A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Spirit & Trust

Trust is hard. It’s easy to say there is trust but actually taking the step – making the leap into mid-air without a visible net is the most difficult thing man can do. But with the Spirit of God our leap lands us safe in His palm.

Following GPS

Most people map out their route and prepare provisions ahead of time when taking a trip.

A sense of peace comes when we know we are in control of the circumstances. However, planning for every possible scenario we might encounter while traveling is impossible.

Life is the same. We may think we have it all together, but God is the One in control. Life can be chaotic, and, in order not to get lost in the twists and turns, I rely on GPS. Not the one that speaks to us in our vehicle, but the supernatural GPS of God’s Provision and Strength.

God’s Word promises He will provide all we need for the journey. Where He guides, He provides. Since God has created us and the world in which we live, following His guidance is best because He knows the way. He will bless us with all the things we need for this life and beyond.

If we rely on ourselves, we will probably be disappointed with the outcome—and find ourselves at a dead-end. Drawing closer to God helps us stay focused and gives us the strength and provision we need to have a blessed life. This, in turn, brings a true sense of peace. Our responsibility is not preparing our life route, but making sure we have the right traveling companion. With God, we will have all we need.

Put down your map and follow God’s GPS instead. God will never steer you wrong.

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Don't Go to Bed Mad

His graduation present had been there for years, waiting on him, but anger kept him from it.

The story is told of a boy who grew up in a wealthy family. Although his dad spent little time with him because of his busy home business, he did love his son. His son tried to please his dad, but they didn't have a close relationship.

A week before the young man graduated from college, he asked his dad if he would buy him a sports car. His dad agreed and was glad to get it for him. When the boy graduated, he waited to see his new sports car, to have his dad tag it, and to have his dad hand him the keys, but the car wasn't there. Instead, there was a box. When he opened it, he found only a Bible inside. In anger, he shoved it toward his dad and flew out the door in a rage. 

The young man eventually married, started his own business, and became wealthy like his dad. Years passed with no contact between him and his dad. His wife urged him to call his dad and reconcile, but he never did—until he and his wife had a son. His heart softened, and he thought about making things right with his dad. Tragically, he discovered his dad had died.

While going through his dad’s things, the young man found the Bible he had once shoved at him. As he thumbed through it, he found a key … a car key. He walked to the garage. There sat the car he'd asked for—now old and dusty—with everything necessary for him to own it. It had been there for years, waiting on him.     

How tragic for us to go to bed angry and also to carry our bitterness around for years as this young man did. Sometimes carrying the anger and unforgiveness is easy, but we must ask God for grace to forgive.

If you're bitter at God or anyone else, ask God to forgive you, and, if possible, ask the other person also. Otherwise, you may one day live with regret.  

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A Quiet Saturday

On a typical Saturday, I would hurry to read my morning devotion and head to my men’s Bible study group.

This particular Saturday, however, differed. Everything was shut down due to the COVID-19 scare, including my Bible study. Things had changed so quickly over the last few weeks. I went to the grocery store, and the meat section was bare. I had a difficult time finding milk and eggs. People everywhere wore masks, and business owners and managers required customers to stay six feet away from each other. My employer had also shut down. Thankfully, I still got paid, but I didn’t know how long that would last. I could have easily worried had I focused on the circumstances.

But that Saturday morning, I decided to focus on God and His promises by reading my morning devotions outside. The morning was peaceful, with the exception of the birds chirping. Hearing them made me think about this verse. Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, but your heavenly Father feeds them. And you know that you are worth much more than the birds.The birds don’t have to worry about disease, death, food, long lines at the grocery store, or money to buy food. God provides for them.

As someone who tends to worry, the COVID-19 pandemic was a scary time. I reminded myself not to fear because the Lord would take care of me as He did the birds. I am God’s workmanship and worth more than the birds of the air. I trust God’s Word that He will never leave or forsake me.

If you haven’t, today is a good day to start trusting Jesus.

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Call for Help

“I can’t stand this pain!” I cried, clutching my shoulder and writhing on the bed.

My cry came at eleven at night. My husband gathered our three children and took me to the emergency room where they waited more than an hour before I was released. I suffered from a bursitis attack. A cortisone injection stopped the pain. Although the emergency room physician prescribed medication, I was instructed to see my doctor.

The next morning, I took the medication as directed and headed for the doctor with my three children in tow. By the time I arrived, I was very sick. The dosage of the medication prescribed was for an average-size adult, but I’m only 4’10” and eighty-five pounds. I had overdosed. All I could do was let the medication pass through my body.

As I drove home, I had to stop twice to vomit. Why didn’t I ask someone to drive me or care for my children? I thought I could do it myself. The nausea continued after I got home. Although the children played nicely on their own, I knew this was not the way to leave them. I finally telephoned a friend for help. She came over with her daughter, who watched my children. My friend cleaned me up and put me into bed. She then went home, but returned later with dinner for my family. By the time my husband arrived, all was under control. She also checked on me for the next few days and provided dinners for us.

This event made me realize I lived with pride. I had to become utterly helpless before I called for assistance. Had it not been for the children, I probably would have “toughed it out.”

The Lord will send angels in the form of people to help in our time of need if we ask.

Don’t be too proud to accept help when you need it and when God sends it.

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Shaking the Family Tree

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to shake my family tree too hard. I’m afraid who might fall out.

Most of us probably have a few unsavory characters in our background. I choose not to advertise mine to the rest of the world. Yet that’s exactly what Matthew did when he listed Jesus’ genealogy. Matthew could have composed a perfectly acceptable list instead of this scandal-laden account. No one acknowledged women in genealogy then—and certainly not women with such disgraceful stories.

Look at his narrative: Tamar, who, out of desperation, disguised herself as a prostitute to seduce her father-in-law; Rahab, a prostitute; Ruth, whose romance with Boaz included a provocative move while he slept; and Bathsheba, whose marriage followed King David’s adulterous betrayal and murder of her husband.

Doesn’t that tell us something about God’s family? Jesus, conceived through the power of the Holy Spirit, was born to a lowly, peasant girl who became pregnant before marriage. Matthew’s candid genealogy perfectly reflects God’s plan of salvation. He rejects no one who turns from sin and accepts His gift of grace. 

Those unsavory characters in our background—Jesus came for them. The worse criminals we can imagine—Jesus came for them. And the abusers, persecutors, back-stabbers, liars, cheaters, and cold-hearted? Jesus came for them too. Those people who look back at us in our mirrors, whose faults we know all too well but try to hide from the rest of the world, Jesus also came for us. God loves us as we are but can transform us into more than we can imagine.

Have you turned from your sins and accepted God’s gift of salvation through Jesus Christ? If not, now is the perfect time. If you have accepted God’s gift of grace, tell someone your story today.

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Is It Worth Watching Sports?

A professional football team I followed once had a perfect season. Because they had not lost a game, I thought they would win the Super Bowl. My hope ended when they missed a field goal in the championship game.

When I moved to another city and left this team behind, the Lord convicted me about watching sports too often. Although watching sports is not a sin, I felt I could make better use of my time.

King Solomon said fun doesn’t accomplish anything. After all, how long can the joy or fun from a victory last? Much less the sadness about defeat over something as small as a football game, which has no real meaning in life.

Rather, Jesus says we should spend our time feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and visiting the lonely. A better use of my time occurred one Sunday afternoon when I was alone with a few men from my Bible study. We raked leaves for a widow who had recently lost her husband. I knew I had served the Lord because I felt better than I would have by sitting in front of a television. 

Our simple acts of kindness show the love of Jesus to others and might bring them to a relationship with Him. When we follow Christ, we should want to help others, especially the lost.

What can you do to show others the love of Christ?

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Frayed Jeans

I folded my husband’s jeans, checking the hems for frays.

Checking for frays is how I determine at a glance which are his work jeans and which are his dress jeans. As I checked, I thought how like a pair of jeans I am—frayed on the ends and less than perfect, yet usable to the great God I serve.

God is majestic in every way—perfect and glorious. In contrast, I am imperfect. But rather than feeling small, I know how usable I am because it is God’s power that enables me to do mighty works.

Jesus said those who believe in Him would do even greater works than He did because He was going to the Father. By partnering with Jesus, we tap into God’s power. God not only partners with us, He also ordains works for us to accomplish. We are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works.

Just think of the significance. Although we are like frayed jeans, Jesus lives inside of us—the express image of the glory of God the Father—and creates us with a divine purpose.

Frays may come, as on the hems of our jeans, but we are more useful to God because we recognize our need for His indwelling power to live productive lives. We can take the limits off what we can imagine accomplishing as we work to advance His kingdom.

Think of one thing you want to accomplish with God's empowerment.

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Caterpillar Thinking

Confession time—I slept with a hairy caterpillar.

Lately, we’ve been in the business of getting rid of caterpillars—from the toy room, the walls, and the bedroom. We’re cutting down branches and spraying repellant. We’re not remaining helpless victims but are standing our ground for health.

My reckless behavior left me with rashes and welts that painfully itched for a week. In my sleep, I took care of this problem. I attacked myself, scratching welts open. I let the poisonous caterpillar cozy up in bed with me.

Before you empathize too much, we knew we had a caterpillar invasion. We knew how horrible the results were of touching a caterpillar. We just chose to let a small thing go. After all, hairy caterpillars are cute.

Ever feel that way in life? We let a small thing go. We let down our guard, thinking a habit, a secret, or a conversation isn’t that bad. In fact, we might think it’s kind of endearing. It is true we can live with a few gray areas, but unless we clean our house and stay firm, the caterpillars (and subsequent discomfort) will come.

At the same time, we demolish the arguments that fight against God’s grace in our lives. We lead our thoughts and feelings, instead of being controlled by them. Getting rid of the caterpillars isn’t as easy as just ignoring the trouble—just as taking every thought captive isn’t that natural. But standing firm is the way to be healthy and even prevent unnecessary pain.

Will you join me in this journey of removing the things that harm you from your mind?

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The Welcome Mat

New people were moving in next door.

As I watched from the window, I saw a pregnant lady, a man, three vehicles unloading, a riding mower—but no animals as yet.

Over our twenty-four years of living here, we have had a succession of renting families move into the house next door. Most have been friendly and great neighbours, but no one really interested in the things of God.

Within the last six months, this new family is the third. One couple partied and did drugs most weekends, and their several dogs ran loose and frightened the neighbourhood. Then one day, the man almost ran me down in my car—not looking where he was going. It took a few hours for my heart to calm and a couple of days for me to sort out my feelings with the Lord. Once I dealt with my anger, I approached the man and quietly tried to reason with him about the dogs and the vehicle mishap. The next day, they moved out.

While praising God for our reprieve from the loud music and cars coming and going at all hours, another couple moved in. They were quiet and civil and hard workers, so we never seemed to have an opportunity to share our faith with them.

Now, as I snooped out the window at yet another new family, I heard clear direction from the Lord. I scrounged through my box of ready cards and notepaper for such an occasion as this, made a copy of the local council roster for rubbish bin pick up days, and prepared a welcome note to put in their mail box. If these were finally people who would be open to the gospel, I would be ready.

Peter tells us to be ready at all times to share our faith, but how ready am I? We should never give up praying and seeking opportunities for God to open the right door at the right time and with the right people.

Make plans to be ready to share your faith when God gives you the opportunity.

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Thanks for New Glasses

I turned on my computer, but something wasn’t right.

As I sat at my computer to do research, I couldn’t see the words clearly. My document was right in front of my face, but I might well have been blind. I had forgotten to put on my new glasses. They were especially created for me to see clearer while working on my personal computer.

I remembered the Bible story of the evangelist, Phillip, who led the Ethiopian eunuch to Jesus Christ. The eunuch could not clearly understand the Word of God, so the Spirit sent Phillip to help him understand.

I suddenly thought about my computer experience. The glasses that helped me see clearly to do my work were like the Holy Spirit was to Phillip. The Spirit reminded me of God’s promise to direct my footsteps and teach me from His Word.

Because Jesus lives within me, His Word is alive and transforms me every time I open the Bible. The Holy Spirit also speaks to me every minute of each day. The Ethiopian chose to ask Phillip what God meant in the Scriptures. I, too, have a choice of listening to the Spirit or doing my own thing without wisdom from God.

If we look deeply enough, we’ll learn lessons from God in all we experience. All we have to do is ask the Spirit to help us see what God is revealing through the Bible. God has answers and clarity for our concerns.

Ask God to guide and equip you through His Word so you can handle life’s concerns.

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Stormy Grace

The heavens opened wide—the wet surprise causing children to run into their mother’s arms.

Dusty roads make me excited for rain. When the rainy season comes to Tanzania, flowers bloom and shouts of praise rise. Baby animals sheepishly make their entrance. Children dance to rain beating on the church roof. Sometimes, our children’s program is only dancing because no one can hear over the storm. At night, we thank the Lord for the moments we have electricity. We play card games and tell stories because the rains stop life as we know it. There’s something impractically exciting about rainy season.

With rainy season also comes a grace for Sabbath rest. Let the Lord water the soil; it’s His anyway. Ministry must wait an hour or two since everyone is hidden away from the storm. No electricity means no working at home in the dark. All that’s left is to enjoy one another and rest in the Lord’s goodness.

My first year in Tanzania, this season of rest baffled me. We have snow tires and boots in the United States. Nothing stops work there. We must control our situation, not be controlled by it. This need to achieve no matter the situation exhausts many well-meaning people and leaves little white space for relationships.

What if my electricity shortages and the culture where shops are closed in the rain allow a divine grace to slow down my otherwise controlling lifestyle? What if the rain helps me let go of control and choose Sabbath rest and trust? What if the rain helps me remember God is the One in control after all?

Rainy seasons and storms will come in our lives. In these times, we can find grace, rest, and deeper peace as we trust God’s control.

Ask God to help you experience His grace during your storms.

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Not Good Enough

“That’s just not good enough.”

I heard those words when I messed up at work—the same words that have echoed in my mind since I was in grade school.

My feeling of not being good enough started in fifth grade. My math teacher, with good intentions, made me re-do all my incorrect problems until I got them right. I had to stay after school and miss fun activities. At the time, I felt as if I were being punished and that I was the dumbest person on earth.

I praise you because you made me in an amazing and wonderful way. What you have done is wonderful. I know this very well. Believing the words of this psalm is difficult, especially when I make a mistake. I fight to remember that just because I got an “F” or am not as smart as someone else doesn’t mean God didn’t make me in a wonderful way.

God values me so much that He allowed His Son to shed His blood for me on the cross so I could spend eternity with Him. He would have done that even if I were the only person on earth. I may not be the smartest person, but He has a purpose for me being here. I am not perfect—I do have a sinful nature—but I am not the only one who makes mistakes. Even though I don’t see myself being made in a wonderful way, I am magnificent in God’s eyes. 

Don’t view yourself by what the world says, but by what God says about you.

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Patience When I Have Plans

We looked around in anguish.

The windows were broken, a tree had fallen through the roof of the shed, and the listing agent said there would be no compromise on the purchase price. To say we were disappointed would be an understatement. We placed an offer on a beautiful farm, and within two weeks a storm and vandals had rendered the property useless.

Our family wasn't enjoying our busy suburb anymore. I homeschooled, and few children would leave their friends from school to play with our son. We prayed and asked what we should do. Both of us agreed it was time to move. This property was everything we wanted—a small house with five acres, space to grow, and budget friendly. But now ruined.

My husband and I sat at the table that night and prayed. We asked God if this was a closed door. If so, we would be okay staying in our current home, but we also asked for direction again. After praying, we still believed the move would take place and vowed we would not be discouraged. Starting the process over again after what we thought was losing the perfect home was difficult. Then, on the day after we would have closed on the first home, a new property went up for sale. It had a better layout, beautiful wood floors, a large barn, and nearly ten acres. And best of all, it fell within our budget. For almost two years, we had searched for a new home, and after disappointment and a hearty trial of patience, we found the home God had planned for us.

While waiting is never easy, patience is more than just waiting. Patience included monitoring our attitude while waiting, speaking in hope that a better home would be listed, being kind to each other when we were frustrated by the wait, and enjoying family time in the weeks that passed with no answer. No matter what the circumstance, we can be joyful in the wait because God is good.  

Ask God for patience to endure when things don't happen as you expect.

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Eye Problems

A sharp pain tore through my eye as I drove to work.

Blinking back tears, I struggled to keep my eyes on the road and ignore the extreme discomfort. Something had gotten under my contact and irritated my eye. Praying my tears would wash away the offending particle, I gripped the steering wheel and continued driving.

When I arrived at the office, I dashed to the restroom. Popping the contact from my red, throbbing eye, I peered down at the glass disk in my palm. A tiny dark spot sat near the contact’s rim. A wee bit of mascara had fallen into my eye. I ran water over the contact lens to flush away the foreign particle. After cleaning the lens, I held it up to the light. Nothing but a clear, clean surface appeared. I let out a sigh of relief after placing the contact back in my eye. I felt no pain and could see my surroundings clearly again.

An almost imperceptible particle no larger than a period had caused me terrible pain. My eye could not tolerate this foreign matter. But isn’t foreign matter under my contact as sin is to God? He is a holy God, and the Bible says He cannot tolerate wrongdoing—any wrongdoing. He is too pure to stand my sin, no matter how small I might think it is. My sin is like putting a small particle under God’s contact. It grieves Him, and He is not relieved until that sin is washed away.

We all cause God pain by our sin. But He has provided us with the perfect “I” wash: His Son Jesus. He washed away sins, not with water as I used for my contact, but with His own blood.

Let Jesus clear away your foreign particles which are offensive to God’s eyes.

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Forgetful Turkeys

One of the many joys of country life is experiencing all kinds of critters.

Rabbits, armadillos, opossums, and deer are regular sightings on our dirt road. While I enjoy watching these animals, my favorite is the turkey. I don’t know what it is about turkeys. When I drive up behind one in the road, he runs straight ahead. Of course, I can’t just follow slowly and watch the bird run. I have to hit the gas and crowd him.

The closer I get, the faster and more panicked the turkey becomes. He zigzags, and his fast trot turns into a quicker run. Closer and closer, I inch toward the turkey. Suddenly, he remembers he has wings, makes a few flaps, and is up and out of the range of my bumper.

Now, for all you animal lovers, I would never intentionally hit a turkey. I just enjoy reminding him he can fly.

The more I watch this scenario, I see the similarities between us and these forgetful birds. When stuff comes at us or life gets hard, we don’t know what to do. Instead of thinking through it, we panic. Fear sets in and we run. We feel inadequate to face the trial. The mountain seems too high to climb. We zigzag all over the place as our emotions lead the way. And just before we are overtaken, we look to Jesus and remember we can fly.

Why does it take us so long to remember we can fly? Why do we let our emotions and fears rule us instead of tapping into the Savior, the true giver of our strength? Only we know. But we should never wait until the pressure gets too high. We know what it takes to get us through, so we should go to Him first, not last. We can flap our wings early in the game instead of forgetting where our strength comes from.

Don’t be like those forgetful turkeys. Remember that with Jesus you can fly.

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Close Only Counts in Horseshoes

Close is not always good enough.

When a surgeon removes a malignant tumor, close won’t cut it (pun intended). Surgery requires precision. A soprano exits her graduate recital in devastation if she misses the final note. That one glitch overshadows her otherwise flawless performance. A truck driver backs into a loading dock but misjudges the opening. His error costs thousands of dollars in repairs. An Olympic swimmer touches the wall, fractions of a second behind another athlete. That miniscule moment means silver rather than gold. A firefighter in route to a trapped family can’t wait for changing traffic lights. Delays equal death.

Most that we do does not involve such devastation if we fall short of perfection. We give our house a lick and a promise when we don’t have time to clean it well. We run our car through a drive-through car wash rather than take the time for a full wash and wax. We study enough to make a good grade rather than an A+.  As in a game of horseshoes, if we get close to our goal, we do well.

Nevertheless, two decisions overshadow all others. What will we do with God’s offer of salvation? We have only two choices. Either we accept it or we reject it. If we accept it, we again face one of two choices. We share it or we keep it to ourselves. In both instances, our choice holds eternal consequences.

In the game of life, let’s play to win. Let every choice you make honor God and draw others to Him.

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Getting Rid of Painful Memories

Abuse comes in many forms. For me, it was verbal, mental, and emotional.

The hateful words spoken to me as a child remained with me well into my forties. No matter how hard I tried, those memories refused to go away. They played over and over in my mind like a stuck needle on an old 78 RPM. For years, I didn’t realize those memories were hurting me more than the actual events.

Victims of any type of abuse—especially physical and sexual—need a way to move forward to escape the pain of the past and silence those taunting voices. This begins with forgiving the offender and the ones who should have protected us from abuse. Refusing to forgive does not affect the offender; it only causes more pain for the one who has suffered abuse, which leads to anger, resentment, guilt, condemnation, self-pity, and self-doubt.  Not only does this keep us bound in a prison of unforgiveness, it also means the offender still controls us—while they go merrily along their way.

When we’ve been badly hurt, doing what’s right is not always easy. But God says in order to be forgiven, we must forgive. When we extend the same mercy and grace to others that God extends to us, we’re not justifying the offender’s behavior or letting them off the hook. We’re actually letting ourselves off the hook. Forgiveness benefits us—not the ones who have hurt us.

If you’re a victim of any type of abuse and carry scars from the pain of your past, forgive your offender/s. Once you do, their power over you is broken. Their voice is silenced. And don’t be afraid or ashamed to talk to a trusted friend or counselor. You are not alone. Many have walked in your shoes, and they understand. God never meant for us to deal with painful situations and circumstances alone. He will not only come to our rescue and heal the wounds in our shattered hearts, He will restore our joy and fill us with peace. He’s simply waiting for us to ask.

Don’t wait to forgive. Do it today.

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The Prayer Closet

Nineteen children. That’s right.

John Wesley's mother, Susanna, had a large family so she was constantly busy. When she wanted to be alone with the Lord to pray, she pulled her apron over her head. The children knew not to disturb her because she was having quiet time with her Savior. She was in her “prayer closet” as she sat in her chair.

Even if children aren’t the reason for our busyness, the enemy of our soul makes sure we stay busy with other things so we have no time left to spend with the Lord. The wicked one wants us to be tired, discouraged, or too distracted to go into our prayer closets. 

Anyone can have a prayer closet—or perhaps a prayer chair as I have. One that has been in the family for years. One covered in a lovely rose pattern but with faded and worn places on the arm rests. One used by my mother and grandmother as they took time to be alone with the Lord Jesus. This chair brings many memories to mind, as does the well-used Bible lying on the table beside the chair and the worn rug where grandmother kneeled.

In our prayer closets, we can pour out our hearts to Jesus, praise Him, sing to Him, read the Word, or just listen for Him to speak to us and give us strength for the challenges of the day.

Take time each day to praise Jesus and share your concerns with Him. He will renew your strength.

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The Chaplain

My rent went crazy.

When the new owner took over the apartment property, I was told they would not go crazy with the rent prices. A short time later, my new landlord informed me I would have to pay two hundred more dollars each month. Initially, I was freaked out. There was no way I could pay that.

The next Sunday morning, while sitting in the pew before church and being perplexed about my situation, I read this verse while waiting for the service to start: Give your worries to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will never let good people down. Later in the service, a Coast Guard chaplain who didn’t know what I was facing returned to his pew after taking communion and placed his hand on top of mine. It felt as if the hand of God touched me. I felt as though the Lord told me everything was going to be okay.

A few months later, I found a place for only fifty dollars more than I had been paying. My new location also let me leave my car at home and take the bus and train to work, saving me money at the gas pump, as well as wear and tear on my car.

When we go through a crisis, we need to give it to the Lord. He knows we hurt and promises to take care of us. What appeared to be a crisis for me turned into God’s provision.

Trust in Jesus every time a calamity happens.

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Mom's Wise Decision

Mom’s family did not have much money.

At one time her family lived in a corncrib because their old farmhouse was destroyed by fire, and they had no other choice for a home. Although her years in school were few, Mom had a head filled with wisdom. When she was forty-three, she made the wisest decision of her life: to become a Christian.

Since Dad was not a Christian, life was sometimes hard because of Mom’s decision. At first, he seemed okay with her choice—and even attended the evening services with her. As time passed, however, Dad turned against the minister and the church.

Mom didn’t drive and depended on Dad to take her to the worship services, which he did—grudgingly. Dad parked close to the entrance of the church, and when the services ran over, he sometimes blew the car’s horn. Despite the embarrassment and frustration, Mom never faltered in her Christian walk.

I was by Mom’s bedside when death crept into her room. As I sat, patting her arm and reading the Psalms from her little New Testament, she peacefully went to be with her Savior. Mom didn’t have years of education, fame, or fortune, but she had the wisdom to choose Christ—the only way to eternal life.

Many things about Christianity cannot be explained, which causes some people to struggle with accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior. From the conception of Jesus through God’s Holy Spirit, to His birth to a virgin, to His resurrection from a cold dark tomb, and to His ascension into eternal life, the questioners don’t understand how these things can be. But these are facts of the Christian faith that cannot be reasoned by the mind or proven through research. We must, as my mother did, accept them by faith.

Have you taken a step of faith and chosen to follow Christ?

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Don't Make God Your Money

Of course, the real title to this devotion should be "Don't Make Money Your God."

Many years ago when I was twelve, I heard a pastor preach on not making money your god. Sometimes, he'd accidentally say "God your money" instead of saying it the right way. During the sermon, he talked about people who think only of getting a lot of money. Ouch! He was preaching to me.

Although I was only twelve, I heard the famous Publishers Clearing House Ten Million Dollar Sweepstakes advertised every day, and I was obsessed with my parents winning it. I don't know if they had signed up for it or not—or if I had begged them to do so. But sure enough, all I talked about was winning it. When that pastor asked people to raise their hand if money was their god, I was scared to raise mine because I thought everyone would think I was not saved.

The rich man in the Bible made money his god. When Jesus told him to sell all he had, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Him, the man got sad and left.

God doesn't mind us having things; He just doesn't want things having us. It can happen to those with an average income as well as the rich. Making money our god is something we must guard against because we all can have idols. Anything that comes between us and God is an idol.

Don’t let money or anything else come between you and God.

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Wearing Labels

For years, I believed I was a bad cook.

I had never learned my way around the kitchen. It wasn’t until moving to Africa that I realized I needed to rip off the bad cook label. Otherwise, my husband and I would survive on rice and beans. I needed to learn to cook. Realizing that was more freeing than the label I had stuck on myself.

I also once labeled a one-year-old little boy by giving him a cute blue dress with pink bows. Matendo looked great—and wore it for the next two and a half years. As the child got taller, the dress got shorter. One day, I realized a dress wasn’t the best gift for a little boy. I asked his father why he had dressed his son in a gown for more than two years. He said, “You put it on him.”

I told Matendo’s father I had made a mistake and put a label on his child. I also set a little boy free that day by exposing the truth. Matendo dropped the gown and never looked back.

We, too, can wear labels for years: bad cook, poor student. We need a friend who is willing to get real and call a lie what it is. We might need to be that person who apologizes for handing out unhealthy labels.

Sometimes, we don’t realize how inappropriate the labels are. We get stuck in a mindset for years with no one shedding light for us. Lying labels become so common in our experience that we no longer see them as lies.

Examining the labels placed on us to see which ones belong and which ones don’t is essential. We can love ourselves enough to see if we are believing truth or lies. We do this by remembering we have been created in God’s image, asking God to speak truth to our hearts, and sharing with a trusted friend.

Learn to live in the truth, and let the truth set you free.

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Cruses of Oil

When I was a little girl, I frequently asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Other little girls wanted to be ballerinas and princesses. I wanted to be a teacher and a mommy. But what does a six-year-old know about reaching such goals?

The Lord promises blessings and prosperity. Jesus said if we ask we will receive. Unfortunately, some believe they don’t have to do anything but wait for the Lord to drop down prosperity on them.

In Elisha’s day, creditors took everything from a certain widow, even her sons, to satisfy her husband’s debt. The only thing she had left in her house was a jar of oil. Elisha told her to gather as many empty vessels as she could. And she did. She poured oil from her meager supply into the vessels. What she didn’t know was that she poured from a never-ending stream of oil until all the vessels were filled. She then sold the oil to pay her debt and live on what was left. Had she not gathered the vessels, she would not have received the miracle of multiplication.

The Lord pours out blessings we cannot contain, but we have to participate with Him and prepare to receive the multiplication of blessing according to His instructions. If someone gave us a huge sum of money, we would need the right bank accounts and investment knowledge to handle it. If the Lord gave someone the ability to discover the cure for cancer, they would need the vessels of knowledge, experience, and perseverance to pursue that destiny. 

The blessings we receive are directly connected to our preparation to receive them. Our oil will multiply until the vessels are full.

Gather your vessels today, and prepare the way for the Lord to fill them.

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Right Place, Wrong Time

I packed our bags, prepared and practiced my workshop presentation, and checked that everything in the house was in order.

My group loaded our luggage, enjoyed our drive to the motel, unloaded the car, and stood in line to check in. But when I gave the clerk my information, she said “I’m sorry. I don’t see your name.” I spelled my name, and she checked again. “Oh, here you are. We have you down for next weekend.”

“You’re kidding,” I said. I told her I was with a group, so she checked other names on our list. Sure enough, all were listed for the following weekend. My mind scrolled through the challenges of correcting the motel’s mistake. Then the manager pulled the reservations contract, and I verified online conference information. They were right. I was wrong.

So, we picked up our luggage, loaded the car again, and drove home—embarrassed, but a bit wiser. I had checked and double-checked everything under my control. However, I failed to double-check the date established by the one in charge.

We often do this in our relationship with God. We see a need. We sense God’s leadership, but then barrel ahead in our own power. We fail to consult the One in charge for divine direction and timing. Our results often prove more devastating than a bit of embarrassment and inconvenience. By acting at the wrong time, we may undo positive steps made by those before us or put stumbling blocks in the paths of those who come after us.

Instead, if we begin each day with humility, recognizing God’s omniscient schedule and His direction, everyone benefits. We have no need to seek forgiveness for dragging our feet or running ahead of God’s perfect plan. Those we encounter receive the best we can offer. We close each day knowing we followed where and when God led.

Allow God to lead you to the right place at the right time.

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I Asked God for a Million Dollars

Once, I asked God for a million dollars.

“There’s not enough money to pay the bills,” my mother scolded, “let alone buy you a new bathing suit.” I was ten years old at the time. I sat on the front porch and prayed, tears rolling down my face—not for a new bathing suit, but for cold hard cash. I asked God to give my mom a million dollars so she could pay her bills. I’m sure the popular television show The Millionaire inspired my prayer, but this was my first intercessory prayer.

I figured the money would fix my mom’s problems. Then she’d be happy, and all would be well. I prayed as only a child could pray—with complete confidence that God looked down from the clouds and heard my prayer. But the man in the black suit representing the mysterious benefactor, Mr. Tipton, never rang the doorbell and handed my mom a check from his zippered case.

I think it’s remarkable I asked God for such an amount, even if the inspiration did come from a television show. I also don’t recall any disappointment over God not giving my mom the million dollars. My memories are only of praying the prayer and then playing baseball with friends in a park afterward.

But God honored my prayer that day, as Paul said He would. An all-knowing God knew I was really asking for security and my mother’s love. He lifted my burden, and that’s all I know.

I still run to God for financial needs. But as an adult, I’ve never forgotten that an all-knowing God will honor my petitions if I come in humility and child-like faith. In return, I always receive more than I could ever ask or think.

When you have a need, ask God in faith to supply it. Then, believe He will.

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You Are the Man

My baby sister, who is nineteen years younger than me, showed a deep interest in God and the Bible from an early age.

When she was five, I got in a minor jocular tiff with Mom. My sister, who witnessed the entire episode but missed the humor, was aghast. Thirty minutes later, she knocked on my door to inform me what I had done was wrong. “God doesn’t like it, Jesus doesn’t like it, and the angels don’t like it. You should tell Mom you’re sorry.” Then, she strode from my room, but her prophetic admonition still rang in my ears.

It was an admonition stronger than needed, but even then I appreciated my sister’s concern for my spiritual well-being. Before and since then, trusted friends have periodically called me out for more serious failings. As unpleasant as these rebukes have been, I now recognize them as prime demonstrations of God’s mercy. 

Of all the acts of covenant faithfulness God shows David throughout Scripture, perhaps the kindest was His sending the prophet Nathan to tell the king a story about a murderous, thieving rich man who escaped justice. David’s righteous indignation over this story was thrown back in his face when Nathan said, “You are the man!” David was cut to the heart, but the pain itself was mercy. Before this encounter, no indication that the king had any intention of repenting from his murder and adultery is apparent. 

We, too, are prone to double-down on our mistakes, bad habits, and sins. We need people who love us too much to let us persist in destructive stupidity. And in fact, God generally gives us just those people—sometimes in the form of a baby sister.

Accept God’s mercy, and listen to those He sends to gently correct you. 

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Not Alone

The costumes were laid out and ready when it happened.

On Halloween afternoon, my toddler threw a ball into our propane heater, and it caught fire. I struggled to think clearly. I could imagine something terrible happening. As I tried to think, my six-year-old took control and instructed her siblings to come away from the fire. I was grateful because I felt too paralyzed to make a sound decision.

In a flurry of not knowing what to do, I called 911. The entire fire department came, but everything was fine. Only the one toy went up in smoke.

While dressing my kids for our night out, I felt like the most incapable momma. Tears came, and I didn’t feel like getting out. Rather, I felt like crawling into a hole.

My feelings weren’t new. But since it was Halloween, we packed up and made it to the event our little town puts together each year. We saw people we knew from church and from school. We laughed. My kids’ eyes widened as they enjoyed the pumpkin decorating, the games, and the dazzling costumes.

Normally, I’m not a party person, but that night I enjoyed community and was glad I didn’t crawl into that hole. I needed those people to help me out of myself and to remember we are all human after all. In spite of our messes, we need to keep moving toward each other, not away. We are people who need people, even in the times when we want to stay away. God knew this, which is why He created Eve.

That Halloween day helped me remember that the times when we feel hopeless and doubtful are the very times we need to share the presence of people. God made us to know Him fully and to find connection with the people He gives us. We are not alone.

When you want to push away, remember you’re not alone. Take a step toward your Maker and the people He puts in your path.   

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I Can't Avoid Noticing

I couldn’t help but notice.

The woman walked in late to the church service where everyone could see her, and then plopped down on the front pew. One Sunday, she had the audacity to brush her hair and put powder on her face in the middle of the service. Then, I realized I was staring at her and not listening to the pastor.

Satan will put any distraction in our path that takes our eyes off Jesus. He likes to use every evil trick in the book to distract us, just as I let the woman’s actions keep me from listening to the pastor. Satan’s goal is to defeat us.

I’ve been struggling lately. When I read my Bible, Satan likes to use these problems to turn my attention to other things. I enjoy handing out tracts on the light rail train in my town. Some days, I hurt so much I find it hard to do this. Satan can make me so depressed that I have no joy. 

We all encounter distractions and difficulties in life. Handing them over to Jesus and putting on God’s armor is the best way to break the Enemy’s back and defeat him.

Don’t let Satan defeat you. Give your distractions to God, put on God’s armor, and fight Satan back.

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Reunions in Heaven

Reunions are exciting.

Because they are so emotional, one of my favorite things to watch is a show or video where friends or family members reunite after long periods of time. I found one where two men who had been friends almost all their lives discovered they were blood brothers.   

For those who know Jesus as their Savior, a big reunion in heaven awaits. We can read a little about this place in Revelation 21 and 22. One wonderful thing is that people here will meet for the first time and find they are related. Joy and reunions such as our minds can't comprehend will occur. 

To go to heaven and avoid hell means asking Jesus into our heart. We should then serve Him by reading His Word daily, praying, going to church as often as possible, and giving at least ten percent of our income to the Lord. Our good works, which are a result of salvation and are done because we love Jesus, leads to crowns and other rewards when we get to heaven. 

Live for God as faithfully as possible so you can go to heaven and receive crowns to lay at His feet—and to receive whatever other rewards He may have in store for you. 

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The Chicken and the Egg

How does a chick get out of an egg? One peck at a time.

Chicks are confined in tight spots that get tighter all the time. Instinctively, the chick does the one thing it's capable of doing: pecking. With enough persistence, the chick frees itself and steps into a big new world it never imagined possible. One thing I find interesting is no animal or bird I know of that lays eggs pecks the egg to let their young out. Exiting the egg is something the chicks have to do for themselves.

In our lives—and especially our spiritual lives—we often get into tight spots, as the psalmist did. We’re “between a rock and a hard place,” “backed into a corner," or “have our backs against the wall.” Whatever cliche we call it, we've all been there. In most cases, we have to do as the chick and decide we don't like our present accommodations and start pecking.

Escaping our circumstances doesn't take just one little timid peck, but persistent pecking—as if our lives depend on it, because they do. Like those baby birds, if we refuse to peck and improve our situation, we will die captive in our prison—in a situation that had we only pecked a little more we would have survived.

Whatever our situation, we can keep pecking. When we do, we won’t become a casualty by letting circumstances dictate our efforts. Nor will we give in to pessimistic thinking such as, It didn't work last time, so why should I try again?

We can even host our own pity party with an attitude of Nothing I do ever works out right. That kind of thinking results in spiritual death and defeat. We'll become frustrated and quit pecking and die right there. We'll also bring reproach on the Lord because His grace is always sufficient.

Don't die in your hard spot. Keep pecking.

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Accept the Invitation

For family gatherings, I extend party invitations to all my family members.

Most of the time, they RSVP “yes,” except for the occasional scheduling conflict. After several celebrations, I realized one family member was a no show for all the events. The RSVPs went unanswered or declined. I wondered if I had done something to offend or if they were discontented with me. I was confused, angry, and frustrated. Why are they avoiding me or someone else in the family? Do I confront or just let it go? So many questions swirled in my head.

After more turmoil than I care to acknowledge, I realized my only option was taking this problem to the Lord. I prayed and waited. God answered, but not in the way I expected. He revealed the parallels between my loved one’s avoidance to family gatherings and our avoidance to His invitations on our lives. My family member expressed unwillingness to accept an invitation to family gatherings, just as many express reluctance to Christ's call to salvation.

I recalled countless times when I  had ignored God’s requests on my own life. I had treated God just as my loved one had treated me. I ignored and repeatedly declined God. Thankfully, He continued to pursue me—as he did the psalmist—and now my RSVP to His invitation will lead to eternal celebration.

To mirror Christ and share His love with others, I humbled myself and continued inviting all my family members to our gatherings. And just as I eventually accepted Christ's invitation, my loved one eventually accepted mine.

If you haven’t already done so, accept God’s invitation to surrender your life to Him.

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The Memory Maker

While examining a bag of organic grapes at Whole Foods, I heard someone call my name.

The caller was a woman I hadn’t seen in years, a blast from the past. We and our families had attended the same church in the 1970s. Seeing her again made warm fuzzy memories of our prayer times together bubble to the surface.

I hugged her, and, with our embrace, memories of peace and joy poured into my ready heart. But it was the emotional part of our relationship that flooded me. Nothing of the actual doings of our time together presented itself except for the praying. Standing by the grapes, we didn’t spend much time reminiscing. Nor did we promise the usual cliché to get together again. It was enough just to remember, if only for a time, the buried-treasured memories we’d made together in our hearts long ago.

And isn’t that the best part of a memory? The heartfelt part? I have accumulated many wonderful memories over the years with loved ones and friends, but it’s how I felt when with them that is the memorable part. Like the faint glimpse of praying with my friend. I don’t remember what we prayed about. Only the fondness and love for her remains.

This gives me a better understanding of why Matthew exhorts us to lay up treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys. Unlike the memories of our possessions and things, we can take memories of God's joy and peace with us when we die. They are incorruptible and never end.

Paul thanked God when he remembered his friends at the church in Philippi. I, too, thank God upon every remembrance of my friend. These are the memories that pass the moth and rust test—the ones we take into eternity where we will be ushered into the presence of God, the great memory maker.

Take time to make memories that last.

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The Happy Place of Hardship

Endure. Hardship. Discipline. Those aren’t happy place words. However, during a season of hardship, they earned a trophy in my heart.

Life had become difficult and seemed terribly unfair. “Why?” I kept asking God. Just when things were getting easier. The kids were growing up. Dennis had left for college. Cal was finishing high school. I could breathe.

And then, BAM! My elderly parents needed assistance. They left Florida and moved in with us. Suddenly, I was drowning in pain. Emotional pain over grieving my parents’ loss of strength, health, and vitality. Physical pain, as the added responsibilities stressed and exhausted me—and my back throbbed from lifting my mother. Spiritual pain, as I vacillated between “If I had more faith, I could handle this” and “If God loves me, why is He allowing this?”

“Endure hardship as discipline.” I happened upon this verse as I swirled in my vortex of turmoil. Then, my Father-God sat me down for a heart-to-heart talk. My challenging circumstances felt like punishment. But I held the wrong perspective. God was doing what loving fathers do: teach their kids. When God allows difficulties, He asks us to welcome them as tools of discipleship.

Hardship plants seeds of righteousness. It matures us. Caregiving teaches selflessness and humility. Pain drives us to seek God with greater intensity. Instead of “Why?” I ask, “How?” How will you use this for my good, Lord? How can this make me more like Jesus Christ?

Hardship also plants seeds of peace. My past difficulties leave me calmly assured about the future. God helped me through the past, and He’ll help me through whatever tomorrow holds.

Endure hardship as discipline. Doing so will lead you to the happy place of righteousness and peace.

Ask God to give you a different perspective on hardships.

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Unseen Artist Revealed

Dad stood behind me, dabbing oil paint on the canvas.

My hand rested atop his, so it felt as if I were painting—but I knew who held the brush. Soon, Dad slid his hand away, and I grasped the brush. His hand was still underneath mine, so I remained confident. Before I knew it, he smiled and put his hand to his chin. Occasionally, I’d ask for help, and he would nod or give an instruction. I had mastered the art of oil painting, but that particular painting was my daddy’s creation as much as it was mine.

“The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty.” This verse in Zephaniah tells us where God is when we create: in the midst of us. Paul reinforces Zephaniah’s words in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

The Lord makes His people creative. God has projects waiting for us to accomplish. Just as my father was available—and even helped me hold the brush, assisting me to release my creative talents—God is in the midst of every creative endeavor He calls us to do.

Dad never left my side. Neither does the Lord leave His people. God is the Unseen Artist who holds the brush, honing the skills of His servants. And just as my father smiled when I painted on canvas, God smiles when we paint on the canvas of life.

When others see my talents, I want them to look beyond me and see the Unseen Artist whom I serve. I like creating, but I want my heavenly Father to get the credit. Any good thing I accomplish comes from God. He called me, and He equips me. The Lord is pleased when people see His handiwork revealed through us.

God has many works for you to accomplish. Be confident; He who called you will also equip you. He will stay with you as you create. And when you do, give Him the glory.

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Don't Take the Bread

“Don’t take the bread!”

Once, while at a restaurant with friends, the waiter asked if he could remove items from the table to give more room for the main course. As he reached for a cup, I assumed he was about to remove our leftover bread. Without thinking, I said, “Don’t take our bread!”

Embarrassed by my too-quick and loudly spoken order, I apologized for my unnecessary outburst. In a kind, soft spoken tone, the gentleman replied, “Oh, no worry. I won’t remove the bread. I will only bring more.”  

Although in prison, Paul proclaimed he had enough. I have received full payment and have more than enough. I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.

After my experience at the restaurant, I thought about how I react to God’s graciousness. He continuously gives me good things, but I worry they will disappear. Yet He supplies me with more than I need or deserve.

Think about what you need to turn over to God today. Trust His timely reply and ample provision.

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Vents and Laments

During one season of my life, my husband and I lived in two different cities.

Each weekend, he traveled home two hours each way without complaint. My job was intense, and I found myself exhausted. One of the ways I processed the stress was “venting.”  Each weekend when he arrived, I vented about my dissatisfaction with the job. Although he patiently listened, after several months, I realized how negative I had become.

When one Friday came and my husband arrived, I began my usual rant. However, this time before I started, I pulled out a timer and set it for twenty minutes. I allowed myself time to vent, but once the timer went off, I didn’t bring up the subject of work again the rest of the weekend. Twenty minutes flew by quickly, but I stopped. Later, when I was tempted to vent about work, God gently whispered, “Bring it to me.”

God encourages us to cry out to Him for help. Grief, sorrow, and dissatisfaction are expressed as poems in the book of Lamentations, and David cries out to God continually in Psalms.

God wants to hear from us. He knows the details of our situation and even has the power to do something about it. Putting a simple timer on venting taught me to pick my battles, exercise self-control, and focus on gratefulness. A more fervent prayer life and connection with God resulted.

Musician Michael Card said, “We all carry deep within ourselves a pressurized reservoir of tears. It takes only the right key at the right time to unlock them. In God’s perfect time, these tears can be released to form a healing flood. That’s the beauty and the mystery of the prayer of lament.”

When you need to cry out, go to God first.

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Lasagna Slinger

Everyone had taken a seat.

As my mom walked the pan of lasagna to the table, the disposable pan began to bend. My mom realized what was happening. She shifted, reached, and tried to catch the pan without burning herself, but it was too late. Our lunch landed upside down in the middle of the kitchen floor.

Mom froze. What was she going to feed her family? I could see the look of devastation spread across her face. My husband, on the other hand, looked over at me, smiled, and said, “We got this!”

Jumping up simultaneously, I grabbed a thin, flexible cutting board and carefully slid it under the upside down lasagna as my husband held the pan in place. Together, we lifted it off the floor and set it—still upside down—on a cookie sheet and gently removed the pan from the lasagna. It wasn’t pretty, but lunch was saved.

Slowly, my mom moved from her frozen state back into the new reality of a salvaged lunch. As we were eating (all but the bottom layer, of course), I thought about how our lives are like this lasagna. Sometimes, we bend when life gets too hot and before we know it, we splatter face down on the floor. We freeze in place and can’t figure out what to do next.

That’s when God swoops in and says, “I got this.” He slides His strong arms underneath us and carefully plops us back to life. No matter what shape we are in, we are still His. He can still use us, and we still serve a purpose. We might not appear real pretty and might look like a mess that’s falling apart, but God wants us just as we are, mess and all.

When I’m a lasagna slinger, Jesus swoops in and becomes the ultimate Lasagna Saver. Splattered, scattered, tired, weary or worn—God still wants us to come to Him.

Hand over your burden to God. His yoke is easy and His burden is so much lighter.

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Jet Lag

I enjoy travel, but I dread jet lag.

Jet lag is the body’s resistance to a change in time zones when flying east or west. It leaves me tired when I should be awake and awake when I should be sleeping. As the years pass, I find my body takes longer to recover from jet lag.

Knowing God is timeless comforts me. He is the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever—meaning He is unaffected by our time and that He exists from eternity past to eternity future. As a result, He does not change with time as we do. I am also cheered by knowing that, as the Creator of time, He has a time planned for everything He does.

God is never late, even when we think He is. He understands better than we do the purpose of His actions. He never has to make time for people, because He already has time to spend with us. Since God is outside of time, He is patient when we are not. One of the primary purposes of His patience is to give all people the opportunity to receive Jesus Christ as their Savior. He desires everyone to be saved.

Thankfully, my body eventually adjusts to the east-west time zone changes. I look at this ability to adapt as one of the miracles of travel. But I realize that one day my time on earth will be over, and I will be in the presence of my Lord. And the best part about that is that time zone differences between God and me won’t exist.

Trust God to be in your right time zone at the right time.

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Painful Goodbyes

Mom, Dad, and little sis wept.

Boarding my plane to Atlanta, I witnessed a family saying goodbye to their young son. They chatted happily, shared pictures on their phones, and sipped slushies from an airport restaurant. Mom, Dad, and sister all wore “Army” t-shirts.

Two other friends completed the ensemble. I assumed they were all traveling together, until the hugs began. The young man held on to each of his family members so tightly that I thought they would burst. Then, the time came to say goodbye to the friends. At first, they gave a fist bump. But not satisfied, they ended with a warm bear hug.

Entering military status is not a solitary event. Families are enlisted in long weeks of separation and unknowns. Friends yearn for news. Jobs wait to be filled by others. No matter what kind of glorious life the public relations committee promotes for enlistment, sacrifice still comes.

To Jordan and your family, thank you for your service. And to all who have put their goodbyes on the table.

I am reminded of the Lord’s blessing through Moses. Numbers records the Lord’s own desire to be in a relationship that is life-giving. His presence goes with us in dark times and good times. And He offers sustaining grace to carry us onward.

Moms release children again each September as the school season begins. Managers release projects as they delegate and appropriate tasks. Hospice workers release patients at the end of their care.

Goodbyes are a part of life. Relationships, jobs, dream homes, goals. Regardless, the Lord offers peace. Look to Him for grace, and submit to His path for your days ahead.

Remember, God will never walk out on you. He will travel with you wherever you go.

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Christmas' Unexpected Changes

The news stung like a hornet against bare skin.

For thirteen years, my wife and I had celebrated Christmas with our two children on Christmas day. We considered it a sacred tradition—and thought they did, too. We loved watching them—and later their children—open gifts we had purchased. Then, we got the news.

Around the middle of November, our daughter texted to let us know she was rearranging the Christmas calendar. She would not celebrate Christmas with us on Christmas day. Going from house to house was just too hectic. She wanted Christmas day to be just her and her boys. The news crushed us, but we understood how hard it was on her. We would have to face unexpected Christmas changes.  

That’s when I suggested a change of my own. Since neither of our children would visit on Christmas day, we would head to our favorite place: the Great Smokey Mountains. Pigeon Forge to be exact.

Jewish believers also encountered an unexpected change in the first century. The birth of the Messiah didn’t happen the way many expected. He didn’t arrive on a white horse to run off their Roman oppressors. Rather, He was birthed to a young unmarried teenager and in a cave manger. Many didn’t recognize Him because of this unexpected change. A change for them, but not for God.  

The holiday season often brings changes we don’t expect—or want. A loved one passes away during the year, and we have to celebrate without them. An empty place resides at the table. An accident causes debilitating injuries and changes the way we celebrate the holidays. A child moves away to college or takes a job in a state far away. Perhaps even overseas. Arguments occur. Tempers flare. Anger and misunderstandings erupt. Unforgiveness sneaks in. The doctor says the “C” word.

The only constant about change is that change is always constant, whether we enjoy it or not. We often can’t prevent it, but we can adapt and move on. Which is what my wife and I did.

Whether or not you enjoy the changes Christmas may throw your way, remember the real reason for the celebration: Jesus’ birth and our salvation. Let the joy of that event overshadow any other pain you may face. And have a Merry Christmas!

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Birth Announcement

Imagine the scene of Jesus’ birth.

As the Son of our glorious God prepared to enter the world, no marching band celebrated it, and no special edition of the newspaper or CNN 24/7 television crew covered it. Nothing took place to herald the royal birth.

God sent His Son’s birth announcement through angels. Even then, God’s angels didn’t appear at Times Square in New York City, the site of universal celebration on New Year’s Eve. Nor did God send them to heads of state, kings, queens, or city mayors.

Rather, God selected a field less than a mile west of Bethlehem. The quiet countryside, dotted with sheep asleep for the night, lit up with blazing heavenly lights that pierced the darkness. Although God brought attention to His announcement of Jesus’ birth, He did so in the presence of flocks of sheep and the men who tended them, not in the presence of prominence.

God sent His Son as the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of everybody in the world, and He chose to share His news first with lowly citizenry. Perhaps God wanted to make sure the news was shared.

If God had chosen to give the news of His Son’s birth to the ruling class, they might have greedily hoarded the news to themselves, reasoning that only the elite deserved to hear such news.

Of course, God knew what He was doing when He gave the news flash to shepherds. They would appreciate the news and share it. The angels told the shepherds where they could find the new baby, but they didn’t command them to travel there. After the angels left, the shepherds discussed the news and hurriedly went to find Joseph, Mary, and the baby.

Sharing the story of Jesus’ birth and His saving grace is still important today. People the world over need to know Jesus came to earth to save them from their sins.

Take the challenge to spread the Good News.

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No, No, and No!

I had survived the mission trip to an orphanage in Guatemala.

As I enjoyed my last day in the country with our group touring Antigua, the peaks of two volcanoes, Volcan de Fuego and Volcan de Agua, reached up to the clouds in the distance. The beauty of Parque Central and the magnificence of the Santa Catalina inspired picture taking. The day was perfect—almost.

Strolling through the streets of this UNESCO world heritage site, I was repeatedly accosted by children selling t-shirts, trinkets, and other items. I had no need for any of these items. My purpose in Guatemala was to serve orphans, not to accumulate material things. If I said “No” and shook my head once, I did it a hundred times. These vendors were relentless. Jokingly, I told my companions what I really needed was a t-shirt to wear with the word “No!” on it, which I could point to in response to a sales pitch.

After a while, I tired of turning away repeated sales propositions. Giving in and buying a trinket to make the vendor go away would have been easy. Had I done so, they would have labeled me a customer who could ultimately be worn down to purchase something. Other vendors would see I had forked over money and would swarm around me to attempt a transaction. I reminded myself I was not in Guatemala to shop. I stood my ground, continued to say no, and purchased nothing. Eventually, the vendors realized I was not going to cave and backed off.

As Christians, we’ve all been in similar situations. The Devil entices us to do something we really don’t need to do. He’s a relentless vendor of evil, wanting us to buy into sin. He won’t take “No” for an answer, but keeps hawking his seemingly innocent wares, hoping to break us down.

With God’s help, we can stand our ground and resist the Devil and what he’s selling.

Let God help you say, “No, no, and no!” to the Devil. Then, watch him flee.

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I Want It Now

When I was little, my mom liked watching the TV show, Dallas. Although my dad watched it with her when he wasn't working at night, he didn’t care much for the show.

One popular mini-series during the show's airing entailed J. R. getting shot. The culprit was a mystery. Like my dad, I normally didn't care for this show because it was quite boring. But for some strange reason, I eventually got in on the act, so to speak. One of my classmates at school also got caught up in it. He said, "I want to know who shot J.R. now!" Finding out took some time, but later the mystery was revealed.

Paul reminds us that living a righteous lifestyle takes patience. In our society, it’s harder than ever to be patient. We have so many quick things—such as microwaves to cook and warm food in and computers and the internet to buy things instantly online. It’s easy to want instant gratification. 

Sometimes, we all have trouble with patience. This devotion-writing ministry teaches me patience. It forces me to wait as much as three months for my devotion to be published, although I don’t have to wait that long for an acceptance letter. But it’s well worth the wait to get published and to know my writing is a blessing to other people. 

Unless we’re extremely brave, praying for patience is dangerous. The Bible says patience comes through tribulation.

When you pray about something, ask God to remind you to be patient. 

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Sheikh Chillie was famous among children for his funny stories.

His motive was to build castles in the air by establishing great businesses in his imagination. One day, his mother asked him to sell eggs in the market. As he was on his way, he put the baskets of eggs on his head and got lost in his thoughts. He wondered what would happen if the eggs became chickens and then became hens. All the hens would lay a lot of eggs, and, with those eggs, he could go to market and sell those eggs.

As he enjoyed his thoughts, the basket of eggs fell to the ground. The eggs were ruined, and the people surrounding him laughed.         

Many times, we act like this character. We get lost in our thoughts and become daydreamers. But when we come out of our imaginations, we have nothing except regret.

When daydreaming, we bring new things into our imaginations without realizing that without God we cannot attain anything. Our future is in His hands. By bringing something new into our mind without God, we try to create something on our own.

When we daydream without God, it becomes spiritual adultery where we take the role of God. James reminds us we have no assurance of tomorrow and should plan according to God’s will.  

It is good to plan, but our plans will soon disappoint us if God is not in the center of those plans.

Schedule every day with the Word of the Lord in mind.

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The Simple Days

The Bible college where I earned my first degree had a difficult course.

The required course entailed memorizing 300 verses that had to be quoted verbatim on tests. Since I came from a home that had a non-biblical environment. I was sure I would fail. I spent a lot of time asking God for help and writing verses on three by five cards, which I carried everywhere I went.

Certain verses seemed to be foundational and life-changing. I had been raised knowing the carpenter’s credo that no building is stronger than the foundation it rests on. I thought I must be learning what I needed, so I worked hard and got a good grade.

The years went by, and I earned several other degrees and achieved and accumulated. Surprisingly, the more I achieved, the more I lost. A loneliness and sadness set in my core, and this caused me to seek for more.

I concentrated on treating my patients, earning money, and paying everyone’s bills more than I concentrated on what I had found in those early days. God’s opinion and my relationship with Him was what healed my soul.

Moving away from the simple days when the Bible was my foundation and Jesus was my best friend, I let possessions, position, and pleasure rob me of what I needed and loved most: a simple clean relationship-oriented soul.

Repenting, or turning away from, came naturally as I confessed my sins and confusion while turning toward Jesus. I remembered what I had learned long ago: whatever we possess, possesses us.

I decided to go wholeheartedly back to the simple days when all I needed was Jesus, the Word, and my family. I developed a protective feeling against anyone who threatened my relationship with these things. I sold some things, and I discarded some relationships.

Choose to live a life that refuses to leave the simplicity that is in Christ. You’ll never be sorry.

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God's Got This

“These ninth grade boys are getting on my last nerve!”

I told the Christian Education Director I didn’t think I was right for the job. I had retired from teaching public high school and was doing my best to hold the attention of several hormonal teenagers during our Wednesday night Bible study on the sixth chapter of Matthew.

However, seven high school freshmen seemed to have little interest in our discussion. They expressed their boredom by checking their phones, kicking each other under the table, and passing notes.

One particular young man, whom I had already reprimanded several times for not paying attention, sighed loudly and slammed his Bible shut. This was his signal to me that it was time for class to end.

Afterward, when I expressed my concern to the CED, she asked me to give the class another try. She felt certain things would improve with time.

“You can win them over,” she cheered.

Reluctantly, I agreed to return the following week. I began class by asking if anyone could tell me what we had studied the week before. The young man whom I had reprimanded and who had seemed to be paying no attention to the lesson raised his hand.

“God’s gonna feed us and put clothes on our backs ’cause He does the same thing for the birds and for nature and stuff. With God, we don’t need to worry about nothin’. So what’s the topic for discussion tonight, Teach?” The young man sat back in his chair with a nonchalant grin.

After taking a moment to recover, I praised him for his accurate appraisal of Matthew 6 and introduced the theme of Matthew 7. Maybe I had judged these kids too quickly.

Obviously, God wanted to convince me He was in control. He would take care of my needs as well as the needs of these teenagers. They got the message, so why didn’t I?

Whenever you feel worried or inadequate or not up to the task at hand, give your concerns to God. Seek Him first, and ask Him to meet your needs. Even though you may not think He is listening, He’s hearing every word.

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Slip 'n Slides

Slip ‘n slides provided swift and energetic water rides for me and my sister during childhood.

Mom sprinkled dish soap onto our favorite toy, hooked up the hose, and watched us slide. Dad swooped us up on the other side, and we’d run towards Mom, ready for another go-round. Soon, neighborhood kids joined in, moving along with us down the slippery slope.

Sliding downhill on a slip ‘n slide is easy, but trying to reverse course is difficult—and next to impossible after reaching the mid-point because momentum kicks in.

My struggle to reverse course in the spiritual realm is similar. Unlike my childhood slip ‘n slide, I can reverse course from my many mistakes by asking God daily to guide my steps.

But what if I’m past the mid-point, traveling at breakneck speed? God helps me off of the slip ‘n slide even then by holding me in His hands. Just as my dad scooped participants from the slide, positioning himself as the catcher, my heavenly Daddy rescues me at any point. No matter where I am on the slip ‘n slide of life, I can reach out to God and experience His help.

Even when I fall, my heavenly Father helps me rise. As I read my Bible, His gentle instruction becomes my refuge, and I rise again.

Whether we’re a new believer or have journeyed with God for a long time—and whether we’re on the slippery slope or have fallen—God extends forgiveness through His Son Jesus Christ.

When you find yourself on the slip ‘n slide of life, turn to God whose love is constant.

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Be Not Afraid

The stack of textbooks grew until she could barely see over the top.

My mother vividly remembers her first day of nursing training. Each instructor took a turn standing in front of the class to introduce her course, hand out another thick book, and give an assignment. At that moment, the farm girl from northern Minnesota wanted to go home. Quit. The challenge looked too overwhelming.

It’s a good thing my mother stuck it out. Far from home and lonely, she tackled assignments and diligently prepared for class. Her closest lifetime friendships came from those difficult days of nursing school. The girls faced the challenges together. They prayed, encouraged, and supported each other.

When their special graduation day arrived, the young women knew they were equipped for the job. They had walked through the hardship and survived. Not only did they celebrate together that day, but this group of nurses also kept in close contact over the years. My mother can’t always make it to their successive five-year reunions, but she looks forward to Christmas cards and letters from these dear sisters.

God’s Old Testament people faced insurmountable challenges, just as we do. God wants us to courageously lean on Him. He doesn’t promise easy, but He does promise to be faithful, to be present, and to give us strength for the day. He offers hope. In 365 different verses of Scripture, God reminds us not to be afraid. He is God. When we trust Him to be bigger than our problem, fear has no power.

Challenges will block our vision just as the books piled before my mother dimmed her dream. Jesus offers hope for the darkest days. We can run from the challenge or we can look to Him with confidence.

Let God free you from the grip of fear and equip you to accomplish your task.

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A Happy Heart

“Mommy, my heart is sooooo happy!”

Karis has an affinity for the park. Not only does she enjoy the beauty that it holds, she also enjoys some of its less appealing attributes: playing with the mulch, sticks, and dirt.

On this particular trip, she really connected with the dirt. I sat and watched her for at least thirty minutes—it could have been longer because we were both preoccupied. The intricate details of the dirt fascinated her, and she affectionately called it her “treasure chest.”

I, on the other hand, worshiped. Her interest in the dirt instigated my ever-growing attraction to my Savior, Jesus Christ.

After some critical reflection of his own, David composed a plea to God, expressing his understanding of the discipline, love, and compassion God demonstrated toward him. David knew he was not hidden from God, but was secretly and intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

Just as the composition of the dirt intrigued my daughter—as she tried to mold and shape it into something special—so Jesus took dirt and made something exceptional: a human, and from that human, the entire human race. More importantly, His will determines we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and that we are deemed His earthly treasures.

Similar to the fascination of my curious baby girl, God, in His authoritative power, operated with interest—demonstrating His level of precision, creativity, and diligence when He created us. 

In all things, God is molding, shaping, and treasuring us, no matter the circumstances. In return, we should saturate Him with our praise and thanksgiving for everything He is doing in our lives—not solely the beautiful parts, but the less appealing parts as well.

Ask God to help you have a happy heart every day.

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Pray with Fire

“Pray with fire.”

That was the only thing I could think to say. Pray with fire. I’m not sure how, but the only thing that came to mind was the baptism of the Holy Spirit on the disciples.

No one likes to hear the word cancer. We don’t want to hear it for our friends, and we certainly never want to hear it for our loved ones. But my husband and I sat in the doctor’s office, numbed by the word. If that wasn’t enough, drop in aggressive, and you can’t catch your breath. The cancer monster had struck my prince.

It’s easy to tell others we have faith. Most of us can spit those words out with some amount of confidence, but when God asks us to live it, the going gets hard. Really hard.

What do we do? This disease doesn’t give us the option to wish it away, so we look above and begin to live what we claim to have: faith. And we are forced to reassess the degree of faith we have.

There is FAITH - knowing God will do what He promises.
Then there is BIG FAITH - believing God will do what He promises.
Finally, there is GREAT FAITH - knowing and believing God has already done what He promised. This is where we ask what our level of faith is and whether we are willing to walk it out to the degree for which God has chosen, because the walk is hard.

Jehoshaphat pulled together the people, and they prayed with great faith that God would handle their dire situation. It must have been a terrifying moment, knowing armies were bearing down on them. Yet they banded together in faith and prayed. God moved Jahaziel to tell the people not to worry. Don’t be afraid, for the battle is God’s. In other words, God had already fought the battle.

Regardless of the battles we face, we should share them with others. There is an army in praying together. It’s up to us to have great faith and believe God has already done what He promised. We march ahead, praising God for the battle is already won.

God spoke to my heart. Pray with fire. Although I’m not sure how to do that, I’m positive the prayers I make will be filled with deep faith and passion. I plan to utilize the gift of the Holy Spirit to take my pleas to the highest level. I plan to pray with fire.

Take your requests before the highest authority and trust. Pray with fire. When you post on social media, add the hashtag #praywithfire so others can see the prayers of the army you’re a part of.

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Divine Red Alert

On October 19, 2005, I had a revelation.

In that revelation, my Motorola handset was ringing. The more I tried hanging up the call, the more the phone rang. I picked up the call and heard the voice of elderly woman: “I am the Angel of the Lord, I am reviving the youth, and the trumpet will soon sound.”  

The coming of the Lord will be sudden. God likens it to the days of Noah when people lived in pleasure until the flood came unexpectedly and destroyed everything. Only eight people—Noah and his family—were saved in that generation. The Lord provided an ark of safety for Noah and his family as a result of Noah’s uprightness and right standing with God.

God is a kind-hearted Father who does not want us to be caught unaware and has given us an ultimate guide from His Word for us to be fully prepared at all times. The earth has a life span, which God is extending so more people can make it to heaven.

When we’re confused and fed up with the way things are changing daily, we can come closer to God and anchor on this Scripture: And when these things begin to come to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.

Ask God daily for divine help so you will not fall, fail, fear, or faint as you await His coming.

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The Paradox of Surrender

The woman’s words were bitter. “I don’t understand how God can expect me to submit to that man. I’m not a slave or a doormat!”

One of the other women in the Bible study chimed in. “Yeah. This whole submission thing gets me too. We’re just expected to surrender our will and be treated like a puppet, right? How’s that supposed to help us?”

The leader took a moment to explain the meaning of the word submit to the group of anxious females. She told them that while it means to surrender or submit to authority, it also means to defer or yield oneself to the opinions of another. In other words, a choice.

She went on to explain that the principles in God’s kingdom are a paradox—something that seems contradictory to common sense such as: Love your enemies. The more you give, the more you get in return. Lose your life so you can gain it. Then she said, “It is only through the act of surrender and submission to God—and to each other—that you will find true power and freedom.”

One writer says that surrender—which we think means defeat—actually turns out to be the only way to victory. God gave us a will and the ability to choose. When we choose to lay down our selfish ambitions and align our will with His, we are, as the Bible says, offering ourselves as a “living sacrifice.”

The truth is God is for us. He has our back and our best interest at heart. He gives us guidelines to follow to help us grow and reach our full potential, not to keep us in bondage. When we accept His Word as final authority in our lives, He is able to pour out His blessings on us in ways we can’t imagine or comprehend.

Even Jesus said to His Father, “Not my will but yours be done.” Therein lies the victory.

Don’t hold anything back from God. Surrender to Him today. Submit your will to His, and watch what He does in your life.

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Rock Bottom

I had a plan. I knew what I wanted and where I wanted to be.

After a year of traveling for work, I headed back to where I thought was home. I was excited as I crossed the Florida line. It had been an uneventful three-day day journey, and I thanked God I had made it safely.

But what I learned was that my plan was not God’s plan. He didn’t make my stay easy. The job I had waiting was commission only, so I used up my savings on hotel rooms and food. I got to the point of living out of my vehicle a couple of times when I did not have enough to get a room for the night. The only time it got easier was when I left Florida after being there for only a month.

God brought me to what I felt was rock bottom so that I would put my trust and faith in Him. He delivered me out of that situation, once I put Him first and asked for His guidance.

Faith is having confidence in what we hope for, yet cannot see.

We all dream of a certain life, certain jobs, certain houses. We want to be in charge. We don’t fully trust God to provide for us, yet He knows our path and has a better life in store for us than we could ever imagine.

Pray before making any decisions. God has a plan for you. Trust Him to lead your journey.

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The Day the Letters Stopped

My granny Alice loved the Lord, and no matter the occasion she sent a card.

Her cards were unique. She clipped out newspaper articles and always included Scripture. She had nine grandchildren, and none were left out. When she felt as if we were misbehaving, she sent a special card with Scripture, pinpointing our wrong actions. We often teased her about her cards. Some of them made us laugh, some made us cry, and some offended us. She spent many hours praying for us. I know it grieved her not to know if all her grandchildren were saved. She had faith, though, and believed God would answer her prayers.

King Josiah grieved over the disobedience of God’s people whom he ruled. He even tore his robes. And the Lord heard his prayer and recognized his obedience.

My granny has now passed on to be with the Lord. I no longer receive cards in the mail, but I still feel her prayers. She was obedient to God and always desired for us to know Him. She grieved when we did not always live the way we should have. I do not know if all the grandchildren made commitments to the Lord, but I know of a least one who did.

We all have family members who need to know God. Perhaps they need a card … or something else. We may not be able to reach people in such a direct manner, but we should tear our robes for our loved ones and grieve when we know they are not right with God.

Humble yourself today and pray for the people you love. When you do, God will hear.

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The Pause: Silence Before the Next Step

Nothing was on the horizon before me.

I had completed my term of agreement on the mission field and returned home to wait for my next assignment. The way forward was empty, and God was silent.

This is when I came face to face with what I now call “the pause.” We wrestle with the pause. We fight it and try to avoid it by filling our time with trivialities. We fret and worry to no avail and wonder about all the what ifs. We cry out, asking why God is silent about His future plans for us. We wonder about our purpose in life and hunger for the next step as though our worth depends upon what we do.

The pause always brings focus. Pauses are not times to make plans for the next move but to go deeper into the Word, strengthening our intimacy with our Saviour and speaking with honor to the Holy Spirit. Pauses are for internal adjustment … a season of the heart … times for reflection … as a metamorphosis takes place within.

Jesus’ promised abilities were revealed at the age of twelve, yet the Father put His life on pause until He had matured emotionally and physically as a man—twenty years into the future.  

One of the most profound pauses Jesus experienced was between His death and resurrection. For Christ also died for us once for all, the just and the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison. To the world, there was silence, but these verses declare His Father worked through Him in the unseen.

Cherish the pauses in life. Father God has your life well in hand.

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Under the Snack Bar

The government said we couldn’t meet there anymore.

We would have to leave the chapel in groups of two and go to the administration building. Those who had Scripture portions of the song books on their desks took them with them.

After getting to the administration building, the one in charge told us a young lady from our group had been captured. We couldn't meet in the administration building either. We left in groups of two again and went to the snack bar.

"You'll be given a password to use to enter with,” the leader said. “The man won't look at you, and you won’t look at him. The password is ‘How's the weather?’ He'll then say, ‘You may enter.’ You'll go into the snack bar and down into the basement."

When we reached the basement and began to sing quietly, the presence of God was so intense I felt as if I could cut it with a knife. One young man wept the entire time.

I wondered if this were real if I would stand up for the Lord? The purpose of the simulated underground worship service was to show how it is in countries where this happens so we will have a burden to pray for Christians undergoing persecution.

Commit to pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ who are in this situation around the world. After all, it could happen to us who now live in the free world.

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Recharge of Faith

It was the end of my shift. I was ready to go home.

I got into my van, put the key into the ignition, and turned it. Nothing. Just a tick, tick, tick. I felt like crying and screaming. What was I going to do? I couldn’t afford to fix anything.

One of my customers came over to see if he could help. I explained what happened. He said it sounded like the battery, so he gave me a jump which started my vehicle. I got out of my vehicle and thanked him. He shook my hand and then handed me $100 to buy a new battery. I looked at him in astonishment, thanked him, and cried.

God provided a way for me to get what I needed. My customer’s little act of kindness provided more than a new battery. It recharged my faith. How could I ever have doubted my heavenly Father would take care of me?

I did the exact opposite of what the Bible says by keeping my worries and anxieties to myself instead of giving them to God. I believe in and love God, yet I didn’t trust Him with my problems. In spite of my doubt, He still showed me He takes care of His children. I am very blessed to have a Father like Him.

Ask God to recharge your faith so you will know He is with you through both the good and the bad times.

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Are they skipping, I wondered.

When I taught elementary grades, my litmus test for the children’s well-being was to observe them during recess and see if they skipped. Even a child at rest swings a foot, shrugs a shoulder, or sways.

In chapter seven of Song of Solomon, the Bride of Christ is allegorically pictured as a princess with jeweled thighs and wearing gorgeous shoes. She is spiritually adorned with these so she can skip with reckless abandon as a child does.

I am Jesus’ Bride, so I like to think of these as my skipping sandals. And I say in response, “Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early” (7:11a). I think of skipping to my workplace with Jesus beside me, empowering me to serve effectively.

My beginning was not so glorious. In chapter one, my head was down, my shoulders drooped, problems overwhelmed me, and I had lost my way. This scenario changed when I told Jesus I need Him to be Lord of my life.

Jesus is not daunted by any challenge I face. He lifts my head, takes my hand, and offers to become my groom. He is filled with joy that I’ve come to Him, and He leaps like a gazelle. My beloved shines His light on every shadowy place in my life until only His glory remains.

But this is not something I do on my own. He does this for me as I reveal my needs to Him. In the process, He creates in me a joy no circumstance can take away.

When I imagine the great joy Jesus has worked within me—and by the time He gives me skipping sandals—I smile. Those beautiful shoes and sparkly joints are His gift. He has created me to skip so I can reach into the spiritual realm and skip with Him each day.

Ask God to create within your spirit a beautiful skip.

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A Sympathetic Savior

A seventh grader in my Sunday school class had an aha moment when I told the class Jesus experienced the same temptations and trials we face.

When Andi’s realization hit, I could almost see the light bulb over her head. She got it. Jesus lived with typical teenage struggles too. Granted, Jesus did not have internet access, automobiles, or smart phones. Yet the nature of His difficulties, the mental and emotional stresses, and the human desires equaled ours. Andi’s head shot up. With question marks shooting from her eyes, she asked, “You mean Jesus went through puberty?”

Although the Bible clearly tells us Jesus was tempted like the rest of us, we tend to spiritualize His life on earth. Somehow we think He was above all the nitty gritty we face. In the Bible, we read of Jesus lying in the manger, receiving gifts from wise men, and impressing religious leaders with His questions as a child. The next thing we know, He’s an adult. 

While surrounded by a different time and tradition, Jesus has been there and done that. He understands and identifies with our daily dilemmas.

When we’re so physically, spiritually, and emotionally spent that our bodies quiver from exhaustion, remember Jesus felt that too. As He agonized in prayer before His crucifixion, His sweat poured like drops of blood.

If sorrow engulfs us to the point we drop in desperation and despair, remember Jesus wept when Lazarus died.

If the unfairness of others overwhelms us, never forget Jesus needed time alone after Herod beheaded John the Baptist.

Above all, when suffering hits us full force, picture Jesus on the cross, held there by our sins.

Anytime we feel alone and wonder who will understand or how we can continue, remember Jesus has already been there. He hears our cries and stands ready to walk with us. He holds us up in our lowest moments. He offers hope when life seems hopeless. And He will celebrate with us when our hardships cease.

Jesus knows. Jesus cares. With His help, you will endure. 

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Please Wait

The busier the day got, the more I waited.

I waited in traffic. I waited in the checkout line and gas line. I even waited to be seated at a restaurant with a “No Waiting” sign. I fell behind schedule and resented others for making me wait.

If I had remembered God was in control, I would have handled the delays much better. His plan and timing are perfect—and certainly superior to the plans I scribbled down. God offers peace through the power of His love and the promise to work things out for those who wait.

But I neglected to reflect upon God’s teachings as I stood stranded in line. I overlooked how important the virtue of patience plays. God wants patient and faithful followers. Even though staying on schedule is good, we need to trust God when delays intrude on our time. He often has a good reason for them.

God’s timing and overall purposes are always fulfilled—whether we like it or not. Instead of trying to control others and circumstances, we should trust His change in plans—no matter what happens or how long we wait.

When we remember God’s omnipotence and perfect timing, the delays are easier to bear and serve as signs to readjust our lives to His masterful plan. With the help of God’s grace, we can find patience once again—even in the midst of a world filled with fast foods, ten-second sound bites, and express lanes.

With complete trust in God, we give ourselves permission to wait for Him and to prepare for a better way—which are the moments of delay before God asks us to make a change.

Wait patiently today, so you can experience the peacefulness of God.

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The Grateful Samaritan

Saint Augustine once said, “In the essentials unity, in the non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.”

A crusade steering committee for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association once asked me to work with them. I had been saved in the charismatic renewal of the twentieth century, which emphasized baptism in the Holy Spirit. One of my church friends heard of my involvement with the crusade and said, “I would not be involved with them. They don’t believe in the baptism in the Holy Spirit.”

I was a young Christian, and my friend’s remark shook me. I started having reservations about my involvement with the crusade, but I continued to serve on the committee. The result was a rich learning experience.

The crusade team’s concern for the lost was honey straight out of a rock. They had forgotten more than I would ever know about evangelism. I learned I needed people who did not believe exactly as I did.

Jesus healed ten lepers, yet only one returned to give glory to God—and he was a despised foreigner.

We often miss God’s blessing because it comes through someone with whom we disagree. God uses people who aren’t just like us. While our theology is important, it shouldn’t divide us unless it involves the basics of  salvation or is a clear departure from biblical truth.

A pastor once had a discussion with God about working with another church. He told the Lord, “I don’t know if I agree with everything they do.” God replied, “I don’t always agree with everything you do, yet I still work with you.”

The grateful Samaritan reminds us that a loving God is more concerned with the gratefulness in our hearts than the theological correctness in our minds.

Don’t let the nonessentials hinder your work for God.

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Beware of Worldly Wisdom

Education is the answer to every problem we have.

Or at least we might think so if we follow the current political debates or listen to the experts on talk shows. People with multiple degrees preach that education holds the solution to poverty, gang violence, and other cultural maladies.

The Greek-influenced culture of ancient Corinth treasured wisdom as the source of answers to life’s questions. Religious Jews, however, preferred sight. “Seeing is believing” was their creed and “Show me” was their motto.

To both of these approaches, the apostle Paul offered a stinging rebuke. God challenged worldly wisdom through the gospel—the good news about Jesus Christ.

Many problems defy answers. But at the root of all problems—of all pain and suffering, of all trouble and distress—is rebellion against God … sin. The only answer is the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin. Culture will scoff at the idea that a Jewish man’s death is the answer we need, but Christ is the power and wisdom of God.

Don’t let worldly wisdom trap you.

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The Divine Pilgrims

Pilgrims must be prepared at all times.

Our church once staged a drama about the return of Jesus. People waited patiently in the church for the Lord’s return, but eventually began leaving one by one as they lost hope. The pastor left to get some food and told one of the members to keep watch. The member also left. However, a prostitute refused to leave. She wanted to see this Jesus people were talking about. Suddenly, Jesus came, and she was the only one whom Christ took.

The Scriptures remind us we are strangers who should shun evil desires such as sexual immoralities, lies, and fraudulent engagements.

Satan designs sins to trap people’s souls in hell. We have to watch our conduct so our deeds will enable people to glorify God. As pilgrims, God also wants us to submit to the constituted authorities, whether governmental or religious, so we won’t have issues when Jesus returns.

God is a righteous Father who wants us to make our journeys on earth devoid of unrighteous tendencies dictated by the world. The way we do this is by focusing on Christ as the author of eternal salvation. As pilgrims, we endure until the end. Life on earth is short and full of vanity. We came into it empty and will leave it the same way.

Ask God to help you see yourself as a stranger in this world so you can behave wisely.

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On October 24, 2017, Boeing Flight 319 experienced unusual turbulence emerging from the left engine and notified the tower.

After an emergency landing, authorities determined the plane, flying above 5,000 feet, had collided with an eagle. The eagle could fly so high because he had strength, wings, and endurance. He was made for it.

Not pushing for a woman in labor is hard, especially when she feels one more push will do. One more attempt to fix it might do the trick, but it could also ruin the results. One more step in our current direction could place us on course. Be careful though. Two clicks to the left might send us backward.

God’s instructions are for our benefit. He loves us so much He has attached resources to those instructions. Though it may seem difficult to wait, nothing is impossible for those who believe.

Rather than focusing on the wait part of the message, meditate on the conclusion. The resource made available when we wait is renewal of strength. Strength that gives us the ability to withstand pressure in unforeseen circumstances. Strength is an asset—the power to resist breaking into pieces.

When we decide to wait, the Lord also gives us the strength we need. Like eagles, we receive wings to soar and to stand. Above abnormal heights and mediocre levels. This is because we are not normal or average. We will run and not be weary; we’ll walk and not faint. When we wait, God gives us the stamina needed to go the distance and endure—to run the race and finish.

Even young children need emotional strength and mental stability. Millions of others are stuck at ground zero wanting to experience life on a higher level. Everyone gets tired and experiences burnout. The “Little Engine That Could” would not have made it without the diesel.

Determination and persistence are requirements for success. The Lord has provided these resources to us. All He asks is that we wait on Him.

Trust God at His Word. You will find peace in knowing He has never failed to keep a promise. Never.

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Adoptions and Home Mortgages

We finally found the house in which we’d settle down.

Like many other buyers, we had saved a down payment, but did not have anything close to paying off the entire purchase price. We attempted to borrow the rest through a home mortgage loan and were glad we’d have a place we could finally call home. We knew this meant making monthly payments for years to come.

When it came to adopting our sons, we also had to make a payment to the agency that helped us adopt them. This became a down payment for all the other investments we would put into them as they grew. Their challenges and difficulties became ours as we struggled together to understand God’s great plan for their lives. They became the heritage and the reward God promised us.

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. The psalm reminds us children are a legacy given by God and are an investment of a lifetime.

In our consumer-driven culture, we often think of children as a commodity, something we may or may not choose to obtain. The decision to adopt changed us because it helped us realize children without parents are still worth having. And no worthwhile investment pays off overnight.

Our many payments finally came to fruition when our adopted children understood the meaning of family as a social construct. Seeing one of our sons prepare for marriage was like “paying off the mortgage.” Looking back is when we see most clearly that children are a blessing from the Lord.

Don’t shortchange the possibility of an adopted child to change your life. You might get more than you bargained for.

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Getting Down at 35,000 Feet

I didn’t hesitate to get down on the filthiest part of the plane.

On a recent international flight, I awoke in the wee hours of the night to discover that my eyeglasses were no longer perched on my nose. Nor were they hooked on my shirt, lying on my lap, or fallen by my feet.

Alarmed, I flicked on my overhead light, waking my Korean seatmate, who promptly joined my search. The passenger across from me used his phone flashlight to light the aisle. A flight attendant arrived to help. She stooped while I dropped to my hands and knees to search the dark floor. How would I manage our three-week trip without my glasses? Several rows back, my husband noticed the commotion and moved forward to see what was the matter. Immediately he began praying aloud to our Father in heaven for help.

Suddenly, I was surprised I could get down on the dirty plane floor. Years ago, a fall had injured my knee, causing a limp and a reluctance to kneel even for prayer. But having recently memorized Revelation 4 and 5, I had discovered that twenty-four elders in heaven bow before the throne of God. They bow, but I don’t? Despite the pain, I found myself willing and able to kneel to search for my glasses.

Disappointed at my unsuccessful hunt, I clung to my armrest to get up. A tap on my shoulder made me turn toward the front of the plane where a smiling young man held out his hand with my glasses—silently pointing to the dark floor several rows ahead. Relieved, we all returned to our seats. I turned off my overhead light.

Deplaning the next morning, I asked a flight attendant, “Was it you who found my glasses?” He shook his head. Another sandy-haired attendant bid us farewell near the cockpit. “Did you find my glasses?” He smiled and nodded. “I thought you were an angel.” I laughed. “Thank you again!”

Father, thank You for my glasses and for helping me see I can get on my knees to worship You again. May I walk humbly with You.

God deserves your worship. Kneel before him.

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Prayer Changes Me

My co-worker’s words were unkind and untrue.

How could this woman say such a thing about me? I fumed. All day, her words simmered in my soul. Each time my mind hit the rewind button, my eyes narrowed and my jaw tightened.

That night as I lay in bed, I thought about what I’d do the next time I saw her. Avoid her? Confront her? Simply pretend I didn’t know what she’d said? 

I also thought about what I should do. I knew what Jesus had said in Matthew 5, but I thought, How can I possibly pray for this woman with a sincere heart? I’d rather tell her exactly what I think and then complain to other people. I’d rather harbor a grudge and avoid her. But Jesus said if I want to please Him, I would pray for those who hurt me.

The next morning when I sat down to have my devotions, my heart was restless, so I wrote my co-worker’s name down on my daily prayer list. Then I admitted my feelings to God. “Lord, I don’t like this person or what she did to me.” God knew what had happened. I didn’t need to airbrush what she had done or camouflage how I felt about it.

Next, I confessed my unwillingness to change my attitude. “Lord, I can’t get over this. I’m too angry, too hurt.”

Then I reminded myself that God loves this woman as much as He loves me. He offers the same forgiveness to her that He offers to me. I said, “Lord, help me see what You see when you look at her.”

Several weeks passed. One day, my co-worker and I were both working in the copier room. She seemed agitated, so I asked, “How’s your day going?” As she revealed details about an ongoing trial in her life, I realized why she might have misjudged me and also recognized that I’d misjudged her. I felt the Holy Spirit nudge my heart, and the stone of resentment I’d been cradling in my spirit cracked.

My attitude toward those who offend me doesn’t change overnight. Sometimes it takes months. But gradually, God changes my perspective. He instills sympathy for others in me and provides humility about my own faults.

Pray for those who have hurt you. Doing so gives God an opportunity to work in your heart.

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New Shoes

In the middle of our shopping trip, we heard, “Good afternoon, shoppers. We have a special for the next 20 minutes.”

This “Blue Light Special” announcement made me happy. My daughter and I were shopping for shoes for her children. After surveying the prices, we headed for the clearance rack. Two-year-old Elianna walked to this rack, selected a pair of shoes, put them on, and zipped them up. I thought those brown shoes looked like hiking boots and not right for a little girl, but Elianna liked them and would not take them off.

The manager, who had walked to the back of the store where we were, saw boxes stacked up high, Aarao skipping in his new orange tennis shoes, Aliyah dancing with delight in her pink shoes that light up, and Elianna trying on another pair of shoes with big white bows. “Looks like everyone is getting shoes,” he said.   

After a few minutes, an announcement over the intercom interrupted our joyful scene: “Attention shoppers, we have a special for the next twenty minutes. All shoes in the store are buy-one-get-one-half-off.” The warmth of the Lord’s hand rested on us as we received His favor. We walked out with three happy children and four pairs of shoes.

God desires to show us how much He loves us by giving good gifts even when we don’t deserve them. When we step onto God’s path, He blesses us. We might question what we’ve done to deserve the blessing, but the answer is always that we did nothing but accept the gift given to us: Jesus Christ, God’s Son.

Our relationship with God puts us in position to receive all the blessings and favor of our heavenly Father. A large balance is credited to our account in the bank of heaven, waiting for us to exercise our faith to draw upon it.

Draw heavily on God’s resources. Look for His blessing and favor today and respond with thanksgiving.

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That Isn’t Fair!

Our Sunday school class was deep in discussion over a controversial subject.

The lesson concerned King David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. David allowed the lure of temptation to take control of his mind and his emotions as he watched Bathsheba bathing on a rooftop. He sent for her and had an illicit relationship with her. As a result, a son was born.

God sent Nathan, a prophet, to tell David the baby would die—a judgment not upon the innocent baby but upon David’s sin.

Two members of our class thought this was unfair. One complained, “Why would God permit the death of the child? He committed no sin. King David should have been punished. He was the guilty one.”

Another member firmly stated, “The baby was innocent of any wrongdoing. No one should die because of the sin of another.”

A third member of the class chimed in, “But someone did that very thing. Even though He was sinless, Jesus Christ died for our sins.”

Christ was not forced to make that sacrifice. He willingly gave His life so that we can be declared, “not guilty,” if we accept His gift of salvation. This promise is wrapped tightly in the familiar words of John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

In Psalm 51, David prayed a prayer of repentance, asking for restoration and a right relationship with God. Just as God forgave David, He will also forgive our sins. It’s hard to argue with that. That’s more than fair.

When you’re tempted to question God’s fairness, trust His love instead.

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Running Trails

“Get that animal away from me!” a fellow trail walker screamed at me.

At six months old, our golden/rottweiler mix was clearly a puppy. I pulled on her leash to calm the irate stranger. “Okay.”

Enraged, the woman turned around and moved away from me and my dog, Layla. “I have been attacked by dogs. You should keep that dog away.”

My family and I had just purchased the bouncing ball of fur from a local Mennonite family. She was the picture of friendliness. We had found her wandering near an adorable toddler boy dressed in a full, button-down white shirt, shorts, and black hat. We fell in love with her.

On the trail, I moved as fast as I could in the opposite direction from the woman. I intended to leave and not return. At the end of the path, we encountered another dog owner, crouched down with her three cocker spaniels.

She looked up. “Can he play?”

I eased up on the leash and watched Layla scamper toward one of her dogs. We talked about the weather and the recreational area. I mentioned that I’d come to explore the trail for exercise and shared my previous encounter with the other lady.

“Oh, honey, everybody brings their dogs here. Don’t mind her.” She waved her hand as if it were nothing.

I listened to the woman’s kind words that day and continued to enjoy the beautiful trail with our frisky pup. It has been three years since we first visited the park, and in that time, Layla has been trained while I’ve lost twenty-five pounds as a side benefit. It’s my peaceful place to pray and listen to the Lord.

We never know what a kind word will do for someone. It may mean the difference between a bad experience or blessings that continue in their lives for years to come.

Don’t miss an opportunity to speak a kind word to someone.

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In but Not of the World

Hoof clops invade the morning stillness.

I watch the buggy pass the house, and I fancy I live in another world. A world with the Amish who live without automobiles, electricity, running water, cell phones, and mirrors.

We live near a large Amish community where about 250 families have chosen to live in another world—a world without the conveniences most of us use and enjoy. They consider them worldliness, the chief evil of life. Isolating themselves from outside influences, they conserve their heritage.

I listen a long time, realizing with each clop growing fainter that I, too, live in two worlds. My ears strain to hear the last sound as the hard wheels rattle a determined tradition of an old-world order.

For a year, we have lived in two worlds: one near the Amish where we retired—living between cow pastures and corn fields—and the other with modern amenities where my husband works part time.

I realize I cannot be at home in both places. I am more at home where heart things surround me. Where the floors creak “welcome home” and memories murmur. Where days are secure, and where I long to return week after week.

There was a TV series long ago, I Led Three Lives, based on the true story of Herbert Philbrick. He was a citizen of the community, a Communist, and a counterspy for the FBI. Not even his family, his church, or his friends suspected his covert activities. For nine harrowing years, he cautiously stepped into each day, frightened.

As believers anticipating an eternal home, we can’t be fully at home in this physical world.  We long for the other world—the one we call home. For something more.

Our Amish community has found a way to live out Paul’s words. It may be difficult for the Amish to live simply, without conveniences, or it may not be. Perhaps the pull to the other world is stronger than the desires of the flesh.

Ask God to help you live well in both worlds.

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A Bookmark Reminder from 1958

Out of desperation, I found a bookmark my father had given me in 1958.

Talking heads on television seemed to think the way to address the turmoil of the present situation was by hatefulness and negativity. Turning away into the still quiet voice of the Spirit, I reached for the books I keep next to my easy chair and found Dad’s gift.

After a lifetime of violence and sin, my father had been saved later in life and truly became “a new creature.” During lunchtime, he sat in his car in front of the union hall where he was the hard-fisted president and listened to Vernon McGee, a famous Bible teacher from long ago.

Shortly after my father’s salvation, he said, “Son, here’s a little book that has helped me a lot. Maybe you’d like to read it.” Then he handed me Sit, Walk, Stand by Watchman Nee, the father of the indigenous Christian church in China, which grew to millions of members. Watchman died in prison in 1972 from the Chinese government’s hateful imprisonment.

After a lifetime of living—and being blessed with five children and twelve grandchildren—I reached for Watchman’s booklet, a first edition printed in London in 1958. A beautiful bookmark with a picture of Jesus tending His flock on one side and the 23rd Psalm on the other fell out.

Years before, I had stood before a congregation of people and, honoring Dad’s wishes, read the Psalm. Tears ran down my face. I missed Dad so much. I guess I still do. 

I refreshed my heart with the little book Dad had given me and discovered the following:

  • First, we should sit or rest in our relationship with Christ. The Christian life doesn’t begin with walking; it begins with sitting.
  • Second, we should walk in love by being pro-active and walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.  
  • Third, we must stand by putting on the armor of God.

Take power walks each day in the power of the Spirit, who enables you to stand up under the Devil’s intimidation.

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The Message Before the Sermon

The choir members stood quietly in their places.

The vibrant chords of the organ signaled the start of the Sunday morning service. I settled into the comfortable pew, moving a bit to the right past a dated felt hat blocking my vision. But wait. I saw a rocking movement working its way up the wide front steps toward the choir loft, a flowing robe with an uneven gait continuing upward to the men’s section at the top of the platform.

Having grown up as a pastor’s daughter, I knew coming in late was unacceptable, but choosing to use the platform steps instead of the side door was … well, forbidden. I shook my head. Somebody’s in big trouble.

As the man arrived at the empty place next to another choir member, a welcoming arm reached out and gave a strong side hug and a broad smile. The heartfelt hug spoke clearly, I’m so glad you’re here. You’re a part of our group. I thought you weren’t coming.

I realized then the latecomer was a member of our church’s “Special Friends” group. My stomach clenched. My hands went cold. Had I sunk so low that now I criticized a brave special needs man who was a member of our church choir?  Growing up in church, I was aware of criticism. Now, many years later, had I become a criticizer?

My face felt wet. I wiped away the tears. Lord, please forgive me. I’m so sorry. Help me reach out with kindness to people. I swallowed and continued my silent plea. Fill my heart with compassion instead of critical thoughts.

I don’t remember the sermon that Sunday, but I will never forget the message.

Instead of judging, ask God to teach you how to love, show kindness, and accept others.

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Father Knows Best

From year to year, I forget that seasons are an allegory of the spirit.

Winter has passed, and spring has come, and with it new hope, new growth, and new vision. I don’t care for winter, except for the beautiful holiday time. Yet I’ve come to know it brings a painful but necessary spiritual pruning. Pain can quickly bury those memories of beautiful colored flowers, the warm sun, and the singing birds, but those memories are my rod and staff.

The carnal way of facing painful situations involves moving through the difficulty as quickly as possible, but God might not remove the trial. Our Father knows best. He’ll guide us through by helping us recall His goodness and by granting us strength for the journey. He doesn’t want us to dwell on the pain. He wants us to give thanks during and through the painful circumstances.

I often thought God’s purpose for the trials was for me to give Him glory, which is partially true. But even more is for us to know Him and His trustworthiness well enough that we can give thanksgiving while walking through the valley of the shadow of death—knowing His faithfulness will resolve the problem in His timing. God did this for Job by restoring all his riches and more.

The Father already knows what we need. He wants to prune the rocks and weeds of our soul so we will trust Him for our needs. 

Surrender to God in your trial because surrender is an act of faith that shows Him your trust.

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Perfectly Placed

“When will I get accustomed to being alone?” my friend asked.

My newly-widowed friend told me she was having a hard time saying “I” when she had used “we” for forty years. I assured her she would gradually speak with singular pronouns.    

As one with seven years of widowhood on the calendar, I told her everyone’s timetable differed. The quiet and aloneness are always present, but she would slowly develop her routine and add activity to her days.

Eating alone is one of the biggest challenges singles face. Cooking for one when recipes are designed for four servings means eating leftovers for days. My friend Lucy, who never married and is now retired, finds this season of her life quiet and difficult.

God places the solitary in families, but not unless we extend the invitation and place them in our home.

When I moved to a new community, people at church invited me to their homes or out to lunch. On the first Sunday of each month, a group of widows meets for a potluck lunch in one of our homes. Our group is a family—the family of God—and God has placed us together.

My husband and I once invited singles to our home for holiday meals if they couldn’t travel to see family. They enjoyed being around our children, and our girls witnessed the value of extending hospitality to others.  

Make a list of people you know who are alone. Especially those who can’t reciprocate. Invite them to have coffee with you in the warmth of your home or host a meal for them.

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Lonely Eyes Sometimes Cry

Deep inside hearts, loneliness can create islands of doubt which then can grow into dim dens. Succumbing to darkness means nurturing light no longer appears.

Eyes made for the light fail to serve in the darkness, producing doubt and fear. Lonely eyes toil for relief when lost in darkness, and lonely eyes sometime cry.

Strangely, when two hearts meet—having similar blurred vision and faint courage—a dark fog can lift, restoring sight and easing needs as blinded eyes become one.

Hearts are filled with expectation as the world becomes new. Two hearts reach out with a new-found strength that lonely souls were without.

Yet a young lady cried softly by herself and longed for her mother’s arms. She wondered whether life was better alone with privacy as her best friend. A young man wondered the same.

Wisely, this confused couple made good choices and ran toward each other’s arms for comfort. Quiet breezes blew through the trees overhead as a concerned Father’s Spirit found ease.

Many years later, this gentle couple—my wife and I—have scars hidden beneath the wrinkles. Wisely, we still run toward each other’s arms to find the Spirit’s peace when life tries to tear us apart. We claim Jesus’ promise: Come to me you who are heavy laden, and I will give you peace. Together, we find comfort in His arms.

Pray with someone when your lonely eyes cry, and your heart will find a song of victory. As my wife and I approach seventy and eighty, we have found this verse has often applied as we have passed many years in this veil of tears. We are blessed that these words have been our song. We truly belong together.

We all cry sometimes along this rocky and dirty road called “life,” but God is always near to wipe away the tears.  

Pray with someone when your lonely eyes cry, and your heart will find a song of victory.

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The Chief of All Sinners

In my days as a school teacher, I had a colleague who experienced a moral failure.

My colleague had gotten sexually involved with a female student. He was tried and convicted of the crime. We were told by our supervisor that we should dissociate ourselves from this teacher. In my earlier years, I had learned a great deal from him concerning integrating technology into the curriculum. I ignored my supervisor’s warning. My colleague had helped me. Should I not reach out to him in his time of need?

I visited him before his trial and after he was incarcerated. One day as I spoke to him over a phone through a glass partition, I thought to myself that if it were not for the grace of God I might be where he is. Maybe not his sin, but many others.

That day I realized I should have been on the other side of the glass. God in His goodness, not mine, freely pardoned me. It was good and right that I had reached out to my friend because God had extended forgiveness to me. Any other response by me would have been the height of all hypocrisy.

My supervisor did not think this teacher deserved forgiveness, and she was right. Just as you and I don’t merit our salvation.

Paul, the chief of all sinners, became the greatest of all evangelists. Identification with the transgressor is more effective in reaching people than just pointing out their sins. Which side of the glass we view ourselves on will determine whether we reach sinners or turn them away.

Identify with the transgressors, and you will lead many to Christ.

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Crash Meeting

The pastor's sermon about forgiveness spoke to my heart.

It was my first time visiting the church. After the service, I backed my car up and then felt a thump on my bumper, which jolted me forward. In my rearview mirror, I saw the other driver, an older gentleman in the driver's seat of a Volkswagen. We got out of our cars and met in the middle of the row.

“Are you okay?” we asked at the same time. We looked each other over. Nothing bleeding or broken.

“No harm done,” I said.

He extended his hand and smiled. “Name's John. You sat near me in the back row.”

“I'm Gina.” I shook his hand. “Nice to bump into you again.”

Neither of us looked closely at either bumper. There was no way either of us could stand at the foot of the cross and tell Jesus a little chipped paint and a few dents mattered. Jesus couldn't have spoken more directly to us at that moment unless He had appeared at the collision scene.

That church became my home church. My new friend John and I sat on the back row together often.

Jesus was clear that we forgive each other as we would like to be forgiven. He made it a part of teaching us how to pray because of the act's importance. Jesus wants us to talk to Him about forgiving others—to give us the ability to have mercy toward others, especially when it's not easy.

Why not ask God to help you approach others with forgiveness?

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God Is Great and God Is Good

After a tiring day at work, I love sitting down to an evening meal with my four-year-old grandson.

Riley is quite the entertainment. Like most four year olds, he will do anything to distract me from trying to get him to eat or try something different. One day as he squirmed in his chair, I fixed his plate, putting a spoonful of each food group on it.

“Riley, I want you to try these peas. They are good for you,” I said.

Without a blink or hesitation, he dropped his head, then looked up at me, and said, “Boys don’t like peas!”

As we finished our meal, I pondered how sometimes we do the same with our heavenly Father. He lays something in front of us and says, “This is good for you, and this is the plan I have for you.” But we say, “No, I don’t like this. It’s not what I wanted.”

God gave Adam and Eve all they needed—His very best. Good land and good food. The Garden of Eden was perfectly prepared. Eve, however, was deceived by Satan. He led her to believe God hadn’t done enough. She needed more. He led her to doubt what God had said about the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She questioned God’s goodness and love.

Eve was defeated because she listened to Satan’s lies and walked in disobedience. She forgot God’s promises and provisions. Because she did, the consequences for her and Adam’s sin were great. Their perfect life and world were forever changed.

In Riley’s little mind, he could not comprehend why I wanted him to eat something disgusting. What he did not understand was that I wanted him to eat healthy and try new foods. My intentions were good, and the benefits were even better.

God desires to give us His best. He wants us to trust and believe what He tells us in His Word. He loves us enough to show us His truth.

Trust our great God to always give you what is good.

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Hearing God Through Music

Going to a hospital is something I try to avoid, even if I’m visiting someone I love.

Perhaps it’s because I spent a good deal of my childhood impatiently sitting in green leather chairs in hospital waiting rooms while my handicapped father battled heart problems and Berger’s disease. Then he died. For me, hospitals trigger unhappy memories.

Yet on one sunny fall day, feeling a little apprehensive, I went with my husband to visit his mom. A beautiful, eighty-seven-year-old missionary’s child, Sunday school teacher, mother to four boys, grandmother, and great grandmother, she lingered at the hospital, connected to multiple tubes. Weak and frail, her heart issues and dementia—combined with a recent fall—were cause for concern. Although her spirits seemed better than most days, hearing her ask the same questions repeatedly left us at a loss.

As the awkward silence ebbed and flowed, my husband played music for her. What a glorious transformation. A smile came to her face as he shared “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” made her eyes sparkle as she remembered each word, even some in Arabic. As we sang together, music became the right medicine for our aching souls.

Hymns invite the spirit, generate peace, and give glory to God. The truths found in the words can elevate us to spiritual places much bigger than memory centers. Worship becomes supernatural.

God delights in worship and uses music to elevate. As a teardrop of joy fell from the corner of mom’s eye and we sang from our hearts to the Lord together, music allowed us to witness one of the most loving and transformational moments of our lives. When all is said and done, that's worth remembering.

Let music take you into God’s presence.

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Lofty Eyes

Who would have thought I had lofty eyes?

I once worked for a Christian organization. Another leader and I vied for the same position. He was chosen over me. The attitudes this brought to the surface in my life were eye-opening. I alternated between being envious of the other leader and being down on myself as a failure. I got up one morning angry with others and the next mad at myself. I could not get beyond the feeling that I deserved this position. I suffered from a bad case of lofty eyes.

Whether or not you are proud, you will be accused of being so. David’s brother said he was proud (1 Samuel 17:28 NLT), yet David knew the condition of his heart. He could have remained in the sheepfolds or rise to be a king. Lofty eyes always stem from a proud heart.

Pride tends to make us jealous of those above us and causes us to show disdain for those under us. Lofty eyes motivate us to look to our position in life for acceptance. To derive our value, we compare our performance with that of others.

Our hearts have a tendency towards vanity like a baby seeks its mother’s breasts. David described himself as a weaned child. He had a quieted soul because he did not strive for a station in life that was higher or lower than God had chosen for him.

The most significant people in this life often to do not recognize their greatness, which is a distinct characteristic of humility. David realized his own limitations. This may have been the key to his child-like dependence on God.

A haughty look is a product of a proud heart. Through my experience, the Lord ridded me of some pride in my heart. Unlike me, David knew the accusations about his pride were false because he felt no need to strive for authority. We all have the tendency for pride in our hearts, but David shows us we can be weaned from it.

Let God wean you of whatever needs to be removed from your life.

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Look at Me, God!

I knelt in the kitchen of our tiny rental house.

Weeping, I leaned on a red ice chest where I kept milk for my children. We needed a refrigerator, but I had no hope one would come. Through poor choices, I had lost everything and alienated my family. Covered in shame and regret, I felt worthless and unlovable—and now I needed a refrigerator. I had nowhere to turn, so I prayed and cried, “Look at me, God! Help me.”

Something happened. Instead of asking for relief from my appliance problems, I begged God to help me or take me. At that moment,  “He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock” (Psalm 40:2). Days later, a neighbor gave us a refrigerator.

With my feet on a path of restoration, I wanted to prove to God His restoration was not a mistake. I said “Yes” to every spiritual request from Bible study to children’s ministry. Busyness entered my life. I worked to keep God’s love.

The harder I tried to earn and keep what was given as a gift, the more elusive it became. My head told me that to keep God’s love I had to do good works. I was saying, “Look at me, God. Look what I’m doing.” But quickly, I became exhausted. My strength wilted and withered. The joy of redemption became the bitterness of busyness. 

Salvation is a gift from God through faith in Jesus. Nothing we do can pay the price of our sin. The price was paid through the sacrifice of God’s only Son, Jesus, who lived a perfect life and then paid the penalty for our sins.

I prayed for deliverance. This time I heard God’s voice answer, “Stop striving. Look at me, your God.” He was telling me to end my doing and to focus on Him. God doesn’t ask for hard work and busyness. He says, “Look to me.”

As God’s child, rest in the assurance that nothing will separate you from God’s everlasting love.

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Jake was a ten-year-old German shepherd who loved to wander.

The huge field by the school was Jake’s domain, and all the students loved him. But Jake had the habit, when given the opportunity, to go beyond the school field in search of another dog.

Once, days passed. Jake had disappeared. The people at the school searched for him, asking neighbors if they had seen him. Before long, they discovered Jake in a rabbit trap. His leg had been injured, so they took him to the vet.

As I think about Jake, I realize how often I wander from God and how little it takes for Satan to lure me. At such times, I don’t even think about Satan or the consequences of my sin.

David had a similar experience when he impulsively committed adultery with Bathsheba—something he later regretted (Psalm 51:3-4). All it took was a small temptation to make him sin, and suddenly he was trapped. He tried to evade the consequences by calling Uriah back from the battle, but when that backfired, David tried to cover up his sin by having him killed in the line of combat.

Peter says we are easily trapped because we have a cunning enemy. Satan is like a lion who wants to devour us. Once he traps us, we become easy prey and seek counterfeit ways to cover up what we have done. We lie, and then tell another lie about our first lie.

All the while, God waits for us to admit the truth about what we have done. He searches for us when we go AWOL, just as He did with Adam and Eve. Like Jake, someone has to release us from our trap. The bitter truth about my sins needs to come out in order for God to release me.

If you long for freedom, run to God for help. Ask Him to free you from your trap.

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Waiting Isn't Easy

The day at school was busy.

I was knee deep in state testing materials and schedules, trying to make sure every student in our building finished testing before the end of April.

As I walked down the hall toward the teacher’s lounge, I saw one of my students coming down the opposite side. He smiled big and said, “Mrs. Frazier, when are you going to get us?” (This is code word for when is guidance class?)  I told him I wouldn’t see him for another two months—thinking he would never understand how long that was.

He looked up to the sky, used both hands—as if to count the number of days within two months—stopped counting after five, and said, “Sounds good.” Then he skipped all the way down the hall. He didn’t mind waiting because he knew I would eventually spend time with him.

When we have to wait, it’s not as easy, but the psalmist encourages us to. Many of us picture waiting as if we’re sitting in a doctor’s office with a couple of magazines in front of us, watching the minute hand on the wall clock, and listening carefully for our name to be called. But waiting is getting ready with expectation and excitement that God is going to complete His promises in and through us.

Remembering two things will help us with our waiting. One, we will see an answer, because God always answers our prayers. It may not be exactly what we are looking for or want at the time, but if we are seeking God, He changes our wants and desires to reflect exactly what He wants and desires for us.

Second, don’t take for granted what we are doing while we wait. God is preparing us in our current situation, even if it doesn’t look like it. By discrediting our training, we might miss out on a blessing that will later bless others.

When God asks you to wait, do so with expectation.

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Taking a Walk

I was twelve, and Dad kept his promise. 

Dad loved to hunt and eat squirrel, and wanted me to also. I heard the hinges squeak on my bedroom door as Dad peeked his head in to wake me. He didn’t have to call my name. I had been awake for hours.

The air hung heavy with humidity yet still emitted a fall crispness. Stately oaks greeted us, and moss covered their branches like a quilt on a cold winter night. But I couldn’t see any of this when we arrived. Daylight was at least an hour away.

We walked slowly through the woods. Dew decorated the limbs of the small scrub bushes, giving me a brief shower every time Dad let one flap my way. I followed Dad’s flashlight beam as it scattered across the forest floor and pranced through the treetops.

Finally, Dad found the right place for me. “Sit here and wait,” he said, and he walked off to find his tree.

God had a habit of walking with Adam and Eve, perhaps daily. He created humanity for fellowship, so this would only be natural. Then sin entered. Satan tempted the couple, and they gave in to the one thing God asked them not to do. Sin broke their intimate fellowship. God removed the couple from the garden, placed angels at its entrance, and provided skins for their newly-discovered nakedness.

God wants the same type of relationship with everyone, just as He had with Adam and Eve. I, like Adam and Eve, have often messed up God's walk with me. I’ve sinned and not confessed. I’ve gotten too busy in other things—even good things. I’ve focused too much on relationships with others. I could go on. You probably could too.

The good news is—just like walking with my dad until he found the right place for me—none of the past or present can hinder my walk with God unless I choose to let it. God is in the restoration business, as He proved with the first couple. No matter what we’ve done, past or present, He can cover it so the walks can continue. All we have to do is give it to Him.

If something is messing up your walk with God, ask Him to remove it.

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Good Things

All day long I toiled, thinking God was angry with me. I repeated everything I did in my mind. It was overwhelming.

At the store, I played the claw game. I was shocked when the claw picked up a small prize. It was a happy bear with his arms spread open wide. If you squeezed its belly, it said, “I love you.”

Suddenly, the biblical truth “all good things come from God” came to mind. Because all good things come from God, I realized He willed me to win this bear.  It was His way of telling me, “Hey, I still love you.” God was giving me a hug.

When we remember all good things come from God, we are reminded of His love through the little things He gives us each day.

Think about the good things that have happened to you today, and remember God is sending His love to you.

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God's Light

On the urging of the neurologist, I took my son to the ER. We needed answers.

Increased headaches three months after my son’s brain surgery prompted another visit to the emergency room. His neurologist feared the symptoms signaled a new problem. She expressed her concerns to the surgeon. After he viewed the latest MRI, the surgeon believed there wasn’t anything to worry about.

Our hopes were met with disappointment and frustration. The surgeon’s partner was the on-call doctor at the emergency room. After a brief look at my son’s incision, he replied, “I’ve seen worse.” He told us neurologists and neurosurgeons don’t always agree and sent my son home.

We received a second opinion for my son’s ongoing pain, and the MRI showed damage to the brain from the surgery. This truth didn’t take away my son’s pain, but did justify it.

Upon self-examination, I realized I’ve been guilty of excusing my behavior by saying, “I’ve seen worse.” But God’s words will light our path. He always sees the truth and says no sin is greater than another. Nor does God compare or judge us.

The words of the world can either hurt or heal, guide or misguide. Without an anchor, hurtful words can pull us into the darkness, with the goal of transforming us to their standards.

Maybe you have experienced something similar. Only one source for the truth—the Bible—exists. It is the guiding light, directing our path and keeping us from stumbling. The Bible shines a beam on the moral road map. If we stumble, we can talk to God. He will never ignore us, but will say, “I’ve seen worse.”

Christ brings forgiveness and acceptance and will never leave or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). If you don’t have this guiding light in your world, God is waiting with open arms to embrace you. If your path has darkened, renew your commitment.

Follow the light of God’s Word, and you will be blessed.

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Hope for a New Year

Although a goal-oriented type of guy, I stopped making New Year resolutions a long time ago.

Since I set goals throughout the year, I wondered what the point of relegating them to one day was. And then, too, the statistics of keeping them aren’t too good. Many are broken within a short period of time. Days. Weeks.

Failing to make goals on one day doesn’t mean everything has gone well throughout the year. Weak, tired, and exhausted are three adjectives that accurately describe most previous years for anyone. Weak from sicknesses or diseases for which there is no cure and that seem to go on and on. Tired emotionally from working to meet financial responsibilities when there isn’t enough money to pay the bills—or buy groceries. Tired of studying for the degree, tired of writing papers, and tired of the late night hours. Exhausted from having to care for loved ones who can’t fend for themselves. Tired of going to a job we’d rather not go to.

Isaiah gives hope … and the key for a fresh start to a new year. Trusting in the Lord probably won’t make all, or any, of the stressors disappear. Sometimes God takes them way … sometimes He doesn’t. But trusting in Him gives us strength beyond ourselves—fortitude we can’t manufacture on our own. The new strength comes from remembering He is in control. He has come through for us in the past, and He will again. Perhaps not in the way we want or imagine, but come through He will.

That trust will cause us to soar above the trials and tribulations like an eagle that flies high above the obstacles that would restrict her flight. God will enable us to soar when ordinarily we would crash and burn. We will run the race of life without being emotionally, physically, or spiritually exhausted. We will walk through every day, with all that it brings, without falling. Even with peace … and a smile.

God never promised an easy life, but He will give us hope for every year when we look to Him.

Put your hope in God this year, not things or people.

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The Frustrated Flower Girl

The wedding barn blazed with ribbons of twinkly white lights, giving no hint of the drama about to follow.

The tiny flower girl, only two years old, already had strong opinions on what she would and would not do. In spite of her adamant refusals, she had been dressed in a peach tutu which billowed around her little body. To others it looked beautiful. To her it felt scratchy and made her tender skin itch.

Holding her little tin bucket of peach rose petals, she faced the long aisle. She was absolutely sure she didn’t want to walk down that aisle. She wanted to continue happily exploring her little tin bucket of sweet smelling petals.

A hand grasped hers and pulled her toward the aisle. Then the hand took some of her petals and scattered them on the floor. Her puzzled little face said, They’ve given me a present, and now I’m supposed to throw it on the floor? Mommy says that’s a no, no! 

Yet the hand tugged at hers, sporadically throwing petals on the floor. Midway down, she’d had enough. Yanking the bucket from the offending hand, she raised it as high as her tiny arm could reach and pounded the bucket on the floor with a rousing crash, peach petals flying wildly. Finally, she flopped on her belly in the middle of the aisle and screamed.

It’s not just children who get pressured by expectations they cannot meet. Adults are not exempt. Expectations others put on us or those we impose on ourselves can result in total frustration. When expected to do something we don’t know how to do and don’t understand the reason for, we may be tempted to do a “flower girl belly flop.” There are better ways to respond.  

How we respond will determine whether we “bash our bucket” or benefit from the experience. We don’t face life’s challenges alone. God will never let us down. He’ll never let us be pushed past our limit.

He promises He will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can stand, but we must stand. When we do, He will make a way of escape. He always does.

Next time you feel pressured by the seemingly impossible, look to God for His abundant resources, and allow Him to show you how to respond positively rather than react negatively.

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All Things New

“Do-overs are right nice. Sometimes a body just needs a minute to get their drawers refolded … the beds remade. What ain’t been fixed, well, it can be. And if a body’s fouled up their life for a year, well then, they’s a chance to start over. Who don’t like a fresh start? The trees and flowers get one ever spring. Why shouldn’t we?”

“Mamaw, does it matter what a body’s done? Can they still start over?”

The old woman pressed her wrinkled fingers against the child’s cheek and smiled. “Lordy mercy, at the innocence of a youngin.” She leaned down and kissed the little girl’s forehead. “Come here on Mamaw’s lap, and let me tell you about startin over.”

The child snuggled onto the woman’s lap. She commenced to rub the girl’s bangs away from her face, pressing her lips tight against the youngin’s head. She went to rockin that girl like a baby, hummin sweetly in her ear.

“Startin over is somethin’ the good Lord promised us. Yes siree. He specializes in makin things new. From the leaves that pop out on the trees in the spring to the pink and purple sky He paints different ever mornin. New is special. It’s right important too.”

“How’s that Mamaw? How is new important?”

The old woman chuckled. “New is important because the old is gone.”

“Ain’t you old, Mamaw?” The child bent her neck to see the woman’s face.

“I reckon I am.”

“Will you be gone, Mamaw?”

“One day, I will.” The old woman wrapped her arms tightly around the child and squeezed. “But when I leave here, I’ll be new again. Good Lord promised me that. He promises you too. These old wrinkles will be smooth, and they won’t be no need for glasses.” The woman reared back and laughed. “I’ll have new teeth. Not these I have to take in and out ever day.”

The woman lifted one hand in the air. “The good Lord promised He’d make all things new. And best I know, He’s a man of His word.”

We have a God who is trustworthy and true. One who has never reneged on His promises. Day after day, year after year, He offers us one opportunity after another to start anew. As you ring in the New Year, take time to reflect on all the do-overs you’ve had. Look at the years that have passed, and remember the loving forgiveness and grace God offers us every single day. He promised He’d make all things new. In His mercy He gives us renewal daily, but in His promise He prepares eternity–new.

Happy New Year.

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The Child Who Gave His All

I can’t imagine losing one of my children.

A friend recently lost her adult child. Seeing her grieve ripped my heart out. Through her deepest faith, the pain and loss of that child will forever be like a burr in her heart. The holidays are forever tainted for my friend.

Christmas should be a time of joy. After all, God sent His Son that He might save us. For the most part, the season is joyful. Still, when I turn my Christmas tree on at night and listen to the sweet sound of the nativity music box play Silent Night, I find my heart ripping in two.

The birth of Christ changed the world and eternity as we know it. God gave of Himself, the ultimate Lamb – a living, breathing child. His birth impacted so many lives.

Joseph’s life was turned upside down. His bride-to-be carried what the world called “illegitimate” but what the angel called a miracle. And God chose Mary, a child herself, to bear the Son of Man. Though His birth was nothing short of miraculous, His death tore a hole in the world. Mary sat at the feet of her dying son as the blood puddled around her knees and God Himself looked away, heartbroken. All this … to show His love. To save us.

He did this all for me. Am I worthy?

Christmas is a joyful time for family and friends, but for me, it’s also heart-wrenching. There are no packages under our tree that can come close to the magnificence of God’s gift. The unique thing is that His gift is free. I simply must accept it.

I am grateful for the “gift that keeps on giving.” Just knowing the magnitude of the sacrifice humbles me every time I think of it. A child, born to carry the weight of the world, sent freely. And though we know the end of the story, it didn’t change the loss of child for Mary and Joseph … for God Almighty.

As humans, I’m not sure we’ll ever feel worthy of this gift, but God saw us as fully worthy. He gave His all to prove that to us. Christmas is so much deeper than bows and gifts. It’s about the strength of the purity of love. True love.

As Christmas nears, reflect on the child who gave His all that we might have life to the full.

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The Most Precious Gift

Five dollars for a Christmas gift … wow!

What my brother told me he had paid for my present was almost too good to be true. Perhaps I was rather naïve, but I didn’t have a reason to doubt what he said.

During my childhood years in the 1940s, my family’s income was limited. Our needs were met, but luxuries were few. That’s why I was excited about my brother’s gift. Each day before Christmas, I picked up the small square box wrapped in last year’s smoothed-out paper and gave it a shake. What could it be?

Finally, Christmas day arrived, and I could open that wonderful gift. Can you imagine my disappointment when I discovered a trinket worth far less than my brother had promised? He had misled me about the actual cost.

In Old Testament Scriptures, prophets wrote of a most precious gift which God would give to the world. This gift is described in Isaiah 9:6 as “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” It would be a gift of righteousness and unearned grace.

When this gift, Jesus Christ, arrived, He was all God had promised. Unlike my present of long ago, this gift had an unfathomable price. This gift is free to all who will, through faith, accept Him.

As we rush about buying gifts during this beautiful Christmas season, let’s pause to thank our God for His free gift of love and salvation. And as we decorate our homes with tinsel, glitter, and pine-scented greenery, let’s prepare our hearts to celebrate this precious gift.

If you haven’t opened your heart’s door to Jesus, Christmas is a wonderful time of year to place a welcome mat there.

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Self Check-Out

As I used a self-checkout register at the store, a beep blared at me. The computer told me to check my last transaction.

Okay, I’ve been through this before, I thought to myself as I took the last scanned item out of the bag to troubleshoot. Upon doing so, I caught sight of something startling just above my head. An overhead screen showed a video of me scanning my last item and putting it into the bag, over and over. This scene continued replaying until a kind attendant came, inserted a key into the register, and set me aright. Thankfully, I was able to rescan and get on with the rest of my purchase.

Long after leaving the store, the sight of myself completing a transaction in an erroneous manner, on continuous loop, troubled me. Seeing myself on the screen was like a nagging reminder of failure hanging over my head. I couldn’t forget and move on.

I considered this as a vibrant picture of the way past mistakes or missteps can loom when we do not bring our Christian minds under check with God’s help. The video reminded me we encounter an enemy of our souls who accuses us continuously.

Paul, however, tells us no condemnation exists for believers. Jesus was not sent to condemn, but to save. He is our kind Attendant who holds the key to setting our minds aright.

Be receptive to the peace of mind God extends to you.

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Under Construction

Under Construction. Seeing a sign with these words generally causes one of two emotions.

One would be excitement about new growth. The other, and probably the most prevalent, would be frustration because of the delays and the mess due to the construction.

I've often thought that there should be an Under Construction sign hanging over the entryway of every church. Not because of any physical building going on but because of the spiritual building up taking place within each person inside the building.

Since the church is not the building but rather the people, these verses remind us patience is necessary with both ourselves and those around us. In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.

Physical construction zones can be frustrating with their different sights and sounds, but all of this is necessary for a new structure to take shape. The same is true concerning spiritual growth. None of us are perfectly shaped Christians the moment we are saved. Salvation is the end of our old self and the beginning of our new self. We become a dwelling place for God the moment we are saved, but we must remember many delays, messes, and detours may be necessary during our growth.

Paul gave the believers in Thessalonica a good reminder when he wrote, Brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. This is a good reminder for us as well. Warning, comforting, and supporting take patience.

Turn the frustrations of ongoing construction in your life and those around you into excited anticipation for the sight of something new.

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My Mom Left Me

On the Saturday of Labor Day weekend, as I walked into the house after mowing the lawn, my mom pulled out of the driveway.

At midnight, I had a feeling something was wrong because Mom wasn’t home yet. Dad played solitaire in his basement office, which was unusual for him this time of night.   

The next day I remembered a note she wrote a few weeks earlier about jumping off the Bloomington Ferry Bridge. I biked to the bridge and found her car. A week later they found her body in the Minnesota River.

Mom’s death was a dark valley in my life. I was a sad fourteen-year-old, confused teenager. I didn’t feel the Lord’s presence, but I knew He was there. Ann, a lady next door whom my mom had problems with, came over and tried to comfort me. My eighth-grade class attended the funeral. Mom’s death was around the time of my birthday. Some friends threw me a surprise birthday party. After the funeral, Mary, a neighbor down the street, brought my dad and me meals once a week. 

When we go through a horrific event, we may not see or feel His presence, but the psalmist reminds us we can. I didn’t hear God’s voice, but He used other people to be there for me. Friends and neighbors were the rod and staff that comforted me.

When tragedy strikes, God’s rod and staff will be there for you.

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Abounding in Love

As a child, I walked the fields of our dairy farm and talked to cows.

Cows have beautiful dark eyes, are gentle creatures, and never speak a harsh word to anyone. Walking with cows brought me peace in a time that was anything but peaceful.

During those times, I talked to God too. I asked Him to remove me from the painful, unloving situation I was in. He was silent. For years. I thought He didn’t love me because of His silence.

Decades later I realized what the psalmist proclaimed: God is overwhelmingly full of love for me. He didn’t remove me from my painful situation, but He walked with me through it. He is slow to anger with my doubt and unbelief, and His love is sure, dependable, reliable, constant, and resolute. No matter how I feel, God loves me with an everlasting love that never waivers.

Often, God’s love for us is difficult to understand or receive. His vast love for us has no reason or explanation apart from recognizing He loves us because it is in His nature to do so.  

Stop for a moment and ask the Lord to reveal His love for you today. Then, watch and see what He does.

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Guidance - This Way or That Way

Teaching psychology on a college level is something I’ve enjoyed for ten years. 

One day while preparing for an upcoming course, I received the following email:

“Good evening, Colette. Currently, we’re in the process of reviewing all faculty credentials to ensure proper alignment with our current courses and facilitation requirements. Today, the General Education Dean made the determination that your master’s degree in Professional Counseling does not align with these facilitation requirements, nor have you completed a minimum of eighteen graduate hours in psychology. At this time, I’m going to have to reassign the course for the upcoming session. If interested, you can attempt to pursue an exception in order to associate you with the course through what’s called the justification process.”

My response began with, “Thanks for the information. That’s strange. I’ve taught psychology over ten years for two educational institutions, and my transcripts were reviewed on many occasions, including at hire and in preparation for accreditation visits.”

I suddenly realized I was responding the wrong way. I remembered I had been asking God for career direction. Was this God directing my steps?   

I had become exhausted with consulting work. I turned to God and asked for direction, because I didn't know what steps to take in order to eliminate exhaustion. I also thought direction was only related to the exhausting aspect of my career, not other aspects. I was so glad I didn’t respond to prove my case and pursue the exception, taking responsibility for my own path. The exception would have possibly been approved, and I would’ve been on my own path opposed to the wonderful path God was orchestrating. Like Jeremiah, I knew God needed to direct my steps.    

Sometimes we ask God for direction but maintain our own ideas of what the end result will be. Or we make our own plans and then realize God's plans are different and better. What we should do is ask God for direction and then wait prayerfully, patiently, and faithfully on Him. His guidance doesn't always come the way we think it should. Sometimes it's bold, sometimes subtle, and sometimes surprising—but it comes nonetheless. 

You may not have the whole picture of where you are going, but God does. Trust Him.

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Plaster Master

Years ago, I had a crack problem.

Thinking I could cover my ceiling crack myself, I spent hours researching and choosing materials. I wasn’t feeling too confident, so I hired someone to repair the crack.

The handyman explained that he could spackle, sand, and paint the crack, but it might crack again in the same spot. He could try to coat it with textured paint, but there was a good chance the crack would show.

The tiles were unevenly sized, and the room wasn’t perfectly square. The seams between the tiles needed to be smoothed over, painted, and blended. We spent three times the amount we budgeted because of all the mistakes and rework. When finally completed, the ceiling had small imperfections, but it was nowhere near the eyesore it had been from the initial crack that divided the ceiling in half.

Three months passed. I saw the ceiling under different lighting. Ripples formed on the ceiling tiles covering the crack. I didn’t want to accept it, but those imperfections were meant to be there.

Just like my ceiling, we weren’t meant to be perfect. God created us in His image, but not exactly like Him. He wants us to strive to be like Jesus, though He knows we will fall short every time. He wants us to join Him in heaven in spite of our sinful ripples and cracks.

Thank God for loving you in spite of your cracks—the flaws, the shortcomings, and the failures. Also, thank Him for accepting you into heaven to live with Him forever.

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Incline Your Heart Toward God

A significant part of my youthful years was taken away by lust and sinful desires of the flesh.

When I look back at those wasted days, I wonder how I managed to give in to nearly every temptation that came my way. What is more, I felt no guilt at the time. I had all the freedom I needed until I narrowly escaped an STI, probably by God's grace. I decided to change my ways. Now, I am passionate about encouraging people toward God, something I had never thought I would do.

David, one of the greatest names in the Bible, was a man after God's own heart. God chose him as the king of Israel after King Saul disobeyed. Our primary focus, though, is why God delighted in David. He wasn’t a saint. He made several offences … high crimes. His ruled Israel with military force and cruelty. David also seized Bathsheba, Uriah's wife, and killed her husband, despite already having several wives and concubines. God, however, continued to use him to rule His people.

Unlike Saul, David was quick to admit his mistakes. He accepted correction with humility. He confessed and asked God for forgiveness as evidenced in the book of Psalms. King David had faults as we all do, but he acknowledged God and God was delighted by his humility.

Keeping our focus on God, not on our faults, is important. When we sin, God wants us to confess with a repentant heart. And our merciful God, who sees our hearts, will forgive us. To continue in sin does not please Him.

Incline your heart toward God, not sin.

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Clearing a Cluttered Mind

The longer I sat in traffic, the angrier I became.

When I lived in Connecticut, I traveled to work on Interstate 95 where cars were often bumper to bumper. Drivers beeped or sometimes yelled at each other because there was so much clutter. We all wanted to move along. I was annoyed and tense. Focusing on the music on the radio or capturing beautiful moments in nature was difficult because of the cluttered highway. I wanted to exit the highway but couldn’t because of the traffic. By the time I arrived at work, I was cranky and didn’t have much time to unwind. 

The thoughts in our minds can be cluttered just as traffic can. Our great moment or day can be spoiled by something that clutters our minds and takes us away from the present moment.  Negative thoughts can affect our health, sense of peace, and ability to think clearly, hijacking our joy and peace. 

Regardless of the clutter, our minds can create powerful thoughts. God knew there would be times when our minds would get cluttered. He used Paul to give us a guide to help us redirect our thinking so we can think about noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable things—good things that require positive attention.

Thinking on these things is not always an easy task. We must strive to keep our minds clear of clutter so we can hear from God and see our way clearly through circumstances that want to negatively overtake our thoughts. 

When negative thoughts rush through our mind and clutter it, we can combat them by listening to an inspirational song or quote or by taking a peace break to remind ourselves of all the good things that have happened in our lives.

Even though your mind may get cluttered, you can use God’s power to clean it out.

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Small Potatoes

Could you imagine your grandmother treasure hunting in a dumpster?

Raised in the Depression era, my grandparents saved everything, lived frugally, and wasted nothing. They rented out apartments in a low-rent section of a small town. Often, when Pap called upon his tenants to collect the rent, they asked for an extension. A few even asked for loans.

If Pap had it to give, he gave. He gave them refurbished appliances when theirs broke. He gave clothes, blankets, and other goods. He was even known to give his spare cars so tenants could get to work.

When Nanny searched through the apartment’s dumpsters for valuables, she found plenty of discarded pizza boxes. It bothered them that their tenants ate expensive meals—better than they ate—but then struggled to pay bills.

One way Pap witnessed to them was through a special gift. He gave each a five-pound bag of potatoes and a lesson about financial stewardship. He said, “A pizza will last your family just one meal and costs too much. But a bag of potatoes will last an entire week for just a few dollars. You can make potatoes all different ways and never get bored. You can bake, fry, mash, and boil them and have money left in your pocket. Not so with a pizza.”

At ninety, Pap still helps people transition into affordable housing, forever modeling and teaching stewardship, sacrifice, and generosity in the Lord’s name—following this and other biblical principles.

God is able to help guide all our financial choices … to help us spend our money wisely and to give generously to others. After all, our money—and everything we have—is His anyway.

Trust God to provide for your needs and to guide you in your financial decisions.

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Born to Be Adopted

“Adoption granted,” the judge said.

I looked at my wife and then at our new children. Joy filled our hearts as we smiled at those from the orphanage who had helped us.

As millions of adoptive parents testify, adopting a child is one of the greatest experiences a person can have. The lead-up to adoption is harrowing but overshadowed by the hope that one day the child will be yours.

One of the challenges while on the way home was answering our children’s question about why they were adopted. While we couldn’t answer all their questions, we assured them God had a plan for their lives, as well as for ours (Jeremiah 29:11). In God’s plan, they had been born for us to adopt.

In the same way, God births us for adoption into His family. He knows us before we are born. He was not required to adopt us, yet He chose to. And not because we were cute and cuddly—we were sinners—but because He loved us. He pictured us as we were supposed to be and knew how our lives would only make sense in relationship to Him.

Sometimes we do not like to think of ourselves as adopted by God because we think we would have been fine otherwise. We think of God more as a judge than as a father. Perhaps that is why Paul emphasizes the most intimate word for father to describe our adoptive relationship.

Don’t let anything stop you from receiving all the Father wants to give you. You have been adopted by the One who loved you before you were born.

Let your heart be filled with thankfulness to God for birthing you for adoption.

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Distinguishing Between the Holy and the Unholy

How much dog poop do you want in your brownies?

A father tried explaining to his children why they could not watch television shows with immoral content.

“But, Dad, they only cuss a little,” the children whined.

Instead of giving in, he enlisted their help to make brownies, intending to teach them a priceless life lesson.

“While I’m mixing the brownies, go into the backyard and collect some dog poop in this bag.”

Horrified, the kids asked why. The dad answered, “We’ll put just a little of it in the brownies to expand the mixture. After all, it’s the same color, and we’ll add so little we won’t be able to taste it at all.”

In Ezekiel’s day, God uttered a dreadful indictment against His priests. They became desensitized to the difference between the sacred and the defiled, between the pure and the immoral. In their indifference, they also failed to teach that difference to others. As God’s spiritual representatives, they no longer distinguished between right and wrong. They tolerated poop in their brownies.

As God’s followers, we are also His priests. Unfortunately, in the hustle and bustle of life, spiritual discernment erodes with the world’s desensitizing onslaught. By excusing our worldly preferences—ungodly lyrics, immoral movies, unequally-yoked associations, and sinful habits—discernment between the holy and the unholy fades.

God calls us to be a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a peculiar people who loathe the garments tainted by the world (1 Peter 2:9). Yet the slightest tolerance of immorality defiles our spiritual discernment, dims our light to a lost world, and invites God’s loving hand of discipline.

If we’ve allowed ourselves to become tainted by ungodly things, God wants us to repent and separate ourselves, inviting His purification so we can be transformed before Him in holiness. He wants to restore our spiritual discernment so we can model lifestyles untainted by the unholy and impure lifestyles we often see. God wants to lift the fog between the holy and the unholy and restore the courage to choose only the pure, unblemished deliciousness of Himself.

Make sure your brownies aren’t tainted.

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The Shape of Our Shape

Today, my daughter turns thirty-two. The shape of her shape has changed as she has aged—and so has mine.

I enjoy calculating what age my grandparents and parents were when I reached particular stages of my life. When I was young, everyone—including my parents and grandparents—seemed old. I once calculated what their age would have been when I was in middle school. My parents were in their thirties—the age my daughter now is. My grandparents seemed ancient when I was a teenager, but my grandfather would have been fifty-seven—one year younger than I am now.

The results of my calculations were sobering. It reminded me age is relative. As a middle schooler, I considered thirty old, but I don’t consider my daughter old. And though I thought my grandfather was ancient and wrinkled when I was a teen, I don’t consider myself the same now.

“Old” gets older the older I get. Now, I chuckle inside when I hear a senior adult in their eighties talk about old folks.

I can’t stop the aging process. Surgeries, creams, and muscle-toning exercises may hide the results of age from others, but my body still knows its birthday.

The Bible has little to say about physical exercise, probably because when written, almost everyone performed manual exercise. No reason to tell people about the importance of physical exercise. They received it daily. But also because a more important type of exercise exists than physical. My skin may be smooth and body toned when I’m in my eighties, but I’m likely to still die then—or before.

Physical exercise carries important weight and may help us live longer, but spiritual exercise helps us avoid spiritual death and live eternally with Christ. When I accepted Christ, my body became a temple of His Spirit. God goes with me everywhere and remains nearby for me to consult in every situation. Keeping this temple clean through godly living and thinking remains the best exercise I can do and keeps me mentally, spiritually, and emotionally fit.

Most may praise and seek after outward beauty, but God likes the inner beauty better. Pay attention to your physical shape, but pay more attention to your spiritual condition.

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Tasting to See

“No way am I going to eat that! It doesn’t look good.”

A grandfather heard his grandson say those words with a disgusted tone of voice when he encouraged him to try a new food dish. The young boy resisted because he judged the food by its appearance. Finally, he consented and said, “I’ll take one bite, but I don’t want any more.” However, once the grandson tasted the food, he liked it. 

Now, as an adult, the food he didn’t want to taste is one of his favorites. If his grandfather hadn’t encouraged him to try a new food, the grandson would never have known how good it was.

Christians are encouraged to taste and see God in His Word and in His works.  

As the darkness descended and I swung on the porch swing, I saw God in His creation and tasted the goodness of His gifts. I heard the songs of the flitting birds as they settled in for their rest. I watched as a brilliantly hued cardinal enjoyed the birdseed in the feeder.  My eyes feasted upon the beauty of the various colored flowers scattered throughout the yard. Lightning bugs twinkled on and off, and I laughed as my frisky cat tried unsuccessfully to catch one.

God gives us many ways to be in touch with Him. We can read His Word, accept His love, and revel in the beauty of His creation. Once we taste and see that He is good—such as the grandson liking the new food—we’ll never want to be without Him.

God waits for us to experience Him in all areas of our lives. Take time to do so daily.

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My Way, His Way

Sometimes I convince myself I’m in charge of my life.

I make plans for the up-coming weekend and next year’s vacation. Short-term plans. Long-term plans. I pray for God’s guidance and ask what I should do or where I should go. But I don’t listen to His whispered words of leadership as much as I should. I stumble around, bouncing off walls and expecting God to conform to my ideas.

“Look over here, God. This way. I know what I’m doing,” I say. Then I hurry down one pathway or another. I arrive in hostile territory. Storm clouds gather. My brilliant, confident plans crater. I’m surprised to discover I’m outside of God’s will. How could this have happened?

We don’t want to admit we cannot see into tomorrow. God had to remind Isaiah. We cannot know what will occur in two, five, or ten years. To do so would admit we have little or no control over our lives. To lose control is frightening. To trust the One we cannot see takes more trust than what we believe dwells in our hearts.

We are finite creations. Even our best laid plans are in little pieces, one bit at a time. We can see only to the horizon. Our vision is limited. God is already inside of tomorrow. He knows what will happen a million years from today. He is infinite. His plans for us—each individual plan for every single one of us—stretch across the heavens further than it is possible for us to see. All the way into eternity.

Remind me, God, I will never comprehend what is simple to You. I will never understand that the path I travel today will lead me to Your path, which is millennia away. Also remind me there is no place I’d rather be than walking beside You along whatever path You desire me to travel. Your thoughts are beyond my thoughts. Your ways are perfect while mine are broken. Hold me in Your arms as we experience today and tomorrow and forever together. I love You, God.

Choose God’s way over your way.

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Railroad tracks have their purpose.

Not the presence of them, or the crossings, but the tracks. What they’re made of and how much space they occupy. They move large amounts of people and goods from one location to another down a narrow way and in the safest way possible. The tracks take up little space. Most railroad rights-of-ways are less than one hundred feet across—some as little as sixteen and a half feet. When cars attempt to cross the tracks, trains demand the right of way. Crossing gates come down, lights flash, and bells ring to announce the train. But the train doesn’t stop there.

Purchasing a ticket requires entering a station, boarding the correct train, and staying on board until reaching the destination. Easy, right? Unless you choose a place off the main line and have to transfer. Then it takes time and money to get back to the main destination.

Rarely do crossing accidents occur, and unless someone’s asleep at the switch, head-on crashes are unusual as well. However, trains sometimes derail—when maintenance hasn’t been performed or someone sabotages the line.

When Isaiah wrote about the coming of the Lord, he compared it to the likeness of a railway. One would have to pay for the ticket, and all would be welcome—even the fool—but the unforgiven sinner wouldn’t cross the tracks, even though they provide a direct link to the kingdom of God, to heaven, and to God’s holiness.

Intellectuals often call believers fools for boarding this railway. Still, the ride operates on a narrow path and goes from wherever we can get our ticket punched to the destination we seek. God protects those who ride along by blocking evil. God’s enemies try to stop us by doing whatever it takes to keep us from renewing our mind and trusting God.

But take heart! Get on the train and don’t be tempted to take a siderail to nowhere. Although we can change directions, it’s a lot harder when the Holy Spirit directs our path.

Jesus paid the price for you to take this free ride. Make sure your train is headed in the right direction, and find a good conductor to guide your journey.

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Foreign Object Removal

The things in her past brought hurt and pain.

I noticed my friend was not her usual self. When I asked her what was wrong, she told me things from her past that she wanted to forget kept coming up. Because she tried to ignore those things, she felt as if she was rejected, unloved, dirty, lacking, and not good enough.

As I sat with her, I was reminded that we all are clay. Before the potter can make the clay into a vessel worth using, he has to remove the foreign objects.

I told my friend God wanted to make her a vessel of honor—as He did with the nation of Israel. Before He could do that, He had to remove the stuff that was not supposed to be there. Many think the only things God wants to remove are the sins they are doing. But He wants to do more. He wants to remove the hurt, pain, and abuse we have experienced due to our sin or that of others. Anything that comes from sin, God’s wants to remove.

Letting God cut out our pains is something we may want to run away from because we are afraid of pain. But in order to become the vessel of honor the Master Potter has designed, we have to let Him cut out the things that don’t belong.

The more we experience freedom from the foreign objects—the hurts, pains, and sin—the more we are ready for the Master to use us.

The Potter only wants to make you a vessel of honor fit for His use. He is loving and gentle with the clay.

Don’t run from God’s molding process. The results are glorious.    

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Accepting God's Plan

As I came from my apartment in Vietnam, three immigration officers met me and wanted to check my passport. At the time, I thought their request was a mere formality, but then they told me my business visa was illegal, and I had to leave the country.

Maybe you will never be asked to leave a country, but we all go through times of uncertainty. The future we had planned for ourselves doesn’t turn out the way we hoped. Perhaps you are single and marriage seems as if it will never happen. Or maybe you are married, but the prince charming has turned into a beast. Now, finding the one who dropped on his knees to ask that question you wanted to hear is difficult.

You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you! This verse gives us a solution in those moments when we only see darkness—a solution reached by what we choose to set our minds upon. We all have a decision to make. We can either set our minds on the troubles we see or what we think we will see in the future, or we can set our minds on the One who is able to give us what we need to overcome what is before us.

Things won’t always turn out the way we want. Loved ones get sick and die. Children walk away from everything they’ve been taught. But the One who suffered and died for us is the same One who will go with us through all the fires in front of us—and the ones we think will happen. The only thing we need to do is turn our focus away from the flames and to the One who created all things and has the power to deliver us from anything that causes us worry.

Don’t let the worries of today take away your peace. Instead of setting your hope on a precarious future that may or may not happen, focus on the One who is already in the future and is waiting with open arms to take you through every situation.

Accept whatever results may happen, even if they weren’t in your plans.

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The Malady of Worry

“There’s something wrong with my throat,” Mom said for the umpteenth time.

Mom was a worrier, especially about her health. Although she was a Christian, she couldn’t seem to turn her concerns over to the Lord. So I bought a small plaque, which told of how faith can overcome fear, and hung it in a prominent place in Mom’s living room so she would see it every day. She continued to fret.

Worry is difficult to let go of. Many of us realize it doesn’t do any good, but we continue to wallow in the sewers of doubt and anxiety.

Ruth also struggled with a problem. It was hard to surrender her burden to the Lord, even though she realized she needed to let it go. While walking one day with her head bowed low, she saw the words Trust Jesus written in bright-blue chalk on the sidewalk. The words caught her attention for a few minutes, but then she continued walking, her spirits and head downcast again.

At a different location, she again saw the same words written in the same blue chalk. This second emphasis was what she needed. “I will trust you, Jesus,” she declared. “Everything will be okay.” Later, her problem was solved and her trust in God deepened.

God doesn’t want us to live a life of defeat. If we allow Him to guide us, we can overcome worry. The Bible offers promises of peace and power to help us in all we encounter.

Perhaps Mom’s greatest fear was cancer, but she lived to be eighty-eight and was never afflicted with a malignancy. She missed the joy which comes from trusting God because she worried about her health and other problems.

It isn’t easy to let go of worry, especially for some people. Jesus gave words of comfort and encouragement: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you … Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not be afraid” (John 14:27 NIV).  

When you are tempted to worry, accept the peace Jesus gives instead.

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Hollywood represents many things to many people, but most of it is a false sense of reality.

A recent film release of a book with great meaning relative to a relationship with God blew God out of the picture and replaced Him with idols. In particular, Disney, the long-standing company founded on faith and good conscience, turned away from God.

This particular song, “Give a Little Whistle,” from the Disney movie Pinocchio, rattles in my mind. The song encourages us to give a whistle when we get into trouble and don’t know right from wrong. Or to whistle when we meet strong temptations—or begin sliding off the straight and narrow path. We can let our conscience be our guide.

Paul speaks specifically concerning idols, their place in the world, and the position they hold over people with weak consciences. Even more specifically, he’s talks of eating food dedicated to idols. The inference is that the Holy Spirit resides in us and protects us from evil.

If we, in good conscience, do something to glorify God, others will be edified and their consciences will become stronger. The reverse is also true. Do something against God, and we weaken others’ consciences.

Today’s entertainment world seeks those with weak consciences. They alone know the reasons why. The more we enjoy such tripe, the further away we slip from God. When we do so, we affect others. It’s all about choice.

God gives us choice, but we must pay attention to the Holy Spirit’s urging through our conscience to assist others to stay the course.

Make sure your conscience is in good shape.

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On The Way

Children dawdle and dilly-dally. They become distracted.

Mom sends them on a mission: “Go wash your hands for dinner, Jacob.” But before Jacob reaches the bathroom, he notices a cartoon on television and slides onto the sofa to watch. Later, Mom will call again to remind Jacob about his main mission.

An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go,” giving explicit instructions. Philip obeyed. He started out, and on his way he saw a man in a chariot reading from the book of Isaiah. The Spirit prompted Philip to approach the eunuch and ask, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Because Philip heard and obeyed divine guidance, the Ethiopian believed and was baptized—after Philip explained the meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy of Christ.

When I am on my way to obey, God may open other opportunities to minister.

I like to wander through department stores, seeing what is new and what is on sale (preferably 75% off). I can’t count the times I’ve started a conversation with a fellow shopper and been led to go deeper. Often, they will share a personal dilemma. I sympathize and ask if they have a church family. I let them know I’ll pray for them as the Lord reminds me. I urge them to pray about their situation too.

We are never off the clock from being available for God’s guidance. Someone may be in our path needing to know God cares. If we feel the nudge of the Spirit to visit someone, take a meal to a widow, or encourage a young person, we should do it. We never know if our simple act will lead to a deeper ministry opportunity as we keep our heart sensitive to the Spirit.

We may also ask God for divine appointments, asking for guidance to someone who needs encouragement or prayer. When I leave for a vacation or short trip, I ask God to make me a blessing to someone while I’m there. Hurting and hungry people are all around us. Many do not understand the message of the Scriptures as we do. Showing we care may give us the credibility to speak kindly of our Lord.

Don’t dawdle or dilly-dally. Be sensitive to God’s Spirit as you are on your way anywhere.

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My Demanding Past

I sat in my office one morning and asked the Lord what He wanted to teach me that day.

Praying Samuel’s prayer from long ago, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:9), my heart relaxed and a peace that passes understanding flooded my soul.

My heart kept returning to what I had seen the previous evening with a group of church friends. We had watched the movie, I Can Only Imagine. My heart was led to repentance (or turning away from).

Repentance is at the center of an honest confession of our sins that brings forgiveness. I was being taught sorrow is within God’s will if it leads to deliverance. Righteous sorrow produces an abhorrence of the attitudes and choices we make that produce our sinful condition.

Tears came to my eyes as I identified with the star of the previous night’s movie—an abused young man who was unable to forgive his father even though his father had found salvation later in life. My wife joined me in shedding tears, although I tried to hide mine. But my sorrow turned into deliverance without regret as I finally forgave my dad.

The Lord had prepared my heart for this movie experience. The week before, I had been moved to write something that surprised me:

                                                                  My Demanding Past

                                               The past demands that we live in its experiences,

                                                When the present is all we have been given by

                                                The Forgiver of a repentant past,

                                                The Creator of a new beginning that will last.

Carry the following prayer in your heart: Help me, Father, not to be like a spoiled child who accepts Your forgiveness but doesn’t share it with others. You will be blessed.

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God Loves You

I have a treasured video of my young son, overwhelmed in his senses while standing at the ocean’s shore.

Through the rough sound quality of a wind-whipped camera, I hear him give many emphatic descriptions. He concludes by yelling, “And then it goes straight down!” In equally matched excitement, he repeats the phrase over and over.

The apostle Paul implores us to take hold of something mentally unattainable. We are invited to know God’s love by understanding how big it is. However, our human minds can’t measure God’s love. As David, the man after God’s heart, put it, Such knowledge is too wonderful for me.

Although we cannot fathom God’s immense ocean of love, we can know it is there for us. No matter what kind of sand we’re standing on—or sinking in—God invites us to do more than gaze at His love. He beckons us to dive into it.

We don’t have to figure out how it all adds up or worry that we won’t measure up. The only thing we need to understand is that there will always be enough of God’s love for everyone. It never runs out but is bottomless. It goes straight down.

Accept God’s love that is just for you. Jump in and experience the weightlessness of it, and watch how it will hold you up. Allow the warm waters of His love to comfort you with their healing properties. You will be overtaken by His never-ceasing, always-coming-back-for-you tide.

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The Only Opinion That Matters

The longer I listened to my new acquaintance, the more distressed I became.

I had been savoring a few peaceful moments by myself during a break at a conference when she struck up a conversation. After chatting for a few minutes, we discovered we both struggled with the same health condition. However, we had different ways of addressing the problem. After listening politely while I described my simple approach to the issue, she proceeded to detail her complex, high-tech treatment regimen. She concluded by suggesting I look up her doctor, whose name and contact information she provided.

This woman meant to be helpful, but the interventions she advocated sparked fear. What if I’m not doing enough? What if I have to undergo the same complicated treatments? My thoughts churned like water in the wake of a motor boat. Anxious to regain my tranquility, I said a prayer and did my best to dismiss the conversation.

Not long after this encounter, I read John 21. In an echo of His words to John, I felt God say, If this woman pursues these treatments, what is it to you? You follow me.

What the woman from the conference chose to do didn’t matter. Gently but firmly, God instructed me not to compare myself to others. He wants me to listen to Him alone and follow His unique guidance for my life and health.

As God comforted me with this truth, I felt strengthened to let go of the “what ifs” stirred up by other people’s opinions. And as I chose to trust Him, peace returned.

Don’t let your peace be disturbed by the advice or opinions of others. Anchor yourself in God’s truth. Seek His guidance, receive His assurance, and trust He has a plan just for you.

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Let God Handle the Burdens

I knew the statement, “God will never give you more than you can handle,” wasn’t in the Bible.

For forty-two years, I served as a pastor. I performed many funerals and ministered to a lot of people going through trying and tragic situations. Often, I heard well-meaning people, who were speaking from caring and concerned hearts, make statements that made me cringe. One statement I grew to dislike was, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” I learned that wasn’t true. He will, but for our own benefit. He did for me.

Many said this to me during my difficult days of cancer treatment. When I realized God can and will allow us to experience more than we can bear, things got easier.

Paul says God gives us an escape from temptations so that it’s not too much to bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). But when it comes to pain, trials, heartache, and burdens, the Bible doesn’t say it won’t be more than we can bear.   

Christ speaks to those carrying burdens too heavy for their shoulders and states the reason why they are given more than they can handle: so they can come to Him and trust Him enough to hand over their heavy, crippling burdens and let Him carry their load.

Doing this made all the difference for me, and it will for you too. Not facing difficult situations properly can steal our joy and weigh us down.

When the burden is too much to bear, give it to Christ.

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I typed a question on a website and attempted to submit it when a message appeared: “Your time has run out. Try again in an hour.”

Nothing is simple anymore. With all our modern technology and conveniences, life seems more complicated than ever. Every day we have to make myriads of decisions. Everyone wants an answer now.

The apostle Paul expressed his belief in many different ways, yet he always came back to whom he believed in: Jesus Christ. This made his writings simple to follow yet complex in thought. We behaved in the world with simplicity and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God. In this verse, he states how simple salvation is. We bring our sins to the cross. Doing so requires no human wisdom or effort. Jesus has done it all. Responding and accepting what He has done brings us into a right relationship with Father God.

God is not concerned with time and space. When we are praying and talking with Him, He never says, “Your time has run out. Try again in an hour.”

If you are feeling frustrated with the world’s ways, take a deep breath. God is never too busy to listen. He is available twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week. And that is the simple truth.

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Bridging the Gap

I could keep going or turn around and go back the way I came, adding many more hours to my already long drive.

On my first car trip from Virginia to Delaware, I took the southern route through Virginia Beach before heading north up the eastern shore. What I did not take into account was that to get from one shore to the other, I had to cross the Chesapeake Bay which involved a twenty-three-mile bridge-tunnel combination. I had two choices.

More than the added time, I struggled with the idea of personal defeat should I choose the latter option. The fear of finding myself on a narrow bridge with multiple narrow tunnels surrounded by water is something I still find troubling. Conquering my fears is an ever-present battle. I prayed for God to help me overcome the enemy of fear. The short answer to the very long bridge is that God’s faithfulness took me across.

Since that day thirty-five years ago, I have made this trip many times. I would like to tell you I won the victory with my fight with fear, but that’s not exactly accurate. My victory against fear is rooted in the power of Jesus Christ, not my will to overcome. Like the psalmist, my willingness to trust in the Lord’s provision is the only thing that propels me forward when facing any fear.

You may not be afraid of bridges or high places like me. Maybe you fear sickness or another challenging human condition. We all have them. But Jesus is our Overcomer.

What holds you back when you want or need to move forward?

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Conforming to God’s Will

Driving through the rugged, green countryside, we followed a sign directing us to a restaurant high above the ruins of the ancient city of Pella.

I lived thirty minutes away, but three volunteer English teachers and I wanted to have a worship time at the ruins. The owner of the restaurant discouraged us from doing so because he wanted our business and because mid-day was hot there. It was also Ramadan, and restaurants were not open because Muslims were fasting. Because it was not the high tourist season, he suggested we use one of his empty tables to eat our picnic lunch, which we did.

When we finished our lunch, he asked us to give him the leftover food and a fee for using his table. After paying him, he told us how to get to the road leading to the ruins. We discovered the partially excavated Greco-Roman ruins were in the sun but surrounded by oak and juniper trees. We could have eaten our picnic lunch there and prayed.

Even though the experience was not as we had envisioned, it was important for us to meet and share Scripture with the enterprising restaurant owner.

In Luke 21, Jesus spoke of Jerusalem’s coming destruction. He warned believers to flee when they saw Jerusalem surrounded by armies. My research shows God revealed to the early church that they should go to Pella, a city in the Jordan Valley. Because the Jerusalem Christians obeyed the divine revelation, they did not die.

Scripture says God will accomplish His plan and His purpose. When we experience disappointment because events do not unfold as we have imagined, we can still trust God will work all things together for our good.

Tell God’s message to all whom you come in contact with, and leave the results to Him.

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Surrounded by His Love

The day got warmer, but in this Colorado town it was cool.

My husband and I were in the middle of a six-mile hike around the town of Ouray, Colorado. We saw beautiful sights: a huge waterfall, wild flowers, and a turkey. Ahead, we noticed a break in the trees. Our stomachs rumbled, and we decided this would be a perfect place to eat lunch. But the moment we stepped out of the trees, we stood in the middle of massive snow-capped mountains. In that split second, I felt God’s presence and realized how big He was.

Two months later, I read this verse from my Bible and immediately thought back to that Friday hike in Ouray. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore. As the feeling of smallness came again, I understood in a new way this verse and what it felt like to be surrounded by something so beautiful and big—and to be overwhelmed by the size of God’s love and protection.  

When you are faced with fear, doubt, loneliness, or anger, think about the size of your God. Remind yourself He can overwhelm you with His strength, might, grace, protection, and self-control.

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Tears Inside a Prison

To forgive ourselves is harder than to accept God’s forgiveness—but that is not the whole story.

When I was a prison minister, a Russian man stood after accepting Jesus as his Savior, and, as tears streamed down his face, sobbed: “I can’t forget what I’ve done to so many people.” Pictures of terrible things he had violently done flooded his mind. Confessing his sins to Jesus opened a floodgate of pain and pictures of blood.

I helped him the best I could by urging him to put the pain and pictures in the hands of the Lord who died a terrible death on the cross for all of his sins. This calmed him a bit, and his sobbing lessened, but I could tell there was an ocean of pain straining to be set free.

I remembered something I learned during my career as a psychologist. Pain often must be released the same way we deal with an onion: by peeling layer by layer. Cutting abruptly through an onion often overcomes us by what is released.

I pray that the prisoner has learned not to bury those memories but to admit them and place them in the Lord’s loving and forgiving hands—while living a Psalm 51 life.

Without organic damage, we never forget anything, but living memories can turn into bad memories. Some experiences are so traumatizing that for the rest of our lives we have a broken heart every time we remember them. Only by God’s grace can we live with them.

A broken and contrite heart that has an honest and humble spirit brings pleasure to God and strength to a servant. This is part of walking in the Spirit and finding contentment.

Claim the answer for living with painful memories. Don’t bury them and allow them to continue living inside of you.

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Irish Temper

The older I get, the less I sweat the small stuff.

I get less irritated by things that once annoyed me. I'm not saying small stuff doesn't still get to me, especially when I'm tired or fatigued, but it doesn't bother me as often—and not to the same degree.

I doubt anyone who knows my Kirby family would say we are a patient lot. Quite the contrary. Our "Irish temper" is one excuse given for our impatience. But that's just an excuse. The fact is, we have a bent toward impatience, Irish or not.

Here are some things I found associated with an Irish temper. After reading them, you might see some of these same traits in people who aren't necessarily "Irish."

  • You can hold a grudge.
  • You take stubborn to a new level.
  • You can have a short fuse.

As a follower of Christ, we should have a mind and temperament like Christ. Daily, we should strive to become more like our Savior. He is our role model. Once we accept Jesus as our Savior, his Holy Spirit comes to live in us.

The Holy Spirit can help us control our Irish temper—or any other kind of temper, if we let Him. With the Spirit's help, we can forgive and let go of grudges. With His help, we can take our stubborn fighting spirit and turn it to love mercy, to seek justice, and to right wrongs. Our short fuse can become more patient.

Don’t use your “Irish Temper” as an excuse for bad behavior. Let the Holy Spirit control you and develop His fruit in you.

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Wrinkle Guard

I'd killed another dryer.

I've worn out many clothes dryers, what with the never-ceasing necessity of clean clothes for my family. So, we bought a new one. But my interests and the necessities in our home are not limited to the laundry. I typically don't make it to fling open the door when the buzzer goes off. The clothes often sit neglected until I come around—cooling off into a crumpled pile laden with wrinkles. Now, the articles that really matter must be ironed—adding another step to my otherwise accomplished duty.

Much to my delight, I discovered my new dryer had a function called "wrinkle guard." A built-in grace period activated the dryer every few minutes and tumbled the clothes until I could make it there and take them out. The result was fresh, soft articles ready to be worn—and without a wrinkle, despite my lingering.

Hebrews addressed this danger of lingering. Even then, the writer understood how easy it was to fall asleep spiritually . . . to take for granted you were doing the right thing and nothing more was required. Other interests and daily responsibilities could draw Christians away from keeping their souls healthy. The solution was to "stir up one another." This is our spiritual wrinkle guard.  

Often, my spiritual life feels like that heap of set-in, stiff, dormant garments. An unforeseen predicament or a monotonous routine results in ugly wrinkles that tarnish my Christian walk. Even though I have good intentions, I fall into a spiritual desert due to things such as neglecting prayer and being unmindful of the Holy Spirit.  

As Christians, we want to be useful, vibrant, and at our best. We want Jesus’ love to manifest itself through service that glorifies God. But the constant refreshment our soul needs for this to happen won't come if we sit stagnant, which leads us to become even stiffer.

Activate your wrinkle guard by finding other Christians you can befriend and talk to regularly. Pray for and check on each other. Encourage one another. Join a Bible study or start one. Doing so will propel you to fulfill your individual purpose as Christ’s follower.

Present yourself at your best through Christ. 

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Building Tolerance

Tolerance means the willingness to accept the opinions of people who are not like us.

In a real fellowship, not a superficial one, tolerance is genuine, heart-to-heart sharing. People are honest about who they are and what is happening in their lives. They share hurts, reveal feelings, confess failures, disclose doubts, admit fears, acknowledge weaknesses, and ask for help and prayer. Only as we are open about our lives can we experience real fellowship.

Paul says to accept those who are weak in the faith. He also says, I want us to help each other with the faith we have; your faith will help me, and my faith will help you (Romans 1:12).

Tolerance brings mutuality, which is the heart of fellowship. Mutuality enables us to help each other build reciprocal relationship and share responsibilities.

All of us are more consistent in our faith when others work with us and encourage us. God expects us to do whatever we can to help them. The deepest fellowship is when we enter into each other’s pain and grief and carry each other’s burdens. We all need mercy, because we all stumble and fall and require help to get back on track again.

Excel in showing tolerance and respect to others.

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Thy Will Be Done

Renowned Presbyterian minister Timothy Keller once said, “The basic purpose of prayer is not to bend God’s will to mine, but to mold my will into His.”

As I sat in church, I listened to an older and now wiser woman give her testimony. She revealed her lifelong journey that culminated in her submission to minister to sex trafficking victims. Her story was heartfelt, with details of regret as she avoided this call on her life. She had followed her own will and was led astray. Nevertheless, she remained prayerful for God’s direction. In the end, God revealed to her an individual who had founded a ministry such as she was being called to. God had “established her steps” and provided a way.

Proverbs 16:9 tells us that the heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps. Amidst our questions and doubts, it is only through the Lord that our path is made clear. As we pray, let’s remember it is God’s will we seek. Through this prayer and obedience to God’s Word, God’s will is revealed.

As we contemplate our life decisions, we often leave this crucial step out. We alienate God from our plans and choose to follow our will rather than God’s—the One who possessed the knowledge and power to order creation into existence, the One who shows mercy to the undeserving, and the One who promises never to leave or forsake us.

As you plan your ways, don’t forget that the Lord establishes the steps you should take. Ask for His will to be done. 

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What's in a Name?

I have an uncommon name.

As a young girl, I often thought about changing my name to something more in keeping with my peers—like Karen, Susan, or Catherine. I have since outgrown that idea and have come to appreciate its uniqueness.

In the Old Testament, we see God change Abram’s name to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Jacob to Israel. We see the same thing in the New Testament. Saul becomes Paul, and Simon becomes Peter.

When God changes a name, it signifies He is about to transform the character and heart of the individual. And transformation takes time.

What’s really in a name anyway? As consumers, we put a lot of stock in name brands because we believe the name is synonymous with quality, craftsmanship, and integrity. And rightly so.

But what about us who bear the name of Christ? God wants us to exemplify Christlike character by being patient, kind, and gentle. This is where I often fall short. I long for Him to form the life of Christ in me so that I bear not just His name but also a striking resemblance to His character.

As God’s children, we don’t just want to bear His name like we would an expensive bag or designer shoes which give the impression we have somehow arrived. As followers of Christ, we should strive to emulate the character of the One by Whose name we are called . . . to allow Him to form Christ in us, the hope of glory.

External things do not give us worth, but the name of Christ—the name which is above every other name—does. Make up your mind to represent the name of Christ well. 

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Let He Who Has Ears

My husband, Bob, received a little cross from a nearby church when we went to see a Christian movie they were showing. It meant the world to him. He carried it with him everywhere he went and laid it by his head every night as he slept.

Someone remarked that he shouldn’t worship a piece of wood. Bob explained it wasn’t the three inch wooden cross he carried that meant so much but what it stood for. “Christ gave His life for me on the original one at Calvary,” he chanted to those who mocked him for his loyalty to the small wooden replica in his pocket.

Bob had preached the Word of God for sixty-five years and loved serving God in that manner. At ninety, age kept him from the pulpit, but the small cross allowed him to tell the story of the loving grace of his Savior as he showed it to strangers he met at the many restaurants and stores where we stopped.

One day, the cross disappeared. We searched all over the house. While tipping the chair he always sat in, I told Bob he should have taken better care of something that meant so much to him. I was positive he’d left it at one of the places we’d visited.

“Perhaps the person who finds it needs it more than I do,” he said with a reassuring smile.  

I hadn’t thought of that. Once again—as he had throughout our many years as husband and wife—he blessed me with his words. I smiled inside. He didn’t need to stand behind a pulpit to preach.

Many times, God speaks loudly through a simple sentence in His holy word. But I wonder how much I have missed by not hearing what He says so plainly.

As God’s children, we should listen as He speaks to us every day: in a sunrise, through a stranger, and often through our loved ones’ voices.

Not only listen; hear as well.   

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The Gift

Recently, my thirteen-year-old grandson played the little drummer boy in our church musical, “The Gift of Christmas.” It was a lead role, yet he was not under a spotlight. Instead, he was in semi-darkness covered in a shepherd’s cloak. As I watched, I thought how appropriate this picture of humility in leadership was. The cloak prevented the altar from becoming a stage. 

Then there was the young soldier who received a new suit of armor. He stepped out into the brightness of the day but was quickly blinded by the glare his suit created. His friend placed a dirty cloak over him. At first he resisted, but his wise friend reminded him that without the cloak he was vulnerable to defeat because of the blindness created by the glare.

Without the cloak of humility, we can be blinded by our position, authority, and anointing.  Not only are we blinded to the attacks of the enemy, we are also blinded to the truth of God. It may take the humiliation of a fall to see this. Humility keeps us focused on God’s building through us rather than us building for Him.

Through humility, we display the life-transforming message of Jesus Christ. Without humility, the message can become buried in showmanship. With humility, we declare how good God is. By using humility in our declaration, we give the gift back to God just as it came: good and perfect.

Picture yourself like my grandson: no face and no name, only the drum. Then use your gifts to display God’s glory, not showcase your own talent. Wear the cloak of humility, for without it the enemy will surely take you down.

Remove yourself from the limelight so others can see God.  

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Liberation Restored

My life journey has been plagued with bouts of guilt.

Led by my desire and failure to live a flawlessly devoted life, my hope turned to shame as my sinful nature overtook me. However, the standard I tried to achieve was not of Christ, but of the world.

The guilt of sin weighs heavily on the heart. If left unresolved, we can become spiritually apathetic. Tired of failing to live up to the standards of perfection the church can place on us, we fall into the motions. We insist our actions are what define our spirituality. This slippery slope leads us down a path of self-righteousness. The mistake is insisting our salvation is of our own doing rather than of the Lord's.

Rather, we are given the gift of salvation—a gift of God not of our own doing. Paul reminds us grace from God through faith saves us, not our works. The more we work for righteousness, the less we accept Christ's atonement for our sins. If Christ died for our sins but we must work for our salvation, then Christ died in vain. Christ’s sacrifice brought atonement for our sins of the past, present, and future.

As children of God, we are held to a higher standard. Nevertheless, we must not forget the message of the gospel. We are too sinful to achieve righteousness on our own. Any desire for perfection is derived in vanity. The guilt we face in this life can overcome us, but there is a greater truth to be made. We have already been set free from the bondage of sin. The battle with guilt over our sins has already been won.

Don’t try to work for what Christ gives freely. 

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Givers and Takers

In the cartoon Peanuts, Lucy says to Charlie Brown, “We are put here to serve others.” Charlie responds, “Then what are the others here for?”

At times, life does seem unfair. For a season, givers may find themselves surrounded by takers. Givers can feel unjustly used, yet, in the final analysis, takers will never know the joy of giving. We often begin life by looking at famous people, thinking how great it would be to be like them. Then we start taking things we need to fulfill our desire for notoriety.

The disciples of Jesus had this problem—and so did the mother of James and John. They jockeyed for positions of honor in God’s kingdom. He knew they needed an object lesson. He grabbed a towel and washed their feet, teaching that the greatest in His kingdom were givers, not takers. The disciples were astonished because they were steeped in the mentality of the world: take what you want before someone else gets it.

If we are honest, we’ve all felt a little like Charlie Brown. If he was here to serve others, why weren’t the others serving too? We wonder why we always get the short end of the stick. The psalmist pondered this dilemma when the bad guys were getting all the good things (Psalm 73:2-3).

Only in giving do we win because “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35b). If you are a taker, you will never know the joy of giving. The memory of those you have blessed by giving will linger long after the glitter of temporal things is gone.

Ask God for a heart that desires to give to others.

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Knowing the Father

From the beginning of life, children learn the distinction between the mother and father’s role.

A child begins to understand the voices of his parents and the part they play in his young life. As the child grows, he sees the distinction between a mother and a father. That child will turn to his mother for one need, while turning to his father for a different need.  Both parents play a vital role in the child’s development, but the roles of the parents are defined long before the child understands his need for them.

We have a heavenly Father who loves us beyond our own understanding.  He has a defined role in our life that was carved out in eternity long before we saw our need for Him. He provides for the birds of the air and covers the ground with a beautiful display of beauty for all to see. He provides for the fish of the sea and for the beasts roaming the earth. He is the creator of all things, and He has the biggest role in our lives.

The earth knows God as creator, but we know Him as Father. He is our provider and protector, a passionate Father who has counted the hairs on our head before we awake. He plans our steps before we take one and has set before us a future to walk into. He is not a vengeful God or a tyrant looking to expose our shame. He took our shame by sending His Son to die on the cross and provided salvation in the form of a sacrifice. Doing these things pleases the Lord because He wants us to know Him as Father.

Our God is the father to the fatherless, and He is perfect love. He is the One we call on for help and look to for strength and comfort. Before we were aware of our need, He provided for us.

Call upon the Father’s name and know the riches of His mercies. 

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Be Honest with God

I battle Bipolar 2 Disorder.

Depression is the primary feature of the disorder. I have to walk daily, take a mood stabilizer and anxiety medication, and sit in front of a UV-filtered white light to manage it. Last winter, despite employing my best tactics, depression pinned me to the wall for three months.

Bipolar disorder is hereditary and life-long. While I take comfort in God’s continual presence, it’s also encouraging to find a kindred spirit in the prophet Jeremiah. His personal writing style and willingness to pour out his emotions in prayer inspires me. Sometimes Jeremiah praised God. At other times, he expressed his anger toward Him for all the suffering he endured.

By this point in his ministry, Jeremiah felt comfortable telling the Almighty exactly how he felt. He knew he could explode at God and trust Him to listen. God didn’t strike Jeremiah down for getting angry with Him. He let him vent, even when Jeremiah graphically described how much he wished he had never been born.

When I’m profoundly depressed, I sometimes wish I could fall asleep and never wake up. Depression hurts. It distorts my thoughts. I can’t trust my own mind. But Jeremiah’s anger comforts me. As strange as it sounds, Jeremiah’s fury was a prayer.

Prayer is a deep mystery, but for reasons I may never fully understand, our all-knowing God wants us to tell Him our problems—no matter how much doing so hurts. God yearns for us to spend time with Him in prayer.

God wants us to let our guards down and bare our hearts. He knows our pain, joys, struggles, and dreams. He wants us to admit our heartaches. Putting on a brave face before our omniscient God is pointless.

Be honest with God today, and watch Him work in your life. He is waiting to hear from you.

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A Baker's Devotion

I fingered through a cookbook’s fragile pages until I found the cake recipe I wanted.

I read the directions and smiled when I saw “pinch of salt” and “stir briskly 80 strokes.” I was thankful for the modern-day convenience of my Kitchen Aid mixer. I gathered all five ingredients, baffled by the simplicity of the recipe.

“There must be something missing,” I mused. Being a baker myself, I decided to tweak the recipe by adding more baking powder—since so little leavening was used. I changed the buttermilk to whole milk and added oil, worried the cake would be dry.

The cake was a disaster. Gummy in texture with a flavor that seemed off, the cake rose too high and too fast in my oven—creating a mess.

Disappointed, I cleaned up while blaming the recipe. Then I remembered I hadn’t followed the author’s directions, but my own. With my now clean kitchen offering a clean slate, I went to work. This time, I didn’t add or tweak any of the ingredients. I even stirred the 80 strokes by hand. Soon, the buttery smell wafted through the kitchen, and I was thrilled to see the golden-brown dome through the oven door. Before I tasted it, I knew it was perfect.

Later, sitting with a warm slice of butter cake and a cup of tea, I turned to Psalm 34:8: “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good. Blessed is the man (or woman) who trusts in Him!”

I had tasted and seen the results of my attempts at goodness. It wasn’t pretty. I had complicated things and messed with an already great recipe. I do this a lot. God gives me good things, and I doubt His goodness. I don’t trust Him, but trust in myself and my own efforts instead.

Sometimes, what God has for us is simple: a picnic with our children on a summer day, a walk to see the fall leaves with a friend, or a humble meal with those we love. God’s goodness is rich and satisfying.

Instead of wanting more or adding to what God has already done, trust Him with a happy heart and be ready to receive every rich morsel. 

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U-turns Allowed

You’ve seen them: Wrong Way, Do Not Enter, Caution, and Danger Ahead. Signs that warn of travel hazards. They appear because of previous mistakes and attempt to prevent future ones. Yet people continue to miss or ignore them. Whether they fail to pay attention or believe the rules apply only to others, the signs go unheeded.

So often we do the same on life’s journey. Headlines fairly scream the lifestyle dangers that have become commonplace in our society. Our thoughts quickly go to drugs and alcohol and the immediate threats they pose.

However, the links between obesity and heart disease, arthritis, and a smorgasbord of medical conditions go ignored when we join the drive-thru at our favorite fast-food restaurant. We choose to spend another evening parked on the couch with our minds in neutral, staring at the latest sitcom. Then we justify skipping fifteen to thirty minutes of daily exercise because we don’t have time.

God created our bodies as a temple of the Holy Spirit. We’re not our own, so we shouldn’t overlook our ongoing physical care.

We often suffer from a bad case of spiritual laziness as well. We know the right answers for proper growth—prayer, Bible study, worship, ministry, and missions. Yet our heads fail to notify our hearts and feet.

Hope lies just around the corner. Jesus offers total healing. If we repent, God will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Physical or spiritual, God can take care of it. But we have to make a choice by allowing God to shape us into better citizens of both heaven and earth. As Paul urges in Romans 12:1, let’s offer our bodies as living sacrifices, “holy and pleasing to God” as acts of “true and proper worship.” When we take care of this shell God gave us, we worship.

God offers U-turns. Take one if you need to.

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The Kiss of Friendship

The kiss of friendship can often feel like a slap in the face.

Most of us do not like to hear unflattering things about ourselves. The truth is that no one is perfect. At times, even our best friends need to tell us things we do not want to hear. An honest answer is a sign of true friendship.

Yes, people are plentiful. Many leaders, even Christian leaders, have met their downfall by surrounding themselves with people who only tell them what they want to hear. It is a rarer occurrence to find a subordinate who will tell you the truth no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Flattery, though seemingly positive, is not given to build-up the person. Its purpose is to win favor for the flatterer. Sweet talk is a self-centered activity. 

An interesting contradiction exists. Those who fawn over us to our faces—but who feel slighted—will be the first to reveal secrets about us behind our back. Such people show their true colors. If their support doesn’t bring the self-promotion or recognition they seek, their advocacy will turn to detraction in the blink of an eye. 

Messages we do not want to hear are not from people trying to win a popularity contest. Your friends may be people that make you feel uncomfortable—or even irritate you at times. But remember, wounds from friends are better than kisses from enemies.

Discern who your friends are and accept their kiss of friendship.

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In Remembrance of God

When something is out of humanity’s control, they turn to God.

During a tribute to our nation, people shared their memories of September 11, 2001. I was amazed that everyone remembered where they were. What I recall is how people flocked to churches. People who didn’t believe in God called out to Him.

One story was about a woman rescued from the rubble of the Twin Towers. In the hours she waited—not knowing if she would live or die—she cried out to Christ. Previously, she had lived her life with no restraint, but as death approached, her perspective changed. She asked God to forgive her self-indulgent ways and send her a sign. She raised her hand through a hole where she saw light. A sense of peace enveloped her. Then a man, whom she would never meet, held her hand until rescue workers arrived.

God hears our cries. He’s also a shield to those who take refuge in Him (Proverbs 30:5). Regardless of where we are in life, we can call upon God.

People are busy. We cannot always depend on friends to answer when we call. But God does. He wants us to call out to Him with sincere hearts, in both good times and bad—and to remember His faithfulness.

When crises are over and time has elapsed, it's important to remember how God met our needs. Most of the stories told at the memorial event were about people’s reactions. The greatest stories recounted how God intervened. Those stories transform lives and impart lasting change.

Tell others the story of how God has worked in your life. Your story can help someone find peace and transformation.  

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The City Slicker and the Farm

A city slicker inherits a farm from a distant relative. He doesn’t have to pay taxes. They were taken care of by his long-lost but generous relative. No one can take the farm from him. He doesn’t have to do anything to get the farm except accept the free gift.

He is excited about his new farm and tells everyone about this wonderful gift, but he’s never been a farmer before and doesn’t know the first thing about farming. He doesn’t know how to use the tools and equipment. He doesn’t know what to plant, when to plant, or how to plant. Even though the farm belongs to him, he doesn’t know how to make the most of it.

The man has a choice. He can enjoy knowing he owns the farm or he can learn how to make the most of it. Either way, the farm belongs to him. Yet if learns how to farm, he can make the farm more fruitful for himself and for others.

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. I thought salvation was a free gift so that no man could boast, but then I wondered what this verse was talking about. I prayed and asked God to clarify it. As a speech pathologist and a teacher, I know if you can’t explain something to someone else then you probably don’t understand it completely yourself.

Being a Christian is much the same as the city slicker. We can choose to learn how to use our wonderful gift of salvation so that we can become more fruitful for God, so that we can become the person He created us to be, and so that we can complete our puzzle as God intended.

We can also choose to accept the gift but not dig further to understand the true meaning of God’s gift. We won’t be as fruitful—and we may miss many of the blessings God wants to give us—but we are still Christians, no matter what our choice is.

God always gives you a choice. Ask Him to help you choose the best option. 

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Fall changes things: colors, temperatures, futures. Autumn also brings harvest, which reflects these things and more.

Few recognize a harvest as the act of taking a life. As a ’tween, I handpicked potatoes for local farmers. When preparing to harvest tubers, the plant must be killed. This does two significant things: it prevents the tubers from over-maturing, and it forces the plants to wither. The plants decompose, leaving only the spuds when the digging machines bring them to the surface.

When Jesus spoke the parable of the seeds, He demonstrated the principle of agronomy. The disciples wondered at His reasoning, and He explained how those without knowledge may hear of some good thing but how only those who put their knowledge to good use would bear fruit. Perhaps the greatest point Jesus makes is how His organic kingdom works.

Every farmer knows to till the soil and prepare it for planting—modern no-till methods notwithstanding. Also a part of their work is cultivating and watering to ensure the nutrients go to their crop and not to weeds. At the end of the growing cycle—before the plants succumb to disease, mold, and rot—farmers separate the fruit for later use. Or to use the vernacular, harvest it. Some of those seeds don’t go for food, but for planting. The plant multiplies itself by returning to the ground, sprouting, and producing more life.

In today’s world, hybrids exist. These seeds will not produce other fruit and multiply. New seeds must be bought to obtain an increase. It’s a shortcut based on convenience and a perceived gain.

Jesus suggests giving up our own life to follow Him. What He seems to say is that the harvest is at hand. By giving up the life we think we need, we permit Him to groom us for His use. Our spirit flourishes, our seeds reproduce, and our bounty expands exponentially.

The world tells us there are shortcuts to accomplishing God’s aim. Don’t succumb to that process and end up with a short-term gain. During the season of harvest, think about what needs to die so you can live an abundant life.

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Loyalty and Letting Go

Letting go. I struggle with the concept almost daily.

Practicing faithfulness is always easier when it requires little discipline or sacrifice. When God calls me to use my innate gifts to glorify Him, I am in. Host a dinner to enjoy fellowship with neighbors? Lead a Bible study? Volunteer in my community? My knee-jerk, inherent response is always, "Yep, absolutely! Where do I sign up?" I'm great at modeling devotion to God's calling when my primal instinct kicks in for an intuitive "faith layup."

But things get more challenging when there is a perceived cost to my faithfulness. Stretch beyond my comfort zone? Ignore my fears? Surrender control? Sometimes, in those moments, if I don't listen with intention, it's easy for my loyalty language to morph from, “Here am I. Send me,” to, "Not just yet. Maybe tomorrow. Do I have to?"

At first glance, the book of Ruth may seem like Scripture that focuses almost entirely on a younger woman's steadfast loyalty to her mother-in-law. And on many levels, that's true. Ruth demonstrates continuous and unwavering devotion to Naomi, a choice that results in both burdens and blessings for these women. However, as we dig a bit deeper, we realize the book isn't just about faithfulness. Ruth teaches us that true loyalty sometimes means coming to terms with letting go.

Ruth's allegiance to Naomi falls into another category entirely. To follow her mother-in-law faithfully, Ruth had to let go. Ruth’s pledge isn't an empty future promise; it's an oath pledged and executed in that very moment. It's her resolute commitment to let go of her country, her people, her customs, and her gods. Ruth's spiritual act of release, of staying true to her calling regardless of its price, and of greeting her new destiny with an open heart and hands enables both women to share in God's grace and goodness.

We often must let go of things to heed God's plan. We must pray to hear God's calling with discernment and to have the strength to follow His purpose, even when faced with discomfort, uncertainty, and adversity.

Be willing to sacrifice everything in the name of faithfulness and loyalty to God's will.  

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I Answered God's Calling

I was born to be a teacher.

As a young child, I gathered all my dolls and teddy bears and sat them in rows in front of me. I stood in front of them and pretended to teach. But before I spoke, I took a scarf and covered my head. My mother said she had no idea where this came from. Although we attended church on Sundays, no woman covered her head.

My little sister, Sharon, was born when I was in second grade. As soon as she was old enough, I taught her the alphabet, science, and geography. By the time she was in first grade, she already knew everything in the curriculum. All her teachers thought she was brilliant.

While I was in high school, I attended a youth camp where, for the first time in my life, I heard a foreign missionary, Rhoda Kauffman, speak. She was a teacher in Pakistan. Each night she talked about her work and showed slides. And every evening I heard God say, “Pat, this is how I want to use your life.”

When I went home and told my father God had called me into international missions, he responded, “Oh, no! God wouldn’t do that!” Cold water poured on my excitement, but his reaction did not stop me from believing God was calling me to overseas missions.

Through the years of high school, university, and seminary, God’s call persisted and became my goal. My parents grew accustomed to the idea and embraced God’s will for my life. After my first term of five years in Amman, Jordan, I returned to the States for a furlough and had many opportunities to speak and show my slides in churches, schools, and service organizations.

Once, when Mother was with me, she saw a picture of me with a scarf on my head as I was teaching, standing in front of rows of women with heads covered. By my parents’ expressions and comments, I could tell they were proud of their first-born daughter.

God has something special for each of us to do with our lives. When He lets us know how He wants to use us, He provides all we need and prepares us for the mission. Nothing is more gratifying than following the Lord’s plan for your life.

Don’t neglect what God is calling you to do. 

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The headline read, “Two leaders resign over citizenship issues.”

Politics is not my favorite subject. It seems to be a difficult and unstable job. There will always be people who approve of governmental decisions, but there will also be people who disapprove of many changes that affect a nation’s populace.

The culture of nations affects political sways. In some parts of the world, corruption is a great concern. No matter what decisions are made, people will always choose to obey or disobey the laws. Many interpret laws from their own perspective—not from the intention of the law—for good and evil live side by side.

Throughout history, culture has affected how God’s Word is interpreted.  Once we are born again, we believe and trust in Jesus Christ as our leader. Then we allow the Holy Spirit to take over more of our life. He knits people together from different cultures and backgrounds as one people—citizens of heaven.

The starters of the church in Philippi were all different. In Acts 16:12-40, a Jewish woman and her family believed. Then a slave girl was delivered from an evil spirit. Finally, Paul’s jailor and his family believed and were baptized.

Yet this was the fellowship that brought the most joy to Paul and the only one of the first groups who provided for him. Generosity was a hallmark of the Philippian believers. Paul’s teachings on unity never emphasised agreement, but the Holy Spirit’s work.

Father God is always calling people back to himself—even amidst the world’s chaos and turmoil of uncertain political climate. We all have the choice between following the ways of culture or Jesus Christ. Once we become children of God, our citizenship is in heaven. We need to set aside cultural traditions to expand the kingdom of God on earth and embrace the culture of heaven.

Choose Christ today so the cover of your spiritual passport will read citizen of heaven. Then you will find daily love and peace in the comfort of the Word of God: Jesus Himself.  

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Listen and Hear

I once heard a teacher say, “When you read the Bible, put aside your preconceived ideas and what others have said. Read it afresh, and let God speak to you and give understanding. Read and hear.”

A friend took classes in healthy eating for diabetics. He ate the suggested food and avoided sugar for a while. Then he began to cheat on his diet--a half piece of lemon pie, buttery shrimp, potato chips. His diabetic numbers climbed higher, but he was in denial that he would really experience consequences. Now, he faces continual issues with his diabetic feet. He knows the truth.

A beautiful young lady heard her father’s counsel not to marry a certain fellow, but she avoided his reasoning. The marriage lasted two years with heart-rending results for all involved. She learned she could have avoided the hurt and trauma if she had heeded the truth.

The disciples, denying the teaching they received from their Lord, expected Christ to rule the earth. His followers heard Him say He would set up His kingdom. They couldn’t wait. They even asked Jesus who would sit on His right hand when He ruled. They looked forward to their King overthrowing the Roman Empire. Romans made life hard for the Jewish people.

Jesus taught His disciples, but they didn’t really hear what they didn’t want to hear. The disciples did not expect Christ to experience the cross. They didn’t hear His whole message. They let their own desires get in the way of comprehending the full picture of His ministry.

God speaks to us through His Word. If we have our own agenda of what it should say to us, we may miss the fullness of what He does say. As we listen and heed the God-breathed words, we will be ready for whatever comes our way. Hear and listen to what the Lord is saying to you about a call, a mission, or yourself.

Hear the Word of the Lord. Absorb it. Receive it for yourself.

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Jesus Is the Way

I once hit a crossroads in my spiritual and intellectual journey.

As a young adult, my curiosity struck a chord in me. My foundation of faith had been shaken, and I needed to know which direction to go. The doubts and fears of the world weighed on my heart. I wondered if I was going the right way.

The world tells me I’m not. Society impresses an ideal of individuality. We can provide our own path to salvation—whether this is through other religions or a complete absence of religion. This lack of absolute spiritual truth took me in an aimless direction. After prayer and supplication, I found what I needed in God’s Word.

John’s gospel declares a universal truth—a truth that sets our life in the right direction. Jesus told the disciples He was leaving this world to prepare a place for them. Thomas asked, “Lord, we do not know where you are going, how can we know the way?” Jesus responded, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This passage answered my fears and doubts and gave me spiritual direction.

Jesus is the exclusive way to God. No other religion can provide us with salvation from our sinful nature. The world offers many philosophies to choose from, but none are sufficient.

Stand with boldness and proclaim Jesus Christ as the one true God.  

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O Come, Let Us Worship!

As a little girl, I spent delightful moments singing about the little Lord Jesus asleep in the hay. I loved to gaze at our family’s small nativity scene and see the characters gathered lovingly around the newborn child: Mary, Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men, and the animals.

The setting was sweet, serene, and warm. As much as I could comprehend, I knew it was a holy scene. Still, I couldn’t grasp—and likely never will—who this baby boy truly was: God Almighty in human flesh. But even in my little girl way, I knew Jesus was a special baby—and I loved that baby.

As I grew, my understanding of why Jesus was so special did too. My love for who that baby was, and is, matured. Now, in my grown-up way, I see and love Jesus as the King of kings, Almighty God, Lord, and Savior.

During this Christmas season, I hope to enter an even deeper and more worshipful relationship with the One who left the glories of heaven to be born and live among us. I want to do as the psalmist invited: “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”

Our lives are different when we worship God from the heart the way the psalmist did. Our lives change when we make worship a part of our daily quiet time—when we revere God. Life is sweeter when we acknowledge God’s power and when compassion is our first response to every circumstance … rather than our last.

Instead of filling our thoughts with what we’ll get for Christmas, we can get to know Jesus and the wonders of His person—who He is and how He thinks.

Spend this Christmas season praising your Lord and Maker. You’ll love Him just a little bit more.

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The Phone Call

She had collapsed the previous night.

My 92-year-old mother was sick. Temperature elevation and chills caused her to shake terribly. I had lived with her on her farm for several years. The 24-hour change in her health jolted me. My sister and brother-in-law arrived, and I welcomed my brother-in-law’s medical expertise. We saw some improvement, but her sickness drained my emotional strength.

Then the phone rang. I recognized the voice of a dear college friend. We exchanged Christmas cards, but seldom saw each other or spoke on the phone. She was thinking of me and decided to call. Her brief conversation and prayer for Mother and the rest of the family brought peace and reassurance of God’s care. He moved my friend to extend His loving care and grace.

Obedience is preeminent when walking with Jesus. Just as Mary told the servants at the wedding in Cana to do whatever He told them to do, so must we. When the Holy Spirit stirred my friend’s heart, she obeyed. Her obedience accomplished God’s will by ministering to my needy soul. Inevitably, she experienced God’s presence as she obeyed. Jesus said He would make His home with the obedient (John 14:23).

Immediate responses when God’s Spirit beckons are important. After we have obeyed, we can rest in the peace and confidence we did what He said. Our daily prayer should be for an attentive ear and heart so we can do His will on earth just as it is done in heaven. Then we will rejoice in seeing His purposes accomplished in our lives and the lives of others.

Do whatever God tells you to do. 

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Traffic in my part of town is unbearable.

Unprecedented huge subdivisions have appeared almost overnight and with them road congestion and new traffic lights.

Quick trips to local stores now take most of the morning. Quiet drives to work are occasions for quick reflexes, increased pulse and blood pressure, and survival instincts. The charming borderline rural part of my world has disintegrated with the bustling suburban sprawl.

While driving to work on two consecutive days, I discovered something interesting. On the first day, instead of sitting in a long line of traffic at a busy intersection, I took a roundabout shortcut through an adjoining neighborhood. Although I circumvented one traffic signal, I found myself pressing to get through subsequent traffic lights that were yellow. Exasperation led to some ugly thoughts about the Department of Transportation planners and their lack of synchronization.

On the second morning, I stayed in the long line of traffic and waited my turn. The ensuing traffic lights were all green. The slight delay, although not enjoyable, resulted in a more coordinated and less stressful trip.

My two-day experience could have been a mere coincidence which depended on the volume of traffic on one specific day. But God used it to reiterate one of His principles found throughout Scripture: God may allow a delay today to coordinate smooth sailing tomorrow.

God’s Word overflows with verses that advocate waiting on His timing, His synchronization, and His overall plan. He asks us to trust His timing and rely on His sovereign purpose, leaving the details to Him as we walk according to His Word and follow Him obediently.

Impatience and looking for shortcuts to our desired destinations—maybe even God’s destinations—push His timing, take us ahead of His plan, and lead to a stressful journey with regrettable decisions.

Respect God’s delays. Wait for His sovereign orchestration of events and details which will lead to His blessing and fulfillment.

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Changing Courses

Seven months ago, I changed courses.

After teaching for seventeen years, I decided to pursue a dream I’d had since college. I imagined all the offers for employment that would alight on my doorstep. Like the Arthur knights of old seeking grand quests, magic, mystery, and victory, I would travel the world and witness new and awe-inspiring sites. Yes, there would be battles, but I would easily win them. I would fight dragons, slaying them with one swift stroke. Cyclops? I would drown him without the aid of my shield. I would be a strong, valiant warrior on this new adventure.

I turned in my notice and began the adventure. No more would I live by the wishes of others. No more would my life be without passion . . . without purpose. Seven months later, my passions and excitement were usurped by anxiety and doubt, and obscured by reality. Nothing was on the horizon. No income. No dream job. As I sat in my stupor of disappointment on the verge of depression, God’s whisper broke the silence and reminded me what I had left behind: my relationship with Him and His plans for me.

The number one reason for my existence is a relationship with my Creator. I was created to display His glory, but to display that glory and spread the good news, I must have a relationship with Him—a relationship that seeps into every area of my life, especially the planning of a lifelong dream.

In laying out my life's new blueprint, I overlooked God and His adventure. He wanted to be the one to slay the dragon of distrust and the cyclops of doubt. His grand quest contained the magic of peace during the crossing of the tepid seas and the mystery of boundless strength while fighting a throng of disappointments. His undertaking centered on our relationship. Mine did not. I neglected to seek Him first—to lay my plans at His feet. I paraded the pathway pursuing neither His counsel nor His guidance. This adventure may have been spurred by His spirit, but the path wasn’t followed in fellowship with Him.

My circumstances haven’t changed, but my focus has. The relationship with my God is the adventure that matters. The other details and circumstances He’ll take care.

Pursue God's plans, not your own.

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Spiritual Wind

Completing my first book, The Unbreakable Cord—the story of how a drunk driver and a stuffed dog strengthened my faith—was a difficult journey. Writing it meant reliving the near death of my daughter and the death of my oldest brother. I learned the only way to move through the pain was to unclench my fist and surrender my anger and grief to God.

The nudging to step out of my comfort zone grew stronger. I knew I needed to obey . . . to trust God to carry my insecurities. As I child I struggled with certain words: chicken, school bus, and fifteen. My parents thought I was tongue-tied, but the doctor confirmed it was only nerves. I would outgrow it. I did learn to say chicken, school bus, and fifteen, but some words still won’t roll off my tongue.

With God holding my hand, I stood before a women’s group and shared my testimony and my book—even though the lady who introduced me called my book The Unbreakable Lord. A few weeks earlier, I had received an email from an Amazon reader saying she was going through a tough time and that my book was an encouragement.

I had also told a good friend how her blog post made me think of the old song, “The Solid Rock.” She replied, “Reminds me that everything has already been written, and we just switch words around.”

With God, nothing is new under the sun. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” We have the promise of God’s presence and protection as we walk through the valley of death. Believers have the promise that Jesus will never leave or forsake us—whether the word is cord or Lord. As Christ followers, we must continue our voyage of sharing our stories.

When doors open, be brave. Walk through them, and share what Jesus has done for you. You never know who might need a second spiritual wind.

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What Are You Missing?

“Mason! Look out the window!”

While running errands with my daughter and her three-year-old son, I spotted a stretch limo. “On my side.” I pointed, knowing it would soon be out of view.

Unfortunately, we passed the intersection and the limo was behind us. I turned to the backseat. “I’m sorry. We passed it. Maybe another time.”

Mason wasn’t concerned. He continued looking at traffic, trees, and whatever else was in his view.

I chuckled and told my daughter, “He’s fine. He doesn’t know what he missed.”

I wonder how much we miss that we don’t know about. After all, if you don’t know, you’re not disappointed. That might work for a three-year-old and a white stretch limo, but when it comes to more important life experiences, there are consequences.

If I don’t read instructions on medication, there could be harmful results. If I don’t follow a cake recipe, omitting ingredients could yield a tasteless dessert. If I don’t read instructions when assembling a product, I’m frustrated when I have to disassemble and start over. And if I don’t read the Bible, I miss words of wisdom, direction, and hope.

God’s Word is a lamp for the step I’m on—giving just enough light to know what to do next. Maybe there are principles helping me decide if I should make a particular purchase. Guidelines that prompt me to write a note or make a call to encourage someone, resolve a conflict, or meet a need. Or a passage about communication might affect my interaction later that day.

The Bible also offers light for my path—the longer stretch with bigger decisions such as changing jobs or entering a relationship. Decisions with long-term effects. Telling me to do something specific—like buying a new car—isn’t found in Scripture, but God’s Word gives light for discernment as well as principles to live wisely.

Missing the sight of a stretch limo didn’t have consequences, but ignoring regular reading of wise words in Scripture will. Don’t miss out. Read it daily. 

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Can You Hear Your Alarm?

I awoke unusually refreshed, and the daylight seemed brighter than normal. I stretched comfortably, enjoying my sheet’s softness and warmth. Then panic set in as I realized I had overslept—on a workday.

Snatching my phone—that also serves as my alarm—I wondered if the battery had died or if I had forgotten to set the alarm. But the battery was fine, and the alarm reflected properly. Why didn’t I hear it? Then I remembered turning my phone’s volume down the day before while watching a video online. Although the alarm was working, I couldn’t hear it because the low volume wasn’t enough to awaken me.

As I rushed through an abbreviated morning routine, God reminded me how I similarly treat His Spirit’s conviction. His alarm works just fine. Unfortunately, the sound gets diminished as I desensitize myself to His call. His influence remains constantly available, but my daily choices, activities, and lifestyle often numb me to His purifying and renewing work.

Some ways of quenching the Spirit’s convicting influence include:

  • Reading trendy magazines with provocative, suggestive articles or ads
  • Listening to popular songs containing raunchy, illicit lyrics
  • Watching movies with immoral plots that promote promiscuity or today's degenerate culture
  • Excusing when people use the Lord's name in vain
  • Joke-flirting with a coworker as just "harmless fun"
  • Sidestepping the opportunity to witness to a friend in need
  • Misusing God-given talents and gifts

Although it’s easy to minimize or justify each of the above, slow erosion still occurs. Step by step, the condoning, excusing, and avoiding turns down the volume knob of the Spirit's voice and quenches His influence to purify, edify, equip, and mature.

God still speaks, but the self-serving and noisy environments created by our choices make Him difficult to hear. Then panic sets in when we spiritually oversleep and find ourselves in our self-made moral quagmires.

But what a sweet sound when tuned in to the Spirit’s call. He guides our direction, aligns our hearts with the Father, protects us from what hinders or harms, comforts and renews us when we’re distressed or discouraged, teaches us His unchanging truth, and promotes our spiritual growth.

Tune in and turn up the volume.

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One of a Kind

One of a kind. That’s Kaitlyn. She entered the room, and her smile shone like the sun. “Hi Kaitlyn.” Her eyes tenderly met mine and she blushed just a bit. I stretched my arm around her and gently hugged. She nuzzled tightly under my arm, and there was such a warm, sweet embrace.

She is . . . one of a kind.

Though words elude her, joy enraptures her. She is captivated by your presence and rejoices in your attention. Yes, she is one of a kind.

Kaitlyn is special. Her needs unique. Born with a one-of-a-kind chromosomal disorder, there’s no one else at this time entered into medical data bases who share her disability.

My own son, also born with a chromosomal disorder, doesn’t match Kaitlyn either, but what they share in common is nothing short of envious. Their worlds are not perfect according to man’s standards. Some look at them and pity these amazing childlike adults, while others grasp hold of the specialty of their uniqueness and find the blessing they hold.

The writer of Psalms probably had no idea about disabilities, but he obviously understood feeling as though he couldn’t meet the standards. When he reassured himself of his place in the love of God, he found comfort. He found he was fearfully and wonderfully made.

God’s works are never failures. They never require pity or sadness because in His infinite wisdom, His plan for every individual is wonderful. It’s us who set standards others can’t attain. It’s us who judge the worth of those who in our eyes . . . are different. We fail to see they are fearfully and wonderfully made–perfect in the eyes of the Creator. Perfect in His plan.

When others look at our kids with sadness and pity, we show them their joy. When folks look beyond the physical imperfections of Kaitlyn and Chase and peer into their souls, they are overwhelmed with contentment, joy, peace, and wonder.

Kaitlyn is one of a kind, but her place in the heart of the Father is greater than anything I can achieve. Don’t let fear stop you from knowing the heart of one who may be physically different. Be welcomed into their heart. Once you are there, you will see the wonder of God’s plan.

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All Things Are Possible

The room looks like the typical little boy’s room—except for the IV pole by the bed and the green bottles of oxygen lined up like soldiers. Plastic syringes and cotton gauze crowd a shelf and signal this is not the room of an ordinary toddler.

The room is cheerful with its yellow, blue, and green walls. Stuffed toys cluster the top of the toy chest. A red dinosaur grins at me and Elmo smiles from the corner. A monkey, with doleful brown eyes, sits in the center, surrounded by bears and horses. Tractors and trucks are parked on the shelf, and a big red ball sits in the middle of the floor, begging to be bounced.

I see my grandson’s little shoes sitting atop the dresser. Sadness overwhelms me when I think that the feet in those shoes have never touched the floor. My grandson has a severe form of cerebral palsy and cannot sit, walk, stand, or talk. Some days it seems like an impossible task simply to care for him.

My eyes are drawn to the verse in flowing script on the wall above his bed: With God all things are possible. The verse comes from the words of Jesus in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

I say the verse aloud and then try saying it with the emphasis on different words. WITH God all things are possible. With GOD all things are possible. With God ALL things are possible. With God all THINGS are possible. With God all things are POSSIBLE.

Faced with the impossibilities of this life, I realize I have no choice but to go to the throne of a God who makes all things possible.

When you are faced with impossible situations, go to the all-powerful God who can make all things possible. 

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Go with the Flow

The plane was tossed like a cork in a cyclone. 

I was on the last of the four flights required to reach my destination in Kenya. This teaching and speaking trip had been arranged over a period of months, but the invitation had come as a surprise. I had had no communication with this group previously, so I didn’t know what to expect. The strength the Lord gave me to stand and teach, preach and minister, and travel with three African brothers astounded even my companions.

Assessing and reviewing the fruit of this adventure to Kenya and Uganda showed me why it was so successful. We were mature enough to humble ourselves and submit to each another. Without any fuss, we went with the flow. When the itinery changed, we adapted. When one was not well, we made allowances. If we did not agree, we discussed, accepted differences of opinion, and decided the subject was closed.

Having never experienced such harmonious loving as this, I now see it was the love of God at work. Being united commands a blessing (Psalm 133:1). We all benefited from the way we treated each other.

No human love will suffice or accomplish what God’s love accomplished on this trip. His love moved border guards, police at check points, and airport officials to show us favour.

Blessings come when we choose to go with the flow and believe God is in control, not us. Loving one another is only accomplished when we allow God’s Spirit to give us God’s pure unconditional love for other believers.

Spiritual growth comes when the Holy Spirit is allowed to work in tandem with the Word. Perhaps it is time to grow up in the things of God as the time draws near for Jesus’ return.

Let God teach you how to go with the flow.  

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Living by Divine Provision

When God becomes your supplier, you become the consumer.

Divine provision is God supplying our needs. His supplies come with addition, adding more to the blessings than we request. Divine methods and instructions will always work if we depend on them. They will also keep us from loss and disappointment.

God never failed to supply manna and quail for the Israelites as they traveled through the wilderness. He gave them fresh food, new miracles, and new testimonies. God is a specialist in supplying these things. Since the King of kings is the supplier, we can experience seasons of surplus, blessing, and favor.

When God takes over, He restores good things for us. His supply is more than we ask for or think about: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20). God is also the creator. As supplier and creator, He lacks nothing.

The storehouses of God are for you, and the treasures in His storehouses are for your honor and celebration. When the enemy discourages you, stand firm on the promises of God, and your discouragement will turn into praise.

Having God as your Father and knowing you are His child is a great privilege. Today is the day for your divine supply. Make your order from His storehouses.

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In Contrast

“Your life, your choice.” Sounds simple enough. However, if we follow Jesus with our actions and words, our choices will collide with the world’s norm.    

It’s a dog-eat-dog world! Look out for number one. What can you do for me? “What do you want me to do for you” (Matthew 20:32)?

Straighten up! What’s done is done. Nobody can do anything about it. “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15).

Fight for the top spot! Show them who’s boss. Don’t let anyone stand in your way. “Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26).

I’ve worked hard for what I have. I deserve a little fun. Why should I help others? “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Ephesians 6:7).

Say anything and then do what you want. Do as I say, not as I do. Whatever. “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

You’ve got to be kidding. That task is beneath me. I won’t do it! “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

It’s my life. I’ll do as I please. Nobody’s going to tell me what to do. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

He’ll never amount to anything. Look at all he gave up—and for what? “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’” (Matthew 25:21).

Your life, your choice. Choose well so you won’t have to endure the consequences. 

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Forever Faithful

We sat in our home office staring at each other.

My husband and I would soon deliver our little boy. We were emotional, not sure how we were going to make it financially. We had been in this place before and saw God provide, but our human nature kicked in, and we were feeling discouraged.

I cried out to God for help, knowing He already knew our needs. As I sat in silence, I could feel an overwhelming sense of peace rush over me. The Holy Spirit surrounded me with His stillness. My husband came home with tears in his eyes a few hours later and laid a twenty-dollar bill on my desk. God provided not only a divine appointment but also a little glimpse of His faithfulness to our family. 

This is one of many stories of God’s faithfulness in our lives. The Lord has taught me so much since then. He has taught me to depend on Him alone rather than things of this world. He knows our needs before we realize them. God has worked ahead and knows where and when to place people in our path to fulfill a need.

God gave me a promise one day: “Be faithful to Me and I will be faithful to you!” All God desires is a personal and intimate relationship with us. He wants our time and attention. He wants us to come to Him with our needs, our victories, our concerns, and our praises. He wants us to read His Word, pray, fellowship with the Holy Spirit, and grow in our walk with Him.

Whatever you’re worrying over or whatever life issue is gripping your heart and causing you anxiety, give it to the One who has all the answers and is waiting for you to lay it at His feet. Don’t let fear cripple your faith.

Move forward with a victorious life, knowing the Lord is always faithful to complete the work He has started in you. 

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The Peace Owl

We all have trying days. Days when it feels we might break under pressure or sorrow. 

Mine was when I woke up and didn’t feel well. I felt as if a spring cold was building in my body, brought on by merciless allergies. It was also going to be a day of mourning. I had to speak at the funeral of a dear lady from our church. The day was heavy. 

Evening provided no relief. I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders but then came home to disheartening personal news. I was overwhelmed . . . angry. I needed to vent. For an hour, my wife listened to me complain.

When the lull in my complaining finally came, I sat in my easy chair. During a moment of silence, there was a soothing noise outside the window, a hoot owl. Since childhood, owls hooting have calmed my nerves. Somewhat ironic since many cultures view the owl as a bad omen. But I have always loved them.

My complaining was over. I felt peace I couldn't explain. I suppose the owl could have borne a message from God. Maybe it was just a coincidence. Either way, the peace I felt was from God. 

If we open ourselves up to God's peace, it will miraculously ease our anxieties. We may not understand it, but we feel it.

Let God’s peace soothe your anxieties. 

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The Loving Touch of Pruning

When I prune a tree or bush I don’t care about, I quickly use the hedge clippers to cut it back without a second thought. When it comes to a special tree, my pruning is more strategic and careful.

A recent weekend found me hedging numerous bushes in my yard. When I planted them on the barren landscape, I didn’t envision the care necessary to keep them looking good: clipping, cutting, pruning, weeding, and mulching. (What was I thinking?) As I trimmed, God used my hot, humid yardwork as His canvas to sketch a small portrait of His deep, abiding, and sovereign love.

I have a bulky, prickly, holly bush that came with the house when I bought it. I wouldn’t care if the holly died. I’d gladly replace it with something more appealing. So, my pruning is quick and uncaring as I slice it into shape with my electric hedge trimmers.

I also have a prized Japanese maple in my back yard. It is the third one I have purposefully bought, planted, and nurtured. The previous two died, so I take great care with this third tree. I followed instructions about specific ground conditions, fertilizer, and other tips so I would have a healthy, burgundy-leafed tree.

When it came time to prune the Japanese maple, I was hesitant to cut away the bottom branches—even though doing so would help the tree grow taller and fuller. I sized up the tree from a distance, as well as up close and personal. Then I envisioned the future tall, shady, fantastic tree it could become. Only then did I begin cutting away the branches that would hinder future growth.

Knowing God loves us and wants us to become the best we can be, I suspect He prunes us with a Japanese maple approach—never a holly. Removing whatever is hindering our growth may be painful, but He envisions us as the strong, healthy, effective people He created us to be. His pruning is not hurried, thoughtless, or uncaring but loving, strategic, and helpful.

Whatever or whomever God prunes from your life, trust that He is working all things for your good according to His purposes.

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Not Forgotten

I have been in nursing homes before, but this one stood out from the rest.

I held a small evening service for those who lived there. As I gazed into the eyes of these elderly people, I realized if I lived a long life I could be in a similar position—staring back at a young pastor speaking to me.

As a young man with a growing family, my life is a whirlwind of responsibilities and experiences that all come together. I share this space with my wife and children. I also share my experiences with the ones I love the most. 

In what seems like a quick moment, my kids have grown to a place where they can function on their own. Soon, they will be heading in their own direction. My thoughts began to take me to a place I never thought I would be. I began to see beyond my current situation to where my life could be in the future. What would be God’s plans if I was sitting in a nursing home?

The Scriptures give us the answer. What the Lord begins in us, He will bring to completion. He does not forget any individual in their journey with Him.

We cannot predict the future any more than we can control the future. My desire is to live to the fullest for Christ, but the outcome is out of my hands. My prayer for my kids is for their fulfillment in Christ also. The Bible tells us not to worry about our lives because God knows what we need in every phase. You will never be without or be in desperation with God in your life.

My message to those individuals was that the Lord would not forget them even if they were forgotten by the world around them. The Lord will care for us when we cannot care for ourselves, and He will love us in every phase of life. We will never be forgotten by the One who loves us perfectly.

What God starts in you, He will complete. He will bring your earthly life to a beautiful conclusion as you enter eternal life with Him hand in hand. Don’t ever think He has forgotten you. 

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Speaking Their Language

The photographer and I repeated the same dialogue several times daily.

Me: “No comprendo.”

Federico: “I don’t understand.”

I was in Madrid for a business conference. One of my responsibilities was to manage onsite communications with a three-person local production team. The videographer, Carlos, was fairly fluent in English, but Federico knew little. Although I had studied Spanish in high school and college—and had brushed up on the language before my trip—my Spanish was basic at best.

Fortunately, the third member of the team, Marisa, spoke excellent English. She spent a lot of time translating my instructions for Federico and Carlos. But sometimes she was focused on other tasks, so Federico and I had to communicate without a translator’s assistance.

Often, Federico would grab his phone, access an online Spanish-English dictionary, and translate what he wanted to say to me. The last day of the conference, Federico apologized for not knowing more English. He also spoke about the importance of communication. He said not being able to understand each other made it feel as if there were a wall between us. He was right.

The apostle Paul tried to find common ground when interacting with unbelievers as a way to lead them to Christ. We, too, can discover the language of the nonbelievers we interact with–insecurity, loneliness, fear, anger, rejection–and then look for common ground. Doing so helps avoid building walls and builds bridges instead.

I wonder how often in our faith discussions with nonbelievers that they feel as if an invisible wall separates us. When we use Christian colloquialisms, doctrinal terms, and Scripture references to engage them, sometimes not much gets through. While there’s a time and a place for that level of discussion, it’s better to start with simple, clear expressions of compassion and concern for what’s happening in their lives.

Brush up on the language those you encounter speak.  

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Dealing with Shame

A documentary on the BP oil spill and the subsequent spraying of dispersants in the Gulf of Mexico showed shocking images of wildlife covered in oil. 

Fisherman compared healthy shrimp caught before the spill with those caught afterwards. The affected shrimp had overgrown heads, were missing eyes, and had strange growths on their bodies. The poisonous oil spewing into the ocean from below and the dispersants sprayed onto the ocean from above had not only covered the creatures but had also absorbed into their beings.

Shame can operate the same way by sticking to us like tar or by going into our beings and becoming part of who we are—especially if we experience it during our formative years. I absorbed the perceptions of an emotionally abusive stepparent into myself, as if they were true. But Jesus is transforming me by reshaping my perception of myself through His eyes.

We can feel shame for making mistakes that aren’t moral failures, for things said or done to us, and for other aspects of ourselves we have no control over—such as where we come from or what we look like.

Shame can leave victims of abuse with the feeling they are somehow bad. A misshapen identity can negatively affect the way a person interacts with others and operates in the world. It can also affect what they attempt in life. 

The salvation Jesus offers not only removes our sin debt and enables us to be in a right relationship with God but also removes our shame—whatever the source.

If the source of our shame is sin, forgiveness takes care of it. If it is some sin committed against us, forgiveness can take care of that too. Allowing our identity to be reshaped into what God Himself says is true about us can erase shame, no matter the source.

Whether shame has stuck to you like tar, or gone deep in your DNA, Jesus can remove it. We are new creations. We are the righteousness of God in Christ, and God is not ashamed to be called our God.

If God is not ashamed of you, don’t be ashamed of yourself. 

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Amazing Encounters

Mary Magdalene was the first to see the risen Jesus.

I find that a true blessing, but I wondered what made her so special to have this amazing encounter. She was the woman who had demons in her body. How did a woman in that state have this privilege while the holier-than-thou Pharisees—who had no demons, knew the law, and tried to obey it—were left out of this privilege.

Possessing special kinds of qualities or what we did or didn’t do in our past isn’t what life’s about. It’s about who Jesus is and how much we believe in Him. Jesus was known and within the reach of many people—even the Pharisees. Some chose to ignore Him while others held on to Him. By acknowledging and accepting Jesus into our lives, we open up ourselves to many wonderful experiences in this life, just like Mary.

As Christians, we claim we have given our lives to Christ, but we must make sure we’ve given it all. There may be certain areas in our lives where we act just like the Pharisees—ignoring Christ because we think we know how to handle everything.

Only by giving Christ our all, will we experience the presence, glory, and splendor of Christ in unimaginable ways. Jesus walked out of the tomb to take precedence in your life—every aspect of it.

Open all your life doors and let Christ walk in. When you do, you will have true and amazing encounters with the living Christ.

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Prayer, a Cure for Anxiety

Anxiety. We’ve all been plagued with it.

If you’re a student, the cause of your anxiety may be a difficult teacher or exam. If you’re a parent, it might be a wayward child, the sudden illness of a loved one, or your finances. The primary cause of our distress is due to the uncertainties of life. Will I pass this course? Will God answer my prayer for my child? My finances?

God’s Word instructs us to pray so that this robber of peace does not overtake us. With a determination of our will, we can make a decision to bring every situation to God in prayer. When we do, we are promised peace that surmounts our ability to comprehend and quiets our anxious hearts. God wants us to bring our petitions with thanksgiving, but often we come with a heart weighed down with cares. No thanksgiving. Just cries and petitions.

Thanksgiving is an important aspect of our prayer life. When we approach God thanking Him for past mercies, for mercies new every morning, for His compassion which never fails, for His love which endures forever, and for the sacrifice of Christ His Son, something miraculous happens. Our hearts lighten. Choosing to thank God in spite of our difficulties pleases Him and demonstrates our trust in Him. And that honors God.

I know how it feels when life throws a curve ball. It feels as if the world is falling apart at the seams. But I have also experienced the peace that comes in offering up thanksgiving, along with cries and petitions—as Paul and Silas did when they had been beaten and imprisoned. In spite of their chains, they worshiped God. And in turn, God shook the foundations of the prison and set them free.

God can’t resist answering when we pray these types of prayers. When we offer thanksgiving, our hearts are set free from the chains of anxiety.

When you find yourself giving in to despair, remember you have a God who beckons you to come to Him in prayer. In exchange, He will give you incomprehensible peace.

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Loving Much

An immoral woman can teach us a lot about the Kingdom of God.

The recognition of our need is the first step toward our entrance into heaven. If we perceive we need to be forgiven little, we will love little.

A Pharisee invited Jesus to his house for dinner. A woman of ill repute entered and began washing Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiping them with her hair. Then she anointed them with expensive perfume. The Pharisee was upset that Jesus would let such a sinful woman touch him. In response to his objection, Jesus told him a story.

A man lent two men money: five hundred pieces of silver to one and fifty to another. When they couldn’t repay him, he forgave them. Jesus asked, “So which of them will love him more?” The Pharisee answered, “I suppose the one who he forgave more.” Jesus replied, “You have judged correctly.” The woman saw her sin and was broken. The Pharisee only saw the woman’s sin, not his own.

If we never grasp the depth of our sinful nature, we will never understand the enormity of God’s forgiving grace. Whoever sees no need for the cross of Christ will never embrace it. Recognition of our need for forgiveness is evidence of a repentant heart.

By his attitude, the Pharisee was trying to maintain his right standing with God through self-righteousness. Pride blinded him to his sin. The woman’s actions indicated she realized only Jesus could save her. Her response to this revelation was to love Him.

The woman was closer to the Kingdom of Heaven than the Pharisee with all his religious regalia. In this tale, Jesus honed in on authentic faith rather than the external trappings of religion. He painted a word picture of the contrast between a legalistic religious pursuit and a love relationship with the Savior. One of the players was motivated by love of self but the other by love of God.

Fulfilling the law of love through faith saved the woman. The Pharisee met the letter of the law but was far from righteousness. When we are tempted to judge someone without first looking at our sin, we should remember that but for the grace of God we would be in the same predicament. 

Whoever has been forgiven much, loves much. Love much as Jesus did.   

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It's Too Crowded

My three-year-old grandson entertained us at the dinner table, singing a song about Zaccheus. My eyes filled with tears at the sweet sound and over his delight in singing about Jesus going to a “wee little man’s” house.

Sometimes we don’t see Jesus, but it’s not because we are vertically challenged like Zacchaeus. It’s because of the crowd. There’s too much in our way—a to-do list or people making demands on our time. The urgent, the necessary, and the important block our view. Or preoccupation with self or disappointment that things aren’t turning out as we wanted. My focus is on what I wish I had.

Things, attitudes, events, and people crowd Jesus out, no matter how tall we are. We give everything priority except seeing and listening to Him. 

Zacchaeus did everything he could just to see Jesus. Jesus responded by changing Zacchaeus’ life.

We don’t have to climb a tree, but we may have to prioritize our day and change our calendars. We may have to purpose in our heart to pray and read God’s Word to renew our focus. We can share what we have learned and receive encouragement from people who do the same.

When we do, like Zacchaeus, we’ll find the view is awesome. When we see Jesus, change happens.

Ask God for the persistence and passion Zacchaeus had.

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Depression's Dead Weight

Professional counselors learn depression is the underlying source of many personality and behavioral problems.

There are treatments for depression in the tool box of any licensed psychotherapist. Unfortunately, not every therapist has a Bible in their tool box. This is unfortunate because the most penetrating and insightful thoughts about depression are unavailable without a Bible since the Bible is “given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (II Timothy 3:16). 

Immaturity in a person is often revealed when a person becomes angry, frustrated, or depressed if their opinions, needs, and pleasantries are rejected. Immature adults have much in common with spoiled children. Things seem outrageously wrong if an unexpected reality stands in the way. These individuals have had their way too long. This usually is related to their inability to accept changes to their expectations or demands.

Such individuals only have left what a spoiled child has once their expectations or demands are rejected: D.D.T (Delay, Deny, Tantrum). These tactics are vigorously used once their demands are rejected. They will make one demand after another until they get their way. Cursing, hitting, and shouting are the common tools used to force others to change their mind and submit.

An immature adult takes their opinion too seriously. Graciousness and prayer for their enemy is impossible. Agreeing to disagree is distasteful. Depression’s dead weight and the aspects of immaturity are relieved by accepting the sovereignty of God.

God’s sovereignty—that He is in control—is one of the most important subjects in the Bible relating to a person’s mental health. Mental health is central to a person’s self-image—how a person views themselves. When James says our lives are vapors that will vanish someday, a person understands they are substantial like a fog. A vapor that is going to blow away should prompt one to prepare for their walk through the Valley of Death. John 3:16 should also be central to the self-image of a prepared person.

Depression’s dead weight will lessen as you accept and proclaim: “My Father is in charge and He knows best.” Don’t let depression’s dead weight hang over you. 

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His Ways Aren't Ours

Imagine having your home go into foreclosure, not being able to have a child, or having a friend die from cancer. 

One woman who had lost her sister to cancer sat star gazing. It was something they had done together. Through tears, she asked, “God, why couldn’t you heal her cancer? I prayed so hard. I trusted you. I don’t understand why you didn’t heal her.” 

In that moment, she felt the words, “I did.” She realized for the first time her sister was healed. She wasn’t sick or in pain anymore. She was cancer free, even though it wasn’t the answer she had hoped or prayed for.

One of the people in the Bible I relate to is Peter—passionate, impulsive Peter. He jumped out of a boat to walk on water, then sank when he took his eyes off Jesus. He cut off the ear of a soldier to defend Jesus, then later denied knowing Him.

When Jesus shared details about His impending death, Peter rebuked him: “Jesus, don’t say that! You’re freaking everyone out! We will never allow that to happen.” 

Jesus responded, “Get behind Me, Satan!” Harsh words. I wonder if Peter felt hurt, confused, or maybe a little rejected. How could this death Jesus described be God’s will?

Believers know the reason Jesus had to die. Peter didn’t understand. Part of what Jesus said to Peter was “You do not have in mind the concerns of God but the things of men.”  Put another way, “You are not God.”

I don’t know why God doesn’t always answer our good prayers the way we hope. I think His definition of good is bigger and greater than ours. Faith is believing God’s promises when we don’t understand. He promises hope and a future. He promises to make all things right.

Believe God’s promises—even when you don’t understand. 

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Freedom Means Free From

It’s hard to understand. Hard to imagine. Hard to figure why, when there is a land of plenty, wealth, and freedom, that we work so hard to botch it up.

Independence Day is personal to me. I can hardly watch as the color guard in the parade passes by, decked out in full dress uniforms and carrying the American flag. A flag that holds the blood of hundreds of thousands of men and women who fought willingly for the freedom it represents. A flag that carries the blood of my own father, wounded twice in World War II.

Why then does a nation who has lost so much to gain even more, stand in such chaos. Disrespect is rampant. Hate bubbles from every pore of men. Our bodies have become sinful pleasures over godly temples. We have so much good. Why the massive rhetoric?

Paul did his best to convey to the Galatians that their calling was higher than their fleshly indulgences. Their sins of the flesh exceeded terrible: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy.

Sound familiar? But Paul wanted the Galatians to experience true freedom. Freedom from their sin and the things that tempted their hearts. He encouraged them to let go of the evil and love one another . . . love their neighbor just as they loved themselves.

Freedom comes in assorted facets, from personal sin and bondage to unbridled evil and rhetoric. Our hard-earned, sacrificed-for freedom is abused relentlessly with selfishness, greed, and entitlement.

As much as we’d like to say our nation is free, it is not. We are bound tightly by the toehold of sin Satan has planted to divide and conquer. Until we do as Paul suggested, we will never truly be free. And then what have those brave soldiers fought for? What did Christ die for?

Remember freedom means “free from.” Start today to break your chains of bondage. Set to flight with the liberty found in Him—freedom in Christ who gave it all for you. Thank our soldiers who sacrificed. Bond together as Christians, as one nation under God, and truly be free.

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A Brush with Death

I had no idea I would swim with crocodiles.

Fresh out of college, I headed to Central America to serve in an international school. On a break, my colleagues and I flew to Tikal—a remote area in northern Guatemala—where we climbed Mayan ruins, took shelter under the trees in a rain forest during a downpour, and spent the better part of a day cruising down a concrete water slide and splashing into the lake below.

Later, while on a boat tour of the lake, we passed a bank where crocodiles were gathered for their daily feeding—not far from where I had been swimming. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. Why had no one mentioned there were crocodiles in the lake the waterslide spilled into?

When I asked our tour guide about the danger to tourists, he assured me the beasts were fed there daily so they would not bother tourists. That was the last day I swam in the lake.

Two years prior to my unintentional swim with crocodiles, I had a brush with death in the mountains of Kazakhstan. Hanging by my arms over a deep valley from the frozen bars of an antiquated ski lift—with hail raining down on my bare legs and arms—I kept counting to ten, hoping I could hang on until the earth met my feet again.

These close calls left me with a clear sense that I was on this earth for a reason—that it was no accident I had survived.

Escapes from death serve to jolt us, reminding us we have something left to do on earth. They can move us to use our time wisely and to discover and live out our callings.

Whether or not you’ve had a brush with death, you can be sure you're not still here by accident. God has a purpose for you. He wants us to count each day as a gift from His hand and to use the balance of our time intentionally

Bring God glory, help usher others into His Kingdom, and be transformed into His likeness. 

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Be Sure of Your Salvation

The young woman wept at the altar as I made my way to the front of the church.

She wanted to be “sure of her salvation,” she said. Raised in a Christian home, she didn’t want to take being saved for granted. We prayed together, embraced, and she thanked me. This girl was now a child of God ... without a doubt.

Later, I was questioned by a church leader because this girl was the daughter of a long-time, respected deacon, and everyone assumed she was born again. No one knew she had never accepted the Lord. Fortunately, I didn’t know her or who she was related to. But even had I known, we would have prayed regardless.

Fast forward twenty years to another church service. Again, I was praying at the altar when laughter erupted behind me. My husband was talking with one of our dearest friends—someone who had been a deacon, taught Sunday school, and had been involved in church for over twenty-five years. His wife assumed he was a Christian, as did his children and all who knew him.

He confessed that he had been pretending for all those years. He was simply going through the motions, doing what was expected of a Christian. But he was tired of the charade. That day, he made a commitment and asked Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. From that day forward ... there was no doubt.

Romans tells us that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. The key word is calls. We’re not saved because we go to church or because we’ve been raised in a Christian home. Salvation is a personal, intimate experience. If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9 NIV).

My daughter once said she could no longer believe what I believed—just because. She wanted to learn about God and His Word for herself. Instead of fretting, I was ecstatic. She was finally seeking God on her own and not “riding on her parents’ coattails,” as she put it.

Be confident in what you believe. And then, never take it for granted that everyone you know has a relationship with the Lord. When He prompts you to talk to or pray with someone, don’t hesitate. Their eternity might rest in your hands.

If you can’t remember a specific time when you invited Jesus into your heart, do it again. Then you’ll know … without a doubt.

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Don't Worry, He Knows

Worry is an emotion that afflicts everyone.

We worry about our children, our finances, and our health. Some of us even worry about things that may happen—such as losing a job, a spouse, or our way.

The word worry is a Germanic word which means “to strangle.” Interestingly, it was used in the late 1600s to describe the treatment of sheep when dogs or wolves attacked.

Believers are Jesus’ flock. If we’re not careful, we can allow the enemy to weigh us down with worry. The life God intended us to live is strangled because we choke on our worries and cares instead of trusting our heavenly Father.

Jesus reminds us not to worry about anything because our Father in heaven knows what we need. Our Father. Not a stranger who is indifferent to our circumstances—or a friend who would like to help but can’t. He is our loving Father who is intimately acquainted with us and keenly aware of our needs.

Worry causes many of God’s children needless friction. If we would allow this truth to permeate our hearts, we would be far less inclined to give ourselves to this choke-hold. As Christians, we have a sure remedy for worry.

Choose to turn your worries over to your heavenly Father in prayer. Lay your burdens down.   

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Reaching Canaan

A delay in God’s call does not necessarily mean He has changed His mind.

Abram, who would become Abraham the father of many nations, set out with his father, Terah, to travel to Canaan. They settled in Haran, about halfway to Canaan. The Scripture does not tell why they stopped at Haran instead of completing their journey. Some commentators suggest Terah’s age made going on impossible.

There are times where circumstances are beyond our control. Our spiritual journey is often traveled in segments that involve delay and even diversions from our intended course. The apparent disruption in our spiritual odyssey is often preparation for obtaining our inheritance from the Lord. In God’s kingdom, the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line.

Unlike us sometimes, Abraham—after the death of his father—proceeded to Canaan. Through delay, we often lose sight of our spiritual goal. Our promised land is not just a place where we arrive on this earth or even something we do. It’s an intimate relationship with the Creator of the universe.

Although our Heavenly Father uses our calling to fulfill His purposes, His calling is a means to an end, not the end itself. God is calling us to ascend the mountains of delight to discover the knowledge of the holy One. This is our Canaan land. When we arrive at the summit, it is not about being at the top but about who we find at the top.

Often when we enter the valley at the foot of the mountain, we become prosperous and comfortable. The glimmer of snow on the peak becomes less inviting. Little by little, we lose our desire to climb it. God will allow us to do this if we choose.

Remember, the view of the Lord from the valley will never be as spectacular as the one from the mountaintop. Reach your Canaan land. 

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Darkness and Light

Thomas Kincaid is the “Painter of Light” for sure.

Thomas Kincaid’s paintings have a magical quality. His use of yellows and whites attract the eye and hold it there. What a gift. Beyond what’s on the canvas, Kincaid injects God into his work and tells the story of the true master of light, the “light of the world.”

On deeper reflection, there is another force at play in these paintings and in life itself: the darkness. If the artist only painted with whites and yellows, the paintings would be formless and bland. But when the light is placed in the darkness, awesome things happen. The darkness is exposed. Without the light, the darkness would not be visible. And when the light is placed in the darkness, the light is magnified and emphasized. In the spiritual realm, glorified.

If our lives were only shades of yellow and white and no darkness ever entered, we wouldn’t know the power of the light. If we never felt burdens, sorrows, or pains, we wouldn’t praise the One who brings comfort.

It seems like a paradox to say those who are happy are those who mourn, but it’s true. When we are in our darkest hour, God shines the brightest. When we lose sight of all we have, we can view Him in His fullest.

The darker the night, the brighter God’s light. Mourn and He will comfort you.

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A Man Named Nimrod

I can see him, tall and strong with long hair sailing in the wind. He draws his bow and releases, and a large bear falls swiftly to the ground. 

At first glance, it seems Nimrod was a hunter with a heart for God. But scholars believe Nimrod was a bold man who used his skills to defy God. His name means rebel or tyrant. He used his might to build cities and kingdoms. He probably also used his prowess to hunt and kill men. But he could have used his abilities to protect and help others.

Like Nimrod, we all have God-given abilities and talents. We can choose to use what God has given us to build up His kingdom or to build up our own. Let's serve the Lord with our talents instead of rebelling against the one who loves us. If we determine to use our talents and skills to please the Lord and serve people, we will reap great rewards and please God our Father. We will also experience the joy of the Lord.

I can see it now, the arrows of our lives hitting the mark—the bullseye of God’s best. When we reach the heavenly shores, let it be said that our life was well-lived for God’s honor and glory.

Use your gifts and talents so God’s purposes will prevail on earth.

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What I Learned from a Stroke

I’m so glad to be able to sit here and have enough clarity to tell you what a stroke taught me.

I don’t remember the ambulance that took me to the hospital or the helicopter that airlifted me to a cardio hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. A large blood clot was removed from my brain stem by a tube that ran up through the main artery from my groin. I don’t remember much of anything for the five days at the hospital. I’m tired, but I learned a life-changing lesson.

Later, as my wife drove me down busy Highway 10 to the cardiologist—because the loop recorder monitoring device they inserted into my chest began bleeding—my brain experienced a sharp pain, causing me to close my eyes. The Holy Spirit brought Psalm 23 to mind. As I began to rest in the psalmist’s words about my Lord Jesus, the pain disappeared and the dizziness went away.

I continued to rest in Psalm 23 as we approached the hospital. I felt love holding my brain. Such a warm safe feeling can’t be put into words. It has to be experienced.

I began to understand that Almighty God had shown me the center of the life of Christianity: a relationship with the Good Shepherd of John chapter 10. The One who calls each of His sheep by name is touching me as He leads me, even through the valley of the shadow of death. My Shepherd loves me and knows best, whatever lies ahead.

In this is where I rest, even to my last breath. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

When walking through the valley of the shadow of death, everything else is discovered to be merely a vapor. Our relationship with the Good Shepherd is the center of day-to-day living. 

Quote Psalm 23 to yourself often.

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Walk Don't Run

How I wished she just would follow my lead. I only wanted to protect her.

As I walked my dogs, one kept stride, walking calmly beside me. The other strained to walk ahead, pulling frantically all the while. I became frustrated with the one pulling because I wasn’t ready to move forward. I also knew what lurked around the corner: a neighbor’s menacing dog.

I often do the same in my attempt to walk in step with God. It’s a challenge to walk alongside Him, but wise. He sees what’s around the bend. I don’t. But what happens when I misstep and run headlong into a course of action that leaves me feeling frustrated? When I fail to walk in step with the Spirit?

All Christians have been there at one time. We pray, we wait for what we think is a reasonable amount of time, and then we move forward because we can’t wait any longer. We would rather do something than nothing. Something other than wait on God because in our estimation, His answer is too slow in coming.

Paul the apostle exhorts us to walk in step with the Spirit, not run ahead. One of the most difficult Christian disciplines is waiting because it requires patience. And being patient goes against our nature.

Thankfully, God doesn’t abandon us when we fail to heed His instruction and run ahead of Him. Quite the opposite. He works for the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose.

Walking in the Spirit is not something we achieve overnight. It is the consistent yielding of ourselves, our anxieties, and our presumptions to God—who neither slumbers nor sleeps.

Keep in step with the Spirit daily so you won’t find yourself frustrated and spent. You will be walking in stride with an all-knowing, all-wise, and all-faithful God.

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Fireflies Dance at Dusk

The lime-green intermittent flashes darted in and out of the flowers like moving holiday lights, instantly unearthing a fond childhood memory.

The first time I’d ever seen a firefly was at my grandmother’s big house on Orchard Lake in Michigan in the 1960s. Scads of tiny green neon lights twinkled brightly against the darkness as we chased them, our high-pitched giggles providing the background music.

As carefree, breathless children playing in nature, we ran with spongy grass beneath our feet. We imprisoned the fireflies in clear glass jars to gaze in wonderment at their brightness. Every child should enjoy this ritual; it should be a required rite of passage.

Seeing these delightful creatures again after many years while vacationing at Forest Hills Resort in Dahlonega, Georgia, was a holy moment. Not because it was deep or super spiritual, but because it brought me back to a cheerful, happy place in a childhood that wasn’t overly delightful. My parents’ domestic violence, alcohol abuse, and divorce left scars.

Seeing the fireflies reaffirmed what the psalmist believed. My heavenly Abba was with me every step of my life journey, and He always will be. When God breathes life into something, it becomes a holy moment. He was present at that exact moment in July 2011 when He orchestrated the firefly show. He will always be my very present help in time of trouble, but He will also be my friend and constant companion. And I am His. I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (Song of Solomon 6:3).

God has fireflies and a myriad of additional treasures planned for you if you will allow Him. Don’t wait until a crisis hits to reach out for God. Be on the lookout every day for new spiritual adventures.

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Bring Your Longing to Jesus

The sun sets palely over flat water while fireflies dance at dusk’s invitation.

I stare at the horizon with a heavy heart, a dozen longings pounding against my chest. I recognize the familiar longing for deep friendship, the longing for success in my career, the longing for God to relocate us to a home on a quiet lake somewhere, and the longing to feel heard and appreciated in the ministries in which I serve. Amidst all these longings, I identify something deeper—a longing to fulfill something that feels empty and lacking in the deepest part of my soul.

I flip my Bible open to the book of Isaiah, and God’s Word comes alive in the fading daylight. My deep longing feels something like thirst, and I know this is the answer to my plight. Jesus is calling me to come to the living water of His refreshing presence. He is calling me to bring all my longings to Him … to let Him speak truth into every part of my life. 

I imagine myself lifting my longings before the Lord, gazing into the pale sunset and thinking of His holy throne. As I surrender my longings, I sense a subtle shift. I’m content to wait for the fulfillment of my longings and to lay them at the feet of Jesus and wait. I sense the freedom to cease from striving. I am left with only one longing: the longing to draw close to His heart. 

Jesus calls us to bring our longings to Him so He can transform the desires that do not match His, reveal the deepest longings of our hearts, and fill us with His living water. He invites us to find a quiet place and seek His face so He can fill us with living water.

Think of the areas in your life in which you are striving. Surrender them to Jesus and let Him fill you. 

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An Alternative to Complaining

Oh, how we love to complain. It’s our default setting whenever something doesn’t go our way. And we’re not alone.

I’ve been reading through the book of Exodus in my quest to read the Bible in a year. Almost without fail, every time the children of Israel had a need, they complained about it. They fretted. They whined. They lamented that God had abandoned them and grumbled about how much better things were back in Egypt.

Frightening circumstances and overwhelming odds? The Israelites complained against their leader, Moses. Bitter water to drink? The Israelites complained against Moses. No food to eat? The Israelites complained against Moses.

James bluntly states the obvious: “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” Moses got it. So should we. Absent in each of these wilderness crises is what should have been their default response—prayer. It never occurred to the Israelites—with the exception of Moses—to take their needs to God.

Most of us probably aren’t wishing we were back in Egypt, but we often wish for “the good ole days.” We complain, fret, and whine. I, too, often walk in the Israelites’ fretful sandals. But I can learn a valuable lesson from my shortsighted compatriots and from their leader.

Moses saw their complaining, fretting, and whining for what it was—not a statement against their circumstances but a complaint against God. “The Lord hears your complaints which you make against Him,” he said. “And what are we? Your complaints are not against us but against the Lord” (Exodus 16:8).

Yikes. Every complaint I make isn’t really against my circumstances, but against the Lord. My grumbling goes straight to His ears.

In contrast, Moses had a different type of conversation with God. “So he cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him” (Exodus 15:24). Every time Moses saw a need, he asked God to meet it. And God did. Gladly and generously.

Whatever situation is making you whine and complain, take it to the Lord and see what He will do.

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No Dead End Here

We must know—before, during, and after a tragedy—that what follows is not a dead end. 

The dead end, the end of the line, the peace she once knew. All were gone forever. At least, that’s how Naomi felt when her life changed. She would take the broken pieces of what was left and return home.

Naomi had been blessed with a husband and two sons. Together, they left Bethlehem to live in Moab. Her husband died there. Both sons married women from Moab. Later, both sons died. Ruth had married Naomi’s oldest son and insisted on remaining with Naomi after her own husband died. Naomi returned to Bethlehem—miserable, broken, and nearly alone.

She would learn that she brought with her God’s answer to the healing of her soul: Ruth. If Ruth had not accompanied her, we would not have the book of Ruth and the wonderful story of a kinsman redeemer. Naomi would never have held and nursed the child that would be an ancestor of Jesus Christ. Nor would she have had it said of her, “He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:15).

Naomi was blessed more through Ruth than she was through her own family. Because of Ruth, Naomi has a special place in history. We, too, can have a special place in history if we allow God to work His eternal purpose in our lives—to redeem our lives.

God never stops working in us and for our good. He is sovereign and He is good. The Word of God gives us a picture of God and the work He is doing on earth. We need to steep our souls in the Word.

No tragedy is welcome, but there is a God-ordained purpose for everything that occurs in our lives. And we can trust Him wherever life leads us. He will get the glory from us, and we will enjoy the blessing of knowing our lives will count for time and for eternity. No dead end here.

Let God lead you beyond what appears to be dead ends. 

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The Sum of All Happiness

Though they searched frantically, no one found what they were looking for.

A group of fifty people was attending a party. The organizer decided to do a group activity. He gave each person a balloon and asked them to write their name on it using a marker pen. Then all the balloons were collected and put in another room.

The participants were let in the room and given three minutes to find the balloon with their name on it. In a state of frenzy, everyone sought for their balloon with their name—colliding with each other and pushing others around. There was absolute chaos. At the end of the time limit, no one was able to find their own balloon.

In another round, each person was asked to collect a balloon from the room and give it to the person whose name was written on it. Within minutes, everyone had their own balloon. The speaker explained how this happens in our lives. Everyone is frantically looking for happiness all around, not knowing where it is.

For true and eternal joy, Jesus is the source, and He gives it to those who make it to heaven.

Much as this story gives a viable way of securing happiness, getting it that way is only temporary. Happiness gotten this way fades with time. Our happiness lies in the gladness of other people. Give them theirs, and you will get your own.

To have true happiness, make heaven a priority.

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Forgiving Eve

In a single bite, she threw it all away. And for what? An apple.

As a woman, I have a complicated relationship with Eve. When I was younger, it was easy to judge her … to vilify her. She had everything. Literally. A God-appointed, perfect soul mate, the ability to commune with all creatures, the ultimate utopian backyard, and a body so taut and tiny (if illustrations are to be believed) that she could manage to cover it using precisely three fig leaves as pasties and a bikini.

Then she threw it all away. She condemned all of womankind to severe childbearing pains, perpetual body shame, and earthly mortality. As far as I can tell, the instrument of our ultimate demise wasn't even a caramel-covered apple.

Eve believed the hype. She succumbed to the world's first sales pitch and dismissed everything she had for a plain apple that offered the allure of more. It was almost too much for my young mind to comprehend.

As I've gotten older, my view of Eve has evolved. I recognize that I live in a country of privilege. I understand that much of the world perceives us—based merely on our birthright—as having everything.

On my best days, I count my blessings and praise God with humility. Yet if I'm honest, there are times when, like Eve, I find myself caught up in the ancient trappings of more. More success, more money, more stuff.  During these moments, I stop judging Eve and start empathizing with her. I understand how it's possible for anyone to be tempted to trade our entire kingdoms for a single taste of shiny fruit.

Gratitude is a powerful weapon against comparison and discontentment. Adopt an attitude of gratitude by acknowledging God's goodness in your life.

Pray for eyes to see and appreciate your blessings.

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Waiting for a Package

My doorstep was empty, though I expected my package to be here by now. Each afternoon I went to the door, anxious to see the brand’s trademark blue plastic wrapping. Disappointed day after day, I comforted myself with the knowledge that, though slow, it was coming.

There are times I find myself experiencing similar feelings of anxiety in my walk with God. Perhaps I need guidance in a work-related decision or on how to best address a health concern. God has promised to provide all my needs, and, like my package, I know a response to my prayer is coming. But I wonder, When? There’s no spiritual tracking system that gives me a moment-to-moment update on when the answer will arrive—though I may dearly wish for one.

Sometimes God’s provision seems to be sent express delivery, and the time between my prayer and the manifestation of an answer is only hours or days. At other times, it feels as if His response has been mailed using the slowest method possible. I know it’s out there … somewhere. Just like the doorstep, I check in day after day. God, where is my answer? My guidance? My healing?

Though God’s promises may seem slow in coming, His Word assures us they will be fulfilled, and He encourages us to wait patiently for them. What seems to be a delay may, in fact, be God’s perfect timing, so we can rejoice in the assurance that something good is indeed coming.

As for my package? Three weeks after I placed the order, my waiting was finally rewarded. My package, instead of on the doorstep, was slumped inside my mailbox, looking weary from its journey. I hurried to try on my long-awaited sweater, which it turns out didn’t even fit.

Thankfully, God’s answers always fit perfectly. And they’re worth the wait.

If you wrestle with fears or worries when faced with your needs, ask God to show you how to wait with joyful expectation. And trust that He will fulfill His promises.

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Whom Will You Trust?

A bus ride was the place where Scott learned about trust—and forgiveness.

Scott, his classmates, and his teacher were on a field trip. Scott was eating a bag of potato chips and nonchalantly tossed the empty bag from the bus window when he finished. Within seconds, the driver began backing the bus to the place where the bag had landed.

The bus driver ordered Scott to pick up the trash he had thrown out. Scott left the bus with his head hung low and picked up the litter. When he returned to the bus, his teacher gave him some wise advice: “Learn from your mistake, but don’t let it ruin your day.”

All people have sins in their past. Sometimes their memory binds itself around the person like a heavy chain. Although they have asked God’s forgiveness, they refuse to believe He has forgiven them.

Possibly, the Lord’s advice to those who can’t believe He has forgiven them would be similar to the advice Scott’s teacher gave him. Maybe He would say, “I forgave you of those sins when you asked Me. Learn from your mistake, but don’t let it ruin your life.”

Whom we trust is up to us. We can choose the convicting voice that tells us our sin will never be forgiven, or we can choose the assurance that God has removed them as far as the east is from the west.

Trust God when He says He forgives the sins of your past. 

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"I" Versus "U"

My middle-school Sunday morning Bible study group has some unusual discussions, while I do my best to keep them relevant.

Our group covers deep topics, and the girls are learning the Bible isn’t just a bunch of old stories. While discussing various sins, we once explored the question, “Have you noticed ‘I’ is always in the middle of sin?”

After listing examples of self-centered sinful behavior, we noticed huddled conversation in one corner. One girl kept telling another, “Go ahead. Say it.”

Finally, everyone’s curiosity won out, and we encouraged Elizabeth to speak up. She said, “Have you ever noticed ‘u’ is always in the middle of trust?”

She was right. Technology and culture may have changed, but God’s truth remains the same. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t discover new ways to look at those ageless truths. When we place our complete trust in God, we focus on God and His will for our lives. We don’t worry or get sidetracked with misplaced desires.

When we allow God to guide our relationships with other people, our focus becomes God’s will for their benefit. We love them with the purity of God’s love, recognizing what we do affects them as well as us. Whether immediate or in the future, that impact can’t be denied. We prove ourselves trustworthy and also encourage them to grow in trust and trustworthiness.

Allow God to guide you away from self-centered sin into the purity of self-sacrificing love by placing your complete trust in God.

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Giving God the Time of Day

“Are you done with your three days of silence yet?” a girl on my hall asked. Then a guy texted, “Did you find God?”

Three days earlier, I had told my friends not to text me. Other than attending classes, I would be spending time alone in my dorm room. For the next several days, I turned off my cell phone, ate only Ramen noodles, and spent every spare moment praying and reading the Bible.

I didn’t care that my friends didn’t fully understand what I was doing. I just knew I needed to satisfy the itch in my soul. I realized the itch was actually my spirit yearning for some intimate connection with the Father.

Jesus experienced similar days, and He responded by disappearing into the wilderness to fast, pray, and escape the bustle of life so He could rejuvenate His soul. His actions show us how important it is to stay connected with God and how doing so affects life with other people. In order for Jesus to rightfully serve others, He needed to be spiritually filled first.

We all experience spiritual draining. No amount of rest, food, or vacation time can refresh our spirit like immersing ourselves in God’s Word and prayer. Our Father is the best source of life and energy. As we fill ourselves with Him, He can flow more freely to others. 

Don’t be distracted by the many obligations of life. Take the time to separate yourself and run into God’s welcoming arms. Step away and discover His power that gives you rest and restores your soul.

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Trust Over Worry

One worried thought led to another in an endless cycle of fear and anxiety, which kept me tossing and turning for hours.

All that worry added nothing to my life, but it did take away. Because I lost sleep, I awakened tired and irritable. No amount of coffee made a difference. I needed the rest my worried thoughts had stolen.

Jesus taught His disciples God would provide for them. By trusting Him, they didn’t need to worry about how their daily needs would be met. Although it’s not always easy, the same lesson applies to us. God’s love and care are great. We can trust that He knows what we need and when, and that He will provide for us.

Worry leads to sleepless nights. Trusting God leads to peace, despite difficult situations. Worry steals our joy and peace. Trust in God gives us joy and peace, regardless of what we’re facing. Worry leads to anxiety. Jesus said worry won’t add anything positive to our lives, but trusting in God will.

God invites us to bring our problems and concerns to Him. I waited too long during that sleepless night. I let the cycle of worry take over my thoughts and emotions before laying it all at the foot of the cross. Had I prayed first—before focusing on everything I couldn’t control—my morning would have gotten off to a better start.

Trust or worry. One will override the other, depending on where we spend our time and focus. If I keep my focus on situations beyond my control, worry will control me. But when I keep my focus on God through prayer and trust in Him, I will receive peace only He can give.

Worry may be our default reaction in life, but it doesn’t have to be. The more we choose to trust God over worrying, the easier trusting will become. And one day, we’ll realize trust is our new default reaction in all circumstances.

Let God teach you to trust rather than worry during troubling circumstances. 

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His Love Endures Forever

Every day. Every single day. I am thankful. I’ve often spoken of my sweet husband as my prince. And he is. As we approach thirty-one years together, it appears it was only yesterday we met. Time seems to have stood still. We fit like a hand in a glove.

We met in our early thirties and now we press into our sixties together. I can’t remember what it was like to be in a previous marriage, for all I remember is the new relationship God graced me with. And for that I am thankful.

Through the years, I’ve made mistakes. Some serious, others just foolish. Yet through them all, my sweet husband has stood beside me, loving me despite myself. His love is lasting. Forgiving. I can’t imagine being without it.

One Sunday, I noticed something unique at church. An elderly couple—one with a walker, the other a limp—made their way into the building. His hand was on hers as she slowly moved her walker along. A second elderly couple walked hand in hand. A third younger couple sat in front of us, and she leaned her head onto his shoulder as they prayed. There was a sweetness present.

What was so unique about them? It was the presence of God in their relationship. When He is the priority of a relationship, even mistakes or hardships cannot break the bond. Our love becomes everlasting. Solid. Steady. God values and blesses them.

As the people put the Ark in the tent David had placed, he had them present burnt offerings before God. David instructed the people to praise God. Extol the Lord, thank Him, and praise Him. Proclaim His name for all He has done because He is good.

When all else failed for Israel, God’s love for them endured forever. This act of praise represented the thankfulness and gratitude of the people. It proved Israel recognized God was faithful, and His love—even when they were less than loving toward Him—endured.

Valentine’s Day brings out touching cards and chocolate. It’s a time to celebrate those we love—our husbands, wives, children. I get to make over my prince, but in all honesty what it should represent is the everlasting love of God.

Give thanks, extol the Lord, for His love for us endures FOREVER.

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Tight-fisted or Trusting?

After spending some time thinking, I apologized for my prayer tantrum. 

I had lost some money while on vacation. Disappointed, I mumbled a prayer of frustration to God. I wanted the money back. It was mine. In the stillness that followed my prayer, I sensed God saying, “You are right. That money was yours. And the cattle on a thousand hills are mine.”

True, I had lost the money. But just as true, I serve a God who shares His riches with me daily. He has already given me all I need. If I trust Him with my life, I certainly can trust Him with my money.

In Philippians, we are reminded God will not only provide for some of our needs but will also provide for all of them. If you find yourself wrestling to give God control of your finances and material possessions, confess your tendency to be tight-fisted.

Ask God for help to loosen your grip and trust Him to provide everything you need. 

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Broken people are everywhere—racked by the tormenting side effects of drugs and left hurt and bleeding by people who promised to “love and cherish” them.

She was there the other night—the drugged-out lady at the local park who babbles incoherently and laughs eerily at nothing in particular. I knew she wasn’t a threat, but her spaced-out eyes and stumbling ways left me feeling helpless to reach out to her.

But that night the Holy Spirit did not whisper with a still, small voice. He called sharply. Leaning hard on a power that wasn’t my own, I started toward her with quick determined steps. I’m not running away this time! I sat on the park bench with my hand across her shoulder, drawing her closer. She may not have understood, but God’s power supersedes human inabilities. I prayed for her, and then she left. I’m not afraid of her anymore.

As I stepped off a bus in Baltimore a few weeks later, I saw a piled mass of blankets and backpacks. Looking closer, I saw a man—face buried deeply in a heavy winter coat. Everything he possessed was cluttered around him as he slept in spite of the street noise. No one thought about or looked twice at him. This person with pulse beating and lungs inhaling was alive—and yet somehow he wasn’t.

These were the people Jesus stopped for along the road or on His way into the temple. He touched untouchable lepers. He crossed the line of what was culturally acceptable by ministering to a Samaritan woman. And He gave the hungry more than food. He offered a hope-filled, grace-drenched, turned-around new life. He cared about their physical limitations and pains, but it was ultimately their soul He sought to minister to.

Regardless of whether we are a destitute beggar or wearing Armani on Wall Street, Jesus sees through it all, and in the end we all have the same need: a Savior.

Without Jesus and the hope of eternity with Him in heaven, we would all be homeless too.

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Seeing Above the Noise

Prone in the chair, I allowed my mind to drift towards the things of God.

As the dentist began his periodic check and clean, I saw the empty cross—and the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then as I was ascending to see Jesus in the throne room of heaven, the dentist spoke. Coming back to earth, I heard him say I had one cavity.

“Did you want to take care of it today?”

I answered with a nod.

The real fun soon began. The numbing, the drilling, the water spouting. We all know the drill (no pun intended). The noise and sounds distracted me so much that it took intentional effort to get back to the things of God. Then I realized how tense my body was. My hands clenched together, and my shoulders became rigid.

How quickly immediate circumstances can affect our whole being. I allowed God’s Spirit to speak to my spirit. Calm invaded my soul, and I was able to visit the throne room and see Jesus. But this time it was not as easy.

Sometimes I think God allows distractions so we will press on and pursue Him. The rewards are immeasurable, for He never disappoints. Allowing daily life and circumstances to draw us away from being close to our Saviour isn’t wise.

Let determination and desire—even in the midst of distractions—draw you closer to God so you can see above the noise. 

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Holding On

Bonnie Tyler took the radio charts by storm in 1984. She belted out the lyrics about holding out for a hero.

Bonnie’s qualifications for such a person were ginormous. Her hero had to be a human with Hercules strength and speed. A person larger than life. Fresh from a fight, he’d appear on a white steed to rescue her.

Ms. Tyler’s song kept young women believing this hero existed somewhere out there. Many were disillusioned with their mates or in the search for one. But this superhero only existed in movies, romance novels, and comic books.

As a young woman in my twenties, my hero swept me off my feet. I took a ride on his white steed. However, my story didn’t end with the happily-ever-after quote. Devastation and despair engulfed me. In my efforts to recover, I picked up the Bible and read about the One who came to live and die for me. A pastor comforted me with the following statement: “If you were the only person ever born, Jesus would’ve left the throne room of heaven and come down to die on the cross just for you.”

I woke up from the daydream that an earthly hero existed to meet all my needs and affirm me to the fullest. My discovery? Only Christ can raise me up, meet my every need, and love me the way my heart desires.

In all honesty, I raise my hand as guilty of trying to hold humans to superhero status. My high expectations have crashed with the strength and speed mentioned in the lyrics. No person born with the DNA of biological parents can meet the required standards in a song. I’m flawed. We’re all flawed. We rise and fall in our strengths—every single one of us.

Ms. Tyler held out for a hero. I doubt he ever appeared. I’m holding on to mine: “For He who promised is faithful.”

Look for your hero in Christ, not a human. 

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Don't Leave Them Waiting

“Can I have fifty cents?” my daughter asked.

“What for?”

She pointed out the living room window to three sweaty children from our neighborhood. They were waiting for customers at their lemonade stand.

“They must be very hot out there,” I said. 

“That’s why I want to buy some lemonade right away. I remember waiting for people to buy it from me,” she said, smiling.

I handed her two quarters, and she skipped out the door. Her simple gesture reminded me there are opportunities to love people every day. If I think about the way I want to be treated and ask God for direction as I consider others’ needs, I will find plenty of people to love.  

Find someone in your family, your work place, or your community who would benefit from your kindness. Whether it is a relative, a co-worker, or a neighbor, don’t leave them waiting.

Ask God to show you someone in need, and share His love with them today.  

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Finding the Reason

Everything happens for a reason.

The statement is synonymous with the Christian walk as we try to explain the unexplainable. It is a noble attempt to find something good in a bad situation.

Paul says God works all things together for good for those who love Him. Bad things happen for no apparent reason to the weak and innocent. Saying God promoted these acts of violence to advance a result is difficult. But He will bring purpose out of horrible events that weren’t in His perfect will. We have free will, and this freedom brings good and bad.

The Lord has created a path for us to walk—a path that will have hurt and pain because we live in an imperfect world. Hurt can create questions with no answers. When we feel pain, it is offensive to suggest God willed the pain upon us. The Lord never wills pain, but He wills His healing to our path. Whether it is a parent losing a child or a wife losing a husband to cancer, these are not events with a positive purpose, yet the Lord can create good in the aftermath of these tragedies.

The Bible says it rains on the just and unjust. Believers will experience pain and unanswered questions as our unbelieving neighbors do. But the Lord will turn the believer’s pain into gain and their mourning into healing.

We are not guaranteed a painless life, but when we are limited, God is not. If you have tasted pain, turn to the Lord and ask Him to create good out of your bad. I have tasted pain, but the Lord was faithful to bring good out of the situation when I was ready to receive it into my life.

God is ready and willing to make good out of your bad situation. 

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Why Not Say No?

I often find myself saying “yes” when I really want to say “no.”

It’s easy to say yes to:

People who know all the guilt buttons to push and won’t take no for an answer.That’s called manipulation and a power play.

Projects you don’t have time for but accept because someone is desperate for your help. That’s called taking advantage of you. Note: Look around and you’ll probably discover they never bother asking people they know will turn them down—just sweet little you.

Events you have no interest in, but agree to attend hoping you’ll be seen in a good light. That’s insecurity with a capital “I”—or worse, disingenuous self-aggrandizement.  

Three simple, yet highly effective techniques, will help you get “yes” out of your system so you can put “no” on your lips:

  1. Don’t listen to the scaredy-cat inner voice that says, “She’ll never talk to me again.” She’ll get over it, and if she doesn’t, you might want to question the health of a relationship where you can’t say no without suffering dire consequences.
  1. Don’t give an immediate answer. It’s perfectly acceptable to say, “Let me think about it and get back to you.” Take time to get your thoughts together before answering. Try writing them down and then practice saying them out loud. Then get back to the person and say no.
  1. Don’t lie. Say something like this: “I hope you’ll understand when I say with all I have on my plate, I can’t add another thing.” Then button your lips. You don’t need to make excuses. If you mean it, you can say you’d be willing to help at another time—but only if you mean it.

One other thing about saying yes and no. Jesus said, Let your yes be yes and your no be no (Matthew 5:37). Forget maybe. Maybe is the wishy-washy coward’s way of saying no. It’s been said courage is a muscle, and no is a word that will help you strengthen it.

Ask the Lord to help you be courageous and gracious. The result will be a happier, healthier, and less stressed you.  

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Peace on Earth

Our Christmas celebrations begin in December, sometimes sooner, but do we know when the first Christmas observance began?

My research reveals this happy holiday has been observed for hundreds and thousands of years.

We have records of Christmas hymns written as far back as AD 400. By AD 1200, people enjoyed Christmas music with both religious and secular themes. Artists expressed versions of the Christmas story in their work. Sandro Botticelli painted the Adoration of the Magi and Johann Sebastian Bach composed the Christmas Oratorio. Charles Dickens taught readers to understand the spirit of Christmas through the tales of Ebenezer Scrooge in The Christmas Carol.

Church and secular groups promote the season. Some may observe Christmas only as a happy holiday; however, there’s a connection to Jesus behind our holiday customs. For example, the poinsettia, Flor de la Noche Buena, means flower of the holy night. And how about kissing each other when caught beneath the mistletoe? In Scandinavia, a kiss beneath the mistletoe signified a truce between enemies. Even our traditional gift exchange mimics the magi’s gifts to baby Jesus.

Before cards, before egg nog, and way before stores stocked their holiday aisle, a host of angels sang the first Christmas song to the shepherds: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.”

We can observe the holiday in a holly, jolly way. But how do we get that peace and good will? The first step is acknowledging Jesus as your personal Savior.

Take the first step toward peace on earth by following the lead of the shepherds. Bow down and pray. Accept Jesus into your life, and then open your gift—the inner peace that comes from accepting Jesus as the Son of God.

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Lessons from a Mother Moose

Amazing what a mother moose and her baby can teach about the Lord Jesus, Creator of all things.

We were in Alaska visiting family before returning to our home in Surprise, Arizona. While out on the back deck—which is ten feet above a little forest, I saw movement. I looked down to see a six-foot-at-the-shoulder mother moose and her baby standing fifteen feet away. She was black, sleek, and full bodied. As I watched her eating mushrooms, I thought about what she revealed about Jesus—since He is understood by the things that are made.

The mother moose taught me about God’s attributes. As this scene was complete and beautiful, so God is all-knowing. She also taught me about God’s power. Her baby was created and born to be just like her. Finally, she taught me about God’s love. He provided the mushrooms she was eating that would make her strong so she could feed her baby and protect it from danger.

A relationship with God—which includes eternal life, starts with the new birth John talks about in chapter three of his gospel. The Father’s love for mankind is a matter of history, summarized on the cross and received by grace through faith.

Salvation is just the beginning of an ongoing personal relationship with God. Having a daily close experience with the One who loved us enough to give His Son to pay for our sins is one of the most important life-changing pieces of wisdom we will ever gain. And there is a revelation in nature that teaches us about Jesus the Creator.

Make it your task to learn a bit more about both of God’s revelations: His written Word the Bible, and His handiwork, Creation.

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Never Settle

The absence of bad does not equate to good.

After sampling new cuisine, I sometimes say, “That’s not bad.” This can mean I either enjoyed it or tolerated it. But there’s a big difference between tolerating something new and enjoying your favorite meal. I love authentic Mexican food, but I tolerate Taco Bell as “not bad.”

When thinking there’s nothing wrong with something or someone, we create a value vacuum where the absence of “best” pulls in a “not bad” mentality. Considering something as not bad doesn’t make it good. Just because there’s nothing wrong with someone doesn’t make them the right or optimal choice.

Our impatience sometimes makes us settle for the most available option instead of waiting for the best. Then we justify our choices with the “It’s not bad” or “There’s nothing wrong with it” mentality. We forget quality should never be optional.

I’m sometimes guilty of justifying the things God is trying to remove from my life. While I clench the “not bad” and “there’s nothing wrong with it,” He refines and transforms me in His effort to make me more like Jesus (Romans 8:29).

Christ stands before me, hands outstretched to receive the things that hold me back and the desires to which I cling (Hebrews 12:1). He awaits all the traits and habits I am putting off to replace them with what I am putting on (Ephesians 4:17-32). Out with the old, in with the new (II Corinthians 5:17).

In this newness of life, God moves me from the permissible to the perfect. There is no mediocrity, partiality, or ambiguity with Him. He is sovereign and knows what’s best. The question is whether I will accept His best and settle for nothing less—even if what presents itself is okay, not bad, or not necessarily sinful.

Never settle for less than God’s best or accept “not bad” when God offers “premium selection.” Instead of settling for “there’s nothing wrong with it,” wait for God to deliver His optimal choice.

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Our Peace in Busyness

We’re all on overload. The whole world is in a tizzy.

Our minds are bombarded with too much information on a regular basis. Our calendars are filled to the brim, and watching television captures many hours of our day. Organized sports fill our Sundays, leaving no time for families to attend church. How sad that God gets left out of the picture.

There’s no way we can keep up with all the world offers without serious consequences. Sooner or later, stress will take a toll on our lives. Once, there were only a few choices of things to buy and places to go. Now, malls contain so many stores we don’t know where to shop first. And to top it off, new products come out each day, and technology becomes obsolete from week to week. Keeping up with the latest inventions can become a financial burden.

Even our children’s schedules are too heavy for them to carry. In addition to their education and after school activities, they spend hours texting to their friends and chatting for long periods of time on their cell phones.

I recently saw a television program emphasizing the need for children to play. They need time away from organized activities to relax and enjoy themselves. When I raised my five sons in the 1960s, kids came home from school, had a snack, and had fun with their friends. Now children have the pressure to be involved in something every day after school.

Times have changed, but despite the turmoil, there is one thing that remains constant. The Bible says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 NIV). He is our Peace in the midst of our busyness.

It’s reassuring to know Jesus never changes. He is faithful, merciful, truthful, and always available. He is not bound by time and is able to be everywhere at once. We serve an awesome God.

Don’t get so busy that you can’t hear God’s still, small voice. 

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Thankful Joy

Thanksgiving should be more than just a date on the calendar.

A little girl in another country opened a Samaritan's Purse shoebox and was delighted to find a yo-yo. She pulled it out and held it in her hand as if she were holding diamonds. The look on her face was pure joy and excitement.

A local radio host experienced this last Christmas as he traveled with Operation Christmas Child to deliver the shoeboxes. The story kept coming back to me as I set the table for our family’s Thanksgiving meal. As the children came home and we gathered around the table, I thought of how much we take for granted, and my heart was grieved. We have so much to be thankful for. The table was full of delicious dishes, and we were warm and all in good health. But the one thing on everyone's mind was who would win the afternoon football games.

We should keep a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts and on our minds each day. We have too much to be thankful for to take for granted the freedoms and abundance we are blessed with.

Thanksgiving is a perfect beginning to the Christmas holidays when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Without Him, we would have no hope or future.

Keep the spirit of Thanksgiving in your heart and on your lips. Come before Christ with thanksgiving.

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Do the Next Thing

Mother opened the screen door and called for my sister, “Dorthy Louise, Dor… thy…”

Dot was often in a field playing softball with the neighborhood kids. She made a point to be far enough away from the house so she couldn’t hear Mom’s call. There were chores to do, help to give with dinner, or baths to give our three younger siblings. As a young teen, Dot sometimes didn’t want to respond to the call.

In midlife, I questioned, “Lord, it seems most of Your people have a calling on their life. They feel directed to study in a particular field and work in that area. They have an identity and feel their life is worthwhile. Some are nurses, others are teachers. They have a career. I don’t.”

I stayed at home with our three offspring. Then when they were older, I worked at various jobs and finally worked in offices. I don’t have a focus, Lord, a calling. They have a title they’re known by. Who am I?

As Christians, we are all called to serve Christ as ambassadors and bring others to find hope in Him (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). But even in this, some have titles such as pastor, evangelist, or music director. A young minister said he learned about finding God’s will from his Sunday school teacher, “Until you are sure about the direction for your life, just do the next thing.”

Dot answered her call years later when she joined Dr. Faye Whitten as a missionary evangelist. Even with three degrees behind her name, she discovered the ministry of helps as they traveled the world mentoring and training young ministers in other countries.

Finally, I realized I don’t have to have a career title or a spiritual title. I just need to do the next thing in obedience to God’s Word. I gave up searching for a specific label. My calling isn’t my focus anymore. I don’t seek to know it, but I seek to know Him.

If you haven’t felt God calling you to a particular work, keep seeking His will for your life.

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Which Way?

Sometimes it’s hard to understand which direction life is taking us.

The choices we make have weight in the present and determine our future comfort level. It’s hard to understand what’s best when you don’t have all the information to make a decision. The path is not always clear, but the Lord is always there to show the right way.

In the ministry, I have had to make tough choices. The choice to move your family or not to make a change is always difficult. You want the Lord Himself to descend from heaven and show you which path to take. At times I’ve known which way to go by the leading of the Lord. I either had peace to make the decision or the still small voice guiding me.

Elijah was searching for the voice of God. He was seeking His voice in an earthquake, tornado, and wind. The Lord was not in those big demonstrations of this planet, but Elijah found Him in a still small voice deep within his soul. God’s power was demonstrated in the power of consistency. Big demonstrations won’t always be there, but God’s still small voice will.

Occasionally, we pray for guidance but still don’t have peace about a decision. The Bible instructs us to follow after peace in our choices. Peace will guide you, and God’s voice will direct your steps.

In my most difficult situations, I have found the inner guidance of peace as my navigation. If you are facing a major decision in your life, the Lord will show you His perfect path. The greatest demonstrations of the Lord can be found in the small gestures He gives to guide our steps. All we have to do is ask, and He will show us His will. 

Listen and be aware that God’s peace is the greatest navigation to your destiny. Whether a little choice or a big decision, the Lord will show the right path.

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Interrupted by God

When my husband asked about my agenda for the day, I had no idea what was in store.

It was the day after Thanksgiving—which I consider a day to rest and recoup from all the cleaning, eating, and entertaining of the holiday. My husband had other plans. We had purchased some new flooring, and he was anxious to get started. Before I could think of a good reason to opt out, we found ourselves busy scraping up old tile, moving appliances, and shifting things from one place to another.

I’m a creature of habit and task-oriented. Interruptions don’t always sit well with me. When my daily routine gets blindsided or my to-do list ignored, there’s a definite disturbance in the force. But I’ve learned that God’s plan is always best. Mark Lowry once said at a concert, “God’s not in our plans; He’s in the interruptions.”

Think about some of the Bible characters whose routines were interrupted: Moses and the burning bush, the Good Samaritan, and Mary the mother of Jesus, Even Jesus Himself. He was on His way to raise a young girl from the dead when a woman with a bleeding disorder stopped Him. Another time, He was trying to teach when a crippled man with palsy was lowered through the roof.

The best part is what resulted from the interruptions. Moses was in the field doing business as usual when he was called by God to deliver the Israelites. The Good Samaritan stopped to help someone when all the religious people turned their heads away in disgust. Mary was informed by Gabriel that she was to become the virgin mother of the Messiah. And Jesus not only healed the sick woman and brought a young girl back to life but also healed the crippled man and told him his sins were forgiven.

Agendas are okay. Some of us couldn’t live without our lists and schedules. But we need to realize God doesn’t have to stick to our agenda. He has His own, and we have the privilege of being used to fulfill His plan and purpose on the earth.

If you want to be used for the Kingdom, get ready to be interrupted by God.

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Beauty for Ashes

Fifteen minutes after I walked out of the World Trade Center, the first plane struck.

That sunny, late-summer day began like any other work day. I rode the PATH train from my home in New Jersey to the terminal inside the World Trade Center. From there, I did my usual brisk ten-minute walk to my office. As I waited for my computer to boot up, I looked at the magnificent view I had of the Twin Towers. Then, in what seemed like slow motion, I watched a great burst of flames erupt from the first tower. Suddenly, the world would never be the same.

Years later, when I first saw the Freedom Tower that is part of the new World Trade Center complex, I felt deep sadness for the lost lives and a longing for the buildings that had been there. Eventually, I experienced great hope and a sense of wonder at how God has created us to persevere even in the face of unspeakable tragedy.

In God’s hands, the destroyed things in my life have been redeemed. Out of family brokenness, the Lord drew me into a deeper relationship with Him, blessed me with wonderful new friends and sisters in Christ, led me to a great church family, and renewed my passion for His purpose for me. Along the way, He empowered me to pursue new job opportunities, buy a home, and improve my health, among other things.

If there are areas of your life you have given up on and thrown into the ash heap, God is a master at taking the broken, burned-up pieces and exchanging them for beauty. Turn them over to Him, and be open to the new people, places, and opportunities He will bring into your life.

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Sober Your Mind

The biggest enemy on the battle­field is the mind.

Dresses were picked out for the bridesmaids. The countdown was on. From all appearances, I was the happiest woman alive—and I was. But what people couldn’t see was me crying on my pillow at night—fighting the voices in my head. “How do you think you’re going to have a successful marriage when your last one wasn’t? No woman in your family has ever made a marriage work. Call it off. You’re a failure.”

Had I listened to those chants four years ago, I would not be where I am today, ministering with my partner to newlyweds who desire fulfilling marriages, and helping people fulfill their destiny. Though I experienced the pain of a failed marriage, God restored the years the locust had eaten. He wanted me to live in the fullness of that blessing with a renewed, sober mind.

To be sober means to be subdued—devoid of frivolity, excess, exaggeration, or speculative imagi­nation. When we usurp self-control, we are in control of our emotions, desires, and actions. Walking in this posture on a perpetual basis takes prayer, conse­cration, and the maturity to understand it starts with the mind.

What we think influences our actions. Being rational in our thinking—and not giving place to the lies we hear in our spirit—is critical. It is much easier to believe a lie than to believe the truth. The Devil plays games with our thoughts and imaginations, which eventu­ally affects our emotions. We have to take the wheel back, get back in the driver’s seat, and regain control of our emotions. When we don’t, they will drive us to make decisions we’ll regret.

God gives us the ability to recognize the enemy’s attack on our minds—which causes us to think irrationally about our situations, the people who love us, and the validity of our destiny. Through Christ, we have power over the Devil to denounce the lies he speaks to our minds. We can be made new in the attitude of our minds and put on the new self, which was created to be like God in righteousness and holiness.

From this day forward, don’t allow the spirit and the voices of the Enemy to influence your thoughts and actions.

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The Legacy in the Cards

I know I shouldn’t judge a person by the messages in the cards, but I think there was a message in this deck.

I attended a retirement party for one of my husband’s co-workers. The invitation said no gifts, but cards were welcome. As people arrived at the restaurant for the party, they dropped their cards in a pile next to a large cake.

After a delicious meal was served, the retiree opened his cards and passed them around the room for everyone to read. There were silly cards, humorous cards, crude cards, and outrageous cards. Notes and comments were written on the cards and read by those around the tables as the mountain of well-wishing sentiments was passed along.

As I read the cards that came to me, I found a theme ringing through the messages: this guest of honor liked to party and was definitely a fun guy. Not much else was said.

I wondered what would be written if I were the recipient of this pile of cards at my retirement party. I hoped there would be evidence that I loved and served the Lord and my family, and that I cared about people—evidence my life counted for something. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but this cover told me this man’s life was lived without much purpose.

I want to live my life with purpose—now and in the future. God has ordained a purpose for my life, and I want to fulfill what He created me to do. When it’s my retirement party, I want that message to come through loud and clear.

Make sure there’s a meaningful legacy revealed in your cards. 

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Swimmingly Secure

“You can’t get in the water until you learn how to swim.”

My co-worker’s grandmother set that rule years before. As a result, Dawn feared water. She wanted to swim but had no idea how to start. 

My parents had me playing in water from infancy. I loved nothing more than a trip to the creek on hot summer afternoons. My sister, cousins, and I dreamed up and played water games for hours. We stood on our hands, floated on our backs, and watched the drifting clouds. We flipped, jumped, splashed, and looked for fish, decorative rocks, and other underwater wonders.

I wanted my friend to know this same freedom. One afternoon after work, we visited a community pool. Gasping for air, she entered the shallow end. After she felt secure enough to hold the side and kick, I suggested she lie back, and I’d help her float. Letting go, she allowed me to guide her.

She found that weightless feeling fun. I removed one hand, reassuring her she wouldn’t sink. Then I removed one finger at a time and said, “Dawn, I’m holding you with one finger. You know I can’t do that. You’re floating on your own.” Tensing, she went down.

Like Dawn, I often shy away from God’s call to new service because I don’t know how. Yet, in order to learn, I have to get my feet wet. Once I take the plunge, I still hold back, not fully trusting. And like the apostle Peter, when my eyes stray from Jesus, focusing instead on my frailties, I go down.

Loosening my grip and giving God control helps me overcome my fear. By immersing myself in God’s Word and purpose, I find my own.

Don’t be afraid to swim when Jesus calls, “Come on in. The water’s fine.” 

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Preconceived Ideas

For three years, I suffered from monthly hormonal migraines, two days in a row, right on time.

My headaches were agonizing, nauseating, and pounding. I sought medical help to no avail. Over-the-counter medications, prescription medications, herbal remedies—nothing worked. I prayed. Others prayed too.

A local church announced a healing service in the newspaper. I attended and stood in line for a healing prayer, expecting the miraculous. When it was my turn, the pastor quietly prayed with me. He didn’t wave his hands over my head, anoint me with oil, or cure me. Like Naaman, I grew angry.

Naaman wanted to be cured of leprosy. His wife’s servant suggested he see the prophet Elisha. Naaman traveled to Israel with a letter from his king requesting the king of Israel heal his leprosy. Israel’s king tore his clothes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of leprosy?”

When Elisha heard about the king’s distress, he asked Naaman to come to him. Elisha didn’t greet him but sent a messenger who said, “Go wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.”

Naaman left angry. I imagine he felt like he was on a wild-goose chase. He expected Elisha to personally call on the name of the Lord so he would be cured. Naaman’s servant convinced him to follow Elisha’s instructions in spite of how he felt. He complied. After dipping seven times in the Jordan River as instructed, he was healed.

A godly friend came to me and convinced me to see the doctor again. I went and was prescribed a different medication. For the first month, things looked worse, but after two months, the migraines subsided. Eventually, I stopped the medications and made healthier lifestyle choices.

I chose to follow God’s instructions for me just as Naaman did. Trusting the Lord, I laid down my expectations of how healing should happen. It’s been more than eight years since that healing service, and I function most months without migraines.

Lay down those preconceived ideas about how God should do things, and trust Him to work in His ways. 

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That's Saul Folks

Our teammate’s size transformed a mountain into a molehill.

We tossed meaningful smirks at the other teams in the Edge Games (an Olympic-like competition between youth groups). Our giant would gain a victory in any test of strength. When the announcer called for contenders for a “mystery activity,” we shoved the titan to the front. Another lanky teammate, a foot shorter than our giant, asked to participate instead. We ignored him. The announcer revealed the activity and unfurled a crawl-through tunnel. The diameter of the GigaTent was the same size as one of our goliath’s thighs. There was no way he could fit.

Like the Israelites, we elected a Saul to lead our team. We rashly chose an unfit leader based on his physical strength and magnitude. Our group had another candidate, the lanky teammate, who would have guided us toward victory. But we overlooked him because of his lack of physique.

Aside from my youth group, I often elect Saul over God in my life. Saul could appear in the form of a boyfriend who does not believe in God. Or perhaps Saul emerges in working eighty-hour weeks in order to secure an ample paycheck. Sometimes, we trust in the Sauls rather than God because they appear to be a head taller than the alternatives. Then we ignore the lanky options, such as not only offering our finances to God, but devoting our time to Him as well.

Whether I designate a leader for an athletic event or devote my time to some activity, I need to discern whether I cherry-pick a Saul or choose God.

Elect God for your team captain today. 

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Liberty in Christ

God’s gift is free and has no blind spots in the contract. 

Believers have been set free from the bondage created by the Law of Moses. The law was unable to make anyone righteousness and was flawed because it only exposed humanity’s weaknesses. When Jesus died on the cross, He died to fulfill what we couldn’t through good works and sacrifices. 

Christ-followers have been given righteousness through Jesus Christ. We have the ability to be at rest with God, satisfying the struggle for God’s approval once and for all. We don’t have to offer anything to God to be received as worthy. The process was simplified to one basic element: Christ alone. 

Believers don’t—and can’t—add to the salvation equation. We have to believe Jesus Christ is. When that is established, salvation is given freely. We aren’t required to give anything because the debt is too great for us to pay. God saw our inability to be righteous apart from His intervention and provided His Son as the bridge between us and Him. 

Believers don’t have to earn anything from the Lord. Trying to earn His approval underestimates what Christ did on Calvary. Our society associates the term free with cheap. Salvation was not cheap, because it cost God His Son.

We can express our gratitude to the Lord by loving others in the same way we are loved by Him.  The Lord does not require payment. He just wants us to spread His love to those around us.

Do not be yoked again to fear or shame. Be set free from false obligation, and be united in the Lord to know your freedom in Christ. 

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Freeing Your Enemy

Forgiving those who wrong us sets several things in motion.

Because of his jealousy, hatred, and fear, King Saul chased David around the countryside. God had rejected Saul as Israel’s king and instructed Samuel to anoint David as Saul’s successor. Though he had done nothing wrong—and although he was God’s anointed selection—David found himself running for his life.

On two separate occasions, David could have killed Saul in self-defense. And he had every right to. But he spared Saul’s life because he respected God’s appointed king and trusted God’s timing for the upcoming change in leadership.

David forgave Saul—freed his enemy—for his aggressive attacks against him because he relied on God’s sovereignty. When Saul found out what David had done, he said, “May the Lord reward you well for the way you treated me today.” Imagine receiving a blessing from an enemy. That’s the way God works.

When we forgive those who wrong us, several things happen. First, we express reliance on God’s sovereign control over every detail and event of our lives. God could have prevented the wrong we suffered, yet He allowed it for some reason. Second, we present ourselves with a learning opportunity. Even the most horrible experiences offer life lessons God wants us to know. Third, we free not only those who have wronged us but also ourselves.

Forgiveness does not erase the memory or pain of the wrong, but it allows us to release ourselves from the prison of anticipated judgment, revenge, or restitution. Even though we may be justified in our feelings, until we forgive, our hearts remain frozen in time by the desire to exact judgment, seek revenge, or have the wrongdoer recognize his error and pay for what he has done. None of those desires provide the freeing effect of forgiveness.

If we trust God’s hand in every detail of our lives, we can forgive those who have sinned against us, knowing God is orchestrating all things for our good and His purpose. By forgiving our wrongdoers, we demonstrate the family resemblance of our heavenly Father who forgave us.

Free your enemy and yourself by extending the forgiveness freely given to you.

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A Kingdom of Vashti's

Some graduate from the school of adversity with flying colors; others do not.

A drunken king demanded his beautiful wife to sashay amongst his merry-making cronies during a royal palace party. The queen’s refusal outraged her husband and all the men at his side. If Vashti’s “no” slipped by unpunished, all women might perceive disrespect as the new norm allowed in marriage.

Queen Vashti was banished from the presence of her husband forever. Where she took flight is left to the reader’s imagination. Nary another word is heard from the demoted queen. A beautiful woman named Esther replaced her. God made beautiful what men devised as evil. He always does.

Relationships get messy. Some learn to work through their differences. Others resort to alternate solutions: give in or give up, fight or flight. And some wind up like Vashti—off the radar and never heard from again.

Curiosity leads me to conclude various endings for the woman who left her crown at the castle’s door on the day of her banishment. Maybe she found someone else to love her and sit on an ash heap with her, weeping until the day of her death. Perhaps she was pitied or ridiculed.

My own experience with rejection helps me relate to Vashti. Sitting at the back of a “Single Again” class, I saw male and female Vashtis. Rejection wears many faces. Divorce takes place in relationships other than marriage. Parents and children, siblings, best friends, business partners, neighbors. Rifts, divisions, and exclusions all amount to pain—arrows to the heart.

Colossians 2:10 states, In Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority. Only Christ can make us complete. Another person brings happiness, wisdom, guidance, and a plethora of emotions to a relationship. But no person can be expected to fulfill every longing. Such demand is costly, painful, and generally winds up in the kingdom of Vashtis.

For all the Vashtis banished from a relationship, only God’s love will complete you, enable you to stand, bring hope to your heart, and comfort you through the fiercest of storms.  

Everything we need—hope, strength, and love, lies in Christ. He is enough.

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Whatever It Takes

Church membership is changing, church atmosphere is changing, and if the leadership does not embrace these changes, churches will not grow. 

When the sun fades into the horizon, everyone has gone home, the fire dims, and we are left alone with no one to push us on, we must finish the job. When the newness wears off and we ache all over, we must press forward.

Christ said to Judas, “Do what you came to do, friend.” Even Jesus knew there was a mission to be finished, and it was necessary to complete His assignment.

Changing a dirty diaper is not pleasant. Nor is staying up all night with a sick child or caring for a family member who can’t care for themselves. Most of us don’t want to invite the in-laws over for dinner, but some things are inevitable. None of us want to face death, but one day it will come to us all. When our life is over and we are remembered, we should want others to say, “What a life!” not “What, a life?”

Pastors and congregations must embrace the environment of the local families and be equipped to meet the spiritual needs in their neighborhoods.

It may not be comfortable or the same as it was in 1974, but our communities have changed, and so must the methods we use to share our faith and continue the work of hope that is found in a relationship with Christ.

Don’t be afraid to fail; be afraid not to try. 

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Longing for Egypt

Desperate for God to hear my petitions, I prayed, fasted, and begged Him for mercy.

There was a time when I needed my circumstances to change. After what seemed an eternity, God answered my prayers. For a time, I celebrated in worship. Then obstacles emerged—which I initially faced with enthusiasm. But I lost momentum. Doubt crept in. I remembered what I had left behind and longed for the past.

For days I wrestled with God. Then a friend reminded me that God does not forsake His own. I realized my focus was on the obstacle when it needed to be on God and His faithfulness. By refocusing, I regained my footing and stopped longing for the past.

The Israelites spent 430 years in captivity, longing to be rescued. Imagine their emotions as the news of freedom circulated through each family. But at some point in their journey through the wilderness, disenchantment replaced their enthusiasm.

From their perspective, it was taking too long to reach their final destination. Minor irritations turned to grumbling. Complaints mounted. Instead of focusing on God’s promises, they remembered what they left behind and longed to return to Egypt where they were fed and knew what to expect. In misery, they had comfort.

In the desert, uncertainty became their misery. And uncertainty was more than they could handle. They hit a snag—a bump in the road. A bump that caused them to doubt God’s faithfulness.

If you’re in a similar place—you’ve been rescued but have hit a snag, lost your focus, and are longing for your past—remember God’s faithfulness. Worship Christ as your Rescuer, Redeemer, and Savior.

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Waiting on the Moth

“Abby, come quickly to the garage.”

I knew Abby would be excited to see the chunky caterpillar crawling on the floor. As predicted, she was thrilled by my discovery and wanted to keep him. Minutes later, our little friend had a new home in a plastic container, filled with grass and leaves.   

Abby awoke early the next day to check on the critter. To her surprise, the caterpillar had incased himself in a cocoon in the top corner of the plastic box. We were excited, knowing it would only be a matter of time until a beautiful moth would emerge. Watching God at work in the life cycle of insects—transforming them into new beings, is fascinating. 

My daughter and I check the plastic container several times a day to investigate for signs of change in the cocoon. Sadly, the encasement is dormant. Being patient is difficult because we’re ready to see the beautiful designs on the wings of this new creature.

Sometimes in life, I have to learn to be still and wait on God, realizing He knows what is best for me. I pray for specific areas of my life and then sense God telling me to wait for His perfect timing. I have faith God has good things in store for me. He will help me grow and mature, just like the moth is growing and maturing in its cocoon.  

Maybe you have a “moth” you are waiting on. Don’t lose hope. Waiting isn’t easy, but you can find hope by reflecting on what the moth begins as and the wonderful transformation that awaits.

God wants to help us become beautiful beings in His sight. Trust Him to complete the metamorphosis.  

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If Nothing Else

It was day two of a writers’ conference. I’d flown across the country for it, but I couldn’t stop crying.

The last two years had been difficult. I’d looked forward to this conference as one looks forward to a family reunion. I’d planned and budgeted, but as time drew closer I realized there were too many bills. So I paid them, sent out an online prayer request, and went to bed.

When I awoke, my inbox was overflowing with good news. A friend offered her frequent flyer miles. Another took care of the ground transportation. An anonymous benefactor covered my room and food. And I’d received a scholarship for the conference.

My thankful spirit was mixed with a sense of duty to make the most of the conference. If God orchestrated so many people to come alongside and get me there, there must be a reason. I was striving to find Him in every word, face, and class. My focus had shifted to being overwhelmed at being overwhelmed.

“If nothing else ...” The words haunted me. I’d said them to many people, but they weren’t true. I didn’t want the only reason God sent me to the conference to be so others could see His glory. I wanted more. I wanted for myself. I wanted to learn, network, laugh, grow, and surround myself with new people. I wanted to create new stories … to forget my recent hurts and be happy. But I couldn’t.

Surrounded by those I call family, I couldn’t shed my darkness. I was supposed to be strong, courageous, and secure like children of God should be. But God’s children cry. And it’s messy, awkward, and embarrassing. Here I was, crying without control. The only thing my writing family could do was comfort me with their presence and prayers.

As I began to let go, the hurts and anxiety flew out, making room for nothing else … but God. My expectations for the conference were exceeded when I realized God was answering my prayers. I was learning and growing—not just as a writer, but as His child.

In the midst of your hurts and anxiety, rest in God’s arms of abundant grace. And that is everything. 

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What's Better than a GPS?

“It’s fine. I’ll use my GPS.” That’s what my friend said as she was driving me home. Even though I was with her, she preferred using the GPS rather than have me give her directions.

Initially, I wasn’t paying attention to our route as she followed her GPS’s instructions. But as we rode along, I realized we were going in the wrong direction. I got her back on course and we arrived after a long detour. She had put the wrong information in the GPS.

I’ve committed the same spiritual mistake. God is with me, but I chart my own path, certain I know what I’m doing. Then when I get lost and frustrated in my attempts to make it, I turn back to Him and ask what He wants me to do and how He want me to do it. Sometimes this means simply stopping and waiting for His timing. When I rest in God’s presence and do things His way, peace returns, and my confidence level rises.

Moses realized he and the Israelites could not make it on their own. They needed God, along with the direction and light for their path He could give.

When you are surrendered to God, He is with you. His presence makes the difference when you consciously live in it and follow His direction. Without God’s presence and guidance, things may appear okay for a while, but they will veer off course. And frustration will follow.

Live with the awareness of God’s presence and receive His guidance. Then you will experience confidence and peace.

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God's GPS

Make a right turn in 500 feet.

We’ve all been there. Our trusty GPS in hand, that mechanical voice telling us when and where to turn. Often, the thing meant to aid in our travels becomes an annoyance—as the disembodied sound counts down the miles and feet until our next move.

Although they can be annoying, a GPS makes getting places easier. I was reminded of this while on a trip to visit my mother. As she sat in the passenger seat, she became engrossed in a story that demanded her attention. She realized a few seconds too late that she’d failed to give me directions to turn. Fortunately, God saw us through a handful of near collisions.

My children have asked me how I can tell whether God is speaking or whether it’s the desires of my heart.

“It’s very much like a GPS,” I say.

When we’re connected with God through prayer and reading His Word, we hear His voice directing us to every turn. His direction will never surprise us since He often prepares us in advance.

Failing to be consistent in our time alone with God allows the static of everyday life to drown out His voice. Sharp turns invade our lives. Doubt and confusion distract us from where He wants to lead us.

Devotions and a daily prayer journal are great ways to ensure we don’t forget to let God speak. They also help us learn to hear His voice in times of peace and trials.

Make whatever changes needed so you can hear God’s voice. 

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Remain in My Love

I feel it happening again—the temptation to take charge.

Handling challenges myself is enticing. I want to trust God, but I’m tempted to believe the familiar lie that it’s all up to me. I’m compelled to do something for God in order to maintain His love for me. I feel the vulnerability of moving out from under the wings of His love into independent striving for achievement and approval.

Knowing I need truth, I turn to John 15 where Christ repeatedly tells me to abide in Him and His love. Abide also means to remain. I’m to remain in God’s love. Jesus tells me He loves me just as much as His Father loves Him. I want to believe this, but I struggle.

To remain somewhere, I have to be there to begin with. I can’t remain in a room unless I’m already in the room. God has united me with Christ Jesus. I did nothing to be placed in Jesus’ love. Remaining in His love doesn’t require striving but resting. While on the cross, Christ said, “It is finished.” Believers now have full access to His love.

Remaining in Jesus’ love requires trust and rest—yielding to His life in me. When I’m hit with the lie that I must do something to earn God’s love, I rest in Christ’s finished work. Doing so allows Him to produce fruit through me. He then gets the glory and I’m filled with His joy.

Trust Jesus to be your strength in whatever challenge you face. Remain in His love and yield to His indwelling Spirit to love others through you.

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Eye to Eye

I felt like I was contending with God Himself.

“Look ‘em in the eye” was what I was always taught. Doing so shows strength, courage, and honesty. Yet, due to a stroke in my eye, looking up is hard. Brightness hurts, so I keep my head down, feeling less friendly and probably appearing rude to those who don’t know me. Everything I do is harder because of the brightness and blur. I just want to be me again. Sadly, the damage is done. Doctors don’t expect the condition to improve.

During trials like this, I feel a real connection to Job. He knew God would bring him through stronger, but he was full of questions—just like me. There’s nothing wrong with asking. Be honest. God desires truth. Just be prepared for His response.

I’m not a “sporty” girl, but this gives the visual of a boxing match with God. When we go a round with Him, He puts us in our place. Just read Job. What a clear picture of why He’s the One in charge and not us. Four chapters of detailed questions proving God’s greater wisdom. Ouch! Humbling, indeed.

A blow like that might cause some to want to curse God and die, as Job’s wife suggested. But God is not the enemy. He is for us, not against us. Trials test our faith. He already knows how you will come through, but He wants you to know, like Job. Even if I appear to be the underdog in this battle with my body (or God, who allowed it), I can trust His goodness. His supply of strength never ends. Being in God’s corner is best.

When I look eye to eye with God instead of focusing on the situation, His perfect love casts out fear. I can see purpose in the pain, recognize my real opponent, and follow my Instructor. Better yet, I know life isn’t the main event. It’s just a prelude to heaven.  

Step out of the ring and into the Word. Allow God to be your Personal Trainer.

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Faith In Unthinkable Circumstances

 “I had a dream last night. I saw angels encircling your family.” The words of my co-worker sent chills down my arms.

I blinked. Wanting to cling to anything I could, I relaxed hearing her words. My son, only months old, was hooked up to machines to keep him alive. His diagnosis was a rare form of dwarfism called Thanatophoric Dysplasia which means “death-bringing.” Nurses kept vigil, ever ready to respond to my son’s alarms while I was at work. 

My co-worker went on to say the angels were facing outward with their wings touching. Why would this picture of protection give me hope? Because hope is powerful in the face of challenging circumstances. You embrace it when the world tells you there is none. Dare I hope for a miracle? Miracles happen to other people.

While I hoped the doctors and nurses could keep my son alive, a stronger belief rose in me when I read, “With God all things are possible.” While this verse referred to the likelihood of a rich man entering heaven, the truth remains: nothing is beyond God’s reach—even reaching down and touching a wee child in the hospital.

At the core, this is a trust issue. Do I trust Him with the most precious gift of my son? God allowed this sweet boy into this world. Could I … we … the doctors and nurses, keep him alive. It was a leap of faith. The stakes were high. Ultimately, like Abraham, I placed my son on the altar and trusted God with the rest.

There were no other choices outside of lapsing into despair or clinging onto hope. Hearing my co-worker share her dream comforted me and reminded me nothing is impossible with God. And now my son is ten years old.

Miracles can happen to you too, because anything is possible with God. Remember how God pulled you out of an unthinkable circumstance. Place your trust in His faithfulness and watch faith grow. 

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Broken Cisterns

Light shone from the Buddhist temple and beckoned worshippers inside. I gazed through open doors at an enormous statue of Buddha. A young man slipped past me and knelt with his face to the ground before the glittering idol. I ached at the emptiness in that place.

As a Western Christian, idolatry seems foreign to me. Why pray to a man-made statue or spend money on sacrifices, when it could be used to purchase daily necessities? It’s easy to think that this issue does not affect me, to gloss over all that Scripture has to say about it. And yet, idolatry is an issue of the heart. It is a matter of trust. As such, it has great relevance—even to modern believers.

The Burmese worshippers at the Buddhist temple came searching for something. Assistance. Fulfillment. Protection. They trust Buddha to meet those needs and are willing to sacrifice to prove their devotion. Though I have never bowed before a statue, I’ve looked countless times to things to meet my needs. I’ve run to people before seeking the face of God, and I’ve gone to the refrigerator to numb an emotional need.

I run to these things for help or fulfillment. These are my idols, and they are as real as Buddha in a temple. They often hide behind good, sound reasoning. They may not be inherently evil. Maybe they are even good things. But if so, I must remember they are gifts and not givers. Like cracked cisterns, they offer no true fulfillment when I look to them instead of God. They leave me dry, empty, and needy.

God is a Fountain of Living Water. His waters are like a bubbling brook—always fresh, always available, and always satisfying. He delights in meeting every one of our needs—spiritual, emotional and physical.

Has the Lord identified an idol in your life? He longs to satisfy your deepest needs. Ask Him to teach you to find your fulfilment in Him.

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Those Complicated Relationships

We all have quirky ways and stubborn hearts that can cause speedbumps in relationships.

My wife and I have been together since we were in high school. September 27 of this year marks our twenty-second year of being officially together—thirteen of which we’ve been married. Marriage is a completely different journey. Add kids to the mix, and you are now what people call “settled down.”

God wants us to love and follow Him above all else. Everything from that commitment forward will be done to glorify Him, which is what our families should do. Honoring our fathers and mothers is a part of glorifying God.

No amount of human wisdom can comprehend God’s love shown through His Son on the cross. A husband’s love for his wife should be incomprehensible. He loves without reason, and he lives a life of sacrifice for her. People should look at a man’s relationship with his wife and be amazed at the love he shows her. A husband who is rooted in Christ will love his wife with a love that surpasses all the quirks.

When I look at my marriage, I see scars I have caused. My life before Christ was centered on me, and my marriage and my wife suffered for it. I didn’t do anything to repair my marriage, but Christ fixed the real issue through salvation. My desires became His desires, my love for my wife became His love for her, and my love for my children became His love for them.

Selfish quirks still pop up. My flesh will accompany my entire life until Christ returns and sets me free from it. In the meantime, I will continue to point my family to love and honor God.

Center your love on Christ so your relationships can be healthy. 

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Coming Home

I felt sure my oldest son almost always turned a deaf ear to me.

One day, my son slithered through the door at four in the afternoon. He was supposed to be home at two. Extremely angry, I blurted, “Why are you so late?” Laying my hands flat on the table, I glared as I waited for his answer.

He raised his head and laughed. “I figured I was in trouble when my friends and I were riding bikes in the wooded area around the springs. I looked at my watch and it was two o’ clock. I figured it didn’t matter whether I was a half hour late or a couple hours late. I was in trouble.”

I launched into the whys of why he should listen and not come home late.  Studying his facial expression, I questioned. “Have you heard anything I’ve said?”

“Yes, Mom, I heard you. I just didn’t want to.”

Then it hit me. I had ignored God when I shouldn’t have. I had missed what God wanted to say because I didn’t want to hear it. His voice was clear, but I didn’t listen.

I wanted to swallow the words I had spoken to my son. If I, the adult, cannot listen to God’s simple instructions, how could I expect my son to listen to mine? Now I thank God for berating me when I don’t listen. As He speaks to my heart, I listen so I will not be late coming home.

Thank God for instructing you, and then ask for His strength to obey what He has said.

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The barrage began before I was completely awake.

No sooner had my feet touched the floor that morning than annoyance over something I read the night before slithered into my thoughts. Then I remembered the all-night wrestling match with my pillow, sheets, and quilt. My hip ached, which started another whole train of irritated feelings. Fifteen minutes later, I realized an old ploy from Satan.

Satan’s attempt to rile me in the morning has happened for years. His tactic once worked much better than it does now, but occasionally it still gets me annoyed. The end game is to get me off track for the day, week, or month, and to go about my business with an increasing undercurrent of anger. Thankfully, I have learned to recognize the signs and leave the annoyance behind.

When the age-old battle for my mind presents itself, the solution is always the same: renew my mind by ridding it of negative thoughts. Renewing involves repentance—telling the Lord I'm sorry and asking for forgiveness. Confession reveals any wrong thinking that has taken root and blossomed into words or actions. Once I've repented, I turn the negative thoughts into positive ones.

Instead of remaining annoyed about what I read the night before, I search for the root of anger. Usually it's a false belief on my part. I massage my hip and decide to talk to my massage-therapist daughter about remedies instead of continuing to think worst-case scenarios. Then I dismiss the all-night wrestling match with the bedding as no big deal. 

Like a mist, the annoyance evaporates when I take charge of my thoughts. I’m free to go about my life with a can-do instead of a woe-is-me attitude. Bad thoughts can’t take me anywhere I don’t want to go. Christ gives me the authority to kick them out.

Make the choice to renew your mind when you’re annoyed.  

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Weathering the Storm

Wind gusts whipped through leaf-clad tree branches. Snow pelted the sidewalks, leaving a slushy mess. For October 31st, the weather was displaying its own form of trick-or-treat. Unfortunately, it was no treat. 

Despite miserable conditions, children—dressed as ghouls and goblins—trudged through the inclement weather, eager to claim their yearly treats of Snickers and cupcakes from next-door neighbors. 

When I awoke the next morning, I noticed the once-leafy branches were now brown, bare limbs. Ice-crusted leaves lay scattered upon the ground; frosted remnants awaiting the first rays of sunlight to melt the snow. I shuddered. I was not ready for winter.

Around noon, I drove across town to visit my step-daughter and grandson. On the way, I passed a beautiful red burning bush. Its vibrancy immediately caught my attention, so I pulled to the side of the street and stopped.

What amazed me about this shrub was the fullness of its scarlet leaves. Unlike the trees and plants that had taken a beating from gale-like winds the night before, this little bush remained fully clothed in all her glory, gleaming in the morning sun. Her leaf-adorned branches stood aright and grand, displaying beauty and strength.

Looking at the magnificent little bush, I wondered if I was prepared to weather impending storms heading my direction. When wicked winds blow into my life, will I stand strong? Will I remain fully clothed in splendor and beauty, or will my leaves drop to the ground covered with icy frost? How will I face inclement weather ravished upon my soul?

When I start to question my strength, I turn to the book of Psalms. Here I’m told that God will help me through life’s storms because He is my strength. If I stand rooted in Him, I will remain strong and flourishing. 

Then, instead of worrying about impending storms that threaten to diminish me, I look to God for strength. With His help, I stand unhindered by the daunting forces of destruction as they whip through my being. I cling to His hand and trust Him to lead me through the darkness. And when daylight breaks, I remain strong—standing radiant and beautiful for all to see.

If you are caught in the midst of life’s storms, reach for God. He will be your strength.

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A Life Restored

God seems to do His best work through broken and flawed people.

A few years ago, an angry man rushed through the Rijks Museum in Amsterdam until he reached Rembrandt's famous painting, "Nightwatch." Then he took out a knife and slashed it repeatedly before he could be stopped. A cherished piece of art was severely damaged. But what did officials do? Throw the painting out and forget about it? Absolutely not. Using the best experts, who worked with the utmost care and precision, they made every effort to restore the treasure.

Scripture is filled with example after example of people who messed up in a big way.  Moses was called by God to deliver His people from bondage in Egypt, but Moses first took the life of another man out of anger. David was called a “man after God’s own heart,” but he orchestrated the death of another man just to commit adultery with his wife. Study Scripture closely and you’ll find an interesting theme.

Peter was no different. Jesus predicted Peter would deny Him, but Peter maintained it would never happen. It did. Peter denied knowing Jesus just hours after Jesus was arrested in the garden. Peter let fear get the best of him. He failed. But that’s not the end of Peter’s story. Through an encounter with Jesus in John 21, Peter was forgiven and restored. In Acts 1, we find Peter is the unquestioned leader of the early church. The same Peter who denied knowing Jesus was used by God in a mighty way.

When you have failed God, remember He promises you forgiveness and restoration. 

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God Is Always Near

Dot had a few parting words, “Be careful, it’s drizzling rain. Tennessee roads can be slick when they’re first wet,” she warned.

My husband was working in Chicago and I was at home with our three children. Lonely and uncertain about our pending move to the Windy City, I drove seven hours from Ohio to visit my sister in Tennessee. Dot, the children, and I tromped over a trail, stopping to enjoy a picnic at a fallen tree.

On Sunday, the children were sad to leave their Aunt Dot as we turned our car toward home. We had good traveling the first couple of hours, but as we rounded the curves through the mountains, it began to rain again. Instinctively, I touched the brakes to travel at a slower speed. As soon as I did, I knew I’d made a mistake.

My little green Chevy spun out of control. All I had time to say was, “Jesus.” We went into a hard spin. Kimberly, Kent, and Kyle all screamed as they braced themselves. We crossed into the other lane of the highway and back. Then we swirled onto a small stretch of gravel beside a closed café. The car stopped. When it did, I was praising God.

On another stretch of highway, we might have smashed into another vehicle or gone off the road into a ravine—since this was before I-75 was completed. But there was absolutely no traffic on this two-lane highway when we began to spin. Though I’d seen miles of roadsides which dropped off into the valley, this was one of the few places with a small stretch of land beside the highway.

I was unaware that our tires had poor tread and needed replacing, but God watched over us. He is constantly nearby and often keeps us when we aren’t wise enough to keep ourselves. How do I know? After returning to Cincinnati, I contacted my friend, Margie, to tell her about God’s protection. She asked what time we’d had the trouble and then told me she was washing dishes that morning when she felt impressed to pray for our safety at that exact time.

Even when we are unaware of danger, the Lord is alert to our needs.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Come and Have Breakfast

Serving breakfast to a group of friends who recently abandoned you isn’t easy.

After enduring the most traumatic, physically grueling, and emotionally draining experience of your life, climbing into bed and curling up in a cocoon of soft blankets might offer comfort. Or perhaps a hot bath while listening to some relaxing music. Maybe even resting in a comfortable lounge chair in a lush and fragrant garden.

Jesus chose the more difficult response one morning after His resurrection when He met seven of His disciples along the shore of the Sea of Tiberias. Having gone through the most agonizing—and victorious—event in history, His words to them were not, “Why have you gone back to your old way of life?” or “Why did you forsake Me?” Instead, He asked, “Children, do you have any fish?” A question asked not out of concern for His own hunger, but for theirs.

“No,” they replied.

He instructed them to cast their net on the right side of the boat. As they fished, He prepared breakfast for them. After the disciples hauled in their large catch of fish, Jesus offered a loving invitation: “Come and have breakfast.”

Jesus had just secured the matchless gift of eternal life, yet here He serves again by meeting the disciples’ temporal needs, just as He meets all of our needs—spiritual, emotional, and physical.

As followers of Christ, we’re called to serve and “feed His lambs.” People around us are starving for love, encouragement, peace, and truth.

Reach out today and say “Come and have breakfast.” 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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I knew we’d been caught when the police officer placed his huge hands on our table, leaned forward, looked me straight in the eyes, and said, “I have been a detective for twenty-six years, and I can tell you that nothing gets past me.”


Our dilemma began when my husband and I decided to pick up the tab for a uniformed policeman—anonymously of course. With the help of a willing accomplice—a chatty waitress—we were able to get his bill. While my husband was paying, I saw the barrel-chested, wide-berthed policeman looking for his bill, so I played it safe and put my head down.

Before I could get the nerve to look up, Mr. Policeman was at our table. His voice was stern, but the smile that erupted on his face wasn’t. Not only was he a uniformed policeman, he was also a plain-clothes detective. He had this day off and decided to make some extra money at a ballgame and was required to wear his uniform.

Just our luck. The day we try to get away with paying a policeman’s ticket, he ends up being a seasoned detective—one who has been trained to watch his surroundings, take note of all activity, and keep an eye on those in his sight. We were busted!

After I laughed at the irony of our trying to get something past a detective who sees all, I was reminded that God does the same. He isn’t a detective, but a loving Father who watches over us. He watches His surroundings, takes note of all activity, and keeps an eye on those in His sight. Nothing good or bad goes unnoticed by Him.

God sees the things we do that are pleasing to Him, but He also sees the things done in secret that are displeasing to Him—done with or without an accomplice.

Remember, no matter what we do, God sees it all. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Whipping my car up the driveway, I parked near the back steps. With packages and both girls in tow, I unlocked the door and entered the kitchen. Within seconds, I backed out the same door.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around what I’d seen. Searching for some feasible explanation, I drove to our neighbor’s house and called my husband. When he answered, I blurted, “Did you come home and leave all of the kitchen cabinets open?”

Sitting in disbelief, my husband and I answered the detective’s questions. We’d been robbed. We’d lost much of what was valuable―not only in dollars but in sentiment. The latter was the greater loss―the loss of items tied to loved ones who’d passed on and times we could never revisit.

We’d lived in our home less than a year and were content with our new surroundings. How quickly that all changed. Our home was equipped with an alarm system, but I’d failed to set it. If I’d taken time to secure the perimeters before rushing out the door, I could’ve avoided the loss of cherished possessions and days of unrest.

For the next few weeks, I wore the alarm panic button hooked to my side. The intruders had not only violated the borders of our home, they’d violated the confines of my heart. They’d stolen something far greater than possessions—my peace.

The same is true in our spiritual lives. One minute we’re content, the next the enemy has ransacked our souls. How do we hold our place of contentment when the enemy attempts to violate the borders of our lives?

We must secure the perimeters of our hearts and minds. When we put down the panic button and pick up the sword of God’s Word, we refuse to allow our thoughts to run wild and, instead, focus on the One who is in control of all things. Then with our shields of faith held high, we can cling to His promises—promises that hold firm and secure as we step out to meet the day.

Secure your perimeters. The enemy can take our peace only when we hand it over to him.

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Don't Be Led Astray

An obedient daughter, a faithful friend, a studious high school student. That was me. Until…one day when I attended a business class workshop.

Several girls from our senior class attended a workshop off school property. Dismissed early, three other students didn’t want to go back to class but decided to drive around town. I knew if I went back to school alone the other girls would get into trouble, so I went along with them. My excuse was lame, but the truth. I knew I was displeasing the Lord, but I made the poor choice anyway.

Cutting class was a new experience for me. Quite fascinating, but I felt a heavy blanket of guilt for days. I always felt I’d be caught doing wrong so I wasn’t usually a willing participant. Strangely, the experience turned out to be a good one.

Remembering how I felt when I did wrong, cutting class wasn’t something I wanted to repeat. I allowed myself to be led away from my own conviction by others’ decisions that time, and my tender conscience was uneasy. Once was enough.

God’s Word tells us not to be led off-course and not to allow others’ choices to determine ours. I learned it was important to make my own decisions instead of following what others did, especially if it was against my better judgment.

Who influences your decisions? Do friends lead you where you didn’t intend to go? Do you end up paying a higher price for an indiscretion than you expected to? Or, like a young friend expressed to me, “I always look forward to the next big event with my friends or a dance or whatever. Then when I go to the event, I feel a let-down. It’s never as exciting as I was told it would be.”

Maybe you don’t want to be the only one doing the right thing. I didn’t. But I hope you decide, like I finally did, that displeasing the Lord isn’t worth the outcome.

Make choices based on your personal values rather than walking blindly behind others. 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Freedom Unleashed

The retractable dog leash sounds like an interesting device—until pooch gets into trouble.

Pets have the freedom to run and explore on retractable leashes that extend up to twenty-six feet and are equipped with a locking mechanism. Unfortunately, that's far enough away for a dog to wander into traffic, get attacked by another animal, or nip at someone before you can personally intercede.

Locking mechanisms can also fail, which hinders a pet owner’s effort to pull their pet back from danger. The very device meant to open up a dog's world can easily end their life. The handler holds the key to their safety—reeling them in when danger is near or keeping them close enough to avoid it. Sadly, the person holding the leash isn't always attentive. Reading, texting, or listening to music can divert an owner long enough for an incident to occur.

Our heavenly Father watches over us with an undistracted eye. He allows us the freedom to roam and make our own choices. We, in turn, experience the scrapes and pitfalls of life. Through them, we learn to set personal boundaries. A wise sojourner will remain in close proximity to God. The closer we are, the easier it is to hear His voice. He alerts us to potential danger and reminds us that with freedom comes responsibility to others.  

The Bible says everything is permissible, but not everything is profitable. Danger lurks around careless corners. Everything isn't good for our body or our minds, so we should monitor what we watch and eat. Expressing our freedom can also harm those around us. Just because we can doesn't mean we should.  A joke at someone else's expense could injure them deeply. An innocent drink at the office party is fine, until we learn the new employee we were hanging around with is struggling with alcohol abuse.

When we consider our actions in light of the effect they have on others, we encourage rather than tear down. Cultivating that type of freedom is worth pursuing.

God’s mechanisms don't fail. Stay close to Him and imagine the jolt if He retracted your leash.

Then think about how your actions build up the body of Christ, and make adjustments if necessary. 

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Shedding for New Growth

In order for new opportunities to appear, something old must die and depart.

In spring, during my daily walk around the neighborhood lake, I always notice the trees, still naked from winter but sprouting tiny buds from their fingertips. The bright sky shines easily through their bare branches which causes me to notice their trunks, hugging the lake’s edge and craning over the water’s surface. Most are large birches, growing in clumps along the water’s edge, the bark peeling frantically as they begin to shed paper-white coats and reveal new growth.

Whether a person is shedding unbelief, immaturity, or a sinful habit, they must first undergo a tearing away of the old things. A loss of the old way of thinking or doing something must occur for growth to happen and something new to begin.

Even trees shed to grow. Bark splits to allow for increased girth. If a tree was wrapped tightly to prevent peeling, the tree’s growth would be hampered. Trees are meant to grow, and growth means shedding layers that hinder expansion.

Habits, thoughts, and fears can hinder spiritual growth. Things wrapped tightly around us can trap us in an unfulfilled and unproductive life.

What can you peel away so you can grow unhindered in the light of the Son?

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Breaking Up Is Hard to Do

He slid the note across a neighboring student’s desk, motioning to pass it to the intended recipient. That would be me. Would I survive my first breakup and the quirkiness of seventh grade?

Additional heartbreaks were scattered across my life—a few instigated by me. Although painful, there were breakups in my best interest. I’ve composed notes specifying the reasons I wanted out.

Dear Insecurity, We’ve spent a lot of time together. I’ve grown comfortable with you these many years. You’re not a trustworthy companion—always denying the truth. It’s been just the two of us in this love affair, but I’m tired of the on-again, off-again charade. It’s off. We’re done. Sincerely, Secure in Christ.

Dear Perfectionism, I opened my heart to you. Masquerading as a heart-throb, you’re a heart-rob—stealing my joy. This isn’t working out. We’re breaking up and never making up again. I don’t love you anymore. From, My Heart Belongs to Christ.

Dear Pride, I know you’ve been seeing other people on the side and never wiped one tear I cried. You dazzle with false hope of greatness. You thought I was never leaving, but I’m giving up on us. Get it? Got it? Good! Signed, Christ Above All.

Dear Acceptance, Once a restless heart, I needed you. I’ve grown weary of desiring approval. There’s a new guy in my life. He’ll always be the lover of my soul. No longer hopelessly devoted, I’m over you and moving on. The end. Don’t call or write, Chosen by Christ.

Dear Me, You’ve changed since we first met. Like two strangers, you’re someone I knew in the past. It’s time to walk away. I’m not living the same way. No longer at your service, Christ Lives in Me.

Exits out of these relationships won’t happen overnight. I may find myself on a blind date with any one of them, offering enough pampering to warrant weak moments.

Another note has been passed on through the ages by neighboring students of the Word. A letter declaring unconditional love from a trustworthy companion. A relationship with Jesus worth our highest devotion. The intended recipient? That would be me. And you.

What breakups are in your best interest for total allegiance to Christ? 

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Come, Drink

Camels drink a lot of water at one time—up to thirty-two gallons in thirteen minutes. Where do they store it? Uhmm, no, not in their humps.

A camel’s hump stores fat that is built up by eating and drinking. Once their humps contain the maximum fat, they can go several months without more food and several weeks without more water, depending upon their work conditions and environmental situations. We humans have different levels of needs. Go three days without water intake and your body begins to die. Go three weeks without food and you’ll be too weak to survive.

A recent conversation concerning the use of the word withered led to a few statements. The Greek word used in the New Testament means to be devoid of water to the point of death. Scripture tells us that trees planted by a river won’t wither because they have a constant supply of water. Conversely, seeds sown on non-hydrated soil will perish.

Our soul requires constant watering. Jesus understands our design and offers encouragement throughout the Bible to continue a daily intake. He gives a source of unlimited spiritual water that will prevent us from withering. In fact, this water carries us through to eternal life.

Daily intake of water allows our body to function better and not deteriorate. Our skin remains pliable and protects us from infection. Our heart beats steadily to carry nutrients everywhere. Our liver, kidneys, and intestines process toxins and wastes out of us. If any one of these functions fails, we die. So it is with the water of God’s Word. If we sit once a week in church to hear the Word and depend upon it for the rest of the week, we practice life as if we are camels. Not only will our soul lose its vitality, but our body suffers as well.

If we drink of God’s Word on a daily basis and prepare for the journey ahead of us, we stand prepared for changes in both our spiritual environment and the spiritual workload increase caused by the attacks of our enemy.

Come with me. Drink until eternity.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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The faster they go, the happier he is. My husband loves a beautiful Porsche. The problem is he only drives them on special occasions – like when his buddies visit, and he wants to show off the car’s ability to perform. Otherwise, they sit hidden behind garage doors.

I, on the other hand, drive a van. When our children were growing up, my van often appeared trashed from transporting kids. It was a workhorse. Occasionally, my sweet husband had to drive my workhorse. It didn’t matter if the van wasn’t perfect. It was useful and got the job done.

God reminds us that by all appearances, you and I are damaged goods. In addition to our imperfections, we are trashed and dented by the bumps caused by other workhorses or perhaps even “works of art” we may encounter as we travel through life. Regardless of how others may drive, God instructs, through the act of deliberate and obedient excellence, to devote [ourselves] to doing what is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

Like Richard’s Porsches, you may look like a work of art with a message of high performance written all over your beautiful sleek design. Or, like my van, you may look more like a workhorse, not very showy, but rugged and durable. Whatever your design features, you are called to be excellent in how you endeavor to perform. Polish your “vehicle” till it shines. Put a little oil of grace on those dings and dents and drive with excellence wherever God is leading.

Oh, and by the way, to do this you must leave the garage.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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Spring Brings New Life

Spring is a time of rebirth.

An Amish student once told me he knows spring has arrived when the red-winged blackbirds return. Each year, around the end of February, I start scanning the roadside for the miniature sentinels as I drive to work. I usually spot them soaking up the sun in the early morning hours.

After a particularly cold winter, I spotted a red-winged blackbird perched atop a small brush-like tree as I was on my way to work. The next morning, I was even more ecstatic to see not one but many red-winged blackbirds stationed every few hundred yards like little soldiers at their post. I knew winter was on its way out and spring was just around the corner.

I like spring because it brings new life. Daffodils and crocuses emerge through cold, hard ground—splattering hues of yellow, purple, and pink against the dingy remains of winter. Colorful buds burst open on grayed tree limbs, clothing them in knobby splendor. Twittering bird choruses fill the air as they reunite after venturing north to their summer homes. Raccoons and skunks forage for food after waking from their long winter naps.

Spring is also the time to celebrate Easter. Easter is a celebration of the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus allowed Himself to be nailed to a cross as the perfect and final sacrifice for our sins. When He was buried in the tomb, our sins were buried with Him. When He rose from the grave, He brought us new life. Giving our lives to Him results in having our sins cleansed.

Starting afresh brings hope and healing. Death holds no power and is swallowed by eternal life. The best part is not having to wait for winter’s end.  Our new life can start right now.

This year, as spring unfolds, celebrate Jesus’ gift of new life—eternal life—by believing in His death, burial, and resurrection for the payment of humanity’s sins.

(Photo courtesy of pixabay.)

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What Consumes You

The day after my grandmother passed away from a brief but intense struggle with cancer, I was holding her worn and written-in Bible in my hands. I slowly paged through chapter and verse, reading all of my grandmother’s notes until I came to Hebrews 12:28-29. Written above the verses, in her looping handwriting, was my name—Philip.

I’ve read that line over and over again, and I’m still humbled by my grandmother’s thoughts about me. Even now, I ask, “Was she right? Is God my all-consuming fire, and if He isn’t, what is?”

What is it that burns in our life like an all-consuming fire? You can almost see the flames consuming people lining up in droves at stadiums, in front of stores, in front of mirrors, and before their complement televisions, leaving behind only ashes scattered to the wind.

But when the God all of things consumes us with His eternal fire—this thing we call faith—the temporary is consumed and burned away. What is forged in those flames is the eternal—that which never passes away and is held for us by God in the heavens. The love of God in Jesus was my grandmother’s consuming fire, and she has now received the eternal blessings of that flame. My desire is to be consumed by that same fire till all that remains is the love of God in and through me.

Think about your consuming fire, and if it’s not God, what is it?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jzlomek.)

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Paradise Birds

One of my favorite paintings is of a mother Paradise bird feeding her baby. If you’ve never seen a Brazilian Paradise bird, you have missed one of the Lord’s most beautiful creations. The mother has a brilliant gold tail that is over a foot long. The colors of the rest of her body are equally awesome and lead to lush blues covering her head. Her babies are part of nature’s ugly ducklings. Small and dull are gracious descriptions, and they have very big mouths.

I think of Moses, Paul, and God’s children when I think of Paradise birds. Moses was not a motor-mouth; he was the opposite—a slow tongue. Paul pleaded for an opening of his mouth that he might speak boldly as he should. Christians are told to be filled by the Holy Spirit, and Spirit fillings speak through open mouths and yielded bodies.

Sadly, believers can scream about the World Series and mumble about Jesus. God’s children often feel accuracy is more important than spontaneity when, in reality, truth is only given life by the quickening of spontaneity. Those that are primarily thinkers can be the dullest and most boring people. It’s not unusual to feel a thinker doesn’t know what’s going on around them until we are surprised by something they say.

Those who mumble, those who lack spontaneity, and those locked away in their thinking, all need to open their mouths and God will fill them. We don’t always have to know what to say or always have the answer. God made that clear when He said the just are to live by faith.

Our heavenly Father wrote the manual for life that can furnish us all good works. The problem for Christians isn’t lack of information. He also caused the Holy Spirit to live in each born again believer so our potential is not lacking. Then, He attached each believer to His Son—who is the Vine—as branches. All God’s children have to do is receive their food—the word of life—and let the Spirit flow.

Don’t be one of God’s children who keeps your mouth closed. Open your mouth wide the way the Paradise Birds’ baby does, or you will remain small and your feathers dull. Your strength will not grow and your beauty will not show. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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They Don't Make Politicians As They Used To

Are you as tired of politics as I am? Promises are made we know aren’t going to be kept. A candidate says one thing to one group, and then tells the next gathering the exact opposite just to get more votes.

President Harry Truman had a sign on his desk in the oval office that read: The buck stops here. He accepted responsibility for all ideas and actions. Now, there are specific people hired to spin each incident so the blame goes to someone else.

It can be quite lonely at the top. Just ask King David. This poor guy was out caring for his dad’s sheep one day when the call came for him to be anointed as Israel’s next king. God didn’t even ask him if he was interested in the position.

The next thing David knows, he’s running for his life from King Saul. When he does ascend to the throne, his son, Absalom, abdicates the throne for a time. David’s heart shines through in Psalms.

King David knew there was only one being higher than he was in God’s chosen nation of Israel. God was the rock David turned to when all appeared lost. It was God who helped young David kill lions and bears. God would help him now.

What obstacles are you facing today? Is there a challenge that seems overwhelming? You may have run out of answers in all the books on your shelf, or your friends’ suggestions may have come up empty.

Make it a habit of running to God first—not last—when you come up against something bigger than you. He placed the challenge there so you’ll turn to Him.

Pursue God’s heart in all you do. It will make a nice epitaph for you.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Alvimann.)

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9-1-1 In Jesus

“Mom! Mom! Call 911! Now!  Dave fell off his bike and his head is bleeding bad. Help!” 

The chilling screams of a twelve-year-old sister kneeling beside her fallen brother pierced the humid summer evening only to be replaced by loud blasts as blazing lights and sirens filling the road. 

“Hurry! Stop the bleeding! Please!” 

A quiet calm settled over that little figure and all who stood by. EMTs tended to Dave’s deep wounds, wrapped him warmly, and settled him in the ambulance. 

“The bleeding is stopped. He’ll be okay in a few days.”

Is it time for you and me to stop the bleeding and the crying and call “9-1-1 Jesus?” 

I’m so aware of the deep wounds we often carry with us day in and day out. It seems so hard for us to forgive those who have hurt us, to recover from life’s occasional punch in the stomach, or to surrender that unfulfilled expectation we had. I have heard my friends say, ”Life’s not supposed to be like this.” Time to call 9-1-1 Jesus.

Just like that 9-1-1 operator, Jesus waits to hear our cry for help. He wants my hurts to be healed so I can go on with my life in peace. When I read the Word of God or devotions, I hear the call to open my heart, dig down deep for those old hurts I have buried, and drag them out and place them at the foot of the cross of our Lord Jesus—and leave them there. 

No one says forgiveness is easy, but it is the vehicle for peace in the Lord. Jesus taught us to pray, Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. We are abundantly forgiven and can go to the Lord for the strength and direction we need to forgive others in equal abundance.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and alvimann.)

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Follow-Me Marks

“I am the one…your mother!  Follow me!”

The frantic herd was scattering wildly in every direction. Hoof beats pounded in the young gazelle’s ears. And the unmistakable roar of a ravenous lion pierced straight through his heart. There was no time to think. Instinctively, he knew there was only one thing to do—follow his mother. But where was she? Suddenly he spotted them—those unique markings he’d known from birth. That combination of lines and curves belonged to one and only one—his mother. Any other gazelle might, in a moment of panic, leave him to the enemy. But not his mother. He knew if he could keep his eyes fixed on her familiar marks, and if his shaking legs would carry him, he could trust her to lead him to safety. But he must, especially in the chaos, remain focused solely on those marks—her follow-me marks...the ones he’d learned to trust.

We, too, have a very real enemy who is described as a roaring lion. He is prowling through our nation, towns, churches, and homes looking for anyone he might deceive, discourage, or destroy. Sometimes he creates such chaos in our lives that we don’t even have time to think. And it’s in those moments that our hearts must instinctively turn to the only One who can deliver us from the lion’s mouth. The question is, have we spent enough time in the presence of Jesus Christ so that in the moment of panic we will recognize Him as our Savior and follow Him.

The marks of Jesus’ love are clear and were painfully and permanently set into His hands, feet, and side at Calvary. They set Him apart—the combination of His scars and His risen glory crying out, “I am the One…your Savior!  Follow Me!”

His marks are clear. His call is too. Is He beckoning you today?  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Stencilphotos.)

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God's Table

My husband, Jim, regularly sets a beautiful table. It’s not your usual table covered with a cloth and filled with dishes, silverware, glasses, and condiments. This one is on our back deck and displays a variety of unusually shaped bird feeders—some plastic, others metal, some small and others extra large. Each is filled with a variety of different kind of seeds. Jim also sets out suet.

Our state bird, the gold finch, frequently visits our deck for a snack. Red-winged blackbirds, red poles, sparrows, doves, and cardinals also stop quite often for a meal.

It’s fun to watch the different tactics of each species. The small birds peck a little at a time, and seem to be in no hurry; the larger birds swoop in, gobble up the seeds, and quickly fly away. With so many winged friends dining with us, Jim often has to fill the feeders every day.

God sets an even more beautiful table. Throughout the Bible, He offers us a splendid variety of spiritual food for our souls—simple truths for beginners who, like the small birds, need messages that are easily digestible without rushing and deeper treasures for more seasoned Christians to savor. Regardless of the level of our spiritual growth, there’s always plenty of food for everyone.

Once you taste the food that God has to offer, you’ll want to return frequently for more substantial food. The words you absorb from the Bible will stay with you longer than normal nourishment. An added benefit is that once you memorize some of the scriptures, you will discover they give you strength to deal with whatever situations come your way.

Why is it we always find time to feed our bodies, often gobbling up more than we should, but somehow don’t concentrate on nourishing our spirits? If we get excited when birds visit our feeders, and we get disappointed when they don’t come, God must feel the same way about us. He must smile when we regularly feast on His words but be sad when we forget to spend time with Him.

Set aside time this week to surprise God with an unexpected visit. He’ll be happy, and you’ll be blessed.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Earl53.)

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Light in Dark Places

A flashlight is an incredibly valuable tool for a peace officer. I carried one with me constantly, regardless of the time of day or my specific assignment. While on patrol, and before flashlights were miniaturized, my Streamlight always rested between my legs on the drivers seat. This ensured it was never left behind when exiting the patrol unit.

Then Surefire miniaturized flashlights with the same candela produced by the larger lights, it was always on my duty belt.

A cop needs to have light available since it is not unusual to find yourself in dark places: a building search, homes with blacked out windows, darkened tunnels, etc.

Light is important because it defeats darkness every time. While light and dark are a reality in the physical sense, they are also present spiritually.

A group of self-righteous men brought a woman caught in the darkness of adultery before Jesus. They reminded Him the Law of Moses commanded stoning. Jesus spoke to them saying, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

Our eyes will adjust to darkness to allow better sight, but it’s still dark. In a spiritual sense, some people constantly reside in dark places, so they do not see or appreciate the light.

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4, … the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Jesus further instructed his followers to walk in the light so the darkness would not overcome them. While physical light defeats darkness, spiritual illumination will overcome shadows cast by sin.

If you have friends in dark places, be the light they need to see.

(Photo courtesy of Photo courtesy of morguefile and cohdra.)

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GPS: God's Patient Sovereignty

The night was dark and rain hit the windshield in a steady downpour. I was in the middle lane of a five-lane interstate, surrounded by speeding cars. I had no idea where I was or where I was going, and I was scared to death.

I looked at the GPS sitting mute on the dash of the rental car. “Speak to me, Zelda!” I said aloud, using the nickname I’d given the device at the start of this long trip.

Just as I began to fear she was broken, Zelda spoke, telling me to take the next exit on the right. I did, and in short order I was rewarded with those six sweet words: “You have arrived at your destination.”

Clearly, I didn’t inherit what my father called his uncanny sense of direction. I’ve been lost in most of the major cities of the world: London, Paris, Athens, Berlin, Tokyo, Shanghai. You name it. Chances are I’ve wandered around that city slack-jawed, hoping grace would lead me home.

It’s the same as I journey through life. Being human, I have made some major mistakes. Some decisions have knocked me off course, and I’ve seemingly wandered aimlessly for a time, wondering whether I could ever get back on track.

Left to my own devices, I’d end up who-knows-where. Thankfully, though, I’m not traveling this road alone. In fact, Someone is guiding my steps. He has charted the path ahead of me, and, in His sovereign wisdom, knows exactly where He wants me to go.

When I’m driving and make a wrong turn in spite of the GPS (Yes, I even get lost with a GPS!), I see that little tracking device hurry to recalculate my position and set a new route for me. In the end, I still arrive where I’m supposed to be.

In a sense, God does the same when we make mistakes and get off track. Because He is sovereign, nothing will thwart His plans for our life. He takes our wrong turns and makes them part of the journey while ever working out His purposes for us. 

I am so grateful for GPS: God’s Patient Sovereignty. We can know we will arrive safely at our destination because grace is leading us home. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Alvimann.)

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When Our Prayer List Resembles Santa's Wish List

I remember standing in the long line at the mall (or Sears, in my case) waiting to see the big bearded man dressed in red. He was larger than life and especially jovial. After all, he made all our wishes come true!

I admit my climb onto Santa's lap was done so with one mission in mind (okay, maybe two, if you count the cherry lollipop): To present him with the list. You know the one. Dolls, dresses, Easy-Bake Oven, and such. Everything I wanted, desired, and wished for carefully printed on blue-ruled 8 x 10-1/2” paper. It only took a bit of exertion on my part, a quick rundown of my list, and I was on my way home feeling warm and fuzzy inside. All was right with the world.

I thought those days were behind me, but recently I became aware of how many of my prayers often began with:

"Show me ..."
"Reveal to me ..."
"Please heal ..."
"Lord, bless ..."

Granted, Jesus tells us in the New Testament to ask. There’s nothing wrong with asking. However, to approach a holy God much in the same way I once approached a red-suited minimum-waged man with a fake-o beard is to miss out on the richest of relationships, as well as the power of prayer.

I am resolved never to trade in a place at my Father's feet again. Though warm fuzzy feelings are never a guarantee, the true presence of a holy, loving, forgiving and merciful Father is—and that’s more than this daughter of the King could ever ask for or imagine.

Perhaps you, too, have at times traded a place at our Father’s feet for Santa’s lap. We missed out on the true meaning of prayer for awhile, didn’t we? But thanks be to the One we celebrate this Christmas, and every day. We can know there is always room for us at His feet.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kakisky.)

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Life Interrupted

“Write down everything in that journal. Someday you’ll be sharing your story.” John handed me the red Moleskine® journal. Instinctively, I reached out and took it from him.

“I don’t want this story.” Though devastated from my son’s arrest just weeks before, I attended a seminar training as scheduled. John, who was part of the seminar staff, was also a licensed professional counselor and he took me aside to counsel me in my grief.

The following year after my son’s conviction, I no longer wanted to share publicly—whether through Bible teaching or through inspirational writing. I walked away from the call the Lord had for me because the life I envisioned was shattered. The plans I had for my life were interrupted.

As the holidays approached, I meditated on one of my favorite Christmas passages from Luke 1. Then I saw it. Mary, a young woman betrothed to Joseph, must have been dreaming dreams for her wedding day and making plans for her married life. But … BAM! Her life was interrupted when the angel appeared to her and announced, “Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!”

Mary’s life would never be the same. She conceived the Son of God before she was married. Imagine the sneers, stares, and snickers that went around Nazareth. In Mary’s time, typically a woman who conceived out of wedlock was stoned to death. Her life plans … interrupted.

There are significant differences in the way I responded and how Mary responded. Mary responded in faith by saying, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Then she went to celebrate with Elizabeth. When my plans were interrupted, I responded in fear, which became my personal prison. Thank God for His patience with me as it took me years to finally say, “Let it be according to your will.”

Life circumstances interrupt us. An angel may not have appeared to tell you what it is, but you have a call from God. You have a purpose that needs to be fulfilled. How have your responded to it? Have you run from it? Or are you willing to say, “Let it be …”?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Koan.)

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Which Figure Are You?

“Here, Rose,” said my granddaughter, “put this man there. He can’t see baby Jesus.”

Elyse handed me the man with the bagpipes. “Why did he bring his bagpipes? Wouldn’t loud noises scare baby Jesus?”

“You are right, sweetheart, bagpipes are loud. This man wanted to play a song for the baby. This man is a talented musician and he is bringing a present to Jesus – music. Psalm 95:1 says, Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord… God loves music.”

Every year we carefully place the manger scene on the piano and ponder each figure’s story. My favorite is the figure that lives in the box marked “man with headache.” This fellow carries a basket over one arm and has the other hand to his forehead. I can identify with him. Some days seem so overwhelming I just put my hand to my head and stagger toward Jesus.

Unwrapping him, Elyse asks, “Why does that man look like his head hurts?”

“He is probably tired. He worked hard to get things situated so he could leave. He’s worried about his family too. See his basket? His wife packed him enough food for the trip to see Jesus. His family is waiting for his return to tell them about it.”

Then we came to the egg lady. She carried her basketful of eggs carefully to Jesus. “Does baby Jesus eat eggs?” seemed a logical question for someone whose baby brother was not eating solid food.

“Baby Jesus can’t eat eggs, but Mary and Joseph will be hungry. Eggs are a fine gift. This lady probably doesn’t have much to give, so she gathered the eggs from her chickens and brought them to Jesus.”

“Where does this little boy go?” Elyse picked up a young boy who was kneeling with one hand outstretched.

“He needs to go right in front of the manger. That little boy came to worship Jesus. He didn’t bring anything else. He just brought himself.”

“He didn’t bring a present for baby Jesus?”

“No, he didn’t. Only himself. That’s what Jesus gave on the cross, and that’s all He really wants from us.”

If I could chose the figure I’d like to resemble, it would be that little boy kneeling at the manger. He is not encumbered by gifts or laden with supplies. He simply kneels, content to gaze upon God’s gift to the world.

Bow down in worship. Go to your knees before the Lord our Maker. This is a busy season. Instead of hurrying and scurrying, stressing and depressing, why not spend more time thinking and thanking on your knees in front of the One whose birth changed the world.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jusben.)

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He Is a Good Father

The greatest gift as a parent is to see your children happy and fulfilled on Christmas morning. You watch them count down the days to this moment of pure joy and exhilaration. Every parent wants to see their child joyful on Christmas morning because our gift is to see them blessed and satisfied.

I recall one Christmas season early in our ministry when we were very short on money. We had a small family at that time, but we wanted to bless our daughter with everything possible. We did not know how we were going to give her a goof Christmas or even have money to pay our bills.

One evening someone knocked on our door and handed us a check for two thousand dollars. “God impressed on me to give you this money today.”

We jumped for joy, ran out, and bought our daughter everything we had wanted to but simply could not afford. We felt a release of joy as we witnessed one of the greatest gifts I had ever experienced.

We sometimes get lost in life’s stresses and demands. The Lord wants to bless us just as we bless our children. He has great things in store for us. The Father sent the greatest gift anyone could imagine – His only Son. The significance of Jesus can never be overstated because this gift brings a true joy that teleports us back to childhood and the excitement we experienced on Christmas morning.

Jesus tells us, as He taught His disciples, that we must humble ourselves like a little child to enter His kingdom. A child believes in the unseen and has faith to move mountains. When a child makes a request, parents will move mountains to make sure desires are met. The Father will also move mountains for us and give us great pleasures in our life.

Pleasure is from the Lord and joy derives from Him. He waits as a proud Father to give us joy and to bless us with great treasures. He is truly a great Father and He is waiting to bless us with great opportunity and peace. Peace is a result of security, and the Lord is waiting to hold us in our fear and displeasures to give us that unspeakable peace.

We were young parents struggling to support our family and pursue our dreams. We were brought back to a childlike dependence on the Lord, and He provided as a good Father. I can only imagine seeing His face as He gazed upon us seeing our joy in His gift.

You might be in the same position with different problems and different obstacles. The Lord is waiting and willing to help you as any good Father does for His children. Do not be afraid to depend on Him as a child because we all need a helping hand in our lives. This Christmas, remember your children’s joy as they open their gifts from you because the Lord is waiting to give you that same joy every day of your existence. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and sideshowmom.)

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He Became Poor

Sleigh bells jingled in the background, and lights twinkled as I waited at the end of a long line of strangers to exchange my cash for our daughter’s Christmas gift. In a limited sense, I became poorer so she could become richer. When we give a gift, we sacrifice—usually money—and ultimately, time. Yet my transaction didn’t make me truly “poor” or make her truly “rich.”

But what if our family left our suburban home with only the clothes on our backs? What if we left our cars in the garage, our furniture, our technology, our clothes, our freezer full of food, our education, our jobs, our children’s school, and all that we have and do. And what if a refugee family from a third-world country moved in and suddenly acquired all we left behind . . . while we took up their life of hand-to-mouth poverty? We, who had been rich, for their sakes would become poor that they might gain our riches.

What if a billionaire traded places with the poorest of peasants? What if the Son of God became poor for earthlings like us?

Jesus willingly embraced the ultimate poverty. He left His Father and all that encompasses the celestial sphere to become a helpless infant. He took on human limitations. The hand that formed the heavens with the moon and the stars, wrapped themselves around a teenage girl’s finger as she lovingly swaddled Him in homespun strips of cloth. He became utterly dependent on the people He created—for milk, for shelter, for protection. Although He was the Word from the beginning, He had to learn to talk. Taking on humanity demonstrated no small sacrifice. He traded all of heaven’s glory for our sakes so that we could acquire all He left behind.

We celebrate Christmas because a Savior came to provide eternal life. We sing carols about joy, celebrate with candlelight services, and re-enact the Nativity. We rejoice in the benefits of His grace.

But Jesus experienced unfathomable loss. Loss for a sinful people who may take the incarnation for granted. And if becoming a baby wasn’t humbling enough, He gave up His life as the ultimate sacrifice. For our sakes—all because He loves us.

This Christmas, when we remember God’ unspeakable gift, let’s also remember it’s through His poverty that we become truly rich. Joy to the world!

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and GaborFromHungary.)

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Why Not Me?

Life’s experiences can sometimes cause us to cry out as David did. Though God always allows us time to vent, these emotions, if unabated, can lead us to doubt God’s character. In the midst of heartwrenching circumstances, some cry out, “Why me?” and others say, “Why not me?”

God is just in all He does, and in everything He does He is kind. God is good, just, and kind. These are character traits of our eternal God. Nothing that happens to us ever changes these attributes. One of the favorite sayings of a missionary friend of mine is, “Never judge God by your circumstances, but judge your circumstances according to the character of God.” 

A good God allows bad things to happen to good people. But our sovereign Lord takes the negative and turns it to something positive for all those who love Him.  In the midst of heartache and pain, our heavenly Father is always choosing our highest good.

Grace is God’s unmerited favor. It has been said that we only appreciate what we have after we have lost it. God, in His sovereign will, sometimes withdraws a measure of grace and things happen. I have often said God could send a bolt of lightning to destroy me and not have to apologize to my family and friends. I would have gotten only what I deserved. Complaining about a momentary pause in God’s favor is like saying I deserve what I don’t deserve. It’s a contradiction in terms and shows a lack of understanding of the grace of God. 

I don’t pray much for justice anymore because I am afraid I might get it. In the future, when you’re tempted to say, “Why me, God?” I hope your question is instead, “Why not me, Lord?”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DodgertonSkillhause.)

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An Elevated State

I was leaving from a place of less than 1,000 feet above sea level to over 5,000 feet. Talk about extremity in a matter of travel hours. In preparing for my journey, I researched the city, culture, cuisine, and climate. I was advised to prepare for extra water intake, sunscreen, and extreme temperature changes of day and night. As well, I prepared for altitude sickness, but in all my preparation, I still had adjustments. Nothing like the real experience.

My breathing was heavier while I walked on flat lands. Dry throat along with periods of dizziness and exhaustion were my initial physical reactions in the first few days. My sleep patterns changed too. I also processed information and details quicker. As the days progressed, the physical reactions in my body leveled, but the requirements for living at an elevated state were still intact.

Elevation means “a height above a given level.” In viewing the definition from a life perspective, whenever one experiences an elevation in our spiritual growth, ministry, or assignment, there are adjustments and changes necessary to sustain that elevated state. Living your life with the same faith and spiritual practices at higher altitudes will create unnecessary illness, distraction, and hardship. Elevation requires not only a physical but a mental adjustment. More discipline, extra care for the body, and greater stamina are also required.

Oftentimes we realize God has granted an elevation in our lives, but we have haphazardly prepared. Moving higher requires us to take in deeper breaths of God grace and depend upon His provision for survival and sustainability.

Drink more from the fountain of life, and exercise your faith to remain fit for the lifestyle. More is given to us, and more is required of us. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Koan.)

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Getting My Priorities Straight

What is my priority for today?

I ask myself this question every day. And that’s a good thing. Getting the wrong priority is not. If God has saved us for eternal life, but we are still here,  it just makes sense He has a job for each and every one of us to do. Otherwise, He would call us home. 

Finding out what that job may be is yet another story. Asking Him for guidance for what He wants us to do for the day seems to be the only way to find out. Proverbs 3 was the answer for me: Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and look not unto your own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.

I spent several years bemoaning the fact that God wasn’t sending me on any more overseas mission trips. Then one summer I took a trip back to my hometown and discovered many of my friends were on walkers, using canes, and, in one instance, in a nursing home. It didn’t seem right that I still had the use of all my faculties, walked a mile a day, was still driving, and generally felt great while they were all undergoing these problems. 

It became clear what my shift in priorities was. I was no longer to go on overseas mission trips. He even made it crystal clear by having my cardiologist forbid me to go on long flights anymore. Rather, God wanted me to use my efforts right here at home. Now I delight in picking up people to go to church who might not otherwise have a way.

Visiting my shut-in friend is something that has become high on my list.  Also, I discovered a need I didn’t know existed: cancer patients need rides to their appointments badly. I contacted the American Cancer Society, and now I’m on their list of drivers. It’s my third year of doing this, and I find it so humbling. You can always find someone whose needs are greater than your own—and usually you don’t have to look very far.

God saved me for eternal life many years ago, but my life on earth is so blessed now that I can ask Him every morning, “What would You have me to do today?” 

Take time to ask God what His priority is for you today.   

(Photo courtesy of  morguefile and mensatic.)

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Fire and Soap

“What did you learn today?” My father considered it his duty to ensure I learned something every day. It wasn’t important that I reveal the answer to an age-old problem. I needed only to speak a statement like, “I learned the primary export of Argentina is beef.” He would be satisfied.

One day the conversation turned to cleaning. I think I asked, “How does soap work?”

“Look it up,” was Dad’s usual answer, but this time he simply said, “Emulsification.”

Oh, great, a word I didn’t know. Now I’ll surely hear, “Look it up.” But no. “It’s the act of bubbles lifting the dirt off the surface.” It was an acceptable choice of words for my edification.

In Malachi 3, we learn of God’s displeasure with His people. He mentions how He’ll come in righteous judgment against all the major sins as we know them. He will sit in judgment with a refiner’s fire and soap. That seems to be a contradiction unless one considers the end result of the two processes. Both restore purity.

No matter which process we require, God will take us through it. Further into Malachi reside the promises of God for those who learn the lesson and submit to Him. He removes the generational curse that prohibited the family from recognizing the sin, the dirt, and the stain of complaining to God that no matter what they have done in support of the church, they yet do not prosper. He further states that when one does stop robbing God and performs a righteous offering, God grants a reprieve from the curse and restores discernment—between those who do evil and those who don’t, and between those who serve Him and those who don’t.

How we go about our daily walk determines how God judges our actions. If He sees actions based upon the fear of the Lord, He judges righteously, removes the curse, and we prosper through spiritual discernment. If we continue to rob God, He reverts to refining us, by fire if necessary, or by soap if we so submit.

We’re all human and we all sin. By which method would you prefer to be cleansed?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kzinn.)

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Going Through a Transition

“The only thing that is constant is change.” ~ Heraclitus

I have a big change looming ahead. In two short months, I will retire from my position as an elementary principal. My resignation letter mentioned the overused term “bittersweet.”

I taught before moving into the administrative side fifteen years ago. You do not have to be a teacher to envision the environment – spatially populated, colossal energy, unending dialogue. Schools are busy, noisy, and active places.

As a principal, I love to interact with the students. I frequent the lunchroom and the classrooms. I greet arrivals and dismissals. My “lunch bunch” program ensures I have lunch with every student throughout the school year.

I am on my final day of spring break. We didn’t travel, so it has been a quiet week. I keep thinking, “This is my life in two months,” and that frightens me. Yet with every transition in life, something is lost and something is gained. I know what I am losing. I wish I had more insight to gain.

The Bible is ripe with examples of significant transitions. Abram was called to leave Ur. Joseph was sold into slavery. Paul was struck down and redeemed.

Some transitions are by choice while others are unwelcomed. Some are significant while others are routine. Mine is retirement. What is your transition? Marriage? New job? Baby? Geographic move? Empty nest? Cancer?

When I look backward on my life, I can see God so clearly. He has been present through every passage of time. My challenge is to turn that knowledge to faith as I look ahead. Whether big or small, chosen, or intrusive, God is on both sides of the transition. He will walk through the journey with us and will be present at the other end. I can look forward to the next chapter in my life story because God has a plan and it is good.

One thing that is certain never to change – God.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and 46birds.)

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Slacker's Remorse

As far back as I can remember I've always been a procrastinator. No matter the task or obligation, I always seemed to put it off until the last minute. It didn't matter if I was studying for an exam while working on my Master's Degree, preparing for a project at work, or promising to write at least thirty minutes a day, I'd always wait until the last minute to tackle it or not do it at all. This is what I call "Slacker's Remorse."

For years, I  thought my ability to focus all of my energy at one time to accomplish a goal within mere hours was a special power of mine. I thought I was a superhero with the ability to shut out everything else to write a 10-page paper in a day without batting an eye. So why couldn't I focus or organize my day in such a way that I was able to accomplish anything my little heart desired?

Nothing seemed to work. The more lists I made, the more things remained undone. My feelings of inadequacy increased. Slacker’s remorse hit. So how do all of us that want to accomplish our goals, do it? 

I'm not ashamed to admit I sometimes need help in trying to navigate life. But not just in the way of organizing myself or saying some mantra every morning. I need something that evokes real change in my life. And then it hit me. Maybe I'll always be this way. Maybe all I can do is show up each day and do my best.

With everything and everyone moving at the speed of light, I need to remember my best is going to vary from minute to minute and day by day. What I aspire to and accomplish is going to change even when I'm at my peak. Just knowing that is enough to quiet the sometimes restless soul when it's screaming to do more. I'm learning to simply relax and let it come to me. As soon as I settle my heart and allow it to be open, the words flow like the Nile.

I didn't worry about perfecting anything or meeting a specific deadline. I just listened to my body, and when the words came, I was ready. So today you may feel a bit of "Slackers Remorse," but remember tomorrow is another day.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and grietgriet.)

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A Clear Conscience

“How does he sleep at night?” The words were sermonized in my mind and spoken about a person who conducted daily affairs in a dishonorable way.

What about me? Is a clear conscience true in my life? Does the same sermon apply to how I conduct myself?

We often consider the “small” things less weighty in comparison to issues on a much larger scale. Contemplate the way a simple untruth is displayed in our lives: “I didn’t eat the last donut” (I answer with glazed icing stuck in the corner of my mouth). Perhaps trivial to some, but I am revealing myself to have falsehood.

According to God’s Word, truthfulness is all encompassing. There are no little or white lies, and dishonesty is wrongdoing in any form or shape. If we are not people of integrity in all matters, we are not full of truth.

Honorable actions are scarce. Threads of dishonesty are weaved throughout culture’s tapestries in business, politics, relationships, and in the church. Visible or unseen banners denoting, “Truth does not dwell here.”

The honest, gospel truth is from the very character of God. The goodness of God is found in Jesus and can be imparted to us. Holy attributes including love, kindness, mercy, honor, and compassion. Let us not forget the Lord is equally just and the epitome of truthfulness. Characteristics we can aspire to imitate in Christ. Acting honorable in all things!

I don’t know about you, but I want to lay down and sleep at night with a squeaky-clean conscience. Take a look at the threads of honor in your life, and observe how you are conducting yourself. What tapestry are you weaving in your workplace, family, church, and community? Display the banner, “Truth lives here.”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Kemeki.)

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Preparing the Way of the Lord

I was about to leave home for an important meeting about a long-standing financial burden. Before I left, I felt the desire to write a check for my church’s construction fund and also to write a check to deposit into my savings account. I took my checkbook out, anticipating I’d be writing those two checks after the meeting because the burden would have been removed. By God’s grace, He indeed removed that financial burden. I joyfully and gratefully wrote those checks that night.

Preparing the way of the Lord like this is not an exercise in trying to “sway” God to do something we want done. He is sovereign. We are subservient. It’s not that we are trying to convince God to do something. But when He prompts us to take an action in anticipation of an outcome we’ve requested (and that is within His will), I believe it activates our faith.

After the woman with the issue of blood touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, He told her that her faith had made her well. The healing came from Him, but her faith was the channel to manifest it in her life.

I encourage you to prepare the way of the Lord with a specific, tangible act of faith linked to the petitions, dreams, and desires you have presented before Him. Look for those opportunities and promptings and act on them. Then watch God do amazing things in your life.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jclk8888.)

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I have been given a second chance at parenting. While most grandparents have the luxury of spoiling their grands and sending them home, our granddaughter has lived under our roof for most of her five years. She is a joy—and a challenge. Let me just say chasing a toddler was a whole lot easier when I was twenty-five.

During my first chance at parenting, I followed the current trends in parenting, and they didn’t work so great. They advocated a TLC approach—treat them tenderly, love the child, and care for their self-esteem. Sounded good, but created some problems.

That strategy proved faulty, so given a second chance, I turned to the Scriptures. I spent many unproductive hours scouring the Bible for a positive parent role model. I looked at Noah. Nope. Then at King David. Not hardly. Even Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob fell short.

I had to be missing something. I lifted my eyes from the pages and aired my frustration to God, “Where should I look?”

When I finally lifted my gaze to the Father, I saw the perfect parent. I noted His parenting strategy. He taught a different form of TLC.

Train – I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you (Psalm 32:8 ESV).

Listen – Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you (Jeremiah 29:12 ESV).

Correct Those Whom I Love –  I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent (Revelation 3:19 ESV).

To become a better parent, I need to be an obedient child. Only then can I train, listen, correct, and be less likely to provoke my own children.

If you are a Christian, you are a child of God and have been called to parent. You may or may not have biological children, but God has given His followers the task to train spiritual children in their faith.

Who has God given you to parent? Are you providing them with His form of TLC?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Sgarton.)

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Whom Do You Trust?

It was pitch black except for the light illuminating the plane engine outside the passenger window. 

“Flight attendants take your seats. NOW!” boomed the speaker above my head. Flight attendants scurried to finish their tasks and take their seats. A few seconds later, the plane began to dip and bob as it started to descend through massive clouds on its way to the landing strip. I gazed out the window at the illuminated engine and wing. Condensation from the cloud wrapped around it as if snuggled in a cozy blanket. I could see nothing else.

In that moment, my thoughts wandered to the pilot and his ability to see us safely to the airport below. I reflected how every day millions of people board planes and don’t think twice about pilots getting them to their destination. Travelers trust that when they step into the plane, they will be delivered safely.

We also do that with restaurants, don’t we? Who considers the sanitary conditions of the kitchens, the freshness of the food, or the ability of the cook to prepare it correctly when we walk into a restaurant? We eat out, spend lots of money, and never think twice.

Whether we realize it or not, we are a society of trusting people. We put our trust in people we don’t know. We place our lives in the hands of people we haven’t met and never will. We depend on these unknowns to provide something of value in our lives. Why is that? Why is it we can trust humans who are fallible, yet have such a hard time trusting in God who is not? 

Throughout the Bible, God encourages us repeatedly to put our trust in Him.  We see proof of His goodness recorded in its pages. We know people who have had amazing things happen in their lives that can only be attributed to God. So trusting Him should be easy. 

If you’re still not sure, try giving God a chance. Allow Him to take the wheel of your life. Trust Him to guide your way.  When you do, have faith He will see you safely to your final destination. After all, He already knows where your journey will end.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and MaryRN.)

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Waiting for His Presence

One of my best friends lives in Ohio. Karen loves to hike, climb rough trails, and just walk. Anything she can do to get outside and breathe fresh air pleases her. She doesn’t hesitate to walk, even in cold weather. Over the years of our friendship, she taught me to enjoy nature, but she knows to get another friend for the long hikes.

Walking is peaceful and refreshing. Depending on the pace one sets, it can be relaxing. When I visit Karen and Don’s home, she and I walk through the subdivision at our leisure or at a nearby park. We share our inner thoughts with one another as we stroll. No one else is around, so we can share our hearts fully and we’ve helped each other through serious life issues.

Adam and Eve must have loved to walk with God each evening. I’m sure they anticipated that time of day and the communion they’d have with the Creator. Perhaps they shared with their Father how they loved the landscape of the Garden of Eden. God may have called their attention to the great variety of plant life and flowers. Then, Adam and Eve most likely opened their hearts to their Father and received wisdom and guidance from Him.

Think of it. The maker and master of the Universe chose to leave His abode and come down to fellowship with His creation. They heard His footsteps along a path through the garden and the rustling leaves as He came near. Usually, they looked forward to His visit. When they chose to disobey, the shame in their heart caused them to break fellowship with the Lord. They hid.

You and I can walk and commune with God in the cool of the evening or early in the morning. Or we can sit in our favorite chair with a cup of cocoa or coffee as we read words from the book He inspired writers to pen.

Even if we’ve sinned, we can bow before Him and ask forgiveness. Don’t hide. He desires fellowship with us. Look for Him in the midst of your day. Listen carefully for His footsteps. Get to a quiet place so you can hear His gentle voice. Anticipate His coming. Then say, “Welcome, Lord.”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and GospelMessage.)

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If You Keep Coming

After no serious workouts for several years, I attended my first Pilates class. My main achievement was to finish the class. Aside from that feat, my performance lacked any measure of "well done."  

 I spoke to my instructor afterwards. "So, it's normal for my tummy to shake like a bowl of jelly during this workout?"

She pondered, then uttered one syllable. "Yes."   

I don't know if I considered the question important or if I desperately needed the validation. However, she did answer, so I ventured another. "The quivering will stop?"

 "If you keep coming ..." The end of her brief statement trailed off.  

I would have laughed if it didn't ache so much. Every part of me burned like I had run a marathon. As I dragged my weary body out the door, I vowed to "keep coming." Over the next few weeks, I gained strength and lost the jello-tummy. Well, mostly. Aches and pains abounded, but I had gained strength and was happy with my progress.

Then, due to events on the home front, I dropped the Pilates class. When I did exercise, I opted for afternoons when no classes were available. Even though I had temporarily lost the vision to get in shape, the instructor's words echoed in my mind. "If you keep coming ..."

Months later, I donned workout clothes and attended Pilates class again. My hope that it would be easier this time around proved false. Nevertheless, I expected more of myself. And sure enough, good results happened. My body toned and I lost weight. I had better focus because the mental fog had cleared. After years of seesawing, I committed to physical exercise on a regular basis.

Just as I committed to regular exercise for the physical benefits, I often need to make a fresh spiritual commitment. Whether it's in the area of Bible study, prayer, or church attendance, it's easy to lag behind, misplace priorities, or simply go through the motions.

Every so often, I still hear the Pilate instructor's voice saying, "If you keep coming ..." In other words, if we persevere, then we will receive good results.

Just keep coming.  

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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The Power of Weakness

As a child, I suffered from a speech impediment. I started stuttering at the age of three and struggled with the problem until adulthood.

Stuttering became something I could not hide or change within myself. I struggled to formulate words and became very frustrated with myself. An act that most people saw as natural as breathing was a daily struggle for me. I would sit in private horror worrying the teacher might call on me to speak. In college, I avoided small classes to hide my private shame. My whole life was conditioned to accommodate my great insecurity. Fear controlled my daily thoughts. I was a prisoner of fear, and my weakness controlled every step I took in the world.    

When I felt the call of ministry on my young life, I naturally ran with great fear. In my mind, I was not anybody God could use for anything great. My life was destined to be controlled by my weakness. In my attempt to disqualify myself, I actually proved myself worthy to be called of the Lord. In my weakness, the power of God could be seen. Through my dependence on Him, He could speak through me.  I could not find one person in the Bible apart from Christ who was perfect.

God uses the weak to prove Himself in an unbelieving world. He uses the discarded to prove His love, and He uses the meek to conquer the world. His love is greater than our fear, and His power is only revealed in our weakness.

In my weakness, I stepped out from my fear and found God’s power. I now speak to hundreds and write inspirational articles to encourage many. The one thing in my life I thought was useless, God transformed into something amazing.

You may be at the same place I was many years ago. You may be trapped in a cocoon of fear watching the world pass you. God can use your weakness for greatness, and He can take your fear and turn it into passion. There is not one thing that can limit you in the Lord today.

Take that first step out of your fear and simply trust God with your future. He will turn your shame into greatness for all to see! 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and LittleJack.)

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Revealing the Father

“I do too have a daddy,” my four-year-old sister Carol said, stomping her foot. Her little friend, Sandy, would not be convinced. My sister, Linda, and I came to Carol’s defense and confirmed we did indeed have a father. Even my mother’s intervention couldn’t stop the doubt.

But in 1964 it certainly looked like my mother was a single parent. Dad was an air traffic controller with the U. S. Air Force. He had moved his family to southern Illinois to be close to our other kin before going to Vietnam for one year.

Our lonely year was filled with letters and gifts arriving daily in the mail … constant reminders of our father’s love.  Carol would rush to show her friend her gifts or tell her we received a letter. Still, Sandy doubted. When the year ended and Dad arrived home, Carol dragged her friend into my parent’s bedroom where our father was sleeping after his long flight home.

“There’s my daddy,” Carol exclaimed, pointing at his sleeping form.

How often do we find ourselves assuring people we really do have a Heavenly Father who cares for us. He sends us assurances of His love in the Scriptures. Jesus gifts us daily through answered prayer. But until those around us can experience Him in their own hearts—until we can direct them to Him and declare, “There’s your daddy”—they will doubt us. And until they truly see Him with the eyes of the Spirit, they will always view our father as a figment of our imagination.

They will be watching us, observing what manner of father we have by the lives we lead. One day they will see as the Holy Spirit draws them, and they will declare, “I do too have a daddy.”

Stand firm in your belief. Your Father is watching.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and taliesin.)

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Ever been to the Grand Canyon? If not, I must say you are missing a masterpiece of natural art that offers us a glimpse into God’s creative imagination. I’ve been there twice, and I can tell you firsthand of its incredible, jaw-dropping majesty.

But not all who have stood at its rim while dizzily peering into the canyon’s soul have shared this sentiment. In fact, the leader of an army detachment sent in 1857 to scout the American Southwest was mostly underwhelmed when he first sighted the canyon. Quoting from his expedition notes, he stated:

“The region is, of course, altogether valueless. It can be approached only from the South, and after entering it there is nothing to do but leave. Ours has been the first, and will doubtless be the last, party of whites to visit this profitless locality. It seems intended by nature that the Colorado river, along with the greater portion of its lonely and majestic way, shall be forever unvisited and undisturbed.” Lt. Joseph Christmas Ives, 1857 US War Dept. expedition

I wonder if Lt. Ives were around today, would he like the opportunity to rephrase his assessment? This same landscape he judged worthless is now among the greatest natural treasures in the US National Park System. It attracts around five million visitors each year, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Not to mention that the Colorado River, by way of Hoover Dam, provides electricity and water to tens of millions who live in the Southwest. So which was truly “valueless” --- the canyon and its river, or Lt. Ives’ assessment of them?

Yet with all the Grand Canyon’s splendor, there is another creation God prizes even more—you. You are the apex of His creation. And when anyone, including you, questions your worth, God laughs just as hard as we do at Lt. Ives’ journal entry. He knows the worth of His creation. When looking at you, God sees the potential in your life even when others do not.

So don’t let the Ives’ of this world convince you that you have no value. The only one who can truly assign value appraised you as “priceless” when He sacrificed His own son to add you to His family. So when you look in the mirror, look past the paper-thin veil of a worthless report and be awe-struck by the potential of God’s most wonderful creation.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and PercyPants.)

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“What are you afraid of?” the pastor asked as he began his weekly sermon.

The thought sprang to my mind: eternity. I’m not afraid of death. I’m afraid of eternity.  

It scares me. The “foreverness” gets me. No beginning. No ending. Here on earth I am secure, in between a beginning and an ending. I wake up in the morning when the sun brightens the day and go to bed at night when darkness steals the light.

Someday time will vanish and eternity will begin. When that happens, we’ll go on forever. Facing the unknown makes shivers creep up my back. What will life be like? Will it still be called life? Will I know those I have loved on earth ... my husband and children, parents and friends?                   

Since kindness will fill everyone’s hearts in heaven, my flat notes should be ignored when we sing praise songs. Maybe I won’t have to sing. Perhaps I can praise Him with devotional thoughts from my heart like Kahlil Gibran, the poet, hoped to do. He expected to meet his unpainted paintings and unwritten words in heaven.

I will tuck the thought away for now. Seeing Jesus will surely inspire greater words than I have been able to formulate here. Jesus has been my guide all these years, touching pain with healing, turning heartaches into joy, and transforming dark skepticism into bright belief.

I have no need to fear eternity when someday I will wake renewed and see God’s glory before me. Until then, let me wait with joy for my entrance into His presence, anticipating marvels I can’t imagine. When it happens, I’ll throw off the wrappings of time and see Jesus.

All my questions will be resolved, and I will be glad to exchange today for the forever of what God has in store for those who believe in Him.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jamierodriguez37.)

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Warning: check tire pressure. The words glared at me from the dashboard as I started my car one frigid Monday morning. I had a busy schedule at the office that day, so I tried to ignore it. But instead of heading toward my normal route to work, I reluctantly pulled into an auto repair shop. About 20 minutes later, a mechanic informed me, “You picked up a nail.”

As I left the auto repair shop a couple of hours later, I began thinking about nails.

The nails Jesus took for humanity in His crucifixion not only paved the way for eternal life with Him, but they also nullify our sin debt once we have received Him as Lord and Savior. Sadly, many of us sit in self-imposed debtors’ prisons. When we hold on to confessed, repented-of, and forgiven sins, it’s like we’re saying, “Jesus, I know You paid the price for my sins, and I thank You. But that’s not good enough. So, I’ll stay locked behind these bars of guilt, shame, and condemnation – that will really take care of my sins.”

What do you still feel guilty about that God has long forgiven? Debtors’ prison is no place for children of God. Let’s leave it behind and walk in liberty. Let go just as God has.

Lord Jesus, thank You that because of the nails You took, we rejoice in the words of the classic hymn, “. . . my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mike.)

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Poison Control

My wife called poison control. I shoved my face under the sink, shoveling handfuls of water into my eyes and mouth. It burned and burned.

The fire ants had decided to return, and I had been outside spraying around the house with a pesticide. But just as I bent over to unscrew the lid, the container slipped out of my hands. The liquid fire ant killer splashed into my face—my eyes and mouth wide open.

But you know what? My wife didn’t really have to call poison control. I knew where to go. It was instinctive. It was immediate. It was essential. It was ALL THAT MATTERED. I went to the water. The lady on the phone told my wife I needed to rinse my eyes non-stop for fifteen to twenty minutes.

But how long do my prayers for cleansing last? Five seconds? “Ah, shoot. Please forgive me for that. Injesusnameamen.”

Hmmmm? I sure don’t act like sin burns that badly most of the time, do I? But that’s exactly one of the devil’s great deceptions, isn’t it? “You don’t need a thorough cleansing,” he says. Or, “Not right away. You can take care of it later. It’s not that bad.”

But I am a sinner. And I need deep cleansing. It’s a regular thing.

Let’s ask God for help not to put off the washing we need. And let’s pray that we would feel the inner burning caused by sin and run to the Water for a “thorough” cleansing.

Fifteen to twenty minutes might be a good way to start, don’t you think?

Just start.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mensatic.)

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Twenty-Four Years

At the age of twenty-four I received the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer. After the battle, the doctor told me I couldn’t get pregnant for at least two years. I anxiously waited three. My doctor’s concerns were that pregnancy could cause the cancer to return. 

It’s now been twenty-nine years. God is faithful. My first child was born April 13, 1990. My oncologist came to the hospital to see us the day she was born. “She’s a miracle baby,” he said.

Certainly, we would all say we want our kids blessed by God. We pray for them all their lives and do our best to lead them. We direct babies in the way they should go. As Christian parents, we pray over our kids and with our kids. We love our babies and there isn’t anything more special than being a parent.

Parenting is such a privilege and a blessing from the Lord. God tells us repeatedly that if we obey, He will bless us. Children are a blessing from Him. God gives us His commands not to hurt us, but to bless us. He gives us these dos and don’ts to give us the boundaries we should stay within and to protect us from bad choices and the consequences which follow. He has unimaginable plans and blessings waiting for those who listen and obey His commands.

My precious miracle baby is now twenty-five. We could have let fear grip us as she turned twenty-four, since that was the exact age I had breast cancer. However, we chose not to walk in fear but to trust the Lord with all of our heart.

Pray for your children. Lift them up daily before the Father for His protection, guidance, and care. God will hear and heed your prayers.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and greyerbaby.)

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Just One More Mustard Seed

On a trip to Chicago, my mom and I came to a tollbooth. Actually, it was the third booth we’d passed through in the last hour. For the first two, we had given the woman our money and gone through. No problems. This one, however, tested our limits. The sign told us to pay $1.30. Seems simple enough, right? And it was until we saw the five-letter word printed underneath the amount. “Coins.”

We pulled beside the booth, realizing we needed to come up with $1.30 in coins—and fast. The car behind us honked as we searched. Her purse. My purse. The center console, glove compartment, door storage. We searched everywhere, but we still came up seventeen cents short.

The Scriptures tell us we only need faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains. Reading that verse, it sounds like a reasonable amount of faith to give, just like $1.30 for the toll. However, when you’re staring up at the mountain and searching through your pockets, purse, and the ground around you, you realize the value of that seed. It may be all you have. You may not have enough. Either way, you’ll be franticly searching.

We rolled past that tollbooth seventeen cents short of our payment. There are times when I stare at the mountain one mustard seed short. The tollbooth wasn’t exactly merciful, and it certainly didn’t help us come up with the change.  However, God isn’t a tollbooth.

When you’re staring up at the mountain, God doesn’t hold out His hand and wait for you to pay your fee. All He asks is that you trust Him enough not to give up. With Him on your side, you’ll come up with that mustard seed, even if you have nothing else.

God will take your faith and double it. Triple it. He’ll make you strong enough to move that mountain. When you come to your next spiritual toll and you’re searching everywhere for the mustard seed, remember you’re not alone.  Trust God enough to keep searching, and you’ll find it every time.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jmiltenburg.)

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Never Alone

My parents were going away on a trip, but I didn’t want them to leave.

At five years of age, I was sick with croup and craved the comfort of their presence. Our pastor and his wife stayed with my sister and me for the weekend. Mom placed a vaporizer/humidifier in my room. The cool mist enabled me to breathe more easily. Mom also wrote a message of love for me on a blackboard and put it by my bed so I could see it when I awakened. But one morning, I saw that the vaporizer’s mist had erased Mom’s message. I was inconsolable. To my child’s mind, the connection to my mom was gone. I wept as someone tried to comfort me. I wished with all my heart I could get that love note back.

When the time came for Jesus to leave earth, His disciples were grief-stricken and afraid. The visible connection to their Savior would soon be gone. They couldn’t imagine a life where they could no longer hear His voice or walk beside Him. But before He left, He promised them He would send His Holy Spirit to dwell in them and be their constant comfort and guide.

Today we have that promise too. We also have His written Word. It’s His personal message of love to us, and nothing can erase it. Not heartache or fears or loss of loved ones. Not even the fog and confusion of His apparent absence. His words are forever. They are our comfort and strength until we see Jesus face-to-face and the time of separation is finally over.

As a little five-year-old, I learned that just because the message disappeared, it didn’t mean my mom’s love had been lost. I had to trust she would return and I would be taken care of in the meantime.

What do you do when you don’t feel God’s presence? He hasn’t left you. Challenge your feelings with the truth of God’s Word. He has promised to never leave nor forsake us. His Holy Spirit is within us. We are never alone.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Warunee.)

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Wait, Again

The host fumbled with the paper. Shesh. I’m dying here. Just make the announcement.

She straightened the papers and glanced at the award plaques on the table. It was only seconds, but it felt like hours. I’d waited a month to find out if I’d won.

Actually, I’d waited longer than that. It took seven months to craft the novel. Three years to shop and sell it. Another year after the contract was signed for the publication and now, a month since the announcement of being a finalist. Without a doubt—a lot of waiting.

From the day I began the novel, I prayed two things: Help me keep my eyes focused on you. Let this work be to your glory, not mine.

Of course, I’d thought about what I prayed . . . but not deeply enough. I had made a concerted effort to give God the glory for the success of this novel, and when it was a finalist for a major award, I tried my best to keep those thoughts in mind. Well, I managed on the outside to keep those thoughts in the forefront. Internally, next to my heart, I longed to win just once.

So, when the host tinkered with her papers holding the winner’s name, I just wanted her to get on with it. The wait was killing me.

Lord, let this be a glory to you. That was my prayer sitting at the table, wringing my hands. Waiting.

The host moved closer to the microphone and announced the winner. Uh . . . not me. Instantly, my heart sank. A forced smile surfaced as I clapped for the winner.

David prayed a number of times to be strong and wait. Wait. His words of encouragement attest to the fact that he himself had to learn to be strong and wait in whatever task he worked or desired. God trained him in the fields, not in the throne room, and there was an art to being strong while he waited. Patience, anticipation, hope, and success—all in God’s timing.

I was ashamed of myself. Disappointed, but ashamed. I’d prayed fervently from the inception of the novel that God would use it to His glory, not mine. Being a finalist gave God the glory—a win would have given me the glory. God knew where my heart was at the moment, and though I’m sure He understood my disappointment, He taught me a valuable lesson: learning to wait on His timing is better.

When the desires of your heart grow strong . . . learn to wait on God. His wisdom and power are well worth the wait.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Darnok.)

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Old Wrapping Paper

I couldn’t find the right size gift bag for the hostess gift I planned to take to a friend. As I sifted through the stash of bags in a drawer, I found a package of unopened wrapping paper. I bought the paper from a little boy in our church who was selling it for a school fundraiser. I tore open the cellophane wrap, and it was exactly what I needed. As I began wrapping the gift, I pictured the boy and realized the paper was almost twenty years old. Hidden in a drawer, it had gone unopened all these years. There were many times I could have used it. Instead, I spent time shopping for other paper. I wonder how much time I wasted in the past twenty years doing that.

Peter tells us God’s power provides everything we need for daily living. In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we read of the praise to God who has blessed us with wonderful spiritual blessings through Christ His Son. We have God’s unlimited resources, yet we struggle and try human solutions rather than pray for wisdom or rely on His Word for direction. It’s easy to scan the self-help shelves of bookstores or seek the advice of someone who tells us what we want to hear. Too often, we choose a good solution rather than God’s best path. We often leave our Bible unopened when it has promises of encouragement and principles for living.

Pull open your chest of drawers and look for the beautiful paper hidden away. When you’ve failed to open God’s Word and access His power for daily living, remember it is exactly what you need. Don’t waste time shopping for a substitute. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cohdra.)

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David's Courage

Defining moments happen on a daily basis in our lives, so the question is not, Will adversity come? The question is, What will you do when it comes your way? 

David was at the lowest point of his life in this Scripture: Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters.  But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.

This moment was telling him he was a failure, and his journey in the wilderness was all in vain. He came back to his home in Ziklag to find his family and the families of his men taken hostage by the Amalekites. In a moment of weakness, his men turned on him, blaming him for their trouble and heartache. In their human nature, they sought out the source of their misfortune, but it is in David’s actions where we find the hidden gem of truth that articulates God’s abounding love for us.

All the elements leading to a quick demise seemed to have come down on David. He chose to be strong in the Lord because he came to the end of his own strength and realized the source of his determination was not in his ability but in God’s power. 

We will find adversity in some aspect of daily life, but it is how we react to those moments that will define our outcome. Adversity will attempt to imprint sorrow on our soul, but the Lord has promised us great things in His Word that will rejuvenate our joy. When the Word became flesh in Christ, the promises of God became tangible for us to obtain. As we gain His strength, we realize His strength has no limits or weakness. In our weakness, He is made strong in us. 

There is greatness in you, but adversity will try to steal your courage and joy. Be strong in the Lord. When the storm comes, get your strength from above. Be stubborn in the promises of God for your life, and be immovable in your goals and dreams. You will succeed and you will achieve your dreams because God simply cannot let you down.  Emulate David’s determination, and strengthen yourself in God’s everlasting love for you. Keep going! 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and dmscs.)

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What If

It was the strangest thing, our neighbor coming to my friend’s house telling me I needed to go home. I entered, somewhat concerned, wondering if or why I was in trouble.

“I need to tell you something. We lost your brother today,” my father said.

“Oh, no, Dad. He told me when he left for school this morning that track practice was starting today. He asked me to tell you he would be late coming home.” 

My father looked me in the eyes and said, “Honey, you don’t understand, Doug died today.”

Instantly, I felt as if I would crumble to the floor as the news set in. How could this be?  At my tender age of thirteen, I could not wrap my mind around the news.

Throughout my life, I’ve found myself continuously playing scenarios over in my head. What if this happens? What if I lose my parents? What if something happens to my sister? What if I die young? What if, what if, what if? I thought if I played the scene in my mind I would be prepared for any hurt or worry. As I matured, I found the words in Philippians better prepare me. Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God?s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.When I find myself beginning to worry, I try to turn first to prayer instead of planning and preparing myself.

As children of God, there is much we don’t understand. It is a mystery much of the time believing and trusting without seeing. Through our blind faith, Paul tells us not to worry but instead to turn our worries into prayers, and God’s peace will see us through. We, of course, are all going to worry; it is our human nature. However, if our first reaction is prayer, we relinquish control of the situation, allowing God to work in us, comfort us, and guard our hearts. In prayer, God also helps us recognize blessings found in any situation. I’m blessed with the memories I have of my brother.

No one knows what life experiences we will be asked to go through. We may find ourselves worrying or upset about our families, our finances, our relationships, and, yes, even the death of a loved one. It is a challenge placed before each of us to react first to any worry or concern by turning to God in prayer. Don’t let the what if come first.

(Photo courtesy of micrsoft office.)

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You Did Not Choose Me

Men usually feel they have chosen the woman. Actually, the smile girls have on their face when they hear a boy say such things is a smile that comes from knowing they have accomplished their task of mate selection. Girls know men are hunters and women are shoppers.

Women choose their mates on the basis of whether the male appears to have the traits necessary to father, protect, and provide. A man hunts for the most appealing and satisfying trophy. A female grizzly bear is a good example of mate selection. When her body is preparing for babies, she is very gentle and compliant. She invites the male (who is busy tearing up trees to impress her) to approach and provide her with what she needs. Later, after the babies come, she will fight him to the death if he gets too close.

God’s children often are preoccupied with accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior and miss out on the core of an abiding relationship. The center of Christianity is not what we are, but what He does. We did not choose Him, He chose us.

My wife chose me out of many possibilities—much to my surprise. For a while, she was a model for the fur industry in Alaska, so obviously she looks good. But she is more beautiful inside than she is beautiful outside. She is aging well because she loves Jesus, and it shows.

Jesus chose me, a sinner who was a child of disobedience. He is more beautiful than a sunrise. Any beauty I have is only a reflection of Him. I love Him so. Knowing the Creator personally, I feel nature is my friend—a friend I cherish and attempt to live with in harmony. My heart feels blessed by all of my brothers and sisters no matter the color of their skin. We all have the same original parents. And it brings joy if they know Jesus because they are also my spiritual family, and what do we have without family?

Because of these thoughts and feelings, I’m grateful today to be more than just a man and more than an animal. And I quietly pray, Thank You for choosing me, Lord. Amen and Amen.

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I Do

The marriage vows were beautiful … almost magical. I listened with heightened awareness as the bride and groom repeated the timeless words, “I do” and “I will.” The young couple made promises to each other and created a covenant meant to last a lifetime.

As I heard the vows being made, I thought about how we enter our relationship with Jesus—our Bridegroom.

Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”

Peter’s answer? “Of course I do, Lord.”

Jesus asked men to follow Him as His disciples and they said, “I will.”

Jesus still asks questions of His followers today: Do you trust me? Will you serve me? Will you forgive your brother? Will you be obedient to My Word? 

Too many of us make hasty vows when we need to be rescued from a bad situation. “God, if you’ll get me out of this, I’ll do anything you want me to do.” Then, when He makes the slightest request, we come up with a multitude of excuses and renege on our vow.

Making vain promises to God we have no intention of keeping is not what He wants. His desire is for us to come to Him with a heart of love and adoration, giving ourselves completely to Him for all eternity. No strings attached. No fine print. No loopholes. And no backup plan. In turn, we are given a husband, father, savior, protector, provider, comforter, healer, counselor, and a trusted friend.

A covenant with our heavenly Bridegroom means everything we have is His, and everything He has is ours. All we have to do is believe and receive. The best news is that this covenant is not “until death do us part.” In this relationship, when we cross death’s threshold, that’s when the real celebration begins.

If God is speaking to your heart today—asking, Do you love me? Will you serve me?—let your answer be, “Yes, Lord. I do and I will.”

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Too Busy for God

Even when performing admirable actions, my busyness can lead me away from God.

I counted recently. Five jobs—one full-time and the others part-time. My total doesn’t represent workaholism … though I do struggle with enjoying downtime. My full-time job doesn’t pay enough to cover our bills, I must add a few part-time endeavors to get us over the hump. Thankfully, God has opened a number of doors, some of which I’ve had to close. I can only do so much in 24 hours, and I can only endure so much physically and emotionally.

Crowds pandered after Jesus. Occasions for Him to do good abounded. People needed healing, dead needed raising, sinners needed befriending, the hungry needed feeding, and religious leaders needed correcting. But there were times when He simply needed to get away to a solitary place so He could hear His Father.

I’m surrounded by worthwhile prospects on a daily basis just as Jesus was, but I’ve discovered I can perform good works and still miss God’s will. Just because honorable opportunities abound doesn’t mean God expects me to put my hands in each one. Pursuing a good agenda doesn’t necessarily mean I’m satisfying God’s agenda.

Finding out which of the opportunities God wants me to tackle is the key. Through intense prayer, I can discover the avenues He wants me to pursue. Then, rather than just blindly and busily trying to do everything, I can focus my energy on the right thing. I can’t affect every good thing accessible, but I can seize those that fulfill God’s vision and further fulfill the Great Commission.

Going full speed in all directions only leads to frustration, bad attitudes, burnout, and ultimate failure in those areas where I want so desperately to succeed. Being open to change and sensitive to God’s guidance will set my course in the direction He desires.

Are you so busy doing good that you can’t hear God’s instructions? Follow Jesus’ example: get away with the Father.

Prayer: Dear Father, amidst the many opportunities to do good, give us clear insight into which ones are Your will for our lives.

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Reading Between the Lines

I wept as I read the words on the closed Facebook page. I felt like they were so searing hot that if they were etched on paper it would be scorched. The mom wrote about soul torture, family chaos, and hopelessness over the way her children have turned out. The thief of addiction had ripped another family to shreds, and I could relate. I had walked in her shoes for way too many years. To say our children had gone astray was an understatement.

Moms who read this, I write to you. I write to the storm-tossed one who cannot sleep because of worry about the son or daughter on the streets. I know tears soak your pillow. You’re devastated by the abuse your child has done to themselves through addiction. You want to die.

I write to you as you pray they will call, yet at the same time you dread the next phone call. One mother cries, “Oh no, he’s in jail.” Another says, “I wish my child were in jail. At least I’d know where he was.” Stories are similar with one common thread—the mother’s love. The enemy comes to kill, steal, and destroy, and it hurts to be in the midst of his attacks.

Mom, I write to you so you will know you’re not alone in your pain and sorrow. Although the thief of addiction has killed your hopes, stolen your child, and destroyed your dreams, hang on to the last part of this verse: I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. 

Lord, I ask that You help us read between the lines of the words from hurting mothers and reach out to them in a comforting way. My child’s life changed just when I was about to give up.

Hold on to the hope that can be yours through Christ.

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Your One Word

“What is your one word?” she asked. “What one word describes where you are right now in your spiritual life?”

 I was part of a team preparing to lead a weekend retreat for women. Instantly, my mind began reviewing the difficulties of the previous years. My word was obvious: trusting. 

Actually, the word was one I had turned to often over the past ten years … especially in the days following my husband’s declaration: “I feel God is calling me into the ministry. So I want to quit my job and go back to school.” 

My first thought was he just needed to be more active in church and follow the lay leader track. Then the verse I had been relying on through another turmoil popped into my head: Trust in the Lord with all of your heart.

Through the various seasons of our lives, it is easy for our thoughts to get lost in questions and deducing why something is happening. What’s going on? When will this situation change? We’re sure we can figure everything out ourselves instead of turning to and trusting in God. Placing total trust in anything, even God, is often difficult for us. We can feel vulnerable, defenseless, and powerless. One of the wisest men in Scripture taught if we give our hearts over and trust God completely, He will lead us in the direction He desires us to go.

Often, we feel we should not bother God with every little situation or desire. We could not be more wrong. We are commanded to trust in Him and not depend on our own abilities. Our Heavenly Father loves us and wants the best for us. He already knows all the thoughts and desires of our hearts. We won’t always understand, and the questions will still go ‘round and ‘round in our head, but when we turn our hearts over to the Lord, He reveals the word to lead through a particular season.

Don’t rely on yourself. Rely on Him. He will guide you through.

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Changing Directions

“Lord, which decision do you want me to make?”

I’d ministered to teenagers for fifteen years. Teaching, planning parties like Around the World in a Day, leading the Bible Quiz Team to a state championship, and loving them. Yet, I felt it was time to move into another area of ministry.

Why would it be God’s will for me to stop doing what I’d done for so long? They needed me, didn’t they? I’d questioned God before, asking, “Am I doing any good? I can’t see any results.” I didn’t want to stop. I did my job well but realized I’d done a lot of it in my own strength. After wrestling with these questions for weeks, I decided to discontinue the youth work.

We already had an adult Sunday school class in our church, but I offered to teach an alternate class. After about a year, we had forty attending. A variety of ages signed up for our  four-week of Sunday’s marriage classes every spring. We also had parties … well, fellowships. The indoor beach event one winter was a hit. We learned to reach out in new ways to our classmates, such as when we cleaned Tammy’s house while she spent days at the hospital with her twelve-year-old son who had been diagnosed with Leukemia. And when a young mother of two was put on bed rest with her third pregnancy, a couple of ladies cleaned her house.

Ed was an intelligent, questioning student in the class that provoked me to deep lesson preparation. I knew I’d better know what I was teaching because Ed would likely ask me challenging questions. Later, I told Ed he’d made me a better teacher. I grew in the knowledge of God as He revealed Himself through the study of His Word. During those times of study and prayer, I came to a profoundly deeper relationship with God. I learned to depend on his power and unction to teach and minister to the class instead of  my own abilities.

God used Moses and Aaron in amazing ways, but even they understood the importance of asking for guidance and learning through their mistakes. When they failed, God’s grace covered them, and they grew deeper in their relationship with Him.

Being involved in ministry doesn’t mean you must do it the way you always have. God may have you change directions. He may have new things for you to learn about people and about Himself. When you ask God to show you which way to go, know He will guide you, even if it is in another direction.

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A New Windshield

One frigid January morning, Tom scraped my windshield. I had an early-morning appointment, and I was running late. By the time I crawled into the car, the windshield had iced over again. The scraper wasn’t in its spot, so I frantically grabbed a small metal box in my purse. It worked great and I was on my way.

Two days later, I was petrified as I drove facing the sun. There was a scratch on the glass. Not just one scratch, but multiples. My husband is quite fussy about his vehicles, and I dreaded telling him.

The men in the therapy clinic had plenty of advice.

"Call SafeLite. They will come to you now and fix it and your husband will never know.”

“Why didn't you use a credit card?"

One even went outside to see.  “Yes, I would kill my wife," he said with a grin.

I couldn’t concentrate on the therapy session because I knew I was doomed. Thankfully, my husband didn’t kill me. Neither did he berate or blame me. Even as I cried and begged forgiveness, he hugged me. “It can be fixed.” We had hoped it could be buffed with a coating, but the scratches were many and some too deep. This would cost more money.

I continued to criticize and condemn myself. How could I have been so irresponsible? What was I thinking, or why wasn't I thinking? Every single time I sit in that car, I am faced with the consequence of my careless, thoughtless actions. Those scratches seem to go deeper and deeper.

Soon my car will have a new windshield, and I will be freed of my guilt over this costly act. I will remember every time I look through that glass how costly my mistake was. I have a new understanding of my sin “ever before me.” No matter how many times I try to rub away the scratches, I can’t. Apart from replacing the windshield, I have no hope.

God, in his amazing grace and mercy, has forgiven me. As I come to Him in tears of sorrow, He reaches down and removes all the scratches. He gave me a new windshield. I see it every day, and I am filled with joy.

When you’re scratched deep, let Him buff away the divots.

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Good Gifts

My first bicycle was love at first sight. A glittery purple; fuchsia to be exact with a little white basket. And best of all, a white banana seat. I was the coolest kid on the block with my new bike. My brother got a bike too, but I don't remember a single thing about his. Darting up and down our neighborhood streets, I applied the brakes liberally creating dramatic fishtails everywhere I rode. I don't even remember what happened to that bike. All that's left is the memory of a marvelous gift.

Years later, as an adult, I taught three doctors' daughters how to conduct themselves with poise and confidence during interviews for ivy league colleges. We worked through speeches, current hot topics, impromptu speaking, and what not to wear. Their grateful parents tried to pay me for services, but I couldn't accept due to community service restrictions. Nevertheless, on parent night, they presented me with a gift card to an upscale department store in our small city.

Those moms—doubt the dads knew about it—understood how to give a good gift. That particular gift card kept my wardrobe updated for months. Thoughtful and timely, good gifts touch a chord deep inside where the heart lives.  

Our heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts too. His gift of salvation is priceless. What could be better than the certainty of knowing what will happen to our souls—the part of us that lives forever—when we die? He also gave the Bible to reveal Christ our Savior to us.  Furthermore, He said we can call on His name whenever we need help because our enemy doesn't fight fair and never lets up.

Remember the God-gifts you've received with a grateful heart. His gifts are treasures to us; in fact, they're perfect!

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Alvimann.)

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Driving on Empty

The gas gauge needle was near Empty.

I was on a remote road in Virginia, driving my son to football camp. With the excitement accompanying such an event, I paid little attention to the gas gauge. We were simply driving along, enjoying our conversation, envisioning passes caught for touchdowns and college scouts rushing over with full-paid scholarships. Then the gas gauge caught my eye.

Fear has a way of momentarily paralyzing the mind. We were dangerously close to running out of gas on a rural road that didn’t have many gas stations. I’d driven this road numerous times. I knew there were few stations along the way, so I scolded myself for not stopping on the main highway in the larger town that we had just passed.

The irony of my predicament was I was in the left-hand lane passing a fuel tanker. Cruising along near empty, fearful of running out of gas on that desolate stretch of road, yet right beside me was a source of more fuel than my car could accommodate. If only there was a way to connect to that tanker as we drove. If fighter jets can refuel in flight, why haven’t we figured out a way for cars to do it? I should have filled up when I could. Now my journey was filled with fear.

Life resembles that scenario. We sail along, enjoying the everyday experiences, without a care in the world—never noticing our spiritual fuel tanks are running low. Then, once we notice or sense it, we fearfully forget we have the source of all our needs riding faithfully beside us.

God promises to never leave us. He promises to meet our needs and asks us to talk with Him in unbroken fellowship. Yet we forget or become distracted from what is truly important. Even when we do remember to refuel, we are so busy in the routine of our lives that our quiet time with God is more like a “splash and go” than a full tank top-off.

The great news is, even when we forget, God remains beside us. He offers Himself fully to us. He wants to meet our deepest, truest needs—even when we may have something else in mind. Stay spiritually “fueled” so you’ll be carried through the remote stretches of life without fear. 

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Keep in Time

Great things are on the horizon. They take shape before my eyes as I witness God's unmistakable hand on people and circumstances. God uses all the ripple effects of life’s small moments in the larger scheme of things. Sometimes I struggle to keep that in mind.

I'm sure you've been there too. Watching in awe as impossible circumstances change and take shape. Then it happens. A misinterpreted motive, a wrongly placed word, a zeal that overshadows personal feelings; and in that moment, promise has changed to conflict.

What are we to do when the Christian life of abundance is not all Jesus promised in John 10:10? When the enemy seems to get a hold and keep it, or when conflicts stir all around and with regularity.

I must admit, I say and do things I wish I could take back. The worst part for me is, when it happens, it seems to occur over and over again. I've unknowingly offended this one, overlooked that one, and callously moved ahead without addressing my poor behavior.

My mind has turned from God's hand at work, to necessary conflict resolution. I can't focus on Him because I must focus on them. It's a shame that the forward momentum is disturbed. But when words and actions meant to move in time with the big picture, trample hearts not in tune with the song, it causes great unrest. It's Satan's way of getting our attention and letting us know he's in it too.

I think back to band class – the importance of keeping in time regardless of hitting the wrong note. If I stopped to evaluate or replay, I'd be well out of sync with the group. I know in this situation I must move forward. Life is the same; it's prudent to move past a mistake rather than allow an offense to fester. When I'm the offender I find the same prudence must prevail.

Satan gains a victory every time we allow problems to steer our actions rather than remain in tune with God's plan. We can always go back to a musical piece and evaluate where we went wrong later. Putting distance between conflict and resolution is sometimes the better way. It allows hearts to heal, clarity to surface, and God's perfect timing to prevail.

The next time conflict arises, recognize Satan for the destroyer he is, and trust God for the abundance He has promised. 

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Race Car Driver

My son thinks he is a race car driver. “When I turn sixteen, I’m going to speed up and down these roads.”

I know my fourteen and a half-year-old son was picking to see my reaction. There we were, sitting in my car with my son in the driver’s seat. This should not be happening already. Just yesterday, I held him in my arms and sang lullabies to help him fall asleep.

Yet there we were—on our first practice driving session. We’d gone over all the necessary items for safety. We’d reviewed the mechanics of the car. We’d even prayed together. We were ready to drive.

I was excited and nervous at the same time. My son put the car in drive and eased up on the brakes. Slowly, he pushed the gas pedal and we were off on our adventure. Suddenly, I realized my life was truly in the hands of my child. I was totally dependent on him and his driving capabilities. All my confidence was in him to keep us safe. I had faith that Zack would follow the rules of driving and prevail at this task.

Scripture reminds me to be on my guard, faithful, courageous, and strong. I cling to this verse whenever I’m in the car with my son. “Lord, please help me have complete faith in You. I know You will protect my son and give him discernment to make wise decisions. Grant me the wisdom to teach this child what he needs to be safe. Help me be strong and courageous as I realize my son is growing up.”

I realize this verse has significant meaning for Zack also. My hope is he will be reminded to be on guard at all times for everything from peer pressure to driving on the road. My hope is this verse will give him encouragement as he navigates life’s road. That he can be bold in his faith in God and draw strength from Him.

Have confidence God is with you in whatever circumstance befalls you. He desires to be a very present part of every tiny detail of your life. Find peace in knowing you can call on God anytime, and He is there.

I may refer back to this Scripture often as the driving lessons continue. I am blessed I can rely on God to help me through trying times—even when my son wants to be a race car driver. 

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Listen with Your Heart

“Listen to me, Mom!”

“I am listening, honey.”

“No, you’re not.”

“Yes, I am. I’ve heard every word you said.”

“But, Mom, I need you to listen with your eyes.”

Mom then sets aside her work, turns to her child, and listens with her eyes.

This story, shared in a training session for social workers and foster and adoptive parents, drove home that everyone, not just children, need to know beyond any doubt we value and hear them.

In our multi-tasking world we must regularly ignore everything else and focus totally on the person before us. During those special blocks of time, we hear not only the words but a far greater message, revealing the emotions behind those words.

If individuals have had a bad day, they free themselves of a negative outlook by addressing their trials and knowing someone understands and cares. Laughing together over something silly they said or did creates stockpiles of goodwill to help weather future misunderstandings. Discussing warm fuzzies about nothing accomplishes the same goal. Serving as an accountability partner and encouraging them when they’ve demonstrated care for others energizes a lifestyle of service.

On the flip side of accountability, if they confess poor decisions and express remorse, our forgiveness and unconditional love gives a glimpse of God’s agape love. In the process, we strengthen the individual’s sound judgment, self-discipline, and sense of responsibility.

When we give undivided attention—with our eyes and our ears—the people around us feel respected and encouraged to share their inner concerns and desires. We also model the kind of listening God stands ready to give. God always hears our prayers. His attentiveness to our needs is both watchful and perfect.

Let’s love and listen the way God loves and listens to us. Let’s remember and remind others God always hears and responds with our best interests at heart. 

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I’m driving fast.

Sixty-five MPH in the pouring rain is fast, right? I hear screeching tires. The car in front of me swerves to the right. I see something in the road ahead. Through the rain, I make out a long, wooden two-by-four in the middle of my lane. And then, I see the nails . . . sticking straight up out of the wood.

Right lane?

No good—long semi-trailer right beside me.

Left side-mirror?


I swerve just in time to miss the nails and breathe a deep sigh of relief. That could have been a very miserable day.

Jesus is moving fast.

Three years for a public ministry is fast, right? He hears the screeching of an angry mob. His disciples flee in front of Him. He knows what’s in the road ahead. Through the blood pouring down His face, He sees a wooden cross in the middle of His lane. Then, He sees the nails.

Right lane?

“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”

Left side-mirror? 

“He will give His angels command concerning you, so that you won’t even strike your foot against a stone.”




Jesus stays in His lane. He takes the nails. And breathes His last.

Perhaps there is a difficult task before you today. Maybe it is a painful task, an uncomfortable task. But it is right. And it’s the only way.

Ask for courage from the One who did not swerve in a hard situation. He was looking farther down the road, far past Calvary and a very miserable day. What did He see?

“For the joy that is set before us,” let’s look into what it means to practice unswerving faith today. And practice. 

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The Secret of the Butterfly

We insist on handing God our to-do lists at the start of a new year. Why is that? That’s not what we call them, of course. We call them resolutions, prayer requests, or desires of our heart. But we often develop them with little thought about what the Lord desires for us. Yearly, we immerse ourselves in complete-the-Bible-in-a-year reading plans, self-help books, study groups, fitness programs, and more. By March, many of us who embark on this annual journey feel the same way: overwhelmed, exhausted, and a bit guilty for not having made the progress we thought we would have achieved by now.

What if we took a different approach this year? Instead of busyness, what if we embraced rest as the passport to the transformation we so desire? I learned a lot about resting and waiting from the butterfly. Before it takes its maiden flight, a butterfly spends a great deal of time at rest, encased in a cocoon. In that stillness, much is taking place to prepare the caterpillar for a glorious change. It does nothing but wait amid the myriad processes that its Creator performs in exquisite detail.

And so it can be with us. Make the psalmist’s exhortation to rest in God and wait patiently for Him your theme for a new year. The rest David describes is not passive or lazy. It is listening for God’s direction and then obeying. It is spending time learning about His agenda, not telling Him about ours. And it is letting Him work wonders within us as we expectantly wait within a cocoon of faith. 

Open your heart to the way of the butterfly and see how God can change you. 

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When Did You Let Fear Go?

We were terrorized!

On the drive home from a short trip, a truck decided to follow close behind and shoot a gun to see if they could scare us. I immediately began to pray, and the truck turned down a dirt road away from us. The shooters accomplished their back-road game. When we arrived at my parents’ house to retrieve our daughter, we were so grateful to see our beautiful baby girl. It was by God’s grace we didn’t get a bullet in our window…or worse.

Before this incident happened, I was thinking bad thoughts. I was so anxious to get back to my daughter that I didn’t believe we were in God’s covering. I allowed fear to consume my mind with, “what if’s.” What if the plane crashes. What if we’re in a car accident. . .and this was all after I prayed for our safe return home in the beginning of our trip.

I was filled with unbelief, living in anxiety and fear until I almost made it manifest in my life. This was the day God said, “Devil, that’s enough.” God began leading me to understand His Word. He taught me to meditate on Him. He showed me His power by placing peace where there was fear. I was able to pray for protection and actually rest in His grace.

Fear can cause our worse thoughts to manifest. Timothy reminds us fear is not a gift from God; rather the gift is the love and power of a sound mind. God wants us to cast our fears on Him—the One who can replace them with peace.

God will transform the fear in your heart into power, love, and a sound mind. Make no room for fear to enter. Cast out the devil with Scripture and prayer. Remember, fear and faith cannot abide in the same place. Decide which spirit you will follow. 

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Head for the Hills

Puffs of smoke billow out of the train’s smokestack—forming silhouettes against the horizon. The wheels and mechanics are strained to the highest level as it rolls up the railway tracks. Sparks fly from the exertion of metal-to-metal, causing a fundamental force of friction. A job meant for larger … bigger ... stronger.

The Little Engine Who Could, by Watty Piper, is a children’s story that has been around since 1930. On a mission, a small train heads for the hills to try and make it up a high mountain. A motivational phrase ensues, "I think I can, I think I can.” A story of reaching for greater things. Motivating us as kids to believe in ourselves—we can do it—if “we think we can.” Aspire to help a worthy cause and achieve our potential.

While this is a wonderful storyline and inspiration to many in childhood, as Christ’s followers, we believe in God—in His ability. God is able—a wonderful storyline repeated over and over in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. A truth to pass on to our children as a personal testament from our own lives. The Lord calms the storm in the midst of broken relationships, a loss of employment, and financial struggles. He is able to heal physically, spiritually, and emotionally. He is present with us in times of loss and sorrow. God works all things for our good in hardships, hurts, or acts of evil against us.

God’s ability gives us strength for pursuits of dreams, education, work, and ministry. His wisdom influences our decisions in where, how, what, and why in daily living. He wins the battles in our present struggles and spiritual warfare.

God helps us make it up the mountains in life. We can't do it alone … in our own power. Our internal engine needs assistance from a greater mechanic. A complete tune-up or an entire overhaul. A regular maintenance program from a greater power. The Holy Spirit's fundamental force in our lives—a job meant for larger … bigger … stronger.

Head for the hills and let's get started. Ready. Set. Go! “I know God can, I know God can…"

God Can!

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Right Angle

It’s how I do things. I start each day with prayer and Bible reading, often locating myself in the living room to avoid disturbing the rest of my family. It’s usually dark when I walk in the room because of the early hour, and because the blinds are still closed from the previous evening.

One morning after my prayer time, I picked up my Bible and lay on the couch next to one of the windows. A light peered through the closed slats of the window blind. Intrigued, I stood, then stepped back and looked directly at the closed window blind but couldn’t see any light coming through. When I lay back on the couch, with my head on the headrest, I could see the light.

Isn’t that the way our spiritual lives are sometimes? God is light. He’s bright all the time, but we can’t always see His light even though it’s staring us right in the face. Perhaps we’re too busy. Perhaps we’re blinded by our own sin. Maybe we’re blinded by the devil. Could be we know intellectually Jesus Christ dwells in our hearts, but we can’t see it or feel it or taste it. Why? We’re not looking upward to the source of the light from the right angle.

If you’ve ever felt like you’ve lost that close connection you once had with God, then change angles. I’ve lost sight occasionally. Even when I’m consistently practicing the spiritual disciplines of daily Bible reading, confession, prayer, fellowship, and church attendance, I’m still plagued at times by memories of past sins or failures, or with terrible thoughts. What a wretched man I am. This is exactly the time when our faith needs to kick in and recall God’s promises to us. He has washed us and made us clean. Reject the condemning voice of the devil, in the name of Jesus, and revel in the restoring voice of our Savior.

God has a seat waiting for us in heaven, but He’s got a lot of work to do through us before we get there.

Give Him your best at whatever He’s called you to do. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Lord I Need Another Favor

I saw the car put on its blinker and slow as it approached my driveway. Thinking it was my breakfast date, I went outside. But no, the car turned into the driveway after ours. I came in, sat down, and said “Lord, I hate waiting.”

Right now I’m awaiting provision. A friend is dropping off an old twenty-seven-inch TV because ours just stopped working. So I am also waiting for him, hoping he arrives before my breakfast buddy so I won’t have to leave my daughter to take care of the positioning of the new TV.

I am also awaiting funding for some major house-maintenance jobs. We desperately need to get them done, but we don’t have enough money—yet. I know God will come through in one way or another. He always has … in completely remarkable ways. I keep a list of God’s saves

For example, my daughter needed thousands of dollars of orthodontic work, and it wasn’t for appearances. Her teeth had no room to come in. I didn’t know what to do, so I prayed. Soon after, I got a call from the orthodontist who had evaluated her. He was calling in response to a letter I wrote explaining there was no way we could come up with the money—at least by our own efforts. He told me it wasn’t something he made a habit of doing, but he was offering to do all her dental work for free. This man was not a believer, but he was a tool in God’s hands.

So when I say I am waiting now, it means I am waiting not just for my breakfast companion, but also for a miracle. I could easily name five more miraculous answers to prayer on the same or greater level than the one I just described. I know my God. I know He has a way. I’m just waiting for Him to reveal it. But I still don’t like waiting.

How about you? 

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You Are God's MVP

Every sport has its most valuable player. Sometimes even a game or a championship series will have a special MVP award just for that event. The MVPs are the elite—the best of the best. The person who came through in the clutch or outshined the rest.

Jesus calls you an MVP as well. While He didn't use the words Most Valuable Player, His words most definitely said the most valuable people on earth are His disciples. He said it like this: we are the salt of the earth.

In the days of Jesus, the salt was extremely valuable. It was used to preserve food, bring healing, and much more. In the cultures of that day, it was traded equally with gold. Some cultures even used salt as their currency. So when Jesus said “You are the salt of the earth,” He was using an idiom that meant belilevers are the most valuable people in the world. As a believer in Christ, you are the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is your teacher, advocate, helper, comforter, gift-giver, strength, and inspiration. He convicts and compels you to action.

You have been given the greatest commission on earth—to go into the world and share the wonderful and life-changing message of Jesus Christ. We get to share life to all whom the Holy Spirit compels us to speak to. Our work matters for eternity, and no one else on earth can say otherwise.

Remember, it doesn't matter what the world may say. You are an MVP in the Kingdom of God. Now go out and tell everyone that glorious story. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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One Son Shines

I walked through a town filled with people of alternate lifestyles. My initial surprise at this blatant disregard for society's norm compromised my good graces. As I engaged people in light conversation, something odd began to stir in my spirit. I liked them. They were real people, creations of my God.

I yearned for them to experience the Christ I loved. Unfortunately, harsh rhetoric by the Christian community (some) built a wall, not a bridge. Jesus displayed love and compassion for people. In the arena of evangelism, may we guard against overzealous ways. We can touch hearts, but God can change them.

In John 8, the Pharisees brought an adulterous woman to Jesus. They wanted to stone her. He began to write something in the dirt. I believe he was listing their sins. When I study this passage, I gain insight into the mind of Christ: "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone."

It's easy to overlook our hidden sin and condemn a blatant one. When in reality, the outcome of all sin is the same...death. I wanted to reflect the nature of Christ. He showed love and respect by engaging people, not avoiding those who were different.

Sin doesn't determine who we are, but faith in Jesus will impact who we become. He offers Himself as a sacrifice for our sin. He pursues a relationship with us, showers us with grace, and demonstrates how we should relate to others.

There were many reasons Jesus shouldn't have spoken to the woman at Jacob's well. She was a Samaritan, a woman, and a woman of ill repute. Their differences were stark. Yet He engaged her and offered her Living Water. We can learn a lot from people's reactions to our evangelistic efforts. Astounded by His manner, she embraced His love and was captivated by His truth. Her reaction was to tell everyone about Him.

As I glanced back over the city, I caught a breathtaking site. The most beautiful sunset cast orange, yellow, and pink rays against a darkening blue sky. God's beauty was available for all His creation to behold—as are His gifts of grace and eternal life. Reach out and partake. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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No White Elephant Gifts

Ah, December. The time of get-togethers with family and friends. Time of goodwill and cheer. Time to give that treasure we have carefully stored for such a time as this. It’s time for the White Elephant Gift Exchange. Personally, I'm not a fan of those parties where you get a gift, and then anyone who wants to can take it from you. 

Decades ago, I participated in a women's church group gift exchange that was NOT intended as a White Elephant exchange. I ended up with a metal address thing that had a little red arrow that slid down the side and flipped open. You know, the kind someone might have accidentally dropped into their purse from their office, and once they got it home, figured it'd make a lovely Christmas gift.

During a recent Bible study lecture on the building of the Tabernacle during the Israelites' wanderings through the desert—recorded in Exodus 25-33—the leader said something that is the genesis for this devotion. She pointed out how the people were to give of the best they had for the building of the Tabernacle. There were to be no White Elephant Gifts.

God wants our best, not the leftover junk we won't miss. He wants us to bring our gifts willingly, not grudgingly. God wants us to give Him the firstfruits, not whatever we have left at the end of the month. He created us. Just as He delivered the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt, He has delivered us out of the bondage of our sin through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross of Calvary. God expected the Israelites to give their best. He expects no less from us. And He definitely deserves more than a metal address White Elephant thing.

What we give back to God reflects what we think of Him. Give Him the best you have to offer, no matter what your best might look like. After all, He gave us His best—Jesus.

This Christmas, declare No White Elephant Gifts Allowed.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Am I Good Enough?

“Have you been a good little girl this year?”

I heard this time and time again when I was a child, along with statements such as: “If you’ve been naughty instead of nice, you’ll get coal in your stocking instead of candy.” When I answered, “Yes, I’ve been good,” I was surely hoping “good enough” would get me presents instead of nasty coal.

These are typical things adults say to children as Christmas approaches. Maybe it’s because we don’t really know what else to say. Christmas is a wonderful time, and Santa makes things fun and exciting for all of us—along with the other traditions of the holiday season. But as I hear these comments more and more, it makes me wonder what we’re really teaching our children about life … and especially about God.

Looking back and remembering how much I struggled with self-esteem—always feeling I didn’t measure up to the standard of others—I wonder if trying to be good for Santa caused me to grow up thinking I had to be good for God or He wouldn’t bless me … or even love me.

Because children think they have to earn Santa’s approval in order to get gifts from him, do they grow up thinking the same thing about a loving heavenly Father? Actually, how many of us have that same mentality as adults? Do we boldly approach the throne of grace as the Word says, or do we shy away from God, believing we haven’t met the mark?

If this is something you struggle with, let me share some scriptural truth I’ve learned along the way: God is for me. He is on my side. He even promises to do battle for me when necessary. I am saved by grace, not by what I do. He covers me with His robe of righteousness. He calls me His child, His chosen, His beloved. He forgives me when I fail and strengthens me when I’m weak.

God does not play favorites; what He’s done for others, He’ll do for me. He accepts me exactly the way I am, but loves me too much to leave me that way. He loves me with an unconditional, everlasting love, and there is nothing I can do to change that. He has delivered me from guilt, shame, and condemnation. He has seated me in heavenly places with Christ. God sees me perfect and complete in Him. My name is engraved in the palm of His hand. His faithfulness is never
failing, and His mercies are new every morning. In every situation, His grace is sufficient for me.

Child of God, during this blessed Christmas season, know that your Father loves you, is intimately acquainted with you, and has a wonderful plan and purpose for your life. Remember that you don’t ever have to worry about being good enough. Only God is truly good, and that’s the only thing that matters. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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The Gift

The year was 1969 and a cassette recorder topped the list of hot items to own. I was desperate to open mine on Christmas morning. My family consisted of seven daughters and parents who struggled to make ends meet. I’d planned strategically, asking only for the recorder. Weeks before the holiday, Mom took me shopping for clothes and shoes, but I declined anything she suggested. I refused to nix my chances of getting the coveted recorder. 

Christmas morning arrived and my sisters and I raced to the tree. We grabbed for our gifts and tore into them. But for me … no recorder. I wanted to run to my room, slam the door, and cry my eyes out. Slowly, I ascended the stairs when mom yelled out, “Dawn, there’s one more gift under the tree you missed!”

I froze. Was it? Could it possibly be? The size of the box made my heart leap. Yes, it was what I wanted more than anything. 

Fast forward to last year. I received so much, but not one of the deepest longings of my heart. I regressed into the girl whose only desire was to run to her room and cry. I stared at the tree, wondering why God withheld this dream—one of restoration. No money could buy the gift … the one left off God’s calendar for this holiday. For months I’d prayed fervently for the desire. I turned to the Scripture reminding me that my Father doesn’t withhold any good thing from those who walk uprightly. Was this not a good thing? Perhaps all the pieces of the gift weren’t ready just yet, including me. I needed to wait and trust. 

It doesn’t seem fair that God can see infinitely further into the future than we can. Yet through His divine wisdom and His custom-made plan for each of us, He slips the perfect gift to us at the absolute perfect time. He knows best, and through all the shifting ways of the universe, God never changes. His course is firm. 

God saw my pain and He whispered my name. He’s saving this good and perfect gift for another time.

When the gift you’ve longed for doesn’t show up under the Christmas tree, rest assured God’s timing is perfect. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mzacha.)

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What a Gift

We had already stuffed ourselves with Mom’s Christmas breakfast. Dad read the Christmas story from Luke 2 and prayed. We designated the newest great-grandson to help distribute gifts. Then Mom shared her request. “Before we open gifts, I want us to do something new. Each person share something you’re thankful for.” Although appropriate any time, Mom’s suggestion was particularly meaningful in light of our family’s recent history.

Almost three years earlier, we faced a grim prognosis for our young helper and his mother. Because of acute respiratory distress, he was delivered via cesarean section seven weeks premature. Doctors remained guarded about his recovery. His mother’s situation was far worse, with a diagnosis of severe cardiomyopathy. Doctors performed immediate surgery and placed her on an external heart pump. Miraculously, the baby went home in ten days, and his mother, minus the heart pump, in a month. 

My husband and I spent the previous Christmas season in three different hospitals. A six-year survivor of a malignant brain tumor (a miracle story of its own), he suffered a heart attack, probable stroke, and other complications. Following emergency room consultation, we prepared to say goodbye. However, when staff removed his respirator the following day, he breathed on his own and tracked motion and sound. The third day he sat alone and talked. While he still 
suffers some residual effects, his progress astounds his doctors … and us. With those events in mind, our thanks rang especially true. What better way to top them than a sing-along led by our lovable little elf? Who needed presents after a day like that? Of course we tore into them with our preschooler’s enthusiastic help. What fun to watch him jump, clap, and laugh with delight when we opened each gift. 

Remembering our family’s near losses and the miracles of life that surrounded us made us appreciate, as never before, the sacrifice God made on our behalf. His precious Child freely given … the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, making victory over sin and death available to each of us … and the blanket of divine love that wraps each of God’s children with peace, joy, and comfort through every hardship.

What a gift! The gift is yours as well. Open it. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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No Strings Attached

If you were in Bloomington, Minnesota on December 2nd of this year and happened to be among the crowd gathered in the rotunda of Mall of America to hear a choir singing “Let It Snow,” you may be able to say you caught pennies raining from heaven. For it was at that moment when Serge Vorobyov, standing on an upper level of the mall, chose to shower the shoppers below with a flurry of more than one thousand dollar bills! 

The shower of money was first seen as a genuine gesture of spontaneous generosity and “good will toward men” at Christmastime. Unfortunately, further investigation has revealed each of the dollar bills was stamped with Serge’s YouTube address. It has been suggested he only let a thousand dollars float down from above in hopes the YouTube video would go viral, thereby earning him a great deal more than his thousand dollar giveaway. One cynical commentator quipped, “Single dollar bills? Really? What difference will that make?” 
I don’t know what motivated Serge. Only God can know a man’s heart, but I do know this: raining dollar bills on holiday shoppers at a mall sure beats raining bullets like we have seen in days gone by. And though it may be true a dollar does not account for much anymore, the surprise of having one or two of them, no strings attached, float into the hands of someone experiencing a not-so-merry and bright Christmas, may have been just the right amount of encouragement needed to lift their spirit and open their heart to the miracle of Christmas. The miracle, as pastor and author John McArthur has so beautifully said, is: “The birth of Jesus—Immanuel, God with us, the promised Messiah who came to save His people from their sins.” 

As you prepare for Christmas, ask God’s help to give generously from a heart filled with love … no strings attached. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Lesson Learned from Monkey Bars

While watching three gloriously rambunctious boys, my husband and I took them to the school playground. As I played with the youngest on a simple climbing toy, I overheard my husband talking to the two older kids. He said, “Through God we can do anything. He gives us strength and we just need to ask Him.” 

After a while, I went to climb the dome-shaped monkey bars with the eldest boy. Now for a five-year-old, looking up at a seven-foot dome was pretty daunting. He sighed, propped a foot against the lowest rung, and pulled his skinny body up onto the first rail. One after another he climbed. Soon he was three feet off the ground. He whispered, “Jesus give me strength. Jesus give me strength.” He repeated this over and over until he reached the top. A smile broke over his face as he surveyed his new kingdom. It was priceless. 

What this little kindergartener learned that day will lead him through life well. God will provide us strength in the little moments and the big. There was a time when my life was in upheaval. My husband and I were separated, the bills mounted, court battles raged, and I was trying to hold a family of four kids together. It was then I learned the meaning of “Jesus give me strength.” One day at a time, He propped me up and pulled me through. He restored my life and marriage over the following year. 

God provided His strength when I asked. He carried me when I could not lift my head. We all face problems. Some are simple. Some are life-threatening. No matter where you are today, lean on God’s strength. Let Him carry the weight. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Just a Jar of Oil

I love this story. 

Recently, I read the amazing story of Elisha and the widow’s oil again, and found myself visualizing the bottle of olive oil I have in my pantry. I imagined pulling out all the empty mason jars I store in a kitchen cabinet, and thought about pouring my bottle of extra virgin olive oil into one of those jars, and then into a second jar, a third jar, a fourth, and so on. How awesome it would be to see that kind of miracle happen before my eyes. 

I haven’t been in the same kind of dire situation as the widow in 2 Kings 4. Creditors were threatening to take this widow’s two sons for slaves if she didn’t pay her debt. The prophet Elisha asks her what she has, and she reports she has nothing in the house but a jar of oil. 

Elisha instructs her to borrow empty vessels from her neighbors, and she collects the vessels and fills them all with oil from her one jar. She sells the oil, and the payoff is enough to take care of her debt, securing her sons’ freedom and giving her enough left over for her and her sons to live on. God definitely intervened with a miracle of multiplication in this story as He turned one jar of oil into enough to fill numerous empty vessels. 

If God can use a jar of oil to pay off the widow’s debt and also provide remaining funds for her family, then we should be encouraged that He is capable of multiplying what we have or providing what we need in ways we have not thought possible. 

The next time you pull out your bottle of olive oil from your kitchen pantry, remember what God did for this widow and her two sons, and believe He is still in the business of meeting needs above and beyond all we can comprehend and in ways we could not have imagined. 

Trust Him to provide. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and clarita.)

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A Kingdom Gnat

Have you ever had an encounter with gnats? I mean the tiny, swarming, pesky kind that cover your face, climb in your ear canals, stick to your tongue, sink to your scalp, and get sucked up your nose when you try to mow the lawn, work in the garden, or sit in the yard. Annoying, frustrating, maddening, right? These miniscule mischief-makers can render us helpless. 

In fact, gnats did leave the Egyptians, Pharaoh, and his magicians both helpless and clueless. Because Pharaoh would not release God’s people from slavery in Egypt to follow Moses to the Promised Land, God produced a series of miracles to force his hand. When Aaron threw down his staff and it became a snake, Pharaoh’s magicians did the same. When God turned all the streams, canals, and ponds to blood, Pharaoh’s magicians did the same “by their secrets arts.” When God sent frogs hopping from bed to oven to kneading trough, magicians imitated the miracle. But when a plague of gnats came on all the people and animals of Egypt, the magicians threw up their hands and declared, “This is the finger of God!” 

A principle of God’s kingdom assures us that the least consequential in His Creation will be used to astound the wisest. Gideon, just one of many Biblical examples of this paradigm, responded to God’s call, “My clan is the weakest, and I am the least in my family!” A kingdom gnat. 

God’s response was simple: “Am I not sending you? Go in the strength you have.” Incredible victory for Israel resulted.

Sometimes I feel as insignificant as a gnat, flying aimlessly about, seeking a target of effectiveness. Stories like Gideon’s remind me that God doesn’t seek a powerhouse. He seeks the yielded, dependent “gnat” who believes the promises of God and acts in obedience to His commands. The result: kingdom gnats transform their world. 

You are not inconsequential in the kingdom. Like gnats, you can astound the world and hear people say, “This is the finger of God!” Trust Him for who He has made you to be.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pedreojperez.)

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Shine Your Light

My shock was apparent. 

A coworker asked how I could stay calm through turbulent circumstances. I was honest. “Sometimes life stinks, but my faith in God reminds me I have a better forever. So I'm more focused on what's profitable for my future than wallowing in the present.” It surprised him I'd buy into this "religious stuff." Building up treasures, really? But he did see a difference in me and his friends. Our circumstances looked similar, but our attitudes were not. He wanted peace. 
I shared experiences of God's presence in my life. My friend's desire for hard facts challenged me to research the Bible. I shared archeological findings and numerous eyewitness accounts of Christ's death and resurrection. When we discussed prophecies—Jesus' birth predicted years before it happened—he was hooked.

So what shocked me? 
A few weeks later we stood talking when a disgruntled co-worker approached us to commiserate. Instead of letting him unwind, my friend informed him he was going to hell if he didn't change. He must repent or spend eternity damned, and he should do it now because no one knows if they have a tomorrow. 

Whoa! His insensitive timing and harsh words made me ashamed to be counted with him. His approach turned my stomach as it became a pattern of his newfound faith. He told people they were sinners but, in reality, their sin was no worse than his sin of pride. He’d found a way to spiritually browbeat people. 
I was mortified. It reminded me about the story of the demon-possessed girl who followed Paul, screaming, “These men are servants of the most high God.” Paul was annoyed and did not want someone to tarnish his witness. Being likeminded comes from knowing and growing in faith. Paul's story demonstrates imprisonment, salvation, and peace. God is faithful and works all things out for His glory. A good way to share Christ is to build a relationship that radiates your faith. 

Let your light shine in a way that others will seek God. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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It was a nasty sensation, hiking across our newly-planted cornfield when … zoop! My foot dropped eight inches into a pocket of muck that didn’t want to give it back. I managed to pull my foot free, but my sneaker stayed behind. I grabbed a stub of shoestring with both hands and yanked hard. The mud protested with a loud sucking noise, but finally gave up its prey. I tied my filthy sneaker back on and squished the quarter mile back to the house, grateful I hadn’t broken my ankle. 

Lord, what will it take for me to smarten up? See, I’d turned my ankle in another mud hole the day before—in the very same field, which the rain-swollen Susquehanna River had recently flooded. What possessed me to tramp there again? Curiosity, that’s what. I saw something bobbing in the receding floodwater and wanted to get a better look.  So I walked on, even closer to the river than the spot where I’d previously come to grief. And the muck sucked me in again, deeper than the first time. And very, very quickly. 

Proverbs warns us to stay far away from the paths of the wicked to preserve our lives. It’s no surprise that the wicked fall into snares and pitfalls. That’s the natural consequence of their actions. But good Christians who foolishly flirt with evil can stumble in too. 

Dabbling in almost-sinful behavior, whether out of curiosity, self-indulgence, or a misguided show of open-mindedness, seriously jeopardizes our walk with the Lord. If we ignore common sense, Christian counsel, and even personal experience of the hazards (like my first run-in with the muck) and continue to edge closer and closer to vice, the sin trap can snatch us—zoop!—as quickly as a muddy sinkhole. 

Do you think you can get away with a brief stroll on the fringes of sin? Smarten up. Run, don’t walk, far away from those paths before sin sucks you in! 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Be a Friend, Accept a Friend


"Can we talk?" my friend asked. 


She dabbed at her eyes and with a quivering voice, apologized for being such a disappointment to me. "I haven't been faithful at Bible study or food pantry and feel terrible. I've let you down." 

I looked deep into her serious eyes and burst into laughter. Now it was my turn to apologize. Perhaps this wasn't the sensitive response she sought, but it was the appropriate one. We were longtime friends. I understood her limitations and never placed unfair burdens on her. 
"Have I said you let me down? Satan is accusing you, not me." 

She was so surprised by this response, it left her no choice but to listen. Sometimes that's a good place to be. As iron sharpens iron, a friend can gently refocus us on truth. Illness caused her to miss commitments originally, but guilt caused her to build up walls. She assumed others were frustrated with her when, in truth, her absence stirred concern, not condemnation. Her thought-life was her enemy. 
Insecurities surface and guilt takes hold when we place too much importance on what we can't do rather than what we can. The mind becomes Satan's stomping ground: accusing, beating down, reminding, mocking. Our words can be salve to an aching spirit or salt poured right into an open wound. 
Scripture reminds us to be sober and of good judgment because Satan stalks us like a wild animal seeking prey. God knows our hearts and He knows how Satan comes after us, so when we see our friends struggle from needless guilt, it’s time to step up and help release them from the attack. After all, this is what He has done for us. 

Relationships are essential to Jesus. He took the time to stop, listen, and restore. As imitators of Christ, we're called to do the same.

Are you building relationships? 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Mind Vacation

Computers, ereaders, iphones, ipads, cell phones, electronic games. The list could go on and on of all the technology that has invaded our space. All these things are supposed to make our lives easier, faster, and simpler. But they seem to rob us of intimacy, create more frustration, and breach our privacy. 

Albert Einstein said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” 

Some of these things become addictive and some people actually spend their entire day with a gadget. You see people texting while driving, texting while walking (both dangerous), or with a cell phone stuck to their head like it’s a third ear. 

What did we do before all these so-called inventions were in our lives? We talked to people face to face, we sent a letter at the post office with a stamp on it, and we got junk mail in the mailbox instead of the inbox. And we survived. 

All these technological inventions are wonderful to have and we all enjoy using them. However, the key is to manage their uses and not become overly dependent on them or let them steal too much of our time. 

It’s important to have downtime in our day. After everything we are bombarded with during work, school, or running errands, it’s tempting to grab an electronic device for entertainment or relaxation, but that can be counterproductive. Our minds need a vacation. 

To be still and know that He is God requires shutting everything off, reading His Word, and just listening. Enjoy the quiet, let your mind rest, and hear what God is saying. 

You will be amazed at how refreshed you can be when no devices are running in the background of your life. Enjoy your technology, but don’t let it rule you. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Failure to Launch

“There’s another FTL,” I told my husband. That’s our nickname for the “Failure to Launch” baby birds who refuse to go out on their own. 

Our backyard is wooded and we see a lot of wildlife passing through. This summer we’ve had several FTLs. Although they are grown, flying well, and capable of surviving on their own, they follow their parents around, flapping their wings, and crying to be fed. Most of the time the parents seem to be patient and we’ve seen them feeding these FTLs for several days. But recently we saw one baby flap its wings and cry pitifully to be fed, and the parent leaped toward the baby and squawked as if to say “Enough!” 

Sometimes I wonder if God ever feels like telling us “Enough!” when it takes us so long to understand His Word and how to live by its principles. The writer of the book of Hebrews was addressing this problem of not progressing spiritually. He was telling them “Enough, you need to do better.” I’m sure God understands that some people will progress faster than others, but He does expect them to mature eventually. 

Perhaps some of us do not understand that we grow best by reading and studying the Bible for ourselves and not just depending on our pastor or someone else to feed us. As Elizabeth George has said, “Only through routine, regular exposure to God’s Word can you and I draw out the nutrition needed to grow a heart of faith.” 

God has given us His Word as an instruction book for living. But if we fail to read it, how can we know how God wants us to live? If we don’t know God’s promises, we can’t claim them. If we don’t read about the many people who struggled with problems, like King David, we will never know how to cope with our own struggles. 

Open your Bible and seek out the principles God has put there to help. Press on to maturity and develop a strong faith. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Filled with the Power

This old world is filled with pain, and God’s children are to bring relief and healing, not more pain.

A young woman came into my office with tears streaming down her cheeks. I had to wait for her to be able to tell me what was wrong. “My friend walked away.”

“Walked away?” I asked.

It seems this young woman was a new Christian who had told her best friend, a seasoned Christian, about her promiscuous behavior before she had asked Jesus into her heart. Her friend lived in a whitewashed world and was so shocked to hear about such behavior, she told this tender new sister that they couldn't be friends.

“I might become contaminated too,” the friend had said. This self-righteous lady evidently believed in sharing, but not in confessing.

The young woman’s heartbroken tears didn’t come primarily from losing a dear friend. They came from a trusting child’s broken heart. She thought all Christians would love her the way her Savior did ... no matter what.

Micah encouraged us to be filled with the Spirit ... controlled by the power of the Holy Spirit. He understood that by allowing our lives to be steered by Christ, the unconditional love we needed to share would become available. Remember that the fruit of the Spirit starts with love.

This modern world is populated by those in doubt, depression, and pain. Even if we seldom feel those emotions because of our relationship with Jesus, our hearts will soften for those who do experience this. It is a contradiction of terms to be a complicated Christian when we are commanded to live a life of simplicity ... a life that blossoms in the soil of simplicity found in Christ. Boil down your Christianity and put it into action by understanding a warm heart and warm eyes promote healing and reveal that we understand the power that comes from the Spirit of God. God is love, and not one thing about serving Jesus is about us. It’s all about Him.

Be full of compassion. Feel, and not just think, when someone is in pain. Be someone who understands because of what Jesus has done for you personally. Today, choose to be a simple soul filled with the power of God’s love, in spite of your past and in spite of your natural, carnal tendencies. Let God love others through you.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

Free at Last

I used to think Christianity was a long list of rules. I tried hard to please God and insisted others did as well. This kept me trapped in a self-inflicted cycle of guilt, all the while sure this was God's plan for me. When others failed to measure up to the rules, I found myself judging them in my legalistic mind. I was lonely and didn't know why.

But maturity in the Lord taught me how wrong I was. The list of rules was my own attempt to be a “good Christian.” I really did love God and honestly wanted to please him. I craved his love. If I could just try harder.

I began to comprehend the unconditional love of God that could see the situation clearly. As I grew to understand His grace and was able to set aside the rules, the judgment