A Devotion May Be Someone's Only Bible

Peace & Presence

The peace we find in the presence of Christ is like crawling under a warm blanket on a cold winter’s day or feeling the soft breeze on a warm spring morning. Seeking after God is a continual process that grows us into a deep and long lasting relationship with Him. Come into His presence and find peace.

Whatever

As a first-time parent, I assumed it would be smooth sailing once I survived the Terrible Twos.

But to quote a favorite response from a two year old, “No!” Along came the Turbulent Teens, complete with bad attitude and eye rolling. Although “No!” was no longer spewed at me, I was blown off by my teenaged little darling. Her standard response to my suggestions, opinions, or directives during her Turbulent Teen phase was, “Whatever.”

So I decided to fight fire with fire. I countered my daughter’s whatever with God’s whatever. Knowing that a teenage girl would love to receive clothing for her birthday, I ordered her a special t-shirt. Emblazoned on the front was the whatever language of Philippians 4:8: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. This present was a humorous reminder about a positive use of the word. 

As God’s children, we often act like kids going through the Turbulent Teens. We roll our eyes and dismiss what He has told us to do because we know better—or so we think. But our disobedient actions are a disrespectful whatever response.

Although we are parents on earth, God is still our heavenly Father. He has directed us to concentrate on whatever is good, right, etc. Whatever is right includes showing respect and being obedient to Him. Rather than copping an attitude, as God’s Turbulent Teens, we should adjust our attitude and our focus.

Immersing ourselves in God’s Word and memorizing Philippians 4:8 are steps in the right direction. If necessary, we might even wear a t-shirt with the words from Philippians 4:8 on it. My daughter is now grown and out of the house, but I still have and wear her whatever t-shirt to remind me of what my focus needs to be.

Do whatever it takes to obey your heavenly Father and to focus on whatever things are positive and uplifting.

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Jesus, Our Restitution

Restitution is restoring someone or something to its pre-sin condition.

Many times it is impossible to restore to pre-sin condition. Suppose I am walking down  the street with an ice cream cone in my hand. Someone—who is not paying attention to their surroundings—bumps into me and knocks my cone out of my hand. I am offended, suffer a loss, and have a right to demand restitution. If the one who bumped into me moves on and ignores my demand for a replacement, I am left without my ice cream.

The store clerk, who saw the incident, offers me another cone, at no charge. But I refuse the new one and continue to seek restitution from the offender. The store manager hears the commotion and offers me a double-scoop cone. I reject the new offer. I want restitution. Finally, the owner of the store offers me a triple-scoop sundae with a cherry on top. Since I insist on restitution from the offender, I have missed the restitution that came from other sources.

Paul tells us to forgive each other as Christ has forgiven us. When we forgive, we stop seeking restitution from our offenders and are open to receiving restitution from others. Jesus is our restitution. He restores us out of the riches of His grace and will also use others to restore to us.

Do not look to your offenders to be your source of restitution. Forgive them. Look to Jesus for your restitution. He can restore in greater measure than you can think or imagine.

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Walk a Little Slower

She gave me a model to follow.

As we touched down, the Boeing 747 bobbed down the runway amid the flickering lights. The plane joggled to a stop. Passengers grabbed coats and bags from the overhead compartments and crammed the aisle to deplane. I continued to rummage under the front seat for a missing pink sneaker. 

My daughter and I finally exited the plane and headed for the confines of the terminal. “It’s better to walk a little slower, Daddy,” she shouted. “I don’t want to fall.” My daughter often reminded me I was leading her, and my steps were too fast. 

She’s all grown-up now and married. But I remember how she followed me everywhere, believing I was able to guide her safely through the circumstances of the day. She followed when I escorted her to school on the first day of kindergarten. She followed when I stepped into the doctor’s office for her to receive shots. And she followed when I led her to the edge of the pool for our first dip together.  

But unlike my daughter, I normally prefer to lead and direct my destiny. I even find myself talking over God, insisting that He follow me instead. Then I shamelessly plead for His help when things don’t go as planned.

In truth, we don’t entirely have the ability to control our destiny. Our knowledge and understanding are limited—and we have a sinful nature besides.

The rightful one to lead is our Maker. The same one who led Noah, and whom Noah walked with. He who holds knowledge of the past, the present, and the future events all at once. He leads us safely through our storms, our doubts, our fears, and our agonizing losses.

If we’re to become committed followers, the requisite is complete trust in God. Our obligation is to humbly follow, knowing He will steer us in the right direction. To help, God gives us His footsteps to follow and asks that we not yield to the temptation to rush ahead—alone.  

My daughter’s words, way back when, still remind me it’s better to walk slower so I don’t fall.

Let Christ set the pace for you each day.

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Turbulence

“More!” A small voice giggled in the back of the plane, indicating this toddler enjoyed the turbulence as the plane flew over the Rockies.

The boy was on his way to visit his grandparents and was excited by the whole flying experience. The bumpy ride rivaled amusement park attractions. Though people chuckled, I doubt everyone had the same opinion of that bumpy ride. Many feared.

If you have flown very much, you’ve probably experienced air travel discomforts. In addition to turbulence, delays, missed connections, long waits, broken planes, security hassles, and lost luggage are common. Once, when our son flew into town, a delay caused him to miss his connecting flight and arrive hours later, smack in the middle of rush hour traffic. We were not amused.

Life is like that—a bumpy ride, full of challenges. Almost every day we encounter some sort of annoyances. We’re stuck in traffic. Someone cuts us off. We pick the slowest checkout line at the grocery store. Our schedule gets interrupted.

Sometimes the bumps are more like mountains—illnesses, financial troubles, broken relationships, and numerous serious problems, all destroying our smooth ride. Who would say “More?” Yet James tells us these everyday trials of life are God’s building blocks to make us into the person He wishes us to be.

Oswald Chambers said, “No matter how difficult something may be, I must say, ‘Lord, I am delighted to obey you in this.’”

Discovering a new way of manifesting the Son of God should make our heart beat with renewed excitement. Our steadfastness can develop a spiritual vitality in which we willingly do what the trial demands, no matter how much it hurts and as long as it gives God the opportunity to manifest the life of Jesus in us.

Be brave enough to say, “Lord, bring it on. More! Make me into the person You want me to be. Help me bring glory to You in this.”

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Set Free from Anger

Anger haunted me.

After a year of therapy for the nemesis, I realized my anger surfaced when I feared something: losing control of a friend, a family member, or a position of security and comfort.

Like many of us, Naaman had an anger problem. The prophet didn’t heal him in the way Naaman imagined he would. Naaman also had to have someone else point out his anger to him.

Others can often see us far better than we can see ourselves. Like Naaman, I wanted things done my way. I now walk in happy warmth with less headaches and more energy. I allow the Creator to be fully in charge of my life, family, possessions, and circumstances.

Pride and self-reliance kept me from surrendering to my loving Father earlier. They had to be confronted and eliminated.

I’m far from perfect, but now stand in awe of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Instead of being angry, I try to wait on God.

Surrender your all to God, and be set free from anger.

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Seeing in the Dark

Darkness settled over our street. A gang of young people cased our neighbourhood, looking for opportunities for mischief.

Other people living on our street had reported them to the police, but nothing was done. So we went to bed trusting in the Lord for protection. The next morning, the path of senseless damage was easy to follow. Fence boards broken, cars scratched, glass broken, bushes pulled up by the roots. 

Neighbours wondered why we did not suffer anything from this rampage. Then they noticed the streetlight at the corner of our small house plot. It shined into our garden, over our house, and down the short driveway. It was so bright, we did not need to put a light on in the house if we needed to get up during the night. We could see in the dark. When the streetlight began to flicker, we would notify the council, and they would come and replace it.

Our neighbours wondered how we slept with such a bright light shining in our windows all night. After they experienced the gang rampage, they were envious of our position. The light had saved us and our property from harm.

When we receive Jesus as our Saviour, His light and life come into our hearts. Then we must keep that light burning brightly to draw others to Him. To keep our light shining, we need to practice spiritual disciplines: praying, reading the Word, obeying the Holy Spirit, and fellowshipping with other believers.

Sometimes we become dull, and our lights begin to flicker on and off, growing dimmer each day. We become prey for the Enemy to bring darkness around us through circumstances or trials. This is when we need to reach out to others for support. People who will come alongside and help us see through the dark moments. Once back on our feet, we are able to continue our pursuit of God through our regular disciplines. 

Keep your light burning within so there is no opportunity for the Devil to cause you hassles. And be humble enough to ask for help when you need it.

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Why Me, Lord?

When circumstances are adverse and our mind is clouded, we often turn to a trusted friend or spouse.  

Some seasons in life cause us to question whether God is with us, whether He has abandoned us, or whether He has given us over to be tossed about by the enemy. One difficulty after another assaults us, and we doubt if God is who He says He is.

I think we can all sympathize with Gideon. When the Midianites oppressed the Israelites, God’s people cried out to Him. Without relenting, the enemy pillaged the Israelites. Sparing nothing, they destroyed crops and livestock alike. How could a loving God allow such unmitigated disaster to come upon a people who were His very own? Why them? Why you and me?

When faced with adversity, we do well not to allow our circumstances and fears to override the truth of God’s Word. God hasn’t abandoned us, and He never will (Deuteronomy 31:6). He has also promised to be with us to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). These are remarkable promises we need to remember so we can stand under severe testing.

God rescued His people from the Midianites, and He will do no less for us when we cry out to Him in our distress. The next time you’re tempted to question why difficulty seems to find you, remember the words of the apostle Peter: In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith, of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire, may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6-7).

God can turn your “Why me?” into gold. Remember His promises and trust Him.

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The Special Mirror

I stared into the mirror. Terror filled my heart as the commandment, Thou shall not lie, convicted me as a liar, and the commandment, Thou shall not steal, convicted me as a thief.  

I understood how God saw me and realized I had no right to find the path to life. With tears in my eyes, I dropped the mirror and walked away. Then I heard One crying as He died on a cross: My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me. My memory was etched with the bloody nails lying at the bottom of the cross.

This special mirror is the Ten Commandments. When we look into the mirror, it shows we have broken God’s laws. This frightens us and makes us uncomfortable. We want to do what we want. After a while, our conscience becomes quieter. If we walk away, we lose all hope of finding the path leading to life. 

Few find the path because none are righteous. God alone must show us the entrance, yet knowing our hearts are evil, He can't allow anyone access. So He gives people a conscience to know right from wrong. He also provides a special mirror that will guide us to the entrance of the path.

Some spend time gazing into the mirror, but try to clean the sins reflected in it. If we try to justify ourselves in this way, trying our best to do good, the mirror will be our destruction. 

Knowing the truth means grasping the mirror tightly and looking deeply within so it can reveal our hopeless condition before God and show us that it was our sins that put Jesus to death. The King Himself endured the shame of the cross and died on our behalf.

If you haven’t, look in the mirror and approach the entrance to the path that leads to life. Feel great sorrow, but also amazing joy. 

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Otters and Community

Their cute faces and funny antics make them popular with old and young alike. 

Sea otters are some of my favorite creatures. I love watching them at aquariums, floating on their backs and playing with their fellow otters. The way the mothers cuddle their young as they float is heartwarming and makes me want to hold my own children close. Otters are social, engaging in play with each other and hanging out in groups called “rafts.” They often wrap kelp around themselves to keep from drifting away. When they sleep, they hold hands or lock arms to keep each other close.

Christians also have a need for community. King Solomon wrote, A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12). And the writer of Hebrews encourages us to continue meeting together so we might build each other up.

Just like otters, we need to live in community. We need the voices and encouragement of other Christians to help us stay afloat so we won’t drift away.

Grounding ourselves with Scripture through regular Bible reading or weekly Bible study with a small group keeps us from drifting. By linking with other Christians, we keep each other close. We can encourage each other and be encouraged. We learn we’re not alone in our struggles.

Many Christians drift away because they don’t get connected at their church or find a place to serve and fit in within the church community. God made us for relationship, both with Him and with others, so building strong relationships and communities of faith is important.

If you aren’t part of a Bible study or small group at your church or in your community, consider joining one. Someone may need to hear your story of faith and feel your encouragement. You may even need to hear their story.

Prepare yourself to help someone else in their faith journey. 

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Search for the Lord

“I can’t find my Nintendo DS game. Help me!” My daughter’s pleas filled the house.

“Where was the last place you had it?” I asked.

“My bed,” she cried. “Now it’s gone. Help me!”

“Look under the bed and move the covers and pillows around,” I instructed.

I watched her enter her room, turn around in a circle, and then proclaim, “It’s not in here.”

I shook my head in disbelief. She was upset because she wanted something she would not search for. Although she said she searched, she didn’t. She wanted the Nintendo to jump up and say “here I am.” I finally went into her room and found it under the bed, where it had fallen, proving she could have found it if she had searched.

Many people are upset with God because they believe He is not there and does not care. In His Word, He tells us to seek Him while He may be found. Seeking requires searching. Yet we enter the room and cry “where are you,” expecting Him to jump up and say “here I am.”

Although God is there, He wants us to search for Him … to consider Him a treasure worth looking for. If you have trouble seeing God in your life and circumstances, seek Him. Take out your Bible and read. Be open to talk with and  listen to other Christians who can share Christ with you personally—Christians who spend time in prayer, not just speaking to God but listening for His still, small voice.

Times in life will come when we feel as if God cannot be found, and we will ask, “Where are you?” When these times come, know He is there. Be willing to search for Him until you find Him.

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Problem Solving

In frustration, he cried, “I have more questions than answers!”

As I listened to the man’s concerns, I felt I understood them. Reflecting on this later, I realized I, too, had more questions than answers. Only my situation was different.

For years, I had worn hearing aids, but lately I had not been able to hear anything out of the right ear. I feared I was losing my hearing entirely, so I made an appointment with a hearing specialist. The young lady answered my questions, tested my hearing aids, and solved my hearing problems.

After she made the adjustments, I replaced my hearing aids. For the first time in a year, I heard clearly. As tears welled up, the specialist asked, “Are you all right?” I told her I was and thanked her for her service. She told me she liked problem solving—a rare gift for someone so young.

Sometimes, we try to reason out our problems before we consult the specialist—the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is the greatest problem solver we will ever know. He brings strategies into our circumstances and answers questions we have no answers for.

After guiding my friend into some relevant Scriptures for his dilemma, he reported later that he discovered his answers.

Consult the best problem solver, the living God, for the right answers to all your questions. You will not be disappointed.

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Slithering to Safety

Sheer terror replaced anything I may have planned years earlier while draped over the couch, textbook in hand.

While on a dirt path, deep in the forest, I came nose-to-toe with a copperhead snake. His nose. My toe. But I was not some rank amateur. No siree. Girl Scouts and first aid courses had trained me on how to respond: Remain calm. No loud noises. No sudden moves.

So what did I do? What any self-respecting city girl would do. I panicked. I screamed. I turned and ran for my life. So much for being prepared.

God’s pleas beckon us from the pages of Scripture: Come to Me … Call upon Me … Seek Me first … Take My yoke … learn from Me … Be anxious for nothing … Give your requests to God … Fix your eyes on Jesus ….

God’s promises follow each plea: … and I will give you rest … I will answer … I will show you…and all these shall be added to you … and you will find rest for your soul … and the peace of God shall guard your hearts and minds ... so you may not grow weary or lose heart.

One day, without warning, God may call us to experience a crisis we’ve only read about or watched others experience—one that’s frightening, humiliating, devastating, shocking, overwhelming, or heart-breaking. A temporary setback or a life-changing disaster. A private struggle or a public nightmare.

We can read self-help manuals or stories of saints who’ve overcome. We can plan, prepare, and preach on “Ten Steps to Handling Adversity.” But until we face that difficult life situation head-on, we won’t know what our gut reaction will be. Will I turn to God or to self? To God or another person? To God or another source—such as alcohol, anger, seclusion, fear?

Whenever we come nose-to-toe with life’s challenges, why not respond to God’s gracious offer and run into the ever-present arms of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Savior, our Protector, our Refuge, our Rock.

Run to the Rock, and watch your worries slither away.

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Sister Mary of Jordan

Arab woman don’t normally remain single and live alone all their lives.

Sister Mary (Ukt in Arabic), however, devoted her life to full-time ministry for her Lord. When still a young woman, she began Bible studies in her home. They grew into a church and became one of the largest, most active Protestant congregations in Jordan.

Each morning and afternoon Ukt Mary led either a meeting for women or for girls in her house or in other homes in different areas of the city. On Friday mornings, a men’s prayer group met at Ukt Mary’s house. After a time of prayer, they engaged in lively discussions.

Over the years, Ukt Mary developed health problems, but she didn’t let these challenges slow her down. She continued to lead Bible studies until her death and trained women to take her place. She never feared death but looked forward to leaving this earth to be with Jesus. God forewarned her of death, so she put her affairs in order.

The morning of her death, Ukt Mary got up knowing she would meet Jesus. She even called her doctor. She had lived her whole life in anticipation of this day. She called relatives and some of her friends to invite them to come over. She was going home to Jesus.

When they gathered around her, she lay down, waved at them, and said, “Goodbye, world. I’m going to Jesus.” Just like that, she died. Her death, the ideal leave-taking of this world, was a beautiful testimony of the harmony between her and Jesus.

Don’t fear death. Rather, follow Ukt Mary’s example by looking forward with excitement and anticipation to going to your Father’s house.

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Keep Your Focus

Do you ever have so many problems you feel as if you won’t make it through another day?

I’ve had many of those moments over the past couple of years—health, family issues, financial decisions—and have found myself frequently saying, “This too shall pass.”

We all know trials are part of this earthly existence. They come with the package. But our response to them can many times determine their length and severity. Keeping our focus on the Lord instead of the problem is the biggest key.

Our burdens may seem to linger with no end in sight, but they all have a shelf life. Situations and circumstances I once thought would never change have been transformed by God’s miraculous, loving hand. With Him, all things are truly possible. In fact, God calls those heavy burdens “light and momentary troubles.” Not only are these troubles light, but they are also gaining for us “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” I love the way the Message puts it:

So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye. The things we see now are here today, gone tomorrow. But the things we can’t see now will last forever.

I’ve learned that when the storms of life (those small potatoes) rage all around me and the darkness closes in, my hope is renewed when I look to the One who loves me, is always with me, and cares about everything that concerns me. With one single word, He can calm the storm and cause the light to break through. Even if the storm continues to rage, He will fill me with His peace and give me a new godly perspective. As one writer says, “ Whether God takes you out of the situation or brings you through it, trust Him. He’s working for your good and His glory.”

If you’re experiencing a trial that is threatening to take you under, don’t give up. Be still and listen for His voice. He is saying, “Hold tightly to my hand, my child. This too shall pass.”

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Call Them by Name

I have a habit of nicknaming people. It’s my way of recognizing who they are to me.

We all do it, don’t we? Use labels as identifiers? Mutti. Dot. Paige. Super Girl. Boss-Man.

When God created Adam and then the creatures, God asked Adam to name them. God must have had His own labels. After all, He created the entire universe from fiat.

But He wanted to know what they were to Adam. He never said, “No, you’re wrong.” Or, “Use their proper name.” God allowed Adam to personalize his relationship with every one of His creations by giving them a unique name.

In the same way, God personalizes His relationship with us. He has many names: Abba. Yahweh. King. Almighty. And so do we. Beloved. Treasured. Precious. Forgiven. Saved.

But we can also create unhealthy identifiers: Careless. Mistake. Stupid. Unforgiven. Those are the weak threads … the ones we need to remove to make room for God’s thicker chords.

God doesn’t say we must choose just one and forget the rest. Not at all. Rather, He blends every good thing to weave us tighter into a strong rope to be used by and for Him. Each identifier is just one thread of our total being.

Strengthen your threads with the teachings of God’s Word.

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Be Prepared

The power bill had more than doubled in a month.

I knew I needed better insulation in my thirty-year-old townhouse. The homeowners’ association planned to install some in the coming weeks. I hoped replacing the windows would help too, since they were so old.

I’d called several companies to compare estimates for new windows. One gentleman came out and demonstrated how their product worked with its various features. He measured all the windows and returned to write up the estimate. As we sat at the table he said, “I have to ask.”

“Okay. What?” I had no idea what he would ask.

“I saw the folder on the book of Daniel in your office. What’s the study like?”

I told him a bit about the book and said our weekly Bible group was studying the book. He said he led a Bible study in his home too. We discussed the importance of going back to the original text to know what it meant in order to rightly apply God’s Word to our lives. We talked about living for Christ each day and ensuring we follow Him in the decisions we make.

After he left, I realized I had followed Peter’s advice to the early Christians. I reflected on the afternoon and what a surprise I’d gotten. I’d made an appointment to get an estimate for new windows, and God sent a man who, in the midst of his work, talked about the importance of Christ in his life.  

God gives us opportunities to integrate faith into our lives and share our beliefs as we go about the day. All we have to do is ask and be ready.

Ask God to show you opportunities where you can share your faith today.

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Talents

He was a self-made billionaire.

The eighty-year-old Irish American had the ability to see opportunities to make money at an early age. Growing up poor and often hungry, he used his intuitive talent and collaborated with another youngster to find odd jobs people in better neighbourhoods needed doing and then started his own business. He admitted the co-worker did most of the work as he went about finding more jobs.

By working smarter instead of harder, he worked his way through college, and his knack for making money continued. He found a need and supplied what people wanted. Before long, he was a millionaire, married, and a father.

Then he discovered his children did not know the value of work ethic or money, so he changed his lifestyle. His philosophy became giving while living. His philanthropic endeavours affected third-world countries and his own native Ireland in profound ways.

While listening to his story, I became aware that he did not thank God once for giving him the ability and the talent to make money.

Miriam brought dance to the Israelites, a form of worship they had not experienced before. Ruth worked in the fields with her hands, won the attention of Boaz, and became part of Jesus’ lineage (Ruth 2, Matthew 1:5). Peter and James organized the first church in Jerusalem, which established a foundation for Paul’s travels to spread the gospel to Gentiles. Aquilla and Priscilla were skilled tentmakers, which aligned them with Paul in both work and ministry (Acts 18).

God not only gives us spiritual gifts through His Holy Spirit once we believe in His Son Jesus, He also places inside each of us talents and natural abilities for us to discover, develop, and use for His glory.

Ask the Lord God to reveal your gifts and talents so you are able to serve Him with them. And don’t forget to thank Father God for them.

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Evidence for God

If the lights in the sky—which are made of inanimate gases, dust, and rocks—make known the workings of an intelligent God who is in control, shouldn't the lives of those created in His image and quickened by His Spirit do the same?

As the heavens declare the glory of God, so should believers. Our lives should give evidence that reveals the reality of an intelligent, planning, controlling, and presiding Creator and Savior. We all have moments when we do this, but the challenge is doing it consistently.

When I was young, I thought glorifying God meant being perfect all the time. Every wrong thought, word, or action convinced me I had no business trying to know God. Thankfully, God gave me both time and wisdom to learn the truth that He loves me—all of me, the good me, the bad me, and even the ugly me.

God’s loving nature doesn’t mean He excuses or overlooks sin in my life. He simply forgives me through the shed blood of Jesus Christ of all my sin. I am forever in His loving arms, and I have the privilege and ability to reveal His controlling presence in my life. When I fail to declare His glory, He lovingly points that out and corrects me. Even His correction declares His glory.

Letting God's Word impact our lives daily helps us declare His glory. Through His Word, He teaches, corrects, and equips us to impact the lives of those around us. He can and will bring glory to His name by our testimony as we give Him the credit for our accomplishments and discuss openly how He has worked even through our shortcomings and weaknesses.

Pray that your life will be a constant and abiding declaration of God’s glory.

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Crossing Bridges

Nothing compares to a first mission trip. Life changes and memories last forever.

Hispanic ministry in upstate New York with a team of four adults and three youth introduced me to this incomparable joy. We stayed with and served under the guidance of a career missionary couple. Four of us knew a smattering of Spanish, so together we managed when we had no interpreter. However, we relied primarily on the local Hispanic pastor and a summer missionary to help bridge communication gaps.

Our daily schedule included the basics of any backyard Bible school (repeated three times): songs, crafts, Bible stories, and games. We used puppets, drama, and group interaction to deliver the story. A crown of thorns—the real thing—received the most attention. Because children are children, and curiosity reigns, we had to caution them to look but not touch.

I used the thorns during my role as a friend of Jesus. We wanted the children to learn how Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection bridged the gap between them and God. The emotion of the drama, combined with sorrow in leaving the children that final day, threatened to drown us with tears as we boarded the van.

At night we helped with outdoor revival services. We loved trying to translate introductory Spanish comments, especially the funny ones about us. A few harmless jokes at our expense broke the ice for everyone. With the salvation of a teenage girl from the morning Bible school, all the fatigue from a week of maximum activity and minimum sleep melted away.

We made a one-day side trip to Niagara Falls, where Rainbow Bridge connects the United States and Canada. Early mornings frequently find the bridge shrouded by a heavy mist that feels like rain.

In much the same way, our efforts at bridging relationships can become bogged down by human imperfections. However, when we travel the bridge Jesus supplied through the cross and invite others to journey with us, we discover genuine, lasting peace.

Dare to cross bridges to introduce others to Jesus.

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Keeping Watch

The tiny barn finch searched for the perfect place to build her nest. The same day, my husband hung his car-washing mitt on the clothesline to air out.

A week later when my husband approached the clothesline, a small brown bird chattered and darted, showing its displeasure. A quick glance in the mitt showed a bundle of sticks, branches, leaves, and grass. Backing away, my husband watched as the tiny bird flew deftly into the glove.

Days later, as I hung a few items on the clothesline. I was met by the same chattering, swooping barn finch. I spoke soothingly to the critter, but it didn’t listen. It sat on the garden fence, fussing and complaining.

Later, I paused to reflect. If I were as diligent at keeping watch as that small bird, life would change. It did when the watchmen of Jerusalem did their job.

Keeping watch, I could discourage family or friends from making the wrong choices. I could keep my family close, assuring them I have their good in my heart. If I were as careful for other’s lives as that finch was for its babies, I would speak to the lost and help them find the way to true happiness. If I were more diligent, I would spend less time complaining and chattering.

After the finch moved out, we checked the mitt. Stuffed with twigs, leaves, and bird debris, the mitt needed to be tossed. As a Christian, if I do not show others the way to God, they too will be tossed into the eternal fire that has no end.

Ask God to help you be diligent and caring. Rather than chattering and complaining, let God prompt you to care for those who are lost and lead them carefully to Him.

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Obey the Rules

Few things are more daunting than flashing blue lights … and I’m not talking about K-Mart’s blue-light specials.

I was in pain, in a hurry, and headed to my chiropractor’s office when I blew through a stop sign. It was a small intersection with nothing around, but that was no excuse. I looked up and saw two cars parked in an abandoned parking lot. Instantly, one of the cars zoomed out of the lot. A siren split the air. Blue lights flashed behind me, demanding me to pull over.

Almost in tears, I apologized. Told the officer I was in pain and on my way to an appointment, My assurance that I was a good driver and would never let this happen again seemed to have no effect.

The officer was extremely courteous. Said he understood about pain and chiropractors, and he was glad I was a “good driver.” But his reprimand was to the point: “It doesn’t matter. You still have to obey the rules.”

The incident made me wonder how many times I’ve gotten in a hurry and blew through the spiritual stop signs God has placed in my path. Those times I’ve ignored the rules He has set forth in His Word, going my own way and doing my own thing.

The truth is—whether in the natural or spiritual world—stop means stop. And in both realms, consequences follow. Obeying the laws of the land is not a separate issue from obeying God’s laws, because everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God (Romans 13:1 NLT).

Like it or not, God expects us to follow the rules and be obedient. Period. Not because He’s a hard taskmaster, but for our benefit. Listening to His voice and following Holy Spirit’s lead keeps us out of a passel of trouble.

Thankfully, the officer had mercy and only gave me a warning. Trust me, I won’t be blowing through any more stop signs.

Be alert. Listen for God’s voice. And always follow the rules.

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When a Perfectly Planned Day Goes Terribly Wrong

Everything was planned. The hotel was booked. Our bags were packed.

All my daughter and I had to do was hop in the car and drive the 212 miles to our destination. In exactly three and one half hours, we would experience a fun-filled day at our favorite theme park.

When we arrived, everything was perfect—at least until high winds blew everything around. Debris was everywhere, on the ground and in the air. The wind blew so hard it felt as if tiny needles pricked our skin. Because of the inclement weather, the park shut down some of the rides. We rode a total of three before they chose to close the park altogether.

What happened to my perfectly planned day?

At first, I wasn’t sure I could keep it together. After a hectic week, my patience was paper thin. I hoped our trip would be an escape from all the craziness.

As I thought about our situation, I realized I was at a crossroads: I could lose control and go down an angry road, or I could ask God to fill me with the patience to handle our situation gracefully.

Letting my temper get the best of me would lead to misery—and that wouldn’t change our circumstances or make our trip better, only worse. If I asked God to give me a patient heart, we could salvage our trip, and my daughter and I could still enjoy our time together. The wiser choice was to seek God’s help.

Solomon reminds us it isn't wise to allow our tempers to dictate our reactions to things. When our plans get ruined, it is frustrating, but with God’s help, we can have a better attitude.

The next time your temper threatens to lead you in the wrong direction, pause and ask God for directions. He will always guide you to a better route.

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Hidden Treasures

With the details of our vacation planned from the starting time to the rest stops along the way, I was anxious and ready to head out. But we slowed down and read our morning devotion from Isaiah 45:3.

I hadn’t planned for the traffic jam created by a visiting politician, which changed our timeline. Suddenly, threatening dark clouds formed to the left of us—not part of my planning—but our path remained clear, dotted with puffs of clouds and a splash of blue. I wanted to focus on the darkness. My husband and I decided to look at the clouds, searching to see what animal or shape the wind had formed. We found God’s hidden treasures among the overcast sky. The dark threatening clouds didn’t go away, but our anxiety did.

I once believed the Old Testament was boring and irrelevant. However, I now see it filled with treasures of wisdom and facts that pull me into the history of our precious Lord. God’s personality and character are written on all the pages. Within the details of the Old Testament, I discover new insights about God’s love and promises that strengthen me.

Details matter in our life—our clothes, our language, our travels, our budget, our thoughts. When I took my eyes off the darkness, I found the treasure God had placed within the threatening storm.

Our duty is to read the Bible. God has riches for each of us in it. Either we can focus on the darkness and let our feelings take over or we can focus on knowledge and trust God’s personality and character.

This life will have trials, but search for the treasures God has stored for your discovery.

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The Advocate

Parents hold the responsibility of making decisions for their children—decisions they may not always understand.

When little, children don’t understand why they can’t play with matches or put objects into an electrical outlet. Teens may not understand why they have a curfew. They do not recognize the potential for danger—and they certainly don’t understand we do what we do out of love.

Before Jesus ascended to heaven, He explained to His disciples that it was good for them that He depart. Otherwise, the Advocate would not come. The disciples had walked with Jesus for three years and had observed His miracles, His compassion, and His power over stormy seas. I imagine they came to look at Him not only as their teacher but also as their trusted and cherished friend. Now He told them His leaving was good for them. They had to know persecution loomed ahead and that they would need their leader. They thought He would restore the kingdom to Israel, but He was returning to the Father.

The disciples didn’t know Jesus’ departure would lead to their empowerment. Instead, they fretted. Jesus promised them the help of the Holy Spirit who would lead them into all truth and tell them things yet to come.

We, too, often forget we are not by ourselves. We have been given the same Spirit that led the early church. It is vital that we are cognizant of the Holy Spirit who indwells us. Jesus is with us as He was when He walked the earth with His disciples.

As we follow God, His Spirit empowers us, leading us to accomplish God’s purposes on earth. He has placed at our disposal the promise of direction, comfort, and counsel. We are not alone. He promised not to leave us as orphans but to come to us when we call.

When you feel lonely or uncertain, remember God’s Spirit is with you. God loves you and offers all you will ever need.

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Striving or Abiding

In seeking the Lord to meet our needs, going from abiding to striving isn’t difficult.

Recently, I had a serious medical event and developed a massive blood clot that affected blood flow into my lungs. I caught it just in time, and, with medication, I am recuperating nicely. I will have medical bills because of my hospital stay, coupled with the loss of income from several weeks of not working.

During my recuperation, the compressor on our heat pump died, and we have a significant repair bill. At the same time, the recent nor’easter came through the east coast of the United States and damaged our roof, which we may have to replace. We also had to hire someone to clean up our wooded lot that I usually take care of. For a while, I was afraid to get up in the morning for fear of what else might come down the pike.

I prayed and thought about calling others and asking them to pray. Then, the Lord gave me this Scripture and with it a gentle rebuke: Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. Getting people to pray is always good, but, due to our unbelief, we can major on exercising faith rather than resting in it. The former leads to striving and the latter to abiding. Peace is always the by-product of abiding faith.

Are you striving or abiding over your needs today? The absence or the presence of peace will answer this question for you.

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Perfect Submission

I don’t always seek God’s approval before embarking on a venture.

Too often, I allow my heart and limited understanding to dictate whether I’m going to follow through without first seeking God’s will. I wonder if He’d approve or if I heard Him say move forward. Looking back, I am thankful God in His wisdom has sometimes denied me when I wanted to move forward.

Trying to discern God’s will may seem like a mystery at times, but if we follow the lead of Jesus, things become clearer as we seek God in prayer. Jesus submitted Himself entirely to the Father, seeking only to do His will.

Prior to this event, Jesus prayed, asking the Father, if possible. to let the cup of suffering pass. Although He did not want to go to the cross, He submitted to the will of His Father, even when it meant death. He did nothing out of selfish gain. He could have used His power to call on God to intervene with twelve legions of angels, but His primary concern was doing God’s will. True power is restraining ourselves because we want to please the Father at any cost, even when every inclination says otherwise.

Doing the will of God brought Jesus shame, ridicule, and death. In the eyes of His enemies, He was a fool, but in the eyes of God He was esteemed. His followers didn’t know His submission to God would lead to death, but His death lead to the salvation of the world. Their understanding, like ours, was limited.

God sometimes asks us to surrender something that feels like a death: a child, a marriage, a dream. We may not fully understand why, but if God asks us to submit to Him, the same God who subjected His only Son to death will resurrect the situation.

Trust the Father, and submit to His will. He is all-wise. When you do, He will get glory, and you will experience the power and peace that comes with perfect submission.

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Silence, Not Always Golden

One year had passed—with only a few words spoken.

My son stopped speaking to my wife and me the day after we discovered my wife had a brain tumor. We thought he had gotten mad because I shared the news with him one day later than I did with his sister. My wife and I made numerous attempts to contact him by phone and by text. No response.

We let our son stew in his silence. It wasn’t the first time he’d gotten mad and quit talking to us. Silence seemed to be his preferred way to handle things … but his silence wasn’t golden. At least, not for us. His silence meant we didn’t get to see our grandson who was two and who was growing up not knowing who we were.

In a one-year period, we saw our son once and our grandson twice. Hello and goodbye. Nothing more. Our grandson barely acknowledged us.

One night, as I relaxed in my recliner, my phone rang and my son’s name appeared. He was calling to apologize for the way he had handled the situation. He wasn’t mad about what we had assumed. His silence came out of anger. He thought we always expected him to bring our grandson to see us.

I told him we’d love to come see them. At the time, my work schedule and theirs prevented much visiting. Now, things had changed. We made plans for them to come the following weekend to eat Sunday lunch with us. My wife and I celebrated the end of the silence .

The proverb about the merits of keeping our mouths shut rings true … most of the time. I’ve avoided a lot of trouble by remaining silent. But silence can signal various things.

Silence can express wisdom or signal trouble is brewing. In our case, silence demonstrated unforgiveness for something we didn’t know we’d done. Forgiveness broke the silence. Silence can also articulate anger, as it was with our son. Since anger has a deadly nature, expressing it normally gets us into trouble. Breaking the silence with kind words often heals the hurts. It did with our son.

Don’t let silence be your unhealthy response to a situation.

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The Lord Is My Shepherd

During my days in MD Anderson Cancer Center, I learned the real meaning of Psalm 23.

Many times in the darkness of night and pain, I quoted this chapter in my mind, along with many other verses. Even today, if I awake at night, I still quote this passage as a reminder that the Great Shepherd cares for His sheep all the days of their lives. I also learned the psalm has a message when we’re fighting battles and carrying burdens. Both my wife and I have experienced God’s goodness—and we are grateful.

When King David says “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,” he’s not saying only good things will happen to me. He knew as well as anyone that bad things happen to good people. He’s saying God’s goodness will follow or pursue him. No matter how difficult something seems, God works it out for good.

I memorized this psalm when I was in the first grade at South Side Elementary School in Meridian, Mississippi—thanks to Miss Virgie Upton, a Christian school teacher. As a pastor, I used it in many funerals.

The psalm is one of God’s great promises given to believers. In everything that happens to us, God works for our good—if we love God and fit into His plans (Romans 8:28). Not all things are good but rather work together for good.

No problem, pain, difficulty, or disaster in the believer’s life is beyond God using it for His purpose and plan.

Know the Lord wants to be your shepherd and tenderly care for you.

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Be a Source of Water

Growing up on a small farm in rural Washington State, I became familiar with our pump house and well.

Though too young to know the well depth or water purity—or even how the pump worked to get water to our house—I did notice my dad’s concerned and frustrated look when something went wrong with it.

If he could fix the problem, which he often did, he wrestled the heavy concrete lid from the top of the well and worked on it. I remember looking over the edge of the uncovered well and seeing the water shimmering far below. The presence of water was always a good thing. Fixing a pipe or pump was easier and cheaper than drilling a new well.

But imagine going to a well and finding it bone dry, and then drilling another well and finding only dry sand and dirt. For miles around, no water—not in wells or bottled in stores. Possible heat stroke or dehydration would follow. Then, on top of this, imagine a nationwide drought. In Jeremiah’s day, their drought conditions were a result of God’s judgment for rebelling against Him and forsaking His moral standards.

Israel’s waywardness and God’s judgment remind us sin is a counterfeit that never fulfills, satisfies, or quenches our desires. Having wandered that dry, barren desert, I know sin is merely an appealing mirage that abandons thirsty, fatigued, ashamed, and confused people.

The world is a desert, and sin is the drought. Many people wander about seeking relief from the heat at a refreshing oasis. They just do not know where or how to find it. They not only need a refreshing drink, they also need the source of satisfying, living water.

As followers of Jesus, the Living Water—who drink from His fountain and have a wellspring bursting forth within us—let’s be the source of refreshing, untainted water for a dry, thirsty world. Let’s not simply talk about or describe it, but let’s bring others to Christ’s overflowing well of Living Water.

Be a water source to end sin’s drought and quench its thirst.

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Miracles and Science

The idea of miracles sometimes causes people to disbelieve the Bible or turn away from God. But it is possible to believe in the miraculous and in the laws of nature. Science and faith can coexist. 

Some say ancient cultures believed in miracles because they did not understand science and the laws of nature as we do today. However, when Joseph found out Mary’s pregnancy was by a miracle, he was prepared to divorce her privately, because he understood where babies came from. Something miraculous had to convince him otherwise.

When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, they were afraid, because they knew such a thing was not normal but unusual and extraordinary. They were convinced Jesus’ actions were miraculous. Ancient cultures understood the laws of nature and recognized when they were being superseded. 

Others who are skeptical of miracles believe God is capable of performing them yet will not violate His laws of nature. But the miracles of Jesus demonstrate God’s power to work within the laws of nature, accelerating or reversing their processes. The same sovereign power who made nature rules it every day. 

The miracles performed by Jesus—even the one of His own birth—are microcosms of God at work. What we see in the miraculous is God changing the speed or direction of natural processes to demonstrate His power, to bring glory to Himself and His Son, and to indicate the promise of hope that is ours if we will receive it. 

To believe in miracles is not to disbelieve in science. Rather, it is to believe in the One who formed the structure in which science exists and to understand that science is a light shining on the glories of the miraculous through which we glimpse the hand of God.

You can believe both in the laws of nature and also in the miraculous works of God who designed the framework of nature’s laws in the first place.

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Deep Calls to Deep

As a child, I feared water.

I learned to swim a little later than my friends, so I often stayed in the shallow end of the pool. One time in a friend’s pool, I drifted into the deep end, panicked, and lost control. I remember when my feet could not touch bottom, and the water began to cover my head.  A panic developed in me as I was completely covered by the water. A nearby mom heard my panicked cries and jumped in to guide me back to safety. The moment was overwhelming.

The psalmist felt the same. As an adult, I see the parallels between my panicked situation and my walk with the Lord. I tend to stay in a comfort level with the Lord, to get comfortable with the feel of my walk, and to see God in a certain light and pattern. I put limitations on God that do not exist because I’m afraid of the moment when I lose control.

The Spirit leads us to places where our comfort level is taken away and where His presence overtakes our being. A place beyond our understanding and ability to comprehend. A destination where tradition and religion cannot lead. The Lord calls us to a state of intimacy—a place of trust where He takes us to a depth that overwhelms our situation.

We often put limits on God’s love, mercy, and grace because we are limited in our understanding. The Lord beckons us to a place where all limitations of His love are removed and where His grace sweeps over our lives every moment—a place of complete peace, but a place where we have no control.

We must lose complete control to find God’s peace and lay down our lives to find God’s purpose. God calls us to a deep relationship beyond our comfort level.

Be overwhelmed by God’s grace so you can find the peace you are searching for. 

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Fine China or Cheap Glass

Collecting fine china is one of my many weaknesses.

I entertain with our best dinnerware. Visitors express their enjoyment over eating from nice dishes instead of casual paper plates. Using fine china demonstrates the value I place on my guests. I rarely pass up an opportunity to check the china section in stores. The luxurious appearance exhibits its value. The finest china gleams, is nearly transparent, and often reflects images like a mirror when held to the light. Many fine pieces come rimmed with platinum or gold, adding to the cost and appearance.

Paul used expensive dishes saved for special occasions as an illustration to remind Timothy about characteristics of a good soldier for Christ. He urged Timothy to remain pure for every good work, encouraging him to avoid foolish arguments and to stay away from sin so he would be like the finest dishes in a household. He also instructed him to flee evil desires and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace. By doing so, he would join those who had pure hearts before God, and he could be of greater service to Christ.

In the same way, Christ wants to remove sin from our lives and use us for His purposes. When we allow Him, we become worthy vessels, valuable for His intentions. He wants us to seek those same characteristics Paul suggested to Timothy. As a result, our lives and behavior will mimic Christ’s qualities and likeness to others like reflections in fine china. Lives patterned after Christ will never cause shame, but will display our spiritual image.   

We can live our life without regard to how it influences others, or we can choose to turn from sinful behaviors, to imitate Christ, and to become worthy vessels of service. Choose the latter.

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House for Sale

Down the neighborhood a ways sits a well-kept home. The yard is mowed, the flowers and shrubs have curb appeal, and the home looks freshly painted. No cracks appear in the flat-stone sidewalk, and the trees around the home offer plenty of cool shade. For all intents and purposes, this is the perfect place to live. So why have the owners placed a For Sale sign in the yard?

Perhaps the family outgrew it, or the owner’s job transferred him. Maybe a death created an unneeded residence, or the owner is just curious about what he could be offered in today's market. One thing’s for sure, all sorts of individuals traipsing into the home will bring unwanted things. Some will deposit dirt from their shoes. Some will throw trash on the floor. Others will leave spiritual garbage like the fleas off a dog.

As the Passover feast approached, Judas Iscariot had already made his decision, and Satan used the instance to take advantage of Judas’ lapse. Judas took thirty silver coins in exchange for betraying Jesus.

Danger comes when we wonder what could be or open our homes to unknowns. The same is true for our spiritual well-being. Judas went astray when his love of money pulled him from Jesus. Reading astrological charts, viewing Internet offerings, and going to that particular place where we open our heart to desired emotions put us at risk. As one saying goes, "The devil can only come into your life if you invite him."

We endanger our faith by stepping away from Jesus’ Word—whether by curiosity, emotional stress, or anger.

Take a look at what you’ve invited into your home and recognize how it affects your Christian foundations. Perhaps it’s time to take down the For Sale sign.

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What If You Dropped Your Laptop

If I dropped my laptop from the roof, the chances are that when my computer hit the ground it would be in a million pieces.

I have first-hand knowledge of what other people’s words can do. The kids in school knew I had learning disabilities and had a hard time getting an education. They called me dummy, a word that has haunted me all of my life. I have always felt like I am not smart enough. Even now, there are times when I feel I am not intelligent enough to write devotions or go back to school. 

We have to be careful about teasing people and think about how our words could affect someone. I will never forget the words of my seventh-grade teacher. When people were making fun of each other, he would ask, “Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?” 

Forgetting words that are meant to be cruel is hard. When you speak to people, remember what you say could possibly bother someone for the rest of their life. Like my broken computer, your words could shatter someone into a million pieces. As believers, we need to encourage, not discourage.

Make sure your words don’t stab people but rather bring them healing.

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I Give Up

“The worry wheel has always spun in our family,” my cousin told me.

I felt better knowing my anxiety was an inherited trait. I couldn’t do anything about it. Not that I haven’t tried writing down verses on trust, reading in the Bible about God’s unwavering love for His children, and listening to songs about God taking care of us.

But the wheel spins on. One morning I woke up with a headache and weighted down with heaviness over several situations. I’d prayed, thought through possible answers, and prayed some more. Then finally, struggling under the weight, I sat up in bed and cried out, “I give up!”

Picturing myself with hands raised in surrender, I prayed, “Dear Lord, I no longer want to be my own burden bearer. Help me remember You are the One who took that on willingly by giving Your life for me.” 

Gradually the familiar heaviness disappeared. I realized I had a choice. I could trust and let go or return to lugging my constant load of unanswerable problems once again.

God promises His trustworthiness and continual caring and wants us to exchange our tension for resting in His perfect loving care in every detail of our lives. The Israelites sat by a river singing and talking about how the Lord provided food in the desert and protection from their enemies. God had not forgotten them and He hasn’t forgotten us.

My tendency to worry probably will not disappear, but with the Lord’s help I will not forget the morning I sat up in bed and said, “I give up!” I remind myself when things get discouraging to remember the times the Lord provided and rescued.

Learn to give up on your own strengths so God can provide His.

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Suspended

We held our breath. The flames were almost on him. 

Just as the raging bush fire rose up behind him, the man leapt from the rock. He reached forward to the other side of the river. For a while he seemed suspended in mid-air. We all breathed a sigh of relief when he landed on the other river bank. We knew it was a movie, but the scene was so real. His elation was evident as he moved forward with zeal and purpose out of harm’s way of the heat and flames.

The apostle Paul was suspended twice during his missionary journeys. Once for eighteen months in Ephesus, and then three years in Corinth. Both times the Lord changed Paul's strategy for making disciples. By suspending Paul, the gospel spread throughout the known world by those Paul trained.

Esther was suspended between leaving her people and becoming queen. During the time she prepared, God changed circumstances to make the way for her. Jesus was suspended between earth and heaven after His crucifixion. During this time He rose from the dead and appeared before many, confirming Him to be the only living God.

In all these biblical examples and others, God worked, His purposes went forward, and He accomplished His will.

We all go through seasons when we take leaps of faith. We feel suspended awhile before we land safely into the next adventure with God. Time and life pass by. We know we are going forward and that God is with us, but we feel suspended—that we are not going anywhere.

We will reach the other side and land safely. God is with us and is working behind the scenes to prepare the new way for us.

Faith in Jesus will see you safely to the other side.

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Member of the Dad Bod Squad

My wife said the five dreaded words I have been hoping to avoid our entire marriage: “We should start working out.”

Wait . . . what? Why? What did I do to deserve this? Apparently, there is this thing where people run for fun. Yeah, I know. I had to look it up because it didn’t sound like a real thing to me either. If you run with me, you better be prepared to walk . . . a lot.

But the crazy thing was, the more I did it the better I felt, the more weight I lost, and the longer I could run without my heart feeling like it would explode.

Our body is a fined tuned machine that God created. He gave us the tools, the wisdom, and the resources to take care of ourselves physically and spiritually.

Start off by leaving the house and walking a mile. By the time you get back home, you will have walked two miles without thinking about it. Don’t worry about time, just do your best. All God wants is all we have.

I am not cut up with muscles or in great shape, but I plan on giving God all I have to give. I still have my dad bod, and I think that’s okay. It took you a while to get the body you have now, so it will take a while to get the one you want. Stay focused.

God will give you the wisdom and the resources to help you work out physical and especially spiritually.

Don’t give up. Press toward the mark. 

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Getting the Message Right

Strange hymn lyrics did not alter my preschool friend’s enthusiasm in the least.

Without question, he simply went along with what he thought everyone else was singing. At the top of his lungs and with a smile on his face, he sang, “Here are mice in me, warts on me.” Apparently no one noticed his words—a bit different from Isaiah’s response to God’s call in Isaiah 6:8, “Here am I. Send me.” They also differed considerably from songwriter M. W. Spencer’s lyrics, “Lord, send me.”

Years later, when someone shared this story, we had a good laugh, recalled other experiences and characters from our home church, and then moved on to other topics. However, when I had time to reconsider this experience, I realized how relevant it remained.

This innocent misunderstanding reminds us to look beyond our limited and often faulty perceptions. We often miss what God wants in our lives by relying solely on what other people say or do. By choosing an effortless path rather than seeking God’s direction, we fail to recognize countless ministry opportunities.

Instead, we should explore what the Bible teaches, what God places on our hearts, and what the needs around us are. We might also check God’s work through more mature Christians. If we seek God’s direction, we can expect an answer. It may not come when we expect it, arrive through traditional channels, or be the reply we want, but it will be the right path to take. 

In spite of my little friend’s unique twist on this old song, he did uncover one incredible truth: God sees not only our mistakes but also our potential.

Offer whatever you have and all that you are to the One who accepts you as you are and transforms you into all you can be. 

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All Things New

Wyatt, my seven-year-old grandson was sitting on the couch in the living room when I came into the house. Pillows propped him up, and a fuzzy brown monkey rested in the crook of his arm. Wyatt has a severe form of cerebral palsy caused from a rare intra-uterine stroke.

I said his name. He turned his head and looked for my voice. I asked how he was feeling. He opened his mouth.

“I know you’ve been a good boy today,” I remarked.

He grinned and turned his head to the side, his long eyelashes dipping over his big blue eyes.

“The weather has been unusually warm for this time of year.”

He blinked.

“Maybe, if things were different, you might have ridden a bicycle on a day like this.”

He looked at me.

A robin sang in the maple tree outside. They’ve always been symbols of spring, a time when everything becomes new again. Flowers sprout from the earth, and leaves turn vibrant green. What has seemed dead and lifeless all winter lives again.

Just like the passing of winter carries the promise of spring, God’s Word carries a promise in Revelation 21:5 that I cling to: “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new.’”

Tears stung my eyes as I looked at my grandson’s limp hands. “This new place will be a place where all little boys will be able to run and play,” I told him.

He looked at me, and a bit of drool dribbled from his mouth. I sat down next to him and held his hand. “That includes you, Wyatt.”

He gushed a radiant smile.

Even though there are days when all I see are things Wyatt can’t do, I hold to God’s promise that He will make everything new. I look forward to the day when my grandson’s broken little body will be made new. I can’t wait to see how the touch of the Creator’s hand will give new life to his limbs and restore speech to his lips.

Only the loving God of all creation could promise to fix what is broken and make everything new again.

Let God fix whatever is broken in your life.  

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Circles of Life

The animation by Disney called The Lion King brought a new look to an old adage: the circle of life.

The circle of life concept transcends specific time periods and also sends mixed cultural messages. It refers to a natural progression of life on earth: birth, life, death, and—depending on your stance in life—birth again in a higher or lower position than before.

Circuitous can mean a roundabout lengthy course or can mean characterized by indirectness, evasiveness, or complexity—as in action, language, or arguments. The problem with a circle of life is you get back to where you started.

A recent testimony of a man hooked on drugs indicates addicts are on this circle of life program. They reach out for help, but the origin of their circle remains. No matter how many times they traverse the circle, they are considered addicts, recovering addicts, former addicts, or backslidden addicts.

Christ identifies the issues with the circle of life. The broader one’s approach to life, the more circuitous the path allowed. Wander around long enough, and we’ll get back to where we were. Instead, Jesus tells us to choose the straight gate with the narrow path. Following this road keeps us on the straight and narrow path heading to a destination where time and space stretches before us for an eternity.

The circle of life concept either lures us away from God’s intended path or helps us understand why we remain anchored to a point of origin without ever being relieved of the torment. God’s Word is clear. Each of us can choose which gate and way to take.

Don’t opt to go around and around. Enter the kingdom of God and go straight to eternity.

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Turn

When driving somewhere, turns are required.

Sometimes, I believe I can figure out my destination without directions. Once, we took our two grandsons to a kid’s museum. After thirty minutes of driving down the same road—which I thought was the right way—we stopped for directions. I should have turned four miles back. Had I, we would have already been there.

King Solomon finished building God’s temple and challenged Israel to turn from their wicked ways and back to God. If they did, God would consecrate the temple and listen to their prayers. But if they sought their own ways and other gods, He would uproot Israel from the land He had given them, reject the temple, and bring disaster on them.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. As with driving, we need directions for life, and this verse gives God’s. We must turn toward Him through humility, prayer, and seeking. Humility admits God is sovereign and means being selfless and attentive to God. Prayer is talking to God on a regular basis with specific requests, asking Him to help us with our turns. Seeking Him is making a defined turn back to Him as we continue to follow His directions and show our willingness to remain obedient.

Godly change requires intentionally turning in a new direction. Sometimes, we stay straight and miss our exit. We stay on the easy main highway and never go back to see what God may have had for us. Our turn must be a turn in a new direction and off the main highway. Through prayer and time in God’s Word, we can ask God for directions so we can make the right turn.

Have a time of reflection to help your mind slow down from the daily grind, rut, routine, and rat race. Ask God to show you where He may want you to make a turn. 

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Greater than Ourselves

Putting complete trust in something greater than us is difficult and requires tremendous faith.

Amidst uncertainty in my life, I have had to place the control I desired in God’s hands and trust He would meet my every need.

The prophet Habakkuk knew this better than anyone. Facing violent persecution from the Babylonians, he cried out to God in fear for his safety and well-being. He gathered the strength to trust in God’s plan and to rejoice in the Lord. In a time of need and frailty, he gave up control. Rather than depending on himself, he relied on the eternal and all-knowing God.

Our lives are in a constant state of uncertainty—whether our life’s direction or our survival. In these times, we can find the certainty we need by putting our absolute trust in God.

Trust God completely. He will never fail you. 

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The Battle Belongs to the Lord

I live with consuming fear. Fear of failure, fear of having insufficient funds, and fear of regret. 

Everyone experiences fear. Sometimes it only lasts a moment. At other times, it lasts longer than I want. Occasionally, I am so paralyzed with fear that I cannot make a decision—fearing it will be the wrong one. 

King Saul and the Israelites knew fear. They lived with it for forty days. Not only did they live with it, they also lost all hope. Enter young David. He was undaunted by the fears of the Israelites and the pride of the Philistines. He faced a giant who was twice his size and who wore armor weighing 126 pounds. David did not fear nor was he hopeless. He ran with confidence toward Goliath, believing the Lord would protect him.   

Unlike the Israelites, David understood his relationship with God. He knew his obedience would be met with God’s protection. He knew he needed to honor Him, and he did that by taking out the one man who disgraced God.

We can learn a lot from David. We can live each day for the Lord knowing that when we are afraid to be obedient, He will protect us. He will also give us courage and hope.

Change whatever you need to in your relationship with God so you can run with confidence toward the things you fear the most. 

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The Future Is Secure

I once lived in fear, thinking a day would come when I would commit a terrible sin, fall far from my Savior, and go to hell after death.

Fear kept me from doing many things in life, such as pursuing new job opportunities, going out to have fun, and making new friends. I aimed at eliminating all the opportunities that could lead to sin. As a result, I was neither happy nor fulfilled. I was a miserable Christian living in dread.

Then I realized Christ has promised nothing can separate me from His love. My future lies in His hands, and He will not allow anything to snatch me away (Psalms 55:22). I do not have to worry about failure since He is in control. When I fall into temptations, I can boldly go before the High Priest and ask for forgiveness (Heb.4:15-16).

Believers have the assurance their future is secure. Give thanks to the Lord all the time because we stand secure in His promise: nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. We are free to go after our dreams and to live each day to the fullest. Christ came so that we can have abundant life. His death on the cross was a guarantee of our forgiveness.

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. The great Shepherd will be your guide. 

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Finding Direction Amidst Distraction

Max, a boxer cross, was a typical puppy.

Puppies wander here and there, noses to the ground, eyes playfully following a butterfly—unaware of anything but what’s in front of their nose at the moment.

Max would become a large dog, but as a puppy he was a stumbling, rolling, mess of way-too-big puppy feet and flopping ears. When he heard his owner call his name, he sometimes turned slightly, but he kept going his own way in the end. Max was his own dog.

Unfortunately, Max’s owner thought his disobedience was cute. Other than a half-hearted attempt to make him come when called, Max’s puppy-will was never thwarted. One day, Max once again ignored the mundane while following a delicious scent. But reality interposed sharply in the form of a blaring horn and screeching tires. Max’s young life was saved by the observant driver, but a bumper tap on his tail was a wake-up call for the puppy’s owner.

The Bible says we’ve all gone astray like sheep . . . like puppies. Sheep are famous for wandering, but they have nothing on a distracted puppy. Going astray is their normal course of action—and ours too.

When we direct our own paths, we follow numerous rabbit trails. Wandering around on our own seems fine until we happen upon an impossible situation. Then we have to decide where we will turn. Trying different things, while enjoying the supposed freedom of a self-directed life, may be common, but they’re directionless in the end. Only God can rightly direct our paths.

If you’ve followed a wayward path that has led to close calls and bumps, give God’s direction a try. He promises to guide you across the most treacherous streets.

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A Lesson in Significance

We have all felt lost at some point—lacking significance. But we can find comfort in our existence, and biblical examples prove it.  

Ruth was a great woman of God who lost her whole way of life. She became a stranger in her own life, but followed passion during a time of great sorrow.

At a young age, Ruth lost her husband, but clung to her mother-in-law, Naomi. She left her homeland and followed Naomi to a foreign place she did not know. She entered the fields after the reapers and gleaned what was left behind. She humbled herself and left grief behind.

Ruth later married Boaz, and her life was restored. In her restoration, something significant occurred. A man named Jesse was born, and he had a son named David. From his seed, our Savior, Jesus Christ, came.

With obedience and meekness, Ruth began the genealogy of Jesus Christ. She was the great-grandmother of David and the ancestor of Joseph—Jesus’ earthly father.

The warm story of Ruth impacts us all, but her significance is often lost. God chose her to begin a process that directly affects your life. We often think our lives lack significance because we are not on the mountaintop getting all the attention. Understanding how the Lord works on this earth lets us comprehend our impact on the world.

Ruth turned the pain in her life to a promotion from the Lord. You can find significance in your situation. Even in the darkest moments, the Lord can lead you to fields of prosperity. When we humble ourselves despite our circumstances—as Ruth did—the Lord is faithful to promote us. 

You are not a victim of your circumstances, but an overcomer in Christ. 

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When God Pushes

On a windy Florida morning, my parents stepped out on the balcony facing Cape Canaveral­.

A giant barge drifted into the harbor followed by a little tugboat. They watched as the tugboat crept toward the barge until it became dangerously close. The barge’s monstrous presence made the tugboat look more like a bath toy bobbing up and down in the water. To my parent’s surprise, the tugboat turned its nose toward the barge and pressed into it. With its motor revving, the tugboat eased forward, steadily turning the barge.

A barge, though massive in size, cannot move itself but needs to rely on the small tugboat to push from behind and direct its path. When we finally make the decision to give our lives to the God of the universe, we give Him the power to lead. And He does ever so gently.

Even though we don’t see God directly in front of us, He steers us in the way we should go like the rudder of a ship. We can trust that though His voice is still and small, He is always encouraging us to follow His lead. 

In times of helplessness and trials, listen to the teaching of God through His Word, and believe His power will watch and guide you through.

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The Work of His Hands

On August 21, 2017, portions of the United States experienced a total solar eclipse—an event many will never see again in their lifetime.

The natural phenomenon captivated thousands of people, bringing them together in a few moments of awe. Viewing boxes were built and special glasses purchased. More people took in the glory of God than on any other day of the year.

As people looked to the sky, I wonder what they thought. Did they acknowledge the work of God’s hands, admiring His handiwork? The psalmist says we should have. The skies proclaim the work of His hands.

When we looked to the sky and watched totality of the eclipse, it was our moment to acknowledge God's presence. When we count the colors in a beautiful sunrise or sunset, it is our comfort that God is near. The heavens declare His glory, and the skies proclaim the work of His hands.

Step outside and look around. Look into the sky. Study the color patterns and cloud shapes. Admire the work of God’s hands.

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Growing Old According To God's Words

I’ve said it: “Boy, I’m getting old.” And “I just couldn’t sleep.”  

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 provides a great picture of how our bodies wear out. When we get old, our bodies fail and life gets harder. Simple tasks become large ordeals. Our eye sight dims and can even fail. Our hands may get shaky and our legs weak. Our grinders—or teeth—may go bad. At night, we grow restless and find it difficult to sleep. Since our sight has worsened, we become afraid of heights. Small noises are a burden. The man finally leaves earth, and people morn for him.

“Don't let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, ‘Life is not pleasant anymore.’" The main point of this Scripture is that we should work hard for God while we can. Then, when we’re old, God will help us fulfill our purpose with softness and meekness. Just because we age, we don’t quit. We follow Christ into a new method of worship and worth.

Don’t let growing old keep you from doing God’s work. 

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In Him

The earth shook as the giant called Goliath stepped onto the battle ground. 

The presence of fear held the army of Israel far from the sight of the giant. The weight of their thoughts held their tongue in place, and their faith in a positive outcome was already sealed in defeat. The giant’s length cast a great shadow over their hearts as hopelessness settled in. Who would save God’s people?

Out of the despair came a ruddy kid with a sling and some stones. A boy called David. A mere shepherd. The giant laughed and mocked such a display before him. The boy would merely distract this massive obstacle before he chose to dispose of him.

Goliath taunted David, but David was unshaken by the giant. Goliath pointed to the sky, saying he would allow the birds to eat David’s body after he was done with him. Goliath’s outward strength was greater than the army of Israel, so how could a boy defeat this great giant?

As the giant gestured widely at David, David calmly took a stone and put it in his sling. The giant laughed at a child’s toy being used to defeat him. As the Philistines behind him laughed and yelled, the giant fell.

The two armies became silent as the boy stood victoriously over the giant. The cloudy cold day gave way to the first ray of sun. The clouds parted, and they could see God had delivered them from a fog of fear.

We all seek to be as strong as Goliath, but it was the Lord’s inner strength in David that defeated the giant. The outward appearance of Goliath kept the others hiding, but David saw through the outward strength and glimpsed the giant’s weakness.

David had the Lord, but Goliath did not. David saved his people and shows us what real faith is. David would become a king, but it was in that moment he was crowned by God.

Your giant is not as strong as you think. Use what God has put in your hands, and defeat the obstacle before you. God has already overcome the world. You only have to believe He is and that you are in Him.

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What Kind of Cloud Are You?

Clouds fascinate me.

My eyes fixate on the sky, mesmerized by their vast array of shapes, colors, and sizes. White cottony clouds. Dark menacing clouds. Rain clouds lined with golden sunlight. Early morning clouds tinged in pink. Hazy clouds set against a blazing orange canvas. Churning minute by minute, the sky displays a kaleidoscope of tinted textures and hues.

My interest is piqued most by a mixture of big billowy dark clouds and white cottony ones that seem to emerge right after a summer rain. What attracts my curiosity is the way they overlap. Dark clouds hover over the horizon, low enough you could almost poke them with your finger and release a deluge of rain. Then, peeking out from behind these dark billowy clouds are the fluffy cottony clouds framed by the brilliant sun. Both are set against a backdrop of azure blue. The mixture of hues is stunning.

The combination of dingy and bright reminds me of my life. Some days my countenance is dark. One—often innocent—remark pokes my emotional surface and brings forth a flood of tears. Offended and hurt, my demeanor displays the appearance of deep-gray ominous storm clouds hovering over the earth ready to erupt. With my somber mood roiling inside, I anger easily and often say words I can’t take back. My words leave a path of destruction. Rebuilding is cumbersome, awkward, and slow.

Then there are days when my disposition is sunny and bright. It doesn’t take much for a smile to radiate upon my face. The tiniest things bring me joy, such as the sweet song of a robin outside my bedroom window on a summer morning.

Finding pleasure in the unique moments God creates challenges me. I can cling to the unpleasant and allow its darkness to affect my behavior or seek the wonder wrapped in each encounter. I can allow negativity to pierce my mood or invite God’s radiant love to wrap my soul in warmth and protect my heart.

Be the kind of cloud that lets brightness and radiance win in your life.

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Thoughts of Christmas

For most of us, thoughts of Christmas lead to thoughts of home.

Often these thoughts are sweet and contain the most wonderful and loving memories.  We remember past Christmas celebrations filled with people loving each other: decorating the house, putting up lights, sharing meals, buying gifts, opening gifts, going to church together, and singing carols. Memories that warm our hearts and make us smile.

Others had different Christmases. There was little love, no money, no decorations, and no reason for the season. Christmas was something to be endured—something that caused pain that would be felt and remembered for years to come.

Jesus invites us to live and celebrate life—not just Christmas—at home in His love. Home where we are accepted exactly as we are, where we know we are safe and protected, where we are encouraged to dream and step out in faith, where we are supported, and where life is full of compassion, joy, and peace. Home where there is more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

This Christmas, think on Jesus’ invitation to be at home in His love. Doing so will make your year a year of real celebration.

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The First Christmas Card

Opening the mailbox in December and finding a Christmas card from a friend or loved one brings cheer to our hearts.

Despite the present electronic versions of communication, receiving a paper greeting is more delightful. We have something we can hold and display for others to see—something to keep from year to year if we desire.

But a letter of greater importance than any sent from friends or families was broadcast on a hillside in Bethlehem to shepherds: “Behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy. The Savior has been born.” What report could be better than that?

The first Christmas card was dispatched from heaven when angels left the throne of God and brought glad tidings to men watching their sheep. Shepherds depended on their sheep for their livelihood. If something happened to their flock, they had no income. Yet they left the hillside in search of the One the angels had told them about because the story was so astounding.

The lifeline from heaven brought headlines that God’s anger at sin would be reconciled through the body of a little baby. The proclamation was that the Son of Man had been born through a bloody birth and would grow up and die a sacrificial bloody death as the Son of God. The gospel was the most incredible and loving announcement ever to be proclaimed.

The extraordinary broadcast has continued throughout the centuries and is a Christmas card we can keep forever, because the news never wears out, fades, gets old, or tears. After the holiday season, we put our paper greetings and decorations away, but we can display the story from heaven all year because the living Word abides in our hearts when we make Christ our Savior.

If you haven’t accepted this card in your heart’s mailbox, open yourself up today and let the eternal message be the best Christmas present you have ever received. God’s arms are reaching out, and He has sent His gift to you.

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The Path

I once asked the eye doctor why my husband could still see better than I even though we both wore glasses to correct our vision.

The optometrist’s answer, “Everybody’s different,” irritated me. Obviously. I wanted a more scientific answer, but the optometrist apparently thought I was too dense to understand.

Sometimes I need to be reminded with a simple answer. God treats us differently because He made us differently. He gives us our own path to walk, an individual race to run. Not the race marked for my parents, neighbors, co-workers, or friends—but a race marked out for me.

If God has set before me a 5K race, trying to run a marathon would be silly. He hasn’t put a marathon before me, and He probably hasn’t prepared me for it. Conversely, if He sets a marathon before me and I choose to run a shorter race, I’ll be frustrated that the training He put me through was for nothing—even if running the shorter race is easier.

God wants the best for us. He knows what we are capable of and where our individual strengths lie. He puts tasks and experiences before us to help us grow and then uses that growth to its fullest potential.

God has marked out a path for me, and that is the path I should follow. It may seem steep or rocky at times, but I choose to believe that either He has already trained me for it or that He is training me for something else. I will probably never know what my entire course looks like, but I want to trust the One who has set my path.

Travel the path God has marked out for you. 

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When God Doesn't Explain Why

“Grandma Moore has stage four pancreatic cancer, honey.”

I’ll never forget the day Mom told me this. I sobbed. Even at age 81, Grandma was the healthiest person I knew. She golfed nine holes almost every day, and she walked the course. How could she have terminal cancer?

A specialist recommended experimental surgery. He’d remove her entire pancreas, and she’d manage the resulting diabetes with insulin and a low-carb diet. I begged her to opt for palliative care instead and let the Lord take her home in His timing. I’d worked in doctors’ offices and saw how challenging diabetes was to manage. And Grandma had never needed to monitor her carb intake before. I knew she had no idea what she was in for, but she thought surgery was her only choice.

After surgery, Grandma suffered terrible pain. She was also overwhelmed by the task of learning how to manage her blood sugar. Watching her suffer made me angry. But the irrational part was that I was angry at her—frustrated that she’d rejected my advice.

I was also angry with myself. I felt guilty because I couldn’t help her. She’d shown me unconditional love and support my entire life, but I had two demanding toddlers to care for. But I was the angriest with God. Why would He let a devoted servant suffer like this? She’d spent her whole life serving Him.

Grandma’s pain mounted as time passed. Managing diabetes took over her life. She went into remission a couple of times, but cancer eventually spread to her lungs. After battling cancer almost two years, she went to be with the Lord.

I never surrendered my anger to God until after Grandma died. Once I knew she wasn’t suffering anymore, I finally let go. Getting angry at Grandma, myself, and God served no purpose.

Watching Grandma die slowly taught me that serving God doesn’t guarantee we won’t suffer. Acknowledging that doesn’t bring me any comfort. God allowed Job to suffer, and he did nothing to bring on his disaster and pain. Grandma didn’t do anything to cause her pain and suffering either.

God neither explains His purposes nor needs to. He is omnipotent; I’m not. Believe that suffering has a beautiful purpose, even if you can’t perceive it.

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Double Vision

“God, I trust you with the results of my Lasik surgery. I will praise you no matter the outcome.”

I knew there were risks, but I didn’t think anything would go wrong. I didn’t know anyone who had problems after having Lasik surgery. At the time, it was an easy prayer.

The morning after my surgery, I got in the shower and couldn’t read the words on my shampoo bottle. Nor could I read the words on my lotion bottle or soap dispenser. My cell phone was blurry. I didn’t understand what had happened.

Then one evening I was stopped at a traffic light and realized I saw two red lights stacked on top of each other. While driving home, I saw four headlights coming at me instead of two. I was seeing double.

After consulting three eye specialists, the last one explained the puzzle of my double vision. At the time of my surgery, my lenses had already become partially rigid. When the Lasik surgery changed my vision from nearsightedness to farsightedness, my lenses couldn’t adjust properly between the two extremes. When I read anything up close for long periods of time and then tried to focus on something far away, I experienced double vision.

Paul says thanking God in all circumstances is God’s will for us. I had promised God I would praise Him regardless of the outcome. That isn’t always easy. Blurry vision is annoying, but when I complain, God reminds me of my promise.

Thanking God despite my irritating circumstances starts when I remember my vision won’t always be blurry. Someday it will be perfect. And then I remember God is sovereign and must have a purpose for my double vision. Perhaps to teach me contentment in all circumstances. When I focus on all Christ has done for me on the cross and what I can look forward to, my circumstances pale in comparison. I can never forget the gospel and the grace extended to me daily. With the help of the Holy Spirit, I can redirect my thoughts to reasons for thankfulness rather than complaints.

When circumstances don’t go the way you want them, thank God instead of grumbling and complaining. 

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I Wish I Were More Like You

When I see Facebook photos of you with your friends and families, I envy you. You don’t seem worried about how you look in the pictures. You’re smiling and enjoying the camaraderie of those who enjoy spending time with you.

I wish I were more like you, because I often avoid having my picture taken. I’m afraid my physical flaws will freeze forever in that snapshot, so I miss out on many Kodak moments. 

But no longer. I want to develop a different perspective.

Instead of being preoccupied with how unphotogenic I am, I now ask God to help me see myself the way He and others see me—especially the ones who want me in pictures with them. I will begin by not focusing on myself so much, especially my outward appearance.

The apostle Paul has something to say to those of us who struggle in this way. If I were to believe I have been chosen and that I am dearly loved by God Himself, it would change the way I see myself. And it would change the way you see yourself. Eventually, the truth of this status could equip and motivate us to become more compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, and patient.

As we continue to change, our character would become so attractive that it would radiate in our countenance, reflecting the One whose character we desire to emulate. As we become less focused on ourselves—including how we look—we might become more relaxed and enjoy being a part of other people’s lives.

Though I still might not run to have my picture taken, I’ll stop running away from the chance to be included in someone’s photo album or Facebook post—and finally update my Facebook cover photo.

Don’t be preoccupied with your physical appearance. Make positive changes that will help you better reflect God’s opinion of you.

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Lost in the Backyard

When visiting my cousin, my backyard increased exponentially until exploring it required more than one day.

I envied my cousin. He and his family lived on my grandfather’s farm. Farmland, woods, hog pens, and cow pastures surrounded his house. When I visited my cousin, the woods became our second home. Occasionally, we’d enter a stretch of woods he’d not explored before. We’d use our knives to notch trees to find our way back should we got lost. Those experiences were the exceptions—not the rule.

Normally, we could roam all day and never get lost. He knew his way around. After all, he did this regularly. I was the visitor who didn’t have his bearings. I stood amazed at how my cousin could roam in all directions and then guide us back home. His backyard extended for miles, and he never got lost nor worried about any dangers in it.

Jesus describes a different backyard. One just as large, but one that involves getting lost inside. He came to save those lost in their backyards.

I never remember a time when my family had to search for my cousin and me. My cousin always knew our location, and we always came when called. Not the case with Jesus. He came to search. In fact, He searched before He came and still searches now that He’s back in heaven. He searches because I and the rest of humanity are lost. I was born lost and remained that way until He found me—and I let Him discover me.

Sin causes the lostness, not geographically, but spiritually. Sin is a word fewer people are comfortable with but one the Bible uses to describe our natural state. The consequences of sin aren’t pretty either: spiritual death and eternal separation from God.

Had I and my cousin ever gotten lost, his parents or our grandparents would have willingly searched until they found us. Jesus does the same. Staying lost in our backyard is our choice. So is being found. When found, forgiveness flows and life changes. Condemnation flies out the window, and acceptance moves in. Peace comes as I realize all things are now right between me and my Creator.

Don’t stay lost in your backyard. Let Jesus find you.

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Hold on to Love

I’m a lifelong people watcher. Since childhood, I’d rather sit on a mall bench and watch people go by than go inside and shop.

Restaurants provide another people watcher’s paradise. Young couples enter, holding hands or with arms around one another and heads together. They gaze into each other’s eyes and talk a mile a minute. Couples with small children try to talk and share some quality time but often get sidetracked with wiping noses, breaking up fights, and cleaning up spills. Older couples vary from hand holding to visiting other people to sitting together almost mute. With the quiet ones, I get the feeling they find joy in one another’s company without having to say a word. Others seem to grudgingly tolerate their spouse’s existence—to have lost their first love.

John wrote to the seven churches of Asia during his exile on the island of Patmos. He began God’s message to the church at Ephesus by recognizing their strengths. Then he addressed a problem: the loss of their first love. Their devotion to God and fervency in worship and service had waned. They needed a good dose of repentance and revival.

That same fading of zeal for God still occurs today. We get caught up in daily life and forget to live for the Giver of life. Spiritual apathy and neglect replace the passion and praise of our early Christian lives. Not only do we lose, but the people we fail to touch in Jesus’ name and with His love also lose.

Refuse to lose your first love. However love’s original intensity looked for you—hands lifted, voice raised, messes cleaned, or quietly sitting in God’s presence—hold on to it and never let it fade.

(Originally appeared in Reflections (volume 24, 2014), Smyth and Helwys Publishing.)

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Pay Attention

“Pay attention.”

I heard these words at a baseball game where my five-year-old grandson was playing baseball. He was playing third base, throwing grass and dirt around, and his dad was telling him to pay attention and keep his eye on the batter.

Maybe you’ve heard these words from a teacher, coach, or parent. God also tells us to pay attention. My child, pay attention to what I say. Listen carefully to my words. Don't lose sight of them. Let them penetrate deep into your heart.These verses remind us to seek wisdom and discernment in the routes we walk. We can only do that by reading and meditating on God’s Word—and then obeying.

We must be careful with our words, our heart, our steps, and our routes. Proverbs 4 has many verses that instruct us to be intentional in our walk with God and to move forward and not be influenced by the wicked. Our goal is to stay on God’s passageway.

Our way is in God’s full view. He watches all in our pathway: words, thoughts, relationships, responsibilities, choices, actions. The way of the wicked results in darkness. Paying attention gives us wisdom and discernment to keep our feet on the right trail.

Sometimes, we drift in our relationship with God. Busyness takes away from time in His Word. I work on a verse for the week, writing it down on an index card as a constant reminder during the week or putting it on my phone in a notes app.

Reading God’s Word and confirming our decisions are aligned with God’s path may involve spending more time in His Word, more time in prayer, or more time in regular church attendance, but it will keep us on the right path.

Pick a part of your path and pray through these verses. Then allow God to change you or adjust your way so you can draw closer to Him.

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Tipsy Elephants

Gripping the steel rails of our open-top truck, my teenage daughter and I bumped and bounced along the sweltering, dusty roads through the Ankegura National Game Park in Africa.

As lovers of elephants—those magnificent, gentle giants—she and I hoped we’d spot one. Our guide warned us, “Elephants in these parts are known to get drunk on fermented bananas and go on a savage rampage, crushing everything in their path.”

Sure enough, we saw trees and bushes trampled to the ground—clear, unsettling evidence of an elephant stampede. We turned a sharp corner and suddenly met them face to face, a massive pair of killer elephants. Our hearts stopped. This was no zoo, or Disneyland, or a dream where we could fashion our own ending. This was real life, and it terrified us.

In crisis times, we realize how little control we have. We cling to our faith and the One who holds the remote control of our lives in His merciful hand. God graciously steered us to safety that day, but I mulled over that experience long afterward and penned the following in my journal:

Why, Lord, does it take those heart-stopping moments to remind me of Your reign over my life—ruling as You judge best for me—Your reins on my life—holding me back, spurring me on, as You see fit—Your rain in my life—allowed for my good, to soften, shape, and cleanse. I recall times I have behaved like a stubborn, self-sufficient child, reluctant to hold her Daddy's hand—until the Giant appears—then leaping into His arms and clinging with all her might. Thank You, Father, for always being there with open arms, to protect Your little girl from gentle giants—and not-so-gentle ones—even before I know they are there.

We all face life’s giants: failure, loneliness, fear, discouragement, regret, worry, anger, doubt, guilt, temptation, resentment, jealousy. The list goes on. These seemingly unbeatable foes are intent on lurking and taunting us, bent on defeating us.

The Bible tells us to fix our eyes on Jesus. He is our light, our protector, our ever-present giant slayer.

Focus on God rather than your elephants. 

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Sowing Good Seeds

What we sow, we reap.

The concept of sowing and reaping means different things to different people. Preachers teach extensively on the subject. Church members take pages of notes on it. However, gospel truth is gospel truth. Spiritually, if a person plants it, they will harvest it. 

Some seeds yield a harvest sooner than others, such as negativity. The world is full of it. Plenty of fertile ground exists in which to grow counterproductive thoughts. Not long after we plant it, we reap a bumper crop of negative thoughts. Negative situations soon follow.

We can also plant anger. Someone wrongs their neighbor, and the neighbor gets angry. The anger becomes a seed planted in a heart which takes root and grows into a powerful grudge. Grudges choke out compassion. Soon, the neighbor reaps a harvest of anger and bitterness that ruins their life.

Believers should sow the good seeds of compassion and faith. When trouble comes our way, we should also step away from the habit of blaming God or others for our problems. We reap what we sow. 

Don’t blame unpleasant situations on God or others. Instead, be honest about what you planted.  

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Why the Conflict?

Difficulties and conflict make us aware of our need for God and His presence.

I have learned I don’t have to be overtaken when troubles loom within and without. Instead, I can take great comfort in knowing that my heavenly Father is with me in every circumstance of life and longs to show Himself strong on my behalf. Through the process, my faith is made stronger.

The apostle Paul describes the conflict he encountered in the midst of doing God’s will. He tells of having conflicts from without and being filled with fear from within.

God uses trials and difficulties to show us the nature of His character and to strengthen our faith. We can’t grow in our faith and understanding of God’s character except through difficulty. We can study about God’s ability to give peace, but until we’re in a position of unparalleled difficulty that threatens to rob us of our peace, we will not experience the peace that surpasses all understanding. We may possess knowledge of the truth, but God desires that we know Him intimately so our faith is deepened.

If we never experience a need, we will never know God’s ability to supply all our needs according to His riches in Christ. Nor will we be able to declare with the psalmist David, We have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. Without weakness, we will be incapable of experiencing God’s all-sufficient strength.

Let your conflicts drive you closer to God, not further away. 

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Access to the CEO

The communication business strives for clarity.

Committees ensure words express the specific meaning of the message. You’d recognize the branding ideas of many corporations because their three-word phrases bring them instantly to mind:

“Eat Mor Chikin.”

“Fun Family Entertainment”

“Just Do It.”

Common talking skills lack the clarity these companies apply to get these exacting standards.

There have been times when I asked for the pepper but received the salt. In my mind, I had made a simple request. Not so on the other end. Do you suppose we could get the straight scoop from the corporate executive officer rather than from the janitor? In the case of the above companies, they make sure you get the same answer from anyone associated with them.

In the Old Testament, only prophets heard from God. The Hebrew people depended upon them to verbalize what God said. Abram started it, Moses built on it, and Jesus finished it. No matter how often the Jews brought sacrifices to atone for their sins, the priests made the act complete in the tabernacle where those burnt offerings were made.

When Christ was crucified, the temple veil tore in two. The Holy of Holies no longer remained sacrosanct. The priests’ hold over the Hebrew people vanished, and Jesus foreshadowed the event when he stated, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

Jesus created the way for everyone to communicate with God. We now have the telegraph to get the Word straight from the CEO. God really is better than any committee. No higher authority on what we need to hear exists than the words given by God.

If you’re having trouble understanding anything in this life, get to the CEO. He sent His Son for the express purpose of making the Word fully comprehensible by everyone. 

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Are You Distracted?

Somehow, I don’t seem to be getting to my destination.

I know where I want to go, but often find myself effortlessly moving in a different direction. It happens so fast and so often it’s hardly noticeable. I usually take time to notice certain things beside the road. Before long, I am moving towards the object—and I’m not the only one.

I wondered why I move towards my desires when my original destination was towards God’s will. The answer was found in Colossians 3:2. My affections were in the driver’s seat and on earthly things. I had grown to love these things more than God and His will. Paul said the same thing in another place, “Don’t get confused, you don’t belong here on earth, don’t get too attached to it.”

My desires and needs determine what my focus in life becomes. If that shifts from Christ and His will, I will let go of God’s principles to lay hold of whatever I want and by whatever means necessary.

To glorify God, I must have a change in my affections, which will result in a shift in my attention. This is only possible by renewing my mind through constant meditation on God’s Word. Through this, I get to know His desires. It also requires intimate fellowship with Him, wherein He stirs up His desires in my heart.

When my greatest affection is for Christ, He will be my focus. Rather than letting people, objects, wealth, and other things distract me, I can let them guide me.

Don’t let anything or anyone steal your focus from God. 

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Called to Worship

The only food God eats is our worship. But we have to give it to Him in the way He loves.

Worship is the devotion given to a divine being. Almighty God calls us to give worship to Him, the creator of heaven and earth. God created us for His glory and pleasure. Our whole being is meant to worship Him. Although He doesn’t need our money, houses, cars, lands, or food, He will make use of them without our permission if He has need for them.

For God to have pleasure and inhabit our worship, we must present ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Him. We must worship Him with gladness of heart, reverencing Him as our life. Beside Him, there is no other God.

Worshiping God doesn’t mean we will avoid afflictions and persecutions. The Bible says “many are the afflictions of the righteous…” Yet in the face of those afflictions, we worship God even more because the devil recognizes us as righteoua.

When God sees that we are consistent in worshiping Him despite our afflictions, our worship will come to Him like a sweet smelling savor. He will rise from His throne and receive it to Himself—exalting us above those afflictions, principalities, and powers.

Give God quality worship. He will give you quality blessings. 

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Longing for Home

Home is where the heart is.

Often, after an extended period away from home, I feel the need to return where things are familiar and where loved ones await. Home represents a place of origin and belonging.

To be far from home conjures up feelings of longing and melancholy. In spite of the natural beauty of my surroundings, some of my best vacations have left me with an unshakable restlessness.

I think the feeling comes because we are created with a void only God can fill. He has set a longing for heaven in our hearts, and this longing is the reason we sometimes find ourselves restless or lonely. 

What helps alleviate these feelings for me is cultivating an awareness of God’s presence and remembering Jesus is preparing a home for us. One day, He will return to take us to heaven where we’ll worship at His throne in unbroken fellowship. This thought fills me with peace and anticipation—regardless of where I find myself.

In our eternal home, sorrow and tears will be no more. We’ll experience real joy. We can have hope now because we are headed to our eternal home. And we’ll be there in the twinkling of an eye.

Let your homesickness lead you closer to God.

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Giving God Control

Wait. I hate that word.

I typically don’t know how long I’ll have to wait on things. A couple of minutes might pass until the pizza is baked, but it could be a few days before a package arrives. Or what I’m waiting for may be interminable.

I believe something beautiful is coming, but I don’t know when. The unknown makes me uneasy. I want to know precisely when God will fulfill my hope. I want to see a vision of it—something beautiful coming from the throbbing cavity in my heart. Even though God has given me hope, not knowing when it will come to fruition agonizes me.

Giving God complete control in my present situation supersedes my ability. Surrendering to God requires supernatural help. I want to soothe and heal my heartache by solving the problem myself. I want to run the show.

But I can’t do this if I want to obey God. I have to submit and wait for the Holy Spirit to guide me. While I wait, I have to carry on until God shows me my waiting is over. This stings my pride.

Allowing God to run my life when I don’t know how the situation will turn out or how long I will have to wait until He fulfills His promised hope requires a disciplined prayer life. Daily concentrated prayer nourishes my soul and draws me into the throne room of heaven.

God’s Spirit rules over everything in my life, but I have to accept His timing and will if I am to become who He wants me to be.

Your life isn’t over. One day you will understand the point of your waiting. Until then, let God control your life.

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Quitting Won't Solve Anything

“You’ll never be what God has called you to be.”

Before I could apologize for what I said, the devil reminded me of my weaknesses. I knew my kids needed a strong teacher, but on this particular day, I’d had enough—enough of the disrespect and filthy language that came from the mouths of thirteen-year-olds. I walked out of my classroom and left them in their mess.

I ruminated over my mistake, then spoke with my mentor. “Out of the 120 kids you teach, only two got on your nerves. Those two got suspended, so why would you want to quit on so many of the other kids who need you?” She made sense. Perhaps too much sense.

In that moment, I understood what messing up felt like. I made the mistake of trying to fight my own battle, not realizing God is the one who rebukes the enemy for me. This verse in Zechariah reminded me: The Lord rebuke you, Satan! Indeed, the Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you!

I was chosen for a purpose—to stand in the gap for children who need a mentor who can lead them into their destiny. I understood my mess, the things I’ve said, and the commitments I’ve run from. God has sustained me and rebuked the enemy through the process. He has never quit on me.

Today could be the day you want to quit or give up. Satan tries to accuse and convict even the godliest people about their past failures. But God still stands in the gap and rebukes him for your sake.

I could’ve given up on my eighth graders. I could have left them in their maturation process, but that would have been hypocritical, knowing God has never left me. God knew from the beginning the struggles I would endure. He knew the struggles that would come with teaching a child, and He knew the path I would walk—long before I was born. Yet He still allowed me life.

Your being here is not a coincidence. God has a plan suited for your life to bring joy to others. Although you’ve fallen before, you can get up because a just person falls seven times but rises up again. Believe your life is wonderful. Allow the Lord to be your vindicator.

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God's Type of Life

Since my recent valley of death experiences, I have become interested in what it means to be alive.

I have learned the Holy Spirit is the distributor of God’s gifts. He is the chosen executor of Almighty God’s will. The Father is the planner, the Son is the revealer, and the Spirit is the distributor. But having been given a gift doesn’t necessarily mean the gift will be used.

Each of God’s children is given—at the moment of their second birth—a reflection of God’s type of life. God is all powerful, He is love, and He is in control. A born-again person lives God’s type of life by yielding through prayer to Almighty God. The Spirit of God lives inside the fabric of a born-again personality and wants to take control.

This troubled world needs God’s children to radiate the divine qualities living inside of them. Each day, we live because God wants us to share His power, His love, and His sound mind. Every believer is a short-term missionary.

Hopefully, before we take our final walk through the valley of death, we will mature into what our Father gave us the day we took Jesus as our Savior. By yielding to the Spirit of God, a believer experiences what they are changed into: a new creature.

Having been zombies, or dead men walking in trespasses and sins, God’s children can now choose either to live energized by the Holy Spirit’s life, power, love, and self-control or to fall back into being controlled by their flesh.

Failing to approach God in prayer and asking for His life to flow through us will produce a counterfeit of God’s type of life. The flesh guarantees this. Our power will have the lusts of the flesh flavor, including wrath. Our love will have a rotten smell as we seek for love in all the wrong places. And self-control will have selfishness coloring its fabric. 

Pray today to be controlled by the Spirit of God and to have the power, love, and sound mind you received at your best birthday party.

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Whose Report Will You Believe?

The message etched in my heart was “You’re worthless!”

“You’re just like your father—moody, no friends, no personality. You’ll never amount to anything.” Growing up, I heard these words—and others even more hurtful—over and over.

The old sticks and stones adage is bogus. Words do hurt. They go down into our innermost being like a heat-seeking missile and lodge there. Some folks don’t intend harm when they spout off hateful words. After all, hurting people hurt people. Others use words as weapons of mass destruction, planning their strategy carefully.

A well-known speaker and author told about a comment directed at him when he was young: “You’re just stupid.” He shared how those words took root and impacted his life for years.

The mean-spirited words spoken to me as a child (and even as an adult) replayed in my mind like an old 45 RPM with the needle stuck in one place. I rehearsed those comments for years until God revealed His truth and set me free. He showed me His opinion of me was the only one that counted.

Many voices speak in this world. The naysayers and critics are inevitable and unavoidable. They’ve always been there, and they always will be—just take a look at the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.

The Devil is called the accuser of the brethren and the father of lies. His biggest weapon is deceit. But we also have the voice of the Spirit, speaking words straight from the Father’s heart. Our only defense against the lies is knowing who we are in Christ and what His Word has to say about us. The question is: Whose voice are we going to listen to?

Years ago, Ron Kenoly sang a popular song entitled “Whose Report Shall You Believe?” If you’re not familiar with it, check it out online and study the powerful lyrics. And the next time negative words are hurled at you, throw up the shield of faith and ask yourself, Whose report will I choose to believe? Then tell yourself—and the enemy—I choose to believe the report of the Lord.

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Cleaning Fingerprints

“Fingerprints all over the place.”

My oldest grandson called the dirty storm door to my attention as he and his younger brother stood looking over the back yard. Of course, he failed to mention both of them were the reason for the smudges. Since we keep them five days a week, keeping the door clean was an exercise in futility I’d almost given up on.

“Handprints are more like it.” I snickered.

“You need to clean it, Pop,” he said.

As a Type A personality like myself, my grandson can’t stand dirt—or smudges. I walked by and left the door alone. Since we were moving in a couple of weeks, I had even more reason to ignore the grimy handprints. When I decide to clean the door—probably just before we move—I won’t replace the entire door. I’ll just take out the window cleaner and clean the glass portion.

Jesus proposed a similar scenario to His disciples. They didn’t need to wash all over—just their feet. They were totally cleansed when they believed in Him and decided to be His followers. Now they merely needed a daily sponge bath.

At nine years of age, I decided to do what these early disciples did—trust Jesus as my Savior. Dad explained the gospel message of how Jesus died for my sins. I believed and invited Him into my life. In that moment, He cleansed me all over. Past, present, and future sins—of which there have been many—were washed away. The price Jesus paid on Calvary for humanity’s sins was applied to me.

But what about the daily fingerprints that come from putting my hands where they don’t belong—like my grandchildren? They won’t send me to hell, because Jesus’ blood has covered them. They will, however, interfere with my spiritual vision as the fingerprints on the door cloud the view of the backyard. Confession will clear away the smudges. My acknowledgment of my failures and sins is what Jesus referred to when He mentioned a daily foot washing.

Make confession a daily practice. Doing so is good for the soul and will keep your feet clean—and remove the smudges from the doors so interaction between you and the Savior can be open and clear.

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The Rest of Freedom

There was once a bird who lived in a cage. The door was left open, but the bird did not fly away because it was used to the confines of the cage. How much like this bird we are.

Jesus died to set us free, yet we do not walk out of our own cages—many of them self-created.  The price was paid for our complete freedom, yet we must take the chance and step into it.  Jesus paid the highest price so that we can.

The word indeed means to add to or strengthen a previous statement, without question, undeniably, incontestable, indisputable, and inarguable. To be “free indeed” is to be free without question. It cannot be argued, disputed, or denied.

Although we despise our bondage, it’s what we know. We understand how to manage it. Freedom can be scary if we’ve lived in bondage for years. It requires a new way of living and thinking. Our mind—the way we think—is the beginning and end of our troubles.

To walk in freedom means trusting the One who bought our freedom. But trust doesn’t always come easy. It requires trusting God enough to actually live in freedom. So often, we receive freedom but never experience the full benefits because we spend our entire lives trying not to lose that freedom. It’s similar to the difference between playing to win a game and playing not to lose a game. Only one produces true victory.

To live trying not to lose our freedom is like saying we earned it so we can somehow lose it. True freedom brings rest—a rest knowing the God who set us free is able to keep us free. We may be physically free, but if we constantly feel as if one little thing can push us over the edge, our mind is not free. As a man thinks, so is he.

Are you walking in freedom daily? Ask God to help you. Your confidence will grow, and your trust will lead you to rest in His freedom.  

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Lessons from a Hot Iron

Mom taught me how to iron clothes.

Since we had no television while I was growing up, Saturday mornings usually found me ironing the pillowcases and dish towels mom had laundered, starched, and rolled up in a large plastic bag. This would keep them moist while awaiting their appointed time with the iron.

Until I was tall enough to reach the ironing board while standing, we used a combo “high chair” and stepstool with two squeaky steps. Maybe it was early onset OCD, but I grew to enjoy transforming those moist wrinkled items into dry smooth works of art.

Now that I’m grown—except for the periodic break when I take my clothes to the cleaners—I don’t mind ironing my own clothes. As a child, we didn’t have the luxury of a steam iron, so we kept the clothes moist and smoothed their wrinkles with a simple iron that had a cool handle and a hot base. But today’s new and improved models feature so many fancy knobs, buttons, and settings that it requires an instruction booklet.

One of the safety features on new irons is a cut-off mechanism when the iron is inactive. When I'm ironing, the green “in use” light is on, and the iron performs smoothly and effectively. However, when I get distracted and leave it standing inactive for a short while, the green light blinks off and the iron shuts off. This is by design so I don’t burn the house down.

As I ironed my business shirts one day, God showed me how I am like that iron when I’m supposed to be doing something for Him. While I’m active and busy, He supplies the power, energy, and enthusiasm to complete the task. When I get distracted, forget my priorities, and become discouraged, my spiritual “in use” light blinks off and I lose His power and my enthusiasm and effectiveness.

Jesus said we were to let our lights shine. God usually won’t show you the longer pathway until you are taking the steps He's already shown you. Whether He's convicted you to stop something or inspired you to start something, get busy doing it or you may be stuck for a while with your “in use” button off and your iron growing cold.

Don’t let anything or anyone keep your light for God from shining. 

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Cover It Up

He hurt me. Everyone will know about it. I trusted them not to do such a distasteful thing, but what I feared most has happened.

For each of these situations, pain and anger can cover up love. Sometimes payback—instead of grace and forgiveness—is the next agenda. God wants us to forgive as He forgives us. But sometimes we are not able to go a step further when we are finally able to forgive.

Even when we let go, we are unable to cover up what has happened. We want to pay back by letting everyone know what the offender did. Seeking the best for the person who has hurt us should never elude us because we have been hurt. We should not seek to hurt or disgrace them by making sure the world knows we’re the better person in the friendship. Rather, we should cover up the wrong that’s been done to us as Joseph did.

The way Joseph handled his experience with Mary taught me a lot. He was the right man for her and for the job the Lord had for him.

One act that will hurt only for a time doesn’t have to be made into an issue that will scar the other person for life. We don’t always have to spill the beans. Sometimes we need to cover them up. We never know if we may have to come back to the offense. Doing so is difficult, but grace abounds. We may not want to cover up offenses for the offender or for ourselves, but we can do it for Jesus. He will be pleased.

Forgive and cover up every wrong with love.

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Broken Vessels

Clay pots can be broken and then mended.

God has broken me over the past three years. He hasn’t pulverized me, but I have a deep crack. Even though He has sealed me back together, the crack remains and is obvious to anyone looking for it.

Bipolar depression and marital discord have cracked me in pieces. Although God is repairing me, the cracks remind me God alone sustains me through my mental and marital problems.

Ministry seems to be the reason God has broken me. He wants me to be able to empathize with others who are broken. Transparency is critical when ministering to someone else’s brokenness. I can sense a phony immediately. I imagine others can too. I can only be authentic if I am raw and vulnerable in my writing. So I had to be broken.

I’m learning to invite God into my heartbreak. Only He can soothe me. No substance or person can help me. It’s spiritually exhausting to struggle against the loss of peace in my life. But God is teaching me to trust that He can give me peace even while the storm rages.     

The more transparent we are about our struggles, the better equipped we are to point others to God who comforts the suffering. Let others see what God has done in your life. 

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What The New Mall Can't Offer

Many people shopped until they dropped.

Last year, the buzz around town one weekend was that a new outlet mall was opening. Right before Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and the holidays. Now we wouldn’t have to drive sixty miles for discounts. We would have them in our own area.

Sometimes I feel sick over the commercialization of Christmas. The media assault through television, billboards, and radio ads to buy the biggest, newest, and best gift makes me think about never being satisfied.

If you think your children are never satisfied and you feel compelled to make their Christmas dreams come true, going into a hectic mall is enough to take away any joy and peace you might hope for when celebrating the season. But gifts that come from the heart—love, joy, and peace—can’t. These are gifts from God.

Another is forgiveness. Everyone needs to be forgiven and to feel forgiven after they have done something wrong, something that hurt someone. Maybe it was an oversight or wrong decision. It might have been unintentional, but the damage was done. Owning up to it can be difficult, but you know there is no peace until you ask for forgiveness.

Imagine walking the steps to someone’s home and feeling like your shoes are as heavy as iron. Your stomach feels as if it has a huge rock sitting in it. You wish you could vanish from the face of the earth.

Then, wonder of wonders, the one you wronged forgives you. Your feet become light, your stomach feels normal, and the heaviness wrapped around you lifts. Life is good again.

With forgiveness comes love, joy, and peace. Forgiveness can’t be bought at the mall. It’s a free gift. We don’t have to shop until we drop to get it or give it.

Forgive whomever you need to forgive. 

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Behind Our Masks

We all possess masks. For some, masks are our identity. Makeup, hair, weight, shoe size. For others, masks are accomplishments. Job promotions, GPAs, or marriages.

Masks cause us to build walls to hide behind. Few desire to be real with others, so we build walls of protection, but walls of death by isolation. A mask placed over the eyes to protect, to conceal, to not be real. Yet those masks turn into gags and those walls into prisons.

But this should not be what the church is known for. Jesus is not a God of walls. While on earth, He saw what lay behind those masks. Walking past Matthew, He saw his heart and called him to follow. He didn't see the hatred or stigma Jews had for tax collectors. He saw Matthew’s longing for more.

Believers should play it straight, not try to be fake. We are human, works in progress, who are still struggling to live this life on earth. A life where Jesus is changing us. With God’s help, we can leap over those walls we have hidden behind for so long. “With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall” (Psalm 18:29 NIV).

Dare to be bold by being genuine and by being true about your heart.

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The Candle

"Don't feel bad if people only remember you when they need you. Feel privileged that you are like a candle that comes to their mind when there is darkness."

I love this quote, and it changed me. I find truth in the simple sentence.

Prior to reading the quote I had a different outlook on those kind of people. Countless times the same people would call, and I would think, "Great, wonder what they need?" Usually, they needed something when they called. Their call didn’t make me feel privileged. Most of the time I felt angry. Resentment welled up inside me. Why do they only call when they have a need or a problem? I thought. I wouldn’t mind as much if they wanted to be a part of my life on a regular basis and not just when a need arose. I hadn’t seen that by meeting their worldly needs I might have the opportunity to guide them to someone who could meet their spiritual needs.

God put the quote before me to soften my heart and change my perspective. What a gift that someone thought of me first when they needed help. Not in their moments of celebration but in their moments of need. What a compliment that they knew when tough times came, I would be there and willing to help.   

This caused me to think of someone I don't always call on when things are going well—but He is the first person I turn to when things don’t go smoothly: Jesus. He can be easily neglected when I am busy, happy, or carefree. But when I have a need or problem, He’s the first one I turn to.

Jesus never rejects us. He is always there when we call upon Him—and without judgment, waiting with open arms and thankful to be our candle.

Let Jesus be the bright candle you turn to in the good and in the bad times.

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Veil of the Clouds

There is something about a drizzly, blustery day that attracts me. Not to cozy up under a blanket, but to put on my boots and start walking.

The day Eliyah Kate died was such a day. Perhaps that’s the trigger that attracts me to get up and go. When I go, I’m not driven by her memories but by the God who met me.

The books of Exodus, Joshua, and Numbers speak about a “cloud by day” and of “following the cloud.” God’s people ran to the cloud for protection and direction. When the cloud moved, they moved because God had instructed them. Moses approaching the thick darkness where God was intrigued me. He was attracted to the thick dark cloud because he had discovered this was the meeting place of God. 

I, too, find the meeting place of the Lord in my walks on dreary days. The cloud guided the Israelites, and they followed like blind sheep. They could not see where they were going, only that they were following the cloud because God said to.

Often, we have no idea where God is taking us. We wonder why we are in this unfamiliar and uncomfortable place. Even with all of His love and goodness, God sometimes doesn’t offer a response—at least not immediately.

But God loves little secrets. He loves when we seek Him out. Doing so is like a child’s game of hide and seek or blind man’s bluff. Once the discovery is made, there is great laughter and joy. 

Trials and seasons of hardship have a purpose, as does everything else in the kingdom of God. In the end, you will discover the secret God longs for you to know: a deeper revelation of Himself.

Don’t fret or be fearful if you find yourself in a dark cloud. It is the meeting place of God. Enter into it.

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Put Away the Gasoline

I set fire to someone today.

Actually, I dreamed I set fire to someone. I saw the shoulders of two men who were showering in side-by-side shower stalls. The first man’s skin bore burn scars from fire. That man spit a flammable liquid from his mouth toward the second man, hitting the second man on his bare flesh. Then the first man threw a lighter toward him. I watched as his skin flamed, as he writhed in agony, and as he uttered an anguished cry.

I asked God what it meant. He said it showed the effect of our hateful words. We cannot fight fire with fire. One man acted from his fleshly nature rather than responding by the Spirit. God reminded me that wounded people wound others. Speaking hateful words is like spewing fire on another person. They burn from the caustic nature of our verbal cursing.

Reading the proverb, I considered the power of words and this dream in light of modern culture which has become a hotbed of clashing ideologies. We see light and darkness collide on the streets and transmit into our homes and telephones. It can be overwhelming.

When you see news of people who hold opposing views protesting publicly for a social cause, don’t slander them in the privacy of your home with your words or thoughts. As Christians, we know not to curse others, but it’s easy to get disgusted and think thoughts or say words we’re not proud of.

In this season when God is separating truth from lies, we must choose sides. God brings order from chaos, but we must not fight God when we enter into chaos. Rather, we should bless and not curse. God wants us to visualize others as His precious yet wounded children bearing visible scars. Then to respond not only with sympathy but also with empathetic compassion.

The lens of our eye must be clean so we can view others in the light of God’s love. Our hearts must be purified so we do not transfer our offense to them. Only with clean hands, pure hearts, calm voices, and buried flesh will our words carry weight.

Offer bandages, not gasoline, to others and overcome evil with good. 

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Letting God In

My profound need for a human relationship that is deep and completely fulfilling haunts me.

I am beginning to see that God alone can be in a deep and satisfying relationship with me. To achieve this, I have to let Him into that aching place I keep locked up so no one knows about it. The older I get, the more closed off I am to emotional vulnerability. I’ve been burned by people too many times to freely bare my soul.

Baring my soul to God is different from opening up to people. With God, I’m telling Him something He already knows. Though God knows everything about me, He waits patiently for me to tell Him. Then He waits for me to ask for guidance. He will give wisdom when I ask, but I have to do what He says: trust, be at peace, and not worry.

And I worry too much. I don’t always believe God is in control, but I try to rest on His promises and let Him into the deepest, most private part of my heart as the psalmist instructs me to do. I ache to let God in so He can work in my life. I attempt to discipline my mind to fully trust that He will continue ruling from His throne.

God fills the aching places in our hearts. We may not sense His repairing the aching spots all at once, but they may heal slowly like an empty well whose water slowly inches upward. One day we realize the hurt is gone and the One who will never leave, forsake, or betray, has filled it to overflowing.

Let God into every area of your life. 

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Hand Therapy and a Heart Change

Events last year drained my energy supply.

The events included cleaning out a house full of lifetime treasures, assisting a face-painter at an all-day festival, and helping a mom give a gigantic birthday party. Soon after those events, I had surgery.

Despite a bandaged left hand, I agreed to help a family by watching their dogs for two days and nights. I had to medicate the older dog and let her outside every two hours around the clock. At eight o’clock Monday morning, I had therapy. Mission impossible? I prayed God would control this situation and give me time to accomplish everything.

Warrior King David wrote Psalm 31 at a time of failing strength. David had been sick unto death, but God healed him. Now, his enemies and neighbors took counsel against him. He called himself a broken vessel, too weak to fight. Time was short. Ahead was the grave. But David called out in weakness to God. God’s love and goodness energized him. He placed his life and his times into God’s hand.

Back to my story. “You’re early,” the receptionist said. “In fact, your appointment is eight o’clock tomorrow. Did you know?”

Apologizing, I declined a nine-thirty cancellation. I thought about the dogs’ perfect behavior and wondered whether they would behave as well tomorrow. A therapist walked by and beckoned me to follow her. Her next patient was late. Therapy was nearly finished when her patient arrived.

“I have a problem. I am upset. I’m sorry to bring my troubles here. It’s a family matter,” the therapist cried.

The room grew quiet except for sniffles. Compelled, I spoke. “Every family has someone or something that causes pain for others in the family. When I have problems, I ask God to help me. I am a Christian.”

She replied, “My relatives claim to be Christians, but they picked on me, blaming me for everything.” Silence was deafening.

“Thank you for talking to me,” she whispered. “See, you were supposed to be here today.”

I realized the importance of being available to serve people. Time shared with others is not wasted. Burdens of a busy life are lighter when God gives strength to complete His assignments.

Make time for those God puts in your path. 

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A Joyful Mother

The moment He took His first breath I became His mother. My life forever altered.

A baby wrapped in swaddling cloths, though adorned with royal titles: Wonderful, Counselor, Prince of Peace, Holy King, Emmanuel, and Ancient of Days. I held Him in my arms. Overjoyed. This is my child. My baby boy. Barely minutes old and seemingly fragile.

But this baby embodied the fullness of the Godhead. Power demonstrated years later when He cast out evil spirits and raised the dead.

As mothers do when handed a newborn, I studied every feature. Gazing intently at Him, the goodness and greatness of God spilled out. The Lamb of God. He created the star announcing His arrival. He’s the light of the world.

I looked into His eyes. Eyes that later peered into the depths of human hearts. I watched His mouth yawn. Wonderful, powerful, life-giving words were spoken from His mouth. Commanding even the winds and waves to obey.

I placed my hand on His chest. The rise and fall of breaths ladened with grace. A strong heartbeat surfaced. The day came when His heart, broken and betrayed, offered forgiveness.

I wrapped my fingers around His tiny hands. The same hands grew in size. They caressed, comforted, healed, and restored sight. His hands stretched out to calm a storm—and stretched out on a cross to give hope, peace, and life.

A mother always inspects feet—yes, five toes on each one. I’d felt them kicking inside me. His feet carried Him to speak to the masses. Walked on water. Were washed by perfume and anointed. A baby’s feet are precious. Stare-worthy. But nails pierced those beautiful feet.

I drew the Christ-child to my chest in a snuggled embrace. His embrace offers more security than any earthly mother could ever bestow. How ironic. I nursed Him to sustain physical life, but He is the bread of life.

We can only speculate on Mary’s joyful thoughts. The birth of Jesus made her a mother and changed her life.

As you remember and honor the mothers you know, reflect on how Christ came to alter your life forever. 

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A Burst of Joy

My corner of Indiana had been covered with snow and ice for several weeks.

About the time I cleared a path to the car, snow flew through the air again. Our worship services at church were canceled for two Sundays because of a lack of parking space and because many in our small congregation were senior citizens.

On one of those Sundays, I had my own service which started with watching a worship service on television. Later, I sang and whistled, which led to a burst of joy—an unexpected blessing of praising the Lord.

God has given me other bursts of joy throughout my life. After my husband left me for another woman, I was given an indescribable joy—even in the midst of shock. It was not something I would have expected, but it was what one song describes as “joy unspeakable and full of glory.”

I had to find a job to support myself. I had never worked outside the home and only had a high school education. But God was working out His plan for my life. Within three weeks, I was hired as a secretary for an organization providing help for cancer patients and their families.

Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The prophet chose to rejoice in the Lord. God hasn’t given the blessing of His joy because of anything I’ve done to earn it. Long ago, I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and received the gift of the Holy Spirit. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

The fruits of the Spirit cannot be earned by living a good life or by helping others. Only by accepting Jesus’ salvation and having His Holy Spirit live within us, can we have the blessings of the fruit.

Some people believe happiness and joy are interchangeable, but happiness depends on the happenings in our lives and can be elusive and short-lived. Christians can have the joy of the Lord in their lives even though their hearts are sad and troubles are knocking at their doors.

Praise the Lord for the bursts of joy He gives—when troubles threaten to overwhelm and on sun-filled days when praise comes easily. His joy can never be taken away.

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Promises When the Path is Unbearable

One rainy day as I was walking the path around our land, my boots and feet got wet.

At 34 degrees, walking became a nuisance. The path is usually easy to walk, but when snow or rain falls, it becomes a test of endurance. I had just started my walk, so my options were to return home or keep going—discomfort and all. I had to pep talk myself into continuing. My default action is to always give up.

This path is similar to my life. When things are going well, I walk the journey in faith. When it gets difficult, I want to throw in the towel at the least little accumulations. I sometimes question if I have enough faith to maneuver what comes my way.

I yearn to walk securely with God in the good times and in the distressing times, as Azariah told King Asa to do. So far, I’ve failed miserably. But I’ve come to realize some things. It’s not failing if I get up and try it again—trusting God to help. God delights in me wanting to be better and to get closer to Him. Hard times are the best way to grow, and I’m never alone. God promises to be with me forever. He doesn’t pull back; I do.

When I remember who is with me, I can put my head down and journey ahead. It’s still hard and the temptation to say I can’t do it is still real. When those thoughts appear, I try to grasp five promises: God will strengthen me, I will reap a harvest of blessings when I persevere, I will be blessed, God promises life if I endure, and God will make my paths straight even if the path is muddy.

Keep walking your life path faithfully—in the midst of the hard and easy times. God’s hand extends to you all the way from the beginning to the end.

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Responsible Gifting

I admit it. I am a re-gifter. And I know I am not the only one.

At our wedding shower we opened a gift from Rachel, the preacher’s daughter (who was also getting married that month). Inside was a little card that read, To: Rachel and Steve ... From: Carla and Jim.

We had a good laugh over that one, and I was happy for it. It became my favorite casserole dish (win, win). But there are some instances when gifts are not used so positively.

The Devil roams around like a roaring lion, trying to devour all of God followers. He is so dirty he'll even use the gifts and desires God places within us to use against us. In the Garden of Eden, he used Eve's desire to be like God (a noble desire) against her. He told her she would “be like God, knowing good and evil,” and that by eating the fruit she would "become wise.” He tempted her so much that in her effort to be like God she forgot God. 

Satan used Moses' love for God's people to stir up anger, which ended with Moses committing murder.

David’s passion produced many beautiful praise songs, but Satan used it to notice a lady in a tub, which David allowed to end in unholy passions.

Satan also led Joseph to brag about his prophesies, which led his brothers to sell him into slavery and Joseph to later end up in prison.

Part of our heavy responsibility is to not only use the gifts God gives us but to also tame them so they can continue to be used for the Lord and not the enemy. Even when we slip and fall (as all of these did), God's redemptive hand stays waiting to use us again—at just the right time and in just the right way.

God is the master restorer and second-chance granter. Use your gifts for Him. 

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Clothed with Christ

My shirt spoke volumes without my mouth ever saying a word.

I was called to pastor a small-town church. I was excited, and so was everyone else. What better way to show my pride—and for the members to show their pride over belonging to that particular church— than to order t-shirts with the church name, along with a logo or Bible verse. So we did.

When we went on mission trips, we wore our shirts. Church outings? We wore our shirts. Around town? We wore our shirts. And sometimes when we went out on the town for a night, we’d all decide to wear our shirts. Then it hit me. Our shirts were speaking words without ever saying any, and I was caught in the middle.

If I hit my finger with a hammer, I had to watch what I said. If I was in the retail store with a buggy full of items and there was only one register open, I had to monitor my words and actions. If the waiter acted as if they could care less, I had to watch how I responded. If someone told an off-color joke, should I laugh?

Whether to wear the shirts or not became a joke between my wife and I and a couple we often went out with. If we wore our shirts, we had to be on our best behavior. If we didn’t, no one would know we were Christians—unless we gave it away in some other way.

Wrong assumption. Paul says I was clothed with Christ the moment I chose to become His follower. I don’t have to wear a shirt. I wear Him. He speaks more words than a shirt ever could. And He speaks them through my actions, words, and attitudes.

I don’t have to advertise myself as a Christian with clothing or jewelry—although there’s nothing wrong with Christian symbols. When I exercise love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control, people assume there is something different about me. All are traits they’re probably not accustomed to seeing—at least not on a regular basis. Should I show the opposite of those traits, they assume I’m just a regular guy.

Remember who you are clothed with. Let Christ speak loudly everyday through your lifestyle. 

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Glorious Resurrection

The memory slithered across my mind once again, unwelcome and cold. I shivered as my soul slunk back from the ugly details.

The intruder held the knife, threatening violence. My friend, frozen in time, did as she was bidden. They walked into the corridor, down the stairs, and out the door. 

Evil raises its head when you least expect it. We were in a safe boarding school on the second floor and locked in for the night. All young innocent school girls. But a wooden fire ladder made access easy for the disturbed violator. He could have taken any one of us sleeping in the dormitory, but it was Mira he chose. A beautiful pale-skinned, fair-haired doll-like fifteen-year-old girl. Intelligent, gifted, sweet, and kind.

Shocked and in disbelief, we awoke to the news of the truth. Mira was dead at the hand of the predator. Numb, we entered a fear-filled silence. The question that passed across our minds was, “Why?” Why was Mira the one to die? Why did God allow such a tragedy?

The unknown always lurks around the corner. We live in a violent age, yet God’s rule prevails. The destruction of the lawless one and all evil is foretold. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming (2 Thessalonians 2:8 NKJV).

Father God is not unfamiliar with suffering. His Son Jesus died a violent death at the hands of His persecutors. Yet three days later, the Holy Spirit raised Him up.

We may not get all our questions answered, but one thing is certain: we will rise again if we choose to believe in Jesus Christ. Mira’s faith was evident in her life. She often spoke of her quiet love for Jesus. Though absent from us, she is present with the Lord.

We may not be able to prevent pain and suffering, but we are able to trust the Word of God. It promises we will live to resurrection life once we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Take a step of faith today and believe.

(Name changed to protect identity.)

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Delighting in the Wait

I have learned to welcome being alone with Yahweh (GOD).

Raised by my grandmother—who was busy and whose children were already grown—I would often play by myself. I named all the flowers in the tiny garden in front of the house, created classrooms with bottles and cans, and developed commentary on every bird or lizard that skittered across my sight. I became comfortable being by myself.

Now that my life has changed and my responsibilities have multiplied, it is difficult to find those moments of solitude, but I make sure to get alone time with the Father so I can become centered and focused. The result is a refueling that makes me wonder what took me so long.

Replenishing my spiritual fuel is no longer a mechanical express stopover when I am on empty. I now step into the moment with a sense of relief and expectation. Like walking into a spa knowing I will lose myself in the aromas and the soothing massage of God’s love on my heart and mind. I go in prepared, but prepared to do and say less. I sit and wait, following the lead of the Spirit. Just thinking about His love and the opportunity to come away with Him is enough to loosen the tension knotted together by cares and anxieties. 

After a quiet time comes the adoration and appreciation for the One whose presence beckoned in the first place and for the forceful presence of His anointing to direct my praise and prayers—making intercession for others and myself. It is a lesson in love—a narrative of peace that I hear in my heart as I move back into a noisy world crowded with responsibilities. But now I am ready and full of joy and peace. I’m ready to share myself again.

Our Father never delays or disappoints us. He always shows up for those who are willing to wait without an agenda and with patience. Moses was on the mountain for six days, content to sit and wait in the cloud for instructions to build (Exodus 24:16). The apostles waited for days for the coming of the Holy Spirit’s fire. 

Find the value of waiting in His presence.

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A Galaxy Far Away

Thinking about Carrie, have you sat for several hours and cheered for Princess Leia as she challenged the evil empire, stood up to Hans Solo, and strangled Jabba the Hutt?

Everything seemed better when the universe was safe and when all the enemies had been defeated. Peace reigned supreme. What a great feeling. Then the lights came on and you left the theater. Once out the door, you had to battle thorough a haze of cigarette smoke, trek through the crowds to the parking lot, and then fight traffic on the interstate on the way home. Maybe total peace had not been accomplished

Or life seems good and love surrounds you as you sit before a blazing fireplace with that special person next to you, while a George Michael song plays. Then the phone rings and a telemarketer wants to sell you burial insurance. “Life ends,” you are told, and the mood is broken.

But there is a galaxy where the enemies have no presence. They were conquered forever centuries ago and peace does reign. And there is a mansion with a fireplace where love is never interrupted.

The things of this world—the enemies and the interruptions—will never be defeated while we are here. We must step out of the theater of reality and enter the world of the supernatural. The place where Christ reigns and love lives. The place where our fears are left behind and life eternal is good.

I have God’s assurance that He will never leave my side and will always defend me. The Word does not say it will be perfect; it just says it will not be lonely, and defeat has been defeated.

Anyone can go to this galaxy now by opening God’s Word, allowing Him to speak, and turning control of their life over to the Lord of Lords. The world will then make perfect, uninterrupted, and peace-filled sense.

Don’t wait. The Galaxy beckons. An eternal empire with the King of Kings on His throne. It’s a box office hit. Don’t miss it. 

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The Oil Did Not Decrease

Her husband had died, and creditors were at the door. She had no money to pay her debts. She had no time to lose. Her children were about to be sold into slavery.  

Since this poor widow’s husband had been a prophet, she went to Elisha for help. He was head of all the prophets. After hearing her problem, he wanted to know what she had of value in her home. “Only a jar of oil,” she told him. He told her to borrow pots from her neighbors. Lots of pots. As many as she could. Then, in the privacy of her home—with only her and her sons in attendance—she was to fill the pots with the oil from her jar.

Oil flowing into pot after pot must have been a sight to behold. The oil did not increase, nor did it decrease. It just kept flowing. Her sons saw this as they brought the pots to her. “How could this happen?” I can almost hear them asking. “How can that little jar of oil fill all these pots, Mother?” Her husband had been a faithful prophet of God.  Now she and her sons were seeing God’s provision for them.

When all the pots were filled, the oil stopped flowing. It stopped because there were no more pots to fill. She went back to Elisha and told him what had happened. “Sell the oil and pay your debts,” he told her. “The rest, you and your sons shall have to live on.” Her children saw their desperate situation resolved because God provided for them.

As we trust God to provide for our needs, our children will also see Him providing for us. Let them see the bad times, and then keep them with you as God shows Himself in answered prayers. Let them see God fill your “pots.” This will strengthen their relationship with God, even as you also get to know Him better. They may even remind you from time to time of the things He has done for your family.

Take your children along as you learn from the Lord.

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Can You See The Wind?

In many of our spiritual struggles, it seems as if our pleas with God go unheeded.

One fall day, the pressures of life seemed to encroach increasingly upon me, and God appeared to be a bit hearing impaired. The wind blew briskly, and the leaves swirled. I looked up and said, “God, you control the wind. Can you not control my circumstances?”

A few minutes later, the Lord spoke. In my mind's eye, I saw a conversation between me and Him. He said, “Did you see the wind?”

I answered, “Yes, I saw the leaves blowing.”

Curiously, He asked the same question again: “Did you see the wind?”

I answered, “Yes, I saw the tree limbs swaying.”

A third time the Lord spoke, and it was as if He were saying, “Read my lips.”

God repeated the same question, but this time I got the message. It was one of those “Aha” moments.

The movement of God’s Spirit—like the wind—though unobservable, always accomplishes its intended purpose. When we place our petitions before Him but don't observe anything around us—or the circumstances get worse—we assume God is not answering our prayers. Things often have to get worse before they get better.

The Holy Spirit can be active, yet unseen and silent. When I questioned the Lord's management of my problems, I treaded on shaky ground. I was saying God either didn't care or wasn’t able to do anything about it. I questioned two of the character traits of God: His goodness and His omnipotence.

There was one further exchange between me and the Lord. He said, “You, the finite, might want to be a little more careful when talking about One who is infinite.”

He was graciously saying I shouldn’t talk about what I didn’t understand.  My reply: “Yes, Sir.

Like the wind, the moving of God’s Spirit is discerned by its effects—not by direct observation. Ask God to help you see it. 

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Power under Control

Plowing with a mule requires a great deal of meekness.

At twelve years old, my grandfather was left to run the family farm and tend to his mother, sisters, and brother. A task he might not have been able to handle had it not been for an uncle who helped him.

Mules were used for plowing fields, but mules could also be stubborn. And so could Uncle Ransom. He had a habit of “fussing the mule out,” which resulted in its stubborn refusal to move or plow a crooked row. My grandfather would intervene, talking gently to the animal. The mule would cooperate and plow a straight row.

Eventually, my grandfather left the farm and began selling ice, then milk, and finally ice cream. Many a customer was gruff with him or with other delivery companies. But my grandfather’s meekness had a way of winning over those stubborn customers.

According to the psalmist, the meek will be rewarded with the earth and with peace. Jesus says a similar thing thousands of years later in His Sermon on the Mount.

Some associate meekness with weakness and avoid it like a plague. But the two are not the same. Meekness is power under control—just as the mule controlled his temper and his ability to harm the person ordering him to work and instead worked for the person giving the orders.

David demonstrated meekness when King Saul attempted to kill him and when he fought the giant Goliath. Jesus demonstrated meekness when He refused to retaliate against those who abused Him and tried to take His life.

I demonstrate meekness when I follow their examples. I may have rights and power, but I voluntarily give them up when I have the chance to retaliate, to become angry, to plan revenge, or to undermine those who harm me. Meekness is acting as Jesus did. It’s a willingness to take the lowest place, letting Christ elevate me instead of me attempting to do it myself. It is understanding that greatness in God’s sight is not how many people serve me but how many people I serve.

The inheritance and peace that come from being meek come from knowing I’m living as Christ wants me to live. And in eternity, I’ll be rewarded.

Be meek, not weak, and look for the rewards God will give you now and later.

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Resolutions...Tomorrow

Tomorrow is always before us; unknown and often unprepared for. We will not escape it.

Peter was a guy who had it all together. If ever there was one who had self-confidence, Peter was the guy. Impulsive, determined, assured, and directed. But one thing Peter did not have was tomorrow. What led to his downfall was just around the corner, but he never saw it coming. That which would lead Peter to the lowest point in his life was smoldering along the roadside, just waiting.

Peter’s lesson is one we all need; especially as we try to see what’s down the road. Tomorrow is a distant unknown for all of us who think we have both hands on the wheel. Tomorrow may well bring its own troubles. No need taking today’s along with us as we walk into it. The greatest calamity of tomorrow may well be the catalyst that propels us to the highest mountain of our lives, as it did for Peter. Tomorrow should not be cursed.

There is also One who has seen tomorrow, prepared it, walked through it, and wrote our name all over it. Knowing Him is important. So is being closer to Him today than we were a year ago.

God waits for you with hands outstretched, ready to guide you through all of your tomorrows. Don’t wait another day to renew your relationship with Him.

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It's Only Straw

It’s only straw. But having it delivered to them made it easier to make bricks.

People in other countries still make bricks the old fashioned way. Soil or clay and straw and water are mixed and beaten down with the people’s bare feet. Hard work, even when all the ingredients are available. Later, the mixture is formed into bricks. 

Everything was going as expected and desired for the Israelites—until the straw was taken away. They would have to gather their own straw, putting their quota for the day in serious jeopardy. God sent Moses and Aaron on a mission that really messed things up between the Israelite slaves and Pharaoh. It may have only been straw, but for the Israelites it was the “straw that broke the camel’s back.”

Straw is often taken away from us too. Opportunities evaporate and life becomes more difficult.  Our friendly and caring boss is replaced with an unreasonable one. A good neighbor moves away and is replaced by one whose sole purpose in life seems to be to make your life miserable. We find ourselves in debt, or our loved ones endure illnesses. Life brings many changes—changes we’re not prepared for or don’t want to deal with.

God let the Egyptians take away the Israelites’ straw. For believers, nothing happens that God doesn’t allow. He is also the solution to new situations. We have to look to and depend on Him to get us through. The prophet Jeremiah said, “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (32:17).

While making bricks without straw was more difficult for the Israelites, it wasn’t impossible. Neither will God abandon us to the control of the world. He will light our way with His presence, just as He did for Israel. There is no situation, difficulty, or challenge that poses a problem too big for Him.

Trust God with everything and everyone you hold dear. The enemy will still take things away, but remember, It’s only straw.

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This Is for You Strong Ones

It’s hard being strong.

You know who you are. You’re the ones others turn to when they’re struggling. The ones who always have a verse ready to bolster your friends’ faith because you read your Bible every morning.

You’re the ones who carry a multitude of prayer requests close to your heart and pray for them in the night watches. And the ones who remind others that God loves them and will meet their needs, even when the situation seem impossible.

You’re the people who set the example for others to follow. Your lives are a demonstration of what it looks like to rejoice in suffering, persevere through trials, and never stop believing. But even you grow weary sometimes.

When my daughter was young and her little legs would tire, she’d tug on my husband’s sleeve and whimper, “I’m tired, Daddy, will you carry me?”

Without missing a step, my husband would reach down and scoop her up in his big, strong arms. She’d wrap her tiny arms around his neck, lay her tired head upon his shoulder, and sigh.

“I’ve got you, baby girl,” he’d whisper in her ear. “You take a little rest. Daddy will carry you.”

If you’re usually strong, but you’re feeling weary right now, it’s okay. Even strong ones grow tired. It’s human to wonder, Who will carry me while I carry all the others?

The prophet Habakkuk, a strong man with strong faith, also felt the strain. He sought the Lord in his weariness. “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me” (2:1).

God’s answer to Habakkuk is God’s answer to you too. When you grow weary, and the faith burdens you carry grow too heavy, tug on your Father’s sleeve. Cry out to him, “I’m tired, Daddy, carry me.”

Without missing a step, He’ll scoop you up in His big, strong arms, tuck your head under His chin, and whisper in your ear, “I’ve got you, baby girl. Take a little rest. Daddy will carry you.”

If you’re a strong one who’s feeling weak, allow the Sovereign Lord to be your strength today.

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Is Anyone Exempt from Falling?

The news broke my heart and left me wondering if anyone was exempt.

They were the last couple I would have expected to go through a painful divorce. We attended the same church for years. They were both leaders and shining examples of committed Christians. They seemed to have the perfect little family. Other people admired and respected them.

But as they say, no one really knows what goes on behind closed doors. No one sees the strife, chaos, and secrets others hide so well. And no one truly knows the wounds and heartaches another person carries.

The Bible tells us that in the end times even the elect will be deceived. We already see it happening. Respected Christian leaders fall into gross sin. A family member suddenly turns her back and walks away from the faith. A man well known for his acts of kindness is arrested for molesting young boys. A mother turns to drugs and alcohol after a bitter divorce. These scenarios beg the question: Is anyone exempt?

Scripture tells us, You could fall flat on your face as easily as anyone else. It also tells us to stay connected to the vine and to walk in the light. We’re instructed to be alert, watchful, and vigilant because the enemy of our soul is on the prowl, looking for someone to devour.

Sounds hopeless and discouraging, but the good news is that God has given us power and authority over all the works, plots, and schemes of the enemy. He’s given us His own armor for protection and the Sword of the Spirit—the living, powerful, and unchangeable Word of God—to fight for what rightfully belongs to us.

King David was a man of integrity—a man after God’s own heart. Yet he blew it by committing adultery and murder. Abraham, the father of nations, was called a friend of God, yet slept with his wife’s maidservant and passed his wife off as his sister because he was afraid. Peter was called a “rock,” but when push came to shove, he cut off someone’s ear in anger, then denied the One he swore to love and follow unto death.

We’re all human. We all make mistakes. But no matter the circumstances, God’s arms are always open wide when we repent and run back to Him.

No matter how many mistakes you’ve made, He’s waiting for you.

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In Google We Trust

"Are we going the right way?" my friend, Gina, asked as we sped down an Indiana highway heading home from a weekend of bargain shopping. "This highway isn't familiar."

Gina and I had been caught up in our chatter for the last hour, trusting Google Maps to get us safely home when we suddenly realized we were headed south. Michigan, our destination, was over 200 miles in the opposite direction.

As Gina drove on, I studied the screen on my phone to figure out where our Google guide had gone wrong. Thanks to a new update, the default address in Google was leading us to the correct street address, but the wrong city. Had I not checked up on our trusty navigator, we would have arrived four hours later...in Independence, Kentucky! I quickly corrected the error, but we’d already wasted 60 miles of gas and an hour of daylight we couldn’t recoup.

Putting our trust in worldly things is tempting—our careers, our abilities, our brain power, our paychecks, our earthly relationships, even our smart phones. But while depending on these worldly things may bring a measure of assurance, nothing can replace the unshakeable security we find in relying on the God of Abraham.

The Bible tells us our God is all-knowing and His word eternal and flawless. Trusting in anything else may seem like a good idea at the time but can lead us miles off the path God has in mind.

The next time you find yourself in an unfamiliar place—and wondering how you got there, forget human knowledge and self-reliance. Instead, seek God. Better yet, check in with Him before heading out on any of life’s road trips. He will never steer you wrong.

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Rustling or Resting

Thankfully, the mother bird saw the rat snake before the rat snake saw her.

She was perched on the edge of the nest she had woven in my hanging basket, a wriggling worm dangling from her beak. Ready to drop it into the open mouth of one of her fledglings, she froze, then quickly hopped into the nest. Her squawking babies quieted as she covered them with her outstretched wings. Hunkering down atop her tiny babies, she blended into the foliage until the slithering serpent passed by.

Those babies may have been newly hatched, but they knew something I often forget—that danger is an invitation to trust. As my friend and fellow author Nan Jones says, “It’s better to rest than to rustle.”

When danger threatens me or my family, my default setting is to start squawking. I cry. I fret. I call my friends. I wring my hands and wail as if the Philistines were storming the gates. I work myself into an emotional tizzy that would rival a two-year-old’s bedtime meltdown. In the end, I’m left spent and exhausted.

On other days, when my heart is full of God’s Word and I’ve spent time in prayer, I react to a threat much differently. Like the baby birds in my geranium, I seek the shadow of my heavenly Father’s protective wings and rest quietly, trusting He will care for me.

How do you react when something scary threatens you? 

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God Is with Us

When the package from the Holy Land arrived, I turned the cobalt blue cylinder over in my hands.

Robin and I became friends while attending a low-residency graduate school program. During meals, we chatted about our families. Both of us had adopted two children. Because our kids were now in their teens and twenties, we found parenting these young adults challenging and shared how our faith was the foundation of our lives. Robin was Jewish, and I was a Christian.

As our children matured, her son found employment in retail sales while my son, Mat, advanced in his military career. After a deployment to Afghanistan, Mat was diagnosed with PTSD and depression. One snowy February night, two soldiers in blue uniforms delivered the news that despite counseling, our son had ended his life.

When my shaking fingers could finally tap out a message, I sent a text to Robin who immediately wrote back, “I will be saying Kaddish every morning at our synagogue. May those prayers bring you comfort.”

On the day of Mat’s funeral, friends surrounded my family with love. After the last notes of taps faded away at the graveside, my husband and I clutched our folded flag, knowing life for our family would never be the same.

A few day later, Robin wrote an email saying she was ordering me a Yahrzeit candle holder from Israel. “You should burn the candle on the first anniversary of Mat’s death to remember and honor his life.”

Because my husband and I are farmers, Robin had chosen a candle holder decorated with different agricultural designs. Then I spied the name of the artist on its bottom edge: Emanuel. Only God could have selected and sent to a Christian in Michigan a holder painted by an Israelite bearing one of Jesus’ titles, reminding me God is with us.

The Lord was and continues to be our stronghold who carries us through the darkness of grief. I know the God of Jacob will be with us whatever challenges and trials erupt during our journey through life. He will shelter us from the storms and provide the courage to walk forward in hope.

No matter what you face in life, remember God is with you. 

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Are You All Things to All People?

The load was getting to be more than I could handle. Juggling too many responsibilities while trying to please everyone and attend to their needs was draining the life out of me.

Life can be demanding and stressful. It pulls us in a gazillion different directions while we try to accommodate every demand, handle every situation, and do everything ourselves. But we can’t … at least not for long.

The truth is, none of us are superheroes. We all have talents and abilities, but we also have limitations. That’s why we need each other.

Ecclesiastes 4:9 (NIV) says two are better than one. But most of the time, we’re much too embarrassed or prideful to ask for help. The Message puts it this way: It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, But if there’s no one to help, tough!

When Moses was responsible for the children of Israel, his task was overwhelming—especially with all the whining, complaining, and petty issues he had to deal with on a daily basis. The weight of doing everything by himself became more than he could handle. He tried to be all things to all people … all the time. But it didn’t work.

It couldn’t work because that was not what God intended. Moses’ father-in-law came to the rescue when he suggested asking for help and delegating authority. The plan worked well, and Moses was able to resume his rightful, God-given duties as leader.

If you have too much on your plate and you’re trying to do it all by yourself, stop and look around. Ask for help. God has put people in your life who are willing to come alongside and take up the slack. They will ease your burden and help you carry the load.

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The Three Widows

Three widows celebrate eighty-four years on earth.

The first widow drives but just downsized to a two bedroom apartment after living in a two-story home with a magnificent garden she maintained herself. She visits cancer sufferers, prays, and gardens. She attends church and travels long distances to visit family and conferences. Our phone calls are always joy-filled.

The second widow recently moved from her farm—which was out of town—and stopped driving. She also downsized to a two bedroom unit. She attends a senior’s group twice a week, a ladies study group, and church services. She always has an encouraging word and is glad to see me when I visit.

The third widow had a light stroke a few years ago and has an impaired memory. She moved into her daughter’s home many years before, settling into the comfort of the master suite. Though still able to walk well with a walker, she spends her days lying in bed, getting weaker and weaker. She no longer listens to the radio or CDs or reads and has almost given up on life.

All three widows love Jesus. Two are still serving God and involved in life, but one has decided to drift towards heaven. The first two never complain; the last has to be cajoled out of her slumps every time I visit. She has no interest in anything.

I love all three widows equally, but I’ve learned from these relationships that regardless of how life on this earth ends, we need to stay connected to society and accept the aging process graciously.

Don’t quit serving God and others, no matter what your age happens to be.

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Christmas Remembrances

As I grow older, I yearn for the Christmases of my childhood.

Being the first grandchild in the family meant a great deal of spoiling. Though I don’t remember much about those years, pictures relay the joy and giving that took place. Prior to my paternal grandmother’s retirement, she bought presents with abandonment and worked to make Christmas a special day for everyone—especially the grandchildren. Presents waist high lay under and around the tree waiting for eager little hands to open them. 

Christmas at my maternal grandparent’s house was practical. They were more into the fellowship—telling stories, hunting, cooking, and eating—than the giving of presents. One or two gifts was all I could expect. 

When my giving grandmother retired and could no longer afford to buy mounds of presents, Mom took over the tradition and continued it until she retired. Now, my wife tries her best to keep the abundant giving alive. But things have changed. 

My early Christmases were about togetherness. The togetherness lasted for days. They weren’t pop-in visits from children and grandchildren. We hung around, talked, laughed, hunted, and watched ball games together. Never did I hear, “We can be there at ___, but we have to leave by _____.”

In the midst of my childhood Christmases, we always remembered the reason we were celebrating: to commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ. He overshadowed the presents rather than the other way around. Much like the first Christmas the prophet of old foretold. It too was all about a birth—and it was simple.

We said blessings at Christmas meals, and, just as at Thanksgiving, we remembered God was responsible for all we had and enjoyed. 

My childhood Christmases were also times of joy—and not just over presents. We were glad to see each other, to celebrate Christ’s birth, to eat a meal together, and to open presents. Just to enjoy one another’s company. 

Divorces and remarriages have now changed the structure of our immediate and extended family, multiplying in-laws and grandparents and dividing our time into tiny increments that temper the joy of being together. Though some of the things from my early Christmases are missing, I still enjoy the Christmas season. 

Don’t let the changing seasons of your life steal the real meaning of Christmas. Remember the birth of the Savior, and celebrate it with family and friends. 

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It's All One Story

God is painting a vast mosaic which depicts a magnificent story.

You and I are a part of God’s picture. Though a tiny scene on this canvas or a brief paragraph in the story, we complete the narrative. Those of my generation, the Baby Boomers, need to run the last leg of the race and pass the baton in a fashion that tells the story of God’s faithfulness to the emerging generation.

We hear of prominent Christian leaders losing their zeal—becoming apathetic and sometimes even cynical. Some lose sight that their own little corner of the world is not the beginning or the end. The story of redemption runs throughout the Bible’s pages. Each part of God’s revelation builds on the previous. It’s all one story.

Jesus said those who sow and those who reap should rejoice together because we get the same reward (John 4:36-38). Many in my generation may be transitioning to a consulting or supportive role, and it may feel as if we have gone from a reaping back to a sowing mode. But we can get behind the next generation with the same zeal and enthusiasm with which we pursued our ministries. It’s not about our plans but God’s eternal purposes.

Consider this. You could be more productive in a collaborative role, though it may be behind the scenes. Paul spent a lot of time in prison or under house arrest but wrote a significant part of the New Testament. Additionally, the greatest fulfillment does not come from the utilization of our gifts and callings but hearing God say, “Well done,” at the judgment seat of Christ. Then those who sow and those who reap will receive the same size trophy.

Run to the finish line, and rejoice that God is going to do greater things for those taking our place. It’s all one story.  

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Sufficient Grace

We came home and she was gone, lying in a pool of fluid.

We loved our dog, Koko, for twelve years. I was devastated. The pain of losing a loved one was evident in the agony of my cry. As the days went by, I heard God through the strength of my five-year-old saying, “It’s okay, mommy, she had a long life.” These words gave me immediate comfort.

Then I realized God prepared us for Koko’s passing. The day before, my husband and I met a pleasant woman who told us about her dog that had the same name as ours. She struggled as she told us how her dog passed. On the day Koko died, we noticed a difference in her breathing but thought it would go away. So we went to church. The message was that God won’t take the trial away but will give grace to see you through.

When trials come, they can hit like a pitcher throwing a baseball ninety miles an hour. But it’s important to realize God is always with us through the storm. Sufficient grace means He has our back during the hard times. When we depend on Him, we discover a peace inside us. Through our weakness, God works wonders in our lives.

If you need God’s sufficient grace, He is always there. It hasn’t been long since my Koko passed, but I feel God’s grace and hear His still voice comforting me every day.

God is concerned about everything in your life. Let Him comfort you when you need grace.

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Recipe Box Christmas

Whether a few teaspoons or a pinch, salt is necessary.

Salt seasons, flavors, preserves, heals, melts ice, and is good for cooking and baking. If salt represents our lives as God’s children, we must discover how to show its qualities in our actions.

November and December are baking months at our house. We share cookies and sweet breads with family and friends—all of which takes time. The holiday months are so full of activities that it’s easy to get caught up in the stress of self-assignments.

I remember a Christmas when I was ten. Our family moved to upstate New York where my father attended seminary. He worked full-time and attended classes for three years. Without warning, he had an eye hemorrhage. We drove from Upstate to Manhattan bi-weekly for his treatment. Our lives hung in the balance as resources stretched to meet needs. But God sent groceries to our front door through friends’ gifts.

Dad’s schooling ended just before Christmas. Our parents gave each of us a small present. My sister and I received metal recipe boxes with extra index cards inside. Though they felt sad giving us such meager gifts, we felt their love. Their salt made a tough time tasty.

When I was in Junior High, Homemaking was a course. Cooking class peaked my interest in baking, and I asked for favorite recipes from family members. I typed each card’s recipe treasure: Gram’s favorite cake, Aunt Shirley’s brown edge cookies, Aunt Violet’s heirloom pastry, and Mother’s pumpkin pie. I still use that recipe box which is chock-full of memories.

There is also a recipe for Christmas Joy. Beat together 1/2 cup of better behavior, 2 cups of sweet blessings, and 2 tablespoons of “stay together.” Set aside. Then measure 1 ½ cups of duties and 1 ½ cups of desires. Sift out 1 cup of unnecessary tasks, duties, and desires. Combine all ingredients with 1 teaspoon of salt of Christian savor, 1 teaspoon of spice of minute vacations, and 1 teaspoon of meditation. Add the spiritual fruits of love, joy, and peace. Use a slow “oven.” Do not over-do.

Read your recipe to make sure your ingredients are on God’s list.

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Worth the Wait

My grandson was in a baseball tournament, and it was the first night of the Blueberry Festival.

When I arrived to watch his game, my son greeted me. In his hand, he held a plastic bag containing two dozen blueberry donuts. Their fresh-baked aroma seeped through the bag, and my mouth began to water.

As we sat in the stands watching the game, the blueberry donuts became the talk among the locals.

"Have you bought your donuts yet?"

"Oh, yeah! I bought ours this evening before the line formed."

“Not me; I waited for over an hour to get mine."

My curiosity was piqued. With all the playful banter going back and forth, I decided I must taste these donuts. When the game ended, I found the donut stand and stood in line.

Bartimaeus also waited. He was a blind beggar who sat beside the busy road that led into Jericho. Although the Bible doesn’t say he was waiting for Jesus, I believe he knew Jesus was in town. 

When Jesus, His disciples, and the large crowd of followers left Jericho, Bartimaeus heard them coming. He shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more.

When Jesus heard Bartimaeus, He stopped, called to Bartimaeus, and asked him what he wanted. Bartimaeus said, “I want to see.”

Jesus told Bartimaeus to go. “Your faith has healed you,” He said. Immediately Bartimaeus received his sight and followed Jesus. 

For Bartimaeus, sitting along the roadside day after day was worth the wait. Eventually, he received his sight from the One who heals. His faith and determination caught Jesus’ attention. With compassion, Jesus reached out and granted his request.

Although waiting can be tedious, it was worth it for Bartimaeus. After standing in the donut line for more than a half an hour, I claimed my dozen and left. Once home, I quickly opened the box and bit into a succulent, sugar-glazed blueberry donut. As crazy as it sounds, standing in line was worth the wait.

When we seek Jesus with all our heart, our faith, and our determination—like Bartimaeus, He will not overlook us.

Seek Jesus today. Call out to Him. His compassionate touch will be worth the wait.

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Put It On!

The battle against flesh and blood is waged in an operating room every day.

Standing against the patient's blood and tissue—not to mention the irrigation saline and contaminating germs, surgical personnel don’t wear their outer garments to make a fashion statement. Usually, the attire is called a gown, but it isn’t what a woman would wear to a posh evening at the gala ball.

Surgical gowns and their attendant accessories—such as gloves, masks, and face shields—have an important role to impede the transfer of liquids and infectious agents. That’s the battle of the operating suite, and the apparel is well-suited for the task.

The same is true of another similar outfit. Paul called it the armor of God. He told the Ephesians to wear all of it. His admonition is still timely. Every day, we are in an operating suite called life with far more dangerous consequences. As in the operating room, the question isn’t whether we are going to encounter things that might be harmful. We will. The question is whether or not we have on the right attire. God’s armor provides protection—not against the flesh and blood of an operation but against every evil force Satan can muster.

Satan’s plan is to bring us down. The rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of darkness intend to infect, incapacitate, and destroy us. We would never enter the operating room without a gown and be totally exposed. Nor should we enter a new day unarmored, unequipped, and totally exposed.

Put on God’s armor, and be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 

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Lions Tigers and Bears...Oh my!

I close my eyes, I’m five again, and Satan is there—as pleasant as the smell of ammonia.

The interest is appealing to a child, but just the smell itself can cause damage. His intentions are to smell the danger and plant a small seed of fear that will last a lifetime, eventually killing me. But he knew I was surrounded by a hedge of righteousness. So he tries to put tiny fears in my head—like spiders, monsters, and anything on the television that is not of God.

That’s how Satan begins his work in a child’s life. But Jesus came to give us authority over everything—even at a young age. Before Jesus, it was impossible to defeat the devil, but when He left His throne and came to earth, He gave everyone all authority over the devil. The key word is all. When we get the revelation that we have all authority over Satan, his tactics become obvious to our spirit and we can defeat anything he throws at us.

Teaching our children the Word at a young age is vital. Doing so helps them know they can trample on the enemy with the peace of mind that nothing will harm them.

Satan loves to fill our minds with fear, but we can beat the devil at his game. Show your children who they truly are. When they tell you a monster is under the bed, have them quote scripture so the devil will flee.

Let your children know they are kings and queens and more than conquerors though Christ Jesus.

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A Healthy Balance

The Ngäbe women loved pampering and listened attentively to God’s truth.

For several years, our church and local university maintained a partnership with missionaries to the Ngäbe people of Costa Rica and Panama. We helped with five church plants and made regular trips to provide training, lead Bible schools, construct or update church buildings, and perform other work requested by the missionaries and church leadership.

After learning the Costa Rican government required churches to have a working bathroom, a construction team became a top priority. As they planned and collected supplies, the wife of one team member felt called to offer a women’s conference.

Ngäbe women have a rough life, and she believed they needed spiritual nourishment along with some physical pampering. Her vision included haircuts, manicures, pedicures, a special meal, small gifts, and a foot washing service. She wanted them to feel Christ’s love through the team’s servant role. Her husband never discouraged her, but his attitude was, Sure, sure, you can have your little women’s conference while we’re doing the real work.

When the team began washing the ladies’ feet, everyone watched reverently, including children and construction workers. With an assembly-line style, the team washed, dried, and massaged the women’s calloused feet. They polished nails and distributed colorful flip flops. They loved the women with each drop of water poured from the pans and their eyes, with every gentle stroke of the cloth, with every application of lotion or polish, and with their prayerful smiles. No life felt God’s love more than those servant women on their knees and the men who watched with hammers in their hands.

Later, several Ngäbe women told the team, “No one has ever done anything like this for me.” Team members echoed that sentiment. Never had they experienced such an event.

And the husband who minimized the little women’s conference? He believes the conference was probably God’s primary plan for their trip. However, the entire team fulfilled their call, whether through construction, teaching, evangelism, or a long overdue day of respite.

Don’t minimize other’s methods because they differ from yours. God may be calling you to a new way of feeding your world. 

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Not Punished as We Deserve

Our two-year-old German Shepherd/Golden Retriever mix, Kirby, was a mess.

Kirby found a mud hole in the back yard, was covered in mud from muzzle to tail, and wanted in. Though she was filthy, she was my dog and I loved her. So I let her into the laundry room.

Our dog appeared repentant, and looked at me as if she hoped I'd be merciful instead of treating her as she deserved. I’m sure it was a momentary lapse of judgment. Besides, her frolic in the oozy mud probably brought pleasure on a hot summer day—until she saw me.

Although this scenario occurred years ago and Kirby has since died, I smile when I think about it. And I reflect. I've wallowed around in mud holes of my own, and you may have too. Those temporary lapses of reasoning when we forget who we are and whose we are. When we forget we belong to a holy God and are called to a life of righteousness.

Our mud romp seems enjoyable for the moment—until we face our owner. Then we realize we have messed up and are sorrowful. There is nothing we can do to clean up the mess, so we depend on the mercy and grace of a God who does not treat us as our sins deserve—a God who does not repay us for our iniquities…a God who casts our sins as far as the east is from the west.

We stand before a God who does not wait for us to get all the mud off before He will let us enter His presence. God takes out His garden hose and washes us clean through the power of the sacrificial blood of our risen Savior, Jesus Christ. By Christ’s wounds, we are healed, cleansed, and found not guilty.

The next time you come upon a tempting mud hole, quit lingering near the mess, and run as far away as possible.

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Growing Pains

In God’s eyes you are perfect.

An acorn has within it all of the properties necessary to become an oak tree. An acorn doesn’t look like an oak tree, but once planted in the ground, it will grow into one. You and I may not resemble perfection as defined by Webster’s Dictionary, but God sees us with a capital “P”—perfection through Christ Jesus.  

Each night when I lay my head down on the pillow, my mind replays a script of the day’s events. Thoughts conjure up a spectrum of emotions from joy to regret. My words and actions may not have aligned with my professed love for Jesus and others. Sometimes I was able to make a positive impact even when I wasn’t aware of it.

Christians are “being made holy.” Perfection is our status with God—compliments of Jesus. We didn’t do anything to earn or deserve it; it is a gift. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “It is finished!” Salvation and perfection are synonymous. “Being made holy” is a process.

In his letter to the Philippian church, Paul said, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13 NIV). Paul doesn’t say work for your salvation but “work out your salvation.”

In Christ, we have the necessary elements for holiness. The process of becoming holy is called sanctification. A process that will only be complete when we take our final breath on earth and experience our first breath in heaven.   

Don’t fight the growing pains on your way to holiness. 

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Too Lazy? - God's Grace Is Available

Today’s lifestyles don’t allow much time for quiet moments with God. When you’re not a morning person, it gets more challenging.

I set my alarm at 5:00 every morning, but I always push the snooze button until the alarm stops ringing. I’m still under the covers one hour later. My intentions to have a first morning encounter with my Lord and Savior are not enough.

Unless I purposefully set a time to be in God’s presence, I only manage to have a rushed three-minute good-night prayer—which is okay too. At least I’m having some time to connect with Him. But a three-minute prayer isn’t going to help me grow in my faith or make the impact God wants me to have. Call it spiritual lethargy, laziness, or just daily distractions, it is a struggle for me to wake up earlier so I can spend quality time with God.

To avoid being just a Sunday Christian and to have an intimate relationship with God require some things. I started by recognizing my weakness and coming to the throne of grace—realizing it’s not what I do but what God does in me. Through His unconditional love, I’m forgiven and restored. Internalizing this truth helped me understand that prayer is about quality time—not so much the quantity or format of my prayer time.

Who and what I surround myself with—people, music, books, devotionals—helps me get into the mindset or atmosphere that triggers the thirst to talk to my heavenly Father.

Let prayer be a lifestyle for you, not just another chore.

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A Personal Love

As children need to know they are loved individually by their parents, I needed to know Jesus loved me personally.

Parents can get so swallowed up by trying to make sure their children are loved that some of the children get lost in the shuffle. Fatigue and lack of time may be the cause, but so are bills and being short-sighted. It’s a wonderful thing to know Daddy loves the children but quite another thing to know Daddy loves me. That’s what I needed.

Many things have been lost by modern society—pensions and clean air, but other things have been gained—such as fathers being more involved with their children. The individuality of children has had a pendulum effect for several generations. We have swung from a society whose children were greeted with “children are to be seen and not heard” to a society that often overweights the immature opinions of children. But that’s the way it is with pendulums. They swing far in one direction before swinging far in the opposite direction. God’s children are often on a pendulum ride while trying to understand love.

Love is almost too much for me to fathom. Love, along with trust, is real and freely given, but its completion depends on subsequent attitudes and behavior, I thought. I also knew God’s love was eternal, and that we weren’t saved by good behavior or kept saved by the same.

But I was still hungry for verses that told me Jesus loved me. I found what I needed in John’s gospel. Jesus calls His sheep by name. And by Matthew’s words—which say God knows the number of hairs on my head—I found what my soul needed: God’s warm, concerned, and personal love. I sighed. Thank You Lord.

Find comfort and joy in the words of Jesus that He calls each of His sheep by name.

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Be an Ant

There has to be a plan. I’m one of those people who has to be ready.

I’ve always been someone who prepared way ahead of time for any project, whether it was a weekly meeting or an annual retreat. I would panic if I wasn’t ready beforehand. 

My grandfather was someone who influenced me greatly regarding preparation. He was always well-prepared. He taught Sunday school weekly until just before he died, putting a lot of time and effort into each lesson. He didn’t have prepared material like we do today. Each day he would sit in his big armchair with his Bible on one knee and a black spiral notebook on the other.  I saw him every afternoon handwriting in his notebook and searching the Scriptures. He didn’t wait until Saturday night to study his Sunday morning lesson but worked daily to ready himself for Sunday. And his process for the next week began again on Monday. 

God tells us to prepare ahead of time for His coming. He reminds us in Proverbs to take a lesson from the ants. All these little ants do is work, work, work. They prepare for the future by working all summer storing up food. When winter arrives, they have prepared ahead of time and are ready.

We should be wise and learn from ants. Prepare like them so we will be ready. We know God has a plan for us. A plan for us to prosper, a plan to give us a future and hope. We don’t know when He’s coming back; we just know He is. We should be ready by preparing ahead of time.  

Don’t wait, you lazybones. Get ready now. Be an ant.

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God's Agenda

As a toddler, my daughter delighted in the game of chase.

Giggling as she ran through the house, she would squeal when I caught her. Then I’d pick her up, swing her around, and kiss her. Each time I set her down, she beamed and said, “Do it again.” No matter how many times I chased her through the house and lifted her in the air, she begged me to do it again. Eventually, I had to fulfill other responsibilities.

The game of chase with my daughter helped me understand why Jesus told his disciples, “Let’s go somewhere else.” After Jesus healed many in a large crowd one evening, more people searched for Him to do it again the next day. Through prayer, the Father led Him to continue His mission in other parts of Galilee.

According to God’s agenda, it was time for Jesus to preach and heal in the nearby villages. Constrained by His humanity, Jesus could only be in one place at a time. The Word made flesh required a break from the endless demands of ministry to pray, sleep, and travel. In the limited time before His death and resurrection, the Son needed to follow the Father’s agenda.

Like Jesus, we face an endless stream of pleas for help. You and I can’t give our time and money to every worthy cause clamoring for our attention. But we can ask the Lord for wisdom. God will show us which needs to meet and when and how long we should tend to those tasks.

Let God’s Spirit tell you when to do a task again and when to move on.

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Picking Teams

I was not the most coordinated or athletic child in the class during elementary school.

During physical education class, the teacher would assign two children to be team captains and they would choose other children for their teams. I dreaded these moments. It seemed I was always one of the last to be chosen—an experience that left me feeling rejected and inadequate.

On Judgment Day, Jesus will choose some to be on His right, the most honored place. Others will be placed on His left where they will be dishonored. When we choose to be followers of Christ, we develop a desire to follow His example in how we treat others. Jesus honors our good deeds and chooses us for His team on Judgment Day. He sets us apart from others and honors us for loving and obeying Him.

I may not have been picked first for teams in school, but Jesus will pick me to be at His right hand, separated into the group of those He loves. I can’t think of another team I would rather be a part of.

Make sure you’re one of the ones Christ will pick for His team. Accept the promise of eternal life now. 

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God's Perfect Timing

I was the sole believer in my immediate family for almost thirty years.

Since 1987 when I committed my life to Jesus Christ, it has been a lonely—and sometimes discouraging—journey. My family did not understand my newfound faith. I was accused of being “brainwashed” and called a “fanatic.” My Dad even threatened to kick me out of the house if I left the mainline denomination of my raising.

But my fervor for my Savior never waned. I persevered alone, enduring insults and mockery. And my dad eventually disinherited me, not wanting to face the possibility of his money going to “that church.”

I longed for one of them to commit their life to Christ and join me on this wonderful journey. At times, it seemed like it might happen. One of them would go through a really tough time, reach a low point in life, or even hit rock bottom. I would think, This is it. Surely they’ll see their need for You now, Lord. But they didn’t. As the years passed, I began to lose hope and didn’t pray for their salvation as often as I should have.

Then a miraculous thing happened. After a devastating event that left my younger brother thoroughly humbled and humiliated, he surrendered his life to Jesus. He had finally seen his need to be saved. And the Lord graciously allowed me to play a part in his conversion by answering all his heart-searching questions and comforting him during that terrible time. It was a long year of painful consequences for him, but also a year of tremendous spiritual awakening and growth. He followed his decision by getting baptized on Easter morning.

I am overwhelmed by this amazing gift from God. My baby brother, at the age of forty-seven, is now my forever sibling. I’ve learned God is sovereign, even in the timing of a person’s salvation. We cannot rush it. Psalm 18:30a says, “His way is perfect.”

If you’re waiting for the salvation of a loved one, don’t lose faith. Trust God’s perfect way and timing. 

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Double Happiness

A mission trip to Hong Kong with two Chinese friends whet my appetite for Chinese culture, cuisine, and language.

Our family reaches out to international students from our local university. Some stay with us when the dorms close. Others visit to experience everyday life in an American home, prepare and compare recipes, practice English, and decorate for and learn about our holidays. A few have become an informal part of our family and maintain contact after they leave. The majority of those students speak Chinese as their first language.

In spite of all this exposure, my mastery of the Chinese language is lacking. One symbol I do recognize translates as “double happiness.” Frequently associated with wishes for newlyweds because of the combining of two lives and two families, the two symbols for happiness become one.

Although not a part of the original meaning, that symbol reminds me of the difference in happiness and joy. Because happiness depends on our circumstances, it comes and goes. If I’m having a good day, I’m happy. If everything’s going wrong, I’m not. Genuine joy remains with us regardless of our situation.

I want more than a good feeling when life goes well. I desire something lasting—something that will see me through the inevitable tragedies and struggles of life. But I often find myself rushing around in a dozen directions, trying to get everything done. Almost like a toddler saying, “By myself,” I fail to slow down long enough to ask God what He wants to do through me. I trade the joy only God can give for a few moments of personal control, followed by frustration and fatigue. 

My head and heart tell me to follow God—to unite my life with and experience the double happiness made possible through Jesus. Granting God total control remains the one perfect way to fully understand the possibilities of endless joy.

Choose “double happiness” by releasing every part of your life to Jesus.

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Going Home

“I’ve got a mansion, just over the hilltop,” we sang with cracked voices and tear-filled eyes. 

Nancy lay almost motionless in her bed, surrounded by those she loved. We knew her time with us would not be long; we just didn’t know how long. Believing Nancy could hear us, we sang to her about heaven—the home she longed for.

After Nancy’s diagnosis of terminal cancer, she decided against chemotherapy. She realized her decision shortened the time she had left with her family and friends. Rather than spending her remaining days undergoing treatment, she insisted on living life normally. She vowed to be an example to all she met and confessed she looked forward to heaven where she would reunite with her daughter, Cindy, who had died earlier. Nancy was excited that she had received her “ticket home."

In spite of her prognosis, Nancy’s attitude amazed us. Her smile radiated warmth. She laughed and lived each day to the fullest and was determined to get the most of her time left on earth.

Nancy’s daughter Toni cherished each minute spent with her mother and drew encouragement from her unwavering attitude—a blessing Nancy passed on to her.

Now, here we sat at Nancy’s bedside giving back to her a smidgen of what she had given us. Singing of heaven was a gift we could give. Nancy was ready. Jesus was calling. It was time for her to go home.

In Psalms 139:16, we are told, “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Our time is limited. Don’t wait for news your life’s end is near to decide how you will spend your remaining days. 

Be a living example of God’s love now.   

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My Mother's Call

I always knew when my mom was calling for the last time. 

“Ben, come home,” my mother would call. Sometimes she would call again, “Ben, come home. It’s time to eat.” I wanted to keep playing, but I knew there would be consequences if I didn’t pick up my things and head home.

As a little boy, I played in an open field with my friend. We dug holes in the dirt with our toy trucks, built hills, and pushed dirt around to make roads that went everywhere. It was fun to pretend we were building cities and other important things.

When I arrived at the door, my mother would meet me, brush me off, and tell me to put away my toys and wash up. Putting away my toys was easy, but washing up for a little boy was never fun. My mother expected me to come to the table clean. Looking back, I realize this was her way of showing love and care for me—though it seemed unnecessary at the time.

At the table, I never knew what I would have to eat, but I knew it would be good. Even if it wasn’t, my mother had a special way to make the bad seem good. Now that I’m older and my children are grown and my mother is with the Lord, I can remember how her call was like the Lord’s call—personal and at the right time. Knowing our needs, the Lord, like my mother, has something good prepared for us.

When my mother called it was clear what she wanted. The Lord’s call is clear as we read His word, listen to our Christian friends, and obey the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit living within us.

We don’t always like to leave what we are doing at the time—and yes the Lord requires us to be clean, and there are consequences when we disobey—but what enjoyment awaits at His table when we come home. 

When you hear the Lord calling, go quickly.

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Roller Coaster Rides: Not Always Fun

My grandson was all smiles. “Guess what? This year I can ride the roller coaster. I’m finally tall enough. I can’t wait!”

Excitement for riding roller coasters at amusement parks is one thing. Roller coasters in life-changing events don’t carry the same enthusiasm.

Like any mother, Jochebed looked at her baby and thought he was the most beautiful baby she had ever set eyes on. But her joy was marred by Pharaoh’s decree to kill all male Jewish babies. Her plan to save him involved placing him in a basket in the Nile. As the basket floated, Moses’ sister hid and watched. Then Pharaoh’s daughter went down to the Nile to bathe…She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her female slave to get it. She opened it and saw the baby. He was crying, and she felt sorry for him. “This is one of the Hebrew babies,” she said. Then his sister asked Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get one of the Hebrew women to nurse the baby for you?” “Yes, go,” she answered. So the girl went and got the baby’s mother. Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this baby and nurse him for me, and I will pay you (Exodus 2:5-9).

Jocebed’s loss turned to gain as she cared for her son until he was older, and then she took him to Pharaoh’s daughter and he became her son. Jochebed rode a roller coaster of emotions and decisions: exhilaration, joy, resolution, release, caring, and letting go again.

Our days include celebrations, disappointments, and sometimes irreversible life experiences such as job loss, rejection, financial reversal, death of a loved one, or inability to have children.

Jochebed’s example shows us we can trust God in the highs of a roller coaster ride and in the downhill fall. As an adult, her son became the leader of the Jews and led them out of Egypt. God knows what He’s doing. We might even find we grow taller.

When life puts you on a roller coaster ride that’s not fun, trust God for the best. 

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The Destruction of Our Princes

In the last two generations, many major pop icons have self-destructed. 

Three of our most popular cultural symbols—Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Prince have perished through self-inflicted means. All three had talent and charisma that invoked unprecedented adulation. Due to their entertainment genius, they developed cult-like followings—though it may have never been their intent.

Idolatry happens when legitimate things become ultimate things. Recognizing and enjoying great talent is acceptable, but when those gifts become the driving force in our life, they become our god. When we deify a person, we never do them a favor. We put them in a role in which they can never succeed. 

God is the only One who is worthy of our veneration and capable of receiving it without negative consequences. He wants our reverence, but He doesn’t need it because He is self-sufficient.

Unlike God, humans are self-centered and needy. The more adoration we receive, the more we desire it to feel complete. This places public figures on an unsustainable treadmill with no end in sight. History records that our brightest stars have self-medicated to dull the pain of their existence.

Our culture worships the creature rather than the Creator—a dilemma that exists in the sacred as well at the secular world. The solution is simple, though not always easy. We must worship the one true God.

Worshiping God can save you from the disappointment of worshiping a false god and the destruction of trying to be one.

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Small Things

Memorial Day was one week away, and I needed red-striped petunias.

Mat, our son, died while serving in the Army. Since he loved red-striped petunias, I hunted for them at several garden centers. I wanted to honor him and my daughter-in-law—who yearned for him to have striped petunias, by decorating his grave with his favorite flowers. Defeated, I bought a petunia blotched with maroon, hoping it would satisfy everyone.

A quick errand to buy baling twine so we could make hay sent me to town. I rumbled down back roads, reveling in the spring flowers, the corn sprouting, and the overall beauty of the farming landscape. Zipping by a family-run greenhouse, I felt God nudge me to turn around and go to the greenhouse.

Though I was in a hurry to get twine, I obeyed and rolled into the graveled parking space. Inside, signs pointed customers to various flowers and plants. Humid air filled my lungs as I wandered along aisles decorated with flats of marigolds and blue lobelia. A riot of colored petunias smothered one table, and at the far end was what I searched for. I sent a photo to my daughter-in-law who was ecstatic. Thanking God, I filled a flat with petunias and added in a few heirloom tomato plants. That evening, I planted red-stripes in a large pot and placed it by Mat’s gravestone.

Finding the petunias reminded me that Jesus is Lord over the smallest details of our lives—even when I need to find red-striped petunias to honor a fallen soldier and satisfy a young widow’s heart.

Let God control the smallest details of your life. 

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What Big Eyes You Have!

This is for you. The teen girl who feels invisible. The mom surrounded by loneliness. The woman who wonders if anyone cares. The man struggling with meaning. Those touched by hopelessness. Souls caught in the pit of despair. The lost who don’t believe they can be found. To everyone who questions God’s existence or love.

Little Red Riding Hood’s wolf in disguise possessed big eyes. “The better to see you with,” he said. But his eyes don’t compare to the Lord’s eyes which are vast, keen, and aware.

A story of the God who sees is found in Genesis 16. Childless, Sarai devises a plan for her servant Hagar to conceive her husband’s child. Hagar obliges, but Sarai regrets her scheme and deals harshly with Hagar. Hagar flees the scene. Alone in the wilderness, she encounters an angel of the Lord who tells her she will bear a son, her offspring will be multiplied, and she is to return and submit to her mistress. She calls the name of the Lord who appeared to her the God of seeing.

God’s vision is omnipresent. To and fro references a constant movement—backward and forward, side to side. There’s no place to escape His sight. He found Hagar in her wilderness and finds us in ours.

God’s eyes are on a mission to support us. He undergirds us in all of life’s plans, schemes, and ordeals. Our support is from the eyes and heart of the Almighty. Especially in those instances when we flee the scene because the ordeal is too much to handle.

God cares for us and wants our hearts to be completely His. He wants to devise our life’s plans. He desires that we submit to His will, expect Him to be visible in our lonely places, give Him authority to reign supreme, and find our hope in Christ alone.

You’re not invisible or alone. Your life has meaning. Find your hope in God. He has big eyes.

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Keeping the Vessel Clean

Keeping silver clean is no easy job.

As one-time antique dealers—and recipients of my mother’s silver—my wife and I know a little about silver. One, it’s valuable, and two, it’s difficult to keep clean. Before my mother gave us her silver flatware, she sat for hours shining each piece until she could see her reflection. She then separated the various utensils and placed them in a plastic bag where air could not touch them. We have kept them in the same zip lock bags. We know if we expose the set to air, we’ll soon have to repeat what she did before she gave them to us.

We’ve also owned silver tea sets which we displayed on antique buffets. When shined, they made an attractive addition to our antique furniture. But after a short period of time, tarnish crept over each piece. We either had to polish them and put them away or leave them out and shine them every few months. Leaving them out and tarnished wasn’t a choice. Doing so ruined the looks of our décor.

Being used by God requires purity. Exposing silver to air means it will turn and eventually require cleaning. Living in the world exposes me to sin whether I want it to or not. Even monks and nuns who withdraw from normal life still face sin’s inner pull. Cleaning silver can be challenging. So can keeping myself pure.

Keeping myself pure is made easier by realizing I have an inner power that guarantees success—God’s resident Spirit. Holiness is not something I can accomplish on my own but is possible when I allow God to accomplish it in me.

Just as silver exposed to air requires regular cleaning, so does maintaining holiness. If I neglect tending to holy living, the tarnish of sin will take over. But if I spend time in spiritual disciplines and put obeying God’s commands at the top of my list, my vessel will remain pure.

Do whatever it takes to keep your vessel clean.

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Chaff

Allergies and asthma are annoying and can even threaten your life. I passed those traits to my grandson, Austin.

One day while Austin was outside playing, a nearby farmer started harvesting his wheat. The chaff cloud from the wheat blew across the field and set off Austin’s allergies and asthma. By the time he went into the house, he could barely breathe. Immediately his mom took him to the emergency room.

Chaff is debris from wheat kernels. It is useless and in this case almost cost Austin his life. God warns us not to absorb chaff from this life because debris is not healthy. It clutters, clings, and keeps us from living the life God intends. Chaff in the form of drugs and alcohol can be life-threatening. Chaff can destroy and mar until we can no longer function.

My Sunday school class once discussed how wrong desires impact us. I realized the chaff that fills our lives is like the chaff that filled Austin’s lungs. Only if we cling to God and allow Him to remove chaff and debris, can we live fully and completely. God’s Spirit lifts us from our ungodly desires and temptations and allows us to live and breathe freely.

I want to remove the chaff and allow God’s soul-changing food to enter. He has the true blueprint to help me live fully. If I search His Word and seek Him diligently and listen, I can embrace the precious food that offers life.

Seek the Lord’s ways, and destroy the useless chaff in your life.

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Bragging Rights

Giving people the right reason to be proud of us is important.

A weight lifter friend of mine used to say, “Short term pain leads to long term gain.”  The Bible speaks about the fruits of the Spirit and the gifts of the Spirit. Paul was answering those who were bragging about external appearances rather than a changed heart.

Gifts are bestowed but fruits are grown. The fruits of the Spirit—such as love, joy, and peace, are often cultivated in the soil of trials and tribulations. The gifts of God can come quickly, but the fruits of His Spirit are developed over time. The Corinthians Paul confronted were guilty of dwelling on the spectacular aspects of ministry and missing the godly character traits exhibited by Paul and his followers. The things we sometimes prize are nothing more than wood, hay, and stubble that are easily consumed when the fiery trials appear.

Jesus said, But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven (Luke 10:20 NLT). We should be excited that we are a child of the King and are being conformed to His image.

Don’t brag about what you can do for Christ but rather on who you are in Him.

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God's Providence

Sometimes life is difficult. A death occurs, health issues arise, a child goes astray, or the job ends.

When life gets difficult, our minds get busy trying to process it all. When faced with trials, imagining any good coming from them is hard. All the while, God’s providence is at work bringing about His will for our lives and His glory. 

Joseph, the son of Jacob, is a good example of God bringing good out of bad circumstances. He was thrown into a pit by his jealous brothers, sold into Egyptian slavery, falsely accused of rape, and imprisoned. Through it all, God was with him. Joseph rose to prominence as the highest official under Pharaoh, the ruler of Egypt. During Egypt’s seven-year famine, he was responsible for saving many lives, including his brothers. He forgave them, and the family reunited and settled in Egypt. Joseph understood that what his brothers intended for harm, God intended for good.

Our Heavenly Father governs the world—upholding heaven and earth by His power, yet a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice. Our lives are not left to the whims of chance. We are created by a God who knows the number of hairs on our head. As Christians, we can be confident Jesus will be with us through every trial we face. 

If you are facing trials, remember God is in control and can bring good out of your circumstances. Jesus promises to be with you through every trial you face. 

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Game Changer

With just five minutes to go, the game was essentially over.

During an NFL game in 2003, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had just scored again, giving them an unsurmountable 35-14 lead over the Indianapolis Colts. Tony Dungy, the Colt’s head coach, was considering pulling his starters to save them from injury. But what happened next became the turning point in what many call the greatest comeback in NFL history.

Brad Pyatt returned the kick-off to the Tampa Bay 12-yard line. With such great field position, the starters returned to the field and quickly scored. The Colt’s defense, now infused with courage, stiffened. The Bucs could not make a first down and were forced to punt. The Colts quickly scored again, making the score 35-28 with minutes left.

The home crowd became deathly silent as the Colts recovered an onside kick and scored another touchdown, tying the game and sending the contest into “Sudden Death” overtime. The Colts completed an improbable comeback by kicking a field goal which bounced off the goal post and went through, beating the Buccaneer’s 38-35.

Pyatt’s kickoff return was a sports game changer. God changes the game for people. He is our exceeding great reward and the answer to our hopes and dreams. What if, like Asaph in Psalm 73:28, we said, “But as for me, the nearness of God is my good.”

Imagine the impact if we believed God Himself was our highest good and enjoying His nearness was the aim of every moment. God would replace checking through our to-do lists, accumulating possessions, and fighting for smooth circumstances. Like Mary, we could focus on one thing and trust the Lord to care for our needs.

Drop whatever is consuming your focus into God’s hands and trust Him with it. His nearness is your good. Embrace Him, not your problem.

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When We Draw Near

The solution to my dilemma was simple. All I had to do was slow down and get closer to know for certain.

On my way to church one Sunday morning, I saw a fawn poised in front of a tree line on private-owned property. Since I was far away and driving on a highway, it was difficult to know whether it was real or fake.  Many deer inhabit the area, but sometimes people use look-a-likes as yard ornaments.

My only personal experience with a fawn was early one morning in my neighborhood. Taking my dog for a walk, I spied a fawn on the shoulder of the road a few feet away from my footpath. Laying in the ditch, it didn't run as a mature deer would have but continued to rest with no fear. Large brown eyes blinked as it observed me, and the white spots on its tawny coat moved gently as it breathed. This time I was close enough to remove all guesswork about the fawn being real.      

In our perception of God, sometimes we're not sure if we can believe or trust Him. We wonder if He's authentic or just another phony. But if we get close to Him, we can know for sure. 

The best part is that God invites us to come near. He's not an impersonal god who doesn't care about His creation. He didn't make us to do life all by ourselves but longs for relationship and desires to partner with us so we can live our best lives. Knowing we need His help, He has given us the Bible for instruction so we can be close to His heart on a regular basis.

Draw close to God so you can know He is real.  

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Count It All Joy

A person’s value is not rooted in surroundings or in the sum of people’s opinions. 

Everyone goes through seasons of hardship and frustration—situations that didn’t reflect our worth or merit in life. In those moments we have to remember to find joy in the middle of desperate situations. 

Joseph was thrown into a hole by his brothers, sold into slavery, and falsely imprisoned. He could had given up in despair, but he found joy in his trial. Everything he touched, the Lord blessed. He received favor as a slave and favor as a prisoner. He was promoted from prison to second in command to the Pharaoh of Egypt. His story demonstrates God’s love for a person who was discarded by their environment.

But Joseph had to choose to work in those hard places for the Lord to bless him. We sometimes get discouraged by what’s ahead of us. We think our value is linked to our surroundings. Joseph was worth more than the prison he sat in for many years, but he had to find joy in his situation.

We cannot be moved by the small or insignificant things in life. Every oak tree started as a single seed, every skyscraper as an idea on paper, and every harvest in the fields as an empty field full of seeds.

I’ve struggled with feeling insignificant because of my surroundings. I thought I had to be surrounded by thousands to validate my ministry and calling. But I discovered joy in the small and encouragement in the obscure. My worth is not wrapped in my surroundings but in the One who gave His life for me. 

Joy can be found and great achievements made in any situation by identifying your source of joy in the midst of the trial and then putting your hand to doing good.

Discover your value in the unshakable love of the Lord and in His grace toward you.

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Open and Shut Doors

Sometimes it’s difficult to wait for God to unlock doors He has closed.

Although I believe Jesus will open the doors He wants me to walk through in His perfect timing, I don’t enjoy waiting.  

In the book of Revelation, the letter to the church in Philadelphia was one of encouragement. Jesus told them He was the one who could open what no one could shut and shut what no one could open. He knew the Philadelphians weren’t strong. Because of that, He protected them by keeping the doors shut they should avoid and opening the doors they should walk through.

When we do everything in our power but doors won't budge, we can be encouraged as the church in Philadelphia was. Jesus knows us inside out. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. Closed doors can be His way of telling us we aren't strong enough to walk through them.

Trusting that Jesus is sovereign over all things helps us deal with the disappointment of closed doors. But I often wish He’d put a big check mark on the doors He intends to open and a big X on the ones He wants to remain shut. Then I could be certain which doors He wants me to keep pounding on and which doors I should turn and walk away from.

Learn to trust God whether He shuts doors or opens them.  

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An App for That

“There’s an app for that” has never been a truer statement than now.

Recently, my daughter showed me a phone app that allows you to correct photos. If you look a little too chunky in your picture, you can gently chisel your cheeks to give a slimmer appearance. Have under eye circles? Just wave the correcting wand in that area and poof ... no more circles. Freckles on your face that you detest? Get rid of them with a touch of a button. Want different colored eyes or a prettier nose? You can change those too. Any imperfection you dislike can be eliminated by the features on your phone or computer. 

After playing around with this app with my daughter, I pondered, Wouldn’t it be nice if there was an app for your heart? This app would take care of all those unwanted heart issues. Anger, greed, distrust, or any hidden sin. 

But I don’t need an app to handle my heart impurities. As a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, I am assured He has already paid the debt for my sins by His blood shed on the cross. God completely wipes away our imperfections if we repent and turn to Him. Forgiveness that leads to refreshment of our hearts and deep cleansing can be ours. No app needed. All we must do is ask. Once we receive forgiveness, we must cling to God so He can continue to help us overcome our sin.

So for now, there’s not a magic app for matters of the heart. But I’m so thankful God loves me enough to take care of my heart like no other can. As I learn the process of confessing my sin and leaning on Him, my heart is growing as I never imagined.

Rather than turning to other things, turn to God for matters of the heart.

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Look Back for a Bounce Back

It’s okay to walk away from something that hurts you.

Sometimes, no matter how hard we wish the circumstances of life were different, they never change–and never will.

Those are the times when the best thing to do is turn the radio up and sing along with country/western singer Jo Dee Messina as she sings “Bye-Bye.” On the other hand, you may only want to turn the rearview mirror sideways for a while. You can keep it that way long enough to take the action necessary to stop the cycle of pain, give your heart time to heal, and regain your strength. But not so long that you lose sight of the fact that nearly every successful bounce back includes a realistic look back. The trick is to keep the lesson and let go of the pain.

I will never forget the brutal pain of betrayal and crushing rejection I felt the night my former husband agreed with his lover that I needed to leave–and quickly. I literally found myself out in the snow with two small children and nowhere to go.

In my heartache, I drew closer to God, and He was faithful to comfort, protect, and sustain me. But once I was back on my feet, I was off and running again on “Penny Power” with little thought of looking back, learning from the past, or applying those valuable lessons in my life.

For a while I did all right. That was before my son was about to enter kindergarten and the weight of single parenthood and an uncertain future brought me to my knees again.

This time I stayed close to God long enough for Him to show me how He never wastes our pain. His grace flows through every circumstance of our lives. I’m sure because I have seen it in my life and in the lives of others.

If you have ever dealt with the pain of rejection, abuse, or disappointment, you know how difficult it can be to let go of the pain and move beyond it. Pain, however, does not get the final say so. God does. Without picking at the scabs or replaying the DVD in HD over and over again, you can look back, review the past, and discover the positive.

God can continue to use your pain for good in your life and the lives of others.

(Devotion used by permission of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas.)

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Write the Vision

“You got the job!”

These are the words I had been praying for three years about a job I hoped to get. Before I got the position, I wrote the company’s name on my vision wall and posted it in my kitchen so I could thank God every day. I’d sent resume after resume, and when it didn’t look like I was going to get a phone call, I still thanked Him for the job. Two weeks ago, I received a call from a friend who works for this company. She referred me, and two days later I got the job.

Habakkuk encourages us to write our visions on paper. God wants us to have clear objectives. He wants us to pursue our goals with a clear vision and never lose track of what we’re hoping for. The second part of the verse says “So that the herald may run with it”—meaning that whoever reads it won’t forget.

Everytime I had a bad day or it looked like my goal was moving further away, I would say, “Lord I thank You for my job at this company.” Doing this gave me hope and built my faith. This was my opportunity to strengthen my faith muscles and learn to trust God through my trials.

When it looks like the vision isn’t coming to pass, fortify your faith muscles. Thank God every day for the vision, and watch how He teaches you while you wait. If it’s in His will, the vision will materialize, and you too will have an amazing testimony to help someone.

Write down your vision and post it—along with this Scripture from Habakkuk—where you’ll see it daily.

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Our Reputation

“Thunk. Thunk.” The dull blows of the axe made little impact on the four by fours holding the sign we so proudly erected several years ago.

Now the sign mocked me: Center for Pregnancy Care. I had to get rid of it. I was humiliated, broken, defeated. My daughter, a twenty-two-year-old graduate student, was pregnant.

I wiped sweat and tears from my face. I brought her up in the way she should go, Lord. I dedicated her to you, prayed for a godly husband, and taught her that sex is a sacred act between a man and wife. Don’t you care, God? What about your name? This is your reputation at stake here. Pushing the sign over, I let it lay on the grassy front yard.

Papa God gathered me in His arms and assured me He wasn’t worried about His reputation—and I shouldn’t be either. God is concerned about our perfection—shaping us, molding us, crushing down the clay, and putting us back on the wheel. The Potter is more interested in creating a vessel fit for His purposes than He is in His own good name.

Perhaps when we worry about God’s reputation, we are more concerned about our own. God will burn our pride in the fires of His holiness. It is hard to look into our deceitfully wicked hearts and realize God chastens those He loves.

You may not understand your trials and even feel they are unfair and incomprehensible challenges. God won’t whisk you through the challenges of life, but He will walk by your side as your comforter and guide.

Accept God’s plan and His purpose for you and your children. 

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Too Many Words

Sometimes, when I think I’ve said a lot, I realize I’ve said very little.

The assignment was simple. Students were to write a short paper detailing three things they felt strongly about. When all were finished, I collected the papers and redistributed them to their peers to check for grammatical errors, redundancy, and wordiness. 

One young lady approached my desk. “Doesn’t this sentence say the same as the previous one,” she asked.

“It does,” I replied.

A short time later, she returned again, “Doesn’t this sentence say the same thing too?”

“Yes, it does,” I said again.

With a confused look and a sigh, she whispered, “But that only leaves one sentence in the entire paragraph.”

I shook my head and smiled, then called the class to attention, “Class, life lesson. Sometimes, when we think we have a lot to say, we have very little.” The student—whose paper was in question—laughed, but I was convicted.

Many are the warnings God gives throughout the Bible with outright instruction or example about the potency of our words. Taking into consideration those warnings—and noticing that I have two ears but only one mouth—I’ve concluded it’s better to listen more than I talk. I’ll learn more, stay out of trouble, and develop healthier relationships.

The classroom exercise also reminded me of how crucial it is to choose carefully the words I write or speak. Since wordiness and redundancy are rife, I need to make sure the words I give out are worth listening to. Saying the most in the fewest words is challenging and requires forethought, but is possible.

Since people’s attention spans are growing increasingly shorter, speaking or writing with as few words as possible is wise. Otherwise, I’ll lose those tp whom I think I have something to say.

Words also reflect my character—the person I really am on the inside. I have a sneaky suspicion the young student was attempting to take a shortcut. Since I require a minimum of five sentences in a paragraph, he was shooting for the goal rather than truly thinking about what he felt strongly about. His attempt was foiled by a student with a watchful eye.

Make sure the words you deliver are worth listening to.  

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Being Remade

God said He did not want to restore me to the way I was before; He wanted to make me into something better.

I had always thought when God re-created you into another vessel, it was because there was something wrong with the vessel you were. However, I came to the place in my life where I knew something was wrong, but I did not know why. As far as I knew, I had not disobeyed God or sinned. I prayed, “Restore to me the joy of my salvation.”  

God took me to Jeremiah 18 and showed me how the clay was marred in His hands. He told me I had been a tea cup. I was a good tea cup, and many times I had even overflowed onto brother saucer, but now God wanted to make me into a pitcher. He wanted to pick me up at any given time and use me to pour into other vessels.

God warned that the transformation would hurt. Things would have to be cut out of me before He could make me into a pitcher. God reminded me He was the good potter that would comfort me along the way. He would even walk with me into the fire when it was time, but He wanted me to be willing.

I knew God would not cut out one thing from me without my permission. In Jeremiah 18:6, God asked, “Cannot I do with you as this potter?” God asks the same question today.

Letting God cut things out of our lives and remold us isn’t easy, but it is rewarding. If we choose not to let God remold us, we can end up on the shelf. God doesn’t design us for the shelf, but there are times when we cannot go back or stay the same. We must be remade.

How will you respond if God asks “Cannot I do with you as this potter?” Let God make you into another vessel.

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Resurrection Christians

Easter baskets full of candy, going to church, eating with family. What, after all, is the big deal about Easter?

God came to earth born as a man and then spent three intense years of ministry. While here, Jesus trained a team of twelve men to carry on His work after He left. He taught us how to live in godly righteousness and promised eternal life. Amazingly, folks wrote down His words, and the Bible now serves as a love letter from God given through Jesus. 

But we seem to know better. We often don’t want a spiritual king who doesn’t speak of wealth and luscious desires of the flesh like our human kings do. A king like this gets in the way. So we cry, “Get rid of Him,” “Stone Him,” “Whip Him,” “Nail Him to a cross,” or “Humiliate Him.” When He responds, “It is finished,” we think He is off His rocker. Especially at the end when He asks God to forgive those crucifying Him.

Then hysterical women say Jesus’ tomb is empty, and we wonder where the body of Him who called himself the King of the Jews is? The body of that lunatic who said He was God. And then we hear of Him reappearing to the faithful with promises of life everlasting.

But it is true, and that’s the big deal about Easter. God loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son so that when we believe in Him we will have eternal life with Him (John 3:16). Jesus’ agonizing death on the cross drew the line in the sand, wiping clean the blood-red sins of those who believe in Him and making them lily white.

Because of Easter, when we look in the mirror, we can see a new being washed by Jesus’ blood, loved as His child, and filled with the joy only He can bring.

Forget about the bunny! Pick up your Bible and go forth as a mighty resurrection Christian.

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I Am the Resurrection

Easter Sundays can be filled with pressure and anxiety.

My family and I were pastoring a church in Illinois, but we left to celebrate Easter alone. The morning began with an early service followed by a mid-morning service. People filtered in, dressed in their Easter best. Sounds of conversation filled the church, and, later, excitement twinkled in the people’s eyes as they rushed to get their Easter lunches. 

My family and I gathered our belongings from the sanctuary as the excitement began to lose its momentum. My wife used this quiet moment to whisper her pride in my performance. Her encouragement was a great end to the service. 

Loneliness caused me to question the move to a church so far from family and friends. We entered into our house, which was filled with silence, as others were still consumed by the conversation of the day. We had previously celebrated Easter with family and friends as they were.

As I began to unwind, my mind contemplated my sacrifice for this day. My whole life was based on this day. If Jesus never rose from the grave, my life and sacrifices were empty expressions.

Easter is a celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. We enter into the Lord’s house to join others in this celebration. Jesus was declaring that He would not only have a resurrection but that He was the Resurrection. The Father in heaven had already embedded in Him the power to overcome.

We have the same power in our lives to overcome—the ability to rise above the problems of our lives and find His strength.  Christ died for our sins and rose from death for our empowerment.

As my family celebrated our first Easter alone, I was encouraged when I realized the strength to leave family and friends to teach this gospel was already embedded in my soul. I was walking in God’s power and had conquered my fears. 

The same power that raised Jesus from the grave is in you today. Find His strength because He is calling you to do something great! 

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Complex in Mind, Body, and Spirit

People struggle all their lives with self-image, looks, and acceptance.

Advertising perpetuates the myth of beauty and style as models of perfection and the way to popularity and success. As a teacher, I see “fitting in” as students’ number one priority. Those who feel they lack the prerequisites retreat into cocoons of their own making. Their need to blend in and not be different is like camouflage, making them invisible.

God didn’t intend for people created in His image and after His likeness to face this struggle. God is many-faceted, and we are perfected through Him. Our struggle should be to become the people He created us to be while experiencing the fullness of His love. Then we can confront the world, equipped to be a witness of His mighty works.

To illustrate this point to students, I brought rocks of all shapes, variations, and composites to class. “Like these two malachites, each rock is different, even from those of its own kind,” I said. The difference is what makes them interesting and beautiful in their own way. All rocks are God-made, unique, and one of a kind.

Placing a brick on the desk, I continued, “This brick is man-made. Its uniformity makes it easier to fit in a wall and look like the others.” When we sacrifice our values and beliefs to help others chisel away our uniqueness, we become like the brick. Bricks are useful, but they are rarely appreciated and, over time, become boring.

Each of us is beautiful in God’s eyes. Remember you are a reflection of just one of the many facets of God’s image.

Prayer: Father, help us emerge from our cocoons as individuals—different and unique. Make us sensitive to the fragility of those around us who struggle. Help us grow in wisdom and discernment, so we might be effective witnesses of Your awesome love. Amen.

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Enduring Life's Thorns

I hadn’t garnered enough backpacking experience, so my first long haul involved a serious mistake.

Hiking and backpacking had become a love I pursued monthly. But I wanted more. My daughter would soon be out of school for spring break. What better way to spend the week than hiking a remote section of the Foothills Trail which meanders along the South Carolina/North Carolina border.

My mistake was wearing a new pair of boots. Halfway through our first day of hiking, a burning sensation grabbed at the side of my heel. We stopped at the first cool stream of water so I could investigate. The culprit was a large blister. I cleansed the area, applied antibiotic cream, covered it with a bandage, and moved on. This thorn on my foot required daily care for the remainder of the hike. 

Paul was a great apostle, but he had a thorn. Theologians conjecture what it was, but Paul leaves the answer as a mystery. What it was isn’t as important as how he responded to it. His actions are noteworthy when dealing with our own thorns.

Paul identified his thorn—not to us, but to himself. I knew what mine was as well. Soldiers in battle must identify the enemy before they can fight him.

Though it’s not recorded in Scripture, it’s feasible to imagine that Paul asked God why he had the thorn. Asking God a question and questioning God are different. The first is permissible; the second questionable. God may choose to reveal why—or He may keep it a secret. I knew why I had the blister.

Paul asked God to remove the thorn. I would have loved for God to miraculously heal my blister, but I doubted that would happen until I took the boots off. God didn’t take Paul’s thorn away either. Paul’s thorn had a purpose; my blister did as well.

When God refused to remove Paul’s thorn, Paul made peace with his thorn. I did with my blister. I doctored it daily because I knew the risk of infection. Paul was obviously tempted to have a prideful spirit—since he concluded God gave the thorn to keep him humble.

God has a purpose when assigning thorns. If and when you get yours, rather than complaining, ask God what He’s attempting to teach you. 

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Cloud

While driving through the mountains, I approached a cloud that hovered low over the highway. I was forced to slow down because I could barely see a few feet ahead. The road was curvy and I moved carefully, not knowing how long it would take me to get through the fog. It was all I could do to keep driving, but before long I was through the white mist and could see the beautiful mountains around me. Passing through that cloud forced me to look at my life.

There have been times in my life when things appeared fine but then the bottom would drop out. I would be in a place where I couldn’t see what was ahead of me—or how to respond. All I could do was keep going without knowing how long the turmoil was going to last. I could not see far in front of me, but I kept going and, eventually, I could see down the road again.

Even when I couldn’t see what was going on or why, God was with me. He would bring me out in His time. He knew where He was leading me, and it was always to a better place. The longer I wandered through the cloud, the better it was after the sun would shine in my life. In the cloud, strongholds were broken and a better understanding of the Father’s love was gained. It was always a time of getting close to my Father.

Keep your eyes on the Father, and He will see you through whatever you are facing. Your relationship will grow as you draw near to Him.

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Sharing God's Photos

Pictures only let us see what we want them to.

We can tell a lot about one’s life by looking at photographs. Most subjects wear a smile. If someone glanced at my old photos, they would probably think I was the happiest person on the planet. But I can’t think of anyone who wants to capture or remember moments of despair. The essence of snapshots is to freeze time so we can look back at happy memories and pass those along to our loved ones.

As time passes and I glance at old photos, it’s not the conflicts I remember. Rather, it's the people who were with me during those times and how, with God’s help, they overcame the obstacles.

The Lord charged Joshua with the task of leading the Israelites across the Jordan River into the Promised Land—a feat requiring strength and courage. God would remove their enemies from the land. Priests carried the Ark of the Lord and led the way. As soon as their feet slipped into the Jordan River, the flowing waters were cut off, and the river stood up like a wall. After the people crossed the dry riverbed, the Lord told Joshua to place twelve memorial stones at the place where they crossed. When their descendants asked what the stones meant, the Israelites could tell the story of God’s power, presence, and promises.

We all occasionally pass through our Jordan Rivers. We’ll probably take a selfie before and after the crisis but most likely not while we’re in the middle of it. Hard times build our character and make us who we are. When we don’t see a way out, God will pull us through. And when we make it to the other side, we may look a little run down. Our knees might be a little beaten up, but our testimony will be worth telling to our children—a story of a good Father who delivered us into our promised land.

When you feel weak from battling trials, rely on God’s strength.

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Eating Machine

My thirteen-year-old son is an eating machine. He is six feet tall and wears a size fourteen shoe. He has been growing like a weed and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. I am constantly asked where my offspring gets his height? I always reply the same, “I honestly don’t know, but I’m not complaining because he loves to play basketball.”

Especially during growth spurts, Zack can really put away some food. He doesn’t discriminate either. My son will eat meats, sweets, fruits, veggies, and breads. You name it – he wants it. There are days it seems I don’t even step foot out of my kitchen because of his constant state of hunger. Even after eating a huge meal, my son is still scrounging in the pantry to find more food. His appetite cannot be satisfied. In his words, he is starving. He always needs just a little bit more.

Wouldn’t it be great if I were starving too? No, not starving from being on the latest fad diet. But starving to dig deeper into God’s Word. How wonderful it would be if I had an enormous appetite for studying the Bible and praying. I petition the Lord to bless me with a hunger to know Him in a deeper, more personal way. To never be satisfied – always wanting more.

I love the passage of Scripture from Deuteronomy that describes when Moses talked to the Israelites about God’s Word. Moses told the people that God’s Word was meant to be studied so it can be applied in their lives and passed on to others. That’s a good reminder for me. The Bible isn’t filled with idle words. Those words require action. I need to learn more of God’s Word so I can diligently share it with others.

I hope my children will discover the importance of reading and applying the Scriptures to everyday life. As difficult as it is now for me to satisfy my son’s appetite, he won’t always be classified as my eating machine. Hopefully a steady diet of the Bible, fruits, and veggies will keep him very healthy. 

Aspire for God to lavish a spiritual hunger in you that will help you grow and mature in His grace. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and AllisonWeeks.)

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Morning Mist

The mist hung deeply and heavily this morning, a shroud on the hills and neighbors’ houses. Even with headlights on, cars remained invisible until they passed directly in front of my window. The haze obliterated the sun that labored to spread its light. Dangerous, I thought.

Morning mist is caused when warm, moist air fails to rise, and it meets sudden cooling temperatures. Without a wind to blow it away, haze envelops the ground. Equation: Warmth + Encroaching Cool + Lack of Wind = Morning Mist.

But within an hour, the fog in front of my home had disappeared. Gone. Shazam. The sun glistened clearly and brightly. Not a trace of mist remained. Mist . . . a short-lived morning occurrence, dissipating rapidly as the temperature rises.

“Your love is like the morning mist, like the early dew that disappears,” God warned the Hebrews.

Is your faith like the morning mist? Does someone’s unkind word or criticism leave you in a fog, wondering where God is? Don’t let heartache, illness, rejection, or financial reverses cause your faith and trust in God to cool and disappear like the morning mist. The warmth of our nearness and relationship with God is easily cooled when we fail to remember His faithfulness and trustworthiness. When we do, we are no different from the Hebrews. God calls it dangerous because then “Your love (for Me) is like the morning mist.”

God reminded the Hebrews that He cared for them in the wilderness and the desert. And He reminds us of His faithfulness and of His presence when the temperature of circumstances rises and our trust cools. He assures us that the wind of His Spirit will blow doubt and uncertainty away as we seek Him in the difficulty. Equation: Warmth of Trust in God + Faith Not Cooled by Circumstances + the Wind of God’s Spirit = Clear Skies.

When the mist of faithlessness spreads a shroud of oblivion over your life, reach for God. He is there in your fog. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DodgertonSkillhause.)

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Faith Moves Forward

I’m often haunted by my past blunders, the times my feet slipped, and the times I missed the mark. As I talk to other Christians, I find some of them share the same grief. The apostle Paul encourages us to leave the past behind and to reach forward to what lies ahead. 

Paul spoke from experience when he said to leave the past behind, for he had to bear the memory of persecuting innocent Christians. Before receiving Christ as his Savior, Paul was known as Saul of Tarsus—an overzealous Pharisee who was eager to stamp out the Christian faith. Rather than be a prisoner of his past, Paul embraced God's forgiveness and became a powerful witness for Christ. One of the greatest evangelists of all time, he took the message of salvation to the Gentiles, authored thirteen epistles in the New Testament, and was a preacher, teacher, missionary, and church founder who helped shape Christianity’s history.

Some ask, "How is it possible to forget the past when I'm reaping the consequences of my sins?" Paul's exhortation to forget the past does not mean all memory of the past is erased. He never forgot his former life and even called himself the chief of sinners. But his teachings encourage us to press on to maturity and be all we can be for Jesus.

Through God’s grace and forgiveness, Christians can move ahead and not be held captive by wrong choices, sins, and failures. Faith moves forward and paves the way for blessings and new beginnings. The mistakes and blunders of the past do not have the final word—grace and forgiveness do. 

When moving ahead becomes difficult, remember Paul’s encouragement: press on and finish the race. Don’t be held captive by sin. Instead, seek after God.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and GaborFromHungary.)

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Mary's Gold Stars

“You are now a gold star mother,” my son’s commanding officer said as she pinned the tiny gold star to my collar. “Thank you for being willing to sacrifice your son for the welfare of our country.”

I didn’t feel noble or patriotic; instead I was overwhelmed by our son’s death. During a bleak week in February, he left behind a heartbroken wife and three young daughters. After the flags and funeral, Lent began, a time of reflection and repentance seasoned by my family’s grief as we struggled with the aftermath of Matt’s PTSD.

On Maundy Thursday, my husband and I attended a communion service that focused on Jesus’ march to the cross. We passed around wreaths of thorns. I marveled over Mary’s submissive spirit. From the moment of conception to the crucifixion, Mary surrendered her will to the God’s plan. I knew that if anyone had tried to touch my sons and nail them to a cross, I would have clawed and kicked in their defense.

Did the treasures she had stored in her heart over His lifetime provide the strength she needed during those dark hours? I can only speculate that they and the promises from God’s Word about the Messiah sustained her faith. Like the disciple’s, Mary’s sorrow turned to praise when she learned about Jesus’ resurrection.

The hope that bubbled up from Easter Sunday and Christ’s resurrection fed my family as we waded through our grief. I know my faith will never match Mary’s, but I pray for a servant’s spirit that surrenders to God’s will in all situations. If I could, I would pin thousands of gold stars onto Mary’s robe and thank her for trusting God even when He sacrificed her Son.

Take time to reflect on the sacrifice God made for you.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ronnieb.)

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Big Brave Heart

My husband and I had just had a discussion. Some might call it an argument and be correct, but I’ll stick with calling it a discussion.

What had started as a calm debate escalated as we both tried, not so successfully, to make our differing opinions heard. Our granddaughter was upstairs playing, but I knew she could hear our conversation.

 “How does it make you feel when you hear Nana and Papa argue?” I asked our girl.

“I want to comfort you,” replied my petite five-year-old.

“You have a big heart, little one.”

She raised her eyes to meet mine and asked, “You can have a big heart and still have a brave heart, can’t you Nana?”

What a great question. I needed to think about this one before giving an answer.                                                        

Micah, an Old Testament prophet says not only is it possible, it is also what our Heavenly Father says is right and even demands of His children. A big heart puts mercy as its first concern. A brave heart sees that justice is done. A heart which humbly obeys God in this world must be both brave and big.

If God demands it, then He also promises to help us achieve it. He doesn’t promise it will be easy, yet we must strive to attain it. When our culture does not agree with our Christian worldview, we need to have big, brave hearts. Be fair. Be nice. Obey God. When fellow Christians stray, we need to have big, brave hearts. Be fair. Be nice. Obey God. When I stray, I need to have a big, brave heart.

“Can it be both?”

I looked into her eyes before answering. “Absolutely, my girl. It’s the best kind of heart to have.”

Ask God to examine your heart. Is it big and brave? 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and MichelleBulgaria.)

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Seek Him in Life?s Comedy of Errors

It was a comedy of errors. Sometimes, regardless of our efforts, things just . . .go array.

I love working puzzles. It’s relaxing for me after juggling three jobs in a day. I’ve worked puzzles on fold up snack tables, the kitchen table, and a puzzle board. But this year, we decided it was a worthy investment for me to purchase a puzzle table.

One hundred and fifty nine dollars later, I had a beautiful cheery table–extending sides for puzzle pieces and legs so it stood. Felt covered interiors so the puzzle pieces didn’t sneak away into “lost land.” I could open it at night, work a couple of hours, then neatly close the entire thing and slide it behind my couch. I . . . was . . . a . . . happy . . . camper. UNTIL, I left the table standing one evening, trying to press my nearly finished puzzle flat.

After work, I ran through McDonalds and grabbed my lunch. As I walked in the house, I made my way to the puzzle table. Food in hand, I stepped toward the table to peek inside. That’s when the comedy of errors began. Our Rat Terrier wanted my McDonalds for lunch, so he leaped up, grabbing at my bag. I lifted the bag and smirked, “You thought you had it, didn’t you?” But as pooch came down, he bumped my leg behind the knee. That caused my leg to give way, the McDonalds bag to go airborne, and my tea to hit the floor.

Things went into slow-motion as my leg collapsed, sending me reeling across the puzzle table and landing in the center. Both I and the table smashed to the floor. Tea soaked into my shirt, and the dog and cat stood on my shoulders trying to lick up “Sudden Service Tea.” If that wasn’t enough, when I rolled over my McDonalds bag was . . . well . . . flat.

It was nothing short of a comedy of errors. One that left me not only injured but with a broken puzzle table. Sometimes despite our best efforts to make a save, we still fall.

Unfortunately, it’s the same way with my spiritual life. I try to make a save when the comedy of errors hits, but despite myself, I can’t. This is when God must roll His eyes and shake His head. If you will only seek me. Just seek me.

The world sends its lions to attack far too often, and each time we think we’re equipped to fight them off when we really aren’t. The psalmist offers good advice: seek the Lord and lack no good thing.

We’ve heard it said hundreds of times, “God never promised it was easy to be a Christian.” But we fail to acknowledge that through the rough times, when we seek Him, we lack for no good thing. At the time, we may not recognize the good, but eventually we can look back and be amazed at how God eased the pain of the hardship. He groomed us into something better...something stronger...something more prepared for the next thing that comes along.

It's learning to seek Him that makes us tighter in our relationship with Christ, so when the next hard event hits, we can loosen our white pressed knuckles and let God take the lead.

I doubt God will miraculously heal my broken puzzle board or provide a new McDonalds hamburger or Pal’s tea. But in the grander scheme of things, I’ve learned a hard lesson: food belongs in the kitchen.

For the times I’ve relinquished my own efforts to Him and sought after His will and guidance, God has never failed to sustain me. And I can say with great confidence that the lions who have attacked have grown weak and hungry when God stands before me.

Seek the presence of God, even in the little things. It’s not a matter of things being “fixed.” It’s a matter of growing in a confidant relationship with Him. When you seek Him, you will lack no good thing.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jppi.)

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The Skittle

We were having the time of our lives on my son’s school field trip to the North Carolina State Fair. We had looked at exhibits, played games, and rode twirling rides. Exhausted and hungry, our group went in search of something yummy to eat. 

Walking through the dense crowd, I heard someone yell, “Hey, lady, you in the bright pink shirt. You stand out more than a Skittle in an M&M box of candy!” The game attendant was trying to reel me in to play the ring toss game at his booth. He certainly got my attention and my first thought: “What’s wrong with my shirt? Is it really that bright?”  Immediately I became self- conscious. I wondered if I looked ridiculous. Later, I just shrugged the attendant’s comment off. I knew He was trying to drum up business. 

While I really liked my super-comfy shirt, this guy’s statement triggered something else in me. I started thinking about the attendant’s comment about sticking out in the crowd. Initially, my attitude was negative, but I soon viewed things from a different perspective. Isn’t it really a compliment when I don’t blend in with others? I want to be different...special...unique.

I realized that’s exactly what God wants for us. He wants us to stand out, not because of the clothes we wear but because of the lives we live for Him. He desires for us to be different—to be distinguished by our Christian love toward others. John tells us to love others as God has loved us. We are set apart by our actions of love toward others. We show that we belong to Him by the love we offer in our relationships and interactions with others.

Love is more than just warm fuzzy feelings. It reveals our identity to others. When people look at you, do you stand out because of the love you share? Set yourself apart from non-believers by practicing love every day. I don’t mind if I stick out like a Skittle in an M&M box if that means I’m working on setting myself apart for the right reasons. 

Be the Skittle for God in a world full of M&Ms.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and natepowers.)

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The Honor of Humility

I wonder what they think about me now?

I worked for a mission’s organization called Youth With A Mission, referred to as YWAM.  I was a recruiter who set up missions meetings in thirty-five cities east of the Mississippi. One weekend, a couple that organized meetings for me in South Carolina came to the YWAM center in Virginia where I lived. This couple really loved missions. They also had liked YWAM and respected the work we did. I was a little surprised when I found out what this couple really liked about our mission.

On Sunday morning we invited them over to our apartment for breakfast before church. I was trying to entertain my guests and help my youngest daughter get dressed for church. My little one, usually the picture of submission, was having a hard time listening to her dad.

Finally, I lost it and let her have it verbally in a very unloving fashion. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I knew I was wrong and apologized to her. She forgave me as kids usually do. But we were in the room right next to where my guests were waiting. I thought to myself, I wonder what they think about me now.  Needless to say, it was a very awkward breakfast for me that morning.

After church, we went to lunch at a restaurant. Before we prayed for the meal, I decided I needed to get this thing off my chest. It didn't matter whether they had heard me or not. I needed to be known in my weakness and ask them to pray that I would be able to handle stress better.

As I told them the story, the husband got a huge smile on his face. He said, “That's what we like about you YWAMERS. You have the rhema in this area of openness.”

Wow! I saw more clearly than ever that I had been believing a lie.

What I wanted to hide, when revealed, didn’t bring shame but respect. In God's kingdom, honor is always preceded by humility. Be of humble heart. It is an honor.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and hotblack.)

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Setting the New Year Pace

Is that really how you want to start out the new year?

My husband and I decided to go to Cracker Barrel for breakfast on News Years morning. Tim is a “drive-through” parker, searching the parking lot for the perfect drive-through spot. Located between to huge pickup trucks, Tim eased into the parking spot. He smiled a victorious smile. I rolled my eyes.

We squeezed out of the SUV, at which point, Tim had to duck under the side mirrors of the Ram Truck on his side.  I rolled my eyes again. Such are the joys of the drive-through parker.

Tim took my hand in his and kissed my knuckles. We passed an older couple on the sidewalk and realized, they were the owners of the red Ram truck. I glanced over my shoulder to catch a glimpse of the woman standing in the parking lot, hands on her hips, tapping her foot. “Really, of all the parking spots, you choose this one?”

Though I’m not “drive-through” parker and I don’t always get the logic behind the challenge, my husband had parked our vehicle perfectly in the spot. The SUV sat evenly between the lines. In essence, he’d done nothing wrong other than choosing to park next to this truck.

What do you do? I thought about turning around and wishing the irritated woman a Happy New Year. Or maybe going back and opening the truck door for her. Though both were well intentioned on my end, I’m afraid for this woman, the kind acts would have seemed snide. So, I walked ahead ignoring her sour response.

Sometimes our acts of kindness seem bittersweet to those who harbor unhappiness. Gentle acts of love are misunderstood and taken as insult. Even the kindnesses of God are sometimes taken as His turning His back on us, even when we know God works to prosper us and not harm us. The fact remains, we are at times, very selfish and most displeased when things do not roll the way we want.

It's a new year. A new day. Praise God for the kindness He has shown, even when you do not understand the purpose. Start out the new year in joy, gratefulness, and happiness. The choices we make today, set the pace for tomorrow, so don’t waste valuable moments. Grasp hold and praise Him from whom all blessings flow. Choose kindness – every time.

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Photo courtesy of pixabay.com and Unsplash

 



Tuppence a Bag

“Feed the birds, tuppence a bag.” Mary Poppins sang about the old beggar woman who sold breadcrumbs on the steps of St. Paul’s Cathedral. “Feed the birds. Tuppence a bag.” I remember wondering why the old woman was so poor, and why Mr. Banks wouldn’t let the children buy a bag of crumbs to help her out. His intent – for the kids to learn to save their money for . . . retirement.

Retirement is supposed to be . . . comfortable. Either that or I fell for the age-old lie that retirement is filled with travel, adventure, and financial security. Thanks to slips in the economy,  we seemed to have only tuppence (twopence) left.

In my first marriage, we’d begun a small nest egg, but divorce bit into the account and I had nothing. The boys and I moved into a borrowed room in the basement of my parent’s home. There, I literally saved my pennies just to buy food.

My parents would have happily given me money if I had asked. I didn’t ask. I needed to learn to be self-sufficient, even if it meant doing without. I saved my coins in a jar and watched for the sales. In those days, ninety-nine cents would buy you two yards of cotton fabric that would make a shirt and a pair of elastic waist pants for the boys. We ate a lot of spaghetti and peanut butter, but we were grateful for what we had.

Mary and Joseph had what they could carry with them. There wasn’t much room on a donkey’s back when a pregnant woman took up the majority of the space. And Joseph’s back could only haul so much. I can’t speak for the peculiar pair, but I’d guess the two were still somewhat stunned at the reality of becoming parents. And not just any parents – parents of the Messiah. I doubt possessions topped their lists. Searching Bethlehem for a place to sleep was probably the first real slap in the face to understanding what poor meant.

When they settled into a dark and dreary stable and Mary gave birth, grateful was probably an understatement. They snuggled close, held their newborn son, and gazed into the eyes of God. My guess is, in that moment they had all they needed . . . food, clothing, and happiness.

My days of poverty are gone. In truth, retirement isn’t so bad. God has provided every need . . . each one as it has risen. At the end of our first year of retirement, our bank account shows we have what we began with, plus a tiny bit extra. Go figure.

This year we’ll spend a few leftover tuppence for those in need. As we do, we’ll reap the joy of what we have. Food. Clothing. And happiness. Don’t let the pressures of Christmas-buying weigh you down. Be happy in what you have, for God sees every need.

If He cares for every bird, He’ll care for you.

(Photos courtesy of office.microsoft.com. and morguefile and shannontanski.)

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Lessons from a Bike

As Christmas nears, I’m actually thinking of Mother’s Day.

One year, as Mother’s Day drew closer, my family asked the same question they’ve asked year in and year out: What would you like for Mother’s Day?

In years past I’d feigned indignation. But that year I had an answer. “I want a bike.” Gift received, a few weeks later, as I pedaled around our neighborhood, God taught me five lessons I would soon need.

Lesson #1: Keep a Look Out Ahead

That morning I coasted around a bend in the road. I jumped up on a sidewalk and as I did, I noticed about six feet of sidewalk missing, replaced by a large hole. I cut my eyes to the right. I had just enough time to slip onto the road without injury. Keep a look out for what’s ahead, God whispered.

Lesson #2: Keep a Look Out Behind

Later, I heard a car approaching from behind. Keep a look out for what’s coming up behind you… Sometimes life has a way of sneaking up on you. The most innocent of things can come back to bite us. Sin has consequences. When we run to the Father and plead the blood of the Son, the sin is forgiven, but the consequences often remain.

Lesson #3: Watch for Others Along the Way

I continued forward, dipping into an area of winding roads shaded by large oaks. It’s my favorite part of the ride, but with the roads curving as they do, I have to keep a watch for who might be ahead of me. As popular as this neighborhood is with bikers, it’s even more so with walkers and runners. Life is like that, the Lord whispered again. Sometimes it’s the people we encounter who can trip us up along the way.

Lesson #4: There Will Always Be Poop

Our neighborhood policy is: if you “walk your dog,” you “clean up behind your dog.” All along the way folks amble behind their furry friends. They have a leash in one hand and a plastic bag in the other. But, sadly, not everyone poop-scoops. No matter how well you plan it out, said that tiny whisper again, life sometimes means running into poop every now and then. We watch out for it as best as we can, but sometimes, well, it’s too late. And then we have a mess to clean up.

Lesson #5: Keep Your Wheels Pointed Toward Home

As I turned the final corner that morning, I realized that from the moment I’d left the house, the wheels of my bike had been pointed toward home. Always remember where your spiritual home is … and run to the Father in prayer. No matter what, keep that focus. I am here. I am at Home. And I am waiting to chat with you.

Once inside, I showered, changed, and headed to my office. Not a minute later, my husband came in, looking quite pale. Within minutes, I had 9-1-1 on the phone.

The next few days were filled with doctors and nurses, personal care technicians, cardiologists and their array of tests, phone calls to family and friends, prayer unlike anything I’ve ever felt before, and—finally—surgery.

The very points God had given to me on my bike ride were now those lessons pushing me forward and helping me to keep my balance and momentum.

I’m thankful for Mother’s Days past and for the joys of a loving parent. I’m grateful for a young mother who gave birth to the Savior of the world.

This Christmas, remember, with every step we take—one foot in the past and the other in the present—we head toward an uncertain future. But God is there … all the way. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Alvimann.)

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A Sunshine State White Christmas

As the calendar rolled toward the last week of December,1989, meteorologists up and down the East Coast were not focused on the holidays. They were watching a record-breaking Arctic high=pressure ridge over the Central Plains that was sending temperatures across the United States plummeting. On the morning of December 22nd, the temperature in Northern Nebraska was minus 36 degrees. 

Out on the periphery of the continent, especially on the East Coast, temperatures were also well below normal. And there was something else: off the coast of Savannah, Georgia, a low was forming. As it slowly spun out in the Atlantic, it began to send ocean moisture slamming into those drastic cold temperatures. And so it was that as Christmas 1989 approached, snow began to fall from Cape Hatteras to Melbourne, Florida. Places that had never seen snow were suddenly watching in wonder as a White Christmas materialized out of nowhere.

One of those places was Ocala, Florida. And just outside Ocala was the Marion Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison in the Florida Department of Corrections where inmate #249293 watched in sheer joy as snow began to fall. That was me: Inmate #249293. 

Christmas was never a good time in prison. Not that there were any good times, but Christmas was more stressful than most. And to a North Carolina boy stuck in a Florida prison, it was even more stressful. Let me explain. Florida has two seasons. There is the very hot green leaf season, which is roughly March to October, and the less hot, brown leaf season, which would be during the remaining winter months. In other words, it was nothing like a North Carolina boy had grown up experiencing.  

I had been fighting the depression the holidays in prison inevitably bring, and finally asked Jesus for help. Not just for me, but for my family. I didn’t want them to pick up on my lowered spirits and worry about me any more than they already were. “Jesus,” I prayed, “please help me find just a little Christmas Spirit.”

And so it was that the next morning I stood in the prison yard watching in sheer wonder as snow, real snow, fell on central Florida … and my up-turned face. And my heart burst with joy and gratitude, and yes, even Christmas Spirit.

As I looked around, even the chain-link fences that bordered my world, with their crowns of deadly barbed serpentine wire, looked beautiful as they were slowly covered in ice and snow. It would not be the last time He would be there to hold my hand when the going got tough. But I had to reach out. And every time I did, He answered.

Do you need help this Christmas season? Reach out to the One who could turn a Florida prison into a Winter Wonderland and give a White Christmas to the Sunshine State.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and biberta.)

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Circle of Giving

After returning from our church’s Christmas Eve service, my husband, John, and I tried to gather our twenty-eight-year-old son into the parlor so we could open gifts. Carlos continually muttered he needed to find a card he had bought for us before we opened gifts.

Wrapping paper rustled and packing materials tumbled to the floor as the three of us clamored over what we had bought or created. Extreme weather conditions had claimed most of our fruit crops and limited our income that year. John and I had selected only a few, meaningful gifts for each other.

Then Carlos handed us the envelope snatched from his father’s desk. “Remember, Dad, how you always slipped me twenty-dollars and filled up my car with gas every time I came home?” he said. 

“Well, sort of.” John glanced at me. The habit had been instinctive. Didn’t most parents tuck a box of cookies into their student’s car along with a little cash?

“One time you handed me a fifty-dollar bill. You guys didn’t know it, but I really needed it then. And with it being such a bad year on the farm, well …”

John opened the envelope, pulled out a fifty-dollar bill, and wiped away tears. I cried and still cry when I remember my son’s gift. Like most parents, we hope our actions reflect our love and heap blessings upon our children.

Tears gather when I ponder the numerous times Jesus has slipped me moments of grace: an unmerited gift that affirmed my talents, a granddaughter that gave her life to Him, or a glorious sunset that welcomed me while walking along Lake Michigan’s shores.

No amount of money stuffed in an envelope can repay the grace Jesus heaps on me, so, instead, I offer Him what He most desires: my heart. Accept the gift Christ offers you, and let it be the best Christmas ever.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cohdra.)

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Enjoying God

"Eat your breakfast, Kathryne."

I heard those words constantly growing up. I'm not a breakfast eater to this day. Never have been. As a kid, I'd fake mom out by leaving a bowl and spoon in the kitchen sink with cereal and milk residue to avoid getting yelled at.

As an adult, I force myself to ingest a small amount of nutritional fuel along with my morning coffee. Yes, I'm a coffee lover … addicted and passionate about it. Coffee alone, however, doesn’t provide the nutrition I need to energize my day.

But what about spiritual breakfast? As a Christian, do you ever struggle with reading your Bible in the morning? I know I do. We know all the reasons we are supposed to read our Bible: to strengthen ourselves spiritually, encourage ourselves, grow our faith, increase our knowledge of God, increase our wisdom, and gain guidance.

It's like dieting; you know you should eat healthy. You know what to do but don't really want to. Here's what worked for me. I forced myself to eat healthy foods at first. After a while, I begin to sincerely enjoy the taste. Once the enjoyment factor kicked in, it was easy sailing. I begin craving healthier foods.

Reading the Bible has followed the same pattern in my life. I started reading because I was told it was good for me. Before long the spiritual food tasted so good I returned to the feasting table to dine with God readily—even eagerly.

If we view it less as lifeless drudgery and seek after the ultimate Writer Himself, the Bible will come alive. John 6 teaches the Spirit gives life while the flesh profits nothing.

When I began viewing my daily Bible time as personal time with God, it changed. It became less about the book and all about the Person. Enjoying the Word of God is related to enjoying the God of His Word. Re-frame how you view your devotional time and eat your spiritual breakfast. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cbcs.)

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A Most Thankful Woman

Hannah was an unusual gift-giver among Bible women. Her act of thanksgiving and the song that flowed from her happy heart, in no way hinted a former time when Hannah wept in bitterness of her soul. Why? Hannah’s husband had two wives, and Hannah was the barren wife by God’s design.

Elkanah loved Hannah. His devotion to her might be the reason Peninnah was jealous. Despite having sons and daughters, the rival wife provoked Hannah relentlessly. Hannah suffered with each look of distain and each hurtful remark. Her face was always sad.

At Shiloh, Hannah cried in front of her husband, who could not console her. She cried in front of the temple priest. Hannah cried out to God, “See my affliction. Remember me, and do not forget me.” Then Hannah made the vow that set her apart from other women. “LORD, if you will give me a baby boy, I will give him back to you forever.”

Eli the priest watched the woman’s lips move. Something is wrong with her, he thought. “I think you are drunk,” he accused. Hannah insisted she did not drink wine, but she had poured out her soul before God. Eli blessed her. “Go in peace, and may the LORD grant your petition.”

No longer sad, Hannah returned home with expectation. God remembered her faith in Him. She gave birth to the darling son she desired. Hannah remembered her vow.

Amazing is the level of Hannah’s thanksgiving to God. We give out of abundance or give to God a small portion out of poverty. Each is relatively easy to do. Giving in faith or keeping our promise to the Lord costs more. But God is never in our debt. He supplies our needs as He uses our resources in His work­--giving to others. God multiplies our gift to do exceedingly and abundantly above all we ask or think. Hannah bore three sons and two daughters—and Samuel the Prophet of God.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and greyerbaby.)

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A New Perspective

The recipe called for fresh ginger. I could have substituted ground ginger, but for some strange reason, I felt compelled to follow the directions exactly.

Why am I making all this fuss? I thought as I drove to the store. I would soon find out.

I had never seen fresh ginger before, so I had to read the produce signs to find it. I did a double take when I spotted the price of $2.49 a pound. But I was even more shocked when I saw the ginger itself. It looked grotesque. I almost changed my mind about buying it, but I selected a few pieces and headed for home.

Back in my kitchen, as I started to peel the ginger, a delightful aroma came forth. How deceiving, I thought. Its ugly exterior has camouflaged its fragrant interior.

Things came into focus. God was using this experience to teach me a lesson. Don’t judge. He knew I always equated outer beauty with greater happiness and pleasure.

For a moment, my mind drifted back to several events in the past. I recalled the vacation my family spent at a beautiful motel. Yet when I thought about it now, I realized we had more fun on our camping trip in the rain—in a tent. I also thought of our large home which I was sure would make me happier than our smaller one. But looking back, I knew nothing could ever replace the twenty years of wonderful memories we spent in our first tiny home. 

I remembered the Thanksgiving Mom and Dad took Jim and me and our five boys to a restaurant so I wouldn't have to cook. But even that couldn't hold a candle to the meals we enjoyed crowded around our small dining room table.

God seemed to be telling me to look at things from His perspective … from within … from the heart. I knew it would be hard for me to change my habits after so many years of judging people and things by their external appearances, but I decided to try.

I still have to watch what I say before jumping to conclusions, but through the Lord's help, I am making significant progress.

How do you judge others?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and modnar.)

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Peace and Presence

“That’s it!  I GIVE UP!  There’s no hope.  I will never find a job.”

 Interview after interview after interview … same story. “We’ll call you.”  Stupid phone hasn’t rung once.  “I’m gettin’ drunk,” Sal screamed in the lobby and slammed the door behind him. 

“Not so fast, fella!” 

“What’s it to you, bud?”

“My treat at Starbucks.  What’s your name?”

God’s holding Sal in the palm of His hand.  He hears his misery, his frustration, his anger, his lack of hope. God also hears our pain. Each and every one. Paul says when He comes to us and we choose to trust Him, through the power of the Holy Spirit, we will be filled with joy, peace and hope. 

The word is “choose.”  We choose hope when we say “yes” to Jesus. This hope is not hollow but full of promise; not of the earthly human flesh, but of the eternal glory of Heaven. With the vision of the glory of God—of His incredible love for us, we can choose not to be discouraged by the rocks thrown in our path. We can be filled with His joy and rest in His peace that God is in control. 

When my husband’s diagnosis was stage-four cancer, we chose God.  He was there guiding the surgeons, sitting in Starbucks with our son and me. He was giving us strength for the days ahead knowing that the outcome was in His hands. We could all bathe in His peace and presence.

God will be by your side too. You just have to choose Him through Jesus Christ. Where do you need Him most today?  God knows where it is. Choose to trust Him and rejoice in that sense of peace which really does pass all our earthly understanding. He promises to speak to you through His Word, your devotional readings, and your prayers to Him. I can say this because I chose Jesus, and He has never failed me. All glory be unto Him.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and DarrenHester.)

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Whale Boy

I married a farmer’s daughter who is described by her sister as “the pick of the litter.”

Growing up on a dairy farm, my wife learned about chores and developed her body by bailing hay. She and her sisters developed a work ethic that despises idleness, and they learned the joy of using a strong, healthy body.

I met another psychological therapist on a trip who also married a farmer’s daughter. His wife has the same traits. We agreed this upbringing contributes to our wives becoming superlative wives.

Two weeks ago at our beach community, my wife brought home what I named “Whale Boy” because he looks just like a Sperm Whale. The day before, my wife spotted a piece of driftwood and was determined to take it to our home in Arizona. This soaked piece was three and a half by two feet and weighed some two hundred pounds. To be honest, I thought she must have had too much salt air.

As we fought the driftwood out of the surf, I thought reality would strike. I was wrong. I thought she would forget about it overnight. You’d think I’d know better by now. I woke up the next morning, and Whale Boy was sitting in our back yard.

She had awakened early, taking our kayak gurney down to the beach. She then slowly worked her treasure onto the gurney, wrapped the rope around her waist, and struggled her way across the beach to the boat dock. She towed it home the same way, one step at a time.

Dried out, Whale Boy now weighs about seventy-five pounds. To me, Whale Boy represents my virtuous wife. She approaches life one step at a time and has always used her hands to serve her family and others. She believes she can do all things with Christ strengthening her. I am a blessed man.

Become a virtuous woman. Bodies and backgrounds differ, but every woman can claim the Lord is her strength and be a constant channel for God’s love.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and clarita.)

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Pity Parties and Blessings

We’ve all had a pity party.  They take little preparation. Just gather a long list of “poor me’s,” and you are ready to party.

If you do have pity parties, perhaps you’d like to try the following idea. List the ways in which you have been blessed. This seems an excellent antidote for the blues. The following are included in my list:

EMOTIONALLY – When my husband of twenty-seven years left me for another woman, I was shattered. I began claiming God’s promises, and He gave an indescribable peace. Of course, there were lonely moments and times when my emotions tumbled like clothes tossing in a dryer. However, when I placed my emotions in God’s hands, I was bathed in peace and a deep joy.

MATERIALLY – After my husband left, I quickly realized I had to support myself. Like many women of my generation, I had been a homemaker and had never worked outside my home. Through a series of “mini-miracles,” I began working as a district secretary for a nonprofit organization. I was forty-five when my working career began.

PHYSICALLY – When I was a young mother of three children, extreme pain began tearing through my abdomen. I was sent to a hospital where exploratory surgery ended in an intestinal resection. I hovered near death at times, but eventually returned home to my family.

MATERNALLY – Like many mothers, I didn’t always understand my children as they grew from infancy to adults, and there were times when they certainly didn’t understand me. My three children and I survived, and today we have a good relationship. My son and his sisters threw away the childhood boxing gloves and now communicate as friends.

Romans 8:28 is one of my favorite verses. Through my trials and heartaches, God has proven this verse to be true.

My pity parties are growing fewer and farther between. It has become easier to dwell upon the blessings of God rather than upon the problem of the moment.

When you are tempted to start planning a pity party, try counting your blessings instead.  

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and mariask.)

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Growing Through Weakness

If you’re like me, it’s easy to over-notice the flaws in your partner and under-notice your own. When this occurs for me, my heart usually gets filled with pride that I’m better. As pride takes hold, respect tends to disappear, and intimacy tends to unravel.  

God has taught me to pray and reflect on all my areas of weakness. He often presses on my spirit where I’m fallen and where my flesh gets the best of me. Seeing my sinful bent reveals why I need a Savior. I recognize how broken I am. Looking at my shortcomings creates significant humility within me as I recognize how imperfect I am compared to Jesus’ example. When I own my weaknesses, it destroys my prideful heart toward my spouse, creating loving acceptance rather than critical judgement.

Our culture has it backwards. We think strength is pretending we’re perfect and hiding our weaknesses. In reality, strength is revealing and owning our weaknesses. Humility is attractive; pride is ugly. God wants us to be mindful of our fallenness so we’ll remember our need for Him and so we can respond to our spouse’s weaknesses with patience and grace.

Ask God to reveal the prideful areas of your heart. Ask Him to increase your awareness of your shortcomings and fill your heart with compassion. Meditate on Scripture. Let His Spirit prick your conscience about your sinful nature and fill you with sweet humility  ... laced with love and gentleness towards your spouse’s shortcomings. 

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Don't Give Up

Part of me wanted desperately to be at the writers’ conference, but another part of me wanted to flee. Adrenaline set every nerve ending on fire. Fear of getting lost on campus or literally trembling in front of someone plagued me. How could I manage a week of meeting with editors and a full schedule of classes while struggling with panic attacks? I felt exhausted before the conference began. I begged God to equip me for the task ahead, and I stepped forward in faith, believing He would help me.

God knows when our spirit grows faint. He sees where we are and is always faithful to minister to our need. He may do it through Scriptures, a story of victory, or someone’s prayer of encouragement for us. At the times when God seems absent, things can look very dark and frightening. That’s when the truth of His Word saves us from despair. He is the lifter of our head. He is our constant companion and comforter.

All of us battle something. It could be illness, job loss, or strife in our family. Whatever it may be, realize you don’t have to remain faint and discouraged. Cry out to God. Tell Him about your heartaches and questions. Read the Word and plug into its power. Ask others to pray for you.

God provided for me at the conference. Each day I was given the strength and grace necessary to do what lay before me. Over and over through keynote speeches or personal conversations, I would discover others were dealing with hard, often similar problems. They understood my struggle and could empathize with my pain. They shared with me how God was helping them overcome their trials day by day.

Are you weary today? Will you reach out to God and let Him renew you? If so, you may discover the Lord is already at work using His power and the comfort of others to strengthen you. Please don’t give up. Give thanks instead.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Jusben.)

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Watch Your Step

During a visit to Utah, I had a couple of days to explore and decided to check out the Ogden Valley and Great Salt Lake.

The first day I drove through a canyon, crossed Rattlesnake Creek, and picnicked beside the reservoir. The day provided a much-needed opportunity for relaxation and rest under the shade of a tree beside the still water.

The second day I traveled to Antelope Island and viewed panoramic vistas of the lake and mountains as I traipsed around Buffalo Point. The vigorous ascent and the stark landscape were in complete contrast to my previous day’s destination. This day, I picnicked under the sun—high above a salty beach.

The views were amazing, but I had to watch my step. I surmised there was a reason for the naming of Rattlesnake Creek, and where there are bison, it can be assumed buffalo chips will follow. A misstep on my part could mean stepping into something merely messy or downright dangerous.

God created this world with amazing opportunities and awe-inspiring scenery. He has placed His children in it and invites us to enjoy. Unfortunately, there is also evil in our world. An enemy whose desire is to destroy us.

So God warns us throughout the Bible to be wise in our walk. He tells us to watch our step by not walking according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Our roadmap should be the Word of God, not the ways of the world. Another tip for the trip is to use the buddy system. Don’t travel alone. If one stumbles, the other can reach out and help. A lone traveler who falls is in real trouble. The church gives us a place to find people to assist and information to inform us during our journey. With the Holy Spirit as our guide and fellow sojourners to accompany us, we can walk more wisely.

Listen for the Spirit’s leading. Learn from God’s literature. Lean on the church’s leadership. Consider the steps you need to take as you look carefully at how you walk in this world.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Kirk10Kirk.)

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Service Deserves Praise

“Would you have your manager join this call? I want to speak to them.” Tomiko did not know how this conversation would end. In the age of customer-no-service, Tomiko went way beyond the usual.

I was a loyal customer with this cell phone carrier for more than 10 years. I added my mother to my cell phone plan and asked Tomiko to locate a good family rate for me. Not only did she setup an economical plan, but she gave me and my mother new cell phones. This was a big deal. I wanted to shout from the mountain tops, “I am a happy customer!” I expressed my satisfaction to Tomiko’s manager because I hoped my comments would drive her management to reward her for doing a magnificent job.

I agree with Solomon. We must provide blessings and favor to deserving people. Especially when we have the means and the opportunity to give them a hand. Why keep favor? Favor shared is the seed to a future blessing. Why not plant the seed in order to share God’s love and reap the benefit later?

Should I fail to recognize someone for giving me great service, I miss the opportunity to make their lives richer. Customer service employees struggle to keep customers happy and their managers satisfied with statistics about their work. Because I showed gratitude for great service, I made a difference in the performance evaluation of Tomiko. Positive feedback is always welcomed, but rarely given.

What keeps you from giving compliments when you receive great service?  Just think if you were in the employee’s shoes. It does not cost money to give great feedback. What better way to show God’s love and make someone else’s day?

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and TrisMaria.)

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Look Again

Vision is important.  Natural vision as well as spiritual vision.

I believe each of us value and are thankful to God for our natural eyesight. It is a gift. Our eyes take in many sights—an array of creative and natural beauty. Quite often, we venture through life making decisions, drawing conclusions, and gaining perspective from what we see with our natural eyes. Yet, our decisions, conclusions, and perspective can be misconstrued because we rely on our natural eyesight instead of seeking God in prayer . . . allowing Him to show us from spiritual eyes.

Like myself, some of us have made unwise decisions based on what we see. Perhaps we were tempted or lured into making purchases we should not have and could not afford. Maybe we entered into an unhealthy relationship that was not good because he or she looked pleasing to our sight—never taking the time to pray or seek God for answers.   

It is through the wondrous act of prayer that God will renew our mind, change our view, and show us a different perspective. If we pray, God will take us from focusing our natural eyesight on the circumstances to see His power and might over our circumstances. Prayer is a channel to seeing clearly—seeing through the mind of God. If we look again, we’ll see victory on the horizon.

When facing overwhelming circumstances as with Elisha and his fearful servant, let us not become doubtful and fearful. Allow prayer to go forth. Pray, believe, look again, and see God. He does more for us than we can ever imagine or our natural eyes can behold. Pray and look again!

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Can You Summarize Your Life

A person came into counseling because of a crippling anxiety. He wanted to understand how his past, present, and future fit together. He was a Christian who was torn by guilt because he felt hounded by his past. He read, prayed, and talked to people, but he was only growing more confused. This was a condition that had started to affect everything in his life. His wife just wanted him to “get a grip.”

If a person could summarize their past, present, and future in one sentence, they might feel intelligent. Actually, a Christian who can’t is a person who hasn’t taken time to summarize what God Almighty told His children 2,000 years ago. 

There are various tools designed to help with confusion. Early in my career, I used to reach for them automatically. Even as many great thinkers have said, we never learn even one thing without making mistakes, I had certainly made my share. In this area, I learned to simplify.

Anyone can summarize their past, present, and future by remembering Ephesians 2, which reveals that a Christian is a zombie—or a dead person walking, driven by fleshly appetites—who has been made alive by the new birth.

You He made alive who were dead in trespasses and sins. This is our past and present. Our future is to be a trophy displaying God’s grace for all eternity. That in ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace.

One of the most eye-clearing and back-straightening things we can know is how to summarize our past, present, and future in one sentence. Experience His grace.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Bethiebee.)

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Seek Him

A tremendous thunderstorm swept through our area in the darkest hours of morning. The thunder claps were booms, and the subsequent rumbles were roars. It seemed the earth quaked along with our house as the storm passed overhead. I can only imagine what a celestial show that must have been, but the photographer in me did not so much as raise his head to see it. I wanted sleep more than capturing the picture of a lifetime.

Not until the power went off did I get out of bed to check on things. Even then, I did not look outside but went to the basement to check on the sump pump. Not a single drop of water had been added. The tile was dry. What rain we got from the storm was not enough to penetrate to our storm tile. I realized I could have photographed the brilliant lightning show with very little distraction from the rain. I missed an incredible opportunity.

Much later, I wondered how the Lord ever gets my attention. If I can ignore the loud booms, how do I hear His still quiet voice? When there is something He wants me to see, do I look instead at what I fear could happen? Are my wants placed before His desires for me and before Him altogether? What other incredible opportunities have I missed because I didn’t want to be inconvenienced?

The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah have words for me that are both convicting and comforting. If we seek God, we can find Him when we seek after Him with all our heart.

I know I don’t seek Him as I should. I am easily distracted, and the little interruptions in life become, in my mind, a rolling boulder bearing down on me. I fail too often in this, but with the exhortation is a wonderful promise. I can draw near. He makes it easy; He isn’t hiding. He says I will find Him if I will look for Him. If it were a game of hide and seek, I would find Him standing in front of me.

I win. Wow. I find Him and win. That’s an opportunity so much greater than taking pictures of a remarkable lightning storm. 

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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It's the Little Things

Empty again!  You enter the bathroom stall and find the toilet paper roll is empty. 

That has happened to me at work on a number of occasions. What is frustrating at work, though, is that the extra rolls of toilet paper are stacked on the back of the toilet. You can see where someone has picked up one of the rolls, broken the seal to tear off a piece, and then put the roll back instead of placing it on the toilet paper holder. Really? It takes all of thirty seconds to change the roll. 

I will admit I used to get very upset until one day I said to myself, This is silly. There is no reason to get mad. Just change the roll and be done with it. Someone has to do it.

It was at that moment I started thinking. Can I make this my mission—my gift to the girls in the office? Can I make their experience more pleasant by having a new roll already in place?

What a great idea. It is such a little thing, but the results go a long way. So now, whenever I see the toilet paper roll needs changing, I change it. I have decided that instead of getting upset, I will bless someone else. Instead of letting my emotions get the best of me, I will curtail the emotions of the next person by doing something nice for them.

The apostle Paul spoke of serving others as a slave should serve their master. He instructed in Colossians 3 (NIV), “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Can you add a touch of joy to someone’s day? It doesn’t have to be major. It might just be a little thing—a little thing that makes a difference when it is least expected. 

Ask God to reveal to you how you can be a blessing today. Then do it with a servant’s heart.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and gracey.)

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Born Again...And Again...And Again

It came again. Yep – it’s faithful. And for the record … it’s a good thing it came again. Otherwise I’d be dead. Today is my birthday. Though some folks dread to see theirs come, I, for one, am grateful. I love life.

I’ve not had any life-defying event happen that makes my birthday super special. A normal birth. No wild injuries or severe illnesses. I’m not overtly special, yet God allows me to wake up every August 21, reborn into a new year of life.

Every birthday, I crawl out of bed and call my mom. When she answers, I burst into song, singing “Happy Birthday” to her.

“Cindy, why do you call every year and sing “Happy Birthday” to me on YOUR birthday?” 

“Because Mom, it’s really YOUR birth-day. You gave birth.”

“Lord have mercy.” She laughs. “She’s born again.”

And that, my friends, is the key phrase. She’s born again. I am … born again.

I was baptized at nine. I knew it was something special, but my maturity level wasn’t where it needed to be. I stepped out of the pew and gave my heart to Jesus because my Sunday school teacher tapped me on the shoulder and nudged me out of the pew. I wasn’t ready, but God has never held that against me.

I’ve tried to live a Christian life … going to church … being active in the congregation, but I didn’t fully grasp being born again until I was thirty-six years old. Shocked? I was. I thought I understood what it meant to be a Christian, but I didn’t. Not until I led a college-age Sunday school class and 1 Peter jumped off the page and slapped me in the face.

My fleshly body, born of the seed of my parents, would perish at some point. But my spiritual body, through Christ and His Word – imperishable. That is awesome.

I’m not worthy of this gift by my standards, but by God’s standards. My soul was impregnated with imperishable seed, and every year, without fail, God sees fit to allow that seed to flourish. God thinks I’m worth it.

There are times I fail Him … times I slip in my trust. But through it all, the day I gave my life to Jesus, He took hold of a child who didn’t understand and graced her yearly by allowing her to be born again.

Our God is omniscient. He knows the hearts of even those who do not understand. He covers us with His love. When your birthday rolls around, be grateful. Love Life. For you are born again from the imperishable seed of God.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and MichelleBulgaria.)

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Shake It Off

One morning, coffee cup in hand, I spied something out of place. A cord or ribbon hung from the bottom of the lavatory cabinet in my bathroom. Upon closer inspection, I realized a snake had wound itself into the crevice between the cabinet doors.

 A snake. In my house. In a place where I stand all the time.

Backing away hastily, I sloshed my coffee—you would have thought the snake was going to chase me down and sink its fangs into my bare leg. I closed the pocket door, set my cup down, and ran ... yelling for my husband.

"You have to come. You have to come now!" I couldn't even say the word snake. He quickly followed me back to the bathroom.

 I pointed to the coiled snake, millimeters away from where I normally stand in front of the sink and mirror. However, my husband wasn't afraid. In fact, he amicably addressed the snake with what-are-you-doing-in-here types of questions as he picked up a hand towel.   

With one deft movement, covering the snake's head with the towel, he snatched it off the cabinet. We took pictures since the snake was multi-colored and of rather daunting length, then he disposed of it. Considering my initial reaction of surprise and fear, the end of our little drama proved anti-climactic.   

What do you do when a nasty surprise invades your personal space? What Paul the apostle did will help. When a snake crawled out of the brushwood and attached itself to his arm, he shook it off into the fire and went about his business. He didn't allow the snake or fear to take hold even for a second.

When something unpleasant like an illness or a negative attitude tries to become a part of your life, you can make the same choice Paul did. Shake it off, don’t let fear take hold, and go about your business.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and dee37.)

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Empty Boxes

An empty box represents a curiosity of the unknown to the observer.

An empty box could represent the remnant of an exhilarating gift that brought great joy to the receiver, or it could represent an action that never manifested to its completion. Like a gift that never made it from the sender because of a great tragedy that stopped the completion of the gesture. 

An empty box could represent someone who just moved from their friends and family and the emptiness of the box symbolizes their empty heart. A room full of empty boxes could be seen as an ocean full of emotions that represent actions and reactions. 

The emptiness of a box brings images of joy or the reality of emptiness. We either see the empty box symbolizing joy or grief based on our perception of our own reality. We alone determine the value of the box and the significance of the emptiness it represents.  

When the Lord looked at us in our empty state without Christ, He chose to see great potential. He did not see the wickedness of humanity lacking righteousness, but He saw great potential to fit inside our empty souls. He saw what great joy we would have with Him and the great pleasure it would bring Him to fill our emptiness with His salvation. He saw our emptiness as great potential to connect with us in a very powerful way. He did not judge our emptiness as a bad thing, but He saw our emptiness as proof we needed Him in a very real way. 

The quandary of an empty box is that it will remain empty until someone fills it. We can see an empty box as the end of a journey or the beginning of a great adventure. It is up to us to determine the meaning of our emptiness and the meaning of Jesus as Savior. 

I choose to see my emptiness before Christ as the beginning of a great journey to the great unknown. I do not know what tomorrow will bring, but what I do know is that I am full of great potential for tomorrow. I no longer see an empty box as the end or the death of hope and joy. I can now see an empty box as the beginning of a great adventure ready to be articulated by my enthusiasm for its potential. 

The next time you see an empty box, ask yourself this very important question, “What do you see?” 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cohdra.)

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Perpetual Rest

I want to soar on wings like the eagles. From the first time I really grabbed hold of Isaiah 40, J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy popped into my head.

Gandalf the Wizard calls his legion of giant eagles to swoop in to save the two hobbits who had just destroyed the ring. The huge talons open and the birds gracefully snatch the hobbits off the rocks, carrying them away from sure death. Their wings press downward, extend, catch a breath of wind, and fall into its palm, soaring effortlessly across the sky.

My life, as good as it’s been, is sprinkled with mishaps, blunders, and boo-boos. My human imperfections lead me to make the occasional bad choice or regretful phrase. And when I fall into a pattern of these hardships, I find myself on my knees grasping at the air, praying for one of Gandalf’s eagles to lift me out of the mess. I want to soar, not wallow.

I recently sat in a restaurant after a conference and somehow the topic of soaring on wings like eagles came up. My friends and I laughed about the fact we were somewhat overworked. If we took the promise of Isaiah 40 to heart, the work would never cease, and we’d never grow weary or tired. Perpetual work. Not a good thing when you’ve just invested in a nice memory-foam mattress and gel foam topper.

But even as we teased, the conversation eventually turned to the depth of this promise. Imagine, running and never growing weary, never being faint … soaring on wings like eagles.

The promise Isaiah talked of was to those whose hope was in the Lord. God has never been one to do things small and all His promises border on “more than we can imagine.” God knew the people of Israel needed hope and comfort. Even as He gave them a first glimpse of the one whose voice was calling in the desert to prepare the way, He gave them a taste of respite and peace.

For the multitude of times I’ve found myself fighting my way to survive frustration and pain, I continually return to this promise. It’s my favorite promise from God because I hope in the Lord. When I wait on Him, my strength is renewed, and I can mount up with wings as eagles. I can soar and never grow weary or faint.

When your strength is hovering on empty, claim this promise. Close your eyes, imagine soaring on wings like the eagles. Hope in Him and He will renew you.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and FidlerJan.)

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Father God, MD

When my children were young and needed a Band-Aid, I would always draw a happy face on it before I gave it to them. It seemed to help their healing.

A couple of years ago, I began to share some childhood secrets I had carried around with me for more than thirty years. Professional advisement assured me my wounds would begin to scab over each time I told my story and my constant need to keep everything bandaged up would cease. Even though I was terribly hesitant, I was tired of carrying this heavy load around, and I needed people to stand beside me and draw happy faces on my “Band-Aids” until the pain lessened.

I rehearsed my “guess what happened to me” monologue repeatedly. Each time I did, the reactions I assumed would take place were what every hurt person would desire: acceptance, belief, understanding, and acknowledgement.

In reality, those were not the reactions that always took place. One night after I felt particularly knocked down by some of the reactions I had received, God reminded me He held the tears I cried as a child, and He would continue to hold the tears I cry as an adult. The pain I suffered was never part of His plan and purpose for my life, but He would take my history and do transforming work in me and through me because of it.

Then God said what I had been longing to hear since I was five years old . . . and perhaps it’s something you’ve been needing to hear for a while too.

“When I look at you, all I see is beauty. I don’t see what you feel you look like; I see the exact person I created. You are clean in my eyes. Never forget I define who you are, not the thief of your innocence or the mockers of your today.”

Jesus keeps His promise to heal and bind our wounds.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Earl53.)

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Those words from my Creator took my wounds and began a healing process I will forever be grateful for. Whatever your struggle, forget the smiley faced Band-Aids and consider going straight to the Great Physician. Let Him get started doing a healing in you so you can walk in His anointed freedom.



You Are Invited

I love to get a pretty invitation in the mail. Gorgeous stationery makes me happy. We get a variety of invitations to weddings, baby showers, birthday parties, and graduations. I love to see the creative designs and layouts, which classify as works of art.

Naturally, when it’s time to send an invitation on behalf of my family, I get excited as my creative juices start flowing. I especially love designing stationery for my daughter’s social events.  Recently, she hosted a Duck Dynasty themed party. Who would have guessed that camouflage invitations could turn out so adorable?

However, the most beautiful invitation I ever received was not delivered by the postal service. It was an invitation of my heart. In second grade, during revival service at church, Jesus invited me to follow and surrender my heart to Him. I accepted that invitation, becoming an everlasting member of God’s family. Without a doubt, my acceptance of His gift was the greatest decision of my life.

The next time you go to the mailbox and open up a festive card, remember God’s special invitation. You, too, can have everlasting life with Jesus and know peace through Him. Today’s verse tells us, Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

God extends His invitation to everyone who believes in His name. Chose to accept the invitation and you can have a personal relationship with the One who desires to be your best friend. All other invitations pale in comparison.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and cohdra.)

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Are You Contagious?

It was a simple but profound question: “Why would I let his attitude dictate my attitude?” When I read those words in my daily devotional, I said out loud, “Wow … why would I?”

Unfortunately, it would be impossible to count the number of times I’ve done just that. Attitudes are contagious—both good and bad. It’s easy to pick up someone’s offense and become angry because, well … just because they are, especially when you care about that person. Being around someone who is critical, judgmental, and loves to gossip is like getting too close to a flytrap. It’s hard to avoid getting stuck in the gooey mess. Even associating with someone who is constantly negative can steal our joy and rob us of our peace. Before we know it, we’re commiserating with them and spouting off those same negative words.

The fruit of the Spirit is … self-control. And self-control is an art, practiced and perfected over time. It begins with a choice and becomes easier as we learn to restrain our impulses and emotions, refusing to let others dictate our thoughts, words, attitudes, and behavior. In other words, we become responsible for our own actions. Proverbs tells us that a person without self-control is like a house with its doors and windows knocked out (THE MESSAGE). Ouch!

I can’t help but wonder how many times my own bad attitude has rubbed off on others. Early in my marriage, I would get upset when my husband didn’t jump onto my emotional roller coaster. Whenever I was angry and wanted to argue, he would just grin and walk away. He refused to let my attitude affect him. Trust me … I have learned much from him over the years.

The good news is we can also be contagious with our smiles, laughter, encouragement, and positive attitudes. We all have someone in our life who makes us feel better just by being around them. We always leave their presence better than we were before. Jesus said, Let your light so shine before men. Why? So that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Shine the light today and be contagious with the love of God. Others will be drawn to that light and your Father in heaven will be glorified.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and pippalou.)

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Acceptance and Love

She lives in a one-bedroom apartment with her two children. On the top floor of an inner-city housing project, a king-size mattress lays in the middle of the living room floor. The television is blaring, the radiator wheezing, and in the corner are three bulging, dark-green garbage bags.

There are no elevators in the building, so my guess is she waits for the help or the strength to haul the garbage bags down the seven flights of stairs to the dumpster. Despite the fact that her front door has two deadbolts, it loosely hangs on its hinges. Duct tape stretches the entire length of the door and covers the gap between the door and the jamb. The tiny hallway between the front door and the living room doubles as a closet and is neatly lined with shoes, boots, and coats.

She is happy to see me. We hug. She mutes the television but finds comfort in watching the silenced actors. We make small talk for a few minutes and then start to discuss the recent loss of her less-than-loved-one, her finances, and her children’s safety. When our time is up, I ask if she would like to pray together. She nods, turns off the television, and kneels before me. 

“Oh, no,” I say. “We will either kneel together or stand. I am a human fallen ball of dirt, and no one should kneel before me.”  We opt to stand.

We pray a simple prayer, thanking Jesus for his provisions, acknowledging His greatness, and asking for His continued help and protection. When we are done, we embrace.

“I have friends and all that I talk to, but you are different. You don’t judge me. I always feel happier after we talk,” she says as I gather my coat.

Imagine living your whole life and never, ever experiencing the true love of God. Christ’s followers are to bear witness to the Light. To show love. To offer acceptance and compassion.  

Look at the world around you today. Look into the eyes of others. Seek out the hope. Do you see Jesus? If not, pray for an opportunity to offer one of the greatest gifts of all: acceptance and love.

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Freedom

There should be an exclamation point at the end of this verse: If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Can’t you hear Jesus sharing this life-changing news?

“YOU, yes I’m talking to YOU! YOU are no longer a slave to sin. I said…YOU ARE NO LONGER A SLAVE TO SIN!!! You are free…you are free…YOU ARE FREE!!!”

And the crowd goes wild. No longer bound up. No longer controlled by sin. No longer yoked to something that causes death. Freedom. Don’t get too comfortable; enter the evil one.

With me, he shows up now and then in the form of an eating disorder I’ve been set free from. Typically, I’m getting dressed when suddenly the anxiety and fear of “being fat” pops up. It’s not the typical, “This shirt makes me look fat.” It’s a debilitating sense of complete panic. Most of the time, I begin to pace and sweat, speaking death over myself.  

My husband, who knows the signs of  “ED” returning, steps up and reminds me I’ve been set free. Then I stand in the middle of my bedroom, with mascara smeared, thankful for a God who loves me enough to free me from such tight bondage.

Jesus paid too high of a price for us to live in any form of bondage. Being bound up says we really don’t appreciate the cross and what it represents. It’s a way of saying we’ll accept eternity in Heaven but on earth we except Hell.

God’s purpose in creating us was not for us to live a single second in bondage. Accept the aggressive forgiveness that God offers, and let Him free you from the bondage we become caught up in.

God’s will is for us is to walk in His complete freedom. I’m going to start speaking John 8:36 over my life, and I encourage you do try it too. If the Son sets ME free, I am free indeed. Let Him set you free. 

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Spiritual Amnesia

Listening to her talk, I was stunned. I had known this woman for years. God had poured out His blessings and worked miracles in her life time and again. Yet, here she was … enveloped in a cloud of fear, doubt, and unbelief.

The more I reminded her of God’s faithfulness and tried to bring her back to a place of trust, the further she sank into an emotional prison of her own making. She either could not or would not remember God’s mercy and grace in her life. She was experiencing what I call spiritual amnesia.

The Israelites had it too. God freed them from a life of slavery and abuse, promising them a new home flowing with milk and honey. In other words, filled with everything they would ever want or need. He rained down food from heaven, quenched their thirst with water from a rock, and kept them safe, healthy, and strong on the journey. His constant presence provided a cloud to shelter them from the sun and sliced through the darkness to light the way. After bringing them safely across the waters on dry ground, He gave them a bonus by letting those same waters devour the enemies that pursued them.

And yet they forgot … and they murmured and complained. The Bible says, They gave no thought to Your miracles; they did not remember Your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

I’ve learned over the years that we can’t go forward by living in the past, but sometimes we need to take a peek backward and remember what God has done for us. You can’t drive a car by staring in the rearview mirror, but it’s there for a purpose—to see what’s behind you. An occasional glance at the milestones we have constructed along the way will build our faith and keep us focused on God’s continual guidance and faithfulness

Serving God doesn’t mean our life will be free of problems. What it does mean is God will be there with us and see us through. We can have peace in the midst of any storm. And the joy of the Lord is available to us no matter what life throws our way.

Don’t ever forget God’s goodness or allow spiritual amnesia to hold you captive. Think about His amazing love and celebrate all the things He has done for you—every blessing great and small.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and kamuelaboy.)

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The Rockman Cometh

The doorbell rang frightfully early. My husband, a builder, had already left to meet a delivery man at the construction site in an adjacent subdivision. From a window, I had seen a truck idling and wondered what type of delivery required such an enormous vehicle. Our dogs were barking, and loud doesn't quite cover their frenzy over a strange man standing on our doorstep.

Resigned to seeing what this was about, I opened the door and the dogs rushed out. While the man's attention was on our fierce little dachshund, the other dog nipped his pant leg. The stranger danced around trying to disengage the dog's grip and waved his phone at me. 

Through the driver's halting English, I realized he was attempting to deliver the load of rock destined for the construction site but had the addresses mixed up. He was upset because his phone wasn't working. The dogs were making the whole situation worse, but we had to work through this so he could deliver the rock. I called my husband and they hashed out a plan. The rock man insisted on meeting him at the entrance of our subdivision so he could follow him to the construction site.

My husband and I knew the way as we had driven there countless times. It was easy for us but far more complicated for him. It didn't matter if the site was two right turns and five minutes away. If he got lost, with his non-working phone, he had no way of getting back in touch with anyone except me.

As Christians, we gaze from our snug perch and don't understand why the way to salvation is so hard for some. We forget it's all new territory for them. In the oft-quoted Scripture passage about love, the first line reads, Love is patient

Be patient with those who don't know the way to salvation. Be kind. Allow Christ's dynamic love to flow through you, and others will find their way home.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and jppi.)

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Fear, Reasonable or Unreasonable

Sunshine poured through the glass doors, beckoning me out to the rope swing in the backyard. I climbed on and with a push from a friend, soared over the ravine. The line broke, dropping me into twisted roots, rock, and earth. The force crushed five vertebrae and ignited my fear of heights.

Many years later, on the last day of a Guatemalan mission trip, I was given the option of riding the peaceful swells of a boat over a volcanic lake or racing down the side of a mountain on a zip line. I chose the boat. At my declaration, disappointment flickered through my husband’s eyes. He covered it well, with a reassuring smile and a gentle squeeze. My heart sank, I was letting down this man who more than accommodates my insane fear.

Staring out the bus window, I prayed for courage and comfort, knowing my fear was not founded in Christ but in the enemy’s manipulation. Nothing, not even death, could hurt me because I am cemented in the salvation of Christ. Butterflies filled my stomach as I agreed to go on the zip line.

Tension burned through my body. The first young man, a crazy daredevil sort, let his hands loose, swung in mid-air, and roared with elation. God used this carefree example to give me courage. My turn came. Hooked on the thin wire, I stood, feet planted. I barely heard the guide tell me to go. On the second attempt to move, my feet lifted and I was off. My breath left my lungs, eyes wide and frozen on the distant landing spot. I earnestly prayed.

My legs hit the ground. I stumbled to the side, and a nervous laugh erupted. I made it. By the power of the Lord, He got me through unharmed. On the subsequent flights, I began to enjoy the view, first the mountainside waterfall, then the tranquil azure lake, and finally the treetops I flew above. I would have missed God’s beauty and a shared experience with my husband if my fear had continued to rule me.

Do not let fear—imagined, learned, or real—stop you from participating in God’s world. When faced with fear, call upon God’s power and sink into His strength and might. He will be there, strapped-in next to you, hanging on so you won’t fall. Afterwards, thank Him for never leaving you.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and ThesisWhisperers.)

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The Surprises in Thanksgiving

Is it possible to learn about the value of giving thanks from a deer? I did. Actually, the lesson came from two deer.

As I often do on sunny days, I went to a park near my office to eat lunch and read. It’s a typical small-town park with a playground, a few benches, and a field for team sports. As I sat there, the birds’ songs and gentle breezes made me aware of God’s presence in commonplace moments. I thanked Him, recognizing that we don’t have to be on a lush Caribbean island or traveling through Tuscany to enjoy our surroundings. God’s beauty is everywhere, no matter how ordinary the place. I asked Him to give me a deeper appreciation of the mundane and to be grateful in it. I whispered “In everything, give thanks,” and went about my reading.

Moments later, I saw a deer grazing on a nearby grassy incline several yards from me. The deer was beautiful, and I realized God had shared a moment of wonder with me in that simple place. I took a few photos and hoped other park visitors wouldn’t startle the animal. Suddenly, I spotted a second deer. A double surprise. I had never seen deer in that park before.

God taught me an important lesson that day: Giving thanks enables us to experience the extraordinary within the ordinary, and it opens the door for God to bring us even more wonderful surprises. Thanksgiving also deepens our sensitivity, and it increases our ability to see “hidden” gems all around us.

When we live a lifestyle of thanksgiving, nothing is really ordinary. Take time to observe your surroundings. Thank God, for nothing is ordinary.

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and arcturusangel.)

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Immeasurable Love

The love of God is simply immeasurable. His love has no boundaries, and His love has no faults. On our worst day in this life, God’s love does not stop or relinquish. He loves us in our sin, and He loves us under the blood of Jesus. His love for you today cannot be defined; it can only be received by you.

When you feel alone in this life, reach out to the One who loves you unconditionally. When you feel what it is like to be loved without conditions, it truly sets you free from all the hurt and boundaries of earthly love. We tend to chase and conform to receive love from another person, but in God we never have to compromise to be loved by Him. In Christ, He showed us immeasurable love and all we have to do is simply receive Jesus to taste that love.

He loves you more today than any one single person on earth. His love will not hurt you, and it will not take anything away from you. He wants to add many great things to you. I implore you to receive His love today so my words can come to life in God’s love. You matter and everything you are going through will have a purpose. Every hurt you feel today will be released, and you will arrive at your destination. Rest in His great love because the price has already been paid for you in Jesus Christ. He does not have limitations on His love, and that is truly an amazing element of God that is oftentimes overlooked. Position yourself to taste that great love today. I promise it will bring an unspeakable peace. 

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Trusting God with an Unfinished Story

A good friend—published author of fiction and non-fiction—recently sent me the manuscript of her new suspense novel. I’m caught up in the story. Full of tension and expectation, the book has me on the edge of my seat, wondering if the girl is going to find justice and if the guy is going to win her heart. I’m finding it hard to put the book down. There’s only one problem—the book isn’t finished yet.

Thankfully, this author/friend has written multiple stories through the years. I’ve read many of these stories to the end, and none has left me disappointed. I agreed to read her unfinished suspense novel because I trust she knows the ending. And she’s a good author.

Each of our lives is an unfinished story. With an impending job loss and a chronic illness that leaves my health always uncertain, my life feels like a suspense novel with an unwritten ending. I suspect I’m not alone. Unknowns lie ahead for all of us. But in the heart of the Author of our stories, they were written before time began and before we came onto the scene. He determined plot and character and set the stage from the beginning. He unfolds that story year by year, revealing new chapters and adding tension and expectation.

Our God has written multiple stories throughout the centuries. We can read many of them in His Word, and we won’t be left disappointed. The Lord tells us that He takes pleasure in those who hope in His mercy. When we trust the Lord knows the ending to our story and what’s going to happen in the chapters ahead, our faith gives Him pleasure.

He does know the end. And He’s a really good Author.

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One Hundred Percent

Every year I participate in a church-wide fast. While each person's fast is customized, we are unified in our desire to draw closer to God. Yet when I prayed about what I personally needed to do, the heavens seemed silent.  Eventually, I felt a gentle nudge from the Holy Spirit about going deeper into a food plan I was attempting to implement as a lifestyle.

Inwardly I whined. Though successful with breakfast and lunch, the evening meal was a predictable crash and burn. The following day I would do fine again for breakfast and lunch, only to repeat the cycle of failure during and after the evening meal. Still, the gentle nudging reaffirmed itself, this time with the addition of a small voice saying I needed to give one hundred percent.

In response, I offered my own statistic of seventy percent. I was proud of seventy percent. I could maintain a reasonable level of comfort with that percentage. Then I received a vision of a professional athlete walking up to a coach and saying in all seriousness, "I can give you seventy percent." OUCH. The word picture revealed exactly how I was fighting the good fight. I squirmed with conviction as I realized staying in my comfort zone equaled lukewarm faith.  

If there is an area of your life where you are not fighting through to the finish line, don’t be happy with the norm. Reach for one hundred percent. That stretch takes real effort, yet that's our race. Christ gave us everything we need to be successful. Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, won the race for us. Follow in His footsteps to victory.

Fight.       

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Walking in Another's Shoes

“Father,” I complained, “listen to that mother screaming at her children.”   

“Have you walked in that tired mother’s shoes?  Were you divorced when your children were young?  Did you face the necessity of earning a living in order to survive? To have money for food and rent—forget the luxuries that you take for granted?” he answered.

“No, Father, I guess not.”  

“Then, my child, have you room to criticize?”

“Father, listen to that old woman babbling on and on. I’ve heard that story over and over.  I’m sure I could repeat it word for word.” 

“My child, have you been aged, alone, and tucked away in a nursing home neglected by your children?  Have you sat hour by hour, day by day waiting for the letter that never arrives or the visitor who never comes?”

“No, Father, I haven’t.” 

“Then you haven’t walked in that lonely mother’s shoes.”

As I travel the road of life—sometimes racing through time in jogging shoes, sometimes clogging along shod in work boots, I come in contact with people. Some are screamers, others complainers. Alcohol or drugs are constant companions to many. Others puff constantly on cigarettes. Some overeat to the point of gluttony, trying to satisfy a nameless hunger in their lives.  Obscenities fill the vocabularies of many of my fellow travelers. Others are promiscuous.  

I take notice of these and it is then, I remind my Father of all “those sinful people” surrounding me.  He listens to my self-righteous grumblings and then quietly asks, “My child, have you walked in their shoes?”

Most of those times, I have to contritely confess, “No, Father, I haven’t.  Please forgive me.”

I may tiptoe through life barefoot, slosh through in rain boots, dance my way in airy sandals, but until I walk in my fellow traveler’s shoes, I am not qualified to criticize.

When you find yourself holding the stone, ask yourself, “Am I free to cast this?”

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and FantasiaCelestial.)

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

The evil queen walked to the mirror, looked, and said, “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”

If you are a Disney fan, you have probably watched this scene in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs many times. While we don’t have a talking mirror on our wall that tells us the quality of our looks, we have something better that tells us who we are: the Word of God.

A glass mirror can only project back the physical image looking into it. When we depend on that reflection to gauge our view of ourselves, we are limited. We see the wrinkles, zits, and sags and judge our worth accordingly. But the physical part of us is not our true being.

A wavy mirror like those in arcades and circuses give a distorted image. We may look super tall or incredibly fat, but we are not seeing the true person. Distorted thinking does the same thing. An incorrect view gives the wrong image to our mind, which transfers to our actions. 

It’s important to see ourselves through the correct mirror—the mirror of the Word, and to have revelation of how God sees us. As water or glass reflects our face, our hearts reflect our true being. Our inner man is what God looks at, no matter what the glass mirror says.

If we could ask the mirror who is the fairest, the answer would be Jesus. And because He has made us to be like Him, we can be the fairest too.

Look at yourself through the correct mirror and see what God sees in you.

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Orphanages Are like Bittersweet Chocolate

My father was an orphan, left on a doorstep in San Francisco in the Nob Hill area when he was a month old. He was then raised in an orphanage in San Francisco. Adopted when he was seven by Minnie and George Segress, he was taken to Visalia, some seventy-five miles south of Fresno, CA. His original name was Shelton.

Dad never forgot his days at the orphanage. Before he went to sleep, he always sang, Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so, little ones to Him belong, we are weak, but He is strong.

Recently, several people from our church made a mission trip to an orphanage in Rocky Point, Mexico. We took donations for them to have a shopping spree at Costco. It meant so much to all of us. We were with those in charge as they chose several wagons of milk and a twenty-five-pound roast for the little ones. I even bought cookies that weren’t on the shopping list to brighten little faces.

It meant so much to me to see happy, healthy children being raised under the Cross on the little chapel at the orphanage, knowing I myself might not be here if it weren’t for orphanages. I pictured my father as a frightened little boy, cold and alone in the darkness. I wept an unnoticed tear.

Orphanages are like bittersweet chocolate. The sweetness of the children’s faces is mixed with the bitterness of the reality that so many others aren’t given the love and care they need. At least we can rescue some, my quiet heart reminds me.

John taught the importance of giving freely to those in need. He reminded us God cannot abide in us if we withhold from those in dire straights. But when we share, amazing things happen. Those who receive, learn to give, and then receive. Their hearts are warmed just as the giver is blessed.

Let God work in your heart. Give to the open arms of those in need. Listen to the still, soft whisper as He nudges you to care for those in need. The blessings come full circle when you heed His call. 

(Photo courtesy of microsoft office.)

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Old Memories

The old gentleman sat with his back to us at a local restaurant. My husband and I nodded to him as we passed by heading to our table. Later, when a waitress stopped to refill his water glass, she asked about his wife.

“Doing better,” he replied. Then he asked about her family, and a brief conversation followed before she moved on to the next table. A regular customer, I said to myself. Obviously missing his wife’s company.

We had almost finished our meal when a strange thing happened. The man shuffled toward us and placed a napkin on our table. Then he made his way to the cash register and out the door. On the napkin, written in all caps with a shaky hand, were these words: WE MUST ALWAYS HAVE OLD MEMORIES AND YOUNG HOPES.

My husband and I wondered what the words meant to him and especially why he had chosen to share them with us. I can only guess at the meaning behind those block letters. No doubt he was fondly remembering better times and letting those thoughts of yesteryear offer a sweet aftertaste to his evening’s meal.

But I was intrigued by the phrase “young hopes.” As one well up in years, the man was still young in heart. Rather than being embittered, or anxious, or morose about his circumstances, he offered us—total strangers—the gift of hope, the kind we associate with the dreams and aspirations of youth.

Perhaps this man had not achieved all he’d expected in life. Perhaps the years had passed too swiftly and health had deteriorated. But nothing had deterred his “young hope,” and he wanted to encourage others to keep hope alive. I wanted to run after him, to tell him that I have this hope for a better tomorrow, a hope that is eternally new and full of life, a hope found in knowing and serving Jesus Christ.

Today I want to pass the gift along to you. Cherish your “young hopes.” We Christians hope for things unseen. It’s easy to lose hope when our vision of it is obscured by pain or loss or adversity. But the hope offered through Christ is securely grounded, an anchor of the soul, sure and steadfast.

Hope in the Lord! 

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Making a Spot

“Let me have some of yours, please!”

One of the feral kittens I feed on my deck is a five-month-old female. I can put food in six bowls on the deck, but where does she head? Right to where her mom or one of the males from her colony is eating. She rubs against them with her tail up and tries to take over their bowl. Occasionally she will go to the third, fourth, or fifth bowl, but only after trying this approach first.

At times, they allow her to take their spot and they move elsewhere. She would never do this with a cat that was not from her colony, because cats hang with their own colonies. When my girls were growing up, I always steered them toward being friendly to everyone. Closest friendships were to be with children who had good manners, attended church, were positive, and were interested in wholesome play.

Although we must let our Christian witness show when around individuals who do not believe in Christ, there is a limit to the time and degree we should associate with them. Too often, we find evil is more powerful than good. Perhaps as Christians, we should not try to fit comfortably into a non-Christian environment. Perhaps we should be uncomfortable and stand out. Being a godly influence is good, but not conforming (yoking) ourselves to a person who does not believe in or walk with God is essential.

God desires for us to fellowship with other Christians. There is a reason the Bible speaks of the fellowship of believers. Worship energizes us to face the “world” the rest of the week. Sometimes I come out of church or fellowship with other Christians feeling as if I can do anything because of the love radiating from them.

Make fellowship with other Christians an important, routine part of your life. You cannot live a godly life in isolation. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and atroywy.)

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Daisy Petal Hope

“He loves me, he loves me not.” I plucked the white daisy petals, deciding the outcome of my childhood crush.

Years later during a church service, daisies on my dress stirred memories as I waited for my pastor/husband, Mike, to call me to the platform. He had asked me to share the long journey of praying for my father to come to Christ.

We watched the Billy Graham video “Hope for America—a Message of the Cross.” As I waited for my cue, the white-and-yellow daisies seemed to blossom on my dress. The Lord put in my heart an image of plucking flower petals representing a young girl’s hope for love. Hope found in the kind of love that goes to the cross.

As a young girl, I longed for love—especially from a father. In childhood, we form beliefs about God that often shape what we think about love. We deny God’s existence or believe there is a God, yet form wrong thoughts about Him: God is a cosmic cop ready to bust us for every wrong turn; God is a disciplinary father-figure punishing us with stern consequences; or God is like our earthly father who abandoned us physically, emotionally, or both.

As a child, I saw my father every other weekend, a self-proclaimed atheist. He often said, “People think there is a God, but there isn’t.” At sixteen, I came to believe in God who sent his son Jesus to pay the penalty for my sin. At that moment, I started praying for my father to believe in God. Sixteen years later when I was thirty-two, my father accepted Christ. He finally realized there was a God—a God who loved him and wanted him.

There is a God. He loves us. Love originates from Him and is not conditional on anything we do or don’t do. His love is not based on some whimsical hope of the last flower petal landing on “he loves me.” It’s the hope of true love found in the cross.

Plucking petals from a flower, we can never say about God, “He loves me not.” It is always, “He loves me, He loves me, Jesus loves me.” He loves you. Accept His love. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and sasha7.)

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Seeking After Him

Fear shot through me.

“Mom? Mooomm!” She was nowhere to be found. I crawled to my feet. Shoppers strolled leisurely past me, glancing at the assortment of magazines on the rack. She was right there. Right beside me. Now, she was . . . gone.

Fear was my weakness.  I’ve never understood why. Nothing crazy ever happened to instill the burden on me. It just happened. As a child, I feared the dark and worried about being left alone. And don’t eeeven ask me about first grade—I just knew when the bell rang, something would prevent Mom from standing in the hall to retrieve me.

“Mommmmm! Where are you?”  I dashed through the aisles of Big K searching frantically. Tears seeped from the corners of my eyes and vomit rose into my throat. What if she left?

People passed and stared. Some laughed, but only one offered to help a panicked child.

“Hey, pretty girl. You lost?” The man knelt on one knee; his red and white badge assured me he was a store employee.

“My, my, my, mom. She’s . . . gone.”

He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and blotted my tears. “No worries. I bet she’s looking for you.” He walked me the few steps to the customer service center. “Intercom please, Marie.” The woman behind the counter handed him a mic.

“Attention shoppers. We have a child in the front who’s misplaced her mother. Can the mother of a pretty little blonde girl please make your way to the service desk?”

It was only seconds before Mom materialized. She wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug. “Honey, I would never leave you alone in a store. All you have to do is look. I won’t be far. You’ll find me.”

I was hard-pressed to believe her since she’d mysteriously vanished only minutes prior. She was, after all, only on the next aisle.

God loves His children regardless of their state. His promises are faithful, tried, and true. We need only to seek Him. When we do, He loves us even more. We are made for Him and in Him we are made whole. It’s easy to become distracted by the magazines on the racks of life around us—to step out of line and become lost. But seeking after Him is the only way to know Him more intimately and He promises when we seek, we will find.

He loves you. Love Him. Seek Him

Photo courtesy www.morguefile.com & kesh

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A Do-Over

Sitting in my daughter-in-law Sherry’s salon chair, I was ready. “How about this cut?” she asked, showing me a picture.

“Well”… I reluctantly said, “okay.”

“And,” she said, “I’ll color your gray … and give you some blonde highlights.”

“Oooo … kkkaaayyy.” I rolled my eyes but trusted her completely. After my do-over, I hardly knew myself. My son Kyle said, “Mom, you look, ummm … seven years younger.”

Well, I could handle that.

So, there are good do-overs, and then there are times we mess up and we’d like to try again. We exclaim, “Do over!” When you offend another person and recognize it, you might ask the Lord for another chance. Then there are those missteps in our spiritual life. Our prayer time is limited, but we intend to meditate and pray more—some day. We drop five dollars in the offering plate but still get our vacation, new car, or daily cappuccino. We try to make peace with a brother or sister. Didn’t work—again.

Do you pray, “Do over, God? Please help me get it right this time.” When we fail, God allows the Holy Spirit to nudge us to action. We hear a challenging message from our pastor and ask God if we can try again to change our behavior and live as we should. My co-worker said, “The training books you assembled today were all wrong, Phyllis.” I’d been
given the latest updates, but she had not received the changes and she assumed I was wrong.

Since my director heard the interchange, I was embarrassed. This triggered a harsh inner-attitude and I knew it. I wondered why she seemed to enjoy doing this to me. I also knew my attitude was wrong, but later the Holy Spirit got my attention. 

I told the Lord, “I really want the right attitude here, please help me.”

Before long, God gave me a chance to change and I failed miserably. So I prayed, “Please give me another chance and I’ll do it right.” I made a determination. I wondered what I could focus on about this person. She was a good mother, so I fixed my mind on that and considered her motherly qualities. Doing this brought an appreciation and even a compassion for her which wasn’t there before.

God does allow numerous opportunities. His mercies are available and new every morning. Ask Him to draw your attention to any do-overs you may need. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and calgrin.)

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Seeking after Him

Panic shot through me. “Mom? Mooomm!” She was nowhere to be found. I crawled to my feet. Shoppers strolled past me leisurely glancing at the assortment of magazines on the rack. She was right there. Right beside me. Now, she was . . . gone.

Fear was my weakness. I’ve never understood why. Nothing crazy ever happened to instill the burden on me. It just happened. As a child, I feared the dark and worried about being left alone. And don’t eeeven ask me about first grade. I just knew when the bell rang, something would prevent Mom from standing in the hall to retrieve me.

“Mommmmm! Where are you?” I dashed through the aisles of Big K searching frantically. Tears seeped from the corners of my eyes and vomit rose into my throat. What if she left?

People passed and stared. Some laughed, but only one offered to help a panicked child.

“Hey, pretty girl. You lost?” The man knelt on one knee, his red and white badge assured me he was a store employee.

“My, my, my, mom. She’s . . . gone.” 

He pulled his handkerchief from his pocket and blotted my tears. “No worries. I bet she’s looking for you.” He walked me the few steps to the customer service center. “Intercom please, Marie.” The woman behind the counter handed him a mic.

“Attention shoppers. We have a child in the front who’s misplaced her mother. Can the mother of a pretty little blonde girl please make your way to the service desk?” 

It was only seconds before Mom materialized. She wrapped her arms around me in a tight hug. “Honey, I would never leave you alone in a store. All you have to do is look. I won’t be far. You’ll find me.” 

I was hard pressed to believe her since she’d mysteriously vanished only minutes prior. She was, after all, only on the next aisle.

God loves His children regardless of their state. His promises are faithful, tried, and true. We need only to seek Him. When we do, He loves us even more. We are made for Him and in Him we are made whole. It’s easy to become distracted by the magazines on the racks of life around us. To step out of line and become lost. But seeking after Him is the only way to know Him more intimately, and He promises when we seek, we will find.

He loves you. Love Him. Seek Him.

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You're Killing Me

Pat is in the last stages of severe Alzheimer’s disease (Lewy Body Dementia) and is unable to wash herself. She doesn’t remember how. She hates showers and is quite vocal about the water being too hot or too cold. If she can’t verbalize the correct word, she will shout, “Oh!” many times. As a caregiver, I find giving a shower to an unhappy person very tiring.

On one particular day, I decided to start with Pat’s feet. Both feet have crooked toes, and one foot has a painful hammertoe due to years of wearing pointed shoes for a professional work environment. Kneeling down, I began to wash her feet. The warm, wet washcloth was full of soap suds as I lifted one foot and washed the bent and gnarled toes, continuing across the bottom of her foot and sliding to the top of the ankle bone. I lifted her other foot and did the same. I looked up at Pat and saw the deep furrow in her brow as she shouted, “Oh! You’re killing me.”

I asked, quietly, if she remembered the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with expensive perfume. Pat became quiet and the rigid lines in her face relaxed. She had gone to church for the last seventy-three years and by her facial expressions, she was familiar with this story. Her eyes moved from their staring, fixed position and focused on me.

 “I am like that woman, Pat. It is my honor to wash your feet.” 

Every day is a learning process when working with memory loss. While caring for Pat, I have discovered she finds great comfort in hearing the old stories from the Bible. When she is in a stressful situation, quoting familiar verses provides her great comfort.

Even though, as a caregiver, I hear the same words time and again, it is important to capture special moments and treasure them in my heart. Kneeling before this lovely person with limited verbal skills, I have discovered that the lowliest of duties are the highest in God’s kingdom. 

Let Christ bathe your soul in His love. 

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A Bad Call

Recently, our school district’s automated phone system mistakenly called every parent to inform them that their child was absent. The phones in the school offices rang off the hook as frantic parents called to ask about their children. There’s a saying, “To err is human, but to really foul things up you need a computer.” Maybe not. Long before computers were invented, humans created plenty of turmoil on their own.

The couple whose footsteps made the first human imprints on the face of the earth changed the course of history as a result of one major oops. The rest of us aren’t making things any better. Satan tailor-makes temptations for each of us. What might be a struggle for me may not be a problem for you and vice-versa. Fortunately for us, God supplied a one-size-fits-all remedy. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

By one selfless act, Jesus righted every wrong ever made. His redemptive work covers every sin whether it’s recorded on the pages of history for all to read or hidden deep away. Jesus did more than pay the penalty for our sin. Anyone who believes and trusts in His ability to wipe the slate clean is promised an eternity of life in heaven with Him. Imagine living in freedom from now into forever with someone who loves you that much. All you have to do is ask.

The communication system we have with God never glitches. Let Him know you’re ready to accept the fact that Jesus can clean up any mess you’ve made. What’s done is done … and that’s the good news. 

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The Sin of Envy

I thought I was beyond the sin of envy. The very definition of envy—wanting what belongs to someone else and smacking of childishness—was me. Through recent events of normal living, I couldn't seem to shake a vague discontentment. I wondered what was wrong with me, searched my heart for evidence, and found the grumbly spirit of envy hiding.

I didn't want to admit it, but the red-hot poker of conviction burned my soul. I’d allowed enough negative thoughts in to experience a full-blown case of envy toward a woman I love and appreciate—at least when I'm not busy wishing I had her life, lovely figure, wonderful status, and seemingly perfect kids.

We think envy is something we experienced on the school playground, but it's woefully relevant to adult living. Ever present, it lurks in our daily lives, waiting for an opportunity to gain a foothold. Envy is like a poisonous sword. Once our soul is pierced, every part of our life is affected. Left unattended, it eats clean through to the bones.

The sin of envy is a huge distraction to living a contented life. When we focus on what someone else has, we misuse the energy we need to live our own lives. If our thoughts center around someone else's marvelous kids, then our own will always fall short by comparison. The people in my life need me to be there for them … helping them be the best they can be … not comparing them with the "perfect" behavior of others.

So I confessed to God and myself that I was, indeed, jealous of what He had given someone else. Once I repented, I was able to move on. The vague irritation disappeared and contentment  once again reigned.

Take a close look at your contentment meter. If it's a bit on the low side, perhaps you need to move past the denial that it could never happen to you. See if the sin of envy isn't lurking in a dark corner of your soul. God loves you. He knows His children are not perfect, and He promises to restore His precious peace to our lives as often as we need. 

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A Masterpiece for Me

My sleepy eyes fluttered open to the early morning light flooding my bedroom. This was unusual as it is normally dark when I get up. But on this day, I had slept in. I savored the moment snuggled deep beneath the warm covers. My cat purred softly while curled up next to me on one side. My husband slumbered peacefully on the other side—his breathing deep and steady as his chest rose and fell in even increments.

Most mornings, I turn off the alarm and roll out of bed, blindly feeling my way to the light switch. Today, however, the room was bright. I peeked over the top of the down comforter, and my gaze locked on the view beyond the framed window pane. The most beautiful fall color pallet had been brushed across the wooded tree line that filled the framed window … gold, orange, red, yellow, brown, burgundy, green. All swirled together and were lit up by the morning sunshine. It was absolutely stunning.

Had I not slept in, I would have missed this moment. Perhaps I might have missed it anyway because most mornings my mind is already churning with the day’s agenda when I arise. But on this day, I was blessed with my Master’s creation. He painted this work of art, this masterpiece, just for me. I took the time to enjoy it. As I basked in His love, I thanked God for giving me such a priceless gift: a world filled with beauty.

What gift has God given you today? A gift only you could recognize. A gift just for you. Don’t miss it. Look for the gifts God gives so freely, and once you find them, take time to appreciate them. Bask in His love. You deserve it. You are His child. 

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Five Year Sentence

I sunk my head onto the steering wheel in the church parking lot as I listened for the second time in a year to a mother weeping on the phone. The police had arrested her son. She was crying out to God to give her wisdom and to change her son’s heart. With the last ounce of emotional energy she could muster, she begged us to join her in prayer.

The definition of “heartache” cannot stretch far enough to explain the anguish this mother felt as she saw her son in handcuffs. . .again. An unwise, rash, and peer-pressure-induced decision brought this son’s life to a halt as he faced the punishment of the court. However, foolishness does not only affect the fool. Now even his siblings, and especially his mother, wake every morning to the reality  his foolish decision brought.

My son’s in jail. My brother is gone for a long time; we don’t know when he can come back. As I ended the conversation, I asked what we could do to help. She did not ask for meals to be brought or bills to be paid; she begged for prayers. Prayers that her son would follow God again and that He would strengthen her somehow to survive this chapter of life.

Through this deep, dark valley, I am confident our Heavenly Father hears the cry of this mother and that the Holy Spirit intercedes on her behalf. We worship a God who will give us peace beyond understanding, love abounding in grace, and wisdom despite our shortcomings. Enter His presence today with renewed confidence that He is able to bring prodigal children back into right relationship with Himself and restore earthly relationships with families. 

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Just Fifty Dollars

“I don’t know how much longer I can take care of all these sick people in our kitchen, Eli,” I told my husband. I had just ushered the last patient to the door. Now I lined up the containers of gauze, tape, and cotton on the little table beside the refrigerator and covered it with a clean cloth.

“Ever since the neighbors found out you’re a nurse, they’ve kept you busy.”

“Oh, but I love it. Anyway, that’s why we came to El Salvador, to serve, right?”

"Well, what you need is a little clinic in the back yard," Eli said.

“That would be better than treating sick people in here. How much would a small building cost?" I asked.

"I think I could build a little shack for fifty dollars."

The question we pondered and prayed over was simple: Did God want us to have a clinic? All we could do was trust in the power of prayer and ask. God loves working through us. He has designated us as His hands and feet, the workers of the fields. It’s His desire for us to come to His feet and ask for provision, direction, and then trust He will do more than we can imagine.

Several days after our prayers for guidance and provision, we received a letter. When we opened it, a fifty-dollar check fell out. It had been written before we prayed. God’s Word reminds He can do much more than we can ask or think. It’s true. He really can, and He does.

Did God chuckle when we asked for only fifty dollars? He showed us He is the Great Provider and is capable of giving us much more than that. During the next weeks, we received a shower of unsolicited funds. Eli built, not a little shack, but a two-room complex. We had enough money left to buy an examining table, a dentist chair, a small refrigerator, and all the medical equipment we needed.

What do you need? Talk with God about it and see what He has in store. 

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She Could Have Danced

Ariel danced as she had never danced before. She twirled countless times and soared as high as her pint-sized legs would take her. Although no music played, she danced and danced; for the love from her audience was the only music that sang in her little heart. It was the only music she needed. It was the only music that stirred her to perform—as though she were a prima ballerina.

“Oh, look at her twirl. What a beautiful dance. Why, she’s a gifted dancer. And such a long dance too. Me, oh my!” Sincere and earnest compliments flowed from a loving family. All were amazed by a little girl’s tenacity to create such a sterling performance. 

A wise woman I loved so dearly made this remark about her first grandson who was considered diminutive. “Well, if love will make him grow … he’ll be a giant.” And the young boy who was small and skinny grew into a man of muscle and stature—a man of character.

And the heavenly host spied the child of God whose heart was given to Jesus, a child whose sins were washed in His blood. She was a child of promise, with destiny, and oh how Father adored His little child. But His heart was saddened for she could not see her Father’s heart. She could not embrace with reckless abandon His love for her. Fears of rejection paralyzed her feet from moving out of a constricted mold. Would her destiny perish? Would her God-given dreams and passions be aborted while irrational fears kept her locked away from the knowledge of her Father’s love?

I say today to the children of the Most High … dance with all your might. Soar with Father’s love. Dare to twirl and perform ballets long into the night. Come out of your constricted position, and flee the taunts of Satan. Run into the arms of your heavenly Father Who has loved you to dance—loved you to victory—loved you into becoming a giant.

Listen to the music from heaven. Dance on. Dance with your Beloved—far into the night.

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Hope Deferred

Who hasn’t tasted a piece of Hersey’s chocolate as it melts in your mouth? Most of us have. In 1876 Milton Hershey started a candy business in Philadelphia, but despite six years of hard work, it failed. He moved to New York City and started another business based on caramel. It failed. He moved back to his native central Pennsylvania and started another caramel-based business. This time it was successful and the Hershey Chocolate Company was born. He used the proceeds from this enterprise to perfect (taking years of trial and error) a process for making milk chocolate and mass-producing it. And the rest is history.

What if Milton Hershey had stopped after his first or second failure? The world would never have known the Hershey’s Kiss, not to mention many acts of philanthropy. He would have died an obscure and unknown man. Had Abraham not persisted in believing God past the biological possibility of conceiving the son of the promise, the history of God’s people might have been different.

If you have been a believer very long, no doubt you’ve had experiences where heavenly vision did not translate into an earthly reality. You were sure you heard from God, but the promise from Him did not seem to come to fruition. It’s possible you just misread God, but it’s more probable you assumed God’s timing for its fulfillment. The promise may have been genuine, but you assigned a time for God to act based on your circumstances, for what seemed reasonable to you.

As we read the Bible, we can see God’s timing does not always coincide with ours. Many people, just like Abraham, had to wait—humanly speaking—past realistic periods of time to receive the promise. After years of waiting, Abraham probably assumed it was all over. But things are never over until God says they’re over.

How will your life be different if you continue to believe God in spite of failure, disappointment, and delay? Trust in the hope and promise of Jesus, and you’ll soon see it’s not over. . .it’s better. 

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Let's Paint a Masterpiece

We are all brushstrokes in God’s overall masterpiece.

Admittedly, I’m no artist. At best, I can conjure up some basic stick figures to convey the few artistic concepts I may have. Which makes me admire those who can draw or paint incredibly detailed and beautiful scenes.

I recently watched one such gifted painter on television. He methodically set up his work area. His tools . . . one blank canvas, a variety of basic paint colors, and an array of brushes. With several initial strokes, he swiped and swished various brushes across the canvas, creating the initial artistic structure. At times, he dabbed a brush in two different colors to create the variant hues he desired. But what piqued my interest was the many different types of brushes he used. Some were large, round, and coarse; others were small and very pointed. Some long and narrow with flat tips. Each individual brush was different and served a distinct purpose. In the painter’s masterful hand, the deliberate strokes and swirls from the brushes’ different textures, shapes, and sizes made the canvas come alive.

Paul refers to believers as God’s masterpiece. Some translations use the words “handiwork” or “workmanship.” The word “we” implies a collective (not an individual) masterpiece, meaning the entire body of Christ is His masterpiece. His sovereign purpose is the canvas and each believer is an individual brushstroke. In the hands of the Master, our lives become part of His overall work of art.

In meditating on this verse, I recalled how the televised painter worked his magic. What type of brush am I? Is my brushstroke broad, bold, and foundational, or am I a smaller, finer brush that is used for more detailed, finishing work? I needed to be sure my paintbrush was available for God to use.

As believers, God created us anew in Christ Jesus—He transformed us—so we can do the “good things” He has planned for us. What an awesome privilege and amazing honor to be part of His divine masterpiece of salvation and overall purpose for the world. He has gifted each person with unique and specific talents to be used in the expansion, encouragement, and equipping of His Church.

Get your brush ready and let God paint something incredible. 

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A Pure and Simple King

My cousin, a Hollywood camera operator, showed me around the studio set of the latest television show he was working on. The show was a popular sit-com, and the two leading actors were household names. He took my picture as I sat in the pretend kitchen, and we wandered around the adjoining sets: a bedroom, a café, a school hallway. While I enjoyed the tour, I kept wondering to myself: How are they able to make any of this look even half-way real when the show airs on TV? The sets seen up close were so flimsy and fake. To accept them as believable was giving in to an illusion. 
 
But isn’t that what Hollywood is, a master of illusion? More, isn’t that how the world is, offering up its glamorous lies of wealth, power, and success as the “real deal,” when these things have no genuine substance to satisfy our souls? 
I love how Jesus, when it was time for him to come into the world, was born not in a palace, but in a barn. I love how he made of himself an ordinary person who lived in a small town and worked as a carpenter. And how, when he wandered from place to place during his years of ministry, he had no place to lay his head, which means he may very well have spent many nights sleeping on the ground under the stars. 

Jesus came into the world to save us from death, but at the same time, he showed us how to live. His goal was to do the will of God, to complete the tasks God had sent him into the world to do. That’s all. And for Jesus, that was enough. He never sought after power or wealth, or popularity, because he knew these things were only an illusion, a cheap imitation of what God wants to give us when we’re in right relationship with him. 
 
My favorite Christmas decoration is my Nativity scene, with baby Jesus lying in the manger. God himself, wrapped in swaddling clothes and sleeping on the hay. It reminds me of what brings true joy in this world: humbleness, servanthood, self-sacrifice. 

The world’s offerings of happiness are illusions. As tempting as they as to believe and pursue, choose instead to follow in the footsteps of the Christ-child, a pure and simple king. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and speartoons.)

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The Birth That Saves

It’s the season. The Hallmark channel entertains us with sweet Christmas stories that always end happily ever after. The Grinch even turns from his evil ways and realizes: “Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.” Holiday music surrounds us, starting the day after Thanksgiving, as well as the enchanting array of sparkling lights and colorful decorations. 

It’s a happy time of year. We escape in the magic by decorating our homes, scenting the kitchen with the fragrance of gingerbread, shopping, and scattering the beautifully wrapped presents under the tree. We celebrate Christmas. Except when we can’t. Except when our hearts are breaking. Except when the empty seat at the table reminds us that life is not happily ever after. This season brings me to such a time. Each day I sit by my beloved aunt’s bedside as she lays dying. My heart breaks at the thought of my world without her. She’s always been my rock. The keeper of my soul. Light in the darkness. My love for her knows no bounds. I sit and wait for a voice that can no longer speak. Her love, however, breaks through the chains of disease and she drinks me in through her beautiful blue-grey eyes. She blinks three times—our code for “I love you.” 

My beloved will be gone by Christmas. Her chair will be empty. Her laughter a memory. How can I possibly celebrate Christmas in a world without her kindness, love, and goodness? How can I celebrate Christmas? Turning from my grief, I ask myself: How can I NOT celebrate Christmas. 

What is Christmas but the gift of our God, who so loved the world He gave His only Son so that we may have eternal life. My aunt will live because He lives. She will go from sickness to fullness of life eternally in heaven with her Savior. It is only when we experience life’s traumas through the filter of the power of the Cross that we can truly celebrate Christmas. 

The empty chair will still be at the table on Christmas day, but it will be a reminder of life—a life still lived with the Savior she served. My tears will come, but Oswald Chambers reminds us that tears are the diamonds of heaven. 

His was the birth that saves. Because He lives, we can face tomorrow. 

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Star Search

It was dark. Nothing along the road looked familiar. No road signs. No recognizable landmarks. No cars, even. Marshy, coastal roads are quite desolate at night―even a little spooky. Certainly not a place in which I wanted to be lost.

How long had it been since I turned, anyway? Surely I hadn’t made a wrong turn―had I? I should be there by now―shouldn’t I? Ah, finally! A road sign ahead. But my sense of relief was quickly met with dismay. I had indeed made a wrong turn. And I had added twenty miles to my already exhausting road trip. With no GPS, I certainly could have used a guiding star that night. 

The uncertainty of being lost on the highway is not foreign to any of us. However, the apprehension we experience on one of today’s usually well-marked multilane highways would pale in comparison to the Magis’ sense of remote isolation in the vast, rugged hill country of Judea over two thousand years ago. Our immense relief on seeing a familiar landmark or road sign would fall far short of the “exceeding great joy” that washed over the Magi as they saw the star mysteriously reappear overhead. 

Magi living in the East marveled at the initial appearance of an unexplainable star which prompted their search for the prophesied newborn king of the Jews. Departing from Persia, they began their five-to-six-hundred-mile trek westward toward Jerusalem. Matthew’s gospel account of the Magi stopping in Jerusalem to ask King Herod for directions suggests that the star they saw “when it rose,” disappeared and was not visible for the greater part of their journey. King 
Herod, noticeably disturbed by their questions, personally did not see the star. However, after consulting with the chief priests and scribes and hearing the prophecy, he sent the Magi on their way toward Bethlehem. Soon, the star reappeared and they rejoiced as it went ahead of them.The reappearance of the star reveals that for much of their journey, they weren’t guided by what they saw, but by what they believed in their hearts to be true. Consequently, they journeyed to Bethlehem by faith, continuing through uncertainty, until they found the king they were seeking. 

When was the last time you journeyed an unknown path by faith? Perhaps your terrain is uncertain now. Follow what God has placed in your heart and believe it to be true. His light still shines, and wise men who seek Him still find him. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and greyerbaby.)

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And He Shall Reign

To fully understand the story of Christmas, we have to understand the historical setting depicted in Isaiah 9. It was a time of deep darkness. A time of violence, domination, and oppression; a time referred to as Pax Romana—the peace of Rome which was achieved and enforced through the brutality of a government. 

In stark contrast is the joyous birth announcement. This was a foreshadowing of the Christ to come. Through Him, a government of everlasting peace would be established—achieved through the righteousness and justice of God. His birth was our greatest gift. His death, the greatest sacrifice. His promise to return again, our greatest hope. 

Today a similar darkness exists. We are burdened by a world of sin and oppressed by a government that is removing God from all decisions and public affairs. Just as the people who walked in darkness saw a great light, the birth of Christ casts a great light for us. God sent His Son as a sacrifice for our sins, so His promise of an eternal kingdom can be ours. This hope brings new purpose into our lives today. We are called to sacrifice earthly pleasures for His righteousness, to stand in the face of evil persecution, and to share the good news and His eternal kingdom with others. 

Though the light has come, some will choose to remain in darkness. Our sacrifice is to live our faith for all to see. So we praise Him when we feel down, we give when we only have a widow's mite, and we become salt and light to a world in need. 

When Christmas day is past, the joy of the season can remain in our heart. As we reflect on the manger, may we open our eyes and ears to a story not about shepherds or angels, but about sacrifice and hope. God, who loved us so much, sent His only Son as a sacrifice—for us to be with Him eternally. 

What will you sacrifice to serve Him in this dark place?

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Thanksgiving Leftovers

A surplus of leftovers was stacked in my fridge. So precariously, in fact, my thoughts of unpacking the milk for morning cereal caused me to settle for dry toast with a smidge of jelly snatched from one of a dozen jars in the door. I had no time to risk the probable avalanche, nor the energy to rearrange the fridge’s chilly interior before my first cup of Java Joe kicked in. 

Yesterday, I pushed back from a Thanksgiving table laden with ham, turkey, giblet gravy, and dressing with all the trimmings, and vowed never to eat again. Now, before the dawn’s early light has broken, and with only the light of the refrigerator piercing the morning darkness, my bleary-eyed glimpse of Tom Turkey and a half-eaten pumpkin roll causes me to eagerly anticipate my next meal. 

Leftovers are rarely considered choice fare. But for the Canaanite woman, seen only as a “dog” and deemed unworthy of anything more, even leftovers were desirable. Desperation regarding her daughter’s illness seized her soul as she pushed past the self-righteous glares of the crowd and fell humbly at the feet of the Master. Jesus sat silent. A sense of smugness must have engulfed the disciples as Jesus’ initial reaction appeared to validate their deeply embedded beliefs of superiority. Little did they know, a few incisive words from Jesus would quickly extract their shallow roots. 

Undaunted by Jesus’ alleged indifference, the Canaanite woman voiced her unwavering hope. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Jesus replied, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” Her daughter was immediately healed. Jesus came to save this pharisaical community; yet, most blindly looked on in self-righteous indignation. In contrast, the outcast woman believed even a single word or touch from the Master would be enough to restore her daughter’s life. 

This morning, as I munch on my meager toast with an abundance of food piled high in my fridge, I question if I take for granted all I have while feeling entitled to more. Do I humbly receive whatever God desires to give me, knowing that even scraps from His hand will bring more healing to my bones than the surplus of leftovers stacked in my fridge?

It is not what we receive, but the spirit with which we receive that brings the results we desire, and the surplus sounds of thanksgiving our Master longs to hear. 

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Scars

My son carries a two-inch scar in his abdomen, a reminder of emergency surgery needed to repair injuries suffered in a car accident. Although his injuries have healed, the scar remains.

My wife and I carry our own scars from that day, albeit of a different kind. Our teenage daughter was also involved in that accident—taken from this world too soon in our eyes, right on time in God’s. I miss my daughter more than words can express. I think of her every day.

We all carry our own scars, don’t we? Scars of physical injury, of loss suffered, of wrongs endured … scars of regret or shattered dreams. 

I am amazed when I consider the faith of individuals like Horatio Spafford, author of the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” Spafford’s wife and daughters were traveling to England when the ship they were on sunk. Although his wife survived, all four daughters tragically perished. After receiving the heartbreaking news, Spafford set out to join his grieving wife in England. It was during his journey that he penned the following words: 

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way 
When sorrows like sea billows roll; 
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say 
It is well, it is well with my soul. 

Spafford somehow found the strength to write those words after such a heart-wrenching loss, and they continue to serve as a reminder of God’s presence, provision, and grace. 

In 2 Corinthians, Paul spoke of a “thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me.” I don’t know what Paul’s thorn might have been, but I wonder if it might have had something to do with his past. Having once been a great persecutor of Christians, I imagine Paul often thought of those he had once made suffer. I wonder if their faces—and the memory of what he had done—kept him awake at night. Perhaps it was the regret of his past that became Paul’s thorn in his flesh. I’m not sure, but whatever it was ... it was bad enough for Paul to pray three times to have it removed.

Paul, like the rest of us, had scars. And although God didn’t remove Paul’s thorn, He did provide the grace to sustain him … grace to prop him up during the bad days, to strengthen him for the days ahead, and to remind him that he is never alone. 

Our pain is real, our scars endure, and through it all we press on. Thank God for grace. It is sufficient. 

(Photo courtesy of Martin Wiles.)

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A Work in Progress

My friend Bob makes duck decoys. 

When Bob displays his handiwork at craft shows, he tells the story of his journey as a Christian. He proudly shows off his first decoy, created over twenty years ago, with its too-broad neck and extra-thick head. Quite honestly, I can easily understand why he has never sold this particular decoy. It truly does not reveal expert craftsmanship. Still, Bob’s recent creations involve intricate detail and beautiful woodworking skill. His rich colors accurately mimic the iridescent green head of the mallard. His skillful carving creates lifelike detail. His creations are destined to fool the unsuspecting victims they are meant to fool. 

Bob explains that his journey as a duck decoy maker parallels his journey as a Christian. In his early walk with Christ, Bob admits his efforts were awkward. His carving knife often slipped and formed an unintentional notch in the wood. He needed continued practice and instruction. As a result, with time and perseverence, Bob has learned to reshape his life and carve out the clutter whenever it becomes necessary. 

We can learn from Bob’s display of duck decoys. From his first creation to his fiftieth, these decoys show a beautiful progression. In our Christian walk, we begin as awkward novices. Along the way, we may be required to smooth out some rough edges here and reshape some bad cuts there. The journey of a Christian constantly requires us to reshape ourselves as God wants us to be. 

Like Hans Christian Anderson’s story of the ugly duckling, we have the potential to become beautiful swans, but we are a work in progress. Our evolution cannot take place overnight. God is patient and merciful. If we allow Him to be the potter to our clay, He can mold us into beautiful Christians. 

Give God carte blanche over your life, and allow Him to work within you to become the beautiful Christian He has planned for you to be. 

(Photo courtesy of morguefile and Sgarton.)

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The Cry of a Broken Heart

The horse neighed and paced the corral. Her deep cries shook the window I watched from. I feared a mountain lion or bear was threatening her, so I went outside to chase off the intruder. No intruder was found, but her colt was missing. 

The beautiful mare ran to the edge of the fence as if to jump over, but lowered her head and jerked back releasing a heart-piercing cry. I sat helpless for hours watching and hoping for the return of her young; I wanted the pain this mother felt to end. 

Today my heart cries for the pain I witness as my friend cries for the incurable disease that will call her husband home. Again, it is the helplessness that haunts me. I can’t control the intruders. I find the only weapons against this pain are the words Jesus speaks to me daily through the Holy Bible and devotions. God promises us peace. He is faithful to us in all things, and though His plan may be greater than our eye can perceive, there is peace in trusting Him. 

Whatever invades your world, remember you are never alone; the power and the peace to endure is because our hope lies in God and not in the trials of this world. His plan for us is unending … eternal. 

Trust God and come into His presence. He will cover you will His peace. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Haunted or Hallowed House

Chairs lined the lawn, white bows decorated the fence, and lush ferns hung from the wraparound porch of the stately house. A beautiful bride and groom held hands and exchanged vows under an arch. I witnessed the story of their marriage during the next year as I passed this house on my daily commute.

The industrious newlyweds planted trees, dug flowerbeds, and painted their porch. Each season the porch sported new decor. For Halloween, paper ghosts replaced the ferns, three-tiered pumpkins guarded the glass door, and painted-on jack-o-lanterns smiled from the windows. In December, wreaths, twinkling white lights, and a Christmas tree decorated the porch. Summertime brought small-scale Great Gatsby parties. Friends leaned over the porch bannister sipping cold drinks while others splashed in the pool.

The next season the house flaunted its usual fall decorations, but by mid-November, the porch took on an even spookier appearance. The paper ghosts swished in the wind. The Halloween pumpkins had rotted, now merely caved-in cavities. The jack-o-lanterns drawn in ghostly-white on each window added to the haunted character of the house. The external facade now hinted at the internal conflicts within the home. The black trash bags and furniture dumped in the yard finished the story—my neighbors had given up.

This made me question my own motives. I, too, had put great stock in building a perfect-looking home. Had I used my resources to create a hallowed home or had I dumped my energy into a facade? My thoughts scared me to the bone.

Have you been haunted by one of Satan’s lies—that we can build our lives … our homes, without God? Like a ghost, has Satan snuck into your home and planted lies that will rot away at your family?

The Bible warns us against trying to build a home without God. The psalmist tells us that unless the Lord builds the house, the worker is wasting his time.

The Bible also offers a solution. God will help us sweep up the cobwebs and build a hallowed home. All you have to do is ask Him.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Please Be Seated

The elaborate dining hall was filled to maximum capacity. The night’s event―the hottest ticket 
in town―had been sold out for months. Those fortunate enough to obtain a reservation came 
dressed in their finest, their thoughts swirling with anticipation. Waves of delightful conversation and laughter rose from each table as tuxedoed waiters served superb delicacies.

Much of the dinner conversation centered upon the highly-acclaimed speaker and the anticipated message to follow. As the evening unfolded, the clamor of voices was replaced by the thunderous applause that erupted as everyone stood to their feet while the distinguished guest made his way to the podium. The applause continued long past the speaker’s comfort. Finally, with humility, he said, “Thank you. Please. Please be seated.” 

His request was followed by the scraping of chair legs across the polished floor as those in attendance positioned themselves so as to have an unobstructed view of the speaker. The clatter of silverware and dishes subsided as the waiters cleared the final items from each table. Event organizers collapsed in their seats, thankful for an opportunity to finally sit down. 

A hush settled over the crowd; the guest of honor opened his mouth to speak. All that followed was surreal. No one could have anticipated what came next. The speaker’s eyes fixed on someone to his left; the eyes of the crowd followed. Who was this one who remained standing? Why hadn’t he followed suit by taking his seat with the others? What could he possibly have to say for himself? Why, who would be so bold as to remain standing after the speaker had requested everyone take their seats? 

Unheard-of scenario, you say. Think again. Perhaps even you’ve remained standing after you were asked to be seated. I know I have―in fact, more than once. Many times, I carry on with what I consider urgent while my Lord beckons to me: “Please, be seated.” 

There is nothing I find more important than time at the table with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Creator of the universe and of all mankind―my Abba Father. I have missed much due to my stubborn resistance to take my seat in His presence. He has reserved a chair for me at His table and anticipates my arrival. He beckons us to join Him. Will I be there? Will you?

Savor time at the table with the Father. Stop ordering meals to go. He has a seat of honor reserved for you. Be seated. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Whatever God Touches Flourishes

God created the world in six days. 

In each of these, He accomplished some act or acts of creation. On the sixth day, He created man. Each day He reflected upon what He had done and saw that what He had created was good. But after He formed man, His response was that this creation was very good. 

Looking at the creation story closely, we discover that God spoke the world into existence. He said, “Let there be light” and light was. He said “Let the waters teem with life” and they did. And so it was with all His creation. But when he made man, he formed him from the earth, then breathed life into Adam. God physically created him with his hands. After this, God saw that what He had made was very good. 

Those of us who have embraced Christ as our Savior, have been made new by God on the inside. God has touched us. We are children of the King. 

When our Lord places his hands on someone, he causes that person to thrive. When we invite Jesus into our situation through prayer and obedience to His Word, the Lord causes that area of our lives to prosper. We may not see the fruition of it right away, but like a seed that is faithfully tended to, we will see ourselves rise above negative circumstance through the power of Almighty God. We will see God's promises over our lives come to pass, because whatever God touches flourishes. 

If you are in need of a touch from God, whether in your heart, your mind, your body, your family, or your finances; please pray this prayer. . . 

Father, I need a touch from your hand. I invite you to have your way in me. Be Lord of my life, and show me what steps I must take to see you bring your blessing into every area of my life. Thank you Father for hearing my prayer. In Jesus name I pray, Amen. 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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A Heavenly Alert

“And her eyes … I’ll make them a lovely brown and place within them a glow and warmth that will comfort Adam and stir his love for her. Her hair will also be a lovely brown with hints of golden blonde and wavy curls throughout. And I’ll give her a heart of tenderness, compassion. She will be Adam’s delight … a companion for life … even to old age … even forever.” 

So Elohim, Creator God, presented Adam with his helpmate, and Adam loved her at first sight. Life was wonderful, perfect, a picture of heaven and walking with God in complete harmony. 

Until the haughty spirit whispered in the woman’s ear. “Why not? You have a mind. You can make decisions independently of God and Adam. You have eyes to see. You don’t need God’s help to make this decision. Just do it. Eat the fruit and be enlightened.” 

We know the rest of the story and the heavy sentence Father laid upon all. And so in my dreams one night the Lord spoke of the insolence of Eve to take matters into her hands. He impressed me with His abhorrence of living a life by ignoring His counsel and placing trust in our senses. For in so doing we become our own god. This is an abomination as well. 

All these things Father impressed upon me during the night. And every time I awoke, His thoughts remained as He expanded them for me. I take this counsel, warning, seriously—for myself. I fear to become my own resource, my own prophet. I could do that. I know I could. 

And as I write, I am sobered by this truth and humbled before Father. My own soul cries out and pleads for one thing. “Father, my desire is to know You, to be filled with You, and to count all other things, anything that overrides Your Word, Your authority—as rubbish.” 

Furthermore, I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:8 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

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Do the Math -- God's Comfort Equation

God’s merciful comfort + all our troubles = our comfort ministry to others who are troubled. 

When we are up against immeasurable odds, in the midst of hopelessness, the strength and peace of Christ are made perfect. 

Comfort. It’s not overrated. To be comfortable in the basic necessities, physical wellness, emotional health, family peace, restfulness, and so many other areas of life are important to us. I understand being tired—exhausted physically from lack of sleep, hard work, or a busy schedule. Eventually, I have the comfort of a bed and rest. I understand hunger on a surface level. I don’t know what it is like to really be hungry. I have never gone without food for a long period—I have access to my go-to comfort foods most of the time. 

I know what it is like to be cold or hot. We complain about temperature control—in our home, in the car, and in a public place. Some too hot—some too cold…a porridge story from Goldilocks and The Three Bears…rarely just right. 

The deeper issues of physical illness, emotional stress, and the hardships we face on this earth often throw us out of our comfort zone—head first—or by the seat of our pants. Either end is daunting. 

When there seems to be little hope, God is working in our lives—behind the scenes. There will be a curtain call…in this life or the next. The Lord God will give us an understanding of our uncomfortable places and we will be able to see what an active role He plays in our comfort. 

Through His comfort—through comfort from others. 
 1. God = our source of all comfort. 

 2. God’s ALL encompassing comfort = our hope & strength in times of distress, grief, and pain.

 3. Our healing comfort = a ministry as comfort ambassadors. 

“God comfort” is passed on through us after it has been revealed in us. Do the math! 

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



The Rock That Is Higher Than I

God never promised us a rose garden. Many are told when they come to faith in  Christ they will experience love, joy, and peace -- which is so very true. But we fail to mention these byproducts of the Christian faith are often couched between hardship, suffering, and struggle. God seems to be more concerned with our character than our comfort. In the normal Christian experience, struggle is the name of the game.

There always seems to be treacherous terrain. Our psalmist, David, finds himself fainthearted and overwhelmed by the isolation and trials of his spiritual voyage. Like the psalmist, our spiritual odyssey can be likened to our journey up a mountain with a rocky and uncertain terrain. With the length of the trek, and the unsure footing, we become fatigued. We reach up for one more rock above us, but our hands start to slip off the rock and we realize our strength is not sufficient to pull us up. One last time we call out, “Help Lord,” as we extend our hand. It seems as if an arm from heaven comes down from behind the rock and latches on to our forearm and hand. He then pulls us to the cleft of the rock. And one more time we realize that when our strength has failed, God’s grace has prevailed.

It’s an ongoing journey where we breathe a sigh of relief and, for a time, bask in His presence. About the time our wounds from the journey are healed and we feel pretty secure in our rocky refuge, we turn and look up the mountain. We understand that we must either continue up the mountain or descend back to the lowlands. There is no such thing as the status quo in the Kingdom of God. We’re either moving toward God or away from Him. So we continue our ascent up the mountain, experiencing one impregnable rock after another -- never being able to scale any cliff in our own strength, but only with God’s help.

As you go from one rocky crest to another, discover that clearer view of the glory of God. This will motivate you onward. When you grow weary from time to time, ask the Lord, “How many rocks must I climb?” You answer your own question as you realize it will be as many as it takes to get to the top. Whatever is required to get to the Rock (the Lord Jesus) who is higher than I.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Paradoxical Peace

We read, sing, and dream of peace on earth. Yet we’ve never known earthly peace. Nations fight nations. Ethnic groups throw slurs, stones, and worse. Families, teams, workers, politicians, even churches, fight without and within. Such constant blaming, bickering, and breaking down of relationships make the celebration of peace questionable.

Nevertheless, the peace prophesied in Isaiah and Zechariah and proclaimed by the angels in Luke remains as relevant today as the night of Jesus’ birth. Those who experience God’s salvation know peace that transcends any circumstance. As Paul tells us in Ephesians, Jesus is our peace. When we allow His presence to reign in our lives, we enjoy true peace, whether the world around us is peaceful or not.

When we hurt, Jesus’ peace eases our pain. When facing death, His peace provides comfort and reassurance. When abused, He wraps us in arms of peace. When darkness engulfs us, we walk by the light of His peace. When persecuted for our faith, we can respond with and proclaim His peace. When we fall flat in failure, He picks us up, dusts us off, and tells us to try again – to go in His peace. We celebrate daily the peace made possible through His all-sufficient gift of grace.

We also look forward to the everlasting peace Jesus will usher in at His return. All conflict and pain will disappear for those who follow Him. Proclaim Him as Lord and let Christ cover you in peace.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)



Dirty Rooms

I was a bit overwhelmed with all the tasks to be done when I first became a parent. Everything from cleaning and cooking, my fulltime business, and spending quality time with my daughter was almost too much.

My mother gave me some great advice. “I clean the one room I walk through the most.” Thinking her a bit crazy, I did it. Sure enough, although the rest of my house was a mess, the one room presented a calm, controlled atmosphere. I made it my purpose to spend as much time as possible in that peaceful space.

This applies the same in marriage. You have two rooms in your mind. One holds all the small irritants, grudges, fights, disappointment, and hurt. The other room holds your beautiful, happy memories, smiles, feelings of contentment, joy, intimacy, and love. We have a choice to hang out in the cluttered room of despair and feel the weight of depression and anger. Or choose to live in the room full of special moments and happy memories wrapped in warmth.

Paul encourages us to remember the important things to help guide our attitudes and thoughts. Remember what is honorable, right, pure, and lovely. Remember what is excellent and worthy of praise, and dwell on those things. He wanted us to understand when our minds are filled with the good and important attributes of others, there is little room for the bad.

So many times we plant our feet obstinately in the dirty room, determined to win our point at the expense of our marriage. Ask yourself if it’s worth winning. Close the door to the messy room, stop looking back, and choose forgiveness and love.

Lift your marriage up to the Lord and pray your thoughts will be held captive on what is good. God will help you. Where mistakes are made, acknowledge them, ask for … and give … forgiveness.

Let go of the past and dwell in the present, committing to love each other as God loves us.



Hope in Darkness

Our family planned to get up early and watch the sun rise over the iconic landscape of mesas and buttes in Monument Valley. The alarm clock buzzed at 5:00 am. We stumbled out of bed and onto the balcony of our hotel room to wait and see the dawn.

Before long the dark sky was airbrushed with hues of purple and blue, and a deep orange glow spread along the horizon. The imposing mitten-shaped rock outcrops stood grandly silhouetted against the display of colors. A pinhead of brilliant light on the skyline rose to become a dazzling sphere. We watched until our eyes could take no more. Bathed in light, the rusty browns and pale greens of the landscape became visible. A new day began.

God promises those who have faith in Him that their darkness will turn to light. This is not in the literal sense, although the coming of the dawn is a physical reminder that all forms of darkness will pass. Instead, when we believe in Jesus Christ, the spiritual darkness in which we once existed is dispelled because God’s light enters our lives. We also receive assurance that we can trust God because, even when life is difficult and painful, relief will come either on this earth or in the life to come.

Sometimes our days can seem like a never-ending, dark night, filled with the distresses of a challenging situation, or a difficult relationship. No alarm clock alerts us when dawn is approaching. Yet during these times with no glimmer of respite, we need to hold on to the promise of God. Although we may doubt God’s promise, the Word draws our attention to and emphasizes the surprising, extraordinary truth that deliverance will come.

When darkness fills your world, trust in God. Hold on to God’s promise. He will bring light into your life.

(Photo courtesy of office.microsoft.com.)

 



Potential for Disaster

Keys and potties don’t mix.

Never try to slip your keys into your pocket while standing in a bathroom stall with your back facing the door. The potential for having your keys wind up glaring at you from the bottom of a white porcelain bowl is fairly substantial. You could find yourself in a tight spot with limited options as to how to proceed. And in some cases there could be some long-term, even costly consequences for your hasty actions.

I can happily report that while I did not have to fish for my keys, I did put myself in this precarious situation. Keys in hand, purse, book bag strapped on the back, I rushed into the washroom without thinking. Before giving myself enough time to make the necessary adjustments, I was in a position for potential disaster. I nearly let the keys slip from my fingers while they dangled just two feet above the pool of doom. One false move could have resulted in an unfavorable state of affairs.

We can let out a big sigh when we have a narrow escape from calamity, but why do we allow ourselves to be in a position of potential danger in the first place? Most of the time we just don’t think far enough in advance, but other times it’s because we have allowed ourselves to be tempted by selfish desires.

This phenomenon is nothing new for the human race. From the beginning of time, people have put themselves in positions they shouldn’t be in, doing things they shouldn’t do. If mankind was prone to always make the right choice, the Book of Proverbs wouldn’t have been included in the Bible. Proverbs is packed with words of wisdom and sounds like it was written via the voice of experience and common sense.

Proverbs doesn’t contain verses regarding the proper procedures for storage of keys in a public restroom, but it gives great instruction for other aspects in everyday life . . . friendship, child rearing, handling money, worry, ethics in business, choosing a spouse, how to conduct yourself at a party, and much, much more. It is truly amazing.

Here’s a challenge for you. The Book of Proverbs has thirty-one chapters. For one month read a chapter every day. It will make you think, make you smile, and may even keep you from doing something foolish.

Let God direct you through His Word.

(Photo courtesy of morgefile.com and JeanneGrunert)



The Prodigal Daughter

I hit the road with everything I owned packed inside my black Mitsubishi Eclipse. Even my angry cat, Smokey, was along for the ride glaring at me from the front seat.

The drive home dragged on for what seemed like a lifetime, as I dreaded returning home to face my Mom. The thought of leaving everything I knew -- my first apartment, my job, my school, my friends, and my comfortable life of sin -- paralyzed me. Fear filled my mind as I couldn't fathom how God could ever forgive my poor mistakes. I couldn't even imagine how I could cope without my destructive self-made support system in place. It was all I could do to muster up a tiny seed of hope that maybe my life, as I knew it, was not over.

I entered the house and proceeded to the back bedroom. After all, I had given up rights to the "good room" when I moved out. My younger sister gladly took my old room because it was larger and more comfortable. Clearly the better choice. Upon entering the abandoned back bedroom I was pleasantly surprised. A bright new comforter covered the bed and cheery new curtains hung at the window. A few decorations made the dismal room a close second to my old bedroom.

I was humbled as my mom sat next to me. She was all hugs and smiles, ecstatic that her baby girl was home. I was speechless, unsure why all this was happening. This wasn't what I expected. God used the simple act of my mom sprucing up the ugly bedroom to show me a glimpse of His love and heart toward me.

The next few years would be filled with new friends, a college degree, a wedding, and opportunities to mentor young teenagers. Looking back, I would have never guessed God would be so lavish in pouring out His love on me. I don't think I would have been able to believe it at the time, especially knowing it was nothing that I deserved or earned.

Isn't that how God is? He longs to lavish His love on you too. His response to your sins isn't at all what you would expect. He already took care of your sins through one act of love. All He wants you to do now is come home. Come receive all He has prepared for you as His special child.

Muster up a tiny seed of hope today that your life is not over. Look for God in it and soon you'll see it may really be just beginning.

(Photo courtesy www.morgefile.com & pedrojperez)



The Value in Alphabet Soup

There’s more value in alphabet soup than just nutrition.

I watched the letters swirl around my spoon in the soup. The tip of my spoon shoved the letters into “soup words.” Words like pet and bad were easy to put together while longer words like later and goodbye took a little more effort. As I played with my soup, I thought about each individual letter of the alphabet. On its own, each letter is seemingly insignificant. But string enough letters together and you have words, sentences, and ultimately communication. Just think how much of daily life would be greatly altered by the omission of only one letter. Each letter represents incredible value and serves a valuable purpose.

Every person holds immense individual value. Sure, the accumulated strength of a group can accomplish much more than one person. But we have each been “fearfully and wonderfully made” by God. Though we all have off-days when we feel fairly worthless, God views each person as uniquely valuable for the purpose He has for us to fulfill.

What makes something valuable? It could be its age, as in a priceless antique, or its cost. Sometimes the value is intrinsic, as in a love letter or a stick-figure drawing from your child. Perhaps it lies in its future appreciation, as in an investment. It could even be all of these combined.

The best news of all is that all these qualities apply to each individual person. From before time began, God gave His Son to reconcile us back to Himself. The cost alone of Christ’s sacrificial death speaks volumes of the value God places on us. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. He promises to strengthen us and never leave us. If nothing happens to a pair of sparrows without God taking immediate notice, rest assured we are always on His mind. Putting all this together, it is easy to see the considerable time, cost, and love that our Creator invests in us as confirmation of our value.

In the daily swirl of life, it may be easy to feel like a lone, insignificant letter. Don’t lose sight of your significance. Remember the incredible value God places on us individually. The price He paid for you is immeasurable.