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.

Trusting in Light of Eternity

I like to think I trust the Lord, but then I ask myself questions that reveal otherwise. Why hasn’t He answered my prayer yet? Why would He allow me to endure so much pain for so long?  

I’m reminded of my four-year-old son when I think of such questions. A week to him feels like an eternity. As Christmas approached one year, he was filled with angst at having to wait so long to open presents. When I said it was only a week away, he responded, “But that will take forever!”

As a parent, I have decades on him. Now that I’m older, a week passes too quickly. I knew that waiting a week wouldn’t hurt him.

“It’s good for you to learn patience,” I said.

Unfortunately, my bit of wisdom did little to ease his anxieties. He didn’t want to learn a lesson; he wanted to open his presents. Now.

We may have decades of experience with our children, but our heavenly Father has millenniums on us. When God sees the length of our suffering, He compares it in light of eternity. But unfortunately, our minds can’t grasp the comparison, just as my son couldn’t grasp the concept of a week.

When we say to God, “I’ve waited forever. When will it end?” I picture Him saying, “Hang in there. It’s not as long as you think.”

God cares deeply about our pains and sorrow and knows the joy before us if we hold on. Then, when we look back from heaven at our days on earth, we’ll understand them better. We’ll say, “Oh, now I get it, Lord.”

Until then, God won’t waste the length of our suffering or unanswered prayers. I wanted my son to learn patience, and we, too, can learn lessons from the seasons of life. The experience may be the very thing we need in the next stage of life.

Soon, our experiences will pass. We are guaranteed eternity in heaven if we remain close to God. The billions of years of joy in heaven will make our situations on earth feel like but a second.

How can you do a better job of trusting in light of eternity?

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Problems and Pearls

One day at school, my class previewed a book about oysters. A few students knew pearls came from oysters, but all were amazed at how the oyster formed them.

Pearls usually form when some parasite works itself into the oyster or other shelled sea creature. Then, out of defense, the oyster produces a fluid to coat the invader. For the next six months to seven years, the coating process continues as the pearl forms this valuable beauty.

In our lives, we face little, pesty situations. However, we also face more serious circumstances where we have allowed irritants into our lives or Satan has weaseled his way in. These trials can act like parasites, entering our bodies and making us feel bad, sick, or worse.

But how interesting that God allows the parasite in an oyster to transform into a beautiful gem. Isn’t that what God wants for us too? He wants us to bring the parasites of our lives to Him in prayer so He can shut out the harshness of the world around us, protect us, and help us heal.

We can rest in God’s arms, knowing He is our defender. When we turn to God and bask in His Word and wisdom, He will slowly soften the sting of our hurts and sorrows and provide biblical applications for our thoughts and reactions. As time passes and we continue to allow Him to be our fortress, He will strengthen us. If we remain in His glow, He will totally transform our parasites into pearls.

We can transform what Satan meant as destruction into a beautiful pearl through trial after trial. Alone, these gems are magnificent, but even more so when strung together into a necklace.

Take your problems to the Lord every day. Trust in His Word and not your own understanding. In return, you can adorn yourself with a strand of pearls that have provided you with His comfort, strength, and grace.

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)

An Unsaved Zealot

Working in prisons exposes individuals to questions from inmates that take practical answers. Many questions a prison minister is asked concern how a person can be a religious zealot and still not be saved. One of these questions concerns the role of good works in salvation.

“If I am a nice person and do good things, I will earn enough good points to go to heaven” is an often-heard declaration by anyone serving in prison.

Many have asked how a person could be so zealous for God that they go on mission trips, yet remain unsaved.

We should learn how to answer those who feel good works are necessary to make it to heaven.

The Holy Spirit specifically designed Romans 10 to answer this question. This develops what Paul teaches in chapter four, that a person who does not work, but believes, has faith credited for righteousness.

A person who tries to establish their own righteousness is always doomed to fail. Only by believing in our hearts that the righteousness of Christ is the complete payment for all sin can we receive the righteousness solely found in Christ.

This righteousness changes religion into a relationship with Almighty God and relieves questioning hearts that wonder whether they have earned enough good points to buy a heaven ticket or have kept their ticket by being good enough.

Feeling saved has nothing to do with the once-for-all imputed righteousness given when baptized into Christ at salvation. Our service after salvation provides crowns, not a righteous standing before God Almighty.

Remember, as you go through life, your service doesn’t have any part in your righteous standing before God. Jesus completely took care of that on the cross.

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Stepping Up to Serve

As a child, I attended Sunday school in the little timber church nestled amid the overhanging trees. And there I watched someone stepping up to serve.

A beautiful young lady taught my class about Jesus’ love for my friends and me. Now I reminisce on my childish, simple faith and prayers that trusted the Lord’s grace.

No one could invent the magic of our Sunday school. The teacher was a part of the church ministry and had a kind smile that blessed us all. When I read Paul’s words, I pondered how the skeptic became a true believer. And I learned devoted women were co-workers in planting churches in the ancient world.

We should emphasize more women sharing in church ministry in our post-pandemic world. We can all play our part as co-workers in faith, aiming to lead with Jesus’ example to turn skeptics into true believers. Any woman can step up to the plate, not just the same few matriarchs.

I am now a senior citizen and a reticent writer who is happy in her own company. But I must continue praying and sharing my faith in a simple way by writing.

We are all co-workers, and God has blessed each of us in diverse ways. We can keep praying for more true believers, especially women of any age. If we pray a simple faith prayer, Jesus’ love will lead us. This will enable more women and men to step up to the plate in future ministry.

What are some ways you can step up to serve?

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Change under the Frosting

“Are we ready to thaw that out?” Chad said to his wife, Lindsay, as he pointed to the foil-wrapped plastic container. For a year, it had almost filled their small freezer. “It’s been there since just after the wedding, and I’m ready to open it.”

Lindsay smiled. She knew keeping the top layer of their wedding cake was silly, but she’d heard it brought luck. However, Chad was right.

“You’re right, honey. Go ahead,” she said.

Within a few seconds, Chad had unpeeled the foil, opened the box, and moved the contents to a plate. The heavy white frosting and pink curlicues were intact. He found a knife and began to cut, then abruptly paused.

“That’s funny. I can’t do it. It won’t slice. Let’s see what’s going on.”

Chad scraped the thick frosting away and revealed a hard white surface underneath. As he poked the surface with the knife’s point, producing chips and slivers, he realized why the cake wouldn’t cut. They had stored a frosting covered, curlicue-decked block of Styrofoam for an entire year.

We often experience the same thing when we encounter an abrupt change of plans on our spiritual journey. And usually, since we created these plans without God’s input, the interruption indicates God has better plans for us. When we give God control, we realize His love and care are certain in an uncertain and changing world.

How do you react when you encounter change?  

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The Blessing of Giving and Receiving

She taught me the blessing of giving and receiving.

I was surprised when a patient’s mother held out a colorful saucer to me. I once worked as a district secretary for an organization that helped people struggling with various types of cancer. Volunteers made bandages and bed pads. We also supplied ostomy supplies, wigs, and breast prostheses that a pharmacy and individuals had donated.

Ruth’s daughter fought cancer, and Ruth came in often for the donated items her daughter needed. One day, she came to the office and handed me the saucer, a gift she wanted me to have.

I had an abundance of saucers at home and certainly didn’t need more, but I knew this gift was Ruth’s way of expressing her appreciation for our help. So I accepted the saucer with colorful flowers scattered over it and told her how pretty it was.

My words blessed Ruth, and they encouraged her amid the darkness of her daughter’s battle with cancer.

We can be a blessing to others in a variety of ways. Something as simple as a smile can brighten a weary cashier’s day or encourage a weary mother pushing a grocery cart with a crying baby. We can provide transportation for an appointment or to buy groceries. Sending cards with uplifting words or anonymously giving a love gift is also fun. Caregivers appreciate the time to get away for appointments or relax for a few hours. 

We are blessed when we help others, but we must also let others bless us, which is difficult for some of us. We want to give, not receive. Ruth was blessed when I accepted the saucer, even though she probably needed it more than I did.

Why not ask God’s Spirit to guide you in giving and receiving? Think of ways you can bless others and let them also bless you.

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Our Desire and God's Dream

When my wife and I first married, we wanted children. We prayed for six years with no answer. Then, one day, without being prompted, an elder in our church asked my wife if she wanted children. She replied that she did. The elders prayed over her, and she was pregnant within two months. When our daughter arrived, we sent out a birth announcement with 1 Samuel 1:27 inscribed. God had heard our prayers. 

Hannah, the mother of Samuel, never gave up her desire for a child. She had a situation like my wife and me, but more complicated. Hannah was barren, but Elkanah, her husband, had another wife, Peninnah, who wasn’t.

Peninnah often taunted Hannah. Elkanah was somewhat egotistical and clueless about Hannah’s feelings. Hannah also had a spiritual leader, Eli, who judged her falsely. Hannah may have had every reason to believe God had forsaken her.

Hannah’s first response to her circumstances entailed weeping. As Christians, we often try to live in a spiritualized fantasy land, believing we should not experience grief or sorrow. Hannah did something critical with her weeping: she prayed. She never forgot God was still good. Often, when we weep, we stop praying. But if we stop praying, our weeping will never cease.

Hannah told the Lord that if He gave her a son, he would be the Lord’s, not hers. Eventually, Hannah bore three sons and two daughters. Whatever we hold, we lose, but what we give to the Lord, we keep. We can never outgive God.

Hannah’s desire was a part of God’s plan for Samuel to become the great prophet of Israel. Samuel means “God has heard,” which He certainly did with Hannah’s prayer.

How can you make sure your desire is God’s dream for you?

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A Recipe for Trusting God

Grandma had a recipe for muffins, and I need a recipe for trusting God.

Whenever I get frustrated and think God keeps me from having the good things in life, I think about my grandma’s cinnamon muffin recipe. I once changed it to suit my desires and ended up with a mess.

Whenever Grandma made muffins, her whole house smelled like scrumptious cinnamon. I loved those muffins, but at eight years old, I decided that if a good recipe used a quarter teaspoon of spice, a better recipe would use several teaspoons.

My chance to try out that idea came one day when Grandma was baking and the phone rang, leaving me alone with the batter. I quickly grabbed the cinnamon and shook a large amount into the bowl. Then I stirred it in and waited for what I presumed would be a delightful result.

The outcome, however, was not what I expected. The muffins were so bitter that we had to throw them away. And later, as Grandma scolded, it became painfully evident that adding more to anything was not always the recipe to improve it.

God explains why more is not always better in Exodus 23:30 and Deuteronomy 7:22. To keep His people from being overwhelmed, He drove out their enemies little by little. He knew if He gave them too much at one time, even something good, they could not deal with it. Instead of flourishing, they would fail and become like those awful muffins—bitter and unusable.

I am working on trusting God to know exactly how much I can handle and when. Getting too much too soon could make me unappreciative or proud. I have to trust that a quarter teaspoon of cinnamon is all I need right now. I hope you can believe that too. God’s recipe is perfect, even if it involves less.

Do you have a recipe for trusting God?

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God's Sufficiency Is Enough

“It’s that newspaper guy again,” the church secretary announced.

The pastor sighed as he took the phone. The editor’s voice sounded bored. “We got your column, but there wasn’t a title.” 

The pastor gritted his teeth . . . literally . . . as he pondered his response. No title? How did that happen? Then he remembered how he’d been so intent on finishing his sermon that he had hurried through the column. Obviously, he sent it in without carefully checking it. After shuffling a stack of papers, he found his submission and returned to the phone.

“The column title is The Lord is My Shepherd.”

The pastor was about to hang up when he heard the editor’s still bored voice, “Okay, we have The Lord is My Shepherd. Is that all?”

For a split second, the pastor’s frustration found a voice. “Yes, the Lord is My Shepherd. That’s enough!” he barked before hanging up.

The pastor returned to his work, regretting his outburst. But his outburst didn’t stay in the room. When the column was published, the editor had entitled it, The Lord Is My Shepherd – That’s Enough.

Amusingly awkward, yet also entirely correct. Christ called Himself the Good Shepherd, using a familiar agricultural image. After all, His audience was well acquainted with shepherds and how they guided and provided for their flocks. And just as a human shepherd provides the sheep with everything they need, God does the same for us. Even the provision of His Son’s life to assure our salvation.

With the Lord as our perfect shepherd, what else do we need? Nothing. He is enough.

What are some ways you can thank God for His sufficiency?

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)

A Cup of Java and Jehovah Jireh

Without welcome, the alarm pierced the silence. I needed a cup of Java and Jehovah Jireh.  

Eeking out of bed one limb at a time, I grudgingly padded over to turn off the alarm clock. Usually, its piercing would have directed me immediately to the shower, but that day, I turned back around, flopped into bed, and thought, Just for a minute

My momentary slumber broke with a tiny tap and a, “Mommy, what is going on here?” My six-year-old, wholly unimpressed with my snoozing, stared me down until I relented with, “I’m up. I’m up!”

I dragged myself into the shower, to the kitchen, and from my car to the front door of my office—an office that looked a whole lot like a coffee shop.

The moment the smell of percolating heaven hit me, I realized just how beautiful a cup of coffee would be, but alas, it was not in the budget. So, I sat and stewed and found myself a whole heap of resentful. In fact, so ridiculously so, I had to put on my big girl pants and embrace a harsh reality.

I tend to live happily in a world that embraces a warped sense of provision. Provision is what we want and what comforts us—instead of what makes us holy. And that is where I found myself, hopelessly off the mark.  

When God is named Jehovah Jireh, the God who provides, the name speaks to His holiness. Just as it also speaks to how He provides rather than His bending to my want. His provision is through His Son, not through the perfect job, house, or cup of joe.

In many ways, we lose our perspective on provision when we have more than we need. It is why those who have little can dance and laugh and show joy amid nothing. And it is why we gripe, moan, and wring our hands when we have everything.

But it is also why we can turn from the world’s definition of abundance and embrace a joy that comes from the God of the universe loving us. As we go, we should remember that we had nothing, that He gave us everything, and that He provides the perfect way to our eternal home.

How has God’s abundance met you today?

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)


A Rejoicing Heart

I’m a list maker by trade. I even make a list after I complete tasks so I can cross them off my list and feel a sense of accomplishment. But sometimes, the lists keep me from having a rejoicing heart.

One morning, I decided to list everything wrong in my life. Everything that needed a corrected course. The list included complex items such as lawyers’ fees, a pending lawsuit, problems with our adult children who hadn’t found their specific walk with the Lord, and my husband, who lay in bed with Covid. With the big things out of the way, I moved on to the mundane items of laundry, yard work, and self-improvement.

I pondered on this list for a short time, then crumpled it up and threw it into the trash with a laugh. I hadn’t felt the sting of all the life around me, and I fully understood why. But my heart rejoiced regardless.

The psalmist does not say he rejoiced only in good times but always because he trusted the Lord with his heart. I, too, trust the Lord will resolve my husband’s health, the legal matters, and everything else on my worldly list.

Today, I am not making a list of woes but rather keeping a happy heart in a gratitude diary that fixes my mind on God, not this world’s problems.

What makes your heart rejoice? Try keeping a gratitude journal until you are convinced Christ is the source of your heart’s rejoicing.

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)

God Hears Our Prayers

On the drive to work one morning, I prayed and asked God to honor my fiancé, Nick, for his hard work. You see, I believe God hears our prayers.

As an electrician, Nick experienced many rough days on the job. His workdays were often physically and mentally exhausting, from crawling through spider-infested crawl spaces to maneuvering through 120-degree attics. I could tell Nick felt discouraged and fatigued over the past several weeks, so I asked God to give him extra encouragement.

Later, while on my lunch break, Nick called. He had exciting news to share. The boss had summoned Nick to his office for an unexpected meeting. He expressed appreciation for Nick’s hard work and dedication and gave him an unexpected raise. I thanked God for blessing Nick and honoring his diligence in such an amazing way. 

The vast majority of my prayers aren’t answered with such swiftness, and I certainly recognize God is not a magic genie who grants my every wish and desire.

While God may not answer in the way I want or in the timeframe I desire, He listens and answers my prayers. The psalmist believed that too. So  I can rest, believing He knows best for my life. Like the good Father He is, He provides just what we need in His perfect timing.

As we come before God in prayer, we should confess our sins so our hearts will be clean. Then, as we humbly express our needs and desires to God, we can maintain thankful hearts and praise Him for who He is and what He has already provided.

What are some ways you can improve your prayer life?

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Hypocrisy: The Stepchild of Legalism

I discovered hypocrisy was the stepchild of legalism.

Many years ago, I met in my college gymnasium where Loren Cunningham spoke. During the invitation, I felt a nudge to go forward, but an elder of my church sat at the bottom of the bleachers. I had grown up in the church where he served and had tried to keep all the rules, but with limited success. I thought, If I go forward, my elder will believe I have been a hypocrite. Of course, I was, but I did not want him to know. Pride is always the greatest hindrance to salvation.

Keeping the law is not difficult; it is impossible. However, if we try to keep the letter of the law, we will fail, cover up our failures, and become a hypocrite. Legalism is always a precursor to hypocrisy.

The Pharisees went to great lengths to win God’s acceptance through their self-righteousness. They did a good job of making themselves look holy outwardly, but Jesus exposed their hearts—and they hated Him. Hypocrites fear one thing: having their facades removed.

Self-righteousness keeps most people from God. We can’t lead someone to Christ who does not believe they need Him. Most people compare themselves with others and think they are doing reasonably well. However, God does not grade on the curve. Our choices are sinless perfection or spiritual death, which is why we needed a Savior to die in our place.

God never intended the law to be a stepladder to Him but a mirror to reveal who we are. Trying to keep the law will lead us into legalism, which is one step away from hypocrisy—an awful stepchild.

What steps can you take to avoid legalism?

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Encouraging Prayer Intercession

I enjoy encouraging prayer intercession.

A friend once encountered a man she hadn’t seen for seven years. At the time, she was quite concerned about Peter, one of her family members. The friend asked how Peter was doing.

She was astonished and touched that he would inquire about her family member by name. He told her he had prayed for Peter daily for seven years. My friend’s eyes brimmed with tears as she told me about the faithfulness of this prayer warrior. She had no idea he had been interceding for her need.

Later that same day, I received a text from a young friend who had recently visited me for the first time since we had moved away seven years before. During her visit, I introduced her to Andrea, my neighbor.

I have known Andrea for several years and have shared God’s love with her. She loves me, but she hasn’t learned to love Jesus yet. I was discouraged.

The text from my friend read, “I’ve committed to praying for Andrea every day. I feel strongly that God is at work in that situation. Thank you for inviting me into her story.”

The ripple effect of prayers soothes many as those prayers are lifted consistently by faithful prayer warriors. My discouragement dissipated, and my hope was renewed.

Intercessory prayer touches our Lord, the one praying, the one prayed for, and others in the wake of the need. I am challenged to faithfully intercede for others by name. I hope you are too.

Who are some people you can intercede for?

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Trusting When in the Boat

Trust when being in the boat and in a storm isn’t easy.

Just because the storm comes doesn’t mean we’re supposed to get out of the boat.

People are walking through fiery trials. Many Christians experience spiritual resistance, a type of invisible pressure that seems to draw them away from what the Lord has called them to do.

I hear prayer requests for Christians who have sudden and strange health problems. Other godly couples, who are strong in the Lord, have severe marriage problems. Many children of godly, loving parents walk away from the Lord, seemingly overnight, and fall into traps that entail sin, addiction, and false identities. 

The leader of a summer mission team experienced uncountable distractions and odd situations at work. Two other team members were tempted to back out of the mission trip.

For the disciples, this spiritual pressure was a powerful squall while they made their way to the land of the Gerasenes. In their fear and distress, they may have regretted getting into that boat. Some of them likely assumed this was a wrong-place, wrong-time scenario. We know that’s false because Jesus told them to get into the boat.

Storms will come, but God has a plan. Trials may feel like chaos, but God controls them. Christ is not blindsided by these things. He sees them coming, and He will work everything together for our good.

Don’t fret, panic, or doubt if God told you to get into the boat—whether that’s marrying, having children, joining a church, or going on a mission trip. Remember you’re crossing over, which means there is another side. God will lead you through the storm.

What steps can you take to trust God more when the storms come?

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Heart of My Heart

A worn envelope dropped from the moving box. I slipped my fingers under the tab and pulled it open. It was a valentine from years past—one from my ex-husband. I’m not sure why I kept it. I didn’t remember saving it after the divorce. Maybe I thought it would be a nice reminder for the boys when they got older, or perhaps I just thought . . .

An ache rose in my chest. He was my first love, and he broke my heart. He shattered it so badly that it still missed pieces years later. I rubbed my fingers over the velvet-covered heart. Glitter dropped to the floor. I never remember asking God to fix things, just to give me the strength to manage.

When I opened the card, a spring-loaded rabbit popped up with a little sign that said, My heart leaps for you. For a fleeting moment, I smiled, then dropped the valentine in the trash. The marriage ended, and I felt as if I had failed God.

The psalmist knew the strength he’d found in God. God heard his cries of joy, need, and even lament. Better yet, the Father never failed His servant. So as the psalmist looked back, his heart leaped for joy, and he praised the God of all creation because God was who He said He was. Faithful. Trustworthy.

Our Father knows our hearts—every nook and cranny—and because He is who He is, we hold dear to Him. Just as the psalmist’s heart leaped for joy at the strength found in God, so can ours.

I knew God would never break my heart. He held me close, carefully cared for me, and gently mended my heart. My valentine’s story began roughly, but God slowly pieced my heart back together, and when it was all glued up, there was still one tiny piece missing. That’s when He hand-picked my prince, added a glue drop, and stuck him tightly in the hole. My heart healed, and my life is blessed.

Welcome the Father in as your Valentine. Your heart will leap with joy. You are burrowed deeply in His heart—snuggled in tightly. In Him, you are loved.

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)

Seeing What God Sees

Seeing what God sees isn’t always easy.

We could not see the road—a well-maintained four-lane highway. A torrential downpour obliterated our vision. The semis that passed rocked our van. Blinking emergency lights on other motorists’ cars drove us mad. We were only thirty minutes from home, having driven five hours after a lovely but exhausting vacation. The thought of having to stop made us cringe, but if we couldn’t see where we were going, stopping until the storm passed seemed like the wise thing to do. 

Through the prophet Isaiah, God asked His people if they did not perceive the new thing He was doing. Some might say the question merely emphasized His point, which could be true. But I also believe God asks us so we’ll question whether we see His way . . . the new thing.

When we don’t see what God sees, He desires that we ask for wisdom and direction. He doesn’t want us to fake it until we make it. Instead, He wants to fill our journey with His wondrous gifts, which we can only enjoy when we perceive them. Otherwise, we blindly follow the world’s emergency flashing lights that lead to uncertain outcomes. 

God wants us to ask for wisdom when we can’t see the road He has provided. He has something specific for us, and it will be glorious. We don’t have to keep our white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel, begging for relief. He is doing a new thing, making a way in our wilderness and streams in our wasteland.

What can you do to help you see what God is doing?

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Squeezed by Stress

When squeezed, the ball should relieve stress.

I have one of those balls. It’s the size and color of a peach, and since I live in Georgia, the color suits. Except when a family member mistook a peach I was about to eat for my stress-relief ball and squeezed it. 

Sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s real. When I was a kid, fake fruit was a popular table decoration. The only way to determine if it was genuine was to squeeze it. I had a friend who learned that lesson the hard way when she swallowed a plastic grape.

We are a lot like the fake fruit or stress ball. When circumstances squeeze our lives, they show whether the fruit of the Spirit in us is real. We may fake it when things are going well, but stressful situations show if we’re trusting God. 

We live in super-squeezy times. I’m tempted to believe things are worse now than they’ve ever been—until I remember that one of the first four people God created had the actual life squeezed out of him … and by his brother. 

The writer of Hebrews memorialized Abel, that brother. Often called Faith’s Hall of Faith, this chapter lists people who trusted God, even when life squeezed them. They gained a good reputation. As they were stoned, sawn in two, and otherwise pulverized, someone watched and took note of their fruit.

God works when we’re squeezed. I used my peach to infuse water, but first, I had to squish it. Similarly, when difficult circumstances press faithful people, they infuse the lives of others with the flavor of Christ.

Jesus told His followers to expect trouble in this world, so I think squeezing is His plan for us until He returns.

But let’s not lose heart. Hebrews 11 ends with a promise: God’s people will be perfect one day. Forget stress-relief balls. Let’s meditate on that truth. It’s sweeter than a Georgia peach.

How do you react when life squeezes you?

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Keep Your Chin Up

She always said, “Keep your chin up.”

Gladys laughed with a raspy voice, followed by a round of high-pitched chuckles. I didn’t mind the cigarette smoke because she always greeted me with a warm smile. Little did I know how our relationship would grow over the years.

I first knew Gladys when I was sixteen when she needed me to drive her to the city for a post-surgery doctor’s appointment. Her family had moved in next door a couple of months before.

Soon, her daughters and I became fast friends, spending many evenings singing along to the Carpenters’ cassette tapes. If I knocked on their door at mealtime, they always pulled up an extra chair for their “OD” (oldest daughter).

My adopted mama always found time for me, and I spent more time at her house than mine. She never judged and was quick to hear and slow to speak. No matter what I was going through—and no matter my emotional ups and downs or disappointments—she was there. She knew the right thing to say and not to say.

Knowing my spirits were low, she often said, “Keep your chin up.” Don’t be down. Don’t let this get the best of you; look up, be strong, and move forward. We support you. Gladys didn’t say all those things, but I knew what she meant.

The night I left home, I gave them all an emotional goodbye, and Gladys gave me a key to their house. “Keep your chin up,” she said. Weeks after I started college, my adopted mama was with me in the college financial aid office, trying to get help for me to stay in school and telling me to keep my chin up. And after I married, moved out of state, had problems, and endured a difficult pregnancy, she sent me letters of encouragement and showed up on my doorstep twice.  

God said something similar to Joshua: Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

God doesn’t want us to lose heart when we pass through struggles. “Keep your chin up,” He says. Then He assures us He is with us and will be faithful as He encourages us to be strong and courageous.

What are some steps you can take to keep your chin up?

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Going through a Dark Valley

I’ve been going through a dark valley of homelessness for what seems like the longest time.

When I first became homeless, I resolved to pursue my creative writing ministry anyway. I was concerned about everything I needed to take care of and constantly fretted and feared the what ifs.

Yet as I continued to move forward, I learned God was with me in all situations. Even now, as I keep pushing, I thank and worship God through one of the most challenging seasons I have ever endured.

David was inclined to suffering and persecution. Before becoming king, he was tested by fighting battles for the Lord and by rejection from Israel’s first king.

The mark of a mature Christian is not when we worship and praise God through sunny skies and bright days, with blessings on all that we do.

The genuine mark comes when we worship, rejoice, and place our trust in God when we travel through the valley of the shadow of death. When we feel closed in by the darkness and everything seems to go wrong. Yet we take heart and rejoice anyway. God is faithful through persecution, difficult seasons, and all that we have yet to endure.

Through it all, God is with us, and we should continue to believe and draw close to Him, despite our circumstances and feelings. God wants us to trust Him, not rely on our understanding. We should seek His will in all we do, and He will make our paths straight. When we delight in the Lord, He will grant us our heart’s desires.

How can you draw closer to the Lord, despite the spiritual warfare surrounding you? 

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Let God's Light Shine

Others always benefit when we let God’s light shine.

The word slowly made its rounds to the other employees. I had accepted a new job and submitted my notice to my supervisor. A few days later, I received an unexpected email from the director of an adjacent department. While I did not know her well, we corresponded occasionally, and I had assisted her in troubleshooting several issues. She expressed her regret over my leaving and wished me well. She said, “You are a bright light in your office.”

Her words touched my heart. I had often considered myself low on the totem pole in my workplace since I occupied an entry-level position. Busywork frequently filled my days, and I often questioned whether I made a difference.

The director’s comment reminded me that if I worked on my tasks with all my heart and tried to be kind and helpful, I would positively impact those around me.

Jesus encourages us to let our lights shine before others so they can see our good deeds and praise God. Regardless of our position—doctor, secretary, teacher, student, stay-at-home parent, electrician, retiree—God wants us to shine a bright light for Jesus.

God places us where we are for a purpose. We must commit our hearts to doing a good job, no matter the task. We can let our love, kindness, grace, and dedication shine as a bright light to those around us.

How can you let God’s light shine so others will be drawn to Jesus?

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Letting Go of Fear

Time stretched out mercilessly as I waited in line with twenty other people. I hoped I would soon be letting go of fear.

Heights are not my friend, yet here I stood with jelly knees on a metal platform five hundred feet above a beach. The post-card Haitian scenery was lost on me because I was too busy inhaling and exhaling, trying to invoke a sense of calm. My palms felt sweaty and clammy, and my heart rate soared.

In a few moments, I would step to a precipice, let go of a metal bar, and zipline over the ocean for 2600 feet at speeds up to fifty miles per hour.

What if the contraption malfunctions? Sure, it’s working fine for everyone else, but for me? Okay, only one person before me. Would I be like the chicken in the roller coaster line and take the walk of shame back to safety?

Before I could answer that, a chipper young blonde gal motioned me forward. “Next, please.”

She prepared me as best she could. I released the bar and stepped into nothing but air. Immediately after I took that one terrifying step, my body and mind relaxed, and I soared. And I fully appreciated the beauty–aqua water, white sand, green palms, and rocky cliffs. I spread my arms like the wings of a bird. I was flying.

I almost missed this adventure because of fear. Fear has kept me from countless adventures. Fear has also kept me from starting conversations with strangers and from contributing to discussions. Fear has kept me from displaying appropriate assertiveness, offering to help someone, asking questions, and confidently expressing my convictions. Foolishly, I have allowed fear to freeze me in place on much more weighty things than ziplining.

Paul reminds us that a spirit of fear does not come from God, but our Enemy. When we take leaps of faith and step off our platforms, we experience spiritual freedom as never before—and sometimes astonishing results.

What fear do you need to let God help you overcome?

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God's Ways Are Higher

I walked through a season when I realized God’s ways are higher.

I was at a crossroads in my walk with Christ. My husband’s brokenness and subsequent addiction had taken their toll on my marriage, my children, and me. What would be my response to the suffering God had allowed in my life?

Among the myriad of emotions I experienced, I wanted the truth. But was I prepared for the answer? A simple statement spoken to me right on time shook me to the core and changed my perspective: “God allows what He hates to accomplish what He loves.”

The Lord sovereignly and tenderly reminded me that one of His great purposes is to purify me and make me more like Him. To do so, He often allows situations that bring us to His feet. I surrendered to His workings in my heart, knowing I could trust Him completely.

In Romans, Paul demonstrates that God is righteous. Despite all that happens in the world and our lives, we must trust God’s ways, rely on Him for salvation through Christ, and imitate the faith of our forefathers. This verse gives Paul’s praise for God’s infinite wisdom: Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!

Our human nature makes us want to doubt God’s ways and live in fear and anxiety, but we can trust Him no matter what. When we face a situation we did not expect, we can choose to respond with faith or fear. We will show gratitude and give praise when we choose faith.

During what appeared as a broken time in my life, the Lord penned the following words on my spirit and eventually into a song I used to praise and glorify His name: My ways are higher than yours are, even sometimes they look a little strange. But you’ve got to know I’m very much among you, doing all I can to work it all out for you.

You are safe in God’s arms and can rest in His sovereignty. Will you trust Him today in all things?

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Ponder All Things

We don’t read that Mary spoke any words during or soon after her Son’s birth in the manger at Bethlehem.

We get a glimpse of Mary only after the shepherds came to see the babe for themselves and left to spread the news of the Savior’s birth. Even then, she doesn’t speak aloud.

Although everyone with whom the shepherds shared the news of Jesus’ birth wondered and marveled at what they heard, Mary remained silent. Nevertheless, Scripture tells us that she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Much had happened in the past few months to Mary, a young girl of probably sixteen. Do we know a young girl today who would have reacted as maturely as Mary did following the angel Gabriel’s message from God?

Mary pondered what she heard. Dictionaries give many synonyms for ponder, but of all they offer, I like meditate when I think of Mary—the only female in a crowded stable filled with animals and excited shepherds.

By meditating, Mary sought sincerely to understand her circumstances. A young girl with so much heaped upon her shoulders. She could have easily forgotten the honor God had bestowed upon her and complained about her immediate circumstances.

But from what we read, Mary appears to be an intelligent girl who loved God and wanted to obey His plans. The joy of ordinary motherhood probably flooded her soul, and she also marveled at the baby, knowing He was the Son of God. Mary was a normal mother, yet at the same time, the mother of the Holy Child.

We see numerous nativity scenes during the Christmas season. Ponder all things Christmas this season and prevent the ordinary from overshadowing the holy aspect of the baby Jesus.

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Stay Within Range

Two friends told me two stories about tea towels.

One told of how her mother tied a tea towel to the awning of a tent as a sign to her children playing on the shore that it was time to eat. The second friend said her mother hung the tea towel out the kitchen window to let her husband know dinner was ready.

A little brass bell was my mother’s choice to call in her tribe from playing out on the road when it was dinner time. My son was once delighted when he spotted a dinner gong while visiting an old residence. Walkie-talkies fascinated children in times past, but one had to stay in range to communicate.

At times, we might say or feel that we can’t hear God or that God is not speaking to us. To see the tea towels or hear the bell and gong required staying within earshot or view. A person had to watch and listen. If a brass band had played on our cul de sac at dinner time, we wouldn’t have heard the little brass bell above the noise.

Sometimes, it’s not that God isn’t speaking, but rather that the many other voices around us shout so loudly they drown out what He is saying.

Most parents at one time or another have heard their child say, “I didn’t hear you.” The parents’ response is usually, “That’s because you weren’t listening to me.”

God wants us to listen diligently to His voice. We must actively put ourselves in a position to hear from heaven. Doing so requires staying in range and tuning out some of the other voices.

What steps can you take to hear God’s voice better? Ask Him to help you stay within earshot and to tune out voices that try to drown out His voice.

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Delay or Opportunity

The day was sunny, and I had my cruise control on, making wonderful time—until I saw traffic ahead at a dead stop.

I slowed and stopped behind all the other traffic. My first thought was, Great, I wonder how much time this will take. I glanced at my radio and noted the time. A wreck is usually ahead with traffic at a dead stop like this on the interstate. I scolded myself for worrying about how much of a delay this would cause. Rather, I should pray for the people in the accident and the first responders. I also realized I should be thankful I was not in the accident rather than focusing on the delay.

As traffic moved, I looked at my radio and saw that twenty minutes had gone by. When I passed the accident scene, I noticed no one looked severely injured, and I was thankful for that and that God’s agenda now drove me, not mine.

The delay reminded me of how I get so busy with my life—what I’m doing and where I’m going—that I often don’t notice others. Then, when delays come, I get irritated.

Jesus was on his way to heal the daughter of Jairus, but the delay in healing the woman with the issue of blood led to the man’s daughter dying. But Jesus didn’t get annoyed with the woman. He dealt with her graciously and with compassion. Jesus saw this as a ministry opportunity. He also assured Jairus that if he believed, his daughter would live. When someone delayed Jesus, He didn’t get irritated or annoyed.

God knows our plans and how to work everything out when something delays us. We just need to relax and rest in Him. When we’re delayed or our plans get messed up, we should ask how this can be a ministry opportunity for God.

Ask God to give you Jesus’ mindset so you can deal graciously with whatever delays you meet. 

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Room for Me

After fifteen years in the medical field, who knew I would be a middle-aged woman looking for a different career.

Like many others, I wondered if what I did was enough. Could I do something different? Did I have time to act on another venture at my age? I had been what I thought was a model leader and employee—happy in my current field—until my director pulled the rug from underneath me one day. I had given so much to my employer that I had taken from myself. As the old saying goes, “Rob Peter to pay Paul.”

I worked long hours, never complained, took on tasks no one else wanted, and did it all with a smile. One day, the director complained that I had not involved her in the day-to-day details. But she had never told me how much detail she needed. I did what was required and asked questions when needed. Is were dotted, Ts were crossed, and the job was done.

Once I realized that my loyalty didn’t mean as much as I thought, it was time to move on—time to set my sight on being an entrepreneur. Being what God wanted. Although this one incident wasn’t the only one that got me moving forward, it was the one that aligned with what God had been telling me all along.

When God prepares something for us, He will bring us to it. When we trust God, we don’t have to be troubled. We can eliminate the what-ifs or how-tos. When God calls us, He will give us the vision of His promise.

Starting over is never easy, but it’s bearable when standing on God’s Word. Allow God to take the lead to His promise for you. Let Him be the foundation, despite the next phase of your journey. It does not matter what someone else is doing or who is already doing it. God always has room for one more.

Rest in knowing God will care for your every need as you follow His plan.

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Faith like the Birds

Bird viewing may change during the winter.

Usually, during the winter months, leaves have fallen, people hide inside, and birds have flown away. But if we look closely, we may find the occasional feathered friend. My friend noticed two little birds that always sat on the same bare bush as he walked past it. He knew the same two birds would be there every day without exception.

My friend’s experience reminds me of the verses in Matthew where Jesus says God provides for the birds. Without fail, He gives them everything they need to survive. He never forgets one day or gets too busy the next. God is there constantly, just as the birds were in my friend’s experience.

God’s consistent care for birds demonstrates His faithfulness toward His children. Just as my friend assumed the two birds would sit on that bush each day, we can know God will care for us and not abandon us. We may still struggle, but our struggle allows God to provide for us and show us how much He values us—even more so than the rest of His creation.

As we look around, we can see the many ways God provides for His creation. We breathe air, hear the gentle roar of the ocean, or watch the sunrise. God makes all these things possible, even when we take them for granted, and we should thank Him for them.

Trust God to be faithful in the little things in life, and when you do, it will be easier to trust Him with the bigger things.

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Don't Be Scared

Fear can paralyze us.

When the Covid pandemic began in March 2020, I found a verse in Luke about sickness. Two years later, I heard stories about wars. People worried about the Russian president using nuclear weapons against Ukraine—weapons he could also use on America.

Often before I go to bed, I wonder if it will be my last night on earth. Sometimes, these thoughts leave me afraid of being blown up in an explosion. But that is not the way I want to die.

Jesus says wars and stories of wars will precede His Second Coming. The gospel of Luke even lists some events that will happen before the Lord returns.

What I don’t fear is where I will go after I die. I know I will be with Jesus. But some people should be afraid. We will spend eternity separated from God if we don’t know Jesus and His saving grace. This is not something God desires. All Jesus requires is for us to call out to Him and accept His gift of salvation. Once we’ve done that, He wants us to share His love with others.

If you don’t know Jesus, trust Him before time runs out. If you do, tell others about Him.

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Imperfect Shells

Ever hunt for that flawless seashell on the beach? The one with perfect symmetry, no tiny holes, and no broken edges?

That’s what I always do—but not my six-year-old grandson. The last time we combed the beach with our toes squishing into the cool sand, he chose imperfect shells and carefully placed them in his yellow beach bucket. Then he thoroughly washed the pieces back at the house until no sand or dirt remained on them. Upon close examination, he marveled at the radiance that emanated from their inner lining.

Our grandson methodically laid his shells on the kitchen table in neat rows to display his treasured possessions. When an older cousin passed by and asked about his project, he replied, “These are my seashells. They are very important to me.” Even though the shells were not perfect, they were valuable to him.

My grandson’s care for the shells reminded me of how Jesus loves me the way I am. Imperfect. Broken. Flawed. With sin covering my inner iridescence. Yet still, I am His treasured possession. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. This verse doesn’t say Jesus looks for perfect, righteous, and holy people. Instead, He seeks the people who important people often overlook—the people who don’t shine brightly in the world’s eyes. They are so important that He died on the cross to save them. And when believers arrive in heaven, our lustrous glow will shine for all eternity, and Jesus will heal our broken places.

Perhaps we followed Jesus in the past but have now gone our own way. Jesus seeks us and wants us to come home. When we pray, Jesus listens. We are still His treasured possession, as flawed and broken as we are.

Have you found that one who loves you dearly? The one who seeks you and died on the cross to save you? Pray to Jesus now.

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No More Shame

For years, I had read the Scripture and sang the song about “my glory and the lifter of my head.” But the true meaning of the words eluded me until I met a woman whose head remained bowed.

We’ll call her Tricia. She was a sweet woman. Loving. Talented. Full of potential. But even as a redeemed child of God, she remained consumed with guilt, afraid to look anyone in the eye. Her past sins, insecurity, and lack of self-worth kept her locked in a prison of loneliness and depression.

God never intends for His children to live under the dark cloud of shame—no matter what we’ve done or how we view ourselves. He has redeemed us. Forgiven us. Set us free from every form of condemnation . . . especially self-condemnation. The shed blood of Jesus created a shield meant to protect us from the lies and accusations of the Enemy.

In Christ, we are complete and clothed in His righteousness. We are made worthy of His amazing love, grace, and mercy. The Living Bible says, “But, Lord, you are my shield, my glory, and my only hope. You alone can lift my head, now bowed in shame.”

Tricia finally found her freedom when she realized who she truly was in Christ and began to see herself through His eyes instead of her own and those around her. She no longer bows her head in shame, and her countenance radiates the love and life of the Lord.

If you struggle with insecurity, child of God, it’s time to lift your head. Glory and hope await you, just as they did for Tricia. And there is no more shame.

Take steps today toward your rightful position in Christ.

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Free To Be Me

“There is no cage. There are no chains. You are free.”

The gentle words of the counselor rang in my ears as I drifted to sleep. In the days following, I allowed those words to seep into my soul and bring the long overdue healing and freedom I desperately needed.

Many of us are conditioned from a young age to blend in and conform. Dress the same as everyone else. Be normal. Don’t act differently. However, the Bible instructs us not to conform to the patterns of this world. Instead, we should renew our minds by testing and approving what God’s will is.

When we stop trying to copy everyone else, we free ourselves to follow the dreams God puts in our heart. He will give us the desires of our heart that align with His will when we delight in Him, obey His Word, commit our ways to Him, and trust Him.

Our God of variety uniquely makes every person in His image. We can see this in the variety of insects in our world. In the same way, God gives us dissimilar gifts, talents, and dreams. We can fight our individuality and perfectly tailored gifts and dreams or embrace them wholeheartedly, knowing God has hand-picked them for us.

Cast aside the false cloak of ordinary and be fearlessly authentic. 

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Following God into the Desert

“You want me to do what?” I asked suspiciously.

In January 2005, a Sarbanes-Oxley audit team leader asked me to get on a plane in Birmingham, Alabama, and fly to California. After two days of deliberating with other auditors in an elegant Walnut Creek corporate office, my host declared, “We need your services in Madison, Georgia.”

Where is that? I wondered.

God plucked me out of Egypt, gently positioned me in His rocket launcher, and shot me into the unknown. Humbling, testing, training, disciplining, breaking down, building up. The list still goes on and on. Yet every day presents an incredible new opportunity to surrender my heart to Him.

As a devoted Father, God deliberately shows up where we are. He leads us on adventures through the desert, sweeping away all distractions as He did when He delivered His people from Egyptian slavery. He is all we really have . . . all we really need.

God disciplines us as He did the Israelites so we will know what is in our hearts. Then, when we intentionally release the distractions, we will be ready to embark on the best adventures with Him.

We must ask God to give us the courage to ask what He wants us to do, where He wants us to go, and whom He wants us to minister to. Then we can trust Him with the why and how. I plan to follow God into the desert and be ready for the best adventures of my life.

Think back on all the adventures on which your heavenly Father has led you. Praise and thank Him. He molds everything for your good and His glory.

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Created to Worship

Sometimes, we feel the need to enter God’s presence.

I remember when I wasn’t singing and worshiping the Lord for a certain time. I felt a kind of spiritual heaviness building until I started to worship. When I did, the heaviness fell off. I recalled the words of Psalm 100:4: “Enter into His presence with thanksgiving.”

From the beginning of creation’s story, there has been a constant theme of entering or leaving God’s presence. Both have certain outcomes. God created us to worship and glorify Him. Despite our temporary dwelling on earth, we should continue to turn our focus and worship to the Lord.

Christ met a Samaritan woman at a well and told her the time would come when it wouldn’t matter whether her people worshipped on the mountain of Samaria or in Zion. God wants those who worship Him to do so in spirit and truth. To do so, we must enter His presence with thanksgiving and praise.

God wants us to walk by the Spirit so we won’t be tempted to satisfy the desires of the flesh. We are also taught not to be drunk with wine but to be filled with the spirit—singing songs and hymns and making spiritual music from our hearts to the Lord. A true mark of a believer is when we continue to worship the Lord regardless of life’s circumstances.

Regardless of where we go or what we go through, we can continue to honor and worship the Lord by seeking out His Word and delighting in Him.

How can you set aside more time to worship and honor the Lord?

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The Best Investment Vehicle

Once my husband and I started our retirement nest egg, local financial advisers mysteriously knew about it and sought us out, eager to “handle our money.”

We received invitations to free meals where they'd make their pitch, talking about the good returns they could get us. As I listened, I thought, I want to make good investments, but my life on earth ends at death, so I wonder what I should do in light of eternity? I have an insider's tip, and it’s legal for me to give it to you: earth's currency will be useless in heaven.

At our dinners, we heard much about investment vehicles: stocks, bonds, mutual funds, annuities, and real estate. No matter which vehicle they talked about, the presenter’s point was always for us to make a profit on the capital we invested. Some, of course, carried a degree of risk.

Many vehicles sounded good, and we made use of the information, but for believers, building up treasures in heaven through our giving beats all the touted investments. It’s a sure thing, and the profits are out of this world.

Jesus addressed money and possessions more than heaven and hell in His Word.

Generous giving requires an eternal perspective. Open-handed giving often slams against human nature which seems to urge us to make more, stash more, spend more. It helps to acknowledge that God owns everything, not us, and to ask Him to help us resist the temptation to covet more possessions.

Paul told the Philippian believers that he had learned to be content, implying it didn’t happen overnight. We, too, can learn contentment, and we can learn to use the investment vehicle called “laying up treasures in heaven.”

What eternal investments are you making?

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Troubled Soul

“Ma’am, your daughter gave me your phone number. We have her here. She’s in rough shape, and we have her on a suicide watch.”

I tried to understand the words, but the fragmented sound bites made no sense. The man said her blood alcohol levels were extremely high. That no one had been hurt. My granddaughter was safe and with her father. 

“There’s an officer guarding her because of the arrest,” the monotone doctor reported to me.

“Arrest? What arrest?” I asked, trying to grapple with what the doctor said.

My daughter was in trouble. Learning my adult daughter was an alcoholic who now faced DUI and felony charges because she drove with her young child in the car, came as a shock. She hadn’t lived in my home for nearly twenty years. But still, shouldn’t I have known?

I couldn’t travel to her, but I knew God was there and well-able to intervene on her behalf. In the months that followed, I learned how to navigate treatment programs and the prison system. Each time I dropped money into an account, I prayed for God to show mercy and for my daughter to find freedom from her addiction. Each time I answered the phone, I prayed for the wisdom to know what to say and not to say. As the time for sentencing approached, I prayed fervently. My daughter was in trouble, and all I could do was pray. It seemed so insignificant.

James directs believers to pray. Prayer is an act of faith and a great weapon in times of adversity. Staying focused on the Lord keeps us from fearing outcomes and consequences and places the situation before the throne of grace. Praying about a situation means we seek an answer from God and not a manmade solution that either we or someone we know creates.

Are you troubled? Pray to God and expect Him to resolve your situation. Prayer will keep your thoughts positive and your hopes high. Rather than despair, you will be able to trust that God is working out your situation for good.

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How God Teaches Us

There was a time when my son turned his back on all his family.

I handled the situation all wrong. I ridiculed and condemned him, which only pushed him further away. This increased my agony as well. After many months of this, I turned the situation over to God. My son was still apart from me for a few years, but I knew God was caring for him. Our relationship has since been restored, and I know God was responsible for the healing. I needed to depend on Him. I learned a lesson the hard way.

Moses led the Israelites through the desert. They were thirsty and needed water. God told Moses to strike the rock with his staff. When Moses did this, water gushed out. Years later, the Israelites were at a new location in the desert and needed water again. This time God told Moses to speak to the rock. Instead of listening to God, Moses struck the rock twice. Water did flow from the rock, but Moses had to pay the consequences for his disobedience. God forbade him to enter the Promised Land.

God has granted us eternal life through the blood of Jesus Christ. Once we believe in Jesus and are given this gift from God, He will never take it away. But sin still resides in our lives. When we sin, consequences follow. God doesn’t want us to keep sinning, so when we do, He sends negative results. That’s how He teaches us the difference between right and wrong.

God never stops loving us, and He will never push us away. Because of His love as our heavenly Father, He will sometimes teach us in ways we might not like.

What are some things you have learned from God?

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Trust the Reliable

Each summer, I make the long drive from Virginia to Delaware.

To get there, I must drive five hours, which involves crossing the Chesapeake Bay Tunnel Bridge—the bridge and tunnel account for twenty miles of the trip. When I get to the middle of the bridge, I cannot see land in either direction.

The first time I made the trip I felt a little panicky when I got to this point. But I kept reminding myself that engineers had designed the bridge and tunnel using their expert skills and knowledge, making the risk of danger low. With this assurance, I take a deep breath and enjoy the drive with confidence in the designer.

As Jesus reminds us, no one, including Christians, makes it through this life without a few bumps and bruises. Challenges are a part of life, and they can be scary at times.

When I have experienced the fear of the unknown or the fear of what I knew would not end well, such as the death of my husband from Alzheimer’s, I trusted the Designer of all life. God has never failed me, even when I did not have a clear view of the future. He knows and sees what I cannot. Putting my faith in Him is based on experience.    

People often question the faith of Christians, as though we are somehow moving through life giddy and floating high on a false sense of security. Unbelieving family, friends, and acquaintances think we dismiss reality altogether. They ask, “Where is God amidst all the suffering and calamities happening in the world?” We, however, can put our faith in a reliable God.

Are you trusting God to guide you through every life circumstance?

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Never Satisfied

I once heard a pastor tell his congregation how he wanted a fancy car when he was in Bible college.

He told them how he had sold several vehicles by buying one and selling it for enough money to buy another car and then selling it. He enjoyed getting the money from the sale, but he didn’t like the vehicles he bought—or at least he didn’t like having the car for long.

One day, he finally bought the nice car he had wanted for so long. But after two weeks, he lost his excitement about it too. Through his experience, the Lord taught him that material things never satisfy, nor can money.

We all need to remember that nothing can fulfill us as Jesus can and does. This is what Jesus told the woman at the well.

Jesus needed to go through Samaria. His disciples were probably shocked over this because the Jews hated the Samaritans. But Jesus went because of this woman. She had been looking for love in so many wrong places.

Following her example is easy. We look for satisfaction in the wrong places. This can even happen to us as Christians, just as it did to the pastor who craved that special car. 

Ask God to help you keep Him as the ultimate focus of your life. 

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An Answered Prayer

My stomach knotted as I faced the airport exit.

People crowded onto the escalator, each searching for their next gate and flight. The calm tone of my friend’s voice on my phone was the only thing that kept me from running back to my car and driving away. What did I think when I agreed to this meeting? Would we recognize one another, or would he walk right past me?

Then I saw him. To this day, I don’t know how I knew it was him. I just did. He was a short man, had a bit of a belly, and was dressed in a blue Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops as if ready for the beach. I felt my heart pound as he made his way down the escalator. I tried not to stare, but to my amazement, he recognized me too.

Without hesitation, he walked right up to me and gave me a big hug. As we reunited after twenty-four years, I thanked God for answering the prayer I had prayed for so long—that someday I’d be able to meet my biological father.

Jesus urges us to continue to knock on the door of heaven until we receive an answer. From God’s perspective, praying continually has value. God is still found in His temple, reigning as King over everything. He sees and understands the whole picture. Jesus, seated at God’s right hand, constantly intercedes for us while the Father listens to His prayers.

Nothing can happen on earth that Jesus’ heavenly rule will not prevail over. These are all reasons we can trust God to answer our prayers in His perfect timing.

Pray the impossible prayer. Trust God to make it possible in His time.

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Be Careful Where You Walk

Yearly camping trips to Glacier National Park were the highlight of my childhood.

Infamously known as “bear country,” my family had to remain vigilant during our visits because of the numerous grizzly and black bears that made Glacier their home.

On one such camping trip, when my dad, brother, and I were several hours down a less-traveled hiking trail, we made an alarming discovery. Smack dab in the middle of our trail was a massive, fresh pile of bear scat. Swiftly determining the dangers of continuing on this path, my dad immediately reversed our course. Although disappointed we wouldn’t enjoy the red-rock waterfall awaiting us at the end of the trail, my brother and I trusted our dad’s guidance. Fully confident in him to lead us to safety, we followed closely on his heels until we left the bear—wherever he was hiding—far behind.

As hiking in bear country taught me, we must be careful where we walk. Daily, we are presented with a host of decisions that will either lead us down the right path, leading to life and fullness, or the wrong path, leading to death and destruction. Whether we allow ourselves to lash out at another driver on the road, watch an explicit TV show we know we shouldn’t, or allow bitterness to take root toward a family member, we must constantly choose which path to trek.

Fortunately, we don’t have to walk alone. Not only do we have the Bible to act as our map and a lamp for our feet, but we also have the Lord, our trusted guide, to lead us on the path of righteousness. As we stay rooted in Him, He will help us along the right path and redirect our course when we head down the wrong one.

On which path are you headed?

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Using Our Skills

Imagine an artist who created works of starting eloquence, skill, ingenuity, and efficiency.

He was a musician and a son of a known blacksmith in the lowliest town in the kingdom. Yet with skillful and wise persistence and determination, he was trained and taught and constantly honed his craft. Through constant performance and opportunity, his skill and ability to perform became known far and wide.

Word of his skill was eventually caught by a lord under the king himself. The lord brought the young man into his presence, and he immediately noted his skill. Then, the young man was brought before the king. He, too, was impressed and invited the young man to play for him and his subjects. The young man’s dream had come true.

God gives wisdom abundantly to those who seek and ask Him for it. If the Lord has developed skills in us that will promote us, we can take this as a sign of His blessings. Our skill and hard work are eventually noted by others.

We should continue to develop and discipline ourselves so we can use our skills for God’s glory. In all circumstances, God wants us to seek both His Word and His will. Then we can delight ourselves in Him.

Are you using your skills for God’s glory?

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Trusting God's Hand

As I dropped off to sleep, I felt a tickling sensation on my arm.

I scratched what I thought in my near-dreamlike state was an itch only to feel something alive. I awoke, screamed, and brushed whatever it was onto the floor.

Across the hall and through two closed doors, my cries awoke my housemate who called out, “Are you okay?”

I switched on the lamp and discovered a stink bug lying on its back on the floor. I promptly disposed of it. “I am now,” I said.

Many things may wake us in the night. We may worry about our job, or lack of one, or an unbalanced state of finances. We may fret about wayward children and grandchildren or friction in other relationships. We may be stressed about upcoming medical tests and treatments or startled and saddened by learning the results of those tests.

Whatever it is that troubles us, the Bible tells us that we can cry aloud to God, that He will hear us, and that His hand is on us for good.

Jesus’ death on the cross reminds us that God loves us. He cares about each one of us. His hand of good may not be the immediate good we look for, but in the long run, we will see the good.

Will you cry out to Jesus with your worries and cares? Will you trust His hand to provide the good?

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Cherry Ames, Almonds, and the Word

One summer when I was a preteen, near-sighted, and ill-at-ease in the greater world, a neighbor gave me a box of books.

She had kept them wonderfully preserved from her own preteen years and, knowing my love of reading, passed them on to me. Among the books was a series set in World War II about a nurse.

Not being acquainted with Cherry Ames, I eagerly selected the first of the series and began to read. She was lovely: “She moved with a proud erect posture that made her seem beautifully tall and slim.” I instantly wanted to be her. The details of her training enthralled me, as did the difficulties she overcame with such grace and good sense. Plus, she solved mysteries.

My great pleasure that Cherry Ames summer was to sit in the recliner during the hot afternoons of our northern California town with a can of almonds propped on the arm of the chair. I would blissfully disappear into the stories while munching away. I devoured the books one after the other, and soon I, too, wanted to be a nurse.

As it turned out, I didn’t become a nurse, but the verse from Jeremiah came to mind as I remembered those days. Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart.

The Cherry Ames series, along with other treasured books of those years, rests in a box in my garage. They are portals to childhood pleasure, and I cannot give them up. But on my desk, waiting each morning, is the Book, and its treasures and pleasures will never be stored away, except in my heart.

Sitting at my desk in the early morning with my One-Year Bible, I experience that same sense of anticipation. Heroes, villains, individual struggle, and sweeping drama. And in the grand arc of God’s Word, I find precious and ever-challenging truths. They inspire me to want to be like the Savior. His Word is the joy and rejoicing of my heart.

How can you treasure God’s Word?

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Angel Rescue

My flight from Atlanta bounced down a Newark, NJ, runway on a busy, frosty, Monday morning in January.

I slid into the passenger parade from the terminal gate to the air train to the baggage claim. Grabbing my zebra-motif suitcase, I stepped into another accounting-control-audit week at a manufacturing facility.

I draped my long, black, leather coat with my keyboard scarf over my shoulders. I decided to ride the escalator up to the air-train station, suitcase in one hand and computer bag in the other. Big mistake. Neither gloved hand was free for the safety handrail.

I rolled my computer bag on one step, followed on the next step, then eased my suitcase up onto the moving step behind me. Halfway up the escalator, I lost my balance. The suitcase jerked and pulled me to my back, and I skidded down the unforgiving steps.

Before I could call for help, two men at the top ran down, gathered me and my bags on the still-moving staircase, and carried me safely to the landing. Like angels, they were there at that moment to rescue me.

Upon arrival at the plant, I opened the main door, was overcome by the nauseating smell of dog treats, and noticed the emerging goose egg on my lower back. The accounting manager gave me a bag of ice to help reduce the swelling and ease the pain. Although shaky from the accident, I was relieved to be able to work—nothing broken, nothing lost, no hospital visit necessary.

God promises to send His angels to guard us, and we can trust His promise. We may not see them, but they are there, nevertheless. We should pause daily to thank God for all the angels He sends to rescue us.

Have you stopped lately to thank God for the angels He sends your way?

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Overcoming Days of Discouragement

Writing the book took two years of research.

Several times during those years, I felt like giving up because the task seemed too big and daunting. Discouragement almost—almost—caused me to quit.

Discouragement is a universal, transgenerational dilemma. Even the ancient Israelites felt it when Nehemiah tasked them with rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall after it had been destroyed by the Babylonians. The Israelites, under Nehemiah’s direction, kept at it day and night because they had a mind to work.

Then on Day 26 of the 52-day project, discouragement set in. The workers saw the enormity of the project, and it overwhelmed them. Their initial enthusiasm to get the job done waned. They became discouraged. They complained. And they almost gave up.

Discouragement typically sets in midway through a project—even a godly project. At first, we’re enthusiastic …  eager to get started. We get a lot done as we plug away with abandon. Then halfway through, the newness wears off. The enormity of the task looms large, and our strength lags. We become fatigued—mentally, physically, spiritually.

At that moment, we need to step away (if we’re able). We should take a break and put some distance between us and the project. We can mentally and physically replenish by taking long walks or runs, sitting quietly in a park, or listening to uplifting music. We can also take extra time to pray, meditate, read God’s Word, read an inspirational book, and worship.

Once restored, we have the strength to get going again. We have a renewed heart and fresh energy to tackle what God has called us to do.

Days of discouragement will come, but God will help you overcome.

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Praying for Your Enemies

I once worked in college ministry.

In the days when computers took up a whole room and cell phones did not exist, one of our main methods of spreading the word about meetings and activities entailed hanging posters all over campus.

But one year, two weeks into the fall quarter, I noticed those posters seemed to disappear as fast as I hung them. The next week, I discovered the cause—rather, the remover. He followed me all over campus, tearing down every poster as soon as I hung it. I sat and waited to see if he would grow tired of the game. He sat and waited with me and resumed his destruction as soon as I resumed hanging the posters. After removing them, he tore them up.

Discouraged, I reported my perceived failure to my supervisor. He listened to my tale of woe, and we prayed together. After praying, my supervisor’s advice was simply, “Make friends with him and keep praying for him.”

I prayed and showed up at the same time the following week. The destroyer awaited me. As he followed me from one bulletin board to another, I asked him neutral questions to get to know him. He did not speak. I prayed more.

The next week, we met again. I asked questions again. After finishing, I sat and opened my backpack to eat lunch. I had made enough for two and offered him a sandwich, a juice container, and a bag of cookies. That opened the door to conversation and his eventual journey to faith in Jesus.

God asks us to love, pray for, and feed our enemies. Jesus showed us how. He fed five thousand, prayed for His followers, and offered the ultimate gift of love by dying on the cross.

Who do you find is acting like an enemy or taking the role of persecutor in your life? Can you begin by praying for them? How might you demonstrate care for them and open a dialogue?

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Behind the Scenes

Many years ago, to accommodate a beloved elderly but frail professor, a small college created a studio apartment for him on the top floor of their main building.

This proved to be an ideal arrangement since he could take an elevator down to his classroom and office. However, staff and students occasionally had some interesting questions, and one frequent query was, “Don’t you get lonely up there?”

The professor had a ready answer. “No, my only neighbor above me is God. He’s busy, but He’s quiet.”

God worked in the same way as He enabled Esther to help preserve His people, the Jews. Only months before, she had unexpectedly risen from obscurity to become queen of Persia. In time, as events unfolded, she learned about the threat to her people and also realized she could help them because she was the queen. God had been busily working behind the scenes, but he was quiet.

The Lord is also busy in our lives. Because He may be silent, we are sometimes surprised when we suddenly discern His ongoing presence.

How does that occur? Perhaps He answers a once-uttered but long-forgotten prayer. Or maybe as He presents a solution to a long-term struggle, our worries immediately dissipate. Often, we don’t realize what He’s done until we look back to past events. Then we stand amazed.

Because God works so silently, we never know what we might discover as we follow Him. What do you think you’ll find in your life? And all for your benefit and His glory.

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Experiencing God in the Sunrise

I got up early one morning while on vacation.

My husband and I were celebrating our fifteenth wedding anniversary, and we had booked a night at a hotel overlooking the ocean. For weeks, I had anticipated watching the sunrise from our balcony. I love beautiful displays of nature, but I wasn’t prepared for what I’d encounter that morning.

I sat in peace and listened to the calming sound of the waves. Their rhythm set me at ease. My breathing steadied as I enjoyed the smell of the fresh ocean breeze. The colors in view changed steadily from one beautiful display to the next. But it was the birds flying over the ocean that brought tears to my eyes.

Flying without a care in the world, practically dancing over the ocean’s waters in togetherness, freely enjoying the beauty of the morning hours, they stirred me to live every day with the same assurance that God holds my life in His hands.

God created the rhythms of this world and filled them with beauty. He cares for His creation. If we doubt it, all we must do is take one look at the birds who do not question where they will find their next meal.

Even more, God will take care of us. I felt a load of pressure and anxiety lift from my shoulders that morning. I couldn’t take my eyes off the beautiful colors of the sky, ever changing, but never ceasing to amaze me. I followed the birds’ play for quite some time. And I prayed, “Lord, I trust you. You hold my life in Your hands.”

We can pray this prayer every day and, by doing so, unload our anxiety and fear. God cares for the birds. Even more, He cares for us.

What helps you experience God’s presence?

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Wait and Hope

Waiting has a negative connotation—but hope a positive one.

We wait for the birth of babies. Ask any expectant mother. The ninth month is the longest.

Children anticipate the next holiday. Oh, that as adults, we could keep that sense of wonder.

Teenagers sullenly ride with their parents waiting for the day when they can get a permit and then a license to drive. Their parents pace the floor, walking out their prayers and wearing out their knees, praying for the sound of their adolescent arriving home at last.

We wait in line at the grocery store, watching other lines move faster. Our ninety-three-year-old aunt makes a game of changing lanes often. I would rather wait.

My husband stands around patiently while I talk to people everywhere we go. My mini reunions with students, their parents, and old friends excite me—but him, not so much.

We wait for test results. Covid results make us wait to see loved ones. Lab results make us hit our knees. Exam results make us rethink the way we study.

In all the waiting and hoping, children grow up and adults grow old. The days go slow, but the years pass quickly. We may grow weary in the waiting, but God’s timing is perfect even if it is not what we imagined. We wait for the Lord to answer our prayers, and sometimes we find ourselves waiting. And waiting.

My hope is in the Lord who will renew my strength. On the days when I am in the depths of despair, my hope is in the Lord.

When we are not well and our strength is drained, only the Lord can renew it. That strengthens our hope in Him and Him alone. Our strength is renewed when we dedicate our problems and failures to the one and only perfect God.

I have seen prayers answered after the person praying has gone to be with the Lord. We may be waiting for Covid to be over. Our hope is not in our efforts but in trusting God’s timing.

Ask God to help you be patient as you wait and hope. His timing is perfect.  

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The Garden of Grace

The faith the heavenly Father desires for us is a shadow of the Garden of Eden.

Walking and talking with the One who was their Creator, Lord, Provider, and Friend was the essence of life for Adam and Eve. He was the center of their hearts and the joy of their existence. They followed His directions, and life was fresh and new each day.

Then a snake came who substituted a lie for what God had told them. Satan seduced the inexperienced young couple into a world of doubt and appetites. They accepted the snake’s scheme.

After a long time, God’s Son came to pay for the couple’s disobedience, which had passed a fallen nature to their descendants. God now leads the descendants of the first couple who chose to accept the Father’s satisfying payment for sin that was made by Jesus on the cross.

Eternal life is given to each person who believes in the Savior. This conversion permits entry into a new garden that replaces the Garden of Eden—the Garden of Grace. In this garden, we discover what our original parents lost: a daily walk with Almighty God where we experience His provision and protection.

Unfortunately, the snake’s lies and schemes can still deceive us. We can lose our warm conversational relationship with the Lord until we confess and repent of our sins and let God cleanse us.

When we do, we are no longer lonely for the One who made our day. We find the intended joy of our existence in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, our first love.

Are you enjoying the Garden of Grace through walking and talking with your loving Creator?

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A Simple No Will Do

I was a Christian when I joined the Marines.

I was tempted to do a lot of things I knew my heavenly Father forbade. The way I overcame those temptations was by simply saying no to them.

The word no is a simple but powerful word in our vocabulary. It is a word of denial or refusal.

The heroes of the faith are our examples of people who said no to the world, the flesh, and the Devil, but who said yes to God. As a result, God used them mightily. What makes a hero of the faith and a great Christian is courageously saying no to the Enemy at whatever the cost.

The early Christians were separated and had great power with God because they said no to the things of the world. We lose our separation and power with God when we don’t say no to the things of the world. Much is lost or gained because of whom we say no to. When we say no to the world and yes to God, we experience revival.

Christians stay pure by saying no to what defiles us. A battle’s won by not retreating or surrendering. God continues to use a church when they do things His way and say no to the methods of the world.

Satan’s been tempting people in various ways for centuries. He’s good at his evil work, but we are not ignorant of his devices. Regardless of how sophisticated or enticing the temptation, we can get the victory. We don’t have to analyze the temptation, understand it, or argue our point and position. All we need is to respond with a simple “no” to overcome and remain in God’s will.

The secret to living for Christ is keeping the word no on the tip of our tongue and our feet in the path of holiness. C. H. Spurgeon said, “Learn to say no. It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin.”

What are some things that will help you say no to temptation?

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GPS--God's Positioning System

The sky darkened. I tensed and gripped the steering wheel harder as rain began to fall.

I hate big highways and unfamiliar roads, but I’d managed the morning ride to drop my son off for an out-of-state science class. Although the route was no different to pick him up, my anxiety heightened with the inclement weather.

Suddenly, the temperature gauge on the dashboard shot into the red zone, and there I sat roadside for almost four hours. But the two-day delay to repair my car resulted in new friendships. I shared Jesus with people I wouldn’t have encountered otherwise and gained readers for my blog—like the tow truck operator, the AAA dispatcher, and the Lyft driver. My son completed his chemistry labs besides biology.

Sometimes, what we view as stalled plans or detours are God’s divine delays. Life throws up roadblocks. I try to get away, but drama intervenes. Good thing God is my getaway, my refuge. Life, like my car, can sideline us, and we overheat, blow a gasket, and find ourselves stranded roadside in need of rescue and repair.

But God is a restorer; He likes to show up when things are broken. He works all things for our good and His glory when our hearts are His. The GPS directions to my destination remain the same on cloudy evenings as on fair weather mornings. I just need to follow them. God’s directions don’t change because of fog, rain, or stormy skies.

Unlike a GPS, God’s positioning system is never out of range. He sets His eyes and heart on us. I get off track when I fix my eyes on circumstances rather than trust God's vision for my life. I realign with His will through prayer and Bible reading. God sees the way clearly when we cannot. We just need to follow Him.

If you are anxious, broken, or lost, Jesus is the mind mender, heart healer, and peace giver. He can rescue, repair, and reroute us in the right direction when we call to Him. I’ve found there's no surer way nor better companion for the road trip of life than Jesus, the designer of our destiny.

Are you following God’s Positioning System?

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Blind Faith

I remember my discussion with my husband about how to lead someone who is blind.

I have a progressive eye disease that will likely leave me legally blind. I told my husband that to lead someone who is blind, we must walk slightly in front of them and to the side while they hold on to our arm above the elbow. The person leading must hold their arm firmly and close to their body.

The blind person cannot walk ahead because they can’t see the path before them or any danger that lies ahead. They can’t walk beside or even hold hands with the leader because they don’t know of dangers or the direction the path will take. The only safe way is to walk closely to and slightly behind the person leading. This allows the leader to keep them on the right path and also keeps them from walking into danger.

The conversation with my husband made me think of our walk with God. We all walk through this life blinded by sin and the things of this world. We cannot see everything with crystal clear clarity. Our only hope for navigating life safely is to stay close to God and hold tightly to Him—not trying to run ahead but allowing Him to lead us in all things. He establishes our steps. He alone knows the way because He is the Way.

We can trust God to lead us through this life. We cannot see what lies ahead, but we can trust in the One who loves us enough to guide us. We only need to have faith that He will.

Will you trust God to guide you safely through life?

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When Life Delivers Lemons

For eighteen months, I scrutinized the limes on my lemon tree for a glimpse of yellow.

I had been told it would take two years for the fruit to develop, and since it was the second year, I watched intently. In mid-summer, I noticed the first break-through yellow and thought I had gotten the lemon tree I wanted.

I protected the tree all summer from the backyard baseball games’ foul balls. And when the temps dropped too low, I brought it inside. Since I love this tree, I overlook its inconvenient presence.

But then my sons and I were in our schoolroom, and one decided to use the lemon tree’s pot to boost himself to a higher shelf. He didn’t realize the pot wouldn’t support his weight. It tipped over, breaking one half of the Y branch on the tree. Initially, I wanted to cry. My sweet, shocked son was brokenhearted to think he’d caused me sadness and destroyed the lemon tree. But like all C-rated aspiring horticulturists, I told him I knew just how to fix it: duct tape.

Matthew, one of Jesus’ disciples, writes an analogy about fruit and people, giving a beautiful way to see how we can determine the integrity of our character:You will know them by their fruits.

I teach my children their words matter. The tone of their voice, the intention of their heart, the actions of their hands. These things are their fruit. The products in their life that illustrate their character. It matters how we respond when we’re unguarded. And it matters what we produce in our lives. It’s our character. It’s our fruit.

After two weeks, fresh blooms appeared on the broken limbs of the lemon tree. My summer harvest of six lemons excited me, and I already had a recipe chosen for their glorious fate. The duct tape held, and my lemon curd, created from only four of the lemons, provided enough to share.

When life gives you lemons, choose what you will do with them. You will be known by your fruit.

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The Healing Touch

The unexpected news brought us to our knees.

A dear friend was in the hospital and in serious condition. Her diagnosis came quickly after a brief respiratory illness. She had been healthy just weeks before the diagnosis. The prognosis was not good. Family and friends gathered and waited for the latest news from doctors. We asked the Lord to provide healing if that was His will. We wanted to comfort the family. Prayer was the best path we could offer.

Tears flowed as we prayed for God’s peace for this special person and her spouse, children, and other family members. We could hear the heartbreaking sobbing coming from the hospital room. We waited, knowing that through the grief and sorrow, God was working His plan. God is with us.

Mark shares the story of a woman who had a bleeding condition for over twelve years. Her faith was strong. She knew healing would come if she could touch the hem of Jesus’ garment. She pushed through crowds to be closer to Him. Her faith was powerful, and Jesus healed her.

As we listened to the news about our dear friend, we prayed and found comfort in knowing healing would come either on this earth or in heaven.

In times of trouble, we can find assurance by going to God in prayer and seeking the peace only He can provide.

Take your troubles to the Healer.

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Some years ago, while touring a large, restored colonial-era plantation home, our guide told us a story as we entered the family dining room.

The guide said that at mealtimes the servants would carry the food from the kitchen, which was located in a small nearby building as a safety measure in case of fire. As they did, they were instructed to whistle as they walked. When the family heard the whistling, they knew the transporting servants weren’t sampling the food on the way. They called these short paths “whistlewalks.”

I learned later that some historians doubt the story since the servants could sample the food in the kitchen. At the least, however, the story demonstrates how the family had no desire to share their best.  

We don’t have to worry about God requiring whistlewalks because He shares His best with us. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. This verse gives Jesus’ description of God’s great love for His creation. A favor so great that the great Almighty creator and designer of the universe shared His best to enable people to share His divine presence, which has no restrictions and is available to all.

Although God’s gift is a timeless reality, some choose not to accept it. Perhaps they don’t believe it’s free, or maybe they think that God providing His best just isn’t logical. How sad. When we accept God’s best and put our faith in the Son, we can share in the great love that inspired the original gift.

God’s gift is given by a God who withholds nothing good from His children. Have you accepted it?   

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I Hope You Dance

When our family reminisces about our daughter, Kristen, the topic of fearlessness usually comes up.

Had you known her, you would know that whatever she set her mind to do, she did with all her heart. Shortly after she moved to Nashville, while working as a waitress in a restaurant, a representative from the National Dance Club of Murfreesboro approached her regarding ballroom dance.

Although she had never shown interest in this before, she decided to try it. She threw herself into it, working tirelessly to learn every step as perfectly as possible. And in very high heel shoes I might add. Before we knew it, she was working as a dance instructor.

On December 15, 2017, we were invited to Nashville to see the dance club’s winter performance. When I saw Kristen, I was taken aback by her confidence and poise. As the music began, she moved effortlessly with her partner across the dance floor. As the music flowed throughout her body, she danced as though she meant every word being sung. Little did I know how important that night would become. It was a magical evening that will be seared in my memory forever. Now I envision my beautiful girl dancing before her Savior on the streets of heaven.

God tells us repeatedly in His word not to fear. He puts dreams and desires in our hearts, but so many times, we don’t experience them because we succumb to fear. We let the fear of failure and the fear of what other people may think or say about us hold us back. It has taken me fifty years to learn this lesson.

If you are anything like me—and know you have many missed opportunities in your past—make a choice not to let fear hold you back in the future. God has great plans for each of His children.

When God puts that dream in your heart, step out in faith and trust Him. Remember, His Spirit is one of power, love, and a sound mind.

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Highlights and Covid

No, not the Miss Clairol kind of highlights gracing my ever-graying hair.

Social distancing. Quarantine. Covid-19. Mandates. Mask-rage. A new vocabulary has arisen. The reality that our reality has changed pours from every direction. Uncertainty and a sense of unease have suddenly become an ever-present guest.

Feeling the sheer weight of the trial that seems to be engulfing every area of life, I whispered a prayer for help, opened my Bible, and scanned the pages for highlighted, underlined, and note-beside-them verses. Highlights from past days and past trials with scribbled notes reminded me of all God has walked me through. Not having the mental stamina or emotional energy to search out something new, these old friends are comfort food for my soul—reminding me of His faithfulness and sovereign control of all that has grazed my life.

All these neon-yellow highlights and “amens” scrawled in red ink make me question if I still believe what I  highlighted. Now. Amid such worldwide and prescription-for-fear uncertainty. Do these highlights represent the truth and a rock-solid faith to stand on, or do they reveal a shallowness that would only carry me through sunny days and desired outcomes? Has my faith been a facade or real?

Although my emotions might fluctuate with the latest news story, my faith doesn’t have to. I have a choice to make and a God to serve. Whatever the outcome, He is in control and has a purpose. In the meantime, I must find my strength in the shelter of the Most High and be about His business. 

Right now, while God has your undivided attention, look back at your neon highlights or make some new ones.

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Spring Has Sprung

In 1923, at the age of 57, Thomas Chisolm penned lyrics to remind people that the seasons, along with the sun, moon, and stars, all join together to witness to God’s great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

I remember one particular spring when I couldn’t wait to get outside after a long winter. The outdoor smells, the beauty of flowers, and even the smiles on the faces of children playing outside all reminded me that God brought another spring of warmth and growth into my life. It caused me to reflect upon the promise of God’s faithfulness.

The melting snow, the blooms and buds that magically appear, and the longer days all prompt us to remember God’s faithfulness in ushering in a new season where nature again blossoms. The picture of spring encourages God’s children that we will live again, even though we may die.

God’s invisible attributes, including His faithfulness, are revealed in His creation and provision for the earth. God’s faithfulness shows He is completely dependable. Also, according to Jeremiah, God’s faithfulness demonstrates His steadfast love. The love of God for His children is unwavering and guaranteed by His faithfulness. God wants us to realize there are no valid reasons to doubt His trustworthiness.

As you peer outside your window today, let that picture remind you that God is completely dependable. Then, share that with someone else.

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Burning Chariots

Sometimes, after a spiritual victory, I claim the triumph–giving no acknowledgment or glory to God.

In fact, I may be tempted to bask in the brilliance of my success and forget the Lord entirely. I may do this when someone tells me they’ve been touched by something I have written. What follows may be a twinge of smug accomplishment. Wrong!

With their visors, weapons, and chariots catching and reflecting the sun's glaring rays, the enemy force stretched out before Joshua and the Israelite army. Yet even with an imminent battle, Joshua was not afraid since God had assured him of victory. However, the Lord had also given some post-battle instructions. Joshua was to disable the captured horses and burn the enemy's chariots. But why? Why couldn't he just use the defeated enemy's equipment in future battles?

At first glance, the Lord's order sounds illogical, yet as I learned from a commentary, God had His reasons. The instruction was to prevent Joshua’s attributing to himself any victories won with the reclaimed apparatus while giving God no credit.

God's policies have not changed, and relying on my efforts—my chariots—only hampers me from seeing how God alone is responsible for my attainments. When I realize my mistake, I get to experience His loving care and provision in ways I never could from my own experiences or efforts. 

In my life as in Joshua's, the chariots have got to go. Are you letting them go in your life?

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Our Golden Receiver

We’ve been pranked by Prancer.

Indeed, the supposed “man’s best friend” in our house isn’t living up to her name. The name of her breed, that is. We chose our pup because we had fourteen wonderful years with another of her kind, a Golden Retriever we fondly named Annabelle. Those years passed too quickly, and we were sad when the time came to say goodbye.

Honestly, we weren’t anticipating loving another dog so soon, but Prancer came to us the following Christmas, filling a hurting place in our hearts. Then she tricked us. It seems she’s not much of a Golden Retriever after all but, rather, a Golden Receiver, and she’s perfectly content with this.

Whether waiting to receive a dropped morsel from the table, waiting to receive a scratch behind her ears, or waiting to receive the command, “Let’s walk!” our pup is truly more receiver than retriever.

I suppose there’s a lesson we should learn from our Golden Girl. In truth, many of us find it difficult to receive. Whether due to pride, fear of rejection, embarrassment, or not wanting to impose, we often turn others down, even when they are eager, willing, and able to help.

Jesus reminds us that He’s waiting for us to pursue Him—that we might know Him and His will better and that we might receive the pleasure of a personal relationship with Him. He lovingly instructs us, “Ask, seek, knock,” so we might receive this precious promise.

Perhaps I need to retrieve the Good Book and read to be reminded of the importance of receiving. I can almost hear God’s gentle command: “Fetch … Sit … Stay!”

In God’s presence, we learn the value of being both a gracious retriever and receiver—discovering the perfect plans and purposes God has in store for His glory and the good of others.

Is it easier for you to retrieve or receive? Start by staying awhile in the Master’s presence. After all, don’t you want to be His best friend, just as our Golden Receiver longs to be ours?

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No More Control

Let go of everything you are trying to control out of fear.

The truth in those few simple words I read that day impacted me profoundly. I asked myself why I was trying to control my kids, my husband, my surroundings, my life. What was behind this destructive behavior pattern?

To my astonishment, the Holy Spirit showed me fear was driving the control. Fear that if I didn’t control everything and everyone, life would not go well. I also realized my real underlying fear was that maybe God wouldn’t do what He promised … that He might not be true to His Word. This was difficult to admit. I was ashamed of my doubt.

I had a choice. Succumb to fear and vainly attempt to control everything and everyone in my life or pray and trust that my heavenly Father would lead me safely through each day as He promised.

We can choose to believe the lies of the Devil or God’s truth. I chose the latter. Believing a liar didn’t make sense to me.

In life, we have little control over anything. We cannot predict the future, and we can do nothing about the past. We have only the present to choose what we do.

God’s plans for us are always good, and even when we make mistakes and end up in the valley of the shadow of death, He is there as He promised to guide and protect us from all harm along the way.

When we grab this vital truth and let it sink into our soul, letting go of the control becomes a no-brainer. We realize that no matter what, we will be just fine in the end. Daddy-God has it all sorted.

Ask God to help you trust Him more so that you won’t act out of fear.

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A New Thing

I remember a time when I became too comfortable with a certain situation.

I didn’t recognize that God was trying to show me something new was about to happen. I resisted moving in a certain direction, and, ultimately, paid the price for it. I’m sure many can relate to this problem. God tries to tell or show us something, but we don’t realize what the Lord is doing or why.

Sometimes things become so bad in our lives that it seems as if God has forgotten us. In reality, He is trying to do a new thing, but we don’t perceive it.

We must be ready to move according to God’s purposes. We may not recognize His plan for what it is, but we should not resist it. We must continue walking by the Spirit and trusting in God’s timing, provision, and grace.

The Lord has told us to be strong and courageous and not to be afraid or dismayed. He is with us wherever we go. We don’t have to be disheartened or afraid about the problems we will face. We can trust in God to help us make the right decisions according to His timing.

Recognize God is trying to make something new happen. Be sensitive toward the Spirit’s leading and don’t resist. Trust in the Lord continuously and delight in Him alone. Be strong and courageous. Walk with Him through the new way He is making.

How is the Lord speaking to you, and what do you need to do to obey?

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Working and Waiting

Many years ago, in a gift shop, I purchased a wall plaque made in the format of a religious proverb.

From the wording, I knew it was supposed to be sort of a spoof. It read: Everything cometh to him who waiteth, as long as he who waiteth worketh like heck while he waiteth. Humorous to be sure—and also true.

We all have to wait at one time or another for various reasons. In our passage, Peter and the other disciples also had to do just that. While they waited for Jesus’ next appearance after His resurrection, they continued working and resumed their routine of fishing.

As a writer, I've often had to wait for an editor’s response when I submit an article. But how do I wait? Do I fester in anxious anticipation as time passes, or do I get busy with other projects—and "work like heck" while I wait? And of course, that’s exactly what I’m supposed to do as I trust God’s reasons and His guidance.

If I follow Peter’s example, as well as the advice on the plaque, then I must keep busy with my usual routine tasks for God and then await His renewed presence. Peter had a personal encounter with the Lord—a meeting that set him on his way again. But in my case, God gets me started again on my interrupted task by presenting a clear path with no barriers.

Ask God to help you work while you wait.

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Problem Solving

It was a possibility. A what-if. A worst-case scenario.

Even though there was only a slight chance, my mind immediately went into problem-solving mode. I analyzed every possible angle from which I could fix the situation.

That was actually the biggest problem of all—I couldn’t fix it. Really didn’t have a clue. All I did was throw myself into a tizzy and wring my hands over something that never even happened.

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes, “It is not so much adverse events that make you anxious as it is your thoughts about those events.”

Life screams at us to be confident, independent thinkers. To fix things. To be problem solvers. To always come up with the right answers. But the Bible says without God we’re unable to do anything. The only solution is to shift our focus from the problem to the One with whom nothing is impossible.

God sent His Holy Spirit to comfort, teach, and lead us into the Truth. When we’re faced with a situation that is clearly out of our control—which most situations are—all we need to do is ask for wisdom and guidance. Instead of depending on our own understanding, we should trust Him with all our heart. He, in turn, promises to remove obstacles and make our path smooth and straight.

God was, is, and forever will be the ultimate problem solver.

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Don't Enjoy Sin's Pleasures

There is a story about Eskimos who kill small animals with which to hunt wolves.

This practice allows the Eskimos to have food in the cold places where they live. They kill the small animal, take a knife and dip the blade in the animal’s blood, and then let it freeze. They do this several times and then stick the handle of the knife in the ground so that when a wolf gets close enough to the knife, it can smell the animal’s blood that it wants to eat.

The wolf, thinking it is eating the animal because it can taste the animal’s blood, continues to lick the knife, not knowing the knife is cutting its tongue. Unknowingly, the wolf is licking its own blood and cutting itself to death. 

The above is a good illustration of how our flesh—our sinful nature—and the Devil entice us with sin. Whether it’s worry, drinking, drugs, gambling, porn, or other things, certain things appeal to us all—at least to a certain extent. This is true even if we are Christians, although the appeal may not be as intense.

Worry is one of my big problem areas, but it doesn’t feel good when I do. All sins have a certain amount of pleasure in them, which is what this verse warns against.

We must kick our flesh and the Devil in the teeth. With the Lord’s help, we can overcome temptation.

Don’t let sin’s pleasures entice you.

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Take God at His Word

John D. Rockefeller, Jr. said, “I believe in the sacredness of a promise, that a man’s word should be as good as his bond; that character—not wealth or power or position—is of supreme worth.”

I remember my dad referring to this saying too. We should be able to count on what a person says to be trustworthy. That was in my dad’s day. They made a bargain with a handshake and their word. They didn’t sign a contract with all the legalese to ensure it would be carried out. The person’s character was proof that he would do what he said.

A royal official’s son lay sick and near death. Perhaps this man heard about Jesus’ miracle of turning the water into wine or another of His miracles. When he realized Jesus was again in Cana of Galilee. he came to Jesus and begged Him to come and heal his son. Jesus told the man, “Go, your son will live.”

The man took Jesus at His word and went home to find his son had recovered at the exact time Jesus spoke to him. After that, the man and his whole household believed in Jesus.

Jesus speaks to us through His Word. He tells us how to live and gives us commands and promises. How can we know these words are true and that we can count on them? When we look at Jesus’ character, His love, and His wisdom, we recognize His word as dependable. We can count on His guidance through His words because of who He is.

God’s written Word is powerful, not just black words on white paper. Instead, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable” (2 Timothy 3:16). It is a God-breathed word.

We could choose to argue with God that our circumstance is unique or bargain with Him to answer our prayer according to our wishes. But when God speaks, we can believe what He says. His character is trustworthy.

Begin today to take Jesus at His word.

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Master Mechanic

Trust God with everything?

I brought my cassette tape player to church one night to share a recording of testimonies. I put the tape in. Well … I tried to put the tape in. When it didn’t drop in as it should, I foolishly forced it in, by-passing the door. When I pushed the “play” button, the player ate the tape. I exclaimed out loud, “Leave me alone, Satan. I need this to work! Oh Lord, You are the Master Mechanic. You can fix this tape player.”

I calmed myself, took a deep breath, and tried once more to drop in the tape. To my astonishment, it fit and worked perfectly. I heard Jesus whisper, “My dear child, trust Me.”

On another occasion, my computer’s printer crashed. I had to change the ink cartridges and reconnect the wireless feature several times. Amidst my frustration, I unsuccessfully tried to print several intercessory prayer ministry sheets. Within a few minutes, the printer came to life, leaving the missing sheets in la-la land.

A few weeks later, when I turned on my computer, the printer startled me by spitting out those missing sheets like a child tasting turnip greens for the first time. I laughed. I had used the printer many times while those pages waited patiently in the queue.

As the printer chugged along, I thought of the scientist in the movie, I, Robot, who suggested there were “ghosts in the machines” and that robots could develop souls over time. My printer certainly did … the Holy Ghost, reminding me He will use anything to get my attention, even malfunctioning machines.

I have learned to give all my breakdowns to God. I hope you will too.

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The Battle Within and Without

The attack came out of nowhere, and the battle began. My flesh came up with its own ideas, but God had another plan.

In Jesus Calling, Sarah Young writes, “Through collaborating with me in all things, you allow my life to merge with yours. This is the secret of not only joyful living but also victorious living.” ~Jesus

As Christians, we know we’re engaged in spiritual warfare. We’re given instructions on how to put on God’s armor and stand strong against the Enemy. Those weapons are powerful for the battle without.

But there’s another battle that rages within between the flesh and the Spirit, which are enemies. The NLT says it this way:

The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.

It's the carnal nature we’re born with that gives us so much trouble. The Passion translation calls it the “self-life”—a life that only pleases self.

But God calls us to a higher place. A place where we yield to His Spirit. The Spirit who lives in us. Who causes us to be spiritually minded instead of earthly minded. If we’re guided by the Spirit, we won’t obey those selfish, sinful desires. Our focus changes from the self-life to the God-life. It transforms our thoughts, words, and actions. It prepares the way for the fruit of the Spirit to grow.

God has made a way for us to win the battle within and without. He calls us overcomers.

Are you ready to fight the battle?

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Turning the World Upside Down

Daddy was dying.

I could hear the urgent tone in his voice over the phone as he said, “Come over, Lisa. I have something to tell you.” Jesus had revealed to Daddy that I was going to make a difference. “You will minister to many people one-on-one,” he said.

Twelve years have passed, but I will never forget Daddy’s words. Three years later, I sat down beside Brenda in an eight-foot square dilapidated jail cell. She seemed an unlikely inmate, so I asked, “How did you end up here?” Brenda had committed unlawful acts.

Over the next five years, I prayed for Brenda’s salvation. Brenda is now a believer. She attends church regularly and desires to reach others for Jesus Christ. I am often reminded of Daddy’s words as I visit the ladies each week in our local jail. I open God’s Word and present the gospel, but Jesus does the work. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to regenerate these precious women. The work is His work, not mine.

I have dreamed of proclaiming the gospel to thousands of women across the country, but God gave me ten women. The ministry expanded with a new justice center in our county where I meet with thirty to forty women. I am content serving where God opens doors, even though this ministry is often challenging.  

True work is often opposed by those who do not understand or by those who resist the evidence of changed lives. The unbelieving Jews in Acts 17 opposed the work of the disciples. They took lewd fellows of the baser sort and formed a company to set the city in an uproar. They were concerned about the disciples and other new believers turning their world upside down.

Presenting the gospel is a command given to every believer. We should expect opposition, but God is faithful.

Will you strive to turn the world upside down and let God do His work from the inside out?  

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No Separation

Sometimes, we feel separated from God’s presence. God seems silent throughout immense suffering. We ask, “God, where are you?”

When I endured my first nine months of homelessness, I kept writing and pitching, yet nothing seemed to work out. I knew God had called me to write, but I felt distant from God. Everything seemed to go wrong.

Finally, I cried out to God, asking, “God, where are you? I need you right now!” I felt so hurt. Nothing was going right. But after a couple of weeks, I received my first acceptance into a poetry magazine titled Spectral Realms.

Although we may feel like times and seasons have separated us from God’s love, nothing ever can or will. When we feel distant from God or deal with immense spiritual attacks that overwhelm us, we can take heart. Nothing within or without, in the heavens or the earth, in any nation or any place, can separate us from God’s love. Regardless of what’s going on, or why it's happening, we can lean on God’s promises. Nothing can snatch us out of God’s hands.

Regardless of what goes on in the world or the news we hear on the television or the radio. Even if there are wars, famines, earthquakes, and calamities, and the seas tremble and storms shroud the heavens. No matter what weapons are forged against us or what attack the devil sends our way, nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Be steadfast in your faith and trust in the Lord above all else.

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His Words

“I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to work together anymore.”

My brain quickly translated my boss’ announcement to the bottom line: I was losing my job.

My throat tightened, and my heart beat faster as thoughts of the consequences of this devastating news flooded my mind. We were raising four children, and my husband had just retired from the military and returned to college. How could we survive financially without my income from this job?

Then I heard these words: “That’s okay. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I know God will provide for me.”

Who said that? Wait. I said that? Where did those calm, confident words come from? It was all I could do just to breathe. But deep down I knew what had happened. God spoke through me to give witness to the boss of my ultimate faith in the Lord’s provision.

Jesus warned His disciples they would encounter daunting situations in the future. They would be arrested, placed on trial, and face death. They would appear before the authorities on His account to give witness. But they need not worry about what to say because at the appropriate time, the Spirit would speak through them.

We will inevitably find ourselves in difficult situations at some point. But we are not alone when we respond to the challenges facing us. We can rely on God to provide His words for us to speak to give witness for Him.

Trust God for the words you need when you need them.

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True Recognition

Years ago, my church choir sang at the opening worship service of a large denominational convention.

Since I was on the staff of another church in our denomination, I looked forward to possibly seeing my fellow employees. The service was held in the massive sanctuary of an old church, and we were seated in the upper seats of the large choir loft. However, when the main seating area was filled, the extra people were directed to sit in the remaining seats of the choir loft down in front of us.

As they filed in, I recognized Randy, who was an active member of the church where I worked. As he came in and looked up, I smiled and waved. At first, he seemed confused at my greeting, but when he recognized me, he smiled, nodded, and took his seat. When the program began, I realized that when he first saw me, he was puzzled because he didn’t expect to see me there. But with recognition came a greeting.

Mary Magdalene probably experienced the same when she saw Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. She had come to the tomb expecting to find Jesus’ body, but when she saw the tomb empty, she was confused. As she pondered her next step, she turned to see a hazy figure nearby who called her name. That’s when she knew it was Jesus. 

Often, when I am confused, I suddenly experience God's unexpected presence just when I need Him. In His loving providence, He reaches out so I can reconnect and reestablish—and then move forward to serve Him.

Don’t fear. God always recognizes you.

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Strength in Weakness

My name is Peggi, and I am weak.

I often struggle with anxiety, insomnia, and … I’m sorry, but that’s the extent of vulnerability I can handle today.

We hate to admit our weaknesses, don’t we? We’d rather appear strong, vibrant, and invincible.

In contrast, the apostle Paul boasts of his weakness. I never think of Paul as weak. He was an evangelist, healer, church planter, epistle writer, and defender of the faith. However, amidst his impressive resume, Paul confessed to a weakness so intense it tormented him—a thorn in his flesh. Suddenly, we can all relate to Paul. For although we have strengths, our weaknesses torment us.

What’s surprising is that Paul’s thorn was God-ordained. Although Paul begged, God refused to remove it, saying, “My power works best in weakness.” That’s not the answer we want from the Lord. We want miraculous healing and deliverance. But Paul understood. The thorn was God’s tool. It kept him humble. Paul’s impressive resume was not the result of his incredible skills, but God’s work in and through him.

Paul takes vulnerability to a new level by boasting of his weakness. He provides yet another example of God’s upside-down culture. The reality is we are all weak. Thorns remind us … we need God. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. But with Him, nothing is impossible. Our frailties and limitations force us to rely on God’s strength, thereby making us strong.

More often than I care to admit, I’ve taught, written, or mentored while battling anxiety or brain fog from lack of sleep. The temptation is to quit or cancel. There is no shame in this. However, when I feel weakest, I rely most on God’s strength. When I do, His Holy Spirit takes the lead and teaches, writes, or mentors through me. When I am weak, then I am strong.

Don’t let that thorn discourage you. Don’t quit. Don’t give up. It’s not in strength but in your weakness that Christ is magnified.

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Angel Choirs

With the Christmas season comes many concerts for an accompanist.

My first concerts involved playing in a Sunday afternoon community Christmas program, playing for small groups, and playing as a soloist. Each selection sounded like heavenly choirs.

Playing the piano for school choruses is a special treat. I block out an entire day to rehearse at the middle school with assigned time slots for each song. At the beginning of the semester, I record all the accompaniments for the director to use in class.

Then came the time to appear in person for live rehearsals, just days before the performance.The first class was filled with eighth-graders. The teacher greeted me in the hall. When she escorted me in, the class coolly acknowledged my presence as young teenagers do. The rehearsal went without a hitch, and I returned to my car to catch up on some reading until the next appointment.

Next, I walked into a class of noisy seventh-graders after they had rehearsed an a capella piece. The moment they saw me, they called in unison, “Hey, Mrs. Johnson!” I was a celebrity. Their enthusiasm was contagious, and the rehearsal refreshing.

After lunch, I opened the door to the chorus classroom. A steamy cloud of sweaty, sixth-grade body odor assaulted me. I quickly popped an Airborne lozenge in my mouth, smiled at the director, and sat at the keyboard. With a few rhythmic claps of her hand, the director had the full attention of the overflowing classroom. She was an amazing instructor, both musically and in her ability to command the attention and interest of so many young people. The students loved her classes.

As I gave last-minute performance instructions, a small jewel of a girl walked up to me and said, “Thank you so much for playing for us.”  

The middle school’s Christmas concert was captivating and worshipful, as was the high school’s concert the same week. What an honor to serve in God’s kingdom in this way, especially at the celebration of His Son’s birth.

I will praise God with the angels today. I hope you will too.

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Fill Your Pack

As the new school began, children of all ages gathered in the church chancel area to receive blessings for their backpacks.

From Walmart brands to Vera Bradley, most were empty and brandished a still-new smell. Some contained crumpled homework pages, candy wrappers, and Cheez-its crumbs left from the previous school year.

Uniting in prayer, our church performed a litany of blessings over the backpacks, the children, their teachers, and their schools. The children’s faces lit up with excitement as they received new pencils, packs of paper, and other school supplies. Their smiles warmed the hearts of the congregation who had generously donated the supplies.

Whether we are students, teachers, or workers in the home or an office, we each carry a metaphorical backpack filled with resources we use every day. These packs have the potential to store both useful and harmful products. If we’re not careful, we may remove a little anger, laziness, or jealousy from our packs when we’re having a bad day or when things aren’t going our way.

As a teacher, I have used my backpack for years to carry papers to grade, textbooks to read, and other resources useful for teaching. I admit I have sometimes stored a little frustration and resentment inside and removed it when I never should have carried it in the first place.

If we take time each morning to pray that our packs are filled with the fruits of the spirit, we can love learning, spread joy in our classrooms, find peace on the playground, show patience and kindness to others, follow the rules, finish our assigned tasks, be gentle with our words and actions, and control our emotions. Our packs can provide sustainable resources for a good day for ourselves and everyone around us.

Ask the Holy Spirit to help you fill your packs, your pockets, and your purses with all the supplies you need for a fruitful day. May your backpacks be blessed.

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“Why do bad things happen to good people?”

The question is an age-old one that has probably been asked since the first person sinned. I know wonderful strong Christians who have gone through tremendous physical suffering for many years, but they remained true to God.

Many different reasons exist for suffering, but one reason may relate to Job’s situation. The Devil asked God if Job served Him only because He was God and because God had blessed him with wealth.

God allowed Job to face trials and suffering to prove to the Devil that Job would serve God just because Job loved God. Job lost everything he had except his wife, who encouraged Job to curse God and die. This is exactly what the Enemy wanted—as well as did Job’s three friends who soon became his enemies.

Job’s three friends were good to him initially. They sat with Job and cried and kept their mouths shut for seven days. But then they tried to explain why Job suffered. According to them, he had sinned. Although this is sometimes the reason for our suffering, it’s not always.

Just as the Enemy wanted to pull Job away from God, he wants to pull us away also. We need to be like Job and serve the Lord through thick and thin…through the good and bad times. Some people will serve God when everything is bad, but when God blesses them and things return to normal, they quit living for Him because they don’t think they need Him anymore.

Make up your mind to serve the Lord no matter what happens or doesn’t happen.

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The Ultimate Team

Playing youth soccer, I desperately wanted to play defense.

I begged my coach to let me switch from midfielder to defender, but he repeatedly denied my request. “We need your strong legs at midfield, Emily,” he kindly told me, which led me to peer upon the defenders with childish envy.

While my stubbornness initially prevented me from recognizing it, I soon realized my coach had positioned me where my skills would be best utilized for my team’s success. It may not have been the position I wanted to play or the position I thought I was best fitted for, but it was the position my coach—and team—needed me to play.

As members of the body of Christ, we each have a designated function. To properly execute that function, we have been equipped with specific skills and gifts out of God’s abundant grace. While our gifts and abilities differ, they are important and fine-tuned to fulfill God’s purpose on earth.

Just as my coach placed me where I was needed, based on my strong legs and ability to move the ball upfield, so God knows and positions us where we are needed based on the capabilities He has given us. While we may not be in the position we want or think best, God is the all-loving and all-knowing coach and knows where we need to be to act as effective team players of the ultimate team: the body of Christ.

Our job is to respect and appreciate the gifts God has given us and to fight the temptation to envy the gifts He has given others and the place He has positioned them.

Trust God to help you recognize and develop your gifts and to guide you to your proper position so you can be an effective member of His team.

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Oh Deer!

While driving home from choir practice one Wednesday night, I was startled.

A large doe stood still in the middle of the deserted two-lane highway. I tried to mentally shove her off the path of my car. Bang! Into the ditch, she landed. Thankfully, my car limped home and to the shop the next day to be repaired. I wish I could say the same for the poor deer.

Sometime later, I was again driving home from choir practice one evening—from the same church, on the same highway, but headed in the opposite direction toward my new house. After driving through the densely forested area where deer usually cross, I recalled that encounter years before. They don’t come near open fields, I thought, so I brushed the silent “Deer!” alert aside.

Suddenly, I caught two eyes staring at me over my left shoulder, making a beeline for my car. I hit the brakes, hard enough to catapult my purse and all my music into the passenger-side floorboard. In what felt like slow motion, the determined deer kept coming, crossing inches from my bright headlights with a look that pleaded, “Please don’t hit me.” I thought, Keep on running and I’ll try not to. Mission accomplished. The only consequences were a frightened deer and a relieved driver.

An angel accompanied me that night, whispering in my ear to watch out and pay attention. I also believe a special connection—fortunately not a physical one—was made between me and the deer.

Will you pay close attention to your alerts and connections today?

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Confronting Anxiety

The antidote to anxiety is prayer.

Many times, we are tempted to believe that the way to rid ourselves of anxiety and stress is to clear our minds or to keep ourselves from thinking about whatever stress we are experiencing.

But that is not what Scripture says. Paul tells us to confront anxiety through prayer. But why? Avoiding anxiety does not solve the issue, nor does it improve our thoughts, emotions, or spiritual well-being. Avoiding anxiety only covers up the root of the problem—whether it is fear, stress, or one of many forms of anxiety.

On the contrary, confronting anxiety through prayer cuts to the heart of the issue. Prayer changes our heart and mind, which is exactly what we need to confront our mind’s constant battle with anxiety. Through prayer, we connect with our heavenly Father and refocus our minds on the loving embrace of the God who created us.

The same God who takes care of every living thing on earth is the same God who will be with us in our fight against anxiety. Prayer guides us into the presence of the God who can strengthen us with the ability to overcome anxiety.

Not only does prayer provide the opportunity for us to connect with our heavenly Father, but it also changes our perspective on the things we worry about. When we pray, we bring our anxieties before the Lord and see that our God is much bigger than anything we could ever worry about. Our perspective instantly changes when we bring our anxieties and lay them at the feet of Jesus.

We are more than conquerors through Jesus Christ. This does not mean our battle against anxiety will be easy, but it does mean we can have a different perspective on anxiety when we fight it with prayer.

Ask God for strength to fight your anxiety.

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Speak for God

I once had an unlikely moment in the women's restroom in a nearby mall.

As I performed the usual activity in a stall, I heard a whooping sound coming from outside. I listened as an older female voice spoke with soft frustration. When I emerged, I saw a young man about ten or eleven years old who was very thin and tall. He stood drying his hands with his mom, who was shorter. The young man was disabled—perhaps autism or something more severe—and the mom’s difficult position smote me.

I washed up and followed them into the hallway that led back to the mall. I approached the mom and prayed aloud: “God bless you. God give you every grace and the strength you need.”

I can't remember what poured out of me. At first, the mom was shocked, but then she understood. She told me she had named him in the womb, not knowing he had a disability, and that his name means “God's Helper” in Hebrew.

I realized this woman suffers for and with her son every time she steps out of the house with him. He may or may not be aware of how people view him and say things about him at any given moment, but his mom is.

I could relate in some small way, having had similar challenges with two of our daughters. But more than that, I felt she needed encouragement—to know that she, too, is seen and that how she loves him is not in vain.

Enough of that kind of personal encouragement isn’t present these days. Many struggle in one way or another like this mom. To love well and to believe in the beauty God created her son to reflect in the world.

We need to be the heart of God speaking to those who need encouragement—to build up and restore hope that God has beauty, purpose, and a plan for children like this woman’s son, even if those around can’t see it at that moment.

Think of someone you can encourage today.

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Eyes Wide Shut

Sometimes we refuse to see the blessings of God.

For instance, when we tell others how we're doing after they ask us. We rarely start in detail with how good things are. Rather, we are quick to itemize the bad. If the person tries to change the subject, we quickly get right back on it.

I've known folks like that. I've also learned to be careful how I greet them. I'm not downplaying anyone's dire circumstances, but we should find the good blessings of God in our lives. I have a standard answer I give to avoid calling attention to the bad things in my life. When asked how I'm doing, I reply, “I can't complain. I got up this morning, my feet hit the floor under my power, and that's more than a lot of people can say.”

I have my share of issues like anyone else, but I also have an answer when someone complains about the problems of getting older. I respond, “It's a privilege denied to many.” That says it all, doesn't it? Many people didn't live to complain today. Our perspective changes when we stop and think about how good we have it instead of focusing on our difficulties.

As we think about how much we dread talking to pessimistic people who have a woe-is-me attitude, we should also try not to have one. When we complain, we’re saying we serve a God who isn't taking care of us. Rather, we should emphasize how much God has blessed us.

The word “blessed” occurs 302 times in the Bible while “cursed” occurs only 72 times. The word blessed is used more than four times as much as the word cursed. We experience far more of God's benefits than we do things to complain about.

Don't have your eyes wide shut to the blessings of God.

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A Strip Search?

“Would you like to teach women at the city jail?” 

“Yes, sure.”

“Are you willing to go through a strip search?”

Screeching halt. What? No way. Yes, I wanted to teach these women about God’s love and truth, but to be stripped and searched? Lord, please don’t ask that of me! Wait. Didn’t I surrender myself to the Lord completely? With trembling knees, I said yes.

Once I entered that jail—no strip search happened—I made an immediate connection with the women. This was an opening to teach women who had nothing else to do, who were at their lowest point in life, who were lonely and eager for distraction. An opportunity to shine Jesus’ light in a dark corner. They were polite, sweet, and appreciative. Those times of singing, playing games, making jewelry, reading the Bible, praying, and giving a hug brought me such joy.

The Lord loves to surprise us with His goodness. He also loves to challenge us to see if we’ll trust Him no matter what. When we take the first step of faith, He will hold our hand and give us the courage to move forward. Everywhere we turn, we see the effects of sin. What better way to transform our world than to share God’s hope?

The Lord asks us to be bold in our faith. The word “overcome” tells us challenges lie ahead. We climb a mountain one step at a time, but the view is always worth the struggle. We often complain about all the bad news we hear, yet we rarely get out of our comfortable chair to do anything about it.

People everywhere need a helping hand, a listening ear, a word of encouragement, a simple skill, and someone to pray with them. Following Jesus is an adventure filled with risks and rewards. When we move forward, God will use us to overcome evil with good. When we allow Jesus to lead us to the good work He has for us, we won’t have regrets, only joy.

What possibility have you hesitated to grab? Maybe you need to look a little harder for the risk-taking journey God has for you. Or which wicked behavior around you makes your blood boil? Decide to be an overcomer of evil.

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Follow the Leader

A stream of cars trailed behind us.

Where we turned, they turned. When we stopped, they stopped. Our car was the Pied Piper of the road of the charming South Carolina town we visited for my cousin’s wedding.

After a lovely church ceremony, guests returned to their vehicles for a trek to an old Southern home for the reception. As out-of-state residents, my husband and I were unfamiliar with the venue. Relatives supplied us with brief verbal directions to the reception site.

Because we were the bride’s family members, other guests assumed we knew where we were going. Apparently, all of them had the same idea: “Follow them!” Boy, were they in for a surprise.

Realizing we had missed a turn, my husband pulled into a funeral home parking lot to turn around. Like little ducklings following their mama, one by one, the cars trailing us also turned into the marked funeral home location. Why anyone would think this spot was the correct place for a wedding reception is anyone’s guess, but every car behind us did as we had done.

While this memory provides a chuckle, the story also emphasizes the importance of following the correct leader. Failure to do so may land us in the wrong place.

Following Jesus is the only way to eternal life. Following another religion or a false teacher destines us to a worse place than a funeral home parking lot—spiritual death.           

What leader are you following? 

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Precious Jewels

God’s timing was perfect!

Three weeks after moving into our new home, I received a phone call that abruptly ended my audit and accounting career of forty-plus years. But being laid off was an unexpected blessing, an open door to early retirement. Initially, the devastating news knocked me off my feet and sent me soaring in one whack. Like a rocket, I was shot out into the unknown of new adventures and new jewels.

A strange sight greeted me one day. A purple and white flower bloomed all alone on a small azalea bush outside my kitchen door. I stepped out to get a closer look. I had expected the bush’s bloom to have white petals with tiny, almost imperceptible splatters of purple. This bloom differed. Three fourths of the flower’s petals were solid purple, and it was shaped like a clock’s face set at 3 pm, the time of Jesus’ death. A stunning jewel and a unique reminder of the creativity of the perfect Master Gardener.

Rain was imminent. The early-morning sky over the lake was dark blue with fluffy, dismal layers of rain clouds hanging low. Another cold, dreary day ahead. Any sunrise in this mess would surely be ignored. Then suddenly, a wide, scattered swath of brilliant pink appeared. How could such a beautiful color emerge from something so drab? Only God. Another beautiful jewel.

Jewels are everywhere. They appear in unexpected compliments, refreshing phone calls, family memories, texts from friends, and kind words from strangers. Each one is a precious gift from our heavenly Father. May we never take any of them for granted.

Words are also jewels—tools that God uses to touch our hearts through our minds. They encourage us and others through us. Words are blessings, gifts from God, lavish pourings of His presence, and jewels from our Father’s hand.

I will thank God for all the jewels from His hand today. I hope you will too.

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The Journey

While I was teaching the catechism some years ago, I met a lovely, older bishop.

The bishop took my hand and called me his “pet.” Then he told me my smile shined at my class. That was then. Teaching faith was my place in Christianity.

Time passed. My love for Jesus stayed, as Jesus’ love for each of us remains. As Luke wrote in his gospel, “Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the sunrise from High will visit us” (Luke 1:78 NIV). Jesus shone like the sun while He walked this earth, even as He raised His cross.

We can all love Jesus more for His great sacrifice of love. He has not stopped shining on His journey over the past 2000 years of Christianity.

Like Jesus, we are all on a journey, raising our cross daily. We do not need to look for our cross. Anything can happen. We can share our cross, as Jesus did with Simon. We can also support each other.

When we raise our cross daily, we can meet sunshine in new ways. The journey of faith is bigger and more important than any of us. There is no need to trade insults. I do still make catty comments, but then pray to do my daily tasks with a minimum of fuss. Many of us really have nothing to complain about.

As a senior woman of faith, I am still seeking my place in Christianity.

Raise your cross in each day’s journey. Never stop shining and following the example of your Lord Jesus.

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Cry Out to Jesus

I was scared and cried out to Jesus.

Stockbridge, Michigan. January 1972. My sister, brother-in-law, and I were on our way to a friend’s house when our car slid off the snowy highway into the ditch. The car gained speed as we headed toward a big tree. Without a doubt, I knew our fate. I cried out to my Savior, “Jesus save us.”

None of us wore seat belts. All of us plunged into the windshield. My sister, seven months pregnant and sitting in the middle of the front seat, was knocked out after banging her head on the rearview mirror. Fortunately, her baby was okay. No one else was injured.

Many times after that wreck, I thought about Simon Peter. When Jesus bid him to walk on the water, he became afraid and began to sink. He called out to the Lord in despair, “Lord, save me.” Jesus extended his hand, took hold of Peter, and saved him.

The outcome of that car accident could have been much worse. As our car hit the tree, I believe the Lord heard my cry of desperation and shielded us from the full impact.

When we find ourselves in similar situations, where we feel as if we’re sinking into utter despair and hopelessness, we should cry out to the Lord. He’s waiting with an outstretched hand to save us.

Call on God when you need help.

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When Our Hearts Break

“Everyone, freeze!”

The crash shattered the silence as I froze and shouted my command. Shards of pottery scattered over the tile floor. My two little girls were barefooted. I could envision trips to the emergency room to dig out slivers of pottery from their precious feet.

Instead, I scanned the kitchen floor like it was a minefield and picked my barefooted way across the room to my toddlers. I scooped them up, one in each arm, and felt their legs tangle around each of mine. I held them close as we lurched our way to the safety of the soft carpeted living room.

I remember this incident when I read: The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. Just as I scooped up my children and held them closely when the plate shattered and scattered across the floor, I see God sweeping me up in His arms and bringing me to safety when my heart breaks.

Heartbreaks are scary. We feel alone and abandoned. Sometimes, we even feel shell-shocked as we view the shrapnel of broken dreams scattered across our lives. We wonder which way to go and how we’re going to navigate this unexpected heartache. But our Lord is near and ready to save. He comes alongside us and guides us through the brokenness. He knows the best way through it, and He knows how to bring us to the other side.

Pushing the Lord away when our hearts break is tempting. We want to run willy-nilly through our brokenness, often causing more pain along the way. But God desires to be near us, especially when our hearts are aching.

Turn to God with arms outstretched and cry, “Abba, help!” He’ll come and carry you to safety.

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A Special Touch

Judy’s heart felt as though it were splintered into hundreds of pieces.

About the time Judy thought her tears had ended, she felt fresh tears stream down her face. Her daughter, Tammy, had been ill for a long time. Although Tammy fought her health problem courageously, eventually she lost the battle.

One day seemed especially hard, and Judy prayed for assurance: “Lord, if You’re there, will you give me a hug?”

Immediately, what felt like invisible hands surrounded her in a loving embrace. Judy was given the assurance she needed that God walked with her. He would supply her needs and bring healing to her broken heart.

Some days, our hearts feel broken. A loved one dies or is in the final stages of a devastating illness. Our finances may be at an all-time low, and threats of bankruptcy appear on the horizon. A child or grandchild may be wandering away from their Christian lifestyle and entering a world of addiction.

Whatever the problem or heartache we face, God knows about it and will cover us with loving invisible hands. We may not feel His presence as strongly as Judy, but when we ask, we can have the assurance He is with us.

Sometimes, God will speak to those around us to show us His love through their encouraging words and actions. At other times, He may ask us to be the deliverer of His love and peace to others who need a special touch.

The Bible encourages us to pass along the comfort God and others give us.

Why not be the Lord’s earthly hands to bring comfort and encouragement to those in need.

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God's Spokesman

We usually see the word spokesman on television news broadcasts.

When a public official or someone else makes an announcement, they will call a press conference. Reporters arrive and then the person stands in front of a bank of microphones and cameras. Often, in the case of government officials, someone interprets the message in American Sign Language. After reading the statement, the person might answer the reporters’ questions.

If the conference is broadcast and the official appears on the screen, the TV technicians add a label to identify the speaker. If it’s someone else, the label may just read, spokesman

At other times, we may hear the term when a TV reporter from another station relates the story. If it deals with a city government issue, the reporter will give the official response, and they may say, “A spokesman for the mayor told us that …”

A spokesman is someone who represents and speaks for someone else.

God has spokesmen. At one time, as described by the writer of Hebrews, these were the prophets of the Old Testament who represented God and announced His messages to His people.

Their announcements might have been corrective, informative, or encouraging, especially when they imparted God’s promises. Many of those promises concerned how God would send a Savior—a Redeemer.

And the Lord did just that. He sent His Son Jesus Christ to be the promised Savior and Redeemer and at the same time God’s new spokesman. The new spokesman not only speaks for God but also is the message personified—exemplifying and embodying in His person all of God’s previous promises.

God’s previous spokespersons were human, but the new spokesman is God Himself. Make sure you listen to Him.  

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Giving Practical Guidance

He came in, slammed his books down on his desk, and huffed.

Familiar with the various moods that plague middle schoolers from day to day, I asked the young man what had upset him.

“I forgot my cell phone,” he said.

Knowing they could not use them during the day anyway, I asked him what the big deal was.

“I need to call my mom when conditioning is over this afternoon.”

Hoping to start a conversation that would cause him to use his critical thinking skills, I asked, “Well, what would you do if there were no smartphones?”

“I would have a stroke or heart attack,” he said.

I decided to try a hypothetical scenario on him. “Suppose you were driving in a secluded area, and your car broke down. You had no phone to call for help. What would you do?”

He could think of no solution. Sadly, neither could he come up with an answer for his present dilemma. In his mind, no hope existed without his smartphone. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get him to realize he could walk to the front office and use a landline to call his mom.

Realizing he could not see a way out of his problem, I gave him the answer, then told him of a time when my daughter, son, and I got in a rainy cold front while backpacking. Instead of bemoaning our situation, we took to a secondary highway and hiked until we found a house and someone who could help us.

When young, our hearts are filled with foolishness. Not only do we have a sinful nature that points us in the wrong directions—which God and others will correct with various measures of discipline—but we also lack experience.

Through parenting, grandparenting, teaching, mentoring, coaching, and in other ways, God gives us adults the responsibility and the opportunities to guide the younger generation who lack knowledge and experience. Our responsibility is to point them to God-pleasing ways and to show them examples that will guide them to God and lead them to God-honoring decisions in life.

My young student accepted my guidance, went to the office, and called his mom. Who can you guide along life’s way?

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Boiling Point

I stood at the kitchen stove and watched the dark, roiling mixture rise to the rim of the silver pan.

The end product would be chocolate syrup. It’s a simple recipe I’ve used hundreds of times: combine ingredients, boil for five minutes, cool, and enjoy.

Yet every time the boiling moment comes, I feel the panic rise. Once those bubbles form, they crawl up the sides of the pan. Just when I think it’s going to boil over and I will surely burn the house down, the bubbles pop, and the mixture recedes. Then the bubbling begins again, and the rising and falling continue until the timer goes off.

Not once has the syrup boiled over, but my heart races every time. I grip the spoon, at the ready to stir like mad—although I know stirring will ruin the consistency. I tell myself out loud, “Don’t panic.”

Still, the boiling points get me—in chocolate syrup and life.

The Israelites were the same. Ten spies returned from checking out the land God had already promised. Eight of them said the milk and honey were great, but the giants were too big. Two of them reminded the people God was bigger than the giants.

Despite God’s miraculous deliverance of His chosen ones, the people panicked and decided a return to slavery was just the ticket. God decreed their carcasses would fall in the wilderness. Panic cost them the promise.

How many times have circumstances reached a few boiling points that made our hearts race? We quake at the shadows of giants in our lives. We decide panic is better than God’s promises and grab our tiny spoons to do something that makes us feel more comfortable and in control. We forgo the taste of chocolate syrup or, even better, milk and honey because of fear. 

Don’t panic. See what God has done. Believe what He will do. The result is oh so sweet.

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Invisible Drums and Air Guitar

The music started, and I slid a little lower in my seat.

I have an adult son with cognitive disabilities. After sitting on the last row of the church his entire life, Ben decided to sit front and center and to imitate the drummer. Instead of taking joy in his exuberant worship, I cringed. He’s distracting everyone, I thought. I was ashamed of his joyful expressions of praise as I stewed about what other people might think.

After the worship set ended and Ben settled in for a public nap, I sat in my embarrassment, formulating an apology for the pastor. But as we rose to leave, people approached us. Some were in tears. Ben’s enthusiasm in worship had blessed them, adding to their own worship. Watching him cast off his inhibitions in the presence of the Lord had touched them deeply.

Ben can’t teach, preach, or do much of anything we might deem useful in the church, but he is indeed indispensable by being himself. His quirky, embarrassing self. His beautiful, uninhibited self.

Sometimes we feel dispensable or weak. Like we have nothing to offer the family of God because we aren’t gifted in certain ways. We might even look at the needy or annoying people as bothersome instead of seeing they possess the unfathomable dignity of a child of God.

The Scriptures don’t ask us to merely tolerate the weak. They are indispensable—a vital and necessary part of the functioning of the body of Christ. We should welcome the sinning, the foolish, and the disabled to the table of fellowship. Even save them a spot front and center. Or better yet, a spot with us.

Think about those people in your church who have disabilities, addictions, or difficult personalities. What is one thing you can do to include them in the life of the church?

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An Answer to Your Prayers

“Lord, please heal me,” I prayed for over a year.

I had suffered a series of ailments that were expected to be resolved soon. However, after completing the prescribed regimens, I developed an unexpected rash the doctors couldn’t figure out. Asking God for healing became my focus, but one year later, the irritating rash spread down my body. I was not receiving what I asked God for.

Most of us would probably admit we don’t always believe we will receive whatever we ask from the Lord. That’s okay. But we can let go of the guilt we feel that we just don’t believe enough or that we aren’t praying enough.  

But how do we reconcile these circumstances with Jesus’ promise?

The answer lies in the other facets of prayer found in the Bible. One is related to our role. When we pray, we should never doubt. Yet it takes the Holy Spirit’s power to have such unwavering faith. This is another facet. When we invite the Holy Spirit to intercede for us, we can know He is praying in accordance with God’s will. Alignment with God’s will is the most critical aspect of answered prayers.

When my rash worsened, I prayed for wisdom. I no longer just wanted it to disappear; I wanted to learn the source. One day, God dropped His answer into my spirit. I followed what I believed He told me, and within twelve days, the rash was nearly gone. Today, I am completely healed.

If we pray in our limited human capacity for what we think we need, rather than relying on the Holy Spirit, God may reveal that His timing hasn’t arrived yet. Or maybe He has an answer and is waiting for us to ask Him. Life is all about God—His plan, purpose, and will. He has determined what’s best for us.

Don’t be discouraged. Keep asking God to show you His will in the matter you are praying about. God loves you, He is faithful, and your answer is coming.

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Keep Calm and Trust God

When I was a young married woman, I was a victim of domestic violence.

One famous politician stated, “Life was not meant to be easy.” This is quite true. Before and after I divorced my husband, life was not easy.

I am still single, but that is not the end of the world. I do not feel alone as I did when I was married. I aim to keep calm and trust in God. My life could have happened to any woman. In the quiet stillness of my heart, I have formed a relationship with God and His beloved Son, Jesus.

Tough times can test anyone’s faith. Like anyone else in life’s experiences, if God is all I have, then I find God is all I need. As the psalmist reminds us, God listens to our prayers and works in mysterious ways.

For me, prayer is a great way to practice religious meditation. Praying to God is available to everyone. Christians like me keep calm, trust in God, and pray for healing and resolution to the issues of daily life. God loves each of us and will never forget us.

With prayer, I turn frowns upside down. I turn the other cheek and keep on keeping on. I choose my responses, such as following the straight and narrow path in life.  

What steps can you take to pray, keep calm, and trust in God?

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When Fears Are Unfounded

The fluffy bunny caught my eye.

At first, it just sat there, staring at me. It could have passed for a lawn ornament. Gazing intently at me as I strolled closer, nerves finally won over, and away it hopped. Fast. I mean, really fast. Poor thing. I never saw anything move so quickly. It was scared. First, frozen in fear. Next, fleeing in fear. I said aloud, “No little bunny! It’s all right. You have nothing to be afraid of.” As if it could understand me.

My promise to the bunny was of no use. The little ball of fur was out of there. It didn’t know I was just going to walk on by. I wasn’t the enemy, nor a predator.

What struck me most was that even though I knew I’d never hurt it, the bunny didn’t know the same. Given the chance, I would’ve loved it. I knew my intent and it was good. But to the bunny, I was dangerous, even though nothing was further from the truth.

During the rest of my walk, I couldn’t help but wonder how many times I let fear, instead of God, control my life. How often did I sit paralyzed? How frequently did I run away? Had I ever reacted like the bunny, missing out on something good?

Bunnies don’t have the capacity for love the way humans do, so it had an excuse. I didn’t. If I love my Father in heaven, why would I be fearful? If I know He loves me, why don’t I trust His intent?

The truth is His perfect love casts out every single fear. God is in control of the situation. He knows we have nothing to be afraid of.

Perhaps, we often feel like the bunny. We sit frozen in fear. Or we want to flee in fear, instead. But sometimes we are scared of something that isn’t scary at all. The fear driving us to freeze or flee is not real. God’s intent for us is always good. He wants to love us.

Ask God to help you trust Him when your fears are unfounded.

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The Devil and Blueberries

One summer, our son brought us two large bags of freshly-picked blueberries from his farm.

Blueberries are my favorite fruit, so I stored them in the freezer to enjoy them for months to come. Later, when I grabbed a bag to add some to my yogurt, I encountered a solid chunk of blue. Each berry had fused with its neighbor, and there was no separating them.

Determined to eat blueberries, I attacked the solid mass with a wooden spoon, but to no avail. That is, until I turned my weapon to the edges. Then I was able to break off enough precious berries for my yogurt.

God loves each of us as individuals, though we are many. He sent His Son to save us, then established His church to preserve us in His saving grace. Kind of how I used my freezer for the blueberries. Through the unity of our faith, we become a rock that is impervious to frontal attacks by that roaring lion, the Devil.

But those blueberries, weakly attached at the edges in a frozen chunk, broke off easily. Being spiritual or good without clinging to the strength of a faith community—or attending worship occasionally or only for social reasons—places us at the edge of the Christian faith and makes us easy pickings for Satan.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I sorely missed physical fellowship with my church family. Sometimes, after singing a rousing hymn, we would spontaneously break out in applause because our communal praise simply overwhelmed us.

I could have said watching church service from my living room was not the same, and that I had other things to do on Sunday. Yet situations and attitudes like that separate me from my church family just when I need their faith and grace the most.

I will not live on the edge of my faith. I will worship and communicate with, pray for, and help my fellow believers. And the Devil can go find his blueberries somewhere else.

What keeps you from fellowshipping with and helping other believers?

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Knowing God

I once had a big disappointment.

I lost a job I thought was rightfully mine. As I walked through this experience, I saw that God was the same, in good times and bad ones, when I won and when I lost. I viewed God in a different light. Seeing God this way did not make me better than anyone else, but it did make me better than I had been.

For some strange reason, it appears we can only understand God's character by some form of pain. Although we can know God intellectually without God's dealings in our lives, if we want to know Him personally, we must bear a cross. Even Jesus learned obedience by the things He suffered.

Knowing about God is not the same thing as knowing God. It was not until Job had experienced painful circumstances that he saw God through his own eyes.

Throughout Christian history, people have embraced a suffering theology and tried to inflict it on themselves. It never works. Wanting to suffer is a bit sick. Humility is never accomplished by what we do but by what God does. If we try to bring humility about by human effort, we will become proud of our humility.

Our part entails obedience, which keeps us in a place where God can work. Human nature causes us to run from adversity, which will result in our fleeing from God. But we can't know God by running in the opposite direction.

When we see God for who He is and see ourselves for who we are, humility results. And this is always demonstrated by repentance. Suffering enabled Job to know God in his heart, not just in his mind.

Ask God to open your eyes so you can see yourself. Then, don't be surprised by how He answers your prayer.

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Actions Speak Louder than Words

A small note of Scripture taped to the check-out desk caught my attention.

I mentioned to the scheduler that the verse—“He (Abraham) staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God”—was one of my favorites.  

The scheduler said a co-worker had given it to her during a rough trial in her life. Although some time had passed, she remembered the person and their actions fondly by leaving it taped to the desk. She could've read the Scripture herself, but doing so wouldn't have meant as much. Someone had seen her struggling, prayed for her, and did some little thing that wasn't expected. She still received a blessing from the note.

Two stories in the Bible exemplify this kind of encouragement. One, when Moses' father-in-law suggested he appoint judges to handle the more trivial matters of the Israelites. He didn't have to offer advice, but he was concerned for his son-in-law.

Another, when a Shunammite woman and her husband built Elisha a small room in their home—a selfless act they didn't have to do and that no one expected. They helped the prophet of God and gave him a place to rest and pray.

Often, our little effort means everything to someone else. We never know what others are facing and how our small gesture will comfort them. Our acts demonstrate that God hasn't forgotten where they are or what they're going through. We might just walk away with a great blessing, praising the Lord in our hearts.

Talk is cheap, but your actions will speak louder than words and last a whole lot longer.

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The Necessity of Repentance

One afternoon long ago, I biked with a high school friend.

He turned to me and said, “Bob, you should join my church because you can do anything you want.” When I asked him what in the world he was talking about, he replied, “You can do anything you want and then just go to church and confess to the priest, and he will forgive you, and then you can go back to those things.”

I had just begun to learn what the Bible said, but his conclusion did not sound right. Later, I heard a professor state that the older he became, the more he understood that repentance, or firmly turning away from sinful thoughts and behaviors, was the foundation of the Christian life.

As young adults often do, I thought I knew everything and thought the reason the professor felt that way was because he was old, and his days of charging into new things were behind him. I felt confession was all a believer needed.

I wish I had listened to him. As I have aged and come to understand that relationships are far more important than accomplishments, I have learned that confession without a repentant spirit is often just a temporary mental ascent.

Repentance is foundational to the Christian life. An example is observing the Lord’s Supper. Without a repentant heart, a person takes the Lord’s Supper unworthily and eats and drinks judgment upon themselves. Interestingly, unworthily partaking of the Lord’s Supper is the reason why many Corinthians were sick and died. Serious results.

Before we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we should examine ourselves to determine if we are truly repentant about the sinful behavior being confessed and willing to turn away from it. If not, we should not partake less we bring judgment on ourselves.

Examine yourself to make sure you have a repentant spirit. 

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God's Boy

Our three-year-old great-nephew, a daddy’s boy, heard a loud contented “ahhh” from his grandmother. With a typical preschooler’s curiosity, he looked around and yelled, “What? What?”

“Aren’t the clouds beautiful?” she said.

Already going through an extended fascination with clouds, Kaleb asked, “Nanny, did God make those clouds?” 

“Yes, He did,” and she smiled as she usually did at the questions his little mind spun.

Next came, “Nanny, is Jesus with God?”

“Yes, He is.” Her smile grew.

With wheels still turning, he pressed, “Is Jesus God’s boy?”

As she assured him that Jesus was, her heart thrilled that this little miracle enjoyed the unconditional love and acceptance of his earthly father and had begun fitting the pieces together about the greater love of his heavenly Father.

What a powerful legacy for any child to know such love. Although in its rudimentary stages, Kaleb found it far easier than many children and adults to believe that God is love.

As Kaleb matured, so did his ability to grasp the price God paid so each of us can claim Him as Abba Father—a Daddy who will never fail nor forsake His children. We celebrated the day he chose, freely and completely, to accept that claim of sonship—when he understood as never before just what it means to be God’s boy.

If we don’t know from experience what it means to be God’s child, we can by accepting His gift of forgiveness and acceptance into His family. If we do know Him, we should follow God’s call to share with others who need to experience God’s unconditional and transforming love.

Do you know what it means to be God’s child?

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The News Anchor

News anchors represent the station they work for and should do so as well as possible. 

I once worked for a shopping channel. Coleen, a local newscaster, asked Duane, who worked in the scene shop, to do something for her. Because of her notoriety, Duane had an idea of what she would be like, or so he thought. Apparently, Coleen didn’t measure up to Duane’s unrealistic standards. 

When we see news anchors on our television every night, we have preconceived ideas about them. The same goes for Christians. When people see how we act in public at times, it makes me wonder if we send the wrong message.

Jesus talks about producing good fruit. When I think about good fruit, I think about my behavior. We need to consider how well we represent Christ. How do we handle adversity at the checkout counter or at work?

On occasion, I have really blown it and lost my temper at the store and at work. After one store incident, I became convicted and drove back to the store to apologize. 

As Christians, our challenge is to produce good fruit so that other people can see God in us. The only way to do this is to pray and ask the Lord for help.

What are you showing to others through your actions?

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A Proper Time and Procedure

Imagine three servants who are responsible for managing with wisdom and integrity the items in a king’s household.

Two of the servants carefully follow the instructions of their king and make sure they obey his desires. They seek favor in the sight of both God and people. But the third servant finds the king’s ways of pursuing a certain task narrowminded and shortsighted. He takes matters into his own hands and pursues a course that has high risk but high reward.

As the king walks into the portion of his castle he has entrusted to the servants, the foolish servant’s haste catches him off guard. The servant breaks an item that was precious to the king—an heirloom from his fathers, given to him when he was but a lad. Like a messenger sent from the kingdom with a death message, so the foolish servant was delivered by the swift judgment of the king.

All government has been ordained with both power and authority by God Almighty, regardless of what time it is in history.

When we endure hardships under overbearing leadership, understanding why certain things are done or why they could not be done differently proves difficult. Nonetheless, we should clothe ourselves with humility and let wisdom guide us with the blessings of her covering. Whether we are in the workplace or giving aid to a friend, we should heed wise counsel and serve with a humble and teachable attitude.

We can choose to be patient under stressful circumstances and follow the proper procedures, following in the fear of the Lord, or we can forsake His presence in haste.

Ask God to help you be steadfast with a servant’s heart as you minister, help, and work diligently for the glory of our God, King, and Savior.

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Free from Condemnation

Condemnation. My unwelcomed traveling companion for so many years of my life.

Growing up in a dysfunctional environment with little self-esteem and even less self-confidence, I struggled to fit in and became a people-pleaser. But it never worked. When I messed up and endured the wrath of those I had irritated and displeased, guilt crept in and opened the door for its companion—condemnation.

Others condemned me, so why not condemn myself? So, I did.

Romans 8:1-2 addresses condemnation. It’s a terrible way to live. The Message calls it living under a continuous, low-lying black cloud. But thank God there is a way out. The Spirit of life in Christ, like a strong wind, has magnificently cleared the air. God, in His mercy and grace, has set us free. All we must do is accept His gift.

I love the way the Passion translation puts it: So now the case is closed. There remains no accusing voice of condemnation against those who are joined in life-union with Jesus, the Anointed One.

In the face of her accusers, Jesus said to the woman caught in adultery, neither do I condemn you. He says the same to us today. When we confess our sin, He forgives and never holds it against us. Neither should we hold it against ourselves.

If you are a child of God, you have been set free from condemnation. Case closed!

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Peace During Heartache

The January morning arrived cold and gray.

I pulled into a parking space for the drive-in funeral of a long-time family friend. Jack had been my youth choir director decades before.

At the same time I was remembering Jack, the funeral of a former pastor was being live-streamed from another state. Fred and Jack had worked together to help us young people know God and love Him.

That afternoon, word came that a fellow member of our church’s state women’s choir had lost her battle with COVID. A day or two earlier, I had heard that my neighbor’s dad had died unexpectedly. And within a few days, two of my former students suddenly lost their fathers.

These deaths pressed on my heart, even as I grappled with family members’ recent medical reports. Two of my siblings had also been diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses just weeks earlier.

Most of us do our best to tune out the chaos of the world to stay sane. We often ignore conversations about the spreading virus, political upheaval, and global unrest. Then something hits close to home, and we can no longer ignore the pain and the sadness.

Our hearts may cry, “Stop the world; I want to get off!” Or maybe we yell with Chicken Little, “The sky is falling; the sky is falling!” Where is that peace we long for? How do we find it?

Jesus, the peacemaker Himself, soothes our souls and calms our hearts. He tells us not to let our hearts be afraid or troubled. He gives us His peace.

The words “Peace I leave with you” were uttered merely hours before Jesus was crucified for our sins. He understands pain and loss. But His love is so great that He gave Himself to bring peace between us and the Father. And He abides with us to give us peace amidst the heartaches of this life.

After the tragic loss of his children, Horatio Spafford wrote the great hymn, “It Is Well with My Soul.” Are things well with your soul? When all else around you crumbles, do you have peace?

Draw near to Jesus. Let Him give you His peace.

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A Full and Complete Stop

My teenagers are learning to drive. Crazy how much I’ve forgotten from driver’s ed.

“Mom, you’re going too fast!”

“Mom, you’re following too close!”

“Mom, you didn’t come to a full and complete stop!”

After a few decades of driving, I’ve become a little lax about strictly following the rules of the road. I’m much more intentional about it now that my children are behind the wheel of a speeding ton of metal projectile. Talk about your heart roaming around outside your body.

I once came to a stop sign and consciously tried to come to a full and complete stop. I’m so glad I did. Not just because my son was watching, but because in that simple act I was reminded of how we often need to come to a full and complete stop in life.

In this season of life, it’s a miracle if I can get a full and complete stop for five minutes—to close my eyes and listen for God’s whispers. I want to be more intentional. When I take just a few minutes before the day gets away from me, to be still, it makes my day go much smoother. This holds true every … single … time.

Why don’t I do this amazing practice of centering in stillness every day? Distractions.

Telephone ringing, dinging, or whatever new sound my son has changed it to. That constant feeling of needing to catch up on something. Housework. Yard work. Facebook. Driving to and from everything. Volunteering. Being available to friends and family. Often, it’s the contents of my own mind running over the never-ending checklist of things I need to do.

But would the world end if we silenced our phone for five minutes? Would the to-do list mount even higher if we took a short break? Or would we instead be better equipped and more energized to tackle things?

Because of the rolling stops I apparently tend toward, I’ve made it a practice to not only fully stop but also to take a deep breath at every stop sign before moving on. I guess I could call this a mini-be-still. In this busy season of life, I know God smiles even upon the mini-be-stills.

What distractions can you minimize to come to a full and complete stop so you can breathe and simply be still?

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King of the Mountain

We often play King of the Mountain.

Small children play King of the Mountain, fighting for the top spot. People of all ages declare “We’re number one!” when our sports team wins. Cheerleaders scream, “Who’s the greatest?” and we scream back, “We are! We are!” How easily that mindset carries over into our personal and spiritual lives.

The apostles were no exception. Remember what happened shortly after the Last Supper? Jesus had told them of His coming betrayal and sacrificial death. Despite that sacred message, they moved quickly from questioning who would betray Jesus to who would be the greatest among them. James reminds us that such an attitude places us in Satan’s grasp. We covet, quarrel, fight, and kill because of our selfish desires.

Jesus revealed a better way, a radical way in the eyes of the world. We find greatness through submission and service. Jesus set the example not only by washing the apostles’ feet but also through everything He did. The King of kings came to earth, lived in poverty, touched the untouchables, accepted the outcasts, and put the needs of others ahead of His own. His ultimate demonstration of greatness occurred on the cross.

Every day, God grants us a new opportunity to reflect His greatness by submitting to His will. Whether we’re King of the Mountain or the first one knocked down, we can give someone else a hand up. We can proclaim from the mountaintops that we know the King of kings who is number one in our lives, and so can they. We can share with them that He was, is, and always will be the greatest.  We can clear obstacles from the paths of weary travelers. We can wash their feet by meeting their needs, as our Savior does for us.

Who needs your service today?

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I Wake Up Smiling

I wake up smiling, planning a day of good intentions.

There is an adage that says, “Life is not meant to be easy.” Hard times can happen to anyone. Years ago, I was broke and homeless, living in a refuge. God showed me the way when a unit I could afford turned up. I noticed an advertisement for a job I could do and found employment. I learned how to provide for myself.

God is my provider. He is always one step ahead of anyone, creating a path. Now, I thank God for the little things, as well as the big things, such as having a home, good health, an online job, enough food, and the bills all sorted. God wakes us for a reason. As I pray, I aim to wake up smiling and spread smiles throughout the day. God has shown me, and any one of us, that there is always hope on the other side of life’s struggles.

Yes, I still ask God why things happen. But I do not get answers straight away. Even in my middle sixties, I am learning to let go and let God. I need to understand that God knows what is best for me and each of us. God sent me the example of Jesus to guide me to grow and to develop my strength of character through any situation I experience.

Through prayer, I have come to believe there is no closure on some things that happen. I must look on the bright side, wake up smiling, and fill my days with positive plans. I hope to grow in grace as I remember the blessing of having been saved by my faith, which leads me to rejoice.

Do you have a good reason to wake up smiling?

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In Whose House Do You Want to Live?

Mom grew up visiting her grandparents on the family farm.

Every visit steeped her in familial lore and ancestral heritage. Each piece of furniture in the farmhouse blended her relations’ tales with her youthful escapades, forever bonding them in her memories. The wooden churn her great grandmother used to make butter became a prop in Mom’s college production of Oklahoma. Her mother rescued the cherry wood corner cabinet from a horse barn and restored it. Even the iron mantles gracing the fireplaces could be traced back to their original owners. None of it was fancy, but it was family.  

When I was a child, that farmhouse was bulldozed to expand the state road, and, before their deaths, Mom’s parents divvied up the artifacts between Mom and her three siblings. But thanks to my uncle’s distance and Mom and her baby sister’s available space, the middle sister’s home became the repository for most of the furniture and decor. For years, it lived together as a collection, a carefully curated museum of sorts, dedicated to our heritage and the farmhouse that was once Mom’s childhood playground.

Every trip to visit my aunt became a treasured tour of memories. Mom would recount the placement of each item in its original home, recalling scenes and situations that occurred in their presence. With each story, she rebuilt the farmhouse in her mind and in mine.

When my aunt passed, the artifacts were once again distributed among the family, but on a much wider geographic scale. No longer would they be collected together for Mom to savor and remember. For weeks, she grieved not only losing a beloved sister but also losing the farmhouse. Her concept of “home” was fractured.

Until that is, the Holy Spirit whispered to her, “In whose house do you want to live?” Did she want to live in a house founded on God’s promises or one founded on her longings and past? After much soul-searching, Mom chose the promise of an eternal home in heaven and released her grief and the past to God.

We can live in a house built on grief and loss, or, like Mom, rebuild our house over and over. To freely dwell in the house of the Lord, we must release the pain of our past and choose to trust God’s promises.

Are you ready to let go and move on?

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Milk, Eggs, and Worry

As a native New Englander, I confess that we sometimes laugh at school districts in the South that shut down because of a few inches of snow.

Yet somehow, no matter how many winters we live through, when snow starts falling on our own street, the first thing we say is, “Honey, can you run to the store and pick up milk and eggs?” Despite the logical conclusion that hens will keep on laying and cows will continue to give milk, we go into panic mode.

No matter how tough we pretend to be on the outside, Jesus knows us to the inside of our hearts. No matter how many times He has protected us in times of danger, at the first sign of a storm we act as if He might not take care of us this time around.

Instead of criticizing our fears, Jesus tells us to look at the birds. When I do, I notice that none of them stay up late at night looking for worms for tomorrow’s breakfast. Instead, they tuck their heads under their wings and drift off to sleep. They know that tomorrow will always dawn with all the worms they need.

Whether we worry that there won’t be milk and eggs at the store when the snow melts, or panic buying toilet paper in the pandemic, what matters is whom we trust to take care of us.

In your time of need, look to the same God who is an expert on feeding birds.

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We grow weary of waiting.

We wait impatiently in long lines at the grocery store or for online orders to arrive. We wait with anxiety for medical test results or for our child to return from the battlefield. We wait with frustration for a cure for COVID19 or for an answer to a prayer for healing. We eagerly await the return of our Savior to take us out of this world of impatience, anxiety, and frustration.

We can’t help but wonder—it’s been over two thousand years since Jesus arose from the grave and returned to heaven—why He hasn’t returned. Perhaps we question whether He will come back as promised. But there is hope because He always fulfills His promises.

Theologians believe the first prophecy about Jesus’ first coming is revealed in Genesis, four thousand years before His birth. Isaiah prophesied about His birth and death seven hundred years prior to His arrival.

The Old Testament presents the basis for the advent of the Messiah. The New Testament shows us how that is fulfilled in the life of Jesus. They both reveal God’s love and mercy. God shows Himself through the entire Scriptures and teaches us to connect with Him through faith, inspiring us to spread the gospel.

Is it such a stretch then, to believe Jesus will come again? Time is of no concern to those whose faith is unshakable. For faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.

While we wait, we must not become discouraged but continue to share the good news with renewed hope. Perhaps we will plant seeds, water them, or shed light on them. In due time, we will reap the harvest of all harvests.

Ask God for strength to keep doing good as you await the coming of Your Lord.

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Keep Pounding the Rock

“You'll never move that rock, Mikey. It's too big.”

Mikey had grown accustomed to hearing the disparaging remark from his friends. Since moving to their home when he was only three, Mikey hated that rock and wanted his dad to move it to make room for a swing set. His dad told him if he could move it, he would buy him one.

From the age of six until he was eighteen, Mikey tried to move the rock, breaking several sledgehammers in the process. Mikey made the varsity football team in ninth grade and also won four state championships as a wrestler. He had gotten strong, trying to move the rock that stood in the way of the swing set he wanted.

On signing day during his senior year, Mikey signed a scholarship letter of intent for a full ride to one of the most prominent football universities in the south. Later, he asked his dad, “Are you ever going to move that rock?”

“Why should I? Look what it did for you,” his dad responded.

“What do you mean?” Mikey asked.

With a grin, his dad explained. “Mikey, since you were six, you've tried to move that rock. You spent countless hours and broke a few hammers along the way. That rock never moved, but it did something for you I never could have. That rock made you strong. You might've hated it, but it made a man out of you. Your hard work, determination, strength, and perseverance all came from that rock. That rock is the reason you're going to college.” 

Sometimes the things that hinder us the most mold us into what God wants us to be. The trials we go through breed compassion for others, creating a desire to alleviate their suffering. They make us want to encourage others in their struggles. Those things we don't think we'll ever survive are the things that make us who we are.

Keep pounding the rocks in your life.

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The World Beyond Our Own

All walks of life come into this coffee shop.

I paused from typing to look around and sip my nice, warm. white-chocolate latte. A gentleman at the next table talked to someone’s face on his computer. Behind me, some sort of counseling session took place as one lady told about the difficulties in her life. The couple from the table in front of me headed for the door. When she realized she had forgotten her purse, she quickly returned for it.

So, who was this gentleman speaking to on his computer? Maybe family from far away? What exactly was this lady behind me going through? Why did the woman forget her purse? Was there something on her mind?

People are alone here—in couples, in small and large groups. Some in a hurry to grab a coffee and bagel and others to have a nice lunch while dining in. Whether it’s a woman by herself, staring off in a blank gaze while sipping her third cup, or the waitress who served her that coffee, we all have a story. We all have trials and burdens that weigh us down from time to time. But this shouldn’t stop us from stepping out of our own world and into someone else’s.

God wants us to love and care for one another. Unfortunately, I have missed numerous opportunities to learn more about someone and their situation. I could pray with them or for them, as well as offer help or a listening ear. Even a smile in their direction could make all the difference.

We have the God-given ability to share the love of Christ that He so generously shows us. If we are willing, God will use us as a blessing to someone. So often, we are caught up in the busyness of life and with good reason as it becomes more difficult to keep up with the daily demands and challenges—and hopefully some good times too.

But don’t forget every now and then to look up from your latte. In blessing someone else, you just may be blessed yourself.

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When the Wind Blows

Charles Spurgeon wrote, “The Lord will make a way for you where no foot has been before. That which, like a sea, threatens to drown you, shall be a highway for your escape.”

The Israelites were trapped. On all sides, danger loomed. The Red Sea was before them, deep enough to drown them. The Egyptian chariots pressed on their heels, threatening to kill them or to take them captive back into desert enslavement to perform forced labor in camps controlled by harsh overlords. Their situation seemed impossible to escape.

Having no place to turn, Moses stretched his staff over the waters and called upon the Lord. God did something profound, using invisible powers beyond the capacity of human ingenuity and seemingly impossible from a human perspective. He made a way of escape.

Although the Israelites could not see the wind blowing across the waters, the evidence of its existence was seen and heard by all. God separated the waters and dried the sand, providing a highway of escape for His worried, weary, but waiting children. Every Israelite walked over on dry land, and as the pursuing enemies charged, the Lord closed the sea, swallowing them in a watery grave.

The miracle God performed in Moses’ day is a profound message about the miracles He wants to accomplish in our lives. When we find ourselves in a situation that seems impossible to escape, we need only ask Him for help. As we give Him time and space to work, we might not see or comprehend how He is accomplishing His will at first, but the evidence of the Spirit’s involvement will eventually be seen and heard by all. God will provide a highway of escape when we are worried, weary, and waiting.

If you are facing what seems like an impossible situation, ask God for help. Entrust the problem into His capable hands.

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God's Sin Lists

A young man once expressed his opinion to me about the Bible: “All it’s good for is to tell me I should not do the things I want to do.”

Sadly, he taught this opinion to his children, which is not uncommon when a person has ill feelings about the Bible. This concerned me because the children he was teaching this to were my grandchildren.

As a twig bent in the wrong direction grows in that direction, so these dear children were being affected. I decided to bring out my study Bible and seek for God’s opinion of what constitutes sins and what their consequence are.

God reveals in the Bible certain behaviors He calls sins. Unfortunately, many hold the Bible is judgmental and promotes self-righteousness. But how can the Bible promote self-righteousness when it emphatically declares that all have sinned?

God’s sin lists in the Old and the New Testament include lists of ten when identifying sinful behavior. The Old Testament’s Ten Commandments, given in Deuteronomy 5 and Exodus 20, were central to God’s chosen people’s relationship with Him and hang on many walls today, including my home. The New Testament’s list of ten unrepentant sinful lifestyle categories that keep a person from entering the kingdom of heaven is revealed in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.

When we sin, God desires a turning away from that sin. What the Bible calls repentance and confession. An unrepentant sinful behavior is when we continue living in that chosen sin and suffer the consequences.

Let’s remember that confession and repentance are building blocks for a righteous life.

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While Still Connected

She left a detailed message for someone whom she thought was absent…but who was there all the time.

Years ago, when I worked at a large church, my desk was among those of several other employees. Hearing each other’s phone calls wasn’t unusual. Usually, I managed to concentrate on my own work and tune them out, but one time a co-worker’s call caught my attention because she left such a detailed message for her husband—who was one of our pastors. 

My first thought was that she could just walk down the hall and talk to him. Then I realized he might be out, and the message couldn’t wait until she saw him at home. But just as I turned back to my computer, I saw him come in and step to her desk.

At first, she continued her call, but as she sensed his presence, she looked up. “Oh, hello!” she said, turning away from her phone. “I was just leaving you a message.” Then, she turned back to the phone and said, “Goodbye,” and hung up.

This is what happens when I pray but then forget God’s constant and ongoing presence. I think I have to fill Him in on all the details of my problem—as if I need to educate the omnipresent and omnipotent Lord of the Universe on my small difficulties.

God is quite familiar with all my problems and their required solutions. He not only hears what I ask for but also knows the answers and has provided them. And all for my benefit and His glory.

Remember, God is always with you and has answers for anything you face.

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Divine Interruptions

Busy working upstairs in my office, I was surprised—and a little annoyed—when my husband insisted I come downstairs. Now!

I put my work aside and went to see what was so urgent. What I found was a young woman on my front porch with a soaking-wet blanket wrapped around her. Barefoot and with little clothes on, she shivered … both from fear and the cold. She had surprised by husband by appearing at the basement door where he worked on a project.

The woman had run away from an abusive husband (or maybe boyfriend), darted barefoot through the woods behind our house (in the rain), and slept underneath a utility trailer in our backyard (piled with sharp pieces of metal and wood). Pitiful, confused, and hardly able to look us in the eye, she needed help—not to mention food and warm clothes.

My day was planned, my schedule full. But God apparently had another plan. What He sent me that day was a divine interruption.

Jesus experienced many interruptions as He went about His business. But He gladly stopped for each one to show the love of God to those who were hurting.

In our fast-paced world, we are often too busy to help someone in need. Sometimes, we resent the interruption, but we should always be ready to stop and show God’s love.

Chuck Swindoll says:

The One who said, “Be still and know that I am God,” must hurt when He witnesses our frantic, compulsive, agitated motions. In place of a quiet, responsive spirit, we offer Him an inner washing machine—churning with anxiety, activity, resentment, and impatience.

Admittedly, I wasn’t happy at first when called away from my tight schedule. But as it turned out, my husband and I had the opportunity to feed and clothe someone in desperate need. We’ve never seen or heard from the woman again, and probably won’t, but my prayers still go with her. Hopefully, the seed that was planted will produce a harvest in her life. What started as an irritation ended up a blessing.

What about you? Are you too busy for a divine interruption?

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The Ring

I once lost a cherished ring my husband had given me.

Every day afterward, I grieved over losing it and even purchased another one. But nothing could replace my ring.

My brother-in-law, Rick, was born on October 24. For years, I confused the date of his birthday, thinking it was on the 23rd. Every year when I called him on the day before, he would say, “You know, my birthday is tomorrow?” Then, we would laugh. One year, I was determined to get it right. On the morning of the 24th, I called his phone and was surprised when my sister answered.

“Hey! Where’s Rick?” I asked, thinking I finally had it right.

In a soft, pain-filled voice, she said, “Rick passed away this morning.”

I tried to process her words as they passed slowly through my mind. Am I really hearing what she just said? I can’t be hearing this. Today is his birthday.

Rick was a big brother to me—kind, funny, childlike. When my sister said he was gone, I broke in more ways than I could ever imagine. For the next few days, as I awaited the news of his home going service, I felt bottomless grief. Although I knew he was with the Lord, I kept asking, “Why?”

As the days lingered, I had trouble focusing on everyday life. One day, while I was getting dressed and wading through a river of tears, I dug past the clutter in my makeup drawer and noticed a shiny round object. My ring. Something treasured that I thought I had lost.

God’s Spirit impressed upon me that the things I lose are never really lost. I knew He was talking about Rick.

Sometimes, God allows us to lose precious things, like my ring, to teach us spiritual truths. I look forward to the day when I will see Rick again. Jesus’ resurrection guarantees it.

Thank God that with Him nothing is ever lost.

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Dusting Yourself Off

“I cannot believe you just did that!” Ronnie groaned, while putting his hands on top of his head as if in pain.

Sometimes, we work continually at something, only to watch it crash and burn. Such was the case for me in 2009 at the NC Truck Driving Championship. After several years of choking under pressure, I'd finally redeemed myself. I'd just out-driven every driver in my class except one. All the hours of staying after work, practicing on Saturdays, and even practicing in the rain had paid off.

With a sigh of relief, I released my seatbelt, opened the door, took one step on the fuel tank, and then back onto the ground. I didn't realize it immediately, but I'd exited the truck without using a three-point exit. A 25-point penalty resulted. Second place disappeared and I fell to fourth place.

I slowly walked back to our team tent in disgust, knowing I'd let everyone down. I've never been so sick to my stomach. For two years, I lived with the anguish of knowing I'd cost myself a trip to the nationals in Houston, Texas. A week in Houston getting VIP treatment, gifts, and a free vacation. All gone because of one momentary lack of concentration.

I lived with that until 2011, occasionally being reminded of it by coworkers, but I didn't quit competing. I doubled down, worked harder, and won third place a week before surgery ended my career.

When we’re in distress and things are bad, we sometimes have to encourage ourselves, just as David did. We cannot let our past defeat us and make us afraid of the present. David went on to win battles. He encouraged his men and became a great king. He didn't allow past mistakes and failures to define him.

We can never lead others to God's forgiveness until we learn to forgive and encourage ourselves. Sometimes, we just have to get up and dust ourselves off.

Don’t let life’s dust keep you down.  

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Unexpected Guests for Church

My church, like so many others during the season of COVID, did not meet in person. All our services were online.

Going to church for me meant taking my iPad to the backyard patio, which is nestled under a canopy of trees, and sliding into a wicker chair in my sanctuary. Usually, the only ones attending were me, my little dog Charlie, a few birds, and a few squirrels. But one Sunday, we had unexpected company.

About ten minutes before church, a pair of seventy-pound black lab-mix dogs bounded in as the garage door opened. The boys were so sweet—and so lost. They had collars, but no clear identification. They were eager to go wherever I went, so I led them to the sanctuary, hoping to reunite them with their owner after the service. It wasn’t exactly on my agenda to have two large dogs attend church with me that day, but I got them some water and food, and we all settled down as the pipe organ began to play.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us not to forget to show hospitality to strangers, for sometimes we might entertain angels without realizing it. I’m not saying these dogs were angels, although they did mysteriously appear and were lovable. But as I set out to take the dogs home, I had a dozen opportunities to offer hospitality to strangers—people in the online pet-finder community, various vet techs, and others. All divine appointments I didn’t know I would have that day.

Thanks to microchipping, we discovered the dogs’ owner, who was a neighbor up the street I had been praying for. Entertaining her dogs was an avenue for future connection.

Missing the subtle ways God works is easy. We can be too focused on our own agenda. Divine opportunities can seem like interruptions or inconveniences. Today, let’s ask God for eyes to see Him in action and hearts that practice hospitality and kindness.

Be prepared. You never know whom you may entertain.

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Don't Lean on Your Own Understanding

“I don’t understand … I just don’t understand,” my friend said.

It would be impossible to count the number of times those words have come out of my own mouth. When life happens and events don’t go according to my plan, my brain shifts into overdrive, trying to figure out what’s going on. I dissect the situation, overanalyze it, and look at it from every possible angle, searching for peace. Yet I still don’t get it.

But maybe I’m not supposed to.

Sarah Young writes in Jesus Calling:

Understanding will never bring you peace. That’s why I have instructed you to trust in me, not in your understanding. Human beings have a voracious appetite for trying to figure things out in order to gain a sense of mastery over their lives. But the world presents you with an endless series of problems. As soon as you master one set, another pops up to challenge you. ~Jesus

What I’m learning is that I don’t have to understand anything. All I have to do is trust the One who knows and understands everything.

Proverbs 3:5-6 have become my life verses. When I trust the Lord with my whole heart—instead of what my head tells me—and allow Him to be involved with everything that concerns me, He promises to direct my path. I love the way the Message puts it: “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; He’s the one who will keep you on track.”

Stop trying to figure everything out. Trust the Lord. Listen for His voice. That’s when you’ll find true and lasting peace.

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Suffering Is a Good Thing

No one will get out of this life without tragedy and suffering.

The subject of suffering has preoccupied my mind lately because so many face overwhelming straits. As I prayed about how hard and desperate situations fit into God’s plan, several thoughts came to me.

Our problems are put into perspective when we see a young person who is crippled and cannot move or a blind person. And many who look rich and free are full of pain and pressure.

Suffering is individual, so no one can carry another person’s suffering. After all, what is a cold and rainy day compared to a day in prison? Branches that are bent and have grown in the wrong way must be pruned. And if a heart is unhealthy because of sin, it must be cleaned less it kill the potential of a healthy future.

After these thoughts came, I asked God for insight from His Word. God reminded me that people have always suffered. The prophets were an example of suffering and patience, yet God’s Word says God will call His children to glory after they have suffered for a while. A Christian with the correct attitude exults in tribulations, which provide us the opportunity to grow in our faith and in our relationship with the Lord.

Life does not come on a silver platter. Even the rich find their silver tarnishes easily. Almighty God teaches us the world does not owe us a living. We gain self-respect by faith’s perseverance and through living a life that believes our Father knows best in all things—including the trials He allows us to face.

When our minds and hearts believe pain is not bad, but good, we lessen the experience of pain and its results. Let God show you that suffering can be a good thing.

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Our True Hero

Seeing imperfections in our heroes confirms that God is our only true hero.

I once joined a meeting with some seasoned Christian leaders. I was a young leader and stood in awe of them. But when a divisive issue arose, fire and fury flew back and forth. Looking back, this experience benefited me. I learned even good leaders were a lot like me: not so perfect all the time.

David was a man after God’s own heart, yet he once went over to the enemy. Subsequently, he feigned insanity to stay alive. In the end, the evil king Achish that David joined forsook him. Unbelief always leads to disappointment.

David’s experience is not an isolated story in the Bible. Elijah, after his great victory over Baal on Mount Carmel, ran in fear from Queen Jezebel. After saying he would die for the Lord, Peter denied Him three times. At times, the history of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—along with their descendants—reads like a trashy novel. The Bible records that even the best of us have clay feet.

We don’t like to hear things like this about our heroes, but God has a message for us. He uses imperfect people to accomplish His perfect will. We should never place our security in mere flesh. Although God is concerned with bad behavior, if He waited to use us until all our ducks were in a row, He would delay a long time.

Unflattering stories about our Bible heroes can encourage us. They remind us the true hero in all our stories is the Lord Jesus. If God can use the fallible characters described in the Bible, He can show His glory through flawed people like us. 

Don’t let past failures keep you from being a hero for God.

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Still Producing Fruit

It stood in all its glory.

Sporting crusty brown leaves and broken branches, hanging by threads of green protoplasm and limp leaves, and teetering because of its top-heavy configuration, my cherry tomato plant had to be bolstered by a plastic framework and a stick. I bought the plant at the beginning of summer and placed it on my deck. Nothing else could fit in the garden. Zucchini leaves and rhubarb would either overshadow or smother it.

Much to my chagrin, the plant’s location was perilous. The wind blew the helpless vegetable off the deck enumerable times. The plant then toppled two feet to the ground below, landing on its side and expelling soil from its plastic pot.

I tried to protect the plant by leaning it against our barbeque, but I was often unaware of the wind’s velocity. When I checked on it, I found I was too late. It had already become a victim.

Every morning, I water my various plants to keep them viable. While watering the tomato plant one day, I was amazed that this wounded entity still produced vast quantities of tomatoes. As I gazed at it, I realized the tomato plant was me.

I am almost eighty and a past victim of lymphoma, aches and pains in my hips and knees, and a sleeping disorder. Like the plant, I’m broken in many ways but can still produce fruit—the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. Although infirmed and damaged, I can also nurture others with God’s fruit.

So, there you have it. The tomato plant and I are kindred spirits. Damaged, yet still struggling to fulfill the task given to me by the Creator. I love that plant, and God loves us both.

What fruit are you still producing for God?

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His Words

“I’m sorry, but we won’t be able to work together anymore.”

My brain quickly translated my boss’ announcement to the bottom line: I was losing my job.

My throat tightened, and my heart beat faster as thoughts of the consequences of this devastating news flooded my mind. We were raising four children, and my husband had just retired from the military and returned to college. How could we survive financially without my income from this job?

Then, I heard these words: “That’s okay. I don’t know what I’ll do, but I know God will provide for me.”

Who said that? Wait. I said that? Where did those calm, confident words come from? It was all I could do just to breathe. But deep down I knew what had happened. God spoke through me to give witness to the boss of my ultimate faith in the Lord’s provision.

Jesus warned His disciples they would encounter daunting situations in the future. They would be arrested, placed on trial, and face death. They would appear before the authorities on His account to give witness. But they need not worry about what to say because at the appropriate time, the Spirit would speak through them.

We will inevitably find ourselves in difficult situations at some point. But we are not alone when we respond to the challenges facing us. We can rely on God to provide His words for us to speak to give witness for Him.

Trust God for the words you need when you need them.

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Dial in God's Voice

My wife loves her clunky, old-fashioned radio with its round dial that tunes in AM stations.

To listen to a program without static, she extends the antennae with her left hand, then stands on one foot while stretching her arm in the air—as if she were an antennae extension. Carefully, she turns the knob with her right hand until she reaches a station with clarity.

Like that radio, listening to God’s voice requires tuning in. We must dial in our hearts with sensitivity to hear God’s voice speaking to our soul.

Three disciples accompanied Jesus up the mountain for His time of prayer when the unimaginable happened. Jesus’ face and clothing transformed with glory, and Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with Him. While the stunned disciples decided what to do, a cloud enveloped them, and God told them what to do.

In my words, God said, “Don’t do anything, just listen!” How often are we talking or busying ourselves when God’s manifest presence passes by? God speaks to us all the time, but too often, distractions, self-focus, and the self-talk in our minds render us deaf to His voice. We miss the loving affirmations of the Father because we don’t slow down long enough to hear Him.

Cultivating the inner awareness of God’s Word and the Spirit is central to the Christian life. Living tuned in to God’s voice gives our life depth, clarity, and authority. One way to hear God’s prompting is to commit to read His Word. As we do, we can pause and listen for a phrase, word, or feeling that stirs our heart. When we hear it, we can linger there for several minutes—emptying our minds and discovering God’s voice.

Imagine what Jesus could do in our lives by the authority of His Spirit and His Word. What He could heal. What He might rebuke. Or what He would command to go. Negativity, addiction, doubt, lust, murmuring, pride.

God has wired us with senses to hear His inspiration. We can listen for His song, watch for His glory, and see that He is good. He created us to know His voice. And we can when we turn our dial to His station.

Tune out the noise, listen, and sit quietly. God will speak subtle words.

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Serving in the Basement

I followed her down the wooden steps that led to the basement.

At ninety-one, Mom moves cautiously, holding on to the railing as she descends the steep, narrow stairs. In one small room, mounds of large black plastic bags hold used, donated children’s clothing. The other room has a table for sorting. Shelves are lined with clear plastic tubs—each labeled with sizes, infants to five years old. After laundering, the unsoiled clothes are lovingly folded and put into tubs. When ready, they are taken upstairs to give away.

My mother volunteers eight hours a week, tucked away in the basement of an old brick house converted into a pregnancy center. She could sit back and enjoy these last years of her life—having raised ten children, retired from the Women’s Correctional Institution, and given most of her life to volunteerism. But she serves in the basement—not with fanfare or accolades, but in a quiet setting away from the public eye.

Service is not an option. Jesus calls us to lead productive lives, serving others and sharing our faith. In Luke 13, He told the parable of a man who planted a fig tree. When, after three years, it had produced no fruit, he ordered the useless tree cut down, asking why it even used up space. Jesus was warning that God would not tolerate a lack of productivity.

Genuine faith means serving others. A tree might look good when dressed in an array of leaves, but what good is it if it bears no fruit? We, too, can dress up and look like Christians but produce no fruit. Following Jesus means acting on what He says. We may not receive a call asking for our help, but we can make the call. We have been created in Christ to do good works—to share our faith. Even in a basement, we can impact our community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Seek out those who need your time or talent.

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It's Not Just Meant for Christmas

Peace. Joy. Love. Words that permeate the holiday season.

I love Christmas. Everything about it—the lights, the music, the decorations, Hallmark movies, and especially the birth of our Savior. Most of the time, my tree goes up before Thanksgiving—sometimes way before.

Christmas softens even the hardest heart. People are more considerate. They go out of their way to be kind and to do things for others they wouldn’t normally do. Good will abounds. It’s a magical time of year, filled with excitement and expectancy. Even children are on their best behavior because “Santa is watching.”

Joy and anticipation surround the entire holiday season, but what happens on December 26? For many, the lights go out, the music stops, the tree comes down, and the decorations are packed away for another year. Joy is replaced by grumbling about the upcoming year. Peace and good will fall by the wayside.

For weeks, we experience everything that comes with this blessed time of year. Then, like a flash, those things are packed away with the decorations. Back to business as usual. It’s anticlimactic. And to me, the saddest day of the year.

Christmas is meant to be a celebration of Jesus’ birth. A time to remember. To love. To give.  But it shouldn’t happen for only a few days during the year. That feeling should dwell in our heart every day.

The song says, “We need a little Christmas all year long.” To that I say, “Amen!” As God’s children, we should be the most joyful people on earth. People who are filled with His peace and who spread His love to the world—not just during the holidays, but each day of the year.

After all … peace, joy, and love are not just meant for Christmas, right?

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Liquid Fire

Falling snow paved my walk to our village church on Christmas Eve long ago.

I was the new pastor of a small New England church. I expected the Light of the World to visit us as we celebrated Jesus’ birth. I prepared early for a full house of worshippers at my first Christmas Eve service. Life could not have been better—until it wasn’t.

The woman who baked Jesus’ birthday cake in the shape of a cross arrived early. We were celebrating Jesus’ birthday, and He should have a cake. I expounded on the idea with the thought, “Why don’t we conclude the service with everyone lighting their candles as we sing ‘Silent Night?’ Then we’ll proceed to the front of the church and put our candles in the cake.” My idea seemed bright until peace on earth almost became hell in church.

Two hundred souls crowded into the church that night. Children fidgeted during Scripture readings. People sang Christmas carols with gusto while angels sang harmony. Ushers distributed the communion elements, and everyone partook. The Christmas Eve service seemed perfect, and the time arrived for the grand finale.

Directing people toward the four-foot-long birthday cake, I gave the instructions: “Ushers, turn out the lights and ignite the candle of each person. Let’s sing, ‘Silent Night’ as we pass by the cake.”

The radiant glow grew with intensity as people placed their candle in the shining cake. Two hundred wax candles accumulated, and the cake transformed from beaming to blazing. As the wax melted, liquid fire flowed off the cake onto the floor. I thought, Lord, I’m going to burn down the church!

Miraculously, the fire went out as soon as the flames hit the floor—no one fried that night. “Praise God in the highest,” the angels surely sang. The ushers flicked the lights on, and the parishioners exited, glad to be alive.

I’m thankful God’s grace kept us from burning up that night. I’m reminded that Jesus came to save sinners of whom I am chief. I learned Christmas is not about candles, cakes, or carols, but entirely about a Savior who became one of us.

I went home a humbler man as I realized God was preparing me for the birth of His Son in my heart.

Choose to focus on Jesus this Christmas, and be careful with your candles.

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The Painful Process of Pruning

When pruning a plant, the gardener places his sheers to the branch and snips.

“Ouch,” the plant would cry if it had feelings. Yet we know this process is good for the plant because pruning causes a branch to bear more fruit.

But what does it look like when God, the Master Gardener, prunes our life? God calls the Church to be a healing balm to a broken world. To bear fruit, our branches—our lives—require pruning.

Unfortunately, pruning is painful. We recoil whenever we experience physical pain. In the same way, we often avoid mental and emotional pain by self-medicating with things like food, shopping, entertainment, or social media—anything to help numb the hurt we’re experiencing deep down in our hearts. But these are worldly coping mechanisms.

The Christian life should be different. We aren’t called to avoid suffering but to embrace it—to pick up our crosses and follow Christ. Pain doesn’t always come from God, but He certainly works all things—including the painful things—together for our good. This enables us to bear more fruit. For His Glory. For His Kingdom.

Just as a grape must be crushed to make wine—and just as an olive must be pressed to produce oil—so, too, we must endure a type of transformational crushing, a pressing, before the anointing flows. The only way to get there—the only way to bear the sweet, life-giving fruit this broken world desperately needs—is by abiding in the True Vine, Jesus Christ, and allowing Him to walk us through the painful process of pruning.

Whatever trials you face, depend on God grace to endure so you can bear much fruit.

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My Sacred Space

In the morning, the world and my day are fresh and new.

I dress with a smile and keep going. For older people like me, attendance at church was not advised during the COVID-19 pandemic. I once gathered in a sacred space, prayed together, and received blessings as I worshipped the true Eternal Love with others. But during the pandemic, I explored faith at home. We all missed our faith community.

During this time, I prayed for inner calm as I built my own sacred space in my heart and in my home. These places were never empty. I awoke in the quiet stillness of the early dawn—before the routines of each day—lit a candle, and rejoiced in contemplation. This was my happy hour where I focused on the divine.

In my sacred space, I have a little statue of Jesus and the Holy Family that carries the simple message, “HOPE.” I turn my days ahead over to Jesus, asking Him to provide my household with hope and positive plans. I must always open my own eyes to seek greater understanding of Jesus’ mission on earth and to create a sacred space in my personal life.

Anyone can practice a sacred space by aiming to be a person of God and by walking humbly in the path of Jesus Christ. By doing this, we make our little corners of the world a part of God’s sacred space where we petition Jesus for comfort, healing, guidance, and an attitude of gratitude for what we have.

Why not create your own sacred space?  

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The Gratitude List

The discussion on a popular sitcom was the annual gratitude list.

Every year at Thanksgiving, each family member made a list of things for which they were most grateful. Some called it “goofy,” but others viewed it as a vital part of the holiday.

While it’s good to give thanks on a day set apart for that very reason, God expects more from His children. His desire is for us to have a grateful heart—a heart full of thanks-giving and praise—24/7. Some call it an attitude of gratitude.

We’re told throughout the Scriptures to give thanks in every situation, never forgetting or taking for granted God’s benefits. Why? Because this is His will

David was a man after God’s own heart, yet he had to remind himself continually to be grateful. In Psalm 103, he says, “Let all that I am praise the Lord; may I never forget the good things He does for me.” Then he goes on to list those good things:

  • He forgives all my sins.
  • He heals all my diseases.
  • He redeems me from death.
  • He crowns me with love and tender mercies.
  • He fills my life with good things.
  • He renews my youth like the eagles.

Do you have a gratitude list? If not, you’re welcome to borrow David’s because it applies to every child of God. But don’t just use it one day a year. Make it a daily, moment-by-moment habit.

A heart full of gratitude and a mouth filled with praise and thanksgiving are what our Father desires—and what He deserves.

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Blotches and Blobs

Jenna was aghast.

She and her artist friend Sue had stepped into the kitchen, leaving the newly completed painting on the easel while little Carrie played nearby. But when they returned to the room, the canvas bore some changes. What had been a scene of a country cottage with a broad lawn now sported a blotch: a yellow blob of paint applied by a childish hand.

“Oh, Sue, I’m so sorry!” Jenna took the brush from Carrie. “Can you fix it?”

Sue thought for a moment—and was about to shake her head—but then paused. “It’s an unusual shape,” she said. “But maybe…” Then, looking up, she said, “Let’s see what I can do.” 

Later, when the painting was exhibited, viewers approved, as did the critics. “Such a unique approach,” said one. “Bright, colorful, and unexpected,” commented another.

What they saw was the original view of the cottage and the lawn, but in the re-make, Sue had incorporated Carrie’s yellow blotch into a flower garden with one bright yellow bloom. Simply put, Sue used Carrie’s mistake—the blob—to turn the scene into something of unique beauty.

When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, they put a blotch on Joseph’s life, but God used the mistake to benefit Joseph and the Jews.

Often, the same happens in our lives when we try to follow God’s plan but produce blotches or blobs. Some mistakes we might even think make us unsuitable to continue. God doesn’t see it that way. He’s ready to forgive us. And when it comes to our mistakes, the Lord, like Sue, can incorporate the blotch to enhance and complete His plans for us. After all, He’s a master of turning blobs into blessings that benefit us and bring Him glory.

Let God turn your blotch into something beautiful.

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Optional Homework

I received the phone call prior to my senior year in college.

I had avoided college algebra like the plague. Now, here I was with no other option. The first couple of weeks were bearable as I sat in the back of the room. At the end of every lecture, my professor assigned optional homework. She never took a grade and didn’t ask to see it. Ever. This baffled me. Why would a teacher assign optional homework? Even stranger, she assigned the problems that had the answers listed in the back of the book.

Week three came around, and I was lost. I decided to go to the tutor lab and try some of the professor’s optional homework. I still did not understand, even after checking my answers with the ones in the back of the book. I decided to try something new.

During the next class, I moved to the front of the room. When my professor asked if anyone had questions, I slowly slid my hand up. She explained the concept in a way that finally made sense. I followed her, took notes, and did not get lost. For the first time in my life, I chose to ask questions and do optional homework after every class. I finally succeeded at math.

Showing up every day and taking notes didn’t make me successful. Going the extra mile, putting in those hours of practice, humbling myself, and adjusting my attitude did.  

Paul compared the Christian life to that of an athlete. For our lives to honor Jesus, we must go the extra mile and do the optional homework. Doing so requires hours of practice, humility, and an attitude change. The work may challenge us and make us feel uncomfortable. We may need help. And we will definitely need to rely on Christ and our Christian friends. But doing the optional homework is always better in the end.

Do the optional homework that will help you grow into Christlikeness—no matter how hard it may seem.

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What Are You Expecting?

In June of 1970, I sat across the desk from my pastor for a hastily called meeting.

No mention of an agenda had been made, and I imagined all sorts of bad outcomes. With barely one year of college under my belt, I reviewed all my undiscovered sins and wondered which ones had come to light. My pastor was a no-nonsense, authoritarian sort of man. I had been called to the holiest room I had ever visited. Surely, I was headed for excommunication.

Starting the meeting with a few harmless questions about college and life, the pastor soon jumped right to the point. He explained that a small church in Ohio was asking for someone to come lead their summer music and youth ministry. He and the deacons agreed I was the best choice for the position.

Shock and amazement swallowed up my imagined trial. I was speechless and stared at him in unbelief. Once I recovered from the surprising offer, I spent that night in prayer. The next morning, I accepted the position, and God has surprised me ever since.

We all have experiences that jolt us from our expectations. We often carry a low forecast for our days, taking another lap around the block with a few twists and turns. Our lives become predictable and ordinary. Our expectations are self-fulfilling and often tiresome. Events fall into predictable categories, and our days are unremarkable.

Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now. Though wedding celebrations hold a special place on our calendars, John does not mention anything extraordinary about this one. The attendees and supporting staff reveled through a day of ceremony, filled with tradition and customs.

Everything went fine until an embarrassing social faux pas threatened to spoil the party. Running out of wine could have ruined an important day. Jesus provided more wine, but it was wine from a divine press. His wine proved superior to the first offering. And His intervention took a disintegrating celebration and turned it into an unexpected miracle.

As we prepare to worship, we need to expect something so we won’t sleepwalk through another service. And so that if the unanticipated happens, we’ll be in on it?

Jesus comes to your worship. Expect Him to do something.  

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Lifting Wings

Raptors are lazy–or at least they appear so.

Raptors are large birds like hawks, falcons, vultures, eagles, and other birds of prey. They soar high in the sky, gliding in wide circles with little wing movement. We might think they should be looking for food instead of lazily floating with outspread wings. In fact, they are actually looking for their next meal. Their languid flying is how they do it.

Isaiah used the image of high-flying raptors when he described how “those who hope in the Lord” would soar “or mount up with wings like eagles” as they rise up to serve God. An interesting image. Just as raptors use a natural phenomenon called thermals to soar, so we use a spiritual thermal to do the same.

Thermals are heated updrafts of air, created when sun-heated air near the ground rises in a column and then dissipates as it cools. Raptors use these rising air columns to give them the added lift they need to soar and get a wide view of the earth below so they can spot their prey and then swoop down with outstretched talons.

And divine thermals for us? God’s supporting promises give us lift as we face adversity. When I struggle with an insolvable adversity, I often flounder in gloom and depression, desperate for a way out. As I gradually realize the futility of such misery, I also know God has provided the remedy: His unchanging promises that are mine to claim and seize. Once I add my faith, I can soar above the difficulty with a new perspective, seeing God’s solution and receiving His strength to work with it.

So are raptors lazy? No. They just know to use God’s provision to get what they need. Have you learned that lesson?  

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Abigail's Grace

Looking through the glass partition in the prison, I had an epiphany.

When I was a public-school teacher, I had a teacher friend who had experienced a moral failure, got fired, and was charged with a crime. While visiting him in jail—talking over a phone and looking through a window—I realized that but for the grace of God I could be where he was. Not for his particular sin necessarily, but for many others. I had been foolish and ignorant in many ways, yet forgiven by God.

As his name suggests, Nabal was a fool. He was an evil and ill-tempered man who had only one thing going for him: a gracious wife named Abigail. Nabal had returned evil for good to David. David left with his men to teach Nabal a lesson, but Abigail sprang into action and put together gracious gifts of food for David before her husband could carry out his plan.

Abigail showed respect for David and took responsibility for her husband's wrong actions by interceding for her scoundrel husband. She then gave David a reason to be gracious by suggesting that Nabal was ignorant, rather than just evil.

Our sin always carries some deception. If we understood the consequences, we would not sin. On the cross, Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." He understood the evil in His enemies’ hearts, yet He chose to dwell on their ignorance rather than their intentional actions.

Mercy always triumphs over judgment. Often there is a thin line between willful and ignorant behavior. Grace is sometimes better shown when we choose to look at people’s behavior as ignorant rather than intentional.

Abigail was the heroine in this story, and Nabal was the villain. David withheld the sword from Nabal, leaving the vengeance to God, who later took care of Nabal. Fools often tempt us to act in foolish ways. Grace intervened in David's life. When looking upon sinners like Nabal, we should remind ourselves that but for God's grace, there go we.

Ask God to help you show others the same grace He has shown you.

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The Wrong Road, the Right Turn

My wife and I were traveling to my son’s home in another part of the state.

I had entered his address in the GPS and was following the given directions. We made good time, and the journey was pleasant with a lot of beautiful sights and sunshine along the way.

As we got closer to his town, the GPS told me to make a right turn onto a secondary road. Unsure, and a little hesitant, I made the turn. As my wife and I traveled down the road, trees on both sides shaded the road until they blocked out the sunlight. Soon, it grew darker, and my GPS went silent. We both became somewhat fearful because we didn’t know where we were or where the road might lead.

I told my wife I was going to turn around and return to the main highway because I felt sure this was the wrong way. She agreed. Once we got back to the main highway, I realized the right way was a little farther up. I had turned too soon.

Once I reached the next road and turned right, the sunlight returned, and the GPS gave me assurance we were going in the right direction. Soon, we arrived at our destination, and our son, daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren greeted us with hugs.

Getting on the wrong road and going the wrong way is easy. If we do, we need to turn around and get back on the road that leads to the Father in heaven. He waits for our arrival. In the meantime—as we travel the right road—we need to listen to God’s Word because it will keep us going the right way as we journey through life.

Are you on the right road?

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You Never Know

He hadn’t sung the song since kindergarten, but he had no trouble remembering it.

Bob leads a Bible study. One Tuesday, he sang a song he had learned as a kindergartener. The seed planted in his heart years ago remained. He wasn't raised in a Christian home, but he was raised in a time when America feared God. In his early twenties, he trusted Christ as his Savior. Now, he leads a Bible study and pastors a church.

We never know who we are influencing. Peter and the other disciples were thinking of earthly things over spiritual things, so Jesus addresses their mistake.

Many who think they'll receive a big reward in heaven may not get all the rewards they anticipate. Some may wind up with nothing. But the person behind the scenes who prayed for them—or who witnessed to them—may get the reward. Another example would be the person who is on their death bed and decides to trust Christ. Their reward may be as large as that of the person who led them to Christ.

We never know if the person we lead to Christ might in turn lead thousands, even millions, more to the Lord. Many unknown faithful followers of Christ will receive great rewards in heaven.

Be faithful to God, even if no one knows you name. You might be in store for a larger reward than you can imagine.

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Burning-Bush Moments

“Lord, do you even see what I’m going through?” I asked.   

I remember the day I was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for my boys’ school lunches—a typical morning chore. As I slathered peanut butter on one slice of bread and jelly on the other, I called out to God about something weighing on my heart.

As I turned to put the sandwich into the lunch box, I noticed a plaque on the wall that read, Be still and know that I am God. I had seen the plaque every day for months, but this time the words burned into my soul. I knew God was there. That’s the day God showed me the reality of burning-bush moments.

In the hustle and bustle of life, I take for granted the burning-bush moments God uses to get my attention. Just as I went about my morning routine, making sandwiches for my boys, Moses was going about his daily business of tending sheep. One day, however, God offered him a burning-bush moment.

Burning bushes were common to shepherds tending sheep in the middle of the desert. But what caught Moses’ attention was that the fire did not consume the bush. Moses couldn’t keep walking without taking notice of this common yet uncommon sight.

God used something in Moses’ everyday life to get his attention. God also uses common things to get our attention. Loading the dishwasher, folding laundry, or making lunch. He doesn’t have to use grand gestures for us to encounter Him.  

I love burning-bush moments because they provide the opportunity to see God in the mundane. And like Moses, God waits for us to respond with “Here I am.” He wants us to stop what we’re doing and see His great sight.  

Don’t let the significance of the routine things pass you by. Take time to turn aside so that you can see God in the mundane. He will speak to you in your circumstances and provide burning-bush moments that will change your life.

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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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(For more devotions, visit Christan Devotions.)

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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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)

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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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)

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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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)

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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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)

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.