges for tornado victims in Joplin, Missouri, by knitting twelve hand-size elephants.

When the family first learned of the devastation in Joplin, Cee Cee’s father and brother had just returned from a disaster relief trip where they helped flood victims. Cee Cee saw a need and wanted to help as well. “I heard about the tornado, and I just thought those kids would really need something to give them hope.” So she begged her mother to help her find a way. She knew her mother made elephants as gifts for church mission trips. Seeing a possibility, she declared, “I could knit elephants to send to the children.”

Her mom established the social-networking website, “Elephants Remember Joplin” where anyone could sponsor a single elephant or an entire herd. Contributions trickled in at first, but her initial supporters began spreading the word. Excitement built as Cee Cee and her family learned that Joplin residents were checking her site. They could hardly believe it when a hometown reporter said he first heard her story from someone in New Zealand.

A few people pledged one dollar per elephant. One woman had no money but said she would donate an hour to the Red Cross. A Springfield, Missouri, organization, Little Hands Big Helpers: Empowering Kids to Make a Difference, learned of Cee Cee’s story and decided she needed to deliver her elephants personally. They paid for the family’s lodging and meals while in Joplin.  

The family thought the project would end once they delivered Cee Cee’s twelve elephants. But the story of Cee Cee and her elephants continues to unfold. A family friend gave her the catch phrase, “Sometimes a little elephant can make a big difference.”

Cee Cee has learned—by her family’s example and through personal experience—the grace of giving. The kind the apostle Paul wrote about. The grace that comes to the giver as well as the recipients. Sharing God’s love in practical ways has become her way of life.

Anyone of any age can share in that same grace. God can use any talent and any resource to bless others in Jesus’ name.     

Offer your little bit to God, and allow Him to make a big difference through you.

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The Secret Path to Fulfillment

My hands clenched the rough granite with the ferocity of a woman who knows one wrong move will result in one of two things: death or serious injury.

I was nearing the summit of a 12,000-foot peak in Wyoming’s Wind River Range—at least ten miles from the nearest sign of human civilization. The shift of my left foot sent a cascade of debris tumbling down the mountain. “I shouldn’t have come here alone,” I whispered. The situation was precarious. I needed to scale a ten-foot long, six-inch wide ledge to get to the next “safe” spot of the climb.

I was perched on the mountainside for one simple reason: I longed for fulfillment in a life of mundane tasks and responsibilities that seemed to drain the life from me—one long week after another. Wilderness adventure brought life back to my soul.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that a life of fulfillment isn’t found through a series of adrenaline-surged experiences, but by following Christ’s command. If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.This verse points to a startling truth. The more self-centered I am, the less fulfilled I will be. Christ calls His followers to die to self and follow Him. The secret to a fulfilled life is to stop living for myself and start living for Christ.

Living for Christ means making personal sacrifices so we will grow in relationship with Him. It means surrendering time, energy, and money to follow His command to make disciples. And it is not idolizing our passions for entertainment, comfort, and adventure. Instead, we sacrifice these luxuries so we might share His love with others.

If you aren’t experiencing a fulfilled life, a shift toward others-centered living will breathe vitality into your soul. Consider where you can lay down your desires and join Christ on the exciting journey of living for others today.

Christ is calling you to greater heights of fulfillment. Find those heights through the sacrifice of investing in others.

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Beautiful Death

If we were to rate beautiful deaths, Jesus’ death would top them all. 

The word beautiful is defined by Dictionary.com as “wonderful, very pleasing, or satisfying.”  Death is defined as the “end of life.” When put together, the two words seem to contradict each other. The end of life doesn’t seem wonderful or pleasing.

But this is exactly how my friend described her husband’s passing from this life. She shared with our church family that his spiritual life was in order, he was surrounded by family and friends, and he was at peace when he expelled his last breath. In my friend’s words, “It was a beautiful death.”

The physical aspects of Jesus’ death are horrible and ugly. He was struck, spit on, bound, mocked, and beaten. He was nailed to a cross and crucified between two robbers. He was betrayed by one of His disciples and rejected by His people. And for a period of about three hours, it seemed that Jesus’ own Father had turned His back on Him. Shortly before the point of death, Jesus cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

If He had wanted to, Jesus could have called down angels to free Him. He could have miraculously gotten off the cross, walked away, and lived. Yet that is the beautiful part. He chose to stay on the cross and die—once and for all—to save us from our sins.

Jesus is a living sacrifice—the atonement of the sins for all people. He loves us so much that He willingly gave up His life that we might live. Jesus chose to die the most beautiful death of all.

Don’t refuse the benefits of Jesus’ beautiful death. 

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Trust in the Midst of Difficulty

The capacity for knowing God and exemplifying Christlikeness is made possible when we’re brought into circumstances that cause us to exercise our faith. God often uses adversity to conform us to the image of His Son.

Our walk of faith requires us to emulate Christ in every area of our lives. Yet we often miss the importance of attributes like kindness and gentleness. Nothing quite tries the measure of these attributes as do conflict and quarreling. But God calls us to a higher standard. He calls us to trust Him in the face of opposition.

Isaac settled in the Valley of Gerar, the place where the Philistines had previously stopped up the wells during his father Abraham’s time. Isaac’s servants began unstopping the wells and discovered water. Not once, but three times. The first two times, they quarreled with the herdsmen of Gerar over the wells, but the third time Isaac moved along. Although the well was rightfully his, rather than insist on his rights, he forfeited the comfort and wellbeing it would have provided him and his family and went on his way.

Isaac was able to walk away without putting up a fight because he was like his father Abraham—a man who communed with God. During those moments of communion with God, he had received God’s assurance to bless him, and he took God at His word. Isaac never lost sight that the God who promised to bless him and make his descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky would do just that.

If you have ever been wrongly mistreated or faced opposition, this is precisely the environment that is ripe for exercising the qualities Isaac did. Be encouraged, and don’t waiver in your faith or lose sight of the promises of God. Rather, allow God to conform you through the process and simply take Him at His Word. He is trustworthy. Whatever you’re facing, release it. He is faithful to fulfill His promise at the proper time.

Build your altar and commune with God. He will reward you openly and cause you to flourish.

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When I Am Afraid

“GiiiiiiiiiiGi!”

My two-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter’s frightened cry pierced the happy quiet of my backyard. Moments before, she’d been playing quietly. Now she was racing toward me, her eyes wide with fear.

Kneeling down, I opened my arms and she flung herself into them, her breath coming in short, hard gasps.

“What’s wrong, baby girl?” I asked, looking around for a dog or a snake.

“Airplane,” she said, pointing to the sky.

Sure enough, there was a jet, high in the sky, making its noisy ascent from the nearby airport.

“That airplane won’t hurt you,” I said, wrapping my arms around Lauren’s trembling little body, “but you did good to come to Gigi. Gigi will always protect you.”

Psalm 5:3 reminds me of the way Lauren ran to me when the airplane frightened her.When I am afraid, I will trust in you. Because she’s learned to trust me, she knew I would protect her. Her childlike faith rested securely in me.

I want to be like Lauren when big, scary things disrupt my life and make me afraid. Only instead of running to a person to protect me, I want to run straight into the loving arms of my heavenly Father. I know I can trust Him because He’s demonstrated over and over how much He loves me.

I love Lauren and would die to save her. God loves me even more, and He already died to save me. What further proof do I need that I can trust Him with whatever comes my way?

Although fifty years separate Lauren and me, we’re a lot alike. We’re both frightened easily, but we also both know where to run for safety.

If something big and scary is threatening you, run to Jesus.

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Martha Learns a Lesson

Martha owned a house in a village that Jesus visited.

One day Martha invited Jesus for a visit. When Jesus came into her house, her sister, Mary, immediately went over and sat at His feet and listened to His word. There was something about Jesus that captured her heart.

Since Martha was a good hostess, she performed the necessary duties for entertaining an honored guest—but soon became ticked at her sister for sitting there and not helping. She complained to Jesus about her lazy sister and asked Him to tell her to get up and help with the chores.

With a loving yet firm rebuke, Jesus told Martha she was getting anxious when she shouldn’t be. Her spirit wasn’t at peace. She was so concerned about serving that she had lost her joy over Him being there. She needed to relax, slow down, and enjoy His visit.

According to Jesus, there are only a few necessary things and only one needful thing: sitting at His feet and listening to His words. He desired a warm relationship, not anxiety over everything being just right. Jesus told Martha that Mary had chosen the good part. Serving duties shouldn’t take that away.

Jesus taught Martha a lesson: serving Him wasn’t as important as visiting with Him and listening to His words. Relationships come first. We don’t know whether sitting and listening to Jesus caused Martha’s stress or whether she had a personality change. We hope it was the latter.

Our ongoing relationship with Jesus is determined by our coming to our Lord and sitting at His feet, whether we are a Martha or a Mary. What describes us will determine how much of our service acts will be rewarded after the chaff burning ceremony at the end of our lives.

Sit and listen at Jesus’ feet. You’ll be glad you did.

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A Smooth Transition

There will be seasons in our life that require change.

Some aspects of life will stay the same, but others may change at a point and time. As a child, I played Mario Brothers on Nintendo with my older brother. We would laugh and enjoy the fellowship of one another as we maneuvered Mario and Luigi throughout the mushroom kingdom with hopes of saving Princess Peach from her adversary, Bowser. But when I got to middle school, I ditched Mario and Luigi and began to flirt with girls. It’s just how life is. Things change and we must be willing to change and take the next step forward.  

For many of us, transitions aren’t easy. From childhood to adult life we’ve made mistakes, and some of those mistakes have tainted the way we view the future. The hardships and difficulties have taken a toll on our mind, and we’ve lost sight of God’s assurance. Instead of cherishing our victories, displeasure and discouragement have become common denominators keeping us from moving forward.

God wants us to change and grow in our lives and in our relationship with Him. Once we accept Him into our hearts, we are babes—babes in Christ that should begin to transform into stronger children of God. He has prepared us to do something wonderful for Him—guiding us to carry out something great for His people. He understands that throughout the seasons of life our flesh and heart will fail. Still, we must recognize He is the strength of our heart and our portion to overcome the heartache.

It’s not always easy to let go of the past. Sometimes people do hurtful things that are hard to forget. However, as a child chosen by God—and one willing to walk where He leads, letting go of the hurt is important. It doesn’t make it easier, but it makes us better.

Continue to let God show you who He wants you to become. His will is for all of our needs to be supplied so we can become the purposeful individuals He wants us to be as we continue to grow in Him.

Love who you’ve become in life—in spite of what has happened in the past.

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Just a Nice Little Old Lady

These guys were “outsiders” hunting deer.

A high-powered pickup towing a classy trailer loaded with two expensive all-terrain vehicles had pulled off the state highway to gas up at the only gasoline pumps in our little town. These men were not rude, just spoke little. Hunting whitetail deer was preeminent in their thoughts. Never would they have guessed the short, retired schoolteacher saw deer on a regular basis without even looking through a rifle sight. How could they have known this nondescript female could point out a meadow where she had counted fifteen deer one snowy morning?

King Solomon told of a little city that was being threatened. A wise but poor man provided a strategy to rescue the city from certain destruction. Yet no one recognized what a contribution the poor man’s astute plan had made to their entire population’s safety.

Many times, we discount wise people who God brings across our path: an elderly person with a halting voice, a middle-aged woman restricted to a wheelchair, a precious preschooler, or a battle-worn man in a soup kitchen. They may have learned greatly from their experience of following the Lord and studying His Word. Their wisdom may have been gained by initially making poor choices. The wheelchair-bound individual learned from adversity thrust into her successful life. The elderly gained wisdom by proving God’s promises through life experiences—both negative and positive. And the little child simply lived her life with the innocence Jesus said we should model.

As we go through our days, pause and listen each time God brings wisdom from an unlikely source rather than judge His use of people based on their appearance, age, societal status, or any other stereotypical categorization.

God’s wisdom comes in unlikely forms. Don’t miss it!

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Hospitals Are Great Teachers

Artificial hips come at a price.

The hip itself costs many dollars. After the surgeon’s fee, there is a list of other medical professional charges. The hospital fees themselves are several pages long, and even cleaning the bedding has a price. After replacement surgery, a person will never again have all their original parts.

After I gave away my first hip several years ago, one of my grandsons asked me, “Papa, are you are a bionic man now?”

After pausing for a moment, I said, “I guess I am.”

Lying in a hospital bed recently, I gave away my second hip. Remembering that we learn and become stronger by what we survive, I realized pain has a part in our growth.

Much like a piece of fruit that is full of juice and health-producing potential, our bodies are amazing. The complexities can take a person’s breath away. Yet when even one little part functions traumatically, the whole organism can suffer catastrophic failure.

My bladder is an example. Due to a spinal tap, my bladder went dead. After three hours, they “jump started” it and were able to drain it over a twenty-minute period. Awake during those three hours, the jagged spasms gave me a choice: rest in my Lord or lie there in fear. I chose to let everything go, look my Savior in the face, and ask Him for help. I was immediately lifted on a cloud of peace, which I didn’t expect. I could still feel the tearing spasms, but it was somewhere below where I was.  

Man is chastened with pain upon his bed to give him the choice of putting whatever it is in the hands of Jesus and admitting we need His help or trying to tough it out and start screaming until they sedate us.

We can choose to go through the pain with or without Jesus. We can also choose go through the pain with or without the peace Jesus promised when He said, Come to Me you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28).

Let those in pain share their reality with you. Then, as someone who understands, tell them about Jesus’ love in a gentle caring way. 

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The Broken Vessel

Allowing oneself to be a broken vessel is hard for the human mind to comprehend. 

Two messages revealed by the cross of Christ help us grasp the concept. Namely, life follows death, and joy comes after mourning.

When Jesus hung on the cross, He cried, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46b NASB). Because Jesus took our sins, God the Father turned away from His beloved Son.

Spiritual brokenness happens when we find ourselves alone and seemingly abandoned—even by God. Brokenness is never brought about by something we do, but by what God does. No amount of self-degradation can affect this spiritual condition. No extent of pain or self-sacrifice we inflict on ourselves can bring about a broken spirit. We would just be proud of our humility.

Someone once said, “Humility without grace is just pride in disguise.” It reeks of the ugliness of self-righteousness. Jesus, in His humanness, was honestly overwhelmed by the broken fellowship with His Heavenly Father. If you find yourself enjoying your pain, you may not be on the path to brokenness.

We can’t just hang out and expect God to produce spiritual brokenness in us, but we can be obedient. We can run or remain where God has called us when He brings circumstances or people into our lives who test us beyond our ability to endure. Often our human abilities are overcome by life’s perplexities; a spiritual death transpires and a vessel is broken. Only then are God’s grace and strength fully released. 

Writing on this topic is difficult since I understand how unbroken I am. But that may be how it works. You are probably not broken if you think you are. Only those who understand their need can ever achieve it.

Those in the midst of devastating circumstances may feel as if becoming a broken vessel is a bitter pill to swallow. Remember that spiritually speaking, life always follows death—and joy always comes after mourning.

Do whatever it takes to let God make you a broken vessel. 

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Beauty for Ashes

Some of the most serene islands were formed by volcanic eruptions.

The Hawaiian Islands have beautiful landscapes—rich, fertile soil, bountiful fruit, and breath-taking flowers. Once, they were uninhabited—burnt and scarred from the flow of molten rocks and overcome by the blazing heat of an eruption so forceful nothing could stand in its path. Now, they are a place of bounty, showing little signs of their past experiences. They even use the eruptions to their advantage by creating a rich soil where only beauty prevails.

Volcanic eruptions are usually unexpected. Although people who live in their shadow may have heard of them and felt the tremor of their muted rumblings, the explosions usually come with shock and fury. Lava spews into the air and then falls to the ground at great speed in a shower of white, black, and red smoke, dust, and fire.

Some incidents in our lives are just as explosive. Unexpected and devastating, they leave emptiness where once there was joy. Events such as a loved one’s death, heartbreak, chronic illness, terror attacks, or natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes. These change the landscape of our lives, erase the greenery (contentment and success), and leave charred surfaces and ash (a dull ache and a grey cloud over our days). We must come to terms with the devastation, attempt to redefine ourselves, and adjust our perspectives.

The story of the islands does not end with the eruption; it is a continuous creative process. After the burns and scars, after the dust settles, and after the rain comes, a new layer is created and the islands grow—higher and wider, richer for the experience, and ready to be covered in fresh life.

Disruptions in our lives are never meant to destroy us. While we may suffer loss and pain, there is also renewal–an expansion of our previously defined limits and strength which could never have been uncovered otherwise. The result is the creation of a soul so rich that only bounty will come from it in due time. A bounty grounded in the discovery of our Creator and a trust developed only through experience. An abundance of peace, joy, and love that allows us to have compassion for others as they experience eruptions.

Be encouraged. In place of the ashes, Yahweh gives beauty.

(In memory of Keno and Kirk)

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The Gift of Thanks

My husband and I were talking about Thanksgiving plans when I remembered a gift I had given to a dear friend. Smiling, I also remembered how she disposed of it.

Though raised in the country, my friend thrived in a city setting—a modest apartment on the fifth floor of a large complex. She seemed to know everyone in her building.

My friend was unique. Since she enjoyed reading and writing, we had a meeting of the minds. She was a life-long learner who collected family heirlooms to make her environment country-cozy, yet diverse in objects and ideas. She instructed other aspiring writers, rehabilitated homeless cats, and shared belongings with people who were less fortunate than she.

We stayed in touch through occasional phone calls and hand-written notes. Had e-mail or Facebook been available in those days, we would have still written notes and talked on the telephone. Months might have gone by, but we picked up our conversation where we left off.

One day, I learned my friend had an illness that affected every facet of her life and limited her activities. More months flew by. Then I heard she was in the hospital because of a life-threatening infection. I wondered why I had drifted away. Was I too busy to call or visit her? I felt guilty.

I decided to send a big bouquet of flowers to her hospital room along with a note that read, “This bouquet represents your love, generosity, and self-sacrifices to make others happy.”

After a few days, I dared to call her. “Did you get the bouquet I sent?”

“Yes, the flowers were beautiful. I hope you don’t mind, but I gave the doctors some flowers. I enjoyed the bouquet a day or two. Then I took one flower at a time and gave them to all the people who helped me in this hospital.”

Listening, I thought, Why did you do that? I tried to honor you.

I had to adjust my attitude, realizing I gave to my friend the only gift she could use to thank all the others. That was our last conversation. I thanked the Lord for our friendship and the lesson.

Show your thanks by giving something away. 

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Drained to Be Filled

He pulled the rubber plug and sadly watched the water swirl in tiny cyclone-fashion through the hole in the bottom of the hot tub.

Memories of nights spent soaking under the stars flashed through my husband’s mind. Cool mist sprinkles falling lightly upon his cheeks. The musky smell of burnt leaves permeating the air. The warm water as it encircled his body, calming the twitching nerves in his legs.

The hot tub was my husband’s late night companion during the year he officiated a sporting event. With his kidneys functioning at only ten percent, it didn’t take much for his legs and feet to cramp. He soaked two or three times nightly to relieve the twitching so he could sleep. 

After dialysis started, there would be no more midnight soaks or pulsating caresses. No more hot tub, period. My husband held off dialysis as long as possible. When his declining physical strength took its toll on his body, dialysis became necessary.

Dialysis purges the impurities out of my husband’s blood through a fluid. Toxic fluid is drained from his body through a catheter and replaced with new fluid. The cleansing process restores health and strength to his body.

As I think about the dialysis process, I think about sin. Sin is like the toxic waste festering inside my husband’s body. We tend to hold on to our sin until eventually we hit bottom. When we realize we can’t purge the sin embedded within our souls, we have only one place to go: the foot of the cross.  

On the cross, the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, allowed Himself to be drained of life for our sins through His shed blood. When we kneel at the cross seeking forgiveness and repentance for our sins, He takes them from us. He empties us of the poisons that destroy our soul and then fills us with new life—eternal life.

The process for my husband began with strength. The strength to step toward healing and wellness. For us, our next step also begins with strength. The strength to step to the cross. If you have not taken that step, let me encourage you to do so. Don't wait.

Drain the dirty, toxic slime from your soul, and fill your body with new life … eternal life … life only Jesus Christ can give.

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Ready or Not

His parents frequently reminded him he was not ready to go.

My sister’s three-year-old grandson loved to travel, whether he was properly attired or not. Sometimes, he had on dirty clothes. At other times, he was not wearing enough. His clothes sufficed for playing at home in the dirt, but not for anything else.

On one trip—after he was properly dressed—he gazed at the clouds and said, “Nanny, Jesus make the clouds?”

After her “He sure did,” he continued, “Nanny, Jesus live in the clouds?”

She told him Jesus lives far beyond the clouds, and someday we’ll have the best time with Him there—but He’s not ready for us yet.

She could almost see the wheels turning in his little brain before he said, “Nanny, Jesus not have His clothes on?”

Our three-year-old had not learned Jesus abides in heaven, ready to go. Robed in eternal power and glory, He will return at the appointed time.

Jesus remains ready, but we must consider whether we are fully clothed in His righteousness or still dressed in filthy, inadequate rags. Stripped of His clothing and hung on Calvary’s cross, Jesus paid the price for our garments of salvation which is all we need to face a sinful world and to stand before our righteous God in heaven—but we must choose to wear them.

Jesus provided everything required for the journey ahead. Let’s spread the word: It’s time to get dressed and ready to go. 

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Greatness in the Kingdom

Power is adorable—and intoxicating at the same time.

Several years ago, I was given an opportunity to lead a prayer session in my church. I didn’t know much about how to do it—and I don’t like facing a crowd—but I accepted the invitation and led the prayer. God chose to honor my prayer, and the atmosphere was awesome. Miracles were everywhere.

Following the prayer, one of the ministers saluted me for a job well done. The compliment meant a lot to me because I had just given my life to Christ. After that day, I began to walk around like an anointed man of God. I expected praise and salutation from the church members, but I got the opposite. I was angry for a while until the Holy Spirit opened my eyes.

We all want the seat that comes with authority—to be cheered by the crowd. In those moments, we believe we are doing great things. But that is not greatness in the kingdom of heaven. True greatness means serving others with humility, just as Jesus humbly died for us so we can live and be redeemed.

Giving orders to people does not make a person great. Nor does being in a top position. Helping others to achieve their goals in humility is the great work God requires. The world doesn’t serve people; it only extols them. The emblem of every believer is to serve humanity with our gifts, time, and resources.

We are only great in God’s eyes when we help others reach their potential without expecting anything in return. 

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It's About Love

My friend Pete went to church once or twice a month for more than fifty years without really knowing what it was all about.

The older Peter got, the more he questioned even the existence of God. Not until he was blindsided by tragedy did he begin to seek answers to his questions about God and Jesus. As he entered the dark night of spinal cancer, intense pain, and paralysis, he started reading the Apologetics written by some of the great Christian thinkers.

The day came when Pete confessed his sins and accepted Christ as Savior. The first thing that happened, he told me, was that he felt as though he was lifted from his bed of pain and into the arms of a Great Love. Prior to this, he had no idea believing in God had anything to do with love.

But the truth is, belief in God has everything to do with love. He calls us into relationship with Him because He loves us and wants us to love Him in return.

John, in his first letter, talks about this love and says we can know God’s love because He sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14). The first Christmas in Bethlehem was an act of love. The baby in the manger—God in the flesh, was a gift of love.

You know the old saying, “Seeing is believing.” John says he and the other disciples saw Jesus with their own eyes and came to believe in Him as the promised Messiah, the Savior of the world. And with that, believing became loving.

This Christmas season, take time to bask in God’s love for you, and be sure to tell Him you love Him in return. Believing is loving. It’s all about love. 

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The Seed

I was in the exact place I had been recently: frustrated, discouraged, and doubtful.

For weeks I sought the Lord, desiring to see a miraculous change in my life, only to be met with silence. Every day I was determined and pressed on. But day after day as the circumstances around me stayed the same, my frustration and doubt grew.

One Sunday morning, I felt I had to get away, so I went to our local reservoir for a walk. I had to clear my head and heart. My mind was on overload with so many thoughts—almost none of them positive. While walking, I unloaded every thought and emotion onto God. I was tired.

“I am angry and confused. God, please let me know You hear me and are still there,” I prayed.

I’ve been a Christian for some time and know God will never leave or forsake me. But there are moments when the pain and darkness dim any glimmer of light. After pouring out my heart, I became silent. I was holding onto so much. Not until I let go could God have room to work.

As I reached the halfway point around the reservoir, I was stopped by a massive tree. I stood still, and in that moment, the Lord spoke. The tree wasn’t always this large. It was once a tiny seed that created roots so it could be stable and grow strong to withstand the storms it would face. And this growing process took years. God’s comfort swept over me.

I can get so caught up in what I see or don’t see that I fail to remember God’s ways are not my ways. His thoughts are not even close to what I think. This walk of life is a process, not a project. I, too, start as a seed and have my own growing process—which doesn’t happen overnight.

Change and growth will happen, but we need to be planted in good soil and have exposure to light as well as food from God’s Word. Life is a journey of learning and growth—and moments of struggling through the valley and standing on the mountaintop. 

God is still speaking and working no matter what we see or how we feel. 

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Bartering Red Quarters

One of God’s blessings came after Dad decided to barter one of his talents with the apartment owners.

Mom and Dad managed their own rental properties and then took on the job of an apartment complex of eighty apartments. Mom interviewed new renters, cleaned the units when folks moved out, and kept the accounts. She pulled the vacuum along the hallways and scrubbed windows in entryways. Dad, with a Detroit Tigers’ baseball cap atop his thinning hair, did light maintenance for all the buildings. He also worked a full-time job at Great Lakes Steel Mill in Ecorse, Michigan.

Each apartment unit had a laundry room with washers and dryers maintained by the owners. With the high usage, Dad contacted the owner often for repairs. Then he hit upon the bartering idea. He tossed out a suggestion to the owners. “I’ll only call you for major repairs to the machines,” he bargained, “if you’ll let my family use them for free.”

“How do you suggest we do that?” asked the owner.

Dad said, “I’ll paint a red stripe on each side of the quarters we use to wash and dry our clothes. Then when you empty the cash box on the machines, you can return all the red quarters to us.” They agreed.

Mom attended services on Sunday, tithed, and gave offerings from her part of the family income. Our family learned to give to God’s work, and God blessed. With five children in the family, four of us went to college and one to the United States Army. My brother retired and gave years of service in ministry to the military in Germany and Scotland. One sister and her co-worker traveled the world as missionary evangelists. Others sang or taught Sunday school. I’d say Mom’s giving had a return that was pressed down, shaken together, and running over.

Our obedience to God in giving for His work is necessary. It isn’t about how much we give but about obedience. When God has our obedience, He has us. Our faithfulness in all things shows our allegiance to Him, and blessings come back to us.

Give to God, and watch the various ways He will give back to you.

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The Indescribable Gift

Of all the gifts I've received, one stands out—maybe because it was unexpected, unusually wrapped, and something I'd never seen before.

My father had a whimsy about him. At a time when money was tight and the gifts my parents gave were utilitarian, my father found a way to give a special gift I needed.

One Christmas morning, I stared at an enormous industrial-sized buff-colored bag leaning next to our tree. The bag was almost as tall as I was. There was no name on the bag. It could have been for any of us.

After all the gifts were opened except the bag, I asked whose it was. When my father said it was mine, I rushed to the bag. Expecting to find a gigantic doll house, I ripped at the staples that held it shut.

But the bag was too light to hold a doll house. I stuck my hand in as far as it could go and found nothing. I laid it on the floor, crawled inside, and bumped into something furry. I screamed.

When my father picked up the bag and turned it over, the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen came out: a black and brown fake-fur hat with pompoms at the end of the strings.

Thinking about the gift our heavenly Father gave more than 2,000 years ago, some might say that although the Messiah's birth had been predicted, it was still unexpected. Because of the unusual way God wrapped His gift, some found it difficult to accept. Nothing like God's gift of His Son had been seen before. Yet it was needed.

To receive the unexpected gift my father gave me, I had to look beyond its unusual wrapping, open it, accept it, and put it on. Like my furry hat, we have to open God's indescribable gift, accept it, and put it on before it becomes ours.

Jesus is waiting to be yours. Open His indescribable gift. 

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Thankful for It All

“When are you available for the MRI?”

The voice echoed in my ears. Really. It echoed in my ears. That was the problem. For months, I’d been hearing as though I had both hands over my ears. My own voice was amplified in my head. I could hear my heartbeat and my footsteps … and it was driving me batty.

“The sooner the better. My anxiety level is out the roof.”

And to that, she made me an appointment for the next morning.

I was nervous. The unknown is always a kicker, but at the same time there was a sense of relief that the test would soon be over until … the woman called back and informed me my appointment would be moved to the following Wednesday.

Great. Now I have a full week to dwell on this ordeal.

“Just be thankful we can get you in before Thanksgiving.”

It’s hard to be thankful in the midst of anxiety. You don’t sleep. Your stomach turns. Anxiety is no fun. So when Paul encouraged us not to be anxious about anything and then to be thankful, I had to wonder if he knew what he was talking about. How can you be anxious and thankful for the issue that’s making you crazy?

Paul was a pro at hardship. He’d been beaten, shipwrecked, starved, imprisoned, and yet he reminded us he counted it pure joy. AND he was thankful. Paul experienced the worst of the worst and came out forgiven. Through being blinded by God, his hardened heart shifted and he experienced peace. He knew better than anyone that anxiety did nothing but draw him away from God, and he opted to be thankful instead. Paul learned the power and peace of offering every trial before God, and that gave him valuable, incredible confidence in the promises of God.

Sometimes it’s hard to be thankful to a God who seems physically intangible. If we could just look Him in the eye, we’d feel a little easier. But handing over anxiety and being thankful is twice as difficult. The fact is, there is good even in the bad, and God knows the good that lies ahead. For us, it’s all about faith.

Our country faces hardship and healing. The world presses its agenda against what we know is right. But through it all, God is in control. Knowing that truth not only gives me hope but also makes me thankful.

As you celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday, let go of the stresses you feel. Offer up petitions and prayers, and then be thankful. Even at our worst, we have much for which to praise Him.

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Half Empty, Half Full

I’d heard the scenario too many times.

Lunch break at last. It had been a long morning. The scene was the break room. Tense bodies huddled around the small table because the boss wouldn’t turn up the heat. Tony’s teenage son had talked back to him for the last time. Harry’s old lady smashed the back of the car, and he expected her to pay for it. Jessie knew what they meant since her family was always giving her grief. All they wanted was to get through the day and go home to the television.

Attitudes seem to come from our spiritual base—not just from the occasional bad day. The glass is half empty or half full. I’m a pessimist or an optimist who is negative or positive. The environment casts a spell on my spirit. Either I will live in the victorious hope of the risen Christ, or I will wallow in the downtrodden spirit of this world. I try to choose Jesus every day.

Tony could have more patience with his son, Harry could forgive his wife and realize she is upset also, and Jessie could change the tone she uses with her family. All these folks could allow the love of God to wash over them each night. 

For me, the Bible has been a wonderful, refreshing resource for feeling God’s love in my life, for hearing God’s amazing promises for the future, and for learning to forgive. It also helps me to love, to follow God’s path, and to know the joy of an eternity with Him.

Open your Bible or a good devotional book, and spend time with God daily so you will have a hopeful glow that only comes from Jesus. Your glass will soon be full.

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Envy Has a Color: Black

I learned a powerful lesson from a billboard.

Every morning when I drive my son to school, I pass a billboard from a home improvement store with the caption, “Envy has a new color.” It depicts a wooden fence with various shades of new stains, mostly in brownish-red tones. I love the play on words, since typically we know the color of envy by a familiar idiom: “To be green with envy.” Shakespeare described envy as the “green sickness” in his play Anthony and Cleopatra.

Neither this billboard nor Shakespeare got it right. The truest color of envy is black. I had struggled with envy for several days, and it corroded my heart and colored my judgement. As a writer, it has been my dream to publish a book. While I’ve tried several times, the door hasn’t opened.

It did for a sweet friend of mine. She published a book about her journey with her son’s childhood cancer. The book was beautifully written, inspirational, and blessed many. Instead of rejoicing with her, I envied her. The billboard was a daily reminder that my envy was black sin—the true color of envy.

Envy is a feeling of discontent or resentment over someone else’s good fortune or blessings. For me, it was my friend getting published. I should have enjoyed the blessing with her instead of envying it.

God loves to give good gifts to His children. And since we are one family in Christ, He wants us to rejoice when He blesses another family member and to celebrate the goodness of His favor on them. Thanks to God’s grace and forgiveness, I’m now tickled pink for my friend.

Instead of being green with envy over other’s good fortune and blessing, rejoice with them. 

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Dippers, Strippers, and Equippers

Coffee almost shot out my nose as I laughed at an unexpected comment at a Christian conference center.

For several years, I’ve attended various conferences at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains just outside of Asheville, North Carolina. It is a full-service conference location in a spiritually refreshing setting. Most importantly, it boasts the Clouds Coffee Shop. While serving gourmet coffees, teas, and fresh lattes, the delightful staff also offer an assortment of drinks, ice cream, and other treats.

Since an eye-opening cup of Joe goes hand-in-hand with a cool mountain sunrise, I indulged myself with an early morning French Vanilla cappuccino. In a light-hearted moment with the baristas, I complimented their skills at being quality caffeinators. One of the spirited ladies remarked, “We’re also Dippers and Strippers.”

Seeing my surprise, they explained that they dip ice cream, strip beds in the hotel rooms, and help however they can throughout the entire campus. They were joyful in their multitasking skills because they viewed everything they did as service for God—which started me thinking.

Part of our role as Christians is to help equip fellow believers as we prepare the Bride of Christ for His return. He has given us His Word, His Spirit, and His Commission to win the lost and make disciples.

Even though it seems the dedicated ladies at the coffee shop perform tasks far removed from the “front lines” of Christianity, the “dippers and strippers” are foundational equippers. Any service to God, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, is a huge contribution to God’s overall purpose.

So, here’s to the “dippers, strippers, and equippers” at the Clouds Coffee Shop as well as around the world. Approach even your menial tasks as service to the King of kings and Lord of lords.

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As I Was Saying

We who have walked with Jesus for a long time have been there.

You know the scenario. The Holy Spirit prompts us to do or say something to someone. Something like, “Call your friend.” Sounds like such a small request, and yet we argue. “Lord, it’s morning, and You know she's not a morning person.” Or, “Lord, what I need to tell her can wait.” Perhaps, “Lord, I'll tell her the next time we talk.”

God is never impressed when we try to do things our way. When we've finished with our discourse of excuses and arguments, Jesus quietly says once again, “As I was saying, call your friend.”

Finally, we give in and dial the number. She answers and doesn't sound good. She’s still in bed, and we realize there's more to this story. This isn't like her. With intensity of voice, she tells about the last three days. It has been one thing after another—crazy, unexplainable things and people. She’s had some of the worst days of her life and has been in spiritual warfare.

We didn't know that, but God did. He always knows what's happening with His children. As the pain pours from her heart, we're humbled and grateful the Lord didn't stop in His promptings to call her. The fact that she's several states away is immaterial. The Holy Spirit takes hold of the situation, and there’s a change in the spiritual atmosphere.

The Holy Spirit ministers, encourages, lifts up, and restores our precious friend—as only He can. All because Jesus said, “As I was saying, call your friend.”

When God says something, listen. 

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Have a Perfect Day

Trying to keep things perfect is as impossible as catching the wind.

We cannot make life perfect for ourselves or those we love. Nor can we shape the events in our lives so that nothing turns against us. A desire for perfection produces anxiety about achievements at school, work, or play. Our talents and gifts can get in the way when situations call for more than we can offer. 

Jesus’ friend Martha tried to make things perfect when He came to visit, but she needed help from her sister, Mary. Mary was busy sitting and listening to Jesus. Martha was probably a good hostess, constantly making sure everything was perfect. But she failed to recognize the only One able to make things perfect was in her house. Instead of working, she needed to sit before Him and learn.

When Jesus Christ comes into the heart of a person, He brings salvation and forgiveness of sins. He also brings joy—His joy. Pursuing perfection can rob us of joy. Jesus’ joy can withstand the difficulties of life. Only God can catch the wind, control it, and command it. He is the creator of all.

The joy that comes from knowing Jesus pulls us out of despair, gives us hope, and keeps us trusting Him. He wants us to rejoice. Sorrow robs us of contentment and confidence and puts our well-being in jeopardy. But it cannot separate us from Jesus Christ. Our joy is in Him, not in our circumstances. When our hearts are filled with His joy, worry cannot find a space to settle—and that is perfect. 

Trust in the Lord and in the power and wisdom of His strength. The result will be a perfect day. 

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Ms. Gherardini

You’ve likely had an aha moment when you discovered the truth.

Former first lady, Jackie Kennedy, loved Lisa Gherardini—so much that she arranged for a secret service escort during Gherardini’s visit from France to America in the early 1960s. President Kennedy shared her admiration for this mother of five with dark hair and olive colored skin. While her visit did not last long, Ms. Gherardini’s warmth and inviting nature had a profound impact on everyone who spent time in her presence. **

There is no need to question your knowledge of history. You know Lisa Gherardini as the “La Gioconda”—more commonly, the “Mona Lisa,” painted in the sixteenth century by Leonardo da Vinci.

The crowd listening to Jesus proclaimed they had never been enslaved, so freedom wasn’t a need. Yet Jesus said everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin—and He was there to set them free.

We should have an epiphany when we discover our destructive behavior enslaves us. Yet more important is Jesus’ truth that will set us free. The freedom taught by Christ has nothing to do with earthly bondage but comes with surrendering our life to Him. When that occurs, we will learn life is not our own but belongs to the Potter.

Let God mold and shape your life for His eternal glory.

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** Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard, Killing Kennedy, (Henry Holt and Company, 2012), 135-137.

 



A Hidden Life

Purpose in this life is the greatest pursuit we have.

Many hours and dollars are spent seeking purpose and acceptance. In Christ, we have been given a great life, hidden away in the depths of God’s love and mercy.

We often seek relevance and acceptance. The search is not one of a narcissist but one to find ourselves in the midst of many possible identities. When we accept Jesus as Savior, a life is forged for us in His sacrifice—a life hidden in the depths of His love.

When we find God’s love, a true revelation happens. Our acceptance and self-worth are spiritual foundations rather than  physical needs. We have died with Christ to the standard of this world and have been raised with Him to new life—a new life based on true acceptance from a spiritual Father who wants nothing more than to see us blessed. We are given a spiritual root of hope in the Lord—going so deep in perfect love that nothing can remove this love from us.

Happiness comes from understanding your worth is not from this world. Nor is your value from what you can earn or from your talents. This life is uniquely hidden from the natural life which only a spiritual eye can see. We are given purpose and value in Christ. Those around us may not see it, but it is there, hidden in the depths of God’s love.

The next time you feel neglected or left out, remember you have a hidden value more precious than gold. Your price was the life of God’s Son, and no amount of money can match the value of that sacrifice.

Don’t believe those who say you have no purpose. The King of Kings died for you, and He waits for you to discover His love, wrapped in His Son.  

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Led by His peace

My goal was to make my mother proud.

I didn’t make much of myself during high school. Unlike my brother and sister, I didn’t graduate on time. Nor did I take the Olan Mills cap-and-gown pictures and receive the infamous “attaboy” handshake everyone gets as they stroll across the stage. Instead, I got funny stares of disappointment. So when I enrolled at Liberty University, I had my doubts.

I was excited about a new chapter in my life but also had thoughts of failure. I struggled with math and received Fs semester after semester. I stared into a book that made no sense and wanted to give up. But the thought of letting down my mom drove me to pass.

Perhaps you’ve struggled with heartaches. If only I didn’t have to deal with this one thing inundates your thoughts, causing you to feel inadequate. God places unique callings on our lives, and it’s not uncommon to feel frustration when life hands one downer after another.

The mistake comes when we allow our life to sink into a pool of self-pity, losing sight of God’s promises. God has plans to bless us in unimaginable ways. This is what He did for His exiled people. He invited them to return to His love and be led by His peace.

Problems may appear overwhelming, but God’s peace sustains throughout the struggles. If you accept God’s invitation, joy and peace will follow. No matter how much the enemy tries to sway your thoughts from God’s plan, God will cause everything to flourish and grow strong and healthy.

It wasn’t easy for me to overcome math, but I understood trusting God would lay the foundation for me to overcome my struggle. Don’t take pleasure in self-pity or delight in mediocrity. Let God’s peace enter your heart, and let the joy of the Lord strengthen your walk.

Remember, God’s will is to see you prosper and become successful.

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A Poison Apple a Day

Because of my spiritual family tree, I have an unfortunate condition: I’m addicted to poison apples.

The apples that tempt me are succulent, crisp, sweet or tangy, and haunting. The first bite doesn’t disappoint. It’s juicy and delicious, and I often take a second mouthful. When I’m not indulging, I think about this delicious fruit often. In the back of my mind, I know they are poisonous and will destroy me, yet I constantly battle with my desires versus my inner wisdom.

The Bible calls these poison apples “temptations.” During His forty days in the wilderness, Jesus treated every temptation—large and small—as deadly serious. He understood a truth we conveniently forget: our enemy is out to destroy us. None of the Devil’s temptations are harmless or minor.

Each temptation contains a little poison with a minimal effect. But like arsenic, the poison accumulates. One day, it’s a little white lie that doesn’t hurt anyone and saves embarrassment. So I tell another. Soon, personal dishonesty becomes a tool in my toolbox until one day the poison accumulates to toxic levels. 

Lies can damage key relationships and evaporate trust. They can cause a child to lose respect. Lying to the Internal Revenue Service can lead to financial penalties. Lying to your doctor about taking some drugs may mean a trip to the Intensive Care Unit. And lying while under oath can lead to perjury charges. 

Sin has horrible consequences. Saying yes to any temptation is foolish. Munching on poisoned apples frequently leads to grieving hearts and ruined lives. It’s meant to. Our enemy designed it that way. He’s the master of false advertising, but Jesus is the master of redeeming lost souls and healing broken lives.

Don’t obey the master who destructively tempts you but the one who can help you escape. 

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Giving the Finger

My granddaddy gave the finger to every driver he met.

Down South, we pride ourselves in friendliness. Some parts appear friendlier than others. During a certain time of the year, everyone I pass in their yard waves frantically. In reality, they probably aren’t any friendlier. They’re just shooing away gnats. I’ve had the privilege of talking with a number of people who have moved from other regions of the United States and had them tell me how friendly we are—a welcome relief.

My granddaddy fell under the category of friendly. He drove an ice truck, milk truck, and ice cream truck for more than forty years. When I was old enough, I spent the entire summer helping him deliver ice cream. Every vehicle he met coming down the road, he gave a finger to. Not the middle finger, but the index finger. You see, in the South, that’s the finger we give. Rarely do we throw up a hand—we merely lift one finger. Before I knew any better, I often wondered how my granddaddy knew so many people. Then I discovered he hardly knew any of the people he fingered. He was simply being friendly and living out what he had learned from residing in the South.

Paul and those with him on the ship encountered friendliness after their ship ran aground. He was on his way to Rome to stand trial for his faith in Christ. While on this unexpected stopover, he and the crew encountered friendly islanders who gave them a finger. In return, Paul showed them a finger by healing the chief official’s father.

Friendliness is not genetic, but it is learned and free. If we want friends, we have to be one. Coming from an environment where anger and rudeness was shown is no excuse to act the same way. God considers us His friends when we accept His Son as our Savior. Since He accepts us as friends, He expects us to return the favor. While having more than a few good friends in a lifetime is rare, I can show a finger of friendliness to everyone I meet—even my enemies.

Give a finger to the people in your path.

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Work As If You Mean It

To some, W-O-R-K is a four letter word. Others view it as what makes them who they are. Many athletes are defined by how they play and who they play for, but a cowboy is a cowboy—something that never changes.

During an argument, someone said to me, “That hat don’t make you a man.” They were correct. A hat, boots, or shiny belt buckle does not a cowboy make. What makes a cowboy is the honest work he does, and the way he lives his life.

Work isn’t always pleasant or glamorous. Jobs can be routine and boring. But we do our work to the best of our ability and collect our pay at the end of the week. If we fail to perform our boss’ expectations, we may find ourselves in the office or looking for a new job. Many cowboys work because they love it and wouldn’t do anything else. Despite the hard chores and long hours, it’s something they love, and they never yearn to work indoors—or at an office from nine to five.

As we begin living for Christ, we discover a new purpose for our talents. We may even develop new abilities in God’s service. Our vocation for Christ becomes bigger than who we are.

New believers don’t usually change jobs or run to the mission field. Instead, they work the job they have, and from there God uses them as they share His grace and their faith with co-workers. God works through us at our jobs and with our families. It’s like ham and eggs. For the chicken, it’s just another day on the farm, but for the pig, it’s a lifelong commitment.

Living for Christ is a daily obligation. Begin each day with His Word on your mind, and work at your relationship with Him.

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Purify Your Barrels

I never left the police firing range without cleaning my handgun.

“A dirty firearm is an inoperable weapon,” barked the range master. While this is not entirely true, the chance of a misfire dramatically increases with a filthy weapon.

I once went target shooting with a group from church but had let a few days pass without cleaning my guns. Finally, the guilt overwhelmed me. I pulled the weapons out, broke them down, and cleaned each one inside and out.

This is also a biblical principle—not cleaning your firearms, but purifying your heart. Had the apostle James been a range master, he would have declared, “Draw near to your training, and it will never fail you. Cleanse your firearms, you slackers, and purify your barrels, you who think it is unnecessary.” But he was a trainer of a different sort.

For those who can identify with the illustration, think of your spiritual life. Just as basic weapons training counsels users to keep their firearms serviceable by keeping them clean, basic Christianity does the same by admonishing us to “cleanse our hands,” and “purify our hearts.”

Break Free is a fabulous cleaning product for weapons. It works as a solvent and lubricant. The Bible is God’s revelation to humanity, which is mired in relational sludge, grime, and oily residue of every sort. Scripture is a superb cleansing product for our heart. It also works as a solvent and lubricant, helping us break down what needs to be expelled and lubricating our life to help us flourish.

Let God’s Word keep your life clean so you will never misfire.

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Give Blood; Save a Life

I’m not required to give gallons of blood so that others may live. That responsibility fell to one individual.

Signs encourage donors to give. The Red Cross gathers life-giving blood from volunteers across the nation and around the world and boasts of the effort. This blood bursts onto the scenes of hospitals everywhere to replenish blood loss due to trauma and surgery.

Some give gallons of blood annually. They don’t start out doing so but over the years build up a mechanism to replenish the quantity they give. Some give only once. Some can’t give because of disease or other health reasons. For me, it was the lack of veins big enough to handle the size of the needle used to harvest. I was told, “Come back when your veins grow up.” I haven’t been back because even the phlebotomist at the hospital uses a child-sized butterfly when drawing my blood.

Matthew records the words of Jesus who explains the Old Testament ritual of sacrificing animal blood. Depending upon the severity of the sin, the law determined how large the sacrificed animal had to be. It dealt with the transgression with an appropriate quantity of blood. Commit a big sin and sacrifice a big animal. Jesus, however, took the sin of the world through His sacrifice. His blood ran so all might be saved from separation from God (death).

Unlike a world collecting blood to save lives in a dire emergency, Christ gave His blood to save everyone from the daily onslaught of common life. And that’s the rub. We tend to overlook the little things for so long that we don’t realize how big they’ve grown. Still, Jesus takes on the remission. We don’t need to look around for an extra quart or two of our own.

Check your dipstick. Jesus stands ready to replenish your need.

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Whom Are You Really Wrestling?

Jacob didn’t know whom he was wrestling.

The story of Jacob wrestling the stranger takes place right before he reunites with his brother Esau, whom he left on the “wrong foot” (perhaps the same one he was holding as they exited the womb). Jacob means “grabber,” and he had been doing it his entire life: trying to be the firstborn, stealing his brother’s inheritance, and taking the firstborn’s blessing. Now he faced a day of reckoning. He didn’t know whether his brother would kill him and his family or forgive him.

While alone the night before, Jacob wrestled with a man. Perhaps he thought it Esau. At daybreak, Jacob realized it wasn’t Esau, but God himself. His lack of trust in God’s provision and will pushed him to scheme and grab. So he prays, “O God of my grandfather Abraham, and God of my father, Isaac—O Lord, you told me, ‘Return to your own land and to your relatives.’ And you promised me, ‘I will treat you kindly.’ I am not worthy of all the unfailing love and faithfulness you have shown to me, your servant” (Genesis 32:9-10 NLT).

Jacob is scared his brother is going to attack him, but God attacks him instead. It’s almost as if God is making him face his worst fear. Jacob was at his point of reckoning. He could continue to manipulate and run away, or he could take a knee and submit to God’s will—whatever that might look like. 

We all wrestle with our own “Esaus,” only to discover it’s really God with whom we struggle. Our struggle might leave us wounded—like Jacob, but after the struggle comes the blessing.

Whatever your issues are, give them up so God’s blessings can flow. 

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War Strategy

You live in a war zone, and so do I.

With so much suffering inflicted by human beings upon other human beings, it is easy to mistake our enemy’s identity. While humanity is capable of carrying out horrific acts, the origin of these acts “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of the evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

If our physical eyes could see what is happening in the spiritual realm, we would have no need for combat video games or movie thrillers to feed our need for action. When we witness global wars, murders, broken marriages and families, and child abuse, we see only the result of Satan and his army fighting for the souls of people—and he appears to be winning.

Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10 NLT). As in any war, when conflict arises, we have to choose which side of the conflict our values align with. Every heinous act is the result of someone choosing to do the enemy’s work. Good deeds and loving actions are the product of someone deciding to seek the heart and mind of Christ. Remaining neutral is not an option.

The battle begins in the mind. The apostle Paul tells believers to “Put on the full armor of God.” Battle armor serves two purposes: defensive protection and offensive power. We can advance in victory rather than employ defensive mechanisms and retreat. In Christ, we are mighty warriors. Putting on the full armor means taking on the characteristics of Jesus: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, prayer, and the Word of God.

Be ready for the battle that is sure to come your way—today and every day. While the fight on earth rages for a time, Jesus has won the war for eternity.

If Satan’s winning is what you see, put on your spiritual 3D glasses and see the truth.

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Spiritual Autopsy

Attending an autopsy was one of my least favorite tasks as a detective.

Watching the coroner cut into a cadaver lying on a table wasn’t exciting. I relived my youth in science class dissecting a frog, but it’s different when it’s a human.

The purpose of an autopsy is to determine the cause of death. Organs are removed, weighed, and measured. The skin is peeled from the scalp and the cranium is opened. Injuries are examined to determine lethality. Bodies are contorted in odd ways. The care and precision used by a surgeon in the emergency room is absent in the morgue because the patient is dead. I’m thankful there are medical examiners called to this profession, but the morose nature of their work has no appeal to me.  

We all have a spirit that will dwell eternally in God’s presence or not, depending upon what we do with Jesus’ claims. James taught the early church that the body apart from the spirit is dead. Faith apart from works is the same. Without root there is no fruit.

Personal inventories are essential because God will perform a spiritual autopsy on Judgment Day. Believing God exists is insufficient. Even the demons believe—and shudder. James used Abraham as an example of genuine trust, indicating his faith was completed by his works.

Rather than pointing fingers at others, we need to account for ourselves. We must determine if we have faith. Performing a spiritual autopsy will reveal whether death is present or whether the Holy Spirit is working in our daily life. If there is evidence of faith, we qualify for an unblemished body in God’s eternal presence when our earthly “tent” is taken down.

Perform a spiritual autopsy and see what it reveals. 

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Breath of Life

Most of the time, we are ambivalent to how fragile life is until our breath is snatched away.

Shortly after giving birth, our daughter, Gracie, was breastfeeding our granddaughter. Suddenly, she held out a blue baby and screamed, “She’s not breathing!”

I jumped to my feet, grabbed the baby, and yelled for help. The nurse burst through the doorway, placed an oxygen mask over Jewel’s tiny face, and began suctioning her airways. Holding my new grandbaby with the oxygen mask over her face gave me an opportunity to pray. As the nurse continued to suction, Jewel’s breath and color returned.

I reflected on how Jewel entered the world with one short breath and almost left the same way. We don’t know what the next moment will bring, but I’m grateful God breathed life back into our granddaughter—thankful for the reminder of how precious and brief life is.

Our daughter prepared for a normal delivery and a healthy baby. Circumstances don’t always follow our script. Instead of declaring our purposes, we need to acknowledge the Lord’s direction for living. Every breath we take, we take in Him. Jewel’s resuscitation demonstrated how powerless we are to live. I cannot give her, myself, or anyone else breath.

In utter dependence, respond to life’s circumstances with, “If the Lord wills, I will live and do this or that.” 

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The Parable of Grace

Although I witnessed to my mother often, she wasn’t interested in giving her life to Jesus Christ. 

My mother lived just past her eighty-fifth birthday. Though terrified of dying, she refused to accept Christ. Several pastors spoke with her about eternal life, friends witnessed to her, and she read daily devotionals and attended church occasionally, but when her health began to decline, she still wasn’t interested in making a decision about eternity. One week before she died, my pastor visited her, read Psalm 23, and asked if she would like to receive Christ. She did. At eighty-five, she received the same amount of grace I received when I accepted Christ as a teenager. 

Matthew 20:1-16 is known as “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.”  A landowner left one morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. They agreed on payment of a denarius. The landowner went out again at the third, sixth, ninth, and eleventh hours to hire additional laborers, promising them they would be paid “whatever was right.” At day’s end, the landowner asked his steward to call in the laborers and pay them, beginning with those hired last. All were paid a denarius, regardless of what time they started working. 

The landowner represents God, the vineyard His kingdom, the laborers believers, and the steward Jesus Christ. The parable teaches salvation is not earned. Our good deeds, years of service, age, or station in life aren’t a part of the calculation. No partiality. No seniority. Salvation is God’s gift. One day, God will tarry no longer, and our work on earth will be done. 

Use every opportunity to share the hope that is in you while there is still time.  

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Anticipation

Spring break was only a few days away, but so was April 15th—tax day. Ugh!

Spring break and tax day conjure up different emotions. Total excitement for the first, but utter dread for the second.

Easter is the holiest day of the Christian calendar. It commemorates Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the grave. It is also a time of remembrance and celebration, promising both the possibility of new life in this world as well as eternal life. Without Easter, Christians would have no reason to celebrate.

Think of the emotions Jesus experienced when He said to His disciples, “Two days away and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.” While it’s impossible to fully imagine what this must have been like for Jesus, it should make us ponder the idea. Jesus knew the timing of His death. If we knew the same—depending on whether it was sooner or later, we might be anxious. 

When my husband Richard was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, our world stopped. We knew this was an early death sentence which would change the future we had dreamed of. Our anticipation exploded like a popped balloon.

Jesus knew two days later He would face crucifixion. While death would result from the cruelty of the cross, He knew death would not have the final word. Love and obedience would lead to the hope that would abound in the resurrection three days later. Eternal life—not only for Jesus but also for anyone who would put their faith, hope, and trust in Him, would be possible. Love would triumph over death.

Because of Jesus, death will not have the final say over Alzheimer’s, cancer, or any other human malady. “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where O death, is your victory? Where O death, is your sting?” “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55, 57 NIV).

Anticipate the benefits of eternal life. 

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Free from Chains

I began my relationship with the Lord during my first few months in prison.

Seeing a woman studying her Bible, I spoke to her about how badly I wanted to leave prison. She told me to read Isaiah 61:1 every night before I went to bed (The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to poor: He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound). And I did. But I missed the whole point of what she was giving me. I read that Scripture like it was magic. Like the prison doors would open and I would go home. When my parole was denied, I didn’t understand why.

The verse excited me, but I wondered why no one else was reading it. In my mind, the whole prison population should quote this Scripture in harmony every night. When the doors didn’t open, it didn’t take long for me to set that particular Scripture aside. The lady I talked to really didn’t know much.

But instead of giving up, I continued studying God’s Word and growing in my walk with Him. Later, when I looked at the verse in context, I realized it was a promise and was true. The whole chapter was full of hope, and God did those things for me. Eventually, my physical prison doors opened, but it was my spiritual prison doors that swung wide first.  

Each word in the Bible represents more than our current physical circumstances. Had God released me from prison because I prayed that Scripture, the current circumstance may have improved, but my overall situation—my salvation, would have been lost. When I initially took hold of that promise, I hadn’t learned anything about me or what caused me to do the things that put me in prison. I would not have become what God needed me to be. Now I’m different. There is a much larger picture than the one I originally focused on.

We must have faith and trust that God will keep His promise in the most perfect way possible. Open your heart and let Him free you of your chains. 

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White Tiles and Scuff Marks

“Put some elbow grease to it!” he joked.

One summer afternoon after a family gathering, my cousins and I were washing dirty dishes. My dad stood in the doorway—arms folded across his chest with a grin on his face. He was always up to something.

I guess I thought this so-called elbow grease would make the task easier. I fell to my hands and knees and looked underneath the sink for the elbow grease. But there was no jar or canister with elbow grease labeled on it.

When I was a child, I had no idea what Dad meant by that old saying, but I do now. After living in our home for more than eighteen years, I have often said the person who designed this kitchen with white tile had no children. It looks nice, but it’s hard to keep clean—especially with two young active boys running about.

One afternoon while we were gathered around the kitchen table, my son bent down to retrieve something that had fallen from the table. He noticed little specks of dirt and scuff marks. “This floor sure is dirty,” he said. He knew I was picky about things being clean. It doesn’t matter how much I sweep and mop, the dirt is still there. When standing or glancing from afar, the white kitchen tiles seem spotless—clear of any dirty particles or imperfections. But up close, they are less than perfect.

Christians may look good on the outside, but God knows us up close and personal. He sees our daily struggles, pains, and the scuff marks of life. When things are left unattended for a long period of time, they develop a buildup of dust and dirt. When we leave our heart unattended to the things of God, a buildup of hard-heartedness and distance from God develops.

Just as cleaning a floor and removing all of the dirt and grime brings it back to its spick-and-shine state, God will do the same for us. Allow Him to clean you up. He’ll remove the dirty debris that weighs you down. And He won’t just do a quick surface wipe. He cleans deeply to remove all sin and make us whole again. 

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Love Poured Out

It was a bad day at work.

At a new place, I started my day by asking questions … questions my supervisor didn’t want to answer—at least not in the friendly manner I wanted. Her demeanor silenced me, and I bottled my emotions as tightly as I could. Then I saw the face of a girl I’d worked with before.

“How are you?” Her gentle voice was like a soothing balm.

That’s when the tears escaped. I didn’t have to explain. She, too, had shed tears for this job. To help ease my stress, she handed me a small vile of geranium oil, instructing me to put a drop behind each ear. Her kindness spread like the fragrance of Christ in a world polluted with pride and intimidation.

My coworker’s example was like the expensive perfume poured out for our Savior by a woman who baffled a few indignant men. Some considered the woman’s gesture to break her alabaster jar a waste of money. But to Jesus, her sacrifice meant everything—a balm for the Healer. The alabaster jar would come to represent Christ Himself. Broken. Poured out. A fragrance permeating the lives of those who would accept Him. The woman had understood His message. She had unwavering faith in His love, a love eventually poured out in His death.

Like the woman, we understand His message when we choose to give what we have to honor Him. Ask the Lord to show you what tangible or intangible gift He wants you to share to express His love today. By His Spirit, allow the aroma of Christ to rise from your heart.

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Birds of a Feather

“Birds of a feather flock together.”  

Perhaps your parents, like mine, imparted this time-honored proverb as they encouraged you to choose your friends wisely.

God created each of us with an innate desire for acceptance and significance. When we observe how philanthropists and celebrities make a profound impact upon society, we, too, yearn to leave our marks on the world. Desiring to live a notable life is honorable, but it’s easy to forget acceptance doesn’t always indicate significance—nor does significance necessitate acceptance. Our pursuit for personal significance can morph into selfish ambition, misplaced energy, and unrealized dreams. Our efforts may not only fail to produce the desired result, but they can also leave us with feelings of low self-esteem and worthlessness.

Paul characterized a significant life as a life connected to others: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (Philippians 2:3-4). We’re not autonomous creatures; we’re created to live life in fellowship—unified in thoughts and deeds.

Neighbors once lived in tight-knit communities, sharing the latest gossip over the backyard fence. This wasn’t unusual. Nor was enjoying an impromptu Sunday afternoon visit in a front-porch rocker with a glass of sweet tea or borrowing a cup of sugar.

Today, we’ve exchanged our face-to-face encounters with those a few yards away for international Periscope chats and hundreds of Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram followers around the world. Our evening strolls have become opportunities to engage in cell phone conversations with others continents away while we give our next-door neighbor a quick nod and a half-hearted glance in passing.

Isolating ourselves from society and those within the body of Christ not only hinders our spiritual growth but also denies others the uniqueness we bring to our world. Let’s push past our reclusive existence, stay connected, and experience the joy and security that true love and fellowship bring.

May others say of us, “We knew them by their love.”

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Dive or Drown

Sometimes an ocean of debt can turn into a pool of pity.

I was complaining to my dad on the phone about my financial struggles. Specifically that I might not be able to open my in-ground pool this summer because the lining was torn, and I didn’t have the money to replace it. He didn’t sympathize or try to make me feel better by saying, “It’ll all work out.” What he did do was tell me a little bit about his early childhood.

Book history really springs to life when told by someone who lived it. I got a glimpse into the 1940s and how times have changed. My dad described the current conditions of poverty in other parts of the world, and I could see he was subtly telling me homes, food, and water are just some of the things we take for granted.

Money … the more we have, the more we spend. And there’s never enough to go around. Even a thankful person can become overwhelmed under that kind of pressure.

Jesus had none of these essentials during His years of ministry. He traveled from place to place, dependent on the hospitality of strangers to survive. He went about His Father’s business, knowing God would provide. He knew because He spent time with God—talking and listening.

God hasn’t changed. He still knows how to keep our feet on solid ground, as well as what to say and when to say it. He’s like my earthly father, but better.

Paul says people will be “lovers of themselves, lovers of money … unthankful.” I don’t want to be that person. Sometimes, even as an adult, you need a fresh perspective from your dad.

If you feel like you’re drowning, dive into God’s Word. Then give Him a call through prayer. He may just have something He wants to tell you.

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Put It on Mute

We live in a noisy age.

A variety of sounds blaring from the devices in our vehicles, homes, and offices bombard us. Most of us are so uncomfortable with quiet that the moment we jump into our cars we turn on the radio. And as soon as we arrive at home, we grab the TV remote.

The Apostle John recounts how the Lamb of God opens the final of seven seals before the Lord’s throne. There was a lot of singing, praise, worship, and loud crying out to God. But this single action elicits complete silence for half an hour. What a magnificent and awe-filled scene.

How many of us could sit silently before God for thirty minutes, or even three minutes for that matter? Our tech-infused world is on auditory overload. The reasons for our discomfort with silence are as varied as we are, but often it’s because we’re using noise to drown out loneliness, fear, worry, guilt, or discontentment.

I’ve been challenged by messages from ministers whom I admire on the power of being silent before God for a period of time each day. This is not necessarily a time for reading or praying but simply a time to be still and know that He is God while waiting for Him to speak to our hearts. This discipline hasn’t been easy—and I haven’t been consistent enough to make it a daily habit yet—but I am on my way.

Do you desire to hear more of God’s still, small voice and experience greater fruitfulness and victory in your life? For just a few minutes each day, put everything else on mute. Be quiet and listen.

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Good Tidings

Receiving good news is always nice.

“Behold … I bring you good tidings of great joy!” was the message from an angel to shepherds on a glorious night long ago. Then a multitude of the heavenly hosts joined the angel. Although the shepherds were frightened at first, the group soon began praising God in the highest and saying, “Peace, good will to men.”

Imagine the joy the shepherds felt when angels announced the birth of the Messiah. Or the peace they felt when they went to Bethlehem and found the angel’s words to be true. And when they found the tiny baby wrapped in swaddling clothes just as they had been told.

That same joy and peace should overcome us every time we see a manger… or a cross. The birth of this tiny baby boy changed the course of history. We who know this truth, should sing and shout the wonderful news until the whole world knows that a child was born who is Christ the Lord.

Rejoice in knowing who Jesus is and why He came.

Father, we thank You for that beautiful baby boy who changes the lives of all who choose to follow Him.

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Hope in the Hurting

“I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!” I shouted as I tore up the bed and threw pillows.

Yes, those words came out of my mouth. And those pillows flew out of my hands. And no, I wasn’t a hormonal teenager trying to shock my parents, but a full-grown adult who found herself married to a man she didn’t love. 

I lived in a marriage that brought a lot of heartache and pain. There were moments of happiness and good times, but I had lost the joy I should have had as a Christian. I totally forgot what Romans 15 teaches: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I’d lost hope, joy, and peace in my circumstances. For years I chose to focus on me. God would have given me joy in the midst of my pain had I chosen to end my pity party sooner. Twelve years into our marriage, the shift in focus went from, “I’m so miserable because my husband is not what I thought he’d be,” to “Lord, how can I be the person Dave needs me to be for him to experience joy.”

Imagine finding anything to be joyful about in the damp, dark, murky dungeon Paul found himself in as he and Silas praised God. They focused on Jesus and His promises, while we often choose to put our focus inward. That will be a determining factor in whether or not we experience joy.

God is a God of hope. No matter what circumstances you face, be it an unhappy marriage or waiting for an answer for your situation, you can expect with confidence that God is working. It’s human for us to feel sad, depressed, and scared when we face hardships and darkness. But God wants us to be filled with joy and hope in our overwhelming circumstances. He even wants us to praise Him in the midst of them.

Imagine sensing hope for the first time in a long time over the very thing you face now. Let the Holy Spirit work in you. Surrender to Him. Determine to change your focus from your circumstances to a God who loves you and wants you to overflow with joy. There is happiness in the Lord.

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Prewashed Genes

“Go wash your hands for dinner.”

No response.

“Go! Wash your hands for dinner.”

At my second directive, my young daughter huffed and said, “I just washed them yesterday.”

Her argument was logical―to her. We may chuckle at this childish thinking, but we can be guilty of the same rationale—especially in regard to sin.

Doesn’t it make sense that if my past, present, and future sins are forgiven at the point of salvation that I shouldn’t need to ask for forgiveness again? I’m prewashed, aren’t I?

Today’s text reveals the unfathomable truth that God forgives all of our sin the moment we receive Christ as our Savior. When we become God’s children, we receive His DNA and our eternal inheritance. God removes the “For Sale” sign on our heavenly home and erects a “Sold” sign in its place. Our eternal home is secured and is our real estate from that moment forward.

Future sin won’t change our relationship with God—but it will break our fellowship. If we desire to grow in our relationship with Him, it’s necessary to confess our sins as soon as we become aware of them. We confess them not to maintain salvation, but to restore our fellowship with our Father.

After my daughter had washed her hands, I said, “Let me see your hands.”

She lifted her hands―palms up, then palms down.

“Okay. They’re clean. You can take your seat at the table.”

If we follow God’s directive to daily cleanse our hearts as well as our hands, we can take our rightful place at His table and continually enjoy His fellowship.

Time to wash up!

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Needle in a Haystack

We hit a wall working a gang-related homicide. We knew the players, but lacked evidence.

One of the peripheral participants in the crime was a major supplier of the drug ecstasy. After catching him trafficking a large amount, he offered to assist. We released him, but didn’t trust him, so we placed a tracker on his car. A short time later, he drove to the house of our suspect. Then we tracked him to the pier in Newport Beach where he made a short visit.

When confronted with this information, he denied it. We believed he compromised the investigation by telling the shooter we were on to him. So they drove to the pier and threw the gun into the ocean.

Was our theory correct? If so, it would be a long shot—truly a “needle in a haystack.” The lifeguard scuba divers found the needle—a small caliber handgun. Ballistics matched our shooting and we made the arrest. When the firearm was placed on the table before the gunman, his eyes bulged as his jaw dropped.

When Christ was born, an angel of the Lord appeared to shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. Just like the electronic tracker led us to the ocean looking for a needle in the haystack, the angel led these shepherds to another stack of hay with a discovery far more valuable.

Jesus was a gem in a haystack—the triune God in the form of man, sent to be the perfect sacrifice for you and me. No assault on Christianity can change the objective facts of His birth, flawless life, crucifixion, and resurrection.

We believed a gun existed in our criminal case, but didn’t possess it until we acted in faith. Many people believe Jesus exists but refuse to look further to find truth. The truth is that Jesus entered the physical world on a bed of hay, but He’s no needle—He’s the Messiah!

Jesus will find you if you want to be found.

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Building Blocks

Life passes too quickly.

Our oldest granddaughter was married last month on a party barge in Elliot Bay in Seattle, Washington. As we looked at the Space Needle, we were dazzled by the sun’s beauty sparkling off the water and thought of how quickly life passes.  

My wife and I slowly danced, looked into each other’s eyes, and felt that the Lord is far better to us than we deserve. Our beautiful granddaughter was starting a new life in New York with a man who was the owner of two gyms. We desired more than anything that they would have the most important thing in life: an ongoing personal relationship with Jesus.

Thinking of when she was a four-year-old and invited me into her bedroom for a tea party, I wrote a poem to them based on Jesus’ words. Building blocks were important to her then.  

Once you were a little girl and building blocks were your friend.
You never wanted your blocks to fall; you wouldn’t even lend.
Now you are a big girl building a new life with a fine young man.
You’re choosing not to build your blocks on sand; the Lord will help them stand.

When building a life day by day, servants are not too proud to take periods of rest. But the time comes when we must stand again and take up the tools the Lord has given us and cement our building blocks into the Cornerstone—Jesus Christ. We can’t find the best things in life—God’s power, God’s friendship, and God’s fruit of the Spirit—without His help.

Choose to build in the right places and in the right ways.

Prayer: Lord, raise up a new generation that loves You and Your Word. Amen. 

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The Awk Talk

I was not expecting to get a mustache during my freshman year of college.

I had accepted that I would probably gain a certain number of bags under my eyes and perhaps even the infamous “freshman fifteen” pounds when I came to Taylor University, but at the freshmen initiation known as the “Awk Walk,” I got another unwanted addition to the collection.

We stood shivering in single file next to a line of guys from our brother floor. “Put your finger under the nose of the person next to you to resemble a mustache!” our enthusiastic hall director shrieked. Talking with a finger underneath my nose was difficult.

Thus began perhaps the most awkward endeavor of my college career. Well, that is, the most awkward except for the first time I sat down in silence and tried to listen to God.

This is why Solomon emphasizes that while there is a time to speak, there is also a time to be silent. While it is necessary for us to speak to God daily, that is only half of the conversation. There is also a time to listen.

Silence can be a scary thing. We are bombarded with noise pollution from music blasting through headphones on morning runs (unless you never run like me) to billboards that practically scream at you, You are not content until you have this product! So when we encounter silence, it can often be the loudest sound we’ve heard all day. We’ll want to find a haven of noise almost immediately.

But setting aside time every day to be still and know God is God, helps us learn so much about Him and His wonderful plan for our lives. At first it may feel like an “Awk Talk” (you feel so awkward that you want to talk), but soon you will be amazed over what you will hear God say in the silence.

Don’t let the awkwardness of silence keep you from a daily talk with God. 

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A Time of Suffering

This day began like many others. Dawn’s glow awakened her. She lay there alone in semi-darkness, thinking about the lump.

As brighter light streamed through the window and sunbeams touched her bed, she sat up, dangling her feet over the edge. Among usual activities noted on her IPad, one was a serious interruption: “Dr. Apt. 10:30 A.M.—test results.” What if the lump is cancerous? What if I do chemo or have surgery? Think positively! In that moment, she felt a spark of energy. Sitting up, she prompted herself, Come on, girl, go. She did not know what was ahead, nor did she know the extent of suffering brought by a disease.

People experience suffering in numerous ways, but Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden is the sin root leading to all suffering as well as the need for redemption by God’s Son. Imagine how Jesus felt when He faced arrest. That day included a visit to Bethany where Mary anointed Him for burial with costly oil. He knew the meaning of her gift. That evening, twelve disciples came to the upper room where He served the Lord’s Supper and said, “This bread is my body, broken for you. This cup is my blood, shed for you.” He knew what was ahead.

Come to another garden—Gethsemane. Peter, James, and John accompanied Jesus. Three times they failed to watch as He prayed alone in agony. His suffering intensified. His body seemed heavy, yet weak and faint. Jesus fell face-down on the ground. As His grieving became exceedingly sorrowful, He cried out to His heavenly Father: “If possible, let this cup pass from Me—not as I will, but as You will.” He bled drops of blood, suffering as a man. Greater grief came because of death and God’s wrath laid on him. The punishment He took for sinners was so different than His divine nature. But Jesus humbled Himself and became obedient to death on the cross.

Jesus knows all about suffering and is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. Let those truths comfort you when you suffer.

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Our Father Listens

Whether young or old, rich or poor, we all experience disappointment.  

Family and friends can let us down, or we can disappoint ourselves by letting them down.  Sometimes our plans do not turn out as we hope. Maybe a dream has died or life has not turned out as expected. Christians are not exempt from life’s disappointments, but we have Jesus who will strengthen and sustain us during times of adversity. 

God wants us to be open and honest with Him about our concerns. We need not be afraid of being honest with Him, for He knows all things. Disappointment is too heavy a burden to bear alone. Our Heavenly Father listens. The Bible is full of heroes, such as David who cried out to God for help, refuge, strength, and forgiveness.   

Due to past disappointments, some are afraid to hope for fear of another letdown. When disappointments come in waves and pile up into heaps, they can overwhelm us and cause physical and emotional problems. God does not want this to happen. He asks that we take our troubles to Him.  

When we give our disappointments to Jesus, He gives us strength to move forward and leave our letdowns behind. He can bind up the wounds of disappointment and bring something far greater into our lives. Every disappointment we face is an opportunity to strengthen our relationship with Christ. When we place our trust in Jesus, He can begin new and wonderful things in our lives.   

If faced with disappointment, remember God wants you to bring your burdens to Him. Through faith in Christ, He can bring good out of bad circumstances in your life. 

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Don't Be a Soil Inspector

When a storm-damaged Carolina pine leaned ominously toward our home, it had to be removed. Top to bottom, the tree was taken down until only a whittled stump remained. Later, a grinder pulverized the stump. When all was said and done, what remained was a bald patch of earth.  

My husband was determined to cover the scar with grass. First, he tried run-of-the-mill grass seed. When that didn’t work, he bought small bags of expensive, imported, guaranteed-to-grow grass seed. He raked the ground, sowed the seeds, put up a fence to keep dogs and pedestrians away, daily watered the sunny patch of soil, and waited expectantly for the grass to grow. Weeks passed without a blush of green appearing. Things were not looking good.

As my husband minded his patch of ever-tan earth, I fluffed the soil in our compost garden, preparing it for the vegetables we would soon plant. A week or two went by when I noticed something growing in the garden. I exhaled an “Oh, no” at the sight of lush green blades of grass pushing their way up through the soil. Sown by the wind with nothing more than sun and rain to tend them, the seeds had come alive in the humble soil of our compost garden, yet remained dormant and unyielding in our carefully tended patch of earth.   

Our predicament reminded me of the parable of the sower, where the seed was the Word of God, Jesus and his followers were the sowers, and the soil was the hearts of men and women. Some hearts were hardened. Like the soil where the pine grew, they would not receive the Word of God regardless of how well they were tended.  Other hearts were softer, like the soil of our garden. They readily received God’s love and thrived.

Rather than being a soil inspector, simply sow the seed and leave the rest to God.  

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The Little Man's Amen

He sat quietly on his grandmother’s lap, quite an accomplishment for a two-year-old.

While leafing through one of his favorite books, the little boy munched on snacks to help keep him still. Occasionally, he glanced at his parents and others around him. If they looked his way, he granted them a toothy smile.

Meanwhile, the pastor challenged his attentive congregation. Although fervently committed to God, the worshipers seldom displayed any outward enthusiasm. Rather, like the two-year-old, they sat quietly and listened. The young pastor suddenly interrupted his sermon with an observation generations old, “It never hurts to say ‘Amen’ now and then,” and then proceeded with the message.

Soon after, following a brief pause in the pastor’s comments, the small boy looked up and with gusto lifted a loud “Men!” Nanny couldn’t have been more tickled. She was proud of her little man for listening and responding. Nevertheless, she had to fight with everything in her to keep from laughing aloud. The rest of the congregation lost their restraint and enjoyed the moment for all it was worth.

If only we opened ourselves as willingly as this little guy when God speaks. Rather than sitting unresponsively on life’s sidelines, I could listen for God’s call and act accordingly. We could get excited about the possibility of following divine direction and look for opportunities to move from the pew to the public.

With the enthusiasm and determination of a two-year-old, let’s say, “Yes, Lord, we agree with You. Your will be done.” 

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United We Stand

A group of individuals with unique talents can fuse to create a much stronger team.

As adults, my three nephews make beautiful music together, but that hasn’t always been the case. When they were pre-teens, their mother insisted they each take piano lessons for at least three years. As with most siblings, each brother pursued other individual interests, and only the oldest continued to study the instrument after the required three years. Jealousy and frustration sometimes dominated their adolescent years. Musical, athletic, and intellectual gifts often fought against each other.  However, today these three brothers have honed their individual gifts and learned to work together. A tenor, a baritone, and a bass can create a harmonious sound that cannot be created alone.

Today’s society is divided over many issues. A student recently wrote to an advice columnist about the unfairness of another student getting all As without studying while he had to study hard to receive Cs. The columnist replied that the student should work as hard as he could and realize his other non-academic gifts. He also asked who would plow the fields if everyone became rocket scientists. And if everyone sold real estate, who would design clothes? 

Paul says we all have unique gifts. When I think of a Downs Syndrome child or a handicapped individual with a positive attitude, I am inspired to complain less about what I can’t do and focus more on what I can do. Instead of opposing people who are different, we should find common ground in our diversity.

Even though my nephews have all pursued different interests, they continue to enjoy music. They still thank their wise mother for insisting on those early years of piano lessons. Family holidays are always enhanced with music. The piano, keyboard, bass guitar, and the acoustic guitar join together with a percussion box and a violin to create a symphony of diverse talents that have learned to blend together in harmony.

Think about ways you can harmonize with others in your home, workplace, community, and world. Allow your unique gifts to work with the unique gifts of those around you.

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Wait and Worry - the Sugar and Spice of Life

Playing the waiting game is the pinnacle of anxiety-inducing activities.

The majority of our lives is spent waiting. Society has even constructed rooms that we actively refer to as waiting rooms. This is probably why medical and dental offices are the subject of many nightmares.

We wait for job offers and relationships. We wait in lines and in traffic. We wait for things to get better, and some even wait for things to get worse. We worry that the only thing we will ever do is wait. Wait and worry – the sugar and spice of life.

Worry is the antithesis of faith. Worry is humanity’s attempt to convince ourselves that a problem or circumstance is too much for God to handle. Still, God asks us to wait upon Him, which, in our minds, often produces more worry and anxiety. 

When the waiting seems like too much—or anxiety about the future or a problem suddenly surfaces—Peter’s admonition to humble ourselves under God’s hand and cast our anxieties on Him is comforting.

Godly waiting involves submitting to God’s unknowable plan. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.This verse seems to acknowledge God is aware that not knowing the future He has planned will produce extreme bouts of anxiety in our feeble hearts. But He’s also providing a way of escape from our torment. We escape our anxiety by admitting He’s in control and confessing the things we’re afraid of.

The God of the universe is working for those who humbly pursue Him. He bends down to listen to His children’s anxieties. The only thing we never have to wait for is time alone with our Father. 

When anxiety, worry, and waiting seem to be the only three adjectives describing your life, remember to humble yourself before God and cast your anxieties on Him.

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Finding the Good

Even though my hotel door was unlocked, a quick perusal of the room revealed that my luggage was still there and my room hadn't been ransacked.

Ten thirty p.m. was approaching as I hobbled on aching feet to my hotel room. I'd had a full day of activities at a Christian conference near Philadelphia. But when I turned the latch on my room door, I discovered it was unlocked.

"Hello,” I called, gingerly opening the door a little farther.

I rushed to the front desk. “Please, I need to speak with the head of security,” I told the manager.

A uniformed man soon joined us, and I explained what had happened. The security chief escorted me to my room, inspected it, and declared it safe. “Looks like the cleaning staff left the door open as they were cleaning several rooms in this area. I’m sorry ma’am. Are you okay?”

“This is very disturbing,” I said.

The security chief agreed and promised to speak to the manager about making the night's stay complimentary. Ten minutes later, the manager called to tell me I would not be charged for that night.

From the moment I arrived in town for the conference, the enemy had been throwing fiery darts at me. His efforts were in vain, though, and God used the hotel incident—which could have caused me great harm—as a blessing.

But what if I hadn’t received a complimentary night’s stay? Or, even worse, what if I had walked in on intruders or had my belongings stolen? Would I still have quoted what the ill-treated Joseph said to his fearful brothers when he revealed his identity to them? I'd like to think so, but I’m not so sure. Finding good in adverse circumstances doesn’t come naturally to me.

When the Bible says God works all things together for good to those who love Him, the “all things” include both the positive and the not-so-positive. When something good, like a financial blessing, emerges after the devil’s attacks, rejoice. But also look for the good when the outcome appears negative.

Even when you can't see the good immediately, trust God that it's coming. He said it would.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Self-Love vs. God?s Love

One of the lessons I’ve learned is that by loving myself I can become unloving.

During the years that many classes, conferences, and books stressed that learning to love ourselves was a key to unlocking pain, trauma, dysfunctional families, and the various types of abuse, I never once heard that loving one’s self could foster unloving others. Sadly, I treated a number of cases where self-love was the enemy of saving the marriage and having good mental health.

From a “me first” approach came many self-centered thoughts and behaviors, such as parents feeling they needed better partners to feel better about themselves and be fulfilled—both emotionally and physically. The different types of love were not kept in balance. Feeling what was good for them would be good for the children in the long run, many deceived Christians sought love in the arms of someone other than their husband or wife. The divorce rate soared.

The trauma their children had to go through when the family was destroyed often took years to work through—and in some cases it never happened. Later, the parents cried.

The contrast between self-love and God’s love has saved many marriages when understood. God’s love is essentially illustrated by the core Christian verse, John 3:16. It tells any willing heart that God the Father’s love is primarily concerned with other’s needs and that He desires open-hearted belief that is not self-centered. The center of the Father’s love was His Son, yet He was able to understand beyond His love to the condition mankind would be left in without His gift of Jesus.

“Lovers of themselves” are lovers that are “unloving” since they are primarily self-centered even in the love they give. This does not surprise experienced adults, and it certainly doesn’t surprise Almighty God. We must love ourselves in the right direction—caring for our needs and staying abreast of our spiritual life. But when that love crosses the line and becomes selfish, we need to steer clear of it.

Determine to be a lover with God’s love flowing through you. As we live a real and powerful love that is not selfish, we will become a channel of warm Christian love day by day and all the year through.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jclk8888.)

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Oh, To Be Rich

Several months back, the speedometer broke in my van. I had it repaired, but recently it broke again. Knowing how much it would cost to fix and knowing I simply couldn’t afford that, I resolved to drive at a pace that felt right and hope for the best.

I continued to praise God, sharing Scriptures and songs that kept me focused on God. I didn’t realize that several of my friends were going through struggles of their own and were blessed by this. Days later, as I was headed to volunteer, I started my van and the speedometer had miraculously fixed itself. I believe this was the result of the simple act of obedience—sharing my faith. Not only did God bless me, but He used me to bless my friends as well—which blessed me even more. I felt rich indeed.

Wouldn’t it be nice not to worry about money? Yet I find myself wondering how I’ll buy new shoes for my daughter or how I’ll afford another gift. Graduations, weddings, babies, birthdays. Between our wants and our needs, there’s always something that requires spending money. How can I give what I don’t have? Oh, if only I was rich!

Paul tells us not to trust in riches but in the living God who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Well, GOD is rich, and He’s my Father. That makes me rich by association. When I can’t see how to make ends meet, my Daddy always takes care of me.

Just as parents instruct children to keep them safe and happy, so God has provided guidelines for our benefit. When we live by His Word, He will bless what we do. Your heavenly Father will always love you, and His love isn’t hinged on your actions. Does anyone know your Father is The King? Can they see the family resemblance in you?

As God’s child, take a moment to consider how you can show your love for Him today. Share the wealth of your inheritance.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and finance.)

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The Benefits of Abundance

I am unable to minister or disciple others if I am spiritually depleted, I thought before reading Romans. The ability to effectively share cannot happen if I am running on empty.

Then I read a fantastic example of depletion and abundance. Before I get to it, let me ask what thoughts go through your mind when you’re driving by a traffic officer holding a radar gun aimed at your car?

Although I was a cop, I still have one of three reactions. I feel smug knowing I’m not speeding, cautiously optimistic, hoping I’m driving the speed limit, or knowing I’m in trouble since I was driving too fast.

I have the same three reactions sitting in church. Depending upon the message, I can feel smug, optimistic, or guilty. Whether it’s on the road or attending church, I’ve been guilty. Perhaps not at the given moment, but plenty of times in the past. And I’m sure there will be flashes of culpability in the future.

Imagine going to traffic court and hearing the judge say, “Your ticket has been paid.” Surprising, yes?

Returning to the topic of depletion and abundance, the depletion occurred through the sin of Adam. Romans tells us sin and death came into the world through one man and his sin. The abundance occurred through the life of Jesus.

The message today is twofold. First, if you serve in ministry, you cannot do so when depleted. Allow God’s Word to fill your cup. Second, a relationship with Christ does not equate to a “get-out-of-jail-free card” this side of eternity. There are still consequences for sin. But it means you will not be convicted at the final judgment.

If you minister to others, remember the principle of abundance. If you’re trying to figure out the “God thing,” be mindful that consequences remain, although condemnation has been taken care of.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jppi.)

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Embrace Or Face

My mom enjoys dining at buffet restaurants. She likes having the option of choosing, or not choosing, from the many foods offered. There are salad bars where she can create her own tossed salad. From the entrée bars, she selects chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans and passes by the rice and asparagus. She takes the warm yeast rolls and passes by the pumpernickel bread. From the dessert bar, she chooses pumpkin pie and ignores bread pudding.  Buffet dining makes us happy because we can choose only those items that we like.

We have a much more important choice to make than buffet food. We must all choose where we will spend eternity.  Unlike the many choices we have at a buffet restaurant, eternal life offers only two choices—heaven or hell. We must each choose where we will spend eternity. 

When we surrender our lives to Jesus Christ, we have the assurance we will spend eternity in heaven. Those who die without Christ will spend eternity in hell. Christ will one day separate the righteous from the unrighteous and the saved from the lost. Every person will bow before God one day. No one escapes .

Will you embrace Him as Savior or face Him as Judge?  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and SDRandCo.)

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Fight Smarter, Not Harder

"The eagle does not fight the snake on the ground. It takes it into the sky and changes the battleground and then releases it into the sky. The snake has no power, no stamina, and no balance in the air. It is useless, weak, and vulnerable in the air—unlike on the ground where it is powerful, wise, and deadly. Don't fight the enemy in his comfort zone. Change your battleground like the eagle, and take your fight into the spiritual realm by praying. When you do, God takes over your battles. Let God take charge through your earnest prayers and watch Him bring the victory."

A friend posted this quote recently, and it rocked my world. I had noticed there was one strong temptation that, like a snake, would occasionally rear its ugly head in my life. For a couple of years, it seemed to keep returning to see if I was going to “take the bait.” I was growing weary of the fight.

As the temptation increased, so did my efforts. I made an extra effort to avoid the temptation, came up with new strategies to battle the temptation, and asked my friends for accountability. Never once did I think to pray more. After reading the post, I changed my battle strategy and started working smarter rather than harder.

I asked Christian friends to pray specifically for that area of temptation in my life. I chunked the strategies and called out to God for help when the temptation lurked. I laid down my weapons and called on the Commander in Chief to send His angels to do battle for me. And He did. After years of battling the same thing periodically, I woke up last week and it was gone. I could literally feel that the yolk and burden of that thorn in the flesh had vanished.

Be like the eagle and give the battle to the Lord. Fight smarter, not harder.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and BryanHanson.)

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Transitions Bring Different Provisions

The word for this season of May 2015 to May 2016 is TRANSITION! Yes, in all caps! Here’s a glimpse why.

In May of 2015, our son turned 15 and got his driver's permit. Our son, 15...need I say more. Then on July 2015, I turned the once dreaded but now embraced 40 years of age. A few months later our first born applied to her college of choice and was accepted. The hunt for scholarships has now begun. Fast-forward into the new year of 2016. We will transition into having one more teenage driver, our first high school graduate and college freshman. TRANSITION!

Is God still providing during transition, and if so, how? God's Word is always perfect and timely, but am I always listening. To be honest, nope. But while reading in Joshua one morning, several verses were highlighted to me, and I realized it's a new season for this woman. And sometimes, new seasons call for new "manna" or provisions.

The Israelites transitioned from eating the manna God had provided each morning to eating directly from the land of Canaan. The same God who gave manna for nourishment also provided the produce from the land, which immediately became their physical nourishment. It’s easy to see their confusion when the manna didn't come. Picture their excitement of possibly trying all new flavors and experiencing new textures of food. Did they go through the stages of transition all at once: the ending stage, the confusion stage, and the having something new stage?

The transitions each Israelite experienced in the Promised Land brought a new and different way of receiving provision and nourishment. The provision changed, but the One who gave the provision did not change.

While going through all the transitions we face in life, there is a great comfort in knowing God continues to provide. I've learned in the last several months that things in my life will change. Personally for me, the changes are gaining another teenage driver, first born graduating and entering a new season in her life, and myself moving into a new age bracket and wondering if I'm where I'm supposed to be. What I have learned is the importance of knowing that through all life's transitions God is still providing everything I need—just maybe in a different way.

Trust that God will provide all your needs at just the right time. He never fails.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Yoel.)

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We Want What We Want

If they only could talk, they would say, “Please give us more!” 

I feed six feral cats on my deck. As the newest two kittens have grown, so has the amount of food to fill their bellies. I realized I should increase the amount of distributed food—at least to avoid the cats hanging around looking like they need more. So the marker line on the food distribution container was put a little higher. Of course I run the risk that the more they are given the more they will desire, hungry or not.

Paul says, “And my God. . .” An enthusiastic person might say it with emphasis such as, “and MY God,” a God that is powerful and able to do anything. It’s a big undertaking to supply each of us our needs. Scripture says God will meet all of our needs but does not say all of our desires or wants. God knows the difference and sometimes we’re left feeling our prayers are not being answered. Perhaps we are seeking things God does not view as important. Just like impulse buying, time or distance gives us a better perspective. Perhaps I didn’t need that anyway.  What we see as needs are very different than God sees.

Become aware of your blessings God has granted you. Count your blessings for each one, and don’t always look for more.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and wallyir.)

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Lives of Virtue

God has called us to walk worthy of Him.

A Christian’s happiness should be predicated on one’s relationship with Jesus Christ and bolstered by a level of self-esteem and self-respect that prevents them from drifting wherever the wind blows. When people are happy with themselves—when they honor, respect, and love themselves, they become conscious of their worth.  But what is the measure by which people determine that worth? Some use a worldly measure. Others use the measure of Jesus Christ.

Worldly worth comes from accomplishment—emancipation from parents, a career, financial independence, professional credentials. There is nothing wrong with worldly accomplishment if it is used for God’s glory. Christians are called to be the light in their workplaces so co-workers see Christ in them. When God blesses a person with gifts and desires, they should be good stewards of those gifts, giving back to God as He has provided blessings. In other words, we should use the gifts and talents God has provided in service to the Lord. A Christian does not hide it by using it only for personal development. A Christian uses it to build up the kingdom of God.

The pursuit of worldly worth is not forbidden, but we must be cautious. God wants His children to feel value, to accomplish, and to find success, but never at the expense of commitment to Him and His Word. Pursuing the vanity of the world over the ways of God and the commands of Jesus Christ has never been the plan. The lust for worldly accomplishment can lead down a path contrary to God’s way. The pursuit of worldly worth will lead to the lusts of the flesh.

Paul tells the church to pursue the Fruit of the Spirit, These things—along with our obedience to the Gospel of Christ—help us to be virtuous in the eyes of God and make us worthy of the love of Christ. Through the application of scriptural knowledge, we can discover the importance of having worth in Jesus Christ and internalize the character of virtue in our daily lives.

Jesus sacrificed His life for the world, now the world has to sacrifice for Him. Control the fleshly desires and allow the Spirit of God to control your life, thereby demonstrating and proving your worth to Jesus. Use your Bible as the sword and shield for the invaluable information and tools needed for the practical application of virtue. 

What’s your worth to Jesus? Prove your worth to Christ in the use of your gifts and by your service.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Earl53.)

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Jesus Is What Christmas Is All About

I had carefully laid the Christmas pageant costumes and props around the room. The popular three kings costumes with jeweled crowns lay next to the shepherds robes and crooks. Shiny halos lay atop the angel gowns and gossamer wings. Against the walls stood the cardboard camel cutouts and the star of Bethlehem. One by one, the children came to my desk to tell me the part they wished to play ... all of the children, that is, except Tommy.  He stood with his eyes frozen on the manger. I walked over to Tommy and put my hands on his shoulders.        

“What part would you like, Tommy?” I asked.

“Mrs. Parker, I want to be baby Jesus in the manger,” he said. In all of my years of directing the Christmas pageant, no child had ever asked for that part. I asked Tommy why he wanted to be baby Jesus and he said, “’Cause Jesus is what Christmas is all about.”

Luke tells us Mary wrapped the baby and laid Him in a manger. In that manger, lay the hope of all nations. And with that hope comes the salvation of all souls who will accept Him as their Lord and Savior. Despite the distractions of presents and treats, Tommy had gotten the truth of the Christmas story: Jesus was what it was all about.

Join me and stop amid the cooking, shopping, and wrapping of gifts to remember that Jesus truly is what Christmas is all about.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ACPM1983.)

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Christmas Azalea

It was a dreary day during the first week of December, and I was busy putting the finishing touches on my Christmas decorations. I stepped onto the front porch to adjust my wreath and saw something shocking.

One of my azalea bushes sported a single red flower. As I stepped closer to inspect the bush, my mind quickly calculated the months until blooming season—three to four months away. I blinked my eyes, thinking I was mistaken and something red was caught on the branch. But sure enough, there it was in all its glory. One magnificent bloom. Out of season. The sight of something so beautiful and unexpected brightened my day and made me smile.

The Bible tells us to be ready in season and out of season. This statement makes me wonder how ready I am to follow God’s leading and be a blessing to others—in season and out. When it’s convenient and when it’s not. Whether I’m prepared or whether I’m not. When I’m expecting it and when I’m not.

Another Scripture (Proverbs 25:11) says, A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. What a perfect picture of words of blessing spoken to the right person at just the right time and in the right circumstance.

The word fitly means proper, appropriate, and suitable. In other words … in season.

The holidays provide the best opportunity to practice this gift of blessing others with our time, our love, and our words. Hearts are open and more ready to receive than at any other time of the year. So, let’s be like my Christmas azalea and proudly let the light of Jesus shine through us as never before. His love is never out of season.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Ponx.)

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Journalist Covers History's Greatest Event

Placing delicate porcelain figurines in a treasured nativity scene, I let my imagination carry me to a stable in Bethlehem.

As an aggressive young journalist chasing the big story, I hoped for an exclusive interview with a teenage mother—unexpectedly cast in the most significant drama in human history. I’d done extensive research, tracking every tip about two individuals who seemed quite ordinary—Mary and Joseph from Nazareth.

The young woman’s cousin, Elizabeth, confirmed Mary had visited her following a strange occurrence. She said an angel had appeared to Mary—a virgin pledged to marry—announcing she would become pregnant by the Holy Ghost and that the child would be the Son of God. A baby without a human father? Son of God? Could a skeptical journalist believe such preposterous claims?

Several leads sent me to Bethlehem where humanity flooded the streets—droves pouring in from surrounding provinces to pay taxes. I overheard anxious conversations about a young woman who’d passed by and appeared ready to give birth. An innkeeper said the husband had requested a room.

“I had no vacancy!” he said, seemingly frustrated because he couldn’t help. He’d directed the weary travelers to a stable nearby.

Weaving through the commotion, I located the place and paused to consider how this incredible story might impact my career. I sensed an award-winner. Without being offensive, I’d ask tough questions, starting with Joseph. What were you thinking, making this journey with Mary so close to giving birth? There’s a rumor you did not father this child. Any comment? Why should anyone believe that outrageous story about how Mary became pregnant? I’ve heard the baby is the Son of God. What do you say?

Reviewing my notes I started to speak but seemed frozen in time. Something about that historic night—dark yet bathed in brilliance. Something about that young mother—pained yet radiant with joy. Something about that adoring husband—humble yet exploding with pride. Something about that modest manger—rugged yet strangely reverent. Something about that holy child—helpless yet having authority.

An infant king lay wrapped in swaddling clothes. Enveloped in awe, I slipped away without disturbing the royal family. Centuries later in my reality, I’d bow before that King, claiming Him as Savior and Lord.

Give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and earl53.)

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Nine Simple Words

“God became flesh so that I could become spirit.”

The mystery of Christmas was reduced to the nine simple yet profound words of my pastor, Tim Franklin, Ph.D. Raised Catholic, I’ve heard many Christmas incarnation sermons, but Pastor Tim’s nine simple words breathed new life on the familiar message.

The Christmas story is not the story of a baby being born but the tale of a King leaving His throne in heaven and lowering Himself to “take on flesh” and become human.  All for the sole purpose of dying in that human body. To be born just to die? Yes, to fulfill a divine exchange because divine blood had to be shed to satisfy the covenant Father God had previously established years before with another man named Abraham.

Jesus’ birth was an act of humility. The Creator of all things came to earth in the form of a tender, defenseless baby—a vulnerable and fully dependent infant identical to all other babies born before and since. Except for one major difference.

This baby did not cease being God. He was not God one minute, then a man, and then God again after death. He mysteriously remained God in human form. While all world religions acknowledge Jesus, only Christians believe He literally became a baby yet did not cease being God. The gold, frankincense, and myrrh the three wise men gifted reflected their recognition of His royalty. Only a God/King could provoke holy men to show honor this way.

This is the mystery of Christmas: Jesus, the divine, coming to earth. Emmanuel. God with us. God walking among us so we could accept Him and be born into His spirit world. A divine exchange. God became flesh so that I could become spirit. Nine simple words that forever altered human destiny.

This holiday season a vital question remains: Do you believe Jesus—the one born as a baby and who later died on a cross—was God? Salvation is that simple. Only “religion” complicates it. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name (John 1:12). 

(Photo courtesy of author.)

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Where Is Baby Jesus?

The nativity display in our small town park featured some of the main characters in the depiction of the birth of Jesus Christ. Mary was present, Joseph stood faithfully by, the angels were ready to sing, and the three magi were on the scene—although their arrival was early.

But where was Baby Jesus? The space in front of Mary and Joseph was completely bare; not even a manger was placed before them. 

In the past, there had been problems with vandals stealing the doll that had been placed in the manger. Perhaps those in charge of decorating our park had grown tired of replacing the doll and opted to present the nativity scene minus the central figure. The park was beautifully illuminated with a rainbow of colors. Much labor and time had gone into preparing the park for the Christmas season, but without the Baby Jesus, the true meaning of Christmas was missing.

Many people decorate their homes for this special time of the year. The trees may range in size from small ones placed on tabletops to large ones touching high ceilings. The decorations may be homemade while others may buy elaborate decorations and cover their trees with a bounty of twinkling lights.

Nativity scenes are brought from storage and placed on table-tops and under the decorated trees.  Each piece is carefully arranged and centered around the manger with the Christ child in it.

As we carefully decorate our trees and our homes, and as we rush about buying gifts to give to our loved ones, let’s pause to prepare our hearts and lives to welcome this Gift who was given to us over 2,000 years ago. 

Stop and ponder the words of John 3:16. The words are so familiar we quote them without stopping to think what they actually mean. Jesus Christ was the most precious, sacrificial Gift God could give to the world.

This year as we carefully and lovingly position the manger with the baby representing God’s Gift, pause to invite that Gift into your hearts. Unlike the nativity scene in my town’s park with the missing Christ child, we don’t want to celebrate Christmas without the presence of the Baby Jesus.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and speartoons.)

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Thankful Despite...

I looked around my office and sighed. What a mess. Books stacked knee-high, papers separated in every vacant spot on the desk. My to-do list had been shoved from the refrigerator door to the living room to the bedroom … ending up in my office. Moving it didn’t seem to make it go away.

The news roared from the downstairs television: attack on Paris, 123 dead, hundreds wounded. I leaned against the door frame and bowed my head, “What next, Lord? What next?”

I used to love the holidays. Thanksgiving brought laughter and fun. Having tons of food and family was something I looked forward to. It seemed years ago when life was much simpler. My office wasn’t overrun with work, and the most the news had was the anticipation of the newest Macy’s Day parade floats. Now the holidays are dampened by disaster and sadness.

I kicked a box out of the way and made a split-second decision. I’m going to praise God despite the crap. I realized the world was doing to me just what Satan wanted it to do – drag me down. If it could blare the horrors of the news events at me, overwork me, AND make me miss my children worse than I normally do, then I was caving in to the sadness of sin. Satan was winning.

The writer of the Psalms must have realized this same thing. Chosen by God as the future king of Israel, David was just a child. God didn’t crown him and set him on the throne. Instead, he was sent back into the fields. There he learned about the hardships of life. Danger. Trust. And complete dependence upon God. There David found peace in praising God despite the trials.

These last few days I’ve spent the hard moments saying, “Rejoice in the Lord always.” And as I prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ve decided to come before Him with thanksgiving and praise. True thanksgiving and praise.

When you feel the weight of the world bearing down this holiday season, rejoice in the Lord. Shout aloud to the Rock of your salvation. Go before Him with thanksgiving and praise. Great is His faithfulness. Strong is our praise. Let your thanksgiving be filled with praise.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hotblack.)

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A Gardner's Wish

Late September marks the beginning of garden cleanup. The lilies, astilbe, roses, rhodendendron, forsythia, and daisies have bloomed lavishly and dried up. Their remains, the brown leaves and withered stems, dot my garden, and I go to work pulling, clipping, trimming, and tossing. Rooting out the rotted plants prepares the garden for a fresh start in the spring. With the old growth eliminated, the new flowers will be able to surge and multiply next April. I can’t wait to see the colors, textures, and lushness of next year’s garden.

Rooting out sin in our lives and laying it at the foot of the cross cleans up the refuse that chokes us spiritually, gives us a fresh start, and prepares us to be a well-watered garden. Jesus, the Master Gardener, loves to trim, prune, and cultivate our life gardens and turn the dead and fruitless into flourishing plants that capture the attention of the world where we bloom.

When we pull our sin before God, He promises to forgive our waywardness, love us, turn His anger away, heal our broken places, and give us the fresh start of a garden in spring.  Hosea 14 is a gardener’s wish list. God promises to be like dew to our life gardens, and the result will be that we will burst into bloom like a crocus in the spring, put down deep oak tree roots, become a forest of oaks, and become splendid—like a giant sequoia with fragrance like a grove of cedars.

Oh that our blooms, our roots, and our fragrance would be splendid so that everyone who walks, works, and lives near us will be blessed.

Ask the Master Gardener to prune and groom your mangled garden and change the next season of your life from a wish list into reality.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Seamann.)

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Gold Mound

I had often wanted to have a silver mound plant in my garden. One year I finally took the opportunity to introduce a couple of tiny shoots into my perennial border. They dug down and grew up into a truly dramatic dome of silvery green.

My four-year-old grandson Cyrus and I were exploring the serpentine grass path that divided our large backyard garden. As we paused at the lovely silver mound that brought me such delight, Cyrus spotted a tiny toad hopping into the delicate fronds. He dove after it and fell into the center of the plant, leaving a deep depression.

My heart sank. My silver mound was ruined. I squelched my disappointment as I helped my grandson up. He was unharmed by his topple. I brushed him off, and we headed back into the house for dinner.

The following morning found me in the garden again with a steaming mug of coffee in hand. I wanted to examine the damage to my silver mound alone. The early rays of the rising sun revealed a surprise. I gazed at my depressed mound and was astonished to see the imprint of Cyrus was in a perfect heart shape. My silver mound had turned to gold.

Many times we encounter difficulties and setbacks. We have a hard time making sense out of these trials. But God promises if we will place them in His hands and trust Him for the outcome, we will discover He is able to bring unexpected and glorious results.

What depressing mound are you staring at today?  Wait until the Son’s rays shine on it. You may be delighted to see what He will do.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and MaryRN.)

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Manners Matter

I grew up on a small farm in the fertile Midwest. The soil was black and the crops were plentiful … especially corn. We moved from Indiana to Georgia in 2001. As a freelance writer for the Savannah Morning News, I interviewed area clergy about their local congregations. A priest, upon hearing I was from the Hoosier state, told me, “I once drove across your state from Chicago to Louisville. I saw billboards all along the way that said ‘There is more than corn in Indiana.’ Well, if there is, I didn’t see it!”

To persuade the priest that, indeed, there was more than corn in Indiana, I would have had to replace his visions of acres of flat fields with other images. A detour off of I-65 onto W State Road 46 to the lush hills of Brown County would have given him a whole new vision of my home state. The soil of that terrain produces a different crop. Travel this route in the fall and you will see that folks line up to witness the fabulous foliage on display.

The same is true for those who have been adopted into the Father’s family. To convince others we are a new creation—righteous and holy—we have to replace our old behavior with Christlike behavior.

We can be a billboard for Christ and proclaim His gospel, but people aren’t going to believe our advertising campaign unless they see evidence along the way to support the claim.

What part of your old self have you been displaying that needs to be put off? Put off the deceitful desires keeping you from putting on a new self and know the newness of Christ.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and seamann.)

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Holy Whitening

“If you’re not whitening, you’re yellowing.”  Every time I hear the ad on TV, it irks me … a lot. The irritating slogan was obviously designed to boost sales of the teeth-whitening product. Yet, all it does for me is make my lip curl. It bothers me because it’s true. Every bit of food and every drink I take leaves a little something on my teeth. Nobody wants yellow teeth, but there’s work involved in keeping them white. And a cost too.

Thankfully, the same is not true with God. The work was done by Jesus. The price was paid when He died on the cross. His clothes became shiny and exceedingly white, like snow—such as no launderer on earth can whiten them. This verse is a picture of what He’s done for us.

Jesus went up the mountain, looking just like a regular person. Once at the top, He was “transfigured” and became blindingly white. The Bible tells us that even though our sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. That’s not by our doing. It’s all because of Jesus. It’s a holy whitening.

God is more concerned with our heart than our performance, and that’s a good thing. We’re never going to get it all right. We mess up. We let people down. We fail Him daily, sometimes in ignorance and sometimes by choice.

Truth can be hard to hear, but if it comes from your Heavenly Father, there is good in it. He’s never “brutally honest.” God’s Word speaks in love—with purpose. His presence will leave you radiant. Just like the commercial ... if you aren’t working on whitening, then your soul is growing yellow.

If you’re feeling less than white, let the cleaning begin. Ask God to give you a pure heart and reveal any changes which need to be made. Then listen. God can bring you to mountaintops too, but when you’re back on flat ground—and especially in the valley—look up. It’s not about you.

God sees you through His Son, white as snow. Shine away and let the world know you’re coming. They just might need their sunglasses.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Do Not Be Weary

Do not be weary of Manna.

This phrase grabbed me. My Bible lay open in my lap, my journal within reach, coffee steamed on the end table … even my dog snoozed in her usual spot. I was reflecting on the “sameness” of my time with God when that pervasive thought—do not be weary of Manna—struck me.

Manna was food for the Israelites during their forty years in the desert—a sweet food, provided daily by God, gathered in the morning, not to be hoarded for the next day or it would rot. But how does the manna of the ancient Israelites relate to this 21st century woman?

Even for God’s chosen wanderers, manna meant far more than food in a desert. God provided it so they would know man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

And so it is with me. My manna is the Word that comes from the very mouth of God—both by scripture and by His Spirit—and it is my daily bread. Every day I take in His Word, reading and meditating on it. Every day, too, I ask for a filling of His Holy Spirit.

Oh, how quickly I turn rotten when I skip a morning in God’s Word. My mouth runs ahead of me and my temper flares. My thoughts fixate on mere trivial things, and before I know it, I am walking by my own feeble flesh.

I cannot depend on yesterday’s manna, and I must never be weary of this daily surrender to His Spirit. The “sameness” of my time with God is not the same as a rut. (The adversary is quick to deceive on this point.) Rather, daily time is necessary nourishment and sustenance, pouring Life into my life. The Father, Son, and Spirit are all involved as I take in His living and active Word. The Spirit is Counselor, the Father is Provider—raining down His Son from heaven. And my Jesus…well, He is the Word and the Bread of life. 

Jesus is the Manna from heaven!

Father, thank You for my need to depend daily on Your Word and Spirit.  May I never be weary of Manna, for to be weary of Manna is to be weary of You. Jesus, the more I spend time with You, the more I crave time with You. The daily discipline is not a daily drudgery, but sweet food for the soul. Thank You for being my Manna from heaven.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Kymme.)

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Good News in Bad Times

The world is in trouble. People fear what lies ahead. It sounds like the End Times, but times and circumstances can change for the better. Cycles of good and bad depend on our respect for God and His principles for living. Currently, the media discusses unemployment, financial problems, hunger, persecution, terrorism, and more. There are no apparent solutions nor hope. Some say, “The country is going in the wrong direction.” When bad is called good and good is bad, there is strong reason for concern. This situation happened before in world history.

Nahum was an Old Testament prophet in seventh century B.C. His name means “comfort of God.” Prophet Jonah, of “big fish fame” in the previous century, warned the Assyrian city of Nineveh that God’s judgment had come. People repented from evil to get right with God. Result? God withheld punishment. A hundred years later Assyrians returned to idolatrous living.

Nahum wrote about God’s character. God is jealous. He avenges. Slow to anger, He does not allow the wicked to get away with evil deeds. God was angry with Assyrian beliefs and their behaviors. Their soldiers headed toward Jerusalem to wipe out God’s people in that city. Known as ruthless and cruel, Assyrians met the fury of God as He used natural forces like tornadoes and earthquakes to destroy Nineveh, their capital city. Nahum got the job to announce Nineveh’s final doom.

Right in the middle of Nahum’s shocking announcement, he proclaimed three comforting truths: God is good, God is a stronghold in trouble. And God knows those who trust Him. He knew how scared Jerusalem’s citizens felt.

It is interesting to read Nahum’s book to learn God made the mountains quake. Contrast that with words to express the beauty of a good message, a message of peace.

God is in control of the universe. He is perfectly just. God will help us through difficult times and impossible circumstances. Concentrate on God’s goodness and He will filter out worries and give you hope.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Diannehope.)

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A Good Place

Clad in bathing suits and covered in sunscreen, we arrived early for a day of fun at the lake. The coolers groaned with soft drinks and snacks, and jet skis harnessed to the trailer promised plenty of fun. But first we had to find a good place. Our friend quickly scanned the lake's perimeter and staked a spot with a picnic table close to shallow water near the swimming hole.

Giant tractor tires partially submerged in the lake water proved ideal for sitting and sunning. The public bathrooms were only a short walk away. We had found the perfect location. We visited, swam, ate, and played on jet skis for hours. I felt the tension ebbing away as my husband and I relaxed. Fun at the lake with the companionship of close friends made the day a good place to be.

Jesus knew the value of a good place. In fact, He promised He would go ahead of us to heaven and prepare our place. It's fun to have a nice day at the lake, but it's infinitely better to know where we will go when we die. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, we’re assured He has our place ready. He also promised He would return and take us to live with Him.

Do you have your place reserved? You don't want to miss living in heaven with Jesus. It's the very best place.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mmainco.)

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Brown Evergreen Needles

They showed a video at church to promote a bus trip to see the Christmas Show at Radio City Music Hall. There were Christmas trees in it – evergreens. A high window behind the pulpit allowed me to see a big white pine – also an evergreen. Unlike deciduous trees like maples, oaks, and cottonwoods whose branches reach up in yearning, evergreens stand like an arrow pointed up to God. They remind us of where to turn when we have an issue. This week some of the needles turned brown. Like the broader leaves of the hardwoods, the brown pine needles serve no further purpose for growth.

The pastor preached that day about the difference between being saved and doing works. The message came from Matthew where Peter climbs out of the boat in a storm. Like an evergreen pointing to God, Jesus’ word “Come” pulled Peter to Him. There was work involved in Peter’s faith, though while in the process of that work he failed. Peter believed well enough, but even the strongest faith of the twelve failed to succeed.

When I saw that tree with its brown needles, it reflected the failures in my life. Those failures, based upon what I did in the past, contained little faith. Every time the needles fall, the tree grows because there is more room for productive needles. It is working its way toward God, always with the intention of getting closer to Him.

If we can look back and see the scattered remains of our efforts that failed, then God still has us in His hands. What He’d like is for us to refocus on Him so our faith increases. Then He gives another opportunity to produce, and our needles become green again as we grow toward Him.

Stop and take a look with me at our brown needles. Use them not as reminders of things past but as harbingers of new opportunities to put your faith to work … always with a focus on Jesus.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and LifeWithZeus.)

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Forever Young

I am the first of the baby boomers. I was born in 1946 along with George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. A lot of water has gone under the bridge since the inception of the baby boomer era. There’s a little wear and tear on our mortal bodies. I don’t run down the first base line with the same rapidity I once did. In fact, I don’t run the bases at all anymore. 

For believers, though our physical bodies are decaying, our spirits grow stronger.

As this generation of individuals reaches this stage of life, they begin to move into a nostalgic malaise, pondering “the good old days.” Yet, as Christians, we thank God for His faithfulness in the past and use it as a springboard of faith for our involvement in the new things God wants to do. The physical limitations of age sometimes force us to vary the type and extent of our service, but this in no way means we’re ready to be put out to pasture. Scripture teaches even in old age we will still produce fruit.  We should never allow ourselves to become a prisoner of a positive past.

At the age of seventy, E. Stanley Jones—missionary and statesman to India—raised a few eyebrows when he proclaimed his next ten years would be his best. When he reached eighty, the naysayers had to admit he was right.  After he turned eighty, Jones prayed for more and better years, and the Lord spoke to him that the next era would be one of his greatest contributions. And it happened.  

Jones said toward the end of his life, “Is this period of my life a sunset or a sunrise? But this that I have doesn’t have the feel of a sunset at all. It has the feel of a sunrise. In Jesus there are no sunsets; they are all sunrises. He is the bright and morningstar, not the evening star. He is the Lord of the past, the present, and the future.”

Always remember that in Christ our home is in heaven. Though our bodies are fading, God’s Spirit is renewing our spirit in anticipation of the day when we will be with Him. The best days for Christians are always ahead. Rejoice every day that in Christ we are forever young.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Darnok.)

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Hearing Snow Fall

I was sure I heard a snowflake fall.

As a young boy growing up on a farm in northwestern Washington State, I remember the harsh winter weather vividly. During the spring and summer months, it rained often. In the winter, that same precipitation brought significant snowfall. I would stand in front of the front room window watching the beautiful, large, fluffy snowflakes drift through the air. Unlike the snow storms in the Southeast, it usually accumulated quickly—not to mention it was deep. I couldn’t wait to play in it.

Being a persistent kid, I stayed outdoors until my clothes were soaked and my mittens were frozen gauntlets. My hands would get so cold, my mother would run warm water over them to help thaw them out. That painful, tingling sensation as the numbness thawed and feeling was restored, served as an excruciating reminder of all the day’s “fun.”

I remember walking out into the pasture one snowy day and sitting down on a tree stump. There was no wind, no traffic, no one else around. The deafening quietness roared in my ears. It was then I realized I could actually hear the snow falling. It was a gentle, velvety, muffled pitter-patter as each flake completed its heavenly flight and softly kissed the earth.

Contrast that with the noise and busyness of today’s life. We live in a very noisy society with little real quiet time. Yet, many references in Scripture encourage us to be still and know God is in control, to walk beside still waters, to step aside for a while to rest.

To be quiet is to enable hearing God. He doesn’t yell. He whispers. He whispered to Samuel in the middle of the night. He came to Elijah in a still small voice. Quite often we find His interactions are in quiet settings with those who are listening and expecting to hear from Him.

Whether in the quiet morning hours or as you settle in for the evening, spend some quiet time alone with God. With no children, no television, no smart phone or Internet—just you alone with God and His Word in silent expectation to hear His unique whisper for you. You’ll be amazed at what you finally hear. Maybe even snowflakes.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ralfh.)

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Letting Go of Control

The scene played out in front of my house as a man rode his bike down our street. Attached to his bicycle was a co-pilot bike trailer, a contraption that allowed a child to ride in tandem with an adult. Perched on the seat of that co-pilot bike was the man’s young daughter. That afternoon as I relaxed on the front porch, I caught a glimpse of the two heading my direction.

“I never fall when I’m with you,” I heard the girl speak as they cruised down the road.

Her father was silent as he peered ahead and peddled continuously.

Seated directly behind her dad, the girl gripped the handlebars and peddled as fast as she could. Her head bobbed side to side as she looked right then left. Because his back obscured her forward view, there was no way for the girl to see what lay ahead. The father was in control while the daughter was content with her rear position and secure with her dad as her guide.

Several minutes later, their journey brought them back to my street. “I love riding my bike with you, Daddy. I never fall when I’m here with you.” Her words floated towards me as the duo passed my house a second time.

Her father glanced at her and gently responded, “I love riding with you too.”

As the two peddled away, I reflected on their interaction. The confidence the girl placed in her father is similar to the childlike confidence we learn from Christ as we place our trust in him. Although God knows the best path for us, we sometimes struggle with letting go of control. However, by yielding our will to Christ, we allow him to freely direct our every step.

Because the girl’s bike was securely attached to her father’s bike, she could not fall. Even though we may stumble on our journey in life, Scripture reminds us God is by our side to help steady our footsteps.

What’s keeping you from placing your trust in Christ? God is trustworthy and has our best interest in mind, even when we cannot see the road ahead.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jusben.)

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Stretch for the Light

I noticed our Christmas cactus flowering in May. I would have thought it should bud in December. Then I noticed the majority of the blossoms were on the right side. The plant bent around the corner that blocked the sunlight to stretch for the light.

The story of Cain and Abel focuses on Cain’s inability to perceive God’s intent. Cain was blind to the precedent set by God when He expelled his parents from the Garden. God made a blood sacrifice to cover their sin. Abel offered a blood sacrifice and Cain did not. It was man’s second chance to come clean with God.

God asks Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”

Cain stood on the dark side of the family grounds. He didn’t change his attitude toward the sacrifice of plant life. He killed Abel.

God’s Word invites us to humbly consider how we should change, not how God should change our circumstances. Had Cain removed himself from the circumstance and given a blood offering, his life would have been blessed instead of cursed. He wouldn’t have had to wander without success in agriculture.

Like the cactus that sits on the stool searching for the light, consider how much better our circumstances would be if we search out the light of Jesus. The pot contains the same soil throughout. The water comes from the same source. It is obvious the portion of the plant that grows toward the light gains in stature and productivity. Had Cain taken charge of his anger—taken charge of his circumstance and done well—God would have approved him.

You have the opportunity. You can take charge of your circumstance and do well, or you can wander over to the door and experience the sin that waits. The cactus can’t complain about its circumstance, but it certainly aimed for a better existence.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Mockingbird.)

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The Day the Brick Wall Fell

The day my world crashed, I found relief.

It began as any other ordinary day. I drove to my job where I worked as an assistant in a corporate office. Turning into the parking lot, I felt grateful to get a spot close to the street. I pulled in, parking in front of an abandoned downtown brick building. A few minutes later, coffee in hand, I settled into my chair in my windowless office. As usual, I had brought my lunch, but at the last minute I decided I needed some sunshine, so I went out for my meal. When I returned, my prime space was gone, and I had to park on the opposite side of the lot.

After work, I hurried to my car, passing my prime spot. I got in, put the car in reverse, and backed out. Suddenly, I heard a horrible crash. In disbelief, I watched in my rearview mirror as the façade of the ancient brick building tumbled down. Bricks pelted the row of cars parked beneath … including the car that had taken my space. "Jesus," I said, "thank you, Jesus." If I had left one minute later I could have been seriously injured or killed.

The psalmist says God is familiar with all our ways. He knows us by name. We may feel lost in the crowd at times, but He knows our thoughts, our concerns, and our struggles. Scripture shows us time and again how God worked in individuals' lives in an intimate way.

As I drove away, amazement and joy filled me. I had been wondering if God really knew where I was. I feared He'd forgotten me. But His dramatic protection that day reminded me He truly is involved in my daily life.

How has God fashioned your story? When you are disheartened, journal. Take time to note the smallest blessings. When we become discouraged, we can find comfort by reading the Psalms—David's journal—and by reviewing our own "passage markers" to recall how God has been faithful to us in the most painful of times. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and dhester.)

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No Place to Hide

Hide-and-seek was one of my favorite childhood games, a game where you simply needed to outsmart the seeker and arrive at home base before being caught. That was easy enough, unless hiding places were limited. As the game progressed, getting to home base without being discovered grew more difficult. The stakes were higher. The need to outwit the seeker intensified.

I have been so weighted down with self-disappointment that my only desire was to hide from everyone, even the omnipresent God. I authored the bad choices or decisions, yet somehow it seemed I would never recover—certainly never be able to forgive myself. And forgiveness from others? Out of the question.

Hagar attempted to hide from the hurt and shame of her circumstances. She was the handmaiden of Sarai, who became pregnant by Abram, Sarai’s husband, at Sarai’s proposition. Soon after, Sarai turned against Hagar, who, in turn, felt the impact of Sarai’s rejection. When Hagar attempted to run away from the situation and hide, the angel of the Lord visited her. Hagar did not realize she was headed for a wall that would force her to turn around and deal with the reality of her pain.

Running from shame, hurt, pain, and rejection seems to be the best plan until a wall appears that requires us to confront the real issue. The angel of the Lord told Hagar to return to Sarai and submit to her. “Return to the source of your pain and surrender” was the instruction. Her reward? The promise her descendants would be numberless. This act of obedience was a paved pathway to abundant blessing and prosperity.

Hiding is never the solution to overcoming. Poor choices lead to dreadful consequences. Hiding will not circumvent the necessary restoration process. God wants us to develop from every struggle in this life. Just as He did for Hagar, He will give us instructions to lead us away from shame into deliverance. We must first be obedient. The prerequisite is returning to the shelter of surrender and relinquishing our pain. In that safe place, God will restore us and make us whole.

Hagar chose to obey the angel of the Lord, and she received the promises of God. Stop hiding. Go back. Surrender the root of your pain. The blessings of the Lord are sure to overtake you. 

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.

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Blind Belief

If we had to do it over again, we probably wouldn’t take a two-year-old on a cave tour. My mother was carrying my niece as we explored the highly commercialized cave—oohing and ahhing at the spotlighted formations—when we came to the TCD portion of the tour. That’s when those loving little arms around my mother’s neck became a vise grip.

Have you ever experienced TCD or total cave darkness? The tour guide escorts you to the deepest, darkest part of the cavern, then turns off the lights. The darkness confuses the mind. Your eyes are open, but you see nothing.

You no longer see the stalagmites and stalactites, but that does not mean they don’t exist. The truth is, you can’t see them unless light shines on them.

Hebrews is often referred to as the Hall of Faith. Faith is referenced twenty-seven times in forty verses. So what exactly is faith? The author uses the Greek word pistis, which gets translated as faith and is defined as “belief in the truth.” Truth being a verified or indisputable fact.

Christians are often encouraged—or accused—of having blind faith, while a popular American idiom says that seeing is believing. Even modern definitions for the word faith imply believing without logical proof or material evidence. Yet, in Hebrews 11 we are given evidence to support the truth that God is able to do what He has promised.

The Bible proclaims Jesus is the Truth and the Light of the world. He is the Light that reveals Truth. The evidence supports the fact that our blind faith is believing the Truth even when we can’t see Him.

When your circumstances escort you to the deepest darkest cavern of your soul, fix your eyes on the truth of Jesus and believe—even when you can’t see. When you experience TCD, is it total circumstance darkness or total Christ dependence?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mconnors.)

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Sabotage

“I believe you’re as afraid of success as you are of failure.”

My eyes widened at her words. Then the tears began to fall. This woman didn’t know me—didn’t know anything about me—yet she spoke words that rang the bell of truth in my heart.

We all deal with fear, regardless of shape, size, or intensity. Many of us are afraid to fail, but how many of us are just as afraid to succeed? Success brings responsibility and pressure—the greater the success, the greater the pressure. If we’re not careful, fear can cause us to back off, cast our dreams aside, and stay secure in our own little comfort zone.

Success is also in the eye of the beholder. Your idea of “making it” may be totally different than mine. Some may see it as an ominous, pie-in-the-sky-and-seemingly-unreachable goal, while others see it as one small achievement at a time.

The key to moving forward toward our goal lies deeply rooted in our attitude and whether or not we have the courage to face our fears head-on. Whether we realize it or not, there are voices in our head either cheering us on or taunting us with negative words. At some point, we have to tune in to those voices to see which are the loudest and having the most impact.

There is a voice from my childhood that replays in my mind like a broken record. For years I was in a cycle of self-sabotage and didn’t know how to escape. Thoughts and attitudes from the past held me captive, keeping me from my calling and my destiny.

All these years later, I can still hear those hateful words that ripped my self-confidence to shreds. Thankfully, that voice no longer rules my life. Yes, I still hear it, but the voice of my heavenly Father and the life-giving words He speaks to my heart, are now drowning out those words of failure and hopelessness.

If you find yourself in that same vicious cycle, here are some suggestions to help you break free:

  • Tune out the negative voices.
  • Tune in to what God says about you.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others.
  • Don’t get caught up in stereotypes.
  • Change your opinion of yourself.
  • Put a stop to your self-sabotaging behavior.

What God thinks and says about us—and what we think and say about ourselves—is the only thing that matters. His thoughts toward us are full of peace and wrapped securely in hope.

God is waiting to lead you to your destiny. Are you ready?

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Sifted Like Wheat

If there were a Nobel Prize for screwing up, I think I could win it hands down. The problem is, or at least was, every time I made a mistake I would usually point a finger in my own face and say “Good job—you did it again.” It’s never been difficult for me to allow the seeds from my mistakes to sow self-condemnation and doubt into my life.

But then I read the passage in Luke where Jesus told Peter that Satan wanted to “sift him like wheat.” Peter had just learned he was about to face a great test. As a measure of comfort, Jesus informed Peter he had prayed for him not to lose his faith. Sarcastically, I thought to myself “Some comfort—I’ll bet Peter would rather have heard something like ‘Don’t worry Peter. I’ll deal with Satan for you.’” That’s certainly what I would want to hear.

But in a flash, I saw this scene in a different light. The best part of what Jesus told Peter lay in what he didn’t say. Jesus didn’t tell Peter “Don’t let me down,” “Make sure you pass the test,” or “Do what I would do.” Rather, Jesus only told Peter he had prayed for him. Even then, Jesus didn’t pray against Satan. Nor did he pray for Peter to have strength and wisdom during the test. Jesus merely prayed for Peter to keep his faith.

My view of success was instantly and forever transformed. You see, success really has nothing to do with how well I perform during life’s trials. Nor does it really matter if I pass a test or not. No, the real battle is for my faith. In life’s trials, faith becomes the determining factor of success. So even if I fail every test that comes my way, but I don’t lose my faith—I still win! This makes my performance in battle irrelevant. My faith in the One who has overcome the world has made me more than a conqueror before the battle even begins.

I still make plenty of mistakes. But now I don’t allow those mistakes to define who I am. Their seeds find little fertile ground to produce the same fruit of condemnation they once did. That’s because they are now planted in the field of Jesus’ victory.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and diannehope.)

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Soaking up God's Word

On cold winter days, it is not uncommon to find my cat, Tabby, sitting atop the floor register hogging the heat. In peaceful contentment, she slumbers while soaking up the warm air rising through the vent.

As a child, I did the same. On especially cold mornings, I squatted over the top of the heat register in the bathroom and tucked my flannel gown under my hands and feet. Then, as the furnace kicked on, the heat would rise, filling the inside of my gown and bringing warmth to my chilled body. I remember sitting there for several minutes as the furnace came on again and again. I never seemed to get enough of its warm air. My body longed for the soothing comfort it provided.

God’s Word has a similar effect. When we’re going through cold spells in life, the warmth of God’s Word soothes our chilled souls. As we soak it up, comfort and peace spread from the top of our heads to the tip of our toes and all extremities in between. We are enticed to return again and again to bask in His Word until tranquility and peace prevail.

Lately, I can’t seem to get enough of God’s warming wisdom. I long for the comfort His Word provides. Maybe you feel the same. Perhaps there's a chill invading your soul. Contentment seems to have evaded you. You’re tempted to “hog the heat” because the comfort you long for seems unquenchable.

When the warmth of God’s Word is discovered, it brings tranquility and peace. It seeps into our weary souls and infuses our hearts. When we seek God's Word, we discover the contentment we crave tucked deep inside the warmth of His wisdom.

So, crank up the heat and let your morning begin. Take the chill off your soul. Relax in God’s Word. Soak contentedly in its never-ending warmth. Then step into your day refreshed and wrapped in His love.

Used by permission Spun by The Potter, February 2015

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ronnieb.)

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Speed Bumps

Most of us have encountered speed bumps while driving. They are intended to slow the speed of drivers, and they work well. However, they can be a challenge and a frustration.

Many of us have experienced other kinds of speed bumps in our lives. Just when it appears life is going smoothly, we become aware we are approaching another speed bump. No matter how hard we look for a detour around these troubling obstacles, there is no way to avoid them.

Mark learned about life’s speed bumps. He had served time in prison for offenses committed while on drugs. Once released, doors opened for him to have a job and life was good. He became a Christian and grew spiritually. He lived and worked in a large city during the week, but he returned to his home in a small town on the weekends.

One Friday evening, Mark was stopped because a taillight on his car was not working. The arresting officer ran a check and found there was an outstanding warrant for Mark’s arrest. The offense dated back seven years and involved Mark fleeing from the police when he was under the influence of drugs. His attorney had failed to check his records thoroughly and the charge remained on the books. Although his life had turned around since that time, Mark was punished for his past life. He had hit a huge speed bump and it put his life on hold while attempts were made to free him from jail.

Since Mark was a new Christian, his faith may have been shaky as he looked at the circumstances around him, but he continued reading the Bible and praying. After being in jail a few days, Mark was released and the charge from the past was dropped. The arrest was a speed bump that slowed him down, but God brought him over the rough areas and back onto a smoother road.

When we become discouraged over illness, heartaches, job loss, or other troubles, we can be assured we never have to face these things alone. He is our refuge. The one we can go to in hard times. He promises to be with us. We simply have to remain faithful and trust.

When you hit a bump, trust in the Lord. He will travel the roads with you and bring you safely over the speed bumps.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and diannehope.)

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The Nets

Lake Junaluska, a 200-acre reservoir near my home, is fed by Richland Creek, which flows through a densely populated area in our county. Two nets, spaced 100 feet apart, have been stretched across the creek’s mouth. After heavy rains, a lot of debris is caught in the nets—bottles, sticks, tires, balls, even Styrofoam coolers. Periodically, a maintenance crew spends many hours scooping the debris out of the creek with a track hoe.

Proverbs 2:11 comes to mind each time I pass those nets. As they prevent trash from polluting the lake, discretion and understanding can prevent trash from polluting my life. Discretion and understanding may seem like synonyms, but their definitions have subtle differences. Understanding is intellectual—comprehending what is right; discretion is experiential—doing what is right in the most effective way at the appropriate moment.

We need both skills to avoid the dangers Solomon mentions in Proverbs 2:12-19: ways that are wicked, dark, and crooked, as well as people who are devious, seductive, and perverse.

The Lake Junaluska nets keep dangerous debris out of the lake. Because the nets are constantly on duty, people can kayak, canoe, and fish in the lake. Waterfowl swim safely. Wildlife has an ample supply of drinking water. So much of God’s creation benefits from the lake’s cleanness.

Similarly, many people other than myself will reap the benefits if I keep the nets of discretion and understanding stretched across the creeks that flow into my life: work, friendships, media, trends, and experiences. Keeping my life clean affects not only my family, friends, and coworkers, but also anyone else I encounter day-to-day.

How do I obtain these protective nets? They can’t be purchased. They must be crafted. They’re handmade and heart-woven, made strong as I weave Scripture into my life. Here are four of my net Scriptures: Romans 12:17-18, Colossians 3:12-15, Philippians 4:6-8, and 1 Peter 2:11-12.

What protective scriptural nets keep pollution out of your life?

(Photo courtesy of Denise Loock.)

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The Power of Praying for Each Other

Several years ago, I was in a women’s Sunday school class during an intense season when we had extremely heavy-duty prayer needs. These ladies came to class knowing we would pray for every need because we believed in the power of prayer. I remember a Sunday morning that went like this as we shared our requests.

One admitted her divorce was getting uglier, and her son wanted to live with his father. This was breaking her heart.

The next suspected her stepson was doing drugs. The boy’s father seemed to be in denial that there was any possibility of this.

Someone asked for prayer for their daughter, a high school senior who was experiencing a lot of stress as she applied to colleges and suffered from severe migraines.

Someone’s fourteen-year-old niece was losing excessive weight and her parents worried she suffered from an eating disorder.

Another’s son in the Army was going to Afghanistan for his second deployment. He and his wife had two young children and they were having a difficult time watching him leave again.

The last request came from the youngest woman in our class. Her one-year-old baby had an ear infection.

We prayed for each woman’s prayer request with the same compassion and intensity. From the mother whose step-son might be doing drugs to the mother whose baby had an ear infection.

As mothers, we could remember the days our children suffered sore throats and ear infections. And the mother whose son was deployed to Afghanistan probably wished he was still a little boy—too young  to go to war. But our children grow up and prayer requests change.

We have a great privilege in sharing our burdens with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we cherish their prayers. We grow lighter from the load we carry because the body of Christ demonstrates love for one another as we pray for each other. Through prayer, we need not be anxious, and we know our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ cares most of all for every prayer request that passes our lips and is uttered in our hearts.

Lift your prayers before Him, and His peace will guard your heart and ease your worries.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and taliesin.)

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Desert Wanderings

Wandering around in a desert is not fun. Very few people call their travel agent and ask to schedule a two-week vacation (much less forty years) to stay in the middle of a dry, hot, desolate wilderness.

I recall several times in my life when I’ve spent time in a proverbial desert. My soul felt dry, God seemed silent and distant, and my prayers seemingly went unheard and unanswered. Some of the desert treks were the result of my disobedience while others were opportunities of preparation for future tasks.

When my desert wanderings lengthen; barren vastness dries my soul.

Scorching heat and sand’s erosion blast their overwhelming toll.

Could it be that God is working – all that’s worthless to consume?

Is my desert meant to punish or prepare for future bloom?

But do you know what I found to be true? Even though it felt like I was wandering in the desert alone, God’s presence was still with me. Though all seemed hopeless, His plan was in place. Though He was silent, He was not absent. I learned I would rather hear heaven’s silence than all the world’s noise combined.

The Israelites wandered in such a place for forty years due to their disbelief and disobedience when God told them to possess the Promised Land. They refused to believe Him when the ten spies brought back discouraging news about all the obstacles they faced. God turned them around, away from the land that “flowed with milk and honey,” into the barren wilderness. Their lack of faith confirmed they were not ready to possess the land promised them. Even though they were banished to the desert, God was still with them every step of the way.

If you are walking through a barren stretch in your life, spend some time alone with God. Remove yourself from all outside distractions and quiet yourself before Him. Listen for His still small voice. He doesn’t shout, He whispers. The answer may not come immediately or when you want or expect it. But He is there with you. He hears your prayers and sees your tears.

Submerge yourself in His Word. Align your desires with His will. Prepare your heart for His vision. Look through eyes of faith. Listen for His whisper. He speaks even in your desert.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and StefaninLA.)

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The Help of My Countenance

Depression colored my horizons. Looking afar, I could not see through dark billowing clouds that touched my clothing. I stumbled onward, for what was I to do other than that? Unseen potholes caused me to fall, and I wished to lie there. I desired to stop and cease my struggles. My children needed me at home and so I moved ahead one halting step at a time.

These words describe the world I lived in for several years after I lost my wife. I was forced to learn to become both a mother and a father when I had lived in a world of good cooking and order … a world only a conscientious mother and wife could make.

I remember my first attempt at making a birthday cake. I went to the store full of confidence, sure I could do what she had done. Picking up a chocolate cake mix, I read the label. It sounded easy so I purchased several boxes of cake mix and frosting. Surely I’d be a success. One or more boxes per pan must have been the way my wife did it. It seemed like a lot of cake was rising in the oven. Still I pressed on. The pans were heavy, but I wanted to impress my children. Laying out the layers of cake, I frosted them while they were hot – a mistake my wife would never have made. By the time I finished, I had a giant lopsided chocolate cake with runny icing.

Despite my cooking experience, the Lord used it to lighten my countenance and help my broken and lonely heart heal. God knows just how to heal our pain when we allow Him into our hearts.

Place your broken heart in His hands and gradually learn to laugh at yourself. He will lighten your load through humorous things.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and MGDboston.)

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The Bride of Christ

A beautiful day, a radiant bride, a happy son, a perfect location. Thus begins the story of happily ever after. Yet, forevermore doesn't just happen. It comes through hard work, patience, maturity, and a deep desire to know the other person intimately. It is essentially a choice. A choice we are ecstatic to make in the beginning because we are crazy in love.

As time passes, we become acquainted with our partner's faults. They have now invaded our perfect world. The trick is to prevent resentment from building and allow love to abound instead by remaining aware of our own imperfections and seeing our partner's differences as an asset. We can develop our relationship by respecting their distinct insight. They offer a perspective we cannot. By studying the differences, we can become more effective.

When I reflect on this passage in Ecclesiastes, I think of the partnership marriage has to offer but also of our connection to God. Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. He provides the sure foundation we need to make marriage work on His terms instead of our feelings. Too many marriages end in divorce. It makes me wonder if we walk away too soon or give up too quickly. What if Christ walked away from us every time we sinned?

There's always a bigger picture to consider. One that reaches far beyond our personal desires. When we remain focused on it, we can make a greater impact for the Kingdom of God.

We are the Bride of Christ. A connection that thrives on time and care. By reading Scripture, we learn His voice. Through prayer, we share our heart. It develops the faith, trust, and love we need to stay the course. The pursuit of intimacy keeps a relationship fresh and strong. And there are many mysteries to learn and enjoy.

Use the blessings of difference to influence the greater good. We are more effective working in tandem.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and badlong.)

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Stand Back and Watch

I take the biblical approach to laundry—we have what we need when we need it.

Take my husband’s sock drawer for example. Each morning he slides it open, grabs fresh socks, sometimes leaves empty space behind . . . then voila. The next day he has exactly what he needs. Another pair of socks.

He never has more than necessary (How many socks do you wear at one time anyway?), and he never goes without. My sweetheart can even dress in the dark because he trusts that upon opening the drawer, his need for foot coverage will be met. For the drawer of socks was not used up …

Our heavenly Father is all about meeting needs. He just asks that we place our hand in His and trust in His plans and purposes. The widow mentioned in 1 Kings was faced with a crazy/tough decision: meet the need of the prophet Elijah by using the last of her cooking supplies, or refuse, saving the last scoops of flour and oil for her own household. This woman—on the verge of starvation—took a life-and-death leap of faith and obedience, and God was there, making provision and honoring her faith.

What about us? We’re often tempted to hold on to our resources instead of giving them for God to multiply. We fear God doesn’t fully understand the seriousness of the situation. But what if I can’t pay the bills this month or what if God doesn’t come through this time? What if … what if … what if? God knows and He cares. He wants to grow and strengthen us through the exercise of obedience.

“For the jar of flour was not used up…” Give what you have to God and watch what He will do!

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jameslheu.)

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Made to Thrive

Last year I purchased a plant in early spring. I selected an attractive vine to grow on a beautiful trellis in the back corner of our yard. It looked great when I brought it home, leaves healthy and green, blooms in vibrant color. My husband dug a deep hole and planted it, then carefully wrapped the delicate tendrils of the vine around the trellis. We watered it and looked forward to new growth and a flowering plant to enjoy among the others in the flower garden.

Then it went through a phase I would guess was transplant shock, so I tended to it with large doses of loving care. This involved more watering, fertilizing, pruning, and daily checking on its progress. Nothing I did made it thrive as I hoped it would do. Instead, the best way to describe my new vine was to say it’s alive and hanging in there. I was disappointed because I wanted more for this new vine. I wanted it to thrive.

As I wished for more for this struggling new plant of mine, my thoughts turned to people and how we sometimes live our lives. We are alive—breathing, walking, existing, and going through our days with little hope and few expectations. We are often merely hanging in there. But not thriving. Not embracing the fullness and richness that God intends for us to experience in our daily walk with Him.

For my plant that was hanging in there, I continued to tend to it and hoped it would eventually thrive. For you and for me…we can make a choice concerning how we live. We can do better than just hanging in there. There is a much better way. We can choose to thrive.

Let’s claim the fullness of joy and abundant life Christ came to give us when our lives are hidden in His. We can live in the promise of John 15:11 because we were made to thrive.

(Photo courtesy of mwiles.)

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It's Impossible to Please Him

Her lips were covered in color. Lip gloss.

Our granddaughter was only two. As she approached me with something in her hand, I was mystified by what she handed me. It was a tube of lip gloss she had learned how to put on her lips. She was so proud that she wanted to share with me. Unfortunately, her older sister took it away, and she sat down and cried. I picked her up and patted and kissed her, giving her the love only a grandfather can give. Soon she felt better.

Little Rose approached me with the assurance that I loved her and was interested in what she found important. Essentially, she had approached me in faith. My son-in-law, knowing I loved and cared about him, also shared an issue he was facing. The Navy had recently asked him to take on more responsibility. He was concerned about the impact this would have on his family—a move from their home in Arizona to a smaller house for three times the price in San Diego.

Both Rose and my son approached me because they knew I loved and supported them. They are examples of how we are to approach God. He who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him is the reminder in Hebrews 11:6. The verse explains why God’s children often have frustrating prayer lives. If we fail to come to Him in a warm-hearted, trusting way, we will receive no rewards.

Have the faith of little Rose when you come to your heavenly Father. Believe God’s promises. Trust He loves you and is interested in your concerns. You will be rewarded, and you’ll find loving peace. Come to Him. He loves you.

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Wake Up

Drill sergeants banging a trash can down the hall at four in the morning, early training pushups, sit ups, and an agonizing seven-mile run became my routine when I went through Army basic training. After all that physical exercise, we were expected to go to class and stay awake. That was a tough adjustment for a new soldier. During class, the drill sergeant would walk around with a wooden ruler and yell WAKE UP!

Soon, we got the picture to stand up in the back of class if we
felt sleepy in order to stay awake and learn what we needed to pass our test.

Many unconsciously think they are tired in church because of lack of sleep or mind drifting, but Ephesians reminds us our struggle is against the powers of the dark world and spiritual forces in the heavenly realms. It’s hard to pass the test if you are falling asleep. Failure is Satan’s goal for you, and he is trying to keep you from hearing the Word of God. It takes discipline to push through the sandy eyes. If you snooze, you might miss your breakthrough to healing or an answer to a problem in your life.

When it comes to falling asleep in church, be honest and ask yourself, “Am I allowing the devil to make me drowsy in church?” It is possible to put all excuses aside and prepare yourself to receive the Word. After the military, I went to college and I would stand up if I was tired. Needless to say, people looked at me like I was crazy, but that’s what I knew to do to stay awake. You don’t have to go as far as me, but if you have this problem, pray. Ask God to keep your focus on His message and free from slumber so you can grow and receive the blessings God has for you. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pedrojperez.)

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Be Yourself and the Whole World Will Know

Be yourself, everyone else is already taken. We’ve all heard the saying, but taking it to heart is another matter. Look at the things that capture your attention. Chances are they point to or involve your natural talents and where your abilities lie. Be yourself and explore the areas that intrigue you. See what opportunities open up.

Long ago, a young shepherd spent his days doing typical little boy stuff to fill the long hours as he kept watch over his flock. Sometimes he practiced with his slingshot. Imagine how many times he selected a stone, spun it around in his slingshot, and released it to fly toward a target.

Little David must have spent countless hours of target practice before facing his real test which was recorded in the pages of history. He also spent time communicating with God. By the time he faced Goliath, David was not only confident in his abilities, but he also had a sense of purpose as well. To the two opposing armies, it must have been a hideously lopsided sight to see the young shepherd standing before the well-armed giant. They must have listened incredulously, as the little boy boldly declared his confidence in victory and his purpose in facing the challenge at hand. 

Who are you and what are you good at? You might already have achieved some great accomplishments and you’re waiting for more ahead. David went on to bigger and better things. He wrote songs and psalms using his experiences in the wilderness to describe his reliance on and trust in God. He transferred the lessons he learned while shepherding sheep to leading the nation of Israel as their king. And through his efforts, those who saw him saw God in him.

Often, challenges hone our skills to a higher level. Instead of being stopped by apparent roadblocks, think of them as ways we can sharpen our abilities and forge ahead. David overcame obstacles and hit new goals one by one. Every step of the way he gave credit where credit was due. Identify and develop your talents and use them for a greater good.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DodgertonSkillhause.)

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Fill up Please

The Atacama Desert, located in South America, is known as one of the driest places on earth, averaging about one millimeter (0.04 inches) of rainfall per year. The air is so arid that even the mountain-tops, measuring a height of 22,589 feet, are completely free of snow and ice. That is one barren piece of land.

Yet, despite the seemingly uselessness of such a place, the Atacama Desert has become a scientist’s delight. Due to its high altitude and dry air, almost non-existent cloud cover, plus lack of light pollution and radio interference from populated cities, the Atacama Desert is one of the best places to conduct astronomical observances.

How reassuring it is to know that our spiritual walk doesn’t have to mirror such a permanent state of infertility. When we find ourselves in a state of unfruitfulness, we can call upon the Lord and He will supply.

The psalmist’s yearning for “my God” is personal and deep, magnified by the awareness of a greater and spiritual void. It is in the times of our “dry spells” that we tend to see our neediness, feel the most vulnerable, and cry out to God for satisfaction. Our spiritual tanks have become depleted, thirsting for replenishment.

God’s presence and ability to fill that empty space is readily available. It is we who allow our circumstances to obstruct the view, causing us to search blindly and desperately for relief. Finally, in exasperation and exhaustion, we cry out, “my soul thirsteth for thee.” An endless reserve of thirst-quenching nourishment is immediately poured upon our weary souls, refreshing our spirits anew.

When you grow weary and disregard the plentiful resource that only “my God” provides, drink deeply from the waters of the Living God and be refreshed in your mind, body, and soul. We can encounter infinite blessings and benefits once our thirsting souls are filled to capacity.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and StefaninLA.)

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The Eye Is a Lamp

Everything looked black. The past had nothing but bad memories and regrets. The future wavered in a haze of insecurity. My present life seemed nothing but endless events, errands, and errors. Lots of errors.

Then in my daily quiet time, I came across the Scripture about the eye being the lamp of the whole body. Admittedly, my eyes were dark that morning. As the idea of the eye being the lamp registered in my sluggish brain, I had a single, profound thought. Considering the funk I was in, it was most assuredly the divine mercy of God giving me inspiration. The epiphany was . . . I have the wrong perspective.

I’d been looking through eyes of fear, dismay, and dread. However unintentional, I allowed fear to get the upper hand. For days, bad weather had me cooped up in the house, watching more news than usual. Simply put – the darkness outside and too many crime reports pushed me out of balance.

Whatever the reason, entertaining dark thoughts and the habit of worry is sin. I confessed to the Lord, asked his forgiveness, and moved on—determined to maintain a healthier perspective. While it probably won't be the last time I have to confess those particular sins, no matter how many times I miss the mark, God graciously forgives wrongdoing and sets my feet on the right road. He understands my humanity better than I do.

If we dwell on sorrow, our outlook will be sad and dreary. If we ask for grace to see differently, God will help us see any situation through His eyes of never-ending light.

Allow it to be your desire to have God's perspective. Then look through eyes of love, and your whole body will be full of light. 

(Photo coutesy of morguefile and DeduloPhotos.)

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A Higher Perspective

Cotton-candy clouds danced beneath the small airplane—fluffy white stepping-stones leading straight into heaven. Some rose hundreds of feet in the air like massive snow sculptures pointing the way. Others floated by my window on a lazy blue sky and seemed so real I could reach out and touch them. When we flew directly into one, it swallowed us, then quickly dissipated and moved out of our way.

The lush landscape beneath was broken by highways, rivers, patches of brown, and various shades of green. Housing developments and business complexes were laid out in perfect geometric fashion, as if designed by a master architect. Tiny cars crept along the roadways like a parade of ants searching for food. The higher we rose in the air, the smaller the trappings of this world appeared. The brightness of the sun reflected the majestic beauty of God’s creation … and my perspective on life shifted.

Sometimes I get so caught up in my own little world, I forget the bigger picture—the enormous, grand scheme of eternal things. Everyday life can become mundane and predictable. Problems can seem enormous and insurmountable. This is when I need to rise above the routine and get a different perspective—a view from above.

The Bible says we see only in part. God sees the whole picture, painted with His eternal plan and purpose for our life. At times, He allows us a glimpse into the vastness of His kingdom and the reason for which we exist. In His loving and gentle manner, He reminds His children it’s not about us—it’s about Him … His plan … His purpose.

My walk with God is much like my flight. Just as things appeared smaller from thousands of feet in the air, the closer I draw to my Father, the smaller and more insignificant my problems become. That’s when I’m reminded God is sovereign and holds my life in His hands. He is concerned about everything that concerns me. Nothing escapes His attention. Floating high above the clouds brings a sense of awe and wonder. Trusting God and walking hand in hand with Him brings joy, peace, and an assurance that everything will work out the way it’s supposed to.

Rise above your problems today by letting God give you a divine, eternal perspective.

Father, may we always see through Your eyes and gain a heavenly perspective as we walk through this life.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and placardmoncoeur.)

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Entangled

Stretched above the mailbox, the butterfly hung motionless in mid-flight. Her wings spread out perfectly, like a dead moth pinned in a display case—except this butterfly was alive. She had fluttered into a spider’s web. Soon the spider would return to enjoy a tasty meal.

Seeing the butterfly trapped, I freed her. I gently snapped the web’s sticky threads, and at that moment learned something new: a butterfly’s wing is more fragile than a spider’s web. My compassion, my great strength, even my knowledge of her future were all useless. Being caught in that web destroyed her.

Like the butterfly, people also become trapped by making foolish choices. Often, we can predict their future. The high school dropout struggles to find jobs. The smoker gets emphysema. The father neglects his children and loses their love forever.

The writer of Hebrews urges us to throw off the things that hinder: selfish indulgence, laziness, and mindless distraction. These things prevent us from experiencing God’s best. Our Creator has dreams for each of us. We grow into our destiny only by obeying the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

The Lord recently invited me to “get used to the quiet.” I’ve been asking God to use me powerfully. His reply was, “Maureen, stop turning on the TV, watching movies, and wasting time on the Internet. Stop distracting yourself.”

I’m struggling to obey because I’m caught in the enemy’s web. Decades ago, I started gorging myself on empty entertainment, and now I crave it. I need Jesus’ help to be set free.

In the sunlight, a spider’s web glistens. In the shade, it fades to invisibility. It’s easy to get entangled.

Let the Holy Spirit put His finger on something in your life. Perhaps it’s a relationship, a foolish habit, or a craving. Pay attention. Obey His gentle nudges, and God will cut Satan’s sticky threads and set you free. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Alvimann.)

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Crumpled Mess

“Oooo … you better be careful, Grandma Sheryl!” squealed my four-year-old grandson. “It might fall down!”

Liam, his brother Miles, and I were playing a game which started with a block tower. The tower consisted of alternating rows of stacked wooden pieces. Each player, in turn, removes one block from under the stacked pieces. Then he places it on top. The process is repeated until the block tower falls over. The more blocks that are removed and placed on top, the more unsteady the tower becomes. Finally, when there are too many holes in the structure, the tower comes crashing down.

Liam removed the block which made the tower tumble. The blocks fell onto the hardwood floor with a loud crash. I thought for a moment Liam was going to cry. As soon as I saw the frightened look on his face, I assured him, “It’s okay, Liam.” I explained the blocks were eventually going to fall. We laughed at the crumpled mess of wooden pieces. Then I helped him pick them up and stack them into place for another game.  

Looking at the holes within the stacked blocks, I realized my life resembles that wooden tower from time to time. Satan is good at pulling the blocks out from under me and stacking them on top. Each time he does, my life becomes a little more unstable until, at last, it comes crashing down around me. When that happens, I have the tendency to want to cry such as Liam did. But each time I find myself in a crumpled mess, God lovingly tells me, “It’s okay, Sheryl. Let’s pick the pieces up and put them back together. We can start over again.”

Is your life full of holes and instability? Don’t let the stresses of life cause you to crumble. God is there. He is ready to pick up the pieces of your crumpled mess. He will hear your cry and with loving hands put you back together again.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and gleangenie.)

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You Choose

Jesus told a story about a farmer. This individual sowed seeds upon the ground. The birds of the air snatched some of the seeds up quickly. Other seeds fell upon rocky soil. They took root but then dried up in the scorching heat of the sun. Still, thorns choked others. The last group of seeds fell upon good soil. These sprouted, flourished, and brought forth abundant fruit.                                                                                           

The seed in this story represents the Word of God sown into the soil of men's hearts. The first group signifies individuals who hear the Word but allow Satan to steal it from their hearts. Those who have hearts like rocky soil receive the Word with joy, but when trouble or persecution comes, they withdraw. Those that have hearts overcome by thorns allow the Word of God sown into their hearts to be choked by a love for money and worldly desires.

Then there are those who have hearts that understand and obey the Word. They allow the Lord to turn their hearts into gardens that bring forth a harvest within them. The truth is, we have a choice as to how we will respond to God's Word. When we hear it, we have a decision whether or not to accept it ...whether or not to put it into practice.

We can choose, through the help of the Holy Spirit, to resist the devil when he tries to steal God's Word from us. We can turn from shallow living and learn to endure. We can run from carnal desires and embrace Jesus' way of living. We can seek God for revelation, knowledge, and wisdom and choose to obey Him completely. By doing these things, we decide to have an abundant harvest. We actually can choose our destiny in God.

Receive God's grace and ability. Live empowered lives and choose to receive and obey God's Word. Then enjoy great spiritual success, and the harvest within you will spread to many. We will become sowers of the word ourselves.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and johninportland.)

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We, Like Sheep

Plan A unraveled in the backed-up traffic crawling toward the intersection. I eased my car forward and grimaced at the dashboard clock. Impatient and anxious, I revised today's list, settling for plan B. I'd been feeling overwhelmed for weeks. Postponing some of today's errands would overload tomorrow's tasks.

I glanced out my window at the tiny sheep farm, now marooned by stately new homes. I usually enjoyed this rural haven, especially when new lambs wobbled next to their mothers. The traffic wouldn't budge, so I took a deep breath and studied the pasture nearest the road. All the sheep stood in small groups near the fences, except for one. As though waiting for instructions, that sheep stood by a tall pile of dead tree limbs. It was stuck, ensnared by the pile's outer branches. If traffic hadn't backed up, I wouldn't have noticed the lonely sheep's predicament. Why didn't it just step away? One good tug and it would be free.

Then I heard God's familiar whisper in my mind. “That sheep is you.” I looked at the sheep and the pile of dead branches, puzzled. Scripture tells us we're like sheep. I knew God was my shepherd, but why was I like that snagged sheep?

A recent devotion I’d studied flashed through my mind. Before picking up my Bible, I'd checked the day's weather and skimmed my emails. On another morning, I would have read news briefs first— and Facebook. If I had time, I would have opened a devotional and rushed through it. But by then, the world's events would have swarmed in and snared me.

No wonder I'd been overwhelmed. I'd wandered away from spending time first with God before the world pushed in. Relief washed over me. Like that sheep, all I had to do was pull away. Tomorrow morning's priority would be time with God first, knowing my Shepherd would lead me through that day's tangles.

When you feel lost or overwhelmed, remember the Shepherd who watches over you.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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The Bridge

Christian recording artist Fred Hammond sings it spot on: “He’s a bridge, so let Him take you over.”

As I listened to these lyrics, my eyes focused on a carving on the wall in my house I hadn’t noticed until that very moment. It was a faint carving of a cross that blended perfectly into the wall. Nevertheless, God allowed me to see and focus on it. What I saw in this carving were people. Not just a few, but millions upon millions of people coming from each end of the cross to the center. They were coming to the center of the cross because that’s where the heart of Jesus drew them.

Jesus tells us, Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. The cross is our bridge that takes us to God. Without it, we’re condemned to pay the price for our sins in hell which, unfortunately, the road of destruction leads to. But Jesus paid the price so we might confidently walk over the bridge to God. The gate and the road may be narrow, but the road is a smooth-flowing highway with no traffic jams, and it is available for everyone to walk across. The gate is narrow because there is only one way to enter the kingdom of God and that is through Jesus Christ.

Walk on the bridge of the cross to the Christ. Ask Jesus for guidance on this path that your eyes might be opened to the potholes along the way. Let Him be your Lord and Savior. He already died for your sins and paid your price, so let Him take you over to the Kingdom of Heaven. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jamierodriguez37.)

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What You Don't Know Can Hurt You

Madam Marie Curie’s theory of radioactivity and contributions to the discovery of polonium and radium twice earned her the Nobel Peace Prize. She was undeniably brilliant, but what she didn’t understand about radiation took her life. Marie died of a fatal blood dyscrasia caused by years of exposure to radiation. Years later, researchers replaced unexposed photographic film between pages of her laboratory journals. Enough radiation from Marie’s fingers still remained on the pages to burn an image of her fingerprints onto the film.

Handled correctly, radiation and nuclear power provide great benefit. Handled wrongly, they can bring great harm or death. Similarly, the Old Testament Law still has a good and valid purpose. When applied as God intends, it shows people their need for the Savior, but if it is misunderstood and misapplied, it can cause immeasurable harm.

Paul tells us the law is good and needful, but confessed that even he was unable to keep it. He lamented over failing to do the good he intended and found himself doing the wrong he intended to avoid. The law had accomplished in Paul exactly the purpose for which God gave it: to show us we are sinful before a Holy God and can never be good enough to meet His absolute standard of righteousness. We need the Lord Jesus to accomplish it on our behalf. When the law has brought us to the cross so that grace can take over, it has fulfilled its whole purpose.

If we choose to walk in the rigidity of the law in our daily lives, we forfeit much of the joy and liberty God intends for us to have. Sadder yet is the condition of one who determines to gain eternal life by his own efforts at keeping the law. The Bible makes it very clear that the person who insists on being judged on the merit of his works will receive the condemnation he has earned instead of the mercy and grace available only through simple faith in Jesus.

Self-justification and God’s grace cannot coexist; one will always exclude the other. Better to say with the writer of that old hymn, Rock of Ages, “In my hand no price I bring; simply to Thy cross I cling.”

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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To the Servants of the World

I believe that the servants in His church are on the heart of the Father. God’s servant people have always been the force that turns the wheels of the church. I speak of the people who are most deserving of our recognition but seek it the least. They are God’s under-recognized remnant that glorifies the Father by serving His people. They may do this by cleaning pews or preaching in pulpits. It is not about a position but an attitude of heart. Whether they are followers or ones who are followed, they have one thing in common: they do what they do to glorify their Lord and not themselves.

A church without servants is like a carriage without a horse: it’s not going anywhere. We can’t see it, but we know when it is lacking. The Apostle Paul once described how the Body of Christ is held together by every joint (or ligament). A ligament is not very visible, but without it the muscle becomes absolutely useless. Servants in the church who give of
themselves to help make others successful are the glue that holds things together.

It seems to me that there is one central test for all true servants of Christ. . . being willing to do a great deal of the work and receive little credit. In that great stage we call life, your curtain calls may be few, but you play your roll for His glory. Not for what you can get, but what you can give. Keep an eternal rather than a temporal perspective. Keep your eye on the prize. One day you will stand before the Lord Jesus and He will look into your eyes and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” At that moment, all the pot in Colorado could never give you a high like that.

Remember, it’s not the height or even the breadth of your ministry that impresses God. It’s the depth of your love for Him which motivates you to serve that catches His eye. There is no greater calling than a servant of Christ.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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When Words Don't Come

Staying in tune with God can be difficult … especially when we don’t hear anything. As I drove my daughter, who has Down Syndrome, to an appointment, she listened to her favorite station through her headphones. Before long, she huffed and began thumping on her radio.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

She gave no reply but continued to thump her radio in frustration.

“What’s wrong? Isn’t your radio working?”

“No.”

“How long has it not been working?” I asked

No answer.

“Did it work yesterday?”

“No.”

“Did it work the day before?”

“No.”

“Did you wear your headphones at work anyway?”

“Yes.”

My heart broke. After my daughter’s appointment, I stopped at the store for batteries, replaced the old ones in her
radio, and drove her back to work. When I left, she was wearing her headset and was working to the beat of the music once more. As I climbed into my car, God whispered, “She didn't hear anything, but she kept on listening. You should too.”

Once again, my daughter was the teacher. I was the student. Sometimes, God is silent. During those times, the temptation to change the channel is great. We want to remedy the situation ourselves. Search in other directions. Fill the dead air with the sound of our own voice or the voices of others, or simply “thump” in frustration.

Although the words of today’s text may not be the words we want to hear, they do give us some much-needed insight. Listen. Keep watch. Remain steadfast. Live in expectancy. God will speak. He won’t remain silent forever. Although He may not rush in with His answer as quickly as I supplied the batteries for my daughter’s radio, His timing will be perfect.

Don’t grow weary and lose heart, my friend. Keep on listening. God’s words will come, and you’ll be dancing to the rhythm of His beat once more. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Expecting the Closeness

There are times when we feel God so closely we can almost touch Him, and then other times we can’t seem to reach Him at all.

When my husband was laid off for two years, I sometimes felt forgotten for an answer, but at other times felt very close to the Father. I know when people are diligently praying for an answer, they may feel unheard, but looking back, they realize this was the closest they felt to God. Why is that? During the darkest stages of our lives we are on our knees, sometimes even on our face before the Lord, and He never fails to provide what is needed. I thank Him for that. I appreciate how God cares about my struggles, my hurts, and the things that break my heart.

During the difficult times, it’s easy not to realize the answer right away, but looking back, we will usually consider those periods as mountains of feeling close to the Father. I know they are to me. I long to have that closeness again, and wonder why I can’t achieve it. Then it hits me … where is my posture? Where is my every-waking thought? In crisis, it is on pleading with the Father for reprieve and answers. During calm stretches, it is on just living my life and rejoicing that I am not in troublesome bouts.

Peter tells us the eyes of God are on us, and He not only hears but is attentive to our prayers. God is omnipresent and omnipotent. His love for us immeasurable. But His wisdom is far greater than we can imagine, and He knows what is best for us in His time. The Father is never farther than a pray away.

I will continue stretching the ‘ole knees to the floor even in the good times. I’m thinking, while there, I might not just find closeness but more of a relationship than I bargained for—which is what I desire more than anything in the first place.

How about you? 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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But We've Always Done It That Way

Wars have started over things like this. It is nearly inconceivable to suggest we change the very essence of a major event in the life of a church. This discussion nearly caused a rift in the faithful women of our small community. It was suggested we lose the chicken and change the annual fundraiser dinner to pork roast.

“But it’s always been called the Chicken Supper. People know it, look forward to it, and say we have the best fried chicken dinner around. How can we change the menu?” 

Actually, we had no choice. When we moved into our new facility, inspectors informed us a commercial-size ventilation hood would be required if we were ever going to prepare fried foods. It was an extra cost … one that just wasn’t in the construction budget. After nearly forty years of chopping, trimming, sorting, flouring, and frying chicken, enough was enough.

Change is difficult, but making changes in our lives when we accept Christ as our savior is essential. Becoming a Christian doesn’t mean we lose who we are. It gives us the opportunity to see ourselves—and our lives—differently. Shifting our thinking from “what do I want” to “what does God want for me” refocuses us from a self-centered mindset to a God-centered lifestyle. When we allow God to use us in His work, our ambitions take a backseat to finding out where God is working in our community, our church, and our family.

Sometimes change is forced upon us, but sometimes the choice to change is ours. Do we continue to do things the way we always have even if the old patterns and routines leave us struggling?

Allow God to transform you so His will in this world and in your life can be achieved. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Seeds Worth Planting

Our family keeps a small package of bean seeds in the freezer. We plant them in spring and then save extra seed from the new plants at harvest. By repeating this pattern at the end of every gardening season, we preserve and pass on a quality product.

This variety has a reputation for great taste and easy care. Its seeds have been saved for at least three generations. When others heard we grew them, their enthusiasm equaled ours, especially when we shared from our harvest. With this bean, we consider the work well worth the effort. Some varieties may look good, but the taste … not so good. We avoid them at all costs.

The same holds true for our personal lives. When we have a worthwhile message, it spreads, and people respond. As in Paul’s day, the good news of Jesus Christ continues to find root and bear fruit in people’s lives around the world. Not all believers choose to plant spiritual seeds. However, we don’t quit because they decide not to help. Rather, we focus on the task ahead and what God calls us to do. Paul tells us in Galatians not to “become weary” in our work. He also reassures us of harvest time ahead.

Not everyone accepts the message, yet we dare not stop because some seeds fail to germinate. We plant the whole crop in hopes that most will grow and bear fruit. We share God’s love with all who will listen—both for the benefit of those who hear and for future generations.

Give thanks for those who planted God’s Word in your life. Then get out there and sow more seeds. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Get Me Out of Here

I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t want to turn on the TV, look at a new text, or get on my computer. If I heard another piece of bad news I was going to snap. I was ready to pack my bags and head to some remote destination to hide from the world. No phones, no computers, and no TV. Just peace and quiet. 

No news is good news. Sound familiar?

Technology has provided us with a front-row seat to see, hear, and experience everything that is going on in the world. It helps us keep in touch with loved ones and stay up to date on the news, which is good. But if every piece of information you receive is negative, it can seem like the world is falling apart. 

In the book of Nahum, God sends His prophet to tell the people of Nineveh they are going to be destroyed. They are a wicked nation and an enemy of the Lord. The Israelites, God’s people, heard this news firsthand. They had a front-row seat to what was going on. It must have felt like the world was falling apart as they listened to the prophet give a detailed description of what was to come. Perhaps they even contemplated escape as they stood there listening.

God knew His people would be frightened and desperate. Nahum 1:7 says God is good, a hiding place in rough times. He recognizes and welcomes anyone looking for help, no matter how desperate the trouble. God was reminding His people that no matter how bad things appeared to be, they were not alone or without hope.

When things seem hopeless, we need to remember we can run to the Lord and take refuge in Him. God is more powerful than any problem going on in the world. We don’t need to run away or hide. He will protect us when the world around us seems to be falling apart. He loves us and is waiting for us to come to Him in our time of need. Seek God’s help. You can get through anything with Him. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Supporting Roles

Jesus is the lead role. We play supporting roles. The Lone Ranger and Tonto. Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble. Batman and Robin. Lucy and Ethel. These are all famous television duos with a lead role and supporting character.

I entered the Peter Piper tongue twister contest in Mrs. White's third grade class. “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers…” I won the top award for reciting the fastest, yet performing the lines with clarity. Living in a small town in the southwest mountains of Virginia where we all had a southern drawl—this was quite a feat.

Lead role? Supportive role? Maybe you landed the lead role in a theater production, a school play, a more prestigious screenplay or film. Perhaps supporting roles are your forte.

While the supporting role is vital to the storyline and supports the lead character, supporting roles remain below that of the lead role. Supporting roles of Tonto, Barney Rubble, Robin, and Ethel all play an important part of the dynamic duo they represent, but never upstage the lead role.

During Jesus’ earthy ministry, the twelve disciples were called to be supportive to His role and cause—His Father’s work being fulfilled. As Jesus’ disciples, we also play important supporting roles. We come alongside the cause of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection—the gospel message—never upstaging the role of Christ, Who is the total representation of God and His glory. It's not about us. It's about Jesus—His fame and renown. It’s not about proclaiming ourselves, but proclaiming Jesus Christ as Lord.

Jesus is the leading role. He won the top award by wearing a crown of thorns for all mankind. He is forever crowned as Lord of all…to Him be the glory forever and ever. Never before has there been such a powerful leading role in film or history. His story cannot be matched. Jesus Christ—the lead role of all time.

Be a servant for Jesus’ sake. Lay down your agenda and plans and pick up His—His screenplay for your life. It will bring Him the most glory. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and dmscs.)

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Happy New Year for What Is to Come

Once more it fell. The crystal ball slowly descended over Times Square in New York City, and I'm guilty. I watch every year as a two-million-dollar, twelve-foot wide, 11,875 pound, Waterford-crystal-covered hunk, drops 400 feet, while we shout the ten-second count down. I’m amazed at the mindset of people standing in Times Square, chest-to-back, jumping up and down, screaming, “Happy New Year,” only to wake up the next morning and complain about the year that lies ahead. We’re a fickle sort, aren’t we?

Last year folks were instructed to be politically correct by saying Happy Holidays. This year we hear, Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah, all in one breath. Retail sales were up 4.5% over last year, and personal spending rose .01% while wages, oddly enough, fell .01%. Again, I reiterate we’re fickle. Still, we’re brought together, united during the holidays. For an instant, time freezes and people rejoice as a group. They celebrate what has gone and what is to come.

Paul was a Christ-made man. Stricken along the road, he was blinded, then restored after his supernatural encounter with Christ. He went from Christian killer to Christian maker, and he grew saddened by having to continually defend the authority given to him by the Lord. He rejoiced in what was past in his life and praised what was to come. Even as he gently rebuked the Corinthians for their demeaning remarks, Paul prayed for them to be fully restored in Christ. He prayed for what was to come.

Though we are a country who could brag about all she has done for others, we are weak in Christ. The very foundation this country was built upon was one in which the founders could worship God without worry. Not any god, but God Almighty. We’ve slowly justified the deterioration of God’s church and allowed it to become anyone’s choice as opposed to only His.

Like Paul, I am glad when I am weak, for I know He is grooming me for better things. But I pray we will be fully restored.
Welcome in this New Year and mount up with wings as eagles. Wear the armor of God. March ahead. Rejoice for what is behind you, and give praise for what is to come.

Believe and be fully restored. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Christmas Joy - He Said, She Said

Mary Christmas - He Said (Eddie Jones)

Next week it’ll be over -- all the decorating and shopping and baking, done. Next week we’ll be ramping up for New Year’s parties and racing toward our own Christmas fiscal cliff as the holiday shopping bills come due. The toys will be broken, ill-fitting sweaters and pants returned, and Mom’s sweet potato casserole will have morphed into something that looks like a discarded science project.

As a nation we can no longer afford Christmas. It’s too taxing, too long (started before Halloween this year), and too expensive. What we need are budget negotiations to bring spending under control and a stress-relief plan that reflects God’s conservative principles.

Lord knows I tried to do my part this year to keep the problem from becoming larger. I refused to shop and rarely battled the crowds at the holiday parties. Actually, I did not have any choice -- I don’t own a car. Sold that a couple years ago. I did try to order a few things online, but I could never get past those “put in your credit card information here” screens. (I liked it so much better when I tossed cash onto the checkout counter and told the sales clerk, “That’s all I have, really. Can’t you give me a friend-of-the-manager discount?”)

So, my boys and wife will get me this Christmas. Merry Ho, Ho! A bag of nothing from Eddie Miser Scrooge. And yet, isn’t that how Mary and Joseph celebrated their first Christmas . . . with nothing but food and shelter, and the warmth and love of barnyard animals with their barnyard smells?

I did a little research to help put me in the Christmas spirit. Turns out sixteen percent of Americans live below the poverty level. That’s $22,811 a year or less for a family of four. But by the world’s standards, America’s poor are affluent. More than one billion people do not have access to drinking water, and almost three billion do their “business” in the bushes or an outhouse. At least most of America's poor have indoor plumbing and can get a clean drink of water.

The truth is, we've never been able to afford Christmas, and yet we cannot afford to skip it. We need the simplicity of the manger and the message of hope it brings. Paul advised his little buddy, Tiny Timothy: “If we have food and clothing, we will be happy with that.” I would add: ”If I get to spend a little time with family and friends, that’s a good enough Christmas for me.”

This Christmas, don’t stress about what you lack. Instead, praise God you are privileged to live in the wealthiest nation on earth. And if you’re feeling charitable, donate a few dollars to your local food bank or homeless shelter. Here is a link to help you get started: http://www.foodpantries.org.


Tuppence a Bag - She Said (Cindy Sproles)

“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.” Mary Poppins sang about the old beggar woman who sold breadcrumbs on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. “Feed the birds. Tuppence a bag.” I remember wondering why the old woman was so poor, and why Mr. Banks wouldn’t let the children buy a bag of crumbs to help her out. His intent -- for the kids to learn to save their money for . . . retirement.

Retirement is supposed to be . . . comfortable. Either that or I fell for the age-old lie that retirement is filled with travel, adventure, and financial security. Thanks to slips in the economy,  we seemed to have only tuppence (twopence) left.

In my first marriage, we’d begun a small nest egg, but divorce bit into the account and I had nothing. The boys and I moved into a borrowed room in the basement of my parent’s home. There, I literally saved my pennies just to buy food.

My parents would have happily given me money if I had asked. I didn’t ask. I needed to learn to be self-sufficient, even if it meant doing without. I saved my coins in a jar and watched for the sales. In those days, ninety-nine cents would buy you two yards of cotton fabric that would make a shirt and a pair of elastic waist pants for the boys. We ate a lot of spaghetti and peanut butter, but we were grateful for what we had.

Mary and Joseph had what they could carry with them. There wasn’t much room on a donkey’s back when a pregnant woman took up the majority of the space. And Joseph’s back could only haul so much. I can’t speak for the peculiar pair, but I’d guess the two were still somewhat stunned at the reality of becoming parents. And not just any parents --parents of the Messiah. I doubt possessions topped their lists. Searching Bethlehem for a place to sleep was probably the first real slap in the face to understanding what poor meant.

When they settled into a dark and dreary stable and Mary gave birth, grateful was probably an understatement. They snuggled close, held their newborn son, and gazed into the eyes of God. My guess is, in that moment they had all they needed . . . food, clothing, and happiness. My days of poverty are gone. In truth, retirement isn’t so bad. God has provided every need . . . each one as it has risen. At the end of our first year of retirement, our bank account shows we have what we began with, plus a tiny bit extra. Go figure.

This year we’ll spend a few leftover tuppence for those in need. As we do, we’l reap the joy of what we have. Food. Clothing. And happiness. Don’t let the pressures of Christmas-buying weigh you down. Be happy in what you have, for God sees every need.

If He cares for every bird, He’ll care for you.

(Photos courtesy of office.microsoft.com. and morguefile and shannontanski.)

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What If

The story of Jesus' birth tells us a multitude of heavenly hosts filled the sky that night. The angel told the shepherds the news he shared was great. He said it would bring great joy to everyone. He told the shepherds to go see what had happened. 

We read that the shepherds left their flock of sheep, their only source of income, and went to Bethlehem, the City of David. There the shepherds found Baby Jesus in the manger. The shepherds did not form a committee to figure out the best way to get to Jesus. They did not ponder what they should say, and compose a speech for when they found Him. They didn't vote to see who got to lead the way. They simply got up and went. The shepherds left their sheep and went quickly into Bethlehem. Once they found the newborn babe, they told Mary and Joseph what the angel had said to them in the field, “Today your Savior was born … He is Christ, the Lord.” Then the shepherds returned to their sheep, praising and thanking God for allowing them to be a part of His miracle. 

There is a list of What Ifs. What if: the shepherds didn’t go, wouldn’t leave the security of their fields, or wouldn’t search for Jesus. Would their lives have been changed, or would they have been content to let the day of Christ's birth pass by without notice? 

Like the shepherds, we are given a glorious message. Unlike the shepherds, we live this side of the cross. We know what it cost God to send His son, Jesus, into our world to save us from our sins. The baby in the manger became the Savior on the cross. 

As you reflect on Christmas, seek the Messiah. Go quickly and tell others the Good News of a Savior who came to seek and to save everyone who is lost. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Seemann.)

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No More Runny Spots

I hated that box of Christmas cards. My daughter had passed away in October, and it was now early December, time to write Christmas greetings to friends and family. The box of holly-embossed cards just reminded me of the flowered wreaths that had ringed my daughter’s gravesite. How could I be full of the joy of the season when my heart was shattered? Tears dropping onto the cards made my words unreadable.

A passage I’d written in my Christmas novella came from my place of grief. In the book, a ten-year-old Appalachian girl writes about the recent deaths of her baby brother and grandfather in her journal entry. She says that her tears falling on the journal page, from merely writing their names, caused smudges she referred to as runny spots.  Her last words in that chapter say, “Surely there won’t be anymore runny spots. Surely.” The young girl’s words mirrored my attempt to journal my emotions after my daughter’s death.

The Bible gives examples of how our Lord helps us to deal with grief’s consequences. Jesus called the Holy Spirit “The Comforter.” We will all experience grief in our lifetime. It is inevitable. Grief not only comes in the form of death but also over a divorce, errant children, missed opportunities, bad life choices, and a myriad of other reasons. Take comfort by studying His Word and drawing strength from His teachings. Turn to Him when your heart is broken and when you feel lost in a world of hurt and pain.

Don’t we all long for a griefless life? But in our hearts we know that is unlikely to ever happen. What we can have is the Holy Spirit to stand with us when times of grief come. I pray you know this God of comfort. If not, ask Him to enter into your heart today. He waits with open arms and with a hope for your future. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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The Christian Christmas

Have yourself “A Holly Jolly Christmas, it’s the best time of the year!” recorded and sung by American folk singer Burl Ives in 1965, is one of those trademark Christmas songs that blares in pretty much every mall and radio during the holiday season. 

I thought about the expectations this Christmas song—with so many of the other ones—set up for the holiday season. This time of the year, above all of the other ones, is a time when I’m not only supposed to—but mandated and even told to—be merry, have good cheer, celebrate, and drink eggnog like there is no tomorrow. 

The Christmas holiday can be disheartening and grief-building for us. We miss the people we have lost … miss spending time with them during this season. The sadness and grief, even though very real and allowable, are at odds with the secular Christmas propaganda of merriment and cheer. These things are not based on anything real, but on plastic and tinsel instead of honest human emotions and situations. The secular Christmas is apart from the real human experience and sets us up for expectations that can’t and shouldn’t be met. 

The Christian Christmas—Jesus, the virgin birth, and the hope of eternal life—does not demand this kind of false cheer from us. This kind of Christmas, just like our savior Jesus Christ, cries with us when we cry and grieves with us when we grieve. But it also points us to our real hope—Emmanuel, God with us. 

In faith, we are with Him eternally. Christmas is about hope, not a holly jolly time. Cut yourself some slack this holiday season by giving yourself permission to grieve and miss your loved ones. Then allow God to comfort you and turn your mourning into joy—the joy that only He can give. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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It Took a Chimp

I couldn’t watch without sobbing. It was the greatest example of thankfulness I’ve ever witnessed . . . and it was a chimpanzee that brought me to tears.

Dr. Jane Goodall, considered to be the world’s foremost authority on chimpanzees, had a tender heart for these animals. In 1960 she began her study of primates in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. The desire of her passion . . . to learn, understand, and protect the chimpanzees. Through her years of study, she founded The Jane Goodall Institute where she rehabilitated injured chimps and studied them in a natural environment.

This woman’s fearless love allowed her to nurture and live among the wild chimps. So when I fell upon a video from her institute of the release of a rehabilitated chimp, I suddenly understood real gratitude.

A female assistant opened the kennel door and patted her knee. A chimp emerged, obediently turned, and backed into her arms to accept a hug. Dr. Goodall stood to the side of the kennel, motionless. The chimp jumped on the kennel and sat with its back to her. She said nothing. Didn’t offer to touch the animal. She stood with head bowed. The chimp turned, eased toward Dr. Goodall, and wrapped its arms around her, embracing her in one of the dearest acts of thanks I’ve ever seen. Dr. Goodall’s arms inched around the chimp, and her fingers gently stroked its back as the animal tenderly laid its head against her neck. Dr. Goodall waited patiently, quietly, for the chimp to realize who had nurtured and loved it back to health.  After a long hug, the animal returned to the wild.

After years of bondage and exile, the Israelites were finally able to begin rebuilding the temple. When the foundation was laid, they realized through their wounds, who had faithfully loved and cared for them. God patiently waited for them to turn to Him so He could wrap them in tight carress.

I couldn’t stop the tears as I watched this wild animal affectionately thank Dr. Goodall.

When our wounds seem too deep to heal, God is faithful. Like Dr. Goodall, He stands to the side, motionless, waiting for us to turn, step forward, and wrap our arms around Him.

It took a chimp to show me what true thanksgiving is. This Thanksgiving, stop and recognize that the foundation is laid. Lift your heart in praise for God is faithful.

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Be a Friend, Make a Friend

Their initial meeting wasn’t pleasant. They immediately recognized they were different and had differing agendas. Each approached the other with no thought of anything but “self.” There was no interest in spending time together and they parted ways quickly. (Lord, is this what I do?)

In the days to come, they chose to keep their interactions to a minimum and went about pursuing their own lives. Barbed glares and an attitude of distrust put a distance between them. The message seemed to be, “I can take care of myself; I don’t need you.” (Do I send this message to people around me?

No amount of encouragement from me seemed to help, but little did I know that God was about to teach me the real key to forming a friendship. It was a simple thing, quietly done without fanfare. I watched in silence as they came face-to-face one day. One of them took the initiative to reach out, putting aside differences in personalities and agendas. Proverbs reminds us that to have friends means we must be friendly, and that there is one friend who is closer to us than our brothers. 

David Grayson said, “Long ago I made up my mind to let my friends have their peculiarities.” This seemed to hold true with these two. Friends don’t try to change one another’s differences. They seek to bring out the best in each other—and then just enjoy the friendship. 

Watching this friendship develop challenged my thinking about the relationships I have with God and people. You may be surprised to learn this story of friendship is between Bandit and Eli, a cat and dog. They demonstrated to me that friendship isn’t about getting others interested in me, but rather getting me interested in others. (Lord, help me be this kind of friend.). 

Humans also have their differing characteristics. The message in today’s world seems to be just the opposite. If we want long-lasting friendships, we need to follow God’s directions. Be friendly, encouraging, selfless, and willing. 

Are your friendships based on worldly standards, or do you let God’s Spirit guide you? 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Share God's Wisdom

My cousin Jean and I lived on adjoining farms. A lane departed the highway and ran by both of our houses until it ended at the creek. The only cars that traveled the lane were those of our family or someone who took a wrong turn, so we made a playhouse at the top of the hill just before it dipped down to our house, and we filled it with our treasures. 

One day while we were playing, we found a miniature skillet lying in the road, so we took it to our playhouse. It was just the right size for cooking a couple of beans or a piece of gravel or two. For several days we made good use of the skillet. Then Jean decided to take it home, but I wanted to keep it in the playhouse. 

"It's my skillet," she said. "I saw it first." 

"I picked it up so it should be mine!" I cried. 
 
On and on the battle went until finally Jean said, "We'll bury it under the tree until we decide who should have it." So we dug a small hole and buried it. Weeks passed and finally we declared a truce. We would dig up the skillet and keep it permanently in the playhouse. But no matter how much we dug, we could not find it. Our treasure had disappeared with the shifting earth. 
 
James said, How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it's here a little while, then it's gone. I believe he was telling us to shift our focus from foolish things that cause dissention and destroy relationships, to seeking God’s wisdom that guides us correctly and lasts forever. God wants us to receive His knowledge and then share it, not bury it in the ground. 

When conflicts arise, ask God to give you His insight and then use it to guide you. If you bury His wisdom by ignoring it, then like the fog, it will soon disappear. If you use it and share it, wisdom will produce joy and peace as you share God’s message with others. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Who's in Control

“I will never forgive him,” she said through gritted teeth. “God doesn’t expect me to and you can’t make me!” 

My heart broke at the pain in my friend’s eyes. There were no tears—they had all been shed—only the droop of her shoulders and the invisible shackles she carries each and every day. 

Betrayal, especially by a loved one, causes unbelievable pain, which can lead to anger, bitterness, and even thoughts of malicious revenge. When my friend, as a young girl, refused to deal with her “demons,” they created a lifelong grudge that became a millstone around her neck—a heaviness that holds her back from a life of freedom, joy, and the fulfillment God has planned for her. 

A grudge is something that can begin as a tiny niggling in the back of your mind. Then, every time you see the offending person, hear their name, or even have a passing thought about them, the resentment grows and spreads until it suffocates the spiritual life out of you. Deep-seated resentment is toxic. The writer of Hebrews calls it a root of bitterness and tells us that it causes much trouble and defiles others. 

The Bible gives us many ways to deal with this: Forgive and be forgiven. Don’t let anything offend you. Cast all your care on Him. Forget what is behind and press on. First comes forgiveness, then comes healing. 

My friend has been carrying this grudge so long it has become her identity, and she’s afraid to let it go. She’s become oddly comfortable in her self-imposed misery. She thinks that to forgive means letting the offender off the hook, making what they did okay. Holding on to this bitterness gives her a bogus sense of control over the offender when, in reality, she is the one being controlled. I have explained to her that forgiving someone and letting go of a grudge does not let the other person off the hook—it lets her off the hook. I pray that one day she will trust God and allow Him to restore her. 

The unmistakable truth is this: You can’t move forward while staring into the rearview mirror. Put the past behind. Let it go. Take God’s hand and let Him lead you to freedom. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Sunrise Reflections

I sense God’s presence in the precious stillness of the early morning. The beach offers cool sand to sink my toes into, and breathtaking views that capture my heart. 

I am filled with anticipation as I look towards the horizon waiting for God&r