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.

But It’s So Tiny

I took the dead-looking browned seedling out of its pot. It’s a shame I couldn’t save the poor thing, I thought. I’ll toss the soil back into the garden.

As I lifted the four-inch seedling, I noticed something spiraling around in the pot. I tugged on what looked like a rope and, unraveling it, discovered it was the root.

“My, my,” I said as I stretched it out. “Look at this thing,” I exclaimed to my husband. “Come measure it.”

Inside the three-inch pot attached to a four-inch seedling was four and a half feet of root. This didn’t even seem possible.

Immediately, I recalled the Scripture warning us not to let a root of bitterness spring up in our hearts. The root filled the pot but couldn’t get the nutrients it needed to sustain a green plant. No matter how much water I gave it, the plant was destined to die, scrunched up in the pot with its root choking it.

This is somewhat like life. Roots of bitterness in our hearts will wrap like a vise on my thoughts and emotions, and I’ll not be free to be who I’m destined to be. Instead, we should ask God to forgive us if even the tiniest resentment binds us. He wants to be the gardener of our lives, minds, and hearts.

The long root was only visible after I removed the plant from the pot. From the outside, I could only see I had a seedling that wouldn’t stay green even with water. 

Maybe, like me, you need to pray, ”Search and cleanse me so that I might receive the nutrients I need for a fruitful life.”

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Refusing to Be Discouraged

When Amy Carmichael first worked in Dohnavur, India, in 1900, she faced scorn and hostility as she tried to share the gospel. She was pelted with ashes and rotten plants. Crowds harassed her. Refusing to be defeated, she kept reaching out to idol worshipers with kindness and truth.

A few Indian Christian women joined her as she went to surrounding villages, seeking to bring the hope of Christ. One day, a child escaped the temple where she was enslaved. She saw Amy and clung to her, begging the missionary to be her Amma—her mother.

And that was the beginning. Amy sought other unwanted children to rescue them from the dangers of being given to the temple. They were handed over as babies and served as harshly treated slave workers until they were old enough to be forced into temple prostitution, often before maturity.

In time, Amy built an entire community dedicated to the Lord—including a medical clinic, school, and dorms with dorm mothers to care for the children. I have heard testimonies of how she was always so gentle and kind. She was “Amma” to all.

Then Amy fell into a hole and severely damaged her body. She was bedridden for twenty years but continued to run the community from her bedside. She also wrote books published in England that awakened a heart for mission work. Amy refused to be discouraged.

Amy reminds me of King Hezekiah, who invited all of Israel to come to Jerusalem to celebrate God’s Passover. His couriers were scorned in most of Israel. Those who did come, came unclean and with no care to purify themselves for the Lord. As people saw this, discouragement blossomed. “But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, ‘May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets their heart on seeking God—the Lord, the God of their ancestors—even if they are not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary’” (2 Chronicles 30:18b-19). God was glad to do so.

God doesn’t want us to be stalled out by discouragement. He invites us to open the doors of heaven so others may come in. Give your discouragement to God.

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Cleansing the Heart

Washing my face nightly has always been the favorite part of my “getting ready for bed” routine.

Cleansing my skin of the day’s dirt, sweat, and grime, I feel instantly refreshed, renewed, and clean. No matter where I am or how tired I am, I never omit washing my face. If I skip this important step of my routine, I feel dirty, and my day feels incomplete.

My heart, too, requires daily washing. I must ask God for forgiveness for the day’s mistakes, grumblings, and negative attitudes. Whether it be harboring bitterness toward a coworker who let me down, losing my temper with another driver on the way home from work, or lashing out in impatience toward one of my sweet pups, I frequently fail to live up to the standard of godliness I strive for as a follower of Christ. Fortunately, as I present myself to God with a repentant heart, His grace meets me where I am and cleanses me, allowing me to live renewed through Him.

Like washing my face, asking God to cleanse my heart is now a fundamental part of my nighttime routine. I echo King David’s words when he says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (Psalms 51:10 NIV). I enjoy the cleansing power of God’s forgiveness and grace when I pray this.

Turn to God daily with a repentant heart to enjoy the deep cleansing only His grace can provide.

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Super Snakes

I do not like snakes, not even a little bit.

Snakes are always hiding. Sometimes, it appears they wait for the chance to attack. They are active at night when it is hard for us to detect them.

I once heard about super snakes taking over the Everglades in Florida. Burmese pythons and Rock pythons grow up to twenty feet long. These snakes are destroying the ecosystem of the Everglades and other areas of South Florida.

There are even reports of a hybrid super snake with both snakes' DNA. The hybrid is supposedly more aggressive, even hunting alligators in the swamps. This is fast becoming an ecological disaster for the entire area. Florida officials have created an open season for these snakes because they have no natural predators.

Sin is also a disaster in our lives. We cannot battle sin on our own. The Bible tells us our adversary constantly looks for ways to bring us down. He cannot have us believers, but he looks for ways to destroy our image in the world. Our only hope to defeat sin is to be alert and watch for it to creep in. Jesus is the natural enemy of sin and is our hope in protecting us from the Devil.

We can stay alert by attending church regularly, immersing ourselves in daily Bible study, praying continuously for God to guide and direct us, and finding an accountability partner.

Find some ways to avoid that super snake of sin. Let Jesus be your guide instead.

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Is the Story Really Good?

I attended the funeral of a young man whom many would say passed away far too early.

The service was somber in many respects but one that stirred my heart and touched me in an unexpected way. We sang one of my favorite praise songs during worship, but not one I anticipated singing in this setting. One statement in the bridge said, “I know how the story ends.”

Hopefully, we all know how the story ends. The resolution is coming, and it will be good. We will live with God again. According to Paul, death has lost its sting.  

Death is difficult—no matter who has died or what the circumstances are. I think that’s because God did not create us with death in mind. His did not include mortality. Neither did He intend for the cares, anxieties, and sicknesses that resulted from sin to weigh on us physically and emotionally so that our bodies and minds collapse.

Unfortunately, our lives are under the curse of the Fall and, therefore, take tragic and devastating twists and turns. The plot is distorted, and we often wonder if the great Author has written a tragedy instead of a happily-ever-after narrative.

I have questioned that too, but then I heard myself singing, “I know how the story ends; we will be with You again.” Regardless of where we are in the storyline—and no matter how confusing and dire the circumstances—the grand storyteller is working out the details of the plot so that the ending is amazing, miraculous, and good. In His incredibly gracious way, God has allowed us to read the end of the story. And unlike with our favorite novel or mystery, knowing the ending doesn’t spoil anything. Instead, it gives us hope.

How does knowing the story’s ending change your life?

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One Community under God

Sometimes, one of my high school students would surprise me by announcing, “I’m eighteen now, an independent adult.”

“I’m not convinced that turning eighteen makes one an independent adult,” I’d respond. “I’ve come to find that I’m not independent at all. I can eat my food—compliments of farmers, delivery workers of every sort, and stores that supply the market for it. I certainly couldn’t provide my own clean water or sewage disposal. Even my shampoo. I rely on the significant work of many people. And I’m grateful for every one of them. What would you like to contribute to this wonderful community as you become an adult?”

Then we’d discuss how we also operate in the context of collective destinies. Not only do we reap what we sow individually, but we also reap what our nation sows. God calls us in the context of community, not in isolation, and we share that group’s heritage.

Baruch was not happy about that. He had faithfully served the prophet Jeremiah for years. When Baruch heard the disaster prepared for his rebellious nation, he cried out to God. He hadn’t joined in his nation’s wickedness. Why should he suffer with them?

In Jeremiah 45, God responded to Baruch. God’s judgment against Israel stood firm, but he told Baruch, “Wherever you go, I will let you escape with your life.”

Like Baruch, focusing on ourselves and our family is easy. We can forget we are part of a bigger community that God holds accountable for its choices and actions. Let’s pause regularly to pray for our nation to be a blessing to God and this world.

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The Cover Up

We make coverings for just about everything. But there has never been nor ever will be a covering that can hide sin. Yet we try.

Nothing is hidden from God. He sees in our hearts and knows us better than we know ourselves. So, if we can’t cover our sin and hide it from God, why do we try to hide it from Him and others?

Achan (Joshua 7), King David (2 Samuel 11, 12), and Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) all sinned and tried to hide their sins from others, but God saw their sins and exposed them.

Whenever we sin, our immediate response should be to confess it before God. Then we should forsake the sin and receive God’s mercy and forgiveness. If we ignore, excuse it, or pretend it never happened, we’re trying to cover our sins and are not being open, honest, and sincere in our relationship with God.

As long as we put sin under a cap and cover it, God will not prosper us in His way.

Although King David tried to cover his sin, he couldn’t hide it from his conscience. He said, “My sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51: 3). Our consciences acknowledge our sins too.

Just because a sin is seemingly covered or ignored doesn’t negate sin’s power to rob us of peace and fellowship with God. Nor does it negate sin’s consequences.

The sins we often attempt to cover are pet sins that easily entangle us and hinder us from running the Christian race and winning the prize.

When we confess and forsake our sins, Jesus covers them with His blood.

What are some sins you need to uncover?  

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Losing My Mind

“What’s on your mind?”

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

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

Mom recycled and re-used plastic containers, bottles, paper towels, and aluminum foil. Nothing got tossed before it was mended, patched, and altered. She saved fabric in the rag bag for quilting.

Waste not, want not. Mom was right. The most crucial thing one might waste is a mind. We can see the lives of many who turn to substances, seeking to ease their minds. Artificial peace is a sure way to lose a mind. Temporary relief is just that—temporary. Confusion, fear, lies, and uncertainty plague this world. Temporary relief is not enough. Who needs a pickled mind?

As Paul commanded, the best way to have a sound mind is to renew it. God’s Word is a treasure that nothing else can offer. The better question is, “What’s on God’s mind?”

I open God’s Word and find comfort, mercy, and peace. And the best part is that Scripture is an eternal source of soundness. God promises to renew our spirits, souls, and physical bodies. No substance can accomplish that.

Commit to renewing your mind daily by studying God’s Word.

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Stand Firm

As I get older, I’m often tempted to give up, quit, sit in my recliner, and wait for God to call me home.

My muscles are stiff and don’t always work as they should. When I bend over to pick something off the floor, I must hold on to something to keep from falling. Everything takes longer than it once did, but I can’t give up and still claim to be a Christian. There is no retirement date for believers.

As I think of standing my ground, I remember my dad. He had little formal education but was not uneducated. He was a ferocious reader and Bible student and taught Sunday school for fifty years. He rose early each morning, started the fires in our wood stoves, and walked through the farmhouse singing songs of praise as our alarm clock went off. I know all the words to “His Name Is Wonderful,” “Jesus Paid It All,” and “Blessed Assurance” because he sang them repeatedly. His life revolved around his family, his love for the Lord, and his little country church where Christ was proclaimed. In his later years, his greatest sorrow was being unable to visit the sick, teach his Sunday school class, and help his neighbors.

Paul’s writings are full of encouragement to stand our ground. Even as he faced execution, he wrote to Timothy to stand firm and preach the Word. He told the Ephesian church to stand firm with the belt of truth buckled about their waist and their feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Paul’s life of suffering demonstrates that pain and persecution often fill the life of a believer. 

It would have been easy for Paul to say, “I’ve done my part; now let the younger ones take over.” I’m tempted to do that too. But the Bible doesn’t give us a time to give up and allow others to do what God has called us to do. So, when I have done everything, I want to stand my ground.

Make up your mind to stand your ground until the Lord calls you home.

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The Golden Psalm

I once learned something I should have known long ago.

Many of the greatest biblical scholars—such as Luther, Spurgeon, and Matthew Henry—believed Psalm 119 was the center of Almighty God’s explanation about His inspiration in the Bible and His desired relationship with His people.

Mathew Henry understood the life-changing potential of this golden psalm. His father required each of his children to read and reflect on the Hebrew letter divisions in Psalm 119—one a day, equaling twice a year (there are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet). Each letter division in this psalm, called an acrostic, has eight verses containing seven different words for inspiration.

His father’s insight into the importance of the longest chapter in the Bible, and what some call “The Bible’s Golden Psalm,” appear foundational to Matthew’s ministry and famous commentary.

If we wish to understand the shades of inspiration, Psalm 119 is the center of God’s explanation. He explains in eight primary words, which explain the aspects of inspiration: law, teaching, word—revealed words from God, judgment, testimony or witness, commandment or orders, statutes, precept, and word again—anything God has expressed.

Spurgeon said, “Each of the aspects of God’s inspiration should be understood by God’s people and placed in the warm personal relationship recorded in the golden pages of Psalm 119.”

Make Psalm 119 a center of your understanding of God speaking to you about inspiration and your relationship with Him.

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Open Hands

I work in an inner-city community health center, serving the needy in our neighborhood.

The center can be a harsh environment, but even here, a person can find pockets of beauty. One spring, one of the physicians and I planted wildflowers outside the large window of our conference room. We placed two feeders in the flowerbed—one with sunflower seeds for birds and another for hummingbirds. Immediately, sparrows found the sunflower seeds and devoured them. However, no hummers visited our feeder, although I patiently kept replacing the hummingbird food.

One morning, before an early meeting, I refilled the feeder with fresh sugar water. Was I crazy to keep putting out food? I wondered if any hummingbirds lived in the city anyway. But as I sat, I saw something darting about out of the corner of my eye. Could it be true? At last, a hummingbird found the food I had faithfully supplied all summer. I hoped more would follow.

I couldn’t help but see the analogy to our work in our health ministry. We reach out daily, offering our skills to improve the well-being of our patients. Like the hummingbirds, many barriers prevent people from finding and accepting our care. However, when we help one person, they tell others, and eventually, we change whole communities.

Think of some ways you can reach out to help others.

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Welcome to Hope

Welcome to hope.

I want it. I search for it. I hold onto it when I find it. I sing, teach, greet, write, and listen to pastors speak words of hope. Yet hope has proven elusive from the beginning of time.

Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, and God drove them from the Garden of Eden. Cain killed Abel, and God banished him from his homeland. Joseph’s brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery. The Hebrew people endured years of Egyptian bondage. Old Testament prophets warned God’s people time after time about their unfaithfulness to the one and only holy God.

If I read, watch, or listen to the news, I hear about a world devoid of hope. People destroy one another with whatever weapons they possess, including hate-filled words. Disease, disaster, death, political unrest, and economic upheaval cross our screens in an endless litany of woe. Children live in homes lacking direction—filled instead with addiction, pain, hunger, and distress. People of every age suffer abuse from both strangers and caregivers. Persecution of Christians results in demolished homes and churches, imprisonment, and death. Hatred, prejudice, greed, and a me-first attitude dominate the pages of history.

But do I throw up my hands in defeat? If not, how do I fight this never-ending battle against evil? Where do I find hope, and how do I offer it to a world in despair?

If I look within, I find no hope. If I trust those in authority, they eventually let me down. Instead, my hope first appeared in the most unexpected way and place—a baby in a feeding trough in the small town of Bethlehem. In Jesus, I find the hope I so desperately desire.

Jesus left His home in heaven and entered the earth’s turmoil as an infant to provide hope for the world—the only genuine hope that lasts. His gift remains available to all who turn to Him in repentance and faith, including abusers, drug users, murderers, and persecutors. Romans 5:8 (NKJV) reminds me, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

What are some ways you find hope?

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Get Out of the Attic

An old country church was being torn down and a new one built across town. To raise money for the new church, members sold the wooden pews that had served the country church well.

One man bought a twelve-foot pew and took it to his farm. With much difficulty, he put it in the attic of his home.

Years later, when the man’s health declined, he had to sell the farm. Unable to get the pew out of the attic, he sealed the attic and left the pew there.

Like the old church pew, I felt my age prevented me from doing anything more in ministry. Over the years, I had taught Bible studies and served in many ministries. But now I was spending much of my time at home and keeping doctor appointments.

Lacking the strength and vigor I possessed in my younger years, I believed I could no longer make long-term commitments or do much. Later, I discovered this was a lie the Devil spoke in my ear. I could still do plenty. God made me special and gifted me to serve.

The spiritual gifts listed in I Corinthians and Ephesians stay with us for life. We can use them in new and different ways as we enter our senior years. I discovered I had additional time to pray for others and the church’s needs. I could help in the nursery, giving young couples a needed break. I learned to use technology from home to connect to church and other ministries.

Our senior years can bring much satisfaction and joy if we look around and discover new ways to use our spiritual gift. Like the psalmist, we can serve the Lord with gladness. We don’t have to shut ourselves away. We can get out of the attic and serve the Lord again.

Never forget that there are ways you can serve God, regardless of your age.

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Stronger than Dirt

Years ago, a commercial described a laundry soap as “stronger than dirt.”

In the early 1970s, we lived near San Francisco. The hippie movement was in full swing. I was a new Christian. My husband’s brother Larry was a wild man who didn’t like me and thought his little brother had gone off the deep end with religion. But he and his wife ended up in church because they needed money. He told us later that he planned to scam the Christian couple who had evangelized us.

The church folks were thrilled that this ragged, wild-looking hippie couple had come to church. Larry made a big show for them so he could get more out of them later. Larry was the first when the pastor asked if anyone wanted to come to the altar and pray. “A good sympathy move,” he said.

While kneeling—not so humbly—at the altar, Larry thought about ways to steal a car from the couple. But then something unexpected happened. Jesus came. Larry found himself crying and praying. Before knowing what had happened, he earnestly prayed and asked God to forgive him. He lived for God 100 percent for the rest of his life.

I had zero faith in Larry and didn’t believe that even God could help him because the soil of his heart was so hard, like cement. But the truth is that we can’t see what is really going on inside the hearts of others.

I think of terms like digging up dirt, a dirty trick, dirty dishes, and talking dirty as allegories for the human heart. The Bible discusses dirt with rocks and thorns and good dirt where seeds can grow. When we look on with a faithless eye, none of the dirt looks too promising. It can be discouraging when we sow a seed (God’s Word) and nothing happens. But God taught me a lesson with Larry that I’ve never forgotten.

Good fruit doesn’t happen accidentally. Someone must sow, weed, water, fertilize, and love. We might think some people are unreachable or that a problem is just too big, but never forget that God keeps sowing because His love and mercy are stronger than dirt.

 

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Good Luck with This One

As I put the water on for the pasta and angrily clicked the burner, I tossed a snarky quip to God, “Good Luck with this one!”

I bustled around my kitchen, feeling frustrated and raking my hands through my hair. My sister had just served us three siblings with a lawsuit. She wanted everything that remained of our mother’s estate instead of dividing it four ways as Mom wished.

My sister had always been tyrannical and made her own rules. She was smart and savvy. With scary histrionics, she successfully got others to do her bidding. I would not be surprised if she was also the victor in this legal action.  

Whenever I’ve experienced trials, I’m astounded at the creative way God comes through with solutions. Why would He let me down this time?

The apostles freaked out as that little boat rocked and rolled, seawater sloshing over the sides. I would panic too if I were stuck on that boat. Jesus, however, admonished their lack of faith. I would probably have looked at Him and bellowed, “Are you serious? You’re scolding us? We are about to drown!” But Jesus is like Aladdin on the roof in the Disney movie, reaching out His hand to Jasmine before she jumps, asking, “Do you trust me?”

God challenges me to give my faith an upgrade. I must say daily, “Who is on the throne?” When I flippantly say, “Good luck with this one,” I put the Creator of the universe on the same level as puny me. How preposterous. Jesus understands us and our exploding anger and excruciating fear. But He also sits at the right hand of God, seeing the end from the beginning. I can do all the footwork, but I’ll never be in charge of God’s outcome.

Often, I think of my sister’s strength and amazing abilities. She is intelligent enough to cure cancer. God will take care of all of us, including my sister, even though it may not appear He will at the moment.

How can you learn to trust God with your unpleasant situations?

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Satan's Zombie Children

I once came to understand that I was a zombie, along with everyone else.

One of my least favorite entertainments is in the many zombie movies and television programs such as “The Walking Dead.” These programs have a common theme in which animated dead bodies with unquenchable appetites seek out those who have life, seeking to devour them. The walking dead are energized by desires with no morality or respect. They have no awareness of God or guilt but only obey their hunger.

After becoming God’s child through faith in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we live daily by interacting with zombies who desire our needs above all others. Knowing this, I felt heightened concern for my family.

I also became aware that any Christian who walks in this current world without dressing in God’s armor is a person walking naked among hungry zombies who lust after what they have. Sadly, only a percentage of the living have the new life in Christ.

But we don’t have to be afraid. The one who is in us is greater than the enemy of our souls. Our job is to walk carefully.

What are some ways you can resist Satan’s zombie children?

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Grace Woke Us

As I enjoyed sitting in the morning sun, I thought about how the grace of God had awakened me for a beautiful day of holiday relaxation. The grace of God blesses each of us to wake up, so I decided to enjoy each moment.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus Christ. I read this verse and thought about how God sent us His greatest undeserved grace, Jesus, our Lord. Through Him, we are blessed to enjoy our prayers and blessings in humble faith.

We can all hope our future as Christians looks bright. We can pray to be united. We can harness the power of positive prayer by seeking inspiration from our Lord.

We are all saved through Jesus’ great love and sacrifice for us all. This is how God enriches each day of our lives with goodness, mercy, love, healing benefits, and forgiveness. Jesus is our true manifestation of grace, so together, we can pray to wake up and have peace for all.

How does God’s grace awaken you?

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Water the Trees

When I was seven years old, we moved to a new house. While it was perfect in many ways, one deficiency was evident: no trees in the backyard. So, we went to Lowe's and picked out two young live oak trees. My mom, sister, and I decided the trees needed names, so we chose Luke and Lily. Dad dug two holes—one on the left side of the yard and one on the right. We stuck the trees in them, patted down the dirt, and gave the trees a good soaking.

At the end of a scorching stretch of days in the summer, we trooped out with a hose and watered them so they wouldn't dry out. Most of the grass was crunchy and brown, but Luke and Lily were green and growing, thanks to the water.

Our trust in God strengthens us, much like water strengthens a tree. When we trust God, we take steps forward and impact the world. But when we doubt God's abilities or promises, we have no stability, we're unsure, and our lives dry out.

Trust in God leads to a better life. Our complete confidence and dependence on Him allow us to stand firm in times of trouble. We know we'll be okay because we're in the Father's hands.

We can build trust by remembering what God has done for us in the past and reading promises in Scripture. Trust doesn't just happen, and God doesn't force it on us. Trusting God is our choice, but it’s the only thing that will keep us going.

Don’t let anything keep you from trusting God.

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In God's Presence

Children, especially younger ones, long to be in God’s presence.

God reminded me of this truth on a morning drive with my granddaughters during the first week of Lent. All week, we had discussed Lent, ashes, and preparing our hearts for this special, holy season—much as we had for Advent. Now, both were enthusiastic and curious about the upcoming forty days.

The youngest granddaughter closed her eyes on the sunny ride. The older one—observant, totally wide-eyed, who does not miss a single thing—announced that her sister was sleeping. I suggested we be quiet so she could rest since she’d been an early riser for a few days.

Then a little, kind voice said, “G’ma, my eyes are closed, but I’m not sleeping; I’m praying.”

This was my greatest blessing and my heart’s desire. I wanted to pull over to an open field, parking lot, or some wide space to dance as David must have. But wisdom and the morning rush-hour traffic screamed, “No.” However, she and I did take a little praise walk later.

This proved the crowning jewel of the start of Lent. I hoped her tenderness would remain a hunger for God and time with Him. I wanted God’s presence to grow in these children and children everywhere.

The following day proved equally rewarding. During my Scripture reading, the door opened, and an angelic face, surrounded by frizzy curls, tipped in ever so quietly. She smiled and stared at my face, my Bible, and then back to my face. Not a single sound, just a sweet smile hanging on every one of God’s breathed words.

God graciously blanketed my spirit with His calmness as my heart leaped for joy—gladness that this curious created worshipper just wanted to hear God’s Word. It must have been music to her ears, honey to her lips, and a warm caress—even as it is for me every time I hear it.

Like newborn babies who crave pure milk, we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for righteousness. I prayed again and thanked the Lord for an extraordinary God moment.

What are some ways you can enjoy God’s presence?

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Finish the Work

Sometimes God calls us on the spur of the moment to finish the work.

While driving to work one day, I saw a weathered woman dragging an oversized suitcase down the sidewalk. I sensed the Spirit tapping me on the shoulder, so I pulled over, rolled down the passenger window, and called, “Do you want a ride?”

Relieved, she and her luggage climbed aboard. On the way to the bus station, where she was headed, she told a sad story of moving to town for a new job and being run over on her bicycle by a semi-truck, breaking her leg in the process. The trucker pressed charges against her, and she was jailed since she had no insurance or money to pay for the accident. At the end of her jail term, her mom sent her money for a bus ticket home. By then, the job was long gone.

Our drive together was brief, but God operates beyond time. He helped me show her His lovingkindness and grace. She was astounded to learn about God’s love and sacrifice. Weeping, she gave her life to Jesus.

The woman who left my car looked nothing like the one who’d entered. Her face glowed with her newfound faith. We hugged goodbye. On the way to work, I rejoiced over how God intercepts us as His ministers of reconciliation. The woman had many needs. I could have taken her to breakfast, given her money, or paid for a taxi.

God simply wanted me to give her a ride—and Jesus. Her whole world shifted in fifteen minutes. And by completing the job God called me to do, I glorified God as Jesus did by finishing what God sent Him to do.

How can you tune in to the Spirit so that you can recognize God’s call to action, complete the work He has called you to do, and bring glory to Him?

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The Light of the World

This particular day turned out to be one of the dreariest I had ever seen.

The sky—a solid mass of dark gray—was quickly upstaged by fierce winds and a threat of severe thunderstorms. Lightening crackled. Thunder boomed all around. Definitely a stay-inside-the-house kind of day. So, imagine my surprise when my husband announced he had been flying.

Pilots call it “flying in the soup.” They depend on their instrument training and help from the control towers to get them through the soup until they rise above it. When they do, guess what? The sky is clear, and the sun is still shining. All is well.

No matter how bad things look or how dark and dismal our surroundings appear, the sun is still shining—somewhere. A mighty force to be reckoned with, the sun cannot be hidden. It will always break through and shine at one place or another.

It’s the same with the S-O-N, the light of the world. Even when the walls of our lives are caving in on us and it appears we have fallen into a black abyss of disappointment, failure, and despair, the S-O-N still shines brightly, even though we cannot see the light. We can try to make it on our own or, like the pilots, obey the instructions of One who knows how to get us above the soup.

Someone once said that when things look the darkest and most hopeless, when circumstances seem so bad they couldn’t possibly get any worse, it means Satan has fired his best shot and has nothing left in his arsenal. It also means your answer—your victory, your miracle—is right around the corner; you just can’t see it yet.

If you’re in a dark place today physically, financially, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually, there is hope and help. Jesus, the S-O-N, is shining brightly, and He’s ready to bathe you in the wondrous light of His glory, grace, and power.

Let the Light of the world shine on you today.

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Contagious Giving

Where giving is initiated, a spirit of generosity abounds.

We often emphasized giving at our missionary training center, Youth with a Mission, in Hawaii. We sought the Lord about anything we could give to others. We did minimal discretionary spending in our early days with the mission. Several Christmas seasons passed, and our children always had a Christmas present because of the generosity of our family and friends. But we never had enough money for a gift for my wife and me.

One year, near Christmas, we got a monetary gift designated for my wife and me. With my part of the money, I bought a leather briefcase I had looked at for a long time. But one time, when we emphasized giving, I felt the Lord wanted me to give it away. I argued with the Lord a bit. I made my case that It had been a couple of years since I had gotten a Christmas present. I deserved this briefcase. Finally, I felt peace about giving it away. I realized God was requesting that I give it away, not demanding it.

Ancient Israel was required to give the first fruits, not the last ones. I gave my briefcase to another missionary in training. The next day, we found a thousand-dollar check clipped to our door, which we needed to bring us current with our staff fees.

A month or two later, I was back on the US mainland at my brother's house. He had just purchased a new briefcase. The old one was still in his office. He asked me if I needed one and then gave it to me. It was more functional than the one I gave away.

When God's people give, it releases a spirit of generosity in the heavens. Needs are met, and people get blessed by the opportunity to give and receive. God is pleased as we model His giving nature. We can never outgive God.

What are some ways God wants you to give?

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Pondering the Past

Pondering the past can make us feel that our present life would be better if we could relive our lives and cancel our failures and sins.

I knew a minister who committed serious moral sins that disqualified him from continuing as pastor. He had to find a way to support his family, which he did by selling insurance. He desired, above all, to return to the relationship he had previously with the Lord and his church. He was a modern-day prodigal son and wanted to relive his life.

Despite the sin and shame, he found that his compassionate heavenly Father led him into other unexpectedly effective ministries that blessed many and built the kingdom of God. He served his Father victoriously for the remainder of his life, ministering to many churches.

We should consider several questions when we ponder whether it would be wise to relive our lives if we could. What if the things we regret were precisely what was needed to perfect us and develop a better future? Think of Job.

Or what if our clay was so flawed that the heavenly Father had to permit complete failures to start over the molding process for His intended design for us? And who can see the big picture of how human behavior fits together except Almighty God?

If we never failed or experienced tragedy, we would never experience the new things and relationships God’s grace gives us after our losses. Our present is the product of past choices and experiences.

Before the world’s creation, God knew that we would sin, sometimes in gross ways. Still, He chose repentance as a part of our preparation for heaven. Remember that God gives love because of grace, not an unblemished record.

How can pondering the past move you forward into God’s future?

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Get Ready

As I shared coffee with a friend, I listened to her litany of complaints. I tried to advise her to avoid conflicts, but she went on her way. It is difficult to change people who seem to trip up trouble in their relationships and workplace.

All I could say to her was for her to pray to receive God’s benefits. After my friend went home, I found the above verse. It made sense. We must all prepare for God’s benefits, which can appear anytime and in any shape or form.

I lit a candle and appreciated the peace as the sun set over my garden. As Christians, we can find positive inner peace through prayer. This is a deeper form of communication with our Lord. Listening to others’ conflicts can be a glitch in our feel-goods, but this is a part of supportive friendships.

As Christians, we can make time to unstress, practice peace, pray for the well-being of our family and friends, and avoid conflict. We all must pace ourselves and slow down to appreciate God’s benefits. The blessings of our Lord Jesus will make us joyous.

Sometimes, God calls us to be warriors for our faith and to stand up for our beliefs as Jesus did. Even then, we can advance our prayers and hope for a better understanding of everyone around us.

How can you do a better job of getting ready for God’s benefits?

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Self-Discovery

Almost 150 suffixes attach to the prefix self and describe the selfish character of the self-life.

Some are self-love, self-will, self-assertion, self-serving, self-absorbed, self-possessed, self-conceit, self-advancement, self-righteousness, and self-satisfied. All describe selfishness and self-centeredness and how those characterized by these words live for self-gratification. But other descriptions also exist, such as self-discipline, self-restraint, and self-denial. We know these after self-examining, being self-abased, and seeing our true self-image.   

According to John Hackett, the Presbyterians coined the word selfish in the 1640s. Selfishness is self-indulgence—when we are excessively concerned about our welfare without regard for others. Charles Finney says selfishness manifests when the will obeys the impulses of the sensibilities and prefers them to the claims of God and the good of the being as a whole.

We never discover self until we turn against it, leave it out of the picture, and serve God. When we choose to die to self, self projects itself and does all it can to get in our way, hindering our work for God. If we are not struggling against self to gain self-mastery, we have not discovered self, the danger of the self-life, or working against it by living in self-denial.

To be a disciple of Jesus Christ like Paul, we must discover self, turn against it, take up our cross, and follow Jesus. As we continue to obey Christ and deny self, we will conquer the self-life, and the characteristics of the self-life will disappear. In its place, the life of Christ, which is one of self-sacrifice, will triumph and manifest itself.

Self is our greatest enemy. Have you discovered this to be true? What steps can you take to put yourself aside to follow Christ and be like Him?

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Earth at Half-Mast

Like a flag, the earth hangs at half-mast.

According to Veterans Affairs (VA.gov), the United States flag flies at half-mast or half-staff when the nation mourns a particular tragedy.

When I was much younger, flags flying at half-mast were rare. Today, the large flag in the schoolyard near my home often droops its colors halfway up its silvery pole. Daily news feeds pummel our ears with unimaginable sights and sounds of violence and death.

“When will it all end?” we ask each other. “What’s happened to our country? Our world?”

From Genesis to Revelation, Jesus predicts the earth’s and humanity’s future. Don’t check your horoscope or a fortune teller. In fact, the Lord strictly forbids such consultations. God tells the future in the pages of the Bible.

Jesus describes war among the world’s peoples, nations, and kingdoms, as well as upheaval and the earth’s instability. Further, He warns His people that they will be persecuted, imprisoned, and killed because of their faith. He also states that many people will faint from fear because of what they see, hear, and experience.

So far, Jesus’ words may sound like another frightening news feed. But there is a final act to this real-world drama—a turnaround point, a reversal where darkness is penetrated by the light of the world, Jesus Christ.

Believers must straighten up and lift their heads as the earth and people continue to decline. Why? Because Christ is returning to set everything right. Stay alert. Stand strong. Look for Him to appear in the clouds with great power and glory.

Jesus knows us and waits for us to call out to Him, pray, read the Bible, and ask for the Holy Spirit’s help. He will not turn us away.

How do you react to the bad news you hear daily?

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Worshiping Before the Manger

When I was little, my parents and I went to a church where, at Christmas, the pastor had the children come and worship the Lord around a manger with a baby doll to represent Jesus.

The pastor led the congregation in worship, and I got into it too. Sometimes, when I think of those times, I get tears. Those are some of my fondest memories of Christmas when I was a little boy.

After reading a devotion and writing this one, I thought about this and a song. One of the Scriptures was about Christmas on a day well after Christmas, so I decided to do the same.

Worship comes from an old English word, worthship. When we worship God, we give Him reverence or the highest respect possible. We show God the most worth in worship, more than anyone else. I looked this word up, and it has the following to say about worship:  

  • Reverence toward a divine being or supernatural power
  • Expression of reverence
  • Extravagant respect or devotion
  • Honor or revere
  • Perform or take part in worship

These are all excellent definitions of worship. Our lives and words need to be everyday worship. How we treat people needs to be an act of worship.

We should all look for ways to worship God in everything we say, think, and do.

What are some ways you worship God? 

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A Treasure to Share

On this special occasion, I thought, I’ll get out my locket and wear it for my birthday. After all, it was a treasure to share.

The locket was a small vintage piece—plain gold on a simple gold chain. This little treasure was a gift from my dear cousin several years ago and meant more to me with each passing year.

In the 1950s, my mother had given it to her favorite and only niece when my cousin was a young girl. When opened, it had a picture of mom on one side and my dad on the other. My cousin, in turn, passed it on to me. I didn’t know the locket existed, so I was sweetly surprised.

Now, the locket holds a special place in my heart as an heirloom that reflects family, history, love, sharing, and fond memories. I plan to pass it on to future generations to share, remember, and enjoy.

No matter what treasures we accumulate or hold dear, none can compare to our treasure in Jesus. He’s the greatest gift of all, the Glory of heaven.

We don’t have to hide this precious gem, store it away, or protect it. God wants us to share His gift. We can open our hearts and hands and give this most wonderful treasure to the world. Letting our family, friends, and neighbors experience and possess the love of God and hope of heaven is a gift to enjoy that they, too, can pass along to others.

Through faith in Jesus, we have eternal life. Our home will be in heaven with the Lord. We won’t need antiques, collectibles, valuables, trophies, or riches. We will worship and sing praises to Him forever.

While we may lose our earthly family treasures over time, the family treasure we receive from God is eternal and will last forever.

What is your greatest treasure, and how can you share it?

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Focus

From where I sat, things looked pretty daunting.

Massive skyscrapers that seemed to go on forever surrounded me and loomed over me like the problems and obstacles I faced. I felt small and insignificant and wondered how things would ever work out. Aside from glass, metal, and steel, I saw only a small patch of blue sky.

A beautiful spring day adorned downtown Atlanta. I was seated at an outdoor café across from the hotel where I attended a conference. The more I looked around, the bigger the buildings seemed. Despite the lovely day, I wrapped myself in the burdens I felt—until the Lord gently reminded me I focused on the wrong thing.

I felt as if God told me to focus on the sky. As I gazed on that small patch of blue, He reminded me the sky was much larger than those skyscrapers and, indeed, covered the entire earth. Just because I could only see a small portion didn’t change its size.

Getting caught up in our circumstances and the things around us is easy. After all, that’s the daily grind and life in general. But when we shift our focus to the Lord, He reminds us He is still in control and much bigger than anything we face.

Peter discovered this. He walked on water, just like the Lord, until he took his eyes off Jesus and noticed the storm around him. Only then did he begin to sink. Only in Christ can we face the storms and be held up.

Where is your focus? How can you learn to shift your focus to Christ during challenging times? 

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What are You Doing Here?

How quickly we can plunge from mountaintop highs to the depths of despair. We return from a retreat, revival, or mission trip overflowing with enthusiasm. Then we’re slapped in the face with the day-to-day reality of people who fail to understand or try to undermine our service to God. We might even ask ourselves, “What are you doing here?”

Elijah was no different. That brave man of God single-handedly faced down 450 prophets of Baal but soon cowered in a cave, ready to die.

When Elijah ran from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, he focused on his feelings rather than God’s facts. He feared what people could do to him rather than remembering the power of the one true God. When he listened to God’s gentle whisper, he once again recognized what God had done, what God was doing, and what God could do through him. His experience serves as a reminder for modern-day believers as well.

Elijah earlier confronted Ahab and Jezebel and their prophets with God’s boldness. He not only prayed for fire from heaven to consume his sacrifice but made such an event seemingly impossible by soaking the entire offering, wood, and ground around it with water. God can also miraculously transform our lives when we offer all we have, saturated with our limitations and the world’s skepticism. God makes the impossible possible.

While Elijah wallowed in depression, God fed him physically, spiritually, and emotionally. How often do we fail to care for ourselves adequately? We lack the physical nourishment, spiritual sustenance, and emotional feedback to face our daily battles. But God stands ready to walk us through our valleys—to take us from discouragement and defeat to reassurance that we are never alone. The battle is already won. God offers daily strength for whatever lies ahead.

Twice, God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” God was prepared to give new direction to Elijah and those who would follow in his footsteps, but Elijah had to listen. When he did, God told him he was not alone, to get out of that cave, and to get back to work. When we feel out of sorts, God allows for adequate recovery. Yet we, too, must eventually get up and move again.

How can you forget your human frailties and focus on God’s facts?

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Banking on Thankfulness

I’m banking on thankfulness—even though thankfulness was the furthest thing from my mind as I sat in an Urgent Care, bleeding profusely. Especially when the nurse asked me not to get blood on the floor.

Anger shot through me as blood dripped from almost every orifice on my face. A vessel in my nose had ruptured, and it bled like a water hose. Worse yet, no one at the Urgent Care seemed concerned about the severity of my issue. Instead, they dawdled while a puddle of blood formed at my feet. So, when the receptionist asked if I could move to the waiting room—with blood gushing—thankfulness was nowhere in my vocabulary. It was more a, “Oh, for Pete’s sake.”

The apostle Paul begins his book to the Colossians with a word of thanks. He wanted them to know how much their faithfulness and love meant to him and that he always thanked God for them. Even when Paul suffered hardship, he remained thankful. To his credit, it sometimes seemed as though his joyfulness was superhuman.

I’d failed to remember to be thankful—even in the face of difficulty.

We often lose sight of being grateful. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment when things are not rolling the way we’d hoped. Even when we may be justified in our frustration, it doesn’t change the fact that we need to be thankful in every situation.

Difficulty doesn’t diminish thankfulness. I’m the first to admit that when hardship attacks, it’s difficult. But even in the face of imminent death, Christ was thankful. I might not have received the care I needed in an appropriate time frame, but there was a room full of others in need. Healthcare workers were doing the best they could. Where was my gratitude for their efforts? It’s easy to justify my frustration, but really, is it justifiable?

The holidays always bring an added gift of kindness. Take hold of it as if it were the hand of God reaching down, and remember to be truly thankful even in the face of hardship. Grateful. Joyful. After all, Christ was.

In all things, give thanks. 

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I Want to Show You Something

“I want to show you something,” I told my wife.   

One of the perks of having a computer is the pictures. Every morning when I press my screen button, a delightful scene awaits my viewing pleasure: A line of mischievous sea otters afloat on their backs. A night shot of downtown New Orleans at Mardi Gras. The great wall of China. An Italian village lit up at night, or a solitary bird. Sometimes I am compelled to call my wife to come and see. One day I saw a closeup of a mother polar bear snoozing on the snow with her tiny cub nestled beside her. I called my wife for her to see.

As Peter, James, and John followed Jesus up the mountain, they probably wondered what the trip was about. Jesus didn’t tell them. Even if He had, they wouldn’t have understood. But the underlying expectation was that He wanted to show them something. And He did. He wanted to show them a side of Himself they hadn’t seen before, an essential side they could not possibly have known apart from divine revelation.

Luke says they saw Jesus’ glory in His physical appearance. They had already seen it many times through His miracles, which always involved changes outside Himself. Now, for the first time, they saw His glory as a change within His physical being. But not just for show.

The disciples needed this glorious vision to bring perspective to a largely negative picture. A week earlier, Jesus had warned them of His approaching death, a violent death that would disfigure His appearance horribly. But the cross was not the end.

The Holy Spirit often beckons us and says, “I want to show you something?” Show us what? Not another curious piece of Bible trivia but rather a more intimate knowledge of God’s incredible love for us. An awareness that jolts us out of our spiritual rut and moves us to act out His love to others.

When the Spirit says He wants to show us something, we often must go out of our way. How can you be more willing to alter your plans to obey God?

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Sweet Words

When I explore a county fair, street festival, or farmers’ market, I always end up in front of the funnel cake food truck. “Yes, sprinkle mine with cinnamon and powdered sugar, please.” I love sweets.

Recently, another woman and I began exploring a discipleship program called Sonship. This is my third time through the lectures and workbook assignments in the last seven years, and I’m excited to be taught by the Lord again—this time with a new friend.

For the first lesson, we sat across from each other at my kitchen table with our Bibles open and our workbooks alongside. As we dove into the material, my friend had a question. She picked up her Bible, held it out to me, and pointed to a passage. I was astounded at the page.

Underlined sentences and circled verses. Arrows swirling up, and arrows swirling down. Handwritten scribbles covering the margins. Yellow, pink, and blue highlighting. Obviously, she had studied the words many times, and she was asking me a question. I quickly felt inadequate but prayed for the Lord’s help.

As a woman twice her age, I felt convicted … then comforted … for the Lord is quick to forgive when we confess our sins. And what were my sins? Not savoring the beauty of God’s Word and not being thankful that I’m free to read His Word without persecution.  

God’s Word is sweeter than any food I put into my mouth, even the exhilarating sweetness of honey. From Genesis to Revelation, we can read God’s plans and purposes for us, His unique creation. We are not the product of random chance in a disinterested, disorderly, and chaotic universe—as secular evolution teaches. We are God’s beloved people.

I’ll paraphrase John MacArthur’s introduction to his Study Bible (NASB, 2020). The Bible is the Christian’s story written by God to you. In reading it, you’ll learn why He made you, what you were before you came to Christ, and who you are in Christ—and adding to the sweetness, what God promises for you in eternity.

Pick up God’s Word and ask the Holy Spirit to help you find the sweet words therein.

What are some ways you can sweeten your Bible study? 

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Remember Where You're Going

I wish I hadn’t ever started this way, Mitzi thought as she watched the steam snaking from under her car’s hood.

Mitzi had two crying and hungry kids in the backseat and fifteen more miles to go on a lonely two-lane road. There was no safe place to pull off and nowhere to stop for help. The traffic and the earlier flat tire were frustrating enough, and now this.

As the temperature gauge climbed ever so slightly, Mitzi watched the odometer through tear-filled eyes as the miles clicked slowly by. Just a little farther. Finally, there it was: the Virginia Dare Bridge.

Mitzi crested the top of the bridge and fixed her eyes on one of the most beautiful and peaceful places God had ever made: the Atlantic Ocean on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Less than a mile to the rest area, she could feed the kids and let the car cool down. With a sigh of relief, she breathed a little prayer and thanked God as she rolled to a stop in the rest area parking lot.

Sounds like our journey with the Lord, doesn’t it? Sometimes the rough places make it seem as if it’s not worth it. We don’t plan on all the flat tires and problems when we accept the Lord as our Savior. Yet He proves time and again that His grace is sufficient.

The best part is one day we will cross that last hump and, on the other side, enter the place of rest God has prepared for those who love Him.

How can you remember where you’re going when the journey gets rough?

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Light in the Darkness

We often feel lost or confused as we struggle with how we can be light in the darkness. 

Throughout generations, most have probably concluded that a time in their lives seemed worse than all others. We have witnessed evil and wickedness, days filled with bad news, constant negativity, sickness, and hopelessness, to name a few. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and with so much misinformation, finding or determining the truth is difficult. Our emotional state has become immune, and our physical condition a feeling of numbness. We are no longer shocked or appalled by events. 

I thought about stories in the Bible where evil and wickedness were rampant. God chose Noah to build an ark because God decided to send a great flood to destroy a sinful world. God also sent fire and brimstone to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for their evil.

We, too, live in a sin-filled world, but God has sent His Son, the Light of the world, to save us. We don’t have to be despondent but encouraged to connect to Jesus, our greatest power source. Through this power source, our lights can shine brightly in this dark world. Our light should reflect Christ and illuminate the way from the darkness into His marvelous light.

Our light shines brightly when we remember and obey God’s commands and love others as God loves us. We are radiant when we share our testimonies of God’s goodness and how we respond to difficult trials and life events. We stand out because we are God’s hands and feet, carrying out His ministry and making ourselves available to serve the needy.

How can you use your light to lead others out of the darkness?

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Stay in Your Lane

I learned to swim eight years ago.

I thought I was progressing, but one day I wandered into the lane line while performing the backstroke. I whacked my arm pretty well on the hard plastic buoys separating the lanes. That whack made me pay more attention to my stroke and the ceiling above. I focused on a pipe above my lane and determined to follow it to the other side of the pool.       

I’ve been wandering outside of my lane of life too. So many of my friends have grandchildren, and I don’t. I ache to hold a grandbaby and show off pictures. I look at another friend’s lane, and their social media likes are higher than mine. I glance in the other direction, and they wear a water-resistant watch that counts their laps. It doesn’t take much to wander into someone else’s lane, envy theirs, and try to keep up with the proverbial Joneses.

But wandering into another’s lane only brings resentment, discontentment, and maybe a whack on the arm. After Jesus’ resurrection, He restored Peter to fellowship and also told Peter how he would die. When Peter saw John coming, he asked Jesus about John’s future. Jesus refocused him by saying, “You must follow Me.”

Like Peter, we can quickly lose focus. If we prioritize our time with Jesus, we’ll see He loves us. He has plans for us—better than we could imagine. He has a unique pace and race assigned just for us. Let’s stay in our lane and keep a laser focus on Him. Then we can live God’s best life.

Where might you be wandering out of your lane? Don’t wait for a whack on the arm. Ask Jesus to guide you back to Him.

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Reach for Unity

A young girl named Mary had a small challenge with her parents.They always told her what to do and never let her make her own decisions.

Mary felt frustrated and didn’t know what to do. One day, she remembered something her Sunday school teacher had told her about how everyone is important and has a purpose. She realized her parents only wanted to guide her and help her make good choices. But she also had her own voice and ideas that were valuable.

Using this idea, Mary sat and talked with her parents about how she felt and what she wanted. She explained that she understood their guidance but also wanted to have a say in her own life.

Surprisingly, her parents listened and were open to her ideas. They came to a compromise and found a way for Mary to have more independence while still receiving their guidance.

Valuing everyone’s ideas and finding compromise is like what John records about Jesus being the light of the world. He also came to bring unity and understanding to all people.

Everyone can believe in Jesus and receive His light, but not everyone chooses to. However, we should value everyone’s ideas and work toward unity and compromise.

How can you be a light to others and bring unity?

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Parental Suffering

I cried because she cried.  

We gave our three-year-old daughter a rule: “Don’t open the kitchen garbage can lid and stick your hand into the rubbish.”

Although she had listened, I entered the kitchen unexpectedly one morning and saw her little arm inside the container. I strode toward her and swiftly administered justice. She cried . . . then wailed . . . then sobbed. Her pitiful lament panged my heart. After a few moments, her tear-streaked face turned upward, and she held up her arms. Her down-turned mouth brought tears to my eyes, and I swung her up and pressed my cheek against hers, holding her tightly until we both stopped crying.

Isaiah writes of God’s affliction. Some synonyms for affliction are agony, distress, anguish, torment, and misery. But who or what could agonize the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of the universe? In all their affliction, He was afflicted. The first part of the verse holds the answer. When God’s people are distressed, God is distressed.

Throughout the Old Testament, Israel turned away from God and worshipped the false gods of the nations around them, thus breaking the first commandment not to have any other gods before the one true God. Disobeying this one command led to their breaking the other nine. God’s people participated in all kinds of evil practices, including sacrificing their children to false gods and participating in temple prostitution.

Around 650 B.C., Isaiah warned Israel to repent of their idolatry and turn back to the Lord, or God would discipline them. God’s discipline included sending the Babylonian army to destroy the temple, ransack Jerusalem, and exile many Israelites to Babylon. The Lord waited four hundred years before He sent the Babylonians, but at the appointed time, judgment fell. But when their captors tormented God’s people, God was tormented too.

God’s ultimate act of love entailed sending Jesus Christ, the sinless God-man, to walk among us and experience our afflictions first-hand. But unlike us, Jesus was not afflicted for His sins, but ours.

If you don’t know the heavenly Parent who suffered for your sins, trust Him now. Doing so allows you to pass from God’s judgment and enter eternal life with Him.

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The Sun Always Rises

I love to watch the sunrise, preferably at the beach, but I’m happy to watch it anywhere.

Sunrise is my favorite time of day. One morning, as I stood on the beach anticipating the sunrise, I thought about how I could always count on the sun to rise.

No matter what the world is facing or how many clouds are in the sky, the sun will rise each morning in the East and set every evening in the West. In a world full of uncertainty, when sometimes the clouds obstruct my view, the sun still rises and sets. There aren’t many things in life that are dependable. People fail us, jobs end, markets crash, and dishwashers break, but the sun will rise each morning.

The sun is dependable like our heavenly Father. Sometimes, doubts cloud our focus on Him, but He’s always there. He holds me when I’m at my breaking point and guides me throughout the day. He’s there when I rise and lay my head down at night. Even though the seasons change, He never does. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. No matter what the world throws our way, God is there. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfect.

The next time circumstances are uncertain and cloud over you, focus on God’s presence. He will walk with you through the difficult, the easy, and the holy.

How can you be more aware of God’s presence with you?

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Unfinished Work

I acknowledge and celebrate milestones for momentous events that have taken place during my lifetime, especially my birthdays.

Reflecting on those milestones, I remember turning twenty and having a sense of freedom while enjoying life with little care or concern. A decade later, my thirties proved to be years of maturation where more responsibility replaced my freedom. Turning forty wasn’t easy because, in my mind, I was now old. At fifty, I felt liberated with increased confidence in myself. Then, sixty arrived quickly and caught me off guard. I was pensive momentarily, then faced the reality of how fast the years had passed.

Although thankful to God for allowing me to see those years, I still felt disappointed. I questioned my accomplishments and whether my endeavors had been successful. I wondered if I had wasted time and energy on things that didn’t matter. Had I done my part in leading others to Christ and serving in a ministry? At sixty, would I become idle or allow my age to hinder me?

I thought about stories in the Bible where God called people over sixty to accomplish His miraculous work. Abraham was seventy-five when God called him to leave his home. He became a great leader with unwavering faith. Moses was eighty when God told him to return to Egypt and lead the children of Israel to the Promised Land. God called others such as Noah, Joseph, Nehemiah, Esther, and David. Age was never a factor.

No matter our age, when we have faith in and trust God, our milestones can become steppingstones to deepen our relationship with God. We learn to rely on His power to do His work, whatever He calls us to do. God will equip us, and we can know He will finish any work He begins in us.

How can you ensure you will do the work God calls you to without giving excuses?

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Asking in God's Name

While walking to my local library, I celebrated.

The morning was lovely and sunny. The fresh air and sunshine were free. My walking stick and I are a fun team as I walk in faith. I look for golden sunbeams, praying in Jesus’ name. At the library, I gazed at the nearby lake, appreciating such free pleasures.

When I arrived home, I observed my divinity hour. I picked up a good book, the Bible, and read this verse: You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

Reflecting, I decided to follow the Lord Jesus, smile, and thank people who crossed my path. A smile is a smile in any language, a simple act of kindness. We can share a golden day with Jesus. Believers can all pray to do tasks in His name. As each day begins, we can greet the morning with a grin. Asking to be kind in His name brings glory to God.

Reading the holy Scriptures, praying, and positively supporting our friends and family enhance spiritual growth. We can all choose to deepen our faith in our friend and Lord, Jesus. This means we can ask in His name to devote ourselves to each day, praying for God to be our fortress.  

We can ask in Jesus’ name to do our best for Him, and our best will get better. I decided also to pray that more people would learn to read and reflect on the Good Book, believing it would happen.

What are some things you could ask for in Jesus’ name?  

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Watch the Intent

Occasionally, I must monitor the intent of my actions.

Sometimes, I suffer from PPPS syndrome (People-Pleasing-Praise-Seeking), which comes and goes depending on social situations and my need for others to see me as worthy.

The following hyperbolic prayer offered in a group meeting illustrates PPPS: “Lord, please bless that homeless man whom I spoke to yesterday as I was trudging through the snow to the children’s hospital to read for Story Time. Help that man to buy food with the money I gave him instead of drugs. And after I finish my fast tonight, help me to find him again so I can buy him lunch and tell him about Jesus. Amen.”

Note the number of Is in the prayer—a classic example of PPPS.

Jesus warned His disciples about doing good deeds to receive praise from people. He was not saying not to do good things but to do them secretly so that only our heavenly Father sees. Further, Jesus promises that the Father will reward us for practicing secret acts of kindness.

What are the rewards, and when will we receive them? Can the Father’s rewards outweigh the immediate gratification we receive when people admire us because of what we’ve done? Throughout the Bible, we are told that the Lord rewards the righteous. But my praise-seeking heart sometimes wants to cash in now, causing my PPPS to flare up.

But there’s hope.

Let’s revise the PPPS prayer: “Lord, please bless (fictitious name to protect the man without a home) and help him to know Jesus. May he receive the help he needs to heal physically, mentally, and spiritually. Amen.”

That prayer might also encourage others to get involved in the man’s life.

Throughout history, others have praised philanthropists for their generosity, but doing good deeds for the Father’s eyes only and waiting on Him for our rewards takes trust—trust that Jesus is telling us the truth.

PPPS syndrome is not an official diagnosis. But although it may be fictitious, my people-pleasing tendency is real.

What steps can you take to help with PPPS syndrome? 

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The Ultimate Choice

Hollywood and pop culture glamorize hell. Pop song hits such as “Good as Hell” by Lizzo and “Hella Good” by No Doubt are songs about celebrating and inviting others to join. Saturday Night Live has shown skits where they portray the devil as entertaining. Television and movie critics use the term “Funny as h___” when describing comedies.

But the Bible never describes hell as a place of joy or fun, but rather one that is soul-shaking. Hell is so horrific that demons fear its punishment. Hell is not a celebration of life but an everlasting torture created for Satan and those who choose to follow him.

Satan creates temptations to snare us, so we’ll join him in hell. He tries to steal how we spend eternity since he no longer has that choice. One of Satan’s temptations entails attempting to delude us by making us think that what we have done, God won’t forgive. Falling into any of Satan’s temptations never results in grace. Sin’s ramification is disgrace and eventually hell.

Deciding to sin is our choice. Thankfully, God also gives us the option of salvation from hell by repenting of our sins. If we ask, God provides the strength to turn away from Satan’s temptations. We don’t have to share the same sentence as Satan and his demons. God never forces Himself on us, but He desires that we accept His gifts of grace, forgiveness through Christ, and everlasting life.

God will never listen to Satan’s plea for mercy, but He will listen to us if we ask. And isn’t eternity in heaven with God more rewarding than torture in hell?

What keeps you from saying “yes” to Jesus? 

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A Grieving Heart

We all face trials, disappointments, and the unexpected—and yes, a grieving heart.

The loss of my spouse was heartbreaking, to say the least, and a life-changing event that caused insurmountable grief. I found myself on a long, foggy road, feeling dazed, confused, and exhausted—trying to understand and make sense of my loss. I awoke each day hoping that the experience was a bad dream, but reality would soon set in. I was challenged to make it through another day.

With time, memories were no longer painful or tearful events. Instead, I smiled and even laughed about precious moments I shared with my spouse. There were times on this journey when I felt abandoned and alone, but I never was. Even in the darkest moments, Jesus carried me when needed. He provided comfort, strength, and light throughout my trial.

I may never fully understand or find the answers to all my questions. However, the depth of my grief and pain led me to a trusting relationship with Jesus. At first, it was difficult to fathom that God had a purpose for my pain. Later, I saw it encompassed spiritual growth and allowed me to reach a place of surrender to God’s will.

As I prayed to see God’s perspective, I recognized that although my trial was difficult, God would use me and the experience to help others facing the same misfortune. The loss of my loved one will remain my testimony to share with others to show God’s faithfulness, compassion, comfort, and love.

Don’t rely on your own strength and understanding when faced with uncertainty or the unexpected. Listen to advice from others, but most importantly, seek God and trust Him to walk with you every step of the way. He will provide all that you will need.

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The Greatest Communicator

The greatest communicator ever must be God.

Ideal communication happens when we establish common ground. Well, talk about creating common ground … Jesus gave up heaven and became a squirming infant, depending on others to feed, hold, and care for Him.

You may have heard the analogy that Jesus’ coming to earth was like us becoming an ant and living among ants for thirty years. As a human, He was tempted and felt pain like us. He even took our sins upon Himself when He died on the cross.

At Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter, God conveys His most important message: “I love you, I love you, I love you.” His sacrifice bought us salvation, but it also bought us two-way communication with God.

We can hear from God. Not audibly, but He does speak to us through the Bible. That’s why it’s worth our while to give the Bible priority. It introduces us to God and grows our faith.

In any solid relationship, whether with a friend or spouse, two-way communication is vital. We speak to Jesus through prayer. We don’t have to be eloquent or use “right” words. We can talk to Him with ordinary words. We should be honest with Him about our feelings and nagging doubts. We can also ask Him for what we need.

Our awe for God may hold us back, but Jesus wants us to dine with Him and have a back-and-forth conversation. In fact, He longs for that. What an unsurpassed opportunity.

How can you be more consistent in talking with and listening to God? 

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Under the Covers

While reading my library book about the meaning of time, I paused. Time stands still some days as I rest under the covers of my blanket. Then I look at my clock. Time passes and stands still for no one.

Some elements in my daily life are timeless—for example, God’s love. It is timeless, eternal, and always kind. After some time with my library book, I turned to the Bible and read this verse: And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love, lives in God, and God in Him.

And God’s Word is not wrong. God’s love appears from undercover—gentle, permeating, strong, and mysterious. His love can come in signs, but we must accept them. Some signs include love from our families, friends, and pets. God’s love has given me treasured memories through a stranger’s kind words or smile or by someone sharing the time of day.

Such love can appear at any time, like God’s love. In our prayers, we can seek God’s guidance for good decisions to do the right thing. As a Christian, praying to live in God’s love teaches us never to stress. We can carry God’s love with us and stay upbeat. Now, back to my book as I listen to the rain and rest in God’s timeless love.

How can you do a better job of uncovering God’s love daily?  

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A Divine Revelation

“I don’t want the world to define God for me. I want the Holy Spirit to reveal God to me.”  ~A.W. Tozer

I scrolled through my Instagram feed and came across the quote. I was immediately convicted because I had been guilty of doing this more times than I cared to admit. I get busy . . . lazy.

We often go to other people rather than to the Lord. We put others’ views over God’s—perhaps because we can’t see God in the flesh or because we only want to hear what we want and not what we need to hear. Or we choose to read devotions or listen to Christian music instead of reading God’s Word. We often base our faith on earthly signs. Only later, after hitting rock bottom, do we realize we have no faith at all.

While none of the above are inherently wrong, they shouldn’t be our only sources of communication with God but rather supplements. Jesus is the Word, and His Word is living and active. Therefore, daily time in His Word and prayer should be the fundamental ways we communicate with God. 

Our relationship with Christ is a personal journey. Whether in joy or sorrow, God walks with us and we with Him. Through His Word and by His grace, we repent of our sins and grasp the depth of His character, unconditional love, and knowledge of us. Here, we strengthen our faith and find true rest.

How can you spend more time in God’s divine revelation? 

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A Familiar Face

I entered the packed room at a busy event.

Music played in the background. I saw bright decorations at every turn and heard kids playing around the table. Amid the busyness, I didn’t know where to start. I froze in place, scanned the room, and processed everything. The noise overstimulated me, making me anxious.

Then I heard a familiar voice that drew me in and calmed my nerves. I approached the voice, feeling more at peace in the chaos. I knew the voice because I had known the person for so long. We spent endless hours talking to each other in a relationship that had spanned years. And at this moment, I was thankful to see a familiar face in the crowd.

The world can become a crowded room or busy event—overstimulating and distracting us. The chaos can make us feel as if we are spinning in circles and about to crash. But Christ hangs with us through it all, and His voice should stand out in the crowd. After endless hours with Him, He should be the familiar face that draws us to seek His wisdom and guidance.

For this to happen, we must spend time with Him. We cannot hear or follow His voice if we don’t build a relationship with Him beforehand. Even when the rooms are crowded, we must recognize and obey His voice.

What are some ways you can spend time with your heavenly Father?  

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The Best Treasure

The best treasure may not be where we think.

Many people hide their valuable possessions in bank vaults and fireproof chests. Some even put them, especially money, in or under mattresses. My parents never had vaults in banks but stored money in the house for “rainy days.”

I store money, canned food, and other commodities. This is good practice, but our storage systems are not foolproof. Thieves can steal them, or time and weather will decay them. Then we experience disappointment.

We should not set our hearts on storing possessions, but many are like the rich man in one of Jesus’ parables. He thought only of acquiring more and building bigger and safer spaces to hoard what he had. He did not share or consider his eternity.

Jesus says heavenly treasures are greater than earthly treasures. We gain them by loving God with our hearts, souls, and minds, and others as ourselves. We also gain them by obeying God’s commandment to serve Him and others.

Heavenly treasure becomes ours when we yearn for God and His righteousness. God will bless us when we seek His things.

What are some ways you can seek the things of God? Then, when you do, you will find your eternal treasure. 

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Love Is Kind

We wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for God’s kindness and love.

Kindness is kind of important. Our attitude as parents toward other people and situations shows whether we think kindness is essential. Our children will notice it.

Siblings often fight over something and then tend to repay evil with evil instead of showing kindness. Parents and grandparents must teach them to be kind to one another. Kindness starts in our homes, then moves to our hearts. Once there, we can show it to others.

Wise King Solomon said to bind mercy, truth, and kindness around our necks and write them on our hearts. Kindness should be inside us and then out on display. When we do this, our children will learn what it means to be kind. My mom always said, “Kindness costs nothing.”

Ask God to help you model kindness to your children and grandchildren so that they can learn how to be kind. 

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Taking a Spiritual Sounding

When we think of sounding, we think of the sounding line once used by mariners. They threw the weighted sounding line overboard and let it rest on the sea floor. The increments marked on the line let the sailors know how deep the waters were. With sounding, the mariners could see if they were in shallow, dangerous waters or deep, safe waters.

A person can also be sounded as Jonathan did his father Saul to discover his true intentions toward David. Saul’s angry response revealed his evil intentions. To sound his father, Jonathan had to ask the question that touched the subject bothering Saul—and that was David.

People usually get around to revealing their true intentions, but if someone knows how to sound them, they can ask probing questions to find the underlying cause of things and divert them if their intentions are evil.

Psychiatry has a method of doing analyses that sounds a person. The psychiatrist asks leading and personal questions, encouraging patients to think about themselves and what’s troubling them. Then they analyze the answers and recommend a solution.

We can even sound ourselves. By reading God’s Word and with the help of the Spirit, we can look at the core of our being and have our intentions and motives revealed. God will show us which ones do not glorify Him and why He is not blessing our efforts.

When was the last time you took a sounding?

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Let Love Win

I didn’t know how I could possibly let love win.

“Just say what you mean!” my co-worker snipped at me from across the table at our breakfast meeting. Her bluntness intensified the friction, already chaffing our mismatched personalities. We partnered on a project, but the command to “love your neighbor” seemed beyond my reach.

I stabbed another bite of chocolate chip pancakes rather than unleash my candor. My face flushed warmer than my tepid coffee. If my words matched my emotions, I knew I’d have to apologize later. So instead, I served up tactful prose laced with syrup and salvaged our work rapport. The meeting ended with stiff smiles. But underneath, my emotions simmered in a soup of self-justification and resentment.

Later that week, a jolt of conscience hit me. My co-worker’s face flashed through my mind during my devotion time when I read Paul’s declaration, “Love must be sincere.” My diplomacy had pacified our conflict, but had I loved her with sincerity?

Paul presents a high standard. First, his command requires sacrificial love—the same grace-wrapped love God gives us through Jesus’ sacrificial death. Second, he emphasizes it must be sincere, meaning without play-acting. My sugary politeness at breakfast felt like straight-up hypocrisy.

Just as my toe hurts when it cracks against the table leg, my emotions sting at a punch to my ego. Yet God commands me to surpass my feelings and steer my will to a loving response. With God’s grace, I must sacrifice my ego to let love win.

I remembered that my co-worker had described her stress of caring for elderly parents while under constant criticism from her family. I parked at this thought and recognized the wound that soured her demeanor. My attitude pivoted with a new context. Sincere compassion slid to the forefront and trumped my resentment.

When we interact with someone difficult to love, we can begin with a step toward humility—a readiness to set aside ego for sacrificial love. Next, we can pray for a perspective that helps reframe our emotions. Finally, we can serve up a big helping of grace. When we do these things, we’re on the way for sincere love to claim center stage.

What steps can you take to let love win? 

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God Doesn't Wear Earplugs

My father worked as a lifeguard for a local pool when he was in college.

He spent his days getting roasted by the hot July sun, making enough money to spend at the drive-in on the weekends. Part of his job was ensuring he was healthy enough to come to work daily. Since he was prone to ear infections, he wore earplugs to fight off swimmer’s ear.

What began as something with good intentions later harmed him when he lost hearing in one of his ears. He went to multiple audiologists and specialists, but they could find nothing wrong. He resigned to live his life with partial hearing until one day when he had a routine checkup. One-half of an old ear plug came out of his ear. What he thought would be a lifelong battle with hearing loss was remedied easily, even though it happened much later than he would have liked.

God is not deaf to our cries. Nor does He punish us by taking away His love when we struggle or think things should go differently. We may face situations that make us believe God has earplugs—He seems not to hear, answer, or care—but that is not reality. Perhaps we have our spiritual ears blocked instead.

Our prayers are a part of how we worship and bless the Lord. God formed us for a relationship with Him, and prayer is one of the best ways to strengthen that relationship.

How can you be reassured that God is not wearing earplugs but hears your prayers?  

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Dealing with Disappointment

I screamed in frustration. After five months of bliss, it all blew up in three hours one Sunday night. I found myself dealing with disappointment.

In 2022, the New York Mets, my favorite baseball team, enjoyed one of the most successful seasons in their history. After two decades of disappointment, that year was different. But on October 9, they were humiliatingly eliminated from the baseball playoffs. I had invested hundreds of hours watching their season, only to be bitterly disappointed.

Not everyone is a baseball fan, but everyone faces disappointment. We work hard yet get passed over for a promotion. We devote countless hours to a garden, and bugs ruin the crop. Perhaps we send an exquisite submission to an art contest but lose.

Accounts of Jesus performing significant miracles fill the gospels—from raising the dead to feeding thousands with almost no food. But Jesus is also concerned with the more mundane disappointments, such as not catching fish after an all-night effort. So, Jesus told the disciples to cast their nets on the right side of their boat. When they obeyed, they caught 153 fish.

Jesus does not always ease our disappointments, but He does have compassion and concern for us as we face them. We can come to God with our disappointments and requests, and He will sympathize with our weaknesses.

Have you stopped believing Jesus cares about your misfortunes? He hasn’t. He knows and cares, so take them to Him and receive His comfort. 

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Character Versus Cologne

To this day, I remember two of my high school classmates.

Edward came from a poor family but one that had a reputation for being honest, hardworking, and caring. Joey came from a rich family who owned a business in town, lived in luxury, and liked to flaunt their wealth. Joey was known mostly for wearing expensive cologne.

Both Edward and Joey died within a year of each other. People remembered Edward for his character but Joey for his cologne. Edward was a good friend. People enjoyed having him around. Joey, we always smelled.

Sometimes people get their priorities wrong and make making a living their priority rather than making a life. They think building wealth is more important than building character.

Having a good name means having good character and then behaving so that we have a reputation for being honest, hardworking, and caring—regardless of our social status. Precious ointment was usually something only the rich could afford.

The end comes to the one with a good name and the one with the expensive cologne. But the death of the one with the good name is better than his birth because he was born with nothing. While he lived, he earned a reputation for his goodness and kindness to others. He touched the lives of others and made a difference. The one who lived luxuriously and selfishly will be remembered only for his expensive and smelly cologne.

People today still find ways to flaunt their wealth to get everyone’s attention and let them know they’re something. Others quietly build good character and a reputation as they impact lives for Christ. Those people will be remembered long after they’re gone.

Are you known for your character or your cologne?

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The Uninvited Guest

I heard a knock at the door and peeped out the window. There stood a stranger … baggage in tow … an uninvited guest. My mind raced with questions and confusion. Should I ignore him? Tell him to go away? Or just let him in?

Trembling and unsure, I opened the door, then tried to find the right words. But I hesitated a few seconds too long. The uninvited guest stepped inside—with all his baggage—and proceeded to make himself at home.

My guest quickly set up residence. As he unpacked his bags one by one, I realized what had brought me to this moment. The first bag contained hurt feelings I had never confronted, followed by bags full of anger and resentment. The largest bag held years of unforgiveness.

That’s when I came face-to-face with a root of bitterness. The Bible warns us about this dangerous root, calling it poisonous. It not only steals our peace, joy, and sense of well-being but also negatively affects those around us. And it’s up to us to keep this deadly poison out of our hearts.

I remembered all the times I had refused to forgive. To walk in love. To show mercy and grace. To ...

I cried out to the Lord and asked forgiveness for holding on to the past and allowing this poisonous root into my heart. Then I wept as I forgave those who had betrayed and offended me. Before I said “amen,” my guest had packed his bags and left. My peace and joy returned. And for the first time in a long time, I could truly say, “It is well with my soul.”

Beware of this uninvited guest. Don’t let him in when he comes knocking on the door of your heart.

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Secure in God’s Lap

Lightning pierced the sky like a knife on fire. Thunder shook the house. Tears ran down my cheeks as I called out to Grandma. My little sister and I ran to Grandma’s lap. She rocked us back and forth as she softly sang and whispered Scripture verses in our ears.

“Whenever I am afraid, I will put my trust in You,” she quoted from Scripture. “Don’t be afraid, girls. God is just watering all the beautiful trees and flowers. So let’s sing praises to Him and thank Him.”

As she sang “Jesus Loves Me,” our fear melted away. No one calmed our fears like Grandma. But why were we so insecure?

In 1956, the authorities rescued us from an abusive home. We dealt with extreme anxiety, abandonment issues, and many other things we didn’t understand. We were only three and five at the time of our adoption, and the memories of our older sister and brother were fading. But years later, all four of us were reunited.

I have no doubt God hand-selected our new family, complete with this wonderful Grandma who introduced me to Him. This woman offered me unconditional love. When I looked deep into her eyes, I knew I belonged. Her face glowed with God’s love.

Through her love, I learned God is Sovereign and has a better plan for my life than anything I could imagine. He wanted me to find her. Grandma’s unconditional love and forgiveness taught me how to love God and forgive others.

I still catch myself beginning to panic when storms come into my life. My insecurities still haunt me. But then I remember what Grandma used to tell me, and I find a way to get alone with God to pray and read His Word.

The wisdom and insight I learned while sitting on Grandma’s lap carried me through my teen years and into adulthood. I now pass those on to my grandchildren, hoping they will help guide generations to come.

What memories are you leaving for your children and grandchildren that will help them be secure in God’s lap?

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Jesus and the Homeless

On a cold night during my weekly street witnessing, I encountered a woman wrapped in a blanket and wearing sandals.

I asked her the question I always ask people: “What do you think of Jesus?”

She responded with a foul insult toward Jesus I won’t repeat. When people get mad at me for talking about Jesus, I have difficulty knowing what to say, so I didn’t say much.

The woman appeared to be homeless. I wondered how she had gotten into this situation. I guess she reacted as she did because she felt God had abandoned her. 

I can relate because I once felt abandoned by God. My mom committed suicide, and my dad remarried. Seventeen years later, he divorced his new wife, abandoned me, and left town.

I don’t know what happened to the woman I met, but she seemed hopeless. Perhaps everything she had tried failed.  

When we ask Jesus into our hearts, He will never abandon us. That promise doesn’t mean I will never become homeless. But I believe if I did, Jesus would help me through it. What I need is to trust Him. I know when Jesus returns, I won’t have to worry about anything.

Remember, no matter what, Jesus will never abandon you.

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God's Remodeling Business

Our next-door neighbor decided to update and remodel his master bathroom.

He set out a strategy to do it himself and started the project in March. He demolished the wall of a coat closet to make room for a large walk-in shower with glass doors, replaced the bathroom countertop, updated the fixtures, retiled the floor, and put in a new bathtub and toilet.

But challenges plagued his project. Parts were unavailable or delayed in delivery, and the countertop was cut incorrectly for the sink size. The project was delayed because the tile for the floor was delivered late, and he had problems cutting it when it arrived. Even the toilet was delivered without all the correct parts for installation. Thankfully, fitting the new shower door was less complicated.

We all start the Christian life thinking things will get easier for us. We rejoice in our new-found forgiveness and our hope of eternal life. We understand God has a plan for us. However, we forget we are entering a project where God conforms us to His holiness. This involves getting rid of the old and putting on the new. This is often not a straight-line path but one full of twists and turns.

When things do not go the way we expect, disappointment overtakes us. We chafe at the delays in achieving the accomplishments we set for ourselves. When suffering comes, we wonder why God has allowed it. We are tempted to give up on the entire project, telling ourselves it is not worth it.

Six months later, our neighbors enjoyed a brand-new bathroom. We need to remember God is creating something new and beautiful in our lives. Our part is being willing to encounter delays and difficulties to allow Him to make us like His Son, Jesus Christ.

How can you better endure God’s remodeling business?

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God Calls Through the Universe

Recently, I overheard a frazzled woman complain that the universe must be trying to tell her something. I’d never heard that before. But does God call through the universe? Can stars, moons, planets, comets, asteroids, space dust, and other non-living phenomena communicate with humans?

Then I remembered my pet rock collection from the 1970s. Retailers sold these plain, ordinary brown rocks separately in colorful square boxes. The cartoon illustrations on the boxes depicted the rocks with eyes and smiles. They just needed a good home. And my pre-teen friends and I bought into this pitch.

Because they marketed the rocks as pets, we treated them with special care. I covered my rock at night with a tissue so it wouldn’t get cold. It was never hungry, but I occasionally sprinkled breadcrumbs around it just in case. We brought our rocks to school and took them back home again. I don’t remember scheduling play dates for our rocks, but I wouldn’t put it past us.

Doesn’t that sound unbelievable? Oh, those clever marketers and advertisers. They elevated hard stones composed of minerals, sand, and mud to pet status, and children fell for it. To personify the universe and believe it’s sending us messages is not much different from connecting with pet rocks.

Jesus Christ, the creator of the universe, urgently invites us to come to Him. He sees, hears, and knows our every thought . . . and cares. He loved us so much that He died on the cross to save us from our sins. He invites us to give Him our burdens and worries, for He is strong enough to carry them. Jesus describes Himself as gentle and humble.

Have you been trusting in something or someone else besides Jesus? Have you heard the call to follow the creator of the universe? Pick up the Bible, and get to know the God who calls you. Your relationship with Him will last a lifetime and into eternity.  

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Falsely Accused

Lucy had been falsely accused.

When my brother, sister-in-law, and their three young kids visited, my one-year-old dog, Lucy, had a new experience, since she had never encountered children. My nieces and nephew ran playfully across the living room floor, and Lucy chased them, hoping to join in the fun.

On one occasion, my five-year-old niece leaped and bounded across the room. Lucy was so excited that she jumped and collided with my niece, causing both to tumble to the floor. Startled, my niece cried and claimed Lucy had bitten her. Then, pointing to her imaginary war wound, she tearfully displayed her unharmed arm to everyone in the room while proclaiming that the “curly-haired dog” had attacked her.

Since I witnessed the event, I knew Lucy had done nothing wrong and felt terrible that Lucy had been accused unfairly and scolded by my niece. I knew the truth and, for Lucy, that mattered the most.

A host of witnesses falsely accused Jesus before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court. Yet as they shouted their accusations, Jesus didn’t defend Himself, retaliate, or lose His temper. Instead, He remained silent.

Being falsely accused or unfairly blamed is a distressing experience, often leading to feelings of hurt, defensiveness, or anger. However, we can remind ourselves in those times that God sees all. He knows everything done in secret and the truth of all matters, big or small.

If we ever find ourselves in a situation where others falsely accuse us, we can follow Jesus’ example. Instead of becoming angry or retaliating, ask God to help you remember that He sees all. And His opinion is the one that matters.

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Answering the Call

I’m sure you’ve heard the old cliché, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” As a doctor’s kid, I believe the call schedule kept the doctor away. My dad’s pager went off at the most inconvenient times, such as when he and I played foosball together or when my brother was in the middle of a baseball game. Often, the sound meant we didn’t get to eat a family meal.

My dad was disappointed when he couldn’t be with our family, but no matter when the pager went off, he left to care for whatever he was called to do. That annoying noise and the separation it caused provided our family with better vacations. We could afford to travel to faraway places and eat new foods together.

My father’s job as a doctor illustrates what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, with one difference. As disciples of Jesus, we can’t opt out. Nor can we engineer a rotating-cross-carrying schedule. So daily, we must deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Jesus.

Yes, the cross is an individual one. Carrying it isn't easy. Carrying our cross means we are a dead person walking. No more going after our sinful, selfish ambitions. Yet the suffering on this side of eternity will be worth eternal life in heaven. 

Knowing we will receive a better reward—eternal life in heaven—for picking up our cross and following Jesus is worth the cost. After all, Jesus gave his life for us.

Answering the call was what my father did.

Are you willing to answer the call, no matter the cost?

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Seeing Through God’s Eyes

The shattered mirror behind the perfect one reminded me of seeing through God’s eyes.

In a hurry, I backed out of the garage. But not before hearing a terrible crash. I had shattered the side-view mirror, which now resembled a broken spider web. My heart sank. The following day my husband and I had planned a romantic getaway in my new automobile. Replacing my broken mirror wasn’t on the itinerary.    

I whipped out my phone and googled “Amazon mirror fix.” I discovered a low-cost, quick solution with a new mirror I could slap over the damaged one. The cover-up worked, and the damage appeared undetectable.

Sometimes, I may feel broken for my past sins, failures, and foolish choices, but thankfully, I don’t have to earn God’s grace. Instead, he freely gives it at any time I ask. God looks at imperfect humans through grace-filled eyes. And it’s all because Jesus took our sins on the cross and gave us His righteousness.

On our return trip home, I confessed to my husband about my run-in with the garage door. Immediately, he extended grace. And when we realize God has forgiven us, we experience His grace freely as well.

If we ever think we’re not good enough and focus on our mistakes or faults, we can see ourselves as God sees us: forgiven and righteous. We don’t have to hide from God as Adam and Eve did. Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins.

Do you feel you need to be good enough for God’s grace? Or that a mistake has pushed God away from you? Run to God. He is always there waiting for you with arms filled with grace.

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Out of Power

Being out of power is never fun.

I was on the phone and working on my computer one evening when suddenly, the room went dark. I was in Africa, where frequent unexplained and unplanned power outages occur. Without electricity, I couldn’t do what I wanted.

Sometimes, we try to live the Christian life in our own power. We can witness in our own strength and even read the Bible out of a sense of obligation, rather than out of a sense of belonging to God. Unfortunately, people sometimes sap our energy, leaving us at our wit’s end about what to do. We scurry from place to place because we have been taught that we only live once (YOLO), but all we do for Him becomes drudgery.

Jesus reminded His disciples that apart from Him, they could do nothing because He was the vine, and they were the branches. Therefore, even good intentions would not make them more successful in ministry.

God does not need our abilities and giftedness, although He does use them to work through us. The one source of power the disciples would need entailed abiding in Him. Without that, they would be fruitless.

The same applies today. The secret of receiving God’s energy is being hooked up to the power source. Without that connection, our energy drains, we become frustrated and exhausted, and we wonder why we are ineffective in serving Him.

God wants to give us His rest, so we don’t continue operating in our strength. But we must lay aside our agendas, rest in Him, and let His Word nourish us. He wants us to meditate on His goodness and sovereignty.

Have you realized you can do nothing apart from Christ? Spend time with Him and His Word, then ask Him to guide you to His plans.

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God's Candy-Coated Treasures

She loved to turn the crank, then laughed as the candy-coated treasures rattled down the chute.

When our children were young, our daughter and I spent many hours buying groceries or running other errands while her brother was at school. One of her favorite shopping places had a collection of candy and trinket dispensers near the exit—perfectly placed for buying a treat on the way to the parking lot.

We didn’t stop at the machines every time, but she learned that being a good shopper increased her chances of getting a treat. She plucked the chocolate candy from my palm and ate them one by one while prying my fingers open with her other hand.

My daughter happily accepted the candy but wanted to be in control. Holding my hand open meant she knew how much candy was left and whether I was trying to pop any pieces into my own mouth. But it also meant she kept me from doing anything else while she ate.

Sometimes, we have trouble accepting a gift because we don’t think we deserve it. At other times, we aren’t sure we trust the giver. And sometimes, we’re so focused on claiming the gift that we miss other good things around us.

Jonah realized this while in the belly of a large fish because he ran from God’s directive. We can spend so much time choosing or worshipping the wrong thing that we miss the blessings that could be ours if we turned back to the right thing.

God showed mercy to Jonah and the people of Nineveh when they turned back to Him, and He waits for us to do the same. He will never take His love away, just as I would have never bought candy for my daughter and then kept it for myself.

What kinds of gifts might God have that you are missing because you’re looking in another direction? Focus on Him and see what happens.

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Walking with God

I like walking, especially walking with God.

My husband and I have hiked down the Grand Canyon and scrambled over boulders in Acadia National Park. I mostly stroll our neighborhood, though, encountering all kinds of weather as I do—snow, rain, extreme heat, and crisp fall temperatures.

Enoch liked to walk too, specifically with God. My eyes glance over the family history record in this chapter until I come to the paragraph about Enoch. Living to a ripe old age of 365, he walked with God three hundred of them. Then he was not there.  

God provides glimpses into Enoch’s life. The author of Hebrews reveals that Enoch pleased God because he walked by faith. Later, in the book of Jude, we discover God revealed prophecy to him.

Enoch walked closely with God as he performed everyday activities—going to the fields, buying, selling, tending livestock, visiting relatives, hosting guests, or seeking a quiet place. Eventually, walking with God flowed naturally for Enoch. When he died, God allowed him to skip physical death and step right into the arms of Jesus.

We walk with our Father the same way—at the checkout, at work, in the carpool line, at the doctor’s office, with the problematic neighbor, or in our decisions. We, too, will step into Jesus’s arms when we die. Most likely not the way Enoch entered, but Scripture assures us of stepping into God’s presence forever.

Yes, our walks with God will wobble and wander at times, weathering all kinds of life’s storms. I bet Enoch’s walk did too. But there’s comfort in knowing God walks beside us, whatever life throws our way.

We walk by faith, not sight. We may not have three hundred more years to do it, but let’s work at it for our remaining ones. When we do, God is pleased and joins us on our walk.

What are some ways you can improve your walk with God?

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FOMO That Counts

The only FOMO that counts is the one many overlook.

Years ago, a comedian complained that people in television commercials were always having more fun than him. Those were the days before social media. Now, numerous platforms allow users to network, advertise, research, review, discuss, observe, and compare. These avenues of expression have become invaluable tools, but limitless information has a downside.

In Anxiety, Loneliness, and Fear of Missing Out: The impact of Social Media on Young People’s Mental Health, Rhys Edmonds asserts that some social media users exhibit addictive behaviors as they excessively check their feeds and depend on their “likes” for personal validation. Unfortunately, a lack of likes may lead to loneliness, anxiety, sleep deprivation, and general dissatisfaction with life (https://zenodo.org/record/5651668#.Y3jN2HbMLrc).

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) as the “fear of not being included in something (such as an interesting or enjoyable activity) that others are experiencing.”  

Did a friend trek across Europe and post her photo diary? Did another explore the Himalayas on yak-back in search of snow leopards? But wait. Is that a leopard or a snow-speckled rock? And pics from the Great Wall of China always boost a profile. Posts from less significant locales can send FOMO sufferers into anxiety and depression.

King Solomon of Israel looked back on his life and summed it up. During his forty-year reign, he didn’t suffer from FOMO. In fact, he exhausted all avenues of pleasure: palaces, gardens, pools, vineyards, chariots, horses, servants, the most beautiful women in the world (300 wives and 700 concubines), gold, silver, jewels, the finest clothing, and more money than anyone in history. At the end of his life, however, he did not boast about his material wealth and accomplishments.

To paraphrase Solomon’s conclusion: When all is said and done, fear God and do what He says because everyone, no matter who they are, will stand before Him. Only God’s opinion of us matters, and He will judge all we’ve done.

That’s a frightening thought, especially when I have repeatedly broken God’s laws. But so has everyone. If God is our judge, where can we turn? To Jesus Christ. If you don’t know Him, read the Bible and learn about His love for you.

The only FOMO that counts is missing a relationship with Jesus.

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Life on a Clothesline

It had been a long time since I had seen clothes hanging on a clothesline, but I knew about life on a clothesline.

In America, most of us enjoy electric dryers. The days of hanging out clothes and watching the weather afterward have passed. Yet, I was in Africa, where the practice of allowing the sun to dry clean garments on a line was still widespread. That makes planning around outside conditions all the more critical. A sudden downpour or even a sprinkle can dampen everything.

Some bring sunshine into every encounter. These are the encouragers who find a ray of hope in just about any situation. They prod us with their joyful spirits, reminding us of God’s faithfulness in the past and reminding us to rejoice and give thanks. Some, however, are perpetual complainers. Their presence dampens our spirits and makes us want to give up. They focus only on their problems.

Paul reminds us about the importance of encouragement. Life sometimes feels like being hung out on a clothesline. Our difficulties can remove our filthiness like a clothes washer removes dirt from garments. But we still need restoration, like clothes that must dry before we wear them. We long for the sun to come out and shine on us. Friends can lift and warm us up, helping us feel valuable again. We want these people around us, and we should also hearten others in need.

Those who complain and only focus on their needs are like the rain dampening everything on the line. They have a way of reversing the process of restoration that the washer and sunshine have brought. They continually throw self-pity parties and drive us further down when we are trying to mend. We don’t need to follow their example.

Are you an encourager or a complainer? Do others find hope in your words? Be the person who brings sunshine into others’ lives, not rain.

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Hurtling the Hurdles

It stood a few yards away, taunting me. “I’m gonna do it this time,” I said as I anticipated hurtling the hurdles.

Putting my legs in motion, I approached the first hurdle with all the speed my little seventh-grade body possessed, only to halt once again when reaching it. The momentum almost sent me tumbling over it. Fear stopped me in my tracks. Fear of misjudging the height. Fear that my legs couldn’t do what was needed to soar over that obstacle on the racetrack.

The memory surfaced as a couple of the ladies in my small group shared about the challenges that delayed them that morning. One had been stuck on a phone call with her insurance company. Someone had backed into her car the evening before. Another had someone throw a rock at her car the previous night, shattering the back window. Her daughter loaned her a car, but, not being familiar with it, my friend had almost decided to stay home. Obstacles. Hurdles standing in the way.

The enemy of our souls loves to throw up roadblocks to keep us from being in fellowship and receiving the encouragement, support, and faith-building that comes when we connect with other Christ-followers. Our time together was precious as we shared our frustrations, fears, and anxieties. We looked into God’s Word and prayed for each other.

Eventually, I managed to jump over the hurdles in my P.E. class at school—but not every time and not gracefully. I often tipped the hurdle over. With God’s grace and faithfulness, we can hurtle the hindering hurdles and trot down the racetrack. His strength will enable us to leap past our fears, and His protection keeps the evil one from preventing us from much-needed connection with other believers.

Thank the Lord for His faithfulness, and grab the promise that He will strengthen and guard you the next time you face a set of hurdles.

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Dead Flies, Character, and Pride

Dead flies, character, and pride can sometimes go together.

One summer afternoon, I left the sweet tea on the back porch with the plug on the lid off. Hours later, I went to get it and saw that some flies had drowned in the tea. This reminded me of this verse: Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour: so doth a little folly him that is in reputation for wisdom and honour.

The apothecary was the ancient pharmacist who prepared ointment for medicinal purposes and the dead for burial. It took a long time to prepare these fragrant and much-needed ointments. As time-consuming as they were to make and as valuable as they were, flies would get into the ointment, die, and ruin it if the apothecary didn’t cover it.

Solomon compares the dead flies and the ruined ointment to folly, which destroys good character. One dead fly could corrupt the ointment, and only a little foolishness can soil our character and reputation. It takes a lifetime to build good character, but we can lose it in a moment with bad behavior. 

Good character won’t keep by itself. We must value it and vigilantly preserve it. We must never think we are beyond falling into temptation, for that is when we are most likely to fail. Pride will trip us every time.

Pride thrust Lucifer out of heaven, Adam out of paradise, Nebuchadnezzar out of society, Saul out of his kingdom, and Haman out of court. When we rise to great positions, we become a target for the Enemy and must keep our guard up and the flies out.

How can you guard against pride?

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The Psalm 23 Sandwich

I once learned about the Psalm 23 sandwich.

My pastor sometimes preaches using a method he calls the “sandwich” approach. He defines this as taking the unpalatable portions of God’s Word and making them easier to digest by sandwiching them between two verses that magnify God’s faithfulness. I think he must have borrowed this method from the Holy Spirit.

In verse four of the psalm, David speaks of going through a trial. No one relishes walking through the valley of the shadow of death, so the Holy Spirit sandwiches it between verse two and five. In verse two, God takes us to a quiet place to restore our souls. Then, in verse five, David says God is with us during our walk through the valley. He nourishes us and anoints us with oil.

The Psalm 23 sandwich, although assuring us trials will come, makes it clear that God’s faithfulness and soul-restoring love accompanies every difficulty we face. By itself, a single verse can be tough to chew, but God has given us an entire book filled with encouraging condiments of promise.

How can you better enjoy feasting on God’s sandwich daily?

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Muffin Motivational Management

In my late twenties, I was responsible for ensuring a production line ran smoothly. Doing so depended on the prompt actions of a group of middle-aged mechanical engineers who solved the manufacturing issues.

Unfortunately, the engineers were overworked and had many responsibilities in addition to solving production problems. They also had a backlog of issues that must have seemed overwhelming.

I was young, ambitious, and unwilling to remain mired in the status quo. But in praying, I realized I had to think outside the box. So one Sunday evening, I baked a basket of lemon-poppyseed muffins. I took the muffins to our status meeting on Monday morning and offered them to the engineers, managers, and a bemused vice president. Everyone murmured their appreciation for the muffins in between sweet, fragrant bites.

Then I announced, “When fifty percent of the engineering action items are accomplished, I will bring muffins again.”

Although a couple of weeks passed, the actions finally reached my goal. Every time half of the action items were done, I brought muffins. I baked blueberry, cinnamon streusel, and cranberry muffins. I also bought a muffin cookbook so that I could increase my variety. As a result, the engineers’ motivational level increased.

Then I upped the challenge. “If you complete all the action items, I will bring chocolate muffins for a week.”

Again, a couple of weeks passed, but once again, they overcame their inertia and the backlog and met the goal. I kept my promise. The engineers’ mouths had successfully urged them on.

After that, I didn’t need to bring muffins. The engineers and I received positive reinforcement from management.

We all need goals. We also need something to motivate us to press toward those goals despite obstacles. With some goals, we must break them into smaller and more achievable objectives. And there’s nothing wrong with rewarding ourselves when we meet our goals.

As believers, we also need spiritual goals. For example, we might read our Bibles during breakfast every day for a week or pray before bedtime or in the morning.

Determine a couple of spiritual goals, and then take steps to reach them.

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Watching Suffering from Afar

Sometimes I catch myself watching from afar.

I am not a news junkie. However, when I watch the news on television or online, pictures and images of tragedies around the world fill the screen. The devastation of war, the destruction from violent weather, and the anger of the disenfranchised in society. Reporters mold these images to tell stories about what is wrong with our world.

I distance myself from these pictures, subconsciously telling myself this is not happening in my world. In doing this, I harden myself against the suffering portrayed in front of my eyes, trying to numb and protect myself from the misery of those enduring it. Rather than sympathize with people experiencing these disasters, I thank God it is not me who has these problems.

Too often, I find myself doing the same thing with the stories in the Bible, especially with the passion of Jesus. I want to think my sins were not bad enough to require Him being nailed to that cross. Or I rationalize that, since He was the Son of God, He may not have experienced the same depth of suffering as other crucified people. So, my repentance is half-hearted again, mitigated by smugness that my good deeds will somehow earn me favor with God.

Pausing to reflect on the agony of Jesus the night before His death gives a window into His experience. I need to hear the words of pain Jesus expressed as well as His forgiveness extended to those around Him. The blood dripping from His forehead in Gethsemane. The stench of the Roman soldiers as they flogged Him and drove nails into His hands and fee. The curses screamed by those who hated Him, demanding His life simply out of jealousy. And the raw flesh and massive blood loss from all His wounds. It all reminds me His suffering for me was real. His heavenward cry, aware of His Father turning His face away, reminds me of Jesus’ anguish.

Rather than watch from afar and tell myself this all happened on another day in another place two thousand years ago, I need to zero in on what happened to my suffering Savior as if it were today. By doing so, I am drawn more to Him and am willing to repent of my sins without reservation.

How can you prevent Jesus’ sacrifice from becoming a far-off event for you?

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Canceling the Me Culture

Canceling the me culture isn’t easy.

When do I rise early, sit by the window, wait for the sunrise, and pray with tears bathing my cheeks? That’s a no-brainer. When trouble is at my door. Suffering always blows away my delusion of self-sufficiency and causes me to cry out to my Savior and Rock.

What’s wrong with that? Not a thing. But if suffering is my primary motivator for fervently praying, I miss the recalibrating power of giving thanks for the good God has done, the good He does now, and the good He promises for the future.

Moses compared Israel to a healthy animal, such as an ox, that the owner gave all the nourishment needed to become powerful. Tragically, the ox kicked against the provider when its physical prowess peaked.

Like a rebellious ox, Israel rejected God, who had delivered them from Egyptian slavery, led them through the wilderness to the promised land, and blessed them with prosperity. God’s chosen people attempted to cancel Him out of their newfound culture of prosperity and ease.

Does my heart attitude cancel thankfulness like the Israelites? When the Lord allows success and prosperity, do I say, “I got this? I’m good. Thanks for your help, Lord, but I’ll take it from here.” Or do I see my need for the Lord’s care in seasons of health and peace? Do I rise early and praise Him with joyful tears of thanksgiving?

As I meditate on the Lord’s faithfulness through the years and review His love and care, the culture of my heart becomes less about me, and my heavy sleek ego shrinks.

We should make a habit of always thanking the Lord for all things. Keep a running list of all the Lord’s blessings, then use the list to praise Him daily.

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Don't Let Fear Steer the Ship

We needed to make significant decisions quickly, but a little voice said, “Don’t let fear steer the ship.”  

The doctor thought cancer caused my son’s off-the-chart numbers. My motherly instinct said they revealed a gastrointestinal problem. Our two natural wisdoms were at odds, and I felt the war in my heart and body. The torment was real, but these decisions were critical for my son’s life, so we had no margin for error.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. As I read this verse in James, the word peaceable caught my attention. A jolt to my heart held me in place as I considered this one word. During that moment, the Lord sparked hope deep within me.

Peaceable. God’s peace is able. His wisdom can provide peace. That seemed impossible at the time, but as I prayed and followed God’s direction, the driving fear dissipated. None of the decisions were easy, but they became manageable. God’s wisdom drove back the fear enough for my family to steer toward peace.

I remember someone at a retreat saying to make a thankfulness journal of all the times God has demonstrated His faithfulness. Faithfulness in the little and the big areas. His precious, peaceable wisdom is something I will eternally be grateful for.

I’m happy to report my son is alive and thriving. Major medical issues persist, but God has been faithful in these as well. The fear no longer drives us; His peaceable wisdom does. Staying in His precious stream of wisdom is my constant prayer.

When you are in a situation where fear steers the ship, pray for God’s wisdom. His direction will steer you in the right direction and give you peace.

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God Will Not Delay

God will not delay.

Daily, Papa looked for the telegram man. He always had his suitcase packed and his traveling papers ready since he worked as a migrant farmer, traveling from Jamaica to the United States of America.

The message to depart to America always came by telegram to the nearest post office, five miles away. If my father’s cousin, with whom he traveled, received his telegram first, my father got nervous.

True to form, the telegram always came with good news, but the telegram system had the potential for failure. Delays could happen. The telegram bearer could get sick, the telegraph system could break down, or the postmistress could become incapacitated.

But believers hope in an on-time God who never fails. God has not given us a time when Jesus will return to judge the world and redeem His followers, but He has promised He will come and usher us into heaven with Him. God’s Word is secure and infallible. Jesus will return.

We must exercise faith as we await His return. We can be ready by living righteously, but like Papa, we must also prepare. In his later life, Papa said, “Have your passport ready.” He referred to a spiritual passport needed to take that heavenly trip.

How can you wait productively for Jesus’ return?  

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A Heart Restored

My best friend suffered the greatest heartbreak of any mother, but she now has a heart restored.

Ruby married her high school sweetheart, and they moved away to start a family of their own. But there was something about her beloved that she wasn’t aware of. Shortly after the birth of their daughter, he began beating Ruby. She stayed in the abuse, hoping it would stop—as many women in abusive households do.

Ruby fled with her daughter when she could no longer take the abuse. She moved back in with her parents and divorced her husband. They were to share parental obligations, but the father violated these rights. He took his daughter away, and Ruby never saw her again until she was a grown woman.

Eventually, Ruby remarried. He was a respectable man, and they had a son together. But for years, Ruby’s heart ached for her only daughter. And for all their years apart, Ruby experienced a bruised and a broken heart.

Ruby now has a heart restored. As she and her daughter continue to reconnect, God is restoring Ruby’s broken heart, one day at a time.

What God promised to His Old Testament people, He promises to us: beauty for ashes. He will do this for Ruby and her daughter. And for anyone who trusts in Him.

If someone or something has broken your heart, pick up the broken pieces as the Savior passes by. He cares and understands and will mend your broken heart.

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Comfort for the Soul

Girl Scout camp was the highlight of my childhood summers.

Every year, my friends and I shielded ourselves with bug spray and sunscreen and headed for the great outdoors. The camp provided canvas tents for our overnight adventures. If we put them up correctly, they could withstand a summer downpour. If we did it wrong, they would surely fall in the middle of the night. Summer after summer, we braved the daddy longlegs to haul those heavy tents out of storage, then struggled to put them up. And we prayed it would not rain.

When Paul calls his body a tent, I picture wrapping one of those heavy, rough canvas tents around me. No wonder Paul says he can’t wait to shed his earthly body. His itchy, stiff tent was worn out from his work and battered by his constant challenges.

Paul longed to put on his new, perfect, spiritual body—one that would cover him in life. While he spoke of eternity, he also addressed the here and now when he said believers are new creations. The old has passed away, and the new has come.

If we ever feel like Paul, it’s because God designed our souls for more. The tent (our physically imperfect body) is practical, but God didn’t create our souls for these temporary dwellings.

When we accept Christ as our Savior, He immediately begins renewing and reviving our souls. We don’t have to wait until eternity to enjoy Jesus’ comfort. This doesn’t mean life won’t chafe us as we live in our canvas tents. Times will come when we feel gritty, tired, and overwhelmed by the evil in the world and the stress of our daily circumstances.

Like a comfy T-shirt and pair of jeans, Jesus offers comfort every day. He wraps us in His presence and reminds us of His love. He soothes our broken hearts and gives us the courage to face whatever comes our way. And unlike those heavy, uncomfortable temporary tents, Jesus’ love never fails us.

Wrap yourself in the permanent, soul-soothing shelter of Jesus. Don’t wait for eternity to enjoy His comfort.

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The Sacrifice of Christmas

It’s time once again to celebrate the sacrifice of Christmas—the birth of Jesus, born into this world in the worst of circumstances. No one would have chosen a lowly stable . . . dark, cold, and unsanitary.

But wait. Jesus did.

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes:

Try to imagine what I gave up when I came into your world as a baby. I set aside My glory so that I could identify with mankind. I accepted the limitations of infancy under the most appalling conditions—a filthy stable. There was nothing glorious about that setting. ~Jesus

Think about it. Jesus—all God—became man. He chose to humble Himself, leave the glories of heaven, and enter this world as a baby in a society where He would not be entirely accepted. He did this knowing He would grow up to be tempted, mocked, betrayed, beaten, and nailed to a cruel cross. He knew exactly what He would face, yet He willingly did it for us.

Jesus made the supreme sacrifice to redeem us. To save us from our sins. To restore a right relationship with the Father. He gave up His divine privileges. He took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. He humbled Himself in obedience to God.

This year as you spend Christmas with friends and family, remember the sacrifice Jesus made. Celebrate His birth, but remember He is no longer that babe in a manger. He is now our risen King of kings and Lord of lords.

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Lessons from a Summer Houseguest

In the spring semester—after my junior year in college—I headed to the Southeastern United States for a summer program.

I was excited. When I arrived at the home where I would stay for the next few months, a smiling face greeted me and directed me to my room. I remember thinking, Oh, this is nice.

As my host left to give me time to unpack, she gave me a list of alarm codes for what felt like nearly every door in the house—front door, garage, gate. You name it, and I had it.

I looked at my host and asked, “So, must I do this every morning?”

She replied, “Of course. We must make sure the home is always secured.”

From that day on, we got up and set up each alarm code to ensure the home was well-fortified and not left defenseless.

Similarly, our Lord is protective. His name is a fortified tower to which the righteous can run for safety. We stay connected to Him through prayer and Bible reading. Staying connected to Him will ensure we are strengthened, safe, and prepared as we navigate life’s various issues.

In our busy lives, staying connected can challenge us. We have the responsibilities of family, work, school, and other commitments. But when we properly position Christ at the center of our concerns, He will guide us to where He wants us. He will be our helper and fortress.

Our Lord wants to be there for us, providing us protection through wisdom, security, peace, and help. All we must do is call on Him. 

What keeps you from daily fortifying your life?

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A Lighthouse for the Birds

The gift was not intended to be a birdhouse, but God had other plans.

A friend gave me a decorative wooden lighthouse. I found the perfect spot for it on my front porch. Initially, it housed a lightbulb, intended to glow through the round holes in the upper section. I had no outlet nearby, so I lifted the top of the lighthouse and removed the bulb. Then, I used some seashells I had collected to decorate the ledge near the top.

Several times during one spring, I saw a few of the shells scattered around on the porch. Then I noticed twigs sticking out of the holes in the lighthouse. Removing the top, I exposed a twigs-and-cottonwood-fluff nursery nestled inside. Soon, five wee eggs occupied the nest. In a couple of weeks, I spied five gaping beaks poking upward. Although the babies’ peeps were barely audible, Mama and Papa wren heard them and flitted in and out, attending to parental duties.

Watching this sweet story unfold reminded me of Jesus talking about sparrows and how God does not forget even one of them. Recent events had led me to feelings of loneliness and exposure to uncertainty. Nestling myself in God’s Word daily—along with prayer and listening to worship songs—I sought His light to guide me. He reminded me that as my lighthouse became a shelter on the front porch for His tiny creatures, so He provided shelter for me.

God is the sheltering lighthouse for anyone who looks to Him. He can be your shelter. Fly to Him and make yourself at home.

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Psyche and Physique

We are more attentive to our physical health than our mental health or the health of our psyche, yet it is often a sick mind that sickens our physique.

Our psyche or spiritual side is connected to our physical side. No disease or sickness of the physical can be transmitted to the spiritual, but spiritual illnesses do affect the physical. The psyche is the soul and mind—the actual being living in the body. If the heart is sound or content, then the joy of the contented spirit will sustain the health of the body.

The psyche can be unsound because it’s wounded or under the incrimination of the conscience.  When the heart is sick because of envy or other diseases of the soul, the body is directly affected and can become ill. When we are covetous or have been hurt or wronged and are unwilling to forgive—but instead allow a vengeful spirit to reside in our hearts—we embrace those things that can destroy our physical health. Spiritual cancers such as hate, anger, and covetousness. Worry, anxiety, and fear can cause high blood pressure, leading to a heart attack or stroke. Envy, a spirit of covetousness and discontent, affects the core of our physical being—our bones because red bone marrow produces blood cells.

If we don’t release these things by leaving everything in Jesus’ hands, they will sooner or later affect our physical health, but the real problem is a sick psyche. Whatever disease our mind has directly affects our body.

What spiritual steps can you take to prevent physical sicknesses?   

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Thanksgiving Gratitude, Gratefulness, and Love

She shook as the teen snatched the money from her hand.

The elderly lady was slow to unlatch her 1950s purse and pull out a zippered money pouch. She fumbled through the bag until she retrieved a $5 bill. She smiled as her aged, trembling hand stretched across the grocery counter. The clerk snatched the bill from the woman’s hand. Under her breath, I heard the woman mumble, “Ungrateful.”

With the woman’s groceries bagged, a reluctant employee loaded her groceries, continually glancing at his watch. This trip to load groceries was past his clock-out time.

As I passed by the woman’s beat-up car, I stopped and held her door for her. “Seems like the season to be jolly hasn’t caught up with everyone,” I said.

“I guess not, but I’m old and slow.”

“That’s no excuse for people to be rude. Don’t blame yourself for the lack of gratitude in the world.” I patted her hand and smiled. “You have a nice day.”

As I stepped away from the car, I heard the woman say, “I am thankful, Lord, for the kindness You have shown me today.”

In every situation, the psalmist found an opportunity to praise the Lord and give thanks. In his walk with the Lord, he’d learned of God’s unfailing promises and presence, and with every instance that arose, he found reason to be thankful. His thankfulness extended to singing joyfully to the Lord and calling God the rock of our salvation.

As time passes, our world loses sight of gratitude and thanksgiving. Impatience has replaced thanksgiving, while greed and selfishness have removed the joy from our lives. Take time to refocus and remember exactly what thankfulness is, then learn to show it more readily. Sing joyfully, even in the hardships of life, and know that God is the God of Promise—Yahweh. He is unfailing in His love and faithful in His promises. Show thanks. Give thanks. Be thankful.

What are some ways you can show your thankfulness this Thanksgiving season?

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Cry to the Great Shepherd

For the third day in a row, I heard the pathetic bleating of the lone triplet.

His mother and two siblings grazed in an adjacent pasture with the other sheep while the complainer stayed in the corral, begging them to rescue him. On day one, I went into the pen where the young lamb stood. Making sure he watched me, I purposefully walked through the open gate to show him the opening through which the rest of the flock had departed. He followed, calling out with pity before he bolted to the pasture to find his mother and the rest of the flock.

On day two, we repeated this process. By day three, I was annoyed and decided to let him figure it out alone. He eventually found the gate but not until he raced around the pen and frantically bleated for his mother. While his mother would have finally returned to the fold to gather her son, she was anxious to get her breakfast.

I am so glad our heavenly Father is more patient with us than I was with this lamb. The Great Shepherd speaks to us and gives us the resources we need to grow and change, yet He is always there, even when we repeatedly fail to find the gate. He hears us, answers us, and never gives up on us.

Have you told yourself you can’t cry out to God because what you are grappling with is too difficult, insignificant, or embarrassing? Our heavenly Father is far more patient and caring than we are. So, take time to call out to Him today.   

What’s on your need-to-cry-out-to-God list?

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My Love Letter

One afternoon, I read a book about a devoted husband’s love letters to his wife.

I reflected on what a treasure true love is. I can rest here and compose my own love letter. Someone described me as a single, stand-alone woman, but I can still compose my own love letter because I know the meaning of true love. My love letter is to God.

True love is a treasure—the thing we all search for in life. For me, this means expressing my thanks to God for simple things that do not cost anything.

The real treasures we can enjoy involve rising with the dawn and watching a beautiful sunrise, listening to birdsong in a tree as we watch the beautiful flowers in a garden, or enjoying family and friends.

Our bodies are also treasures in themselves because God has created them for love. Although they wind down in the golden years, we can enjoy these years by thanking God for the real treasures in life. We can devote more time to prayer and appreciate God’s great gifts to everyone. Believing in Jesus’ gift to us all, we can find our real treasure in loving God.

What treasures can you list in your love letter to God?  

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Walk the Line

I once watched a video clip of a movie about a boy who lived for God.

The rest of the boy’s immediate family also lived for the Lord. Then a tragedy occurred. As the son lay dying, he asked his parents and brother if they could hear the angels. The mother said she could, and they were beautiful.

I have heard of other instances where people ready to meet the Lord have experienced this same phenomenon. God has a beautiful place called heaven for those prepared to meet Him at death or when He comes.

After we have trusted Christ as our Savior, God wants us to grow by reading His Word, praying, going to church, and giving.

Jesus said many would not be willing to come to Him and that only a few would find the way to salvation—compared to the billions who would not. God will reward those who witness with their words and actions.

Ask God to help you walk the line.

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Worshipping Productivity Instead of God

Productivity is often the god I serve when I think I’m serving God.

I plan, organize, and work hard for God. Well . . . I plan, organize, and work hard for productivity. Productivity rewards me. I feel successful, people praise me, and I can see tangible accomplishments. Like trusting in a mathematical equation, I believe good planning equals good results. Except, sometimes it doesn’t.

God, I understand stopping so many personal and global plans because of a virus, but why did You have me spend months of time and energy to prepare for these canceled events?

This was a frequent frustrated prayer as I watched hopes and dreams disappear from the calendar—a mission trip to Estonia, a non-profit fundraiser celebration, a brother’s wedding, a meal with friends. Painfully, I realized I had “accomplishment entitlement.” I believed my doing should produce accomplishing. If I worked hard enough and obeyed God, then I deserved to get results. Apparently not. “But this effort was for you, God!” I complained.

I take comfort from the Lord’s words to David. I’m thankful God sees the heart and says, “You did well,” even if I do not accomplish what I dreamed to do for Him.

It feels demoralizing when our God-honoring plans are canceled or fail to produce the grand results we hoped and prayed for. But our productivity is not God’s top goal. Instead, a heart of love—for God and others—is what He desires.

If you, like me, seek to resist the worship of productivity as you work toward plans, shift your focus and ask, “How is my heart relating to God during this time of planning?”—regardless of what the plan will or will not accomplish in the future.

What are some ways you can worship God instead of productivity?

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With Thanksgiving

When my dog Charlie developed a mysterious rash on both sides of her face, multiple vets struggled to diagnose her ailment.

As treatment after treatment failed, my anxiety grew. Charlie had already suffered so many health problems. Amid my apprehension, I thought of this verse: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. As I meditated on it, one word stuck out: thanksgiving. The verse encouraged me to submit my concerns about Charlie’s health to God through prayer and with thanksgiving.

I prayed for Charlie’s recovery and remembered all the health challenges God had already helped my sweet pup endure. As a ten-week-old, she had endured a lengthy stay in the vet hospital ICU because of parvovirus. Her luscious locks grew back after she had battled a severe case of generalized mange. She had also recovered from exploratory abdominal surgery and severe kidney damage. Through each of Charlie’s trials, God had cared for her. He cared for me also, helping me to never lose hope. Submitting my present concerns to God, I felt immense comfort and thanked Him for all the times He had helped Charlie.

I was grateful when a topical steroid effectively treated Charlie’s mysterious skin condition. I thanked God again as I massaged Charlie’s healed skin. He had cared for my Charlie, and He had cared for me.

When stress, anxiety, fear, or an unmet need saddles us, we can present those feelings and requests to God with thanksgiving. We can also reflect on the times He has been faithful before and then thank Him for being faithful in the present. God’s peace will guard our hearts and minds when we do this.

How can you learn to live with thanksgiving?

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The Bible Is Still Alive

Humanity consists of mortals with feet of clay.

We all have our moments. Even Christians can contemplate raising their expectations for themselves while maintaining our focus. Yet we shall all pass away. We will only be fossils in one thousand or ten thousand years.

While I was on holidays at home, I started studying comparative religion. I found this interesting, and it challenged my insights into my understanding of faith. After one online lecture, I turned to Matthew’s gospel and read this verse: Heaven and earth will pass away. but my words will never pass away. As I reflected, I thought about how alive this text is. The Bible is more alive than ever. Jesus travels through time and space to guide us to harmony for humanity. Jesus lives on in us. His words are active, making the Bible still alive.

Time passes, and our loved ones pass away. They are called home to eternity. To us, they are still alive through treasured memories. Even if only a fragment of the body survives, all the Bible remains alive.

Our best is yet to be. Today is a new page. We can turn a page of our Bible, which is still alive for us.

How much time are you spending in God’s Word?  

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Thirsting for God

I once had a job driving for an automobile auction.

I drove vehicles to the auctioneer to be auctioned off and then drove them to a parking lot. There, I picked up another vehicle and continued doing the same thing all day long. At the end of the day, I drove the last vehicle to the parking lot on the far end of the property and then walked back to the office.

After walking through the first parking lot, I was still okay. It gets hot in Texas in July, and I naturally began to sweat. The sun beat down on my head as I struggled to put one foot before the other. I was not prepared for this. With each step, I told myself to hang in there just a little bit further. The office seemed like a football field away. At last, I made it to the office with enough energy to open the door. Straight to the water fountain I went and poured myself a tall glass of water. I sat in a chair and rested for fifteen minutes and drank another glass. But as refreshing and life-sustaining as this water was, it would only sustain me for a short while.

I thought of another thirsty woman who went out to get a bucket of water but got much more when she met Jesus. Not only was Jesus interested in her physical needs, He also saw her spiritual needs.

As soon as she realized whom she was talking to, she left her vessel at the well and ran home to tell her neighbors. This Smartian woman came to the well for some water but went back home with the Messiah in her heart. He did for her what water could not.

Water gives life momentarily. Earthly things are pleasant only for a while. But Jesus gives us eternal life and satisfies the body and soul forever.

Have you tasted the living water?

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More than Enough

It was a few days before Christmas and, as usual, I wasn’t ready.

Getting ready for Christmas is not a challenge unless I’m still shopping on Christmas Eve. Finding a parking place in Asheville, NC, is often difficult, so I was happy to find a metered spot just a block past my destination.

The meter required coins, and I had none in the car. My pockets were empty. I scrounged under the seat, in the glove compartment, and in the console. After much digging, I decided to take the risk. I completed my errand in record time and rushed back to the car, relieved to find nothing on my windshield. I reminded myself that I needed to replenish my cup holder change and proceeded to my next destination

I pulled into my credit union and walked to the back of my car. That’s when it hit me. My next errand was to cash in a jar full of change I had accumulated over the past year. I planned to give it for a special offering at church on Sunday. I had more than one hundred dollars in the hatch of my car. I laughed at the absurdity of my scrounging around in the floor of my car when there was an ample supply just a few feet behind me.

I often do the same in my walk with God. Peter says God has given me everything I need to lead a godly life. Everything. God lacks nothing. But I often limp along, relying on my own pitiful strength when the power of God’s Spirit lies within me.

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to quit focusing on what I can scrounge up in my own power and tap into the infinite provision of my Father God. Will you do the same? 

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The Threaded Needle

My daughter once gave me a sewing kit with needles pre-threaded with sewing thread.

I thought maybe she had seen me struggling with the tiny holes. Then she said, “These are great for busy women.” I was relieved, and now I don’t know how I could live without them.

God wants us to give a helping hand. The Scriptures are full of references about helping others. “Encourage one another” adequately describes the authors I have met over the last two years. I approach them in awe of their skill. They reach back with a kind word. Sometimes, they are hard on me but not in a bad way. I need to be reminded what it is like to be an amateur.

When I served as a mentor for new teachers, I often brought them breakfast biscuits and praised their efforts, but sometimes I had to level with them. In their enthusiasm, they often got ahead of themselves just as I do as a writer now. Sometimes, I want to give up just like a new teacher, but I remind myself there are so many people rooting for others.

My first-grade teacher taught me teachers will apologize. One middle school teacher challenged me to think on my own. A high school teacher stood up to the football player who made fun of my success off the field.

For thirty-five years, I stood on the shoulders of giants in the teaching field. One principal showed me how to handle an angry parent. A teacher’s assistant held me while I cried and then squared my shoulders and said, “Now get on with it.” And I did. Over and over, colleagues reached across the table and encouraged and built me and others up.

Yes, I experienced bad times when no one was there, but somehow, those times forced me to lean on God. God threaded my needle, and I kept sewing. He could see the big picture.

When we look at tapestry, we see the underside with matted threads, but God is in heaven looking down at the beautiful picture.

Who is God calling you to encourage? Who needs a helping hand, a threaded needle of sorts, that will give them a start?

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Before You

One Saturday morning, Vaughn and I went running.

We began at the Chamber of Commerce and started along a course we had run many times. When we made our normal turn to the left, Vaughn went straight. I encouraged him to keep going, thinking we could run a different route. I knew most of my surroundings, but I kept my eyes on Vaughn and when he turned, I followed.

After three miles, I didn’t know where we were, except that we were further from our car. Vaughn reassured me he knew where we were. He likes to run. Me, not so much. A little later, Vaughn looked back and asked if I was okay and if I knew where I was. I told him I knew where we were, but I didn’t know how to get back to our car. I reassured him that I trusted him and believed he could get us back. 

Like most of our runs, Vaughn waited on me if he got too far ahead. Sometimes, he would circle back and then start again. At other times, he would wait at an intersection before he made the turn. He was always aware of where I was.

As I made my way through one of the intersections, I was reminded that Vaughn mimics God. God leads the way. We just need to keep our eyes on Him. Doing so is not always easy, and sometimes He must circle back and encourage us to keep going. Our job is to keep our eyes on Him. We need to trust that He knows our destination and the best way to get us there.

Vaughn and I did make it back to our car. When I looked at my watch, I saw we had run five miles. Of course, Vaughn said, “Five miles? Is that all?” And, yes, I rolled my eyes.

How can you better trust God’s guidance?

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I'm In

Daily, I proceed with the tasks of routine housework and my enjoyable activities as a senior.

I welcome Team Jesus into my heart. The things I enjoy include a simple life in the slow lane: reading, writing, and crafting for the underprivileged. I have been a Captain Smiley who welcomed friends who planned to visit me. I support them as I support Team Jesus. I’m on the team.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God. To me, this verse means we all have gifts from God, such as my gift as a writer. Jesus saved us by coming to earth and dying for our sins. As a Christian, I aim to walk each day in step with my Saviour.

We must all do what we can, while we can, and for as long as we can. This keeps our hearts full of thanks for peaceful days of harmony. Team Jesus is heading for peace, so I’m on that joyful team, along with other Christians and the angels who bless us daily with God’s love.

Belonging to Team Jesus means exploring God’s grace. We can pray for the gospel to be spread, for all the people we love and care for, and for the unity of all Christians.

Keep on praying and spreading God’s grace with your gifts. I’m on Team Jesus. Are you?

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Where Is God?

“Where is God?” the child asked. “Why can’t I see Him?”

Unfortunately, too many adults ask the same question. They refuse to believe in something—or rather Someone—they cannot see or touch.

For those who refuse to acknowledge Him, the Bible says: “The basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is! By taking a long and thankful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes, as such, can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of His divine being. So nobody has a good excuse” (Romans 1:18-20 MSG).

The Passion translation puts it this way: “The invisible qualities of God’s nature have been made visible . . . He has made His wonderful attributes easily perceived.”

What we see—the visible—helps us recognize and understand what we can’t see—the invisible. I saw a T-shirt once that read, God doesn’t believe in atheists. That’s because He has placed a piece of heaven in every human heart. We choose whether or not to embrace it.

So, where is God? Maybe the parent should have said to her child, “Look around you. You’ll find Him in a beautiful sunset. A majestic mountain peak. A glorious waterfall. Snowflakes that blanket the earth in brilliant white. A baby’s smile. The giggle of a toddler at play. A warm hug from someone you love. An answered prayer. Open your eyes and your heart. If you look for Him, you will see Him.”

God is everywhere. But the place He desires to dwell is in your heart.

Will you invite Him in?

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Craving Community

It’s happened more than we care to admit.

We decide we don’t like someone. Then Providence pushes us together in a way that we must rely on each other. We come to see the adversary in a new light. A bond forms.

Alexander Langlands wrote, “At a point later in the year, I observed a paddock with two mature ewes with rather thick necklaces of twisted hay. These stubborn ewes, I was told, had taken a disliking to one another in the field and were almost incessantly butting and harassing each other. These edible Elizabethan-style ruffs of hay were the only source of food in the pen, so if the battling ewes wanted to feed they had to get up close and nuzzle, ultimately developing a bond of familiarity” (Craeft, 73).

In the church, we call it community. Imperfect, sometimes uncomfortable. Yet a community, ideally, that feeds its members.

Sheep crave community. Even if it means building a bond with an adversary. The wise shepherd puts the unruly sheep in a situation where they must feed each other so they can both return to the flock.

Craig Rogers says, “Although many think their flocking instinct to be a sign of ‘dumbness,’ it is in fact a community-based survival mechanism where they have learned that their strength is much greater in numbers and their comfort and survival is enhanced as a group rather than as an individual. Not a bad lesson for all of us.”

Remember that Christian who irritates you? Offer some figurative or real food and work to get comfortable as an ally in the faith. How about that neighbor who’s a nonbeliever? Someone outside the flock, perhaps a wounded spirit just waiting for an invitation to have coffee at a neighborhood establishment, to have dinner at your house, or to attend your church.

Like sheep wearing food around our necks, we carry the Bread of Life with us. Lost and wounded sheep live among and around us, and we are the only ones who can invite them to come home.

Think of someone to whom you can offer community.

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Dr. Jesus

A drunk man entered our church one Sunday morning.

He looked disheveled, was partially unclothed, and spewed obscenities. It was a scary scene to my nine-year-old eyes. And from the looks on the faces of everyone around me, they were frightened too.

After a few terrifying minutes, several men quieted him and escorted him from the sanctuary. For months, I wondered what had become of that man, and I worried that another “unwelcome visitor” might interrupt our services. Many years later, it remains one of the most disturbing experiences I’ve had in church.

In Mark 2, after Jesus called Levi (Matthew) the tax collector to follow Him in ministry, He had dinner at Levi’s house. Other tax collectors and various sinners attended the dinner as well. The Pharisees were critical. “But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with such scum?’” (Mark 2:16). That’s when Jesus made His startling statement: Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.   

What would happen if the global revival so many of us long for happened in our local churches? Likely, people who struggle with addictions, prostitution, homelessness, mental illness, and other difficult circumstances would come to our services.

The question is how would we engage with those whose lives and challenges are much different than ours. And would we spend time with them as Jesus did? Hurting people in our communities need Dr. Jesus and His abundant love and grace.

What are some ways you can follow Jesus’ example and welcome others when they come into your church and life?

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My Piety Stall

While I was chatting on the phone with my oldest girlfriend, she mentioned the piety stall at her local church.

Being so kind and caring, my friend ran the little faith store. Old friends can be best friends. They are like diamonds, precious and rare. Our friendship winds back to 1977 when we were young teachers and catechists. I admire people like her, doing their best to magnify God. Upon reflection, my oldest friend is still like Jesus: a staunch, devoted friend. We do treasure old friends.

And to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance, and to perseverance, godliness. This text has significance for any Christian who has Jesus as their best and oldest friend and companion. I take this to mean I must persevere in my beliefs.

We can manage our piety stalls by worshipping in faith and praying for godliness. We are all on a spiritual journey. Regardless of our age, we can read the Bible and reflect on God’s love, which sends us the blessing of the grace of Jesus, our oldest friend.

When two or more are gathered in God’s name, we can celebrate godliness. If we are restricted at home, we can manage our own piety stall. As Christians, we should persevere in aspiring to godliness, praying in faith for Jesus’ holy grace. Piety was shown in Jesus’ great sacrifice for each of us on the cross, and Jesus’ love for each of us remains.

How are you managing your piety stall today?

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Stand for Truth

I could feel the warmth of the sun on my face as I stood in the parking lot chatting.

My friend puffed balls of smoke into the air as the conversation turned to current events. We spoke about the challenges of gathering amidst pandemic restrictions. The joy of speaking in person brought grins.

I had previously shared the gospel with this friend. At that time, he had asked questions and appeared interested in God. So, I gave him my church’s Christmas and Easter invitations, which he posted at his desk in our workplace. On this day, I wanted to understand his beliefs.

He identified as Buddhist and explained Buddhists believe that everything exists eternally in an endless cycle. In this system, “enlightened” people can escape the cycle by purifying their minds.

I agreed with his belief in eternity and shared how God created the world and continues to create. I explained that one day all who believe in Jesus—those who are saved by grace through faith in Christ—will live on a new earth. I spoke of how one day evil will cease. I also explained how God can purify our minds as we grow in Christ through spiritual disciplines.

My friend voiced his belief that Buddha warned against investigating other religions. I responded by saying that God encourages people to ask questions and search for His truth in the Bible and our world. We continued our discussion with two different views. In the end, neither of us changed our minds. But we had a cordial exchange during which he heard the gospel.

The apostle Peter instructed the early church to prepare themselves to defend their hope. He encouraged gentle and respectful conversations.

By faith, we share the good news with all those who ask questions, leaving the outcome to God. We are to stand firm in the truth found in the Bible, proclaim the good news, and watch God work.

What attitude can you adopt when sharing your faith with someone with a different view?

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Personal Battle

We all have our own battles to fight.

Our battles vary, and they differ from person to person. After all, our races vary, and because our races differ, our tracks may seem similar, but they come with different hurdles.

Although this may be a bitter pill to swallow, the patient needs it to heal. This truth will take us far in life and fulfill God’s purpose for us. We must bear our yokes to be great in life.

Bearing the yoke is never easy, but it is the battle we all must fight to enter the rest God has prepared. Great people of old fought, and we must too. That is the pattern of life. It is designed by God to be so. Abraham fought. So did Moses, David, Paul, and many others. Any great person in the Bible has a biography laced with stories of how they bore their yoke by facing challenges. We won’t be an exemption.

We shouldn’t be jealous of others. The battles Jabez fought are not the same as those Jacob fought. They were both great men in their respective times, but their battles were different.

The writer tells us to bear our yoke in the days of our youth. We have enough strength to do a lot when we’re young. We can experiment, build structures, and enact systems. Things that will give us life when we are old.

Bear your yoke … your challenge … when you have strength so that you can help yourself when you are old.

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Best-Laid Plans and One Strange Text

Sometimes at the last minute, things or people unravel our carefully laid plans and turn our attention in a different direction.

One Saturday afternoon, about the time I was getting ready for a Sunday school class fellowship, I received a strange text from my mother—one that made no sense. After a few odd exchanges, I decided to call … not once, but several times. She would not answer but would return my call and not say a word. I knew something was wrong.

My husband and I jumped into the truck and headed for her house. When we arrived, I found my mother had been so nauseous that she was dehydrated and could not communicate. After an ambulance ride to the local hospital and several tests, she discovered her sodium and potassium levels were dangerously low. She received excellent care and, less than forty-eight hours later, was back home. Aside from her weakness from the whole ordeal, she was herself again.

Although we make plans, the Lord directs our steps. I am so grateful He does. God is all-knowing, and His ways are much higher than ours.

Had it not been for that strange text from my mother, we would have continued with our Saturday night plans. I would not have known she needed my help. But the Lord set my steps in a different direction.

If we are planners, we should keep making those plans. But we shouldn’t be so intent on following them with our own agenda that we miss something more important that needs our attention. Even amid our best-laid plans, God can get our attention in any way He pleases. Even through one strange text.

Be open to God changing your plans.  

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Roses and Forgiveness

Roses hurt.

Whenever I prune the roses in my garden, I inevitably prick my finger, and it bleeds. But roses have a beautiful side too. The velvety petals and the fresh floral scent with delicate undertones of plum, berry, and apple always lift my spirit. As I inhale deeply, I drift into another world.

Like the scent of roses, kind words from a trusted friend build me up. Yet I seldom let my guard down for a deep friendship to flourish. After a year of getting to know one close friend, I took a risk, let my walls down, and shared deeper parts of my life with her. She had demonstrated kindness and trustworthiness.

A year later, she used misleading words to describe me to others in my presence. Her words hurt. Any effort to reconcile failed. Her silence showed talking through what happened would not take place. My tender heart shriveled.

Night after night, with gut-wrenching cries to God, I asked Jesus, “Why? Why did she say what she said? Why did she choose to say nothing further to me?” Her silence persisted toward me, like an enemy giving the silent treatment. With broken trust and deep hurt, our friendship disintegrated.

I chose not to blame her for her choice of words. Sometimes we don’t know what thoughts cross through someone’s mind or why they choose to say what they do. My guard went back up as my cries and pain lingered for weeks, then months.

Jesus also had enemies—people who wanted Him dead. As He hung on a cross to die, His first words spoke directly to the hearts of His enemies. He asked the Father to forgive them for they didn’t know what they were doing. Jesus has infinite love and mercy. He forgave even when His offenders failed to ask for forgiveness.

My friend remained oblivious to the full impact of her words and her silence. Like the roses in my garden, those who love deeply can also hurt deeply. I have learned that forgiving others for causing unintentional hurt allows someone like me to love again.

Who has hurt you that you need to forgive?

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Watching Our Words

I heard about a teacher who had an S at the back of her room.

Unfortunately, this is where she would put the student whom she thought to be the most stupid. That was what the S stood for. She then arranged the students, putting the student she thought to be the smartest in front of her. The one she thought to be the most stupid, she sat in the back of the class under the S.

One of the students she put there was a girl who had done well in the first grade. But when the teacher put her under that big S, her grades dropped. All the other students pointed their fingers at the girl and called her stupid.

When the girl went to third grade, her teacher did what she could to encourage the little girl by telling her she was going to make it. One day, the first-grade teacher was having behavioral problems with all her students, so she called the girl back to her room. She told the class that if she could, she would put them all under that big S. She then told the little girl to hold out her hands, and she popped them with a ruler. The teacher informed the class she would do the same to them if they didn’t straighten up. The teacher’s actions affected this girl into her adult life.

The story illustrates how verbal abuse experienced in childhood can damage us for life. That is why it’s a good idea to pray this verse every day: Set a watch oh Lord before my mouth. Keep the door of my lips.

Let’s ask God to set a watch over our mouths. If He warns us not to speak, we should obey. And when we mess up, we must repent quickly.

What steps can you take to better control your mouth?  

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A Lesson from Izzy

Meet Izzy.

Her name has not been changed to hide her identity. She prefers that our readers know her name and appreciate her cuteness. As a young kitten, she was abandoned in the cold, but a loving mother figure took her in, cleaned her up, kept her warm and fed, snuggled with her, and loved her beyond Izzy’s comprehension. She was given a home—a beautiful home.

Even so, Izzy chooses to sleep in a cardboard box. On the hard floor. Giving up her spots in the house, spots that her loving mother figure has agreed are truly Izzy’s. Spots on the couch or on the windowsill in the warm sun or in front of the fire.

I believe Izzy and I are a lot alike. Possibly all of us and Izzy are a lot alike. When we asked for help and needed rescuing, the Lord took us in and gave us all He had—and He does own all the cattle on a thousand hills (as well as all the mice in the wheat field). He welcomed us into His life and His kingdom. He cleaned us up inside and out. He cared for us, met our needs, and gave us people who loved us more than we could comprehend.

But we often choose to live on the outer edge of His world, barely tapping into the abundance of His love. We struggle with anger, we struggle with lack of control, and we struggle with our mean-streak. We simply struggle to live the life He has offered. He forgives, yet we live with guilt. He guides, but we want to do it our way. He says, “Ask and it shall be given to you,” but we don’t even ask. He says love and we ...

The more I think about Izzy sleeping peacefully in her cardboard box—in the middle of the house that is hers to roam in and to bring home treasures (not another mouse) to her loving mother figure—the more I wonder if Izzy has it right? That the struggle is not necessary. Is it possible that God loves us so much and makes our relationship with Him so easy that being comfortable right where we are is all we need?

I think we should be more like Izzy. What do you think?

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Get Back Up

As a small girl, I loved to run.

On summer days, I frequently ran as fast as I could on the gravel road in front of our house. I could hear my mother admonishing me to stop running because I would fall. Sure enough, I would hit the unforgiving roadway while still in motion. With skinned knees, elbows, and hands, I was a wounded little sprinter.

I knew my mother watched from the kitchen window, so I just lay on the stony, dusty ground while crying, waiting for her to help me up. I could hear her yelling in the distance, “Get back up!” I hobbled up or waited until she came to my aid.

Soon, I was back outside, patched up and ready for new adventures. The bruises and scrapes on my knees seemed to be more serious because we little girls always wore dresses back then, even outside to play.

I sported those bandages with great pride and as much pageantry as if they were war medals. Once out on the stony laden road again, I ran with the breeze loosening the ribbon in my hair and causing the lacey collar on my dress to flap against my face.

As adults, we often stumble as we tread through our days. Usually, we can get back up on our own when we take such a tumble, but at other times, we cannot because our injuries are too extensive. Sometimes, we incur an emotional or unseen wound, such as a broken heart that takes us down. Occasionally, we wait in our misery for help to arrive, even though we could get back up in our own strength.

Like an attentive parent who watches over us, God wants to lovingly and gently help us up and heal our wounds. He will either strengthen us or send someone else. Additionally, He will apply His unlimited supply of God-sized bandages as needed so we can resume our journey under His ever-watchful eye.

The next time you fall and are bruised and broken, ask your heavenly Father for help.

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Fast Learners

We are students in God’s school.

As a college instructor, I was disturbed when my students failed the class. Didn’t they want to succeed? Were they hoping I’d give them undeserved, passing grades?

Late one night, the Holy Spirit suddenly woke me in the middle of a sound sleep with a number. It was the total on a form I had completed that day for an accounting client. I prayed, “Lord, please remind me of this when I wake up, and I will verify that total.” Then I returned to a peaceful sleep.

In the morning I checked the number and discovered that in haste I had erroneously doubled the total. I learned to always double-check calculations and to always pay attention to the Spirit’s guidance, especially when it comes in the middle of the night.

When I fail tests of faith, do I pout and blame God? Do I wonder why I’m tested repeatedly with the same material? He points to His Word and says, “It’s in there. Learn it!” Too often I try to learn just enough to pass the test, not apply it to my life. I can be a slow learner sometimes.

The Holy Spirit is our Tutor, guiding us through each lesson, opening our spiritual eyes to every truth to be learned. I believe God prepares us for all that He brings to us. We need to pay attention to our Teacher, the Holy Spirit.

Think of some ways you can better pay attention to God’s instructions so you can learn His lessons quickly.

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Deep Rooted Growth

I once moved into an apartment housed on the second and third floors of an older, neglected house.

The new owners planned to restore the house and property. As I watched the exterior work being done in phases, I had hoped that some of the trees would remain. Two old apple trees still produced fruit. One particular tree, small and weak, had demolition done around it. Into the third summer—and with most of the demolition done—this tree had only produced a limb for my wind chime and some shade for the birds using the birdbath and feeders.

But by the next summer, the tree took off, and, since I had to trim the low-lying limbs so I could watch my birds, I witnessed fruit form on the branches for the first time since I had moved. The height and width of the tree doubled, and walnuts appeared. Obviously, the roots had taken hold, and the tree continued to soak up what nourishment it needed. It held on and thrived.

We, too, must stay rooted in God’s Word and build ourselves up in His strength. We need to study the Bible, pray for wisdom to practice its teachings, and use our minds as a tree uses its root system to reach deep and soak up what is needed to grow.

What are some ways you can feed on deep-rooted understandings of God’s Word?

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Gloom into Glory

As the Maundy Thursday service at our church ended, we departed in shadowy silence.

Since the next day was Good Friday, the traditional day of our Savior’s death, the church went into mourning. Those of us in the choir were silent as we hung our robes in an adjacent room and filed out. As I left, I noticed that the closed door of the classroom across the hall bore a placard that read: Please do not enter. Lilies are blooming for Easter.

And on Sunday morning they had. A dozen lined the altar rail, their white bell blossoms flaring open. I knew that after the service they would be distributed to shut-ins in the congregation.

The blooming lilies provide a notable image of the first Easter. As the lilies sat temporarily in darkness before they could bloom, so did the disciples briefly brood in melancholy and fear as they coped with the reality of Jesus' death and then waited for the brightness of His resurrection.  

Sometimes, it’s the same in my life. Like the disciples, I often wallow in the murky misery of uncertainty over my problems, unsure of when—if ever—I will feel the light of God’s presence. But I know that despite how I feel, God is working behind the scenes, and in the proper time and place, He will reveal His glorious purposes.

Often, only after the light is restored, do we realize and appreciate the glory of God. For without the darkness of death, there would not be the light of the resurrection.

If you are immersed in the darkness of adversity, remember that often there has to be gloom before there can be glory.

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Dare to Draw Near

I never cared if my dogs, Molson, and later Cody, could hunt, do tricks, or fetch.

I just wanted canine love sponges that would leap for joy when I came home, let me cuddle them, and share our adventure walks.

Molson was a mutt and chased other critters when he could. Other than that, he was laid back, ran to join me when I played the piano, and rolled his eyes in ecstasy with a tummy rub. He looked like a wolf but a chihuahua could intimidate him. Although not the brightest dog in the world, he was the best love sponge ever, and boy, did he get love from me.

Cody was a pure-bred Cocker spaniel, and he was, well, cocky and smart. I suspect he drew close to me because it was in his best interest, so I received only so much love from him. He treated tummy rubs as if they were his due for not pooping in the house. Still, he had endearing ways. Molson, Cody, and I bonded wonderfully. I loved them both and still miss them.

But how much more does my Creator, God, love me? I am created in His image. He invites me to draw near, even though He is the Alpha and Omega. I should tremble at the thought of drawing close, yet something draws me to Him as instinctively and fearlessly as my dogs were drawn to me.

James tells us God invites us to draw near to Him, and, best of all, He will come near to us. When we faithfully come to Him by praying and reading His Word, we become God’s “love sponges.” In His presence, we soak up His love and, with a little squeezing, pour out that love on others.

If we can love our pets unconditionally, how much more should we love everyone and reach out to those who appear unlovable, cute, or smart.

Why not be like a love sponge and give everyone a good squeeze?

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A Firm Foundation

Gene was a good handyman, so when he decided to build a small storage shed, his wife thought it was a good idea.

However, Gene decided he wouldn’t make a foundation for the building so he could build it faster. The shed looked good at first. It was sturdy and well-built. Not having a firm foundation didn’t seem to affect the shed for several years. Then the door became hard to open because the building sagged just enough to cause the door to drag on the ground.

Over time, it became evident the shed was sinking and shifting to one side. Years later, the building was noticeably lower on the right side. Gene may have saved time, but the leaning shed bore evidence that it had been built on sinking sand.

Jesus had something to say about how we build our houses—and not only our houses but also, and more importantly, our lives. He told His listeners that those who heard and obeyed His commands were also people who built their lives on a rock.

The only firm foundation Christians can build upon is Jesus Christ. Some people build their lives’ foundations on possessions. They believe if they have a beautiful home, an expensive vehicle, or some other treasure, then they will be content. There isn’t anything wrong with these goals, but when people fail to reach them, their foundation may begin to crumble around them.

We can choose to build our foundations on things that will not last or satisfy, or we can build upon the rock of Jesus’ love and salvation. Building upon Jesus assures a firm foundation.

Have you chosen to build your life upon the firm foundation of Jesus Christ?

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Jesus Loves

When I was a little child at Sunday school, I gazed at a felt-board Jesus.

I learned about Jesus’ love for His flock, all of us. Jesus loves, all right. Now I am a senior, and I still treasure the golden glow these simple words bring to me.  

After all these years, this text still tells me that Jesus’ love is a sign God exists. God goes on existing, wanting us to go on living and loving, with a never-say-die attitude.

Love is the greatest symbol of our Christian faith. Today, I sit and pray for the blessing of Jesus’ love for everyone I know and cherish. No such prayer is a waste of time.

We can pray to develop our talents. This way we can all follow the glow of Jesus, the light of love, on our personal journey. We can keep growing in God with faith that Jesus loves.

Well, time for me to carry on with my daily routine. Really, there is no use whining. We believers shall all keep on shining with a glow. Why? because Jesus loves.

How does knowing Jesus loves make a difference in your life?

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Better with Age

Sarah Knauss of Allentown, Pennsylvania, has been listed as the longest-living person in the United States of America.

Guinness World Records recognized Knauss as living to 119 years of age. Her family specified the reason for her longevity of life: living a peaceful and tranquil life. She never let anything get her down. And she lived through some very difficult times—The Great Depression, WW II, and The Vietnam War.

When one of my Facebook friends and close acquaintances had a birthday, I responded with a “Happy Birthday” and told her I hoped all her dreams come true.

“Well, if I have any dreams, they better come true pretty quickly,” she replied.

Apparently, my Facebook friend was concerned about her time running out. A few days later, I heard a minister remark, “Every birthday I have brings me a little bit closer to my heavenly home.”

While that may be true, God can still make this life interesting for as long as we live. Remember Sarai and how she bore a son to Abraham when she was past the age of childbearing. God let these two people enjoy parenthood and fulfill their dreams even in their golden years.

We have two Sarahs here, and they both lived a pleasant and exceptionally great and fulfilling life.

At any time of our life, things can materialize if God wills it. Even in our golden years, Christ has plenty of life to give us. When He is the center of our life, we are really living, no matter what age we are or how long we have lived.

Thank God for the life and opportunities He has given you.

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The Forever Friend

We had no friendship rings, nor were we sworn to each other, but I thought our friendship would last forever.

She was my best friend in every class from kindergarten to grade five. I slept at her home, which was not something my parents encouraged. She traveled a farther distance to my school, and on parting in the evenings, I looked forward to seeing her the next day. She was kind, and I only remember one time we disagreed. I cannot even remember what it was about. It led to a short fight, but we made up.

Our friendship continued until she left for America. She promised to write. Anxiously, I looked for her letter, but it never came. In the years that followed, I hoped I would see her again and that we could renew our friendship. When I came to America as an adult, I contacted her, but I realized we were different than we were as children. Our close childhood bond was not forever.

I am thankful for Jesus, my forever best friend. He never changes or outgrows His relationship with anyone. He is divine and loves everyone the same. Everyone can claim Him as their best friend. As a friend, He loves at all times. His love is immeasurable. He died for us even while we were still sinners.

Thank God, Jesus did not remain in the grave. He rose from the dead and is now in heaven. One day, He will return for us. His promise is true. He will not be like my friend who never wrote. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. The years will not change His love for us nor will distance sever the relationship. We might change, but He does not.

Keep Jesus as your best friend. Study His Word and talk to Him. Hold Him in your heart. He is your forever friend. 

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Progress Takes Time

Perhaps one of the most difficult things when trying to turn our lives around and live righteously is being patient with ourselves.

For me, this is something I am learning to acknowledge and accept. I lived in sin for years, allowing my sinful nature to control me. Now that I am trying to change, it’s a challenge, but I must be patient with myself and understand that change takes time.

Be still and know that I am God. I think this is such a calming and fitting verse. We live in a world where everything is instant, and we like that, but when it comes to a deep and significant transformation, we must relax and trust God through the journey. Sometimes, we must be still and give God time to work within us.

When transitioning from living in sin, we must remember one crucial thing: progress takes time. Everything doesn’t just change in one step where we no longer desire our old ways of living. It’s a process to progress.

For some of us, sinful living became our norm. We don’t know life apart from it. We must take our time and ease away from our sinful nature and step into the life where our spiritual nature controls. If it’s one time the Devil will attack us the hardest, it is when we try to mess with his control. And that is why time is required to build up our spirit and walk in our new nature.

If we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. The closer we move to Him, the further we move away from our sinful ways. We can draw near to God through prayer, reading His Word, watching godly content, and worshipping. We can engage in activities where we build and deepen our relationship with Him, just as we build other relationships.

Take a minute and say, “I know where I was, I know where I want to go, and I understand it will take time.” Sometimes, you might stumble, but be patient with yourself and try again.

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Never Lost

Working all day in her yard, a friend lost an emerald, which she later found in the middle of her kitchen.

Another friend lost a diamond in her church’s recreation hall only to find it a week later in the middle of the recently mopped floor.

My husband found our daughter’s tights in the kitchen pantry. A cousin found her lost earring on the bathroom sink counter after searching for several days.

When I was in the children’s choir at church, I earned a beautiful pin, which I proudly wore and soon lost. Several years later, I came across it, nestled in the grass in my front yard.

On a Sunday morning, as the choir filed into the loft for the worship service, a choir member motioned to the church’s executive director nearby. She explained that she had lost her favorite pin, an angel with a single pearl, several weeks before while at church. He promised to look for it.

After the service, while the choir disrobed, the director appeared with the angel pin in his hand. He explained, “A lady handed it to me before the service began. She said she found it in the middle of the sidewalk outside the church.”

I like to remind God that He knows where my lost items are and can easily help me find them. We should thank God for all His blessings, which are never really lost.

What lost items has God helped you find?

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We Ain't Defeated Yet

When I woke up today, I received the dreadful but expected news that a family friend had passed over.

My friend was way too young. He left too soon because of a rapid, invasive form of cancer. His family and friends all lit a candle for his dear soul. He was a top guy. As Jesus instructed, I went to my room and prayed for healing for the family, as everyone else did who knew this great guy.

One day, our Father will reward all of us. Perhaps when some clever person invents a cure for cancer. We can all pray an offering of such good intentions for everyone we know. Each Christian can pray for healing for any kind of condition, hoping for a better tomorrow with good news. We are Christians, and we ain’t defeated yet.

As we join in prayer, we realize we are all imperfect humans. Anything can happen. We make up the Church, whether we worship together or online. Our prayers provide us with a front-row pew for God’s grace.

Each person of faith can touch others through daily living our faith. Every prayer is doing some good. God will bless us through His beloved Son, Jesus the Lord. Today, the rest of the world woke up, so we can thank Jesus. No cancer or  pandemic can defeat us.

Neither is our faith in Jesus or the power of prayer defeated. We will get through all challenging situations despite being imperfect humans. We can pray and say thank you for the grace of Jesus.

A good man passed away last night, at peace.

Pray and do not worry. Jesus is a top guy too.

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Three Lessons from My Dog

My dog teaches the Bible …wordless lessons … if I’m paying attention.

If you have a dog, I bet yours is like ours. He will not quit until he gets what he wants. He begs and paces until we act. He even chases his tail to get our attention until we grant his request, like opening the door to let him out. Then he knocks on the door with his paw until we let him in—and out and in. When I tell him to wait, he slumps on the floor with his head down and his eyes upward, following my every move with an occasional moan. He’s still asking; he’s just doing it more calmly.

Perhaps the reason he doesn’t give up is that he knows we’ll always come through for him. Even if we can’t respond right away, he has confidence we love him and will take care of his needs.

Jesus told a parable about a widow who kept asking a judge to avenge her adversary. Finally, weary of her persistence, he obliged. Jesus told this parable to encourage us to not doubt but to keep asking.

Praying is not always one and done. Like our dog’s persistence in getting what he asks, continued asking demonstrates faith in our Master. Lesson one noted.

I’ll admit I’m not always calm and confident as I make requests of my Master. At times, I doubt, complain, and even give up because I don’t see the answers in the way and time I’m expecting.

When we trust our Master, we also won’t complain, moan, or pace. However, we will keep asking with faith and confidence. My dog is getting better at this, but he’s not quite there yet. Me too. Lesson two noted.

Additionally, it’s important to understand that life is filled with spiritual warfare, and some battles take longer to win. That’s why Jesus said we should not “lose heart.” He meant we should not get discouraged and give up.

If we’re truly confident in God’s goodwill for us, we will trust His answers and His timing, even as we continue to pray with a watchful eye. Lesson three noted.

Which one of these lessons do you most need to implement in your prayer life?

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Death Road or Life Road

There are two roads in this world.

At some point, we must stop playing on both roads and choose one. I call these two roads life and death. For a long time, I played on both, but I realized I was not progressing, only running in circles and jeopardizing my destination. I also got frustrated trying to live on two roads. Doing so is impossible.

On the life road, our spirits control and guide us, leading us to life. On death road, however, our sinful nature has power over us and leads us along a path that has a dead-end: death.

The death road’s sole purpose is sinful flesh-pleasing, which includes drunkenness, premarital sex, drug addictions, gambling, and anything else that feeds our passions in some way. We find ourselves on this road because we want to feel good, especially when life has us down. The world glorifies self-pleasing, but we must be careful because living a life where sin-motivated activities are dominant leads to death.

The life road is the one we should all travel and stay on. On this road, we walk in the Spirit, and our sinful nature submits to our spirits. When the Spirit is in control, He leads us to peace and everlasting life in paradise. The passions of the flesh don’t entice us, but we aim to live a life that pleases God. When life has us down, we will let the joy of the Lord fulfil us—not the pleasures of the flesh.

Decide to commit to the life road. Start strengthening your spirit by drawing closer to God, so your spirit can take its place on the throne of your heart.

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The Uncomfortableness of Change

The fish landed on the ground and flopped around—and I waited to see what would happen.

When I was a young lad, my grandmother taught me to fish, and I fished regularly until life got too busy. If I fished with my grandmother, we did so in a small wooden—and then later, aluminum—boat. If I went with my brother or by myself, I stood on the bank.

More than once I had a fish fall to the bottom of the boat or on the bank because the hook was barely engaged or because the fish slipped from my hands as I removed the hook. As soon as the fish hit the ground, it flopped around. It was out of its normal environment. Instinct told it if it didn’t return to water, it would die. Sometimes the flopping was so intense that the fish flopped back into the water. Most of the time, it simply died.

In a verse that had immediate application to Israel—but future meaning to any who chose to follow God—God assured His people that He had good plans for them.

Israel’s future was bright. Unfortunately, they didn’t always share God’s vision. Like a fish out of water, they flopped around, desiring what wasn’t best for them.

Being out of water makes a fish uncomfortable. Change has occurred. Rather than succumb to what’s ahead—being cooked and eaten—the fish yearns for what it has always known.

God’s plans often make us uncomfortable too. I call it change. Instead of giving in and following what we know is a good plan, we often flop around like a fish out of water until we fall back into my normal traditions or customs—where we feel comfortable again.

When God presents us with His plan, our only choices are to move ahead—kicking and screaming … flopping around—or to forge ahead with excitement and belief that where God is leading is better than where we are. A journey we can only take by faith.

God’s plan usually puts us in an uncomfortable place, but our responsibility entails believing His plan is preferable to ours and will always lead us into a brighter future. And it will. His plan is for our good, not disaster.

How are you responding to God’s plan?

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Deja Vu

I couldn’t figure out why it was so hard to remember the French I studied.

Although I went over each lesson several times, I still made the same mistakes. I reviewed what I had done wrong, but it seemed as if I repeated my faux pas. Here I go again. Would I ever learn?

We like to think that sanctification means we are less likely to sin. Then we slip and commit the same old sins again. We wonder if we will ever overcome them. Sometimes, we confuse God’s grace with fulfilling our desires. Thankfully, we can repent and confess our disobedience to God and receive His forgiveness, but we are left with the consequences of our evildoing.

The Romans struggled with wrongs they had committed before becoming Christians. Paul reminded them that if they continued to live in sin, God would not show them more grace. Somewhat like not wanting to have mud puddles when it rains. Instead, they needed to remember that because of Christ’s death they were dead to sin and had a new life to show for it.

Our struggles against wrongdoing reflect that we are adopted into God’s family. After being saved, we do not just try harder not to sin. Rather, we let God live through our lives and enable us to do the opposite of our natural impulses. And we can do this because we have new life.

Like my French lesson, I do not have to keep copying my blunders. I can start with a clean slate. I need to remind myself of my new identity as someone who is learning from my errors.

Ask God for the strength to overcome your sinful tendencies.

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God Wants Us to Be Happy

When I woke up, I felt happy.

I thought, God wants me to be happyIt is a blessed Sunday. There is always something to look forward to, at any age. A friend planned to visit to give me her former coffee machine. Since I am addicted to coffee, this made me happy. Free hugs and decent coffee with a friend.

As I spend my prayer time praying for my family and friends, I also pray for happiness because John records that God wants us all to be happy.

Happiness is part of our Christian life. Happiness means staying positive, as much as we ordinary humans can. Even in tough times, we can seek the things God loves and follow Jesus’ virtues. From this, true happiness stems.

Now that I am a senior adult, I can tell others that our ideal is to do the best we can and to let the future take care of itself. To follow Jesus’ virtues in this way can cause any Christian to experience inner peace and contentment. God will empower our emotional well-being.

I, too, waste thoughts. We all do. Doing so can be fun, but also futile. God wants me to wake up happy, One of Jesus’ great virtues is and was His friendship, which brings me joy.  

Remember that God woke you up to be happy.

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No Baggage Beyond This Point

While living, we are caught between life and death.

We are stuck between our spiritual and sinful nature. When we accept Jesus, it’s time to walk the Christian journey, but we feel stuck. Perhaps this stuck feeling comes because we want to carry our worldly living baggage on this new journey and we cannot.

For almost fifteen years, I found myself stuck, trying to fulfill my desires in my ways—like getting drunk to escape life’s frustrations, yet trying to live righteously.

Jesus tells us to let go of our way of doing things and follow His. But we can’t do that if we hold to our baggage.

We all have baggage. It contains fleshly motivated behaviors which we think give us the satisfaction we need. When we are overwhelmed by life, we open those bags and pull out our self-made comforters. These can include alcohol, drugs, premarital sex, abusive behaviors toward self and others, burying ourselves in our work or relationships, or taking ourselves back to toxic people and places.

These things may feel good now—we might feel better—but at what cost? These self-made comforters hold us in bondage and damage us mentally and spiritually.

From personal experience, I know it is hard and even impossible to carry that baggage and try to carry God in our hearts too. We may think this baggage contains things that have gotten us through the toughest times of our lives, or we may not know how to live life without these things. But the Enemy will deceive us into thinking these things help us. They won’t.

List out the contents of your baggage and become aware of how it holds you in bondage. In faith, cross those items off and leave that baggage behind. It will take time—and you might stumble—but keep trying and striving.

Give up your way to make room for God’s way.  

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The Plank in My Eye

Some sermons resonate and some pass over the heads of those who have closed ears, hearts, or full minds.

A recent sermon at Northside Christian Church in Springfield, Missouri, was a fiery testament about judgment. It hit me between my own plank-infused eyes.

I judged my friend for her small betrayal, forgetting about the knife still stuck in her back from years of pain I carelessly tossed into the abyss of unrepentant sins.

I judged my colleague for not caring about my struggles, when I saw in the mirror a careless friend in myself. When did I invest in others what I expect of them?

I judged my child for unapologetic disrespect. Yet I sadly realized he learned this behavior from his mother. From me.

I judged a younger generation for showing signs of gross entitlement. Yet I failed to see the lack of civility and community engagement my generation put forth.

I judged my leaders for laws and statutes infringing upon my beliefs. How seamlessly I ignored the beliefs of others.

I judged myself for past sins long ago forgiven while current sins, struggles, and thorns of my flesh daily persist and continue unchecked.

I blamed my heavenly Father for breaking my heart, believing He could have changed the outcome. Now I know, He didn’t break my heart. He sat with me through the pain. He patiently waited for me to seek His comfort. He stitched up the pieces of my brokenness and made me whole again.

My God never broke my heart. Rather, He used the world’s brokenness to heal my sin, my shame, my unmet expectations, and my pain. He lovingly, protectively, and irrevocably used my splintered, imperfect path to connect a journey straight to Him.

Until we face our demons, we can’t begin to love those souls whom God strategically places on our path for the sole purpose of leading them to Him. Or perhaps, them leading us to a Lord we thought we knew years ago—but have yet to meet personally at the foot of His divine humanness, glorified resurrection, and intimate daily relationship.

Do you need to remove some planks from your eyes?

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Measuring Our Worth

Our worth is often measured by our occupation, net worth, education, outward beauty, social status, accomplishments, or the value we add to the world. 

But are these true measuring rods? Maintaining a reputable occupation, owning nice things, or having attractive features are all good. However, we often believe the lie that our worth is measured by what we do to earn these things or that we deserve them. We may even gauge our worth on what others do compared to us.

The truth is the cross measures our value, and we are all the same at the foot of it. Our worth comes from God alone, not anything else. 

Jesus demonstrated how much we are worth by dying on the cross to save us. We have done nothing to earn or deserve our worth. God gave us our worth. We are infinitely valuable to Him because of the price He paid to make us worthy. Each of us is equal to the next person—regardless of occupation, net worth, BMI, or education—because He created each one of us and died for all of us.

We can grow in our relationship with others when we realize our value because of the cross and that we possess immense worth through the eyes of our Creator.

Everything God, the Great Artist, does is breathtaking, including how He created us. He embroidered us with great skill and made us mysteriously complex, skillfully shaping us from nothing into something. He planned our days, and every single one of them was written in His book before any of them existed. He cherishes us in His every thought, and we are immensely valuable to Him.

Have you believed the lie that your worth is measured by what you do? Or have you ever measured your value by comparing yourself to others? Think of one thing you can do today to let go of a lie you’ve believed or a comparison you’ve made. Embrace what God says about you. 

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Giving in Secret

Working for a local university’s charitable foundation, I processed thousands of donations each year.

What surprised me more than donors’ immense generosity was the varying expectations they held regarding the recognition they desired for their giving. Some politely requested their donations remain anonymous. Desiring nothing in return, they did not want their name listed on donor rolls, on invitations to ritzy galas, or on any awards. Other donors did not feel they had been recognized enough. Some even threatened to refrain from sending another cent if the foundation did not make them feel more appreciated for their generosity.

In teaching His followers how to give, Jesus denounced those who gave with skewed motives in the synagogues and streets. Seeking recognition and honor from others, they ensured others saw their giving so they could lavish them with praise. Jesus says our giving should be done in secret so that not even our left hand will know what the right hand is doing. Then we will be rewarded.

While acknowledgment from others for our giving may feel good at the moment, it is fleeting. The greatest and most fulfilling reward is the eternal reward from our Father in heaven who sees everything. When we give with an authentic desire to honor Him and help others, we please Him.

When we give our money, time, or talents to those in need, we should reflect upon the motivation for our generosity. Is it to be seen by others, to garner recognition from those around us, or to feel esteemed? Or is our intent to bless another?

Ask the Holy Spirit to help reveal the motives of your heart and to remind you that you serve an audience of One who sees all, including that which is done in secret. 

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Do You Trust Me?

"Do you trust me?" I heard the Holy Spirit whisper as I sat on an old lifeguard chair overlooking a lake at a family camp I attended while growing up.

The question gripped my heart, and my eyes filled with tears as I contemplated my response. I wasn't sure I trusted God, but I had nowhere else to turn. I mumbled a desperate "yes," trying to hold back the tears that drifted down my face.

Lifeguarding had been my main job since I was fifteen years old. I was filling in that day for a friend who needed coverage. Summer had just begun, and I had received notice that I had two weeks to move out of my childhood home. Only eighteen at the time, I suddenly needed a full-time job to support myself, but I didn't have a car or a college degree.

I needed a miracle to find a roof to sleep under, employment, and transportation. As the shift ended, I came off the lifeguard chair with red puffy eyes. As the recreational director and I sat in his office and debriefed, a miracle happened.

"Every summer, we put together a recreation staff. Applications for this summer started in January, but we are looking for one more person. Would you be interested? The only requirement is that you live here for the summer. We would provide your room and board, and you wouldn't need a car," the director said. I took the job.

That summer marked the beginning of a trust journey with God that was one of the most challenging journeys I have ever taken. I would not have wanted it to go any other way. I discovered I could trust God with anything.

God provided for me in miraculous ways I had never experienced throughout the years that followed. He is worthy of our trust.

Trust God with what's going on in your life right now. Don’t hold on to the situation and try to control it yourself.

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He Almost Died

Brian survived a massive heart attack.

On Brian’s way to the hospital, his heart stopped four times. Sometimes, when people die, they appear to go through a tunnel and see bright lights. All Brian saw was darkness.

When I hear of someone I know passing away, I stop in my tracks and think about death. Brian is a Christian, so why he did not see a bright light? When I hear that he saw darkness instead, I wonder if he is saved. Was he on his way to hell if he had died? Although if we see darkness, it may not mean we are going to hell.

To receive eternal life, we must call on the name of the Lord. When we pray for salvation, it is about giving God our whole heart. God is omniscient, so He knows those who believe and those who do not.

As I do street witnessing, I encounter people who reject Jesus. What makes me sad is seeing anyone reject Jesus. No one knows the day or hour when we will die. We just know that each day we live, we are a day closer to death.

Brian was given a second chance. Someday Brian will die and not come back. If we want to go to heaven, we need to call on Jesus and accept Him with our whole hearts, not just give Him lip service.

Have you called on Jesus? 

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Matthew Trees

I’ll never forget Sunday, February 2, 1997.

As I prepared a Bible lesson, my sister called from Pensacola with horrific news. Matthew, our fifteen-year-old nephew, had been killed in a skateboard accident.

I hung up the phone, staggered out the front door of our Birmingham home, and found my husband and our twelve-year-old son planting two dogwood trees. We hugged and grieved over our family’s tragic loss.

Later that afternoon, our neighbor heard the news, looked out her front window at the newly planted dogwoods, and said, “Those are the Matthew Trees.”

The dogwood trees’ blossoms resemble Christ’s cross, a stunning reminder of His death and resurrection. In the year I was born, my family built a new house on West Blount Street in Pensacola. My father planted dogwood trees in our front yard between the sidewalk and the street. As a little girl, I regularly climbed in those trees and imagined myself to be on neighborhood watch. 

My husband and I moved from Alabama ten years ago. One of the “Matthew Trees” did not survive its first year, but the other stood like a sentry in front of the living room window. When we visit our son in Birmingham, we drive by our former home and think of Matthew.

I was reminded while viewing a post-abortion-recovery video that children who have left us through abortion, miscarriage, or other untimely deaths are never really gone. They may no longer be with us on earth, but I believe they have a purpose in heaven as they train with Jesus.

Take a moment to remember and be thankful for all of God’s children, here and in heaven. 

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Simply Simplifying

My wife and I once went on a giving-away-and-throwing-out binge.

Inertia kept us from moving until we realized that, in our eighth decade of life, we should refresh our house while we were as young as we ever would be.

We wanted to save some stuff—cherished memories from a lifetime—but we understood that when we were gone, no one else would want our old things. What might be significant to us was probably not worth saving for our family. Who would play the CDs we had accumulated? I, for one, wrestled with disposing of old tech I had stored in a closet. What if I needed it again? And is there any reason to save ten pairs of Grandpa’s glasses?

No seasons of life make change easy. Change forces us to face our weakness and loss of ability. I called a friend who had lost his eight-year-old daughter two years before, realizing that this was a tender time for him. He said he realized anew how fragile life is, as well as the need to be thankful to the Lord in every situation. I thought, This is what it means to number our days and present to God a heart of wisdom.

No matter what changes come our way, we can be sure God loves us and is in control of all of them.

Simply simplifying involves eliminating things from our life but with an attitude of gratitude. It asks the Lord to show us how to pare down so we can serve Him better. This applies both to the stuff we have accumulated as well as to activities that keep us too busy for people who need our attention.

Ask God to help you stay focused on the Lord Jesus, not on the things of this world.

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Cicadas Only Sing When It's Hot

Around late July or early August, the temperatures feel as if they approach nuclear level in the South (USA), and humidity thickens the air. This is the time when cicadas emerge.

My evening walks are my time to unwind and talk over the day with Jesus. One week, when it had cooled down to a balmy 93 degrees after a heat index of 112, I ventured out for a walk. 

I tried not to grumble about the temperature or how quiet the evening was—even the songbirds had gone to bed early to escape the heat. Rather than let complaining thoughts take over and sour my time with the Lord, I thought of things for which to thank God: freedom, health to walk, the beautiful sunset He had painted, and…

Then I heard it. A low, bagpipe droning sound. The cicadas were singing. It was too hot for the songbirds but just right for the cicadas to take up the praise.

Cicadas need heat to become active and start singing. Their muscles contract to make a special organ called a tymbal which vibrates. Their wings click and flick. A symphony of rhythm and percussion fills the air.

Perhaps the same is true of us. Depending on the season we are in, we each have a different song with which to praise the Lord. We have praise, lament, day, and night songs. And some of our songs can only be produced by heat.

When you find yourself in a fiery trial (or out for a walk on a sweltering summer evening), find a few things you can thank God for. Ask Him to teach you a new song. Remember the cicadas and the heat, then sing.

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Celebrate His Birth

Christmas. That blessed time of year when we celebrate the birth of Jesus—Christ, Messiah, Redeemer, Emmanuel, Savior, Counselor, the Prince of Peace.

But it’s also an opportunity for us to celebrate our own re-birth, made possible by what Jesus did for us thirty-three and one-half years after His entrance into this world. It’s the perfect time to remember and reflect on His love and all the wonderful things He’s done in our lives.

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes: “As you celebrate the wonder of my birth in Bethlehem, celebrate also your rebirth into eternal life. This everlasting gift was the sole purpose of my entering your sin-stained world. Receive my gift with awe and humility. Take time to explore the vast dimensions of my love. Allow thankfulness to flow freely from your heart in response to my glorious gift. ~ Jesus”

This year as you enjoy the music, twinkling lights, gifts, parties, and time with your friends and family, take a moment to be thankful for the gift of salvation and the promise of your eternal home in heaven.

May this be the merriest, most Jesus-filled Christmas ever.

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Show Me the Way

“Oh no!” I sighed as I pressed my nose and hands against the glass.

My family and friends had just gotten off the subway, but I failed to get off in time. I was still aboard, speeding to an unknown location in a foreign country. As the train pulled away, I looked back at them in sheer terror. Where was I going? The subway car was packed with people whose words I did not understand. I panicked and prayed for God's help.

When the subway finally halted at the next station, I was afraid to stay on the train but more afraid to get off. I made a mad dash for the door without taking time to think. Pushing through the crowd, I wondered how I would get back to the others. I had no idea and no one to ask. Still not knowing what to do, I prayed: “Dear God, please show me the way.”

I am sure everyone knew I was a tourist when they saw the panic on my face. Two teenage girls who spoke English noticed me and asked if they could help. After I explained my dilemma, they offered to accompany me back to my family at the last station. I was so grateful for their help. What a reunion when we pulled into the station, and I could see those familiar faces waiting for me. After such a traumatic experience, I vowed never to let my family or friends out of my sight again.

Some detours are just an inconvenience on the way forward. Others cause us to go in the wrong direction entirely. The latter requires turning around and going back to the beginning again.

Being separated from loved ones in a foreign country made me think about my life before I knew Jesus Christ. I was alone and headed in the wrong direction. God sent His Son, Jesus, to show me the way. The way back is toward the Father’s love and forgiveness.

If you are headed in the wrong direction, God is waiting to show you the way back to Himself.

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Life: The Great Melodrama

I’ve never enjoyed taking a shower. Or calling a bath a luxury. And what’s luxurious about doing my toilet?

All the stuff I have to do in the morning is just a necessary preamble to getting on with the delicious twenty-four hours that lay ahead of me—beginning with the mug of bold roast poured from the insulated French press, the daily newspaper waiting on my computer, and the sour-dough toast liberally spread with butter.

Fortified now, I face the scramble to find the black jacket that someone moved, then listen to the traffic report as I sit like a bird on a wire on the interstate. Okay, so the whole twenty-four hours isn’t delicious.

Perhaps Solomon, that great Eeyore of philosophers, was right when he observed that all things are full of weariness. The truth is, life is just a series of reoccurring themes, entrance and exit.

I guess that’s why I dislike showers. They remind me of what I did yesterday and will do again tomorrow…and the next day. Life is a spinning mass of redundancy. How depressing, or at the very least, uninspiring.

Solomon admonished us to keep occupied with joy, which most certainly begs the question how? How do we find the script for joy in this finite state? Our infinite souls haunt us to be more…to seek more…to love more…to take humanity to its edges before we exit.

Thankfully, there is an antidote to this weary world and its repetitive themes. God assures us He is the Director for this improv we call life. In fact, life is a short piece of community theater. We have been invited to participate with conviction, believability, and joy. Let’s not anticipate our lines but let the script flow naturally, knowing it’s been written for us by the Sovereign Director. Let’s embrace our part, letting our synergy and segues bounce and flow from one scene to the next with unspeakable joy…or heart-wrenching sorrow…or unmitigated wonder…or whatever the scene requires.

Our task is to live well between the entrance and the exit and to rejoice in our God-given role, not to get lost in the redundancy of time’s melodrama—even while taking a shower. 

Don’t lose your joy in the melodrama called life.

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The Disease of Complaining

I was in Africa when the COVID-19 outbreak surged.

People were afraid because it seemed the virus had affected someone in everyone’s family. Hospital wards were filled as doctors and nurses cared for the ill. People thought being in the same room as a sick person would make them sick (there was an absence of vaccines at that time). The fear of illness was foremost in peoples’ minds.

But I have found a much more contagious virus—the virus of complaining. If I am in a room with someone who is complaining or criticizing, I am infected. The desire to worry suddenly takes over my thought processes and changes my attitude. I lose my focus on God and the positive things He is doing in my life.

After God sent ten plagues, Pharaoh freed the children of Israel from slavery in Egypt. All of them witnessed the destruction of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. They saw the fire and heard the voice coming from Mount Sinai. Who could deny these miracles? However, in almost no time, they rebelled, built a golden calf, and grumbled—first about their need for water and then about their lack of food.

Could the same God who rescued them from Egypt provide water for them to drink? Surrounded by their animals, they moaned about not having meat to eat. Like me, they wanted what they wanted right then and were unwilling to wait on God to provide in His time. Just a moment of reflection would have caused them to remember how God had already taken care of them. Could one positive word by one of the complainers have changed the scenario?

When I am tempted to complain, my complaint is actually lodged against God. I accuse Him of not being loving or caring. Thanksgiving is the way to turn the corner against complaining.

Will you choose to thank instead of complain?

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Rejoice Always

We sang it every Sunday morning in Bible school. Between this song and “He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills,” I thought I would die.

“Rejoice in the Lord Always.” I had no idea it was a song from scripture or that singing it would help me as I grew. But it did.

As I grew into a young adult, I faced the same things others faced. Would I participate in the drinking games my friends played, or would I give up my virginity in an ungodly manner? Fortunately, the response was no to both. I had no idea what saying no would mean.

My friends labeled me a goody-two-shoes, a coward, and a church girl. My mother reminded me, “Doing the right thing will land you at your locker alone more than with someone.” She was right. I grew to hate high school, but I never questioned my saying no because I saw my friend’s consequences of saying yes.

I remember a friend who called me to pick her up at a party. I held her hair as she vomited from drinking. In the back of my mind, I heard that little song, “Rejoice in the Lord Always.” I loaded her into my car and drove her home because her boyfriend was too drunk to drive. The next day she laughed at me because I didn’t join in the fun.

When I sat holding my two babies, praying God would get me through the day so I could escape an alcoholic husband, once again, I heard the song. When I divorced and was penniless and carless, it gave me strength.

Paul suffered through much: beatings, prison, starvation, shipwrecks, the elements. Yet, he looked to heaven in every circumstance and gave thanks. He reminded the people of the command in this and the great value of it in their lives. Be grateful in everything, be it good or bad, for it is the will of God.

It's funny how a childhood Sunday school song dug deeply into my heart and found its way out when I needed it most. While my children are now grown, and I am thirty-five years married, rarely does a day pass that I don’t recall and repeat that song and scripture.

This Thanksgiving, rejoice and give thanks for the Lord is faithful in your life. May your Thanksgiving be filled with rejoicing.

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Jehovah-Jireh: The Lord Will Provide

I once had a blood clot—a deep-vein thrombosis—lodged in the artery between my heart and lung.

Many people do not survive this type of blood clot. My recovery took some time. At the same time, my wife and I had a storm that damaged our roof. Added to this, the compressor on our air conditioning unit failed. When I did the math on the medical bills and repairs, it totaled ten thousand dollars—and I was out of work without pay. I wondered how we would get through these circumstances.

One day, as I doubted God’s provision, I arrived at a gas station to fuel my car. I noticed a lady on the other side of the pumps, standing with a pump handle in her hand and looking a little puzzled. I asked if she needed help, and she asked, “Do you want some free gas?”

She explained that she had fuel points for free gas, but her tank was full. I could have the rest. I thought it might be a gallon or two, but I pumped a full tank of gas into my car.

As I look back on that day, I believe God was saying, “Ken, I know you are a little nervous about your bills, but if I can provide gas for you free of charge, I can also pay your bills.”

Sometime later, I got a letter from the Internal Revenue Service. A letter from the IRS is usually bad news. The letter had a check for five thousand dollars—and it wasn’t a refund. That year, I had owed the government. I called them to verify, and they said it was my money. I made sure I got their names.

Within six months, God helped us pay all our bills. When circumstances are at their worst, financial or otherwise, the Lord will provide.

Are you overwhelmed by financial burdens? Your heavenly Father has them under control.

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A Horrific Weekend

At the same time I was writing this devotion, I was taking a home seminary course.

Needing help with something, I emailed the instructor. After not hearing from him for two weeks, the roaring lion tried to devour me. The Lord knew what I thought. I felt like giving up. He used a Friday morning devotion to tell me about a girl who had run a race and was happy because she persevered and finished. While the story gave me some peace, I still felt attacked throughout the day. But I prayed and did my best to heed the Lord’s message to persevere.

On Saturday, my morning devotion asked whether prayers made from pain ever reach God. I also read a different devotion to my men’s Bible study. This one encouraged us to look back at our lives to see how Jesus had helped us through difficult times.

I still felt uneasy and let the Enemy have a foothold in my thoughts. I decided to call a Christian crises hotline. Amazingly, the counselor reiterated the message on perseverance, saying sometimes we have to keep pushing the big stone, even though it does not go anywhere.

On Sunday morning, the pastor’s sermon was on spiritual warfare. I asked for prayer after the service. On Monday morning, I received an email from my professor with my questions answered.

The weekend was difficult because Satan roared, but the Lord was with me all the time. My experience taught me about spiritual warfare and about using the different pieces of our spiritual armor.

Make sure to put on your spiritual armor every day.

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Digital Disciples

As I was one person living in the pandemic world, I had to adapt.

Like many Christians in lockdown, faith meant learning a new way and why of living as a witness to Jesus. I had to become a digital disciple. Being a digital disciple involved learning new ways to follow Jesus.

I can ask myself—as anyone can—“Who is Jesus?” Our Christian faith is centered on Jesus, who came from God. He offered Himself as a sacrifice on a rugged cross and freed us. I believe He still lives among His disciples on earth today.

Obeying His command to go into all the world and tell others about Him requires answering the question, “Who is Jesus?” Jesus is the greatest preacher, healer, and teacher of all time.

A disciple is defined as a follower, so the digital world has not changed the definition. Pandemic faith has offered me creativity in prayer and worship. Like many others, I can access online worship, Facebook faith communities, and Zoom messages with friends of faith. Live-streaming services exist across denominational lines, as well as do online prayers.

Although logging on frequently to the digital world of faith, I can still learn through other means about following the true meaning of Christianity.  

Even after public gatherings return, we can remain digital disciples also, connected to our friends in the faith. I thank the Lord for the creative inventors of the computer world that allowed us to be digital disciples during a worldwide pandemic.

No matter what happens in the world, be a disciple of Christ.

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By Grace

I knelt in a pew of our ornate sanctuary before the time of the high sacrament of communion.

An ancient icon of Jesus stared through me. This was a sacred time, where I felt guilt and trepidation. I knew I was unworthy of God’s forgiveness. If I could see him with my eyes, surely His face would be stern as stone.

This was nothing new. I attended church most Sundays. I spent my life at school during the week and at parties on the weekends, where drinking to excess was the norm. I also had a strong desire for beautiful women. My shyness with them protected me from a great deal of harm. In many ways, I was a normal teenager, but before the Lord, I was a sinner and knew it.

My faith in God was not biblical, however. If you asked me if I were going to heaven, I would have said, “I hope so.” Not until I attended a gospel concert by a former Santana singer, Leon Patillo, did my understanding of true Christianity take root.

Between his skillful keyboard playing and soulful songs, he spoke about his relationship with Jesus. He spoke as though he knew him as a friend, and I was intrigued. He explained that Jesus paid the price for our sins on the cross and now offers us a relationship with Him because of it. I learned that salvation is a gift from God that we receive by grace through faith.

That day, my life was transformed with a simple prayer, asking Jesus to forgive me and start my life anew. I made Him the Lord and Savior of my life.

If you haven’t made Jesus your Savior, will you do the same?

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Hanging by a Thread

Overwhelmed. Alone. Hanging by a thread. We’ve all been there a time or two.

When I lost my younger sister last year—just as the world had shut down from Covid—I felt alone in my grief. Cut off from physical contact with friends and family, I dealt with emotions difficult to process on my own. There seemed nowhere to go, and no one to turn to for help. Until I realized there is one avenue always open to me. Jesus waited for me to turn to Him so he could heal my broken heart.

The young woman Jesus encountered found herself at that point. Desperately needing answers and out of options for where to turn. The condition with which she suffered separated her from loved ones for twelve long years.

But she heard Jesus was coming through town. Her faith told her if she could grab on to a tiny thread of His robe, she would be healed. She must have been frightened to make her way through the crowd, let alone touch Him. But she took a risk, mustered up her faith, and made her way to Him. She reached out and grabbed for the fringe on the hem of His garment.

Sensing her touch, Jesus stopped. He faced her and called her “Daughter.” He acknowledged the courage it took to make her way through the crowd to Him, demonstrating her belief in His healing power.

Do you ever find yourself in this woman’s shoes? Barely hanging on, feeling like there’s no one to turn to for help? Follow her lead–dare to reach out and touch Jesus. Snag that thread on the hem of His garment.

The thin thread you’re hanging on to will lead you to the Savior who longs to say to you, “Courage. You took a risk of faith, and now you’re well.”

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Set Free

During the twenty-five years that I served as a licensed mental health therapist, I found few of the Christians I treated (including ministers) possessed a sense of freedom.

This failed sense of freedom contributed to their mental health problems. I confess that much of my service also lacked a freed-heart approach to life. Adherence to people’s needs, along with an overwhelming work ethic, produced a furrowed brow and a tense stomach.

Free love was a slogan some years ago, and it had promiscuousness associated with it. The description, free spirit, was associated with the hippie movement during the early part of my career. I did not want to be associated with their excesses. But what I did not understand was that without freedom ruling a life, a person is enslaved by life and their past. Christ has set us free, and God’s children must watch out for this world’s yokes of slavery.

Yet without love we are nothing. Different types and definitions of love exist—some types are righteous and free while other types enslave and addict.

Having a sense of freedom, or being a free spirit, is God’s desire. Today’s reflection verse tells God’s children they are set free to live in freedom.

Christ has freed His children from themselves, their fallen nature, and the Law. God’s entire Law is summed up in the commandment to love those around us. Love sets us free. No child of God is a free spirit without trusting, rejoicing, and sharing in what Christ has done for them as they live in love’s victory. God’s children are free-spirited love children.

Seek after a heart that is free from this world and all that is in it by abiding in your first love—the Lord Jesus Christ—and what He has done for you.

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God, Our Rock

A rock is a solid structure that only grows stronger with time. It can take thousands of years for a rock to change.

When I chose new flooring for my house, I chose a good grade of plywood because I wanted a solid floor—one that would last for a while. The strong pyramids of Egypt were made of limestone rock, and they stood the test of time. Builders trust construction foundations made of rock and stone because they provide a sure foundation that will last.

The psalmist compares the Lord to a rock. Moses referred to the Lord as a rock because of the mighty strength and power He demonstrated to the children of Israel when He delivered them from the mighty hand of Pharoah.

Paul compares Jesus to a rock. He says our fathers of old drank the same spiritual drink because they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them and that Rock was Christ.

Our Savior is strong and powerful like a solid rock foundation. Not only is He mighty and powerful in physical strength, but He is also tenderhearted like a newborn baby—forgiving seventy times seven.

Our God—who is strong enough to wipe us all out in a moment—wants to have a loving relationship with His sons and daughters. He’s not the bad guy. 

God is a merciful, loving Savior in whom you can put all your trust.

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Brain Blahs and a Bird’s Nest

Her little nose crinkled as she peered over the counter—her big brown eyes giving her away before she could say, “Mama, I have a question.”

Smiling at the resolve in her voice, I braced myself for what would come next. With my girl, it was never just one question.

“So, you know those robin eggs? The ones under our honeysuckle? And you know how we can’t touch them because otherwise the mommy won’t come back and take care of them? Welp, I just don’t get that. How could a mommy ever leave her babies?”

I would like to say I responded with something profound, but what came forth from my sleep-deprived brain was more like a “Wah. Wah. Wah. Wah. Wah. Wah.” By the time I ran out of words, my girl looked more confused than ever.

For a moment, we sat in awkward silence. Something gave way to her hands-on-her-hips answer, “Welp, I guess there are just some things I’m not gonna get. I guess God understands for all of us.”

Then she hopped down from her counter perch and gave me a squish, her words reaching deeply into my grown-up heart. She had said it all. Sometimes this world doesn’t make sense. In the middle of pandemics, riots, and division. In the middle of pain, loss, and broken relationships. In the middle of all life’s chaos and confusion.

We are left searching, trying our best to reconcile the pain of this world with a loving and merciful God. Even in our aching and doubt, a greater story is being written for our good, for God’s purpose, and for the sake of eternity. And in every page lies this promise: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. This hope is not temporary or tenuous but endures through all of life’s circumstances.

Even when it hurts. Even when it’s hard. Even when it doesn’t make sense. He purposefully understands for all of us.

We serve a God who is worthy of our trust in the most gutting circumstances. He longs to hold us, carry us, and cover us in the sufficiency of His love. But we must be willing to trust and fall into the strength of His arms.

What steps can you take to trust God in all circumstances?

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Memory

Memory is a fantastic thing.

I once connected on Facebook with an acquaintance I had not seen or even thought about for over sixty years. He mentioned us playing basketball together. Instantly, I remembered him in that context—and retrieved stored data from the recesses of my mind.

God wants us to recover information from our past to help us navigate present or future situations.

Some say the Book of Deuteronomy could be called the book of remembering. Over and over again, before he died, Moses told Israel to remember. The past is always the key to the present and future. Moses knew his people's tendency to let their hearts stray, their minds wander, and their emotions deceive them.

When trials and temptations come, and they always do, we engage them by remembering God's faithfulness in the past. When the prophet Jeremiah was afflicted, he said, "Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning (Lamentations 3:21-23 NLT). Embedded in the memory of this prophet were experiences that made these statements true. In his time of need, his memory of God's faithfulness sustained him.

When the battle rages in our minds or we find ourselves sinking into the deep waters of unbelief, the path to our heart is always through our minds. We can't prevent every thought from entering our minds, but we can control that flow of information. God has etched upon our minds all those instances of His love and care for us.

Dwell on God's faithfulness in the past, and He will turn present and future perplexities into peace, as well as fear into faith.

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Jesus Loves People

I was at the store picking up a few items.

As I headed toward the checkout area, my eyes connected with those of a tall guy. He had long hair, giant muscles, and looked a little scary. Smiling, I moved on to the open checkout line at the other end.

“Hey! Mrs. Adams.” I heard the voice and instantly realized my mistake. “You not gonna do me like that now, are ya?”

At a quick trot, I turned around, leaving my buggy behind, and embraced the big, scary-looking guy.

As I hugged him, I remembered him sitting in my fourth-grade class trying to learn his times' tables. He was too old to be in fourth grade, didn’t have much support at home, and was somewhat of a troublemaker—but I loved this kid. And now, here he was, practically a grown man.

We stood there and caught up on his life, and I encouraged him to keep working hard. We said our goodbyes, and I couldn’t help but smile. That big ole scary boy took the time to talk to his fourth-grade teacher and still wanted his hug like always.

No matter how tough someone may appear, everyone wants to be loved. Jesus wasn’t drawn to the popular crowd or the religious folks. He spent time with the outcasts—the ones others shied away from.

Seeing my former student reminded me we can’t judge a book by its cover. We need to take the time to invest in people around us and get to know them. Deep down inside, every person is still a little fourth grader who wants a hug and an “attaboy,” no matter how scary they may appear on the outside.

Ask God to teach you His kind of love.

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Live for Others

I attended a Bible college when I was younger, which had a motto that read, Live for others

An example of someone living for others is when my mamma, daddy, and I had a virus that kept us from going anywhere far from the house, except to attend church. Even then, we sat in our van and listened to a loudspeaker set up for that purpose. 

One of my mother’s sisters bought groceries and other things we needed and put them on our porch. That is a good example of what it means to live for others. 

Even though it’s true that some nice people who do not know the Lord still perform good works—but that their good works won’t save them—good works will accompany salvation.  We do those good works as Christians because we love the Lord—just as we read our Bibles, pray, and attend church for the same reason. Our love for others shows we love God. 

Another way we can live for others is to pray for them. As I heard one of the students say at that Bible college, “The least we can do is the most we can do—pray.” 

As Christians, we can pray and move the heart of God as we remain clean before Him. The Bible contains many examples of prayer. It also includes many instances of people praying for others, especially righteous people praying for the unrighteous—as well as for those on the edge of becoming unrighteous. 

In whatever way you can, live for others in Jesus’ name, especially by asking Him into your heart if you don’t know Him. That’s the best way to start. 

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What's Behind Your Door?

I pulled open the heavy door and entered the dim classroom, nervously smiling at the dozen or so students seated in a circle.

I had been selected to participate in an ethics discussion group in a university’s Sociology Department. I knew I would be asked to share the Christian perspective on several topics. At that moment, I felt small, inadequate, and intimidated. I didn’t know if I would have the courage, or the words, to represent my Savior adequately.

Ananias was also confronted with the fear of what was behind a door. Saul was a well-known persecutor of Christians, but the Lord told Ananias to meet and pray for his potential killer. Did Ananias stop outside the door for a few minutes to prepare himself? Did he consider walking away at that moment? What courage it took for him to step through that door.

We may face doors that represent a risk if we obey Jesus. If we walk through the door, we may be in danger of losing standing among our family and friends, a relationship, or money. Perhaps, we are facing something that can only be done through the strength of the Lord.

We may suffer loss of face, reputation, or worldly rewards to follow Jesus. But as servants of the King, we must face those risks with faith, trusting God will provide the courage we need to honor Him.

Like Ananias, commit yourself to God’s care, take a breath, and pull open that door. No matter what else faces you, God will meet you there with all the grace you need to honor Him on the other side.

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Replanting Oaks

Vibrant purples, pinks, and greens dazzled my eyes.

Pollen and freshly cut grass clippings in the air tickled my nose and caused my eyes to trickle with tears. Shovels, rakes, and strained muscles cultivated flowerbeds and landscapes alike as spring exploded with beauty and winter frost melted, irrigating the thirsty soil.

Once wheelbarrows roll back into the shed and muddy leather gloves rest in their drawer again, the seasonal rituals of springtime point us to the God who created order from chaos. God, in His grace, makes all things new, even when everything appears to reek of death.

Isaiah provided hope during Israel’s time of despair—when they felt uprooted. Isaiah’s commission to encourage the poor, help the brokenhearted, and console those who mourned provided nourishment to the young sprouts of Israel who needed support to grow into Oaks of Righteousness.

Uprooting causes distress and leads to death if we delay nurturing. But what if God leads our removal and placement into a restricted landscape? We may find ourselves in a season of waiting…a season in which we hope to be replanted. We, however, are not alone.

Like a developing tree found in a nursery, we wait…and pray. We sit amongst other oaks, longing for a day when God will root us in good soil again. Wrapped in our plastic container, we trust the God who waters, grows, prunes, and replants.

Trust the God who will grow you into a spiritual oak.

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We're in This Together

Our lawnmower broke…again.

My husband, a jack-of-all-trades, usually fixes it, but the Covid pandemic had slowed shipping. The parts wouldn’t arrive for two weeks. One of our neighbors, who belonged to a trio of men I’ve dubbed The Lawnmower Brigade, voluntarily mowed our embarrassingly high grass.

This was not the first time the brigade had come to our rescue. When we moved here, the yard was in desperate need of shearing. Drained from unloading all our stuff, we didn’t look forward to mowing. After we came home from returning the moving truck, our yard had been mowed.

Since then, we've kept an eye out for our neighbors’ occasional escaped animals and corralled strays back into the pasture. We even delivered the good news of an unexpected calf's birth to our neighbors and their thrilled granddaughter.

Food is shared. When there is extra, we give it away. We've often come home to a bag of garden veggies hanging from our doorknob. We take each other meals when someone is sick or has surgery.

The neighbor who mowed our yard this time stays super busy with his job and farm. I told him not to worry about it. We’d have the mower fixed soon. His reply? “Don't steal my blessing.”

How does one argue with that?

Too often, we have an I-can-do-this-all-on-my-own attitude. I was once like that. But life is much better when we openly give and receive in community. It produces a beautiful synergy of shared gifts and expressed gratitude, which perpetuates a life of blessings.

We are all important members of the community in which God has placed us, whether our family, church, neighborhood, online community, or any other community. We're all in this thing called life together. God wants us to share our unique gifts and skills to enhance the lives of each other. We, though many, form one body.

If someone has performed an act of kindness that significantly impacted your life, tell them you’re grateful. Then, think of a small act of kindness you can do for someone. Don't underestimate your contribution. What comes easy to you may be a godsend for someone else.

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Get the Rot Out

“I’m here to get your rot out,” reported the carpenter.

Yay! He’s going to get my rot out. Wait a minute. I have rot?

When I looked at the corner of my porch, all I saw were a few pieces of vinyl siding that needed reattaching. He saw something else. Okay, maybe I did do the right thing when I sought an expert to look at the problem. If left to me, I probably would have covered it up and called it a day. With his expertise, he identified the problem and proposed a solution.

How the carpenter treated my rot prompted me to peruse inwardly. Do I have rot that needs to be eviscerated? Am I even able to identify it? According to the psalmist, I needed to ask the expert, God, to show me areas that need work.

Just as God knew David inside and out and from the womb to death, God also knows me. If left to myself, would I take the hard path of identifying and rejecting the rot? Or would I cover it with good? The carpenter could only see the results of the rot—the sagging porch. To the casual observer, it looked okay. God can see through the good to the rot. 

Once the rot is exposed, the carpenter must pull out the bad and replace it with good. In me, God helps me rid myself of the bad. As the rot affects the good around it, my sin affects all parts of my life. With much prayer and the direction of the Holy Spirit, sins can be revealed and repentance sought.

Finally, I must be filled with the good of God. Things like the Word of God, constant prayer, submission, and worship alone and with fellow followers of Christ. These are just a few of the good things of God. As I fill up with God’s good, my whole edifice is strengthened and beautified by His grace. Unlike the porch repair, this process is lifelong. Continual purging. Continual filling.

As I look at my repaired porch, I remember God’s goodness and my constant need to remove my rot. When is the last time you asked God to remove your rot?

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Crowd vs. Creator

For many years, the Texas Rangers have been known for successfully dealing with criminals.

The Rangers have become the subject of many stories. One of these took place when a mob invaded a West Texas frontier community and terrorized the townspeople. Finally, several town leaders formed a committee and wired the Texas Rangers, appealing for relief. “This is a vicious mob! Send a company of Rangers,” they pleaded.

When the Rangers responded, they sent one man who got off the train and met a shocked committee. The townspeople said, “This is a vicious mob. We asked for a company of Rangers, not one.”

The Ranger shrugged. “Oh, I think one man can handle this. After all, you’ve only got one mob.”

That community faced a serious problem, and often we do too. Although we may not have to deal with a mob, sometimes our problems may seem just as challenging and overwhelming. And like those townspeople, we think that with so many difficulties we’ll need numerous problem solvers. We might not think our problem is a job for a single individual.   

Even with many problems, it only takes one problem solver: God. Since He knows all the aspects and angles of the problem, along with the causes and background, He’s the perfect One to deal with it. He also knows how the difficulty has affected us, and might continue to do so. But best of all, He has the perfect solutions and offers His loving care and support as He guides us along.

As the town needed only one Ranger for their one mob, so you need only one Lord to solve your problems. Turn to Him.

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Hand-Me-Down Influence

Genealogy, family history, and stories that have been passed down from one generation to the next can be both interesting and enlightening.

Over the years, I've learned that my great-grandmother prayed daily for her children. My grandmother was a woman of prayer as well. And my mother had a passion for seeking God's face every evening before going to bed. Because of those three faithful women, I, too, have high regard for prayer and view it as a way to touch God's heart and seek His will.

Paul reminds us that Timothy's grandmother and mother were both women of faith. Righteous king Jotham's genealogy included a priest for a grandfather, uncles who hated paganism, and a second cousin who was none other than the prophet Jeremiah. In both Jotham's and Timothy's cases, the influence of prior generations made a difference in their lives.

We should remember how much the example we set could influence an entire generation. We need to pray for our family, even those who may be lost. And have no doubt. God is on the move, using our prayers as an invitation to bring forth more Timothys, Jothams, and Jeremiahs.

Make sure you are handing down your influence to others.

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Presentation Matters

“Are you going to wear that all day?”

“The curlers and slippers, yes,” I responded, “but I have dress slacks and a nice blouse under this bath robe.”

Discarding the robe, but keeping the rest, I asked if anyone could guess our next Team Tip. After some clamoring, including teasing about my state of mind, someone finally guessed.

“The way we present ourselves makes a difference?”

“Yes. We will call this tip, ‘Presentation Matters.’”

Presentation Matters was the focus for the day as we led our shoppers through their boutique. Whether we served a homeless person, a single parent of five, or a recently freed convict on work-release, our team made sure to show each shopper that they mattered.

The following Saturday, I noticed our team had discarded the holy jeans and stained shirts (whew!) to dress professionally. They told me if I promised not to wear curlers again, they would remember presentation matters.

Presentation matters. May I insert an “our” in front of this? Our presentation matters. Jesus demonstrated this when He called Zacchaeus from a sycamore tree to arrange a dinner and when He met Peter post-resurrection to extend much-needed forgiveness.

Whether Jesus presented Himself to a believer who had lost his way, a sinner who was entangled, or a disciple who had erred, He showed love as His chief characteristic. Those whom He spoke to could readily see His majesty, but it went further than His appearance. They recognized the Spirit within Him. We must do the same.

Our presentation of Christ matters most. Our best occurs when the Holy Spirit within us shines like a beacon and when we permit the Spirit of the LORD to love each person through us. Our Savior is counting on us to continue what He began.

Do people see Christ in how you present yourself?

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I Saw Him

I was in a hurry, but I saw him as I crossed the street.

He was a young man, digging in a garbage can. Despite my haste to cross the street, I noticed he took out one bag and reached for another. I was short on time, so I chose not to recognize him as one created in the image of God.

For decades, I had always prided myself on having a spare dollar readily available to gift someone in need. That day as always, I had the dollar in my phone case. I saw his need, but I did not give him the dollar.

As I continued my journey, my spirit became troubled. I was ashamed of my inaction. An opportunity had presented itself to do what God wanted me to do—care for others—and I failed. God reminded me that He sees everything we do and do not do.

Jesus has called us to show kindness, but when we choose not to, we have not shown kindness to Him. We all want to find favor with God, and we say that we love Him, but when we fail to do good to the “least of these,” we have not shown our love for Him.

We should do as God has commanded by showing love. And a loving action would have been for me to give the dollar to the young man. On the day I ignored him, I failed God.

God can help us see those who are in need. He can also help us seize the opportunities to do good works. And when we do for others, we do for God.

Ask God for the opportunities and the desire to do good to others.

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Discernment for Investments

Spreading our potential avenues for profit is wise.

Imagine a king who seeks to invest his royal treasury. He determines what his kingdom is fruitful in and what his kingdom lacks. He calls the wise men of his kingdom to help him with the task of managing his finances and considers the areas that could become a loss if not pursued properly.

One of his wise men remembers that a famine comes around the king’s lands almost every year. He urges the king to invest in food to sell to his people during the famine—not only for profit but also to prevent a rebellious uprising from the kingdom’s citizens. The king listens to his advice and agrees. He signs a royal decree to take investments from the treasury to ensure his kingdom’s survival and eventual prosperity.

Times and seasons have this in common: the Lord determines their portion. Seasons change, and the wisdom to seek opportunity—given the right circumstances—should be a discipline practiced diligently.

We must investigate how we can become more profitable in certain areas of our life. And not only with our finances, but also our time, relationships, and generosity. God can help us become wiser in managing our investments and more diligent in seeking new ones we’ve never considered.

Ask God to give you wisdom with investing and in discerning the times ahead.

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Do You See Me?

“Watch me, Grandma, watch me!”

My granddaughter bounced up and down, waving her little hands to make sure I watched her attempt at gymnastics. After each flip, she paused to make sure I was still paying attention. “Did you see me, Grandma? Did I do good?”

As children grow, they need constant approval and affirmation as they try new things. They want to be seen. But what about adults? Does that need ever go away completely?

We all need to be seen, and we all need to be loved. Trying to fulfill those needs apart from the Lord will leave us empty and feeling invisible.

But with God, we are…

Fully Seen

We are not invisible. God sees us completely, inside and out, every moment of every day. He sees our tears, our pain, and our needs. He views us through the shed blood of Jesus, clothed in His robe of righteousness.

Fully Known

God knew us before we were ever conceived. In fact, we were His idea. He knows our thoughts and the desires of our heart. He knows the number of hairs on our head. And He’s even engraved our name on the palm of His hand.

Fully Loved

God loves us so much He gave the best He had to give. He sent His only Son to suffer and die for us so we can spend eternity with Him. His love is unconditional and unending. He loves us despite our weaknesses and imperfections. He doesn’t play favorites, and we never have to perform to win His approval. Nothing in heaven or on earth can separate us from that amazing love.

When you feel invisible in this crazy world, know that God sees you when it feels as if no one else does. You are fully seen, fully known, and fully loved.

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The Freedom of Forgiveness

If it weren’t for the cuts and gashes across my sister’s face, the slight bruising already evident on her olive skin, I could have believed she was only asleep, not dead.

Her eyes were closed, her body still, not yet cold and untouchable. Holding her swollen hand in mine under the operating room light, torrents of sadness washed over me like waves roaring over my soul, flooding me with regret for my previous unforgiveness toward her.

The longing to hear her voice again tormented me—a desire I knew could never be. I’d never made things right. In this place of darkness, I told her many things, although much too late.

This Scripture tells me I’m forgiven, but I am also called to forgive. Had I forgotten? Forgiveness provides release, offering greater connection to the Father. Such surrender allows the Holy Spirit to impart compassion and kindness through me to another needy soul. An act I’m not fully capable of without His indwelling.

Boundaries never act as fortress walls. Anger should not impart punishing silence, secretly hoping to vindicate a wrong. Christians must walk in the power of the Spirit, not carnal flesh, trusting that God has our back. Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting, condoning wrongful behavior, or reconciliation. It is the gift of letting go of resentment and a desire for vengeance. Forgiveness is a powerful gift none of us deserve yet one God freely grants.

Burdened by guilt and self-abasement, I could have easily turned inward, losing sight of what inside me must change…what I must learn. God doesn’t promise us tomorrow. People need each other. Life is a vapor, a steady blowing wind no one can hold.

Everyone experiences brokenness in some way, but God calls us to love, forgive, and bind up the brokenhearted, allowing Christ to set the captives free.

If hurt and unforgiveness have separated you from peace and a deeper connection to the Lord, trust His Spirit inside your heart. Allow the release only forgiveness can bring. You will set your soul free.

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Kick 'Em Out

For more than ten years, I gave negative thoughts full jurisdiction to roam freely in my mind.

As a teenager, I thought of myself as a free-spirited person who had grit. As I got older and experienced limitations on the journey, I collected a suitcase of negative thoughts from things others had said, assumptions of what others thought of me, and menacing things I thought about myself that seemed to take on what looked like the truth.

Many years later, I listened to what the Lord said about me and understood God created His people to take their thoughts captive. I realized I had not been intentional about checking what thoughts I had invited into the door of my mind. I exposed the enemies in my mind and kicked them out.

Jesus went through a similar situation when invited to visit a home where a little girl had died. When He stepped into the home, He tried to prepare the crowd to see the young girl soon, but spectators ridiculed Him. The Son of God responded by kicking people out of the home. He was bold. He ensured the environment was swept clean of all conflicting and negative thoughts so He could focus on why He was there.

If Jesus had the authority to kick naysayers out, then we have the authority to do the same thing with our minds so that we can see and experience things that seem impossible.

We can take inventory of our minds. Any thought that doesn't measure up to what the Spirit of God says, we should escort out, then shut and lock the door by writing down Scripture that combats that thought if it tries to re-enter. Removing such distractions will help us focus on what God is calling us to do.

What steps can you take to kick out negative thoughts?

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Keep a Good Record

Borrowers serve lenders—and that’s exactly what Dad wanted me to do at sixteen.

A firstborn child experiences many challenges—among them having parents who seem to go overboard trying to teach them responsibility. Dad was determined I would learn responsibility if I learned nothing else. Years later, I appreciated his efforts, but at the time I chafed under them.

One day, he said, “Let’s go down to the furniture store.”

When I asked why, Dad explained the importance of a good credit record. I probably wouldn’t have the cash to pay for some big-ticket necessities in life—such as a car, house, appliances. I suppose Dad assumed I wouldn’t earn an enormous salary. No one in our family history had.

According to Dad, a good credit record held importance for two reasons: so I could borrow money and so I could get it at a low-interest rate. Made sense to me, so off we went. Before I knew it, I had purchased a solid-oak bedroom suite on time. Each month, I would send a payment. Doing so would build my credit rating.

Dad was right. A good credit record is important. Mine stayed that way for many years until some things beyond my control ruined it. Borrowing was easy and came with cheap interest rates. Over the years, I saved money by having a healthy credit rating.

But Solomon was right, too. When I borrowed, I became a servant to the lender. They gave me the money and watched over my shoulder to make sure I promptly made my monthly payment. If I didn’t, they charged me extra. And if something happened and I couldn’t pay it back, they would gladly turn the matter over to a collection agency who would charge me more money, harass me, and ruin my credit history. And to boot, if I borrowed after that, I’d have to pay a higher interest rate to get the money.

Dad never encouraged me to borrow unnecessarily, but when had to, having a good credit record helped.

How’s your credit record? Are you doing everything you can to keep it healthy?

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A Heart That Loves

When I was a child, my father was a Christian, but my mother was an atheist.

Having one parent who was a believer and one who was an atheist made for some interesting insights on faith. For example, after Sunday school, Mum would tell me that we are born, we live, and we die. I was too young to argue but decided that no one could tell me what to think about Jesus.

These days I am much older, so when I wake up in the morning, I want to wake up smiling and living a Christian life. During my spiritual journey over the last few years, I have learned that Jesus is an excellent name to accept into my heart. When people criticize me or any other woman, I smile, turn the other cheek, and keep on keeping on.

As believers, we aim to set off each day on a journey of good intentions, walking humbly in the awesome path of Jesus, our guide. In my lifetime, I have turned away but always found Jesus again. I have developed an attitude of gratitude now that I am in my golden years.  

Thank you, Jesus, that today I woke up smiling. The sun will rise anyway, so I pray for Your loving hand to bless everyone I care about and give them a peaceful day. I pray for a unified humanity, and that they will live in freedom from poverty, armed conflicts, bigotry, and discrimination.

Our Lord wants a world of peace and kindness. Where I live now as a caregiver, no news is good news. But the Good News is found in the words of Jesus in the Bible.

Ask God to give you a heart that loves others.   

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God Looks at the Heart

It wasn’t what I expected to find at all. In fact, it was just the opposite.

It was another fend-for-yourself night at our house. The kind of evening when nobody wanted to cook, so the declaration was made that everyone was responsible for finding their own food if they wanted to eat. I asked Mom if we had any pears left, secretly hoping she’d offer to cut one up for me if we did. I lucked out. We had some, and she offered one to me. But after looking at them, Mom said we had one and a half. One looked great, but the other had bad spots that would need to be removed.

As Mom cut the pears, I set up a game for us to play while we ate, then went to the kitchen to scrounge up the rest of my fend-for-yourself supper. That’s when Mom said something surprising. She told me that once she peeled the pears, the beat-up one was beautiful on the inside, but the one that looked perfect had bad spots under the skin that needed to be cut out.

I had recently read 1 Samuel 16:7: “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

That’s exactly what we had done with the pears. God used a simple observation to remind me of a powerful lesson. Just as we had declared one pear bad and one good by how they looked on the outside, so we often do the same to people. We see someone who looks different than us and judge them. We jump to conclusions about what a person can and can’t do based on their physical appearance or what they’re wearing. We do the thing God told Samuel not to do.

God challenges us to stop looking at outward appearances and to look instead at a person’s heart.

Be brave enough not to judge by outward appearances.

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Parable of the Weevils

I found weevils in my kitchen cabinet, and guests were coming to spend the night.

I still had to dust, vacuum, take out the trash, glue the broken lamp, change the sheets, wind the cat, and feed the clock (or was it the other way around?)—no time to deal with the pests in the flour. No one would know. The little beetles would stay hidden. The important thing was that our home presented a pleasant appearance for our company.

Whoa! I suddenly felt something tug inside me. I would know about the creepy-crawlies and would feel like a hypocritical hostess. Wrestling with my options for a moment, I reset my priorities and took time to wage war on the weevils before dealing with the obvious chores.

That heart-tug was God’s message. Nothing is concealed from Him that will not be made known.

If Jesus had told The Parable of the Weevils, He would have interpreted it that sin hidden in my soul, even though no one else can see it, keeps me from His ear and His heart. If I have weevils in my spiritual flour, my prayer dough won’t rise.

I love the way the Lord communicates His messages to us in such everyday terms. I needed to clean up my internal spiritual compartments before worrying about outward appearances. Trying to hide something from Him just doesn’t work. It hurts me, not Him.

We can start our spiritual neatening by owning up to our sloppy housekeeping and allowing God to come in and show us the internal parts that need to sparkle. Once we’ve let Him come into the cabinets and drawers and put them in order, we can work on the foyers and living rooms and guest rooms to get our spiritual house in order and ready for His company.

Make sure you are cleaning from the inside out—that’s Jesus’ order.

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Stand in Faith

God is still in the healing business.

After an auto accident, I was completely healed of a back injury after lying still for 100 days. My friend, Julia, experienced total healing from cancer after she endured six rounds of chemotherapy. Many injured soldiers recover after months of rehabilitation.

All looked bleak. An old enemy threatened Ahaz, king of Judah. Ahaz had been defeated once before by Rezin of Aram and the northern kingdom. But the prophet Isaiah told him this alliance against him would not succeed. He gave Ahaz a long view. Within sixty-five years, Ephraim would be shattered too.

Standing in faith is a long-term proposition that takes stamina, patience, and continual obedience. When faced with a challenge, we cannot stand on what we hear, what we see, or even what we know about the circumstances. Standing in faith means standing on our faith in God. What we know about God is the most important thing.

God will deliver us from evil—addictions, sickness, disease, and threats. He will provide for our needs and prosper us in finances, security, affection, and education.

Sometimes the Devil gives us the short-sighted version of God’s truth. Jesus is still my healer whether through treatment, surgery, or rehabilitation. If the healing takes time, the Devil often leads us to believe God is falling on the job and will not come through.

If we have any belief that is contrary to the Word of God, we should repent and embrace God’s truth. Positive repentance says, “I repent of believing I am now useless due to this illness” whereas negative repentance says, “I repent of not believing God has a plan for me.”

We can turn God’s truth into positive declarations such as, “I believe God has a plan for me, for good and not for evil. I am still valuable to Him regardless of my challenges.”

Keep standing in faith.

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Some Days Are like That

The quiet darkness of the vacant church beckoned me.

I left my phone, entered, and locked the door behind me. Tears fell down my cheeks. No reason to be strong. No reason to hold it together. No reason to push through the emotions. I sat and poured my heart out to God. So many doubts. So many questions. So many insecurities.

Oh, I can hold it together in a crowd, and I can lead with the best of them. But most of the time, I do it scared. I step out in faith with shaky feet. I organize and coordinate with unsure hands. I offer others advice I struggle to take myself. And inside, I wonder why God would ever use me.

But I’m grateful He does. I’m thankful I can come to Him when I’m broken, insecure, and uncertain. Grateful that the fate of everything I do doesn’t depend on whether I’m confident, but rather if I’m obedient.

I got on my knees in the sanctuary that morning and offered God my scared, unworthy self. I didn’t know how to navigate the road ahead. I didn’t know what tomorrow would bring. I didn’t even know how the next five minutes would look.

And that’s okay. Some days are like that. Some days, we feel weak, tired, and weary, but that doesn’t mean we are disqualified. It just means we still step out in faith, even if our legs are unsteady. We still offer our lives in service, even if boldness is the last thing we feel. We still say yes, even when we doubt and wonder why.

Ask God to give you the strength to follow Him, even when you’re scared.

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Walking Wounded

We’re all walking wounded.

The words we use and the words we absorb can build bridges that empower us to reach unimaginable heights or wound us to the deepest fathoms of our souls. Woundedness can perpetuate.

Too often, I have reacted from a perceived injustice and passed along negativity. At other times, I became irritable or passive-aggressively slung dishes into the dishwasher as if a Greek wedding were about to commence. Perhaps while brooding, I simply made eye contact and inadvertently perpetuated negativity.

But we don’t have to guilt ourselves. We all have bad days. Putting on a cloak of humility, admitting our wrongs, and asking for forgiveness all provide valuable lessons.

But what if we could shield ourselves from internalizing wounds in the first place? If we stop copying the behavior and customs of this world and allow ourselves to be transformed by changing the way we think?

We’re created differently, but in diversity lies the propensity to misunderstand each other. Often, we don’t know what the person who caused us pain is going through, or if they even realize they caused the pain. Maybe they’re being abused, are prone to negativity, or are subject to generational destructive patterns. Maybe they just had a bad day. The snapshot we get of a person isn’t likely a true representation of who they are or how they feel about us.

Granted, wounded people can teach us powerful and positive things. God brings healing, deliverance, hope, and answered and unanswered prayers. He has better plans than what we pray for in our lack of omniscience.

But perhaps we need to unlearn the negative things we learned from wounded people. To release perceived injustices so we can grow and live well. To rid ourselves of the soul clutter and make room to live for an audience of One, who speaks truth into our soul.

I’ve learned not to linger in pain longer than necessary so healing can begin. Not to wallow in the should’ve mindset. To step out of the muck onto solid ground where I can take steps in a positive direction.

If you are hurting or just feel stuck, give yourself permission to release that which is negative and holds you back from being the masterpiece God created you to be. Be transformed by changing the way you think.

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Technology Changed on Me

I once worked in the television industry.

One way to get into the industry was to know how to operate a studio camera. Today, robotic cameras have taken the place of humans. 

Later in my career, I oversaw lights for television. Lighting for a television camera is different from a film camera. I would like to have used my newly required lighting skills for the film camera my mom gave me, but they don’t make that type of film anymore.

Many of the commercials we see on television are shot in Canada. Companies who once shot training videos now use PowerPoint. When these videos were shot, the producers had to rent lights from a lighting company. Now, due to the lack of business, these companies have gone out of business.

The reason why these changes have happened is that changes in technology have occurred at a rapid pace, along with the need to cut costs. 

However, one thing has not changed and will never change: salvation. Salvation comes by the blood of Jesus. Another thing that will stay the same is that God will always provide for our needs.

If we are children of God, because of the blood that was shed on the cross, we have a home in heaven. This will not change because of economic concerns or technological changes. We can be confident God will always keep His promises.  

Technology may take away jobs, but Jesus will always be the same. Put your trust in Him.

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Throwing Stones

On a sunny afternoon, I sat in my beach chair, enjoying the activity of a flock of seagulls that lined the water's edge.

A young man, his wife, and their young son walked across the sand. The father picked up a rock and threw it at an unsuspecting seagull that stood in the water. The gull went down instantly, flapping and struggling. The woman looked shocked, while the man laughed nervously, glancing around to see if anyone was watching. He took the little boy's hand, and the family moved on down the beach. The gull was helpless and unable to move.

I don’t believe this man really meant to hurt the bird. I think he threw the rock to show his son how the gull would fly if startled. But his thoughtless action caused pain and injury.

When I was a young mother, an acquaintance became the talk of the town. I joined in the gossip, condemning her lifestyle. Words cannot describe the devastation I felt when I learned she had taken her life. I was ashamed of the role I had played in judging her instead of reaching out to help her.

Gossip is like that rock the man threw. We throw stones and hurt people. We may not mean to harm, but our words can leave someone helpless and hurt. Some try to justify gossip by stating that they are just being truthful and honest. I did. Because we each had sons who were two years old, I justified offering my opinion about how a mother should act.   

Paul admonishes us not to let unwholesome talk come out of our mouths. We are to use only words that are helpful for building others up according to their needs and that benefit those who listen.

We may think we’re not throwing stones, but our words can be destructive weapons. How will you use the “stones” of your words? To build up or to take down?

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Reprogram Your Thinking

“No way. Where did you get such a crazy idea?” the woman asked.

“It’s all over the news. Not to mention Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram,” the man answered. “Must be true.”

The woman shook her head. “Did you check your facts before spreading such nonsense? Maybe you need to turn off the news.”

No answer.

The mind, as they say, is a terrible thing to waste. It’s a highly intelligent living computer that can be shaped and molded by what we see, hear, read, or expose ourselves to. When we continually feed it negative information, our emotional state and peace of mind are greatly affected. As Sarah Young says, “Your mind shuttles back and forth, hither and hon, weaving webs of anxious confusion.”

The noise of this world can be deafening as so many voices clamor for our attention. It can warp our thinking and cause us to live in a constant state of anxiety and fear.

But we are not called to conform to this world. The Bible says we are to renew our mind. The Passion translation puts it this way: Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think.

A change in our thinking only happens when we spend time in God’s Word, aligning our thoughts with His. When our faith, hope, and trust is in Him alone, we never have to allow current events and the world’s view to drag us down.

If your thoughts are weaving those “webs of anxious confusion,” shut out the negative voices and reprogram your thinking.

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Kissing Boo-Boos

Oh, the miracle of a kiss on a boo-boo.

I remember being little and getting a cut on my finger. I raised that chubby finger and ran to my mom. She always knew what to do. She gently cleaned it, put on a Band-Aid, and gave it a kiss. We weren’t done until my hurt had been kissed. There was magic in that application of compassion and love. It made the pain go away.

We have all seen a toddler with a boo-boo do the same thing as I did. If the wound isn’t treated, the tiny nick can continue to hurt and bleed. Each time it is touched or bumped, the child is reminded of the pain. And an untreated wound can become infected.

People all around us have un-kissed boo-boos. They are hurt, afraid, or sad. They go through life fearful of being hurt again, looking for someone they can trust to love them and help heal their wounds. 

Difficult people often behave that way because their untreated wounds still hurt. And what we chalk up to foolishness, delusion, evil, or a flawed character can be an inner child with a wound that was never cleaned and a boo-boo that was never kissed.

The heart of God is tender toward His children. His desire is that all would come and be healed. We can be God’s hands, feet, and heart to a hurting world.

Ask God to touch your eyes so you can see beyond bad behavior and discover hurting, confused, and frightened children who long to be comforted. 

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Is Money Worth It

I’ve often wondered if money brings what it promises.

I once oversaw lighting for a television shopping channel. One day we were on a remote shoot at a beautiful home owned by a successful attorney. I noticed that he had at least twenty suits and twenty pairs of shoes in a large closet.

I also had a friend named Pat whose dad was a busy attorney. I had visited Pat’s house a few times and hung out in the middle of the night. What seemed strange was that it felt as if Pat were the only one home. I wondered if his parents truly cared about their relationship with him or if money and pleasure were more important.

One night after I graduated high school, I ran into Pat and my long-time friend Steve at a movie theater. We all watched the same movie. Looking back on that day, I wonder if Pat was depressed because after the movie, he asked me to drive Steve home. Two weeks later, Steve told me Pat had shot himself in the head.

As Christians, we should want to be a spiritually rich. Our focus should be on our relationship with the Lord, not our bank account.

Money and belongings are not evil, although they can interfere with our relationship with the Lord. Materialistic things won’t last, so we should be more concerned about our heavenly relationship.

Make sure you don’t put earthly belongings before the Lord.

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Good from Bad

The parade taught me about a revival.

I once watched a holiday parade taking place in California. During the parade, one of the announcers mentioned a street in California named Azusa Street. He said the name was an Indian word meaning skunk. In 1960, a powerful move of God touched the world and was known as the Azusa Street Revival.

When I heard that Azusa means skunk, I thought about how God came to a street named skunk and sent glory that touched the world. God took a skunk and made something beautiful which became a sweet smell to God and to millions of others worldwide.

We all go through our own personal Azusas, or skunks. Sometimes, the fault is ours, but at other times, others may be at fault. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. If we let Him, God can and will work it out for our good as we choose to serve and love Him just as Joseph did.

Joseph was betrayed by his brothers, thrown into a pit, and then sold as a slave in Egypt. He also experienced other bad happenings.

Just as Joseph kept a sweet spirit, we can ask God to give us one every day so we can have the attitude Jesus had. One that forgives, just as Joseph and Jesus did. When we do, God will work all things for our good.

Trust God to bring good from bad in your life.

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Fake People

Deceit abounds.

Deadly disguises, wounds, and family feuds. A king who fools his soldiers and a woman who deceives her father-in-law, seducing him and having his child. An entire army tricks their foe, and a rich man fools a king. Then, a king tries to trick a witch, and a ghost confronts a king.

Israel's king tried to disguise himself in a battle to save his life, but failed. Judah lied to Tamar, his daughter-in-law, and in return, she disguised herself as a prostitute, seduced him, and got pregnant. The Gibeonites deceived Joshua into making a contract with them. Abraham told Abimelech that Sarai was his sister and nearly got him slain by God for adultery. King Saul disguised himself before asking the witch of Endor to call up Samuel from the dead.

The above sounds like the plot lines of a mini-series, but the incidents are actually from the Bible and demonstrate ways people deceived others. Twenty-two times the Bible speaks about people disguising themselves to deceive others. But judgment always follows deceit.

Not once does deception bring good. Deceit also causes wounds that sometimes last a lifetime.

If we’ve been a victim of deceit or had someone misrepresent themselves or their intentions to us, we know deceit can produce anger, resentment, heartbreak, and wounds that don't heal without the passing of time—and sometimes not even then. Wounds may heal, but they often leave a scar.

God wants us to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him. That sounds simple enough until someone fails to do it, and it affects us. Only when we are the victim can we realize how devastating it can be to others when we fail to walk with God, treat others fairly, and lack honesty in our dealings. We cannot be the light of the world when we are the ones being fake people.

Be honest in your dealings with others.

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Flourishing

Certain things cause an olive tree to grow and flourish.

As a non-gardener who doesn’t like olives, I have never wondered about how an olive tree grows. But since the psalmist compares me to one, I thought it might help to learn a little about them.

Growing an olive tree requires mild winters and long, dry summers. The PH of the soil must be exactly right, and good drainage and direct sunlight are necessities. Additionally, the tree must be watered, pruned, fertilized, and treated for pests.

In Psalm 52, God is the gardener who cares for the olive tree. He keeps the tree in His house where the temperature is perfect, and the conditions are ideal for growth. The tree not only grows,  it also flourishes.

For me, expressions such as “getting by” or “hanging in there” are more accurate than flourishing. So what does it take to move from getting by to flourishing?

In the psalm, the gardener did all the work. He planted, watered, pruned, fertilized, and treated the tree for pests. The gardener had a master plan to produce an abundantly fruitful tree. The olive tree just had to remain where it was and let the gardener do his job.

Likewise, we need to stay close to God and allow Him to do His work. Our Master Gardener desires that each of us have a flourishing life. He will do whatever He needs to make it that way. Our role is simply to trust Him, stay close to Him, and let Him do His work.

Relax and enjoy God’s presence. Flourishing days are on the way.

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Give and Receive

When someone gives us a gift, we often feel as if we need to give them something in return.

When I give a gift, I neither expect, nor want anything in return. Tit for tat doesn’t sit right with me. Experience has shown me that when we give without expectation of return, the gift we receive comes from God Himself.

If we give to the church for the work of God, we should give with a cheerful heart, not out of obligation. We don’t think, “What will the church give me in return, or what will I get out of this?” when writing a check or placing cash in the offering plate. Rather, we believe everything is God’s, and that everything we have is a gift from Him. Our work, our families, our homes, and everything we own.

Jesus is the gift of all gifts. We must be careful not to get so caught up in shopping for the right gifts for people that we lose the joy and meaning of grace. If we receive a gift from someone, we shouldn’t race out to purchase something equally as nice or better. If we do, our giving becomes tit for tat and minimizes the importance of their sacrifice.

We are meant to give gifts as we give love: from the heart. We should give to one another and to those in need as freely and generously as God gave His one and only Son to us—a gift we did not and do not deserve.

As we reflect on God’s blessings in our lives, we should consider giving anonymously and with a joyful heart. No greater reward exists than providing for the needs of or encouraging another without expectation of return. In so doing, we will reap the blessings of God in delightful ways when we least expect them.

Give without the expectation of receiving.

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Embrace His Call

“We're out of gas! Oh no!”

Fortunately, we were at the top of a hill and could coast the rest of the way. As passengers, we were in unfamiliar territory, but the driver grew up in the town. She knew a gas station sat at the bottom of the hill. The rest of us were clueless, but our navigator knew the landscape perfectly.

When it comes to our spiritual journey, we are often oblivious to our surroundings but then suddenly realize the approaching difficulties. The prophet Jeremiah knew trouble firsthand. In fact, he is often known as the “Weeping Prophet.” God charged him with warning the people of impending judgment upon the nation of Judah, and he stayed true to his calling. A tough assignment.

Surprisingly, his harshest critics were the religious people, false prophets, and priests who claimed his talk was nonsense. These so-called religious leaders lulled the people into thinking they were safe, when they were in danger of God's judgment. In the event of an unlikely Babylonian invasion, the elders even encouraged the people to trust in neighboring Egypt to save them. They ignored their Covenant God, and the nation suffered greatly.

Deception and delusion are rampant in our culture. Believing a religious leader who proclaims a truth that sugarcoats reality and promises an easy fix is easy. Yet we are citizens of God's kingdom on earth, called to be light in the midst of darkness. He does not call us to make peace with evil. He calls us to make peace with Himself and to fight evil. Vigilance to truth in turbulent times demands our utmost attention to this God-given assignment.

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic, many experienced an identity crisis. They wondered who they were apart from church functions, eating at favorite restaurants, or driving to the nearest attraction. The answer was and is simple. We are God's children, and He requires no social distancing.

COVID was an opportunity to tune into God's channel, while tuning out all others. Soak in the truth of His Word. Then stand for Him. Be a Jeremiah. Obey His call in the face of adversity.

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I Hope I'm Good Enough

“I hope I’m good enough.”

That was Gladys’ response when we talked about going to heaven. Gladys was an older neighbor who had lived nearby for several years, but we never became acquainted until she needed help. Over a period of time, we became good friends and had serious talks about salvation.

As a young person, Gladys had accepted Jesus Christ, but she wasn’t assured of her salvation. She counted on being good enough to enter heaven’s gates, not realizing she could never be good enough.

A minister took a survey of people he met while walking in a city. When asked if they were going to heaven and why they believed this, the answers varied. Many, like Gladys, said they were good people and hoped that was enough. Others spoke of their many years of being active in their churches.

Only a few gave the correct answer: they had accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. They did not depend upon their good works for access to heaven. They knew it was only through God’s grace they were saved.

As our relationship deepened through the years, Gladys and I talked often about Scriptures from the Bible and their meaning. As long as her health permitted, she attended worship services and grew in her knowledge of the Bible and of the sacrificial love Jesus had for her.

Eventually, when we talked about going to heaven, she no longer said she hoped she was good enough. She had the assurance that Jesus’ blood and love would open the doors for her to enter.

Are you counting on good works, on attending worship services, or on working in the programs and activities of the church to admit you into heaven?

Only Jesus Christ has the key that unlocks the door to heaven.

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Growing Good Fruit

When news anchors broadcast to the public, they must represent their station well. 

I remember a situation that happened when I worked for a shopping channel. One of the local newscasters asked another newscaster who worked in the scene shop to do something for her. Because of the notoriety of the newscaster, the person who worked in the scene shop assumed he knew what the other person would be like. But the one didn’t measure up to the unrealistic standards of the other. 

When we see people who are on television every night, we can develop preconceived ideas about them. The same can happen with Christians. When others see how we, at times, act in public, they may get the wrong message from us.

Jesus speaks about trees producing good and bad fruit. When I think about good fruit, I think about my behavior. We need to look at how we represent Christ … how we handle adversity at the checkout counter or at work. I remember times when I blew it and lost my temper at the store and at work.

After the store incident, I became convicted and drove back to the store and apologized. As Christians, our challenge is to produce good fruit so that others can see God in us. The only way to do this is to pray and ask the Lord for help.

What changes do you need to make so you will produce good fruit?

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Choose to Rejoice

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

At first, I chuckled, but then wondered how many times my attitude may have messed up a wonderful, glorious day the Lord had made for me. How many times had I missed a glorious sunrise because I grumbled about my schedule for the day? How many times had I missed a glorious sunset for the same reason? How often had I messed up a day because someone in my life—friend or family member—didn’t do something my way?

Even one mess-up is too often. God makes each day, and we should rejoice and be glad in it. So for today, I choose to focus on all God has done for me, all that He has offered me, and even all He has challenged me with. I choose to remember His love. Love He has shared with me through the laughter and tears of friends and family. Love He has shared through sermons, hymns, and the prayers I’ve prayed through the years of faith in Him. The love He shows me daily in His glorious creation.

Just look at the world surrounding us—the color of the sky, the grasses, the trees, the fields, the flowers, the animals. God’s love surrounds us as His beauty surrounds us. Each day is the day the Lord has made. Choose to rejoice and find His hand at work as He pours His love into your life and into the lives of those you love.

Choose to celebrate and rejoice.

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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 toward 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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Sips of Living Water

Time to go. Grab my purse. Grab my keys. Grab my water bottle.

Carrying a water bottle has gone on for so long that I can’t remember when taking it with me wasn’t a part of my routine. As a health-conscious person, I understand the importance of hydration for a properly functioning body. I feel better when I am hydrated.

The Bible says the Holy Spirit gives us living water. And Jesus invites the thirsty to come and drink the water of life freely because the supply is plentiful.

Many of us meet the Lord in the morning as we read the Bible and pray. This is a great way to drink deeply of the living water. But what if I took a long drink of refreshing water in the morning but did not drink again until the next morning? Our bodies require water throughout the day.

Likewise, spiritual hydration is a continual need. On too many days, my morning quiet time has provided my only spiritual hydration. By the afternoon, I am dragging, defeated, and feeling as if God is far away. Perhaps we need to find ways to take sips of spiritual water throughout the day as I do on my water bottle.

A few methods have helped me avoid spiritual dehydration. First, I’ve found the interim between ending one activity and starting another is a good time to stop and pray. Second, I write a Bible verse on a sticky note and read it from time to time during the day. Third, I listen to Christian music. Fourth, I say Jesus’ name when life gets overwhelming.

God desires to meet us throughout the day, and He wants to give us living water. We just need to come and ask.

The next time you leave home, remember to take your water bottle. But more importantly, plan for spiritual hydration.

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The Weeping Willow

What looked like a blade of grass became an awe-inspiring landmark.

“That will never grow,” they told Dad. “A weeping willow tree will not flourish on a high slope. “You must plant it in marshy soil if you expect it to survive.”

As one who seldom listened to others’ opinions, Dad retrieved a teaspoon from the kitchen drawer, walked to the front yard, dug a little hole, and planted the mini seedling. “I must be careful not to mow this over,” I heard him mutter as he pressed the soil around the little transplant with the toes of his shoes.” If we water it well, it will grow,” he responded when I asked how soon it would be a tree.

Dad has passed on now, and the ensuing years have revealed the fate of that little sprig. The property has changed hands several times. Each time it did, I drove up that street to see if the tree was still there. Once, after briefly telling the story to the new owner, I asked if I could take a picture.

The tree stood three times higher than the bungalow behind it. A stately, thriving weeping willow graced not only the front lawn of the home but also the entire street.

As I looked at the magnificent tree, I realized many had been responsible for its growth over the years. That little shoot needed one person to plant it, another to water it, and yet another to prune it. With time, water, a little coaxing by Dad in the early days, and continued care by successive owners, it became the impressive tree it is today. Admired by many, that tree has stood the test of time.

We are all called by God to a different life’s work, each equally important. When we are faithful with our part, God will do the rest. We may even see a weeping willow along the way as a reminder.

Make a plan to do your part in God’s kingdom work.

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Christmas Changes

The first time I watched it, CDs weren’t on the market, so I popped it into the VCR.

After the VCR died, someone bought me the 1984 CD version of A Christmas Carol, starring George C. Scott. And I did with it what I had done every year with the VCR version: curled up in my recliner, watched every second, and cried at the end.

Ebenezer Scrooge was a moneylender whose sole goal involved amassing more money and saying “bah humbug” when anyone wished him Merry Christmas—until the spirit of his dead partner sent three spirits to reclaim Scrooge before it was too late.

Scrooge’s first two visitors made little impact on his view of the season. The third, however, commanded his attention when he ushered Scrooge into his bedroom and showed him a covered figure on the bed. But when he took Scrooge to the cemetery and showed him a grave with Scrooge’s name emblazoned on it, Scrooge was overwhelmed with grief and promised to alter his ways if allowed to live. The apparition granted Scrooge his request, and the man changed his ways.

The Christmas changes Scrooge underwent may seem farfetched, but they aren’t. I hear about them every year as the Christmas season approaches. People express their joy and appreciation in unusual but refreshing ways. Retailers lower prices, churches reach out to the needy, people show kindness and rethink priorities, families forgive, and friends reunite. For a moment, the world demonstrates the possibility that we could live together in peace.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, also encountered various Christmas changes. She went from being a young unmarried Jewish girl to an unmarried pregnant woman living in a time when such behavior was unacceptable. The angel asked her fiancé to believe this was God’s doing, not an act of unfaithfulness. Joseph was no doubt the butt of many jokes and Mary the topic of town gossip, but they accepted the angel’s words as truth.

But the most marvelous Christmas change entails the one we can experience in our hearts when we let God’s gift of forgiveness through Christ enter. He changes sinners to saints, He forgives the unforgiven, and He cleanses the dirty. Whereas our futures were as bleak as Ebenezer Scrooge’s, they can become beautiful and filled with hope when Christ enters the picture.

Let the Christ of Christmas make a change in you.

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Rejected Gifts

Ruth wanted to give a special gift to her father—and she believed she had the perfect one in mind.

Ruth’s dad was preparing to celebrate his retirement. Ruth knew he wanted a pocket watch, so she searched until she found an affordable one. She had to sacrifice, but her father was worth it.

Ruth wrapped the gift and, like a child waiting for Christmas, found it difficult to wait to present the watch to her father. In Ruth’s words, “In anticipation, I handed my package to him, and he opened the box. Much to my disappointment, he threw the watch to my nephew and said, ‘Here you take this, I don’t want it.’ My heart was broken.” 

Ruth’s sister handed their father a congratulation card with sixty-five cents taped inside, and he exclaimed, “Now, that is a gift!”

The incident happened long ago, and Ruth thought she had forgotten it. But one night, a minister mentioned something about a watch in his message, and his words brought back the memory and the pain of her rejected gift.

Ruth’s heart ached, but God used the painful memory as a growing lesson. How many times had she refused to accept God’s good gifts? He had wrapped them in His love and tied them with ribbons of joy, yet Ruth had said, “I don’t want them.”

Ruth is now determined to accept all the gifts God wants her to have. She doesn’t want to grieve the Giver of all good and perfect gifts—as her father grieved her.

Jesus Christ suffered, died, and was resurrected to offer the gift of salvation and eternal life to a world dying in sin. People continue to reject this good and perfect gift, just as Ruth’s father rejected her offering of love.

What about you? Have you accepted God’s most special gift?

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But What Will They Think

On an ordinary February morning, I awoke to an email from my publisher.

The email said, “While I’m thinking of it, can you please send me a recent hi-resolution photo of yourself, such as a professional headshot? Thanks!”

I read the email over and over as a wave of panic ran through my body. For the past several months, I had struggled to realize my dream of becoming an author. I was so close I could taste it. The stress of writing my first book had led to significant weight gain, especially in my face. Submitting a recent headshot was the last thing I wanted to do. I desperately searched for a way around sending the photo.

My anxiety over the author photo had deep roots. For as long as I could remember, I had worked overtime to avoid being negatively judged. To evade disapproval and rejection, I had tailored my life to fit others’ expectations. I had agreed to do things I didn’t want to do, hidden behind worldly accomplishments, and been afraid to say what I believed. In a society that glorifies thinness, I was sure the extra pounds would make me a magnet for criticism.

Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you. Ponder the path of your feet; then all your ways will be sure. Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil. The writer reminds us of the importance of staying focused throughout our journey with Christ. The sole purpose of our existence is to glorify God. When we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and the call to bring Him glory, we can enjoy the promise and security of His good plans for us. When we swerve to the right or left, hoping to gain worldly approval, we risk being distracted from our one true calling.

As we fix our eyes on Jesus, the things of earth—including other people’s approval—will pale in comparison to the joy and peace of knowing we are walking in our true calling and purpose.

Don’t miss out on your one true calling. Instead of looking to the right or to the left, choose to keep your eyes fixed on bringing Jesus glory.

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The Man Who Cut Off His Arm

If he didn’t do it, he would probably die.

My pastor told a story about a man on a camping trip. While he walked, a big rock fell on his arm. He thought he could get the rock off without his friends' help, but soon discovered he couldn't. He yelled to them and called out to the Lord. Realizing he had no choice, he took out his pocketknife and, screaming at the top of his lungs, cut his arm off.

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. If Jesus meant this verse literally, I don't know how bound we would have to be by a sin to have to do what He says to our hand. Maybe we need to unplug the internet or get rid of the computer if we are addicted to something ungodly. Or, if we aren’t looking at something ungodly, turning them off can give us more time with God. Depending on how we use it, social media can be addictive. The news can also scare us to death because of all the negative and scary reports. These and other things can come between us and God.

So, if you know of things you need to lay down—even if it means getting rid of them—ask God for strength to do it.

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Be Thankful

I listened to the lyrics of the song as I drove alone to Georgia. They moved me to the point that I stopped the car.

Only a few Christian artists move me to tears. Andrew Peterson with his tender way of reaching out and receiving the love of Christ. David Phelps by the sheer beauty in his voice that I am sure sends chills over God too. And Rich Mullins, whose words take hold and make me long for the physical touch of God who loves me so much I can’t wrap my head around Him. The words they have penned over the years bore deep into my heart and strike a chord…or a nerve.

Some lyrics make me long for heaven right this minute. While others sink deeply, reminding me of my inability to attain the worthiness necessary to be called a child of God. Yet every line that moves me, draws me to a deeper longing for the one I call Abba Father. The one who created me, loves me, and longs for me too. The one who never leaves me—even when I feel as though I am shaken to the point of falling apart. And I am thankful.

Our world is in such turmoil. There are times we cry out for the chaos and rhetoric to cease. Paul reminds us of the power of God. He reassured the people that God’s kingdom is solid, and it cannot be shaken. Paul said to be thankful and to worship in awe because OUR God is a consuming fire. What a promise of hope, even when things seem hopeless. God is a consuming fire, devouring the evil of the world and devoting His faithfulness and love to us.

During this season of thanksgiving, I realize the power behind Paul’s words. We’ve had upheaval in our lives this year—tons of it. Yet God stood firmly by our side. He is not shaken, and He is a consuming fire clearing a pathway for us to follow, pressing His feet deeply into the mud so we can clearly see His footsteps. And I. Am. Thankful!

Despite the hardships or disappointments that come, look for the redeeming promises of God and rejoice. Be thankful, for our God cannot be shaken. He is faithful and enduring. He is powerful and mighty. Be thankful for our God is worthy and awesome.

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Old Faithful

It was a sad moment when the tow truck operator pulled out of my parking lot with “Old Faithful.”

Toward her end, I complained about how the seatbelt didn’t wind up correctly, and, during the summer heat, my hands turned black because part of the steering wheel rubbed off. Despite those minor problems, she was a dependable car with few problems.

I had purchased her in the spring of 2006, and she lasted until 2019. I credit much of my car's long and dependable life to my Christian car salesman. When I purchased my car, he had sat in the front seat with me and prayed for it.

As I was on my way to give the salesman the check for the car, I noticed the transmission slipped a little. Although transmission problems usually spell the death of a vehicle, this transmission held for the entire thirteen years I owned that seventeen-year old car. 

When I read that God had charged His angels to watch over me, I knew they had also watched over my car. Owning this car reminded me of one thing I learned when I was a courier: don’t take anything for granted.

As Christians, God’s angels watch over us. That doesn’t mean we will be free from difficulties, but we don’t know how many times God and His angels protect us from unknown disasters the Enemy plans for us.

Trust God to protect you. He is your rock.

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Painful Rejection

What happened was so unfair. I didn’t deserve to be treated so poorly.

I thought my women’s Bible study group would choose me to lead the group when our leader resigned. They didn’t. I was overlooked for something I counted on. I didn’t understand. Since I had been in charge of so many things in the past, I thought I was more than qualified. I even planned my acceptance speech. Did I do something? Was there someone who didn’t like me? I thought these women were my friends. How could they turn their backs on me?

I am discouraged, dejected, lost, and alone on my journey. People who are unaware of how I feel surround me. If they knew, they wouldn’t know what to say. Some would slip away rather than feel uncomfortable with my pain. I can’t seem to move forward. I don’t know which way to go. My head is spinning. I cry out to the Lord to give me strength to get through one more day. I thought these women were my friends. How could they not be there for me? I asked Jesus if He felt that way when Peter wasn’t there for Him.

I hear the Lord whisper to my heart, “My Child, you can’t change the past or see into the future. You must turn your back on what was and walk toward the light. The further you get toward the light—your future—the more the rejection of the past will fade, becoming only a memory. An amazing life awaits you. Move forward. Don’t look to others for encouragement. They are not capable of meeting your needs. Only I know the secrets of the heart, so open your mind and soul to Me. I will pour fragrant oil over you, a fresh anointing, suitable for each one I send to you. Remember, I stood alone, rejected by those closest to Me. At the time of My deepest need, everyone left me. Leave everything to me. Your life is in My hands.”

If you’re struggling to fit in—trying to make something happen that only God can—give your hopes and ambitions to Jesus. And when you are alone and discouraged, Jesus has the answers you seek.

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Rocky Road

As my husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary (our tenth honeymoon), we discovered a wonderful little place in Canada called Peggy’s Cove—a tiny fishing village with a picturesque lighthouse.

We wandered around the land on the rocky Atlantic coast and saw an old white church with a brilliant red roof and steeple cap, sitting in the middle of nowhere. I took a photo of the beautiful landmark, but noticed later a street sign juxtaposed in front of the picture with the street name, Rocky Road.

Our journey with God often takes us through rough terrain—and not necessarily by His design. As I traveled biblically through the desert with the Hebrews in Exodus, I wondered how they could be so stubborn and rebellious. And as I snarked about the stiff-necked Israelites, I saw the three fingers pointing at my own ungrateful heart.

God has a plan. He’s laid out the path. He’s promised to go before us, and He’s promised never to leave or forsake us. How is it that when we have everything we need for the journey on the right path, we often choose the rocky road?

God gives us a choice. My personal journey through the wilderness has not been unlike the Israelites back in the day. I’ve been just as stiff-necked and rebellious. I hate to admit it, but I often find myself on rocky roads.

My fervent prayer was that I would once again feel the hunger for my first love. That Jesus would restore a right spirit in me so I could again let Him lead where He wanted—without me whining and seeking something better. He is the something better, and He’s right in front of me, calling out through His Word.

Daily praying through the Bible lights our way, and God goes before us like a road grader—flattening the surface so we don’t stumble.

If you find yourself on a rocky road, turn back to your first love, repent, and allow God to pave the way before you.

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Lighthouses and Cannons

"A lighthouse doesn't have to fire a cannon to be seen."

That statement can be applied to people as well. There are two kinds: those who like to sound off about all they do and those who let their deeds speak for themselves. And most of us know which type of person we would rather spend time with.

Jesus didn't say for us to tell people about our good works. He commanded that we do them openly for all to see so others could glorify our God. Doing that leaves no room for personal pride, which the Bible says goes before destruction.

The Lord doesn't even require that we accomplish great works, only that we work. Some will always find fault with what we do—perhaps because they don't understand our actions or our motives.

Such as the example of the woman who used her ointment to anoint Jesus, much to the chagrin of those around her. The onlookers felt her work was a waste of time and money. The oil could have been sold and the poor helped. But Jesus told them to leave her alone. She had done a good work. The poor would always be around—not Him.

The woman never said a word, but quietly and unashamedly went about her business. She wasn't interested in anyone's opinion or judgment except the Lord's. Her acts demonstrate it's far better to let our light shine than to loudly trumpet what we’re doing.

Choose to be a lighthouse rather than a cannon.

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Silly Geese

Of all the animals my family had, the ones I liked the least were geese.

As a teenager, I lived on a small farm. Every day, I had pigs to slop, cows to milk, chickens to feed…and geese to tolerate. What bothered me most about geese was that they acted as if they were better than anyone else. Even when I brought them food, they stuck out their necks and hissed at me. But if I took a few steps toward them, they turned and ran as fast as their webbed feet could carry them. 

No matter how much the geese hissed or flapped, they never could convince anyone of their importance. One of my favorite things was to shoot bottle rockets near them on the fourth of July and laugh at their hissing and honking. 

Before I feel too smug about the geese’s foolishness, I must remember the times when I have acted like them. God has seen me put on a great show of self-importance for my family, neighbors, and church. But when faced with real danger, I have also run away.

How amazing that God still loves me and doesn’t treat me the way I treated our poor geese. Instead, He gently corrects me and tells me to remember that my importance isn’t about being better than others. He loves us all equally and gives each of us a different job to do.

So, don’t act like silly geese. God has made you special, but no better than anyone else on the farm.

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Faking Fine No More

Sneaking here, sneaking there, driving cars fast, and throwing caution to the wind—my high school years were not pretty.

I slipped past the traffic laws a few times. Policemen recognized my unusual surname and asked if I was related to the local mayor. Chatting amicably, they bequeathed me a smiling admonishment and asked me to tell my father “Hello.” I thought not. Years later, I confessed my deception—when my madcap past lay buried and I was certain he would chuckle instead of lecture.

I think of the secrets we hide so well. We pretend to skate along just fine when we barely hold it all together. We shroud our shaky faith in a pious stance, or fake a thousand-watt smile to cover our anxiety, our financial crisis, or our failing marriage. We hide the cracks from our friends, our children, and often our spouses. We ignore the “thin ice” signs.

Instead, for self-protection, we plow deep into a snowbank of pretense—because previous hurts run deep or because we fear what others will think of the truth. Or maybe we ingest the hissing lie: “Everyone else seems to handle life just fine. What’s wrong with you?”

But at other times, we freeze into a statue of rooted stubbornness declaring, “I don’t need God. I can handle this myself, thank you very much.” So we suffer in silence while God watches with sadness, yearning to deliver us from our woes.

When life steals our peace and sanity, we should admit we need help. Our Lord waits patiently with the refuge we need. No more secrets. No more faking fine. Just a learning to taste, see, and trust in a good God who cares.

Don’t try to fake fine when you’re not.

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Keep Trying

“I can’t do it, Mom!”

The insistent wailing of my daughter twanged my last nerve that cold mid-winter afternoon. Everything within me screamed along with her to just give up. That was years ago when Alyssa was seven years old. Born with special needs, she has always struggled with fine motor skills despite years of occupational therapy. But I was determined to teach her to tie her own shoes.

Several months earlier, I had analyzed the dreaded task and broken it down into its smaller parts: pull up the tongue, yank the laces, cross the laces, bring one lace under the other, tighten the laces, make the “bunny ear,” run the other lace around, and, finally, the coup de grâce, push the bunny through the hole and pull it out on the other side to tighten the tied laces. Then I came up with various exercises to strengthen her hands, arms, and shoulder muscles for the task ahead.

Since September, we had spent thirty minutes every day doing exercises and working on individual components of tying laces. Those thirty-minute stretches weren’t pretty, but we had progressed to the final step by January. Then we hit the roadblock. Pushing the lace through the hole and pulling it out the other side. Impossible.

James wrote about perseverance for moments like this. He said if we keep striving toward the goal, God gives a reward–a crown of life–to those who love Him. He does not, however, promise the striving will be easy.

Taking steps forward is often its own reward and motivation. But when we’re stuck, the rubber meets the road. It’s when, clinging to the certainty that with God we can keep going, we push forward toward the goal despite hardship and pain.

A couple of months later, God gave us victory over the shoelaces—but not without tears and frustration.

Commit to persevere through whatever trial you’re experiencing. The crown of life awaits you.

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Walking as a Duck

"If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it's a duck."

This saying is one of those wisdom-teaching mottos that teaches common sense as well as helps us discern counterfeits in life. It is also a good tool for self-evaluation. In matters of faith, how we look, how we walk, and how we sound are important.

Our worship is the most telling evaluation of who we are—not only during our Sunday morning hour of praise and liturgy, but also for the worship we do throughout the week. The Spirit gives us an all-the-time worship that helps us grow and keeps us on mission.

This everyday and everyway worship falls into four categories, each having its own unique features. The most commonly practiced worship is lone worship—our devotional times with God that may include Bible reading, praying, meditating, singing, and listening.

Second, there is serendipitous worship—an unplanned, un-orchestrated praise or lament that springs from the soul in response to an event or thought. A miracle, crisis, or inspirational word from a friend or mentor might reverberate within our soul, generating a few words of response or a holy gasp. An unexpected glimpse into God's extraordinary ways interrupts our routine, and we worship.

Third, there is lifestyle worship—characterized by our daily God-oriented actions. Lifestyle worship assumes, anticipates, and acknowledges God in all the areas of life. This worship is reflected in a pilgrimage that is spiritually purposeful and carries out investments in the eternal rather than the temporal.

Finally, there is corporate or congregational worship, which includes connection with fellow congregants. Elements of gathered worship include encouragement and ministry and should be intentional parts of the liturgy. Our faith family is a part of our mission, not an obstacle or distraction to our worship. Our embrace of God should include the faith family. Our responsibility in corporate worship is not to silo ourselves into holy cells, but to reach out and hold one another up. Our love for each other compels us to be inclusive in our worship.

If you're a duck, join the flock and start acting the part. Quack a little louder this Sunday.

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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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