A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Faith & Family

Faith is a vital role in the family unit. It draws us together. Holds us tight. Binds us with the ties of God. Keeping faith in our families secures the values of Christ are embedded in our children

Sacrifice of Praise

Two days off from work and I was ready.

My supervisor had been upset all week—stressed because of a personal problem—and appeared to take her anger out on me. As I pulled into my driveway one Friday, I was thankful the work week had ended.

I was driving a friend’s car because my old car was in the shop again. As I sat in the driveway, I reached into my purse for my door key—but it wasn’t there. It was inside the locked house.

Winter had arrived, and snow covered the ground. Wearing high heels, I slipped and stumbled through several inches of snow to a building for my stepladder. Carrying it back, I placed it under a kitchen window.

I pried off the screen and crawled through the window. As I did, the phone rang. Hurrying to answer it, I hit my arm. Picking up the receiver while rubbing my aching arm, I tried not to cry as I received more frustrating news.

After hanging up the phone, I sat at the kitchen table realizing I had two choices. I could give in to despair or praise God despite my problems. I chose the latter. My praise became a gift of sacrifice to my Lord.

Offering praise is the fruit of our lips, and God lovingly accepts our offering. He blesses when we willingly offer our praise to Him.

Eventually, the car problems were solved and tensions at work eased.

When you are tossed upon a turbulent sea of stress and fear, choose to offer God a sacrifice of praise.

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Seeking the Gift or the Giver

Why we follow God is crucial to our spiritual journey. 

When I worked with YWAM, we did an evangelistic outreach on July 4th at the National Mall in Washington, DC. We gave away chicken to draw people to our table so we could share Christ with them. Two hippies walked past our table. While one of them munched on a piece of chicken, I heard him say, “Yeah, just tell them you love Jesus and they will give you one.” I didn’t see the other guy come back, but if he did it would have been about his stomach, not his heart.

Jesus saw through the hypocrisy of many who sought Him. They pursued the temporal blessings rather than the eternal ones. They cared more about the gift than the giver.

I once attended a church where we believed God heard and answered prayers. People came with many needs. Some needed physical healing, others had marital problems, and still others needed financial miracles. On many occasions, God met those needs. But sometimes He didn’t.

Attendance waivered for some who didn’t have their prayers answered. Then we didn’t see them at all. Perhaps they were seeking the gift more than the giver.

Anytime we want what we can get from God more than we want God, we create an idol in our lives. Parents love to bless their children, but there are times when giving them what they want may not be the most loving thing to do. God also occasionally withholds from His children out of love.

God is good all the time. He is loving when He answers our prayers, when He says wait, and when He says no. Don’t love God only for what you can get from Him. Love Him because He is a loving Father. Seek the giver, not the gift. 

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Giving Thanks in All Circumstances

Let Him Say So

Routine. In prison routine is everything.

Perceived safety comes by having everything happen the same way day after day, week after week, month after month . . . and yes, year after year. There is safety in what is expected. The unexpected, the un-routine, gets you hurt. When daily routines go off the tracks, stress levels skyrocket. 

Another stressful time for anyone incarcerated are the holidays. The loss of family and holiday traditions play tricks with a man's head. I know. They did with mine. The memories of Thanksgivings past haunted me. At the same time, those memories blinded me to any sense of thanksgiving in my present circumstances. 

But giving thanks in all circumstances was exactly what the Word said I should do—especially in prison. The Word is filled with examples of thankful praise in prison. The Lord brought this home the first Thanksgiving of my incarceration. On that morning, an early announcement that we had the day off and that the chow hall would not be open for breakfast turned my world upside down. Instead, the chow hall would open at 10:00 am and remain open until 3:00 pm. We could go through the chow line as many times as we wanted. And not a chow line with the usual barely edible institutional food we were used to. Real roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, rolls, and fresh salad greeted us. All we could eat. 

That night as I stretched out on my bunk after the lights went out—still so full I could barely move—I thanked God for bringing alive His word. And I thought about what I had to be thankful for: I was breathing, my stomach was full, I had family who loved me, and most importantly, I had Jesus, the Son of the Living God, who loved me. Me . . . Kevin Spencer. Wow. And what could I say to Him, but, “Thank You, Lord.”

Your circumstances are never bigger than your thanksgivings. What are you thankful for today?

Let Her Say So

I must have looked like a caged tiger trying to shake off a tranquilizer, as I paced around the outer parameters of my jail cell.

It was the week of Thanksgiving, and I was certain no judge in that small southern town would be available to release me so I could be with my young son for the holiday. A lower bond was my only chance. I got lucky. By Christmas, however, I faced a similar predicament, with a twist.  I was innocent this time, but it was the most serious crime I had ever been accused of.  

I didn’t know it, but the road ahead was a journey I couldn’t avoid. Walking laps helped release my anger, but it was no escape from the magnitude of my situation. I knew I was losing everything, I knew I’d be a convicted felon, and I knew life would never be close to normal again. I was right.

Every year at this time, we’re encouraged to give thanks. As a Christian, I have struggled and prayed over this. I love you, Lord, but you know my life stinks! Please don’t expect me to be thankful. I ain’t feelin’ it.  

One lesson I’ve learned is to leave my feelings out of it. When I do, all is well with my soul.  When feelings take over, I have an ungrateful heart that is cold and indifferent to God’s mercy and love. Still, I’ve never been sure how to give thanks for “everything” without being pretentious.  One day I received a simple answer. We are to give thanks in all circumstances, not for all circumstances. 

It made sense. I’m sure the apostle Paul never said, “Thank you, Father, for these irritating chains and iron manacles ripping into my wrists and legs.” But Paul did praise God through his suffering. The prophet Daniel also gave thanks when he learned evil men wanted to destroy him. They were doing what is asked of every Christian: enduring hardships with gratitude, having faith, and being thankful.   

With Jesus in my heart, I always have something to be thankful for. I didn’t like falling, but I praise God for raising me up. I miss every lost year with my child, but I’m so thankful to God for my son’s precious life. 

Choose to be thankful—regardless of your circumstances.

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



In Control, Even in Chaos

Sometimes, conditions are perfect for massive storms to develop in our lives.

In 1979, a tropical disturbance formed in the Pacific. Initially, the storm was too small to name, but several meteorological conditions fueled it, and it soon morphed into Super Typhoon Tip. At its peak, the system stretched more than thirteen hundred miles, making it the most massive storm of all time.

As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.This verse reminds us that when the world feels as if it’s crumbling and everything seems to be going wrong, God is still in control. Joseph was dumped in a cistern by his brothers. Reuben, the oldest, intended to rescue him later, but when he momentarily stepped away, Joseph’s other brothers sold him as a slave to a band of Ishmaelites passing by on their way to Egypt.

Joseph was thirty when he entered Pharaoh’s service—fifteen years after he was sold. During those years, heartache occurred. Joseph may have had sleepless nights when he thought, If only my dad hadn’t given me that coat, elevating me above my brothers. If only I hadn’t shared the dreams that made my brothers jealous. If only Reuben had come back sooner. If only those Ishmaelites hadn’t passed by. If only ...

Ultimately, Joseph’s pain was purposeful. God was in control—even in the moment when everything went wrong and he was sold as a slave. We know this from Joseph’s own testimony. When he was reunited with his brothers many years later, he told them, “It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”

Our life storms may start off small, but as negative moments, words, and decisions build, they can morph into massive storms.

If you are going through difficult times where everything seems to be going wrong, or if you are struggling with regret because of the what ifs, remember God will use your pain for His glory. It is not senseless.

Lean into God for comfort during your storms. Ask Him to reveal His purpose in your pain.

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Receiving the Moments

Stepping forward to shake the hand of one of my favorite authors, my heart quivered to think I was actually talking to her.

With clumsy words tumbling from my lips, I knelt beside her chair for a picture. Then, my movements became as awkward as my words. Losing my footing, I grabbed the end table beside me to catch my balance, but the table—including the large plant it held, along with me in my clumsy glory—fell headlong into an empty fireplace. Fortunately, the scene was only witnessed by a few dozen people, the friend who invited me to the event, and Elizabeth Elliot.

That moment met with embarrassment and found me mentally slapping myself for not being able to hold myself together for a few minutes. Yet the story it gave me to tell always brings laughter. And laughter itself is a gift.

Tiny moments of life impact our hearts. An interaction doesn’t go the way we hoped, and the spirit we meet it with has the potential to carry us either into a corner where we are left hiding or into a state of brokenness. In my brokenness, I don’t deny the way I feel but rather receive my feelings as a gift from God for His purpose and in His timing. And this within the beautiful day He has made.

Many times, I’ve hidden when such feelings met me, and still God waits for me to boldly show Him my awkward pieces. His comfort always makes me fresh again.  

For every instance the Enemy hopes to back us into a corner, God waits for us in the sweet broken place. The day is His and we should rejoice.

Hold your moments loosely, knowing the day belongs to God. In the end, doing so will give you the gift of gladness—maybe even laughter.     

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Jealousy's Offspring

Where the gospel is concerned, success always breeds opposition.

Resistance to truth is conceived in the human heart through jealousy, and slander births it. The human heart inclines itself towards pride, which makes us elevate ourselves by denigrating others. 

Paul and Barnabas preached with much success in Antioch. Almost the entire city turned out to hear them. But the Jewish leaders resisted Paul and Barnabas—not because of their message but because of their popular teaching.

The gospel has a polarizing effect. A person either accepts it or organizes himself against it. Christians should never be surprised by the reaction to their message. The question is how we respond to accusations. We should never fight pride with pride. Our weapons for warfare are mighty, but not carnal. Our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12 NLT). If we allow the Enemy to entice us to fight the conflict on his level, the battle becomes about people and personalities. Even when we win, we lose.

Overcoming slander with more slander is like fighting fire with fire—it produces a larger blaze. Humility—which is strength under control—is better. Doing so brings credibility to our message.

Pastor Alistair Begg once said, “To return evil for good is devilish. To return good for good is human. To return good for evil is divine.” Sometimes, actions speak louder than words. Winning a soul is more important than winning an argument.

Jealousy and strife’s offspring, slander, never bring people to Christ. Don’t fall into the trap of slandering those who accuse you. 

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So - Words

Let Him Say So

In my whole life, I had never heard my dad use profanity—except once. 

I was twelve years old, and my family had been camping on the Blue Ridge Parkway at Mount Pisgah. We pulled out, and Dad was in line waiting to get gas at the pumps in front of the little camp store that served the campground. My younger brother, David, was in the front seat between Mom and Dad. I was in the back, sandwiched between my grandparents who had camped with us. 

Behind the car, Dad towed our Starcraft pop-up camper. The parking lot on top of 5000-foot Pisgah ridge is constricted where the camp store and gas pumps are. This particular Sunday afternoon in October, it was crowded with leaf-peepers, day-trippers, and people visiting the famous Pisgah Inn Restaurant. 

Suddenly, a car to our left backed straight toward us. Dad threw our Ford wagon in gear, but there was nowhere to go. We were hemmed in, and the driver of the other car paid no attention. Dad went to plan B and leaned on the horn. The other car skidded to a halt with only inches to spare from Dad’s driver door. Dad rolled his window down and cut loose with a string of profanity I had never heard him utter before, or since. Mom gasped while my grandfather quietly chuckled under his breath.

When I came home from prison to my parents’ house—despite my Christian heart—I had a foul mouth. Seven years in that hell of a sewer rubbed off on me in ways I didn’t even recognize. I had acquired the gutter language of prison.

It didn’t take long in the Christian home of my parents before my cussing sounded wretched in my ears . . . a stink in my nostrils . . . and I made the conscious effort to clean up my speech. My parents never said a word about it; they simply led by example.

We are new spirits as born-again Christians, but this fallen world can rub off on us in ways which we may never notice if we don’t constantly wash ourselves in God’s Word. Make sure your wedding clothes are ready for the Lord's return and His Great Wedding with His church.

Let Her Say So

Shut . . . up . . . !

Several expletives joined with those two words as I yelled through the vent at a woman in the next cell. I had been alone in solitary confinement for months, with no one occupying the only other cell in my isolated pod. Who was this woman? I wondered.

I didn’t grow up with that kind of potty mouth. In fact, certain words were so vulgar they never flowed past my lips. Somewhere in life, that changed. I couldn’t see the evil that had taken root in me. The world had become a disappointment, and my situation and other people were to blame. I simply reacted. 

The lady next to me had plenty of troubles—mental issues among them. She spoke with multiple (non-existent) people, making it hard for me to maintain my own sanity. Her constant chatter drove me over the edge. Although she only had a $100 bond, no one cared enough to get her out. And I had no compassion.  

Jesus taught us that everything that flows from the mouth originates from the heart. Without Christ, hate came from my heart. I was blinded by it. Hate pushed every button in me, from persistent anger to depression. 

After becoming a Christian, one of the first things I prayed for was that God would clean up my gutter language. Not many other things changed quickly, but my speech did. I felt God’s goodness in me. My words were, and are, an indication of what is in my heart. An evil man has an evil treasure in his heart, and out of it brings forth evil things (Mathew 12:35).

Not many days pass when I don’t think about the women I met in prison. I want prople to know what I discovered: words are the spontaneous manifestation of our true character. Real change begins with inviting Jesus Christ into our heart. 

If we ask, Jesus will carry us through our troubles and strengthen our resolve against the battles of our flesh. He will stand guard over our tongues so we’ll speak words of love and not hate.

Ask God to help you be justified—not condemned—by your words.  

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.) 

 



Trusting Strangers, Doubting God

I allowed a total stranger to place a drill into my mouth.

I’d been having a problem with a tooth for several weeks. Eventually, I stopped ignoring it and made a dental appointment. The dentist, who had just joined the dental group, examined my tooth and discovered a loose filling that needed replacing. With several sharp and noisy instruments, she began the procedure. Afterward, she gave me instructions and told me to return in a few weeks.

Later, it dawned on me how much we trust total strangers. I had never met this woman, yet I let her perform an uncomfortable procedure. We hop onto airplanes and into taxis operated by people we’ve never met. Complete strangers come into our homes to maintain our furnaces and install appliances. We take medicines prepared by people we don’t know.

So why do we have a hard time trusting God or believing a promise He’s given? Jesus’ disciples felt this tension. They encountered Jesus on a mountain after His resurrection. Although the risen Savior was in their presence, some doubted.

Our tendency to favor the material and natural over the immaterial and supernatural is a barrier to trusting God consistently. God knows this and has given us a resource to combat our tendency: faith. Jesus talked about its power often: “For I assure you: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20 HCSB).

Tiny faith does mighty things–even the tough stuff like trusting God in difficult circumstances or continuing to believe Him for a promise you’ve been awaiting for years. Doing so isn’t easy, but possible. To His children, “God has distributed a measure of faith to each one” (Romans 12:3b HCSB).

Let God teach you how to trust Him in all situations. 

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Living Waters

I wonder if living waters flow from me.

An old man lived in the Alpine forest, high above a village. The village hired him to clear rubbish from pools of water which fed the stream that flowed through the town. Faithfully, he removed leaves, branches, and accumulated silt that contaminated the fresh-water flow. The town possessed such a beautiful, clear stream that it became a popular tourist attraction.

One year, the town council questioned the salary paid to this obscure keeper of the stream and voted to cut expenses by eliminating his position. When fall arrived, trees shed their leaves and small branches snapped off and fell into the pools, impeding the flow of water. Within a few weeks, a slimy film covered sections of water and villagers detected a foul odor. Tourists left and some residents became ill. 

Realizing their error, the town council called a special meeting and rehired the keeper of the stream. Soon, the stream cleared and life in the town returned to normal.

When I heard this story, I thought about my stream and the debris that clogs it. Habits, gossip, pride, unforgiveness. Rotten leaves create a dam and keep water from flowing.

I understood my goal was to be so connected with Christ that living waters flowed from me so others may know Him. And I thought about Christ being the keeper who removes what litters my stream.

The danger of no keeper is subtle at first. I may not notice the fresh and flowing water becoming stagnant and still. But eventually, leaves of self and sin pile up, stink, and rot. Just like the town council, I can choose to value the role of the keeper and allow Him to work or I can let my stream stay clogged with stink and slime. 

The keeper of the stream is always willing to clean up our mess. He never walks away muttering, “You get what you deserve.” Rather, He lovingly removes the debris and encourages us to flow again. He loves us unconditionally and died to pay the penalty for our sin, junk, and debris.

Let the keeper of the stream remove anything that prevents your living waters from flowing to others. 

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The Right Side

Getting stuck in a life rut is a common problem.

Life begins to feel mundane—as if it lacks substance. This emotion makes us feel insignificant and diminishes the reality of our importance to people around us.

The disciples were seasoned fishermen with generations of experience. Peter had multiple boats with fishermen who worked for him, and he knew the sea well. But he was having a bad day fishing and was about to give up. Jesus saw the rut Peter was in and said, “Throw out your net on the right-hand side of the boat, and you’ll get some!”

Peter and the others obeyed Jesus and caught so many fish their nets could not hold them. But the real truth comes from Peter’s obedience. He chose to humble himself, listen to the voice of the Lord, and try something new. The fish were just on the other side of where he was looking. 

Sometimes what we are striving for is in a different place. We get comfortable in our routines and with our own wisdom when what we’re looking for is where we are already standing.

Peter was exhausted but listened to the wisdom of the Lord. Our efforts are not without reward and our wisdom is not without treasure. We only have to change our approach to see what we are searching for.

Joy can be found in our children, instead of a great career promotion. Satisfaction can be found in what we have and not in what we are seeking. Prosperity can be found in the treasures the Lord has placed in our lives and the love He has wrapped us in.

The thing you are looking for may be on the other side of where you are currently looking. Change the way you think about life, and see the great blessings on the “right” side. 

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Out of School Life into Life's School

Graduation is the high point in many people’s lives.

After years of studying and attending a variety of classes, graduation brought me to the end of that stage in my life. When I graduated from high school, our class motto was, “Out of School Life into Life’s School.” The slogan had a nice ring to it, but little did we know how true those words would become.

Many years have passed since I received my diploma and said “Good-bye” to my classmates and teachers. During those years, I have experienced many things. I’ve attained an education never dreamed of. Some experiences were happy—such as becoming a wife and a mother. Other experiences included heartache, health problems, and disappointments.

After a heart-breaking crisis when my husband left me for another woman, I claimed Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV).

Christ never promised Christians a life free of bad things. He did, however, promise that He would walk with us through whatever we encounter—the good and the bad.

We do nonbelievers an injustice by telling them, “If you give your life to Jesus Christ, your life will be all roses and no thorns.” But we can give them a promise, which those who have lived for the Lord have discovered: Jesus Christ is always faithful.

I have found this promise to be true. As I’ve walked through other sorrows and disappointments, I have never walked alone. The Lord has always been by my side.

God will be with you also—through the valleys and the mountain-top experiences. As long as you live, you will be educated in life’s school, and you will discover school is always in session.

Never stop learning in the school of life. 

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So - Blinders

Let Him Say So…

A few years into my incarceration, I managed to get handcuffed and shoved into a security cell. Popular culture would call it “the hole.” We called it “jail.” The idea of a jail inside a prison might strike some as silly. However, in a population of men with serious impulse control issues, there will always be a need for a place to lock people away . . . even inside a prison.

I was here because a tool I was responsible for was missing—a high-end pair of bolt cutters that would go through chain link wire like a welding torch through a hula-hoop. I had no idea what happened to them.

After a couple of days—and a pleasant question and answer session with the head of security—I was suddenly released. The bolt cutters turned up in the possession of a trusted co-worker. He confessed to stealing them and admitted I was innocent. 

The man was charged with theft and put in protective custody. Although scheduled to be transferred to another prison, someone in security screwed up. The day before his transfer, he was released back into the general population with the four men he almost caused to lose everything: our jobs, our room/cells in the honor dorm, and our earned "good time." The incident could have added years to our sentences if we had been charged. 

There on the prison yard in front of us, big as life, was this fool. His kind of indiscretion isn’t just shoved under the rug in prison. There needs to be an accounting, or you are seen as weak—dogfood.

What happened next wasn’t pretty. Without unnecessary details, honor was restored and retribution satisfied. The man was allowed to run back to protective custody until he was transferred away. Despite the godfather face I wore as the leader, I was troubled. It wasn’t until I read King David’s reply to Nathan that my hypocrisy was driven into my heart. 

I had been forgiven, and by God’s miraculous hand I was seeing my forty-six-year sentence melt away week by week. Yet, given the opportunity to spare and forgive this man, I urged on the wolves instead. I felt sick. I had failed my Father and Lord.

But like King David, God picked me up and restored me. I can hear His longsuffering sigh though: “Child, what were you thinking?”

Thank the Lord His love is beyond understanding and His forgiveness is eternal.

Let Her Say So…

David was furious. “As surely as the Lord lives,” he vowed, “any man who would do such a thing deserves to die!” 2 Samuel 12:5 NLT

Over twenty years of meth use had taken her front teeth.

This is the woman sent to condemn me? As all ninety pounds of her wailed in my face, she put on a show for the other inmates. However, I wasn’t foolish enough to be baited into a fight. I listened with disgust as this tiny, toothless woman pranced around spewing accusations. Who was she? That woman obviously neglected her children through drug abuse.  

I was arrested on fugitive charges—wanted in another jurisdiction for an incomprehensible charge of attempted child abduction. The guards warned me against discussing anything with other inmates, but the story was sensationalized all over the news. They knew more than I did. 

I did know one thing. No one was looking for explanations that day. Not them. Not law enforcement. Not even me. My only response to this woman was a rhetorical question, "What happened to your teeth?" 

I knew I was innocent, but when you’ve been arrested, perception matters, not truth. To the women that day, and to a community whose bandwagon they jumped on, I was guilty. 

Those days are forever etched into my conscience and serve to reprimand words I speak in judgment of others. The prophet Nathan was that reminder to King David when he eloquently revealed David’s faults in a parable. 

Outraged by the selfish, heartless man Nathan spoke of, David condemned him to death. I can easily put myself in David’s shoes as Nathan reveals to him, “Thou art the man.” I see young mothers daily who struggle with issues like drug abuse and poor decision making. I question why they deserve their children more than I do mine. But, who am I? The answer is the same one Nathan gave in response to David’s rebuke—Thou art the woman condemned by her own tongue many times.  

Like David, my suffering was caused by my own vices. I have been a liar, a thief, and many other things not physically manifested. Instinctively, I believed I was a good person and a good mother. But good was never enough to erase the corrupt nature of my character.  

If your harshest condemnation of others happens when you’re most indulgent in your own sin, you may be judging yourself. Be like David after he recognized his sin. Own it.  

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Babbling at the Savior's Feet

Reasoning with a nine-month-old child can be tough.

Each day when I leave for work, my daughter wails for me. Having not yet fully grasped that something out of sight can still exist, she isn’t sure when or if I will be back.

Returning home proves an even worse experience. She is delighted at first, and it warms my momma heart to see her excitement as she realizes I have come home to her. Her little hands slap at the floor. She bounces up and down, awaiting my arms to lift her to me.

But this joyous reunion is short-lived. Incessant fussing and whining are ushered in for the remaining hours before bedtime. I am told she plays, smiles, babbles, and explores all day long while I am away. It is frustrating that her caregiver gets to see the cute and happy baby while I get the leftovers. 

I can’t help but wonder if this is how God feels about me. I stand and cheer at sporting events, throwing my hands in the air in excitement. Then I fall into bed at night in exhaustion and give what is left over to the King. I fuss, whine, and complain to the Creator, giving Him a laundry list of tasks to complete for me: “God, take care of this, do that, heal him, fix her…” 

My Savior cares about those requests. He tells me to cast my cares on Him. In a greater way than I care when my little one is upset, He cares for me. I also know that just as I long to see my daughter’s eyes fill with wonder when she looks at me—and to hear her laughter and babbling more than her fitting and fussing—so Jesus wants to spend those moments with me. He wants moments when I stand in awe of Him—when I throw my hands in the air in excitement to be in His presence. He wants to watch my eyes fill with wonder as I enter into His gates and babble happily at His feet.

God deserves and desires my first fruits, not my leftovers. He is worthy of my praise and thanksgiving!

Try babbling at the feet of your heavenly Father. 

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



A Father's Sacrifice

As a young child, fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and homemade gravy was our Sunday meal. Today, I still crave my mama’s fried chicken—a dish I can’t duplicate. Maybe it was the little can of grease sitting on the stove that gave it that extra flavor.

Years after the passing of my father, I mentioned to my mom how I couldn’t believe Dad really liked the chicken backs. A huge grin covered her face. She said, “He didn’t, but he ate them so you kids would have the best pieces.” That day, I saw a tiny glimpse of the sacrifice my father had made over the years.

The central event of the Christian faith is Jesus’ death on the cross. His Father’s sacrifice to all of us so we would have the best. He paid the price for our sins. Through His grace, we are allowed to have a relationship with the Father. Jesus’ death and resurrection are the only things that allow us to enter heaven.

My dad sacrificing his wants at our Sunday meal was the central event for me at our dinner table. Unfortunately, for years that sacrifice went unnoticed.

Let’s all remember the great sacrifice our Father in heaven made for us. I can’t even begin to imagine the magnitude of that sacrifice.

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(For more devotions, visit Christian Devotions.)



Ultimate Love

Jack wept and wimpered in the other room, her stomach boiling in angst and melancholy.

Jack’s owner—a man who loved and cared for her—had just finished scolding and whipping her for eating a fowl. Now, the much loved and cherished Jack cried without anyone to cuddle her and give her a gentle scratch.

An hour later, the owner gave Jack a soothing call. She answered the call without any grudge or hate but ran majestically while shaking her tail. Since that incident, I've learned a dog's definition of love.

The best friend a man has may turn against him and become his enemy. His child whom he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful. Those who are nearest and dearest to us—those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name—may become traitors to their faith. A person may lose their money. It can fly away when he needs it the most. A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action.

The people who are prone to fall on their knees and honor us when success is with us may be the first to throw stones of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads. But the one unselfish friend a man can have—the one that never deserts him and the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous—is his dog.

Jesus’ love, however, is superior to a dog’s kind of love. Love that warrants dying for another truly defines the concept of love—ultimate love. How pleasant it would be if our lives reciprocated such love.

Love with ultimate love—not a dog’s love. 

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So - Betrayal

Let Him Say So
The Playmate of the Month stretched over three fold-out pages in all her natural and airbrushed glory.

After my cell-partner casually tossed the magazine down on his way out the door, the page flopped open to the centerfold. She stared up at me. I was in the fourth year of incarceration—a long time to live without a woman’s affection.

Shortly after my arrest, I crawled back to the Lord. He welcomed me with open arms. Despite my forty-six-year sentence, I felt He would free me much sooner. I just needed to avoid the prison culture, which was challenging. After all, I was living in hell on earth. I had to survive until freedom came. 

Jesus said, “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In my heart, looking at a Playboy centerfold meant trouble. Though I try my best to honor God’s instruction, my flesh is weak. Biological imperatives that accompany the Y chromosome often take effect before I think. Intellectually, I know a woman’s heart and mind are more important than anything else, but I am still a man—tempted by my flesh and an overwhelming desire to procreate.

Unfortunately, biology has no off switch. A low simmer is the best I can hope for. In my situation, after four long years, it was more like a rolling boil. I tried to ignore her. Impossible!  The centerfold even stared at me through the leather cover of my Bible. After all Jesus did for me, I failed to do as He instructed. I picked up the magazine and gazed longingly at the woman inside.

The price for my sin was guilt, a strong sense of failure, and a shameful knowledge I had dishonored and betrayed Jesus’ Word. In my distress, I heard the Lord say, “One of you will betray me.” I was Judas.

I felt shame and regret. I begged for strength to conquer my flesh. Important in the first step toward repentance, but in itself, not enough. I asked for, and received, forgiveness. 

Knowing Jesus is my Lord and Savior—and that He will forgive me when I ask—may be the only thing that makes me different from a man like Judas.

Don’t betray the Son of Man.

Let Her Say So
Why’d you do it? I thought you loved me.

These uninviting words haunt my dreams. Memories emerge in the night like weeds, choking out the beauty of a previous season. My subconscious mind still searches for answers which may not exist. I run away, but can’t escape the pain of one simple truth: regardless of why, I hurt the people I love. In my darkest days, I was no different than the one Jesus said would betray Him.  

The story of Judas Iscariot is like mine: both reveal the unbelievable depth of Jesus’ love. I felt the same grief and regret Judas must have felt when he threw the thirty pieces of silver at the feet of those Roman soldiers. Their money was worthless.

I desperately wanted to change things—to give back what was never mine and to take back my place in the lives of those I loved. Judas’ story ended at the noose of a rope. Had that been my choice, Jesus never would have taken His place in my heart.

The biggest difference between Judas and us isn’t that he betrayed Jesus and we never could.  Even Peter betrayed Jesus three times. The most significant variance is Judas didn’t believe Jesus was who He said. He had no understanding of Jesus’ love for him or of how quickly he would have been forgiven had he asked.

Judas did nothing that could not or would not be forgiven. His life could have been redeemed, despite his betrayal. Judas’ story is more than we like to admit. He was not simply a biblical character meant to be set apart from the human race and despised. His life is a reflection of our humanity and shows the ability of everyone to do evil acts. On the bright side, his was a life that gave Jesus an opportunity to show His unconditional love in spite of man’s depravity.

When resentment and hatred would have been the human thing for Christ to feel, He manifested the magnificence of God’s love instead. I cling to this hope in the darkness. It’s the type of love I want to imitate.

Jesus never asks why we have done wrong. He asks that we repent and seek His forgiveness. Take the power of hurtful memories away by giving them to Him.

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Out of the Comfort Zone

I looked down at the little rose in my hand. Pink petals looked back at me; the exact kind I had written about in my book. The book Jill hadn’t read yet.

“For me?” I asked.

My new friend smiled as she nodded. I took the potted rose into my hands, grateful for her friendship and thoughtfulness. I had just met Jill, so she had no idea what it truly meant.

I thanked the Lord for this gift from my new friend, but also from Him. I had stepped out of my comfort zone and gone to a writer’s conference, not knowing anyone, yet I met so many new people that week, including Jill.

God often calls us to go beyond our comfort zones . . . to talk to new people, to go somewhere we’ve never been, or to be there for someone who is hurting. And when we take that step, He is faithful to meet us there and give us the strength to go further than ourselves.

If God is prompting you to knock on that new neighbor’s door, knock. If you have a feeling that you may be needed in missions, go.  

Take the first step out of your comfort zone, and watch how the Lord meets you there.

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Passing Through Threatening Waters

I wondered how God would see me through challenging parenting, medical needs, and a grieving heart.

My mom died unexpectantly in March—less than one year after my brother-in-law committed suicide. The week before Mom passed, my parents-in-law were involved in a head-on collision, and my mother-in-law broke her back and ribs. Since my son struggled with medical issues, I pulled him out of school to teach him at home.

I clung to the Scriptures for truth while the circumstances whirled around me. God provided manna in the wilderness for His people. He protected Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the flames of the furnace. I trusted Him to lead me through my wilderness too.

Whatever flames of suffering we face, God stands with us. When we encounter various trials—job losses, sick loved ones, financial ruin, strained relationships—we choose to stake our ground in the Lord or face it alone. To place our confidence in our own ability to navigate the wilderness or to follow Jesus even when it seems like we walk in circles.

Jesus said, “Never will I leave you. Never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:4). Never. He is the faithful one, our redeemer, lover of our souls, and the great I Am. He created the world with a word. He spoke and it appeared. He knitted us together in our mother’s wombs and numbered our days before one of them began.

Our God remains good even in the midst of stormy waves. We can trust Him, even when it hurts to pray. Speak to the Lord about your circumstances, and ask for His help. Then wait. Turning your soul over to Him in expectation sometimes brings to mind the Scripture you need to remember, the truth you need to cling to, or the sin you need to repent of. God confirms His leading in the Bible you’re reading.

Seek God in the threatening waters. He will meet you as you seek Him.

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Sharing God's Goodness and Gifts Through Hospitality

The instance when my mother welcomed what she described as an angel remains a wonderful memory.

My mother operated an eatery in a market, and we children helped serve after school. One day, a man came into the shop, and I asked for his meal choice. At first, he was reluctant to reply, so I left him to wait on others. In time, I lost interest in him and was overwhelmed by the welfare of the other customers I was serving.

When I had waited on all my customers and collected their money, I decided to have a rest in our dining spot. It was there that I beheld the man in question in a serious discussion with my mother. The end result of a long conversation was that his bill was canceled. He had eaten to satisfaction and was asked to go his way.

At the end of the evening, my mother said she had received more than she gave, stressing that the man had told her deep things about her life. To her, she had had a discourse with an angel of God.

The writer of Hebrews concluded his thoughts with some exhortations for community life, including that his readers should continue to welcome strangers. He may have been referring to Abraham and Sarah, who welcomed three strangers—reaching out to them with generosity and treating them to a feast, as was the custom in biblical times. They didn’t know they were entertaining angels who brought them a message of blessing.

We don’t ask people into our homes in the hope of gaining from them, but often we receive more than we give. May the Lord spread His love through us as we reach out with His welcome.

Don’t be afraid to entertain strangers. 

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord Say So

Let Him Say So

The scars are still on my forearms—and always will be. Stark white parallel slashes just below my elbow. I usually wear my sleeves at about three-fourths length to hide them. Tanning doesn’t hide them. They stand out more the deeper my tan gets.  

I got the scars early in my incarceration. I was new to the system and not able to recognize the signs something was wrong. I was alone in the shower, and then I wasn’t. There was no time to think. A demand was made. I refused. I bled. 

The details are mental snapshots: a rough knife glistening, red-colored water flowing, a gripping fear and desperation. Adrenaline kicked in as I struggled to keep the knife away. Knees and elbows were everywhere. The knife fell and bounced before sliding across the white tile. And then it was over.

Just because we give ourselves to Jesus doesn’t mean our lives will be milk and honey—especially if you’re incarcerated. My heart was full of the Lord, but I was still locked up. Even after I had a significant reawakening in my life with the Lord, I was just a “number” bound for prison. Each morning, I arose from my thin mattress—placed on the cold concrete floor—and prepared to fight for my breakfast tray. It was either that or starve. 

We all have troubles. In prison or in life, we have to contend with a fallen world. However, Jesus also said, “But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Paul the apostle knew a thing or two about troubles and said, “For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:18).

Regardless of what troubles you face, keep your eyes on the joy to come. And remember, Jesus has overcome this world for us.

Kevin Spencer

Let Her Say So

My first experience in the backseat of a patrol car was a rear-view perspective with blurred images of a world I knew nothing about. I couldn’t make sense of it.

When my siblings and I were very young, my mom left us alone in a Florida trailer park. She needed a vacation. After a couple days, our neighbor called the authorities. We were busted.

In the 1970s, sensitivity training for men in law enforcement probably didn’t exist. The five of us were handled like little jailbirds and booked into a group facility.

That childhood scene played out in my mind the day I left prison. I had one final charge to face, and two officers from that jurisdiction came to give me a ride. Once again, my view of the world was from the back window of a squad car.

Along the way, they stopped at a fast food restaurant for lunch. As I was shuffled toward the restroom in chains, people held their gaze. I saw curiosity, judgment, and contempt. Each expression said I was a rogue—unworthy to be in their presence.

This isn’t all I am! I didn’t do anything . . . recently, I thought. I wondered if I’d ever stop paying a price for my past. Remaining silent was difficult. Somewhere in the moment, I escaped behind a spirit of equanimity and held my head high.

As prison ministers say, we don’t go through anything Jesus hasn’t endured. How sad to think of Him being displayed as a condemned man. Jesus knew suffering and expected more of it. He warned His disciples of pending trouble so they’d be at peace when it arrived.  

Staying in the Word throughout my incarceration helped me prepare for trouble. My trouble wasn’t like the disciples’, but Jesus was the same source of strength and hope for me. Through my guilt and consequences, He was there. When I was consumed with fighting for the injustices of this world, He understood.  

I don’t have all the answers I want. I don’t know why children have to suffer or why the indigents of society go to prison more than others. Life’s not always fair. I do know I couldn’t have been content without God.

When we put the Lord first in life, it doesn’t matter where we are. We have a rear view that is out of this world: peace.

Patricia Lefler

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At Your Service

Pericles said, “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

The words “at your service” or “I’m happy to serve you” are often seen at places of business. Whether or not they have a service job, some are naturally inclined to serve others and may not even give it a thought. But for those who want to follow Jesus, we must consider a life of service.

Paul wrote of Jesus, “Having this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).

If anyone had the right to be served, it was Jesus. He was God. Yet, never once did He demand to be served. He dwelt among people and let humanity see Him, touch Him, laugh with Him, and cry with Him. He showed what it meant to serve and love people. He gave His life to redeem ours.

Living a life of service is easier than we might imagine. Not all acts of service must be huge, obvious acts. Most service acts that really mean something to another person are often the little things in life. Seeing someone in need and asking how you can help is the best way to start serving. Some acts of service may not be known to anyone but God because even the people we are serving may not notice.

Regardless of whether we are a waitress or the CEO of a large company, we’ll be happier and more fulfilled if our focus is on serving instead of being served.

Look for ways to serve those around you, and see what happens. The world always needs more kindness.

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You Are Cherished

His eyes were the captivating blue pools for which I’d always wished.

Our eyes met across the expanse of the deck while a guitar-picking cowboy strummed songs about mountains and love. Everything about the moment seemed like a romance novel … frozen in time … inviting me in. 

A dozen years later, his eyes catch mine across the living room. A six-year-old struggles through her reading lesson on my lap while her two-year-old brother drives plastic cars over my head. They have their father’s eyes. And despite the chaos of the moment, I see his smile. My husband still rejoices over me. 

This is what it means to be loved. He sticks with me through the blissful romantic seasons of life, and he adores me through the mundane seasons. He rejoices over me as I devote myself to serving others, and he delights in me when I glance in his direction in the midst of my service. I know I’m deeply loved, and I rest in the security of his promise to walk with me through life.

Marriage is a dynamic example of God’s fervent love for us. Christ is the bridegroom, and His people are His bride. As my husband rejoices over me—even when I’m covered in sticky handprints and spilled milk—God rejoices in each of us when we commit to walk in a love relationship with Him. He is delighted in the relationship, and we captivate His heart.

God has a joyful heart toward you. He loves you with the tender affection of a devoted spouse.  He longs for you to slip away to a quiet place and connect with Him through his Word, through worship, through prayer, and through simply resting in His affection.

Respond to God’s tender pursuit today.

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Citizens of Heaven

She feels at home at the stables and is happiest when she’s there.

My daughter loves riding horses. Throughout the week, she anticipates seeing her favorite horse Moose—named for his size. Every Saturday morning, she suits up and we take the scenic drive to the stables. She knows all there is to know about Moose—his likes and dislikes and what makes him happy or afraid. She spends hours riding and caring for the horses.

My daughter’s affection for horses caused me to wonder about my approach to God. Do I anticipate going to church on Sundays or eagerly race to mid-week prayer meetings? Am I reading Scripture so that I can understand what God’s will is and what pleases or displeases Him?

If you asked my daughter if she has to go horseback riding, she would say no. She would tell you she gets to go. She counts it a privilege and realizes we pay a steep price for her lessons because we love her. 

Rather than a “have to” attitude in our approach to God, we need a “get to” attitude. We have the privilege of calling God Father because He demonstrated His love by sending His Son to die for our sins. Because of our Father’s act of love, we get to spend time in His presence and enjoy eternity in heaven.

I don’t ever want to lose sight of the truth that this earth is not our home. Our citizenship is in heaven. Because of God’s love and the sacrifice of His Son, we get to go to heaven.

Prepare now to make heaven your home, and take every opportunity to make yourself at home in God’s presence.

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The Team Call

The young players have little or no control over their team identity.

The children stand in a huddle around two team leaders. The leader who wins the coin toss chooses first. Taking turns, each leader picks a player. The body language of those not yet selected screams, “Pick me! Pick me!” If chosen by their desired team, they victory dance their way to their new teammates’ line. Those left until the end or chosen for the wrong team occasionally stomp off, refusing to participate.

Not so in the eternal game of life. We don’t have to beg God to pick us. We don’t have to wonder whether we’re good enough to be a team player or if the team is good enough for us. God calls each of us to be a part of His team, regardless of what race or nationality we belong to.

Nevertheless, team identity rests in our hands. If we choose God’s team, He clothes us in His righteousness, equips us to meet every opponent, and provides the Bible as our play book. He also gives us the Holy Spirit as coach, personal trainer, and encourager.

As with any effective team, our roles vary. We might be the stars, the supporting players, or occasionally the bench warmers who encourage those on the field. Jesus called the twelve apostles for specific tasks. The decision to follow was theirs. How faithfully they followed was also their decision—as was how they treated one another.

Although we fill different roles, our tasks share common characteristics. The team revolves around Jesus. Any play begins with Him, and He assigns the positions. After receiving Jesus’ authority, He sends us out to share His message and recruit others—no favorites, no rejections. All players are on the same team.

Join God’s team if you haven’t. If you have, give Him your best.

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Freedom

Let Him Say So.

Twenty-seven-hundred and ninety-nine days. That’s how long I had been on this same three acres of chain-link encircled Florida soil. Seven years, eight months, and thirteen long, mind-numbing, aching, lonely, and occasionally terrifying days.

Finally, by the grace of God, I reached the end. The last sunrise I would have to see reflected through coils of concertina razor wire. My few possessions had been packed for days. Most everything that had been of value inside would have no meaning outside the fence, and so I had passed them on—as they had been passed to me.

Collected over the better part of a decade, these simple items made life in this hell slightly more bearable. A twenty-two-ounce insulated mug, a stadium cup, and a pair of clip-on sunglasses. Meaningless items that were invaluable inside that constant chain-link fence that had for so long marked the boundaries of my world.

The morning stretched on. It felt like an eternity before I finally heard my name called to report to the front gate. Taking my cardboard box of remaining belongings, I reported as instructed and then went through another excruciating hour of signing one bureaucratic form after another. 

At last, the time came for me to rid myself of the prison uniform I had worn for so many years. I was handed a package from home—Levi jeans and a polo shirt. For the last time, I peeled off my prison uniform.

Changing clothes felt as if I were shedding a skin. Years of tension and stress seemed to wash away. I was a new person. No longer Inmate #269493. I was once again Kevin Eudean Spencer, human being.

And then it was time. With a final instruction from the corrections officer processing me out and a cynical “good luck,” the steel door swung open, and I stepped into a glorious Florida spring. It was April 14, 1994, and my mom and dad were waiting—having come all the way from North Carolina to take me home. I fell into their arms, fighting tears. I was free.

Someday, I’ll feel that way again. Having been freed by the blood of Christ, I’ll step out of the prison of this world into new clothes and a new eternal, heavenly life. And there to greet me, I expect, will be my mom and dad.

Let Her Say So.

I had “nothing left to lose,” as a songwriter once described freedom.

When the door opened and I walked into the ice-cold darkness of a winter’s night, I had nothing but jail-issued scrubs. I was in an unfamiliar town; no one was waiting to pick me up. I didn’t care. I would have crawled under a shrub and frozen rather than stay another minute in a cell. I was free. The kind of freedom I understood. It was tangible. It could be bought, fought for, taken. But that night, it was all I had.

I chased after my kind of freedom for years—crossing a multitude of lines. My freedom was elusive but necessary—or so I thought. I didn’t realize every step I took only added another link in the chain, pulling me further into an abyss of dejection and indifference. I became cold, bitter, and angry. After my final arrest and incarceration, the freedom I knew became only a memory of a good idea I once had. 

During my days in isolation, I despairingly reached out for anything resembling freedom. And in a time of desperation, I met Christ. There were no white light moments of transcendence or blink-of-an-eye epiphanies in which I suddenly realized true freedom. That kind of Christ-liberation took a long time. I read words like forgiven, pardoned, and free in the Bible, but there were no judges, lawyers, or jury members offering to go back to my jail cell for me.

My new faith collided with reality on a daily basis. Still, I believed and accepted God’s freedom because I had no hope for anything else. Even today, behind all of my Christian beliefs, there is a reality I can’t quite ignore. I still have untamed emotions and wild dreams of the freedom I once imagined. I’m not always sure how to be real about that, while at the same time honoring the God I love. Like crafting a beautifully structured poem when I can’t seem to get the meter right in every verse.

I’m not perfect, but the freedom Christ has given us does not require perfection. He simply wants us to be free from the bonds of our sins. 

The freedom Christ gives is the only freedom worth losing everything for. Experience Christ’s freedom today.

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A Father's Love

He was a gruff old bird. My friends shuddered when he spoke, and his stare sent chills down your arms. That was dad. A little on the brusque side. A little sharp around the edges. He demanded respect and rarely failed to attain it. You knew he meant business, yet when he’d gently squeeze your shoulder, his inner tenderness showed. You. Felt. Loved.

Perhaps that’s why my friends spent so much time with my parents. Many of them lacked what I didn’t realize I had … a true father. One who loved me despite my shortcomings. Despite theirs. Forty-five years later, many of my friends still tell me how much they loved and respected my father.

I had as many guy friends as girls and each one loved my folks. The proof was in the pudding. They were at our house even when I wasn’t. Dad guided my friends. He gave them rules, commands, and standards he expected to be maintained. As they loaded into their cars to go home, Dad paced the length of the car, kicking the tires, checking under the body. And before he’d send them on their way, that big bear hand would grasp their shoulder and tenderly squeeze. “You know what I expect.”

“Yes sir.” They’d smile and drive away.

My father always welcomed them and always commanded their respect.

When Jesus explained who He was and how He loved us, the instructions were clear. Keep my commands. When we obey, the promise is to remain in His love–and Jesus always keeps His promises.  Christ showed us through His own relationship to the Father what God expected of Him. In turn, He expects the same from us. The reward of obedience is pure love in Him. What a gift.

The love and joy given to me ... to my friends … by my Dad has never been forgotten. Years later they still feel the warmth of his touch and the expectations he held from the tone of his voice. God’s love for us commands one thing: keep my commands, and you will remain in my love.

On this Father’s Day, never forget the warmth of the Father’s hand on your shoulder. Keep His commands, and you will always remain snuggled tightly in Him. 

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Friends

Dear Jonathan,

You are worth more than a friend; you are family. To share a bond with you that was woven with the cords of love, honesty, and faithfulness is God’s handiwork. God, in His greatness, formed a friendship through which He will draw us to Himself and work out His amazing plan. The sharp edges of hatred and jealousy were too blunt for our bond of friendship as we sharpened each other to the very end. I thank God for choosing you to be my friend.

Your friend,
King David

Apart from the amazing friendship we have with Jesus, our Saviour, the friendship between David and Jonathan is one of the greatest friendships we find in the Bible. And one we can learn from. I wonder if these are words David would have said to Jonathan, his close friend. I would love to say them to my friends.

When we understand friendship, we cherish friends. They are people we share our deepest thoughts and secrets with. We’ve had the most laughs with them and watched each other cry. It is amazing the kind of bonds two unfamiliar people are able to share.

God’s greatness is seen in His ability to create such amazing bonds. Friends are Gods messengers, people set aside to be there for us and through whom He stirs up laughter, joy, and happiness in us. Through friendship, God causes us to enjoy the world in another way. The Lord is able to teach us amazing truths and help us grow in Him with the friendships He gives us.

Don’t let selfishness and unforgiveness pull back the hand that is meant to hold another. Choose to thank God for your friends, and celebrate friendship.

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Making Turtles and Building Relationships

“I think we need to make some turtles.”

We hadn’t seen Anne for several years. She had completed her education, married, and moved to another town. She enjoyed a successful teaching career and was expecting her first child. Although as beautiful and outgoing as always, grief overwhelmed her.

Standing with her mother and sister, she accepted condolences from friends and family during visitation at a local funeral home. Her father had suffered a sudden, massive heart attack. He died moments later. The physical and emotional strain left her drained. Yet when my husband and I drew near, she smiled through her tears. While we hugged and held to one another, she whispered her desire to make turtles.

We created those wonderful gooey, chocolate-covered candies for hours when she and her sister Val were elementary-school age. I relegated my turtle molds to a shelf of seldom-or-never-used items soon after. However, with those few words, floods of memories returned.

Anne’s father and my husband worked together. Our friendship grew through shared family recreation. We invited the girls to stay with us several times, and one of our favorite activities was working in the kitchen. Turtles were our specialty. In the process we made messes, giggled, and endured endless teasing from my husband.

I can’t recall spending a great deal of time discussing deep theological issues. We had our usual prayer of thanks before eating, and we read the Bible and prayed together at night. I’m sure we discussed whatever tragedies revolved around their lives at school, especially involving some of those horrible boys in their classes. But most of the time we simply enjoyed one another’s company.

Little did Anne or any of us realize God would use our fun days so long ago to help us through one of the hardest experiences of our lives as we mourned together.

In much the same way, God offers to spend special time with us. He loves us, wants to share our daily joys, and wants to be a part of our ongoing growth. Whether we’re making turtles, folding clothes, or visiting friends, allow God to be a part of it all.

When inevitable difficulties arise, let your strong and vital relationship with the Lord provide an unlimited source of comfort and peace.

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord "SAY SO"

Let him “Say So.”

The noise in prison is neverending.

Blaring loudspeakers rule your life twenty-four hours a day, along with constant reverberations of every sound of life. The noise is enough to unhinge a man from reality. Some of it is deliberate, designed to reduce a man as an individual. A human being who once had a name becomes an inmate with a number. A cog in a machine. Go here, go there. Wake up, go to sleep. Eat. Obey.

I knew correction officers who would deliberately wear taps on their shoes when they patrolled at night. The tap-tap-tap echoing in the dead of night yanked me from whatever escape I had found in my sleep and thrust me back into the hell that had become my life.

Prison allows no individualism. Inmates dress alike, wear the same haircut, and eat the same meal. No facial hair. Conform. Stay in line. Don't speak. The mayhem is neverending. Sounds of incarceration pose a constant threat to any tenuous peace of mind . . . even the peace invading your dreams.

Our Lord said to be still to find Him. He showed us through Elijah that He wasn't found in major special effects, but in still small places.

The problem in prison is finding those still places. After the trauma of my arrest, I was shut down. The Lord answered my prayers, as promised, but a nagging problem remained. I could not consistently seek Him in the chaos of carnality surrounding me every day.

God will provide, however. In time, that still, small, quiet place found me. The prison recreation yard had a quarter-mile track. I began to run. First for the exercise. Then for the peace. Years passed. I was eventually running between eight and ten miles each day and began to experience what long-distance athletes call runner’s high—where the runner reaches a mild state of euphoria and endorphins flood their system.

For me, this stage was a place of peace. The world faded away until the only conscious sound was my rhythmic breathing. And there I met with and talked to my Father.

Where do you meet your Father? Find your place to “be still.” He will be there.

Let her ‘Say So.’

A thread is not much to hang by.

Years ago, I discovered how fragile my connection was to things I’d tried to hold on to. The weight of bad decisions was unbearable. Every fiber of hope that I could have what I wanted suddenly snapped. I fell hard into the deepest level of despair and hopelessness ever imagined and landed on rock bottom. My “rock” was a slab of concrete inside a secluded jail cell smaller than a typical horse stable. There, I lay in silence for nine months.

Sometimes, God needs us to be in a quiet isolated place to hear from Him. His Word says, Be still and know that I am God. I would have preferred being still in a green pasture in Ireland or on a deserted Hawaiian Island, but I met God in prison. I had no place to run or look—except up.   

As days in isolation passed, another thread began to unravel  … the one my sanity hung by.  Experts have studied the effects on individuals held in solitary confinement and concluded their ability to relate socially, enjoy life, or hold a job (once released) disintegrates—a result of being segregated and alone.

While I don’t disagree, I’m thankful my personal experience could not be used to help support those findings. A single moment makes my life an anomaly: the night I went to my knees and knelt beside a metal bunk. The negative effects of solitude would not be my story because Jesus came into my life that night. I was no longer alone. 

Through the silence, God’s voice resounded. My mind—and more importantly my heart—grew stronger. Today, friends would describe me as socially adept, life-loving, and hardworking. My life is empirical evidence that knowing God can improve a person’s capacity for positive change and success.

Do not hang your hopes on anything other than Jesus Christ. He hung on a cross to endure the weight of our sins. While I did not choose my time of silence, I rejoice in the memory of hearing God’s voice.

When everyone else abandons you, God says, I will never leave you. And He won’t.

He didn’t leave me. 

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God Is Able

She said, “I will walk again!”

In February of 1998, my mother Mattie was diagnosed with a neurological disease that was destroying her nervous system. Often, this disease travels through the body, attacking each limb and muscle and leaving a paralyzing effect. It caused my mother to be bedridden for more than a year. A strong woman who had just retired a few months before, she was disheartened and devastated. Many times, I could see the anguish and frustration on her face and the embarrassment of having to depend on others for her needs.

Through it all, my mother’s faith did not waver. She was determined. Every day, she pressed forward. She would say to the doctors—and to anyone who would listen—“I will walk again!” After a few months of therapy and surgery, she did. Her faith kept her strong as it did the woman who came to Jesus. Mom would not give up.

My mother has faced several more physical trials over the last two years. Observing how she continues to stay grounded in her faith has inspired me and others to do the same. Her feet were planted, and she did not move. She continued to grow and blossom. Her faith was great, and God gave her the desires of her heart.  

No matter what struggles and challenges we face, God is able to do all we ask. All He wants is for us to trust Him, believe Him, and have faith in Him. We will not always have an easy road to travel. We will have bumps along the way—and sometimes large potholes. But because we have faith and believe in the power of prayer, we get through and make it to the other side.

Maybe you’re facing a situation that has left you feeling hopeless, devastated, or fearful about the future. God’s promises stand true for you, just as they did for my mother. He promises to be there and to never leave or forsake you.

Reach out to God. He will make a way. He is faithful.

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Honor Her

It was 398 square feet.  My heart sank. Would Mom accept this?

After three weeks between the hospital and rehab, decisions were imminent concerning Mom’s care. Until February, she was driving without issue. Now her legs were weak and her blood pressure plummeting, causing her to pass out.

I’m proud of my mother. She’s a wonderful momma who encouraged me, supported me, and taught me to be a jack-of-all-trades. These decisions were not what my brother nor I ever anticipated, especially with Mom being mentally perfect. Her ninety-year-old physical body is simply uncooperative.

We dreaded the conversation. She has always been compliant with us on her health matters, but this was different. Asking her to give up her 2500-square-foot home for an assisted living apartment that gives Tiny House Hunters a run for their money, hurt. She needed to be safe should she fall again. We were lucky this time. All she sported was a nasty black eye.

We nuzzled close and explained how much we feared for her safety if she continued to live alone. She was quiet before she teared up and asked, “Is this where I will spend the rest of my life?” Even with the assurance her home would remain available for her, it was heartbreaking.

Imagine what circulated through Mary’s mind. Finding out she was an unwed mother and that her son would be the Savior of the world was a blessing and a curse. It was overwhelming. Still, she took in the upcoming season of her life, pondered it, cherished it, and moved ahead. Scripture speaks little about Mary, but we know she followed Jesus at times as He traveled—watching, listening, pondering. Finally, sitting slumped at His feet as blood puddled around her knees. She knew this would come, yet wished it wouldn’t.

We are fortunate to have Mom after ninety years. And though the realization to her—and us—that more is behind her than ahead, we are blessed. Mom ponders all she has stored in her heart from days past—friends, family, and adventures—and willingly walks into this new season with gratitude.

This Mother’s Day, spend time pondering the love of your own faithful mother. If you are one who did not have that, rejoice in the life she has given you and what you have made of it. Honor your mother.

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Slingshot

“You can’t raise any two kids the same.”

I always though the saying meant each child was different, and that the same tactics would not necessarily be successful due to personality differences. Now in my forties, I mother my last child differently than I did my first.

With my first child, I had a vision of what I wanted her to become. I planned to maneuver the universe to help me mold her into the young lady I wanted. Three kids later, I no longer try to “sculpt” a child. Instead, I evaluate strengths and inclinations and then determine what sports or careers suit them.

I would like to say child rearing has gone smoother since that transition—and for the most part it has—but then our Attention Deficit Disorder kid came. The kind you have to tell five times to put on his shoes, who still puts his shorts on backwards, and who has to struggle to write a sentence. But he’s also the kid who cries at the heart-wrenching part of a movie, breaks into an English accent at random, and can tell you anything you want to know about any animal. I worried about my child. In a world where college is king, what would become of my boy? I wondered as I watched him make faces in the mirror. And that’s when I thought making faces (acting) might be his slingshot.

I had just read the story of David and Goliath to my little ones and laughed when I thought of how it might have been to raise young David. He was the runt and not considered important enough to be called among the seven sons when the prophet Samuel went to Jessie’s house to anoint the next king. He was tending sheep, which was considered one of the lowliest jobs. I pictured his father standing at the door, watching his son, shaking his head, and wondering what would become of him. “Just look at him, honey, all little and unskilled. All he does is play with that blasted slingshot!”

The very thing his father found little use for was the venue through which God would bring victory for His people.

Keep your eyes open for your child’s “slingshot.”  It may just be his salvation.

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Let the Redeemed of the Lord "SAY SO"

Let him “Say So.”

The first rule of being a convict is that every inmate is innocent. 

Inside this chain-link and concertina wire compound are the most amazing circumstances of coincidence and mistaken identity you’ve ever seen.

The second convict rule is if I am guilty, it’s someone else’s fault. That was me.

While I avoided the first rule by never denying what had happened, I fell to the second rule. I blamed an individual for everything that happened to me. He was responsible for ruining my life. I dreamed of the day I could get out and find this person. Every bench press, every push-up, every mile run was done with the idea I would someday see him again. I didn’t want to do him physical harm. I just wanted to shake hands, step into his personal space, and see his eyes flash with a momentary fear. In time, the Father showed me how stupid I was.

One night after a workout, I was looking at my arms in the mirror, flexing my biceps and congratulating myself on the transformation since my arrest. In the next moment, I sat down with my Bible and read in Revelation, “I am the Alpha ...”

I let that sink in. In fact, I read no further. I meditated on the power in those four words. Later, I read where God says twice that He will take revenge and pay back. My foolish fantasy was outside my authority. In a moment of clarity, I realized what God wanted was for me to love the one I hated.   

I wasn’t able to do that. I’m human, flawed to the core in ways I’m sure make my heavenly Father shake His head. While I couldn’t love, I could stop hating. As the years passed, I found myself thinking less about him until one day I realized he didn’t matter at all. 

Today, the man I once hated has a progressive nervous system disorder. Do I feel satisfaction? I feel pity, sorrow, and pain for his family. Perhaps that in itself is a form of love.

I’m glad I let go of hate. I can see it in an alternative life festering, poisoning, and driving out God’s Word with my own petty fantasies of vengeance. Jesus repeatedly tells us to let go of such thoughts.

Release the things that block forgiveness.  Let them go.

-Kevin Spencer

Let her “Say So.”

Day after day, alone in a prison cell, thoughts of retaliation consumed me.

I read through this verse—Never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, "I will take revenge; I will pay them back," says the Lord—wondering if God’s idea of revenge was the same as mine.  Would He destroy the lives of those who had falsely accused me? Would He be as vindictive, or would He satisfy my desire to watch a certain individual suffer as much as I was? I doubted it. That’s one reason I resisted giving in to God’s Word.

Refusing to believe those words didn’t stop me from hearing them. A battle raged in my conscience, and anger prevailed. It’s what gave me the energy to continue fighting. I couldn‘t give that up. All I wanted was to get back to my life, recover my reputation, and take back my child. I wanted justice on my terms. However, God’s voice grew louder each day: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

The creator of evil wants us to continue blaming others for our faults. I felt Satan’s hold, but something more powerful was pulling me forward. Awaiting trial, I read the entire Bible for the first time. In between, I read other books as well. Author Chuck Colson became a favorite. Every word of truth I read met me at a place of self-deception. I had been falsely accused of the crime I was being held for. That is all I wanted to focus on. I didn’t want to take responsibility for anything I had done. 

This mentality was common among other inmates too. Colson’s timely words instructed me to understand other people’s wrongdoing by looking inside myself. I had made bad decisions in life, and I’d hurt people. If not for the grace of God, that could have been the end of my story. But God’s Word is sharp. He convicted me in ways no courtroom judge could.

When anger turns into hatred and unforgiveness, don’t seek your own revenge. Look inside your heart, and ask the Lord to help you stay in this fight by living your life according to His Word.  

-Patricia Lefler

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Twilight Prayers

It happens a lot—and in the middle of the night.

I wake up and start praying for someone I know or barely know. It might be someone with a broken heart I’ve come across on Facebook or someone from my past who has hurt me. I start praying for them and immediately fall back asleep. In the morning I can barely remember what my prayers were about, but I do remember I prayed for different people at various times of the night during my twilight sleep.

As I contemplated this continuous phenomenon, I realized my spirit is always willing and continues to pray while I sleep. Psalm 16:7 says, I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me.

Sometimes we tend to put our needs before others’ needs when communicating with the Lord, but the Spirit knows there is much more that needs to be said. The wee hours of the morning are a wonderful time for the Holy Spirit to intervene because our minds and flesh are completely out of it.

If you sometimes wake up and a friend or family member who is in need comes to mind, your spirit may be trying to pray for that special person. We are all connected, and God is concerned for you as well as your loved ones.

Let God work through you, even in your twilight prayers.

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Because of Him

He was the strongest person I’d ever known. His demeanor was gentle. His voice firm yet tender. This man commanded a certain presence—thought-provoking and intelligent. So when He died, it was hard to take in.

I was a child when I met Him, but His ways guided me in the most simplistic way. It upset me when I heard of His brutal death, but what took my breath was how He succumbed to death. Willingly.

I’ve suffered hardships. Who hasn’t? Still, despite my trials, none can compare. Nothing in my own pain comes vaguely close to His.

Jesus. I never met Him in person. He was gone long before my birth, but His life impacted me for all eternity.

Paul talked about the sufferings of Christ and the sufferings of those who followed Him. He said more than once that hardship in Jesus was tough, but the eternal impact was more than worth it. To believe in Jesus meant, both in biblical times and in present time, that we would most likely suffer. Those same people who shunned Him, would shun us. Some might even torture and kill us. Believing in Jesus did not mean smooth sailing.

Christ was the strongest man who ever lived. He could have called down the angels to protect Him. He could have waved His hand and those who tortured Him would have dropped dead, but that was not Jesus. God incarnate, man as well, had the ability to walk away, but He didn’t. He suffered tremendously and died . . . for me, for you.

Easter holds mixed emotions for the Christian. Seeing the depictions of Jesus’ last days tears my heart out. I can’t get through the Easter season without relentless sobbing, feeling the weight of guilt because Jesus took my sin. He took our sin, and buried it in the grave. The Son of Man lived, died, and in the greatest of all feats, overcame death. He rose and lives.

Knowing Him means I may feel the brunt of the unbeliever, but it also means eternity, salvation, and forgiveness.

As you walk through the Easter season, don’t forget the depth of Jesus’ suffering or the resulting gift. Because of Him . . . we are saved.

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Out of Tune

The conductor enters. Out of respect and anticipation, there is a hush as he raises his baton.

The concert hall is abuzz with excitement. Audience members engage in conversation. Some are calling to friends and some are whispering to the person in the next seat. Their voices blend with the random notes of the orchestral instruments tuning for the performance. Then, as the concert master rises and begins to tune all the instruments to the standard A 440, silence falls. The dissonance of sound blends to one note.

But what causes all these instruments to go out of tune? Reasons range from extremes of temperature and humidity to damage, age, or defective tuning pegs and devices.

Psalm 119 employs word, law, saying, statutes, way, commandments, path, testimonies, precepts, and judgments as names for God’s Word. In verse fifty four, David, the sweet singer of Israel, finds his song from the Word of God. In his journey and in his solitudes, he was familiar with the statutes of God. Through his words, we find that the sweetness of a melody celebrates times of blessing and can be like a cool rain during difficult times.

As children of God, we are created to be His instruments, but the seasons of life often require our re-tuning. The searing heat of a painful wilderness experience, the damage of a crushed spirit, the drought of missed blessings, or the placing of faith on the wrong foundation can all cause the song of our lives to go sour.

This world is the house of our pilgrimage. We are sojourners and tourists, not permanent residents. During this residency, God’s laws are to be our songs until we reach our true home.

The Word of God is our definitive source and authority for finding understanding—a song in all of life’s seasons. So whether we are sorting through all the voices clamoring for our attention or whether we’re sorting through the weighty noise of life’s trials, we can be still and look for the word and direction of our Lord Jesus Christ—the Master Conductor.

In your uniqueness, tune your song to His song as you continue your life’s journey.

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When God Says Let Go

It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever been asked to do, but there was no mistaking God’s voice.

My daughter has had many hardships and near tragedies in her young thirty-something life. She’s struggled with relationships, health issues, and a bout with drugs and alcohol. A believer who loves the Lord with all her heart, she wonders sometimes why God doesn’t come immediately to her rescue.

As mothers do, I’ve had a tendency to pick up her offences over the years and take on the care of her problems. I’ve prayed for her faithfully every day since she was a baby and felt many times as if her problems were my own. I’ve found myself totally stressed out without even knowing why.

As I was driving one day—and praying for my daughter—the Lord clearly said to my spirit, “Will you release her to me?”

The question took me by surprise. He asked again. I said yes, but found myself having a hard time following through. The act of letting her go was physically painful. My heart felt as if it were being crushed under the weight of His request. Could I truly trust God to take on the responsibility of caring for her?

The moment I released my child to the One who loves her unconditionally—and has a wonderful plan and purpose for her life—a deep sense of heaviness left me, and the peace of God filled me. Yes indeed, I can trust Him to take care of my daughter, as well as everyting else in my life. My only responsibility is to love, to pray, and to be there whenever she needs me.

The cares of this life are many, but God tells us not to worry. When we do, we allow those cares to choke out the Word that has been planted in our heart. God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipresent (everywhere present). He knows the end from the beginning and everything in between. He is concerned with everything that concerns us and is more than able to handle whatever comes our way. Nothing catches Him by surprise, and nothing is impossible for Him.

If you find yourself weighed down by the cares of this life, maybe God is saying it’s time to let go. Cast all your cares on Him, and watch what He will do in your life and in the lives of those you love.

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I Resign

Sometimes a parent feels like resigning.

Barbara Johnson, author of Where Does a Mother Go to Resign? is the founder of Spatula Ministries, a non-profit organization designed to "peel parents off the ceiling with a spatula of love and begin them on the road to recovery.

Before reading her book, I’d heard her speak at a retreat. The hardships and tragedies she went through broke my heart, but she used the pain of life by writing spiritual and humorous books to help others. She is an example as I write about my own experiences with children and family dysfunction.

Isaiah 29:23 is a verse I use to pray about my children. I pray they will keep God’s name holy and acknowledge Him in awe. I also hope those who are wayward in spirit will gain understanding and that those who complain will accept instruction.

If you are a parent, you’ve probably felt like resigning. Of course, you love your children and they are precious to you and the Lord, but sometimes relationships with them can hurt. Like Barbara, I’ve needed to be peeled off the ceiling more than once.

It hurts when a parent tries to steer their children to help and wholeness and they don't listen. It hurts to see them in physical or mental pain and not have the resources to help them. It even hurts to back off because you know the Lord wants to help them have a stronger relationship with Him—the ultimate parent.

Yet the Bible says children are God’s best gift to us. Ultimately, they must be put into His hands of sovereignty. We can ask Him to put them on a path that He can bless instead of their own path that might lead to harm and destruction. We can also ask Him to take away the spirit of resignation that may try to overcome us. When we do these things, He sets us up to face another day without sending in that resignation letter.

When you feel like resigning, go to the throne of God where Jesus intercedes to the Father for your children.

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Blessed

My eyes moved over white pages—words black and red—as I searched for comfort, peace, and mercy.

A bronze star with the word “blessed” hangs in my car. It started as a Christmas tree ornament, but I decided the single word written in gold was more important to see every day rather than just at Christmas.

It’s difficult to feel blessed when I’ve been out of work for six months with no new job prospects on the horizon. I worry I can’t pay back my family, the ones who loan me money to pay the bills.

The psalmist knew he was blessed, but I often need a physical reminder that although I might not feel blessed I am blessed. The world can easily drain my joy. Family arguments, work stress, and financial woes can confine the happiness I’m supposed to feel.

God wants what is best for me, but I don’t think of myself as being blessed as often as I should. God wants me to prosper and live abundantly.

Yeshua (Jesus) never promised I would have material wealth or that my life would run on an even path. In fact, He said His children would be prosecuted and persecuted. We would experience trials and tribulations.

However, Yeshua did vow He would never leave or forsake His children. He will walk beside me through each moment of my life. Not only when everything is going right, but also when everything is going wrong—especially when everything is going wrong.

Nor did Yeshua ever promise me a pleasant life. But He did promise me eternal life. If I accept His gift of salvation, I will have forever to sit at His feet, sing to Him, and praise and worship Him. What greater future could I ever imagine?

Praise God from whom all blessings flow. No matter what circumstances surround you, you are blessed because you carry Yeshua, the Messiah, in your heart. 

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A Peak Experience

I peered out the window of the fire tower perched atop Harney Peak, the highest point in South Dakota’s Black Hills.

After our three-hour hike to the summit, my husband and our three kids rock-hopped along the peak’s craggy knolls while I escaped to solitude in the musty cool of the stone fortress. From my vantage point at over seven thousand feet, I marveled at the miles of mountainous ridges dotted with pine, aspen, and oak. Clouds rolled over the hills, casting shadows that animated the formidable landscape. God had surely crafted this panorama, I mused, to remind us of His immense love for us and His dominion over all the earth. 

Suddenly, I heard a thin voice lift a familiar song of praise from the landing above. I glanced up to spot a spry seventy-year-old woman descending the metal stairway with the help of a walking stick. My heart thrilled at the opportunity to share this sacred moment, and I raised my voice to join hers. We sang together until the woman reached the ground floor, where our duet turned into words of gratitude for the creator of the universe who arranged for this mountaintop meeting of two sisters in Christ. 

My joy burbled over as we hugged goodbye and I watched my new friend hike down the mountain. I smiled at God’s little nudge. While I had withdrawn to admire His handiwork, He had sent me a companion to deepen my faith and magnify His praise.

How often we pull away to seek God when our Father’s loving heart points us instead toward meaningful connection with others. While there is a time for searching and separateness, Christ’s words remind us He is uniquely present in Christian community. 

Have you found a place where you can gather in Jesus’ name with two, three, or hundreds? If so, thank the Lord for His provision and make a commitment to gather regularly with His people. God will bless your efforts to grow with others as He increases your faith in Him.

If you haven’t found a community of believers, look now.

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Travel Companions

After decades of being beside me, a regular travel companion was becoming unreliable.

As an author, I am on the road from time to time—sometimes over land and sometimes over the ocean. Having a reliable companion is essential while traveling, speaking, teaching, or book signing.

My companion is not like any other. It is a small, green, faded plastic battery-powered travel clock. It takes up little space, is lightweight, and appears on every packing list. Placing it beside my bed—no matter where I am, brings me a measure of comfort and also provides a sense of security since I value punctuality.

In the past when it stopped, I replaced the battery. A spare battery is also a part of my travel equipment. Recently, it began to stop and start, becoming unreliable. I make a habit of talking over everything about my day with the Lord. So I asked if the mechanism was quitting on me or if the battery was going dead.

A thought crystallized in my spirit: clean the battery connection. The Holy Spirit is never wrong. Dust particles had settled inside. Once attended to, my travel companion was back on time.

Sometimes our important relationships become disconnected due to maintenance neglect. Even taking them for granted can develop a fractured communication. A little intentional effort can restore unity, especially with our Father God.

This is why Psalm 119 is also an excellent travel companion. Verse 25 reads, My soul cleaves to the dust; revive me according to Your word. And verse 149 declares, Hear my voice according to Your loving kindness, revive me O Lord, according to Your ordinances.

Outer appearances will grow old, but our spirit relationship with God needs constant refreshing. Find one way to daily renew your relationship with God. 

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God Sprinkles

It was a cold, fall night when my family and I finally saw it.

From their sleeping bags on the patio in our backyard, my husband and two girls had upturned faces and eyes to the sky. I looked up into the starry blackness from my place on a chair beside them, hugging my blanket tightly around me. We had been watching for a predicted meteor shower for more than an hour. It was getting late, and we were about to give up and go inside when we simultaneously witnessed the most spectacular burst of white trail across the expanse of darkness. It was an awesome display of God’s beautiful handiwork.

James reminds us that all good things come from God.

Before we went outside to look at the meteor shower, a friend called and offered much needed encouragement to my aching soul. Earlier that day, I had gotten an email explaining that a piece of writing I had submitted seven months ago—and had given up on—was going to be published. I call those moments, God sprinkles. They brighten our lives the way sprinkles liven up a cake … the way a meteor lights the sky.

With all of the struggles we face in a fallen world, it’s a blessing when God displays His love and care for us in unexpected ways that strengthen our faith and motivate us to keep running this race called life.

Thank Abba-Daddy for the “sprinkles” He showers on you and for the gifts He gives His children.

Bless us, Lord, with grateful hearts and eyes to see Your goodness.

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Keep a Calm Heart

Sometimes, the Lord works in mysterious ways.

Four times I suffered nervous breakdowns. The first one brought me to the end of myself. I had no place to look but up. When I did, the Spirit of God spoke to me and I came to Christ.

I prayed for four years but received no answer. I thought, I’ll just have to do the best I can. God has given up on me. Perhaps, the Lord can use me in a Spanish work. I had studied Spanish and believed I would learn more if I worked with the Spanish people.

However, God had a different plan. A missionary to the Navajo Indians preached at my church.

“What about working with the Navajo?” he asked.

I said, “I’m not called to the Navajo.”

Later, he returned to my church and asked me to visit his mission field. The Lord took away my excuses while there, and I learned to love the Navajo. I even met my husband there.

After sixteen years, the Lord took my husband to heaven. But God captured my heart and gave me calm in a difficult situation. After my beloved’s death, God gave me a work to do for Him: writing, something I love to do.

God permits hard things into our lives. Sometimes, He gives us a glimpse of His purpose. He comforted me in my loss and showed me a glimpse of His plan.

God wants to give us peace when our hearts experience turmoil. When we trust Him with our problems, He gives us calm and rest, not spiritual heart trouble.

Let God give you a peaceful and calm heart in your time of trouble. 

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Too Many Heartaches

I believe the cashier glanced at the small cross pin on my sweater and assumed I was a Christian

As I laid the decorated birthday cake on the check-out counter, I told the friendly cashier it was for my neighbor’s ninety-second birthday. He looked at me sadly and said, “I pray to the good Lord that he won’t let me live past my fifty-fifth birthday. I’ve had too many heartaches in my life.”

I reminded him that, despite the fact there are heartaches in Christians’ lives, our Lord gives us joy. But he replied, “There have been far more heartaches than joys.” I felt sad for him. He seemed so unhappy.

There was a grey period when it seemed everything I knew had been destroyed. My husband of twenty-seven years had run off in the night with a young married woman from our church. I was left alone in a parsonage several miles from my home. Rain poured outside the window as I stood pondering my future. Then, the rain slowly turned into a drizzle. As I glanced out the window, a beautiful rainbow appeared. Where the clouds had been dark and threatening shortly before, the sun now streamed through the darkness and revealed its encouraging light.

God reminded me of the promise He made to Noah about sending the rainbow (Genesis 9:11-16). I knew this rainbow was His encouragement to me. No matter what happened in my future, I would not be alone. God would walk with me through the good and the bad. 

Sometimes the heartaches, illnesses, and pains of life seem to outweigh the joys of living. All of us, whatever our age, experience those valley days when the dark clouds of despair pour rain upon us, and we feel alone.

But God’s promise to Jeremiah still holds true: ”For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). This promise has proven true through the thirty years since my husband left, and I pray it will hold true for the cashier and for you too.

Let God fulfill this promise in your life so He can turn your heartaches into joys. 

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Sinful Consequences Taste Bad

When my daughter and I sampled the cookies, we looked at each other with furrowed brows and screwed-up noses.

“Mom, these taste funny,” she said.

I agreed.

I had baked a double batch of pumpkin-chocolate-chip cookies to share with the women in my Bible study. A fall favorite. I took another bite just to see if the bad taste was my imagination. Nope. There was definitely something off. But I couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

I looked over the recipe, one I’d used many times before. I was almost certain I had used all the right ingredients—until looking in the spice cabinet. There, staring me in the eye, was the spice cumin in the spot where cinnamon usually sat. I laughed.

“I used cumin instead of cinnamon,” I said.

“How could you mistake cumin for cinnamon?” my daughter asked. “They’re two completely different spices.” 

I showed her the two bottles. Their labels were alike, their colors were similar, and in my haste of gathering all the ingredients, I had grabbed the wrong spice. I had made a mistake—a mistake that left a bad taste in my mouth. A mistake I won’t make again.

My mistake was a great analogy for sin and its consequences. The consequences of our sinful choices tend to leave a bad taste in our lives. Consequences can teach us to avoid the same sin the next time it stares us in the face so we will say, “You can bet I won’t do that again!”

Consequences aren’t necessarily bad. They can—and should—lead us to make better choices. Righteous choices, which lead to godly and holy behavior.

If you have committed a sin and have a sour taste in your life, confess it to the Lord and learn from the consequences. Then savor the sweetness of God’s unfailing forgiveness.

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Discover Your Real Identity

The world's identity system is broken and empty.

According to the world’s philosophy, our identity is based on physical appearance, wealth, education, skin color, religion, sexual preference, clothes, and cars—leading nowhere but to dead ends and disappointment. When we come to Christ by faith, we are set free from the world's identity system and can be the person God intended.  

Even the family God allowed us to grow up in—whether healthy or filled with pain and brokenness—no longer has to define our identity. We take on a fresh, new identity when we place our faith in Christ. All the amazing gifts and talents God put in us when He created us—along with our experiences—can be used in God's plan to give us a life of purpose, meaning, hope, and eternal peace.    

When we come to God the Father for forgiveness of our sins through faith in Christ and His completed work on Calvary’s cross, a transformation takes place. At that moment, God the Father—through His indescribable love and amazing grace—forgives us, and God the Holy Spirit moves in. From that moment, we can experience God every day as we allow Him to lead and direct our lives.  

With God directing our life, we can discover our real identity—a discovery that’s impossible apart from faith in Christ. Everything else is broken and fading away. 

If you have placed your faith in Christ, decide today to live fully in your identity in Him. Don't allow the world to lead you. Listen to God who lives in you and is leading you. 

If you haven’t claimed your real identity, do it today. 

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A New Creation

We slept in the barn—where horse manure, pigeon droppings, and water damage used to be.

Larry and Denise—dear friends of ours—bought some property in northern North Carolina near the Blue Ridge Parkway. What had been a horse farm years ago was now empty pastureland with a ramshackle, vacant two-story barn.

When Larry first toured the property, the barn was disgusting. An accumulation of moist mud, manure, and hay covered the floor. The walls were streaked and buckled by years of water damage. White stripes of pigeon droppings blanketed everything. Flies noisily buzzed the stalls. A musty smell of neglect and decay assaulted the air.

Most of us wouldn’t have bought the property. Even if we had, we would have probably torn down the barn, hauled off its nasty debris, and replaced it with a brand new building. But Larry envisioned a far greater future for this run-down, neglected building.

Larry knew what needed to be replaced and what could be cleaned up and reused. He valued the invaluable potential of its sturdy interior. After several months of cleaning, replacing, building, painting, and planting, the renovated barn stood as a gorgeous, cozy, and useful home surrounded by God’s beauty in the mountains.

As I drifted off to sleep in what was once the hay loft, I thought about the barn’s transformation. In that sleepy haze, God whispered, “This barn is a lot like you. Your life was a wreck, marked by years of spiritual neglect and sinful decay. Yet, just like Larry did with this barn, I am doing with you. I saw potential, cleaned you up, rebuilt the broken areas, and restored you to what I know you can be. As you are now present inside this renovated barn, My Spirit lives within your restored and renewed heart. While you enjoy your after, never lose sight of your before.”

God specializes in making all things new. He removes our smelly yuck, repairs wounded souls, cleans up sinful lives, strengthens weak areas, and breaks bad habits. He is the Master Craftsman who forgives, purifies, revives, and commissions us. All we have to do is ask for His help, be open to His transformation, and be available for His work.

Thank the Lord for the transforming renovation in your life. 

(Photo courtesy of the author.)

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God's Unfailing Forgiveness

I was hurt and deeply wounded by what had happened to me in my past.

Because of the destructive drug addiction and erratic behavior of my younger sibling, I felt justified in holding on to my twin sins of anger and resentment. Even after my conversion, I struggled to forgive

Then I read about Joseph’s response to his ten half-brothers who pleaded for forgiveness for betraying him two decades earlier: Am I in the place of God?

Joseph knew he wasn’t God and didn’t have the authority to withhold forgiveness. This simple yet profound statement was a powerful, undeniable truth I couldn’t ignore. I needed to forgive my brother. By withholding forgiveness, I had put myself in the place of God and remained trapped in unforgiveness too long. I had allowed this sin to gain ground in my heart.

God gently reminded me of my own past—fraught with disobedience, debauchery, and self-destructive behavior. God had not withheld forgiveness from me, so who was I to withhold it from my sibling. I forgave and experienced a sweet release and a restored relationship with my brother.

Like Joseph, we should not put ourselves in the place of God and deny others the thing which we have so graciously experienced ourselves: God’s unfailing forgiveness.

Forgive those you need to forgive, and find blessings—and a sweet release, beyond your wildest imagination and expectation.

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The Hardest Question

At the end of therapy, he said: “I feel I was only half educated before.” He now knew how to answer his hoped for little girl when she asked, “Daddy, who is God and how can I know Him?”

Sitting in my office waiting for a new patient, I wondered what he would be like. He was a young electrical engineer who had been told by his fiancée that she could not marry him if he didn’t become a Christian. She wanted to have children and needed to have them go to heaven with her. She could not raise them according to the Buddhist faith—of which he was.

His fiancée was as firm in her beliefs as he was. His questions about Christianity needed to be answered, or they would have to break up. He loved her very much. They wanted children together, but he imagined the hardest question he could be asked someday by his future children.

History contains examples of how the primal needs of mankind affect his attempt to understand. Cave drawings also picture this struggle. Any book accepted as being from God forms a unifying explanation that is accepted by faith. The scientific method is based on “probability.”

Technically, this method based on probability can neither prove nor disprove God’s existence. That would entail a material process disproving an immaterial reality. But it is a historical fact that Jesus died on the Cross.

My client had heard from his fiancée that the Bible was the manual for life. He learned he could answer his imagined hardest question by reading the Gospel of John which told who God is. John 1:1-14 said God was the Word and that the Word became flesh in the person of Jesus. John 3:16 told how to know God: “Whosoever believes in Him shall have everlasting life.”

Like everyone, this young man needed to settle in his heart who God was and how to know Him. When you do the same, you will find a pearl without price.

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Praise Him into the New Year

It was just a paper star—one I had no idea would have such an impact on others … on me.

We’d purchased a new Christmas tree, and the best part was the revolving tree stand. I loved creeping down the steps in the a.m. hours to gaze at the dimly lit tree. The tree stand gently spun, allowing me to view every ornament. Since each ornament on our tree has a special meaning, it was a joy to reminisce their meanings. 

I’ve always been a pray-er, believing if someone asks for prayer it has to be something I take seriously. Some of my friends were under great trial. They needed prayer and assurance that they were being lifted before the Lord of the universe.

So when I awoke in the early morning hours and made my normal prayer walk down the hallway, the gently turning Christmas tree called me. Ornaments glided past, reflecting sweet memories. And that was when it hit me.

I grabbed a sheet of paper and scissors and cut out three stars. My purple sharpie didn’t exactly match the Christmas tree colors, but it would do. I wrote the names of my friends who’d asked me to pray, then bounded down the stairs and carefully placed the stars among the branches on the tree. Rotation after rotation brought the stars into view multiple times. I grabbed my phone and shot a photo of the star, texting it to my friends.

“I’ve begun a new tradition by adding my prayer requests as ornaments on my Christmas tree. Every times it turns, it brings into view your needs. And I pray.”

The response was wonderful. My friends were thrilled their needs were being lifted faithfully before God. As God sent answers to our prayers, I noted them on the back of the stars. All that was left was to praise Him.

David proved his worth as a man after God’s own heart. He found the more he deepened his relationship with God the more opportunity he had to praise God for the benefits of God’s faithfulness. Even when it was hard.

The holidays are difficult to muddle through when we face hardship. It should be a time of thanksgiving and joy. When it’s not, we sometimes grow bitter. David found joy in praising God, despite his situations. When we praise God “despite,” the result focuses us toward Him rather than our situation or circumstance. Our attitudes change, and even in the rough patches we can find peace.

God is faithful, and I’m learning daily to pray stronger for others. My benefit is not only a deeper relationship with God but also a personal peace when I face my own hardships.

My Christmas tree is put away now, and we anticipate the New Year. A year filled with new beginnings, new prayers, new answers, and a God who is faithful in His love.

Don’t waste time making New Year’s resolutions you cannot or will not keep. Instead, write your prayers on paper and pray faithfully. Praise Him into the New Year, and you will find strength and hope beyond imagination. 

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And Mary Said

I stood, hands clasped over my mouth, watching the special news report.

The mountain was on fire. But it wasn’t just any fire—it was a wildfire fueled by winds of up to seventy miles per hour. Embers landed on the colorful, dry foliage of fall, igniting flame after flame. People rushed to escape, praying for safety. Burning trees fell across pavement, blocking vehicles and forcing folks to run for safety.

The Smokey Mountains hadn’t seen anything like this in a hundred years. Close to one thousand homes, businesses, and resorts were reduced to ashes in a few hours. The people of the mountains were devastated.

A local news affiliate interviewed an elderly woman who’d lost her home. She stood draped in an oversized man’s shirt, a house dress, and socks–all she could grab before she ran for her life. Soot smeared one cheek as she swiped a tear.

“What will you do?” the news reporter asked. “Your house is gone.”

Her hand shook, partly from age and partly from fear as she lifted her palm toward the smoke covered sky. “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”

The reporter was speechless. When he asked his question again, the woman’s response was the same.

When Mary learned of her pregnancy, she was taken back. As a follower of God and faithful to her betrothed, she faced becoming a mother. Not just any mother, but the mother of Jesus. If Joseph balked, she could be stoned. Her family could disown her … turn her away. Through her fear and uncertainty, Scripture tells us Mary chose rejoicing.

The future was uncertain for Mary, yet she trusted and rejoiced in God. Raising the Son of God was loaded with trials, but Mary and Joseph leaned into the hands of a faithful God. And so, she gave birth to the Messiah in the lowliest of places–a stable. I’m sure this wasn’t her ideal hope for the birth of a king, but she rejoiced anyway.

Our mountains are scalded now. People have lost their homes and possessions. Some have lost family. Yet in the depths of despair, our spirits rejoice for God is mighty—and we believe that.

When you lay down to rest on this Christmas night, don’t forget the one gift opened for you hundreds of years ago—the one that offers you an eternal present. And then, allow your soul to glorify the Lord and your spirit to rejoice. For on this day, in the city of David, a Savior was born. Christ the Lord. 

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Good morning, Son. Welcome to my world.

Well, yours and mine. Everything you see and will see came through you. Without you nothing came into existence. Of course you do not know this. Not today, not this morning. All you know is hunger and cold and darkness, but soon, very soon, you will understand why there is hunger and cold and darkness. Without hunger, you would not crave your mother’s milk and cling to her breast. Without cold, you could not appreciate the way her skin swaddles you in warmth. Without darkness, how could you become the light of the world?

Enjoy these few precious years with your parents, aunts and uncles, and childhood friends. Soon, very soon, you will be a man with the guilt of the world on your head and the weight of a wooden cross on your shoulders. But today, this morning, you are a gift – a cause for celebration, and a joy to your parents and the world.

A few words of advice, Son.

1) Resist the urge to take the easy way, the wide and smooth path. That’s the coward’s journey. Take it easy and you’ll end up standing on a corner looking for trouble instead of standing up for the widows, orphans, and oppressed.

2) Honor your father and mother. This is the first of my commandments that comes with a promise. “Children, obey your parents that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” They are not perfect, but they are your parents and in many ways, small and large, they gave their lives for you.

3) Above all, love life and love me. Take care of your neighbors. Put yourself in their place. As you grow in wisdom and knowledge all of this will become second nature to you. Love and truth are the essence of who you are, who we are. You cannot help but to act, say, and be like me.

That’s enough for now. Later, when you have questions, simply ask. Aloud or in silent thoughts, it doesn’t matter. I hear every prayer, every petition. You may not see me, but you will know my presence and peace. So be filled with joy. You are in my world, now. Our world. You will have trouble and heartbreak, but you will overcome the pain of this world. I promise.

And when your days are done I will welcome you back into my arms, for I am your Father and you are my one and only Son. You have my blessing. Now go and bless others.

Eddie Jones



Learning to Walk

By his first birthday in August, he no longer needed a crutch. The wagon sat idle. He was on the move and had learned to walk—and fall.

My grandson, Declan, lives nine hours away, so I don’t see him as often as I’d like. When we traveled to see him in April, he was trying to crawl, but one chubby little leg wouldn’t cooperate. Each time he rose to his hands and knees, he’d tuck that leg under him and move to a sitting position. One week after we returned home, we Facetimed and watched him whizzing around the room on his hands and knees.

In June, Declan and his family traveled to my home for a visit. Declan—proud as a peacock—walked with the aid of a wagon he pushed back and forth. It was his safety net. As long as he held tightly, he moved about with a million-dollar smile on his satisfied face.

In God’s grace, it won’t be the first time he learns to walk—and learns to get up after a fall.

God has much to say about our walk, as using a search engine to find verses about walking with God will reveal. But searching for verses about walking with God in isolation is dangerous. God gives a list of “Thou shalt nots”—a list for our good and His glory. He teaches us how to walk. Just like a toddler, I have walked, fallen, and gotten up repeatedly. It’s a cyclical pattern. I pray I’ll be called a woman after God’s own heart—avoiding sin. Yet if that’s my only desire, I’m merely a sin-dodger, a works-driven legalist.

God wants more than our obedience. He wants our heart. A heart that desires obedience, born of a deep love. A heart that sacrifices our will for His. King David was called “a man after God’s own heart.” He walked, fell, and got up, doing so with humility, repentance, and reverence.

Don’t merely strive to avoid sin. Embrace God in your heart—a heart that swells with love for Him.

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Promises Delayed

Our lives are written like the great American novel, one moment at a time.

There was a family who desperately desired a child but after many failed attempts could not conceive. I saw their hope turn to despair as their last attempt to be a family failed. I encouraged them to keep trying, but theirs was a long road of discouragement. Just like a novel being written, the conflict was about to give way to destiny.

We kept praying for their child to come, but they had to stop their pursuit to save their sanity. When it seemed as if God’s plan was for them to be childless, the Lord wrote a new chapter in their lives.

Their doctor notified them that a young mother was having a child and looking for a family to adopt her little girl. Their despair turned to hope, and hope produced a renewed sense of determination. Just like a great story, a dead end is never the end of the story. The arc of the story was written in the joy of the Lord, and His promises were seen in their lives.

In the end, this precious family adopted the little girl. The promise transformed their despair into unspeakable joy. I saw a spiritual and physical transformation as heartache gave way to a joy that isn’t from the pleasures of this life.

We are formed by moments and experiences that leave imprints of memories on our souls. The experiences craft our thoughts and behaviors. The hand of the Lord guides our footsteps, but sometimes His promises feel delayed.

I witnessed the Lord fulfill a promise that had been ten years in the making. Abraham waited for Isaac, and many are waiting today. You can have your blessing in life just as this couple did.  When you have done all you can, stand in the promises of the Lord. Hope changes everything.  

The Lord will fulfill His promises in your life, no matter how long it has been.

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Joseph's Patience

I would treasure something Joseph built.

I think of Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, as a patient man. He was a carpenter. By trade, his work required meticulous effort if done well. When he made furniture or toys for the neighborhood children, I imagine him attending to each meticulous detail.

Joseph must have spent hours sanding the wooden surfaces to perfection and redoing corners so they matched. He surely became weary but labored until he finished an undertaking.

I see Joseph’s patience with Mary. During his engagement period to her, “she was found with child of the Holy Ghost” (Matt. 1:18). He could have reacted in any number of ways to this news. Many men would have exploded with accusations against her apparent immoral behavior.

Joseph knew he wasn’t the father of the child Mary carried. His response to the news was wrapped in his compassion for her. He didn’t want her to face public judgment and stoning if this news became known in their community. He would sign the necessary legal papers to quietly dissolve their engagement.

As Joseph considered the situation, an angel appeared to him in a dream and confirmed the imminent birth of Jesus. The angel told him Mary’s conception was from the Holy Spirit. He was not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, and they were to name the child Jesus. Waking from his dream, Joseph obeyed.

At times we may wish for an angel to appear and address us personally with a message from God. If we could only receive concrete proof about God’s instructions for us, then we could find it easier to react as Joseph did: with patience in troubling situations and obedience to God.

Ask God for Joseph’s patience, compassion, and obedience as you prepare for the celebration of Jesus’ birth—the Savior of the world.

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Led as a Child

The words popped out of her four-year-old mouth at the right moment: “The Lord is my shepherd.”

A friend and I were talking in my living room. Tears streamed down her face as she confided in me about a burden she had carried for many years.

Seeing my friend cry, the little girl I babysit rushed over to her, gently stroked her face, and quoted the opening phrase of Psalm 23. My friend smiled and my heart overflowed.

Every day of caring for this little girl, I helped her memorize phrases from the Bible. I hadn’t focused on the meaning of the verses; I merely tried to instill Scripture into her long-term memory, figuring she would learn the meaning later.

Now I knew the truth of Scripture had become real to this little girl even though in her young mind she had no idea what a “shepherd” was. She found comfort in her spirit from the timeless words of the Shepherd’s Psalm. The Holy Spirit Himself had revealed the truth of this Bible verse to her.

Jesus said we must be like little children—simply believing and eagerly learning. As adults, we often ignore Christ’s charge to be childlike. We wring our hands instead of trusting God. While the Holy Spirit wants to comfort us, we persist in carrying our burdens. As a result, our spirits are weighed down and our hope is crushed.  

We should stop like children and listen to the gentle voice of the Holy Spirit, guiding us into all truth—truth that sets us free.

When worries or fears press in on you, stop and bow your head. Give your problems to God, one by one. Be led as a child, and let the words of Christ change your life.  

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Gott Min Uns

The bright orange engine icon stared at me from the dashboard of our Ford Escape.

I couldn’t find anything critically wrong with our car. It had oil and antifreeze, and it ran. Then, as if the first icon was lonely, a second appeared—a wrench. This wasn’t good. Our budget was rock-bottom low. I hoped it was just a bad sensor.

Charlotte struggled to hold back tears of frustration. It was my wife’s first day of retirement, and she needed to be at the Social Security office to fill out paperwork. 

She sniffed. “The car is kaput.”

And it was. The top speed was 20 mph. Charlotte had left on her first day of retirement chores but barely got one hundred feet. She was able to chug-chug her way back up our driveway. I opened the car door, and the orange dashboard icons greeted me like old friends. 

We emptied our wallets and looked in pockets and under sofa cushions to form a meager emergency fund. Finally, we took a moment to pray and then called a tow truck. Charlotte would ride with the driver to the Ford dealership. One of us needed to be around when our grandson Caleb got home from his first day in the sixth grade. Hopefully, we’d receive a loaner vehicle.

As Charlotte rode off with the tow truck, I poured a cup of coffee and bowed my head, “Father, we’re in trouble. Please help us.”

After a couple of cups of coffee, I received Charlotte’s first call. The dealership had already loaned all their customer assistance cars.

“They are studying the diagnostics,” Charlotte said.

I told her to get an estimate before they repaired the car. A few cups of coffee later, Charlotte called again. It’s even worse, I thought.

But I was wrong. Her tears were ones of joy. She had our Escape back and repaired.  Ford replaced the throttle, and it had cost nothing. Ford had an extended warranty on that year’s throttle. Even the tow was free. 

Gott mit uns,” Charlotte said, reverting to her native German tongue. It means “God is with us.” And He is … always. Yet I’m constantly surprised when He moves in my life. But I shouldn’t be. I need to get to the point where I know in my heart—regardless of the situation—that He is there.

Learn to trust. God will never let you down. 

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People Pleasers

The life of a people-pleaser is exhausting.

I sat in a bistro with a friend, sipping my smoothie and listening to her wounded heart. The hurtful concerns came from situations in her workplace yet could be summed up in one overarching reason: she’s a people-pleaser. She wanted approval, and its absence cut deeply. Fortunately, she came to that conclusion on her own, setting herself on a path of healing.

I’ve been a people-pleaser too. In the workplace, I thrived on those little notes of affirmation, on words of appreciation, and on compliments. They filled me with a sense of self-worth.

Inherent problems come with needing praise from others. No one can please everyone, so the result is despair, stress, and guilt.

Another problem is the self-serving posture. Motives are wrong. As a people-pleaser, I think my efforts are good since I’m making others happy. But the focus is self. People pleasing rings with dishonesty. I’m trying to please others so everyone will see my value and worth. I do good works with bad motives.

The biggest problem with being a people-pleaser is that it contradicts the gospel of Christ. We stand blameless before God only because of the imputed righteousness of Christ. He lived a perfect, sinless life—the only one worthy of standing before a holy God. Yet He exchanged His righteousness for our sinful depravity, took the burden upon Himself, and placed the robe of righteousness on us.  

Let God’s grace be sufficient. Seeking praise from others will always leave you empty, wounded, and stressed. Serve God because He is worthy. Then you will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

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The Journey I Didn't Want to Take

Anxiety can’t always be quickly fixed. We can take medicine to lessen the symptoms, but often we have to accept it as part of our journey.

One of my sons once started sleep-walking. He did it multiple times every week, always within an hour of his bedtime. We tried different methods. Some worked for a short time, but then it would begin again. When the school year ended, so did the sleepwalking. Mother’s intuition says it was anxiety about school.

We might not like it, but we have to travel through anxiety. Doing so is a painful, frustrating journey. To journey means to travel from one place to another, usually taking a long time when we’d rather have a quick fix, a magic pill, a meditation, or even a supplement which can remove anxiety forever.

God uses anxiety for our good. He grows our character, which we take with us to heaven. Anxiety is a journey, but God uses it for a ministry. We will cling to God in ways we haven’t before. When we are hopeless, desperate, and at the end of ourselves, God becomes our all in all. This might be the hardest period of our life, but God is present and will get us through.

Anxiety will increase our confidence. It might bring fear, but we can master it. Once mastered, nothing else seems as frightening anymore. It also begs us to change. When we struggle, we want life to be different. Anxiety shoves us into the place to start the change.

Beginning a journey through anxiety isn’t easy. Often, it’s one step forward and two steps backward. But the journey is creating something worthy of heaven. It is not in vain.

God knows what He’s doing, and we can hold tight to His promises.

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Building Blocks for Healthy Relationships

“I remember when you used to …”

Anytime I hear my wife make that statement, I know what follows: “But you used to … Things like opening the car door or when entering a store. Or coming up behind her and putting my arm around her neck while we’re shopping.

My wife has a memory like an elephant and recalls things I’ve long forgotten. Among them, how our relationship was when we first married.

“But our relationship has matured,” I say.

“Now that you’ve got me, you think you don’t need to do those things anymore,” she says.

We’re probably both right to a degree, but healthy relationships must be maintained.

Paul gives a list of instructions for husbands and wives. Some women don’t like the submission part while some husbands take issue with loving their wives enough to die for them. But Paul prefaces the instructions with a command for mutual submission. Doing this requires building blocks.

Mutual love and submission entail intentionality. If I’m not intentional or determined to love my wife as Christ loved the church or to submit to her as I desire her to submit to me, it won’t happen. Anything important requires my undivided attention.

Thoughtful words and actions are important. My wife loves to hear me tell her I love her, but she wants to see the love in action: holding her hand, opening a car door, giving her a card, kissing her first thing in the morning. These are all little things that mean a lot.

Honesty is also critical. Dishonesty will wreck any marriage or relationship. I know. I’ve been on the receiving end of dishonesty, and it leads to a dead end. Trust is built in small ways over the course of many years. One wrong move can destroy what it took years to build.

Faithfulness is a must for healthy relationships. It follows on the heels of honesty. In the marriage ceremony, I promised faithfulness to my one wife until death parts us.

More important than any other block is including God. Relationships that exclude Him are headed for failure from the start.

Use the correct building blocks to erect healthy relationships in your life.

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Chosen to Leave

He was chosen to leave.

The father of one my Amish students was chosen by lot to be a minister in his church. On Saturday, he was a father, a school board member, and a hard worker in the community. On Sunday, he became a minister.

The Amish father had no choice in the matter. He could not say, “Gee, I’m really sorry, but this is not what I want to do for the rest of my life.” Or, “Can I have a little more time to think about it?” Nor, “I think you’ve selected the wrong man.”

When the Amish father became a baptized member of the church, he knew this could happen. He also believed if he were chosen by lot to serve as a minister, then God had chosen him for this position. By faith, he would leave his old life and step into his new role to serve his church, his community, and his family as a minister of God.

Abraham, the father of all nations, was also chosen by God to leave his former life. His faith caused him to uproot his family and go into a foreign land, not knowing what to expect or what he would find. He trusted God. God said, “Go,” and Abraham went.

As I thought about Abraham and the Amish father, I wondered if God was asking me to leave something behind, what amazing plans He had for my life, and if I’d be brave enough to go where He called.

Just as the journey wasn’t easy for Abraham or the Amish father, I know it won’t be easy for me. God expects me to have faith, place my trust in Him, and work hard to bring glory to His name.

God is ready to choose you. Prepare now. God has great plans for you.

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Prayer Is a Precious Pearl

We live in an instant-action world where we want productivity and a quick fix.

Having someone ask you to pray for them is an honor. They trust you with their wants and needs and ask you to lift your soul’s voice to the heavenly throne on their behalf. They also trust you to protect their heart.

Sometimes we don’t offer prayer but feel-good platitudes. We speak our idea of God’s solution into a person’s life instead of taking their prayer to God. A well-intentioned, “Chin up, buttercup!” can rub someone the wrong way. A hurting person may not want to be told it’s going to get better.

Many life situations won’t improve this side of heaven: sickness, family dysfunction, financial distress. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t care or that He’s not listening. It just means it may not be in someone’s best interest for God to bless them in the way we think they should be blessed. We may never understand why some prayers get answered while others don’t. We may feel we’ve cried so long and so loud that we’ve nothing left to cry with.

We can’t always see beyond the darkness, so we enlist those around us to do the same. That’s when prayer, not platitudes, turns to providence. And like the grain of sand that irritates the oyster, our situations turn our pleadings into pearls of prayers.

Don’t offer a synthetic solution in place of what’s genuine. When someone trusts you with their prayer needs, be careful to protect and cherish them, not toss them to the side or onto the ground. We all want to be cherished and protected by God. After all, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a merchant on the lookout for choice pearls” (Matthew 13:45 NLT).

Consider each prayer request a fine pearl to be added to your string of beauty. The more you treasure them, the greater your treasure will be. 

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Whose Glory?

“What happened to your voice?” I asked my daughter.

“I don’t know,” she said. 

I shook my head, trying not to panic. The rehearsals were over. Weeks of daily practice, singing lessons, and choreography, and we had reached the final dress rehearsal. Her curly red-haired wig fit. The orphan’s costumes had been hemmed. I felt fear and excitement about her starring role. And now she was losing her voice.

As she sat talking about rehearsal, I interrupted her. “Stop talking this instant.”

My mind raced as we slowly drove out of the parking lot. I quelled the instinct to pull over and text friends who would pray for her speedy recovery. Later, as I tucked her into bed, we asked God to heal her voice and help her sing for His glory. As we said “amen,” she opened her eyes.

“Mama?” she asked.

“Yes?” I stifled the urge to put my finger over her lips to quiet her strained voice.

“I’ve been thinking. You just prayed I would sing for God’s glory. All this time at practices, I have been singing for my glory.” 

Her words pierced my heart. She summed up one of my greatest temptations (and all-out failures) in one sentence. Numerous incidents of when I worked, studied, shopped, exercised, or talked for my glory rather than God’s. I looked into her eyes and told her how I, too, struggled with the same temptation. 

Several humble prayers and cups of tea with honey later, my daughter sang her heart out through three performances. Although there were a few hoarse notes here and there, her voice was strong, and we both knew we had learned an important lesson about living for God’s glory rather than hers or mine.   

First Corinthians 10:31 teaches us to “do everything for His glory.” Sometimes we are caught up in the joy of our gifts and the success we often find in using them. It’s easy to forget where they come from and, more so, the importance of offering them back to God for His glory.

Whatever you do today—whether working, reading, serving, or singing, do it all for Him.

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We Are the First Responders

As I crouched beside my bestie in our hot, crowded garage trying to help her breathe, I realized this is who we are as Christ’s body, and this is what we do. We are the people who put the broken pieces back together.

I spent my holiday cradling yet another friend, shock-eyed with justified hot tears. Her husband had decided he “didn’t love her anymore.” Earlier, I had talked to a friend who had taken a foster child into her care—a child who was nonverbal because of abuse. Two days prior, I had listened as another friend tried to help someone whose children were mom-less. Everywhere I turned, people were dealing with crises.

When unconditional vows give way to discontent and wayward eyes, we’re the ones who come in and pick up the pieces of broken hearts. When good intentions can’t compete with mental disorders or abuse, we’re the ones left to give a mothering touch. And when children are left mom-less from cancer’s stubborn grip, we’re the hug givers and casserole bearers.

Many think of Christians as pristinely dressed, clean-freak, holy angels. Our hands, though, are dirty from being in the muck and mire of repairing what the evil one has tried to destroy. We are the hope givers, the first responders.

Helping isn’t always convenient. Many times, we’re ill-equipped. But in a broken world, we’re the only ones who stand in the gap between despair and a second chance.

Keep fighting the good fight and keeping the faith.

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For the Love of a Daughter

My nine-year-old daughter loved cats, just like her dad. I never had a long term pet. Animals made me nervous.

When a neighbor offered her a kitten, I said, “No!”

She begged and took me to see it. My heart softened, but the answer didn’t change. Her warm brown eyes sought mine, “Please, Mom, I’ll take care of it.”

“We can’t afford a cat. You’d have to pay for it,” I said.

Her face glowed, as if she owned the calico already. My stomach lurched in anticipation of this unwanted addition to the household. She called her grandparents and aunts and uncles and told them if they wanted to give her a birthday present she’d like money to get a kitten.

And so the kitten arrived. When the bundle of fur snuggled against me and purred, my heart flooded with love. My daughter smiled. “Isn’t she pretty, Mom? I knew you’d like her.”

What I hadn’t anticipated was the responsibility my daughter embraced in caring for Brownie. She never complained about scooping the litter box. She brushed the cat and reminded me to buy food and litter when they were low. She taught the younger children how to be gentle when handling Brownie and how to love unconditionally by putting up with the bad smells and occasional scratches.

When my daughter married, she took her cat to their new home. After each of her children were born, I watched her lavish love on them as she had on Brownie. Now she’s instructing the children to be patient and kind to their fluffy family member. As they care for the cat, she purrs, warms their bodies on wintry nights, and cuddles their tummies when they hurt.

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”—even a daughter’s pet. 

Think of actions that will show love to your family—and by extension, God’s love. The results may astound you.

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The Drive-By

A legless man fell into the middle of a busy road. Cars swerved around him as he flailed helplessly—but no one stopped.

My husband knocked off work and traveled along a busy back road. On the corner, he noticed an older gentleman in a wheelchair attempting to enter the intersection. His wheel caught the pavement’s edge, toppling his chair and throwing him a few feet.

Aware of the danger the man faced, my husband looked at the three cars in front of him. He waited for one to stop. None did. All three veered to the left and continued on their way. Approaching the intersection, my husband pulled to the side and helped the man up and back into his wheelchair.

Each of the drivers may have had a good reason for passing the man. Maybe they had an appointment or a family situation that couldn’t wait. Perhaps they worked the evening shift and feared arriving late. Whatever the reason, they didn’t stop.

The lesson of The Good Samaritan is simple: When someone is in need, we can walk away or stop and help. Sometimes it’s easy to fall into the comfort of our Christian walk. We miss the opportunities God places before us to show kindness to others.

If we ask God to open our eyes for ways to offer help, we can kick-start this Good Samaritan attitude in us. Learning to see disruptions as a blessing—a chance to serve the Lord—will help keep negative thoughts about the delay out of our mind.

God gives many opportunities to show Christ’s love to others. Some bring inconveniences that make us stop and value relationship over time and money.

Allow God to use you as the next Good Samaritan. 

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The Best Banquet

I love a good meal.

When my grown children visit, our main entertainment is cooking. We create a dish together and then have the luxury of sharing the meal. Our times of food and fellowship are priceless.

For my 50th birthday, my children threw a small dinner party for me with our best friends, complete with place cards and my favorite entrée of coconut shrimp. Desert was crème brulee, a taste of heaven.

One day there will be a better banquet—the best banquet at the greatest venue—heaven. The bride of Christ will sit down with King Jesus at a banquet. He will provide all the food and even our clothes. That’s living.

But there is a catch. You have to accept the invitation. In Luke 14:15-24, Jesus told about a man who threw a great feast and invited the “Who’s Who” in town. All of them made excuses: “I’m too busy,” or “I just got married.” The man told his servants to invite the down-and-outs—the poor, handicapped, drifters, and homeless. They came because they realized their need.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The invitation is open to all who realize they need a Savior. While free to us, it cost Christ His life. A place card is there for me. Not because of any good I’ve done, but because Christ paid the price for my sin. My place card is written in His blood. So is yours.

I look forward to seeing many there—even though I don’t know all the faces now. Plenty of time to learn those in eternity.

If you haven’t responded to Christ’s invitation, there’s still time.

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Learning about Success

Finding our heart’s desire is a mountain-climbing experience full of dangers, fatigue, and walking with blisters.

One of my grandchildren accompanied me to the bank. I was grateful to get to know him better and buy him an ice cream cone. When we drove up to the drive-in window, he asked, “Papa, is this the money store?”

He thought all I had to do to get money for ice cream was ask the lady for as much as I wanted. When I explained I had to give her money first and then she would keep it for me until I needed it, he said, “Oh!” He had learned a bit about life.

I thought, “Precious little guy, you have taught Papa we learn about a successful life by small lessons.”

Learning about success is a process—not a perfect condition. Often, we learn the hard way. Then, after we find success (the top of the mountain), we must be careful not to slip or get carried away by strong winds, pushing us over the edge.

God taught Joshua prosperity and success were anchored in learning about what Almighty God says about living. But he couldn’t stop at learning. He had to live as God told him to.

Spiritual learning and living is an applied psychology because it goes beyond philosophy and is characterized by objectivity. A person who follows the prescription for anxiety given in Philippians chapter four finds the objective results of peace that passes understanding. Peace comes from a relationship with Jesus who said if we come to Him, He will give us peace with an eternal flavor.

Find success by abiding in a loving relationship with Jesus which is guaranteed to produce fruit.

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Samaritans on the Loose

Oh no! We were ten miles from the Allentown airport when the battery light on the car started flashing.

We coasted to a gas station across from the airport before it died. My husband offered to pay a man at the gas pump to take my mom to the gate to catch her flight. “No problem. My wife is headed there right now to return a rental car,” he replied. That was only the beginning.

For the next two hours, the man and his family stuck by our side—in the cold, icy rain—trying to help us. It became obvious we would have to get towed seventy miles to our mechanic’s garage. Rather than leaving us, the family insisted on staying until the tow truck arrived. In the warmth of their running car, we waited and exchanged stories. All I could think was, How do they have time to do this? We’re strangers. We barely speak the same language (they were Hispanic). Yet they were showing us such kindness.

I’ve thought a lot about the parable of the Good Samaritan since that night … of the priest and Levite who passed by the man who had been robbed, beaten, and left for dead. Life was about them. They had places to go and people to see. I’ll bet they were busy. Perhaps their lives were full of sentences with no commas—too full to be interrupted. Probably not much different than mine.

The Samaritan was different. And so were these folks. Because of the time they took for us on that cold wintry night, our lives were touched and changed. We were challenged … to slow down and consider God’s undeserved mercy.  

If you haven’t been a Samaritan on the loose, it’s not too late to start.

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Afterthought

I took my job seriously and prayerfully began the journey.

I wondered why God gave me two little lives to nurture and adore, when most of the time I felt inadequate. At every turn, I was doing the learning while my little ones seemed to be one step ahead.

"Father, I can't do this,” I cried often.

He answered softly.  "If you weren't equal to the task, I would not ask.” 

Once again, I was picked up, dusted off, and set back on my feet. I can't say I "raised" them. In many ways, they were more aware of life than I. I can only pray they learned half as much from me as I did from them.

My daughter, Tammy, came to me after her first daughter, Ashley, was born. "Mom," she said, "this world is so cruel and violent. I sometimes wonder if I didn't make a mistake by having a child."

My eyes met hers as my heart skipped a beat. Praying silently for wisdom, I answered, "Honey, this life is far more than what we see with our eyes. If you teach her to love the Lord and accept Him as her personal Savior, she will live forever with Jesus and all of us who know in our hearts He is the Son of God." I thanked God for the precious gift of motherhood.

Thank God for the privilege of being a parent.  

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Looking Intently

Time spent on some things might be better spent somewhere else.

A Facebook friend posted a picture of a stone wall and asked viewers to look at it, look away, and then look back. Viewers should see something other than a stone wall.

I was looking for Jesus’ face to appear. It didn’t. Though I followed the directions, all I saw was the same stone wall. I messaged my friend who explained what I needed to look for. It wasn’t Jesus’ face but a large cigar with ashes stuck in the wall.

There was no significance in the time I spent gazing at this stone wall, but it was entertaining once I saw the cigar. I enjoy staying connected with friends and family through Facebook, but looking at a stone wall and seeing nothing except a big cigar made me feel as if I’d wasted my time.

When I read God's Word, I never feel as if I’m wasting my time. I could also trim the time I spend on Facebook and spend more time looking into God's Word. While there is no promise connected to looking into Facebook, there is a promise for looking into and obeying God's Word. The promise is that we will be blessed in what we do.

Consider cutting some time from social media and looking more into God's Word so you can hear what God says and be blessed.

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Hello Pot, Meet Kettle

Sometimes in trying to teach a child a lesson, we find out we’re the student.

It was a teachable moment and I was going to use this opportunity to talk to my fourteen-year-old about purity and integrity. One of her friends made an innocent comment but phrased it with a double meaning—a sexual innuendo. I wanted to explain that as a child of God and representative of Christ we should be an example to others. I called my daughter over, but while I was speaking, she was playing on her iPod. This was important, but she didn’t hear a word I said because she was absorbed in a game.

The next day it hit me. I do the same to God all the time. I’m the pot who called the kettle black.

God created Adam for fellowship, to walk and talk together in the garden. We were made for fellowship too. God wants to spend time with me, but I’m often too busy for quiet time with Him. Yet I find time to play on the computer and watch mindless TV shows. 

God doesn’t need my prayers. I do. I can pray on the go, as I run out the door, or as I’m falling asleep, but Jesus always took time to be alone with His Father. When I take time to be with God, I’m renewed and strengthened. Doing so is how I listen and learn. It keeps me aware of His presence so I’m more trusting through trials and less crazy in crises.

Prayer is a heart attitude. There is no right or wrong way to do it. A small hurried prayer is better than not talking to God at all, but we need time to listen. Consider the things that fill your day and crowd out your quiet time.

Find time for your heavenly Father. He is your reward and nothing can compare.

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Train and Release

“Mom, let go.”

Those three words hit me hard. Tears fogged up my sunglasses. It was just the mastery of a two-wheel bike, but it was much more.

My son’s words echoed in my head as I loosened my grip on the bicycle seat and watched him cruise down the path unassisted. One more item added to the list of ways my baby doesn’t need me anymore.

But that’s what parenting is about. Training our children so they grow in independence. Still, it doesn’t take away the hurt. As I watch him reach new milestones, my sense of pride is mixed with a sense of loss. My prayer is that he will increase in spiritual growth as he has in physical growth. That one day he will take up this faith his father and I have been impressing upon him and say, “Mom, let go. You’ve taught me well, but I own this now.”

And I will let go and watch him become his own person. I’ll be grateful for the feeling of joy and pain mixed because that emotion is proof of love.

I wonder if Timothy’s mother and grandmother had similar feelings to work through. Their boy grew up to be a leader in the early church, but in order for him to succeed, they also had to let go.

Maybe it’s time to peel your clenched fist off that bicycle seat and watch your child ride free of your grasp. Give it a try. It’s okay if the tears fog up your sunglasses.

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Prayer Help

Though she had raised a family and had a career as a nurse, she didn’t remember either. 

A friend of mine was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband is her care giver and helps her get ready to attend our church prayer meeting where women pray and remain with her until the men’s group is dismissed.

Our friend reads and prays over the first names from the week’s prayer bulletin, choosing her words carefully as she tries to get every request right. Week after week, she starts in the same place with the same requests. It occurred to us that she might want to pray for someone or something else, so we offered her three other requests: a retiring missionary who needed a job, a missionary who needed a new field of service, and a friend who needed help caring for her sick husband.

As we bowed our heads, our friend prayed, “Thank You to pray. I pray for everyone who is—still.” Even a few ideas were difficult for her to remember. Looking down at the list, she continued, “Pray for the lady and her husband. Pray for the Planning Committee and the Deacon Committee. In Jesus Name, Amen.” Her silence allowed others to meditate.

David took his problems to God. Trusting the requests were heard, he rested in the knowledge God would answer. After help came, David sang praises from a heart blessed by God’s love and goodness toward him.

People have burdensome problems without easy answers. We pray but don’t know how to ask for God’s help, what to say, or what to do about the situation. Lacking words, we often cry to the Lord—or just cry. Jesus is the mediator between God and believers, and the Spirit intercedes when we don’t know what to say. He speaks perfectly and with intensity.

God knows our hearts and recognizes the Spirit’s mind. Let Him help you pray the will of God.

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Zero Balance

The bill was more than a thousand dollars. The explanation said I had provided no insurance information.

Before I had tests done at the hospital, my doctor informed me it would cost one hundred dollars up front, but led me to believe there would be no further charges. She did say, though, that insurance didn’t usually pay for that particular test.

The day I had the test, the receptionist was not a happy camper, and the office resembled a zoo. The lobby filled as the morning progressed, and I had the feeling I’d been overlooked. The waiting was difficult, since the test required a fast—meaning no breakfast or coffee. Finally at noon, they performed the test.

The receptionist hadn’t asked for my insurance information, so when I received the bill, I called the billing company. Once I convinced them I was me, the call dropped. I called again, went through the same identification process with another customer service rep, and prayed this time the line would hold.

When I questioned the bill, the receptionist checked her records and informed me I had a zero balance. Even though she assured me I owed no money, I remained skeptical and asked for the hospital number so I could double-check. Only after I received confirmation from the hospital was I able to believe it. She explained how a computer-generated bill can go out before the insurance payment kicks in. (The insurance they didn't ask for and said wouldn't apply to this particular test.)   

Everybody owes a spiritual debt of sin to God. The problem is we can never pay the debt we owe. But when Christ died on the cross, He said, "It is finished." We can be one hundred percent certain He paid our sin debt.

Trust Christ so you can have a zero-balance with Him. Forever.

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Audience of One

“Don’t write for me, but for the prosecutor who will need details to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt,” I said.

As a police watch commander, I required officers to submit their daily crime and arrest reports for approval. My advice for them to write the reports as if they were writing them for the prosecutor often fell on deaf ears. I was their boss. But the light illuminated when they were called to the witness stand and realized my opinion was irrelevant. All that mattered was what they did and didn’t do.

As a follower of Christ, living for the approval of people is nonsensical. Yet I’ve done it. I want others to receive my written work with anticipation and endorsement to help validate my thoughts. But why do I need others to place their stamp of approval on my effort?

Needing approval from others may mean I’m seeking a pat on the back or not practicing faithfulness to God’s call on my life. I want my words to reflect God’s instruction to me. He teaches, and I write.

“I want to live for an audience of one” is something I have written many times over. But living it is a challenge. I can now proclaim I have put hobbies and other activities to the side as I write for God’s glory.

If we follow Jesus and pursue holiness, God will speak to us through Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and His creation. When He does—and we respond in obedience, we are living for an audience of ONE.

Affirmation and encouragement are nice, but the seal of approval should come from our Father in heaven. 

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Integrated into Jesus

Skin cancer can teach a person a lot about Jesus.

I was on our back deck watching the hummingbirds fight over their nectar jars. Suddenly, I felt a itching on the lower part of my left jaw. Thinking it must be a bug bite, I tried to ignore the itch. Ignoring it didn’t work, so I went inside to look.

Inside my mouth, I found a pink little mountain the color of bubblegum that was as smooth as a baby’s bottom and as firm as a piece of fruit. I knew I had to tell my wife, but hesitated because she was so proactive. I thought about ignoring the eruption in hopes it would go away. I was overruled again.

A few days later at my skin doctor’s office, I didn’t like the grim look on his face when I told him the story and showed him my little marvel. He scheduled me for surgery immediately.

I learned many years ago to take my stunned moments to Jesus, so I quoted the prescription for anxiety written on the Philippians prescription pad that told me to stop being anxious. I needed to go to my loving Lord in the spirit of a worshipful supplicant and ask for things from a position of thankfulness. Coming to God meant believing He existed and would reward me. Peace filled my being as I was integrated into Jesus after coming into His loving arms.

The whole cancer episode became interesting, not frightening any longer. I was awake during the surgery but couldn’t move. My vision was clouded, but I could still watch the doctor open up my throat. Even then, I wasn’t frightened. Later, my doctor told me I was cancer free. My heart still sings praises to God.

No matter what comes your way, rest in the loving arms of Jesus.

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One Fleshed or Simply "Undivorced?"

As we made our way through the Port-au-Prince airport, we exhaled a sigh of relief when we found our host.

Byen venu to Haiti!” our host said. “I hope your travels went well.” They had. But our travels would not end in Port-au-Prince. We still had to make the three-hour car trip to Miragoane by way of bumpy mountain roadways. Another Haitian pastor, whom we will call Auguste, graciously offered us a ride.

As we bounced along, we used the time to get to know each other. Through the first pastor, who translated for us, we discovered that Auguste had become pastor of his church less than two years before and had found a sad spiritual situation. In a church of less than 200 people, ten couples cohabited but refused to get married. Auguste informed us that in Haiti men often cheat on their wives or have several partners. If a wife displeases her husband, he simply abandons her. Even many pastors practice infidelity.

But Pastor Auguste had quickly gone to work. He preached to his congregation that Christians must live in faithfulness to their spouse. At the local seminary where he taught, he changed the curriculum so a class on the Christian life became the first that a prospective pastor had to take. Auguste also traveled to other regions to preach against marital infidelity.

And people listened. All ten couples in his church either married or agreed to live in purity. So Auguste devoted more days to traveling and preaching. In fact, he travelled and preached so much that he never saw his wife and kids.

God hates divorce and wants husbands and wives to remain faithful for a lifetime. Periodically, I need to ask myself if I exemplify the oneness God designed for marriage, or if I simply remain “undivorced.” God wants us to “hold fast” to our spouse—to make time for them, to love and cherish them, and to make them our first priority.

Practice oneness in your marriage rather than living in a state of “undivorceness.”

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Dad Was Wrong

I tried to tell Dad Jeremiah wasn’t the prophet or a bullfrog, but he wouldn’t listen.

One of Three Dog Night’s more famous songs—that wasn’t supposed to be—was “Joy to the World.” What made it famous was the opening line: “Jeremiah was a bullfrog.” Being a child of the 60s and 70s, I naturally loved the song. My dad, on the other hand—a fundamentalist preacher—hated it as much as I esteemed it. In his mind, the song made fun of the biblical prophet.

According to one band member, the original line to what was supposed to be a silly kid’s song was, “Jeremiah was a prophet.” Perhaps Dad was right. The writer of the song, however, said, "Jeremiah was an expedient of the time. I had the chorus for three months. I took a drink of wine, leaned on the speaker, and said 'Jeremiah was a bullfrog.'"

Whether the song was written to make fun of the prophet or not seems uncertain. What is certain is that my dad was doing his best to obey what Paul wrote. He wanted his body—including his mind—to be pure and holy before God. Listening to things that were sacrilegious wasn’t permissible for him, and he didn’t want me to listen either. That might also explain why he rarely went to the movies or watched anything but the old flicks on television—the ones produced before cursing and overt sexual content were allowed. 

Even at a young age, I thought Dad might have gone a little overboard, but I admire anyone who stands for what they believe. And Dad did. Convictions are essential to life. Without them, I’m blown about like a tumbleweed. While I didn’t always share my father’s convictions, I admired the fact he had them and watched his example to manufacture my own.

I doubt Three Dog Night’s song was making fun of the biblical prophet, but the controversy taught me there are things and people who will attempt to lead me away from God’s standards. Only by establishing convictions built on God’s Word can I remain on the straight and narrow path God wants me to walk—just as Dad did.

Let your convictions mold your lifestyle.  

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Seeing Jesus

Seeing someone in real life is better than hearing about them.

My youngest sister and a friend wanted to see Elvis Presley perform. They purchased tickets for a concert, drove several hours, rented a motel, and finally sat in an audience of thousands to see their singing idol. They were ecstatic as they listened and watched him from a distance.

Zacchaeus was a curious little guy from Jericho. As a tax collector, he didn’t make as much money as he wanted, so he tallied a little extra on everyone’s bill. Others did it; it was no big deal. Doing so paid off. He wasn’t only the chief tax collector but also a savvy and wealthy businessman. But he didn’t get the satisfaction he thought his riches would bring. Then he heard about Jesus—a man who taught in the synagogues and performed miracles. So he made plans to see Him.

As Jesus neared Jericho, a blind beggar beside the road cried out to Jesus. Jesus asked the disciples to bring the blind man to Him and then asked the man a question. Following the man’s response, Jesus said, “Receive your sight, your faith has healed you.” Immediately, the man received his sight, followed along, and praised Jesus.

Herod asked to see Jesus, hoping to see something sensational. He looked for the supernatural, the unusual, and something to entertain him. He didn’t really long to see who Jesus was; he just wanted to see the miracles He did.

Perhaps Jericho was a-buzz with the account of Jesus’ miracles, but at some point, Zacchaeus heard Jesus was nearby. He wanted to witness Him. He wanted to know who He was. Something stirred Zacchaeus’ heart. So he shimmied up a tree, hid among the branches, and waited.

Wanting to see what Jesus does and desiring to see Him are different things. Zacchaeus hid in the tree to see but Jesus recognized the heart hunger of this tax collector and called to him.

Do you know a place where Jesus will show up? Is there a church nearby where His presence abides? Run to a place where you can see Jesus and get to know Him.

Look for a sanctuary where you can find out who Jesus is and what He can be to you. 

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Closed Doors

“Why not me, Lord?” That was my question when I heard they went with another candidate.

I had interviewed for a pharmaceutical position. Even though the manger was rooting for me—and all the cards looked like they were in my hand—the regional director did not pick me. I began to question myself, I did everything right. I thought this was my season for open doors. As I sat sulking in my pity party, I heard God say, “I know the plans I have for you ...”

When we look at the big picture, we can see God’s plans are always better than ours. He wants to bless our lives with things we couldn’t imagine. All He requires is that we trust Him and let Him direct our paths. If He closes a door, there is a reason why the knob won’t turn. Don’t force it open or even linger around it because He has something far greater behind another door. When I heard His voice, I thanked Him for not allowing the door to open. He knows what’s on the other side, and it was not in His purpose for me.

Have you ever asked, “Why not me, Lord?” If you are in His will, then His choice was the right one, and there was nothing you could have done to make the situation better.

Rejoice and thank God that He shuts some doors because He has other doors that will open for your purpose.

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Baby Steps

I wonder how I got here.

Have you ever found yourself saying those words? Finding yourself somewhere you didn’t plan to be—whether in a physical location or an emotional state—can lead to all kinds of trouble.

The Bible says God isn’t the author of confusion, but of peace. He’s also a God of order and shows evidence of this throughout the Bible. One example is shown through His instructions to Noah for building the ark. Specific details were given regarding the type of wood, dimensions, placement of decks, windows, doors, etc. The purpose of the ark was to save Noah and his family from the flood. Most likely, the command made no sense to Noah—since it had never rained before—but he listened and obeyed when God spoke. Noah spent 120 years following step-by-step construction to complete his task. Friends and neighbors laughed at him, but he didn’t quit. Had Noah felt overwhelmed and given up … or just never heard God in the first place, none of us would be here.

Since I’m not an organized person, hearing “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail” disturbs me. However, planning helped me lose fifty pounds—something I never thought I could do. I set a goal and followed my plan. Day by day, meal by meal, I decided which foods were worth it. This dream became a reality through God’s strength and my baby steps. If I had given no thought to my previous poor choices, I would weigh the same or more today.

The writer of Proverbs says people perish when there is no vision. God’s Word protects us from dangerous circumstances that cause us shame or harm. I don’t want to be the simpleton who goes blindly on and suffers the consequences. Pay attention. Life is a gift–each day a fresh start. What will you do with yours?

Plan your path, grab your Father’s hand, and don’t let go. Remember … baby steps.

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Seeking Truth

It was the most emotional night of my life, and every year the memory comes to mind.

For months, I had been struggling in my personal faith walk. After attending several years of Bible study, I had reached a crossroads. Many things about walking in faith had brought me to the place of questioning whether the Bible was true. Then, sitting in church on a Thursday night service before Good Friday, I could hardly sit still for the unrest in my soul. I was struggling with more questions than I had answers. I could no longer accept being a marginal, moderate Christian. “Lukewarm” had become uncomfortable. If even one part of the Bible wasn’t true, then none of it could be.

Lord, if You are real, I need to know!

Near the end of the service, something happened for which I was unprepared. The lights in the sanctuary dimmed. One by one, different people from the congregation walked forward and carried off every item in the church that identified it as being a place of worship: the candelabra’s, the kneeling bench. The last thing carried out was the large Bible from the altar.

People filed out of the sanctuary in complete silence until I was left alone. Then God spoke, Sherry, this is what life would be like without me. Nothingness! Is this what you want? You have to choose.

Never before or since has God spoken so clearly to my heart.

Though this incident occurred more than twenty years ago, there is much I still don’t understand about God. I have more to learn, but from that moment until now I don’t want to live one day without Him. In times of great loss and earthly sadness, it has been reassuring to know He is real, present, and caring.

On that night, the Lord asked if I would choose Jesus. With tears and an overflowing heart, I said, yes! Living without Him is simply no life at all.

Don’t merely seek answers to the mysteries of the universe. Seek the Designer of the universe Himself. He’s waiting on your answer.  

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The Slap to Forgiveness

The crack of the slap resounded in the tiny kitchen, and five pairs of horrified eyes accused me.

I could see my fiery fingerprints on my son’s face. Even as a heathen, I knew better than to strike a child on the face. His shocked blue eyes—the lamps of his soul—plunged me into the darkness of shame and grief before he darted away. Silently, his older brother picked up the garbage bag, the bone of our contention, and walked outside.

Chaos reigned in this tiny rental where we temporarily housed our family of seven while looking for something permanent. Packing lunches for five children before piling them in the van to transport them to Christian school was taxing. As I was stuffing the brown bags and reminding our middle son to take out the trash, someone turned on the water, drenching the bags. Though he loudly protested it wasn’t his turn to take out the trash, something snapped—and it was me.

I saw movement behind the drapes in the living room. It was the boy who wanted to be found. I pulled him into my arms, set aside the day’s reading, and turned to Colossians 3, Paul’s exhortation to forgive one another even as Christ has forgiven us. I dropped to my knees and begged for my son’s forgiveness.

As we drove to school, my tears continued to fall, and my third grader asked, “Mommy, does the blood still work today?” When I nodded yes, he said, “Then you should be glad, not sad.” The little child whom I had offended was God’s instrument of forgiveness. The Kingdom belongs to these.

When we offend others and grieve God, we carry the weight of our sin as a load. God wants us to cast our cares upon Him who cares for us.

Confess your sin to God and to the one you have offended and receive the remission of your sins.

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Mother of All the Living

“You know how to milk a mouse?” My grandmother giggled as she squeezed my hand into a fist and clamped down on my pinky.

I cocked my head, puzzled. To my dismay, it was too late. She tightened her grip on my pinky, bringing me off the chair shouting.

Grandma roared with laughter. You’d have thought it was the first time she’d pulled her little prank. She yanked me to her chest, kissing my head, and patting my back. “Works every time. Now you know I love you.”

Grandma had her first child at fifteen and they stair-stepped year after year until she had a brood of seven. She died in 1995. Her bull-headedness and pride were balanced by her work ethic and genuine love. Grandma had raised a big family, taught them well, and when she died, every one of us gathered by her bed holding vigil. Twenty-one years later, the last living child of my grandmother is . . .  my mother.

Mom turns ninety this year and the reality to my brother and I is knowing our days with her are numbered—not by health, but by age. She is gifted, healthy, active, and now the matriarch of the family. Not just of her own family, but of my dad’s family too. (All of dad’s siblings are gone as well and Mom cares about their children just as she cares for her own and those of her siblings.) She keeps in the loop with all the cousins. Mom has become the mother of all the living in our family.

Adam had the daunting task of naming everything in the world. I imagine after a multitude of animals, trees, and plants, he probably wished Webster’s existed sooner. But when he looked into the eyes of his lovely mate, her name slipped out effortlessly . . . EVE, mother of all the living. She was given a place of great esteem—mother of all the living. At that moment, her place of respect was written in stone.

My grandmother pulled a few pranks on us kids, but as she lay dying, there was not a person in the room who held an ill feeling toward her. They loved her, cared for her, and respected her until her last breath. I have no doubt it will be the same with my mother.

Being a mother doesn’t always mean she’s given birth. A mother is the woman who, regardless of your faults, has loved you unconditionally. She’s made a difference in you. Knows you. Cares.

Find that woman you call mother. Share with her the birthright of your appreciation. For God placed her in highest esteem. Mother of all the living. 

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Beauty from Ashes

Out of the ashes of loss comes a beauty only an artist can conceive and create.

At the junction of two roads in a rural area of Iowa, a 12-foot, 56-ton rock sits. Dubbed the “Freedom Rock,” it is covered with pictures of veterans, along with patriotic scenes of our nation’s history, all painted by a local artist. Each spring, the artist gives the rock a fresh coat of paint, changing its face to proudly display new scenes for the many who stop by to view it. Included in the paint he uses are the ashes of deceased veterans, given to the artist by their families as a way to honor the memory of their loved ones. Before applying the paint to the rock, the artist mixes the ashes with the paint so that the two become inseparable. 

God works in much the same way. He paints our lives with broad strokes—taking our ashes, our pain, our mourning, our joy—and interweaves them all into the masterpiece He’s creating in such a way that beauty emerges. Just as the artist in Iowa took what was at one time an ordinary piece of stone and turned it into a monument to honor our nation’s veterans, God uses normal people every day. Every experience, every emotion, and every moment of our lives is used by the Creator to mold us into the person He wants us to be so He might be glorified.

When others are able to see God at work in and through our life’s circumstances, our ashes become something beautiful. With God’s help, we—as well as others—can see past our circumstances and focus on the Creator Who makes all things new. 

Let the canvas of your life reflect the hand of the One guiding the brush.

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Heart Words

Words relate the condition of our heart and soul.

When I recommitted my life to God, I asked Him to change my heart. He made me conscious of words leaving my lips. Unlike many mistakes we can correct, spoken words cannot be unsaid. Words are powerful. In Genesis, God spoke and things immediately happened. Even Jesus is referred to as the Word: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

Jesus was rebuked by the scribes and Pharisees because His disciples broke tradition by not washing their hands before eating. Jesus responded to this charge with a parable and then explained that what goes into the mouth “is cast out in the draught.” What comes out of the mouth comes from the heart.

When I am tempted to be sarcastic, unkind, or critical, Jesus convicts me. My words of unkind criticism and judgement condemn me if I open my mouth and let unguarded words fly. These words—my defense through life against those who wound me—are not condoned by my new master. God makes me sensitive to others’ feelings. I feel the pain, bitterness, resentment, and loneliness of those who are thoughtless in their speech and actions. Instead of words, tears flow. I become aware of the pain I’ve caused the Lord. He suffered with me and for me—a discernment with life-changing results.

Words have the power to deceive or enlighten, injure or heal, criticize or encourage, separate or unify, condemn or forgive, destroy or create. Words have the power to change lives. Words of love, of praise, and of prayer are heart words—words of life.

Ask God to help you speak heart words that will be sensitive to the needs of others, reach the lost, and glorify Him.

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Iron Sharpens Iron

Trying to cut something with a dull knife is exhausting, frustrating, and dangerous.

Injuries are more likely to occur with a dull knife because cutting with a dull knife requires more resistance and effort to get the job done. The knife’s purpose is to help, but when it is dull it becomes a burden because it’s not functioning to its fullest potential.

The same is true of people. A person falling short in character or living in a state of repeated sin isn’t living up to his potential and is dull. But all of us have aspects in our lives that need sharpening.

This simple proverb is layered with truths to sharpen us. To say “Iron sharpens iron” implies we need Christians to sharpen Christians. If we allow the world to sharpen us, it may be more damaging than good. Just as iron will never be sharpened but dulled by wood, so Christians should not seek the world’s advice when refining our souls. Rather, we need trusted believers who have God’s truth and our best interests in mind.

A rough process occurs when iron sharpens iron. There is friction and removal of waste and of what is useless and dull. Sharpening is also a process that takes place again and again. Thankfully, the procedure is also gradual. Instead of a chisel chipping chunks away from stone, the sharpening is a smooth, steady gliding motion. God and other believers will sharpen and refine us over time and in a loving way.

The end result of the process—“so people can improve each other,” is also important. So often we look only to ourselves to improve—our grit, our resilience, our knowledge, our strength, our skills, and our power. We reach into our beings and fall short. Thoughts of change overwhelm us.

We don’t have to wander, face our demons, muster enough strength, and solve all the problems alone. God and fellow believers can help.

God created us to help one another carry burdens and lighten loads. 

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The Tongue's Power

The last words I heard from my dad before he died were that I was going to lose everything I owned.

When I was growing up, my dad would say unkind words to me such as, “You are not good enough to be my son,” or “Nothing good will come of your life.” I never heard a positive word from his mouth. I lived for many years trying to get my dad’s blessing on my life. Just one time I wanted to hear him say I was doing a good job. To this day, I have to battle with the words my dad spoke.  

Words have power in people’s lives. The only way to overcome the curses words can bring is to first turn your life over to God and then read His word and dwell on it. Memorize His promise that the plans He has for you is to prosper you, not harm you, and to give you an abundant life.

While I was praying on one occasion, I heard the voice of the Lord inside of me say, “One day you will see Me face to face, and I will wipe away every tear you have shed on this earth. And I will say, ‘Son, job well done.’”

Even if you say something to someone teasingly, it can impact because the enemy will use the careless words for his glory. He will bring them back to the person repeatedly when the person is down or struggling. We should speak our words carefully because God will hold us accountable for every word that proceeds out of our mouth.

Are you speaking life or death into the people around you? Speak words of encouragement into the lives of those around you, and watch the difference in the person you are speaking them to.

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Called to Finish

Amazing things happen when a race is finished.

Peyton Manning referred to 2 Timothy 4:7 when he recently announced his retirement from the NFL. Like Manning, Christians are called to finish the race. Another lesser-known athlete competed in the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. John Stephen Akhwari fell while running the 42 km race and badly injured his knee and shoulder. Three and half hours after he had started the race, Akhwari crossed the finish line. Most of the cheering crowd had left. When a reporter asked Akhwari why he had continued running, he replied that the country of Tanzania had not sent him to start the race, but to finish it. 

My assistant principal recently shared Akhwari’s story, and we agreed that educators also struggle to finish the race they are running. In the midst of state tests and constantly changing technology, we’re often left questioning if we are making any progress. We may be forced to change our game plan, become injured or dehydrated, or fall and need assistance, but we are all called to finish the race.

Whether we are competing in the Super Bowl, running an Olympic marathon, preparing students for the future, or going about our daily routines of living, we are called to finish the race. We may face daily frustrations, physical limitations, emotional stumbling blocks, or societal criticisms, but we need to put our shoulders to the wheel and forge ahead.

When Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he struggled to carry out God’s plan. Carrying His own cross up the hill of Golgotha, He stumbled and needed help; however, He was called to finish the race.

Finishing first or last is insignificant. God did not send His Son to start the race, but to finish it. Likewise, He calls us to continue to press toward the goal and the prize.

When you feel as though you can’t finish, do it anyway – for you are called to finish and accept the prize.

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The Call of Easter

Easter gives me nightmares. I’m not belittling the death and resurrection of Christ, but the whole thing is so convicting that I have nightmares.

From childhood, seeing the death of Jesus constantly played has haunted me. It has torn away at my soul. And truthfully . . . it should do the same to you.

Christmas is the sweet offering of God’s Son, sent from His place in heaven to a sinful world. An innocent baby, given in exceptional circumstances to be raised – the Son of Man – the Son of God.

But behind the joy of Easter is the horrid realization of our sin cast upon one soul to bear the weight. Through His blood, we are made clean. Still, the cruel and inhumane behaviors of men lashing out at Christ tear me apart. I can hardly look at a photo of a dying Jesus hanging on a cross without the realization that his body was not this clean figure gently dying on a tree. It was the Son of Man beaten beyond recognition. His flesh torn and ripped from the muscle by the lashes of the whips, eyes swollen shut, hair plastered tightly to His head from His own blood. A gentle man, taken to the extents of brutality. . . and yet, of the few words He uttered, the most convicting were, “Father forgive them . . .”

Tell me you can read those words and hold the mental picture of what Jesus suffered and not be broken and wholly convicted.

Ezekiel told about his call from God: “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” Probably an early reference to Christ as well, but still a command, a call, to meet God. One fulfilled for Ezekiel and for us.

I often wonder at the times God calls each of us to stand and meet Him and how we callously ignore the opportunity to have the Spirit come and raise us to our feet. How can we refuse to look at His sacrifice? How can we carelessly glimpse at the figure of Jesus on the cross and see nothing more than a figure on a tree?

In our rejoicing over the resurrection of Christ, don’t forget Easter is also a time of mourning, reflection, and devastation. The death had to happen before the resurrection could come.  Someone had to pay the price. Please do not overlook it. Our sin put Him in the grave, and His sacrifice purified our souls. The Son of Man has overcome death. The Spirit stood Him on His feet and elevated Him to His rightful place by God.

When you hear the call from the Spirit, answer. Let Him raise you to your feet in the name of the Lord – for in His suffering we have been saved. Where, oh death, is your victory? Gone! Because of the power of the living God.

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In Case of Fire

Caution! Beware! Precaution Necessary! Danger! Exclamatory words that warn about the destructive nature of fires. Fire can be a harmful, evil, and destructive enemy.

Natural fires claim the lives of countless individuals around the world, causing great loss within society and changing lives forever. The Bible uses fire figuratively when speaking of spiritual elements and the supernatural.

During their wilderness journey, God led Moses and the children of Israel during the night with a pillar of fire. Peter speaks of the fiery trials that test our character and how we endure under trials of hardship, death, illness, and a host of other problems. Fire is also used to refer to the purifying methods God uses to make us more like Jesus.

The biblical analogy of fire refers to the process a blacksmith uses. He first hammers the metal and then melts it into liquid gold. When the impurities rise to the top, he scrapes off the dross. God, in a similar manner, sends His fire through situations. He uses the Holy Spirit to cleanse and purify our hearts and minds.    

As we experience the heat of God’s fire, we should not worry or fret. God is simply using precautionary measures to make us more like Jesus. He’s burning and destroying those things in our lives that aren’t like Him—actions and mindsets ingrained from our sinful nature, useless things which bear no fruit. God is doing a great work for His glory. 

Will you be bold enough to ask the Lord to send His fire?

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Overwhelmed

Our extended family has experienced the blizzard of sickness and health problems for the past five months. Overwhelmed is the word to describe how I have felt—buried. Tiny snowflakes are lovely to watch, but snow storms—measured in feet rather than flakes—can hide a road, bury a car, shut down a city, or cause a disaster.

“See those eagles? They nest up there,” my husband said as we sat in a boat in Maine. Maine has rocks where fisherman anchor their boats in bays below cliffs fifty to one hundred feet tall. We watched. “Look in this direction. Here it comes.”

The eagle dove off the cliff, slipped into bay waters, grabbed a fish, and turned upward, his huge wings pumping the air. The eagle soared until it reached the nest, the fish still in its mouth. Her nest was safe in the heights. Rocks held the giant birds and their young. Provision of food and water was accessible, all planned by their great Creator.

I read the second verse from David’s sixty-first psalm one morning. These very words were included in an anthem I had sung fifty years ago. Suddenly, the melody came to mind and I sang it aloud. The words set to music refreshed my soul. David himself must have experienced the same as he cried out to God. Tears came to my eyes, but not because of the problems. God led me from them to the rock, a place and a person higher than I.

God is my source of strength when I am weak. He is the Rock … the ultimate helper. He is the strong tower who protects me from the enemy that lives in my world. God lives above—the heavenly realm, His tabernacle. He invites me to abide, stay, and visit Him in His “living room.” He wants me to rise above the pelting ice and snow.

Overwhelmed? Our “snow storm” came in sickness this time. Other trials may come, but faith will lead me to the Rock every time. I live on Eagles Nest Drive.

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The Bond of Perfection

All bonds are breakable—with the exception of one.

Love is the natural bond between humanity and God. Christ’s perfection is the unbreakable tie that connects us to God forever. The weight of having to be perfect has been removed from our shoulders through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. We are now approved in Christ.

As a pastor, I see people deal with various burdens. One is fear, and that fear is a fruit of torment—a torment derived from seeking approval from people or God. People fear rejection, so they don’t reach out to achieve their dreams and aspirations. God wants us to achieve greatness, and He has provided an unbreakable bond to Himself to help us achieve it.

Christ is the unbreakable bond. He died for our sins, and when we believe in Him, it creates an indestructible link between us and God. His love is the mortar to the structure as well as the foundation of a great building. We are bound to His perfection and will never again be tossed around by our weaknesses. The bond we have through Christ is eternal and unblemished.

Putting on love requires receiving the love of God through Christ. We are loved by the Lord, and His mercies eclipse our problems. His love is an endless sea of forgiveness that has yet to be explored. The depths of His love have not been fully tested. When we find His love, we find His mercies. By believing in His power, we are transformed into new people and bound to His perfection. His identity becomes ours.

If you are struggling to find worth or merit, the answer involves understanding the bond you have with perfection. Your actions won’t always measure up, but through God’s love you are connected to His perfection.

Put on love and envision the connection you have to perfection through God’s love. 

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The Strength of a Life

At two weeks of age my daughter had open-heart surgery to repair a rare congenital heart defect. For the next two months, she fought for her life. Every day was a struggle with one step forward and two steps back. Over the next year, she would continue her battle. A simple common cold would put her back in the hospital for weeks, causing her growth and development to fall behind once again. It was a difficult and devastating time for our family.

What they say is true: life is precious, fragile, and sometimes too short. But life is also strong. God has created our amazing, complicated, intricate bodies to be strong and resilient. When faced with struggles, we will fight to survive them, no matter how difficult.

Our Creator already knows the struggles we will face, both physically and mentally. He knows us better than anyone on this earth, and He has known us from the moment our lives began in the womb. We can push and fight through life’s challenges on our own, or we can battle them with God. He longs for us to call on him for the strength we need to fight our battles.

What struggles are you facing today? What battle seems too difficult to fight on your own? Ask God to be the strength you need to get through this challenging time. Ask Him to give you the strength you need to endure to the end. Your Father, who knows your inmost being, is waiting and ready to fight.

Dear Father,
You are the strength I need to face the challenges of life. You created me and know every part of me. Nothing takes You by surprise, and nothing is more powerful than You. Alone, I am not strong enough, but with You I can endure the challenges of this life. Amen

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It Took a Five-Year-Old

It was two days before his fifth birthday when we got him—our first foster child. We were as nervous as the first-time parents of a newborn. That first night at our house we were afraid to go to sleep. What if he got up in the middle of the night? What would he do or where would he go? And on top of that, I had to throw a birthday party for a five-year-old in two days.

We handled him with kid gloves—afraid of adding to his trauma … fearing we’d say something and set him into a rage.  The words of the previous foster mom echoed in my head: "Don't be afraid of him." But I was.

Foster parent training classes had warned us that some foster kids eat like horses or hoard food for fear of not getting enough. It seemed like all I did those first few weeks was feed him and clean up. I was afraid to say "No" to his frequent requests to eat.

Our days started at 4 or 5 a.m. when he would quietly pitter-patter to our room and ask, "Can I get up now?" Since we were in our 60s, my husband and I soon realized we had gotten more than we bargained for. At night, we dropped into bed exhausted, wondering what we’d gotten ourselves into.

Three months later, things are now going smoother. Meals are routine with a snack in between. On most nights, he sleeps a normal schedule. An occasional time-out takes care of the typical childhood misbehaviors. Tension is replaced with laughter.

Why was I so afraid of a five-year-old? I relyed on my own understanding instead of leaning on God. I see how God provided the strength, the energy, and the wisdom to be a foster parent to this child.  All I had to do was trust Him and provide the love.

It’s easy to take things into our own hands rather than offer them to God. When you’re tempted to handle things alone, stop and trust in the one who understands all things.

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I Love You All the Much I Got

I don’t think they get it – my kids, that is. We’re a combined family. My husband has two sons and I have two … but they’re all “our” boys. There’s never been any separation in them to us – mine, yours. They’re all the same. Still, I don’t think they get just how much we love them.

Anytime my husband and I refer to our sons, it’s our boys. When one son aches, both of us feel the pain. We’ve cried with and for one another when a child has experienced hardships. We’ve paced the floor throughout the night, and we’ve gone to our knees together, crying for God’s protection and favor, healing, and provision for each of our boys. Yet they don’t get it.

Despite how we stand in the wings waiting with our arms open, it takes our sons a long time to share their hurts with us. Pride, embarrassment, afraid they’ll disappoint us – it doesn’t matter. They never seem to get that we love them despite their hardships or their successes. When our oldest was little, his favorite saying was, “I love you all the much I got.” We love them wider than the widest ocean and deeper than the universe stretches – all the “much we got.”

Sometimes it’s hard to wrap our heads around God’s love. Paul describes his prayer for our understanding better than anyone. Imagine just how wide, long, high, and deep the love of Christ is. My own eyes are not always open to God’s longing love either. He shares this same love for me—and even greater, than what I share for my children.

Each Valentine’s Day, I send all my boys a chocolate bunny. It’s a simple, delectable reminder that we love them more than life itself. The love of a parent … the love of God, is deep. Deeper than we can understand at times, withstanding a multitude of wrongs against it.

I’ve begun telling God up front that I love Him. It’s time I verbally and spiritually begin to step up to plate for the Father whose love is unending – whose love is wider and deeper than I can imagine.

Take time to tell God you love Him — “all the much you got.”  

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Whenever I'm Afraid

I awakened at 4:00 a.m. feeling alone and helpless.

Life seemed to be closing in lately, completely smothering me. I wanted so much to serve my Savior and share with the world this love I had come to know since calling Him my Lord.  But, tonight—in the haunting silence—that love seemed far away.

I cried out in the darkness, “Lord, how can we teach joy and happiness in a world so filled with hate and corruption? I can't pretend not to see innocent children being used as sacrificial pawns to open wounds in a dead, decaying marriage. Nor can I ignore the lack of self-control in our schools, where misguided and frightened teens are screaming for attention by killing their friends and fellow classmates. I'm frightened, Lord. I don't understand. I can feel and hear the pain.”

Alone in the darkness, feeling so near my Lord, the answer seemed written in the silence. The pain is real. We aren’t supposed to ignore what we don't want to admit to or conform to what we’re afraid to change. But believers have the eyes to see beyond the struggle. We shouldn’t walk around the many mountains before us but climb them one by one—strong in the faith of our fathers. God won the battle long ago.

Suddenly the joy I felt was beyond my reach only moments before engulfed me. Wrapped in His love, I slept...  unafraid. There is peace in Christ—especially in the chaos of the world. He promises us rest and quiet in Him.

When you hear the rhetoric of the world, fall to your knees and pray for peace in  Him.

Prayer: Lord, thank You for the strength You have given me. Even when I’m frightened and unsure of myself, Your love is always there to pick me up, dust me off, and send me out again to do the job I’ve been called to do.           

Thought for the day: Don't let what you see with your eyes cloud what God has promised.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and vahiju.)

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Don't Shrink Back

NOT pleased with me! What a contrast to, You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased (Luke 3:22).

Pleasing God is my greatest desire, but I know I fall short—hindered by imperfect vision. In Hebrews, we read, Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. I can drive on my street in the dark because I know it so well. What I don't know is if an animal will be standing in the road. That's why I depend on my headlights. Our street has no lights, but my car does. So I use them. I engage them. I turn them on.

This verse is speaking of faith, and where faith is concerned Jesus exemplified it—even to death. He was not deterred by persecution. Forsaking all, He chose to trust and walk in God's plan for all mankind.

In the same way, Jesus is our light. The world is a dark place—Satan’s domain. He likes nothing better than to see us face head-on collisions. Jesus wants to guide and deliver us safely to our destination, but we have to follow close behind him.

How do we know for sure He is out there and leading us? By faith, if we've chosen to follow Him. The Bible tells the story of Zacchaeus and a rich young ruler. Both had money, but one willingly gave his heart to Christ and decided to follow him while the other did not. Both were  in the presence of Christ, but one moved forward and the other shrank back.  What made the difference?

Materialism. Too much stuff can deter us from following Christ. We make idols of people or things when Jesus is the only person worthy of  worship. As we leave this holiday season behind—fondly recalling the gifts, the music, and the festivities—I pray we hold firm to the message it delivered.

Celebrate the life of Jesus. From His birth to His death to His resurrection. It's a gift for us to open daily. Let's not shrink back once the festivities end.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and krosseel.)

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Forgive Them? Why Should I?

They don’t deserve to be forgiven. When someone’s hurt or wronged us, it’s natural for us to get mad. Sometimes their actions change our lives indefinitely. Even if they apologize, it may not take away the hurt. Having to forgive them just isn’t fair.

So we hold onto our anger or resentment, ruminating on how bad they hurt or offended us. If we forgive them, then we’re just “letting them off the hook” as if it doesn’t matter. Or are we?

Why does the Bible tell us to forgive each other? Does God want His children to be run over roughshod? God loves us and wants what’s best for us. Having other people trample all over us would contradict that. But forgiving others makes sense.

Many years ago my life changed dramatically after a surgery that I’d had multiple times before. This time, some complications left me permanently disabled. When I realized I’d never be able to work again, I was furious. Mad at the surgeon and angry at God. The worst part, though, was feeling alone in it all.

The more I focused on everything I’d lost, the worse it got. I lugged the weight around like a ton of bricks. Finally the load became too heavy. I had to get rid of it.

I sought help and began to relinquish my right to be mad. As I let my anger go, the load lightened. Eventually, I gave it up altogether and forgave everyone involved. Only then could I reach out and help other people again.

Forgiving someone doesn’t give them permission to hurt us again. Forgiving the doctor didn’t mean I forgot about what happened either. Instead, it freed me to cope. It released me from the chains of anger and bitterness that had bound me.

When you’ve been wronged, you can hold a grudge, which will imprison you, or you can forgive them, freeing yourself to live fully again. Choose to forgive.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jessieagudo7.)

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Seeking Only the Gifts

My friend Ruth lives in the country, and many times through the years dogs and cats have shown up on her doorstep begging for food and water. It seems their owners have learned about Ruth’s soft heart toward the critters and have made her home the drop-off for unwanted animals.

Recently, Ruth went outside to feed, medicate, and give the dogs treats. As usual, they were terribly excited to see her.  “Wow!  These dogs sure do love me!”  But then she faced the truth and had to admit it wasn’t her they loved. It was her gifts.

She realized perhaps she had been treating God this way. Was she placing the gifts she had been given ahead of the Lord? Of course, she was thankful for all she received, but did she praise and thank God for who He is—and not just for His gifts?

The story of the feeding of the five thousand is told in all four gospels. Jesus looked with compassion upon those who were hungry and fed them in a miraculous way. They followed him, not for who He was, but because they were looking forward to the gift of food again. Jesus realized this and reminded them they weren’t seeking Him for who He was but because they wanted His gifts.

Are we ever guilty—as Ruth’s dogs and those whom Jesus fed were—of seeking only the gifts our Lord gives and not praising and thanking Him for whom he is? If so, today is a good day to begin praising the Giver. Seek Him for who He is and be filled.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and gravedigga.)

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Filtering Life

I met him on an informational walk on the Foothills Trail. He had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Meeting and talking with a thru-hiker was exciting. As he talked about his adventure, he related the one and only time he had to leave the trail. He had come upon a trail shelter where trail angels left fresh fruit in a nearby stream. Without thinking, he lunged into an apple without washing it off. He soon found himself suffering with giardia from bacteria in the water and sidelined from the trail for a few days of misery.

 I’ve never drank unfiltered water from creeks, lakes, or streams without filtering it first. Spending the money required for a dependable filtering source is worth the effort as well as is making sure the filter is replaced or cleaned regularly.

Filtering life’s experiences isn’t quite as easy as filtering water. With water, all I must do is place the filter in the water source and pump. What comes into my drinking canister is at least 99% pure. The chances I’ll be infected are slim. Not so with filtering life. Life’s experiences vary in intensity and probability, and advice on how to face them is plentiful.

The psalmist ended everything he stated about God with the refrain, “His (God’s) faithful love endures forever.” This is my dependable filtering system. Whatever comes my way, I can rest assured God’s faithful love for me endures forever.

God’s love isn’t filtered through our behavior. If it was, most people wouldn’t experience it regularly. His love is filtered through His nature—which is love. While His nature also encompasses holiness—which can involve His divine wrath—His nature is to love His creations, both good and bad.

God’s Word is the only reliable filtering source. Other sources may or may not allow in bacteria that could taint how I respond to a particular life experience. As the psalmist used God’s revealed Word throughout his life journey to filter his experiences, so we too can find there a source of instruction and encouragement to help us filter life. When filtered through God’s Word, unpleasant life experiences will lose the potential to infect us with bitterness, anger, confusion, unbelief, and doubt.

Change your perspective on life experiences by filtering them through God’s Word. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and coronakwl.)

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Be Prepared

I accomplished nothing. Did I really think my flesh could help God get my point across? The answer is no. I had to learn everyone is not going to be 100 percent on board with my breakthrough. But for some reason I felt the need to explain myself.

I proceeded to talk about what God has brought me through, and that was great. It ended well. They understood my point after I “so called” explained it to them. So why did I feel so bad after the conversation? I felt my flesh rising to help in defense. It was kind of like, “God has brought me through and just you wait and see.”

Peter reminds us, But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect. In our lifetime, we will find people who hurt our feelings or may not see or understand what God has for us. It is important that we represent Jesus properly when speaking about the hope we have in Him. There is no need for our flesh to help with what the Lord is doing in our lives. If you think the conversation is headed in that direction, just be still and let God take over. You can say I got the first part of this Scripture right, but the part about gentleness went out the window and the Holy Spirit stepped in to correct me.

When your faith is tried, does your flesh try to step in? If it hasn’t, it may in the future. Be prepared with 1 Peter 3:15. Be a step up on the enemy and always be prepared to represent God with gentleness and respect. In the end, people will see the faith and hope in you, and it will eventually come to a point where you won’t have to say a word.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DuBoix.)

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Make Peace with Your Past

It was early Christmas morning 1997. Wrapped in my light blue robe dotted with teddy bears, I sat curled up in the corner of the couch. Darkness filled the room except for the lights on the tree. I sat staring at them. The soft glow of colored lights glistened through the tears trickling down my cheeks. Sadness engulfed me as I remembered past Christmases. I wondered what new ones would bring. I didn’t know what the future held, but I was sure of one thing. This would be our last Christmas spent together as a family. Within a couple of months, the divorce would be final.

That morning is still a blur. I don’t remember much except the awkwardness of exchanging gifts for the last time with my husband of almost twenty years. Despite the joy we tried to share, it was a hard morning for both of us and our children.

Over time and through God’s grace, I learned to forgive. I knew I did not want to live harboring hatred in my heart. In order to move past the darkness that resided in my soul, I had to face many things about myself, my relationships, and my attitudes.

One night, desperately wanting freedom from the bondage of unforgiveness, I fell to my knees. With a heart-wrenching cry, I begged God to take it from me. Immediately, I was filled with peace. 

From that point on, I made an effort to love my ex-husband despite what we had been through. I decided for the sake of our children, my extended family, and myself that reconciliation was what God was asking of me. When I made an effort to put the past behind me, I was able to move forward with love and forgiveness. Seeping wounds began to heal. 

Although the scars are still there as a reminder of the past, they are also a reminder for the future. They remind me God reigns sovereign over my life. If I look to Him for direction, He will guide me. If I look to Him for comfort, He will comfort me. If I trust Him, He will not let me down. In His time, He will make all things new.

Forgive your past. Move forward in love. When you do, God’s love will bring healing, contentment, and peace.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Earl53..)

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Raisins

Being in prison is never fun. It’s not supposed to be. But being in prison during the holidays can threaten to drain your soul.

As the holidays rolled around on my second year in prison, I was struggling. Nothing remotely resembled the holiday spirit. I couldn't stop comparing the utter bleakness of where I was, with the memories of Christmases past. I couldn't stop thinking about all the things I missed: family, bright Christmas decorations, Mom's fruitcake, and even raisins. I loved raisins but hadn't seen a single one in over two years.

Oh, there was a Christmas tree in the prison library. A sad sight, it was littered with dull, plastic, unbreakable ornaments so that we inmates wouldn't use them for weapons. It had no lights, because we might steal those for the wire to make any number of illegal devices. (Prison inmates, if nothing else, are extraordinarily innovative.) So for me, beholding that sad plastic tree, comparing it to the glorious Christmas trees of my youth, was almost more depressing than no tree at all.

And then, a week before Christmas, the correction officers—“Co’s” we called them—came around passing out little gift bags to all of us. A local church had taken it upon themselves to provide the inmates with a small touch of Christmas. My bag held some homemade cookies, a brownie, some chocolates, an orange, an apple, and at the very bottom, a treasure beyond measure. It was a small box of Sun Maid Raisins. In that moment, looking at my little gift bag, all the spirit of Christmas and God's love came together for me in that small box of raisins. God loved me and had moved someone, somewhere, to provide his child with a gift he needed.

The cookies, the goodies, and the fruit were delicious. After two years of institutional food, anything homemade or fresh off the tree delighted my taste buds. My stomach was happy, my heart was happy, and, for the moment anyway, it felt like Christmas. I even looked at the Christmas tree in the prison library in a new light. It really wasn't that bad, considering.

I rationed my treasures, stretching them out until Christmas Day when I finished the box. There would be more holidays in prison before I was freed, but no more raisins. That was the last I would see of them for another four years. But in the years ahead, God would teach me not to wait for the spirit of Christmas to come to me, as it had with my raisins, but rather to seek it out. To look for it in the little things of the season. To seek it out, as I had sought him. He taught me you can find the spirit of Christmas in the smallest things … even a box of raisins.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jade.)

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Rejoice

My daughter Chloe loves bright colors. She loves orange and she loves yellow. 

One morning I watched her rummage through her craft bin, sifting through an assortment of paper until she found one that was the perfect shade of orange.  She placed the paper on the table and turned her attention to a cup of crayons. Her finger grazed the options until she plucked out the brightest yellow. Then the creation began. When she finished her masterpiece, she looked up and said, “See, Dad?” 

I squinted at the picture and turned it every which-a-way. Then I saw it: a glowing yellow sunshine barely visible against the brilliant orange backdrop. It was beautiful.

My wife walked into the room. She picked up the picture, studied it, and then reached down and placed a black piece of paper in front of Chloe and said, “Why don’t you try this?” When Chloe finished, the yellow sunshine leapt from the page because of the stark contrast between the dark background and the bright subject of the sun.

Joy is beautiful all the time. On our best days, we should rejoice, and joy will blend with the goodness of the moment in a way that draws our eye to study until we find all the thoughtful details of God’s creativity. On our worst days, we should rejoice, and joy will explode all the more against the darkness in a way that is more striking than ever.

During Advent, we do our best to see clearly the picture of the birth story. We imagine Joseph and Mary and the turmoil around them. It was undoubtedly a brutal journey, but surely there was great joy in the midst of it all.

This is life as a follower of Jesus: a new backdrop each day but the same calling. Rejoice! 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DeduloPhotos.)

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The Center of Christmas

Last year, when my granddaughter was three, I bought a soft plastic nativity set and put it on the hearth next to the ceramic grouping we displayed each year. I wanted something child friendly so Nellie could play with it as we talked about the Christmas story. I carefully laid out the pieces with Mary and Joseph kneeling beside the manger, the shepherds out in the “fields” watching over their sheep, and the wise men traveling from the East. Two angels surveyed the scene from their perch on the stable.

I began to tell about that first Christmas. As I talked, Nellie rearranged everything. When she finished, all of the characters surrounded baby Jesus. This year, she did exactly the same thing, even though I’m sure she doesn’t remember what she did last year. Though they love the tinsel and lights and gift giving, children seem to instinctively know Who the center of Christmas is.

Jesus was indeed the center of that first Christmas. The shepherds knew it, and so did the Magi. One day, the baby would grow to be a man, and He would find himself at the center of adoring crowds who marveled at His miracles. But many in those crowds would turn on Him and hang Him on a cross, the center cross between two thieves.

Thank goodness what started in the manger didn’t end at the cross. When we trust Jesus as Savior, He rearranges our thoughts, actions, and priorities, just as Nellie rearranged the nativity pieces. Then Jesus becomes the center of our lives. We can rejoice that the baby who was born more than 2000 years ago is still at work today, forgiving our sin and transforming us into new creatures.

Have you put Jesus at the center of your life? If not, there’s no better time than now to remember the Christ child who was born to bear our sin.

(Photo courtesy of mandmwiles.)

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Stuck with You Forever

Finally, I’m done! I turned off the sweeper. The cleaning job I dreaded most was finished.

After working all week, Saturday is my day to clean. Once breakfast is finished, I gather cleaning supplies for a morning of scrubbing, spraying, dusting, and sweeping. Of all the tasks at hand, sweeping is the one I detest the most. The reason?  I have two cats.

Fuzzy has long hair that sheds. You can spot it immediately. Tabby’s light colored fur is short and blends in with the furniture. Because my cats sleep on the couch, I vacuum it hoping to eliminate the hair that has accumulated throughout the week. Unfortunately, no matter how much I vacuum, I always seem to find another tuft of fur shortly after I turn the sweeper off and put it away.

As I vacuumed the cushions one morning, two thoughts occurred. First, I was grateful. Even though I detest it, I was glad I had cat hair to sweep up. If there were no hair to sweep up, my home would lack the enjoyment my kitties bring and the laughter their antics provide. Second, I decided vacuuming was daunting. No matter how hard I tried, I would never get the last hair. There would always be cat hair stuck to the lamp shade, tucked between the cushions, or plastered to a piece of clothing, reminding me of the presence of my loved companions.

Then another thought occurred. As odd as it sounds, Jesus is a lot like cat hair. Once you invite Him into your heart, it is impossible to extricate Him. You will never be able to sweep Him totally away. Evidence of His presence will remain tucked forever in the crevices of your soul waiting for you to rediscover Him—reminding you of the joy He brings into your life. Jesus will be your constant companion. He will make you smile. He will bring you comfort and peace when you are sad. He will do many things a pet can do. But one thing Jesus provides that a pet cannot is eternal life. What a blessing!

So the next time you finish sweeping and find an unwanted pet hair still remaining, remember Jesus.  Get used to the fact that He is stuck with you forever. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Fanny.)

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The Battle With the Toad or Sin?

A toad and I have been battling, and I’m not sure who is winning. It all started a few weeks ago when I watered my flower basket. It has a beautiful pink geranium and ivy plant spilling out of it. Something moved as I used my sprinkling can. I’m not sure who was more startled, me or the toad.

He hopped out of the basket, so I figured he’d given up and moved somewhere else. Nope. Next thing I knew, he dug deep into the scant soil in the basket, kicking some out on the sidewalk. I complained about the toad to my husband.

Next time I checked, the toad had left. I tapped the soil back in place and figured that was the end of my run-in with the amphibian. Not so. It returned a day later.

I thought I had out-smarted the toad the next day. Rain was predicted, so I moved the basket to the sidewalk instead of the porch so it would have a chance to be watered naturally. Toad was nowhere in sight until the next morning. I stepped outside for a walk and found him sitting where the basket used to be.

A few hours later, he was back again, buried in the soil. Sigh. I guess he’s determined to stay, I thought. 

One day, my toad had dug himself such a huge hole, I assumed he had left until I stood over top of the hole and got a better view. Nope. Still there.

Later, as I saw him stretching and sunning himself (in my basket), I couldn’t help but think about sin and how it so easily entangles us and keeps creeping back into our lives. Kind of like my toad. He keeps returning and digging himself deep into my flower arrangement.

Sin has a way of skulking back into our lives when we least expect it. If we don’t deal with it immediately, it has a tendency to burrow deeper until soon we become so accustomed to it we no longer notice it.

I want sin out of my life, and, of course, I wouldn’t mind being toad-free too. For now, he’s a reminder of my need to confess my sins to God continually.

Root out sin before it takes a grip on your life. Allow your heart to be clean before God.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and binks.)

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Listen - What Do You Hear?

LISTEN … what do you hear? The train whistle in the distance? The high school bell across the highway? The multitude of different birds bellowing out their morning songs?

You really have to stop and intentionally listen to hear the many uniquely distinct sounds of the morning. This is the game I play with my three-year-old grandson when we first arrive at our house on days I babysit him.

Sometimes we hear a siren in the distance and say a prayer. Other times we hear a horse neigh or a rooster crow from a neighboring farm.

When I am busy getting ready for work and rushing off, I hear nothing. As I first played this game with my grandson, it amazed me how many different sounds we actually heard. It was even more exciting when my grandson started identifying sounds at his young age. “I hear a horse-y.” Clapping and laughing, we listened for more.

As we played this game, I felt the Lord impressing my heart and saying the same thing to me. “Listen … what do you hear?  I am speaking to you.”

My first thought was, When were you speaking to me Lord? I didn’t hear you say anything.

“Did you sense the nudging in your heart to send a note of encouragement to the friend whose name I brought to your mind? Perhaps your spirit quickened when the thought came to call another friend to see how they were doing.”

Later, I thought of how, while reading the Scriptures, a phrase or thought would enter my mind unexpectedly. Those were all times I realized God was speaking to me.

The Lord showed me He is just as delighted with me as I am with my grandson when I listen to Him … when I recognize He is speaking to me … when I act upon what He whispers into my heart. It doesn’t have to be big things.

I am reminded of when God instructed Elijah to go out and stand before Him on the mountain. He first sent a great and strong wind that tore into the mountains. This was followed by an earthquake and then a fire, but the Lord was not in the strong wind, the earthquake, or the fire. He was in the still small voice.

Listen … what do you hear?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jppi.)

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Popcorn Ear

My four-year-old granddaughter waited two days to tell us.

Victoria had put popcorn in her ear. It was one of the Old Maid kernels left at the bottom of the bowl. Afraid her mother would be angry, and not wanting anyone to mess with her ear, she said nothing. Even when she did complain, she still didn’t tell the truth. A small flashlight revealed something, but we were all unsure what it could be. Traditional washes and drugstore earwax removers did nothing to dislodge it.

Victoria’s confession still did not show us the scope of the problem. Her pediatrician recommended the ER. She went cheerfully on the field trip with her father and me, as her mother was at work when the verdict from the doctor was pronounced.

A nurse tried surgical tweezers, which only succeeded in bringing Victoria to hysterics. When the doctor arrived, he managed to check inside her ear. He had an ingenious pain-free plan for extraction. Victoria didn’t believe him. So, as four adults held her down, the doctor placed a small amount of super glue on the end of a surgical cotton swab and placed it in her ear. He waited thirty seconds before removing it from her ear. He pulled out the cotton swab with the huge Old Maid kernel on the end.  We had no idea how big it really was, and we didn’t have the skill at home to remove it.

Sin starts as a kernel … some little compromise or habit. At first, it’s embarrassing. Then it gets uncomfortable. Then painful. We fear the reaction of others if we confess our sin. Finally, we believe there is no hope for us. It is too painful for us to be set free.

Then the Great Physician, Jesus, comes along and His gentle touch draws us to Him. He reassures us He is able to forgive and deliver. Sometimes we struggle against the help, even denying we need it. Once we surrender in the midst of our struggle, He sets us free. For Him, it’s simple. Confessing our sin and letting Him deliver us is often harder than it needs to be.

Do you have a hidden sin that’s robbed your hope and taken you captive? Allow Jesus, the great physician, to remove it from your life.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jclomek.)

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A Race to Believe

It was a foot race neither would ever forget.

Peter and John raced as fast as they could to the tomb where Jesus was buried. Some of the women had just told them Jesus’ body was no longer there. What they were saying was stunning in its implications. It was also told with such excitement, the men weren't sure what it meant. They would need to see the sight for themselves. So the race began. John only refers to himself in Scripture as the “other disciple,” but his humility does not prevent him from telling us he won the race.

Both looked into the tomb. Both saw the strips of linen lying there ... but no Jesus. John tells us when he saw, he believed. He hadn’t yet connected the dots that this was what Jesus had been saying all along. Yet he knew in his heart Jesus truly is who He said He was.  

The impact of what they saw stays with both of these men for the rest of their lives. John goes on to tell us in his first epistle what they saw and heard. What they touched was made manifest so they could see and testify.

Writing decades after the event, John wanted us to know what it was like to be there. He wanted us to know the touch, the linens, the walls of the tomb … indeed. what it was like to touch the risen Jesus Himself. 

John’s eyewitness testimony is compelling. He saw many things and witnessed many miracles. And now he could add the resurrection of the Son of God to the list. His witness calls to us to listen carefully to what he has to say and believe as he believed.

When you are preparing to run the race of life, take time. Look, listen … believe.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and GaborfromHungary.)

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Lost and Found

She had slept with her stuffed sheep since she was a tiny baby, and now it was lost. I couldn't find it anywhere, and my three-year-old was looking at me with her sad, teardrop-shaped eyes. Had I thrown it in the garbage? I have been known to inadvertently throw things out with this disordered mind of mine.

I decided to pray, right then and there, with my daughter. I was a little afraid to pray out loud because what if we couldn’t find that sheep? A bolt of fear went through my mind that maybe God wouldn’t answer and my daughter would not believe God heard us. She listened quietly as I prayed to find her sheep. Silently, I prayed God would erase the doubt I had that we would find it. I prayed God would be glorified and my daughter would understand He does hear us.

A few days passed and still no sheep. On day three, the babysitter found the beloved toy. 

God answers prayer, whether it is about a lost toy or a job decision. He hears our big prayers and our very tiny prayers. He promises—if we ask in His name and for His glory—we can ask Him anything.

God ultimately knows what is best. His ways are higher than our ways. He holds your prayers close to His heart, and He will do what is best for you. You may have something that requires you to step out in faith  and ask Him to answer. Talk to Him and ask Him to help you. You may just be pleasantly surprised.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and anitapeppers.)

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Chica Boom

Chica-Boom, Chica-Boom, Chica-Boom Boom Boom!  Be renewed in Jesus … soon, soon, soon! Chica, Chica, Chica, Boom Boom Boom.

There I am on the street corner in my cheerleader outfit, waving my pom-poms madly in the air as the traffic and walkers hustle by. A couple of women slow down, turn, and look at me. Big smile back at them ... Chica Boom! Then I see their backs as they leave me in the dust. More waving, knocking the tears from my eyes, more jumping around. Please, please folks ... listen! You can enjoy your new life in Jesus! Come on!

BUZZZ. My alarm clock awakens me. I feel sad.

How then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?  And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news?

In this Scripture, Paul says folks can’t believe in Jesus unless they have heard about Him. He challenges us and calls us to build our relationship with Jesus. He doesn’t ask us to stand on the street corner but leads us all to focus on our own little sphere—the folks who cross our path daily. Our resolution can be to live quietly and gently so those folks we meet will want what we have—Jesus. We all know God never asks us to do anything He will not prepare and equip us to do.

Taking time with the Lord in His Word will strengthen our faith and help us enjoy God. Do you feel you are “powerful?”  No? Me either, but you are. We are together. We have the power of our faith and our actions to share Jesus and offer them eternal life. 

Who in your sphere of influence needs a simple compliment, a warm hug, a note of encouragement, a phone call, or a prayer? Show them we are different; show them how love has changed us—the love of God who died on the cross and rose again to glory for you, me, and them. Such is the gift to be cherished and shared with our world.  Chica Boom!

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Brown Bear Blunders

Brown bears are so cute. I recently watched a documentary on the life of a mother bear and her twin cubs in Alaska.  The program focused on the critters’ lives over the course of one year. It was truly fascinating to watch all the adventures the tiny family faced in the Artic. It was easy to surmise the mother bear had her paws full with the cubs, particularly the boy. 

The girl cub always wanted to be right with her mom, even riding on her back at times. She never strayed too far away from the comfort of her loving parent. The male cub had a much more adventurous spirit. Countless times, he found himself in frightening blunders because he chose to go his own way, straying from the safety of his mother. Often she had to rescue her son by fighting predators or searching for him when he got lost. There was no limit to what this mom would do for her offspring. 

The documentary reminded me of my own life and relationship with my Heavenly Father. I have often been like the boy cub, wandering too far from the One who is my refuge. If I could just learn to stay close to my Father, I would be so much better off.

James 4 reminds me the way to have a deeper, closer relationship with the Lord is by moving closer to Him. But what exactly does it mean to move closer to God? I know from experience the only way for me to move toward God is by spending time with Him through prayer and reading the Bible. When I’m faithful in progressing toward Him, I can feel His presence and strength. On the contrary, when I’m lax in devoting time to God, I can feel myself drifting down the wrong path, just as the male cub did so many times.

The most comforting thought is that God loves us regardless of whether we stay close or stray. He will always be our protector and friend, nurturing us along the way. Maybe there have been times in your life when you have wandered.  Ask God for forgiveness and then commit to drawing closer to Him. Find hope in knowing God’s grace abounds, even when we make mistakes.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Sgarton.)

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Are You Thriving?

A recent article stated that one of today’s major mental health problems is something referred to as FTT (Failure to Thrive).

Supposedly, FTT is not a form of mental illness but an absence of vitality—mental, emotional, and spiritual. While still able to function normally, we might lack hope, purpose, and most of all, joy. It robs us of the ability to delight in life.

When Jesus addressed the crowds of people with various problems, He said, I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. God’s will for us is not to simply go through life doing the best we can to make it from one day to the next. Living life to the full means flourishing. As Christians, we should be overflowing with the life of God, spilling it out onto those around us.

The Bible gives us three key ingredients for a life that flourishes:

LOVE: God is love, and that love has been poured out in abundance. When we draw from that wellspring of love, it will cover a multitude of sin, drive away fear, and keep our heart and mind settled and confident.

PEACE: God has given us a covenant of peace. He says if we keep our minds and hearts focused on Him, He will keep us in perfect peace. We can allow the peace of God to rule and reign and act as umpire continually in our heart. It’s our choice.

JOY: The Bible talks about joy unspeakable and full of glory. The joy of the Lord is our strength, and we can have His joy on the inside no matter what is going on around us.

If you’re experiencing weariness of the soul and a lack of direction and purpose, make it a priority to walk in the love of God, allow the peace of God to rule and reign in your heart, and let His joy fill you to overflowing.

No matter what the world says, knowing who we are in Christ and allowing Him to infuse our heart and mind with His wondrous gifts, will cause us to truly thrive.

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Hope for a Broken Heart

“Where, O death is your sting?”

As I began my quiet time with God, my eyes fell to this familiar passage in 1 Corinthians. I did not need to wonder about the sting. It was a deep, piercing, stab in my heart.

I was startled awake by a phone call the day before, informing me my beautiful older sister—my first childhood playmate and friend—had died in her sleep. The sting of death was very real to me as I stared at the words in my Bible. Death was a familiar part of my family’s life. We had experienced the premature death of my father and brother … but this one was different.

We’d spent the eve of Ophelia’s death celebrating the wedding of our nephew. Our world was good. Now, suddenly, she was gone. The one I would have called to help me deal with the crisis at hand was gone. My mind retraced the events of the night before. She had such joy and excitement in dressing her granddaughter as the flower girl. The joy of being with family bubbled out of her.

What do I do with this pain in my heart? I prayed. I sat bewildered and brokenhearted that morning. As the tears cleared enough for me to read how He gives us victory over sin and death, there was my hope. His name is Jesus, and because of the price He paid, death will not always sting. One day, death will be no more, and the dead in Christ will rise. That includes my sister. Just that assurance—that she is in her eternal home free from all pain, sorry, and death itself—became enough.

Maybe as you read this, you too are grieving. Be it the death of a loved one, the loss of a dream, or a broken relationship. All are deaths that have temporary stings. Whatever your loss may be today, thank God you have victory over sin and death—through Christ.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Kimme.)

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Seedlings

There were six of the tiny leafy green things, looking more like someone had dropped green paint on the potted soil than actual living plants. They were wrapped in thick plastic, in a container the size of a size thirteen shoebox and delivered by UPS. The brown-dressed delivery man gave me a conspiratorial wink as I electronically “signed” for the plants. I have no idea why he thought I would actually be signing my name for something worthy of a conspiratorial wink, but I smiled back at him, giving him something to tell his wife about over supper that night. 

What I had, in fact, were six very small Edelweiss plants shipped by air from Germany. They were a birthday present for my Bavarian-born wife, Charlotte. I knew she would be delighted with them. Whether she could get the Alpine Mountain plants to grow in Tennessee soil—and survive a Southern summer—was another story altogether. 

Charlotte, with her typical Teutonic efficiency—once she wiped away the birthday tears of delight and surprise—set about to read everything available online about the care and feeding of the fragile plants. She decided to try three different locations, two tiny Edelweiss seedlings to a site. And so for the next two years, summer and winter, we watched the delicate plants. One after the other, four of the seedlings gave up the ghost and died.

But the last two, in a site with more shade than sun, had a protective wooden border that Charlotte used to cover the plants with leaves to get them through winter. Much like they survived their native Alpine Mountain winters under a protective bed of snow. Of the two remaining  plants, one grew slowly, holding its own in a strange soil but seemingly uncertain of its surroundings. 

But the sixth plant embraced its home and flourished. It has grown steadily over the past two years, climbing to almost a foot tall.  And a few days ago, to Charlotte’s teary-eyed delight, her Edelweiss finally bloomed. The delicate white blossom in a strange soil—and in a stranger climate—had opened against all odds.  And just to show that our Father always has perfect timing, Charlotte’s Edelweiss bloomed on the very day that she herself—51 years ago—had first come to the United States.

As Jesus taught us, our Father’s Word works in exactly the same way. We plant it in our heart, nurture it, water it, and pray over it … and the Word grows and blooms in us. As the song goes: “Blossoms of snow, may you bloom and grow, bloom and grow forever …” 

Nurture your seeds of the Word so they will bloom and grow … forever.

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Resting

After years of caring for my disabled brother, the life I knew ended. Loss of a loved one is always difficult, but I found the death of caregiving harder than expected.

The routine I followed for fourteen years was gone. The support group who rotated in and out of my home stopped. My brother’s empty room pulled at my heart strings. The loneliness covered my soul, and inner tears filled the void.

A voice within beckoned me to rest in God’s arms. So, my husband loaded the motor home with the dog and cat, and I filled the shelves with unread books. My unfinished manuscript was packed and ready to go. Our five-month rest as campground hosts in the Colorado Mountains began.

Months passed and my books remained closed. Lack of motivation consumed me, and guilt covered me when my self-talk told me I should be doing something—not resting. However, God’s voice overrode my guilt with His reminder of Mary sitting at His feet resting. Sitting at His feet didn’t come easy. I had to abandon control of my rest time. The work God had called me into didn’t include my agenda of reading and writing. It was a call to sit in the stillness of His Presence.

If God calls you into a season of rest, let go of the busyness. Like Mary, sit at His feet and quietly listen—bathing yourself in His love. 

(Photo couresty of morguefile and marykbaird.)

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All is Well...Isn't It?

Waves crashed against the ship’s hull only inches from our pillows.

“What would it take to capsize this ship?” I asked.

“Cruise ships are built for high winds and rough seas,” my husband assured me. His words always comforted me. It wasn’t what he said that consoled me as much as the calm manner in which he said it.

As the waves continued to swell, so did my questioning. “Are you sure this ship isn’t going to tip over?”

Again, he assured me. However, I sensed his confidence beginning to ebb, so I quit asking.

I lay there wide-eyed and waiting―waiting for our captain’s “All is well” to spill from the ship’s PA. The announcement never came.

I can certainly identify with the disciples’ fear—fear that shrouds God’s presence in the storms. For the disciples, it was the fourth watch of the night … the blackest part … the eleventh hour. Their white-knuckled hold on the oars began to slacken as the strength seeped from their arms.

Then―Jesus appeared. He wasn’t running. He wasn’t frantic. He calmly walked on the water and almost passed them by. The way He chose to come was more than the disciples could reason out. Who walks on water? Consequently, they opted to believe He was a ghost—as if that held some shred of logic.

This aspect of the disciples’ encounter with Jesus would be humorous if it weren’t so similar to our own experiences. We’ve all been blinded by fear. Fear places our focus on what could happen rather than on what is real. Ghosts aren’t real. Jesus is. Though He does defy logic by the ways He chooses to intervene in our situations.

Jesus was in complete control of the elements threatening the disciples. He could have halted the storm with a single word. Instead, He chose to speak to the disciples’ fear.

“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

Jesus was already Master of the sea. He wanted to be Master of their souls. It takes spiritual eyes to see the supernatural ways in which Jesus intervenes in our circumstances.

Cry out to Jesus in your storm. Allow Him to speak to your fears and open your eyes to His presence. Be encouraged: The source of your problem is under Jesus’ feet. The waters that threaten to overwhelm you are the same waters that will usher Him to you.

Don’t let Him pass you by.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Photob.)

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Safe Travel

My husband and I recently helped our adult daughter move into an apartment she shares with another young woman. Although the distance to her workplace and university is less than five miles, the fact that she will travel alone, especially at night, concerns us.

To calm my maternal jitters, I’ve claimed Psalm 121 for her. Many scholars believe Jewish pilgrims sang this hymn as they traveled to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals. The journey was dangerous, filled with rugged terrain and bands of thieves. Safe travel was a legitimate concern.

To allay his fears, the psalmist shifted his gaze from the treacherous roads to the source of safety: “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” In essence, he is saying, “The Creator of these mountains and valleys is able to protect and guide me as I travel through them.”

To emphasize God’s guardianship, the psalmist used forms of the Hebrew word shamar six times in the psalm. English Bibles translate shamar in several ways: guard, protect, keep, preserve. Jews used shamar to describe the work of shepherds and watchmen. It implied diligence, constancy, and expertise. 

Some people misinterpret God’s promise in verse seven: “The LORD will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life.” They conclude that God’s children will never encounter suffering or death if they are faithful and obedient. But the Hebrew word translated “life” is nephesh and refers to “the inner being of man.” In other words, no earthly peril can jeopardize our eternal well-being. (See Romans 8:38-39)

I can’t protect my two adult children from dangers—not physical, emotional, or spiritual ones. But “the Maker of heaven and earth” can and does. Psalm 121:5-6 assures me He is their body-and-soul guard both day and night.

Is someone you love traveling perilous roads, literally or figuratively? Are you on a treacherous path? “Lift up [your] eyes to the hills,” to the One who is powerful and loving enough to watch over your life and the lives of your loved ones. Claim Psalm 121:4—God “will neither slumber nor sleep” until all His children have arrived safely home.

Travel confidently and sleep soundly, pilgrim. 

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Starry, Starry Night

The streak of light sizzled across the night sky, moving from north to east and piercing the Pleiades, the Seven Sisters diving toward the unseen sun below the eastern horizon. It was a meteor. Part of the annual August Perseid meteor shower. Another soon followed and then a third. Continuous snapshot flares ranged across the night sky as dust fragments hit the atmosphere and flared spectacularly out of existence.

It was early morning before I wandered outside … sometime after 2:00 a.m. Perfect viewing weather for the Perseids. No moon and a clear sky. The day before was a perfect harbinger of autumn. The temperature dropped into the low 80s, and the humidity vanished. The leaves were turning the yellow-green of late summer and more and more were riding the drifting currents to the ground. Behind the house, the wild grapevine had maturing clusters, and even the poison oak leaves were turning bright red before dying back for the winter.

A billion stars filled the sky and shone alongside the streaking meteors. The constant companions overhead, Cassiopeia—and the Dippers in their eternal dance around Polaris—held their place of honor in the twinkling sky. Rising out of the east just ahead of the first rays of the sun were the Pleiades, my first harbinger of fall.

I’ve watched the stars all my life. From the time I was a little boy when spotting satellites was a big deal, to teaching my grandson Caleb to look for the Space Station zooming overhead. For me, those billions of stars are the majesty of God on display. We try so hard to describe it with laws of time and space, of motion and gravity … and yet God, in His omnipotence, shatters all of our efforts to wrap our laws around Him.

In the book of Joshua, God had the sun and moon stop at Joshua’s request. And if that wasn’t a neat enough (not to mention impossible) trick, God moved the sun backward across the sky in 2 Kings. Despite our pitiful human attempts to understand the laws that govern the cosmos, with these two verses, God laughs at us. All our accumulated knowledge, all the intellect of Copernicus, Newton, Einstein, and Hawking can’t explain those two verses.

For some, it is the intricate bloom of a rose. For others, the birth of a new baby. For me, it is the brilliant night sky that defines the wonder and majesty of our Lord. It is the face of God, sparkling from horizon to horizon. The moons circle planets that circle stars that circle through their galaxies that circle the universe ... all on the spoken word of our Lord.

Have you taken time to see the face of God in our natural world?  

(Phot courtesy of morguefile and terryballard.)

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America's Driveway

My family heritage has roots in small-town America.

America Maxfield, my maternal grandmother, lived in the foothills of Virginia. When my twin sister and I were seven, we lived with our grandparents for a few years along with our mother—moving from our birthplace of El Paso, Texas, to a town in the southwest mountains of Virginia, Big Stone Gap. Our mother grew up here and so would we. A younger sister would come along a few years later.

My grandfather bought and sold scrap metal at a junkyard he owned, visible from their house and nestled at the bottom of the hill. A long, curvy, uphill driveway led to their home.

Childhood memories are filled with the trek up and down the driveway by foot or bicycle—catching the school bus or going to the junk yard to see my grandfather. My grandmother spent a lot of time in the kitchen and had snacks ready when we came in from playing.

I was an adult and married with children of my own when my grandmother passed away. Asked to give the eulogy at her funeral, I gathered notable things to share. Stories and memories from my mother, aunts, siblings, and cousins.

The prevalent snapshot in my mind is beautiful flowers that lined both sides of her driveway in white, pink, and purple. Each color captured her essence. Accepting Christ as Savior in her younger years, she was clothed in a white robe because of His sacrifice. Pink blush always brushed her cheeks—a  woman adorned with outward beauty (America the Beautiful) and displaying the inner beauty of Christ. Purple is a symbol of royalty—unashamed of her King, Jesus.

I grew up in the breathtaking view of the southwest Virginia foothills. Today, I am growing up in the Lord. Following Jesus to the foothills of God. One day, the heavenly view will take my breath. I will bow at his feet, crown Him with everlasting glory, and worship the Most High for all of eternity.

Will flowers line the streets in heaven? I’m not sure, but my grandmother will be there and so will Jesus. Follow Jesus to the foothills of God. Praise abounds in His city—let it take your breath away! 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mensatic.)

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Good Job

Good boy!  Thatta girl!  When I see my indoor cats using the scratching posts, I praise them in an effort to encourage the good behavior. Because I have not had their nails trimmed, the alternative is scratching on the furniture, which could be much worse. Hence, the numerous scratching posts around our home to discourage this behavior. When a dog is house-trained, taught to sit or shake hands, the owner is instructed to bestow abundant praise to encourage repetition of that behavior. Often, this includes giving the dog a treat as reinforcement.

The Christians of Thessalonica faced persecution and discouragements. Paul encouraged the people to build each other up. He realized encouragement keeps us plugging along in our faith in spite of persecution and lack of support.

I love to receive compliments, whether it is for work I have done as part of a paid job or for a task for which I have volunteered my time. I find, if complimented, I work harder at that task the next time, feeling it is more worth the time I invest.  I have a spring in my step, think more positively about what I am doing, and look forward to repeating that behavior again.

Often, people are labeled as “burned out” when they possibly have just not received adequate recognition for a job done well. It is such a small thing we can do that has the potential to make a huge impact in someone’s life. A positive word spoken to a person has the power to transform them.

I believe we are all capable of recognizing something good in another person. Perhaps it will take practice for you. Genuine, heartfelt compliments are like gold nuggets—small with the potential to be powerful. This simple habit will assist in motivating others to continue their good works. Show your thanks to those you love and to God for His faithful kindness.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and octaviolopez.)

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Drop to Your Knees

During fires, our instinct is to run, but we are advised to crawl to evade the smoke. If we remain upright, we risk becoming disoriented by smoke … and falling.

Sensory tunnels provide children with sensory processing difficulties and heavy resistance and input to their muscles and joints. As an occupational therapist, I often use this device with my students, who like crawling through it repeatedly. I use hula-hoops to make it easier for students to grab and hold the tunnel open for their partners, though they often let go, rushing to take a turn.  

Will enjoyed crawling through the tunnel as long as he could see out the other side. His partner dropped the end of the tunnel, anticipating his turn. Will panicked, stood up, and the cloth fell over his face, completely blindfolding him. He cried and flailed his arms despite me telling him to drop to his knees so he could see. I had to put my hands on his shoulders and nudge him to his knees so he could see and crawl out.

The Canaanite woman cried out to Jesus on bended knees. She had flailed in the darkness by her association with the most notorious of Israel’s pagan enemies. Jesus asked if it was right to take food from children to give to the dogs. The woman replied that even dogs were allowed to eat crumbs that fall from the table. In spite of her past, the woman’s faith led Jesus to answer her prayer and heal her daughter. Jesus used the term dogs metaphorically to imply he had a higher obligation. However, the woman’s faith was commended and compared favorably to His disciples.

So many times, I’m rushing to get something done and misstep. I panic and flail about when all I need to do is stop, drop, and take it slow. I am grateful for the times when I’m blinded by my ambition and forget everything I do is for the glory of God. I am nudged to drop to my knees and follow the light to get back on the right path.

The Lord reminds us He gives rest to those He loves and that it’s useless to rush through life with busyness.

Prayer: Lord, thank you for your gentle hand and showing me the way.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and wintersixfour.)

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How to Dress for Prayer

As a child, on Sunday mornings when our family went to church, I had to substitute my comfortable T-shirt and shorts for a skirt or dress. My complaining only brought a stern response from my parents, which, because we are British, went something like this: “You wouldn’t wear those (referring to my T-shirt and shorts) to go and see the Queen, would you?”

I vowed never to make my children dress up for church. Yet, as my teenage son walks out the door on Sunday morning in his sports shorts, the words leave my mouth before I can stop them: “Can’t you put on a decent pair of shorts for church?”

I scold myself for not only breaking a promise, but for muddling up my priorities with what God sees as important. Scripture tells us God doesn’t look at what we look at. He looks inward over outward. He looks at our hearts. He’s not bothered by my son wearing sport’s attire or a sports jacket for church. However, I care because I worry what other people will think, not only of my son, but also of me. Putting on smart clothes for church makes us look respectable to other people.

God looks beyond our appearance to deep inside us. He knows what we think. He understands our motivations. He’s well aware of our emotions. God sees stuff no one else knows about.

If God knows our hearts, then we can pour out our hearts to God. Yet, often we dress up our prayers just like we dress up for church. We have polite conversations with God because it makes us look good. Psalms assures us we can have confidence God will not be appalled by our inner goings-on no matter how ugly they are. But more than this, revealing our thoughts and feelings is an opportunity to ask God to purify our hearts, to be forgiven, and to move on.

We can still be respectful to God in prayer, but we don’t need to look respectable. God wants down-to-earth talk, not dressed-up conversation. Today, what do you need to talk about honestly with your heavenly Father?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and taliesin.)

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What Were You Thinking??

I’ve only heard my daddy curse once in fifty-seven years. That was also the only time I ever heard him raise his voice—just that once. It is an amazing record, considering the volatility of our household growing up. My dear late mom didn’t handle “stupid” very well, and I‘m afraid I spent a great deal of time being exactly that. However, where my poor mom would be a whirlwind of sound and fury, Dad was always very careful in speech. He listened and responded in calm, carefully-articulated complete sentences like the schoolteacher he once was. My dad is a rock, but oh how I tried his patience over the years. 

“What were you thinking?” he’d ask.

There was the time I enlisted the help of my brother David to dam the creek in our back yard. We picked our spot and, with shovels flying, quickly had the water backing up … and up … and up some more. Eventually, we had a new pond that covered parts of three yards. Meanwhile downstream—where carefully manicured lawns had featured arched stone bridges over the beautifully meandering creek, there were now smelly, muddy ditches where goldfish huddled together in the bottom of what was once a lovely fishpond. 

When our makeshift dam let go, water cascaded downstream, collecting ornaments, bridges, goldfish, one Irish setter, and Mrs. Mitchell—who had come out to see where the creek had gone. Later that evening, after two mud-caked boys had retrieved, cleaned, and replaced said bridges and ornaments, washed the Irish Setter, and apologized profusely to a very unhappy—not to mention wet—Mrs. Mitchell, it was Mom and Dad’s turn. I got the brunt of Mom’s patented roaring dragon, but then it was Dad’s turn. 

“What were you thinking?” he asked. That was all he said. It was all he had to say. 

But the one time I heard Dad lose it, I was innocent. It happened when I was ten years old. We were camping at Mt. Pisgah off the Blue Ridge Parkway and had pulled into the little camp store with our Starcraft Camper in tow. The parking was tight, and it was worse that day because the area was packed. Suddenly a car started backing toward us, the driver oblivious to us. Dad was blocked in, no place to move, no place to go. The car backed closer and Dad frantically leaned on the horn. The other driver glanced up and hit his brakes. He missed us by inches. As he got out of his car, Dad opened his door and cut loose with a string of words I’d never him utter before or since. 

Dad has always been my living example of what my Heavenly Father must be like: quiet, patient, and always loving … no matter what mess I manage to get into. He has always been the perfect example of what a father should be. While I’m grateful to still be able to speak to him, I’m afraid I don’t tell him enough how much I love him.

Dad. I do love you so very much.

My heavenly Father also needs to hear from me. Not just formal prayers, ritual blessings for food, or Sunday services, but an occasional heartfelt: “Thank You, Father. Thank You for Your blessings, and thank You for Your love. Lord, I love You.”

Has it been too long since you had a heart-to-heart with our Father? What were you thinking?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and can131.)

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Love Notes

When my children were small, I enjoyed writing little love notes to them. I missed them so much while they were at school and wanted them to know I was thinking of them. I packed the notes in their lunch boxes or backpacks. They would find the special pieces of paper at school and enjoyed the encouragement they brought.

My notes weren’t extravagant. They were usually just a couple of words saying “I love you” or “You’re the best.” More than once I penned notes saying, “Good luck on your test today.”

Soon, my daughter followed in my footsteps. I started finding little notes all around the house. These papers would be addressed to me in the sweetest handwriting. Each note contained a special message that melted my heart. She wrote sayings like “I love you” and “You’re the best mom in the world.” I found treasures on my bedroom nightstand, kitchen counter, and pocketbook. I never knew where the next love note would pop up. My heart smiled as she knew exactly what I needed to hear.

It is amazing to think how encouraging her simple words were. I am reminded God sends His children little love notes from heaven to let us know He cares. My daughter’s notes prompted me to pay closer attention to God’s work and words in my life. Every time I see a majestic butterfly, I know that’s one of God’s love notes saying, “I love you and sent this beautiful creature your way. Enjoy.” Or when I hear my son’s voice saying, “I love you, Mom.” That’s another love note from heaven telling me I’m treasured. Sometimes when a door closes on an opportunity, God’s love note may be a special song encouraging me not to give up and to keep going.

Perhaps the most important love note God gives us is His Word. The Scriptures tell us, Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. God gave us the Bible to help us along the path of life so we will be led to Jesus. Be inspired to dig deeper into God’s Word to know Him better. Make an effort to be more mindful of small love notes He sends daily in the form of encouragement from a friend or a beautiful sunset. God is speaking to you all the time … just listen. 

(Photo coutesy of morguefile and hotblack.)

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Good Intentions the Enemy Intended for Evil

I had good intentions, but it all went downhill.

My husband does most of the cooking in our home, helps clean, and knows how to repair everything. As his wife, it is difficult sometimes to find something I can do that will make him feel special. On this particular morning, he headed to work at 5:30 a.m. as usual. However, he forgot his lunch.

The night before, we had pizza for dinner. He placed three pieces in a gallon Ziploc baggy to take to work the next day. Just before I left for a 9:00 a.m. appointment with our accountant, I received a text from my husband asking if I would bring him his lunch.

“Sure, no problem,”  I texted back.

As I sat in the accountant’s office, it hit me. I’d forgotten his lunch. With a few minutes to spare, I headed out the door, jumped into my car, and drove ten minutes back home. I grabbed the lunch from the refrigerator and headed back. I had a feeling of satisfaction to be able to please my husband.

I drove to my husband’s place of employment. I was in a hurry, so I found my husband’s car, but it was locked. I placed his lunch on the back of the vehicle, knowing he would soon be out to pick it up. Before I could even pull out of the parking lot, I glanced over at his car. I was shocked. Three black crows were having pizza for lunch.

I had a well-intended plan to take my husband his lunch and show him how much I loved him. I could have allowed Satan to steal my joy. In my rushing around trying to keep appointments and do something special, what God intended for good, Satan intended for evil. He wanted to defeat my day.

Satan is out to destroy us and kill our joy. But God wants to give joy abundantly. Trust your day to Him, and let Him guide the way. Your days may still have bumps, but God will bless your efforts.

The choice is ours. We can allow disruptions and disappointments to defeat our day, or we can defeat the disruptions and the disappointments by seeking to please our Lord, laugh, and conquer. 

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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God Chose the Crayon

I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination. My stick figures look pitiful. The art of coloring gives un-artsy people a way to add individual flare to a picture beautifully drawn out for us.

My daughter, Megan, and I are fond of coloring. A fondness starting when we were both little girls. We colored together through her childhood, teen, and college days, and still do today. Who says coloring is only for kids?

Proudly signing our name to completed pictures is a tradition. “By Mom” was my standard signature until Megan married. Now I sign my actual name. To later admire our handiwork as we flip through books during a new coloring session, we date each finished masterpiece with month/day/year. They bear who and when information.

There’s another coloring book story. God’s glorious artwork is seen in creation. Blue sky, aqua blue oceans, sunsets of pink and orange, green grass, and all the primary colors chosen in a rainbow. God colored me and you exactly like He fancied. No scribble. Perhaps coloring outside the lines for some of us, nonetheless a finished picture He desired to capture. Exactly. And perfectly to His liking.

Freckles, dark skin, light skin, dark eyes, or light eyes. Maybe we would have picked a different crayon, although we are not the Creator.  Each of us is an original work of the famous artist, God. He will never have to sign a piece of His work: “By God. However, I’m not an artist in any stretch of the imagination.” 

We are a coloring book story. God chose the crayons. We bear who and when information as well as the artist’s name, “By God.” We are never removed from His coloring book but proudly nestled inside the pages as a testimony of His grand handiwork.

Admire your unique design by God. Don’t complain about your craftsmanship as if you were the artist striving for perfection that can never be attained. He’s the master artist. You’re a masterpiece by design! 

(Photo  courtesy of morguefile and jdurham.)

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The Cheese Confession

It was the night before parent-teacher conference that our kindergartener, Lewis, nervously made his cheese confession.

“Mom, I forgot to tell you that I had to go to the principal’s office. It was at lunchtime. I wasn’t trying to be naughty.”

Since disruptive behavior is not common for my youngest child, I was more intrigued than upset by his statement. It turns out that his friend was having trouble getting his shredded cheese out of a container at lunch, and with Lewis’ “help,” that cheese flew in the air and landed on three of their classmates.

I can visualize Lewis’ goofy grin as he pounded on the plastic cheese cup. I can also imagine him enjoying the attention of this little stunt enough that it drew the notice of his principal. I don’t know all the details, but I do know my little boy’s guilty conscience would not let him sleep. Or more likely, his guilty conscience combined with thoughts of a looming parent-teacher conference. The fear of being found out often seems to influence the decision to fess up. Whatever it was, Lewis knew his best move was to confess his minor transgression to his father and me. And I’m thankful he did.

We could all use some healthy my-teacher-is-going-to-tell-on-me fear in our lives. We need someone to keep us accountable for the times our actions cause us to deserve a trip to the principal’s office. I know there are times I’ve tossed some stinky cheese in the way of unkind words or ugly thoughts. And I know when I am accountable to someone else for my actions, I’m far more likely to guard my mouth and my actions.

Keep accountability in your life. You’ll grow stronger in character and your Father in heaven will be proud.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and azrikhan.)

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Like a Full Moon

One winter morning in the predawn of the day, I saw the brilliance of the full moon that loomed high in the northwestern sky. The lunar body gleamed strikingly luminous with its craters distinctly visible to the naked eye. 

I began to draw comparisons between humans and the moon. People in their raw humanity are cold, dark, and scarred. However, when the light of the Son is allowed to shine on us, even our scars have an appearance of splendor for His glory. His light reflects completely in our darkened, sinful lives, transforming us into objects of worth and beauty. In turn, we can radiantly shine into the lives of those we encounter and brighten their paths as well.

Just as the sun is the only reason for the moon’s illumination, Jesus clearly taught that He was the light and the only source for bringing light and forgiveness into the darkness. After His light invades our beings, He challenges us to shine so those we meet will see the Holy Spirit’s works of goodness in our lives. Ultimately, the heavenly Father will get glory for Himself.

Are your actions and words so full of His light that those you encounter clearly see Him? Seek after the Light that radiates the love of God. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pippalou.)

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Frazzled

That frazzled, hurried, not-enough-time feeling. It was beginning to become a regular thing for me.

Life had gotten busy … too busy. Without realizing it, I had put sitting at the feet of Jesus on the back burner. A day became a week, and a week turned into a month, until I found myself with absolutely no peace. That’s when God used my husband to tap me on the shoulder.

“I’m sorry, honey, I have a meeting at work and won’t be able to get there in time.” My husband was supposed to drive my son to an appointment and had forgotten. Instead of trying to understand, I was angry and spouted words I didn’t mean.

I woke up the next morning in tears over the things I had said to my precious husband, remembering the hurt look in his eyes as I took out my frustration on him. I had already apologized, and he graciously forgave me, but I knew I couldn’t go on as I had. I needed to spend time with my Savior.

Out of all the things that piled up on my to-do list, one thing was truly needed: sitting at the feet of Jesus in prayer and worship. Jesus explained to Martha that there was little more important than spending time with Him. The things of the earth pass away, but our eternity is forever.

In the midst of the busyness and stress of life, take some time, whatever time you have, and turn on some worship music. Trade your stress for His peace. Know that time spent in the presence of Jesus is never wasted time. In fact, what you receive from Him in that secret place can never be taken away. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Seemann.)

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Sassy Fox

My cat looks like a sassy fox. Literally, he has the bushiest tail I’ve ever seen on a feline. We named him Sherbet—Sherby for short—because of his orange dreamsicle coloring. His long, thick fur promotes a plump stature with his golden eyes sparkling as they coordinate with his soft coat. He is a stunningly beautiful cat.

Sherby has been a member of our family for over two years. He has definitely made our lives more interesting because of his curious nature. We never know what our mischievous cat will get into next. There have been numerous times that Sherby has explored an area he has no business investigating. He has spent the night enclosed in our garage without food or water. He has roamed underneath our house only to be trapped for hours. He has even napped the night away in our SUV with leather seats. Most recently, he climbed to the top of a huge tree only to discover he didn’t know how to come down. Sherby has a restless spirit that always seems to get him in trouble.

I too have a restless spirit in me. It is difficult for me to slow down long enough to enjoy God’s beauty. Or to be quiet long enough to hear His gentle whispers to me. The Bible tells us to Be still, and know that I am God.  I really need to hear those powerful words, and perhaps you do too. Stop rushing around like a whirlwind. Cultivate a spirit that is satisfied in this season of life, right where you are now. 

Let God show you His complete peace and satisfaction by spending time abiding in Him. Be refreshed in knowing you don’t have to wander, explore, or search. He is already there waiting for you. Waiting for you to be still and know that He is God.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and lobnaSaleh.)

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Honor Thy Father and Mother

Let me just get this out of the way to start with … I don’t have a good track record with the 10 Commandments. I haven’t broken ALL of them. I don’t think I ever coveted my neighbor’s donkey, and by the grace of God I’ve never killed anybody, but that’s about it. As for the rest of them, well, I’m afraid I’ll be hiding behind Jesus when my judgment time comes.

While I know I’ve been washed clean of my prodigal past, there is one broken commandment that still weighs heavy on my heart … honor thy father and mother. I managed to break that commandant in as many ways as you can imagine it might be broken.

Growing up with my mom was an adventure. Mom wasn’t the stay-at-home type. She worked for Sears and Roebuck most of my childhood. She took care of her children, her family, but she didn’t necessarily follow anybody else’s template of how that should be done. Mom made up her own rules, both in parenting and in life. She did things her way, and we did things her way too.

I resented that. I resented that Mom wasn’t like any of the perfect TV moms that graced the situation comedies. I resented that she wasn’t like my friend’s mothers who stayed at home. I resented that my mom didn’t do things like the other mothers I knew. And as I grew older, and trouble began to find me, it was easy to blame my parents, especially my mom, for my troubles.

No, Mom wasn’t like other mothers I knew, but not a single one of those other mother’s were like Elizabeth Spencer either. It has taken me most of my adult life to realize that my dear mom was exactly like God made her to be. HE made my Mom just like HE wanted her to be, to suit HIS plan and purpose. God had other plans for Elizabeth Spencer besides being the perfect mom, but despite that, she loved me very much and was the best mom she knew how to be.

God made Elizabeth Spencer an irrepressible, larger-than-life, force of nature. An occasionally short-tempered force of nature that didn’t handle stupid very well, and, unfortunately, I spent a lot of my childhood being exactly that.  Sorry, Mom.

As I write this, I’m remembering my mom and the last month of her life spent in the hospital. That force of nature God made had a human body that slowly wound down to a halt. Don’t be like me and take too long to realize that the loved ones in your life, while maybe not being as perfect as you want them to be, are, nevertheless, exactly like God made them to be. Don’t take too long to honestly tell a loved one how much they mean to you.   Don’t take too long to say “I love you.”

I love you, Mom, I love you so very much.  

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Beautiful Yesterday and Today

I watched as my mom crawled from the backseat of the car and pecked on my window.

“I love you.” She mouthed. I smiled and shouted it back.

Mom is 88 years old. Her hair is snow white and though she’s “old” by most people’s standards, her complexion is as beautiful today as it was twenty years ago. She toddled toward the porch and I suddenly realized . . . I mean really realized . . . my momma is elderly.

It’s amazing how in my eyes, she’s the same mom I remember as a child. Her hands still quilt, she still makes the meanest creamed corn on the planet, and her personality is still the same as it was years ago. If I were to get sick, she would be camped out on the floor by my bed.

The truth is – my mom’s stature has shortened and her hair has greyed. Though she walks well, her stamina isn’t what it used to be. She chills in the middle of the summer, and her confidence wanes when it comes to making major decisions. I’d swear her hearing aid isn’t up to snuff when she doesn’t hear me, when the reality is, her elderly “selective hearing” has kicked in (there’s not a hearing aid in the world loud enough to fix that). Despite it all, I love my mother more than life itself. 

After she gave birth to my brother, she wanted another child but couldn’t seem to have one. So I know for a fact, my mother longed for me. When she’d crawl in bed at night, silent sobs and tears lulled her into sleep. My mother really wanted me and when she learned, twelve years after my brother’s birth, that she would be a middle-aged mom, she made every moment count.

Mom has taught me to be a lover of my heritage because that is my roots. She’s guided me to be kind and encouraging. Taught me to be a jack-of-all-trades, “If it needs to get done, figure it out and do it.” Her ways groomed me into deep faithfulness to my friends, family, and my God.

When God knitted me together within her womb, He answered her prayers. He sweetened her life with the blessings of motherhood. Mom is elderly. And when I think about her entering her last years, I’m grateful she is in great health. Overjoyed that she still teaches me. Amazed that she is still as beautiful today as she was when I was a child.

God knew what He was doing when He graced our mommas with a unique love. And though they are not exempt from having their days numbered, they are – for all due rights, wearing special crowns.

Don’t let the day pass without telling your mother you love her. For she was gifted you by the Father and given a place of honor.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Geert.)

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Fairy Tale Wishes

A princess. A handsome prince. A knight in shining armor. Fairy dust. A magical land where wishes come true.

Once upon a time, in the land of fourth grade, a little girl wished for a magic wand to change her to princess status. The ruler in the land posted a proclamation of everyone’s height and weight, hung on the kingdom wall and visible to the class—one of the two years I grew sideways, not up. By sixth grade, without the help of a magic wand, I shot up in height, allowing everything to adjust accordingly. Deep insecurity during fourth grade left me feeling inferior on the inside…even though the outside had changed.

The dream of fairy tale wishes started long ago. A girl with insecurities magnifying the need for dream-wishing. In school…social circles…life. “I wish I looked like her. I wish he would pick me.” A wish for the sprinkling of fairy dust magically transforming me to the fairest in the land. A wish of happily-ever-after for the character on the pages of a book and for me.

While the real world is not the happily-ever-after in fairy tales, there are moments: “one of the happiest days of my life.”

My happiest day? When a knight in shining armor rescued me from the hand of a villain. A holy knight riding a white horse. The Prince of Peace who overtakes my insecurities. The King of all kings, from a heavenly land where He is the fairest of all. . .with no requirement for fairy dust. A place where wishes come true. God-wishes.

The story begins with a Creator who creates a new land and people to live there. The Creator’s wish is for each character to find their way to Him…giving Him their heart and dreams. An evil villain—a fallen creation—works to keep each dream-wisher distracted along the way. In the last chapter, the Creator defeats the evil villain. The Knight of holiness is coming back for all the dream-wishers who have given their heart to Him.

Jesus is coming soon. This is no fairy tale. Will there be a happily-ever-after? Allow the Prince of Peace to rescue you and live with him “for-ever-after” in the land of heaven.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and MOTHdevil.)

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Clean Car -- Clean Heart

Seldom does a dirty car appear in our church parking lot. There’s an unwritten code of only driving a clean car to worship. A couple of Sundays ago, recent rains had churned our half-mile driveway into mud that coated our vehicle, so before arriving at our church, my husband and I decided to drive into an automatic car wash. Our Ford Escape rolled forward ten feet, the sprays began, huge cloths flapped, and then everything stopped.

“We’ve only five minutes before the service begins,” I said. “Maybe you should look for the attendant?”

“I’m trapped.” John pointed to a pipe outside his door that prevented him from opening it.

A car following ours honked its horn, and two attendants raced onto the sidewalk, eyeing the situation as John rolled down his window.

“Could you open the main door so we can drive out?” he asked.

The young people fiddled with some switches, the wash half-heartedly began, and the huge garage door opened. As we emerged, the lad handed us a free pass, and we zipped over to our church, leaving a trail of bubbles.

Just like we felt the need to wash our car before showing up at church, I mulled over how seekers and believers often assume we need to clean up our actions and thoughts before we can give our hearts to Jesus. The truth is, He hands out free passes that will wash away our sins, our selfish thoughts, and continue to clean us as we follow Him. Somehow, that truth tends to recede midst our misgivings so we think the grace we need must be earned.

Probably no one at my church would have judged my filthy car. Only John and I were worried that its exterior prohibited us from attending church. From now on, I tell myself to take those extra minutes before the worship service begins, to talk to the One who will keep me clean and prepare my heart for Him.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Ladyheart.)

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The Last Full Measure

On that April morning 150 years ago, on two southern Virginia hills just beyond the Appomattox Courthouse, as the gray day slowly brightened in the drizzly rain, two armies faced each other. One, the tattered and starving, surrendered...but still proud Confederate Army of Northern Virginia. The other, the victorious Union Army of the Potomac. These two armies fought each other for four long years. The names of their clashes are written in blood in American history: Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, The Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg.

The two armies fired their final shots 2 days earlier. Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General U.S. Grant, and both Lee and Grant and their headquarters staffs left Appomattox afterward. Lee headed toward Richmond. Grant went back to his headquarters at City Point at the confluence of the James and Appomattox rivers. With the two generals went the newspaper reporters, the sutlers wagons, the ladies of the evening, the contraband...all the accumulated followers of both armies.

And something else. As the top generals and ‘hangers on’ of both armies gradually disappeared into the rain, they took all the politics, the claimed causes and righteous reasons, the glorification, and fire eating rhetoric with them. Until all that was left on this early morning of April 11, 1865, were the warriors. The fighters, the men on both sides who charged hell repeatedly – who did their duty, as they saw that duty and gave, as Lincoln had said earlier at Gettysburg . . . their last full measure of devotion.

As Confederate General John B. Gordon led the Confederates down the narrow valley, he drew opposite the Union General handling the actual surrender, General Joshua Chamberlain. Suddenly Chamberlain ordered his men to ‘present arms’ as a salute to the Southerners. Gordon immediately ordered the Confederates to return the salute, and so the two former adversaries passed each other with the ultimate military honor. The tears flowed on both sides.

Over the course of the day, the individual Confederates marched down the little valley between the armies and stacked arms. They surrendered their regimental flags and received a pardon. The Army of Northern Virginia, an army no more, filed out of Appomattox on the muddy country roads, and headed home, wherever home was. The Army of the Potomac, after a parade through Washington, also went home. They had done their all – given their all. The reasons why no longer mattered, if they ever truly did.

When I read of the Apostle Paul fighting the good fight, of finishing the race, the image that comes to my mind is of those Union and Confederate soldiers, tears streaming down their faces, saluting one another in the drizzling rain. We are called to fight the good fight, to follow our God given paths, to pour ourselves out, and to run our race. We are to endure to the end, and to keep the faith.

Whatever God-given race you are running, don’t give-up. Run your race. Give as those soldiers did, with your last full measure.

(THE SURRENDER OF THE ARMY OF NORTHERN VIRGINIA, APRIL 12, 1865. PAINTING BY KEN RILEY. COURTESY WEST POINT MUSEUM, U.S. MILITARY ACADEMY, WEST POINT, NY.)

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Can We Talk about the Devil?

“Mommy, can we talk about the devil?” my three-year-old asked as I tucked her into bed.

“Sure,” I said, “what do you want to know?”

“Why is the devil in hell?”

These are the questions I knew I’d have to answer even before I had kids. I took a deep breath and smiled as I told her a brief story of how Lucifer fell from grace.

I saw her fear turn into peace and happiness as she grasped the concept. “Don’t ever be afraid to ask me or Daddy your questions.”

She smiled.

Moses taught the importance of teaching your children the way of the Lord at all times. God wants our children to know Him at an early age so we can thwart the devil’s hand in their lives. We began to allow our daughter to say the prayer at family gatherings. Our three-year-old led prayer at dinner and always amazed me how she prayed with such conviction. It’s important to remind our children who we put our trust in. I like to ask my daughter, “Whose team are we on?” She yells, with a smile, “JESUS!”

I want my baby girl to have a real understanding of why we worship and love God. That way she will build her own foundation of love and a genuine relationship with Him and see the abundant blessings He has in store throughout her life.

It’s my job to teach my daughter the ways of the Lord, to continually remind her God is always with her. These are the commands of God … commands He set in place for a reason. He knows Satan will eventually come knocking, so I have to prepare her to keep the door to sin locked.

Do your children know whose team they are on? Strive to help them grow stronger in the ways of the Lord and God will bless your efforts. 

(Photo courtesy of microsoftoffice.)

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I Get Antsy

I get antsy. Every year about this time, my emotions run over me like a steamroller. I find myself stressed, restless and well … antsy.

It took me years to figure out why every spring, I feel this surge of anxiety. It’s not like I have horrible things hanging over my head. But then I guess there was a horrible picture.

Easter, even in the celebration of the risen Christ, haunts me. I know it’s weird, but there’s a picture in my mind – this looming picture that heaps on me, a tremendous guilt.

The thoughts of God incarnate, hanging on a cross – His hands shoved against rough wood and nails the size of railroad spikes, driven through His flesh.  His feet, spilt through the skin and bone only to prevent the one action He so needed … the ability to push His toes against a small block and lift Himself upward just enough to take in a wisp of air.

And He did this without hesitation.

I had a friend ask me if I liked going to work. “Yes, I go because I need the paycheck.”

He hammered at me again. “But you don’t like going to work. You go because you have to.” Despite his best efforts, my answer remained the same. I love my job, my boss, my friends. I like going to work. I need the paycheck.

Still, this is the best example I can think of for Jesus. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t love heading up the hill dragging His own cross, but He loved me. He still loves me. Every single, ugly, hidden part of me – and because of His love, He gladly went to the cross. Sad for Himself and yet rejoicing in the joy and result of the job – of the sacrifice. I can’t say He loved going to the cross, but I know without a doubt, He loves me and the result of His efforts saved me.

We’re human. I doubt any of us can wrap our minds around the joy Christ found in going to work that day. For me, the sacrifice grates at my heart. It tears me apart as the signs of a bloody cross don church bulletins and Sunday school lessons. It hurts to think this man, this Christ, who never laid physical sight on me, could love me this much.

This is God, bigger than we can imagine, dressed and ready for work – every day. Dreading the grind of my sinfulness, but joyful in knowing His sacrifice was worth it all. When the Master offers you His hard-earned gift, accept it and know the depths of love.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com and Huggie

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Searching

My wife’s family gathered for Easter at my sister-in-law’s farm outside of Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Charlotte’s mother and father were there, as well as her sister’s children and grandchildren.

Spring had sprung over the Kentucky countryside, and that Easter Sunday was a particularly beautiful day. Yellow daffodils were bright against green grass, pastel colors settled lightly on shrubs, and bushes and budding green trees stood out against the blue sky as they framed the pastures across the road.

Dinner was a traditional Easter ham with all the trimmings and was, of course, delicious. As the women washed the dishes and the men solved the problems of the world in earnest discussion, the children raced back and forth playing improvised games that fell apart as fast as they were put together. Soon, the women deemed it time for the traditional Easter egg hunt.

That was my and my brother-in-law’s cue to hide the eggs as the women gathered the children and readied their baskets and cameras. Barely visible as small bits of color, the eggs lay half-hidden across the yard. The children took a little longer, as one bathroom trip led to another. As it turned out, one Easter basket became a chew toy for the dog, forcing a substitute to be rustled up.  Eventually, all was ready. The front door opened and the kids erupted in search of Easter eggs.

Except . . .  the eggs were gone. The children searched, but there were no eggs to be found. No bits of color dotted the yard—or shrubs—or the base of trees. My brother-in-law and I exchanged glances. Our spouses glared at us like we had pulled some ill-advised prank. But that wasn’t the case. We had hidden the eggs just thirty minutes earlier. We had no clue where they were now. As the kids milled about, confused, my brother-in-law and I began to investigate.

Around the corner of the house, we found the answer. Our father-in-law was earnestly arranging our Easter eggs by color in the trunk of his car. It was our first hint of Alzheimers, something that would come to dominate his last years. He went behind us in the yard and discovered the eggs. Momentarily, their purpose escaped him so he collected them and took them to his car.

We hit the reset button on the hiding-the-Easter-egg-thing. My dear mother-in-law occupied her husband. The women gathered the children once more, and we quickly re-hid the eggs. This time, things went off without a hitch.

Two thousand years earlier, another Easter—the first one, in fact—opened with the same confusion: An empty tomb that should not have been empty. Neatly folded burial clothes that should have held a body. Angels shining with heaven’s own light. And a living-breathing-walking-around Jesus of Nazareth who had very publicly died on a cross three days earlier.

Don’t be confused. He who was dead, buried, and rose again, lives. Seek Him . . . with all your heart and all your soul.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kzinn.)

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Like a Phoenix

There is something I’ve learned . . . and it has only taken me fifty years to learn it.

That is this: When someone accuses you of something, there is nothing to be gained by defending yourself because be you guilty or innocent, your accuser believes you are guilty.

The best course of action is two-fold: silence toward your accuser and prayer. Prayer is your only recourse. I recently received a letter from my husband of twenty-five years, completely full of misunderstanding, rage, blame, and attacks on my character. In the past, I would have had my little “In the first place . . .” rant, defended myself, and not heard a word of truth in that letter.

This time I tried a new tactic. I was silent on the matter for several days—until he couldn’t stand it anymore.

“Aren’t you going to defend yourself?”

“No. I’m praying about it.”

Then followed a letter from me to him saying, Yes, we see things very differently, but it may well be I said things to you that were painful . . . and I didn’t realize it. I did address one point from his letter I felt was causing him pain. I told him not once did I ever say or do anything to hurt him deliberately or to make his life more miserable. I felt he needed to know my heart.

It’s amazing how God has healed a great gaping wound in my husband’s soul. He is in the process of restoring our marriage, which seemed to be at an end. All this because I listened to God, rather than to my own indignation.

“If that’s what God told you in prayer,” my husband said, “it was exactly the right thing to do.” In three short days, my husband was a changed man.

Jesus set the perfect example of listening when He spoke to the woman at the well and when He dined at the table of Mary and Martha. He understood listening to the needs of others was important. His example guides us to follow suit. Listening sometimes solves the most difficult of situations.

Listen to the call of Jesus. Follow His example and let Him help you restore. 

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What Do I Do with This?

We stared at the large round cylinder of wood, neither of us sure what to make of the gift we’d just opened. I could feel my wife’s searching gaze as she was hoping I would shed light on what my family had given us. Utterly stupefied myself, I wasn’t much help. Drinking up our moment of polite uncertainty, my family’s rollicking laughter soon began. Mercifully easing our constructed embarrassment, they finally brought out the rest of the gift. It was then we realized the package we had opened was the pedestal of our first kitchen table.

As Christians, it can be just as confusing to receive the greatest gift ever given—Jesus Christ. What do we do with this gift? How do we use it? Should we do anything with it? Looking to the story of when this gift was given, we can gain some insight in how to treat this gift.

It’s easy to regard Jesus as the wise men did when they met Him—reverently bowing before Him, paying their respects with great treasures. But afterward, they left Bethlehem for their own country without telling anyone of their discovery and were never heard from again. Nothing against the wise men—they were doing what God had told them to do. But their actions mirror Christians who meet Jesus, richly adorn Him in the finery of religion, and then leave Him in the same spot they found Him. They return to their lives as if they’d never met Christ at all. Those around them are none-the-wiser of their encounter with the gift of the ages.

In contrast, consider the shepherds after they met the Messiah. They refused to contain their joy. Fanning into Bethlehem, they proclaimed the good news to anyone who would listen. When they returned to their lives, all could see they were forever changed. This is the response of the Christian who receives the gift of Jesus and can’t help but share Him with the world. The gift in them becomes compassion for the hurting, truth for the searching, and direction for the lost. In essence, they “re-gift” Jesus to every person they meet.

I was once confused by a gift I didn’t understand. But once I discovered its use, it became a treasured keepsake I shared with family, friends, and neighbors. Are you confused about what to do with your gift of Jesus? If so, look to the shepherds for your example. What better time to share Him with the world?

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Sealed with Love

“Seriously? You really got a tattoo?”

That was my reaction upon coming home from a business trip. I couldn’t believe my husband would actually get a tattoo while I was away.

“Well," I said, "let me see it."

Delicately, he raised his shirt sleeve to reveal the markings burned on his arm. The names of his children were tattooed in a circle. K-A-T-I-E formed the upper half of the circle while T-Y-L-E-R rounded out the bottom.

Still wondering what he was thinking, I asked, “What made you decide to have Katie and Tyler tattooed on your arm?”

Tears filled his eyes and he spoke softly, “This way, no one can ever take them away from me. They will be a part of me forever.”

A wave of sadness washed over me. I understood. My husband had not seen his children in over a year. Dealing with the courts, it seemed like two steps forward, three steps back—a continuous battle spanning over four years.

My husband's tattoo signified the deep love he had for his children. By sealing their names on his arm, he professed his love and claimed ownership of his children, whether he physically saw them or not. It was a forever sign he loved them to the core of his being. He yearned for the day he would see them again. He longed to tell them how he kept them by his side and close to his heart when he could not see them.

My husband’s tattoo and his deep love for his children remind me of God’s love for me. God loves me so much that He placed his seal of ownership on me and put His Spirit in my heart. When I think about God placing His seal upon me, I am humbled. Like my husband's children who have no idea of their father’s love for them, I fail at times to see how much God loves me. I am blinded by this world and forget that I am royalty. When I gave my life to Christ, I became a child of the King. He sealed me as His own.

Are you a child of the King too? If not, surrender to God’s love. Experience the wonderful privilege  of being sealed by the King. 

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Awesome Insignificance

Sometimes we have mental epiphanies that come like a dousing of cold water. One such mind-boggling realization came to me in an unexpected way—petting my little six-pound rescue cat.

I am not—or was not—a cat person. I didn’t like cats. Give me a dog any day over the feline of God’s critters. That is, I wasn’t ... until a certain scrawny, black, stray cat appeared one afternoon and insisted on joining my dog and me on our daily walk. This happened every day for two weeks. Not only did this meowing little creature follow us as we made our three-quarters-of-a-mile walk, she also made repeated attempts to leap into my arms or crawl onto my lap and snuggle when I sat on the porch.

After another week of emotional nagging, a stray cat with beautiful green eyes adopted me. I now have a rescue dog and a rescue kitty. The latter lavishes more unadulterated love on me than I’ve ever experienced before. The epiphany? If a dumb creature—an insignificant stray cat, of which the world seems to have too many—can love that simply, purely, and whole-heartedly, how much more can a human being love?

Human beings, made in the image and likeness of God, should be able to change the course of mighty rivers with their love. If a tiny scrap-of-a-kitten is capable of so much tenderness and adulation, how much more sensitivity and awe can a human being produce?

My little cat has taught me more about the power and awesomeness of love than anything I’ve read or seen in all my years on this earth. Verses like, Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love, seem crystal-clear now. Love is overwhelming, remarkable, breathtaking, incredible, and extraordinary. Love is one big WOW.

Start loving like little stray kittens, and let the world see how great love really is. 

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The Father's Eyes

One day while getting a haircut, I noticed a father and his two young sons enter the shop. The man sat in another barber chair while his children waited. Within moments, the boys began misbehaving. Their father looked at them sternly without saying a word. The boys quickly complied. Several minutes later those children pleasantly played with each other. The father glanced affectionately at them as if to say, “I love you.” The children smiled back. That afternoon, the father did not have to use words to communicate with His boys. The watch care of his eyes spoke volumes.

My experience in the barbershop reminded me of the way Jesus desires to relate with His family. He does not want to shout or scream. He will not write messages in the clouds. At times, His overtones of love come quietly. The Lord Jesus wants us to walk closely with Him. He desires to guide us with His eyes.

Jesus cannot lead us with His eyes if we are not looking at the Author and Finisher of our faith. Let’s take time today to turn aside and look at Him. Turn off the smartphone, walk away from the computer, and ignore the television. Take a walk to be quiet and pray. Sing songs and hymns to the Lord, or read a Christian biography. All these things will help you turn aside from distractions and focus on Jesus.

He loves you, and He wants to share Himself with you. Do what you need to do to get your eyes fixed again. God can guide you better when you are face-to-face.

Prayer: Jesus, teach me to keep my eyes on You, not only on the problems of the day. 

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Living the Word

When I bought my new home, it was a joy spending the first night there. Over time, as I claimed it as my own, it was exciting to fill each room with the usual furniture. With my kids’ pictures on the wall, the knick-knacks on the bookshelves, and all the extra personalized touches, the house slowly became my home. As the saying goes, “There’s no place like home.” For a vacation, you can stay anywhere, but you relax, get comfortable, or “dwell richly,” in your home.

When I come home from a crazy workday, there’s rarely a better feeling than to change into something comfortable, grab my favorite drink, head to my favorite room, and relax on my large, fluffy couch. It is home—my safe and comfortable haven where I belong and can relax. Dwelling, abiding, remaining—these words all speak to comfortable permanence.

During a recent devotional time, the first nine words of today’s verse struck a chord with me. As I pondered and researched it to better understand the deeper meaning, I was amazed at how much is packed into so few words.

Incorporating our faith into the daily routine of life can be challenging. The lines between earth’s mundane and heaven’s expectations seldom seem to intersect. Or so we think. We know the “word of Christ” refers to God’s Word, the Scriptures. The word “dwell” means to remain, become a resident, or to inhabit. But then comes the fun part. The word “richly” means in large quantity, plentiful, profusely, and abundantly. So a paraphrase of this verse would be, “Let God’s Word take up permanent residence within you so it overflows into every aspect of your everyday life.” God’s Word is to permanently reside in us. So, I am motivated to relax and get comfortable every moment in the presence of Jesus—speaking to Him, recalling His Word, applying it to every situation of life, and allowing Him access to every room and corner of my life. This helps me live the abundant life He gives.

Become a fruitful child of His, and invite His blessing into your life. 

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Runaway

With lights flashing, the police cruiser pulled beside me. The officer signaled through the window to pull over and stop. The gig was up. I was caught. 

I pulled over to the side of the road, braked, and put the kickstand down on my bicycle (not that I needed it … my little bicycle still had training wheels). A sigh hissed from my lips as I climbed off. I was eight years old and running away from home. Well, I had been. Evidently I wasn’t anymore. To be honest, I don’t really remember why I was running. It could have been due to some bad grades I was scared to show my parents. My father was a teacher and principal in the same school system I attended. To say that good grades and proper behavior were required of me would be understating it considerably. And those bad grades terrified me. I had gotten lazy, hadn’t studied, and paid the price.

Then there was my new little brother. For six years I was an only child, and then this little usurper appeared, taking—from my point of view—all of Mom and Dad’s attention. I was jealous. On top of it all, my best friend Susan moved away. She was born into our close-knit family twenty-four hours before me. We grew up living only a block apart in Winston-Salem. Not only were we cousins, but we were also best friends. Susan went to my school; we were in the same grade. We spent family holidays and time at the beach together. Now she and her family had moved to Fayetteville.

In all my eight-year-old wisdom, I decided to go live at the beach. I knew the way, even from where we lived in Winston-Salem. My family had a beach house on Long Beach, and we went there several times a year. I loved that place. I always felt more at home at that beach cottage than any other place I knew. 

So it was, that I gathered up my accumulated three dollars and change allowance, sneaked some bread and peanut butter into my knapsack, and instead of going to school that morning, headed off for the beach 200 miles away. I pedaled for most of the day on my little bicycle with training wheels. I got as far as Greensboro, twenty-nine miles away, before the passing policeman took an interest in the earnestly-peddling little boy who should have been in school. He picked me up, put my bicycle in the trunk, and drove to the police station to call my parents.

The hour spent waiting for my parents to come dragged past. It was one of the worst hours in my young life. I anticipated hell fire and brimstone, but when they arrived, they came with relief and love. I didn’t get the punishment I deserved for the worry I’d put them through. Instead, I was scooped into loving arms. I doubt at the time I fully appreciated the lessons learned, both in the futility of running away and receiving love instead of the hearty spanking I deserved. But the memories stayed with me and, in time, I did understand. 
 
I especially understood Jonah’s running away to the sea, and Moses running to the desert.  They both ran away, and in both, God used miracles and love to get them back on course. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last time I ran either from a situation or into a bottle of alcohol to escape. God has used miracles to get me back on track as well—although I doubt seriously my purpose in this life was as important as theirs. 

Are you running from the purpose God has intended for you? Turn your life over to Him. See what wonderful places His plan can take you.

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Calling Daddy

She was busy—as busy as a three-year-old could be. One minute she was in front of the TV watching Lalaloopsy, and then the next minute she was on the floor playing with Princess Twilight Sparkle and Fluttershy. And of course her favorite, Pinkie Pie. She never went anywhere without Pinkie Pie. (Who would have ever thought My Little Pony would make such a giant comeback?)

With one eye on the paper and his other eye on his granddaughter, he watched her grab Pinkie Pie off the coffee table where she was playing and walk over to the end table where his phone rested. As she picked up his phone, he asked, “Who are you going to call?”

In an instant she answered, “My daddy.”

“Why?”

“Because I love him!”

I smiled when I heard this story because I thought it was so sweet. But as I smiled, I heard the small voice inside of me whisper, “That’s the way you should feel about me.” I don’t have to use the phone to call my heavenly Father, but I do have to make an effort. He’s always available and waiting to hear from me, but I have a tendency to stay so busy that I can go through my entire day without taking the time to talk to Him. James 4 says, “Draw near to God and He will draw year to you.” There’s an action that needs to take place on my part. I must draw near to God, and He will be faithful to draw near to me. In examining the times I do call out to God and draw near to Him, it seems it happens when I need something. Be it comfort, healing, assurance, peace, or help, I know I can go to my heavenly Father. But sometimes He wants me to be like a three-year-old who wants to talk to her Abba Daddy. Why?

“Because I love Him!” 

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Sweet Dreams

Our youngest son’s bunk beds are gone. His bedroom feels so different now. This was no ordinary event; this was God on a mission. I remember years ago when we assembled our son’s new beds. There was much excitement about moving into his big-boy bed. His bunk beds hosted sleepovers with family and friends for years. Now, the top bunk is rarely used and our youngest one isn’t so little. His teenage body outgrew his bed, but his heart had not—sentimental as he is.

It breaks my heart to think of children in our city sleeping on the floor every night. A year ago, I asked our son if he would consider donating his beds. He wasn’t ready. How does a mother take her son’s bed right out from under him? I let it go.

Recently, the same tug came back to my heart. With the top bunk unused, and our son’s body still growing, God made it clear that giving them away was His plan. We read today’s verse in 1 John and I explained to him that, as believers, we have a responsibility to help others—even when it costs us personally. I asked our son to pray about it and wait for God’s reply. The next morning, smiling, he said God gave him a peace about giving them away. I immediately called for a pickup from a local ministry which specializes in beds for children.

That same day, our van broke down. The repair came with a hefty bill. Reluctantly, I postponed the donation because we couldn’t afford to replace the bed and fix our van. Days later, we made a family decision not to replace his bed. Instead, we bought a simple frame for his mattress so both the donation and van repair could continue. I asked our son to give up his bed, not old clothes or discarded toys. I wrestled with my heart over this as his mom, but God’s patient persistence gave us peace and joy that He has a plan for those beds.

We should share what we can live without, but we should keep our hearts open and look for ways to freely give—even when it hurts. This is the generosity Jesus gave us through His sacrifice on the cross. When we give out of excess, that’s great. But when we give out of sacrifice, we become God’s heartbeat for the world.

Don’t hesitate. Give. 

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Safety Net

My son and I stood toe-to-toe, testosterone flaring in both of us. Fueled by anger and frustration, the words flew faster than we could control. 

Three years ago, I welcomed my wife’s son back into our home after he had served his latest five-year stint as a guest of the Georgia Department of Corrections. While he was paying for his mistakes, his mother and I had taken his two-year-old son in, obtained guardianship over him, and, for five years, raised him as our own. We gave young Caleb the best start in life we knew how.

Then our son came back home, and after five years as Caleb’s “daddy,” I gave up that crown, handing it back to his father. Now here we were, three years later, in a confrontation about to spin out of control. I told Caleb’s father he had to leave . . . leave the house, our home—leave his son. The why is not important, but trust me, it was urgently necessary. I guess simply saying old habits die hard would be the easiest explanation. There was also the fact that his mother’s career as a deputy sheriff was at risk because of his inability to change those habits. Most important was the cumulative affect on poor Caleb. For three years, a steadily-rising tide of lies and duplicity from our son washed away at the foundations of love in our home.  

This confrontation wasn’t what I needed, or how I wanted it. But it had risen to the surface and now was at hand. I was losing control in the heat of the moment. This is where I wish I could say I took the initiative and ended the situation calmly and peacefully. That’s not what happened. But what I HAD done—for three long years—was to lay the situation at my Lord’s feet to, as it were, weave a spiritual safety net. 

The situation worsened, but together with my wife Charlotte and the help of a few close friends, the problem was lifted up and set before the Lord. And so it was that He was there to handle what I could not. As I failed, He was there to catch me. He diffused the situation before it got physical. God touched our son’s heart, and he turned and left the house without further conflict. Two weeks later, in the middle of the night, our son was arrested again. Caleb, thankfully, didn’t have to see his father being taken away. This too, I’m positive, was the Lord’s intervention. 

I’m so imperfect it’s laughable. I make mistakes.  I forget my Father’s lessons. Sometimes it seems, like Peter, I’m constantly teetering on and over the edge of failure and disaster. But if I have learned one thing, it’s to just simply keep laying my problems at my Father’s feet. To keep praying. By doing so, with God’s help, I manage to continue to weave the safety net that will be there when I inevitably need it again.  

Do you have a problem that threatens to wash away your foundation? Lift it up to Him. Knit yourself a safety net out of prayer.

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Fear Not

Clouds unnerve him. Heavy rains torment him. And no, I’m not speaking of our crazy, nervous dog. I’m speaking of our son. I heard the whimpering as he stumbled to my side of the bed. With eyes closed I assured him, “You’re fine, Son, go back to bed.”

“My leg hurts, Momma.”

You’re fine, Son, go back to bed.”

A few moments later I lumbered from my bed to be sure he’d made it back to his own bed. When he saw me, he cried out.

“My knee, Momma!”

“It’s not your knee, Son. It’s the rain and there’s no reason to be afraid.” He climbed back into bed as I assured him, “You’re fine. God made the sun and the rain. He loves you and will keep you, always. Think about Jesus. Sing about Jesus. Say His name. Ask Him, ‘Jesus make me brave.’ I love you, Son. Goodnight.”

Once alone, on the other side of the door, the battle was surely on. I could well imagine the spiritual tug-of-war within his tiny little soul—to be scared or to be brave. The choice was his to make. I returned to bed and prayed.

“Be near him, Lord Jesus. Help him to be brave. Calm his anxious heart, as only You can.”

Then an unexpected battle broke out in my room.

He’s scared. Don’t you care? A good mom would lay down with him and sing him back to sleep. A good mom would have let him sleep in her bed tonight. It’s just one night. He’s only six

I began to pray. “Be near, Lord Jesus. I lift my little one up to You. You are all he needs. You’ll never leave him nor forsake him. I love and trust you.” Just then, I noticed something. Silence. He had answered our prayers by the ceasing of the rain. 

Is it okay to let your kids be afraid? Yes, as long as you pray for them and teach them how to deal with their fear.

My husband and I may not always be here for our kids. We disappoint, are inconsistent, lose our cool, and to be quite frank, we fail parenthood often. If we are not steadfast and are limited as to what we can do for our kids, then
there must be One who is better—more trustworthy. Yes, Jesus. One of the most valuable lessons we can teach our children is to surrender their fears to the One who says, “Fear not, I’m here.” Ultimately, my son needs Jesus more than my son needs me.

Don’t be afraid. Call out to Christ and your fears will subside. 

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Rambunctious

Nothing can make you smile like a preschooler who loves Jesus. Ethan is exactly that. If he were on trial for being a Christian, you would find enough evidence to convict him. He’s thoughtful of friends, quick to forgive, and cheerfully takes turns. But he loves action, excitement, and things to touch, throw, and bounce. When story time comes, he can have a few residual wiggles.

The day I told about the walls of Jericho, his eyes were alive. I explained the fear and the danger. I repeated God’s instructions to Joshua. I described the patience needed to wait for God’s special time. The finale came with stomping feet to make the sound of the crumbling walls and whoops of victory like we were the soldiers charging in.

When the room grew quiet, Ethan raised his small fist upward and shouted, “Everybody, let’s hear it for God! Hip hip hooray!” Everyone echoed, “Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!” God perfected praise that morning in Sunday school and I was honored to see it.

God loves the praises of His people. We are challenged to sing out and to make His praise glorious. Sing out denotes loudness. Dare I say, rambunctiousness? The word translated glorious hints of wealth, weight, and high honor.

Has your praise grown mild? Does your praise need a boost? A jolt? Ask the Holy Spirit to free you to celebrate your God. Practice. Train yourself to brag about Him. Take a moment now and praise Him with passion. Everybody, let’s hear it for God! 

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Are You Searching

Exhaustion hit, replacing the joy of Christmas with anxiety. It was the Saturday before Christmas. I sat on the floor of my bedroom, surrounded with mountains of presents still to wrap, not to mention the long list of to-dos still waiting to be done. I knew it was my job to make sure my family had a memorable Christmas—focused on Jesus—but I just couldn’t see how to make that happen.

Somewhere along the path from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I had lost my focus. Everywhere I looked, the season seemed shallow and meaningless. If I couldn’t find God in the season, how was I going to make sure my three boys found Him? All I could do was pray. It wasn’t even a very good prayer—more just a cry for help.

Almost before I said amen, our oldest son, an energetic seven-year-old, knocked on my door. “Can we all go Christmas-light-looking tonight, please?” 

I mentally groaned. Something else to do. Not exactly an answer to prayer. I slipped out of my room, making sure I kept him from seeing the presents. “I don’t think so. I have too much to do.” 

“Pleasssssse?” He drew the word out, and his two little brothers joined in chorus, bringing their dad in from the living room.

I didn’t want to disappoint them, and if they were out of the house I could play catch up. “Maybe your dad can take you without me?” I turned pleading eyes to my husband. 

“No, we want all of us to go!”

The boys weren’t buying into the idea. My husband put a comforting arm around me and leaned to whisper into my ear. “I’ll help you later. This is important.” He turned to the boys. “I think it’s a wonderful idea, and we’ll all go, even your mom.” 

We did go that night, the five of us crowded into our ancient minivan. As we drove around, I listened to the excited exclamations of my boys and realized God had answered my prayer. He’d shown me that what needed to get done would get done, but the true meaning of Christmas wasn’t found in presents, but in presence.

Seek out the real part of Christmas and let it change your life. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jusben.)

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Favored by His Death

I rarely fail to cry when I hear “Silent Night, Holy Night.” Perhaps because as a mother, I relate to this quiet moment of peace Mary was able to take in as she rocked her infant son. It’s that moment after birth, when a mother’s eyes meet her child’s for the first time – when the magic of motherhood physically flows from her, covering her infant. It’s an instance of silence, when the heart of a mother speaks mentally to her child and a bond is formed – one that is rarely ever broken.

Mary was favored by God to bring His son into the world. Those words brought her joy, but also an unrest. Even with the assurance of this child’s plight, she was blessed. And Mary recognized that. I can’t imagine her agony as she sat at the foot of the cross, His blood pooling at her knees. I can’t begin to fathom the pain she suffered being so close, and still unable to comfort Him or prevent the events that would kill Him. Even through her pain, Mary was favored and she recognized that.

My child, my gift from God, was less than perfect by the world’s standards. His abilities limited, his path set, and I could do little to cushion the blows of life. As a new mom, I was favored as well -- blessed to have this baby, but it was what hovered behind me. . .the things I would not be able to change or prevent, that would try to rob me of the joy. Despite the hardships, I have never felt anything less than favored and blessed, just as I know Mary must have felt.

Still, when the Christmas tree is lit, flickering in a darkened house, my heart breaks for the mother of Jesus. When the tiny Christmas music box on the piano tings out “Silent Night,” I find myself sobbing inconsolably for a mother who lost her son because . . .of . . .me. 

Yet she is favored above all others, blessed even in her loss. Her child’s destiny was Savior of the world, sent with the specific purpose to save our souls. Silent night. Holy night. When all was calm. When all was bright. A holy infant, slept  – slept in heavenly peace.

Before you close your eyes on Christmas night, hum this tender song and ask for forgiveness so His death was not in vain. Mary was favored to bring this Christ child into the world, but you are favored by His death. 

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An M & M Christmas

A big part of Christmas is remembering past Christmas blessings. Yes, many families, including our own, have suffered hardships that make the season “hurt” in one way or another, but just about everybody has at least one positive memory of Christmas worth recalling. 

Sometimes we need a little help in the remembering. Times are tough, and that is why I suggest keeping a decorated dish filled with M&M candies in the living room for all to see and sample. Why? Because of the letter M on each colorful, round piece. The M reminds us of the Christmas Ms—like Messiah, Mary, manger … and magic. But not the hocus-pocus kind. The real magic of pure, unadulterated joy. 

When I was a child, magic was everywhere—in the decorations, the homemade cookies we helped decorate, the carols, and the anticipation of what we might find under the tree. We always had a live tree that smelled of the woods and Christmas wonder. We always sang carols around the piano. We always put up a manger and spent hours arranging and rearranging the cows, sheep, and shepherds until the scene was just right. We didn’t go to the mall, nor did we expect a mountain of presents. 

Christmas was about two things only: celebrating baby Jesus’ birthday and being with loved ones. Now, as an adult, although I enjoy all the decorating and baking, I find the magic not in the carols and lights but in the miracle. 

Something is missing in today’s celebration of Christmas. Turn on the television, and we are bombarded with “Midnight Madness” sales and the latest, greatest electronic gadgets. What has happened to magic, memories, and miracles? We need to be reminded of them during this blessed season. One way to do this is to have that dish of M&Ms. And when we look at the M stamped on each little piece, we can remember all the Ms of Christmas—Messiah, Mary, mother, manger, memories, meals, magi, midnight, and mystery. Oh, and don’t forget magic … the magic of the miracle. 

Even though you do not believe me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I in the Father John 10:38 NIV 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and perfectsariah.)

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Lost Christmas

The packages were all open, the wrapping strewn across the room. Christmas was really, truly over. Only thing left to do was clean up.

There was only one problem. The baby was missing, lost somewhere in the gift wrapping. Slowly lifting each piece, we searched for her. Finally, underneath a pile of wrap, she laid contented, cooing, laughing, and kicking her tiny feet, not knowing she had been lost. 

I decided that is what I do with Christmas. Somehow, somewhere between decorations, parties, plays, and searching for the perfect gifts, I lose the baby in the manger underneath all the wrappings. My heart doesn’t feel the joy and wonder. It just feels overwhelmed by all the stuff I’ve put in God’s place. 

God allows me to fill my Christmas celebration with things—things I don’t need … things I just want. He allows me to move away, to lose Him in the gift wrapping, and the hustle bustle. And He gives my heart a jerk when I walk away. He rings bells and plays “Silent Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” and sends me wonderful Christmas stories of love, kindness, and mercy. He fills the sky with beautiful, bright stars and covers the earth with soft, glowing snow. He fills churches and stores with friends, loved ones, and kind strangers. 

Through others and blessings sent my way, God touches my heart on a whim just to see if somewhere in this mess, I might want to celebrate Him. And slowly, ever so slowly, He patiently unwraps the true gift of Christmas, His wondrous and abiding love that He sent in the form of a babe in a manger. 

Don’t lose sight of the reason for the season. Remember Christ. 

For the wondrous gift of your love, Lord, I am thankful. I praise you for the one true gift of Christmas, your Son. 

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Hide and Seek

She didn’t move. Make a sound. Or even breathe. 

Yes, there were better places to hide, but she hadn’t had the time. She had to find a place quickly. Somewhere close by. 

Because she had heard him coming. 

“Savannah . . .” 

The tone of his voice meant trouble. 

She looked down at the stolen cell phone in her hands and crouched a little lower. But her pink, sparkly shoes stuck out just enough from behind the sofa to give her hiding place away. And her purple Minnie Mouse pajamas didn’t exactly act as camouflage. 

Daddy had found the little thief. And taking Daddy’s cell phone had always been a big “No-No.” 

Even at eighteen-months, my daughter did what Adam did. She heard Dad coming. Savannah tried to hide. And so did Adam.

“Adam, where are you?” God said. 

But why did God ask? God knew where Adam was, didn’t He? He wasn’t surprised or startled by Adam’s sin. But for the first time in human history, He was separated. Sin always does that. Maybe you’ve heard the sound of the Holy Spirit “walking” into your garden lately. 

Do we have sin in our lives that causes us to hide from His presence? God already knew that Adam had sinned. Still, He went searching for Adam. It was no game. But it was hide and seek. 

I just want to thank God for being a seeker of sinners, of whom I am chief. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 

We don’t have to hide. 

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Soul Soap

She gave me a difficult assignment. “Go outside and bring Nicki in for her bath,” my sister pleaded. 

I found my three-year-old niece, not among the backyard play things, but at the edge of the yard, near a burned tree stump. Her hands were so black, I thought she wore mittens. Her knees and feet matched the mittens and her small raccoon eyes completed the picture. 

“Nicki,” I began, “Mommy says it’s time to come in for your bath.” 

“I not dirty,” she informed me. 

I tried several strategies, including a list of yummy things Mom was cooking. She shrugged. In a firm voice, I said, “Mommy says to come in now. If she says you’re not dirty, we’ll come back together and play until dinner is ready.” 

“Okay,” she said. 

We entered the house through a side door. A tall mirror stood at the end of the hall. Nicki walked in front of me with a determined pace, but a short distance from the mirror, she stopped. She took one hesitant step and then another. With one last footstep, she touched the mirror with an outstretched hand. “I ready for my ‘baff’ now,” she said.

I followed her small feet to the bathtub.

The Bible is clear. Our pretense at being okay the way we are is an illusion, but promises of forgiveness and total cleansing overflow in Scripture. Our Father is reliable. He will make us thoroughly clean. Yet, in spite of these promises, we try to avoid looking at our own wrongdoing. God gently helps us. Sometimes He speaks through an event or another person, but most often through the mirror of His Word. 

It’s challenging to keep a pure heart in an impure world. Confessing our sin is like telling our heavenly Father, “I ready for my ‘baff’ now.” Take a moment to confess your need for His purity. Soak in His forgiving love. Receive His perfect cleansing. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and rupertjefferies.)

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In the Image

Picture this image: “Where’s your cat, No-No?” Blank faces. Sneaky faces. No-No was the name of our cat who was later found in the refrigerator’s fresh fruit drawer. A cold cat—but a live one.

Perhaps … in the nick of time.

My twin sister Sharon and I, as toddlers and kids, were double trouble. Besides placing our cat in the refrigerator, there are other facts to establish this truth: A toilet clogged with diapers. Running in opposite directions in the grocery store. Mud pies in our Easy-Bake-Oven. A science fair volcano project created in our mom’s new cookware.

You get the picture. As twins, my sister and I bear a resemblance and a similarity. We were born together. Born in the same likeness. As toddlers, we even shared a twin language only speech therapy sessions could dissipate. Although we differ in some ways, we are alike in more than appearance. We are both pastor’s wives. We share common likes and dislikes in music, food, ministry, life values, and spiritual truths. There are many “me too” moments. The same night-time dreams. Same thoughts. Same comments to our mother. Same experiences—at close proximity.

There are great things about being a twin. As children, always having a partner in crime, someone to talk with, and someone to play with. There are also the not-so-great things. Always being called by your sister’s name or being asked, “Which one are you?” Being compared to the other twin and always being known as Karen and Sharon instead of just simply Karen or Sharon.

As children of God we bear a similar image. We are born in the same likeness. We bear the image of Christ, born to become like Him, not just in appearance. Sharing common likes and dislikes. Bearing the image of Jesus and having experiences with Christ—at close proximity. He never has to ask, “Which one are you?”  He knows each of us intimately, by name.

Be mindful of bearing the image of Christ, with a desire to become like Him in every way and in every area of life.

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Keepers at Home

Now that I am retired—having had a “day job” throughout my married life—I’ve found housekeeping can consume most of my time, if I let it. Tasks that might have gone days (okay, weeks) in the past, now haunt me as I pass them multiple times in a day. 
 
But housekeeping is more than a certain standard of cleanliness. According to Titus, it’s in the category with godly virtues such as love, purity, and kindness. Perhaps Titus recognized that a keeper is one who guards, protects, and takes care of something of value. For example, a doorman watches and approves all that passes through the door for which he is responsible. 
 
In her book, Living in a Zoo, Brenda Lancaster writes to the keepers of the home, “You are to watch for anything that will be harmful to the inhabitants who dwell there,” making sure “that only the godly and upright things are allowed to enter your gates!” 
 
Keepers of the home—and many guys stand guard duty, as well—are careful to protect their homes from intruders that may enter through the TV, Internet, books, and magazines. If you wouldn’t let an evil person through your doors, don’t let him or her in through wires and cables. Otherwise, we demonstrate way too much confidence in our own abilities to overcome temptations. And we tempt God as we demand that He rescue us from the pitfalls of perusing sinful living. 
 
Guard your home—not just in front of the children or grandchildren—but as a way to demonstrate sensible, pure, workers at home. 

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Dancing over Me

I danced the day my daughter was born. Excitement overflowed as I held this newborn wonder in my arms. Tears of joy streamed. Songs erupted from my innermost being. Prayers and praises of thanksgiving arose out of me. Cuddling the tiny bundle, I took her on her first dance around the hospital room. 

Through the years we’ve continued to dance. When she was a young child I picked her up at times, held her tight, and sang songs to her. Her daddy was excited she was alive. Recently she called me into her room and asked if I would let her stand on my feet, grab hands, and dance around the room. I held her close and slowly danced, rejoicing over her. 

The Bible promises God’s nearness and constant love. We can accept that reality even when we don’t feel it. We can choose to believe His nearness and love when we show up at our job daily, when we care for a sick loved one, or when we do our routine tasks at home. God is always with His children. The Father loves His sons and daughters immensely and on days when we may feel neglected or alone, the Lord’s promises bring hope and challenge us to keep going. 

Take the time to read and meditate on His Word. Be reminded of His nearness. Stop and praise the Lord in your spirit. Sit quietly in a chair or stretch out on the floor facedown, stilling yourself until you are aware of His presence. God is quietly nearby, delighting in His children. 

Prayer: Loving Father, make me aware of Your presence today. Thank You for taking delight in me, your child. 

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Close Call

In recent weeks, I’ve had a couple of close calls or near-death experiences, if you want to call them that. In one incident a friend and I were driving down a local four-lane road when we decided to stop to take a look at a car that was for sale. Just as we passed an intersection, I heard wheels squalling and looked in my rearview mirror to see a car that had run through a stop sign, hit the front of the car behind us, and flipped over just a few feet awau from us. Fortunately, no one was killed. 

That incident constantly reminds me death is just a second away from every living soul. I suddenly realized how precious life is and how important it is not to take the blessings in life for granted. I thought about words said that should not have been and of words not said that should have been. Love expressed that never was, lost hugs, and spiritual conversations shared with the brokenhearted that were never spoken. 

My dad always said, "Son, today is the first day of the rest of your life." That’s a very true statement. We cannot change the past, but we can greatly influence the future. 

James reminds us there is no guarantees on our time. Only the Father knows our days. And in His efforts to teach us, He found it important that we understand as quickly as life comes it can pass . . . and the importance of making the most of every minute in service to Christ. 

In this crazy world, take time to stop and smell the roses. We never know what tomorrow brings. Cherish God’s simple pleasures and love those in your life who need it. You know who they are. Forgive those who need it. Be the person God is pleased with. You never know at what second you will be standing face-to-face with Him. Live life as if each day were you last . . . it very well could be. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Time-Out for Ethan

“Ethan, I am upset with you! You know you should do what your teacher asks, not refuse. How could you be so disrespectful?” 

Ethan looked at the floor. It was easy to see he remembered the look in his teacher’s eyes earlier that Friday afternoon in kindergarten. 

“No play time for you this evening,” his mother continued. “You will be in time-out for a long while to think about how you have hurt your teacher.” 

Poor little Ethan was weighed down with remorse. All weekend he moped around with a long, sad face. When Monday arrived and Ethan returned to school, he ran as fast as he could to his teacher. Crying hard and between sobs, he managed finally to get the words out. “I’m sorry,” he said. 

One can be sure remorse was great for a thoughtful, sensitive five-year-old who loved his teacher when he realized he had done something to hurt her. Ethan could hardly wait to return to school and tell his teacher he was sorry. 

This incident provides a perfect example of what the Lord asks of us when we do something displeasing to Him. Ethan’s sincere remorse and desire to set things right touched his teacher’s heart. She welcomed his plea for forgiveness with open arms. Likewise, true repentance and sincere remorse touch the heart of our heavenly Father—He will do no less.

We all fall short. When it happens, give yourself “time-out” for reflection and repentance. And then run with haste into the open arms of our loving heavenly Father to ask forgiveness.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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The Uninvited

The wasp looked at me from the lampshade with both of its baleful, compound eyes. It did a couple of push-ups and raised its wings, looking like a gunslinger flexing his fingers and unsnapping his holster. The other dozen or so wasps my grandson Caleb and I had captured over the last couple of hours had been relatively easy, but this fellow was different. Something had alerted him, or maybe he had just watched us gathering up his comrades.

Earlier that chilly afternoon, my wife and I had transferred our house plants from their summer home outside, back into the house. The forecast called for the first frost of Fall, and we were playing the seasonal game of finding enough indoor winter sunlight for each plant. The Boston ferns wound up in the dining room and approximately two hours later, the first wasp appeared.

As it turned out, one of the Boston ferns had been a convenient summer home for a colony of wasps. Now they were warming up, and waking up, and in the false sunlight of the indoor lamps, they were moving up and out. Over a dozen wasps buzzed around the house. To say Charlotte was not a happy camper would be understating it considerably.

We live in a very rural environment, and wasps are a common pest. Occasionally, one would find its way inside. Believing that simply taking a wrong turn shouldn’t be a death sentence, I had taught Caleb how to safely trap them under a glass and transfer them back outside. Now, together, we had cautiously rounded up most of our uninvited guests and moved them back outside. And by moving the glass very slowly, I was able to corral even the wary gunslinger.

Sin has a way of sneaking in on me just like the wasps and their green, leafy Trojan Horse. Every time I turn around, I’ve wasted another hour on Facebook. The TV drifts into some garbage program, and I’m too lazy to change it or turn it off. Even magazines with their subliminal advertising can suddenly have my thoughts careening off to places I don’t want to go. Sin is everywhere in this fallen world, and it’s always looking for a way in.

That’s why Paul implores us to put on the full armor of God: shield, helmet, breastplate … all found in His Word, free of charge. Open your Bible, and suit up.

As I’m constantly relearning, it’s a lot easier to put on my armor ahead of time, than to run around afterward, mentally trying to trap my sins under glass like lost and errant wasps. Jesus said it simply: “Get out of here, Satan!” Works for me.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and xandert.)

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On the Other Side

Wedding vows were recited inside a tiny courtroom tucked in a far corner on the third floor of the county courthouse. A handful of family members in attendance witnessed two young people, my husband’s daughter and her fiancé, pledge their lives to each other. 

At the ceremony’s conclusion, pictures were taken and congratulations dispersed. Hugs and kisses were included. My husband waited until the end to take his turn. He stepped toward his daughter, tears welling in his eyes, and held out his arms for her embrace. As she stepped into his open arms, they encircled her. Breathing in the light scent of her perfume, he hugged her tightly. Kissing her forehead softly, he whispered, “I love you, Katie.” 

To many, this act may seem natural. But for my husband, it was momentous. For over ten years, the courthouse to him represented pain and heartache as he repeatedly fought for his legal right to see his daughter and son. After each hearing, my husband exited the courthouse doors hoping for a victory, only to be disappointed weeks, or even months, later. 

Yet on this day, the courthouse represented new beginnings: the start of a marriage and the renewal of a father/daughter relationship. My husband’s presence at his daughter’s wedding was not because any judge had awarded him his right to be there. It was because she wanted him there. She chose for him to be a part of her life. 

As I stood by my husband’s side during the ceremony, I realized God reigns sovereign over our lives. He not only walked with my husband and me through years of heartache, but He carried us forward to this point when He claimed the ultimate victory.

Many times, when we are in the midst of pain, we cannot see the good that is yet to come. We rely on faith knowing God is in complete control of our circumstances. We submit to His will whatever it may be. And if we are fortunate, like my husband and I were, we are privileged to see the blessing on the other side.

What pain are you in the midst of today? Whatever it is, hold tight to God’s promises and trust Him to see you through. Have faith. Though you weep this night, your joy may come in the morning. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

 

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Our Lord, the Matador

Sometimes I feel like I’m running from a mad bull. There are times I just want some place safe to run to in this crazy life.

When I was a young man, my daddy helped my older brother raise steers to show for 4-H. My brother bought them as young calves and trained them so he could show them in the ring. As a typical younger brother, I wanted to follow him around and do whatever he did. When I entered the stable to watch, I came eye-to-eye with what, to me, was a man-crushing beast. When I stepped in, he always charged.

I was chased around the stable many times. But I learned something. When I ran behind daddy, the animals always stopped and lowered their heads. Daddy was in charge and was not afraid. He was my refuge. I learned never to go into the stable or ring unless he was nearby. And then I didn’t need to be afraid.

When we face something that seems too big for us, we should run to the Lord. He is in charge and nothing is stronger than Him. Nothing is too complicated. Nothing takes Him by surprise.

As I grew up, there came a time when the steers stopped charging. I learned to face them without fear. But in our lives, there always seems to be something to cause us to fear and doubt ourselves and our service to God. God does not want us, His children, to live our lives in fear. He tells us to come to Him expectantly in prayer. He instructs us in how to live through His Word, and He gives us His Holy Spirit to guide us. We never need to feel alone or afraid. He will be with us.

Even when you find mad bulls in your ring, trust.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Tweetsie

The big train wheels squealed and sparks flew as the engineer pulled hard on the bright red brake lever. Rolling and shuddering, the boiler hissed steam and the train shuddered to a stop. The Bad Men Outlaws (dressed all in black) boarded the train.

It was 1963 and the Tweetsie Railroad, a tourist attraction built around an authentic locomotive and three miles of track in the North Carolina mountains, was just six years old. So was I. The train was packed that summer day, and Mom, Dad, and I were the last to board. Mom was pregnant with my little brother, and she quickly found a seat for us, but there didn’t seem to be room left on the car for my Dad. So as the train began to lurch its way out of the station, he settled down a few feet away on a lockbox at the end of the car.

I watched in wide-eyed wonder as the train meandered its way around the mountain. There was a lot to see along the way, including the scenery and the frontier fort. And then, out of the blue, came the sound of six-shooters ripping the air, horses galloping alongside the train, and the squeal of iron on iron as the train slowed and stopped.

The entrance to the passenger car was suddenly darkened by a man dressed all in black. He bounded up the steps and entered. He pulled his gun and before I was even aware of what was happening, I was up off the seat and moving. I kicked the outlaw as hard as I could and yelled at him, “Don’t point that gun at my daddy!”

The staged play came apart at that point. The "outlaw" looked at me in bewilderment. Dad scooped me up protectively, and the passengers on the car broke out in laughter and cheers. After a minute or two, the actors recovered and went on with the show. The outlaws took the lockbox. Dad sat in my seat and held me close. The good guys (dressed helpfully in white) recovered the lockbox, and the train once again huffed and puffed along the track. Its whistle echoed off the mountains.

Jesus said we must be as little children. He probably didn’t mean we should go around kicking people, but rather our motives should be as pure and innocent as that of little children. Just as little Kevin flew off the bench to protect his daddy, we should be just as zealous in our defense of our faith, and observant of all the things our Father has taught us.

Our Christian faith is under attack from all sides. The outlaws are boarding the train. Drink of the Father’s promised Spirit of power and love, and go kick a few bad guys.



The Eyes of God

My husband built a bird feeding station just off the patio that attracted numerous birds, all colors and sizes. We enjoyed watching the birds pick at the food in the birdfeeders and dip into the birdbath. New species appeared almost daily—bluebirds, cardinals, red-headed woodpeckers, finches, blue jays, sparrows, ravens, orioles, doves, humming birds—all flashing their gorgeous array of colors as they flitted back and forth from the feeders to the trees.

In the fall a squirrel or two usually showed up looking for food to stash for the winter. My husband decided to add a feeder for them as well and almost immediately, a mother squirrel and her baby showed up. We watched as the mother cared for and nurtured her young from a distance. At first, she accompanied the young one to the feeder, but soon I noticed she sent him out to the feeding station alone while she stationed herself atop the six-foot fence and watched.

While she seemed to be far away from the little one, she never took her eyes off him. At the slightest sense of danger, the little squirrel skittered to his mother on top of the fence. They scampered down the fence toward the woods and disappeared from sight. Later he came back to eat, and when I looked over at the fence, there was the mother squirrel waiting and watching.

It occurred to me that God cares for and watches over us just as the mother squirrel watched over her young. Sometimes it may seem like He’s far away or isn’t paying attention to what’s going on in our lives, but He’s always watching, waiting to act the moment we are in need and seek His help. While He sometimes allows us to wander to teach us lessons in life, He never leaves us. His love and grace are without limits, from everlasting to everlasting, and we can run to Him any time we need him. He never takes His eyes off us. He’s just a prayer away.

Take time right now to thank God for watching over you even when you aren’t aware that He’s there. Learn to trust in Him and His watchful eyes.



As for Me and My Mouse

While I was playing with her two older sisters, my two-year-old granddaughter slipped out of the room unnoticed. After searching for her for several minutes, I found her sprawled out on the floor deeply engrossed in something on her daddy’s iPad.

Charli loves cartoons, especially My Little Pony. At first glance, that’s what I thought she was watching. When I knelt down for a closer inspection, there were evil faces on the ponies. Suddenly, the screen filled with skeletons, and the evil ponies starting cutting open the heads of other ponies and “eating their brains.”

I quickly scooped up the iPad and said, “Sweetie, I don’t think this is something you need to be watching.” Fortunately, there was no resistance. (I think she was as confused about what she was seeing as I was.) When I told her mother about the video, she said Charli must have grabbed the iPad when no one was looking. It seems they had been watching the real My Little Pony videos earlier that day, and YouTube was easily accessible to little fingers.

The psalmist said, I will set nothing wicked before my eyes. In this generation, driven by the media and high tech gadgets of all shapes and sizes, that is a tall order. Commercials are sensual or downright crude and annoying. Previews that are supposed to be “approved for all audiences” are, most times, anything but. And the Internet is a wonderful, necessary, terrifying place—especially for those too young to know how to navigate it and bypass all the junk.

From the time they were big enough to hold something in their hand, all of my grandchildren have been able to navigate a cell phone, iPad, and even the TV remote. It’s amazing how bright our children are today. It seems they come out of the womb ready to face this new world of advanced technology that is their future. Our job as parents and grandparents is to teach them to use this technology wisely in order to protect their little minds from all sorts of filth and corruption.

Even for an adult, one wrong click of the mouse can open up ads and websites that are pure garbage, burning images and information into our consciousness that are almost impossible to eliminate. The psalmist also said, I will behave wisely in a perfect way. That takes a decision and a conscious effort.

Technology, as I said, is a wonderful tool and something we cannot do without. The key is using it wisely for the right purposes and teaching our children the same. One of the best things I ever heard someone say is this: "As for me and my mouse … we will serve the Lord!"

How about you?

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

 



Dachshund and Goliath

My dachshund, Wilbur, embarrassed me.

Friends had graciously invited me and my husband over for a Memorial Day cookout. “Bring Wilbur. He can play with our greyhound, Vanna.”

So we did. But Wilbur “showed himself ” like never before, growling and nipping at Vanna, making us regret we’d brought him along.

Wibur’s fearlessness and aggression toward a dog ten times his height reminded me of my dachshunds from childhood. Any time they saw the neighborhood Doberman, they would take after him full-throttle and, thankfully, he would disappear into the woods.

The dachshund’s confidence and bravery reminds me of David and Goliath. David looked up at this giant-of-a-man towering over him and declared battle with full confidence. He even refused to wear armor and told Goliath if he came against him to fight, he (David) would attack in the name of the Lord. David ran toward Goliath and killed him with a slingshot and a stone.

Christians need to take a lesson from David—and the dachshund. God wants us to start putting more action behind the beliefs we claim to possess. He wants us to act like we are more than conquerors, and that we can do all things through Christ.

We tend to give up our fights too easily only to consider what we, ourselves, are capable of doing. It’s easy to forget Who we have on our team. There’s no doubt there are mountains in our lives but as Christians, we must never forget God is on our side. That’s way bigger than any and every obstacle we face.

So it’s okay for us to look silly and take on our battles like a dachshund charging at a greyhound or a Doberman … as long our confidence is not in our own abilities, but in our unstoppable, almighty Master. Place your confidence in Christ and He will lead you through the battles.

(Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net & Sira Anamwong)